One Pink Toothbrush

Welcome to One Pink Toothbrush, where I will be posting moments from my days as a mum and as a wife. Funny moments, messy moments, thoughtful moments, teary moments.... and hopefully using each moment to see what God might be saying.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Mothering Girls

Let me introduce you to a friend of mine who lives in a world of pink. She has written the tenth post in the Mothering series. At present, I do not fully understand her world and I definitely do not know what a fishtail plait is. One day she can teach me I'm sure.

My name is Rachel and I live in a house with just 1 blue toothbrush but a nice selection of pink ones. I love Emma Dawson - she is one of my bestest friends in the whole wide world.
I think we are very alike in lots of ways - attractive, intelligent, funny, humble ;) But it never ceases to amaze me how totally different our lives are simply because of the gender of our kids! It is astonishing. On tired days, I get out the felt pens and a mountain of printer paper so I can have a break while she heads to the park so her boys can run free, which gives her a break. Now I don't want to be too stereotypical here - yes boys can like dressing up and colouring too, and yes girls can like climbing trees and kicking footballs. 

 I have 3 girls - and I sometimes don't think they could be more different from each other if they tried. One is quiet and sensitive and likes reading and knitting and art. She doesn't like sweets, gets full marks on her spellings and would rather eat worms than be told off (and she is really not a worm eating sort of girl). One is loud and constantly interactive and lives in a world of make believe where there are invisible people and made up words and bendy boundaries. She doesn't understand the point of fruit and veg, she can't sit still when music plays and she has a memory like a goldfish. The other one is funny and strong and all about people. She is spontaneously thoughtful, the most physical and at the grand old age of 2 has spent more time on the naughty step than the other two combined :) But the things they share apart from the pink toothbrushes are the things that make them girls. 

Parenting girls is a lot like parenting boys I would expect. You love them, feed them and cloth them. You teach, discipline and pray for them. Some things are different though - the evenings spent learning to crochet so you can help them to do it, the Saturday morning YouTube research to learn how to do fishtail plaits or top knots, doing the laundry in loads of darks, whites and pinks and the repeated use of the phrase "you have to keep still while your nail varnish dries". There are other mysteries too, like where all the glitter comes from and of course, Barbie and High school musical are on repeat.  But there is one great advantage to mothering girls; us mothers are girls. And even though we may have daughters who are very different from the type of girl we were, there is still a familiarity and empathy as we watch them deal with the business of being female. We understand bad hair days and how school friends can be mean and the overwhelming confusion that is hormones and emotions because we have been there. Having said that I feel spectacularly out of my depth on a daily basis. I am so grateful to know God's help in raising my girls. 

2 Corinthians 13v14 is Paul's prayer for his friends in the city of Corinth;  
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God
 and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." 

This is my prayer for my daughters but also for me as I parent them - that we might know the amazing grace of Jesus, the unconditional love of God and the constant friendship and help of the Holy Spirit. Girls (and mums) need grace. Grace is the undeserved favour of God or put simply, God doesn't punish us for all we have done wrong and fail to do right - He puts all that on Jesus so we go free.  This is such great news, we get a clean slate. We get to start over. Our girls need to be accepted and loved when they do well and when they fail, whether they win or loose, whatever their size or shape, with all their strengths and weaknesses.  I so desperately want my girls to know that they are wanted and loved and accepted whatever they have done. We are not perfect and neither are they. We all need to know God's forgiveness and grace. 
As girls our identity and self worth is hugely defined by our dads - for good or bad. But whether we had a great father or a terrible father or no father at all, there is a Father in Heaven who made us and loves us totally. Our daughters need to know who He is and how He sees them. They are chosen and accepted, daughters of the King of Kings. Knowing His definition of them is crucial to them riding the storms of peer pressure and the ups and downs of life. 

And then there is the Holy Spirit - when Jesus went back to Heaven He promised to send us "the helper". The Holy Spirit is such a friend in parenting - He can bring wisdom when you are out of your depth, peace and joy in the midst of uncertainty, patience when you are losing it. And what a friend to introduce our daughters to - He understands every fibre of their being, every emotion they feel, every thought, every question - and He has all the wisdom and power and resources of Heaven to bring into their little lives. How any one manages to do life without His help is a mystery to me.  

