Wednesday, July 25, 2018

1y5m15d : One or Two?

I wrote this as a response to someone else on the SMC forum. This comes up a lot for me, this idea of one child or two.  I liked what I wrote so I thought I'd put it here as part of this story.

I went into becoming a single mother thinking I would only have one. My 'dream Plan A' of finding a partner included having 2, but when I reduced that dream to the Plan B just me, I also reduced the child count to account for it. Not that this makes sense to anyone else necessarily, but I sort of felt like, two parents to two kids is a replacement one for one in an overpopulated world, and so one to one just made sense to me.

I'm an only child, and I really don't remember minding being an only child and now as an independent adult, I really don't mind being an only child at all. I think every individual person is so different, you can't know what a person will feel or want in terms of their relationships or 'how they'll feel about things' that they have or don't have. You also don't know if two children will have a great sibling bond, or a horrid sibling bond. I know people with both, and as I don't have any myself, I don't romanticize it either way. I think it's a crap shoot be honest.

So with me being so sure I wanted one, why have I felt conflicted? The online SMC forums. Peer pressure. That's it. I've posted about it before in other places. It never occurred to me to want another child, until I was suddenly faced with lots of people both here and in real life from my mum and baby groups that do. Suddenly, oh the pressure!!! The doubt!! I can afford my one child and we can have a good life together where I can give her enriching experiences and we can enjoy travel and other such things together. I do not have the capacity to live that life with two children. I would need to live an entirely different life with two children, simply for the sake of having two children. And when I think very hard about the type of life -I- want to live, it is very much the one with one child, not two.

But I still feel pressure. It's very real and tangible. It doesn't mean I actually want 2. I'm not sure what it means exactly. But I know when I take MJ to swim class, that there would be no way I could take another child to swim class. So she'd have to give up hers, and I couldn't offer that to another child. I know I can just about afford nursery fees for one, but I'd be stretched and either sucking down my savings or going in to debt to pay for nursery for 2. The knock on effect would be, I couldn't jaunt off to Denmark next week to see a friend if I had two. I couldn't afford it, and probably couldn't manage it (I'm taking a travel cot for one, but two??). I look ahead and think about maybe private school and music lessons and other classes/lessons and more travel and whatever else and I know that lifestyle is predicated on my one child.

And when I think about her, and me and her together, my heart is so full and I think our relationship is so special, I am actually satisfied. And I think that's important- that I am actually satisfied with what I have.

Because it means when I feel that pressure, and nagging guilt, that I really have to think about why I'm feeling it. It's not because I'm not fulfilled. And as I said, I don't have strong feelings about siblings either way, so I don't think MJ is going to have a worse life without a sibling. So what is it? It's just this other thing of expectation and pressure and external society and a bit of 'keeping up with the Jonses' and it's not really about what I actually want at all. It's more about what I somewhere in some part of my head think I should be doing. Except I really don't.

It doesn't make it less real however. And it means I'm never entirely comfortable even though from the start I really only wanted one. I still pay storage on my 3 embryos, 7 eggs, and 3 vials of sperm and I honestly don't know what I want to do with them. I may try to donate the eggs and embryos in the future. But I also probably hold on to them a little bit to make the decision a little less final. Even though I'm 98% sure I'm a one and done mom.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

1y5m8d: Handling being a parent

I see in various places sometimes the question, "How do you handle being a parent?", especially from people who are not yet parents and thinking about being a parent.  And I think that part of this stems from seeing children out and about being active and rambunctious and thinking, "Oh my god, I couldn't possibly handle that!".  I think there is some foundation for this reaction, but the wonderful thing about being a parent is that you learn and grow alongside your child's development stages.

You aren't suddenly thrust into having to care for and manage a howling toddler. A newborn is for the most part, not that difficult, once you account for the lack of sleep and your tolerance for crying (and how much your baby may cry for that matter- mine didn't much).  Of course there are things that seem BIG and you are all encompassed by it while you're doing it. Slowly but surely though, your newborn infant will start to be more interactive. They roll over. They sit up. They look at things. And you, as their parent are right there with them. In fact, the reality is, you will likely miss many of these changes as they blur into a happy memory of newborn haze. The reality is, in the first six months of your child's life, you are becoming an adept parent just as your child is moving from a newborn to a baby.

