The first year after having Isla was great, I really enjoyed it. There were obvious moments I didn’t or I found hard but I did my best to work around it. I don’t actually know when I started feeling what I would describe as a ‘Post-Natal-Something’ – I say ‘something’ because I didn’t feel depressed, I don’t think, and I was listening to Happy Mum Happy Baby Podcast with Edith Bowman, and she called it ‘Post-Natal Something’ too, and I was like YES, that’s exactly how I and it felt. I will say now, listening to Happy Mum, Happy Baby with Giovanna Fletcher, and Happy Place Podcast with Ferne Cotton really helped, I mean REALLY helped.
My mum lives in Cyprus and has done since me being 22, and my dad lives with his wife and children in Bedworth, near Coventry. My mum’s side of the family, whom I’m very close with, live in Greater Manchester. Jon’s family live in South London near us; his mum is one of the loveliest women to walk this earth but is on medication which can make her a bit docile at times. I mention this as these are your usual ‘support network’ when having children.
My Sisters-in-Law (both) are a massive help and I have a few other people around me (You know who you are, and I am grateful for you all), who I know can help if needed, I just always felt like I was taking the mick asking! I KNOW right.
Isla had bad colic until she was 4 months old, it was always around 6pm and lasted 1.5 to 2 hours max, which I know I am super lucky with. I brought Evie’s dinner forward to 5pm and then ran their bath to try and bathe them both before Isla started with her Colic in the evenings. I remember sitting on the landing one evening trying to soothe Isla, with Evie just sitting next to me waiting patiently, or playing with some toys. I would always look at Evie with guilt, but also just love that she was so good. Sometimes they would be both crying and I would cry with them!
Jon was still working long hours but sometimes he would be home in time to help. He would massage Isla’s stomach, or give her a warm bath to help ease her pain, and sometimes it did.
From Isla being 4 months old, she only had 2X 30 minutes naps in the day, whereas Evie would have a 2-hour nap. From Evie being 2.5 months old, I set in the dinner-bath-book-bedtime routine from early, and they both were brilliant at bedtime. Isla would be asleep by 6:30pm and Evie by 7pm.
Evie was a baby/toddler who loved books, and would always bring a book to me to read, but this got less with the constant-ness of both babies. The mum guilt set in massively. And all the one-on-one time I’d had with Evie was now totally gone barring the 2X 30 minutes nap time for Isla. This guilt carried on until Evie was offered extra help at Pre-School, and I 100% blamed myself for not being able to have that one-on-one learning time with her.
Taking them out was a mission for me: I am from a very competitive family so I used to try and get us ready in record time before heading out – I’d try to see if I could beat my personal best every time. I’d go for walks early and be home by the afternoon.
I actually hated taking them out by myself, and when they got to a point where they could both run, they did, in different directions, and I felt stressed! My friends didn’t understand, and sometimes them being quite casual about it would make me question myself, is it just me? Why am I finding this so hard? Some of my friends took having kids in their stride, and I would once again question myself.
When Isla was probably 10 months old, I took Evie to baby ballet, as that was the thing to do according to Instagram. I was holding Isla, and Evie was holding my hand, she suddenly dropped twisting her arm, and then she started to cry! Both Evie and Isla are tough, they never really cried when they fell unless they were hurt, which was rare. Evie’s arm and shoulder looked like it had dropped. I spoke with one of the ladies and asked her opinion and I must have looked like a mum who had no clue, which I didn’t – I was literally winging everything to do with motherhood. I couldn’t believe it! I gave Evie some Nurofen and got her in the car with Isla, called Jon and said ‘Meet me at A&E, I think I’ve dislocated Evie’s arm/shoulder’. We got there and Jon agreed along with the nurse, that it looked like it had totally come out of place. I obviously cried and expected a call from social services. By the time we saw the doctor, it seemed to have popped back into place, which is apparently normal in children!
After that I decided, I was not going to live up to insta-standards and I was not taking the girls out unless I went to a friend’s house, or with Jon. Friends would say, I will help, but you feel bad expecting or asking for their help.
Sometimes I would have constant visitors and other times I wouldn’t, which sometimes I preferred. I also had people close to me dealing with drama, and I felt it was bringing me down and making me feel stressed towards the kids, so I backed away from them for a while, I couldn’t cope with it, as well as trying to get through my day today. I clearly wasn’t ok, but I pretended to be. I pretended to be ok to the health visitors, but I wasn’t. I made sure the house was tidy before they came, which is surely a sign that things aren’t ok LOL! Whose house is tidy with a toddler and baby, mine 100% weren’t unless the health visitor was popping round. I wanted to show I had my sh*t together.
