Archive for July, 2010

Pray silence

Leila is not a big napper. She prefers a 40 minute cat nap to the mythical 2 hour snoozathon I keep hearing she “should” be having (oh, that “should”. How easy a new mother’s life would be without that “should” ringing in her ears). Really, do some babies do this? And if so, what on earth do you do with all the sweet, sweet time? Dip it in chocolate and swallow it whole, I can only imagine.

My mission last week- and it was successful, thanks to the Baby Whisperer- was to get her to nap in her cot. First time took 40 minutes. Today it took 10 seconds.  TEN SECONDS. Booyah! But I haven’t the heart to try to extend her naps at the moment.  Before I realised she “should” be sleeping for longer it never bothered me anyway. And I am grateful for my 40 minute chunks of  relaxing me time opportunities to wash myself and/or the house.  But the babe, she is very easily woken whether snuggled up in her cot or out on the razzle in her pram. And for this reason I today found myself cursing:

The postman (for making the letterbox snap)

Local takeaways (for same reason)

Vehicles with diesel engines

Vehicles with two-stroke enginees

Vehicles starting, accelerating or otherwise making any noise

Manchester Airport

Children playing in the park (how VERY dare they?)

Children talking in a shop

Neighbours shouting at their children

Neighbours closing their front doors

Just, neighbours. Do they have to live so close?

Myself for coughing

Myself for walking up the stairs

(Mind you, the only one of these hazards which actually woke her up was the children playing in the park- specifically a teenage boy with an extremely unbroken voice, squealing “NO GOAL! NO GOAL!”)

In short, the solution is for the world and everything in it to cease making noise whenever my baby is napping. It’s only for 40 minutes at a time, after all. Not too much to ask, surely?

The lost ones

Some friends of ours are celebrating the birth of their daughter this week- they’re dizzy with happiness, with an extra cherry on top because their baby came after years of trying and a cycle of IVF.

Some other friends of ours are left with the grey blankness of a lost pregnancy. She was 11 weeks, just nearing the point where you can start to exhale slowly (start, but never stop, not once the baby is born, and not ever). G sent our consolations, and told them- we lost our first.

At the time it didn’t feel like that, “our first”- though it does more so, now we have Leila. Though we had just started trying, I didn’t know I was pregnant- for reasons too long-winded, medical and personal to explain. I’m certain it would have been more traumatic if we had built hope and excitement upon the new pregnancy. But still, when it happened two years ago last week, it was unpleasant, gruelling and left me feeling as though the colour had drained out of me along with the life that had been taking form. I wasn’t mourning as such, this wasn’t what I would call grief. But it made my life flat. It clouded over the bright sky of our future.

It happens to so many women (and to their men, too). Perhaps it’s for this reason that miscarriage isn’t really talked about, or the pain of it acknowledged. Something to elicit nothing more than a sympathetic grimace from many people- but thankfully not from the kindly work colleague who I went to when the GP gave me the news over the phone as I sat in an empty office. She bundled me into the disabled loo and let me hang round her neck, until I mumbled snottily “it smells bad in here” and we went somewhere a little more welcoming.

It happens to so many women. But that’s always seemed an odd criteria for evaluating how much someone is “allowed” to hurt over something. Cancer happens to so many people; almost everyone (if they are lucky) outlives their grandparents and parents. These things are experienced by countless people. But it doesn’t mean they don’t feel the hurt involved deeply. People are irritated by pain if they feel it’s not justified. They should get over it.

It happens to so many women. But it’s messy, and unsavoury, and sitting in the awful Early Pregnancy Unit waiting room as Jeremy Kyle blares out and other women sit not talking, in various states from sobbing to anxious to ashen, is about as far from the glowing, knowing happiness of a successfully progressing pregnancy as it gets. It’s embarassing. People don’t want to be near to it. They should get over it.

It happens to so many women. But so does birth, and when you’ve lost a pregnancy, the world is suddenly spilling with babies and mothers. You look at them through invisible glass, pressing your face to it. Why can’t I get to the other side? It feels impossible to get over it.

In my experience, I only fully “got over” my miscarriage when I had a baby. Perhaps, for all but the most philosphical and optimistic, it’s the only way. Something so simple, so universal. And yet, as we know, and our friends who have just lost know, and our friends who have just had their baby know, it can feel so impossible, until it suddenly happens, and the sun breaks through.

By The Book

Here’s how it goes. Basically you have a baby, and eventually you take it home from the hospital, and you can’t quite believe they just let you walk out of there with this tiny shrimpy infinitely precious thing, so little that she disappears into her leopard print snowsuit. As you clutch the door handle of the car all the way home, fearful of the maniacs on the road, which every driver suddenly appears to be, you also find yourself checking the mirrors for the Baby Police. They’re bound to be pursuing you, pink/blue light flashing, bellowing through a megaphone “THESE KIDS ARE NOT AUTHORISED TO HAVE A BABY! REPEAT: NOT AUTHORISED!”

