March 30, 2014
- Despite incredibly busy hospital dotcoring jobs working over 100 hour weeks, I didn’t know what tired was until I’d had continuous months of broken nights with babies
- I didn’t know what responsibility was until I had to care for someone helpless 24/7
- I didn’t know the sheer force and volume that breast fed baby shit can be generated at until I was cleaning up the back of his head after a particularly explosive episode.
- I didn’t realise how little I knew about parenting and how easy it had been to criticise others until I had to do it for myself.
- I didn’t know how to appreciate a night out properly until I couldn’t have them
- I didn’t appreciate what I put my parents through until someone did the same to me
- I didn’t realise toddlers really would pick up dog shit and try to eat it
- I didn’t realise that when the milk ‘came in’ it would feel like someone had pushed hot boulders down my bra.
- I didn’t know what peer pressure was until I worried whether our toddler should be writing and drawing like everyone else’s three year olds seemed to be
- I didn’t know what sheer joy having children could be.
January 18, 2014
I have never set myself up as a parenting guru. I have opinions which I readily share, but I have never professed to have all the answers. Or to having been a great parent myself. My mantra has only ever been to be good enough. I wish I were better, but I am not going to beat myself up over my maternal shortcomings. Life itself is too short for that and as long as things are good enough, that’s good enough for me. I learnt my parenting skills as we went along. And in terms of the baby era, it really didn’t come naturally at all. I’d had no experience of babies in terms of cousins, friends or family.Only what I’d seen on paediatric wards. Which isn’t the same at all.
So Ten Reasons I know I wasn’t a natural baby mother
- When I found out I was pregnant with our eldest I still couldn’t stop myself having half a cigarette in disbelief and shock
- We didn’t buy any clothing or equipment prior to the baby’s arrival apart from a cot. No hours in baby shops for me….
- When I gave birth to our eldest I had no rush of maternal instinct only a clinical overdrive to get the baby resuscitated and an overwhelming desire for a Diet Coke and some toast.
- I realised I had no idea what our baby looked like and feared I wouldn’t recognise him when when he was put in a ward with other newborns. Thank God for the unique forceps scar on his face and the name tags is all I can say. They could have given me any newborn boy and I’d’ve believed he was ours.
- I didn’t like the first weeks s at home with our new baby. It was waaayyyyy too stressful.Even though we were both fit and healthy. it was the whole motherhood thing I couldn’t do.
- I always resented getting up at night to any of them. I resented them crying when I was eating. Or watching TV. Or talking to friends. Or basically trying to do anything. I never felt a rush of “Aw, how lovely, I must tend to my baby, aren’t I a lucky Mum?” I was pissed off I had to put my drink down.
- I didn’t bond with our firstborn until he was about eight months old. I didn’t know what people were on about when they talked of their bliss at being a mother. I wanted more me time.
- I have previously listed what accidental physical damage I did to them over the years . That surely shows a lack of something? Attention to detail if nothing else.
- I was always SO happy when hubby, sister, parents or friends offered to have the children. Never missed them a jot. Just loved being free.
- Probably the most awful admission of selfishness and self preservation and lack of maternal instinct is when I took all three to Thorpe Park and we went on a big swinging pirate boat thing. Admittedly this isn’t a babyhood story, but it is representative. Foolishly (and with no forethought of the simple physics that means the further away from the centre you go, the wider the swing) we sat on the back row. We were not strapped in but had a bar lowered in front of us to hold on to. As it swung higher and higher I clung tighter and tighter. The children (probably about 4,6 and 7) were loving it and let go of the bar and bounced around. I realised at that moment that if one of them started falling out I would not be able to let go of the bar to save them. They were on their own. I was glued rigid and terrified. When it eventually stopped the smallest was on the floor and the other two slewn sideways and virtually lying on the seat. They’d had a ball whilst I had been crapping myself. Which is actually how the whole ‘new parenthood’ thing had been for me.
