Supermum to superbum so superrun

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There are lots of things I wasn’t prepared for when our little one made her way into the world. I knew life would change but I couldn’t have any idea how much.

We used to nickname our little potato ‘the life-ruiner’, or more accurately the ‘the life as we knew it ruiner’, and I’m happy to stand by that label. Life BC (before child) is over now and will never be the same again. I can no longer sleep in until midday, indulge in an entire PJ and Netflix weekend or simply go out after work without some serious planning.

But the life we lost is nothing compared to the one we are living now. I am not the same person today that I was before our petite pomme-de-terre entered the world. I’m not a completely different person either, but the difference in me before being a mother and after is massive and can never be undone, it is full of worry and joy and is enriching in ways I could never have imagined.

We are programmed to love and respond to our babies. I remember one mum friend telling me once ‘it’s scary how much you love them’ and that’s it exactly. Although you know that other parents must feel the same way about their children, somehow what you feel for yours is unique and powerful and at times almost scarily overwhelming. Loving your children and particularly feeding/nurturing them releases hormones that make you happy, you experience a natural high that is unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

So, in a way, being with your baby is addictive, it makes you feel good and it makes you want to maximize that feeling. The downside of this is that not being with your baby is not a neutral state but is an absence of that positivity that can equate to a negative black hole ready to suck you in and transport you to a different universe where underlying King-Kong-like tendencies emerge and prepare you for a city-destroying rampage until you get your next baby fix.

When I first returned to work I think I adjusted reasonably well, sure it was hard to go from being with my little one 100% of the time to something like 30% but it was okay. I was good at leaving the office at a reasonable time and would carefully plan for the occasional night out. And I enjoyed being able to focus on my job and engage with adults and make my way through a list of tasks and wear jewellery and all the other many things I never had to consider BC.

However, the last couple of months have been considerably harder, the workload has intensified and the job satisfaction hasn’t always been present, which is intensified when weighed on the scale of being at work versus being with babe. Mostly I am glad to be back at work but maintaining a balance is essential and it is precarious.

Recently I have felt less like super-mum and more super-bummed, struggling with being super-burned-out. I do want to work but I also have to, and at times it is hard not to feel trapped or resentful of having to spend so many hours away from mini-me. I am lucky to work in a place that is full of parents and understands the need for a balance, I am able to work from home one day a week and nobody questions me or others sprinting out the door to get back to our children, but still sometimes meetings run late or work needs to be done that I can’t take home and complete in after baby hours. Staying an extra hour was nothing BC, maybe a later dinner and one less episode of whatever on Netflix, but now it is an hour of not seeing my daughter that cannot be compensated for.

I do not know how people who regularly have to stay late at functions and frequently miss their children’s bedtimes cope with this. I don’t know if it will become easier as time goes by and if it does whether that’s necessarily a good thing.

It isn’t that I am in any worried about her not seeing me, she’s with her daddy, she’s fine, it’s my emotional health I worry about. I need my daily baby fix and if that is interrupted without warning then the consequences are dire; I will become moody, irritable, uncooperative and angry. It is clearly in everyone’s best interests to make sure I can get away on time.

One consequence of struggling to find a work/home equilibrium is that this takes up all my energy. I am more efficient than I have ever been at work because I do not want to be working after hours and I want to prove that nothing is lost in my not doing so, but maintaining this is draining. I then cycle home as fast as my legs can peddle, to have as much focused time with the tiny one as possible before she goes to bed. And after that I am completely exhausted.

Of course it doesn’t help that sleeping 6 hours or more is still a rare occurrence what with a combination of colds and teething or just a baby who still wants to wake up and feed at least once a night, my general inability to get to bed much before 12 most nights, and a cat who invariably wakes me up on those infrequent occasions when I have managed to get to bed early and the baby does sleep through (when I’m feeling generous I pretend the cat is waking me concerned that the baby hasn’t woken up as usual, but as I’m not normally feeling generous at 3.30am in the morning and deep down know she is not a concerned pet so much as a bit of an arse, I mostly contemplate nice places in the countryside we could drive to and just set her free…).

I am trying to mitigate the constant feeling of running on empty by upping my caffeine intake (finally I understand the point of coffee, or magic-bean juice as I now like to refer to it). What also really helps is running itself (strange that expending energy somehow helps me have more energy but there we go). Usually I manage one midweek run that I tie in with my weekly yoga class (as I am already out of the house and in exercise gear its hard to come up with excuses not to). I then aim for a longer run at the weekend and try to time this with baby nap-time so as not to feel too guilty about wanting an hour to myself when carving this out of precious non-work time.

To motivate myself to run, when its so easy to come up with excuses not to, I like to sign up for the occasional competition. Last weekend my brothers joined me in running the Geneva 10k, enough of a challenge to ensure at least weekly runs, but not so insurmountable that a rigid training plan was required.

Despite the obvious fatiguing implications of running 10k the run was somehow revitalizing: the route was beautiful, the endorphins were flowing and the sense of achievement in sprinting across the finish line was on par with the high I get from hanging out with the wee one.

When I’m running I’m wholly immersed in the present, I do not think about anything aside from my immediate surroundings. There are times when I’m thinking this stretch is particularly hard, or this is a good pace, when I focus on my breathing and particularly with the 10k I recall distinctly noting when my breath went from steady pace to steady pant for the last two kilometers. I remember spotting other runners I’d seen earlier, I recalled taking in the beauty of the surroundings and beyond that I don’t remember thinking at all. I certainly wasn’t thinking about the baby, I wasn’t thinking about work, I wasn’t thinking about money stresses or the 1001 other worries that seem to have been dominating my tired little brain of late.

