In January 2022 I gave birth to my beautiful son. This year has been all about him, and us being together as a family – it’s been quite the journey!
I used to do these round ups, looking back on all the wonderful countries I’d visited and the amazing experiences I’d had, to recap and remember how lucky I was. This year, it’s been a week in Sardinia in Italy, one at a retreat in Spain, and 50 weeks in England while I grappled with my new role as a mother.
I still want to write about my year though, and with my travels pretty much summed up in the sentence above, the rest of my final blog post for 2022 covers my tumultuous year as a mother.
My baby boy Reggie turns one in January, but in the spirit of nostalgia and new beginnings the end of a year brings, I’m sat on a train to my ‘work Christmas party’ digging as deep as I’m ready to share on the last year.
In summary, parenthood is hard.
My partner Ben summed it up well: ‘all consuming’.
And the word ‘relentless’ is used less now, but a few months ago I’m sure I heard it daily, from one of us at least.
As a mum of an 11-month-old now, I can’t actually remember what I thought motherhood would be like. I know I expected to be climbing hills with Reggie in a baby carrier, and spending my first year at NCT lunch dates, and planning my family’s next adventures. I thought I’d be one of those mums typing at the laptop on one hand and the other holding a sleeping baby close – but other than that…
I’d obviously heard plenty of friends talk of the torturous tiredness and the extreme exhaustion, but now I can admit I might’ve heard them, but did I actually listen?
Saying goodbye to sleep
Every baby is different but the fact I’ve had less than 10 sleeps this year longer than six hours says a lot. The best, in fact, was only the other day on Christmas Eve when Santa bought me everything I wanted in the form of Reggie sleeping from 7 till 7, and me from 10 till 7.
God it was glorious.
Sleep makes everything better, and the lack of it, worse. The deprivation is torture.
For a few weeks (or was it months?) Ben and I decided to look after Reggie in ‘shifts’ overnight, with me sleeping from 7pm-1am and he 1am-7am. Setting my alarm for 1am was rough. The middle of the night is a dangerous place for an overthinker with a penchant for catastrophising, with only her own mind for company. I was too tired to occupy it with anything distracting and too busy breastfeeding to be able to move.
Postpartum toxic positivity
In those late night hours I felt the loneliness, the postpartum anxiety, the worry for the future and the shift in every aspect of my life. I also felt the internal toxic positivity – that I wasn’t allowed to feel like I’d lost myself, my friends, my life and my relationship as it was. I had a beautiful, healthy, gorgeous baby boy in my arms who wanted nothing but us, and sleep. I should be grateful.
And I was.
But I was also tired and struggling to welcome this new version of me. The one with responsibilities, forever more.
Looking back now, I can see that this kind of thinking is perfectly normal and understandable when the version of my life became so different to what it was before. It can be easy to breeze over entire chapters of your life with the benefit of experience, but at the time the worry of whether I was good enough to look after Reggie, and selfless enough to be ok about leaving my old travel life was very real.
How could I be wishing for some of my old life when I had this beautiful new life in my arms?
I know that in those little moments, at 2am, 3am, 4am I was exhausted, wondering why I’d wanted this upheaval, but not wanting to say that to anyone. Even writing it now feels a bit off, but this toxic positivity, where you patch over very real feelings that may need to be talked about, with gratitude and schadenfreude, doesn’t always work – forcing it can be detrimental.
I totally believe we need to be grateful for what we have, but that does have a limit. An obsession with gratitude isn’t a panacea for emotions and feelings at the time that need to be addressed and accepted, not just dismissed or trivialised with a sweeping ‘could be worse’ or ‘you’re lucky’, or the worst ‘just you wait…’.
In fact that’s been one of the most damaging messages to my psyche post natal. After having a baby you’re at your most vulnerable – suddenly propelled into this life of care for another, when really, you need someone to care for you. It’s a huge shift no matter what you’re life before, and you need to talk about it.
