Being a single parent

So, Tom left. He walked out and left me with a 3-month-old baby, a house and a dog. There’s no nice way to say that or write that, but that’s the truth. It wasn’t my choice and I worked so hard to get him to stay but he’s 30 years old and I can’t make him do anything. It’s taken me a while to feel ready to write about it as I am inevitably hurting like hell, but when I started this blog I promised to be open and honest. The truth is I didn’t set out to be a single parent, it wasn’t part of the plan but here I am. I’m not going to sit here and slate Tom or air our dirty laundry in public because its between the 2 of us but I will be honest about parenthood, the challenges I have faced so far and what my potential future looks like now.

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Zak is 5 months old this week and the time has flown by, so often I feel he is older as he is growing and developing so quickly, but other times it seems like we only left hospital yesterday. He is such a happy, chatty wonderful little boy and remains my greatest achievement. He gives me a purpose and a reason to keep smiling. Perhaps a blessing in disguise is that Tom was never really involved when we came home from hospital and went back to work so I have basically been a single parent from then. I think it would have been so much harder if he had been really hands on and involved and then left. At least I knew I could do it because I already had been doing it.

One of the hardest things about being a single mum is not having anyone there. Whether it’s the middle of the night or bath time, when he is screaming and won’t stop its just you. Zak has always been a pretty good sleeper even as a newborn he would wake every 4 hours, take a bottle and go straight back to sleep and so it wasn’t even the nights that were the hardest because there was no crying or fuss and I was still getting 7 hours sleep. For me it was the days that were the loneliest and hardest, when everyone is at work and the housework still needs doing, the dog walking and a baby to look after, it can get a bit much. But I quickly learned not to be afraid to ask for help. One evening in the early days I text mum and asked if the baby whisperer was available (she had a knack to calming Zak when I couldn’t); I needed to express, wee, eat and Zak had been screaming for 2 hours straight. Round she popped and he calmed almost instantly – bloody typical! Although I wasn’t breast feeding as Zak never could I was still expressing and at this point he was having about 50/50 my milk and formula. As there was no problem with my supply my boobs still reacted the same way as if I was feeding so they’d throb every 3 hours if I didn’t pump, leak whenever Zak would cry and pretty much constantly ( I actually managed to get 1oz of milk just by holding a bottle under my leaking nipple one night!). It was this night that mum suggested maybe he had Colic as it was normal for him to cry for 2-3 hours every afternoon for no apparent reason. I had started bathing him every night around 5:30 as this seemed to be when he was the unhappiest and it worked as a distraction and then he would settle nicely for bed, but leading up to bath time was torture. When the health visitor came the following week she agreed she thought it was Colic and the minute I started putting gripe water in his bottles it was like a different baby – and one that burped liked a grown man! It has since transpired in recent months that Zak also is prone to reflux and the Doctor confirmed reflux and colic tend to go hand in hand. Which means Zak is a very sicky baby, after every feed he’ll be sick and it just seems to pour out with no effort or warning. Even now he’s sick on me at least once a day! Luckily his reflux isn’t too bad and manageable by just doing things like tilting his cot, keeping him upright an hour after feeds and winding him every couple of ounces of his feeds.

Something else the health visitor suggested was that I think about giving up expressing, I had done well to keep it up for 10 weeks but he was a big baby so always needed that formula top up and he was such a wriggly baby who started trying to crawl at 10 weeks which meant I couldn’t leave him unattended anywhere; it was becoming impossible to find the time to pump. I had a mishap one night when I was half asleep and pumping and attached the pump to the wrong part of my boob which resulted in a bleeding sore ring that meant I couldn’t pump that boob for 3 days which meant I started getting mastitis. I was devastated breastfeeding never worked for us and I took comfort in the fact that at least he was getting my milk but she was right it was getting harder and harder. Her exact words were fed is best. So at Christmas I made the decision to give it up and its definitely eased my plate!

