This Is Your Life

The day got off to a bad start when I realised Smalls hadn’t done her morning poo. Mothers around the world will understand the anxiety of a missing poo. You know it’s there. You know it’s coming. You know it will arrive at the least convenient time – bigger and badder than ever.

We had plans to meet my mothers group at a nearby cafe. So after lengthy negotiations with Master D on what toys he could bring, pants he could wear and snacks he could have I hopefully checked Small’s nappy for the third time that hour (no poo) and proceeded to the vehicle where I spent approximately 5 hours strapping the kids into the car. I left the pram and opted for the baby carrier because, quite frankly, life is too short to spend wrestling prams into cars.

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About the time we pulled into the car park Master D gleefully informed me that he ”smelled a stink”.

Fabulous.

Somehow in the chaos of releasing both children and retrieving the mother load  of stuff I had somehow found it necessary to bring,  I neglected to close the car doors (that’s right people, doors, plural. I don’t do things by halves). Off we went on our merry way and I casually pressed the keys to lock the car. Alarms sounded. Smalls now not only antisocially pungent but borderline hysterical. Cops happened to be patrolling the area and had some sort of Pavlovian response to the sound. A sheepish trek back to close the doors. Wondered if it is even worth going out.

I finally arrived at the café, 20 minutes late, like some kind of Sherpa, laden with a bag containing half of Babies R Us and a smelly child strapped to my chest (#pramregrets). Immediately I had to source a toilet with change table facilities. The missing poo was found. The missing poo could potentially be utilised as a biological weapon.

Coffee was a little more relaxing. In between Smalls insisting on coming out of the baby carrier and being held while intermittently screaming, and Master D’s verbal diarrhoea and constant requirement for cuddles, I managed to talk to other mothers who were having similar dilemmas. Mum’s need other Mum’s. Or we would probably die out. True story.

Feeling encouraged and grossly optimistic I then decided to go grocery shopping, which is always risky business with two small children. Best case scenario you have completed a task in triple the time it takes to do alone. Worst case scenario you’re being sectioned in the dairy aisle, rocking back and forth while your kids hold you hostage with cheese sticks.

Let me tell you though, Master D took the title of favourite child that fateful day. He was an absolute pleasure, not least, I imagine, to highlight how bad his sister was being. It turned out that Smalls did not want to go shopping, or apparently, do life in general. She screamed and thrashed so ferociously that patrons looked on in alarm, all the while with Master D stating the obvious very loudly “She is very MAD Mummy! Her face is getting redder and redder Mummy! But I’m being VERY good Mummy”. I actually started laughing at one point because what can you do? Super Dad glided past with his four super behaved children including twin toddlers (is there anything more frightening than twin toddlers?). Smalls screamed some more. Fifteen year old check out chick was unimpressed. I paid the money and made a hasty exit (well, as hasty as you can with a five year old who could win an award for ‘worlds slowest walk’).

I came home and commenced my fifty million loads of washing (are there people who live in this house that I don’t know about?!) and prepped dinner to a symphony of dogs barking, Smalls crying and a lecture conducted by Master D on ant eaters. Debated on whether it was an acceptable hour to open a bottle of wine. Fought the urge to abandon all dinner plans and grab the 2 minute noodles. Then received a text from Hubster to say he was running late. Consider divorce, returning early to work, and running away to Fiji simultaneously.

Finally Hubster rescued me, the kids were in bed, the dishes were done, and I was holding a glass of wine. I stood in the doorway of their bedroom, and my heart burst with pride and love. I suddenly had this irrational desire to wake them up just so I could hold them. Then Smalls stirred and I quickly vacated the room lest we make eye contact. Close call. 

On the way downstairs I thanked my lucky stars that I was blessed with two such beautiful souls, and recognised how lucky I was to be able to stay at home with them, and how I need to treasure this time before going back to work.