You can’t just try to Polyfilla over the feelings of loss and change in body, work, friends and relationships – it doesn’t work like that. You need to feel it and work out how to channel those feelings in a more productive way.
The mother and baby retreat I did at 4 months was one of the experiences I loved most in early motherhood – just to feel like I could express myself and and to be listened to and understood.
At about 9 months I went through a phase of telling myself ‘I just can’t do this anymore’, which really wasn’t helpful and was very unlike me. I absolutely could not see how anyone would want to go through parenthood even twice. It coincided with Reggie being ill. He has a thing where he coughs so much he’s sick, we’ve had about four bouts of it over the year and as well as being painful to see him experience, it’s also exhausting to prepare for and clean up. It was a dark time. I just needed some sleep, and some energy.
Because I could do this, and I did.
Am I still a travel blogger?
One of the hardest aspects of having a baby is the loss of self. It happened immediately for me. The questions of where I’d travel next fell away in an instant when I outed I was pregnant, all chat shifted to names, dates and trimesters.
The dawning on that life means travel will never be the same. I know now we won’t be one of these couples that climbs mountains with a little baby in a carrier – in fact, to be honest, I don’t think it’s possible and refuse to believe the Instagrammers do it for any longer than it takes the camera to click.
I wanted to be an inspiration to my readers, and get out there and travel as much as possible with Reggie, and even without, but adding him to the mix in this post covid travel world makes it so difficult, and debatable whether it’s worth the upheaval.
And I’m just not ready to leave him behind for my love of travel yet.
The three of us did have a great time on our first holiday with a baby in Sardinia, with four-month old Reggie, and I enjoyed the retreat with a five-month old Reggie but I guess it’s telling that I haven’t been anywhere since. I don’t really know why not to be honest. It does feel like he was on and off ill for about 3 months post Spain, and then, it got cold and Christmas got in the way, along with a few England excursions to Whitstable, the New Forest and Oxford along the way.
I need to book an international adventure for us for next year ASAP.
I’ve tried to keep up on my blog, even if my social feeds have been quiet this year. It’s been hard to go ‘back to work’ though, and I really feel for parents who have to go back to the office before they’re ready.
At 11 months I can feel the old me coming back slowly, but it’s difficult to find a piece of yourself in among the nappies, sleepless nights, baby toys and Hey Duggee. I’m still there somewhere!
Relationships and friendships
Ben and I didn’t do the traditional ‘he go back to work and I look after the baby’ which from the mums I know, still seems the norm.
He had the option for shared leave and we took it. He had six weeks of paternity leave at the start, and then did three lots of six weeks as the main caregiver. This gave me time to take up the amazing opportunity to write for the new Lonely Planet England guide (out February 1st!), to update my sites, and to stay on top of the business I’d spent over ten years building.
I was still in the house with them nearby, but the naps, nappies and day time playtime were down to Ben.
This has meant that we never quite sat in our roles though. Navigating chores and meals and baby care and personal time and work, is difficult. With three people in the relationship now, things change.
I feel the same about friendships – it’s been a year of adjustment and with me unable to talk about the things I used to (holidays, going out, weekend trips and FUN) – it’s altered the dynamics in some.
I definitely don’t want to paint a picture of doom, gloom and managing responsibilities though – just, realistic adjustment.
Reggie is honestly the most gorgeous, happy, funny and magical baby.
For the first six months as soon as he went to bed I’d sit and look through the (now 3000+) photos of the day. There’s this weird feeling where you just want a moment’s peace in the day but when he’s in bed, I miss him.
The fact I’m writing this on the train to my ‘work Christmas day out’ with my favourite travel bloggers Dan and Emily is telling. A day I’d bookmarked for myself to live ‘my old life’ with a G&T on the train to the New Forest and a plan to actually read a book. Instead, I’m watching old videos of Reggie and furiously typing these 2000+ words on my note app on my phone.
