2010: What a Year

4 Jan

It’s been an amazing, terrifying, exciting, nail-biting, emotional (and quite possibly all the adjectives you can imagine) year. The new year celebrations that saw me into 2010 consisted of PJ’s covering my massive baby bump, sleep, a quick wake-up at midnight to take a few gulps of champagne and then a return to uncomfortable slumber before the next toilet call.

January was a pregnant haze. I think I’ve more or less blocked out just how uncomfortable, how exhausting and how harrowing the last month of pregnancy was. I worked until the second week of January, though in all honesty the productivity levels were at an all time low; I was comatose and would have been more use at home in bed. 90 per cent of my time was spent concentrating on keeping my eyes open and when I wasn’t doing that I was on the loo. My struggles to get out of bed and onto a cold tube at the bitter end  (yes the bike commute had ceased in November 2009, much to my disappointment) was like something out of a horror movie, especially as Tom (Toby’s dad) had stopped working at the beginning of December and I was leaving him toasty and cosy fast asleep each morning.

I had a couple of weeks grace to get myself organised, pack a hospital bag, clean the house one last time, get food in, relax as much as possible, see friends and eat curry before the pain began. Though my advice to any new mum would be to just stay in bed as much as possible before the baby comes… There is limited opportunity for sleep after – seriously.

Toby’s ETA was 27 January, but he decided he wasn’t ready and hung around to kick me in the stomach a few days longer. I tried everything to bring on labour; scrubbed the kitchen floor, drank enough raspberry tea for a small army, ate pineapples, went for long and tiring walks, had curry three nights in a row (not just normal curry, but the most disgustingly, breathtakingly strong kind, which incidentally Tom couldn’t stomach, but out of desperation I persevered). Then On Sunday 31st January I meet up with friends and had a glass of champagne, walked home and just as the 10pm news started I felt an almighty click – hurrah, my waters had broken.

After quite an eventful labour, which consisted of lunch at Pizza Express with contractions between mouthfuls, a shopping trip on Kings Road and a riot on the gas and air, I became a mum. At 3.03am on 2 February 2010 Toby Adrian Fry rocked into the world. Labour was the easy bit – nothing could have prepared me for what was to come next.
Over the next month I came close to losing the plot. Of course I was thrilled to be a mum to such a beautiful healthy boy, but at the same time I was very confused over when my next decent nights sleep was coming (still waiting) and when I would feel normal again (still waiting) and when I’d have a spare second to myself without either worrying, cleaning, running around after baby (still waiting). I feel I should reiterate – NOTHING prepares you. Each night as darkness fell, which in February is early, I found myself in tears and with an illogical fear about surviving the night.