This is my life. It’s hard. It’s wonderful. It’s tiring. It’s rewarding. The same as for every other mother out there.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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PhD Mummy: The Best of Worlds, The Worst of Worlds

There is a lot of stuff on the “inter-webs” about being a working mum, a stay at home mum, or a studying mum. If you take the time to read all the comments on these articles and forums it is clear that we mothers should all be at each others throats. Because, apparently, all three choices ARE DAMAGING OUR KIDS, GUYS. Working mums abandon their children. Stay at home mums are lazy, and aren’t good role models. Studying mums are selfish for taking time away from their kids to better themselves. One, two, three, four. I declare a mum war.

I think its all a bunch of codswallop. Aside from the fact that your family choices are actually none of my freaking business, I think we should be celebrating ALL mothers. The mums who somehow manage to maintain their sanity even after days inside due to the rain, cranky kids, and a husband on a business trip . The mothers who arrive at a 9am meeting unflustered after spending all night up with a colicky baby, and still manage to make after school soccer practice. The studying mums who mange to juggle exam study with school runs. The single mothers who do it alone and don’t have back up. I commend you. I bow down to you. Seriously – you rock! We’ve fought for years for gender equality (and we’re not quite there yet), we should be banding together. Not ripping each other to shreds.

But anyway, while trawling the net trying to find info for women who parent as well as PhD,  in addition to learning that pretty much every parenting choice I have ever made is wrong, I found that there really isn’t a lot of information out there on being a PhD mummy. Apparently we are a rare breed.

This might be because there aren’t many of us. Most people tend to get their qualifications under their belt before having a family. Or perhaps the ones there are are so run ragged that they don’t have the time nor energy to be writing blog posts. (Ooops.) Maybe it’s because you have to be a special kind of crazy to do a PhD, and an even specialer kind to do the doctorate with kids, and we’re dying out due to natural selection. Who is to know.

The truth is, I find being a PhD mummy has a set of its own unique challenges. It is simultaneously the best of worlds and the worst of worlds.

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The best of worlds.

1) I can wear whatever I damn well please. No uncomfortable business attire for me. As long as I’m not on my way to a meeting, conference or presentation I could rock up in tracksuit bottoms with unwashed hair. Or Gucci. Or an ABBA outfit. No one cares. Academics seem to care as much about fashion as Concreters do about Paleo diets.

2) I make my own hours. I do have a contract which specifies how many hours I SHOULD be doing a week, and I tend to keep to it. But I don’t need to clock in and out, and as long as I meet my deadlines – again – no one cares. This means my work is flexible, I can arrange it around childcare, I can catch up on weekends or evenings if needs be, and this flexibility is bloody awesome for parents.

3) People think I am really smart. I’m actually not. I’m just really good at torturing myself with study. But hey, I’ll take your compliment.

4) I get paid to read and write about things I am passionate and excited about. I design my study. I don’t have to research something because that is what my boss is interested in, or that is what the grant is for. It’s all about me. Somedays I walk out of the office and think “I have the best job in the world.”

The worst of words
1) Pay. I mean…what pay? Yeah, we get a stipend which would probably just about cover the monthly Nespresso pod expenditure of the average candidate. But it’s not something you could easily survive on – especially if you have kids and were the single/main breadwinner. Working the equivalent of a full time job, often taking on part time work in addition, and not getting the financial reward – difficult. When you have a family to think of you need that extra slice of commitment and determination to continue.

2) You gotta do it. Or not do it. Quit a job two years in and you have a reference and work experience. Quit a PhD two years in and you have nothing except a bruised ego. It’s big. It’s long term. And you need to commit.

3) Some people don’t really get it.”Still at uni hey…” (Yes. And if all goes to plan, I may NEVER escape. It’s a trap!) “It’s not a real job” (Well no. I just signed a 38 hour week contract with four weeks of annual leave, and a pay that may not rival the average McDonalds employee as a hobby really.) “You must like torturing yourself.” (Ok, I actually agree with that.)

