Category Archives: breastfeeding

The journey to innocence

Babies are fascinating. They’re such creatures of pure, unfiltered instinct. There is nothing remotely deceptive about them. They aren’t even particularly innocent, not in the same sense that an older child is. My four-year-old believes in fairies and unicorns and magic. My four-month-old will give the same baleful stare to the garden centre Santa as she gives to most objects, furry creatures and toys crossing her line of vision, no matter how eagerly they are shoved into her face proffered. The four-year-old will give us increasingly rambling, far-fetched explanations as to why she needs two puddings despite not having finished her main dinner. The four-month-old will desperately mouth anything that comes into contact with her face. It’s a crude analogy and I apologise for it, but sometimes she really does remind me of the walkers from The Walking Dead. She responds to the purest, basest instinct to feed. We even call babies’ mealtimes “giving them a feed,” like we’re dehumanising what they’re doing because it’s so unlike what it becomes – three solid meals defined by the time of day. Babies don’t eat when they’re not hungry. They don’t graze or snack. They take in exactly what their body needs when they need it. They feed. Like animals. Like zombies.

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I’m sorry, is this not a boob?

When my eldest was a baby I remember being puzzled by this sense that she didn’t seem to have this innate innocence that little children are supposed to have. I now realise that it’s because this comes later, with the rudimentary understanding of the world that toddlers develop. Babies are only innocent in the very simplest sense of the word. Nothing much has happened to them yet. They don’t know how to be naughty or manipulative or deceitful. They also don’t know how to take you at your word when you tell them that magic is real. You look at their eyes and you find yourself wondering: what do you really know? What will you lose, as you grow? When will she realise that my bare arm isn’t food, though it’s warm and made of flesh? When will she realise that people still exist even though she can’t see them? When will she bring a toy to her mouth and not suckle?

You forget how fast they grow. The four-year-old comes out with new phrases perhaps once or twice a week and you think, “Wow, where did that level of comprehension come from? How did you piece together that logic without anyone showing you the map?” But the four-month-old changes almost daily. She studies your face and waits for you to smile before she does. Everything is a new challenge to study, from a fallen leaf to the route out of the dreaded car seat, not to mention those puzzling-but-awfully-tasty starfish things at the ends of her arms. She arches and levers her body until it moves, rolling the world into something new all over again. She hears your praise and files it away. This is a good thing. I will do this again. You put her into her cot and make it dark and she remembers that this means sleep. She wakes up alone and cries. You appear and she grins because it’s you, and you exist.

The love is the purest it will ever be. She loves absolutely and unconditionally because you keep her alive; but she also needs you absolutely and unconditionally to keep her alive. When your body is broken and your head is pounding she needs you. When you haven’t slept and your brain feels like something has crawled into your ear, curled up somewhere around your thinking parts and died, she needs you. She doesn’t care about the funny or the clever things you say. She doesn’t think you’re pretty. She doesn’t think you need a break. She doesn’t care about your great personality or that you lost 2lbs this week. She just needs you.

No one will ever need you so much as your babies. No one will ever love you quite the same way. And no one will ever be quite so fascinating.

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Mum of MUCUS (with the mildly helpful gadgets)

Life as a parent is all about tackling novel challenges, and last week I got to experience being a mum of Multiple Unhappy Children Unleashing Snot (or MUCUS, if you will) for the very first time. It all began when summer finally ended (yes!), Lara went back to pre-school (YES!) and promptly came home with the start-of-term lurgy (NOOOOO!) All I can say is that at least this illness didn’t involve the gastrointestinal bodily fluids of last term’s ailment. No, as colds go this one was mild, her temperature never got past the warmer side of 37.5 and, aside from an irritatingly persistent mental block against the act of blowing one’s nose, our pre-schooler emerged unscathed a few days later.

