The truth about four…

…it’s hard and people will look at you with a weird squinty eyed judgement but since you’ve made your bed you must lie in it, even if there’s a faint smell of urine from the potty training one.

But if you want to have a ‘couple more babies’ then I recommend the following;

1. A big car.

D’oh! But seriously we’ve been to see some apparent seven seater cars in showrooms and put all the salesmen to shame because the cars they’re shown us aren’t true seven seaters. With four car seats you need to have four real seats that have iso-fixes for the car seats, plus one for mummy and one for daddy.

I remember waddling into a Honda show room thirty weeks pregnant with three car seats under my arm (it’s amazing how strong you get from holding so many children) and the heavily scented gentleman with cheese for a smile looked at me with such disappointment, he knew he wouldn’t get a sale that day as any seven seater car he showed me just wouldn’t work.

2. Lower your expectations of sleep but don’t rule it out.

As with any child rearing there comes with it a little troll who walks about with bad breath stealing sleep or at least that’s how it feels. The minute your toes get toasty and your back muscles release the tension of the day into the mattress a little whimper will come from somewhere and with all muscles fully contracted once again you’ll try and work out which child it is and how quickly you’ll respond but routine will save the day.

I am a firm believer of routine. Routine comes in like a large bosomed nanny with her aprons strings flying in the wind to save the day. She lets me know to ignore that cry she’ll settle in five minutes or to go to that cry.

Routine has saved my sanity. Routine allows me and the children to know exactly where we are and what we’re up to at any given moment in the day. It is hard to stick to it and like any good dictator worth their salt there will be consequences of not following the routine. An overtired toddler tantrum or a kick back from a pre-tween who doesn’t want to finish her tea but when seven thirty pm comes and the final call for ‘I need a wee’ or ‘I need a drink’ ends there is calm and in come my two very best friends, rest and sleep. Stick to them, hold them fast for although brief at times it won’t last. Sleep will come to stay again for a whole night and when it does you can tackle any amount of bed wetting, food throwing, ‘don’t forget your school bag’ shouting any day can bring.

3. Become elastic

The trouble with four so young is their developmental stages are so vast. Around the dinner table I can be talking to the oldest child about the first man on the moon and the perfect 23 degree angle the earth holds in space, to sounding out first letters…’P – P – P’ to my four year old. I can then be singing old Mac Donald for the fourth time to my toddler whilst serving dinner on a spoon sounding like an aeroplane to a weaning baby.

Your brain has to learn to compartmentalise which voice for which child, somehow mine gets stricter the older each child gets? And understanding how each one responds to you and how you love them is one key I am still learning. Turns out my older girl needs words of affirmation while my boy wants cuddles over words but not too many because too many makes him girly, apparently??

4. Cleaning toilets

You’ll become a dab hand at cleaning toilets, yes because there will now be six of you using them but mainly because children forget to flush the toilet. There will more often than not be a long forgotten turd moulding itself to the porcelain that you’ll have to scrub away whilst the scent feels like it’s decaying your skin like some kind of nuclear bomb went off down there. Just make sure you whip around the bathrooms when guests arrive with a full bottle of Harpic and a strong scrubbing brush.

5. You won’t think it possible…

…for your heart to be so full. You look at one womb fresh, pink, pudgy babe and wonder how on earth you lived life without them in it and then it happens again, and again, and again. You’ll be completely consumed by bafflement and wonderment at how your heart is once again expanded at this beauty that shot out from between your legs. It’s like the first time every time. The second, third and fourth were equally as painful and beautiful as the first and frankly its a good job my husband can’t medically provide anymore as just the reminder of that sweet moment in time makes me want a fifth…then I remember the whole after birth, the sleep stealing troll and the weird squinty eyed judgement from people and think, yes. Four is good.

A labour of Hope

Nearly six months into our last baby and I realise I’ve never shared about the labour!

Let’s be honest we all love a good labour story and I love to (over) share so settle down because it’s story time…

It all began on a Monday.

I was summoned in earlier than planned because babies growth had plateaued and the waters around her were reduced. The powers that be seemed concerned so demanded I came in after the weekend to be induced but I was devastated as I would miss my only boys birthday and the chances were high this baby would land on the same day. So sure my kids would all hate me because we somehow can’t conceive at any other time, I began to pray hard for a different birth-day.

Monday came and so accustomed to the maternity ward at Royal Preston I nearly donned some scrubs and began doing ward rounds myself. We said our hellos and Husband and I settled into the bay and began series one of our boxset binge.