You have no idea what to do with the baby. To confuse matters further, she also has no idea how to be a human being. So the three of you muddle through the first few weeks, in a haze of milk, tears (hers because she’s hungry or tired, yours because you’re tired and she’s amazing), wacky nights that are a cross between a fiesta, an SAS training camp and a Tim Burton film, and the snap of a thousand photographs.

There are grannies. Thank goodness there are grannies, because as I mentioned above, you have no idea what to do. The grannies offer advice, warily, politely saying that they don’t want to interfere as you scream back at them “Interfere! For the love of God, please interfere!” Without grannies I’d fear we’d all be putting our newborns to sleep in the bathroom sink wrapped in brown paper, and serving them roast dinners.

Eventually, things settle down. The baby, miraculously, starts to sleep for longer than 90 minutes at a time- though do not rest on your laurels (she mutters darkly) because these things are not necessarily permanent. The dinstinction between awake (smiley, delicious, staring at things) and asleep (peaceful, adorable) becomes more marked. There are naps, and you can have a shower and maybe eat breakfast. You’re coping fine with your partner back at work, and feel fantastic. Then the baby kicks over the house of cards and runs away cackling. This happens every few weeks just as you are feeling super smug about your supreme parenting skills.  But it’s still fantastic.

The crazy anything-goes world of newborn-dom is behind you so you feel you ought to establish grown up things like routines and schedules and good habits. At this point you have a choice. Will you continue to go with the flow? Or will you revert to anally-retentive, list-making, geeky form and apply yourself to the task as eagerly as you did as the slightly odd schoolgirl you once were?

Guess which I have done. I’ve been jotting down Leila’s movements (physical, bowel and otherwise) since birth. The first few days went something like: “Fed all night. Black poo, hurrah! Slept all day. Very cute”. These days I still diligently note down when she feeds and sleeps, with joyful/despairing side notes . I’m note sure exactly why I do this but it’s comforting. When things are tough it helps me to look back at a sidenote reading “best night ever! [smiley face]”.  And it helps me to see what is working, when she’s having a growth spurt, and how things have changed and settled down. And, yes I confess, it helps me to feel in control. Did I ever realise I was such a control freak? I did not.

I still don’t know what I’d do without the grannies and their advice (and Leila is blessed with 2 grannies, 2 step grannies, and 3 great grannies, so there is no shortage!). But it’s also in my nature to turn to books. I took the famous/infamous Gina Ford book out of the library, and may I just say that book is like kryptonite to the slightly-unsure-of-herself new mummy. Though I only flicked through, and kept my eyebrow cocked in cynical fashion throughout, its messages of terror seeped into my brain and weakened my self-belief before I had the chance to cast it into the returns bin like a searing hot coal. You must be awake by 7am. Mother may have a slice of toast at 8am. The baby must nap, FOR NO LONGER THAN 45 MINUTES, at 9am. If you do not do as I say, turn to page 75 to see how wrong things can go. I paraphrase, but I found it quite genuinely chilling.

I am now, since the onset of the recent sleep disturbances, slightly obsessed with The Baby Whisperer and her book, grandly titled “The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems”. Whether she can help with my mummy tummy and meagre bank balance, I haven’t yet discovered. But she offers almost magical, and crucially, kind and non-terrifying, tips for encouraging your baby to nap in their cot and get into a decent routine, but without dictats regarding the eating of toast and illustrations of how your world will crumble if you do not follow her advice. She also addresses the reader as “luv” and “ducky”- which I’m sure is designed to pull in the American readership, high on the fumes of the Mary Poppins English-nanny fantasy, but which I also find strangely reassuring.

They say about parenthood, “nobody gives you a manual”. But in fact, there are about a million manuals out there. The question is, are they worth the paper they’re written on, or just a crutch for slightly neurotic bookworms like me? What do you think? Do you use them? Would you? Should I?

Also, look at my baby:

All shook up

I’ve noticed that I’ve lost my blogging dignity. Almost every post seems to contain some reference to nipples or nethers or some other unseemly part of my being. This is most unlike me. That’s what giving birth does to you, I’m afraid. I can distinctly remember thinking during the last bit of the birth “everyone in this room can see my whole bum”, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. And worse, I didn’t really care (on account of the sizeable head making its way- oh, there I go again).

Perhaps it’s because I feel I’ve lost ownership of my body. Not in a dramatic THE-BABY-IS-A-TRIFFID sort of way. I don’t begrudge Leila the manner of her entrance, or her regular nosebags.  Mi cuerpo es su cuerpo, baby. I say it because my body doesn’t look or feel like it used to. I think the word I would use is ravaged. There, I’ve said it.

