Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Someone else's bad day

Just after I graduated, I lived in Temporary Office Worker land, on and off for about four years. Sometimes it was fun. Sometimes it was no security and a pile of shite. Mostly, I think it was ok, but I had a couple of really bad placements where I just couldn't hack the office politics and couldn't seem to do anything right. I was young and a bit daft, and although I tried hard I remember getting a few bollockings for not doing things right. On a couple of occasions this was just an older member of staff throwing their weight around. And a few times it was because I just hadn't done the job properly.

I always found the latter quite hard to deal with and would beat myself up thinking I would never find a proper job. Being a temp, you're often at the bottom of the heap and responsible for essential but very dull details. It's not that exciting but it's important you do rather boring stuff well. I nearly always tried my best, but it does seem a bit pointless, particularly if there's no permanent contract at the end of it.

Fast forward a few years, and I'm now in a relatively responsible job. A temp has been looking after my admin work when I was away.

She seems really nice, but her work has been, well, erratic. Basic stuff like reading and comprehending e-mails, and drafting coherent, accurate replies hasn't been great. And she seems clueless about how the organisation I work for actually operates, even on a basic, general knowledge sort of level.

I'd let things go and let things go. And hoped that when I delved into my inbox sent her re-written drafts of her letters, or let her know that that wasn't how we did things, that she'd twig that she really needed to pay a bit more attention to detail.

Except, she didn't. I was getting increasingly bitter about spending some of my maternity leave sorting her mistakes. In the end, she made another few mistakes that seemed to be mostly caused by just not paying attention; mostly ones that I could explain or apologise away, but one that was potentially quite serious. I queried the serious one today and she was apologetic and gave me her version of events. Then I'd discovered she'd either completely bullshitted me or just not understood something fairly basic. And then she got into a complete panic and everything to do with this particular matter went haywire, because in her haste to try and sort it out, she still didn't take in what I was asking her to do.

I so know that feeling.

But I could have ended up carrying the can for her general dizziness, so found myself having to speak to her boss. Who is going to have a word with her. I imagine she probably feels just as shit as I did in my early 20s when I stuffed up.

I feel bad. It's not helped that I haven't been around to field queries, although I don't understand why, when I've said to ask if she's not sure, she evidently hasn't. She's not a terrible person, she's just probably in that phase where you find out that work is less fulfilling than school and college would have you believe. But then, the sloppy grammar and the constant mistakes make me look sloppy, too. At the end of the day, she needs to do the job, even if it's not very exciting.

Feels weird being on the other side of the fence, though.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Alpha Mommies

I went to a council run baby group. I thought it might be nice to meet other new Mums. I was a bit nervous about going - just because it was a new group of people, and also because I'd spent such a long time actively avoiding normal, fertile women that I felt a bit like I was going to be out of place.

The first time I went was a little bit awkward, but I got chatting to someone else who was fairly new, and was really nice.

The next couple of times, she wasn't there, and it was a bit rum. It soon became apparent that all the other mums went for lunch with each other a couple of times a week after another parent group, and I felt a bit like the unpopular girl at school because no-one had said anything to me about it.

But, I told myself I was being really stupid, and that I shouldn't wait to be invited to things. Some of them had toddlers as well as babies and seemed to have been going to these groups for quite a long time, and were maybe just in a more comfortable groove with the whole parenting group thing and had forgotten than it was nice to make friends as a new parent.

So, after one of them had a long and loud conversation with how to promote the other parent group and how she was now running it, I politely asked her who the group was for and where it met

She was really evasive about who could come to the group, to the point that one of the health professionals who drop in to answer questions at the baby group must have realised what was going on and chipped in and said "Oh, that parent and child group? It's for everyone."

And then the group leader woman started telling everyone about how she had three kids and needed a place to store her personal birthing pool. And there was a lively conversation about how it was best to buy vastly expensive designer clothes for your baby so the babygros didn't get misshapen in the wash.

Uncharacteristically, I felt a bit bad about the whole thing. Like I was never going to fit in at any group, and that I was somehow a bad mother for kitting out DS in stuff from Tesco (I know, I know. I must have been having a bit of a low day - this sort of thing has never bothered me previously). And I didn't understand why the woman had been so obviously unwelcoming about the other parent group.