August 3, 2013
I have blogged before about the shock of becoming a parent, but the Royal Birth brings it all flooding back. especially as she looked so calm and beautiful standing outside the Lindo wing a mere 24 hours later. In contrast I still hadn’t managed to get dressed for the first three days, let alone have the confidence to hand small baby over to hubby in the glare of public spotlight. We never did that without ensuring there was a soft landing underneath for the inevitable slippage that we envisaged during the first weeks.
For the first one, I came home on Day Four feeling physically OK. Shellshocked. But OK. And brand new babies (really really new) still sleep lots so I was in what I would later realise was the initial week to ten days of a honeymoon period.
The next day I woke up and thought “Who the fuck put these boiling hot boulders in my bra?”. I looked down to see what the text books say is the milk coming in. What they don’t tell you is how bloody painful it is. Until then baby had been feeding on the protein-rich colostrum that we produce before milk starts up. But now the milk was well and truly in. I was lucky with being able to feed relatively easily, but the downside was that it seemed constant. I would let him feed until he fell off, bloated like a tick. Whereupon he would be so overstuffed he would throw up and want to start again an hour later. It was a nightmare circle that I seemed unable to get out of without my husband helpfully taking him off me and walking about with him.
I was delusional about what ‘demand feeding’ means and was gripped by the fear of him crying, my not feeding him enough and basically being an all round shit mother.
It is an exhausting and crazy time after you have your first. Especially if you are used to being in control. Suddenly this 8 pound monster is dictating your every move. So I give new mothers my
Top Ten Tips for “Feeding on Demand”
- Get comfortable. The best way to increase milk production and all round satisfaction is to relax. Hahaha. Easier said than done when one is as tense and stressed as its possible to be. Use pillows to prop yourself up, lay the baby on them on your lap. Whatever it takes to try to be comfortable.
- Stick your nipple in till you think you’ll choke them. They work the milk in to the nipple by squeezing the ducts around it rather than the nipple itself so they need to get a good gobful. You won’t smother them with the rest of your boob as they’ll roll their head back and let go if they can’t breathe. They’d have to be trapped for their to be any problem.
- Keep them chomping at one boob for at least 10 minutes so they get the benefit of the ‘hindmilk’ which is fattier and more satisfying than the initial milk produced which is a thirstquencher.
- Every squeak doesn’t mean they need feeding. Despite what all the baby books say, every time they cry doesn’t automatically mean they need feeding. It’s the only real noise they can make after all, so it’s used for everything. For hunger yes, but also for cold, heat, damp, need a poo, poked my own eye, just feeling grumpy, feeling tired, didn’t want to wake up yet, what’s happenin, and fancy a cuddle.
- Demand feeding allows you to make demands on the baby too – it’s not all about them having total control. So you can decide that you won’t feed more often than two hourly. Or three hourly. Or four. And that way when you do feed them they will be hungrier, suck harder, get more hindmilk and be more satisfied so sleep for longer between feeds.
- Some babies will always suck when given the chance. It doesn’t always mean they are hungry. they might be ‘comfort sucking’ – the equivalent of thumbsucking. they’re not interested in the milk as food, just the nipple, the warmth and the cuddle as a rather enjoyable experience. And who could blame them?
- Watching pap TV with your feet up and a cup of tea is actually working when you are breastfeeding as it increases milk production. The more you run around the less milk you make hence why babies are often most satisfied by their first feed of the day as it’s had great hindmilk production overnight. Come late afternoon and mum is ragged from running about the milk is less gold top and more UHT. So don’t give yourself a hard time for watching daytime TV or reading crappy magazines – it helps.
- Don’t just pull baby off the breast – they have created a vacuum by sucking so hard and it will hurt like fuck if you do. So stick your finger in their mouth to ‘break the seal’ and then pull baby off.
- It does get easier. Sometimes my boobs would feel like they were literally going to burst and the relief of feeding was indescribable. These wild ups and downs of production do calm down with time.
- Getting up in the night is hard hard soul destroying stuff. Especially if, like me, you seem unable to put him back down in the cot without him bawling. I had to learn point 4 the hard way – that every time he cried didn’t mean I had to pick him up and start again. It meant he’d rather liked where he was and didn’t fancy being on his own in the cot. Give him a few minutes with a hand on him and he would go off. Or hand him to hubby who would somehow make it miraculously happen.
- Don’t beat yourself up about your inadequacies. You’re tired and emotional. It’s bloody hard work. It’s relentless. But in a few weeks it will seem less poleaxing and things will start falling in to place and feeding will get easier and you will realise not having to sterilise bottles and all that crap is actually a blessing. Obviously if you have decided not to breast feed don’t beat yourself up over that either.
March 13, 2013
I blogged before about my Prescription for Living and gave you my first few nuggets with a promise of more. So here are some more…
Top Ten Things I Would Want as My Legacy
Obviously this is as much do as I say not do as I did, but I hope you get the drift. It is verging on the vomit-inducing trite sayings you see on cards and stuff, for which I apologise as it therefore makes me sound smug – as if I have the answers. I ceratinly don’t and have got and still get so much wrong all the time. As anyone who knows me will attest to. But if I did have some tips and some insights, things I have sometimes learnt the hard way, then these are what they would be.
- People make the world go round – enjoy them in all their shapes, sizes, views and abilities. The vast majority of people are trustworthy and good. Everybody has strengths and talents – just some are harder to find than others.
- Always assume people want the best for you. It is depressing believing people are against you and will become a self-fulfilling prophecy as you become bitter and twisted.
- Ask for help when you need it – most people enjoy feeling needed (as long as you are pulling your weight too, not just dumping crap on them).
- Praise others freely. It’s not a competition. If you make people feel good about themselves they are more fun to be around.
- Have a good time. Enjoy yourself whenever you can. At work, at play, at home.
- Most things will work out OK in the end. Don’t anticiapte disaster at every step, but deal with it if and when it arrives. It often just misses. You can waste numerous hours worrying about something that never happens. .
September 25, 2012
For those of us used to being in control, having children can be a very rude awakening. Not just when they are tiny and do not seem to understand the requirement to sleep soundly through the night, but as they get older and start to ask searching questions of you.
Of course different children require different information at different times, but they never ever ask the questions when you are ready for them. Small children particularly seem to have some inner compass that can spot a mortifying moment maker and will ask their burning question as you queue in the supermarket on a dull Thursday afternoon on the way home from school.
Or, as in the restaurant queue on the cross channel ferry one of ours piped up loudly, “Why is that woman so fat?” It was said not out of malice or approbation, but simply out of curiosity. Trying to laugh it off and half pretending one hasn’t heard doesn’t wash with four year olds. They just keep asking. And will formulate their own theories as to why if you don’t actually give them something to think about. One has a desire not to offend, but also to educate the children. One cannot simply lie. Ineffectual PC- isms that ” People come in all shapes and sizes,” or “Don’t say fat, it’s rude” cut no mustard. Unusually for these kind of questions, my husband was actually there at the time . I think it is virtually the only one he’s ever had to answer as they always seemed to come up when I was with them and he was at work. .
Anyway, he did his usual “Dad Fact” routine, where he gives an explanation with authority and the kids believe it. Despite it often being a crock of shit. But this time he did actually tell the truth, after he pulled out his trump card. “I studied nutrition at university” (Gillian McKeith eat your heart out – it may have been a module on ruminant digestion tbh), and went on to explain if you eat more than you exercise, eventually you get fat. And he was able to do this whilst steering the children out of earshot of the assembled masses. Masses being the operative word. So that one went pretty well I’d say, although the child had no doubt unintentionally emabarrased the overweight person in the queue.
Everyone anticipates the standard “Where do I come from?’ at some point, but less common ones like “What does sex feel like?” , ” What’s a blow job?” and “How do you know if you are ready to have sex?” can require some forethought to give an answer that bears repeating. And they will be repeated. All explanations by parents get repeated. Not just to their mates, but also when you are out with friends or grandparents and a related subject comes up. Like kissing. And a seven year old will say “You kiss Daddy’s willie don’t you Mummy? That’s what Mummy’s do when they love someone isn’t it?” And the aforementioned explanation of a blow job can somehow seem precocious and you wish you’d just told them to ‘Run along and play’ instead of actually answering the question.
