I actually wrote this post a few weeks ago, with the intention to finish it over the Christmas holidays, but when I came back to it tonight I found that it just didn’t say what I wanted it to say. It didn’t sum up the year at all.
I thought for a while that no year would be bigger (I said bigger, not better) than 2014. That was the year I became a mother. In some respects, that’s still true. I can’t become a mother again. Becoming a mother is the single most exciting thing I’ve ever done and I can’t imagine ever topping that. I became a mum of two this year though, and a mum of two under two. I assumed wrongly that the blissful bubble I lived in after Iris’s birth would be replicated after Astrid arrived. It couldn’t have been more different. I’ve felt slightly traumatised by the birth of Iris. The doctors, the procedures, the room full of people staring at my private parts, the epidural, the forceps, the hospital stay for an infection. It’s all stayed with me. The birth of Astrid was completely different. I refused point blank to go back to the same hospital, and chose to give birth on a midwife led unit somewhere else. A midwife asked me if I had a back up plan in case the unit was full, and I told her that if she wanted me to go back to the hospital she’d have to drag me kicking and screaming. Thankfully it all worked out. Astrid arrived after a day and a night of labour, half of which was at home and half was in a pool in a private room with a midwife poking her head around the door every so often. Just me and Trevor, singing songs by The Smiths and holding each other. She was born in the morning and we went home the same day. I felt healed by the experience and hopeful for a few weeks of newborn bliss. This is my favourite picture ever. Just after arriving home with brand new Astrid, the first time these sisters ever met. The look of wonder on Iris’s face. How gently she’s touching her. Watching the bond between them grow and develop has been the highlight of a very tough year. They belong together. I’m dreading the days when they have real fights and stop talking to each other. I just want them to always love each other the way they do now. The bliss never came and life after her birth was really hard. It wasn’t them. Of course there were moments when I had both of them upset and couldn’t split myself, and it was hard. But mostly I was surprised by having two under two. It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t as hard as I’d anticipated. Despite that, I was seriously down. I can look back now and see that it probably wasn’t just a normal bit of baby blues. The black dog had come along and clouded everything. My migraines returned, and I went back on medication for both. A combination of Sertraline and Amitryptaline helped me so much, but I couldn’t take good care of myself. I was too anxious and stressed out. I ate my feelings, which didn’t make me feel better. I turned 31 in February, and I reflected on how I spent my birthday (doing housework and feeling like crap) and was scared it summed up who I had become, so I vowed to take better care of myself, to look after myself better. I didn’t though. I just couldn’t find the energy or the motivation. I didn’t like myself. I didn’t feel like I was worth the effort. Instead I just carried on in a fog and gained a ridiculous amount of weight. I kept trying to convince myself that writing stuff down and blogging was making me feel better, that it gave me a release and helped me to deal with things. While that was sometimes true, it wasn’t most of the time. The New Years resolutions I’d had for making my blog more of a thing just put more pressure on my already tired brain. Most of my blog posts contained the words ‘sorry for the silence, please stick with me while I attempt to get better at this’. I gave up on my photo round up posts that were like a diary of my life. I just couldn’t keep up. I tried again to fix my bad eating habits. I’m vegetarian, dairy makes me feel crappy, and the thought of eating eggs repulses me. I tried hard to fix my diet and only eat things that make me feel good. I even mastered vegan pancakes! It didn’t last. I turned to chocolate to make me feel better at the end of the day. It didn’t work but I couldn’t give it up. Breastfeeding was a big part of the year, as well as severe sleep deprivation. I was proud of my ability to walk around and be alive on so little sleep for so many months on end. It was so daft, because my skin was grey, my bones ached, my hair was falling out and I felt so so awful. Breastfeeding was easier second time around though, and we’re still going now. We spent more time with my family this year, and that made such a difference to me. I love seeing Iris run around with my sister’s kids. They’re so close now, and are always hugging and kissing each other. They’ve come over the bridge for sleepovers here a few times and they’ve been wonderful. I’m hoping for lots more of that in 2017! The hardest part of being in Wales is being away from people that I love, both friends and family. I’ve been here for over 2 and a half years. It’s still a constant battle. There’s nowhere to run. I have great friends here now, but it’s not the same as running off to your mum’s when life gets a bit overwhelming. Spring bought us a bit of a heatwave and being outside more was soothing. I had already gained so much weight since new year that I had no clothes that fit me. I