And just as I spend my working days thinking about the next baby high, I am now finding myself thinking about the next running high. I’d better sign up for another challenge quickly and although shoehorning running, working and babytime (and maybe even a teeny slice of socializing) into my essential weekly to-do list may be difficult I don’t think I can afford not to.

 

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The baby diaries: Selfishness is essential for survival

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When our daughter first arrived the concept of ‘me’ time was frankly laughable as we moved about in a daze from each feed, poop, change, repeat to the next. I couldn’t remember my own name let alone the need for some time devoted to the vessel that was moving around caring for the baby and looked vaguely familiar, if a little squidgier, blearily eyed yet inexplicably with better hair than before.

Days when the beard and I remembered to get dressed constituted a good day and trying to do anything beyond baby duties aside from the laundry seemed impossible.

Yet in time we started to find a bit of balance, the minion could go a little longer between feeds and at some point we started introducing a bottle so the bearded one could give her the occasional bottle and I could, if not sleep for a little longer (I was after all programmed to wake at her cries), I could at least stay in bed with a pillow pressed over my head and not move for some indulgent moments.

We were lucky in that for the first five months of our daughter’s life we were both there, as I maxed out my maternity leave and remaining holiday and the beard prepared for his current role as primary child care provider. To be honest, when sharing stories with other parents, it felt like we were doing the whole parenting thing on cheat mode. It was still mentally and physically exhausting but our ability to share resources and tag team it up, meant that when one of us flagged the other one could step in.

Anyway after the initial whirlwind parenting 101 introduction to our new life had subsided somewhat it was occasionally possible to have a bit of me time. Particularly as the littley slept so much. As we were breastfeeding or pumping for a bottle my boobs were still on demand every few hours but there were pockets between boob action when I could rest up a bit.

Except I wasn’t very good at that. I expect I wasn’t the only new mum who struggles to ask for help or to admit when I’m pooped and need a break. I don’t think it’s a pride thing so much as genetic wiring that tells us we must protect and provide for our little squalling bundles above everything else.

At points I’d get mad at the beard as he managed to reach a place of equilibrium so much sooner than I did. We’d have gone out for a walk or to the shops or something and would come home, he’d announce he was going to have a break, put on his headphones and descend into a digitally remastered game of some sort or another and I’d literally be left holding the baby. I remember thinking ‘well bully for you, just being able to take a break like that’.

Bear in mind I was still sleep addled, with hormones all over the place and my internal organs trying to rearrange themselves back into their original location, I may not have been at my most reasonable. So like any rational being I’d let my irritation fester until I’d release some passive aggressive darts in the bearded one’s direction, finally snap and barricade myself in the bathroom for as long a soak as my fat unfriendly tub would allow (it’s shaped like an eight so curves in exactly where my hips wanted to go if I tried to lie down).

I’ve never been good at asking for help, it just doesn’t come naturally to me, so as I’d have one of my tantrums, the beard would get miffed and once again want to know why I didn’t just tell him I wanted a bit of P&Q (peace and quiet) time before I got to critical meltdown stage?

The problem was that I didn’t know what I needed to be able to articulate this to him. I genuinely loved spending time with the wee one, whether that was feeding, changing nappies or endless singing ‘dream a little dream’ in a wishful attempt to lull her to sleep. Apparently I wasn’t as bad as some people are but I was definitely a touch possessive. So it wasn’t that I didn’t want to look after titchy it was that I didn’t want to waste time looking after me.

Before the teeny one was born I worried that I was too selfish to be a mother but as soon as little miss turned up the ego I feared not only failed to raise it’s ugly head but I think it might have been taken out back and shot by that new part of me that the minion’s mum.

I was in full blown sacrificial mum mode, probably for the first three months. And then my vagina trainer (might not have been her official title, but sums it up pretty well) told me I could start running again. I had been fantasizing about running for about 6 months at this point.

The last three months of pregnancy I could barely waddle and the one time I did run (sprinting for the bus) nearly ended up in me giving birth on public transport. Then the three months after babe arrived I was under strict instructions not to run, which of course made me want to do it all the more. I do remember walking with the pram at one point, fantasising about running and then questioning whether I’d have the same desire to run again when I was actually allowed to, or if it was more fun to wallow in the idea of something that I knew to be impossible.

Anyway, I got the all clear and that same day I handed off our petite pomme-de-terre to her daddy, wriggled into my joggers, put on the runners and took myself outside.

I should point out I’m probably not your traditional notion of a runner, I don’t look like one and I don’t run particularly quickly, but what I’ve always loved about running is that it’s not about anyone else. I like going at my own pace, however fast or not that might be, concentrating on my breathing, listening to some tunes and letting all my cares and worries gradually slip away. My first run I was probably only gone for about 15 minutes and I was only moving marginally faster than my normal walking pace, but the difference it made was phenomenal.

I had done something just for me, I hadn’t thought about the little one constantly and I hadn’t even felt bad about that. I guess it was the shock to the system needed to wake up my ego (which turned out not to have been fatally wounded but merely lying in a coma for some time) and remember that I was ‘me’ worthy of a bit of occasional self-indulgence.

I could even justify the whole process as being good for the babe as I realised I could look after her better if I took a little time every now and again to look after me. Upping the exercise has obvious health (mental and physical) benefits that could be invested into a more energised mother/daughter relationship. I got better at that point at letting the beard take baby duty as I enjoyed the blissful combo of book and bath or having a lie in or whatever mini luxury I chose to afford myself.

Contrary to the dictates of society, selfishness, so long as it’s not taken to extremes, isn’t actually a bad thing. The selfishness in myself I’d feared would make me a bad mother is actually an essential component of making ‘me’ the best mum I can be.

The Baby Diaries: Time passing or how the hell is it almost Christmas?

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I’ve always had a bit of a problem living in the moment, with a tendency to zoom ahead into future imaginings and plans.

I have spent large swathes of my life wishing it away. On a yearly basis I longed for the next birthday, the end of term, the upcoming holiday, etc. On a lifely basis I longed for when I would be an official adult, when I’d finally figure out what I should be doing with my life, when I’d have a family of my own, when I’d get to retire and so on.

Sometimes it felt like time moved so slowly! That has changed as I’ve gotten older which makes sense because as a five year old being told the next world cup won’t be for four years, is actually a lifetime away, whereas now four years is a mere eighth of my existence so its really not such a big deal and won’t be long before I can start the next unrewarding fantasy that this will be the competition England finally wins!

But consciousness of time passing you by as you age is nothing compared to a consciousness of time being a fleeting thing slipping through your fingers at an alarming rate as you inch closer and closer to your own oblivion that develops with parenthood! If I made that sound a little dramatic then I have failed to convey the concept properly. It isn’t a little dramatic it is a terrifyingly accurate representation of a gnawing sensation that I’m struggling to fight on a daily basis.

For example, today I got really grumpy at the beard for being pulled over by a dog, twisting his ankle and consequently not being able to drive Clara and I to the swimming pool (which is only heated up to appropriate baby temperature once a week). I realised I was being unreasonable and did apologise but ended up bursting into tears as I explained it was just that not being able to go today meant we wouldn’t be able to go for another week and then the following week we’d be in the UK and then we’d be back and it would be almost Christmas and then I’d be back at work…and… cue dizzying time distorted depression whilst desperately scrabbling to cling to every minute and hold back time.

And breathe.

It doesn’t help that every Tom, Dick and Harry, not to mention Tammy, Daisy and Harriet pointing out to you how important it is to enjoy these moments as they won’t be small forever. Seriously, people don’t need to tell me this, I’m already sickeningly aware of that fact as I witness the speed at which she grows.

It’s funny because I find myself stuck in this conundrum where I’m really enjoying seeing our daughter develop and loving watching her engage more with us and the world around her. It’s great to see her grow and learn and if my days are currently devoted to doing whatever I can to elicit a smile from our petite pomme-de-terre then it’s a good day (screw the laundry, dishes and attempting to keep the flat clean – I mean seriously, screw them, child or no, there’s always something better to do!).

On the other side the speed at which the days tumble by and the months have swept past clearly scares the beejasus out of me!

Before child, and my life can now be split into BC and AC, as a friend recently pointed out, the five months I’d be taking off as maternity and annual leave sounded like a lot of time. Three months in and an annoying amount of people now counting down to Christmas, I realise how wrong I was! For all you Christmas lovers out there, I’m not a grinch, I used to be a Christmas countdowner myself it’s just that Christmas this year is not just a fun holiday but also the real precursor to the end of my timeless days hanging out with the kid.

The problem is that the potato is just too damn awesome, and I’m sure all parents feel the same, or at least I really hope they do, so that hanging out with her everyday seems like the best way to spend any day. I’m trying not to be totally child obsessed and to have a bit of balance in my life and to keep a separate sense of my ‘self’, which I’m achieving but to be totally honest it is a bit of an effort to do.

BC, I knew that I couldn’t really know how I’d feel about being a mother until it actually happened. My own mother tried to prepare me by telling me that I wouldn’t love my cats as much when the spud arrived, I don’ think she was being cruel she was just trying to give me a point of reference.  But she was wrong, I still love the cats just as much as I did before it’s just that the love I have for my baby is so much more than I could possibly comprehend and it transcends anything I’ve ever felt before. Even saying that doesn’t really do the sentiment justice.

AC, another friend told me that she loves watching me with the babe as she said I seem to be tenderer than I used to be. She tried to reassure me that didn’t mean I seemed particularly hard before but that somehow I seemed softer now. At first I wasn’t too sure how to take that, but on reflection I feel like she’s right and that being a mother has unlocked all these capacities I didn’t know I had before.

I am so much more demonstrative of my feelings because I don’t want to leave our daughter in any doubt of how much I love her, I will gladly make fart noises at her whilst waiting in line at the checkout because it makes her smile without caring about the funny looks I might get from other customers, I will even dive into and brave bureaucratic challenges (and in French no less) where these are on her behalf.

When I met the beard he made me feel like I could do and achieve anything but there were still some challenges I didn’t want to do that I would back away from, things like singing in public or self-promotion at work. When I met the baby I felt like there are no humanly possible barriers that could stop me from doing anything for her.

What I need help with is breaking the non-humanly possible barriers. Anyone know how I can get time to just slow down or maybe just standstill for a little bit, whilst letting me enjoy everything going forward? I’m not asking for much just a life remote control where I can pause, rewind and replay episodes at will.

I feel like my return to work is now just looming around the corner, like an enthusiastic telesales person I know will just call back every day until I eventually cave and have an actual discussion with them. It’s not that I don’t want to go back to work, I’m looking forward to the intellectual challenge that’ll present and am optimistic that working with the new boss is going to be a rewarding experience, it’s just that I also don’t want to miss out on time with the minion. I basically want to have my cake and eat it (which is a very odd expression when you think about it because why would you want to have cake and not eat it)?

I suppose it’s just that for the first time since I don’t know when, I’m really enjoying being in the moment (well most moments, maybe not the screamingly wide awake in the middle of the night moments). It’s just that I never realised before how quickly each moment passes even if they are quickly passing into new and equally rewarding different moments.

Still at least I can give thanks for smartphones that make it very easy to capture a thousand and one moments a day so that its easy to flick back to pictures and videos to help me recapture some of the moments gone by. Now how do I juggle the desire to record all these incidents without giving the child a narcistic selfie-taking complex before she can walk?

My body and I

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Let’s face the facts, body:
I’ve never really liked you.
I don’t think of you as being a part of me,
‘we’ aren’t one but two.
My own worst enemy.
Perhaps unfair but undeniably true.

I ‘divorced’ you at seven;
Told you were too big by a ‘friend’.
Sure, it was cruel of them;
Bringing my self-consciouslessness to an end.
I was never so innocent of vanity again,
My container mattered, I had to comprehend.

It wasn’t all bad, often I failed to remember
I was supposed to wish you a match
For the model images, svelte and slender.
But once awoken it was hard to detach
From that important element of my gender:
My body was supposed to make me a catch.

I confess, I haven’t treated you well,
I stuffed you with chocolate and cheese.
Ate too much junk and allowed you to swell
Beyond limits society told me would please.
So at times I starved you in attempts to quell
The increasing mass that caused me unease.

You’ve been scarred, scalded and strained,
Bloodied, beaten, burned and bruised.
But every injury that was ever sustained
I always interpreted as a sign of abuse
Of the malicious way you caused me pain.
I blamed you without sympathy or excuse.

My mental and physical couldn’t be united.
I had ambitions for us you couldn’t supply,
My catwalk ambitions went unrequited,
The skinniness I desired you couldn’t satisfy.
It was your fault I couldn’t be dieted,
Your cravings that stopped you from being an ally.

At various points I’ve wished parts of you changed:
Bigger and smaller, lengthened and shortened.
If I could I’d have gladly had you exchanged
For anything I felt to be less of a burden.
It’s really little wonder we became so estranged
When so many requests upon you were importuned.

But I’ve begun to realise, in this relationship of ours,
That I’m the reason things haven’t been great;
It’s because of me that everything soured.
And now I want to move from this cycle of hate
To embrace you again, move forward empowered
To stop being hung up on issues like weight.

It’s about time I offered you some gratitude
Some recognition that really you are a miraculous thing
Something more than a meaningless platitude
About how things could be worse so I shouldn’t be worrying.
Grudgingly grateful for your functionality is a little screwed,
Sure, you aren’t broken but there’s more that you bring.

In reality most don’t see you as a monstrosity,
Humanity doesn’t see you as an anomalous blip!
And for those that do think us quite the atrocity,
Well they deserve nothing more than a finger to flip!
Despite my obvious and unjust animosity,
Together we’ve had a pretty good trip.

You’ve been my constant companion and plaything.
Together we’ve jumped and danced and entertained.
We’ve glided in the air and done other things hair-raising,
We’ve completed a half marathon after we trained.
There’s really no doubt you are simply amazing
So I’m sorry that our relationship has been so strained.

And now you’ve achieved the best thing of all,
As you worked so hard to bear me a daughter,
Before she moved from my belly to the cradle
So much changed as you made room for the squatter.
It was a supreme feat and I’ll forever be grateful.
So what if my waist expanded and breath became shorter?

And as our baby entered the world,
I thought of all the things I wanted for her.
When I think of how her future will unfurl,
I desperately hope body image won’t be a self-saboteur
Because it’s so evident she’s the most perfect girl
I hope our flawed relationship won’t be transferred.

So today, my body, I make you this vow
No longer will I look at you with disappointment or spite
I promise to love you as you are now
To accept that whatever shape you are it’s really alright
So however you change, whether you become lean or round
I’ll love you, my body, and cherish you with delight.

And hopefully, from my example, our girl will learn
That how you look really isn’t important,
I’ll show her we are happy and, with any luck, in turn
Her unity with herself will not be surplanted,
Who she is and how she looks will be of little concern
And she’ll love herself without taking her body for granted.

 

The baby diaries: tears before bedtime

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Babies cry. Quite a lot as it turns out. Sometimes it almost seems that they do nothing but cry. This isn’t true of course but time distorts when you are pacing around your living quarters with an infant emitting ear-splitting wails directly into your auditory brain channel!

Babies can’t really help the crying, they don’t have a lot of options when it comes to communicating so screaming is often all they’ve got. This has to suffice to communicate a whole lot of things which as a parent is your job to try to interpret, it could almost be considered a fun game, a sort of twenty guesses of the baby’s needs type affair, except that you hardwired to do two things when your baby cries, one is to respond and the other is to feel like a terrible specimen of humanity.

Sometimes babies just cry and once we’ve gone through the standard list (is she hungry, gassy, does she need a change, is she tired, running a temperature, bored?) we use the paediatrician recommended method of assessing if there is anything specifically wrong, which is to roll her over our arm and carry her face down. Usually this will temporarily stop the grizzling, which apparently is a sign there’s nothing actually wrong, so if the wailing commences again after that we can be reassured that we aren’t missing anything serious.

