Friday, October 24, 2014

I’m Going to be a Tena Lady

I’ve been pretty fortunate when it comes to pre and post-partum disasters: no prolapses or haemorrhoids. My unmentionable varicose veins went away after the baby was delivered. I made it through three pregnancies relatively intact.

Yet today, almost three years after my last pregnancy, I discovered what it was like to have a little leak, shall we say.

You know those ads, where the elegant older woman with silver hair and neat blue suits stand around laughing over some witty comment, and one turns to the screen and whispers, that whenever she laughs or bends over and jumps, she has a little leak, but it’s okay now - because she has Tena Lady.

Yeah, I was that lady today. Except I didn’t actually have a Tena Lady handy, because you know, even Mums sometimes forget to carry around incontinence pads in their oversized handbags on the off chance they will spring a leak.

The Curly Mop and I were on a date night. Once a month, my hubby or I take one of the girls out to spend some quality time. The Mop’s version of quality time apparently, was watching me waist deep in foam, tugging my track pants up, as I struggled to climb my way out of the foam pit at the local trampolining joint (and when I say local, I mean it was a 45 minute drive).

I tried so hard to have fun, but between losing my pants in the pit, being laughed at by four year olds, stared at (not in a good way) by the young bloke in charge of the trampolines and experiencing an ominous trickle every time I jumped, it basically sucked.

The first time it happened I stopped jumping suddenly, afraid of what would happen if I continued. But trampolines don’t tend to let you stop on a dime, they want to keep going, so I ended up falling onto my face (not for the last time), legs flying up behind me, all elegance and grace and wondering who the hell was going to make a million bucks by selling the video on YouTube.

The second time it happened, I squeezed my legs together slightly and looked at the clock. After that, I just accepted my fate, and hoped that this wasn’t going to become a regular thing.

Maybe it’s just me getting older. Maybe it’s because I had three kids and never bothered doing pelvic floor exercises. Maybe I have just been damn lucky up to now.

But I can tell you one thing for sure. You will not find me trampolining with my four year old ever again. Or if you do, I will be cheering from safety of the trickle-free sidelines.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Have a Favourite Child But I'm Not Allowed to Admit It

The other night I broke one of the cardinal rules of parenting.

I admitted I had a favourite child.

Image result for favourite child image

The looks on the faces of the two people I was talking to made it quite clear that I had stepped over a line, as was their comment ‘you should never say that, Shannon’ which also was quite to the point.

Not for one second does admitting you have a favourite mean you don’t love all your children. It doesn’t even mean you don’t love all your children equally, that you wouldn’t fight for them if they needed you, that you wouldn’t jump in front of a bus for them. Because I would.

It’s just – at the moment – I understand one better than the others. No one would bat an eyelid if I said ‘I love all desserts, but my favourite is crème brulee.’ And I don’t just eat crème brulee, because that would be boring and fattening: I still eat icecream and pudding and pie and cake and waffles. Because they’re fattening too.  Equally, I would never actively promote one child above the others, or tell them any of this. And I promise that is where the small child/dessert comparison will end.

I have had numerous, eye-rollingly frustrating conversations with The Bombshell about this very topic.

‘Whose your favourite, Mum?’ she would ask hopefully as I tucked her into bed.

I would kiss her forehead and say in that tone all mums use, ‘I don’t have a favourite. You’re all my favourites.’ And then I would stand there and think ‘I should really write a book about that’ and then I’d remember that someone already has.

‘But if you had to choose,’ she would press. ‘Who would it be?’

And I would give her that annoying, condescending smile that all mothers use and walk out of the room.

But honestly, if I had to choose:

My favourite person to hug is probably Baldy, because she is still small enough to pick up, and she holds on like a baby koala, so sometimes I don’t even need to hold her, because she is already holding me so tight. She is excited about little things and that excitement is contagious and energising. (And she likes to make people kiss each other which is pretty funny.)

My favourite person to cook for is the Curly Mop, because she is adventurous and doesn’t mind real flavour and I love cooking for people who love to eat. She gets excited about dinner and likes to talk about food which is one of my favourite subjects. And she ate $40 worth of sashimi last Christmas, which is kind of impressive for a three year old. (Just as long as she doesn’t do it again this year.)