The same transition happens from baby to toddler. Children don't one day wake up and start running. There is a learning curve. And again, you are right there by their side, watching their actions, learning what they do so you can be there to support them. The change in some ways is fast, but in other ways is slow and incremental. So slow, that you don't really notice, but again, your skills at managing your child are keeping up with their development.

Does that mean there aren't moments of desperation or exasperation? Of course not. But they aren't the end of the world. They're a moment. Moments pass.

It's funny though, because as much as I understand this paradigm, thinking about the reality of having two children based on having one, is one of the key reasons I don't really want another child. Because I see what it takes, and I don't think I have enough to go around for two.  At least, not to do it the way I want to do it. However, the reality is, if I had another child, I would adapt day by day until my new reality was commonplace. I still believe there would be more moments of exhaustion and exasperation, and I still know that financially it's not really what I can afford (or consequently what I would want if I did). But it's the same principle. Everything about children seems overwhelming until you have one. Then you just take it it day by day. And each day isn't actually all that hard upon reflection. That's how you handle it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

1y3m27d : Communicating

So very little time has passed and my newborn baby girl is really just morphing rapidly into a little person.  MJ's communication efficiency is breathtaking. She doesn't have all the words, but we use sign language and she has distinct sounds. I know what she means. She can clearly indicate yes and no, and when offered choices make preferential selections. She shows she understands things that I don't always think she's going to.

For example, we're currently working on getting her to wear her helmet when in the bicycle bucket. This is mostly in preparation for moving to a front sitting bench position, as I don't want her sitting on the bench without a helmet.  Of course, like most children, she has hated things on her head from the beginning. I had all these lovely little newborn caps that she flat out refused to wear.  The other day after nursery pick-up I was loading her into the bike and she of course did not want to wear her helmet.  I said something along the lines of, "Please, MJ, mommy would really like you to wear your helmet, please." and I made the sign for 'please' to go with it. And she sort of looked at me, stopped yelling, and let me put the helmet on her head. It was amazing!!

Of course, I also think she understands when I say, it's time to do bedtime soon and we need to upstairs and she hustles away from me. Or just frowns and shakes her head.  So this isn't all smiles and rose petals!  Toddler attitude is real!

When I think about how short a time span it's been, and I look at pictures of my little baby from a  year ago, it's really mind blowing to think about how far we've come. And I know how much more she's going to continue to gain in the upcoming months.  It's so hard to capture these little moments of wonder. They all fly by so quickly.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

1y3m13d : I rarely think about being a solo mom except...

Sometimes I wonder what to write here about being a single mother as opposed to just being a mother.  Honestly, most of my thoughts, hopes, dreams, concerns, etc. are about being a parent. It really doesn't matter what sort of parent you are.  But there are occasionally points where I think, "Oh yeah, this is where being a single mother makes it particularly tough."

One of those things is when I have any event to attend that is outside of work/nursery hours. My job doesn't require much travel, but there are occasional opportunities to take part in events that would require me to be away from Cambridge in the 'nursery window'. If I had an obliged partner, I could just have them take care of MJ when those events come up.  As it stands, I have to think very carefully about whether I want to pay for  a babysitter, lean on my boyfriend, or turn the opportunity down.  And I find that a lot of time I turn opportunities down. Because there are too many sometimes. I have to be choosy. And that's just business opportunities. Then there are personal opportunities- drinks after work, dinner with friends.  All of those are pretty much off my radar.  Again, if there was a guaranteed second supporter of MJ, we would negotiate these things.  But as it's all me, my default position is that taking care of her is my number one priority and other stuff comes second.  This will hopefully become a bit easier as she gets a little older and the people I can lean on to watch her expands (some people aren't overly keen or able to watch a small baby, and she is also at an age where she needs to really know the person I leave her with- it's not good enough if I know the person really well).  So there's that.

The other thing I think about is how this impacts my decision about more than likely only having one child. I'm not upset about only having one child, in fact I'm perfectly happy with one child. But my 'Plan A' of life included getting married to someone and having 2 children.  I can tell that I'm not really in a place to seriously think about a second child, because I'm still going through some of the tough stages with number 1 and when I think 'Would I want to do this all over again while still watching an older MJ?' the answer in my head is a resounding 'NO'. Aside from the fact that I often feel I'm at capacity taking care of just the two of us, I also think about things like how much I enjoy taking MJ to swim lessons. Well, if I had another child, aside from it being questionable if I could afford swim lessons for a second child, what would I do with MJ while taking the new child swimming?  This is where another set of hands would again make the decision much easier. I can do a lot with me and her. And I suppose if I had twins, where the children are of the same age and could do the same things, I would find a way to manage two. But two of a different age? With different needs and requirements? I can't be present for one and just leave the other dangling. So this reinforces my other feelings about having a second child. I can see how I could manage with another parent and live the life I want to live with my children, but I can't quite see how it works with just me.

On balance though, I have a great job that I love, and I don't mind that I can't go to as many evening events as I used to. And as I said, I feel reasonably sure I only want one child on my own anyway, so my thoughts on managing a second solo simply reinforces what I already think, which is fine. But otherwise, my days are filled with waiting for MJ to walk on her own, dealing with sleep issues, fighting over brushing teeth and wearing bicycle helmets, my heart melting when she says mama and gives me cuddles, and all the other things that just come with regular parenting and have nothing to do with being a single mom at all.  Which I guess I'm glad for- how little being a 'single' mom actually matters in my parenthood practice, as much as it is at the core of my parenthood identity.

Friday, April 6, 2018

1y1m27d : Single parenting thoughts - finances

I am a single mother. My daughter has one parent, me. And of course this comes with certain special issues that 2-parent families don't have to deal with. But most of the time, I don't feel any different from any other parent. In fact, I often think things are easier that it's ONLY me and my daughter and I'm not having to deal with another person in our family.

People sometimes say things like, "I don't know how you do it!" or, "You're so strong!". Really? Because I'm just living my life and I happen to be raising a tiny human. Sometimes I think that because I had a child when I was older, and that I was as prepared as I could be, particularly, although not exclusively, financially, that it's just a bit easier for me. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm an academic. I do not make a lot of money. I'm solidly middle class with an income that is nowhere remotely close to six figures. But I had savings; and, I was lucky that trying to conceive didn't eat it all up.  I also don't spend as much as I once did on things like eating out, or gig tickets, or travel, because it's that much harder with a  young child. And I've never been much into clothes - I do buy clothes but I tend to wait for sales, or indulge in my eBay addiction for used stuff which is much, much cheaper.

And to be honest, raising MJ at this point in time isn't horrifically expensive (once you account for nursery, which IS horrifically expensive, but I've got that covered). The investment in cloth diapers was a bit of an outlay, but now I don't buy diapers, so I think that works out better in the long run (and, of course, I got a bunch off eBay so they were lower cost).  It means I have a bit of spending money for small indulgences- books and toys which mostly are pretty cheap. And I also get most of her stuff (like clothes) off eBay because it's ridiculous how expensive new kids clothes are and how very little they've been worn. It means I can pay for things like our WaterBabies class and not think twice about it when other moms I know say things like, "Oh, but that's very expensive isn't it?". I mean, I guess? But what else am I spending money on?

So would life be easier with two incomes? Maybe? But we'd need more stuff, more space, more food, etc. There are certain things that would be easier with another parent- like I could go do something and have 'free' childcare. But I do sort of have this because boyfriend will watch MJ if there's something I really need to do.  In the same way that many single parents have extended family who can help them out. I do know some single parents who are entirely on their own, but many have a village, or build a village that can support them. It's not the same as a partner who has an actual responsibility to the child, but a good network goes a long way. And if my village can't watch MJ, then I just have to pay for a sitter. It's not cheap (£10/hour) so I don't do it very often at all, but if I HAD to do it, I would do it and it's an option to me. It's not impossible, it's just money.

And let's face it, I knew that having a child would entirely shift my life, and my habits would change. I guess I'm just happy that overall, we're not struggling or anything. We're not rolling in it, but we're fine. We can have nice things (some gently used) and we can go on holidays and have nice food and swim lessons. What else do we need really? I guess because I don't know any different- that I've been on my own for so long, that I planned for having a child, and was financially ready to change my habits, that it's generally all worked out fine. Maybe I'd be amazed at how much more spending power I'd have if I had a partner? But somehow I don't think so. And anyway, it doesn't matter, because we're all good!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

1y1m18d : When do you feel like a mom?