However, knowing that sometimes babies just cry (fab book a friend lent me ‘Your baby week by week’ gives an indication of how often and for what reasons or lack of reasons) doesn’t stop you from feeling like a failure every time they do. Especially when you are that joyous combination of over hormonal and sleep-deprived.

During my pregnancy, I received a lot of helpful advice (and some not so helpful advice) from a lot of parents. One piece of guidance in particular has been really helpful, when our daughter is screaming her lungs out and we are trying to assess how bad on a scale of dismal-to-barbaric this makes us as parents, which came from a friend at work we’ll call The Italian (and italicise because of the obvious link between Italy and italics – I assume Italians invented the slanting style and don’t want to hear any evidence to the contrary).

The Italian told me and the beard, on more than one occasion, that it’s alright to cry. I’ll admit that failed to really register at the pre-baby hypothetical time but I can’t repeat enough now that we are in the solid-albeit-squidgy-reality of parenthood. The Italian’s advice was meant for us more than our daughter although it applies to her too. This counsel has come in pretty handy as I think I’ve been more tearful in the several weeks of our daughter’s existence than in the previous several years.

I burst into tears when my daughter was first laid on my chest straight after birth. That definitely counts as good crying.

The next tearful incident was one particularly fractious night around the two or three-week mark when she seemed to be constantly demanding food but then would take a mouthful before screaming on my breast, nipple still in mouth, milk going everywhere. Unsure where I was going wrong (as already mentioned blaming yourself is instinctive), frustrated and tired, the beard sensibly whipped her away for a pace around the flat before I started to join her in the wailing!

On another disturbed night with unexplained crying dragging out minutes into years the girl’s tantrum must have been contagious as I neared breaking point and could only save myself from full on nuclear meltdown by hurling a pack of nappies across the room. Which, in my defence, seems a fairly reasonable response as I could have hurled the baby or thrown nappies (perhaps with a baby inside) at the beard instead and that probably would have been a bit harder to fix than a measured tidy up the following day.

When the little one got a bit better at sleeping, going for three or four-hour stints at a time, we started to recover from the prolonged period of sleep-deprivation we’d been subject to. I mistakenly started to think maybe I’d got the hang of this parenting thing and wasn’t as bad at as I’d initially thought.

This brings me to the next time I properly cried: the day I hurt my child. Before anyone starts calling the French equivalent of social services on me, I hasten to add that it was accidental and not at all serious but that didn’t stop me from feeling like the worst human being in existence, having just injured the best human being in existence (it’s possible I may be biased but the beard and both sets of grandparents would definitely agree with me, so that seems fairly conclusive to me).

I was putting her down on the playmat, she slipped slightly (from a height of probably no more than five centimetres), and bopped her head, she landed on the edge of the playmat but it’s a very hard tile floor underneath and it did cause two quick sharp wails before she was swept up and the tears stopped. We checked her for damage but pretty sure the only result was the initial shock of a slight bump to the head. The beard was relaxed enough about the incident later to try and joke about it over the changing table, I was not quite so sanguine about what had happened and promptly burst into tears.

The next time I cried was a week or two ago (my ability to remember things like days of the week and accurately marking the passage of the earth around the sun has severely decreased since living with a newborn). I thought we had got into a reasonably settled pattern of just waking once between midnight and 8 am but my daughter had other plans and went through a couple of nights of only sleeping for 60-90 minutes to a time. The shock of the return of this nightmarish sleep schedule just pushed me over the edge. In the witching hours of one such evening, I took her out of the bedroom to nurse her but was faced with one of those confidence-shattering moments when the daughter’s demands for boobs only resulted in shrill screams at my breast.

I just thought I have no idea what to do and I’m too tired to figure this out. I started to sniffle a little bit and then I started to full-on sob. I then started to feel worse about my failure to satisfy the infant thinking that my sobbing was going to upset her, but then I remembered The Italian’s advice ‘it’s alright to cry’. And that finally fully sunk in. It was alright to cry, it was alright to give into my emotions and it’s alright for my child to see me do this. In fact it’s probably more than alright to expose our daughter to this from an early age.

At this point the beard blundered in having been woken by the chorus of our howls to find himself confronted with a bawling child and weeping wife, incoherently thrusting the baby in his face whilst snuffling out something or other about maybe needing to change her.

I have been thinking about this moment quite a lot recently and why it is that I, along with so many other people, are indoctrinated to think of crying as a negative physical reaction, a sign of weakness that is something to be ashamed of.

From an early age crying gets pushed into a gendered dimension, which is why I think it particularly important to note that the advice came from The Italian, who happens to be male. Crying is often portrayed as a feminine trait symptomatic of girls and women’s inherent weakness, it’s okay for girls and women to cry, they can’t help it; but not for boys or men to do so.

As someone who is often fighting to overcome negative gender stereotypes I’m not exempt from this and have inadvertently accepted the narrative that crying is a sign of weakness and have consequently trapped myself into thinking that if I cry I’m giving into feebleness and in doing so undermining the notion that women can be just as strong as men.

The problem is that crying is almost unilaterally portrayed as a bad thing, unless we expressly clarify that someone is crying tears of joy. Crying is often symptomatic of sadness, pain or discomfort but these feelings aren’t a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of. I think the problem lies in that tears make other people uncomfortable and are something that people feel need to be justified, excused or otherwise explained away as an anomaly, as though it isn’t okay to just admit sometimes we are sad and crying is an expression of that.

As the parent of an often-screaming child, I already feel like I’m failing when our daughter cries when it is just the three of us, but as soon as she cries around other people, whether friends or family or out in public, my feelings that I’m a failure are hitched up into a whole new level of uncomfortableness caused by the assumption that everyone else will also think I am a failure.

This sense that crying is bad is something that is unavoidable from the earliest age. We noticed this with some visitors who kept on asking whether our daughter had been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’.

Given our child is unable to support the weight of her own head, let alone plot for the downfall of humanity, we were given to understand that a good baby was one that was quiet and a bad baby was one that cried. At first we didn’t really notice it but the frequency at which this concept of good or bad was being liberally applied to our child really started to grate on me and although I’d let the comments slide at first, I then found the need to keep correcting our visitors. Yes, she woke up in the night; no, it wasn’t her being naughty or bad in doing so.

Frustrating to have to constantly contradict others, amongst ourselves it has become a source of amusement, so that currently whenever the potato cries the beard and I look at each other and laughingly say ‘bad baby, bad baby’. It’s a habit we’ll have to break before our daughter becomes conscious of the meaning of our words but figure we can get away with for a little longer so long as it is always said in a happy tone.

When she is old enough to understand the concepts of those asking if she has been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we’ll have to make conscious efforts to explain and to demonstrate to her that it’s alright to cry. In the meantime, I’ll work on accepting this more in myself as I expect this family will be dealing with quite a few more tears before bedtime in future.

 

 

 

The Baby Diaries: Bring out the boobs!

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Breastfeeding is something that so many people have an opinion about and as a person with boobs and a newborn baby I’ve never been more conscious of the different opinions that are out there.

And there are a lot of different opinions!

These do not all conform nicely so whatever you do you are bound to be doing the wrong thing as far as some people are concerned. You can only hope that these people who think you are doing the wrong thing aren’t people in your immediate vicinity that feel able to express their judgment of your breast etiquette ineptitude.

I always wanted to breastfeed, I accept the arguments put forward that breast milk is good for the baby and I’m also pretty lazy and a bit of a skinflint at times. I assumed it would be easier and cheaper to breastfeed a hungry tot with hooters on demand, ready to go at any moment, than having to faff about with formula. So my plan was to breastfeed but I was also aware that this isn’t an option for everyone and I was open to the possibility that for whatever reason formula might be the way forward.

Wanting to breastfeed was my choice, I do not judge women (or men, apparently with the right hormones birthmothers aren’t the only ones who can breastfeed) who do not, for whatever reason. Perhaps they can’t, perhaps they prefer a combination of breast and formula, perhaps they just don’t want to. I don’t need to know their reasons, these women do not owe me or anyone else any explanations. To breastfeed or not to breastfeed, that is the question but the answer is highly personal and down to individual choice. Or at least it should be.

However, there is a lot of pressure to breastfeed with an underlying undercurrent (or sometimes very overt current) of judgement of your failings as a mother if you don’t breastfeed. People demand explanations, even if the question of how you plan to feed your baby seems quite innocently put.

What I hadn’t realised, despite the midwife at our antenatal classes strongly making the point, was just how hard breastfeeding can be, particularly in the first few days. You know that boobs providing babes with milk is their natural function so it is easy to assume the process comes, well, naturally. Even as the midwife was explaining that breastfeeding is a skill which takes practice for you and baby and the potential challenges involved, I was sort of registering this but mostly just thinking, well my mum breastfed me and my two brothers so I assume I have a natural ability and this doesn’t apply to me.

I was wrong. My first attempt at breastfeeding seemed successful, the little one seemed to get hold of the nipple and seemed happily sucking away. Sure it was a little uncomfortable but I figured my knockers would toughen up after a day or two, I was just chuffed the bambino seemed to be doing alright. I resigned myself to the fact that this was my life now, continually putting myself out for the baby’s welfare. Day one was also comparatively easy because newborn’s are pretty exhausted by the birth process (mum’s are too but that seems to be of lesser importance – see previous sentence) and they are still pretty full from all that placentay goodness they’d been living off up until recently.

Day two a whole different story. Baby was awake a lot more and awake baby seemed to think best option for being awake was to demand boob, which I of course supplied, every 30 minutes or so. The slight discomfort I’d experienced at first turned into an almost agonising pain by the third day and before I knew it I was ordering silver shields off Amazon desperate for some sort of solution that would get me through at least a week of breastfeeding let alone the six months or so I’d initially banked on.

I was fortunate during those first few days to be comfortably ensconced in my Swiss hospital with a selection of midwives on hand at any hour to help and advise. They provided some sticky plaster things for the nipples which seemed to help and were generally reassuring.

Best bit of advice from one of the midwives was that sometimes my baby just wanted something to suck on and this didn’t need to be my breast, a finger would suffice. I can’t stress enough that this time is so confusing for every new mum (and dad) and trying to placate a crying child becomes a top priority so helpful little tips makes a great deal of difference as our plan of giving a feed every time the bambino cried seemed logical but actually made things a bit more difficult as continually just topping up was tiring for us both and was sometimes giving the mini-me a tummy ache to boot.   

Things got easier when my milk came in after three or four days, the potato and I got the hang of connecting to the breasts a bit better and the whole process became painless. I recognise that I’m one of the lucky ones. I cannot even begin to imagine how frustrating it must be for those women who desperately want to but struggle to breastfeed their babies, waiting for a delayed milk supply to kick in, little ones unable to latch and screaming in frustration. Mum’s whose babies drop more than ten percent of their initial weight and struggle to gain the weight back despite round the clock feed-a-thons!

What mum’s need in those circumstances is someone to listen to them and offer support that responds to what she is saying. New mums should feel more empowered to ask for advice and help. They don’t need random family members, friends, etc offering advice or platitudes that fail to address the frustrations currently experienced. If parents decide to add in some formula or give their child a pacifier or whatever they don’t need judgement.

Even as someone fortunate enough to be blessed with a bountiful milk supply I can comment that breastfeeding is hard. Even after six weeks I have failed to master one handed breastfeeding. I still need one hand to support our daughter and one to support the milk-dispenser so that the two can connect easily.

Whilst I’m fully down with the argument that breastfeeding is perfectly natural and that no-one should feel ashamed to whip out their baps in public to feed their kid as and when required, I cannot hide from the fact that I’m still incredibly self-conscious about feeding in public. Prior to attempt public feeding, I’d sort of figured that whilst I probably should be loudly and proudly breastfeeding in all its brilliance I’d probably prefer to do so more discreetly.

As a self-proclaimed feminist I feel a bit guilty about my unwillingness to breastfeed more blatantly. I feel that in joining the multitudes of women that seek out breastfeeding safe spaces or cover their baby and breast, in doing so this sort of supports the notion that breastfeeding is something to be hidden away. Tucking babe under a blanket accepts that using one’s boobs for their primary food-dispensing purpose is something that offends people and that as a milk-full titty bearer I have a responsibility to shield those sensitive souls from my offensive breast. In hiding my baby-fuelling-bazungas away am I fuelling the notion that women ought to do this?

Perhaps. But in the end I asked myself the question, how would I feel if someone gave me grief for openly feeding my child in public? Whilst I know that I have every right to do so and I have more arguments in support of breastfeeding in public than you could shake an entire forest at (let alone a piffling stick), I suspect that I would feel vulnerable and there’s a good chance I’d just cry and feel shitty, even though my hypothetical agitator ought to be the one feeling ashamed.

You hear so many tales of women being shamed for breastfeeding and whilst I operate on the assumption that the majority of people don’t have a problem with breastfeeding in public and of the minority that do it’s going to be a slim margin that feel confident enough to openly criticise a breastfeeding mother. Chances are very unlikely that people are going to make any kind of comment that will make you feel bad, this may never happen, but it would only take one or two unpleasant incidences to taint what ought to be a lovely process of bonding with your youngster (technical difficulties aside).

Perhaps I do have a responsibility to breastfeed with pride on behalf of those that are less capable of doing so, but perhaps I’m just not strong enough to really put myself and my ‘girls’ in the firing line at the potential cost entailed. Consequently I concluded that I’d be more comfortable covering up.

However, hypothetical lactation ruminations are one thing, the practicalities of trying to surreptitiously feed are quite another as I soon discovered that I just can’t publicly feed as discreetly as I’d wanted to. I am envious of those that can subtly slip their kids under their top and leave them to get on with the milking process without fear of baby drowning in milk and everything mum’s wearing plus those within a ten feet radius getting covered in the white stuff.

I need both hands to ensure tiddler and tit are in perfect alignment and I need clear line of sight to check the tiny one’s progress. I am currently enjoying some very enthusiastic breasts, eager to feed at any opportunity and whilst I’m grateful for this juggling my jugs to prevent the quite literal showering of my infant in milky goodness, let alone the soaking of several outfits a day, requires a lot of concentration. Frankly I haven’t the time to be faffing about with modestly-placed scarves, etc.

If the beard is with me I can ask him to drape something over both of us, although this usually falls off within mere seconds. It’s usually easier to just ask him to use his physical presence as a shield. If he’s not there then breastfeeding-deniers be damned, but I’m going to bring out the boobs.

I do still try to sit in a quiet corner of the café or to angle my hooters away from any onlookers but it turns out that my lioness-like instinct to protect my child, including providing its breakfast/lunch/dinner on demand seems more pressing than potentially having to deal with any breastfeeding-averse plonkers.

Hopefully, I’m overthinking the whole thing and will never encounter any negativity when out and about and offering the nipple to my niblet, and that anyone not happy about the process will simply look away and keep their discontent to themselves.

The pregnancy/baby diaries: The potato’s arrival

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So our potato finally arrived, four days early, on 1 August 2017. That it has taken me four weeks to write this post might give you some idea of what life with a newborn is like and just how all-consuming it can be, but I’ll save that for another post.

I had always thought that our baby would be born early and this belief intensified after one particular incident in week 35 of the pregnancy after I sprinted for the bus (which is a terrible idea when you are eight months pregnant) and then suffered contractions that made me think I might give birth on the bus. The beard had to meet me at the bus stop and escort me home; a walk that normally took five minutes took almost half an hour.

At the doctor’s appointment I had the following day I was warned in no uncertain times that the baby would arrive imminently unless I slowed down. Fortunately, I was then signed off sick from work and had a chance to rest.

In Switzerland maternity leave only begins when the baby is born, any time you have off before the baby’s arrival is considered as sick leave, and your doctor will normally sign you off some point between two to four weeks before the baby is due. This makes planning for things like when you finish work and your maternity replacement should begin quite difficult, but it does protect the amount of maternity leave you get, which is less generous here than in the UK.

I had been quite uncomfortable for a little while before the bus sprint, not helped by the fact Geneva had been undergoing a particularly virulent heatwave for several weeks, so my doctor would have been happy to sign me off six weeks before my due date but I managed to negotiate this down to just three weeks. At the time of our discussion I didn’t feel great but still felt capable of work, but the final week, even before my public transport dash, had been incredibly challenging so I was grateful when my sick (prenatal maternity) leave began.

For once, I actually did as I was told and followed doctor’s orders to take it easy. I thought I’d revel in nothing but moving from bed to sofa for alternating stints of Netflix binging, reading marathons and daytime napping, but it did get pretty boring fairly quickly. However, I was grateful that the potato was at least happy with my new regime and did decide to stay put until I reached the point of being full term (37 weeks), but after that point I found myself increasingly impatient for baby to arrive.

From our prenatal classes the midwife had said that labour was not like seen on tv, rarely was it a case that waters would break in a gushing flood and then you would instantly have to rush to the hospital. For most first-time mothers of our age (as in not-teenagers) labour would take somewhere around 18 hours from initial contractions, and for many people this could last much longer.

With not much to do whilst lounging around the flat I became much more sensitive to every twinge, unusual occurrence in my body and many a night (I guess I was even more attuned to these things when lying in bed longing for sleep and with no other distractions) I would find myself googling random symptoms to see if this could be the start of labour.

I didn’t have much in the way of contractions before the baby was born and I knew that although waters breaking was a good indicator I also knew that for lots of people it was barely noticeable when this happened. So, after what seemed like countless evenings of internet researching and scouring through millions of forum entries for indications of early labour, it took me by surprise when my labour actually began on that Tuesday afternoon at 12.30pm.

The beard and I had just had a late brunch, and I was sat in my PJs browsing social media between Star Trek episodes (we’d found a new series to binge on during my leave), waiting for my man to get dressed before watching the next episode. All of a sudden there was a gush, I leapt up from the sofa (I figured it would be easier to clean the tile floor) stood rooted to the spot and yelled for the bearded one.

I didn’t feel any contractions at this point so we took time to find the leaflet the hospital had given us about when to come in for labour, noted that instructions for when you think your waters have broken are to put on a pad, walk around for 30 minutes and if still leaking to then call the hospital. Whilst I paced the flat, the man prepped for the hospital trip: corralling the cats, setting out enough biscuits to last them a week (in case complications kept us both at the hospital for some time), checking the hospital bag, etc.

After half an hour was up I called through to the hospital (which took a little longer than expected, owing to the leaflet they had given us having an out of date phone number). We went through a few things and they said that I should aim to come in within two hours but had time to take a shower, have some food and make my way in. So the beginning of my labour was all very civilised.

By the time I got out of the shower I’d started to have some regular contractions, but these were fairly mild and I remember thinking maybe labour isn’t as bad as I’d been led to believe, or perhaps I have a particularly high pain tolerance threshold and this isn’t going to be any worse than a bad period. Ha!

By the time I’d gotten dressed and we went down to the garage the contractions were about six minutes apart and the pain level had dialled up. By the time we arrived at the hospital thirty minutes later, the contractions were three to four minutes apart and each one was bad enough to reduce me to grim-faced, gritted-teeth silence but still just about manageable with the recovery period in between.

By the time we’d gotten to the hospital at about 2pm contractions were three minutes apart. We were instantly taken through and examined, but at this point I could still manage the pain so thought I could get by without the need for painkillers. Within 20 minutes the contractions were longer and so frequent that I couldn’t catch my breath during the supposed recovery periods and I felt I could no longer continue purely under my own steam, so called for the epidural. I felt like I’d failed a bit, in not being able to hold out for longer but I think the man was relieved to see me seek some relief beyond his mopping of my brow and provision of water.

Within another 20 minutes, although it felt like an almost interminable age, the anaesthetist came and explained the procedure and the epidural was connected. It didn’t kill all feeling, I could still feel the contractions but these were now back to mildly uncomfortable rather than swear-inducingly painful. This was now probably about 3pm, for the next 90 minutes I did okay, remembered to breathe and let my body do its thing. At about 4.30pm, everything changed gear again. What I hadn’t realised about the epidural is that it can only do so much, those final parts of labour are a bitch, drugs or no.

But, I was better behaved than I thought I would be, and only crumpled the beard’s hands during each contraction and muttered a single expletive after each exhausting effort was over. Although I remember having the distinct thought ‘why would anyone ever have more than one child when they know how painful labour is?’

The pain didn’t go away when the pushing began (probably about 5.30pm) at least there was now a clear end point in sight and I went from dreading each contraction to willing the next one to hurry up so I could just get on with getting the pain generator out! As I responded to the midwives encouraging calls of ‘Poussez! Poussez! Poussez!’ (Push! Push! Push!) eventually I could feel the baby starting to emerge. I ignored the midwives (at some point there were two) sudden calls for me to stop pushing as the baby and I decided we were just going to get on with this in one go.

And suddenly, at 5.56pm, there she was, our little baby girl had emerged and was quickly placed on my chest. She emitted her first cries as her lungs started working for the first time and she learnt to breathe. From my prone position I could only see the top of her head, covered in a mass of dark hair and one squidgy eye looking up at me. I burst into tears and felt an overwhelming rush of what felt like every emotion possible, although dominated by a kind of euphoria that I can’t really describe. I felt the beard by my side and concluded I was the luckiest person alive.

The midwife and I think a doctor started to explain to me that there had been some tearing and I’d need stitches (in my eagerness to meet her and her rush to enter the world, our daughter had come out in a triumphant superwoman pose with clenched fist saluting her new world). The previous pain already felt irrelevant and their words had almost no meaning; they could have told me they were going to have to amputate a leg and I don’t think I’d have cared.

Our daughter had arrived and I was in love.