bought some from charity shops but quickly outgrew those too. It got me down so much, but being outside on our new decking with my little ones brought me joy and that helped. The warm weather wasn’t consistent, but we kept up with the outdoors fun anyway. I didn’t write a single word on my blog in April, and I can’t even remember why. I probably just couldn’t. I couldn’t face it. I hate to write negative posts but I’ve struggled to find positives for much of this year. This leads to me feeling guilty because the news is full of hate and pain and suffering, and I had nothing solid to blame my depression on. Life was good. I have it good. It doesn’t work that way though. If only it did. Trevor decided to try to cuddle a prairie dog and it bit him. I’m including it because it was one of the funniest things that happened all year. Plus it serves him right. Who tries to cuddle a prairie dog?? If I was going to master getting my life back on track, I had to get the hang of getting around with two very small children. As you can see, I’d already mastered the art of the selfie that hides the weight gain and exhaustion. I did briefly get better at travelling around with them, and we did a few days out on public transport and visits to people we miss. Sometimes it was a huge success, and other times it was so stressful it put me off and I hid us all away for a while again. We went to Barry Island on an average spring day only to find that it was still winter at the seafront. It was so freezing, and I was glad of my tendency to overpack the changing bag for once. We made sand castles and played hook a duck while trying to shelter from the blistering wind. Iris’s unexplainable obsession with chickens and ducks kept growing, and I still have no real idea where it started or what she sees in them. A neighbour keeps them, and we visit them often. Iris even sings to them sometimes. It’s not escaped me that there’s barely a mention of Astrid in this post so far. The truth is that I don’t remember quite a bit of her first few months. I was a mess, and she was one of those babies that screams and screams for a reason it’s impossible to work out. I couldn’t console her no matter what I did, and in trying to I often had to ignore Iris. It was so hard. The lowest moment of the year was the day some police community support officers helped me home on the bus because they found me crying and Astrid screaming while Iris slept in the pushchair. I couldn’t juggle it all. I just couldn’t get us out of the public eye and back home by myself. I felt so judged and so ridiculous, but I can see now that people were kind to me. We did run away to my mum’s occasionally despite the distance, and those times were so good. Sometimes I just need to get away from Wales and away from our life. I feel so bad because as much as I insist it’s not about Trevor and our life here (and it really isn’t) it must be so hard for him to live with somebody like me and then to worry about us when I take us all off for a break. I know if the tables were turned I’d feel abandoned and like I’d done something wrong, so I do appreciate that it’s got to be hard for him. In another attempt to fix my terrible eating habits I bought a spiraliser, and for a while we ate a lot of vegetables. Green spaghetti was Iris’s favourite. It didn’t last that long though. Like every other thing I tried to do for my own health this year, it failed at the first hurdle. There was a lot of rain. Thankfully Iris quite likes it and I’m a fan of it too if we’re dressed appropriately! We jumped in a lot of puddles and didn’t let it keep us indoors. A friend of ours set up an exercise class where you could take your little ones along. Iris enjoyed it, but Astrid kept crying and wouldn’t settle so I found I was barely joining in. When I could take part, I had a great time and remembered how good exercise felt. I even lost a bit of weight. The class didn’t carry on because the instructor was expecting another baby, and I didn’t find another form of exercise to replace it. I tried (and still do!) to keep active by walking the dog. Actually we barely walk at all, because Iris goes so slowly and stops to admire every stick. Astrid often starts to cry and Iris asks to be carried, and I give up. It’s just too exhausting and I’m all out of motivation and energy. We got some tiny baby caterpillars and looked after them until they made the transformation into beautiful butterflies, and then we let them go in local woodland. It was magical, and made me feel incredibly emotional! They were landing on us and hanging around, and when they did fly away Iris was calling out goodbye to them. It’s definitely an experience I want to repeat every year! We hung out at the local lido as often as we could, because we’re very lucky to have such a wonderful facility on our doorstep. Iris discovered that she can swim by herself if she wears armbands and I’ve never seen her prouder. I’ve never felt prouder either. She turned TWO! My tiny little baby was a two year old. We celebrated with a picnic in the park on a quite chilly day, followed by fun in the (very cold) splash park and then a day trip to Cardiff Bay with my mum. I couldn’t believe how much she’d changed from 18 months to two, in the six months since Astrid had arrived. She was such a little person already, with her own ways and preferences.I went blonde in an attempt to like what I see in the mirror. It actually worked! I