Until I bumped into one of my neighbours, who was telling me that he hated taking his toddler-age daughter to one of the groups because, when we went, it was all chat about breastfeeding and giving birth. And, of course, it transpired that this was the same parent group that I'd tried to find out about. And that his wife had been to the same group I had, but found them all very cliquey and hard to get on with.

So, it seems like Ive unfortunately run into bunch of women who have no outlet but to try and dominate baby and toddler groups, where they can sit around and stealth boast about how much money their families have, and try and exclude everyone not in their gang. How pathetic. I've stopped going to the original group, I think I've had a lucky escape with the second!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

A belated ICLW welcome

Aaaah! ICLW crept up on me when I didn't expect it!

This is a "parenting after" blog. I know this will automatically make some people not want to read on further. But it's not that bad, honestly...

I got pregnant after lots of IVF. I had a natural ectopic. Then I had an early miscarriage after IVF, which sent me a bit bonkers. Then I had two failed FETs, a FET that turned out to be another ectopic, another failed FET and then, on my last two frozen embryos, I got pregnant with the Boy. It took 18 months, more money than I care to think about, and a whole lot of feeling crappy. All the bloggers who started treatment at the same time seemed to be pregnant, my friends were popping kids out, pop pop pop pop.

I went through phases of reading stupid books, either with dubious theories about diet (one more or less said to cut out everything apart from lentils, or some similar bollocks) or New-Age-y belief systems - reiki, Tarot, reflexology and more. I have just chucked out my feng sui book out this afternoon; I still have a little wind chime hanging above the bathroom door, which I desperately hoped would stop my fertility chakras going down the toilet. Or something.

By the end, I believed in statistics. Namely, that if I kept doing IVF, then it would work eventually. And I also had a backup plan if the FETs entirely failed, which was to take a year off treatment and spend part of that time doing the Trans Siberian Express.

Anyway, Russia's vodka supplies remain untroubled. Numbers triumphed where meditation failed. Either that or the wind chime thing really did make a difference after all. And we got there in the end.

I did blog about all this as it happened but had to can the old place for work-related reasons. And, anyway, it made sense to have a fresh blog - about the Boy, about life, and about having no tubes.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Night owl

The Boy usually starts his day at 5.30am - he gets a feed, goes back to sleep while I pump, then wakes properly at about 7.

Tonight, he has woken at 3.30. His teeth are bothering him. I have given him Calpol and fed him, and now there is left to pump. The frustrating bit is that he's still trying to fight sleep, and I'm hoping he isn't going to wake up at 5. His father starts a new job tomorrow and I've got much to do, so the timing is not great.

I nearly posting a Facebook status saying "Bloody teeth!" or similar. Then I remembered how much reading that sort of thing cut me like a knife when I was going through IVF and recovering from losses.

So, on one level it's pretty frustrating, spending ages trying to get him to sleep. I can hear him chuntering away to himself, even now, and I think there might be more waking to come.

On the other hand, having to get up at 3am to look after him is an enormous privilege.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Right to grieve part 2

I actually nearly didn't post this, now. But then, having covered a bit about my brother and everything afterwards in my last post, I think it makes sense to blog about the rest now. Otherwise it's sitting in my head as a post.

It ended up that:

As I mentioned previously, I got drunk and did stupid things. Some of these involved one night stands with dubious men. Did I use protection? Yes, apart from one bloke. When I was still underage, and drunk to the point that most men would have left me alone. I feigned sleep and he gave up halfway. Urrrgh. I will never know if he gave me an infection that destroyed my tubes, but the thought has occurred to me. I did get checked out at a clinic, but that was some time later. Teenage rebellion as will as nihilism - my parents are ludicrously prudish.

One of my sisters and my mother went into what I later read about as competitive grieving. Mum announced at a family gathering that no-one cared as much about my brother dying as she did. Which was probably true, but given that everyone had their own grief to deal with, this caused an enormous argument. Their relationship still hasn't recovered. My sister still occasionally says things in the vein of her being more upset than anyone else, and my Mum does the same. I have tried to tell both of them that all of us were upset in different ways. But to be honest, I'm just really irritated with all of it.

At one point during the aforementioned big family competitive grieving argument, I did suggest that we all get outside counselling. I was in tears and just really bewildered and upset, although despite that, I still think it was a reasonable thing to ask. We didn't, of course.