Gary didn’t catch it. I didn’t catch it. I thought, with the naïvety of only ever having cared for one small person at a time, that my super-fat breastmilk (not to toot my own horn but the child could smuggle walnuts in those cheeks of hers) would protect Annabelle from catching it. Turns out, that theory only really pans out if the feeder has the cold and the ensuing antibodies, which of course I did not. And, being a mum of the Insta-Facebook-boast generation, I’ve never discouraged those cutesy photo op moments when their heads are smooshed close together and neither one is grimacing. Of course she caught the cold.

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Life’s no fun when your nose is overwhelmed

I knew it was all too good to last. The two hour naps. The newfound ability to sleep for six or even seven hours at a time (not every night, I hasten to add). At first I thought it was a(nother) growth spurt… Then the snot began to flow in entirely disproportionate ratio to the size of the nose producing it. I had forgotten just how pitiful the mewling of a mucus-filled infant lacking the ability to breathe properly could sound. I hate it when I can’t sleep properly because my nose is stuffed up. For a baby who doesn’t yet realise she can actually breathe through her mouth as well the experience must be all kinds of scary new torture. No wonder the poor little scrap woke every hour or so in a panic. And yes, there are the mildly helpful gadgets to offer some relief – the saline drops, the humidifiers, the chest rub, the nose-sucker-outerers*. I say mildly helpful because any small comfort is almost instantly evaporated when your child breathes in, smiles for exactly one second and then sneezes, unleashing a whole new nose-full of misery. Ultimately, as with almost every hurdle one faces with small babies, the only real fix-it is time and patience.

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Yep, the red bit goes in your mouth…

The websites say it can last a week or more. Luckily we only had a handful of bad nights and, though the snot is still far more of a present feature than one would like it to be in one’s household, normal service has resumed and both children seem to be well on their way to recovery now.

That just better not be a tickle I can feel in my throat.

 

 

*What you see here is the NoseFrida, which is not, in fact, a stern respiratory nurse of vague Eastern European descent beaten down by the damn patriarchy but still ruthlessly passionate about extracting mucus from small babies, but a device for clearing tiny nostrils using an entirely disgusting-sounding-but-surprisingly-effectual-and-hygienic method. Google it. If you dare.


The night is dark and full of nappies…

Seven weeks on, and there are so many things I could say about having a second child. I’ve drafted and re-drafted this blog post over the last few weeks and every time it’s run three or four pages long… What is the most important thing to talk about? The difficulties? The exhaustion? The new struggle of getting two little ones out of the door on time in the mornings? The unprecedented joys and crushing lows? It’s all there. It’s all relevant. But, for me, I guess the most significant revelation since the big arrival of number two is how much of the following I didn’t know, realise or had simply just forgotten…

  • Labour fucking hurts. I knew this the first time around. Then when Lara got to about 18 months old those sneaky, broody hormones snuck in and slowly wiped out the memories of the screaming-bad contractions, the long hours of pain so extreme I could not bear to stay still. It wasn’t that bad, I thought, It can’t have been that bad if I’m willing to do it again… Seven and a half weeks ago it occurred to me – with crashing immediacy – just how very much I had forgotten how very bad it had been. And although my labour this time around was a lot less traumatic because it wasn’t so long and there weren’t the complications or interventions of the first time around, it still really fucking hurt.
  • On TV a woman will give birth (after about 13 seconds of pushing and not nearly enough mooing) and out pops a squeaky clean, wide-eyed, cooing six-week-old giant. Real newborns do not look like this. My firstborn looked like a small, red, angry little frog when she was born. My second-born resembled a puce, incandescently furious old man complete with nose furrow and milk spots. I say this with all the love in the world – beauty comes later. Eyelashes form, the eyes open properly and then they start to fill out in all their cute, squishy glory. It’s all a work in process…
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    Five minutes old and raging…

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    By day six things had improved significantly…

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    By week three we had reached cute town

  • Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. With baby one we settled into a fairly consistent routine of three hourly wakings and feedings from day one. Baby two had her days and nights the wrong way round for at least the first week, meaning she was up sometimes every 40 minutes at night. Some people can function well with as little as three or four hours of fractured sleep at night. I am not one of those people. In my working days I’d be sluggish if I got less than seven. It’s not just a case of being tired; it’s feeling that soul-sapping exhaustion that sinks through your limbs and into your core, making everything so heavy, so dull and sad that you struggle to see the good bits of the day. Fortunately, with number two I knew – know – it won’t last for long in the grand scheme of things. Just knowing that makes all the difference.
  • Having 13 months of breastfeeding experience does not a breeze feeding number two make. Sure, she got the hang of it faster than Lara did – 10 minutes after birth as opposed to two days – but the exhaustion of trying to feed any which way I could in the first few nights lead to a poor latch, which resulted in a cracked nipple. A graze on one of the body’s most sensitive parts which was then relentlessly agitated by a baby’s mouth every hour or so did not make for a quick, easy healing process. But, barring that little complication, breastfeeding has been easier, on the whole, this time around. There haven’t been any bruises or stretch-marks. Expressing is easier. Supply is better. The process is altogether much quicker far earlier on. It’s like my boobs have settled, with not so much joy as resignation, back into their former roles.

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    No one will ever stare at your boobs with the same intense adoration as a breastfeeding infant. The feeling will not be reciprocated.

  • Small babies are not always consistent. Some nights she will sleep up to 6 hours in one go and not need a nappy change at all. Other nights we’re up every 2-3, nappy bulging, smells emanating. It’s a nocturnal, foul-smelling, eye-rubbing adventure.
  • The jiggly-shuffle. It still works on the evening grumps, although now it hurts my back. This baby is slightly larger than my last one, I’m *sure* that’s all it is.
  • Times can be dark. There are some days – especially in the first week – when people say “congratulations” and a part of you thinks “why?” On the flip-side, there are other days when you want to stop life just as it is because you can’t imagine it getting any better. The lows may be unprecedented, but so are the joys. Watching my firstborn flourish into her new role as big sister. Receiving those first gummy smiles. Having my nappy changing technique described as “like those pitstop trucks in Cars.
    It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s flabby. It’s new. It’s unprecedented, in wonderful ways. It’s Annabelle. She’s here.

     

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    I woke up FIVE times last night!


Shout out to my eggs…

Autumn 2016

The bigger house has been bought. The wedding has happened. The DVLA has been updated. We’ve been ready for, well, years. Let’s get on with it…

A few weeks later the boobs feel a bit off, the gin tastes a bit wrong, and sure enough, the second line on the fragrant stick makes a faint but unmistakable appearance. The Ragu is pregnant. The womble occupied. A bump is once more hitting the road of our lives – and my midriff – and it is time, sadly, to put. the. wine. down.

We were extremely lucky. But there’s always more to the story, and for us, this one began long before the day a week before the wedding when I put my half-finished packet of pills away for good.

Spring 2015

Lara is all cute squishy cuddles* between 12 and 18 months, tottering around but still light enough to pick up without needing to conjure memories of PE teacher instruction first (“lift with your legs, not your back, Sarah**!”), sleeping through the night, no longer breastfeeding, still napping for a good two to three hours during the day. I was writing novels, blogging semi-regularly like a boss, watching daytime TV, taking the delightful offspring for buggy walks in the woods, having play dates… Life was great. Why wouldn’t we want more of it?