really liked it. The upkeep was two much in my busy life though, so the roots kept growing too long and I just couldn’t keep up. But for a while, I really enjoyed having super frosty blonde hair. We had a lovely family photo shoot in a strawberry field with local photographer Donna of Sweet Whimsy Photography. I love the results and they are pictures I will truly treasure forever. I had to really battle with myself to share the ones of me though, and could hardly bear to look at them myself. I don’t recognise this person I see in pictures and in the mirror. It isn’t the me I know, and I can’t find a better way to explain it than that. I guess it’s an identity crisis of sorts, and I’m very much still having it now. We did a fair bit of camping this year, which suits me just fine. I love it. It’s so freeing and soothing. Even when it pours with rain there’s just something about that sound on the tent. Even if it does keep us all awake. Our first trip was with all of Iris’s friends from breastfeeding support group and their parents who have become our friends. It made me realise that the support network I have here in Wales now is just incredible. I miss my Bristol friends and I always will, but this bunch are wonderful and have kept me going through so much. We managed to pitch our tents in a big circle around the children’s play area, and we just chilled and watched the kids play for a couple of days. Astrid started eating solid food, and we went down the baby led route again. It’s worked so well for us both times, and I’m so glad I’ve never had to mash food or make up puréed veg. It also means I could sit and eat my own dinner with two hands. I didn’t realise it was possible, but Astrid actually eats even better than Iris did. Iris is beginning to get a little fussy now, but as a baby she ate everything and anything in huge quantities. Astrid is exactly the same. I hoped thinking about meals for a small baby would help me sort out my own eating habits but that didn’t happen. The last few weeks of summer were pretty great. We managed another camping trip, this time with Trevor’s brother and his family who we don’t get to see often, as well as a few lovely day trips. The weather was fantastic, and I briefly felt like my old self for a while. I felt like I might have got a grip of things and it felt good. The sunshine was working for me. In August we went to a wedding reception in Bristol, which we decided not to take Iris to. It was kind of a big deal for her, her first sleepover at Nanny’s without me there to put her to bed. She’d stayed overnight with my mum at our house once before (while I was giving birth to Astrid) but I’d never left her at my mum’s. She wasn’t bothered and had a great time. Astrid came along and mostly ate food and slept in the sling. In mid August Iris declared “no more nappies!” and decided she needed big girl pants. We rolled with it despite the awful timing (the week before our holiday!) and I’m glad I trusted her and followed her lead. She’s had her fair share of accidents but hasn’t looked back. She’s so proud of using the toilet by herself and quickly moved on from the potty. The summer ended, as it has for three years now, with our long camping trip to Beddgelert in North Wales. Having a potty training toddler along for the ride was interesting but it all worked out and we had another fantastic break away. It’s one of the highlights of my year every year now and I look forward to it all year long. This year my sister gave birth to my new baby niece Effie while we were away and I found it quite upsetting to not be nearby for her. The mobile phone signal is so bad in Snowdonia that we could barely keep in touch, and I couldn’t wait to meet her. The week after our holiday, Iris started at nursery. It was a big decision for me, and I wasn’t sure it was right for a while. I don’t have a job, or any real need of childcare, but Iris is a really sociable girl who doesn’t cope with whole days at home or without the company of other children. The pressure of making sure her days were full was something I could do with easing up slightly. She loved it from the very beginning, and on her first morning when we told her we’d leave and come back in a little while she barely looked up from the sandpit and just said ‘bye then’. She had a lot of accidents there to start with as she was nervous about asking to go the loo, but she got the hang of it in the end. She’s been coming home singing in Welsh (it’s a bilingual nursery) and talking about her new friends and her teachers. Astrid quite often naps while she’s there and it’s given me two mornings a week to do housework or just sit still if that’s what I need to do. One of our guinea pigs, Captain Fuzzywuzzy, had died suddenly before our holiday but although we knew Batpig was lonely we put off getting him a new friend so that we could be around to supervise the introductions. It went really well and baby Robin has settled in nicely. He’s more nervous and jumpy than Batpig so we’re working on getting him used to us. The arrival of autumn was welcomed by me. It had been very hot for a while and I was struggling with it. Iris discovered conkers and our days were filled with finding the best trees to collect them from. It was a great game to combine with Pokemon Go, and we spent a lot of time outdoors. Astrid learnt to crawl, and it made our outdoor adventures more fun. She was less frustrated. She could