Tuesday, 18 August 2015

How running keeps this mum sane

In a month's time, I'll be taking part in my first half marathon- 2 years to the day since my due date (though the little bugger didn't arrive til 10 days later!).

It's true what they say about motherhood, there are obstacles at every step of the way - highs and lows, ecstasy and despair. Much like a half marathon, I imagine.
In fact, ever since I got into running a year ago, it has become my baby (my other one). When said child is playing up, over-tired, or testing my patience, I can just grab my faithful trainers and sprint off like a retired greyhound (with a responsible adult left in charge, obvs).

I've run through heatwaves and snowstorms, picked up a medal or two, become strangely competitive at ParkRun and use the acronym 'PB' (personal best for those not 'in the know') without cringing.

Family and friends say they hardly recognise me - but I do. This is the girl who loves her own space and cherishes 'me' time. I quickly learnt that as a mum, that's a pretty alien concept, so short of popping off to the spa every weekend, running comes a close second.
I never used to understand it when people talked about thinking things through while they run.
Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell used to run for miles, planning whole political strategies apparently. I don't quite manage that most nights, but a good old jog around the 4-mile block does clear the old cobwebs, sorts through my frustrations from the day and gets my creative juices flowing. I'll often return from a run feeling brighter and lighter. Only thing is, it is fairly addictive (damn you endorphins).

Still, I've not been bitten by the bug so hard that I'd turn down an offer of a night down the pub. That wins every time.

So with my 13-mile (gulp) adventure in Ipswich looming ever closer, I've been studying the route and have been drawing my own parallels with the slog/beauty that is parenthood.
Running up Constitution Hill (twice? really?) equates to the sheer exhaustion and relentless of the lack of sleep in the first year.

The unexpected slight incline up Tuddenham Road- I'm reminded here of the 4/5 month sleep regression. Just when things were beginning to get better.

The flat part through town is around about 15 months when she was pretty chilled out about stuff, able to walk, explore and enjoy life on her own.

Up the bridleway, past the park is the 20-month stage I reckon. Bit of a struggle, with tantrums and stubbornness but enhanced understanding and more words means there's lots of good stuff there too.
Throughout my journey though (the mum one that is), I've been cheered along and metaphorically hydrated by family and friends. And when I finally limp across that finishing line on race day, my biggest fan will be watching me (and hopefully giving me a smile) and it will all be worth it (though a beer or two would be appreciated as well!)

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Me And My Shadow

I've come to realise that my baby and I are pretty similar, which is just as well really, as I don't think I could be around someone else for as long if they weren't on my wavelength.

I'm actually not a massive fan of children per se, so imagine my delight when my one turned out to be pretty cool.

Bias does not come into it. Objectively speaking, she is the best kid in any room and let's face it-it'd be pretty awkward if I didn't like my own child.

We share a lot of interests (people watching, being outside) and we love a lot of the same stuff (presents, baths, attention, cow's milk, cake).

We both get bored easily and love to go out a lot. She's also a chatterbox around people she knows-all gabble though (again, the same), and when I once tried to engage her in some football, she ignored the ball and carried on talking (which reminded of my sixth form days of 'playing' footie when my teacher yelled "Cassidy, stop chatting and get the ball").

It's nice to think I'm probably her best friend right now- though it's not reciprocated in the truest sense of the word-I tend to like more conversation back.

Also our sense of humour differs. She prefers more slapstick stuff (hats falling off heads, hiding in really obvious places etc) whereas mine is more dark. But we are both hard to please. You have to earn our laughter.

I like going to bed at a reasonable time and sleeping past 7am, I enjoy quiet time to myself, and I could quite happily sit and watch hours of Breaking Bad. She-not so much.

But despite these differences, I know that I must treasure this time because right now, I'm her world and she is mine.

Friday, 3 October 2014

A treat for you and baby

All new mums need a bit of TLC and while you may crave time to yourself, it isn’t always possible in those early days. 

Pre-motherhood I loved to indulge in spa treatments- that quiet period of bliss where you can empty your mind and be properly pampered. Once you have a baby, this luxury is elevated to something close to heaven and while it is great if you can get that half an hour away, it is not practical for everyone.

As I browsed online for things to do with the new kid on the block, regretfully discarding special offers for hotel breaks away or day trips to the spa, I stumbled upon a rather unique treatment at SK Clinic in Bury St Edmunds. A massage for both mum and baby. Surely, I thought, this is the best of both worlds?

While you get to lie back and be pampered, your baby also gets their own massage, the known benefits of which include helping with colic, digestion and circulation.

