A Word to Childless Me

Hello Me.

It’s been two years since we were neither a Mummy nor a Mummy-To-Be. Two years ago our body began that everyday miracle of growing a little life, and then a few months later we finally got to meet him. Over a year down the line, and our identity has forever changed. I wanted to take a moment to address my former self, with a few warnings.

First of all, I would like to tell myself to stop taking offence when parents talk about the deep love they have for their children. When you don’t have children, you still experience love. You love your family deeply, you love your partner passionately, you love your pets protectively. I used to hate it when parents would bang on about how much greater the love you feel for your child is. It implies that the childless are somehow lesser, that they are missing out, that their feelings are shallow and weak. NONE of this is true. But what is true? That the love you feel for your child is something completely unique, and impossible to feel or imagine before your little cherub arrives.

Never before have I been completely and utterly responsible for the life of a human being, and I think that’s the basis of it. I love my husband, but he is a grown man who managed perfectly well for 18 years before he even met me. I love my parents, but they have always been the ones to look after ME. I love my sister, but she is my peer, my equal. I love my cats, but they would be perfectly happy with the neighbours if they still had food and cuddles. Whereas to my son, my husband and I are the only ones who loved him before he was even born. Being the one to incubate him, I am the single human alive who had responsibility for him before he existed to anyone else. My heartbeat was the first thing he heard. My voice, the first he grew to recognise. When he arrived, I fed him from my actual body (another everyday miracle) and gave up the life I had known before.

So, former me, stop getting so butthurt when parents love their kids. You haven’t experienced it, you can’t truly imagine it, and that’s fine. Even if you never have children, you are a human being capable of immense love, sacrifice and contribution to those around you. But you have not experienced the love a parent feels, and nor will you until you become one – and that’s OK!

Secondly, I would like to tell myself to go take a nap. They’re amazing. And you’re not going to have many for a while. I read an article recently in which the author stated something along the lines of ‘parents laugh when non-parents say they’re exhausted’. This caused a lot of offence, and I can understand why. Of course non-parents experience exhaustion. Think of the shift-workers, the insomniacs, those with multiple jobs, or those who work and study. It is condescending to imply that those without children are snoozing their lives away.

However. I believe what the author intended to express, was that the sleeplessness you (may, depending on your baby!) experience when you become a parent is a particularly unique sort of tiredness. It’s a tiredness where you never get to ‘catch up’. I have worked long shifts before, on my feet for hours and hours. Then I’d go out drinking afterwards and dance for a couple of hours. Then you know what I’d do? I’d go to bed and stay there until I felt like getting up. So, pre-baby me, enjoy your sleep…because now that’s not an option!

In the worst phase of my son’s sleep, I would sleep for perhaps three hours, spread across an entire night. This is very unpleasant. But you know what’s worse? Doing it again, and again, and again, for week after week after week. The insomniacs and others who sleep poorly long-term will know what I mean when I say that lack of sleep is most certainly a form of torture. The hardest thing was that I couldn’t ‘sleep when the baby slept’ during the day at that time: he didn’t. So there was no catching up. There was no flopping in front of the TV for a few hours to refresh my brain. There was no hot chocolate, film and snuggling up in a duvet on the sofa. Every. Single. Minute. was spent feeding, cleaning, comforting, entertaining, or attempting to sleep that child.

There are those who would say, “Well you chose to have a baby, suck it up.” And to an extent they are correct. But it’s a little harsh, considering that it is COMPLETELY and utterly impossible to imagine what your life will be like when baby arrives. Pre-baby me, you idiot, you genuinely thought your life would be essentially the same but with a cute baby crawling around gurgling and pooping itself. I can handle a demanding and exhausting job, I have worked long shifts before, I have never been a great sleeper, surely…SURELY, I can handle a baby? Hah.

There is something particularly unbearable about spending an hour feeding your baby to sleep, rocking him, transferring him to his bed and sneaking from the room like a ninja to finally cuddle down in your own bed, finally close your eyes, finally feel yourself drifting…to be woken five minutes later and know that there is nothing – nothing – you can do except get your backside out of bed and trudge back to that baby. Thinking you’re about to sleep and then sleep being torn from you is bad. Real bad.

The thing is, lots of people know that. The people I mentioned, who have spent years suffering poor sleep. The key is that everything in life is relative to your experience, and if you slept reasonably well beforehand (which you probably did, whether you think so or not), then the sleep deprivation a baby brings will hurt a lot. If you already experience poor sleep, it will get worse, sorry. The worst nights I had were when the baby had finally settled and I couldn’t get to sleep. Honestly. You want to suffocate yourself with a pillow when that happens, just so you can get to sleep. Watching the clock, knowing, ‘Now I can get a maximum of three hours sleep…now two…now one…now he’s awake again” is horrific.

So, former me, have that extra hour in bed on Saturday morning. Enjoy that afternoon snooze on a Sunday. You will have that again…but not for a good long while! And when people say they’re tired? Just believe them, they are.

Finally, pre-baby me, I would like to warn you about a trap you are likely to fall into. As the last point touched on, a lot of people see life as essentially competitive. And you are (we are? Whatever, I can’t remember which person I’m speaking in now) a competitive person. Monopoly does not go well. Sports Day is painful. Anything less than top of the class is an insult. So I’m warning you now…don’t try and win the Mummy Wars. There are greater players out there, greater than you can imagine.

Your baby weighed 9lbs? She pushed out an 11lb-er. You had an epidural then a section? Lazy, she laboured for two days. Your baby’s 75th %ile? Hers is 99th. You breastfed for 10 months? Slacker, she did it natural term. You coslept? She coslept longer. The list goes on. Pretty soon it’ll be school time, and I can imagine it getting worse. There will be women out there who hand-sew nativity costumes, bake the bread for their children’s sandwiches, and so on. None of those things are bad, you ladies keep doing that! I love a make or a bake. But if you want to feel like a good mother by being better than others? Good luck with that.

Parenting is not the place for competition – not that you’d think so. Of course you want to feel that you’ve made the best decisions for your baby, in your life. You probably have. But you’ve also made a bunch of rookie errors, compromises and experienced failures and disappointments. So have the hand-sewing, bread-baking mums. We all have.

So my final warning to myself is this: don’t be that competitive mum. Be proud of your son and the life you provide for him – you’ve earned that right. But be supportive and loving to other mummies who are doing the same.