My Mum went through a phase of writing a book about her life, in which my brother dying featured fairly heavily and trying to get it published. I read one of the early drafts when I was visiting - by this time I had moved away from home and, while I wasn't at all enthusiastic about this project, at least I wasn't a teenager living in a small town with my parents and I had a new life of my own, so I didn't object. But I did try to read it, for her sake, and started ploughing through it. But, it was horribly written, dull, and full of spelling mistakes. I got through a few chapters at the start, and then tried to at least get her to sort out the basic typing errors and spelling, and pointed out that it didn't read very well. Mum went in a huff and my father told me I was being mean.

She did drop off a later edition at my flat. But by then I just didn't want to read anything, at all, to please her. I didn't think it through rationally at the time, but I think I was just done with trying to cope with other family members at the expense of my own emotional wellbring. I know it was possibly her way of justifying her behaviout, but I couldn't face another emotional offload and dragging myself through the whole thing again - I'd read enough, without reading through everything again. The manuscript got kept in a corner of our flat, and remained there for a couple of months, until she asked for it back, and she was evidently hurt that I didn't read it. But then, I just don't feel any guilt for not doing so.

There's all other stupid bits and pieces; my gran being diagnosed with depression afterwards and my mother bitching that she shouldn't be depressed because she didn't always send my brother a birthday card. My other gran muttering my brother's name whenever she passed his photo in the hallway until she died, which was several years afterwards. I still wonder what happened to my brother's girlfriend - I've tried looking her up on Facebook, but no dice. I don't think I'd actually make contact with her, but it would be nice to know she was okay.

I don't quite know why I'm writing all this now. I suppose infertility has been a major struggle for the last few years - in some ways, my miscarriages were harder to deal with than my brother dying, or perhaps were more difficult as there was a cumulative effect. Or maybe having the Boy has given me a chance to work it all out in my head - I have wanted to write about it all for a while, but never knew where to start. These sad couple of years in my life set me off in certain directions with my work and my fertility, and I think I'm only starting to get to grips with the ripple effect now.

Anyway. It's not all doom and gloom, at all.  I think it's a good thing I can write about it now. It's out there on a blog, rather than just whizzing around in my head. It was a bad episode. But life is generally good.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Right to grieve

I read something on a forum recently to the effect that, if a mother loses her child, then she has the right to grieve however she wants and everyone should do their best to support her.

It sounds great, nothing you'd agree with, right? But then, it makes me a bit uncomfortable.

When I was 15, my brother died in a work related accident abroad. It was hideous, and in the immediate aftermath the family pulled together. There was the funeral, and a few things we did, like lighting a fire on the beach and having a special bottle of wine, and little rituals that helped in the days and the weeks following.

But, gradually, my older surviving siblings spent less time with me and my folks, and more time living their own lives. Which left me at home with my parents.

My mum in particular was determined to find out as much detail as she could about what happened. A reasonable thing to want. Except, her obsession with this made my home life really difficult to bear at times.

For about two years afterward, our lives revolved around getting faxes and e-mails from abroad. I hated the fucking fax machine, it used to brood in the corner as a constant reminder that I couldn't move on. I remember getting an absolute bollocking because I accidentally switched it off once. Occasionally it would spit out a fax with details of my brother's death.

My parents used to leave these on the kitchen table so that neither of them missed one, and I'm not sure if I was meant to be included in the information sharing or not. On one occasion they left my brother's autopsy report there. They didn't ever ask me what I wanted, or make a point of talking to me about any of it. I just found letters and documents lying around. Some of it was really distressing - we'd been told at the start that he'd died instantly, and later information found it had taken 45 minutes after he'd been fatally injured.

Things dragged on and on. I generally left my Mum to it, although the whole situation was massively stressful for me, and caused fallouts with friends who I don't think really grasped what was happening. We did agree that she wouldn't try to get any press coverage, so at least that was something.

Except one day I found a note with a list of steps she was going to take to get things further, which included "contacting papers".

I became even more stressed and withdrawn. Eventually, in front of my father, my Mum asked what was wrong. I tearfully blurted out that I was really upset about her writing that she was going to contact the press after promising not to.

Cue a massive row. Dad took my side. Mum said she was perfectly within her rights to leave stuff lying around and came up with some really stupid excuse about why she'd written that down even though she wasn't going to.

I remember her cornering me the next day, away from my Dad, and saying again that the whole thing was fine, and that she was annoyed with me for bringing it up in front of my father, I should have asked her. But it isn't easy for a teenager, who has gone through a loss themselves, to stand up to a bereaved parent who thinks they are entitled to do what they want to bring themselves closure.

It dragged on some more. I think they got more information out, but there wasn't ever a big epiphany or court case that made anyone feel any better, as far as I could see. The small company involved had been lax about safety but there wasn't really a lot anyone could do about it now. My brother wasn't exactly Mr Health and Safety himself, and we loved him for it.

I left home. By this time, I had become irrationally convinced that I was going to die at the same age as my brother, and spent far too much time getting drunk and doing very stupid things. I might have felt like that anyway, but I think having to live alongside my mother's protracted grieving process didn't help me any.

Obviously I really missed my brother and would have done anything to get him back. But I also think that nothing was going to do this, and effectively trapping me in a situation where I couldn't move on wasn't in my interests, and it still makes me a bit angry and upset when I think about it. I think it possibly contributed to the depression and anxiety that occasionally surfaces in my life. It definitely made me surround myself with people who could help in a similar situation - even today, I occasionally run through a checklist in my head of people who could help sort things out in an emergency.

I can understand my mother's need to find out what happened to her son, and possibly even hold someone to account if someone was obviously malicious or overtly neglectful. I think remembering people is healthy, and that grief isn't something to be hidden away. I also think acknowledgement is important and sometimes people need to get over their awkwardness with death. People, generally, have a responsibility to those who have lost children, to help them get over their loss.

But I also think that, as difficult as it might seem, parents who have lost children also have a responsibility to others around them - other children, partners - to let them grieve for their family member and also possibly move on, rather than expecting them to manage their grief in the same way and for the same length of time.

I haven't written about this before but its cathartic getting it out after all this time!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Holiday planning

I had a big theory a while ago that we would henceforth plan our holidays around the most suitable destinations for the Boy's age. Hence, by age 5 we would be going to Legoland, 8 we would be, I dunno, going to see Roman stuff in Croatia, and by age 13 we'd see castles and wolves in Romania, the coolness of the location offsetting the general lameness of not being able to stay home with a crate of beer. By 16 we'd be doing cool city breaks to Oslo and having a couple of quiet pints in the bar. By 18 we'd be encouraging the Boy to do a gap year, on the basis that I always wanted to travel properly for 12 months and never did, and cheerfully packing him off to Buenos Aires with a couple of spare pairs of underpants and his best Beano annual.

This has still to come to fruition, obviously. But we have got the Boy a passport and booked a weekend in a big city a short flight away. It feels a bit scary, but it's one of those things you have to do.

Because if we don't take the Boy abroad now, it will turn into a big Thing. We will worry more about going, then will not go. Then we'll spend our holidays going to York and Ballantrae, forever and ever amen. And the Boy will spend his childhood wanting to go to Benidorm because it is easy and hot.

Sometimes, I think easiness may be underrated. I still, occasionally, get crippling social anxiety when I land somewhere and haven't been abroad for a while. We then spend ages walking around outside the bars and cafes, sizing them all up and wondering if they all do food and whether you're about to make a terrible mistake by venturing into an establishment and asking for a salad when the only food they do is paprika crisps, served by Suzi Sexxi Girl from Moldova, in her gravity defying bikini.

I think taking a small child abroad may make me even more irrationally worried about this, even although (or perhaps because) everywhere else in the world is better at accommodating children than here.

So, I think biting the bullet and going abroad is important, and I'm going to try really hard to plan it out and make it achievable. Apart from that I have lost the Boy's passport.
I have only had it a fortnight. But we've been trying to prepare for the Boy getting more mobile by tidying the flat, and I have somehow tidied it away. The general upheaval in the flat combined with lack of sleep mean that I don't have a clue where it is. I vaguely remember tucking it in somewhere, in a place I thought it would turn up in even if I couldn't remember where it was.

Since then, I have had a bit of freelancing working in. I had a couple of good nights' sleep, as well as some bad ones. Outside of my flat, the world has turned. The Olympics have finished. Stuff has gone on. Andy Murray has won a Grand Slam. Scotland remain shit at football, because some things are unchanging. My head has moved on. And I have no idea where I put it.