4) 95% of the PhD candidates I have met are not parents. We are at different stages of our lives, and often don’t understand each others needs. Doing a PhD is an isolating experience to begin with, and being unable to find common ground only entrenches this.

5) Missed opportunities. Sometimes I can’t go to courses or classes because I can’t get childcare on that day. Most PhDers teach to supplement their income. I can’t. I don’t have the time, energy or childcare. I can’t justify self funding conference travel when there are nappies to buy and bills to pay.

6) I know I put this as a benefit, but it can also be a negative. Working on weekends. I feel like Hubster and I tag team it and rarely see each other or spend time together as a family.

So here it is – the pro’s and con’s of being a PhD mummy. My advice for Mummy’s – do what is best for you, what is best for your children, and what is best for your family. Haters are always going to hate (hate, hate). Shake it off. Then go do your thing, whatever that may be.

This Bipolar Parenting Gig

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I’ve been quietly contemplative lately – thinking about my son and being a parent. I know everyone says it, but time really has gone by so fast. I can’t believe my baby will be four next year.

Master D was “easy” from the moment he was born. He slotted into our life and our routine with minimal fuss. He ate well, slept well. He never had long spells of crying. He has always been healthy and happy. He has a knack for accepting change and deviations from his routine. He will sleep at anyone’s house, eat anyone’s food, and remains remarkably cavalier during situations that would stress even the best of us out, (I’m looking at you – 24 hour plane journey). I’m not saying he’s an angel child. He certainly has his moments, just like every child does. But for the most part he has just been….easy.

Master D isn’t the difficult part of parenting. It’s me. I’M the difficult part of parenting.

I’m the one who ends up in hospital, who counts pills every night, who deals with mania and depression and everything in between. I’m the one who catches every single frigging cold and virus that goes around because my immune system is too busy fighting itself to actually do it’s job. I’m the kind of unpredictable crack in the family. I’m the trouble.

I’m determined to be a “good” parent (whatever that is). It’s all I want. If  I never finish my PhD, I never clean the house, I never cook, I never travel, I never do anything else. I want to be the best parent I can to my son.  Ultimately, I want us to have a good relationship throughout his life.

What I don’t want is for him to end up sitting in some therapists chair one day talking about how I was never there for him because I was always in and out of hospital, or dealing with my own issues. I don’t want him, as an adult, to have to deal with my episodes. I don’t want him to grow up and think “Why did I get stuck with this crazy mother?”

It’s a current balancing act, and it can be really hard. I hate taking my sleeping pills at night, because I know I won’t wake up if he cries. But if I don’t sleep I can slip into mania. I hate the fact that I spent five months away from him this year. I wasn’t there for HIM when he needed me. But I needed that inpatient care to recover. I hate how doing the best thing for myself is not always the best thing for my son.

I feel, as a parent with a serious mental illness, I need to over perform to be seen as an acceptable parent. I constantly feel guilty over my parenting. I constantly feel the need to prove myself.  Whether the people I encounter actually see me as a “bad” mother because of my diagnosis doesn’t really matter. It’s self stigma. It’s irrelevant.

And I know that as a advocate for mental illness, and as a researcher looking into stigma reduction I shouldn’t self stigmatise. But it’s not because I am personally ashamed of myself. It’s because I know what society thinks of mental illness. And I’m scared that people think that way of me.

I feel like I can never, EVER, ask for help. Sometimes, on the difficult days, I want to ask Hubster to help me with him – to get him dressed, give him a shower (which he often does without asking – he is a fantastic father and husband). But the words get caught in my throat. Because Husbter did that solo for nearly half a year. Hubster is working full time, studying part time and renovating a house. It’s time for me to step up to the plate. I’m Master D’s mother. I need to do it. I need to prove that I can do it.

I have no idea how to tell Master D that I have Bipolar disorder. How do I know when the best age is to start bringing that kind of stuff up is? I mean, he knows I am sick, he knows I was in hospital, he knows I take medicine. But we told him that I had a sore tummy. Because I did, and three year olds understand what a sore tummy is. They don’t understand the intricacies of mental illness. How do I even begin to explain Bipolar to him?

