Like me, you’re probably sick of hearing how dreadful 2016 was. An annus horribilis on a monumental scale. A gargantuan grim reaper who snatched from us our childhood heroes, our European Union and our BBC Bake Off and left us with a giant orange oompa loompa with an ego you can see from space.
I too had my own challenges to face in 2016. The year began in a fog of exhaustion that only a baby can bring. I remember one dreary January day realising, to my horror, that there had been only eight months in the last five years where I hadn’t been pregnant or breastfeeding. Having had three babies literally back to back, my body knew little else apart from acting as a greenhouse and a 24 hour milk bar. With little family support nearby and three children under four, I was utterly exhausted. Burnt out both physically and mentally. So it came as no surprise in March when what I thought was a god awful flu turned out to be a pneumonia that required a hospital stay.
Pneumonia? I couldn’t get my head around it? Wasn’t that what old, ill people got? ‘You’re utterly exhausted’ the consultant told me and boy did I feel it as I lay behind a curtain on a hospital trolley pumping my milk and tipping it down the sink as I had had to leave my precious four month old baby at home. I’d never been without him before. How would he cope without me? Would he starve? Would they all starve??
This was the wake-up call I needed. I had to accept that I couldn’t do it all. That my family could cope without me. That I needed to slow down. That the children would survive and indeed thrive, in someone else’s care. That maybe it was me who didn’t want to let go of them and not the other way around.
I laughed off the estimated three month recovery time. I was fit and healthy, I’d be back on my feet in no time. Boy was I wrong. Pneumonia sucked every shred of spark out of me. My lungs burnt with every breath and every cough. I could barely make it up the stairs without wheezing. I had to take to my bed every afternoon for fear I might just keel over if I kept going. I felt horrible jangling anxiety, preferring to stay in the safe confines of my home with my family.
As women and as mothers, we are constantly bombarded with messages, subliminal or otherwise, that tell us we can do it all. Well I’m afraid I don’t buy into that. I learnt the hard way that you can’t do it all. Your mind might believe you can but sometimes your body just can’t keep up. My body just threw in the towel.
Enforced bedrest gave me time to reflect on many things. I’d never really thought about my own mortality before but now I couldn’t help but to ponder it. How would my kids remember me if, god forbid, I was taken from them? How would my husband remember me? How would I want to be remembered? I made a vow to myself to strive to be a happy mum and not a shouty one, a fun wife and not a nagging one. Not the easiest of vows to keep and certainly ones that I’ve had huge slip ups with but awareness is everything.
I also vowed to learn to ask for help and to accept it when it was offered. We couldn’t have got through those difficult first few months without our family and friends; it still makes me teary to think of the food parcels quietly left on our doorstep. Also key to our survival was the real life Mary Poppins we found to help us out. Handing over the care of my beloved children to her was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do but I knew that I had to. I had to admit that whilst I wanted to be able to look after three children on my own all the time, I just couldn’t – not physically or mentally. Mums are pretty superhuman but we aren’t just mums, we’re our own unique beings too with our own hopes and dreams and needs and sometimes we just need some time out.
It’s fair to say that in 2016 I experienced some of the lowest lows I have experienced as a parent. But you know what they say, ‘sometimes you have to get to the bottom before you can come back to the top’. So thank you 2016 for showing me that there are always silver linings and things are never quite as bad as they seem.