Oh OK, one more thing. Let me warn you now: you are going to love til it hurts, cry til you’re empty, laugh til your sides ache and smile til your face is sore. This child will be perfect, this child will be precious, this child will be life-changing. Just like every other child this wonderful planet produces.

Keep going, parents, you’re doing great. And non-parents? Normal human beings? You’re doing great too – and we need you to keep us sane!

xXx

 

To My Son

A letter to my son, on his first birthday.

eden-floor

Dearest boy,

Can it really be one year since you arrived in our world? Since you went from abstract concept, bladder-squasher and rib-kicker to an actual squeaking pink baby in my arms? What I have learnt, what I have felt, what I have known in this year cannot be explained or quantified, but I can tell you some things.

Let me tell you about you. At one, you are a beautiful boy – and I’m not just saying that! Strangers rave over your pretty eyelashes, your beaming smile, and your chubby pink cheeks. I count four rolls of fat on each of your arms, and four on each of your legs. A source of pride, for I have fed you, and a source of love. Your skin is soft and smooth and your hair is soft and increasingly fair. I can’t stop kissing your fluffy head and stroking your smooth, fat little legs. Dressing you in shorts and tshirts is such joy! People tell us you take after me, but the older you get, the more they see of your daddy in you. Despite family resemblances, you are delightfully, adorably and totally you. We made a new, original and unique human being.

You love books, as I knew you would, and we read often. You have adored turning pages for many months, and lift-the-flap stories are favourites. You laugh before the flap has even been lifted, knowing the cheeky monkey hides beneath. We practise actions, voices, rhyming. Some stories are already ingrained so deeply in my memory that I’ll probably be able to recite them to you when you’re forty!

Although you have always been happiest sat with fiddly toys to explore and study, in recent weeks you’ve become so active, I can’t keep up. First you began to roll away from me when I changed you, then I would return to the room to find you first facing a different way, then sat in a different place entirely! Your father and I watch each miniscule milestone with love and excitement. These days you are on the move, and I am growing a second pair of eyes to help…

Since the moment you were born, midwives and visitors told us how alert you were, how wise and knowing your little expression. At the time I admit I laughed to hear a newborn baby described as ‘knowing’, but as your character develops, you remain thoughtful, observant and interested. Yet you are not serious. You smile always, laugh often, and your happiness is what we aim for each day.

Of course, you are the cleverest baby that ever was. You know that the lightswitch makes the lights go on and off, and when you hear the switch click, your head swivels round at top speed to catch the light turning on! Then you point and laugh to see it lit up. What fun. You stack things beautifully, choose toys with precision and eat food with dexterity.

You think, unfortunately, that being told ‘No’ is hilarious. We will work on this.

Your Granny and Nana love to look after you so very much. While I am at work, you spend such happy hours with them, your Auntie Debbie and Harry. Your Grampa and Grandad make you laugh with silly games, and you love to spend time with Auntie Nikki and Charlie too. We hope that you and your cousins will become great friends as you grow older, and already Harry takes such nice care of you. He’s very patient when you grab his hair or try to snatch a toy, and he’s only young as well. You love to chatter and shout with Charlie, taking turns to make noises and laughing to hear the other one shout back. We expect Charlie to remain taller than you, but you will probably overtake Harry one day!

Recent changes are your growing number of teeth, your enthusiastic clapping, your high fives, your desperation to get onto your feet, and your little efforts at saying words. You give cuddles and kisses readily, and I hope in my heart that you’ll still be giving your mummy cuddles for many years to come.

Don’t grow up too quickly. Don’t change too fast. Don’t make me say goodbye to my baby boy before I’m ready. Then when the time comes, I won’t mind saying goodbye to my baby because there will be a beautiful, kind, clever, funny little boy waiting for me. I love you, and can’t wait to meet you as you become your own person.

You are our joy, our best love, and our very greatest achievement.

Happy birthday, son. Love from Mummy xXx

Goodbye Ugly Bras: Hello Freedom

When I was expecting my son, I told myself that I wouldn’t mind whether we bottle or breastfed. I changed my mind when he became poorly, and wrote about the experience of establishing breastfeeding  here. In brief, despite a short stint of tube feeding and then formula top-ups for a few weeks after that, we were soon exclusively breastfeeding. My initial aim was to nurse until Christmas, which was the three month mark for us. Christmas came and went, and as breastfeeding became easier and more habitual, I saw no reason to stop.

20160314_132316

When my son reached five months and we began feeding him some solid food, I also started thinking about introducing occasional bottles so I could have the odd night feed off, and in preparation for returning to work in a couple of months’ time. That didn’t go well; by (re)introducing the formula feeds we found our son was allergic to milk (among other things). What with the time it took to see the allergy specialists, get hold of dairy-free formula and persuade him that bottles weren’t the devil, it took rather longer than I had anticipated! Months passed, and I was returning to work (part time) with a baby who still only took a few ounces of formula from a bottle, and that reluctantly and unpredictably. It was a source of great anxiety to me, to leave him with my husband or a relative, not knowing if he would eat. And as he would normally nurse to sleep, I didn’t know if he would sleep either. Not relaxing.

Around this point I bit the bullet and had another crack at expressing. I had hated my time pumping milk at the hospital, and had felt really discouraged by the whole experience. But needs must, and I borrowed an electric pump from the local Barnardo’s Children’s Centre for just a £10 deposit and £5 donation. That is an amazing service, by the way, as electric pumps are expensive to buy and often only needed for a short period of time. I persevered, and soon learnt to pick the best time of day to pump, to position myself comfortably, and distract myself effectively. It was not a joy, but it did help our situation because my boy would take breastmilk from the bottle readily; proving that he objected to the formula rather than the bottle itself.

I should add here that the little sod would drink ANYTHING else from ANYTHING else at this point: mugs, glasses, tumblers, sippy cups, doidy cup… I’ve always believed in a little of everything doing no harm so he’d sip my lemonade from a tall glass, guzzle hot chocolate froth from a Costa mug, down orange juice from my tumbler… you get the idea! (Most of this is pre-allergy discovery by the way!) He objected specifically to his formula – to be fair, the dairy-free (or ‘hydrolysed’) formula does taste disgusting.

