Keep mum

Amy Condon is a mum to 3 kids, who are all under 3! Yes, you heard us right. Each week she tells us all about the ups and downs of bringing up 3 children so close in age. This week Amy talks about communicating with her girls when she’d lost her voice…

‘How much do you talk to your children? We’re forever reading studies that reveal many of us don’t do it enough. We don’t read to them enough, teach them enough, communicate enough. But I reckon maybe I buck that trend. This week I learned just how much I speak to my girls, because I couldn’t. At all.

Last week’s colds dragged on to become this week’s colds, and I developed a very sore throat that just wouldn’t go away. Then I woke up one morning, tried to ask the girls what they wanted for breakfast and… nothing. I cleared my throat and tried again. Nothing. If I concentrated really hard and put in all my strength, I could muster a whisper.

‘Why are you talking so quietly, Mummy?’ T asked, with her sternest frown. ‘I can’t hear you.’

I turned to my husband. Once he’d stop laughing and rejoicing, he explained that Mummy’s voice was broken, so they’d have to listen really closely, or ask Daddy for help. T frowned at me again. She’s had that frown since she was born. I remember it was the easiest way to tell the tiny newborns apart as they snuggled in their hospital crib together. When T disapproves, everyone knows it.

‘But I need to hear Mummy,’ she insisted. ‘She needs to talk louder.’

Things didn’t get any better. I had to wave away book after book that M pushed into my face.

‘Read this book, Mummy. Read it.’

As far as I’m aware, no sign language has been invented to explain to a 18-month-old why you can’t regale her with tales of Where The Wild Things Are. Not, it turns out, that I’m any good at sign language anyway, my flailings and vague, irritated pointing merely confusing and amusing anyone I directed them at. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t praise, I couldn’t direct, I couldn’t encourage, I couldn’t discipline and I couldn’t warn. It was infuriating. The twins quickly became irritated by being tapped on the shoulder.

‘Why do you keep poking me?’ T snapped, the frown firmly putting me in my place. ‘You shouldn’t poke people.’

I couldn’t really argue with that point. Or with any point really.

The following 3 days were exhausting, physically and mentally. When I wanted to tell the girls to stop, I couldn’t. When I wanted to tell them how beautiful their drawings were, I couldn’t. When I wanted to joke, to explain, to remind, I couldn’t. Being unwell and looking after unwell children is tough enough. Doing it without your voice is shattering.

But thankfully, on day 4, a squeak emerged. It was high-pitched and fluctuating, but it was back. I’ve never been so relieved. Which got me thinking. Mine had been a temporary disability, and a minor one. But I had struggled. Really struggled. How on earth do people cope when they have real disabilities? I am more full of admiration for these parents now than ever. Some days, coping with my children feels like more than I can manage. Coping with anything else is unthinkable. But people do cope. I like to think I would too.

I remember when the twins were born, all my singleton mum friends would ask the same thing: ‘How on earth do you manage with 2?’ I never really had a very good answer. I never even really understood the question. I just did it. What else was I going to do? Not feed one? Not bathe one, dress one, cuddle one? But then I met someone who had triplets, and found myself asking exactly the same question. How on earth did she cope?

I guess we all cope with whatever we have to when it comes to our children. We do what’s needed and we cope. We knew we wanted another child after the twins, but I always worried I wouldn’t cope with being pregnant and looking after 2 toddlers. When that blue line appeared on the test months before we planned it, it was hard. The nausea, the tiredness, the double demands… But I coped. Of course I coped. And I coped with having 3 kids under 3. And I coped with moving house with an 8-week-old. And I coped with no voice. I just hope I don’t have to again.

By the end of the second day, even my husband admitted he was missing having a conversation with me. The girls had stopped trying to get me to read to them, which made me really sad. Their constant literary demands usually drive me crazy, but once they were gone, I realised I missed them. I don’t read to my children because I know I’m supposed to. I read to them because it feels natural. I talk to them because they are fascinating to talk to. Once not talking to my children was forced on me, I realised how much I actually did it. How much I loved doing it. Now my voice is back (albeit a little croaky) I am using it to full force.

‘I like you reading Mummy,’ T smiled at me as I finished Monkey Puzzle. ‘Don’t stop talking again.’

And I don’t intend to.’

Have you ever experienced an illness or disability that has made looking after your kids a struggle? How did you cope? Tell us about your experiences in our comments section below.

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