And I can't find it, because I spent all my time looking after the Boy's immediate needs, cleaning, cooking, trying to fit in freelancing and occasionally communicating with friends or reading.

I really hope it turns up soon. Otherwise, Blackpool beckons.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Pearly whites


This is how our evenings go at the moment. The Boy has a couple of teeth coming through. So far, he's not been too bad during his normal sleeping hours, but between 7pm and 9pm is pretty bad. He goes through periods of screaming in complete torment. We've tried teething powders, with mixed results, a gel which was rubbish, and various teething toys, which are of limited use because they're mostly too big for the Boy to fit into his own mouth - he takes them out, can't get them back in, and then gets upset.

The only things that work reliably are parental fingers and paracetamol, although the former is awkward and we are trying to keep the latter for particularly bad teething episodes.

It makes me wonder why we have teeth. I mean, when you think about it, it's a pretty inefficient system. You get some that last for about 5-10 years, at the expense of a great deal of discomfort. Then, they all fall out, and you get the next set of teeth, which are meant to last decades.

And if something happens to one of your adult teeth, you're done. I've got a missing molar because I decided I'd rather do without it than have root canal immediately before and after my wedding. I got it out at 25 and will never get it back.

Hearing the Boy, I wonder if we'd be better without teeth altogether. We'd probably eat far more vegetables, which would be better for the planet. Although I'd miss my steak - maybe toothless humans would cook it and chop it up very finely, like steak tartar, for special occasions?

Or we could regrow teeth every ten or twenty years. This would still leave us stuck with teething pains. And with a lot more extra teeth to dispose of. Too many for the tooth fairy to deal with. You could chuck them, or make them into a necklace, or make them into a model castle or similar.

So, if you had to choose between continually regrowing teeth and no teeth, which would you pick? And, if it was the former, what would you do with all your discarded teeth?

Monday, 3 September 2012


"How did you manage with the, erm, toaster thing?" I asked my sister, when we were at my parents' house.

She frowned. "Well, I managed to heat the bread slightly. But I can't say I managed to toast it."

I think like a lot of older people, my parents get good value and cheapness mixed up. Like, say, if there was a microwave on the shelf at a supermarket for £5 that was shit and came with a high risk of breaking down within a few months, alongside a better one that cost £10, made by a well-known brand that you might expect years of use from, then they would automatically pick the cheaper one. Because it might defy the odds and work well, for a long time - but the balance of probabilities is that it won't.

They seem to have applied the same principle to toasters. The old one was pretty crap. And now it's gone to toaster heaven, they've bought an electric... I hesitate to use the word "grill". But something masquerading as a grill.

It has no redeeming features. It is so small it can barely fit two slices of bread. But, it is also quite tall, so the element manages to be quite some distance away from the toast.

My husband put some plain white in it We managed to do some washing up, fry bacon and poach eggs, put everything else on the table and the bread remained resolutely un-toasted, a couple of degrees warmer, but not even slightly singed.

I asked my Dad about it. He said, looking rather dubious, "Well, it wasn't the best purchase I've ever made. But I thought it looked good in the shop."

Things looked up when we discovered the appliance-disguised-as-a-grill had a booster button. I always think electric things with booster buttons are going to be a bit pants by default - if they're any good, they don't need a booster or a fuel injection or whatever. But finding one meant that we might be able to finish our breakfast and move on with our lives. Excitingly, using the booster button produced toast that was distinctly brown.

Happy to be eating proper toast, we put another two slices on, and, with some anticipation - my life is quite pedestrian nowadays - we continued to eat our breakfast while we waited for the pimped up appliance-disguised-as-a-grill to crisp up our second piece of toast.

We waited, and waited. The bread remained soft, white and virginal. It didn't get remotely warm, even after several minutes. And then it turned out that the fucking grill turned off at the end of the booster period. Like we'd exhausted the amount of toast it was going to produce for that mealtime.

I'm sure the next time we're down the appliance-disguised-as-a-grill will have stopped working and my parents will have bought another piddling, inadequate machine to toast with. Or they will have realised and spent a bit more on a proper toaster that might a) work and b) last. Which would have been the most cost-efficient thing to do in the first place.

I don't really understand why they do this. But I also suspect that I will be doing exactly the same thing in forty years' time.