The Diary of a Working Mum {Part Four}

It’s been a while since I posted one of these instalments.  Christmas and all the advent festivities took over my life in December.  I wanted this to have the attention that it deserved on my blog space.  My beautiful friend Heather sent me this blog a while ago now and I’ve been loving reading every single one.  Heather could have her own blog space easily if she had the time to maintain it.  Every time she sends me a message via facebook (our usual way of communicating when we’re busy) it’s like diamonds drip from the page.  She always knows exactly what to say to speak into my life.  One of the most honest, direct and beautiful writers I know.  When I read this the first time I was in tears, so have your tissues at the ready as Heather takes us through the dilemmas we go through as Mum’s that work to provide the best for our family.

The second longest week of my life

The August before I went back to work, we went on holiday with some friends of ours to Spain for a week.  This would be the first proper holiday we had as a family (having already trialled Center Parcs in the May which was a roaring success even though I detest Center Parcs).  As our confidence grew as parents, and Martha was passing all her checks with flying colours; we decided to treat ourselves to some sunshine after a somewhat dramatic year.

I don’t know why it changed, but up until that point Martha had been catching up magnificently with her adjusted age, then suddenly she stopped being interested in food.  As any mum of a prem knows acutely, the desire to get your child to ‘catch-up’ with other kids their age can at times be all consuming, and I was no exception.  I was obsessed with how much Martha ate, I was obsessed with her weight, and I was obsessed with getting her up to speed.  Again it probably stems from a guilt on my part for not getting through 9 months of pregnancy and a determination to right that wrong, as I saw it.  This is why I couldn’t bear to go to Mother and Child groups; I hated the constant comparisons and measuring up to others that consumed my thoughts.  I can remember getting myself so worked up in the days between weighing clinic, desperately trying to feed up Martha so she would have gained.  Oh the elation I felt when she had put on ounces, and the despair that consumed me if she had maintained or worse still lost.  I cried at each weigh in, joyous or disappointed tears.  My obsession was becoming unhealthy and thank God one of the Health Visitors recognised this in me because she gently took me to one side and said ‘I don’t want to see you here again, you are doing a brilliant job.  Go and enjoy your baby!’  And that’s what I did in the most part, although these creeping fears would be in the back of my mind and they usually revolved around Martha’s food intake.

After our holiday we had a month or so before I started work, and I hoped that the eating thing would rectify itself once she started nursery.  Seeing other children heartily tucking into their dinners, might encourage her to do the same.  It didn’t and what we initially hoped was a phase, is still something we as a family struggle with every meal of every day.  I occasionally stumble across pictures of Martha from back then and my heart breaks a little at how skinny she was.  She wouldn’t eat, so she would wake in the night hungry, she would be grumpy in the day and get tired easily; as would I, and all the time I was trying to stop myself screaming ‘YOU NEED TO EAT!  PLEASE, PLEASE EAT SOMETHING, ANYTHING!’  I would enviously look at other babies with their rolls of fat and their curiosity at new foods, their willingness to put things in their mouths and the speed at which their mealtimes happened.  Whereas Martha could take up to an hour and a half to put 1 spoonful in her mouth, and that was after a copious amount of encouragement.  It was so frustrating.

The eating thing levelled out and we attended various feeding clinics and paediatric appointments to monitor her food intake and to encourage a healthy eating environment.  Yes, she was small, but she appeared healthy in every other way and Dr Yadav at the hospital prescribed her iron to boost her appetite, and we worked out a special meal-plan with the chef at nursery so she was getting familiar meals that she enjoyed.  We did everything we could, but her lack of interest in food made her susceptible to illness and infection as she just didn’t have the reserves to fight a lot of normal childhood illnesses that came her way.  A common cold would knock her for six and for weeks on end, and it was exhausting for all of us.

Just before Martha’s 3rd birthday, we went to look round a potential school for her in Blackrod village.  She’d had a restless night, and she was crying and moaning throughout the presentation the Headmaster gave.  I was worried about her.  She seemed weak and distracted but I had to drop her off at nursery because I needed to get to work that day too.