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Then Gary proposed. We spent the next 24 hours discussing wedding plans, honeymoon destinations, plotting really-funny-actually-and-not-at-all-geeky-and-lame ways to tell our friends and family, and somewhere between the first and second bottles of prosecco, we realised that none of these plans fitted the next couple of years with a new baby. I didn’t want to be a pregnant bride. I wanted to get drunk, dammit, and I wanted to go on a honeymoon that wasn’t governed by leaking boobs, strict bedtimes, wailing infants and toddler-approved activities. I remembered what it was like when Lara was first born. I didn’t want to have to juggle caring for a newborn and a toddler with, well, anything, let alone planning a wedding. So we decided to wait. It was a sensible decision and, this side of what turned out not only to be a summer of wedding planning but also house moving, I can safely say it was 100% the right one. But I can’t say it didn’t sting, just a little bit. I still had this wanting feeling. It didn’t just go away because I told it no. People around me got pregnant and I swallowed the jealousy. The months began to pass. The babies came and grew. The wedding was finally booked for the following year. Life continued to tick on by. The wanting yawned and poked. I ignored it.

Winter 2016/17

So you see, it wasn’t really as simple as it first sounds. This child might not have been tried for for very long, but it’s been dreamed about for years. And it’s never as simple as wanting to have a baby = positive test = all good, lovely and fine for the next nine months. Pregnancy is bloody terrifying. There are so, so many things that can go wrong. The first 12 weeks are mostly spent terrified of spotting blood everytime*** you go to the toilet, analysing every twitch and twinge south of the equator, not to mention battling sporadic moments of nausea and dry heaving your way around the single, plain cracker that you know to be your salvation (even if your stomach does not). On top of all that, your list of people to complain to is annoyingly short because of the high risks, which brings us round full circle to the ever-present anxiety and knicker-checking. Every day is a hard-won battle. But every day also brings a little more light as you inch ever closer to the time when the risks drop and the nausea goes and it is suddenly, miraculously, OK to feel excited because suddenly everything is actually all a little bit more lovely. You know you will probably get there. You know that everything will probably be fine. But you also know that sometimes, it is not.

We were lucky. We made it out of the first trimester, saw our awkwardly-positioned infant cavorting on the ultrasound screen and smiled through the pain of a full bladder and the really-quite-hard pressure placed upon it by the sonographer’s wand thingy as Bubby Number Two refused to reveal its neck measurements… And now, here we are. The grandparents have been informed. My sister has started knitting. The bump is firmly lodged in my midriff. The anxiety is… well, it’s under control. And, yes, things are looking admittedly lovely.

I just wish I hadn’t lost those bloody scan photos.

*spot the rose-tinted mother-to-be conveniently forgetting all the tantrums and poo explosions.

**naturally my crapness at PE lost me the right to be called by my given name for the five years I took the subject

***and, when pregnant, everytime becomes a hell of a lot of times. Something I had forgotten in the interval of four years.


Toddler TV: Bedtime Ally or Root of All Evil?

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To be honest, I never paid much attention to how much TV my baby watched, mainly because she never paid much attention to watching TV. Around the time she started pulling herself up on the TV cabinet and staring wide-eyed at Ant and Dec’s mild innuendos (ok, I’m a Celeb is my one reality TV weakness. That, and Dance Moms. And BGT when it’s on…) I began to wonder if perhaps I should switch off the occasional backdrop of recorded primetime entertainment during playtime. When I read that children under two are recommended not to watch any TV at all because it can impair speech development, I felt downright guilty. (It’s true, though, if you think about it… You’re not doing anything to encourage linguistic prowess when you and your child have both paused, mid block building, to stare slack-jawed at a desperate Z-lister eating kangaroo balls.)

Then we discovered In the Night Garden. Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy, Winky Wanky or whatever his name is, etc, provided a colourful, child-friendly haven of kissing, squeaking, incongruous slow-mo nodding, and a flatulent, inconsistently proportioned zeppelin. Yes, viewed by adult eyes it does make one wonder whether or not one should be on a not-so-natural high for it to make any sense. Or indeed whether its writers have been partaking of such. Yes, like many programmes aimed at young children, it plods along a pace that renders adult viewers quite incapable of watching in its entirety without a sneaky browse of Twitter, Facebook or River Island dot com along the way. But its charming narration by Derek Jacobi provides welcome comfort-food for the ear in a reassuringly old-school, Richard-Attenborough-as-Santa-Claus kind of way. You may, like me, even find yourself chirruping “Isn’t that a pip!” when spotting two aubergines of the exact same size in the aisles of Tesco of a rainy Tuesday morning.