I think where I had put up the pretence for so long, even to myself, when it did hit me, it hit me hard. I was sensitive and everything got to me, things that normally never ever would. I had horrible intrusive thoughts, and I realised I had had these when Evie was small. I also felt I had nothing to talk about and I was boring and people found me boring. And I am very much someone who does not care what people think of me, to an extent.
I am very independent and don’t like leaning on anyone for help, but I needed it. I am someone who hates moaning and prefers positive conversations, and I absolutely hate drama! I never wanted to be a burden on anyone, especially knowing how bad some people have it.
I felt like I was in a dark place, and I felt very alone once again and had minimal support. I became very anxious with anyone looking after the kids when I wasn’t there.
I think my dad got the brunt of my frustrations during this time… on one occasion seeing him, the below happened, it wasn’t the time that caused me to shout at my dad, but it definitely was a lead up to it, but please note, I am not bad-mouthing anyone here, my dad and step-mum have been supportive in the past…this is just my experience:
When Isla was still small enough to be in the car seat, I decided to drive my usual summer round trip to Bedworth (Dad’s), Shrewsbury to see my Aunty and Cousins, and then to Manchester to see my Nan and other family members. I brought my niece with me. She was probably about 11 at the time.
My Dad lives on a barge boat or Rosie and Jim boat as I call it, and I would stay in the Premier Inn opposite. There was a place along the canal that did food and had a little soft play in. The soft play was next to the toilets and the emergency exit, which led out to the canal. We had sat at a table on the opposite end of the place, and his adopted Daughter (Granddaughter), who was probably 9 at the time, my other sister, and her two kids, (I think her daughter was 4 and her baby boy was a few months younger than Isla). The kids wanted to go to the soft play and I said no to my niece about taking Evie without me, Evie’s two and not the responsibility of my niece – my dad made me feel like I was being ridiculous. I am far-fetched when it comes to my kids being out of my sight but I don’t feel like I was being unreasonable here. I was not about to risk my daughter walking out of the emergency exit next to the soft play.
Anyway, begrudgingly (I thought) he moved seats to be next to the soft play area. Isla is in the high chair, and all of a sudden Evie comes over with this egg-sized bump protruding out of her forehead, she had fallen and whacked her head on the bottom of the slide! I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t overreact as not to scare Evie; I comforted her and asked my niece to watch Isla who at this point was climbing out of the highchair. The staff member was shoving a form in my face to sign to avoid liability as it was a head injury with the word ‘fatal’ jumping out of the page, and I’d asked him to come back whilst I was putting an Ice pack on Evie’s head! (I’d been calm because I’d remembered someone saying the bump is better out than in), anyway at that moment, my step-mum walked past me and said and I quote ‘You’re going to give yourself a nervous breakdown in a minute!’ Like I couldn’t believe it! It was not something I wanted to hear at that moment – I needed support, not judgement!
I went into the toilet crying trying to hold myself together, I lied and said I was on the phone to Jon, when they sent my niece in to see where I was. She then returned shortly saying my dad and his wife were asking why I was on the phone to Jon!
I came back to the table, ordered a wine, whilst Evie ate, I fed Isla, and I looked over the table calmly to my step mum feeding my nephew, whilst my sister just sat there, and offered no help to me at all! My dad was also sat there, with my other sister and brother who had not long joined us – and I just felt, resigned!
I did feel relaxed after the wine. Went to my room. Settled us all, got breakfast in the morning, and left as soon as I possibly could.
At the time in question, I was in Manchester again, and I had done the usual round trip. I was driving back to my cousin’s house from a farm me and my cousins had just been to with the kids. It was just me, Evie and Isla in the car. I’d gotten lost and ended up on another farm in the middle of nowhere. I was knackered and like ‘oh flip I’m lost! My dad had called moaning that I had not told him some detail of my round trip and I just lost it! I’m glad the kids could sleep through anything! I cried, I was emotional and I’d had enough. I had screamed that I have little support and have driven hundreds of miles with my two small children to ensure they see their family and NOTHING I DO IS EVER JUST GOOD ENOUGH! I said more, and I was shaking with rage, but he was shocked, I had never spoken to him like this before, and he calmed down, and said he would call me back.