I don’t want to hide my illness from him. I don’t want it to become this big family secret. I don’t want to feed stigma.  I’m not ashamed of having bipolar disorder, and I don’t want him to grow up thinking it is something to be ashamed of. Besides, he needs to know, because there is a possibility he may inherit it.

This bipolar parenting gig is hard. Damn hard. But no one ever said being a parent, bipolar or otherwise, was easy did they?

Ring of Fire

I fell into a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher.
And it burns, burns, burns,
this ring of fire,
this ring of fire.

– June Carter

During my five month hospitalisation this song was perpetually stuck in my head. Perhaps it was a song that seemed appropriate. Particularly in light of my gastrointestinal distress. Did you know that “Ring of Fire”, was once the proposed advertising song for a haemorrhoid cream? Rather unsportingly, I feel,  the Carter/Cash family refused song rights for the advertisment. I can’t think why.

But on a more serious note I could relate to the song. The seemingly endless fall into an all time low that burned. God! It burned! And worst of all, it burned the ones I love.

This last hospitalisation has scarred me. The scalpels, the IV’s, and, yes, the self inflicted tearing at my skin has marked me in a way I will never be able to explain. My skin heals to shiny silveriness, but it will never be the same. A constant reminder to myself, and my loved ones.

But the scar that burns the most is the one inside my heart. The guilt I have, as a mother, for leaving my three year old child during my hospitalisation. Because it wasn’t just for a week, or a month, but for FIVE months of his little life.

He now has a acquaintance with hospitals that I never wished for him to have. If I slip, and mention that I need to see the doctor, he worries, immediately asking if I am ok, If I will go back to hospital again. I have to reassure him that I am not going anywhere and then he climbs up on my lap, ever so gently, telling me that he won’t hurt my tummy. He kisses me and tells me “No more hospital Mummy. You are doing SO well.”

I often say that he was the one who saved me, and this is the honest to God truth. If I didn’t have my son to motivate me into recovery, I don’t know where I would be. But then I think; what a responsibility for a toddler to hold! I never wanted my illness to affect my son, yet it did, from the moment he was born. Unintentionally, I have exposed my son to the ring of fire. And I burned him.

I know…I KNOW that I had no choice. I know I had to get myself better to be there for him. I know that I was “caring for my child by caring for myself”, or whatever it was that the doctors told me to try and make me feel better. But the fact was that I wasn’t there for him. For nearly half a year. I wasn’t there to watch him play. To cook him dinner. To take him to the park. To pick him up from daycare. To kiss him when he fell. To hold him when HE was sick. For nearly half a year.

And of course he takes it in his stride. Because that’s what children do. He loves me no less than he did before.

But this scar over my heart will never heal. How can I forgive myself for putting myself first, when the whole purpose of parenting is to protect your young before yourself.

I fell into a burning ring of fire.

And I took him with me.

A Great Love


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Sometimes I feel like Master D and I have a special bond. Everything I have been through, he has been through too.

I had a tumultuous pregnancy, with a number of physical and emotional stressors. For the first 12 weeks I was at risk of miscarriage (most likely) due to low progesterone levels. At about the seven week mark I arrived at the hospital, soaked in blood, sure that this time I had lost my baby.

We waited for a few hours to be seen, enough time to see women with enormous babies arriving, excited and anxious, for their scheduled c-section, and families with “It’s a Boy!” balloons racing up to meet the new arrival.

When it was my turn to have an ultrasound I braced myself for the seemingly inevitable “I’m sorry…” but it never came. Amazingly my little bean was still there with a strong heartbeat. The technician gave us some pictures and I stared at them in wonder on the car ride home.

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And so he continued to thrive. And he still does. I watch him in wonder each day, amazed at the things he learns.  I can’t believe we made him!

He’s seen me at my worst, my most darkest worst. And he’s seen me at my highest of high. And he still calls me Mummy with pride. He cuddles me when my hair is a mess, and he say’s “pretty” when I put on a jewelery. It’s unconditional, for both of us.

And this is nothing out of the ordinary. The great love between mother and child has always been documented. This is no surprise to anyone.

Except perhaps me. I didn’t realise how much I could truly love someone until I became a mum. I didn’t know until I burst into uncontrollable sobs of joy as soon as I heard his first cry. I didn’t know.

I feel a kind of solidarity with Master D. Between us we managed to sustain the pregnancy, despite the problems. We went into hospital together, we bonded despite the bipolar and the depression and the psychosis. We got each other through it all, despite the circumstances.

And as much as he can get into mischief. As much as sometimes I lose my temper. As much as makes a mess and disrupts my plans. I wouldn’t change it for the world. He has taught me more about life than anyone else could.

But more than that he’s given me inspiration to keep going. Something to live for. Someone to make proud.

So thank you Master D, for choosing me as your Mummy.

Being Mummy

 

 

There’s this boy who stole my heart….
He call’s me “Mummy”

From the moment I saw those two pink lines on a pregnancy test my life became about someone else. Was I eating the right things? Was I doing the right things? Should I rest more? Should I exercise more? And it doesn’t stop there. I still worry about whether I am doing the best for him and I expect I will his whole life

Yet this parental worry is probably the reason I am still here today. On my darkest of dark days I would look down at the beautiful baby we had created and pushed and forced myself to get up, feed him, change him and hold him.  I told myself that the blackness was my problem, and David didn’t deserve to suffer the consequences of it. He held me together more than any medication or doctor could.

Each time I felt like ending it all I would think of my beautiful baby, of him growing up without a mother and how that would affect him later in life. I would take a deep breath, and give my little boy a huge cuddle.

When it became clear that I needed hospital assistance I refused to go anywhere I couldn’t take my little boy. I was so frightened of being absent during such an important stage of bonding. Whether that is admirable or foolish i can’t say, but thankfully for me there was a mother and baby unit where I was able to take him.

One of the major things I worry about is that he will inherit my illness. Bipolar disorder has a large genetic component and often runs in families. We probably won’t find out until he is in his teens…but on the small chance he does develop bipolar disorder I hope I will be able to guide him through it. Sun, storms, rain or shine, I’ll always be there for you my darling David. My sunshine.

 

So This is Pressure…?

I just cried. And yes, I hardly ever cry. But I cried that awful raggedy gut wrenching sob that has no place in front of others. So I cried it alone. And now, here, with swollen eyes and mascara over my hands I start to wonder why.

I spend so much time at the moment devoid of feeling. The highs and lows have levelled out and I like it that way. I never feel anxious anymore, I rarely feel upset. Others on mood stabilizers complain of the flatness, but I enjoy it. After the trauma of my last episode flatness is relief. The flatness is freedom for me.

But that doesn’t mean I am not affected by experiences anymore. I seem to breeze through a particularly stressful time and then suddenly become briefly incapacitated. I suddenly feel all of the pain “It HURTS!!” I recognise, quite angry at this realization. Then I cry, or I dissociate, or I hear voices, or I dip my foot into hypomania. But it always passes. And then I sail away on the Lucky Lithium once more, feeling no sea sickness even in the fiercest of storms.

I realised the moment I dried my last tear what this was about. For some time I have felt like I am being pushed into a box that is too small to cage me. I feel as though I am constantly running through time trying to get everything done yet always arriving late. I feel as though my internal resources are being sucked from me and I’m left running on empty.

Pressure. That’s the word of the day. Most of the pressure I feel is self inflicted, some of it isn’t. I believe all mothers will relate to what I am saying. It’s the daily grind, the balancing of work with family. It’s making sure there is food on the table and laundrey in the cupboards. All normal, everyday pressures.