You’ll probably be able to tell the paragraphs I wrote on the way back, after the festive mulled wines.
I look at Reggie and can genuinely feel my heart warm.
I don’t know what I did to deserve him.
I love watching him sleep. Feeling his body relax when I put my hand on his chest, or place my finger in his hand when he’s thrashing sleepless about is just gorgeous.
I love watching him develop too, which Reggie has at an incredible rate. He’s off the charts for his height and has been for a while. I felt weirdly emotional when he first managed to flick the light switch on and off, he stunned me when he just climbed the stairs one day, and I can tell he’ll be walking soon. He has such a sunny personality – laughing and ‘chatting’ all day long.
I know we’re in for some fun and excitable years as a toddler.
READ MORE: Preparing For a Baby, Travel Blogger Style
Being Reggie’s mum
The point of this post is to give a realistic, open view of how my parenthood journey has been so far. Every baby is different, and every parent too, but I want to offer some comfort in the fact it’s not easy for anyone, especially in the moment. It’s hard and it’s ok to feel tired, to miss your old life, to wonder WTF you’ve done, and why. But those moments will pass and you’ll be left with your greatest achievement.
The lows are part of it, they help you experience the highs and enjoy the full spectrum of feelings of parenthood.
Reggie has shown me how to appreciate the smaller things in life, and the tiny moments. To find the joy in a fascinating crumb that missed the now daily vacuum cleaning he can now pick up in his newly learnt pincer grip. To feel the delight he does in his whole body in seeing his daddy walk in the room. To experience the captivating triumph in a new skill repeated – clapping, waving or clasping his hands and pulling them apart again. Even the new one, working out that his index finger fits perfectly up his nostril.
I’ve spent hours just looking at him, and still do. Feeling him roll into me as a little spoon at night is a warmth I try to soak up and enjoy because I know they won’t last forever and I’ll miss them when they’re gone.
And that’s the thing with this parenthood. In the moment it’s exhausting, tiring, and yes, definitely relentless, but it only takes a moment or two to step back and admire the amazing being you’ve created and all you’ve done and achieved together. The love behind how much of yourself you give to them is truly incredible. Watching Reggie grow will be the greatest privilege and joy. I love him so, so much and for any difficult moment I’ve wanted to pass I know I’ll wish for it back as he grows up.
As he barrels into the toddler years, snot and all, I hope I can be the understanding, fun and supportive mum he needs and deserves.
Reggie is my most wonderful decision. Better than any view, holiday or trip abroad ever could be.
The hours are long, the days can seem impossible but there’s an infinite amount of love, cuddles and smiles in between.
In 2022 I’ve watched more Teletubbies than I would wish on anyone, challenged my perceptions of what I thought it was to have a baby and to be a mother, and battled through questions of identity and purpose, but I’ve come to the conclusion that this is where I’m meant to be in the world right now.
Comments on my first year as a mum
After publishing this article I had some lovely feedback. Really heartfelt messages on all the social medias and in my DMs, but I noticed no one wrote below!
I felt like the comments I got validated this post even more, so I’ve added some of the ones I saved below. It just shows that we’re in it together, and parenthood isn’t always sunshines and smiles – even if that’s all you read about.
I thought they added to the value of the article so I’ve added a few of them in here.
“Parenthood is both precipice and summit. Some days, it is a slow, steep climb on unforgiving rock – your knuckles dry, your shoulders sore – while you lurch onwards, trying to stay balanced. Other times, you stumble upon moments of breathtaking beauty that make you feel as if you’ve discovered the meaning of everything. Moments that often aren’t even the big moments: a cuddle while watching Toy Story; sharing a croissant in the sunshine; a conversation that starts ‘Mummy, did you know…’, or the simple perfection of a small hand clutching yours, warm and smooth and soft…” – AMY ABRAHAMS in Am I Falling Apart or Just a Tired Mother?