Monday 9 January 2017

A Letter to my Five Year Old

Dear Ebony, 

Today, you are five. You awoke last night shortly after midnight and crept into my bed. You hooked your knee over my hip as I lay with my back to you, feeding your baby sister. When you wrap your limbs around me now, they're not the short, fleshy limbs of years gone by, they are leaner and longer. 

This morning you woke up full of smiles and excitement. "Is it time to open my presents?" You whispered excitedly, for once taking care not to wake your baby sister. I looked at my phone, it was almost 7am. On the floor next to me lay your unwritten unbirthday card, quickly pushed aside when you snuck into the room last night just as I was about to write it. 

This is the first time you've been at school on your birthday. It feels strange to be here without you on such an important day. We had a party yesterday. You invited all of your class, all of your friends from nursery and all of your friends from other corners of your life. The room was loud and hectic with children screaming and laughing and running. You helped the magician with her magic tricks, you handed out the party bags and you cried when your helium balloon ended up on the ceiling. 

Normally, I say that it doesn't feel like x many years has passed since I first held you in my arms, but today that first cuddle feels like a lifetime ago. Maybe it is the fact we have Ember now, or the fact we've moved house so I'm not typing this in that living room, or simply the fact that my aging mind is growing hazy, but the day you were born doesn't feel like yesterday anymore. I can remember how much we loved you, how hard I cried when I saw you for the first time and how proud I was to have met you. I can remember that first day together, you sleeping soundly in your moses basket while I peered at you from the edge of the bed. I was exhausted but too besotted to sleep, I didn't want to miss a single breath. 

And now you are five. A curious little girl who loves fiercely, cares deeply and fights for what she wants. I am so proud of you, my biggest girl. You are everything I hoped you would be. You are funny and kind and loving and strong. You give withering looks to anyone and everyone who gets in your way. You are the perfect daughter and a complete nightmare both at the same time. 

I love spending time with you. I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the quiet with your sister during the school day, but I love those few hours we all have together before bed. When we draw and read and play and talk about your day. When you tell me who pushed who or why you got cross at school. You direct most of your play at your sister now, singing and dancing and doing pretty much anything you can think of to keep her entertained. And she loves you so much. I love seeing her face break into a smile when she hears your voice. She loves you and you love her so fiercely. She bit me once during a feed and I shouted out in pain. You thought I was shouting at her and you immediately told me that I should never do that again, she's only a baby, she doesn't understand and her ears are very very precious, you told me. 

One morning last week, we were sitting on the edge of my bed. I was getting Ember changed so we could go out, carefully slipping her arms into a new onesie. "You're not a bad mummy," you said, out of the blue "You're a really good one. You take such good care of us. I love you so much." If I'm a good mother, it's only because you made me one. Because, even on the days when I'm perfectly imperfect, I strive to do better because I want you to have the best parents you possibly can. 

So, little girl, let us see what adventures five holds for us. 

Saturday 7 January 2017

Goodbye, 2016

Another year over. They pass so quickly now. One year merges into another almost seamlessly if it wasn't for the stress of Christmas I don't even think I'd notice it all coming to an end. 2016 was a weird year for me. It started so beautifully but everything sort of slumped somewhere near the middle.

At the start of the year, we were slowly starting to tell people about the pregnancy. I was hugely excited about the future and spent hours talking to Ebony about what life might be like when the new baby arrived. You think it will be less exciting the second time, but the magic of seeing your only child become a big sibling adds a whole new level of wonder to the experience. 

I couldn't wait to give birth again, to have newborn snuggles on the sofa and to see Ebony flourish as a big sister. The pregnancy, which I'd expected to be terrible after the nine months of misery I endured with Ebony, turned out to be amazing. I felt great. I wasn't horrified by my changing body this time around, instead, I loved seeing the bump grow every week. 

We spent the spring desperately trying to get the house ready before my parents disappeared on holiday. Once my dad has left the country, so has most of our DIY know-how. I learnt how to tile, Laurie installed a toilet and sink all by himself and managed to fix the wiring in our bedroom whilst only getting electrocuted once. Floors were sanded, rooms were painted and everything felt a little bit nicer. And I promised everybody that I wouldn't insist on anymore decorating for at least a couple of years. 