I am learning so much in this crazy season of life while my children are young. How to depend on God for strength and wisdom when I'm way out of my depth.  When I feel like I might pop just because I love them so much, I get a glimpse of how God loves me. And there's nothing like parenting to crush your selfishness. They teach me about unconditional love and surprise me with kindness. There is so much diversity and creativity in everything they do that makes me worship God because He's so clever. 

My girls and I are only just starting out on this incredible journey but our prayer for you is that you and your daughters (and your husbands and sons too) might know the Grace of our dear Jesus, the massive love of God the father and the fellowship of His awesome Holy Spirit more and more. Amen.  

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Mothering Young

This is my friend's testimony, and is the ninth post in the Mothering series.

As I reached the age of 12/13, I decided I would attend my parents' church still but I didn't want to believe simply because my parents did, that was then I drifted away. I spent 3years making bad choices and mixing with friends that weren't healthy. I had been very independent, doing life my own way. At 15, whilst struggling with severe depression, I got into a messy relationship and just after my 16th birthday I discovered I was single and pregnant.

I eventually got my head around the idea of being a single mum just before my 20week scan, which I chose to attend alone in an attempt to prove to myself I was capable of being a good independent mother. I was incredibly excited to hear the news of the sex of my child, but the scan also revealed that my daughter was going to be born with a cleft lip and pallet. Right there and then my world fell apart. 

Heartbroken, after many tear filled nights, I allowed my mum to speak into my life and pray over her unborn grandchild. My mum and I had always had a rocky relationship but during my pregnancy she was amazing, and I could see God's love displayed in her kindness, forgiveness and generosity. 

I realised I really needed God and started to pray over my daughter and accepted Jesus back into my life to take over the mess I'd found myself in.  As I prayed that Alarna would be healed I felt God speak very clearly for the first time, He told me that Alarna wouldn't be healed but that He would be by my side through the process, and from that moment I really did feel His presence with me. I suppose it’s then that I first gave Him my heart fully and trusted him in all things.

Over the next few months I had numerous scans and lots of trips to several different hospitals, still heartbroken that I was alone and unable to enjoy a 'normal' pregnancy. I got lots of dirty looks from people as my belly grew, but I didn't care. And after a long and traumatic labour I finally met Alarna Lily-Grace for the very first time. That feeling was incredible although it really wasn't how I had dreamt it to be. Alarna had an incredibly severe bilateral cleft lip and palate, which meant I was unable to bond with her through breast feeding and instead I had to express and feed via tubes and special bottles for 9months. I felt very disconnected from her. 

Being a young mum did come about as a total shock and through the pregnancy/1st year I was in total denial and I didn't feel I bonded well with Alarna at all. I kept busy. So many people said I wouldn't make it, that I'd hate it and life would be a struggle. They weren't wrong and those words have stayed with me, but I used that as a good thing and fought hard to constantly prove myself. I went back to work and college when she was 5weeks old and expressed breast milk and until 9months. The hardest thing was expressing in the college toilets whilst my girl friends were reapplying there makeup! 

When taking her out in public, I had never expected how tough it would be to hear some of the comments muttered and try to ignore the stares she got. Alarna had weekly hospital appointments in special units and had to endure 4 operations in her first 10months, each time her smile and cry changed dramatically. Having to hold my tiny little girl down as she had to be put under a general anaesthetic was a horrible pain I suffered regularly during her first year, each time being handed back a child that looked so different from the child that I had handed over to be operated on. It was during times like these I felt so lonely not having a partner to share the feelings I had for my daughter. Things were tough.  I'd failed my GCSE's and my future looked bleak.

Within a few months of going along to a friend's church, I met Nathan there and we cautiously started dating. Nathan and Alarna instantly hit it off. I found it hard to force myself to trust Nathan and rely on him for comfort and support, but he was amazing and stepped up to the plate.

Roughly 18months later we got married, moved in to our first house together and Nathan legally adopted Alarna. 