There was a couple in the bay opposite us who were very keen to introduce themselves. They popped their eager heads around our curtain and with big smiles, and a puppy dog spirit we couldn’t help but adore, they told us they were Lucy and Dave and do we want anything from Booths? And oh this is our first baby and we are SO excited!

Ben and I lay there watching their exuberant show and simply said, it’s our fourth. With my four fingers still in the air their smiles disappeared and they skipped off to Booths.

I didn’t get my first gel until late that Monday night. When the doctor finally came in to examine me I whipped my knickers off in such a blasé manor she looked away a bit rosy cheeked.

By 3:30am Tuesday morning nothing was happening. My husband had gone home and the lady doctor came back to give me a second round of gel. This time I was more demure in my downstairs approach, I didn’t want to embarrass her again. I got under the sheets this time.

By this point I had gotten zero sleep as one lady was throwing her guts up in a bay across the way and my new sweet friend Lucy had turned into a right potty mouth as her contractions were ramping up. As there is only a thin curtain between each women in the most personal time of her life I could clearly hear how she was developing. The poor love was only 4cm yet she sounded like she was being tortured. Thankfully they moved the lovely Lucy onto a side ward to crack on behind thicker walls. I considered popping my head around her curtain but the once sweet Lucy sounded like she would have murdered me had I done so.

By Tuesday lunchtime still absolutely nothing was happening. Baby didn’t wanna budge and the midwives kept saying things like, ” your cervix is too long”. I had to google where my cervix should be at any normal point in time never mind now. And of course I was still missing my boys fourth birthday.

By the third gel things started to get interesting. I’d had a long lavender bath and a walk to try and spot Lucy and Dave. In the end I decided to jump on the ball and listen to my Mumford and sons album. Perhaps some aggressive drum beats would stimulate my womb?

By teatime on Tuesday night the midwives on Maternity A were sick of me. We’d shared life stories and vagina banter long enough and there was finally a room on delivery suit for me but my cervix still didn’t want to budge so they had to break my waters and while sitting on the toilet letting my waters dribble out I prayed a final prayer…

‘Please Jesus not today. Give my babies different birthdays.’

Still listening to aggressive guitar riffs contractions began to rise slowly and steadily. Meanwhile the Liverpool game was on and my husband had settled himself into the ‘comfy’ chair to watch the game. He would emerge from the green light of the screen every now and then to offer encouraging words ‘doing well love’, ‘keep going’

By 11pm I was worn out and the midwives thought it high time to get me on the go-go juice to increase my contractions. Baby was much too high, cervix much too long and mother was much too exhausted to carry on. I hadn’t slept in 24 hours and if the Liverpool match didn’t end soon my husband would have the phone up his nose.

I opted for an epidural and not because of the pain but because I knew I could lie down. Pacing around to let ‘gravity do its work’ was frankly soul destroying after two days. The anaesthesiologist came in to let me know all the keys facts, things that could go wrong etc but all I saw were her lips moving and no sound.

During contractions they began to insert the epidural. With my first baby I progressed way too fast to have the epidural and it was absolute agony to be so still during contractions. As my contractions slowly began to progress now I prayed good and hard that I wouldn’t go through the same thing.

As the mini procedure started in my back I began to pray and everything went quiet and still and I experienced a peace I know all too well only Jesus can bring and it was beautiful. I was so far into myself that the midwife had to tap me on the shoulder and ask if I was okay. I recall them asking Ben and remember him briefly popping up out of the green glare of the Liverpool match to mutter, “ah she’s fine” before dissolving away again.

Alas peace was over all too quickly and of course just like my first daughter, the epidural didn’t fully work. Contractions naturally came barrelling in like a pack of calf’s let out of the barn for spring. Leaping, running and moo-ing they came and all that was numb was my right buttock. Midwives told me to roll onto my left to see if that would ‘drain the drugs’ to that side. It didn’t work but what it did do was make baby drop into that side. She skidded down into my left hip like a curling stone and stuck there. She hunkered in deep so for every contraction a fresh wave of burning hell ripped through my abdomen and hips. I then rolled back to my right side and onto the thoroughly numb butt cheek to see if she would drop that way. She didn’t.

After half an hour of playing pinball with the baby in my wombs the midwife decided to knead her out during every contraction and like a good dough that’s been kneaded well, baby ‘rose’ to the occasion and blessed us with a head. A good 5-10 minutes later and her head was fully out. What felt like an hour later she finally burst into the world at 1:09 am Wednesday 10th April, a day after my boys birthday.