And even seemingly inocuous statements can sound like you have bizarre conversations when it is repeated by an eight year old. Talking about flavoured sparkling water with her new teacher, our very well spoken and polite daughter informed her teacher that her dad said peach water tasted like cockroach vomit. There’s not really much he could say to that.
September 5, 2012
I remember my first day at school. Well actually I don’t, but I do remember the second. Apparently when Mum told me to get up for school on day two, I said “I’ve been.” I hadn’t enjoyed it and I didn’t want to go again. And here my memory lets me down because my mother was actually a teacher at the school and I don’t remember how I got to the school gates, but it wasn’t with Mum. Perhaps my older sister and I walked – we certainly did later on.
I was going in to Mrs. Sharp’s class. My memory is of an old woman with four sons, but as the boys were at school with us, it is likely she was the same age as my Mum. But I think she may have been widowed and definitely had grey hair.
I was in the playground and the bell went to line up. Everyone went in, but I didn’t. A teacher came over to me and asked me to come in. I said I didn’t want to. She said I had to. I said I wouldn’t. She took my hand and started walking me in. I started pulling away. She called over the Headmaster, Mr Cameron. He took my other hand and they started frog marching me in to the building. I started bawling and was trying to plant my feet in the ground so I wouldn’t move. But they dragged me. They asked what was the matter, why didn’t I want to come to school. And I remember thinking I shouldn’t say I didn’t like it. So I said I wanted to know what was for lunch. I was barely able to speak through the tears. The thing is, we went home for lunch during those first few weeks and so someone was dispatched to my mother’s classroom to ask her what we would be having for lunch. I was given the answer to my question and now I felt I had no choice but to concede and go in. But I remember thinking that I should have made my request something that they could not have satisfied and then I wouldn’t have had to go to school. As it was, they had beaten me and I never again refused school.
There were four classes in the school, so mixed age groups in each class. We sat according to age group, so immediately on entering the classroom, the wee ones were on the left and that is where I started. Two rows of individual desks facing each other, side on to the front of the class. Probably about twelve or fourteen of us starting school together. The teacher sat in the front corner further away from us, on a high high desk and chair. Around us on the walls were the letters of alphabet. There was a blackboard at the front in the middle, and one on an easel near to our group of desks.
We would recite the alphabet as in A is for apple, B is for ball, C is for cat, D is for drum….. following the pictures on the walls. And we would practice writing in specially lined books – up to the top line for capitals and tails, only to the middle line for lower case. We would learn the times tables and sing them off by heart, but I only remember doing the twos, fives and tens with Mrs. Sharp.
To be honest I was bored in the first class as my sister had already taught me to read (Here is Dick. Here is Dora.) and Mrs Sharp was pretty strict. It was sitting in your own desk working all morning, doing letters and sums. Children were made to stand in the corner if they were naughty or stupid. Or wet their pants. Which happened as we were only allowed to go at playtime or lunchtime, not inbetween. A puddle would be seen emerging on the floor, and then tears. And a very cross teacher. Then after lunch (which after the first week was then in the school hall – grey mince and lumpy mash delivered in huge silver vats – ) with Mr Cameron patrolling and whipping out his taw to beat the offending boys who would be mucking about. The teachers would sit at a separate table, but I don’t remember my mother being there. Perhaps she still went home for lunch.
In the afternoon we would sit with our heads on the desk for a nap and then go home at 230. I sometimes feel like doing that now!
But I do remember our three starting school. Particularly the eldest (sorry girls!). He was young for the year, but had been doing Nursery in the mornings for the year beforehand and nearly all those children would be going in to Reception year with him. It was two form entry so the children were lined up in their separate lines – one for each teacher. Our son’s best friend was put in the other class. But he was having none of it and simply swapped himself across to be with our son. And there may have been a muttering from the teachers, but they allowed it (positive action works!). And they went in. He was fine. Looking tiny in his school uniform, but happy enough. And he was allowed to play lego all afternoon so what’s not to love?