As a couple we had our share of ups and down; dating whilst caring for an under one year old, walking down the aisle with a toddler and being newly weds with a non napping child. Despite this it was great to be a proper family, and our first year we felt God was close, we were blessed and things were good. When we discovered we would be unable to conceive another child naturally, or through IVF, my world began to crumble again and I doubted the last two years of Gods faithfulness. I was devastated, upset, angry even, that things hadn't worked the way I wanted and I turned my back on God again.

Godly couples surrounded us and tried their best to support us in what can only be described as an incredibly painful time. After a year I'd had enough, I wanted our relationship back and I decided it was time to speak to God again.  I poured my heart out to Him; all my pain and anger and once again He comforted me. Often I struggled with getting the words out so I'd write my feelings on paper like a letter to God. He took me back to the time I first called upon Him, pregnant and alone, and reminded me that life doesn’t go the way we plan but that He has far greater plans. I decided that if we were to never have another child, I would be ok with whatever God had in store. I know His plans are far greater, even though I do want to be a mum again.

When I gave birth to Alarna I realised that God had saved me from a life that could have been so much worse had I continued the path I was on. I was His child and He'd comforted, cared for and protected me more than I knew I deserved. Alarna is now in year 1 at school and after a rocky start has settled in well and been discharged from most hospital appointments including speech therapy. Alarna is such a testimony to Gods faithfulness. She has battled through so much in her five years and has blossomed through it all. She still suffers with the odd comment from small children and battles through things on a day to day basis that others don’t have to, but she's happy & confident, doing incredibly well at school and has an incredible acceptance of people from all walks of life! 

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Jeremiah 29v11

This verse helps, whatever is going on in my life; good or bad, stressed or relaxed, wealthy or skint, God's in it all. He's there and He's my friend. I can confide in Him at all times and He will comfort me. The more time I spend with Him, the deeper our friendship. He not only loves me but he likes me too.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Mothering with Post Natal Depression

This is a friend's story and is the eighth post in the Mothering series.
I'm mum to three fantastic kids; Jack 9, Tess nearly 7 (she'd prefer that to 6) and Neve is 2. When I had Jack it was the most wonderful thing, I fully loved being a mum and it was me and him against the world! When I gave birth to Tess, she was scrumptious and a really easy baby, who at 2 months old found her thumb and would self-soothe. Jack found it a little hard to adapt but no different to any other toddler with a new sister. I, on the other hand, seemed to find it harder and harder. Maybe it was a bad idea to have had another child and I just couldn't mother 2 children at the same time.
I felt so low I would sometimes sit Jack in front of the TV and go and sit on his bed and just cry. I chose his room because I always kept it tidy and it made me feel safe for some reason. Other times I would shout at him and get cross and then I'd cry and apologise. Andy would come home after work and I would confess everything to him in tears again. I also had this mad anxiety that the children were going to be taken. Even if they were about a metre away from me, I would be a little panicky and shout at Andy to make sure they were fine.
When Tess was around four months old we went on a trip to stay with my sister. I'd been panicking about the amount of milk Tess was getting and had attempted to top her up with formula, which had made it even more difficult for me to know how much breast milk she was getting. I was a little obsessed and very teary about it.
My sister, quietly watching this over a few days, asked if I'd spoken to the doctor about the milk situation or anything else. When I said no, she printed off a little questionnaire from the Internet and asked me to fill it out.