I think the rage came from years of oppressed feelings mixed with post-natal something as-well as exhaustion and the pretence and pressure of showing you’re ok.
Back at home: Jon would be out of the house every morning before 7am (the girls would wake up between 7 and 7:30am) and he would get home about 6/6:30pm – Isla would be asleep by 6:30pm most nights and Evie 7pm. Monday to Friday I was basically alone with them. I resented Jon in many ways! I hadn’t signed up for this!
Every other weekend, Jon would do a round trip to pick up Ruby, she lives an hour away, so 4 hours out of a weekend and I didn’t want him taking the kids on the drive, in case something bad happened or they needed feeding and I didn’t feel it was fair on them to be in the car that long whilst I was able to have them.
I had asked him numerous times to ask to share the journey with her mum, but it never happened. When Jon was at home, he was and is very hands-on with the kids, I can’t fault him, barring his messiness, that sends me insane LOL!
I think in relationships, communication is key, understanding both sides are key. But I am deep and will let things slide until I burst. And Jon is a typical hunter, gatherer, work work work for his family. As great as that is, it can come at a cost!
I desperately needed a break but when it came to it, I didn’t want them out of my sight!
I went back to work when Isla was 14 months old, I was fortunate to earn enough that could pay for Evie and Isla to go to Nursery, plus Evie would be starting preschool soon so the payment would be minimal for her nursery.
I went back 3 days a week and I needed it. I did Monday and Tuesday 9am – 3pm to suit Evie’s preschool days and one full day on a Thursday. I was so glad to be back. I just had to be organised. Up and ready, back and do dinner and bedtime routine. I started to feel a bit more normal again, but I still felt like I was doing it on my own. But on the flip side, when someone would comment how good and well-mannered my kids are, I thought yes, I’m doing ok!
Isla had eczema. It was awful, I tried every cream I could find. The hospital and doctors would prescribe me steroid cream but I’d seen what that had done to a friend, their skin was quite bad from years of using it. Isla’s skin was pigmented and I would get asked if she had vitiligo. I was told once eczema clears, time in the sun would even it out. But two trips to Cyprus did not do the job. It improved the redness and irritation of it for a couple of weeks, but that was it. One day enough was enough, Isla had stopped enjoying baths and cried every time I put her in so against the advice of a doctor, we went to someone who tested for allergies and intolerances. Isla had an intolerance to Dairy, Wheat, Durum Wheat, and Oats. My mind was blown. Not only am I trying to keep two little people alive, but I also have to completely change what we are eating. As a family, we changed everything. I refused to make 2 lots of meals. We all cut out Dairy (barring Jon) and Evie would have a few bits of chocolate here and there. But we no longer ate Gluten, Wheat, Oats, the lot! And being strict for 9 months to a year,
Isla’s skin improved massively. In fact, completely. During this time, people would say, ‘don’t cut the foods out of the diet, otherwise you will make it worse for them, they will become allergic’, old school way of thinking, and I did question myself, but it absolutely worked. Isla can now have anything without a flare-up! BUT, she has it all in moderation. We changed how we eat and have stuck to it. I have noticed things about myself too, what foods make me bloat and feel uncomfortable, and foods that make me feel bleugh!
As well as the Eczema, Evie had bouts of Tonsilitis and Sleep Apnoea. I didn’t sleep well for a long time, constantly ensuring she was breathing in her sleep! Evie was nearly 4 when she had her tonsils and adenoids taken out, and then the same thing with Isla a year later. I just felt all of this was too much for one person. I also felt mad at a lot of people during this time. When people used to comment and say ‘but you’re ok, you’re doing well!’ I’d be like what, I’m drowning here. And I began to resent people who had so much help and support that still moaned about things! These people began to irritate me. And this was not my character at all!
I could probably go on…but I won’t, I’ve gone on enough! BUT Re-reading this, I don’t recognise myself, and someone reading this may have met a completely different person; I was! I think the Covid Lockdown forced me to slow down, stay in, and accept things, and it did! It absolutely changed me, for the better.
Blended families are hard, and they come with strains and stresses, I have learnt to try and simplify them and not let things stress me out – people are a certain way, and that’s ok. I am far from a perfect parent or perfect person, I get serious mum-guilt, but one thing I know to be true, my two daughters are happy, and that’s all that matters!