Tag Archives: Babies

Motherhood is so much more than your milk

Hey, you.

You there, with the tiny baby. You there, slogging on in a dream-haze between feed and sleep and feed. You, mama, with this terrifying new position as Centre of the Universe for the baby you made.

You there, crying tears of bone-deep exhaustion into your five-day-old pyjamas.

You warrior woman. You lovely thing. Look at you.

We’re in the middle of World Breastfeeding Week, something I’m sure you haven’t missed in all your 3am zombie-scrolling on Twitter. Breastfeeding is something that tends to arouse strong emotions in all of us, and especially in you.

Maybe it came easily and joyously to you, and you’re a passionate advocate for a woman’s right to feed her baby.

Maybe you fought for it tooth and nail, latch by latch, and you’re proud of how far you’ve come.

Maybe you’re trying everything, asking everyone, and it’s still not really working, and your baby isn’t gaining weight, and every visit to the children’s clinic turns your stomach into a hard knot of guilt and fear.

Maybe it never worked, and your baby’s been drinking formula from the start, and you still find yourself assembling the bottles at baby group with an apologetic air.

There is nothing more personal than feeding the baby you made with the body you have. No wonder we take breastfeeding personally. We just can’t not.

Well.

I am here to tell you, 3am zombie-woman, that your worth as a mother is not defined by the milk you make. Your motherhood is in a thousand things. It’s the kisses you squeeze onto chubby cheeks, the way you leap up automatically when you hear a particular I’m very hurt cry, the way they quiet themselves on your chest while you soothe them. It’s the floating turds you scoop out of the bath trying not to throw up, and the sick stains on your shoulders, and the way you heave yourself out of bed for the seventeenth time in a single night. And yes, it’s the gathering up of your baby to your breast as he swallows and swallows in rhythm. Or the scoop-tap-scoop-tap of the formula cup into the bottle you just sterilised yet again, before you plop the teat into your baby’s grateful mouth.

Do you know who doesn’t give a damn whether you make milk or not? Your baby. It’s you they want, just you. Most of being a good mother is making sure you are both healthy and happy, yes, both of you together, and you get to decide exactly how that happens.

If breastfeeding works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Spoiler alert: I can’t tell which of my son’s friends were breastfed or bottle-fed. I haven’t really thought seriously about breastfeeding in a while. My motherhood is now in a thousand different things: toilet trips, time-outs, tantrums, responding to the eight-thousandth ‘MUMMY WATCH THIS’ with a smile in my voice and on my face. I think back to the panic-stricken mother I was, sobbing in cupboards about my inadequate milk supply, and I want to gather her up in a fierce hug and tell her that none of that matters a jot.

I promise you, magnificent pyjamaed thing, that one day soon your motherhood won’t be measured in feeds.

But you know it never was, right? It never was.

You can’t have one without the other

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Hello world! I’m back in the land of the living after a six-day sick bug, and will be embracing this week with a kiss on the mouth. Six days! I feel like Captain [in] America, waking up after a long sleep with frosticles in my hair.

Only in my case they were greasicles.

My happiest days are the ordinary ones that come after an illness. Yesterday we did nothing special, but everything looked new. I restocked our cupboards, took the boys to the park, scrubbed toilets till they winced, and opened all the windows to let some daylight in. I ate three square meals, and saw none of them again. I even ran (to find a place for H to poo inconspicuously in the park, siiiigh). It felt like the first day in the whole world.

Sick bugs give you pause for thought though, don’t they?

The day before the bug arrived, we were driving back up the hill mid-afternoon. The junior school down the road had just let the kids out, so I slowed right down. As we passed the gates, I spotted a little girl in the front seat of a car, with her mum next to her. She was nine or so, talking about something so exciting she had to stop and do a little dance. All I could see were flailing fists and a long ponytail swishing all and sundry. And her mum, trying hard not to laugh and not succeeding.

We passed them in a second, but there was something so particularly mother-and-daughter about it, it hit me like a lance to the chest. I felt the thwack of it and had to take a breath, stunned. I think there were actually tears in my eyes.

I want a girl‘, I thought. The kind of thought that arrives primal in its strength and heft. ‘I want a girl‘.