 It was a Post Natal Depression questionnaire. This asked questions such as 'Have I been able to laugh and see the funny side of things?' - You had to tick one of the following answers (a) as much as I always could (b) not quite so much now (c) definitely not so much now and (d) not at all.
My score suggested that I could have post natal depression.
When we came home I made an appointment to see the doctor and again he asked me to fill out the same questionnaire. He told me that I had post natal depression. It felt like a weight had been lifted off me - maybe I wasn't a terrible mum after all... maybe it was okay that I had more than one child....these two doubts had been my constant companions.
I was given a prescription for anti-depressants. As a Christian, I didn't know how I should feel about taking them. Shouldn't I be able to pray about this and it go away or was I failing at that too? My personal time with God had hit an all time low through all this. I knew He was real but I couldn't feel Him, I couldn't worship Him and I couldn't really connect with Him.
I spoke to my parents, my sister and obviously Andy and decided to start taking the pills. The doctor described it to me as a chemical imbalance in my body, caused by the baby hormones. The pills would adjust that imbalance and gradually get it back to normal. My body would then start to be able to do it by itself without the help of the medication and then I could come off them. That seemed do-able. I would not be on them forever but they would help for a time. I took a low dose, it levelled me out and made me able to see life in a less extreme way. I still had the full range of emotions but they were more 'normal'.
My health visitor signed me up to a PND group (we called it my 'mad' group) which ran for 13 weeks every Monday morning, for three hours. It was a little cringy to start with - a group of 'mad' women all in a room together, coming to talk about our feelings and our lives. But it did mean someone looked after my children for me for 3 hours each week for free, so I kept going. Some days, I didn't feel like talking, other days I cried. There were other times when you couldn't shut me up. What it did do was made me realise how much I didn't talk about how I felt, particularly to other women - particularly to other Christian women - because they all had it sorted didn't they?! God started to really show me how to open up and how to trust people with my feelings and my emotions. In return, it could really help me build relationships and take my friendships to a deeper level. It sounds obvious I know.

 "Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2v15
Andy was amazing. I think he lost me pretty much for nearly two years. Our physical relationship became almost non-existent, I didn't really laugh much anymore and I was permanently anxious. I completely depended on him and would often phone him at work saying I couldn't cope and that he would have to come home. He said he could tell I was getting better when I was able to laugh at myself again, when things became lighter and I started to relax. 
I started growing vegetables. Being able to prepare the soil, plant seeds, watch them grow and then harvest them was amazing, I was in control of something! It also brought me closer to God. It sounds silly but I felt so close to His creation and that was lovely. I think I mostly listened to worship music at the time, instead of reading the bible because I couldn't concentrate. I would play it loud and just let it wash over me.

"The Lord will guide you continually,
    giving you water when you are dry
    and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like an ever-flowing spring." Isaiah 58v11

Two and a half years ago, I had Neve. I was told the odds were against me and I would probably get post natal depression again, I didn't.

Looking back now, it has taught me a lot. I do have weaknesses that need protecting but I think I now know my limits. I'm quicker to share when I think I'm going down and don't see it as a failure as much. I'm (a bit) better at asking for help. I have more patience and a lot more compassion for something that I had no real understanding of before. God's taught me that the fruits of His spirit are gifts that I can have. I just need to focus on Him more and not the world around me. And then, when I focus on Him, those gifts flow out of me more freely too. I feel he's added another string to my bow, another experience in life I can use to help others with, another scar that just adds character.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Mothering someone else's

This is the story of a lady at church, who is currently fostering a child. It is the seventh post in the Mothering series.

I told myself that if I still had no children at age 40, I’d foster or adopt. I'm now 43. I was thinking and praying about the whole issue when I became aware that one of the new children at the school where I taught was in temporary foster care. I was very fond of her and we got on really well, and the question of whether I should foster suddenly became very real and tangible. I could almost say I fantasised about being her ‘mummy’, whilst wondering if I could really do it, and hardly daring to believe that I could. I was full of doubts and would swing from feeling it was impossible and I was being ridiculous, to feeling overwhelming love for this little girl and desperately wanting to take her home with me. 

In what was an unusually bold step for me, I went to the fostering team and said I was interested in fostering Sarah, only to be told it was impossible. She was going to be placed out of area and she was being ‘advertised nationally’. They had some families interested in her and she needed a place straight away. It would take far too long for me to get ‘approved’ as a full-time foster carer and my flat was not suitable. I had to have a house with a garden. I felt as though I had come up against a brick wall and it was not even a possibility. I thought maybe this was God’s way of saying no, so I prayed about it. I’d like to say I felt sure that it was the right thing, but I just didn’t know at all.