 

As it turned out, he managed perfectly well without me when I worked – as everyone had told me he would, of course! We pottered along for the first couple of weeks at work with him feeding before I went to work, then taking what he had to from a bottle to keep going until I got back. When I could, I sent breastmilk rather than formula, and gradually, the bottle stopped being the enemy. I soon didn’t need to bother pumping at all. The only person suffering was me – my body had not got the message about the descreased need for milk yet, so work was a trial by the time afternoon rolled around.

My son had always been a frequent feeder, and I suspect took a ‘little and often’ approach to nursing. It’s hard to know as there’s no bottle to watch emptying, but going by the fact he fed hourly for about four or five months, then two-hourly until about six months, I think it’s safe to say he was a snacker not a feaster! This was, of course, exhausting and inconvenient, and also had an impact when we started weaning him onto a bottle. A baby of his age, the can of formula told me, should be having three bottles of 7oz a day. Three feeds a day?! Insanity. So I took the approach of little and often with bottles, until he was ready to take more at a time and go longer between feeds.

Gradually, I replaced nursing feeds with bottle feeds, not attempting to drop any feeds until the formula was replacing the breastmilk. I predicted quite a long period of adjustment, but as it happened it all flew by rather quickly. The basic plan was:

  1. Replace day feeds, one at a time, with formula, while nursing before and after work and through the night.
  2. Replace breakfast feed with bottle.
  3. Replace bedtime feed with bottle (then husband can do the settling, eek!)
  4. Replace night time feeds with bottle (then maybe I’ll get some sleep, eek!)
  5. Increase amounts of milk while decreasing frequency, when baby can manage.

And that was basically how it worked…just a lot quicker than I expected! Because while all this was happening, our son was also learning to sleep at night. So stage four didn’t really happen – he just stopped needing milk at nights full stop. And stage five just happened gradually as we went along. If he finished a whole bottle of, say, 4oz, then next time we’d make up 5oz and see how he did.

20160801_085904

The only wobble I had was when we had got to around stage 3; when we were just down to night feeds from me. Suddenly, it all seemed very real and very finite. Once we stopped breastfeeding, that would be that… The first night that I replaced his 10pm-ish nurse with a bottle, he really seemed upset for the first time. In the previous struggles to persuade him to take a bottle, he never seemed distressed. He would just not drink the milk if he didn’t fancy it. This time, he was wailing for milk but refusing to drink from the bottle. He was headbutting me and cuddling into me but instead of giving him mummy cuddles, I stayed strong and stuffed that plastic thing in his mouth and bawled my eyes out too! It felt awful, but if I had given in then, I don’t know if I would have continued bottle weaning.  He quickly forgot his woes, fed from the bottle and went back to sleep, but I stayed awake and for the first time in months, really thought about whether I was making the right decision.

I was never going to be a mum who breastfed until ‘natural term’ – i.e. when the child himself decides to stop nursing. This normally happens naturally at the age of about two. That was not for me! Although I understand why people make that decision, and appreciate many statistics support it, instead I wanted to be free, to be comfortable, to be myself. One of my greatest motivations in stopping breastfeeding was the restrictive allergy diet I had been obliged to follow while nursing. Not for the inconvenience – but for the fact I couldn’t continue my efforts to lose weight while on this diet. That sounds terribly selfish, but the weight I had put on during pregnancy was very depressing, as well as being unhealthy. The allergy diet was so restrictive (in combination with my vegetarianism and fussiness!) that I simply couldn’t continue to follow Slimming World and this diet at the same time. It was a decision I made for myself, and I make no apology for it. For my sleep, for my mental health, for my comfort, for my weightloss, and for myself, it was time to stop breastfeeding.

So we did!

 

Something clicked at some point, and he started downing his bottles, going hours between feeds, and showed no stress or sadness at ending nursing. I like to think that was because I worked hard at doing things gently and gradually, and (as usual) showered him with affection and cuddles at ALL times!

Finally, the days of ugly bras, unflattering poppered nighties, pumping, and breastpads were over…

BF kit

Goodbye to my BF kit – I won’t miss any of you!

So what have I loved about stopping breastfeeding?

-Wearing normal bras. Supportive ones. Decorative ones. Ones with no bloody clips to accidentally fly open every time I get dressed!

-Going out and staying out – all night! For a treat a couple of weeks ago I went out with friends and stayed over at my sister’s afterwards. To leave my husband to dinner duties, bedtime routine, nighttime wakings and then breakfast chores was an absolute delight! He got off very lightly I might add, as by this point our son was practically sleeping through the night, but I still enjoyed the freedom from baby responsibilities. Silly things like not having to think of what to feed him, apply his cream, choose something to wear, the endless search for a clean bib…small things!

-Feeling like my own person again. For months, you give your body over to your child. Throughout pregnancy, and then through the months of nursing, you are not your own. You avoid certain food and drink, your body changes in so many ways, you sleep at another human being’s whim…as willingly as we do all of the above, it has been amazing to get back some independence.

-Getting back to Slimming World. I am making awful progress in these first couple of weeks to be fair, but I am finally allowed to eat yummy things again (now the allergy diet has finished) so you can’t blame me for enjoying a crepe or two, right?!

And what do I miss about breastfeeding?

-Not a lot! Hah!

-The regular opportunities for cuddles, of course, but then he’s still too small to resist my cuddles whether he wants them or not, heehee!

-The convenience. Obviously it’s massively more convenient to raise a tshirt than it is to sterilise bottles and allow water to cool, measure out powder, shake and cool again. Let alone the hassle of making a bottle up when you’re out and about.

-That’s it! I’m sure there’s some statistical stuff too, but I’m not an expert.

me and eden

In just a few short weeks since stopping breastfeeding, bottles now feel completely normal and I have had no reservations about the decision other than my one bedtime blip that time. Our relationship has continued to grow and deepen, as I knew it would. His father can now feed him and put him to bed, improving their bond and my husband’s ability to support me. Relatives can care for him easily and conveniently, with no anxiety for me. I am back to work and loving it. I can rest easy in the knowledge that I gave him the best possible start, for the first ten months of his life. Now we’re onto new adventures!

How long did you choose to breastfeed, if at all? How did you make the decision to stop? What were your feelings about the transition? Any regrets? Any top tips?

xXx

 

 

 

Pink is Just a Colour

My husband and I chose not to find out the gender* of our unborn child, for two reasons. Firstly, I felt that finding out the gender at the moment of birth would be the reward for my hard work in the labour room, that it would be motivation during the contractions and incentive when the time came to push. Well, it was a c-section in the end so that didn’t work out. But I’m glad we didn’t find out anyway, and remember the excitement of the midwife’s voice floating from behind the blue screen, asking, “Do you want to see or be told?”We had a son.