But having a mental illness affects people in funny ways. I suddenly realise that I feel intense pressure to perform as a parent. As an individual with bipolar disorder I assume I my parenting skills will be scrutinized and I feel I must prove to everyone that I am a good mother. I thought many strange things when I had psychosis, but one of the scariest was that the police were after me and they were going to take my baby away. I know I was psychotic and this was a delusion but I will never forget that terror of losing my child. I feel I must prove to everyone around me that I am capable. What pressure to put on yourself!

Clearly Master D hasn’t received my memo, as he has chosen this particular shaky time in my self development to become a perfectly normal naughty toddler. I have left social events with Master D, almost in tears, after a typical toddler tantrum (his, not mine ;)). But instead of thinking “he was so NAUGHTY!” I think “Everyone must think I’m a terrible mother!”

 

 

 

But I forget I am not the only mother of an almost two year old. I forget all mothers go through this experience. Last week as I ‘ignored’ D’s terrible tantrum on the floor another mother came up to me. She gave me a grin and gestured to Master D “You’re doing the right thing” she said. I wanted to hug her.

 

But I know I’m doing the right thing. I know I’m a good mother, and that my illness has never had any impact on my ability to parent. I know I have nothing to prove. But just like I can still feel the fear of a previous delusion, I still feel pressure to prove what I already know I am.

Hospital Visit

 I think that when you’re a mum, you just KNOW when your child isn’t well. When there is something more serious than the average cough or cold going on. I think as a parent you have an instinct.

This week I had a suspicion something wasn’t right with Master D. On Monday I worried when I dropped him off at daycare, and called from the uni to see how he was. When we took him home that night he was frantic. Screaming, writhing, thrashing. Painkillers didn’t seem to work and nothing seemed to settle him. First thing the next morning I took him to my local GP.

My GP was concerned, Master D was still screeching in pain, and basically inconsolable. Yet at this stage he had no fever, no sore throat, no ear infection, no runny nose, nothing obvious to explain his pain. We spent an hour at the surgery for observation, then were advised to take him to hospital for further investigation.

My mum came with me to the emergency department, where Master D screamed and thrashed. He was assessed by doctor after doctor. Through tears I watched as my little boy was wrapped in a sheet and pinned down by three nurses, while a consultant unsuccessfully attempted to administer a line and take bloods. Dripping in sweat, writhing in pain, Master D didn’t take his eyes off me as they pricked him again and again.

The doctors were concerned he had a bowel twist and directed us to go to the city’s specialist children’s hospital to meet with the GI surgical team for a review. We were offered an ambulance transfer but I refused as I didn’t want to be without my mum. Instead we drove home, picked up my husband and went straight to the emergency department.

At the hospital we were seen by doctor after doctor after doctor. But nobody could tell us what was going on. Master D was obviously in tremendous pain, but had no other symptoms. An ultrasound ruled out a bowel twist, and suddenly doctors were talking about real nasty pasties. Bone infections, meningitis, lumbar punctures. Of course we were terrified – although Master D was unwell we hadn’t expected anything like this. For a while, Hubster and I couldn’t even say the word. ‘Meningitis’ became ‘that other thing the doctors mentioned…’

Luckily for us Master D started to improve after taking some painkillers. Although he still had periods of intense crying, he also started having longer periods of calm. Doctors were more relaxed, telling us he had no suspicious symptoms. After a long night where Master D developed a hoarse voice, cough and wheeze, he was diagnosed with Croup, an ear infection and constipation.

Croup! What a relief! Somehow I couldn’t believe our luck. You see, for the entirety of our stay at the children’s hospital I had seen such dreadfully sick children. I had heard stories that made my heart break. And I had been praying that we were not about to embark on a similar journey. Taking my sad, hoarse little boy home felt like such a gift. My heart goes out to the families who have to leave their children at the hospital. The families that have to deal with heart break every day. We had a scare with a happy ending. Some other families are not so lucky.

I’m not religious but tonight I’ll thank God for my healthy child, and I’ll pray for those who need it.