My favourite person to talk with is the Bombshell because she is happy to chat about history and culture and people and all these topics which I sometimes wonder might beyond her seven years, but then she asks such pertinent questions and I am amazed by her empathy and intelligence. (And because she helps me with the washing and watering the garden while we are talking about worldly things.)

I don’t think there is anything controversial in saying this, because it is clear that a lot of what motivates my preferences is the age of my daughters.

I believe that you don’t really choose who you fall in love with. You can try to love someone, but that doesn’t mean things will click. And so with your children, sometimes you might just click with one more than another. It’s a function of age and personality and gender and timing and how much sleep you had the night before. And it changes constantly and regularly.

Kids always get to say they have a favourite parent and no one chastises them. I don’t doubt for a second that my kids love me even though Daddy is their favourite because he makes them pancakes and plays silly games and takes them trampolining. When he makes me pancakes, he’s totally my favourite too.

So while I am probably not wrong to recognise that at this point in time there is a child I prefer more (mostly because she is the one who annoys me the least) and that this preference will probably be different tomorrow, I realise that I probably should not have admitted it (especially not after a few glasses of champagne. And especially not in public.)

Do you have a favourite child?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Dads and Miscarriage: An Opportunity Lost

‘As soon as you see that little line on the pregnancy test, you already have hopes and expectations and are planning for the future… but a miscarriage? It’s almost like an opportunity lost.  Especially from a man’s perspective – you see that vision of the future disappearing and there is nothing you can do about it.’ Dave, aged 37.

In 2010, my friend Jessica* was pregnant with three different babies, and she miscarried all three. I was also pregnant at the time, and caught up in my own glorious experience of carrying a new life. I was oblivious to the pain she and her husband Dave were experiencing.

However, this story today is not about Jessica or me. It’s about Dave. It’s also about another friend, Peter, whose wife Abbie underwent a termination when they discovered their baby had anencephaly. If men tend to be backgrounded in the pregnancy process, when it comes to miscarriage and pregnancy loss, they are practically invisible.

In light of the upcoming International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, on October 15th today – with permission - I am sharing the Dads’ side of the story.

Dave and Jess*, both 37, always wanted more than one child. But they’d had a tough pregnancy and first year with their son Josh, so they decided to wait a couple of years before trying again. 

When the time came, Jess quickly fell pregnant, but by about six weeks she had realised something was wrong and she lost the baby shortly after. It happened again. And again. ‘After the third miscarriage, it was a sign to start going down the IVF path’, Dave admitted.

Each miscarriage presented its own difficulties, both physically and emotionally.  Obviously, Jess had the worst of it physically. She had a chemically induced termination; a surgical D&C procedure; and a ‘natural’ miscarriage.  There was nothing easy or natural about any of them.

There was little Dave could do to help. ‘There was nothing I could do at home’, said Dave. ‘It’s one of those things that you feel a bit on the outside. You don’t get to experience the highs and lows of it, but you have to be as sympathetic as possible.  But unless the experience is happening to you, you can’t ever put your feet in that person’s shoes’.

Peter (34) agreed with this sentiment. His second child was diagnosed with anencephaly at 13 weeks gestation. This is a congenital condition involving malformation or absence of the brain.  

Although they could have continued with the pregnancy, the prognosis for the child was early death, typically hours or days even if it were born alive.  Peter and his wife Abbie, 35, made the difficult yet understandable decision to terminate the pregnancy.

Like Dave, Peter often felt secondary to the process. ‘I can understand that a man wouldn’t have the physical connection’, said Peter. ‘I think a lot of people just think that guys will just soldier on, but this day and age I think we’ve changed… and I do think men get a bit gypped.  Not during the process because we have to take care of the person who is holding the baby physically, but afterwards – psychologically…’

Both men agree that the focus is – and should be – on the woman, but it is short-sighted not to see that the husband can also be badly affected. 

‘You learn that the IVF process is not about the guy and nor should it be,’ said Dave. ‘But you feel extra to the process, effectively removed from any involvement in the pregnancy.  I did everything I could to support Jess, but you very much get pushed back a lot of the time.’