20150522_221804

The second reason to keep the gender a surprise was that I had no intention whatsoever of painting the baby’s room blue or pink, stocking up on drawers full of transport-related shorts or frilly knickers, or filling the toybox with either trains or dolls. Surely, in 2016, we all agree it’s wrong to impose strong gender stereotypes onto children. I don’t personally intend to raise what is called a ‘gender neutral’ child; avoiding gendered pronouns in what seems to me a slightly artificial way. We have to manage in the society we live among, and there are certain norms that are broadly accepted. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and dressing my son in a pink dress is not going to reverse the opinions of our culture. However, the idea of a little girl doomed to a lifetime of pink frills and a boy doomed to 50 shades of blue doesn’t sit well with me.

More than the colour of their clothes, I resent the way certain toys and activities are assigned to each gender. Shops have been guilty of assigning science kits and Lego to the BOYS section and dolls and puppies to the GIRLS, in an appalling display of sexism.

entertainer

If your little girl ends up loving pink and dolls that’s lovely, and if your son wants a dinosaur tshirt and a toy spaceship that’s also fine – this issue isn’t about being contrary or ‘alternative’ for the sake of it. But the opposite ought to be accepted as well: a girl who wants a dinosaur tshirt or a boy who wants to play with dolls. And if you only ever offer one option, they only ever experience that and it normalises one particular expectation.

My personal approach is to dress my son in clothes that are suitable for boys in the society we live in, but keeping away from the million blue montages. Don’t misunderstand: I love blue, and he wears it! But I resent the walls of blue that greet me in the BOYS section of every baby clothing outlet I find. I’d like to think that if I ever had a daughter, I could dress her in her older brother’s clothes without hesitation.

20160705_09503420160711_11441720160801_16090120160807_122241

I don’t dress my baby boy in dresses and skirts, as that would be an extreme approach in the society we live in. I don’t want my son to be an object of ridicule. But as he grows older, if he expresses a wish to wear those things, then I wouldn’t stop him. What is more likely, is that he will enjoy dressing up in skirts, tutus and princess dresses during play. As a teacher, I have seen ten year old boys make a dash for the dressing up box at playtime and gleefully dress themselves in pretty dresses and tutus. (For that matter, most of the grown men I know take the opportunity when a stag night presents itself!) Your average little boy wants to play and explore, and he should be allowed to – as a healthy part of exploring issues of self and identity.

I admit that the issue of sexist children’s clothing and toys is, probably, more of an issue for little girls than little boys. Boys may be deprived of dolls and the colour pink, but girls are the ones who face the sort of unhealthy messages that you will see in the images below.

Gender stereotypes may seem unimportant to you – after all, pink is just a colour. But these sorts of stereotypes are connected to children’s understanding of self, their aspirations, the expectations they have of themselves and the possibilities they see for their futures. Look at the slogans and messages found on girls’ clothing for an idea of the messages girls are receiving today.

shirtcollage4

Furthermore, have you ever noticed the difference in the sizes between girls and boys clothing? Boys wear baggy shorts, comfortable tshirts. Loose, so they can climb, and kick, and throw. Girls are given mini shorts and fitted tees; designed to make them look cute. Essentially, we dress our boys to facilitate function, and we dress our girls to make them look pretty. Then we’re shocked that reporters ask famous women more questions about their appearance than their male counterparts. When was the last time a male tennis star was asked to ‘give us a twirl‘?! Or a male astronaut asked about his hair?!

This starts from babyhood – my son was given sturdy dungarees to wear the knees out of, not frilly knickers that would poke out adorably and accentuate a puffy baby botty. Frilly knickers are super cute of course, but that’s not the point! When I shop for my son I find a lot less choice than there is in the GIRLS section: why? Because, simply put, it seems we find more pleasure in dressing up little girls than we do in dressing our boys. Why? Because we value the physical appearance of our girls more than that of our boys.

target-pajamas

We want our girls to be pretty; our boys to be able.

We want our girls to play nicely; our boys to win races.

We want our girls to show kindness; our boys to show strength.

This is how it seems, when we perpetuate these steretypes.

Blogger Stephanie wrote an open letter to American clothing store Target when she found girls’ clothing too skimpy for her daughters. Just look at her picture below: girls’ and boys’ shorts from the same store, in the SAME SIZE!

girlsboys

 

Please don’t think I hate pink, or blue, or frills, or dinosaurs. I just think we need to offer our children choice, and thereby give them agency in their own aspirations.

I have dressed my son in blue, his lunchbox has sharks on it, and his pyjamas are space-themed. However, if I ever had a daughter I would do the same.

If this article has spoken to you in any way, please consider looking into some of the clothing brands seeking to address the balance between BOYS’ and GIRLS’ clothing. How about we start talking about children‘s clothing?!

This Huffpost article lists twelve gender neutral brands.

This is an interesting Telegraph article about this topic.

This organisation fights for toys to be gender neutral rather than labelled for BOYS or GIRLS.

This campaign ‘targets the products, media and marketing that prescribe heavily stereotyped and limiting roles to young girls’.

 

How do YOU try to encourage your children, male or female, to access a range of toys and to avoid some of the negative stereotypes I’ve mentioned? Have you made the decision to bring your child up as ‘gender neutral’? Or have you embraced the pink – and if so, what made you decide to do so? Has your daughter or son surprised you with their toy and clothing choices?

xXx

 

*Throughout this article I am discussing gender in a simple way, and do not seek to address issues of transgender. I refer to boys and girls in the most obvious sense, and I hope I don’t offend anyone by doing so.

Things You Should Be Feeling Guilty About

As any new parent knows, having a baby opens you up to a huge range of emotions, and the greatest of these…is guilt. Some of my top guilty moments include:

-Feeling guilty I didn’t look after myself during pregnancy: urgent c-section and baby’s time in NICU clearly my fault…

-Feeling guilty I didn’t invite family to the hospital enough to see their grandchild/nephew: traumatic birth, baby’s seizures and MRI shouldn’t have taken priority over cuddles, surely…

-Feeling guilty I made my son bleed the first time I trimmed his nails: a lifelong nailcutting phobia will clearly follow…

-Feeling guilty that the first food I ever gave my son was omelette: egg allergy obviously my doing…

-Feeling guilty I let him fall off the bed…and the sofa…and the sofa again: if he wasn’t brain damaged before, he certainly is now…

I’ll stop there, but I could continue!