join in! We had a day out with my sister and her family in Bristol, which was wonderful. However, I realised that I didn’t want to be there. I’m not the Bristol version of me anymore. I was scared of bumping into people because I don’t want them to see me like this. I don’t t even want to see myself like this. I’m so tired and worn down. Even my old river city couldn’t pick me up. Astrid wore a lion costume for an animal themed workshop on the park, and I’m basically just including this picture because it makes me happy. I sold our gorgeous Cosatto tandem pushchair because Astrid hated being in the back, and bought a second hand double off-road three wheeler. It’s great for in the woods and the park, and Astrid is so much happier in it. Scenes like this one make it my best purchase of the year. For the third time this year we combined a train trip to Techniquest in Cardiff Bay with a boat ride to Bute Park, but this time we took Trevor and the big girls. We’ve become so attached to Techniquest that we’re getting annual passes next year! Hooray for science! It rained a lot, so we bought some waterproof trousers and rolled around in muddy puddles. Well, the kids did. I just watched and enjoyed seeing their joy. In October we carved pumpkins and Iris had a wonderful Halloween evening answering the door and handing out sweets. Her nursery had a Halloween disco, and although she refused to wear the witch costume I had bought for her, Iris had a wonderful evening. Astrid loved it too. We went to the big firework display in our local park for bonfire night. Astrid stared at them and we couldn’t make out how she felt about the experience. Iris kept trying to climb a nearby tree and I was too scared of losing her in the dark to enjoy the display. Our good friends Jen and Martin at Barefoot Images did a Christmas photo shoot for us. After not even being able to look at the pictures of myself from our last photo shoot, I decided this would be just the four kids. This is an outtake but is actually my favourite shot. It sums up their relationship so well. There’s a constant battle for the limelight, and they seem to be constantly trying to outdo each other in terms of cuteness. It didn’t get used on our Christmas card, but it might just make it onto the wall in the hallway! The beginning of November was a scary time. Iris had been ill with what I thought was a nasty cold for a few days, when she started wheezing and became difficult to wake up. She ended up being rushed to hospital with suspected pneumonia. She likes ambulances and fire engines so she’d probably have enjoyed the ride if she’d been aware of what was going on. She ended up on oxygen, nebulisers and inhalers and stayed in for two nights. Thankfully it was a chest infection and not pneumonia. The experience affected her deeply. She wouldn’t talk about it for a few weeks, and she relapsed with using the toilet, started crying when we took her to nursery, and completely lost her appetite. She didn’t even want to play, and would just lie under a blanket on the sofa. It took a good month to get our usual Iris back. In December, I’ve discovered Marie Kondo and began a serious declutter. I didn’t realise that the mountains of junk all over my house were affecting my mental health and holding me back. Sending bags and bags of stuff to charity shops and to recycling has been life changing, which sounds cheesy and a bit daft but it’s true. It inspired me to look at other areas of my life too, and to figure out what sparks joy and get rid of what doesn’t. It’s just the beginning of a big adventure that I’m hoping will dominate 2017 and help me to get my whole life back on track. Yes, I’m aware that it’s just a book and I sound a bit silly. I’ve become an empty shell. An unhappy one. An overweight one. I have a lot to change but figuring out what’s good and embracing that might just work better than anything else I’ve tried, most of which involved seeing the negative and being angry about it. Iris was in her first Christmas show as a star, and actually wanted to wear a costume which was a shock. It was mostly Christmas songs sung in Welsh so I had no idea what was going on, but Iris was very proud of her performance. It was so cute it brought me to tears!We went to Puxton Park with my mum and my sister’s family for the fourth year in a row. It’s become our little tradition, and we’ve gone from having three kids between us to having seven in that time! I can’t believe Christmas has come around again so quickly. It’s been another lovely one this year, and the first one where Iris had understood it. Astrid was old enough to enjoy it too. We’ve all eaten too much and lazed around. I’ve been weaning myself off the medication I’ve been taking all year, so I’ve been feeling a little poorly and very very anxious. I’m completely overwhelmed with it all today and it’s made me feel quite ill. I want to enjoy the last few days of the festive season but it’s all a bit much and I’m looking forward to getting back to normal. There’s so much tidying up to do. The house is trashed and it’s making me sweaty and netvous. I don’t seem to be able to just enjoy anything anymore! Despite currently feeling quite bleak and exhausted, I’m determined that next year is going to be different. I’m going to feel better and take better care of myself, which will mean I can take better care of my family too. It’s all going to change. Wish me luck!! Happy new year!