At about 12 midday I got a phone call from nursery saying she was struggling to breathe and that we needed to get her to hospital.  I fled from work and organised for my mum to collect her and meet me at Chorley Hospital (I work in Blackburn so this would be half way and save time.  Nick worked in Manchester which would take too long).  As soon as we got there, they decided to admit her to Bolton Hospital and they ambulanced her there as a matter of urgency.  A chest x-ray showed that she had pneumonia and we would be staying put until she stabilised and her oxygen levels improved.  She was fitted with a cannula and put on oxygen and Nick rushed home to get me some essentials as I would be staying with her overnight and for the foreseeable next few days.  It was hell.  There is nothing scarier than seeing your child so ill and being utterly helpless to do anything.  My heart was broken.  How had I not seen she was so ill?  I was a crap mum, and her lying there hooked up to a machine brought back those terrible memories from not 3 years earlier when we didn’t know what to expect.  We were right back to square 1.

I sat up all night holding an oxygen mask over her little face and chastising myself for not making her stronger to fight things like this.  The next day, she had improved slightly and by late afternoon we were told that if she ate something and her levels stayed the same for the next few hours, she would be allowed home.  We managed to get her to eat a small bite of a fish finger and we were discharged with an inhaler and a list of things to look out for which would mean her being readmitted.  She survived off milk and the odd cheesy wotsit for the next week.  I have a picture of her from that week with her Dad in a little beret and scarf and she looks so thin it still makes me anxious when I see it.

After a week of me taking emergency leave to care for her, she finally ate a bowl of meatballs and seemed to be picking up; the relief for me was immense.  I had kept work up to date with her progress and I knew I needed to get back to work and let go of Martha a little bit again.  She only did 2 mornings and one full day a week in nursery so the next Monday we decided to let her go back.  She was welcomed into pre-school with a round of applause and a present as they had all missed her so much.  She proudly showed the staff how to use her inhaler and was ecstatic to see her friends again.  I on the other hand got half way to work, and had to pull into a slip road because I was sobbing so much and my tears were blinding the road ahead.  What was I doing???  I phoned work and turned my car around so I could go and collect Martha at lunchtime and have her safe in my arms again.  I ached for her.

I needed comfort so I called my Mum, but comfort was not what I got.  I won’t relay the full conversation because what was said made me so angry and hurt me so much that I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  Basically my mum told me that my little girl needed me, I should give up my job, I had to put her first, nothing was more important than her health, etc etc.  I stupidly tried to justify myself with arguments such as ‘how will I pay for my car?’  ‘How will we afford to carry on saving up for the deposit for a new house so she can run in the garden?’ all of which were met with counter-arguments like ‘you don’t need a car!  I never had a car!’  ‘I never worked!’  ‘You don’t need the extra money’  ‘she’s ill, you’re her Mum, and you need to look after her’ ‘nursery is full of germs’ ‘she needs to go to a child minder instead if you won’t look after her, there’s less germs there’.

Whether it was an accumulation of shock at directness of what she had said, heightened emotions after the horrendous week we had just had or the fact that I was just so emotionally fragile at that time, but her words were like a knife to my heart that kept stabbing me over and over and over again.  The timing of it was just utterly terrible.  I understand that my mum had been frightened and worried too by the recent events and that she was only thinking about Martha’s well-being, but the fact that she had failed to see that I was already such an emotionally frail state, and she seemed to suggest that if Martha got ill again, it would somehow be my own doing, was simply more than I could bear.  After her phone call, I cried those tears you cry when you are little, and you can’t catch your breath and you honestly think you’ll never stop crying.

I couldn’t get the words out when I phoned Nick.  I was so angry, so distraught, so devastated that my Mum had suggested that MY choices had made my precious baby poorly.  But I knew, I knew that my mum knew too, I was a good mum, that I loved her with an intensity, with a passion, with an all-consuming unconditional force, and I didn’t need to prove that to anyone.

Nick was amazing with me.  He calmly took the argument out of my hands and he dealt with the situation privately by speaking to my Dad.  I had a moment of clarity when he did that.  I should be looking to my husband for this support.  Not my Mum.  My lovely husband who had gone through this journey with me, experiencing all our hopes and fears with me, finding his way as a new father whilst supporting me and championing me at the same time.  I had again neglected to believe in the unit we are as a family of 3.  To stand strong in our choices.  I had sought affirmation, acceptance and approval from somewhere else, when I had it right next to me all the time.  As I slowly let go and forgave my mum (after a week of silence) and myself, I was ready to get back on the rollercoaster.


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