I thought it would be useful to compile a list of things YOU should be feeling bad about, in case the parental guilt hasn’t reached you yet…

  1. You’re bottle feeding.

Breast is best, as you will know as it will have been well-meaningly rammed down your throat since your first midwife meeting. So, if you’re feeding your baby some powdered rubbish from a tin then you must surely be a bad parent, right? Yes, you struggled through a traumatic birth, enduring general anaesthetic and an emergency caesarean section. Or, your baby had an undiagnosed tongue-tie. Or, you bled from cracked nipples and wept with the pain each time your baby latched on to feed. Or, your baby failed to thrive through breast-feeding alone. Or, your baby spent the first few weeks of its life in an incubator. So what?!

It is time that we appreciated the many and varied reasons that women are unable to breastfeed, and support their carefully thought through decision to use formula. Formula, which is highly regulated and packed with all the vitamins and minerals your baby needs. Unlike the diets and lifestyles of the women who choose to breastfeed, I might add!

2. You breastfeed…in public! *outraged emoji*

I have never been more shocked than one time when I saw a woman adjust her top in the corner of a café and allow her small baby to feed from her exposed breast. Well, I mean, I suppose it wasn’t technically exposed as the baby had the nipple in its mouth (clue: that’s how it works). And I suppose she was sat quietly in a corner, and not shimmying round the room. Anyway, I was still shocked. Much more outraged by that than by the glut of semi-pornographic advertising images and music videos I see on a daily basis.

Side-boob is fashion. Transparent dresses in a perfume advert are chic. Nipples in a magazine are there for the enjoyment of all (but particularly men, as you know what they’re like). Cleavage is no big deal. Sunbathing topless is fine if you’re on holiday. But god forbid a woman should have the temerity to expose a small amount of her breast (and potentially momentarily her nipple too), in an attempt to feed a hungry baby the way that nature intended. If you ever see a woman do this, make sure you go and chastise her – a friendly smile would certainly be an inappropriate response.

3. You comfort your child when he cries.

Fool, how will your child learn independence if you’re always mollycoddling him with hugs and kisses? He ought to be left weeping in a darkened room, preferably cold and definitely lonely.

Experts such as Gina Ford have made big bucks selling us advice about raising our children, and it involves lots of words like ‘training’ and ‘controlled crying’. My understanding of much of this type of advice is that if we leave them to cry for long enough, we teach them the enigmatic ability to ‘self soothe’. Call me a cynic, but I don’t want to teach my child that when he cries I will not come.

4. You co-sleep.

If you allow your baby to sleep in the same bed as you, you must be a terrible parent. After all, when he turns eighteen and it’s time to head off to university or time to move to another city for work, how will he cope without you there? Oh, wait, there isn’t a generation of young adults struggling to cope with separating from their co-sleeping parents? They stopped co-sleeping many years ago, you say? Of their own accord?

Sarah Ockwell-Smith tells us in her ‘Gentle Sleep Book’ that there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest long-term damage to the psyche of co-sleeping children. They will, in their own time (or yours if it becomes a burden) move to their own bed in their own room.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that co-sleeping has been taking place for infinitely longer than the concept of a baby moving to his nursery at the magical age of six months. Your closeness offers warmth, safety, comfort and potentially food. Why wouldn’t your little one feel happy cuddled next to you in bed? Unless you’re slouched on the sofa or drunk or drugged up to the eyeballs, you are so in tune with your little person that there are no safety issues. So bundle on in as you wish!

5. You feed your child JUNK.

What do I mean by junk food? Anything other than kale, quinoa, fruit, or organic meat from a farm where the animals are massaged to the sound of whale music. If a speck of salt, sugar or empty calories has passed your child’s lips, then you are most certainly a terrible parent. Your child is doomed. They will be fussy, they will be sickly, they will be obese.

I recently read a conversation on a Facebook group where a mum asked others when they allowed their child to first taste chocolate and cake. I know we will all have slightly varying opinions about this, but one particular woman stood out to me because she was trying so very hard to keep her son from tasting sugar that it made me feel bad for her. His birthday cake was going to be made from banana, the icing from cashews, and he was going to be permitted one mouthful (no icing of course) and that was it! How exhausting for everyone involved. I absolutely respect the lady’s right not to feed her child sugar, but it seems so very extreme to go to such lengths, and you know that child will be mainlining Skittles the second he’s at a friend’s party! My personal feeling is that a taste of this and that will allow your child to form a balanced palette and will help to avoid your child putting treats on a pedestal, but that’s just me.

6. You feed your baby puree.

If you’ve read my post about the Baby Led Weaning Brigade, you will know my thoughts on weaning. A lot of people feel VERY strongly that feeding your child purees will ensure they grow up fussy and with an unhealthy attitude to food. Well, both my sister and I  (like most eighties-born babies) were fed purees from 4 months. I am an extremely fussy eater, I have textural issues and my weight fluctuates. My sister eats anything, is a very healthy weight, and thinks, quite rightly, that I’m weird.

7. You DON’T feed your baby puree.

It is so very cruel, you will be told, to withhold puree from your baby. Even though their main source of nutrition in the first year is milk, even though a baby’s growing ability to chew, manoeuvre and swallow food matches his growing nutritional requirements, the long history of puree feeding will have grandparents horrified that you won’t lift a spoon.

———————————–

I have tried to provide as many reasons to feel guilty as I possibly can, I do hope you’ve found something to feel bad about. In many cases, you will have noticed, I have offered reasons to feel guilty about both sides of a coin. This is correct, and it’s so that EVERYBODY can feel bad or smug about different things.

Welcome to parenthood! 😉

What parenting issues have brought you the most guilt? I’m not the only one chopping off my son’s fingertips every time I cut his nails am I?!

xXx

 

 

 

Magical Miracles

Things had got bad. Really bad. Despite my son’s valiant efforts at improving his sleep (here), thanks to his eczema, things had gone downhill again – quickly. I have been, until very recently, holding him down in the bed next to me to stop him scratching so incessantly and manically that he just couldn’t sleep. I would hold his little arms down (sometimes legs as well, since he would rub his feet together to itch his ankles) until he fell asleep, then I would need to wait a while, then I could sleep for about an hour until he woke and it began again. This was hard work. When I started back at work it got a lot harder.

