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.

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The Baby Diaries: Zzzzzombies….

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In hindsight we should have been better prepared for the zombie apocalypse. People tried to warn us that the end of the world was nigh but we laughed them off as crazy naysayers, doomsdayers, or Jehovah’s Witnesses. We too easily dismissed the words of those friends and family we should have trusted and we should have spotted the early signs that all was not as it used to be.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment it started, it crept up on us so gradually and was nothing like the films where one brain hungry monster’s bite induces instant cranial cravings of your own. But if I had to give a date I’d say somewhere around the start of August, around the same time of the arrival of the little being.

The little being came to us on the day of the Swiss national holiday and its arrival complemented the Swiss festivities for indeed it was a joyous occasion that warranted celebration, even if the advance preparations were a little traumatic for all concerned. The minute thing seemed so helpless and innocent that we were lured to it and felt an instant connection and bond that blinded us to what was coming. Perhaps we were naïve but perhaps under these circumstances no-one could have had the ability to foresee the great power that it already wielded over us now bound us in inescapable bonds. Whatever the truth of the matter our lives of servitude had now begun and there was no escape.

As I said, it came on so gradually, it wasn’t perceptible at first. It was only natural that after the little being’s grand entrance into the world I should want to zealously watch over it to ensure that no harm could befall it. Innocuously it passed the night in peaceful slumber and as the beard returned home and I was left alone in the hospital room I volunteered for the first watch, not knowing how long this watch would last.

When the man returned the following morning, I was only too pleased to report how well the small one had reposed. When left alone for the second night I eagerly anticipated another restful eve for the little being and thought it may be permissible to take my sensory leave and recharge my, by now slightly weary, human cells, but unwittingly I had made a fatal error.

It seems my mistake was in continuing to believe my life was still my own, to do with as I would like. I had not understood the full extent of the invisible contract I had entered into, in accepting the little being into our lives. It was our master now and it exercised its supremacy during the witching hours of that second night when demonstrating rest was an abstract concept that it alone could deploy or remove at will. Apparently it could do without sleep to teach me this valuable lesson.

I felt my humanity drifting away but I clung to a hope that some part of me still remained in the skin I managed to shuffle around in and that I could still recover my senses and return to the fully operational version of myself that had existed before the advent of the teeny creature. The cure seemed so simple, all that was required was a good night’s sleep, but was already now far beyond my reach.

When the beard and I took the little being home I hadn’t realised that the malaise I suffered from was infectious and that soon, he too, would be contaminated by the same dreamless machinations contrived by a titchy master that demanded our attention at any waking or attempted sleeping moment. As the days and nights blended into one interminable mess of hours we were dragged further and further from the mortal selves we had previously known. We became shadows of ourselves, barely functioning automatons that lived to service the being’s needs. We survived off the scraps of repose it may casually toss our way after duties had been fulfilled before its insatiable hunger loomed again.

In the battle of our will to sleep and its will to deny us that luxury it had the advantage. Its micro proportions meant that it could easily recharge and function on the short snippets of sleep it allowed itself, but two formally functional grown adults could not possibly reboot their necessary systems within these short time spans, even if they could turn themselves on and off in synchronisation with the tiny pest.

Even now we were so under the little being’s spell that the exasperations that should have rightly been laid at its door were misdirected at each other. From time to time emotions would erupt and accusations of deliberately avoiding duties along with occasional packet of nappies were hurled at each other as missiles of our snooze-deprived frustration.

We never thought we’d be the kind of people to cave so easily to terrorists but in the early hours of the mornings we begged our miniscule captor for release from our doze-divested state. In our attempts to negotiate with the petite extremist we promised it everything under the sun from limitless food provision, all the toys it could handle, 24-hour viewings of ‘Frozen’ on repeat and a free choice of naming any future pets or siblings no matter how ridiculous the consequences. But the little being was unmoved.

Secure in its domination over us, that we no longer had the capacity to resist, the little being allowed itself slightly longer rest periods, even as long as four and a half hours at times! Slaves that we were we rejoiced in its generosity as it gave us back a tiny fraction of that which it had forcibly taken from us at our initial subjugation.

And still the diminutive organism continued to toy with us. Whenever we thought we found a pattern to its strange dozing habits that we could adapt to in an attempt to recover a small semblance of our conscious selves, the little being would change the rules and intersperse new variations on its slumber(less) patterns.

The beard and I vaguely remembered that we had once had names and souls of our own as we shuffled past each other, dragging our feet and groaning in the early hours of the morning. If we had been given the opportunity we would have dreamt of sleep, but denied even this we continued to devote ourselves to the micro ruler’s will.

The zombification has overcome us and we are fully enslaved to the will of the little one. I fear there is no hope for a remedy that will return us to earlier days where we could lounge in a blissful siesta state for half a day or more. The best we can hope for in the immediate future is a six-hour snooze, should the little being allow us that we would be as happy as the walking dead at an all you can eat brain buffet.

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.