The helplessness men experience in these situations is understandable.  Once a miscarriage has started, there is nothing that can be done to prevent it.  Medical intervention might hasten or modify the process, but the end result is inevitable. 

And while the physical burden of the miscarriage must be borne by the woman, the man is left with little to do. ‘I’m always trying to solve problems,’ Dave explained. ‘It’s a standard male thing.  I think “what can I do to make this right and how can I fix it?” But this is something you can’t fix.  You feel pretty helpless.’

Peter also felt lost in the process of losing his baby. ‘When my Dad died, I was the one who just got on with it, made sure everything was done right, and then I could grieve.  But this time, even from the start, I didn’t know what to do.’

‘The social worker gave us numbers of people in our area if we wanted to talk, and there was a support group for it [anencephaly]’, Peter recalled.  Ultimately however, he decided not to seek out any formal counselling or support services.  

Instead he found that friends and family readily approached him offering support and their own stories. ‘The amount of work people who have come up to me and said “we lost our first”. It really helped.’ Peter and his wife were quite open about their loss, regularly sending updates to close friends and family members about what ended up being a week-long journey from diagnosis to termination.

This contrasted with Dave and Jess’ decision to keep their miscarriages incredibly private.  Even their parents still do not know the full extent of their loss. ‘I found it hard, not talking about it,’ 

Dave admitted, ‘because it’s a pretty emotional thing to go through. Even from a male’s perspective, I’m a terrible communicator at the best of times, so I didn’t speak about it. But it’s something you spend a lot of time thinking about in the background, thinking about what could have been.’

Dave did not even talk much about the miscarriages with his wife, preferring to focus on physical healing. ‘We didn’t really talk too much,’ he recalled, ‘we focussed a lot more on Jess getting better because it was quite a painful and unenjoyable experience to go through.’

‘We chose not to tell people,’ Dave explained.  ‘It’s a taboo subject.’  

Ultimately it was a random encounter at work that provided the one opportunity for Dave to talk with another man about his experience.  A generic question about children led to the discussion of age gaps between offspring. Dave then frankly admitted that Jess had experienced multiple miscarriages.  

The other man was quick to admit that his wife had just experienced her first miscarriage. ‘I found it – not quite liberating,’ said Dave, ‘but a weight off my chest.  A problem shared is a problem halved.’

The decision by both Dave and Peter not to seek formal counselling for themselves is not unusual. Men are expected to be strong in these situations, and there is a widespread expectation that they will manage their partner’s grief and somehow fix what has happened.  

According to Mensline, one of the free and confidential services offered in Australia, the vast majority of calls received from men are about needing guidance on how to support their partners through a difficult time. Less than 10% of calls were actually from men seeking personal counselling for themselves.  

Guilt is not just a female emotion. When men are unable fix things, the guilt they experience can be overwhelming. At the same time if they don’t express sufficient emotion they can feel guilty about being heartless. Peter explained ‘I sometimes feel guilty that I don’t think about it more.  I don’t know whether I should sit down and dwell on it, or is it enough that I just think about it quickly and then get on with it?’

There is no prescription for how a man should respond to the loss of a child, just as there is no prescribed period for mourning a lost opportunity. What Peter did not realise though, was that he was mourning his child every day. 

‘We are planning on buying a lemon tree, to remind us of the baby.  In the shower there’s a lemon body wash, but I haven’t touched it since. I don’t know why, it’s one of those things, but I think about the baby when I look at the lemon body wash in the shower.’

In writing to the Dads today, and asking their permission to retell their stories, Dave replied to me:

‘To be honest you tend to block the loss from your mind until there is something that reminds you of it (like your email to me now) – no matter how long it has been it still stirs a lot of emotion and sadness that you generally don’t talk about or share. It is good to be reminded and to think about it really – it helps ground you. I think right now the sense of you don’t know what you have got until you have lost it is very real and can be hard to comprehend until you have experienced it firsthand (or really hand in hand).’

Dave and Jess were lucky enough to have a successful IVF round, and then to fall pregnant again soon after their second child was born. Their house is now full with three healthy children, a happy transcript to the years of sadness and loss they experienced earlier.