What became apparent quite quickly was Zak is a baby that likes routine. This might be because I am a big routine person or because his time in hospital got him into one or because he just likes the comfort of them! There’s no sugar coating it, its tough, really tough. It takes tonnes of patience and persistence, but when it clicks it pays in dividends! At about 10 weeks I decided I wanted to start getting Zak into a more structured routine as he was down to only 1 feed in the night and napping in the day but only for 30 mins at a time and on me. I wanted to be able to put him down for naps, him self settle and nap for decent period of time so I actually had a chance to eat and get some stuff done! I did it all in stages, so it was gradual and he didn’t become overwhelmed too quickly. So started by getting him to sleep at set times on me then putting him down, then putting him down and him putting himself to sleep (the tough part as they cry for what feels like forever), then putting his carrycot in his cot so he had all his naps in his nursery, then putting him into the cot and no carrycot at all. After a couple of weeks, he was sleeping through the night from 7pm-6am and had learned his routine and would nap without too much of a protest. Although he still wasn’t napping for long enough at lunchtime, I couldn’t get him past 45 mins for ages – until we started swimming lessons, then boom 2-hour naps became a thing. I realised he wasn’t stimulated enough so I made much more effort to play with him, go out and try new things in the morning rather than just the afternoon. Now he pretty much always naps for 1 ½ - 2 hrs every lunchtime. The hardest thing for me with routine was patience and hearing him cry but I knew I had to be cruel to be kind. After he started sleeping through the night (around 12/13 weeks) he literally was a dream baby sooo happy and chatty and his personality started coming out. However, what I have learned is just as you get a good thing going with babies you hit the next challenge! We hit the sleep regression a week before he was 4 months old and it lasted a good 6 weeks and it nearly killed me. Touch wood we seem to be out of the regression but now we have started weaning so his daily routine adjusts a little to start building him up to 3 proper meals a day over the next few weeks. I also need to start thinking about leaving him in his room overnight in the next few weeks as now I carry him through to a travel cot in my room when I go to bed. I get that routine may not be for everyone and I certainly didn’t worry about it in the first 6 weeks because I just wanted to bond with my baby after all that we had been through but now he is getting bigger my hard work has really paid off. It also means that every evening is mine, come 7pm Zak will be asleep, and I have the rest of the evening to myself to eat dinner in peace, drink hot cups of tea (or drink wine) and do what I please!

When you are single and there is no one there to talk to its overwhelming with making decisions but in some ways it’s a comfort that you don’t have to ask someone’s opinion and you can make the decisions yourself. There’s no what do you think about this? Should we start weaning? How do we do it? As with life there is pros and cons with everything.

I have had plenty of challenges but there has also been plenty of funny times. Like when Zak did his first solid ‘human’ poo in the bath and I literally couldn’t think what to do so I just picked him up and ran up and down the bath with him still pooing! Or when I nipped down stairs to get him a bottle and he rolled straight off the bed – I was only gone for 30 seconds and I came back to find him on the floor, thankfully unscathed. Or when he farted in the bath and when it bubbled, he giggled. Those are the times I cherish.

We have a few big changes coming up in the next month or so with me going back to work, Zak starting nursery a couple of days a week, moving him into his own room completely, getting weaning cracked (so far so good) and I think he may be on the move very soon as there isn’t a still bone in his body, he’s so independent and just wants to tear round, so watch this space…

Ultimately being a single mum is the hardest, most exhausting, rewarding and best job I have ever had. I write the bad days off usually with wine and chocolate and start fresh the next day. I choose to find at least 3 positives each day and if it has been a tough day for whatever reason I have a little extra cuddle when I feed him and that smiley face is all I need. By no means do I know it all and I am 100% winging it, trying to take it a day at a time. And I certainly don’t want to be a pity party because yes, my life may be going a different route but I am enjoying it and focusing on the positives.

Some top tips I have learned along the way:

  • Never be afraid to ask for help and you are never alone

  • Closed fists mean a hungry baby – open palms mean full baby

  • Sleep breeds sleep – plenty of naps/sleep in the day means better sleep at night

  • Sound machines/white noise machines are a godsend

  • Do what you think is right for you and your baby and don’t let anyone else tell you different (unless a medical professional) - mum shaming is a real thing and no rule is set in stone. There’s also so much information out there its overwhelming

  • Get out of the house every single day at least once, no matter how long it takes to get ready or what you do you instantly feel better

  • Organisation is key. Before I had Zak I had filled the freezer with meals I could just microwave and every night I wash and sterilise all the bottles and get everything ready for the next day; now we have started weaning my freezer is full of homemade purees.

  • Trust your gut, you know your baby

  • Relax and enjoy the ride – babies pick up on your mood and stress. They will never be this little again, they grow so quickly, enjoy it whilst you can

  • If your baby is alive, fed and safe you’re doing an amazing job!