We spent the next few months getting to know each other. I began working out what his different noises meant, what the different poo colours meant, when he was hungry, when he was tired, when he needed a nappy change and he began – well – working. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a baby again. It must be so hard; Blurry vision, growing pains, hunger pains you can’t explain, pooing yourself and not understanding why, teething, getting tired but not knowing how to sleep and having a diet consisting of nothing more than human milk – yuck.
We tried very hard in the initial days to get a routine going. I half read the controversial ‘Contented Little Baby’ book. I get Nick Clegg’s point, but people who paint the woman as a witch are a little misguided. I couldn’t stick to it word for word. It is incredibly restrictive and I just can’t plan my day to the minute. That said, it was a useful guide for someone as clueless as me and gave me prompts for what I was meant to be doing. After what seemed a lifetime of sleepless nights, Toby finally slept through from 7pm to 7am while we were visiting Tom’s parents in Spain.  Amazing, or it would have been had I not been in screaming agony as he’d not eaten all night…. another thing that people fail to tell you.
This pattern continued for a month and we finally decided it was time for our little boy to take his first step into the big wide world and sleep in his own room. It was much easier for me to sleep as any little sound he made seemed to wake me and they still do.
Things seemed be moving in the right direction. Toby was growing, eating well, sleeping well, filling nappies as he should. And then we bought Don.
Don is a red 1980 VW transporter camper van. He was born in the same year as Tom and I and is a true member of the family. He’s the ugliest of VW campervans from the outside and what was probably once a beautiful red colour, is now more a maroon/faded red. Inside he looks like a Swedish sauna. It’s really rather cool and the best bit is that it came fitted with a cot. It’s got all the mod cons (ha ha); a gas cooker, running water and a couple of cupboards. The air con consists of a crappy fan at the front, which in the midsummer sun of France was as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike. Poor Toby, who was sat in the back above the engine didn’t have a chance to be refreshed by it at all.
Anyway, these were lessons to learn and with blissful ignorance, I took a trip to Kath Kidston and kitted the van out with chic pillows, a throw and some other bits and pieces. We also decided we were going to paint some of the wood white, to make it feel cleaner. We started this job, but didn’t get very far and Don still remains half painted. One day I will finish him.
In May, when Toby was four months old, we began the job of packing up our flat and got some tenants in. At the beginning of June we closed the door for the last time on Toby’s first home and got into our new home – the camper van. We drove to Oxford and I plodded around the Blenheim triathlon. I’d not done much training, thought I was going to drown and pass out, but enjoyed it all the same.
The reality of no roof of our own had not yet hit and I can honestly say I had no idea what I was doing. Like much of the previous six months, everything was a blur and I’m not sure I was making sensible decisions. Of course our newly constructed family, which consisted of Tom, myself and a four month old baby could move into a camper van and live like hippies travelling Europe harmoniously and with constant enthusiasm. It was going to be easy, there would be absolutely no hiccups. I was in for an even bigger shock. That’s not to say a lot of it was fun, but the hard bits were seriously magnified by the exhaustion of breastfeeding and sleepless nights. Tom and I, who had only been living together since the previous September, found ourselves in one anothers’ pockets and had some tough times. But what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger and luckily it didn’t come to one of us putting a pillow over the other’s head.Our first stop was a week up North so Tom and his friends could cycle from one side of the country to the other. Somewhere between changing nappies, breastfeeding and not sleeping I’d agreed to be the support driver. I’m not sure how Tom managed to get me to do this, but until we got there I hadn’t really thought about it. The journey up north was long. It took us about six hours and with a four month old you can’t just sleep through it. I also had to get used to the van I would be driving alone for the next week. Having lived in London and Japan for the last ten years, I’d not really had the need or opportunity to drive. I felt like a midget behind the wheel of Don and the gear stick gave me endless problems, but it was a good work out for my arms.

The weather was miserable and with all the rain we soon discovered Don had a leak. The foot end of our mattress ended up soaked through and it was so cold I was constantly worrying Toby was going to get pneumonia. The built-in cot was not used and each night Toby bedded in with us for warmth and to allow me to check he was still breathing in the cold, damp climate. This was a big mistake, as getting Toby out of our bed has been challenging to say the least.

Driving around after the guys on mountain bikes was crazy. It is incredibly hilly in that part of the country and Don more than struggled up some of the roads. Had I been on my own it would have been fine, but with a four month baby along for the ride, it became unbearably stressful. Toby decided he hated being in his car seat and spent much of the time screaming between our destinations. Completely alone, I could have done with chatting to friends and family on the phone, but could I get phone reception? No!

It was a disastrous first week in the van. The weather was so bad the guys gave up half way and we headed back down south just in time for me to avoid a nervous breakdown.

Next stop; home to my mum’s for some TLC and a good nights sleep in a proper bed. After a weekend there we got back in the van and tootled off to France. The next 10 weeks were spent driving around Europe, eating fresh baguettes and listening to French music. I got out on my bike from time to time, which gave me a break from the baby exhaustion. I climbed Alpe D’Huez twice, once alone and once with Bekka and got two thirds of the way up Mont Ventoux. I’d hoped to get a bit fitter during the summer, but truth be told, I found having Toby so tiring I simply didn’t have the energy to put into exercise.