Thank you Jesus.

During the whole labour and the Liverpool match we hadn’t once discussed names and just like every other baby before her my husband picked the name. By this point post labour my brain can barely recall a blink let alone choose a baby name.

Hope was the outcome. Hope because of the two losses that proceeded her and Hope because that is the gift she gave us. She is officially our last Hope, the fourth and the final. She completes the set.

Just a cat?

They think he died on a Sunday but his body was only found on a Tuesday. By Wednesday the body was delivered to me in a bin liner.

When the council lady rang me at 8am on the Wednesday morning the intonation of her voice went up at the end. ‘Up’ I took as hopeful. Like perhaps he’s alive and sat with her. Her intonation should have gone down because when I rang her back full of hope and a fizz in my tummy she told me she had his body. I thanked her for her call, my throat closed up and my heart burst.

It was inevitable really living where we do on the brink of a busy dual carriageway. We lost his sister 6 months earlier in the same way and as sad as that was it wasn’t this Wednesday.

I even reprimanded myself for crying so much over a cat but there was something special about Dash. He was technically the first pet that I owned even though he was free. He was always stood waiting on the console table every time we came in from the school run. If we were later than 3:30 in the afternoon he would be stood on the doorstep waiting. He slept on my eldest daughters bed every day and on us every night and would always run to my call. We even took him on our mini breaks. Yes he was a very special cat and now he is in the ground. He was out in the rain for 2 whole days and he hated the rain, we had that in common.

I was walking with the littlest babe through the village the other day and I met a dear older lady who was chatting village life and I mentioned our cat was run down a few days earlier and after describing our sweet boy she told me an elderly woman at number 87 took great joy in seeing him each evening. She would stand outside her back door and he would make a figure eight around her legs and make her feel like she mattered. Seems our boy gave joy to lots of people but most especially to me.

Just a cat? Yes, but not to me and I’m not a cat person.

Dash.

Bit of nonsense

The best of intentions all fall away when my bottom hits the sofa.

After putting the children to bed I decided to do a little naked cleaning. I’ll just quickly add that it isn’t a desperate housewife ritual to entice my husband. Nope. My husband is away for five days and four nights on his final – yes FINAL residential stay at university so I shouldn’t grumble as I’ll be more glad than he, I think, when it’s finished but did I mention he’s away for five days and four nights and I have four children?!

Anyway – back to the naked cleaning. I do this purely as a multipurpose task. I am a very practical person so if I’m gonna clean, I’m gonna scrub hard so I can call it ‘exercise’ because I’m gonna sweat. I read somewhere that anything that gets your heart rate up can be called exercise…In that case my whole life should be called exercise.

Once I’ve given the house a once over – minus bedrooms that my sleeping babes fill – and the dryer has finished it’s cycle, I sort the clothes into ‘ironing’ and ‘put away’ piles, I set the table for breakfast.

One lesson I have learned from a family member who has four girls was to always be prepared for the next day the night before. I have always stuck to it.

This season I have two going to school and two staying at home but all four plus me have to leave the house by eight twenty am looking ready for the day even if that means I have to wear a nightie under my jogging bottoms for the drop off.

Once my ‘exercise’ session is over I shower away the sweat and polish residue, spritz a little Fabreeze everywhere and make a brew. I think of finishing my book and devouring a bag of munchies but once my bottom hits the sofa it takes all of my strength not to fall asleep.

Aching muscles dissolve into slush as the fabric surrounds my tush and envelopes my sore spine. I am done. Begrudgingly I turn on the tv to see what crap is broadcasting. I hate that I can waste hours watching people make meatballs in a crowded kitchen so I turn to writing and I turn to you. Hello. How’ve you been?

Juice

I had a mini meltdown of sorts the other night. Of course it wasn’t really a meltdown in the true sense of the word but since I have a flair for the dramatic we’ll call it that and all because I went to the opticians.

Dramatic right.

Since baby no.4 was born I have been having terrible headaches and as a none headache person I felt they were particularly bad. If I woke up with one you can bet it wouldn’t cease to ache until bed.

Along with the headaches I began to get a slight blurring and seeing bits of dust in my peripheral vision – I have come to learn they are called ‘Floaters’ (an unfortunate name that makes me giggle every time I hear it) and actually quite common.

I reported this to my local ‘eye doctor’ (if I was an American) and they got me an emergency appointment.