I turned 30 and discovered it is no fun having a birthday party when you are sober and pregnant. We went on holiday to Portugal with my sister and Ebony spent the entire holiday saying "Auntie Rosie, look at me! Look at me, Rosie!" Also, it rained a lot. My bump was starting to balloon and I spent most of the holiday feeling like my skin might be about to tear open. 

I spent a lot of the first half of the year napping. I napped when I should have been working. I napped when I should have been looking after Ebony. I can't tell you how many times I woke up to find Ebony playing really quietly next to me. She always let me sleep when I was tired, my caring, sweet little girl. We read bedtimes stories about babies and birth and being a big sister. Hello, Baby was a firm favourite and we read it over and over again. I cried pretty much every time, my heart felt so full of love. 

Ebony finished nursery and I bought her school uniform ready for her starting school full-time. We spent the summer holidays close to home, not wanting to stray too far away from the safety of these four walls. We went for walks, we saw friends, we watched a lot of movies. I felt on edge constantly, I cried in the evenings because I just wanted it all to be over. Laurie sat by helplessly, ordering curry after curry from the Indian restaurant down the road. 

My due date came, we baked cupcakes. Every couple of days for the next two weeks we baked cupcakes. The baby's birthday cake, perhaps? Ebony got bored of waiting, she didn't think the baby was ever coming out. 40 weeks of counting down and now we were counting up. 12 days late. My mum came over to look after Ebony whilst I went for monitoring at the hospital. Too much fluid. Home birth wasn't a safe option. They wanted to induce. Laurie shielded me while I cried. 

I agreed to stay in hospital. Fiona declined induction at this time. Fiona declined induction. Fiona declined induction. My hospital notes were long and repetitive. Couldn't find Fiona on the ward, again. I walked miles along the short path from the maternity ward to the ambulance bay. If my waters went and the cord prolapsed, at least I'd be in the right place. 40 + 17. She was finally born. She forced her way out into the world, taking her time during the birth as she had in the pregnancy. She was big and beautiful and perfect. I felt like my heart would burst because I was so happy to finally meet her. 

I spent the first night in a hospital bed, sleeping soundly next to my new daughter in the plastic bedside crib. I wanted to be at home, hidden away from the world. Instead, I listened to the cries of other people's babies, I smiled at the nurses coming to do obs and I counted down the hours until I could leave. Ebony came to the hospital with my mum. She'd woken up early, been told the baby had been born and run straight to get dressed. She chose her favourite dress, too short, and a glittery headband for her unbrushed hair. She sat on the sofa at the end of the ward with my mum. She looked so big, so old, all of a sudden. I carried Ember, dressed in a pink romper, in my arms. Ebony looked so proud when she saw her. "I love you," she whispered as she had her first cuddle with her new sister. 

We went home later that day. Everything hurt. I hurt. My heart hurt. I felt in love and proud and raw and devastated and traumatised all at the same time. Every minute was an emotional rollercoaster. I grieved for the home birth I didn't have. I grieved for the safety and support I felt at Ebony's birth. I wished things could have been different this time. I felt angry and alone and heartbroken. I replayed it over and over and over again. I spent hours reading studies and anecdotes online, thinking of things I should have done differently. I was angry at everybody. I didn't want to see anybody. I just wanted to be alone and forget it all. 

Caring for a new baby was easy. It felt natural. It was better this time. The worries, the anxieties, the fear, none of that was there. I knew what I was doing. I soaked in those sleepy newborn cuddles on the sofa because I knew they wouldn't last forever. Everything felt familiar. It was the pain that was unknown. The physical pain of healing after birth, it was so much worse this time. And the emotional pain of healing after a traumatic birth. I thought back to how I felt after Ebony's birth, the pride, the elation, I didn't feel any of that this time. 

It took a long time to stop feeling like that. People made comments that helped. Not the ones who pointed out baby was fine, that didn't help. But the people who said I was being too hard on myself, the people who told me I was high-risk so it wasn't ever going to be the same as last time, the people who listened and said they were proud of me. Their words replayed in my head at night and helped to soothe me when my mind was in overdrive. And, before long, I wasn't thinking about the birth every day. Just every few days. Then maybe once a week. Then every couple of weeks. Now, it's probably once a month. On that day I cry a lot, I feel angry and sad and I don't want to see anyone, but it's getting easier and I'm trying my best.

Ebony started school and loved it. The first few weeks were tough, she was tired and emotional and so was I after the birth. We clashed and Laurie was there as the voice of reason, making sure we all felt loved and cared for. She missed us when she was at school but she enjoyed her new friendships and learning things. I missed her too, but I enjoyed the quiet time with Ember. We spent most of those first few weeks cuddled up on the sofa while Ebony was at school. 

I started walking, putting Ember in the wrap and walking for miles around my neighbourhood. I love where I live, surrounded by canals and country walks. Ember grew bigger and stronger. She started pushing herself up and leaning out of the wrap as I walked, desperate to see the world around her. The newborn days of her cuddled up on my chest disappeared so quickly. Everything seems to be over sooner this time around. The newborn days, the cluster feeds, the grumpy nights, they don't seem to last so long the second time around. 

Ebony grew up so much in 2016. Our family grew bigger. My heart grew a little bigger. 2016 was a year of change. Ember joining the family has been the most amazing, wonderful thing to happen and I truly couldn't love her more if I tried. But I will always feel sad about she made her entrance into the world, I hope one day I can think of it without crying, but I'm not there yet. I know I am lucky that the difficult start didn't affect bonding, that I was able to fall fast and hard and end up well and truly in love with her in spite of how broken I felt in those early days. 

2016 was mostly amazing, but I'm glad it's behind us now. Here's to 2017. 

Monday 2 January 2017

Review: Trespass Kids' Coat

Ebony has been wearing the same tan coat since last autumn. It still fits but it’s suffered a few too many grass stains after a summer spent rolling around in the grass with her best friend. It’s a beautiful coat but it has paid the price of belonging to a child like Ebony instead of a well-behaved sit down and smile politely kid. I once heard Ebony shouting me from the bushes. When I got there, I found her dangling from her coat hood from a tree, her feet about a foot off the ground. It is one of my most favourite memories.

Anyway, that tan coat may give me love heart eyes but it is not particularly warm. One day last year, her nursery teacher told me she had been standing in the playground shivering, The teacher thought she might be getting ill, but I knew it was my love of stylish tan coats over sensibile thick coats that was to blame. So, when Trespass asked if we wanted to review a warm coat, I said yes. Obviously.

I considered getting her a thick all-in-one, but I decided a coat would be more practical because she could wear it to school. She spends lunchtime and breaks running wild with her friends at school, so I figured a warm coat would come in handy. I looked through the many girls ski jackets on offer, thinking those would be great for the colder months. Trespass have a good selection of coats and not everything is pink. I eventually settled on this Skylor ski jacket in blue. I’d told Ebony she was getting a new coat and she was really excited when it arrived. There was an unofficial unboxing ceremony, a fashion show, she pulled out all the stops.

At first glance, the coat is good quality. It is well made and looks warm. I love the star design and the bright blue colour. Ebony loves the striped hood and all of the pockets. So many pockets. She keeps a folded up pirate map in the pocket on her forearm. She keeps a collection of coins (mine, no doubt) in the inside pocket and all her tissues and boxes of raisins in the normal pockets. She’s a pocket lover. The hood detaches from the coat which I discovered the morning after it arrived when Ebony sheepishly asked me if I could reattach it.

She’s been wearing the coat daily for a few weeks now and she loves it. It’s warm and snuggly and she loves the colour of it. And the pockets, obviously. She has worn it in the snow and not complained about the cold. It’s windproof so once it’s been zipped up, so it keeps her warm even when the wind is at its worst. I send her into school with a jumper or cardigan on under her coat and she always runs out at 3pm without them.

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