Every time we changed his nappy or clothes, it would be the same – as soon as he had access to bare skin, he would scratch like a lunatic, as if trying to inflict as much damage to himself as he possibly could in the shortest amount of time. Every morning I would take a deep breath before looking at him, to brace myself for the disappointment of seeing his little face, reddened and sore from another night scratching, despite my efforts, while I slept. When my husband got home from work, I would brace myself once more, waiting for his disappointment at the state of his son’s skin if there had been a flare-up during the day.

Those that have met my son in person are probably surprised when I speak about his skin like this, as he usually doesn’t look like an eczema-ridden baby. He really doesn’t. I expect people wonder why we’re so obsessively slathering him in greasy emollients, why I dress him in long sleeved tops and leggings, why we don’t go to the beach, or sit on the grass, or visit farms and petting zoos. For the same reason we bought an air conditioning unit for his bedroom and expensive therapeutic silk pyjamas. Because even though it doesn’t (usually) look that bad, when he gets a chance he will itch, itch, ITCH until there’s nothing left. And anything we can do to avoid or relieve that itch and minimise his scratching, we will do.

Flare-ups can happen in just seconds. He goes from looking almost completely normal (bar a few dry patches) to having vivid red patches and spots all over. The allergy nurse once asked how many flares he has, and I couldn’t even begin to answer as they are so frequent and unpredictable.

20160709_103117

As I said, things had got bad. Holding him down all night, monitoring him for allergens all day…it was not fun, and impending return to work made it even more important that we find a more manageable way of living. Although I’m not writing this for sympathy, I find it hard to explain how miserable I was. After an appalling night of scratch duty and arising at around 6, sometimes earlier, the only way I could buy myself a nap in the day was by lying down again and feeding the baby back to sleep. This sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t, but still only bought me another hour’s sleep at most. Sleep deprivation aside, when could I do the laundry? Make lunch? Let alone dust and hoover?! His inability to nap (without scratching) except beside me, in my arms or in a moving vehicle meant that I had no spare time. For week after week after week. I felt I was disappearing. Drowning in his needs.

I should add here that in conversations with our GP, health visitor and allergy nurse I mentioned our difficulties. It was hard for me to admit it, but by around May/June time I had to tell these three professionals, “I am not coping.” No helpful advice or additional support was forthcoming. I pride myself on my independence, my ability to do things myself and achieve things for myself. Maybe that’s why no one helped me, because it didn’t seem like I needed it that much. An articulate, professional woman of nearly 30 is not top of the priority list for anyone. But I wasn’t coping.

Doom and gloom aside (hooray!), three things have happened in the past few weeks that have turned my life around, and my son’s too. None are really miracles, but when they showed results, it sure felt that way!

  1. Miracle the first: swaddling.
  2. Miracle the second: the eventual acceptance of The Bottle.
  3. Miracle trois: Dr Aron’s eczema treatment.

My husband must be feeling very smug right now, because he had been mentioning swaddling on and off for a long time. Each time I had listed my reasons against, and refused to try it. I didn’t want him unable to scratch an itch – how torturous. Even when holding him down in bed, I would rub his scalp gently for him to relieve any itching. I didn’t want him to overheat. I wasn’t exactly sure HOW to swaddle; knowing there were safety risks such as SIDs and hip dysplasia, I felt nervous. And finally, he just seemed too old. Swaddling is for newborns, not nine-month-old babies.

Well, one night I got desperate, googled ‘safe swaddling’, grabbed a cotton sheet and wrapped him up like an adorable little burrito. He went straight to sleep. In his cot. He slept for hours. I, conversely, got half an hour’s sleep that night. No joke! I couldn’t do anything but lie there, staring at the baby monitor, waiting for that cry to come. The only reason for him being so quiet must be death or kidnapping…so I checked on him again, and again, and again. And he wasn’t dead, he was sleeping. Apparently babies do this thing where they sleep for hours on end? Pfft. News to me. He woke a couple of times, but as I’m sure you can appreciate, a ‘couple’ of wakes for a feed or cuddle was beyond improvement; it was a complete turnaround.

20160620_154742(1)

At the same time, I had been persevering with the unwelcome Bottle for day time feeds. I felt that night time was unrealistic, as he was (at the time) feeding off and on all through the night as we coslept in our miserable, itchy, uncomfortable bed. However, since the swaddling meant we could return him to his room, it was time to introduce night time bottles. Within an amazingly short space of time, he was taking a bedtime bottle from my husband, which freed me from bedtime duties, and before long he would take a few sips from the bottle once or twice in the night then go back to sleep. As it stands, he wakes once or twice during the night for a quick cuddle and rewrapping, then once in the early hours for a small drink of milk and that’s it! Although the end of breastfeeding brings mixed feelings, which I will write about in an upcoming post, the sense of freedom it brought for me was enormous. The success with swaddling and bottles is also thanks to…

Dr Richard Aron. Now, if I told you I’d found a doctor on the internet and paid him to send me eczema cream you might think I’d been victim to some internet quack or been swindled. However, this doctor is a renowned dermatologist whose work with eczema has a huge international following. After researching him and his treatment regime, my husband and I decided to go for it. After paying an initial fee and emailing our son’s history and photos to the dermatologist, we received back a prescription and instructions. We then had to order the cream from a London chemist and it was quickly delivered. Within 24 hours his skin was enormously improved and the itching was very much reduced. The cream isn’t a miracle cure, and isn’t advertised as such, but it did show fast results. Within days we could dress our boy in shorts and tshirt without having to police his constant scratching! The simple joy of seeing his hair, usually greasy with emollient, turn fluffy and fair was indescribable. The true test of this treatment will be when we ‘taper down’ applications and see how effectively we can maintain his skin without regular applications of this cream, but for now I am happy. Even if the money and time we’ve spent only buys us a summer of shorts, paddling pools and fresh air, I’m happy.

So, after weeks of unhappiness at the hands of eczema and sleeplessness, our lives have been changed. How quickly things have turned around! I know it’s not forever, and I know things change (they already are!) but I am so very grateful for the sleep and the contentment I have enjoyed the past month, I can’t even begin to describe it. If you’ve read this far, congratulations, it was a mammoth one!

All parents face different struggles, and mine have not been half as hard as others’, I know. But when things have been tough, and are better, I think it’s right to acknowledge that.

Things were tough. Things are better. Thank you.

What have your greatest challenges been? There is no competition, as everyone’s story is different remember! But it’s healthy to share experiences and learn to empathise with different struggles. I hope that any parents struggling as we were, will receive love and help and sympathy from all.

xXx

Fair Warning…

This is a public service announcement for the sake of the wellbeing of all who set foot upon my threshold. No excuses: you have been warned…

1. I hope you like colourful plastic because it’s everywhere. I have a few tasteful wooden toys but I’ve surrendered my house to the primary coloured plastic takeover. It’s easier when you don’t fight it (mantra for motherhood in general).

2. Watch out for the baked bean juice on the floor. And the oaty crumbs down the sofa. And the broccoli on the dining chair. I could go on, so maybe just look for food scraps before stepping or sitting anywhere. Or, better, just assume there will be food scraps and don’t wear anything too nice…I won’t be. 

3. Yes, that is cat poo in the downstairs toilet. Yes, the hairdryer’s living in the kitchen right now. No, I don’t know how long that rice cake has been stuck to my phonecase. Yes, those wet paw prints consist of cat pee. No, I haven’t remembered to brush my teeth. Any other questions?!

4. Don’t touch the rug. Just don’t. I’d like to say it’s a long story but it’s not; it’s a short and gross story. 

5. Avert your eyes from the clothes airer – ugly nursing bras and enormous knickers will be there in force and you can’t unsee that.

6. For the love of god, don’t walk into the kitchen without bracing yourself. Consider the horror of the main living space then multiply that by the fact that the kitchen is further away, has a door, and is where the bin lives. Say no more. 

I hope this brief list of warnings is helpful to anyone brave enough to enter my home. I’d like to say it will be better when the baby’s older or when the cats are dead but let’s face it: the baby’s only going to get messier and the cats are still depressingly young. Sorry, and good luck to all. You are honestly extremely welcome, but as the saying goes, take us as you find us – and you will find us covered in food and animal hair…at best. For the sake of full disclosure I should add that sometimes I forget to apply deodorant. See you soon guys!!!

xXx

Hotel California (well…Warwick)

Travelling with a baby can sound like a daunting prospect. I was recently chatting to a friend who revealed that she went travelling in East Asia when her firstborn was just a babe, and I am definitely not intrepid enough to do the same!

We’ve recently come back from a weekend trip to Warwick, and back in May we spent a week at Woburn Centerparcs… that is about as adventurous as I can manage and it has been a real eye-opener!

There follows a list of observations and tips for travelling avec baby (mainly based upon a popular budget hotel chain!) that should probably NOT be considered sufficient advice to undertake a world tour…

  1. Fellow hotel diners will not want to sit near you and your offspring. I don’t know what it was about the cackling one-year-old, screeching nine-month-old, puree/banana/sausage missiles and two harrassed mothers that caused those waiting to be seated to indicate the tables farthest from us…20160610_190549
  2. Aforementioned toddler, baby and two mothers will NOT sleep well sharing a family room. Babies find each other hilarious, particularly at bedtime. Great to be able to enjoy a shower while Auntie monitors the child though…
  3. Try to choose a hotel with a nice walking area outside, so that when your baby can’t sleep and a 3am stroll is required, you don’t have to endlessly circle an IBM carpark in your PJs and mum bun plus vertical fringe. Met a friendly security guard but can’t say I was dressed for the occasion.
  4. Be prepared to direct your problem solving talents at managing a dazzling array of high chairs. What with the ferry, service station, hotel and wedding venue, I now feel like I can navigate any combination of folding plastic legs, safety straps and tray attachments.
  5. Breastfeeding in a carpark is as glamourous as it sounds.
  6. Lightweight buggy is a MUST! It makes quick strolls so much easier and actually our boy seems to nap better in our Mamas and Papas stroller than he ever did in the Joie pram. Our buggy is fully reclinable, quick to open and close and very compact. I found I could push baby round the wedding venue while he snoozed without feeling too conspicuous, whereas a big pram contraption would have made me self-conscious.
  7. Babies don’t like lifejackets. They also don’t appreciate pedaloes. They are ungrateful little sods.                           20160516_114235
  8. Whatever “plan” you think you have for your day, particularly in terms of food, timings and sleep…forget it, fool. Don’t you know better by now?!

 

These are the main lessons learnt from our brief forays into the wilds of ‘The Mainland’ (as Islanders call the England that lies over the Solent) this summer. Have you travelled with a baby or toddler in tow? Dare I ask, how was it? I think it’s a personality thing… Let me know your travel tips!

xXx

 

The EU Hokey-Cokey

The big question on the 23rd June will be whether the UK stays in the European Union or breaks away. There has been a lot of debate (intelligent and otherwise) among both official sources and online disputants. I recently read that many Brits stated that they would be voting out of Europe on the basis that everyone they knew was doing the same. This is at once horrific (is this any way to make a decision?!) and exciting, as it means that speaking up about your vote CAN influence others in a positive way. Hence my post today. I in no way intend to preach; I simply hope that sharing my thoughts might support or encourage someone else to think about this subject and look into making an informed decision.

DISCLAIMER: I know that the EU referendum isn’t at first glance related to parenting, but in fact it is all about the future and so I can’t think of anything more relevant to my child’s life right now. The decision that adults make on the 23rd June will have a huge impact one way or the other on the lives of our children and future generations.

Let’s get this out of the way: I will be voting to remain in the EU. Feel free to disagree with me – that’s the joy of democracy!

Now, I admit I don’t like the way Britain was sneaked into the EU under the guise of joining the EEC of the time (European Economic Community). My feeling is that we joined a common market and before we knew it we were in over our heads. I think that transition was badly handled, as it left many Britons feeling that way, most of whom will be voting to leave Europe next week.

However.

Being part of Europe offers us inordinately more than it demands. Yes, we contribute financially, but we are all adults and as such we understand that a) laws, parliaments and charitable organisations require funding and b) as a relatively wealthy European country we should of course make proportionately more signifcant contributions than others. Do not be put off by statistics about how much we contribute – remember we receive funding back too!