But I think the true brilliance of ITNG and the multi-millions lining the folds of the Tombliboos’ troublesome trousers (no wonder they’re always falling down), is its symbiosis with bedtime routines. We never had a problem with bedtime until fairly recently – even when she was at the three-hourly-feeding stage, I tried to keep up a persistent routine of bath, milk and bed. When she started solids, it was dinner, bath, story, milk and bed – starting at 6pm and rounding up at 7ish. Then we stopped breastfeeding, and suddenly I was finding myself with a surplus half an hour messing up the whole routine. I was putting Lara to bed by 6.30pm, and even earlier on the nights she didn’t have a bath. Not only did the earliness mean she would put up much more of a fuss about going to sleep, she was far more likely to wake up before 6.30am the next morning. Then a friend mentioned her little boy’s fondness for In The Night Garden. Starting at around 6.25pm, it’s perfect for after-dinner viewing when it’s not bath night, and when it is, we come back down afterwards to catch the ending – which always features a song, story and the characters going to bed one by one. This brings us to 6.50pm, Lara is tired enough not to put up a fight as I put her down, and is often fast asleep by the time I’ve come back downstairs.

Sure, it’s irritating. Sure, some evenings I just want to punch Upsy Daisy right in her Daisy Doos. Sure, it may be turning my toddler into a monosyllabic robot whose mind is slowly being warped by weirdly phallic hairstyles, a rock-collecting teletubby with OCD tendencies and flatulent aircraft. But, as I type this at 7.07pm with a glass of Rioja by my side, my knees smarting from another day as my main weight-bearers, the baby sleeping soundly in her cot upstairs, it occurs to me that that is a risk we are just going to have to take.


Ode to my breasts, as we finish breastfeeding

Do you remember the time we gave the postman a fright?
We came to the door without doing our top up quite right…
And the time you sprang a leak in the parents room of John Lewis
Who’d have thought being a foodstuff would do these things to us?
Your modesty (and mine) have been well and truly defamed,
And I’m sorry, but your buoyancy will never be the same.

At the beginning, things certainly did look a bit bleak,
We weren’t sure we would make it past the first week.
But then we all got the hang of this breastfeeding game,
The baby gained pounds, though you felt aflame
With pain and colours vividly purple and red,
And you came to view the baby’s mouth with dread.
But slowly you got used to this strange new violation
(Thanks, in part, to a lanolin cream salvation)

The weeks rolled on and the pain subsided,
Into resigned numbness you happy resided.
The bruises and purple-struck nipples slowly faded
And though we had the odd hiccup when you got blockaded,
Nothing really went wrong once we got used to the sensation
Of needing milking, like cattle, on regular occasion.

Oh breasts, I’ve treated you ways you never dreamed of before,
Exposed you to strangers and grandparents in law.
I’ve even fondled you in public to see which is more full,
And written about you on the internet in rhyme – deplorable!

There isn’t a single word of appropriate ilk
To describe these thirteen months of expressing milk…
Painful, blissful, wonderful, worrisome,
Exhausting, uplifting, irritating – but awesome.
This is the most important job you’ll ever do
Yet at times it was a chore I thought we’d never get through.

But to the ignorant naysayers who say breastfeeding is vile
I feel sorry for you. You will never know that smile
When your baby breaks away to beam up at you above,
Surely there isn’t a more pure expression of love?

But enough of this sap, all I really wanted to say
Was that I’m sorry but glad I can finally put you away.
Not just the baby’s, you’ve also benefitted my health,
A job damn well done, if I do say so myself.

