Last Week of Maternity Leave…

So this is it.

I am nearing the end of the last week of what my Dear Husband refers to as my “paid holiday”. Come Monday morning I shall be, once again, one of the thousands of cold, sleepy workers making their way to their place of employment. I am going back to work.

Lots of people (ok, a few…) have been asking me how I feel about returning to full-time work. It is complex (just for a change…). I really enjoy my work; yes I may have the occassional off-day and have a good moan, but in general I am extremely lucky. I have an interesting job, a great boss, nice offices and work with a team of truly dedicated professionals. What’s not to like? Well…

  1. My working day is 09.00 – 18.00. My commute is around 45 minutes each way, so I tend to be out the door as the kids are getting ready for school/daycare (Dear Husband takes them as he is a freelancer and so has much more flexibility) and don’t get back until around 19.00, when the kids are having their dinner (or are about to). This leaves me with about half an hour to cuddle/talk/play with them before they have to start getting ready for bed. Great…
  2. The above scenario is on a good day. Sometimes I have to get in earlier that 09.00 and very often I have to stay later than 18.00. Sometimes much, much later. Before I went on maternity leave with Son #2 in April last year, there were whole days when I barely saw the kids at all. Utterly depressing.
  3. Because of my working hours (and so that Dear Husband can also work) we have to have the kids in full-time daycare. Dear Daughter is in school from 08.15 – 12.15 (13.15 on Fridays) and then she goes to the daycare facility where Son #1 and (as of Monday) Son #2 are looked after until 18.00, when Dear Husband picks them up. This is a looooong day for kids their ages (5 years, 3 years and 8 months). Granted, it is mostly play for the boys, but still…
  4. I miss out on so much to do with the kids; so many milestones. I might not be the first person to see Son #2 crawl or walk or say his first proper word. Son #1 might finally learn to speak in whole sentences while talking with his carer, not me or his father. Dear Daughter might learn to tie her shoelaces or lose her first milktooth at school or daycare. Oh, the guilt!

But that, the guilt, is what makes me really angry (**WARNING: I am getting on my soapbox**).

Why are working mothers made to feel guilty (and we are, it is not entirely self-imposed) about being working mothers? No-one has ever made working fathers feel guilty! No-one in the history of mankind has ever stared open-mouthed as a father mentions that he will be going back to work after the birth of his child. It has always been taken for granted. But I regularly have (mostly other women) stare at me slack-jawed and goggle-eyed, disapproval seeping from their every pore, when I say that I am going to be going back to work full-time.

It only gets worse if I mention that I am actually quite looking forward to it (quite apart from the fact that mine is the stable, regular income so I bloody well *have* to go back to work!)

But I wonder, does it really have to be a case of “miss out or give up” when it comes to motherhood and employment? Are there really no alternatives out there? Is it really so socially and economically impossible to change? There are so many highly educated, professional women who have been forced (one way or another) to choose in this seemingly either/or situation. And it doesn’t matter which option you pick, you are still wrong and you still end up feeling frustrated and guilty. If you do go back to work, you are a terrible mother. If you don’t, then you are wasting your education.

Answers on a postcard please…A solution before Monday would be lovely, thanks.

 

Welcoming #3 to our family

Belle, Alex & Tom

The picture above was taken this past summer, around June, about a month after we welcomed Thomas, our third child and second boy (yes, the one on the bottom left of the picture in the brown and pink pyjamas is a boy…) to our family. It is, so far, one of my absolute favourites.

We did not plan on having three children. In fact, we never really “planned” having children at all. Our prevailing attitude was, “well, if it happens it happens; if it doesn’t…oh well.” Looking back on it, I think this was some kind of in-built safety mechanism, just in case it didn’t happen. But it did. And then didn’t. I had a miscarriage.

I don’t really intend this post to be an in-depth analysis of my feelings/wallow-fest about what happened, and I think it can be summed up with the following words: devestation, guilt, acceptance (kind of).