Quite a few of my church friends thought I shouldn't do it.  Maybe they thought I should focus on looking for a husband rather than a child, or perhaps they thought I'd never cope as a single parent, or that it would just be foolish.  Others encouraged me to pursue it.  I found it very confusing with such conflicting views and advice from my close friends who were all people whose advice and wisdom I trusted. That was really hard and it pushed me back onto God. I realised I wasn't going to get answers, reassurance or clarity from other people - it was only me who could actually make the decision, so I had to seek God about it for myselfSo eventually, I figured I should keep pushing the doors and God would shut them if it wasn’t right. So that’s what I did.

I kept pushing lots of doors, and gradually they all opened. The ‘other families’ all fell through . I eventually managed to sell my flat and moved to a house with a garden. The final hurdle was the ‘foster panel’ which I managed to get through after an incredibly lengthy and in depth assessment which analysed every aspect of my life and was quite intrusive. I learnt such a lot through that year.

Sarah has now been with me for just over a year. She is with me on a ‘long-term’ placement, which means until she is 18. She has totally changed my life! There have been, and continually are, lots of challenges. Many times I have thought, ‘I can’t do this’. I have never regretted taking her on. I’d wanted to be a mum for ages, and I know that the hard times and sleepless nights are all part of that. I love her and I’m very grateful to God for my girl who I thought I’d never have.

Sarah is very affectionate, which I never really expected from a fostered child, so that’s an added bonus and something which I’m really grateful to God for. We have a very close relationship and I don’t think I could love her anymore if she was my own flesh and blood. She even calls me ‘mumma’, which again I’d never expected. I’d given up hope of anyone ever calling me mum! I love taking her out places and seeing her enjoy herself. I love picking her up from school in the afternoon as she is always so excited to see me. I would say I just ‘enjoy her’ for who she is – she makes me smile such a lot, she is such a character! I’ve probably smiled more in the last year than the last 10years put together. She really is good company.

In regards to ‘mothering someone else’s child’ – well, that’s a strange concept as a lot of the time I almost forget she’s not ‘my child’.  It feels as though she is my child, and I think of her as though she is. It is very strange though to ‘acquire’ a 5 yr old child and to know very little about their background. Every time she gets upset about her birth mum, I am reminded forcefully that she isn’t mine. It breaks my heart sometimes when Sarah cries for her birth mum. I wonder how to respond to my little 6 year old girl with learning difficulties when she tells me she’s got 4 mummies. I wonder if she expects to move on from me to the next mummy soon.  Does she think I will send her away if she’s too naughty? Does she wonder when the next mummy will come along? Or do her learning difficulties spare her from thinking ahead. I rather hope she just lives in the moment.

What have I learnt about myself, you ask. Probably how selfish I was before! I was so used to living on my own and not having to fit my life around anyone else. I also didn’t quite realise how much I need my sleep. I have discovered how hard it is to keep calm and even-tempered with her all the time if I am tired and feeling ratty and she is driving me to distraction. I know that I can’t do this parenting thing on my own, particularly as a single parent – I get to the end of myself rather too quickly. I so need God’s strength and wisdom to help me. I am so grateful that God has shown me so much love and I want to give out His love to Sarah. I know how often I fail. I am learning that I can only do this in his strength, not on my own.

I have learnt that I can step out in faith, and that I have to do this to make things happen. I have always been one to sit on the sidelines, to watch life go by, too scared to make any decisions for fear of making a wrong one. A child wasn’t going to land in my lap unless I took some steps to make it happen. If I’d sat back and waited, I would still be waiting. Left to my own devices, I would probably have waited for God to leave a child on my doorstep. I have learnt that I have to push doors to see if they will open, I have to take the initiative, and to pray that God will shut doors if I’m pushing the wrong ones. Being passive isn’t how God wants me to be. Being scared of life isn’t how God wants me to be.

Although my life is not quite how I had intended – I’m still single and haven’t had a baby of my own – God has shown me that he was not unaware of my heart’s desires. And he has blessed me so much. I am so thankful to Him. A verse which has supported me since having Sarah, is Proverbs 3 v 5 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding'.  So many times I'm trying to fathom out what's best to do and I have to remember I can't do it on my own.  Neither do I need to, as God is here to help.