But as Dave says:
‘The losses impacted us both – however we are the lucky ones that have been blessed with 3 lovely (if not challenging) children – whereas others out there may only know and have experienced loss. 

So what can we learn from these dads’ stories?

Sharing is perhaps the closest thing to a solution the dads can offer. Dave admitted in the course of the interview he had spoken more about miscarriage than he ever had to his wife. ‘But the thing is it’s not discussed, it’s not talked about, it’s not shared,’ Dave said. ‘It’s not something to be celebrated but I guess it’s a fact of life for a lot of people.’

These stories are as profound as they are commonplace.  Miscarriage and pregnancy loss does not affect just the mother, and there will always be more than one side to each story. There may be no shortcut out of the grief, but by allowing these stories to be shared, we acknowledge men’s experience and role in the process.

I want to thank both these special guys who contributed to this article, and even though it is now some time after the event, I know you still have a special place in your hearts for your babies. I am eternally indebted to you and your wives for sharing these stories.

*names have been changed

USEFUL CONTACTS  1300 789 978 
A national telephone support, information and referral service for men with family and relationship concerns
A national service dedicated to helping families who have experienced the sudden death of a pregnancy or child regardless of cause

The Six Essential Lessons to Surviving Mealtimes [Mamadoo]

There was a time in my life when I used to enjoy cooking. 

I would spend hours surrounded by piles of cookbooks and magazines, creating menus and writing shopping lists. I would cook for adoring crowds, and except for that one time I made cauliflower soup (which my husband and I agreed we’d never mention again), I have done quite well at pleasing the people in front of me.

And then I had children. And a little piece of me died inside...

To continue reading at Mamadoo, click here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The End is Nigh

I have a bathroom book.

It’s usually a non-fiction book, occasionally what you might call a coffee-table book, but usually a parenting book that I read after my shower, while I brush my teeth, an opportunity to learn something (but really just an excuse to delay going back downstairs again).

My current book is ‘All Joy and No Fun’ by Jennifer Senior.

I am over half way through and there are a few dog eared corners already, as I fold them down, for that inevitable point in the future when everything goes to hell and I feel the need to refer to a book to help me find a solution.

Because that’s where the solution is, right? In books.

But last night I read this:

It’s not an accident that most parenting blogs are written by mothers and fathers of small children. Part of it, yes, is that these parents are responding to the novelty of their situation. But part of it, too, is that the challenges they’re writing about are usually so generic that they’re betraying no confidences in revealing them. It does not violate your children’s privacy to say they detest peas, and it’s not a particularly poor reflection on your parenting either. Whereas writing about adolescents is different. They’re incipient adults, with idiosyncratic habits and intricate vulnerabilities; they’re unlikely to welcome daily blog posts from their mothers and fathers about their lives. Their parents are no longer inclined to share these stories, either, at least not publicly…

Apart from the bit about daily blog posts, this entire paragraph could be about me. And quite possibly, about you too.

It is something that I think about every time I lash out at my eldest daughter, every time she does something or says something that makes me want to throw something at her. She’s seven but is already behaving like a teenager. A shitty teenager.

Notice how I don’t write any of those stories? I am reluctant to share them, partly because unlike complaining about my baby throwing poo out of the shower, stories about my relationship with my eldest does reflect poorly on my parenting.

And the reason why it reflects poorly, is because I am her primary role model, and almost every hideous thing she does, can be directly traced back to something I have done or said.

I realise that at some point in the future, as all my children grow up, and can read and trawl the internet, Relentless will inevitably finish. I don’t want it to finish because I find such relief in sharing stories and also knowing that my memories have become concrete, that the special moments of being a mother to small children won’t turn to dust in my mind.

But just as Senior writes, writing generic stories about young children betrays no confidences. My kids love hearing about the dumb stuff they did when they were younger. I doubt they will feel so enamoured when they are pre-teens and the bitchy girls at school discover this blog.

So, even now as you watch the number of blog posts drop away, it is not because I don’t love writing for you (or writing for me).

It is because I am treading the fine line between sharing and over-sharing as the girls grow up.

What are your thoughts?
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