We drove from Calais, through Reims, down to the Rhone Alpes and back up to Paris. Tom took part in a couple of bike races along the way and Toby spent most of his time sweating and screaming in the back of the van en-route. I ended up sitting with him trying to entertain him, but he wasn’t having any of it and it left me feeling very car sick. In the future I will most definitely make sure we hook up an industrial sized air conditioning unit next to him. It was awful.

Toby’s bath was a paddling pool and we ate like Kings from a bucket BBQ. On the whole it was fun, but the nights were getting increasingly difficult as Toby was constantly thirsty. This didn’t give me much chance to sample the regional wine, but we did spend some funny times in wine caves.

When we got to Paris we met my sister, mum and aunt and celebrated my aunt’s 50th birthday. It was great having the helping hands and gave me a bit of a break from holding Toby at the dinner table. From Paris, Tom set off on a bike ride with friends to Barcelona and I came back to the UK for the week. I was stopped by the passport control man on the way out from Paris. Toby has both a different surname and a different country passport to me. The Norwegian passport was cheaper so Tom decided that was what he would have! The nasty man behind the desk glared at me and asked how I could prove Toby was mine? What an absurd question. Of course he was mine, but as his tone got harsher I realised that jokes about stretch marks to prove was not going to get me off the hook. I can’t remember the exact conversation, but remember becoming very scared. Eventually he decided that I looked trustworthy enough and handed me a letter about Child Trafficking. SERIOUSLY! Horrible experience.

I spent a week in the UK, mostly trying to fix Tom’s N reg old car so his parents could use it. That story could take days to tell so I’ll leave at this: I was not very happy having to deal with the car and Toby by myself. I then flew out to Barcelona to meet Tom and Don. This time I managed to get through passport control unscathed. The plan was to get straight in the van and drive out to follow the Tour de France. Plans have a funny way of going wrong and Don decided to give up on us in the Pyrenees, Spanish side. We called the breakdown company and waited. Eventually a man who spoke no English came to rescue us and we spent the night in a hotel. The next day we were told by the garage that they had no idea what was wrong with Don, but he was working again. Cheers Don. So, off we set again.The Tour de France was a tremendous amount of fun. The most famous stage we watched was Col Du Tourmalet, where we spent a very wet, foggy night up the mountain.

We continued to work our way up Europe, through Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and to Norway where we stayed for a month, visiting Tom’s family and spending time in his uncle’s hut in the wilderness. The hut was like a five star hotel after months living in a van, but it lacked running water. I’m sure Toby is stronger for all his experiences in his first summer and I hope he grows up to be adventurous as a consequence, but for now, I am happy living with a proper roof over our heads, running water and central heating. The van can have a rest for a few months!

We came back to the UK for Tom to be best man at his friend’s wedding in Ireland. Finally a five star hotel and a baby sitter. Needless to say I got myself rather drunk and paid for it the next day. A hang over with a baby is something to be avoided.

The next month was spent living at my mum’s tiny house, while Tom found a job and we found a new home in London. We’re now living in Putney and have a garden! It all feels very adult, but Toby is finally happy sleeping some of the night alone and goes to bed at 7 each night giving me a bit of a break. I’m back to work and there are a whole load of new problems that come with this; I am sure a lot of time in 2011 will be spent worrying about work-related stuff and childcare, but it should be the year (all being well) that Toby says his first word and takes his first step. I can’t wait.

I wouldn’t change a thing of our first year together. Toby is fantastic, I’m happier than I have ever been and I feel very lucky to have spent a whole summer with my new little family. But it has certainly been an interesting start to motherhood. I’ve been tested to the hills and spent a lot of time on a roller coaster of emotions. I can’t wait to see what happens in 2011.


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