Archive for March, 2010

Vanity, Vanity Part Deux: The Mark of Distinction

Leila has developed a strawberry birthmark on her forehead. It’s a few millimetres across, dark red and quite swollen. Not huge or unsightly (and I’m not avoiding posting a pic, I just don’t have a recent one which “shows it off”, so to speak- though you can see it in the smiley pic on my last post), but enough for people to comment on it before they comment on her lovely face, and enough for people to exclaim “oh nooo! What’s happened to her face?”.  Cue some gulping back of tears from mummy.

Though the birthmark might grow more- a thought which I’m trying not to dwell on- it’s fortunate that it’s not next to her eye or mouth as it could affect her vision or feeding. As far as I know it can’t do any harm and doesn’t hurt her at all. There’s a massive chance that the mark will have completely disappeared before she reaches an age when kids are mean- and if it hasn’t, there’s always the option of a fringe (I rocked one myself as a child), or of course teaching her to be proud of all that she is, and about sticks and stones. Though for her sake I don’t want her to have any reason to learn that adage, ever.So why does it bother me?

Part of it is about feeling protective of my little daughter. I want people to notice her beautiful eyes, her peachy cheeks, her overall beauty, not her birthmark. I don’t want them to think she’s “still beautiful despite…”, I want them to think she’s just as beautiful as she ever was, and is. I want them to see what I see.

But there’s more to it than that- feelings which are uncomfortable to confront. I can’t just hide behind feeling upset about it on Leila’s behalf. After all, she doesn’t give a fig about her “beauty mark” as my mum kindly calls it. She’s too busy learning and growing, and simply being a wonderful child, throwing out smiles like some heavenly Milky Bar Kid armed with grins instead of chocolate. She’s healthy and thriving and big, and so fabulous that sometimes I look at her and nearly fall down on the floor.

And she is still, objectively (ha! But it’s true), so beautiful. I really am being quite dramatic about something which is, even cosmetically speaking, not a major thing. But it does make me sad that although she is perfect, there’s something- something obvious and noticeable- that makes her not “Perfect” in the eyes of the world at large and its dictums of beauty. Since she was born I have taken a slightly sheepish pleasure in having a Hallmark baby, not one of those slightly funny looking ones, but the Johnsons-advert type of baby.  Superficial, no? And I still do have that baby, but if I am being entirely honest, I do wish her birthmark wasn’t there on her beautiful little face. And I’m ashamed of that. How could I wish my baby any different? How could I get hung up on something so superficial as this? How could I let this mar, in however minor a way, the unparralleled joy that Leila brings me? It feels very wrong to be imposing- reluctantly, but still- those learned ideas about how people (babies, even!) should look, which have plagued me and almost every other female, onto my daugher at the tender age of six weeks.

I’m doing my best to build a bridge and get over it. And to realise that if a tiny birthmark is all I have to worry about, then I’m even more blessed than I thought.

Vanity, vanity…

It’s safe to say that new motherhood is not a woman’s most glamorous time of life. I always make an effort to get dressed every day and put my warpaint on, even if it’s just to go to a hospital appointment, or round the corner to the shops. But, well,  it’s hard to paint on quite enough make-up to disguise the sleep deprived pallor; plus, quite often my best efforts will be vomited on. The day when she projectile vomited upwards into my face (and open mouth, yum) whilst I was feeding her, was one of Leila’s best attempts at accessorising my costume and make-up choices with her own special touch.

But some days I feel almost like a normal human being. The other day I was delighted to have fitted back into my pre-pregnancy skinny jeans (in fact, they are a little loose, owing to the fact that I was carrying a little extra “padding” when I got pregnant). I put on a new top with diamante buttons at the neckline, adding a ritzy touch to breastfeeding utility chic, and tucked my skinnies into my knee highs to venture into town for lunch with Little L. I felt pretty snazzy, though a little deranged underneath my double layer of slap, thanks to a night that had been somewhat on the extreme side.

One glass of wine in, I made my way to the loo across the bar, sans baby (she was being watched, I assure you, I didn’t just leave her at the table to peruse the menu). Out of the corner of my eye I clocked a couple of men seemed to be, yes, they really were… looking at me. This was an experience I hadn’t had since my baby bump started to show. Obviously I’m a happily attached woman, but everyone enjoys a little appreciation. Oh yeeeah, I thought smugly, perhaps even sashaying a little, mama’s still got it!

Imagine my dismay when washing my hands, when I glanced in the mirror and discovered what the blokes had actually been looking at: a huge, damp dark patch spreading rapidly over one side of my chest. Evidently mama did not have “it”; what she did have was leaky mammaries which paid no heed to being in a fancy bar in town.

Of course, some members of our household don’t need any make-up to look simply delicious…

Blocks

It turns out that babies are time-consuming little creatures. Those mums you see in cafe bars of a lunchtime, in clusters of carseats and buggies and  tiny lolling heads on muslin-strewn shoulders,  they’re not whiling away the leisurely hours of maternity leave, after all. They’re snatching a 90 minute or 2 hour block of time in a day divided into such blocks, never enough of them. This is the block during which they get to wear make-up, and fire a dozen questions  at the others, seeking reassurance that the night feeds and the evening screeching and the nocturnal grunting are all normal, and that others aren’t sailing through it like that seem to be, that it’s just the same for them: hard work but wonderful.

Of course, I knew this would be so on an intellectual level, and was told this, before Leila. But I couldn’t really grasp how it would I transpire to be. My days- on paper, or to critics- might seem mundane. A little chaotic, to an outsider. But in truth they are wonders of modern engineering, each block planned and filled to the maximum. Life feels very full, sometimes too full, albeit with things not traditionally seen as fulfilling, like scrubbing nappies and milking myself like a cow with a rather alarming machine. Even sleeping is performed like a task, in structured chunks of 2 or maybe 3 or- this one time- 4 whole hours (wahoo!).

Which isn’t to say that woe is me. I actually quite enjoy this regimented way of life. When I had days at home before, I used to make lists of things to do, then more often that not sit paralysed wondering where to start and how to get it all done. Now, I’m a machine, people. Between feeding and rocking and singing Downtown at the top of my voice (it’s her favourite song, ironic since she’s only been downtown once, and only made it as far as TX Maxx, and doesn’t know any little places to go to where they never close), when Leila is sleeping, I swing into action, and each task completed feels like a triumph, a step further away from the first couple of weeks when my postpartum life mirrored Leila’s: eat, sleep, cry. Now I feel happy each time I complete a task: getting dressed, making the bed, hanging out the washing, filling in forms, meeting a friend for a cup of tea. And, on occasion, writing a blog post. Though I must tell you that I’m juggling this with eating a bowl of macaroni cheese and pushing Leila’s pram back and forth in slight desperation (please let me just get this one thing done…).

And don’t forget staring at the baby. Time must be devoted to staring at the baby- when she’s awake and staring back beadily as loved-up nonsense-babble spills from our lips, and when she’s asleep and I look at her and my whole being, not just my heart, constricts and expands. Time must be set aside for gushy waves of love.

Eventually I hope to introduce more blocks into my days. Seeing friends more, going out for meals, maybe using my mind a little (fancy that!). But for now, it’s all overwhelming enough that I’m stretched to capacity by the building blocks of my days, and feel a sense of satisfaction when a day passes which hasn’t seen them all come tumbling down amid snotty hormonal tears. Life is full. And babies, turns out they are not just time-consuming. They are consuming, full stop.

Leila By Numbers

Days on the planet: 23

Weight at birth: 7lb 15oz

Weight at 23 days: 9lb 60z

Number of feeds required to achieve said chub: every 2-3 hours omg

Number of breastpads I found in one side of my bra at once: 3

Number of breast pads in other side: zero (so that’s why my vest was soggy)

Number of times I have tried to pick up Leila’s babygro clad foot and put it in my bra, mistaking it for a breast pad: 1

Amount of time spent faffing about with breast pads: too much, evidently

Number of times I check she’s breathing each night: I’ve got it down to 2 or 3

Number of photos taken in 3 weeks 2 days: 600+

Cuteness quotient of said photos and baby therein: Off the scale, my friends