One thing that I have noticed since MJ has arrived, is how much I still feel very much like myself.  I am somewhat intrigued by people who say things like, 'Motherhood completes me.' or 'I've always wanted to be a mom'. I mean, I've always thought I would have a child (and now I do) but what does that mean to BE a mom?

I had MJ later in life, when I was already 42 (my Douglas Adam year). In preparation for MJ and just in general, I had shaped my life into something that made me pretty happy.  I have a job I love, I am solvent, I own a home (although I currently rent it out and live in another, but hey ho). I've dealt with a lot of my demons and baggage.  I am probably one of the best versions of myself now, then I have ever been.  But if MJ had not come along, this would still be true. My life, and who I am, is very independent of MJ.  I am a whole and fulfilled person who happens to have wanted, and then had, a child.  But if MJ had not happened, then I would have found something else meaningful to fill that spot.

So then what does it mean to feel like a mom? I am a mom for sure.  I put MJ's needs first (for the most part, when reasonable, I mean, her needs can't ALWAYS be first, mommy needs to pee). I have merged my caring for her into my life and routine, without giving up or particularly changing who I am. I have changed what I DO, because I have had to. You can't suddenly add a child to the mix and do everything like you used to do it.  But that was part of what I signed up to. It's no hardship, because I expected my life to change to accommodate this little person.  I just do it. And so I just AM a mother, but I'm not sure I FEEL like a mother.

I honestly am not even sure what that means. I love her in a way that is unique. But is that enough, does love make a parent?  Recently I had to travel to London for work which is about an hour by train away from Cambridge. MJ was at nursery for the day and so that was all taken care of. Yet as the train got further and further away from Cambridge I felt this pull on my heart, I could literally feel the distance between us. That if she needed me, I couldn't be there quickly for her. This felt extremely uncomfortable.  The closest thing I could think of what it felt like was the description of the connection to soul daemons in the Phillip Pullman books. I didn't like it. I then went on to think about how although I have had to come home late on occasion, we have never spent a night apart. And the thought of doing so, is equally uncomfortable.

I'm still not sure though that this feeling is, can, or should be the definition of feeling like a mother? Or maybe I'm looking for something that just isn't there. What I feel like is myself. A good version of myself. And I happen to be a mother.  Maybe that's just it.

Friday, March 16, 2018

1y1m5d : No Sleep Monster

First let me say that I truly believe that babies are meant to sleep like shit. Do you know why there are so many books and consultants and methods? Because babies are doing EXACTLY what babies are supposed to do. It's us crazy adults who expect them to do something other than there nature.

So generally I'm pretty tolerant of MJs sleep shenanigans. From 6 weeks to 4 months my little angel slept through the night and it was a dream come true. Then we hit the four month brain development change, and it all went to shit. Since then, she's slept through the entire night three whole times. We've gone through phases of waking every 1-2 hours, which was total shit, and waking once in the middle of the night, which is manageable.  Recently, we've been on the wake up once pattern and also wake up in the morning really early (around 5am). It's not great, but it's okay.

But this past week or so, it's all change again. For starters, the boob is not the magic potion it used to be. As I mentioned, I'm cutting back on breastfeeding so it's really just an evening activity for us. Well, MJ used to fall asleep very happily with a boob in her mouth. Now she has one, then the other, then would like to scream about it for a half an hour to an hour. I can't console her, cuddle her, rock her, put her down, pick her up, or do anything because what she really needs is to just go to sleep. But she doesn't want to. So after 45 minutes I usually revert to controlled crying (exit room for 5 minutes, come back sooth, exit, repeat) and it usually only takes 1-3 five minute cycles for her to settle. But it makes me feel like shit because I don't like walking out on my screaming baby. On the other hand, I don't like holding my thrashing screaming baby either where it's obvious nothing I'm doing is helping.

I don't know why we've suddenly kicked off on this new phase of sleep misery. But like all things sleep, the one thing I'm sure of is that it will not last and will change.  Teething? Maybe. Sore throat like mommy has? Who knows! It's been so long I just can't imagine what a whole night sleep is like anymore.