Archive for the 'The Bean' Category

Letter to Leila: 8 months and change

Dear Leila,

The time has long sinced passed when I could count your age in weeks. In fact I struggle to keep a handle on your age in months these days, and have done ever since you passed around 5 and a half months. At that point it felt we were slowly approaching, out of breath and panting, the finish line of the first phase: waiting for you to move into your own room, waiting to start feeding you solid foods, waiting for the day when you wouldn’t need a breastfeed every four hours, 24/7. At this point I met up with friends whose babies are six or seven weeks older than you, and felt a huge void between us. I couldn’t see that I could ever get my life, my body back to the extent that they had.

Happily, by around 7 months we had crossed that void (well, I grubbed around at the bottom of it for a while, but let’s not dwell on that), and suddenly you were, well, a proper person. Not that you weren’t humanoid before, my darling.  You’ve been Miss Personality since the day you were born. But there is something creaturish about a tiny baby. Now you’re sturdy, and on the move, and picking up skills in your own determined, not too hurried, practice-makes-perfect way.

But though you’re a steady little bean, the days are speeding by at a pace that makes me dizzy, all the quicker because I know these unbroken weeks together are limited, and soon I’ll be back at work. A few times a day I find myself clutching you, caught in the jaws of a most almighty gush of love and trepidation and not-wanting-to-let-go. It’s a good thing you’re not especially interested in cuddling me back, otherwise we’d be there all day. It’s not that you mind being held, it’s just that there’s always something more interesting to do/pull/grab/bite. Yesterday I thought you were staring deep into my eyes as I gazed at you in awe. What a precious, deep moment we are sharing, I thought. Turns out, you weren’t so much gazing into my eyes, as sizing up my eyeballs, as before I knew it your finger and thumb were in my eye socket attempting to grasp my eye in a pincer grip (pincing is your new thing- indeed, who would eat puree from a spoon, when one can attempt to pick up tiny smears of it from the table with one’s finger and thumb?).

What you withhold in cuddles, you make up for with kisses- an exaggerated open-mouthed MWAH! on my face, sometimes with added teeth (ouch). You’ve picked this up by way of your favourite new activity: copying. When we laugh, you fake-laugh in response- HA! HA!- and this can go on for several minutes, us descending into real laughter as your fake guffaws become hammier and hammier. When we cough, you emit a fake cough, and for some reason you find this hilarious. When other babies cry, you copy them, which is a bit embarassing actually, dearest.

It’s not just you that has changed and moved on. I do indeed feel as though I have more of myself to myself these days. You sleep all night (but really, 5.30am is NOT THE MORNING. K?), you feed a mere four times a day, you’re generally more self-contained. As a result, my mind feels less fogged and body a little more spry (though not totally spry because again, 5.30am? Not cool).

But the truth is, I’ll never really get my life back, my body back. Not just because an 8pm bedtime now seems perfectly reasonable, if not decadent. Not just because my abs are shot and my bra size has seen more ups and downs than the 100 Share Index. But because you’ve got my life, and you’ve got my heart. You hold them in your pincer grip, my love, and it’s terrifying and exhilerating and wonderful. Just keep them safe, OK?

Love,

Mummy xx

To sleep, perchance to wean

Heavens, it’s been a while. Sorry for the very long absence. Was feeling a little bit bleurgh and argh, on account of hormones and tiredness, and have generally been absorbed in the business of a life which can swerve from sheer frustration to utter elation in the space of an hour.

Now, I have something to say about sleep. And I will preface it by saying that we have recently  undergone a little bit of night weaning in this house, after I decided that Little Miss Stuffyerface no longer needed a night feed on top of the huge troughs of solids and regular milk feeds she piggles her way through daily.

It was a roaring success actually (she says, damning herself to 100 nights of sleep deprived torture with one foolish sentence), and did indeed take two nights as promised by many people whom I did not believe. She now has a cold and things have gone a bit haywire, but, illness notwithstanding, most nights she has slept through (though unfortunately is now quite sure that 5.30am is the perfect time to start one’s day). This is good. I am pleased.

But. BUT. I am pleased Leila has slept through (will not say “is sleeping through”, I do not play that fast and loose with fate) because it makes my life easier, I am less tired, and I do not have to sit in the dark with chilly feet feeding a large baby who does not need the calories at 3.30am.

I am not pleased she has slept through because it makes her a better baby, a good baby, an angel baby, a perfect baby, or any other kind of superior baby because of her sleeping habits.  It also does not make us better parents.

There’s a pernicious, spoken and unspoken, attitude that a baby who sleeps through the night is the pinnacle of parenting and a mark of an excellent baby.  And the earlier this happens the better the baby/parent is. How many times have I heard a smug parent inform me that “he’s such a good boy” because their son sleeps through, or that their daughter is “a little angel” because she does. And what they may as well add is that they, the parents, are also fabulous for either a) spawning a child who naturally sleeps through or b) parenting their child so very perfectly that they sleep through.

When your baby isn’t sleeping through, this sort of makes you feel like crap. If those babies are so great thanks to their snoozing habits, then what does that make your baby? A bad baby? A devil? I mean I’m taking it to extremes here, and I’m sure people don’t mean to imply that, but sleep deprivation can make a person a little sensitive, and, well, the implication is there, if not intentionally.

I got so hung up about this- not so much about the lack of sleep itself as about this obsession with mastering your baby’s sleep and thus producing a “perfect” sleeping “angel”, and the impression that, at 5 or 6 or 7 months old, Leila ought to be sleeping 12 hours a night and that I was some kind of a mug or a failure for not bringing about this glorious possibility- that I started to feel seriously down. I even went to see my GP, and though she started the conversation with talk of postnatal depression, she ended it by saying “you’re not depressed, you’ve been listening to people and books too much. You’re doing a good job. Sod them”.

If convenience is your measure of a good baby, then yes, babies that sleep through are extremely good. But if that’s not your prime measure of how much your baby rocks, I call nonsense. Imagine labelling an adult “good” for their ability to lie still with their eyes close for hours at a time.  Babies wake up in the night, they’re famous for it. And then some stop waking up, some carry on, and some need a little nudge in order to sleep for longer.  And yet for many parents it seems to be the prime focus from the minute their babies are born: for them to sleep and for mum and dad to boast about it loudly. I’ve even heard about some parents who sprinkle cold water on their newborn’s face to wake it up in order to follow the routine dictated by, ahem,  a certain book.

Some people replace the words “good” or “perfect” with the word “contented” when describing their baby-who-sleeps-through. Ie “he’s such a contented little soul, he has always slept through”. This is a code word for “good” or “perfect” that makes them sound less like braggarts. This also makes other parents feel like crap, because it implies that their baby who doesn’t sleep so well is not contented.  I call nonsense on this too. Leila is contented. She’s so contented, in fact, that sometimes I wonder what she’s been smoking, and whether she’s left any for me. That’s not a boast, it’s just who she is, and by gum are we grateful for this. But she’s contented with or without the fabled full night of uninterrupted slumber.

I’ve looked at sleep from both sides now (having it, and not having it), and while I know- believe me I know- how sleep or lack of it can effect your mood and life in general, let’s stop pretending that how a baby sleeps is a measure of how good, or not, they are. They don’t know how to be good or bad, in fact they have no concept of these things, or indeed of anything. They don’t know what their hand is, let alone what “good” is or how to be “good” by not waking up at night. And this, the fact that they are so delightfully in the dark about pretty much everything, is one of the many things that makes them lovely.

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?

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:

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.