Then.

Two days later, delirious with migraine, joint pains, a digestive system trying to turn itself inside outI hung my head in a sick bowl. It had been there for some time. Since I couldn’t read, look at a screen or move, I was taking the time to wholeheartedly regret my existence. Regretting it but good.

And the thought came like a lance to the chest.

This is what pregnancy’s like‘, I remembered. ‘Except it lasts for weeks and weeks. And you can’t tell anyone. And this time you’d have a school run to do’. 

The thought nearly made me heave all over again.

So. Well. You can’t have babies without making them. The NHS doesn’t offer a nine-month voluntary coma either, last time I checked.

Now what?

It just took so. much. effort to get here.

It just took so. much. effort to get here.

The funny old thing about time

Time passes.

Everyone told me it would, but of course I didn’t believe them. How could I? The space inside a minute with a newborn seems so very long, because you’re awake nearly all the minutes there are. And there are some images from the brand-new days of my babies that I can still see with pin-sharp, painful clarity.

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The particular softness of miniature fingers curling around one of mine. Long, spindly fingers. Papery nails. Knuckles marked precisely with tiny lines. 

The toe-curling agony of latching, the way I would hold my breath and tense every muscle and let out a noise like a cow going into labour.

The look of focussed concentration on two-day-old H’s face as he tried to make both his eyes look the same way, at me. Realising I was the voice and the food and the smell that made everything better for him, and feeling shaken and profoundly moved by it at the same time. 

T wrapped up in a bloody towel on our bedroom floor, T’s black Wolverine hair soft underneath my chin, T quietening himself down to ‘Moon River’, no matter how badly I sang it. The wide-open sense of wonder that possessed me every time I looked at him: I can love you too, you are a person as well, this is all going to be fine.

The ragged sobbing and heavy despair, about five nights in, when I realised that there was no end to this tiredness, no point at which someone would say to me ‘alright, my love, you’ve done well, now you can sleep’. Because I would be woken up every two hours, day and night, for the rest of my natural life, which would not be long. (I had this minor breakdown both times.)

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See? I can close my eyes and be back there with no space in between. The ache and the heaviness, the ravenous midnight hunger, the intense needles of brand-new painful love, like shafts of bright sunlight on my face. The fear. The bottle steriliser. The babies. I can feel them, lighter than a sack of sugar in one arm, as I sprint up the stairs. There’s a sheepskin rug under my feet as I bend over the crib to put my hand on their rising and falling chest.

And then I open my eyes again to find two bright-haired boys, big and solid in Captain America t-shirts, scrapping over toys.

‘You can’t HAVE Ferdinand, he’s MINE and belongs to ME.’

‘Tetty TURN. MUMMY. HERRY TRAIN. TURN.’

For a second I honestly can’t work out how we got from there to here.

***

I’ve been thinking about this today because we went to meet up with a lovely blogging friend and her little boy. The last time we saw them both was two years ago. I brought two-year-old H and no pushchair, and was a little ambitious in anticipating how far he’d walk and how interested he’d be.

He kicked off, obviously. He was two; I had never had a two-year-old before; I had a tendency to expect more of him than he was able to give. It was lovely to see my friend and her gorgeous boy, but it was definitely one of those parenting days you keep locked in a vault. (Then I wrote about it for What to Expect, and made it all immeasurably worse.)

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Today I brought H and T to see them, and all three of the boys are much taller. I have come through two years of toddler-plus-baby, continually multitasking between them both, battle-hardened and -softened simultaneously. I am stricter about some things now (OF COURSE YOU ALWAYS BRING A PUSHCHAIR) and laxer about others (of course you can have another sausage roll!).

H, my heart, walked by the pushchair, asked before he went off somewhere, and sat long-legged and patient on the kerb waiting for the bus.

T ran off as many times as H did at his age, but hey, two-year-olds. They’re good at lots of things, but walking in a straight line isn’t one of them. That’s why you bring a pushchair. We had a wonderful day.

I have a lot of compassion, and some impatience, for the mother I was when I started. I hope I’m compassionate in the future about this version of me, too. Expecting more of an almost-four-year-old than he’s able to give. Still bending over their beds at night to put a hand on their chests and smooth down their hair.

Time passes, and I’m sorry, and I’m grateful. I didn’t believe them when they told me it would, but oh, I do now.

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Five ways to tell you’re in baby burnout…and what to do about it

Sometimes Fridays are the best times to hold up your hands and say ‘dear readers, I confess: I have been an idiot’. We have just come back from a break in Stratford-Upon-Avon – two lovely days of back-to-back theatre and eating that I will be blogging about tomorrow – and now I can say for certain: I was deep in baby burnout, and should have done something about it sooner. 

Paging all parents of small children: life is not supposed to be, does not have to be, sheer self-sacrificing nuttiness. It’s not supposed to be grim or miserable, and you’re not supposed to lose all sense of yourself. If that’s true for you – as it has been, lately, for me – then the pressure of looking after small people is beginning to get to you. And that’s alright, because you’re not superhuman, and your resources are finite. Watch yourself for the signs of baby burnout and you can make a diagnosis quicker than Web MD, prescribe yourself something appropriate, and get back to enjoying your children.

(PS, this also applies, of course, to burnout in general. There are more things than eight-month-olds that wear a body out…though not many that produce as much projectile vomit.)

Here, then, are the top five signs of baby burnout I keep a weather eye on:

‘I can’t move. No, honestly’

Tiredness is par for the course with littles. Exhaustion, too, some days. But in the past month I’ve felt something different: being thoroughly and physically drained of energy much of the time. It didn’t matter how many lie-ins Tim arranged for me to have. Mid-morning I would get shaky and weak, as though I hadn’t had a large breakfast, and then mid-afternoon it would come back. My consumption of sugary and fatty food has sky-rocketed as a result, which has reinforced the feeling of grossness, and on and on we went into a place of sadness and doughnuts. Blah. You too, perhaps? Onto the next thing, then.

‘he’s doing it because he hates me’

I’ve become aware, lately, of this irrational conviction that anything annoying Henry does is done deliberately because he knows I don’t like it. ‘WHY is he being pointlessly destructive when he knows it gets me cross?’ I would rage to myself. ‘He’s not getting dressed on purpose. He means something by it’. Um, no, crazy lady, he doesn’t. Or rather, the only thing he means by it is HELLO MOTHER, I’M TWO AND I HAVE NO SOCIAL CUES. If you’re assigning Richard III motives to your toddler’s random mess, then tick this box and move on to the next point.

‘I can’t be me right now’

I always know I need to make a change when I can’t read. An inability to pursue your normal hobbies or interests, in however limited a fashion, is a big burnout sign. For weeks I’ve started and restarted the same books and got no further than the second page. Even when the boys were quiet, or asleep. Even when they were out. And I struggled to get through a film, or to read the news, and the outings I’ve planned – usually the highlight of our days – have been distinctly lacking in inspiration. I will say to myself what I’ve always said on this blog: you use all of yourself to mother with, including your own passions and enthusiasms. If you can no longer find them, tick this box and carry on.

‘ouch’

This is a slightly weird one, but I’ve found it’s true for me: I become clumsy when I’ve used up all my resources. My spatial awareness fizzles to nothing. So I bang myself more on furniture, end up with bruises on my arms and legs and little cuts on my hands from cooking. If you’re wearing more than one plaster at the moment (I’m wearing two, both patterned with monkeys because I could only find Henry’s box), then maybe this applies to you too.

And finally –

‘will you get out of my emotional space, please’

Oh, the thing about small children – lovely and awful in equal measure – is that they’re never out of your head. From the minute they’re awake, you revolve over them constantly.

Is it breakfast time? Is he ok in the bath? Will he get his clothes on today? Oh dear, must be time for his nap. Has he eaten enough today? What needs to happen to get both of them into the car? How much can I carry down the stairs at once? Should I have spent more time reading to him? What’s he crying for now? Can I fix it? 

When they’re asleep, I’m trying to cram in as much as possible and listening, listening for the first wake-up cry. When they’re awake, even if they’re not sat on me physically, they’re sat in my emotional space. This is normal, but over the past month, it started to feel like I was being slowly suffocated.

***

I had all of these boxes ticked with angry red marker. And if that’s the case, well, I need to get on and do something about it. I am the captain of my soul, etc. Here are a few things that help me get back on an even keel. Perhaps they might work for you too:

one, take a mini-break from your little loves. I know this can be difficult – if you have babies breastfeeding on demand, for example – but if at all possible, this is the best remedy. A full day is good, overnight is better. A couple of days is better still. You make enough space in your head to miss and appreciate them, and reset your perspective for when they come back.

two, get a babysitter and take a book or magazine to a coffee shop for an hour. It takes you right out of your own head, plus you get to eat a muffin without having it slobbered on first. Or go to the cinema (if you need to, you can choose a shorter film so you can get back to feed). Getting engrossed in someone else’s story means you can happily return to your own once it’s done.

three, if you really can’t leave them at all, wait till their naptime, go to another room, put music on as loud as you can get away with, and lie down on the floor with your eyes closed. Try to think about nothing but the music and your own breathing. Which leads me on to –

four, before they wake up or during naptime, try some meditation. You might feel stupid if it’s your first time, but it helps. I rather liked this little primer cartoon for beginners.

five, this one’s difficult, but it’s one of the best quick fixes I’ve found: find a patch of sun, and sit in it with your eyes closed. Warmth and light do miraculous things to your mind and body. Try and sit in it when no one is going to sit on you.

Here is a Fridayish thought for your Friday – you will be a better parent, a better person, when you are in proper balance yourself. And you can be. But here’s the thing, this piece of grace I try to bear in mind on my worst days: your babies aren’t wondering when you’ll get your act together. All they see is you, bracketing their days with love, putting order into their universe. In their eyes, you could boost them up to the stars if you wanted.

In a way, of course, you will.

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You guys! MAD Blog Award nominations close today at midnight! If you like what I do here, I’d be ever so grateful if you’d nominate us by clicking below. Perhaps Best Writer or Best Baby Blog? Thank you!

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Eight pounds

Eight pounds, eight pounds, eight pounds. It’s all I can think of at the minute.

Eight pounds is how much heavier I am than before I was pregnant. Teddy is outside now, and chunking up nicely, but I still have the weight of an average-sized baby slapped on my thighs, belly and all the other inconvenient places it tends to hang on.

Do you know that I know how foolish this is? I know, oh I know. Only four months ago I carried around a bump the size of a giant beachball on my front. My skin stretched, my ribs widened, my organs shuffled over and I made a baby out of my own self (Tim helped. A little). Teddy’s insides and outside came all from me. Flesh of my flesh. My body has done something momentous, here. These babies will grow into long-legged boys, angry teenagers, tall solid men who will go out and make something fine, and all of that life and goodness came from their nine months with me.

I think about all of that, and feel overwhelmed with the stupidity of eight pounds. I also feel guilty, sick with it. Some women don’t have the opportunity to do this at all, ever, and it tears them to pieces. Some women embrace their bodily changes and gather their children up into their lovely curves. Some women hurt to their soul for more than they have, and here I am, listening to whatever stupid messages come from outside, and desperate for less. Just eight pounds less, and I’ll feel good about myself. Eight pounds less, and I’ll fit into my old trousers, my old body, my old life.

I will not do this, this time. I will not. When I think about what these babies and years have done for me, it feels like I’m standing on top of a hill, sweaty and grubby, looking down over miles and miles of newly discovered country.

Look, there I am crouched in the back of my green Fabia, gross with morning sickness, trying not to throw up a salad sandwich.

Here I am flinging up my hands and yelling like an idiot, because Henry finally let go of the sofa and walked to my chair.

Over there I am crying in a cupboard, because I’m so tired I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck, and a little boy is pushing the tears off my face one by one.

And here, look, just here: 2.3oam, and my battered body is sat on the edge of the bed, cradling a brand-new boy. He is so tiny. It is so quiet. His fine hair ruffles under my breath, and his soft little fingers creep around mine as he swallows, swallows, swallows again.