Here is a summary of my reasons for remaining in Europe:

  1. Trade. We benefit hugely from trade deals with the rest of the EU, and the US and EU are currently negotiating the world’s largest free trade area (ref: BBC) – which I want us to be part of, not outside!
  2. Culture. I love the rich diversity of European cultures, gathered together under one name but able to share and explore each other’s cultural heritage in friendly union.
  3. Investment. I’m no Martin Lewis, but I understand that staying in Europe is a safer option in terms of investment. Leaving is a big unknown, with potential for crashes and panic. Apologies to economists, I know that is hugely simplistic but it’s my best understanding.
  4. Company. Who is supporting ‘Brexit’ and who is campaigning to Remain? Whose company would you rather be in?! All world leaders apart from Trump and Putin want us to stay; all former UK PMs say stay, whereas the leaders of UKIP, BNP, EDL and Britain First want us to leave; a ton of significant environmentalists, human rights activists and scientists want us to stay; important economists like the Director of World Trade Organisation and the Governor of the Bank of England are voting to stay…if you’re not sure and you need encouragement, look at those names! Much more detailed lists can be found with a quick google.
  5. Immigration. Due to the unlimited nature of inter-European immigration, Britain has experienced an influx of immigraton (ref: The Week). That’s fine by me; the only European (and non-European for that matter) immigrants I ever come into contact with are contributing hugely to our economy and society by working hard. I know that’s not true of all immigrants, but neither is it true of all British people! To claim Job Seeker’s Allowance an immigrant would have to prove they were actively seeking work – just like any British claimant. And for the record, it’s impossible to ‘steal’ jobs – the employer chooses who to employ and at what rate, not the employee!
  6. Worker rights. Since the 1970s, Europe has brought us huge advances in worker rights, such as paid annual leave, maternity pay, equal pay for women, various anti-discrimination regulations, and rules about maximum hours and minimum breaks.
  7. Travel. It’s currently easy to travel between European countries, and we enjoy access to emergency healthcare anywhere in the EU.
  8. Consumer protection. A dull one, but important. Thanks to EU membership we have certain rights regarding guarantees and roaming charge ceilings, for example.
  9. Crime control. Cross-country communication (that our EU membership facilitates) allows crime fighting organisations to cooperate and fight human trafficking, drug dealing, terrorism and paedophilia more efficiently. The less barriers between the police forces of different countries, the better.
  10. Environment. What could be more important than the world and creatures around us? Staying in Europe is recommended by the Green Party, the RSPB and the WWF among others.

Add to this the huge amount of charities and charitable projects funded by the EU, the 3.5 million British jobs directly linked to membership of the EU (1 in 10 British jobs, ref: Pro Europa), the Erasmus student exchange scheme, and research funding, and it’s an easy decision for me!

I hope this post has brought to light a few aspects of the EU debate, and whether you agree with my final outcome or not, we should all make as informed a decision as possible. It’s so exciting to be part of a huge decision like this! Enjoy exercising your right to vote on 23rd June, in whichever box you decide to make your mark!

xXx

Hi Ho, Hi Ho…

Well, in the last few weeks I have officially returned, part-time, to work. For a few hours, a couple of days a week, I hang my ‘mum’ hat on the peg and limber up my teacher face.

I wondered how I should arrange my return to work, and spent a long time working out who would be free to have the baby, how many days I could afford to work and what the resulting impact would be on home life. A five day week (pre-pregnancy) would normally have been 50-60 hours of teaching, planning, admin, marking, assessing and making resources. It was hard to decide on a balance where enough money would be coming in but I wouldn’t be spending all my evenings and weekends working like before. Why bother having a family if we couldn’t spend time together? But why add to the stress of daily life by cutting the finances too tightly? It was a tough decision, as it is for so many primary carers who work outside the home. Different set-ups will work for different families, but for these few weeks until the summer holidays begin, I am working two days a week as a substitute for my colleagues, then in September I have a three day job-share arranged.

Lots of people have kindly asked after my return to work. They look, with concern, deep into my eyes and ask, “How’s it been?” I can honestly say that I’ve loved going back. However, that is because I am A) working part time and B) handing my son over to family while I work. I feel amazingly lucky to be in this situation, as working is just another example of how mums (in particular) get pulled in so many different directions. My amazing family have stepped up and offered childcare on the days I work, which is a huge relief to me and I am very grateful.

I recently read an article about the demands of parenting that described how being a mother is a giving, nurturing role, and that – just like a bank account – if you make too many withdrawals you’ll end up bankrupt. This is an amazing analogy for me. Mothering requires you to give, give, give, and then give some more. Your time, your body, your energy, your patience, your sleep, even the food off your wretched dinner plate! And for me, being away from my gorgeous boy for a few hours, a couple of times a week allows me to recharge. This is strange, because work is also demanding – especially work like mine that involves dealing with people. Especially small, enquiring, energetic people. But because the demands are different, I find it an important opportunity to give my mothering role a break. To continue to bank analogy: to allow my bank account to refill so I have more to give my son when I’m with him.

I like talking to my colleagues, I enjoy being in a professional environment, I like being the knowledgeable one rather than clueless guesswork of parenting, I enjoy, let’s be honest, the control. Parenting, for me in these early days, so often feels like you’re just rolling with the punches again and again. Baby throws something at you (sometimes literally) and you do your best to recover whilst inflicting minimal accidental psychological and physical damage to your offspring. So, at work, where I know (more or less!) what I’m doing and can (more or less!) control procedures and outcomes, I feel that I am succeeding at something rather than just surviving.

It will be interesting to see how things change in September, when I take back on the responsibilities of having my own class. Although supply work is demanding in its own way, it does free you from jobs like report-writing, parent meetings, ongoing discipline issues, classroom organisation, and more onorous marking and planning. I’ve enjoyed the increased autonomy, decreased scrutiny, and variety that supply teaching provides. Come September, I am once again responsible (jointly with my colleague) for the education, wellbeing and development of 26 young learners. And that’s a huge responsibility indeed. One that I appreciate even more now I’m a parent, as I understand how hard it must be to entrust your little person to a stranger, albeit a professional one, five days a week.

Right now, work is a lovely break from the baby and my time at home with the baby is a break from work. I am fortunate that I love my job and I’m in a position to work part-time, but it is hard work and ultimately my child now comes first.

How have you found returning to work after having a baby? What arrangements worked for you? Is there anything you would do differently in hindsight?

xXx