The day before we left I caught a glimpse of Oak's first tooth making it's entrance into the world. To my surprise over the following three weeks he has managed to grow six new teeth! This combined with three of us sharing a small double bed in the back of the van has meant that sleep has been even more infrequent than usual. It is amazing the difference that 2 hours and 10 minutes unbroken sleep makes, compared to 1 hour and 59 minutes! With small feet digging in my ribs, little fingers pulling my hair and scratching my face, and all the joys that come with new teeth (eek!) I woke most mornings feeling like I'd come out of a boxing ring. However, I soon recovered as Oak and I spent our days exploring the acres of woodland searching for red squirrels and wandering the walled gardens of the castle grounds that we were camped within. On Tom's days off we went further afield, camping by lochs, driving through mountains and walking through landscapes carpeted with heather. By the time we came to go home the first of the leaves were starting to turn and there was a definite feel of autumn in the air.
Balance. This is the key word that I have been pondering for days now. It has been a week since I first began writing this blog and due to laptop difficulties, power shortages and general tiredness I have been at a stand still. How does a parent find balance? Oak is fast approaching his first birthday and as I look back over this year I realise how entirely I have given myself over to him - body, heart, mind and soul - as naturally every parent does. But I realise that there has not been very much 'me' time during this past year. There has not been much balance.
I spent ten weeks waiting for Oak to come home from hospital. Ten weeks of having to leave him in the Special Care Baby Unit whilst I slept across the corridor in the maternity wing or some nights having to leave the building and drive all the way home. It was a long time to have other people looking after him. The noise of the machines that alarmed every time his SATS dropped - I will never forget that bleep. The times when he would stop breathing, for what seemed like an eternity, whilst the nurses gently prodded him, encouraging him to take a breath. As a result, by the time he came home from hospital just before Christmas I vowed not to leave his side until he was at least five!
Oak came with me everywhere I went; if he slept it would be on me, if I went to the toilet he would come, if I had to leave the room for anything...well, I just didn't. I went to bed when he went to bed, got up when he did. I constantly had to check that he was still breathing. For months I would only go in the car if Tom was driving so that I could sit in the back and keep an eye on him. When he was about six months old I left him with Tom whilst I went to the doctors to pick up a prescription. I was gone a total of 28 minutes. Recently a friend asked me whether I had left Oak yet and I replied 'yes, I left him with my Gran and Aunty at a country fair recently whilst I went to look at a stall, about 50 yards away!'. I finally began to realise that perhaps it was time to (in the words of Elsa!) 'Let it go, let it go!'.
Driving home from Scotland, after a 4am start, we stopped just off the motorway for a rest. Tom took Oak for a walk in the pushchair and a play in the sunshine whilst I slept in the back of the van. He was gone for just over an hour and that was officially the longest time Oak had been away from me. The next day we went to the pub to watch one of our favourite bands play, leaving Oak asleep with my Gran baby sitting. We were gone for an hour and a half; our first night out together without him! I feel as though we have reached a very important milestone.
Oak still doesn't sleep that well and it has been nearly a year now since I had a proper nights sleep (but that's a whole other story!). I am exhausted. It is easy to spend a whole day cooking up healthy meals for Oak and forgetting to feed myself properly. Breast feeding is physically draining. Those precious moments when Oak is asleep or out for a bike ride with Tom, it is easy to rush around cleaning, cooking, washing up and not just take that time as pure unadulterated 'me' time. Our consultant told us recently that the most important thing that Oak can have is a sane mother. Just as I realise that balance, however difficult it may be to find, is more important than ever when you become a parent.
So if it is getting up an hour earlier to spend time on my yoga mat or in meditation, whether it is letting Tom put Oak to bed whilst I have a hot bath, if it is sitting down with a pot of tea and a book whilst Oak is napping, or simply just letting someone else take control for a while – I'm taking it. Finally. Please don't come away from this thinking I am a neurotic, anxious, paranoid mum. This has been the most exhilarating, beautiful, heart achingly glorious year of my life so far. But it is very easy to drift through life recording it in an endless stream of soppy, happy Facebook statuses and warm fuzzy Instagram photos that don't capture the huge pile of dishes, the smell of sick and the nights spent crying over sore nipples.
We recently had the most wonderful weekend of sunshine and friends staying in the yurt. It was one of those weekends that no Instagram filter would ever do justice. Blackberry picking, sitting round a fire cooking sausages, building in the woods. I managed to get up and out the door in time to walk to baby yoga with brushed hair and sick free clothes. We went blackberry picking in the sunshine and Oak napped whilst I lovingly prepared beetroot soup, apple flapjack and hearty one-pot meals. Oak went to bed with no fuss and I was able to sit up and enjoy a glass of wine under the stars with friends. It feels like only five minutes ago that I couldn't work out how to make a cup of tea or wash my hair now I that had a baby. Perhaps I have found balance after all.
Tom and I have booked ourselves in for an afternoon at Bath spa just after Oak's first birthday. He is going to have an afternoon with his 'Big Granny' and we are going to relax. I cannot wait. I am super excited to be celebrating Oak turning 1 and am currently party planning and present buying. But I am also looking forward to celebrating our first year of parenthood. We've made it! Hooray!