All that, and the only thing to show that I’ve lived there are these last eight pounds. Dear friends, if you struggle with this too, please remember: your wonderful body shows you where you’ve been. Let’s gather our wealth, and move on.

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This isn’t the first time I’ve had to write myself out of this. It probably won’t be the last. Here are the previous entries in my Diary of a Post-Partum Body:

Making the leap

On building a body

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

 

Ten tips for winning over your fussy eater: baby edition

Timothy and I are obsessed with food. I would rather go out to eat than go to the cinema, or a party, or to buy new clothes. It’s a silly thing to spend money on, since it’s not like it hangs around for very long. But food, glorious food. I almost always want some more.

Imagine our bewilderment, then, when our delightful firstborn turned out to be not much of a fish-and-chip off the old block. Henry is a temperamental eater at best. Dinner is a chore to be endured until a) we let him out of the high chair to go play, or b) it’s dessert time. I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit cajoling things into his mouth, picking them out of my hair, and bashing my head against the wall in frustration. I worry about being a pansy and letting him get into bad habits, but I don’t want eating to be stressful for him. It’s such a hard balance to strike. So over the past six months, I’ve gathered an arsenal of tricks that I pull out and reshuffle, depending on what works that day. I dare say these will have to be totally revised once I have a toddler.

If you’ve got a nose-wrinkler, see if any of these help.

1. Establish a meal routine

Henry needs to know that, at certain points of the day, we eat. I try to keep his mealtimes as consistent as possible. His best meal is breakfast, because he knows that as soon as he wakes up, it’s time to eat. I put him in his high chair about ten minutes beforehand, and give him a toy to play with. It eases him in gently. And he likes the challenge of seeing how many times he can drop the toy off the tray before the food arrives.


2. Force the first taste, then back off

This boy came with a built-in assumption that everything on a spoon is his mortal enemy. He’ll refuse it before he’s tried it. So I literally pin him down to get the first spoon in his mouth, then give him a while before the next one to decide whether he likes it. I try not to push him, but the deal is that he has to try it once.

3. Run the operation like a tapas bar

When I first started trying to make Henry eat, I went to Tesco, bought everything the health visitor recommended, and put a little bit of everything on his tray at once. It was too much for him to think about – our usual problem at mealtimes – and he didn’t eat anything at all. These days I give him one thing to concentrate on at once: I’ll drop off a couple of pieces of bagel in front of him, then go away. Five minutes later I’ll come back with chicken slices. Five minutes after that I’ll come back again with cucumber. It seems to work better. Maybe he just feels a bit Spanish at the moment.

4. Think global

If your fussy eater is anything like mine, one day he’ll refuse to eat something that the previous day he buried his face in. So there’s no advantage in sticking to the same, safe foods. If you’re eating something spicy, seasoned or otherwise unusual, you’ve got nothing to lose by giving him some. I try him with anything we’re eating, and thus far he’s shown a surprise enthusiasm for chilli pasta, onion bhajis, korma sauce and sweet and sour chicken. For now, at least.

5. Don’t snack

I used to give Henry raisins and organic baby snacks to munch on while I got dinner ready, then found that the little he was eating shrank to nothing at all. While his appetite is small, we don’t snack at all. If he’s going to fill up on cereal bars, you might’s well not cook.

6. The old two-spoon trick

One of Henry’s best stalling techniques is grabbing the spoon out of my hands while we eat. It’s not that he wants to feed himself – yet – he just wants to play with it and stop me using it for food transport. So I give him a spoon to play with, and keep a second one for myself. BUSTED.

7. Keep emergency rations

No matter what kind of day he’s having, Henry will eat two things: fruit pots, and strawberry fromage frais. So on days when the only things he’s put in his mouth are the batteries he’s managed to prise out of the remote control (AGAIN), I know I can always fill him up before bed. I keep a couple in my bag in case we’re caught short while we’re out.

8. Give praise, and then space

There are so many books that tell you to sit with your child and eat while they eat. No good in this house. Most days, Henry is more of a basilisk consumer: he eats better when I’m not looking at him. So I applaud him wildly when he chews something, and then leave him to get on with it. 