On entering the swish clinic, just next to Angel Hill, a team of friendly staff members greeted me warmly, appropriately cooed over baby and I was immediately put at ease.

As my daughter was at the upper age limit for the treatment (9 months), I was a bit concerned that she wouldn’t sit still for long enough or would be too clingy to me.

However the girls reassured me that if she wasn’t happy during the massage, they could take her out of the room while I could have my treatment in peace.

After derobing, I lay on one bed in the calming candlelit room, while my daughter was on the adjacent one. 

Having just woken up, baby was slightly grizzly and was a little unsettled at first so while my therapist started on me, two other girls (who seemed very comfortable/confident with children) took my daughter out and played with her, managing to pacify her very quickly.

Some 10 minutes later, I heard the door quietly open, followed by whispering and my daughter’s familiar chatter. They placed her on the bed next to me and began giving her legs a gentle massage, which she responded to well - not surprising given the very serene atmosphere of the whole place.

When she was very young I did a few baby massage classes with her, but as she has got older and more active, this practice has fallen by the wayside so it was great to re-introduce and know it still has the same effect.

I enjoyed my massage immensely. The therapist applied exactly the right amount of pressure and the smell of sensual oils filled the room. From my shoulders, down to my back, it was deeply relaxing and I almost forgot where I was – let alone that my daughter was a foot away, also being treated.

The upper age limit is there for a reason as the older the baby is, the less likely he or she is going to want to sit/lie there. However this treatment would definitely suit younger babies.

As assistant spa manager Laura Darragh explained: "Babies thoroughly enjoy a gentle massage, the laying on of hands is very relaxing for them, even therapeutic. The reason is of the five senses, touch is the one that is most developed at birth. Massage can help to ease your baby’s tummy troubles and teething pains, can boost muscle development and soothe them to sleep.

"There are also advantages for mum, just by touching your baby through massage, helps for you to bond with them. If the baby is relaxed then it's highly likely mum will be too."
This 30-minute treatment (costing just £50) is the perfect antidote for new mums who need that break but can't/don't want to be apart from the little 'un. It is only a shame I discovered it so late, because had I known, I would have booked it from the maternity suite!


Friday, 8 August 2014

The Great Boob Debate

I’ve done it in a wood, a cinema, a park, a church (it's alright- the pope said it was allowed), numerous cafes, cars, a doctor's surgery, and a swimming pool reception area. Reactions have been varied but largely minimal compared to what I expected.

I’m talking about breastfeeding of course. And now, after 10 months, the end is in sight.

No more do I have to be concerned with flashing some flesh in someone's face. The bottle has been accepted (during the day anyway), I can drink again without (much) guilt, a bonfire is being prepared for the well-worn nursing bras and all is well in the world.

In the beginning I thought I'd give it a whirl and if it wasn't for me, I wouldn't feel bad about giving up. It hasn't been a stress-free ride, with some bumps along the road that I hadn't anticipated. In those first few days I was close to quitting but I'm proud to have stuck it out and reached my self-imposed goal of 6 months (the old competitive nature kicked in).

However my experience of breastfeeding has opened my eyes (as well as my top) to many varying attitudes. Little did I realise what a divisive and controversial issue it can be here in the western world, where covering up is key. Take Gwen Stefani for example. She posts this picture (below) on Twitter of her feeding her baby while on holiday and everyone goes mental. Has it really got to the stage that we are shocked that celebrities (those uber humans) nurse their babies just like the rest of us? I mean, don't they all have wet nurses for that?

As a society we have a funny old relationship with breastfeeding. On the one hand, medical professionals and NCT warriors are forcing the benefits of 'bfing' down our throats but in the other corner there are regular stories in the press about mums facing adverse reactions for getting them out in public. Take the recent Sports Direct debacle. So incensed were the breastfeeding mafia that one of theirs wasn't allowed to nurse in the store, that nationwide feeding sessions were organised in protest at branches across the country. Bravo I say. Though why anyone would want to go into Sports Direct, let alone feed your child in there is beyond me.

It seems there is not a week that goes by without some story in the media regarding breastfeeding. Outrage over bf selfies (which incidentally don't bother me. I've seen more nipples this year than The Sun's picture editor), or mothers being rebuked for nursing in public. Many people seem to be very uncomfortable with women using their breasticles for the purpose in which they were intended, which is why this tongue-in-cheek song from Australian band Sparrow Folk tickled me. It has since gone viral across the world.

As with everything, there are extremes at both ends of the booby spectrum. There are those that find it 'offensive' that women should use their mammaries as a food source (after all, they are there to make low cut tops look good). And then there's the militant pro-bfs, known as the 'breastapo' who celebrate boob-versaries, insist on feeding their newborn til teenhood and hold cake sales where you can buy specially iced buns (yup, really. See below).

The fact is a lot of unnecessary judgement goes on in both camps. Yes we all know how beneficial breastfeeding is for your child but those that can't or choose not to, should not be made to feel guilty for this. New mums have enough stuff to feel guilty about, trust me.

Both ways of feeding are littered with complications. For bfs, they face societal pressures to cover up and hide away, you never know how much the baby has had or if they are getting enough, mastitis becomes your biggest fear, engorgement and leaking are new uncomfortable issues to tackle and biting can become a problem later on.

While those that bottle feed face the difficulties of sterilising, contending with a screaming baby while the milk is warmed, counting ounces, and bottle storage.
Either way feeding a newborn is a nightmare and the truth is, no-one really knows what they are doing.

So to those that don't breastfeed, don't sweat it. It's not a detail that needs to be put on your CV and no-one questions whether the great world leaders and inventors were breastfed or not.

And those who do opt for the boob, great- hang on in there. Children are small for such a short period and what seem like massive problems now, get replaced as time moves on. Before you know it, they'll be 15, necking shots and chundering all over the new white carpet, while you'll be yearning for the time when the biggest dilemma was how to switch off 'Deal Or No Deal' with an infant glued to your tit and the remote control out of reach.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Things I Never Expected About Motherhood

When you’re pregnant, people who are already parents take great delight in passing on their knowledge.

Either it’ll be really practical, helpful advice (ie buy sleeping bags for baby so they can’t kick off the covers) or they’ll give you that slightly apprehensive smile, which says “good luck, you don’t know what’s about to hit you’.

I like to think I was fairly realistic about the whole thing and knew it would be tough but there’s a few things that I never expected in my wildest dreams...

      1)  I have cheered at burps and rejoiced at soiled nappies.

I knew the baby’s wind and poo would inevitably take up a large chunk of my life in the first few months but could I have predicted it would provide such glee?

Burps usually disgust me so much that I even have to fast forward the scene in ‘Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory’ when Charlie and his grandfather steal bubble liquid, float to the ceiling and the only way to get down is belch. Gross.

However when your baby emits these piercing, painful cries after a feed, and you rub their back and rock them for what seems to be a lifetime (but is actually just 10 minutes), and they finally let out a loud (yet very cute) baby burp, you literally cheer, holler, do the hokey cokey etc (until the whole process starts half an hour later).

Equally, despite all the nappies you change in those first few weeks, when there isn’t a messy one for a few days, you start to worry about things getting plugged up. When it eventually arrives (and boy, does it come), through the foulness of it all, comes such sweetness and delight, and you’re as happy as a pig in whatsit. How wrong.

2) I never thought I’d straddle a foam noodle (bear with me here), while bouncing across a swimming pool, singing ‘horsey horsey’ (with my little one on board). Believe it or not, it’s actually pretty funny.

3) Who knew a shower, longer than 5 minutes in which you use conditioner, feels like a day at the spa. And those brief postpartum baths the midwives recommend are a like a little slice of heaven. Time. Alone.

4) I now get excited about sleeping 4 hours in a row.

I was always an 8-hours-a night kinda gal but I knew motherhood would end that and wasn’t quite sure how I’d adapt. Somehow, you do adjust (though it’s tough) and suddenly there’s a new benchmark and getting 4 consecutive hours in the land of nod can feel like winning the lottery.

Though if you did actually win the lottery, the first purchase would be a night in a 5* hotel room with goose down pillows, Egyptian cotton sheets and a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door to ensure you get at least 10 hours uninterrupted sleep (I haven’t thought about it much).

5) This weaning malarkey is hard and you never really think that far ahead while pregnant.

You have to cook a lot and there are all sorts of rules (no salt, no sugar, no honey). I’ve had to cook all manner of dishes that shamefully never make my daily diet. I‘ve even made her cauliflower cheese which is something I didn’t envisage doing but the old MG (mother’s guilt) comes into play constantly and you have to shelve your own fussiness and distaste to give your child the best start in life.

Saying that, I’m yet to give her tuna. As Meatloaf says; “I would do anything for love (but I won’t do that)”.

6) I now love trips out in the car. Sad I know. It never used to bother me either way but I like the fact I can switch off, not have to worry about feeding/entertaining her and can turn up the music or get immersed in Desert Island Discs- as she often zonks out as soon as you start the engine. Whether it’s being chauffeured or in the driving seat myself, I’ve discovered a new joy.

7) Social media has become pivotal.

I was a Facebook voyeur and occasional Tweeter before giving birth but suddenly this digital world of faux friends becomes your lifeline.

At 2am, you want to know there is life out there, that other people are awake too, that there is more stuff going on in the world other than a hungry, crying, unsettled baby. At 11am, when you can’t stomach any more of the Schofield/Willoughby chemistry, and you want to find out what is happening beyond your four walls, Facebook is your bud.

Catching up with the news in 140 characters rather than having to read a paper means Twitter is your saviour.

And asking advice/comparing issues with online mums becomes vital.

It has its downsides, sure. You can feel pretty disgusted when you find  yourself nosing through a friend of a friend’s dull holiday snaps at some inane hour because there is nothing else to do while your child is feeding.

Overall though, for me, social media was one of my rocks that saw me through the tough times and I will always be grateful to it. Frankly I don’t know how my mum’s generation coped.

8) You learn to appreciate the little things. It might be a cliché but now I savour snatched moments of pleasure even more.

The first tea of the day, the scent of a rose, reading a newspaper article uninterrupted, enjoying a guilt-free glass of wine. Even a trip to the dentist can feel like a treat and I’m not even kidding (great magazines in the reception).

9) I knew singing nursery rhymes is a prerequisite for the job but before 7am? And before that vital first cuppa? Humpty Dumpty probably fell off the wall through lack of sleep and caffeine. That’s all I’m saying.

10) Who knew life would become such a guessing game? 'Are they fed?' Yes. 'Tired?' No. 'Why are they still crying then?', you exclaim helplessly. It could be teething/boredom/growth spurt/some other pain you don’t know about/too hot/too cold. It’s a frustrating case of trial and error, and then repeating the whole cycle again until something works.

From living a fairly routined, controlled, planned existence, suddenly you are plunged into constant uncertainty and it takes some getting used to. From going to bed not sure when you’re next going to be up, heading out to cafes, not sure if your child will create a scene/be in the best mood ever, the anxiety could cripple you if you let it so it’s about learning to go with the flow. So have some cake and chill out, yeah?

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Hitting The 6-Month Mark

We’ve come a long way. A whole half a year has passed since this all-consuming human arrived into our world.
She’s changed, I’ve changed. The way I see the world, through bright new eyes, has changed.

Every day is different, and every day feels like a journey. While you try to cope with the daily challenges (some big, some mini), time merrily skips along and in a blink of an eye, she’s eating food and you’re researching nurseries. How did that happen?

I could have done with knowing some of this parenthood stuff before, but, like everything, I guess you’ve got to learn it for yourself. But for what it’s worth, here’s 6 things I’ve come to realise in the last 6 months:

1)    When they are very small, they don’t need a lot of stimulation. It may sound obvious but instead of spending your maternity leave trawling ‘Mothercare’, enjoy the break because little Tommy or Lucy won’t give two hoots about a cute zebra that squeaks until they’re about 5 months old. When they start to become aware there is life outside the boob/bottle, everyday objects like camera straps, keys, and saucepan lids (see crap musical ‘Stomp’ for other ideas) take on a whole new meaning. They are the source of entertainment- but like everything, there is a time limit on such things and come 6 months, when the naps are getting almost as short as their attention span, it’ll be time to fill your living room with clutter.

2)   Nevermind the skills challenges in the Aztec zone of the Crystal Maze, Richard O’ Brien should have sent contestants into a nursery and got them to cut babies’ fingernails (without lopping off a chunk) while they are awake, with arms waving all over the place. Now that is a challenge.

3)   They’re a lot more robust than you think. She’s already had a couple of knocks to the head and there’ve been a few tears. But ours last longer for sure. Oh the guilt. Don’t fear though as everyone’s got a war story so you’re not alone.

4)     It feels really good to make them laugh. Everyone says that the first time they smile at you (around 6 weeks), it makes everything worth it. And yeah, don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice reward for all the hard work they have put you through. But the laughing is something else. Pure, hearty, giggly, senseless laughter- for usually not very much effort. As adults our laughter is so measured and given sparingly, but for babies, it’s the smallest things that they find hilarious, like a funny voice, a random movement, or repetition of a rhyme. What can I say, I like an easy audience.

5)     I never thought life would be so regimented. My day is pretty much divided into 2-hour sections, according to feeds and naps. I was always fairly organised but now, it’s ridiculous. I plan at what stage of the day I will do the washing up, when I will meet friends so it fits in with her sleep time, and when I can squeeze in a 10-min coffee break for some ‘me’ time. When she goes to bed for the night and the 2-hour thing goes out the window, I literally don’t know what to do. Sometimes I find myself having a hot chocolate and watching Newsnight and not even looking at the clock. Mental.

6)   This whole business desensitizes you to gross stuff. Pregnancy is good preparation for this because it’s a pretty mind-blowing thing to be happening to your body so naturally you arm yourself with a lot of knowledge and then feel like it’s your duty to spread this information. A colleague of mine took great delight in telling me about his wife’s ‘show’, claiming it was one of the most closely guarded secrets by the new mum community. So I looked it up on Google Images. Here’s a tip: Don’t.

Labour is a big deal so you want to tell the world how it went but spare a thought for those who’d rather not know. I learned to spot the discomfort on friends’ faces when you mention the word “dilated”- that’s a good indicator for shutting up.

Then when you have the baby, you’ll be so desperate to know if others have the same ‘green poo’ as your baby, that you don’t care you’re in a posh coffee shop with people sitting inches away, shovelling cake in their mouths.

However despite this new-found openness, I have not, and will not, resort to the following socially unacceptable behaviour. Number one: changing your little one on a table in Costa. I have seen this. This is definitely not cool. And two: posting pictures of dirty nappies on Facebook. Not interested- and er, gross.

And there you have it, not quite a definitive guide to parenting but just some of my own observations. I’m quite sure Supernanny can sleep easy at night...

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Now It's My Turn

This year will be my first Mother’s Day.

In years gone by, it has represented a frantic trip around the shops the day before to get something smelly or calorific (mum’s not fussy). And then, if I’m around, a nice roast (made by dad) while she gets to put her weary feet up. Because she hasn’t really stopped. Not for about 37 years actually.

This year, things are a little different.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always appreciated my mother. I know bringing up 3 children is no mean feat. But did I understand the daily slog?  From the colicy cries we all had in the first few months of our lives, through to the endless parent evenings/school plays/lifts to horse riding lessons etc.

And even when they hit 18, you can’t cut those apron strings (in fact, you’ll probably be holding their hair back after their booze-filled party while they chuck up).

I was lucky enough to have my mum there for me during my own pregnancy - throughout all the highs and the lows. From the moment she found out the news and cried, she revelled in all the details of the first scans, laughed at possible names to choose, and held my hands during those irrational hormonal tears towards the end, declaring reassuringly “you can do it.”

And now it is my turn. Gulp.

This Mother’s Day, I am (obvs) expecting lots of cards, chocolate, breakfast in bed, being waited on hand and foot, and not letting one of my freshly manicured (yeah, right) nails go near any nappies for the WHOLE day.

Except there are a few little issues...

For a start the clocks go forward. My pre-kid self would begrudge losing a precious hour in bed on a weekend. My post-kid self dreads what this will do to baby’s body clock. Will she be wide awake at 6am, thinking it is 7am? Will the weeks following be a battle to keep her up an hour in the evening to stick with her usual bedtime? Did William Willett, who campaigned for British Summer Time in 1916, actually realise how much stress he would be causing me 98 years later?

Also my little un’ happens to turn 6 months on this day. 

In line with the seasons are changing, I have survived the winter of those difficult first weeks, and am now emerging into spring, full of sunshine and new hope. Things are getting more manageable, I thought to myself, so why not shake it up a little bit.

So, doing everything by the book, I am planning to begin weaning her off the boob and onto solids. On Mother’s Day. Yep, I like a challenge.

I fear my imagined morning of watching boxsets and eating nutella will be interrupted by porridge flying across the room, the smell of broccoli being steamed and ready to be squashed, wafting from the kitchen, and major leakage going on as my milk hasn’t yet got the message that it is being made redundant..

Relaxing, it might not be, and probably won’t be for a good few years yet. However it will still be special nonetheless because for the first time, I’ll know what that mother/daughter bond feels like and look forward to what adventures we’ll have together in the years ahead.

At this stage it is scary to think my daughter could be a mother herself one day (that’s if I ever let any nasty, smelly boys near her)...but if she is, I hope she will be as equally loving, giving and generous as my own mum.

So I bid all you new mums a very happy Mother’s Day...and as the latest advert for formula milk tells us: “you’re doing great”.