After an hour of tests which involved placing my chin on one of those little chin balancing bars and slapping my forehead against cold metal machines, they concluded that I was loosing some of the gel at the back of my eyes. Nothing that serious, but if it continues it could detach my retina. (Worse case scenario)

She showed me the scan of the back of my eyes and I hate to report that although I gave all the right head nods and ‘yeahs’ I had no clue what I was looking. She even went on to say it could well have been all the laborious baby pushing that made my eye-gel (stuff) pull away. Ain’t that typical. So it’s not just my tummy and my ‘Doris Day’ that’s been annihilated but my eyes too!!

The opticians (’cause I’m British) said they would monitor it but not before putting some crazy acid in my eyes that enlarged my pupils and made me look like a crack-head.

Back home and unable to see clearly, drive or operate heavy machinery, I got upset. And by upset I mean my chin did that weird downwards smile thing like it was trying not to wobble with the impending tears. Why is something else now wrong with me?? Sure there’s a lot technically wrong with me but now I have a second medical reason written in my history!

This got me thinking about my kidney transplant that is, this year, nine years old. It is a ticking time bomb that could go at any point and that made me cry and then I cried some more that I even had juice left in my eyes to cry. Who knew our eyes bobbed about in gel? I didn’t.

Lord keep me where the light is…or at least keep it light so I can still see.

(There’s your drama !! 😉 )

My life in bags

I got a Morrison’s delivery the other day. It happened to be on a day when my mother in law offered to have both girls. So you can imagine what I did. Yep, went back to bed.

Once the school run was complete and I had delivered the precious cargo to grandma’s I changed back into my nightie, drew the curtains and snuck back under the duvet. I set my alarm to the allotted Morrison’s slot and slipped into a peaceful coma.

When my time was done I got up and pottered around the house making a list of all the jobs to do but refusing to do any as this was my – ‘day off from life’ – day. Sometimes we need these days if we’re gonna be able to face all the other days that come along.

The Morrison’s man arrived. He began to unload my shopping bags. Litres of milk, bags full of bread, two different sizes of nappies, baby formula, cat food and sanitary towels.

When passing me the last bag with his twenty something, tattooed arms I swear I caught a look sympathy coming from his beard clad face. He gave me a muted smile and bowed his head as he walked away. I sent my thanks with him and closed the door on the many bags filling the corridor.

On my way to the kitchen I caught myself in the mirror and gasped. I was wearing my pink dressing gown with one fluffy bed sock up to my knee and the other down around my ankle. My hair was flat on one side of my head but standing on end on the other like it had endured a violent electric shock. My smudged glasses only slightly covering the eccentric eyebrows and crusted eyes. Wow.

Now I know why I got the look of sympathy from the twenty something or was it the contents of my shopping bags that made him nod at me like a convict on death row?

I had to laugh. I usually don’t care what I look like to other people as behind every person is a story we just don’t know, so why judge? Yet this tot had just seen the contents of my weekly shop and that told a story that made his buttocks clench. Two lots of nappies, a trolley load of food (and some for the cat) and a two for one bumper pack of sanitary towels that along with the wrecked appearance of a woman who gave birth to her fourth three months ago. I’m not more surprised he didn’t say goodbye with a sign of the cross.

Cake

I love that in a world of uncertainty you can absolutely be certain that when you mix butter, flour, sugar and eggs together you will have made a cake. Even if you used questionable sugar from the back of the cupboard, you can still wash it down with a giant mug of tea and life is sweet again. I only ever have this same experience with gin.

You can’t be certain, for example that since your now three month old slept through her first night that she will continue this way. In fact so blissful were the two days sleep post second round of injections you almost, almost – minus the pain experienced for the little mite – wish they would give them injections every week. I know the terrible thoughts of a mother award goes to…me! But man for a 36 hour period there life was good.

The baby does okay, I’m probably being way to hard on her. It’s not her fault that her three older siblings sleep through the night every night and since her arrival we have been desperately pleading by her cot for the same thing to happen to her. The one night she did sleep from 11pm to 7am I didn’t sleep for fear she wasn’t actually sleeping but was in fact dead. I know more awards for me.

Since moving into the 12 week bracket a veil has been lifted. The baby bubble has been popped and we find ourselves amongst the debris still standing and not just surviving with our addition but thriving. Baby smiles, coo’s and interacts with me. She actually seems to like me which is always a win if you’re gonna spend a prolonged period of time with someone.

Time will inevitably move on and she will soon sleep through the night, as will I and as one genius wrote; ‘the days are long but the years are short’ so enjoy them.

( I added that last really important bit )