Dear breasts, you can rest now, your work here is done
Well at least [she whispers] till I have the next one…

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Daylight Saving Time f*cked up my life

Since my last moan about the difficulty of reasoning the necessity of naptime with an infant, I’m happy to say that things have been looking up. We are down to just one breastfeed a day – which I know may not seem like much of an achievement, but remember this is the child who would happily refuse all fried, crispy and chocolate-dipped solids in favour of a little boob action – which we do just before she goes to bed. I’ve figured out a new way of getting her to nap without breastfeeding or resorting to her screaming in her cot for hours – I just have to hold her and jiggly-shuffle from one foot to the other while I count to 300 in my head. She’ll usually complain when I put her down, but then she will settle and snooze for, sometimes, up to 2.5 hours at a time. She’s been going down at around 7pm at night and usually wakes around 7.15-7.30am for the day. The last few weeks she’s even made it to the territory of 8-8.30am a couple of times, blessing me with the sweet, almost-forgotten decadence of a lie-in – the likes of which I haven’t experienced since the happy weekday mornings of early maternity leave, kissing Gary off to work before snuggling back down under a floral-smelling sheet with a pillow wedged between my obese pregnant knees.

I should have known it was all too good to last.

On Sunday the clocks went back and the precious hammock cradling our lives in this delicate nirvana of sleep-fruitfulness was abruptly floored by the morbidly obese arse of that cruel concoction called Daylight Saving Time. The same morbidly obese derriere, ironically, which once granted me an extra hour in bed on many a chilly October Monday morning. Who could have known that an hour would change so much? I was expecting the 6am wake up call on Sunday. It wasn’t pleasant but I got on with it, and the flipside was that Lara went down happily for a long morning nap around 9am. That afternoon she refused a second nap. As she had slept for two hours that morning, I wasn’t too surprised – she’s never been a huge fan of the afternoon nap. That night we were all exhausted and, though I did try and keep her up till her normal bedtime, I ended up giving in at around 5.30pm and preparing her dinner half an hour early. I thought I would then draw out her dinner, bath and bedtime routine to try and get as near to 7pm as possible. The minutes ticked on, and before I knew it it was 6.07pm and I was creeping out of her bedroom, nerves shot, mind smooshed by tiredness and hand firmly extended towards the glass of rosé left over from the weekend, fully committed to trying again tomorrow.

On Monday morning (yesterday) we made it to about 6.30am before the screams to get up now, please, Mummy became un-ignorable. After only sleeping an hour in the morning, I was sure she would keel over in grateful oblivion the second I jiggly-shuffled her into her afternoon nap. Nope. I spent no less than three hours in and out of her room trying to weedle her into sleep as she resolutely screamed in my face/ clawed at my chin/ beat up every toy in her cot and then performed bear-acide over the side of the bars. Around 3pm I put her in her pushchair and walked her round the garden. She responded by trying to grab the leaves off the trees, squawking like a banshee every time I tried to rock the buggy in the soothing, repetitive motion that, six months ago, would have rendered her unconscious in seconds, and periodically twisted herself around to peer at me incredulously. In the end I gave up. To her credit, Lara managed to stay up until her 7pm bedtime without too many breakdowns, and I felt sure, by the time I went to bed myself, that Tuesday, at least, would bring a portion of normalcy back to our waking up time. These hopes were duly dashed at approximately 5.35am this morning.

I suppose, when you think in terms of babies’ sleep cycles only being 90 minutes long, you can appreciate how much an extra hour – suddenly given, unasked for and with no warning – might mess with their sleeping pattern. And, I suppose, though there are always bound to be those babies whose parents will smugly admit that the extra hour didn’t bother young Rufus in the slightest, he’s actually sleeping more since the clocks went back, I should have always known that Lara would not be one of those babies. Who wants to nap, after all, when there are stuffed animals to be murdered, kitchen cupboards to disassemble and unattended appliances to mount?

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