The one positive outcome of the whole sorry mess was that it really focused us on our feelings regarding a family and we both realised that we did want one. Really, really badly. After a good period of mourning and finally not really thinking about it as much, I felt sick. I didn’t want to eat (most unusual, to quote Audrey) and then one day at work I nearly fainted. These symptoms felt somewhat familiar, so off I popped to the chemists and bought a pregnancy test. Positive! Woohoo!

I had a fantastic pregnancy. So much so that I am almost ashamed at how easy it was. Apart from the first three months, when I felt constantly sea-sick and got frequent migraines (for which I could not take a thing…ugh), everything went very well. And if you discount the heart-wrenching moment at the first scan when they could not find a foetus and thought it might be ectopic. A weekend of absolutely self-pitying hysteria followed, but the scan on the Monday morning showed up a little peanut-shaped blob and the blood results confirmed that everything was viable and good to go. I put on very little weight during the pregnancy (but I did pile it on afterwards…) and had a super-easy labour and birth. Yes, I didn’t even get stretchmarks! Cow, I hear you mutter…

Well, Fate got me back by making me physically unable to breastfeed and after a week or so of utterly traumatic attempts to do so, which had both me and Darling Daughter screaming (me from pain, her from hunger), I decided to pump. This aleviated (somewhat) the maternal guilt I was feeling about not being able to breastfeed, but was a bit of a logistical bugger.

When you can breastfeed, you have a portable, ready to go source of food. When you pump, you are chained to the pump. I was pumping every 2 – 3 hours and if I didn’t get myself hooked up at the regularly appointed time…SPLOOSH! My top would look like I’d just poured water over my chest for no apparent reason. I was a human double-action water pistol. Niagra Falls had nothing on me! After the first tiny, teensy amounts, I was soon pumping so much milk that our fridge and freezer were full. Then, after 3 months, I dried up. Not sure why really, but it meant having to switch over to baby formula. It took a while to find one that she would keep down or that would not make her totally constipated and in an early warning indication of things to come, she settled on the most expensive and least available brand possible. Let’s put it this way: we had to make monthly/bi-monthly trips over the border to Aachen in Germany just to buy her milk formula!

Fast forward. We had a wonderful little girl and were a happy little family. Everything was just fine. And then when Darling Daughter was 18 months old we found out I was pregnant again. Feelings of surprised joy were tempered slightly by some doubts. Did I really want two children? What if they fought? What if they did not like each other? If the new one is a girl, will there be jealousy issues? What if she has my colouring (predominantly brown) as opposed to Darling Daughter (blonde hair, blue eyes) and it causes issues? Oh the stuff that swills around in my head sometimes…

I had another really easy pregnancy. We found out that #2 was going to be a boy, which we were really happy about (and which alleviated some of my worries). He arrived after another easy birth on exactly the same day as his sister (just in a different month). And any fears I may have had that they might not get on or that Darling Daughter might be jealous of the new baby were allayed about 3 minutes after she arrived for her first visit. Upon seeing the baby in his cot, she pointed at it and then proceeded to climb up into his cot with him! They are very close still, which doesn’t mean that they don’t fight, oh they do, but they are a definite unit. And each is as pretty as the other…I have never seen longer eyelashes on a boy!

We moved to Germany last Summer. I started my new job and we started settling into our new home and new life and then…TA DAAAAA! I was pregnant again. The timing was less than perfect. I was still in my probation period at work (and in Germany you can be let go from your job without any reason being given, when you are still in your probation period) and our house is tiny. We sleep in what used to be a kind of Drawing Room and the kids have the only bedroom. The bathroom is approximately the size of a broom cupboard and the kitchen is minute. How in the name of heck were we going to fit five people into this place? And can we cope with such a large family? Kids are expensive, do we have the resources to make sure that none of them miss out on the important things? Some of these are questions that still require answers…but we are managing (just about) so far.

Well, this pregnancy was not quite so easy. Again, during the first three months I had the migraines and the sea-sickness, but added to that I was constantly tired. Shattered. Done in. I would crawl home from work, say hi to the kids and my husband and then fall asleep on the sofa (at around 7.30pm!!). My lower back has always been a bit of a problem and while it did hurt me occassionally during the other pregnancies, this time around it constantly hurt. Everything from a never-ending dull ache to outright stabbing pains whenever I moved. And the swelling! Oh my, in the last month or so I said goodbye to my ankles. My legs, ankles and feet swelled up so much that I felt like one of the HaaHoos from In The Night Garden! Add to that the almost constant heartburn and you get the picture: third time around was definitely harder.

Son #2 arrived with little fuss on 18 May this year. The reason I suffered so much from back pain became apparent when they laid him on the weighing scales: 4kg 590g!!! And he was 57cm, a veritable giant of a baby! He is another blondie with pale blue eyes (I am now convinced that genetics is a fraud; I thought dark hair and eye colours were supposed to be dominant?!?) and is such a happy, laid back little guy. Massive, but happy.

So how is it with three? Well, crowded. Sometimes I feel like there is not enough of me to go around equally. We had to buy a bigger car (a petrol-guzzling seven-seater…fun to park…). Money is tighter. But so far, it is not as bad as I sometimes feared it would be. Logistics is the key. But we are still learning and it will always be a learning activity; its not as if anyone ever graduates as a Parent, is it?

If there are any other parents of three children out there who can give me some tips and pointers, I would be most grateful!

The Work Christmas Party

Generally speaking, it seems to be the accepted wisdom that any office/work Christmas party is going to be utterly, utterly awful. Crap location, blah food, cringeworthy speaches from the boss(es), everyone gets pissed far too early on cheap booze and someone always does something really, truly embarrassing (and I don’t just mean the “dancing” to the “DJ”…)

Now I like a good whinge as much as the next blogger, but I have to say that this year my employer’s Christmas party last night was really, really nice. And fun. Actually, really fun.

It was nothing wildly out of the ordinary: we travelled by coach to the rented old Coachhouse of a kind of stately home/farm out in the beautiful Schleswig-Holstein countryside (near to a big lake called the Warder See), got poshed up in our hotel rooms, sipped sekt, enjoyed a four-course meal accompanied by some very nice German wines (both white and red, unusually) and then danced (waaaay into the wee hours) like crazy people to the eminently better-than-usual skills of the hired DJ. We slept (briefly) in local hotels and travelled back to Hamburg this morning. I got home in time for lunch at my in-laws’ house (good timing!)

Ok, so there were a few hiccups, but even the best-laid plans always have room to go awry. Yes, the sudden, unannounced roadworks did cause a slight delay. Yes, the waitresses roaming the outside of the dancefloor with shots of schnapps probably did put paid to a few good intentions. No, gentlemen, it is never a good idea to take off your shirt (even if you are po-going around to “Primadonna Girl“…).

But on the whole, this was a night to remember. The location at Gut Pronstorf was spectacular and our host truly generous. There were speaches but, in contrast to previous years/employers, everyone was thanked for their hard work over the past years; not just management, not just the lawyers (yes, I work for a law firm…). Very refreshing indeed. I am looking forward to next year’s party!

Here are a few photos from the location (although I have no interior shots because I stupidly left my phone in my hotel room…):

Our hotel, the Pronstorfer Krug.

Our hotel, the Pronstorfer Krug.

Our evening location, Gut Pronstorfer.

Our evening location, Gut Pronstorf.

Wintery landscape in Schleswig-Holstein.

Wintery landscape in Schleswig-Holstein.

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#ThrowbackThursday: My first migraine

This morning I was lying in bed with a real bastard of a migraine and, when I was capable of doing so, thinking about the very first time I ever had a migraine…and how it has been since that day. It is #ThrowbackThursday, after all…

Now, let’s get something out of the way right here and now. Migraines are *not just a headache*. Like many invisible conditions, where there is (usually) no outward sign that the person it is affecting is in the midst of an attack, it can be so easily dismissed. And I can see why, really I can. Unless you are one of those unfortunates who suddenly starts to vomit or who experiences partial facial paralysis during an attack, there is really no way to prove that you are actually having a migraine.

I personally suffer from classic Migraine with Aura. This means that my first indication of an attack is visual disturbance (the aura), followed by a massive, searing, hatchet-to-the-head pain. Sometimes I do feel ill, but this is usually due to dizziness caused by the aura, which usually manifests itself in a small squiggly line that gets increasingly longer and wider until about 3/4 of my vision is taken up with what resembles the “snow” that used to come on the television screen at the end of programming for the day.

Sounds fun, right…?

The first time I got a migraine I was sitting in Mr. Smith’s GCSE Art class. I was about 15 years old. While staring at the painting I was attempting to convince myself wasn’t entirely awful, I noticed a couple of blue flashes streaking across my vision. “Cool,” I thought, “I wonder what that’s all about?” Next I noticed that I couldn’t see parts of objects/people in front of me. In fact, there seemed to be a black and white squiggly line curving across my vision. “That’s pretty,” I thought, innocently. It was a bit strange, not being able to see parts of things and made getting to the school bus at the end of the class (it was the last class of the day, at least as I recall) a bit of a challenge. My High School was built to accommodate 700 pupils, but by the time in question there were over 1300 of us, which meant that every time it was time to change classes, the corridors resembled scenes from the bull runs in Pamplona. Really fun to negotiate when you can’t see much of anything.

When I got to the place where the bus was due to pick me us, I noticed that the squiggly line had gone. I didn’t really think much more about it until, while sitting on the bus, I had the sudden sensation that an axe was being driven between my temples, repeatedly. I had never before experienced such total, utter pain.

I got home and dragged myself into the house. Mum asked me what was wrong and I explained to her all about the flashes, the line and the pain. She didn’t even need to look it up (migraine is hereditary and runs in the family), “You’ve had a migraine,” she told me and then went to the phone to make an appointment with our GP (a wonderful doctor called Dr. Mike Beer who still practices out of the Spring Gables Surgery in Hampsthwaite, North Yorkshire).

Dr. Beer saw me right away. He was a bit concerned at how suddenly the migraines had come on and, in order to rule out any other possibilities such as a brain tumor, he sent me off to Leeds to see a brain specialist (what is the real title???). There I had to do all kinds of bizarre mental and physical exercises, as well as have a scan of my head. No tumor. Oh lucky me! Just migraine…

The following months were a total nightmare. I was trying every kind of migraine medicine under the sun, but nothing worked or it did work, but the side effect was so horrible I’d rather have had the migraine (have you ever spent an entire day running up and down the staircases of your home because the medication you have just taken has made you so hyper that you literally cannot stand still? I don’t recommend it…). I was turning into a bit of a basket case; the pressure of coursework and upcoming mock exams increased my stress levels, which in turn increased the number of migraines I was getting. One week I had a migraine at least twice a day, every day. The fear of getting another migraine and whether this time the medication would work was driving me to the edge. I remember sitting in my parents kitchen, crying and shaking with fear because I was so scared of the attacks and the pain and wondering if it was ever going to get better or if this was going to be my life from here on out…That thought alone had me considering a quick exit stage left…

But it did get better. I found a medication that worked and did not have any weird and wonderful side effects (warning, product placement: the wonder drug that works for me is Migraleve. At first I took both the pink and the yellow pills, but these days I only need the pink). Over the years the number of attacks has gradually decreased and there are certain things I avoid/avoid too much of because I know they are triggers for me, i.e., heavy red wines, caffeine, strong cheeses, getting overly stressed or too hot etc…etc… Sometimes I get a migraine for no apparent reason. I tend to get a cluster of them around a week before I get my period (sorry, was that overshare?). But the number of attacks per week/month has decreased and I live in the hope that maybe one day they will bugger off completely. What was a bit of a bugger was that with each of my pregnancies, I got almost constant migraines again for the first three months (and could not take my medication). That combined with the nausea from the pregnancy made me feel particularly wonderful…

I am hugely fortunate to currently have an employer who is entirely sympathetic to my Migraineur status, but this has not always been the case. As I mentioned earlier, it is difficult when a condition presents no outward signs and, unfortunately, migraine has been and still is used as an excuse/slang for “I went out last night and got sloshed; can’t be arsed to go to work today so I’ll say I have a migraine”. This does no-one any favours. In fact I did have an employer who used it as an excuse to deny me a promotion. They thought I was just making it up. A letter from my doctor explaining my condition cut no ice. I quit and got a much better job (revenge is sweet indeed). So please, don’t make migraines any more difficult than they are. Thanks.