There are websites where women post pictures of their post-partum bodies. I think the idea is to make mothers feel better about themselves. I will not be posting a picture here or on any of those sites, because first of all, ew. Why make it easier for the pervs? Secondly, I can’t help but think that the women that do whip out their mummy tummies for such websites might generally fall into two camps: either they’re earthy yoghurt-knitting I-am-mother-hear-me-roar types; otherwise, they are totally skinny and want to show off.

I’m not quite the former, and I’m certainly not the latter. Though I’m technically thinner than I was before Leila- the skinny jeans get ever looser thanks to breastfeeding- weight is not the issue. The thing is, I feel jumbled up. My waist is in a different place. my bum is flatter (?!), my posture has changed. And of course, there is the Mummy Tummy. Therein lies the worst of it.

G says kindly that all of us in our little family have our “Leila-marks”. He banged his head (in excitement, probably) when he was cleaning the car to bring Leila home from hospital, and still bears the scar; Leila has her strawberry (which, can I just say, I no longer give a monkeys about); and I have been attacked by the stretchmarkasaurus, which clawed its way across my lower abdomen despite diligent Bio-Oiling. Ruddy Bio Oil, bah, what a waste of money. I try to look at them lovingly as Leila-marks. But it’s difficult.

And I suppose I knew that, having been stretched to 40 inches plus, my abs would not immediately regain their former firmness, or my stomach its normal shape. But I didn’t quite figure that my tummy would end up looking like, well, exactly  like it has recently contained a 7lb baby plus trimmings.

I can’t quite see how I am going to snap it all back into shape, and I am at a total loss as to how celebs do it.

Quite conveniently, this is all sort of a moot point at the moment. My iron levels are still pretty low, or so it feels, so beyond my daily hikes with the pram (so hey! My legs are fairly toned- small blessings, and all), strenuous exercise is out of the question. And the breastfeeding diet is not just enjoyable but also necessary- so no cutting back on calories for me. In fact, have decided that the only thing to do is to become a wet nurse and lactate for the rest of my life, to enable me to keep mainlining cake in this fashion. Ergo, the huge challenge of getting back in shape lies somewhere in the not-too-distant future and not, thankfully, in the here and now.

All of this doesn’t so much upset me as perplex me. I certainly don’t feel that, as a mother, I’ve lost my identity. In fact I feel more myself than ever before.  I just don’t look it.

Still Hard Work, Still Wonderful

Post Natal Depression was a concern of mine, pre-Leila. I felt I’d be susceptible to it thanks to my past form, and the sadness of the loss of my sister, that was bound to stain the happy experience of having a baby.

But in fact (as you may have gathered) I’ve felt so on top of the world that I’ve wondered if there’s another sort of PND – Post Natal Delirium. Some days I feel the pram, the baby and I are floating rather than plodding along the streets of Manchester, and I almost expect to see a menagerie of cartoon bluebirds and woodlands animals circling us.

The sadness is there, of course- and that’s another blog post. But I’ve found that the heart grows to accomodate breathtaking joy alongside breathtaking sorrow. Seems I spend much of my time breathless these days.

When Leila was tiny I wrote that it was hard work but wonderful, then a few posts later was to be found flinging my metaphorical hat in the air and clicking my postpartum heels (taking care to watch that pelvic floor) at the discovery that it gets easier. So so much easier. But that’s not the whole story, of course. Five months into our extended babymoon,  it’s not all somersaulting heartflips and woozy sighs. Some if it is still a slog. A fun slog. Like a marathon, perhaps.

A friend- another new mum- wrote to us when Leila was born. With the uphill grind of the first few weeks fresh in her mind, she assured us that “even the hardest days have magic moments”. This is true.  But it also works the other way round: even the most magical days have hard moments.  Hard because a baby has no understanding that you’re trying to take a shower, that you were just about to eat your lunch, that if she doesn’t nap now she’ll be burrowing her tiny fists into her eye sockets hours before bedtime. Because leaving the house takes five times as long. Because just when you think you’ve got it made, a curveball flies out of nowhere: she won’t feed properly, she turns over in her sleep and can’t turn back, the blasted four month sleep regression hits. You’re enjoying a relaxing evening when the baby-who-never-wakes-in-the-evening, well, wakes in the evening (this just happened, moments ago). 3am starts to feel like a time of night you’d rather not be familiar with on such a regular basis. You realise you haven’t been alone, or kept your bosoms in your bra, for longer than a few hours since February.

Leila (who now, following a lovely ceremony this weekend,  has a Buddhist name- the very apt Punyabha, meaning “Light of Blessings”) is the smiliest, jolliest little beast I can imagine. She’s one of those “easy babies”. But even the easiest babies have their hard moments. And strange to tell, unlike every other hard thing I can think of, I don’t mind these moments a jot. Because the next minute this will happen, and the bluebirds circle my head once again: