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”.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Let's All Chill Out A Bit

Are new parents just too stressed about everything? As if having a new human to call your own wasn’t enough pressure, we seem to have got ourselves into a right old pickle over this whole baby thing.

In the weekend’s The Times magazine, Polly Vernon interviewed Dr Ellie Cannon, a GP and mother who got fed up with being told what to do as a parent, so wrote the book, ‘Keep Calm: The New Mum’s Manual.’

Dr Cannon said: “It’s a mission to take back motherhood, give it back to women and mothers, so that people stop telling us what to do all the time. I want mothers to take the power back.”

She’s absolutely right of course, but when you’re in the bubble, it’s hard to burst it.

It starts from the moment you see the blue line on the pregnancy test. Rushing out to buy folic acid (because otherwise their spines won’t form properly), and turning your nose up at the likes of brie, as though it wronged you in a past life.

Then there are the long debates with family/ health professionals about ‘birth plans’. We are told about the evils of Pethidine (it’s like heroin, you know) and how skin to skin contact within minutes of the birth will mean your baby is forever affectionate and loving, or something like that.

And then the baby comes along and the decisions and obsessions only get bigger.

Breastfeeding; how/when/not enough/too much? Sleeping; co-sleep? When to transfer to the nursery while avoiding future separation issues? And if they’re not sleeping; should you try controlled crying (not before 6 months, it could lead to anxiety issues), what about the no-cry solution? (no, they’ll always be dependent on you to get to sleep). Then it’s on to the food issues; baby-led or puree-lead? Choose the wrong one and you could end up with a child on 'The Biggest Loser'.

Phew, it’s no wonder that having children is deemed one of the most stressful things you can do in life.

I know a new mum who got all her family and friends to give her money for Christmas so she could pay for a maternity nurse to spend a week with her. Yup. An actual stranger stayed in her house, brought her newborn to her to feed in the night, and ‘observed’ her so that by the end of the seven days, she could give her verdict. The result? This woman now carries around a little notebook with her to record every feed and nap so she can stick to a routine. 

While she proudly blabbed about the merits of taking such action (and I secretly plotted how I could cash in on this money spinner), I couldn’t help but feel sad that somewhere along the way we have stopped relying on instinct and common sense, and started throwing money at the situation in blind panic. 

Nobody says it’s easy but look at those who don’t have the cash to flash- most of them manage.

So I think it should stop here. No more googling like a possessed woman, no more stocking up at Mothercare every week, no more agonising over conflicting research. It’s your baby. Do what you feel is right and everyone else can do one.

Pretend it’s a mini revolution (a la Russell Brand) and reclaim the power (just as long as it fits in with nap times!)

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Big Sleep Obsession

Sleep -it’s all anyone talks about in the first few weeks of having a kid. Actually make that months. That five-letter word that you crave, romanticise, yearn for, fantasise about.

It becomes all-consuming – as vital as milk is to your baby.

You feel drunk through the lack of it, sick at the hours being missed night after night, jealous of everyone who doesn’t have to see the wee small hours every day.

You feel a special bond with milkmen, you have an alarming empathy with Bill Turnbull from BBC Breakfast, you look forward to the teenage years when you’ll be the one waking them up.
You stumble out of the house, sporting a thick a layer of foundation, having sunk three coffees before 10am. The bags under your eyes feel as heavy as the car seat you carry in your hands. Your brain feels like a bowl of porridge, your voice struggles out between yawns and sounds nasal (think Ed Miliband), you pass other sleep deprived parents in the park and give each other a wry smile. So this is what people meant by it being 'hard'.

Then one day you get four hours straight through. The fog begins to lift and you feel human again. The next week it creeps up to six, then back down to three, like a frustrating game of Snakes and Ladders.

And don’t even talk to me about the ‘four-month sleep regression’. NOBODY TELLS YOU THIS (probably for a good reason, as it’s not very helpful during the ‘newborn mentalness’©)
So how do you get through it? As somebody in the midst of it, these following tips help me, but it certainly ain’t easy so hang in there folks.

  • Take it in your stride. After being up for an hour at 3am, when you’re at the end of your tether, resign yourself that you will be up all night and go to make a tea. Most of the time it is when you chill out about the sleep thing, the baby will drop off. And when they do, it is like butter wouldn't melt (see pic above).

  • Grab five-minute power naps where you can. In the early days trying to get some shut-eye when your baby does is the best advice.

  • Forget about doing jobs around the house and focus on your needs. If your body needs sleep, give in to it.

  • In Pamela Druckerman’s book 'French Parents Don’t Give In’ she says “remain confident that your baby will, as the French say, ‘do his nights’.” Everyone goes through this. You will survive the storm.

  • Remember, even though it doesn’t feel like it at the time, this stage won’t last forever. It will soon pass and feel like a (very bad) dream.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

What To Expect...

What To Expect With The Unexpected

When you’re pregnant, it’s all about the foetal development and labour. You might get shown how to put a nappy on a doll at an NCT class or dutifully attend a breastfeeding workshop to fill up your long days while on maternity leave, but you don’t really take it in. You don’t really understand that fairly soon, you’ll have a little person to take care of. Understandably you’re more preoccupied with how, as someone I know eloquently put it through pointing to certain body parts, “that is going to get out of that”.

All my prep for labour seemed to do the trick for me and it went OK since you ask- a water birth in fact (and yes, that is a slight smug satisfaction you can sense).
Then this bundle of mess (read beautiful baby daughter) arrives in your arms and you realise it’s yours to look after forever.
The first 48 hours are a blur. Not such an emotional rollercoaster – we are talking Oblivion at Alton Towers after 3 espressos and a large slab of chocolate gateaux. Feelings of deliriousness, nausea, and exhaustion wash over you like amniotic fluid.
Never has tea at 4am been more inviting, a hospital cleaner’s kind words reduce me to tears and there isn’t a shred of embarrassment as I leave the hospital in pink fluffy slippers as home- glorious home- beckons.

Then finally, we reach the magic milestone of 3 months and run pass it in blind panic, shouting “what- is that it? When does it get easier?”.
But so much has changed already. Her face has lost its newborn look, her likes and dislikes are becoming more apparent (relatively simple actually-likes: milk, dislikes: sleep). We are both getting used to each other.

And now a few months in and I find myself in the strange situation of advising new(er) mothers. Before I can help myself, phrases like: “it will get better” slip out and (most annoyingly) “it goes so quickly”- before adding “though it doesn’t feel like it at the time”.
Expert at this baby stuff, I ain’t, but for what it’s worth, here’s the top 5 things I’ve learnt so far;

1)      Every baby is different- what works for one doesn’t for another, meaning all baby books are essentially ineffectual. You soon understand why the baby industry is so lucrative- as they feast on new mums’ fears/paranoia/indecision.

2)      You will do a lot of things that make you look like a prat. This can include making up songs about big poos, doing crazy dances (that should only otherwise be done at 3am in a very dark club), and making ridiculous faces while out in public as you attempt to keep the ickle you amused.

3)      Wine/chocolate/caffeine/other vices*(delete where applicable) will get you through those first weeks. Fact. BKTY (be kind to yourself)- it’s a helluva ride.

4)      Get out of the house. Baby massage, yoga, music classes, play sessions, swimming. I went to them all- and that was just in the first month. There isn’t too much that babies under 6 months can do but that shouldn’t stop you getting out. Fresh air cleanses the soul- just ask Ben Fogle.

5)      Keep in touch with ‘normal people’- by this I mean those who don’t have a mini needy human to care for and can remind you that there is life outside the baby world (which is actually significantly more interesting).