9. Be flexible

One of the things that has really bothered me is that I don’t want meals to be a battleground. Not so soon, anyway. So the rule is that he eats in his chair, but some days, if he’s really upset, he gets to eat on my knee instead. He hated the bib so much that he was getting too cross to eat, so we got rid of it and he just gets dirty clothes. Routines are good, but not every day is the same. Which leads me on to…

10. Don’t sweat it

The last time I checked (and trust me, I’ve googled it more than once), very few children starve voluntarily. If he has two bites and throws everything else away, the chances are that’s all he wanted. As long as he’s going through enough nappies, is happy and has lots of energy – and no one could accuse this boy of lacking in beans – then don’t worry about it.

Is there anything else that works for you? Welcome to Club Spoon-Thrower. May the force be with you, my friend.

Ice cream is not the answer. Unless it’s been a REALLY bad day.

Party-planning the Pinterest way; or, how to go mad in an hour or less

Today I did that thing I said I would never do, and looked on Pinterest for reals.

I looked initially because I had to research paper globe lanterns for a girls’ camp we’re running in July. Everyone knows that if you want to see paper lanterns in their natural habitat (hyper-decorated parties), then Pinterest is where you look. And then I thought, hmmm. It’s Henry’s birthday in a couple of months. Perhaps I’ll just…

And then an hour later Pinterest spat me back out, with a confusing headful of pom-poms and vintage milk bottles and photobooths and ‘colour palettes’. Oh, my loves, your children have only been on this earth breathing air for twelve months. It’s not like they’re taking note of the date and thinking ‘This time last year, eh? I’d just entered the birth canal. Magic times’. And they’re sure as anything not going to remember the Etsy-purchased hand-sewn garden streamers at their birthday party. One lady started talking about her eleven-month-old’s ‘signature look’. Lawks. In case you’re wondering – and I know you are – Henry’s ‘signature look’ is generally the banana-crusted face. How very Vogue.

So, Pin-drunk, I found myself pondering what I might choose for a theme. Then I remembered that Henry is TEN MONTHS OLD. He doesn’t have favourites, so it’s pointless for me to run with cowboys or trains or pirates. If I were to decorate a room with the things he really loves, I’d fill it with breakable electronics and blown-up photos of Timothy’s face. And if you want to pay me to run with this, I will.

However, there are some things I really want to do for the big one-point-zero in August.

1. Make a good cake. 

I love baking – though I’m not great at it – and Henry loves eating cake, so this seems like a worthwhile thing to do. I watched Martha Stewart (yes, I went there) make this, this morning, and fell in love with it.

But something simpler like this might be better.

I’m a novice when it comes to frosting and frankly, children’s cakes scare me.

2. Invite good company, but not the whole world. 

Someone very wise once told me that, when it comes to birthday parties, a child can cope with the same number of children as their new age. Whatever the number – and given Henry’s cluelessness about the whole thing, I’m more likely to invite people our age as well as his – I’d prefer to keep it small and informal. It’s a big deal to us, but probably not to all of his seventy-six closest baby buddies.

3. Decorate a little, but not a lot. 

More ‘festive and colourful’, less ‘explosion in a bespoke stationery factory’.

4. Take photos, preferably with stupid props.

Because nothing’s more hilarious than making a baby wear something silly, amirite?

The bottom line being: keep it in your comfort zone. Do what will make you all happy for an afternoon, in a setting where you can enjoy being together (which is what you’re celebrating, after all). And probably best to save the extravaganzas for when he’s old enough to remember how fabulous you were.

It’s all fun and games until someone grows a tooth

We are having a teething evening.

Which is to say, number one, yoghurt for dinner; number two, teeth brushing optional; number three, Calpol before bed; number four, bed, really? Bed?

Thankfully we got through most of the day before Top Left decided to make an appearance. We spent Jubilee Day #1 with family, ate chilli and Eton mess, ran round a playground, and let the babies chew on each other’s fingers. They are fascinated with each other’s faces. It’s nice to have someone your own size to chew a strawberry with.

Just F to the Y-I, Henry only likes the swings in Central Park. Didn’t enjoy the roundabout either. Maybe that was the tooth talking.

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