Should I one day win a massive, colossal, life-changing amount of money on the Lottery, I swear I will donate millions to migraine research. It is a condition that affects around 15% of adults in the UK (the majority of them women; men do get migraines but it is rarer) and, relative to its economic impact, receives the least research funding of all neurological illnesses. More facts and information about migraine can be found on websites such as those of The Migraine Trust and the National Migraine Center.

I hope and pray that my daughter never has a migraine. The idea that I might pass something like this on to her is a horrible one. But diagnoses are being made earlier, treatments are getting better and more effective, and migraine, though it does put the world on hold for a while, is not the end of the world. Not if you don’t let it.

Wednesday Words

Just a short one today, linking up to #WednesdayWords on the blog Crazy With Twins.

One of my favourite quotes comes from the film, “Harvey” (the original one, with James Stewart, *not* the remake). The quote is a short monologue by the main character, Elwood P. Dowd (played by Stewart) and is on the subject of smart vs. pleasant:

“Years ago, my mother used to say to me, she’d say: ‘In this world, Elwood,’ she always used to call me Elwood. ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh, so smart or oh, so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. And you can quote me.”

I would take pleasant over smart any day.

 

Crazy With Twins

I Want, Never Gets

Good advice from The Rolling Stones...

Good advice from The Rolling Stones…

In a rare moment of televisual bad taste, I watched a few minutes of one of these celebrity wedding programs (you know the kind: X-list TV star helps incompetent would-be groom/bride to pop the question, find a venue/suit/dress etc… “all in the best pahsible taste!”, as Cuddly Ken would have said…) the other day. I think I felt a few hundred brain cells go belly-up.

Not only was the cringeworthy-factor heightened by the celeb presenter’s massive fake eyelashes and pneumatic breasts and the couple’s truly horrific taste (note: no-one should ever, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever, get married in a hot pink meringue-dress. Got that?), but by the continual use of the phrase, “I want…” followed by whatever moronic demand had just popped into either of their heads. As my Mother always said, “I want, never gets” (after which my Father would chime in with a rendition of The Rolling Stones‘ song, You Can’t Always Get What You Want).

It is a maxim which applies to pretty much any situation in life. For example, we wanted to invite everyone we know to our wedding, seven years ago, but as we were paying for it ourselves and my parents were hosting the party in their garden (not the tiniest garden, it has to be said, but not a massive sweeping expanse of lawn either) we had to limit the guest list. Did this diminish our enjoyment of the occasion? Not a bit.

I want a house that would make Martha Stewart weep with envy. I want box rooms, a laundry, a pantry, a massive kitchen with all mod cons, a living/dining room with a beautiful ceramic wood-burning stove and, most importantly, a bedroom for every child (plus guest rooms – note the use of the plural) and a well-appointed master bedroom with an en suite bathroom (with a bath) and walk-in wardrobes. I have thought about this quite a bit, can you tell? But is this likely to happen? I have not entirely given up hope, but I don’t think our budget will ever be able to cater to this level of luxury. Will I be disappointed to live in a smaller home, but one which we can afford without going broke and ending up owing masses to the bank for the rest of our lives? No, not really. Well, maybe a tiny bit, but I don’t think it will ruin my life. I am happy to have a home. So many people do not have that luxury.

Beginning to sound a bit Pollyanna-ish. Perhaps a bit Panglossian?…anyhoo…

My point is, there are many things we may want in life, but we can’t always have them. And if we can have them, do we need them? It surely cannot be good to always be able to get everything you want. Can it? And is it right that television, which appears to be the moral guide for so many people these days, perpetuates the “greed is good” theory of life and makes them believe that it is correct to demand, demand, demand. Are we really a society of pirates, sticking to the code of “Take what you can…Give nothing back”? Or is Mick Jagger really a great 20th Century philosopher? Crikey…this is what happens when I watch bad television.

I am also interested in your thoughts on this. Please feel free to leave (relevant) comments/thoughts below. Thanks!