It was on the way home for the first half term that there would be tears and touchiness. It was like walking on eggshells. I think a combination of having to be on best behaviour all day, fatigue and hunger combined to make anything I said an incendiary device. We would walk home and he would eat a box of sultanas or an apple in an effort to keep himself together.
I don’t remember any of ours blubbing at the door, refusing to go in. But I remember seeing other mothers in tears as their offspring were peeled off them. It was heartbreaking. Even though you knew they were going to be fine and the staff were caring, my heart went out to them. And the weeping mothers.
But there was a spring in my step when all three could finally go to school and I would have till 330 all to myself. Oh yes, that inner geek resurfaced and I revelled in a bit of solitude. Mixed with occasional lunches and more frequent coffees. And some more work. But mostly revelling.
August 26, 2012
I am a mother of three. There’s no denying it. It’s fundamental to who I am and what I have achieved. Not alone of course. Nothing I have done I have achieved alone, but having babies was definitely a partnered activity.
Growing up I’d assumed I’d have children, in that general, non-specific sort of way. I didn’t love children or yearn for them. I used to enjoy being sent to cover the infant class in my primary school when their teacher was away. I was about nine or ten probably, in the top class (of three – there were only about seventy children in the whole school) and when Miss Oldfield didn’t turn up for whatever reason, the headmaster (who was our teacher) would ask me to go and look after them. I used to make up stories for them, featuring each of them in madcap antics. There was a lot about magic powers, ski ing down mountains and falling on bottoms I remember. They seemed to love it – pleading with me to include them in the next chapter. It was easy and it was fun, but it didn’t make me pine to have children. Didn’t really think about it.
So when it did come to my time to give birth to our first born, I had no real idea how I was going to react. My mother was terrified I would get the severe post natal depression she had, whereas I was having difficulty thinking about anything beyond the actual birth itself. The birth was not straightforward. Neither had the pregnancy been, but the birth was a highly medicialised affair with concerns over my heart and the baby’s wellbeing resulting in a high forceps delivery in a room crammed with obstetricians, paediatricians, cardiologists and anaesthetists. I was just relieved he was out and alive (the baby, not the anaesthetist).
I didn’t feel that overwhelming maternal pride at the birth.. No rush of emotional bonding. The first one took me probably eight months to connect with emotionally. I saw it all as duty and responsibility and couldn’t relax and enjoy it. I couldn’t pick him out amongst the rows of newborn infants in the nursery at the hospital after he was born. Just as well they label them or I would have been there all day wondering which was ours.
I was better with the second a year later, but even so it took weeks. And then the third, perhaps the nearest to this ‘bonding’ everyone bangs on about.
But I could see my husband had an ease. A pleasure. A satisfaction when he looked at the babies. Right from the word go. Unconditional love? I presume this is what is meant by bonding.
It wasn’t that he throught he knew everything about babies, but more along the lines of “How difficult can it be? We have been doing it for millenia. It can’t be that complicated. They have fairly straightforward requirements – to eat, to sleep, to be clean and warm.”
I on the other hand saw only the gaping chasm of my lack of experience, knowledge and ability. I had concern, fear and duty. I treated him like any patient – and strove to sort out his problems by feeding, changing, washing and rocking him. It was all about reacting to his needs, nothing about just enjoying the ride.But basically for me it was a learnt emotion, not one that came automatically.
Does that make me a bad mother? Does it make me not a ‘natural’ mother? Does it bollocks. Motherhood (well parenthood, but my reference point is female) is for life and whether or not I ‘bonded’ straight away is irrelevant in the long term as far as I am concerned. We are all better at some parts of parenting than others and shouldn’t be made to feel abnormal because something doesn’t come naturally.
When I started bonding with the first I was already pregnant with the next one (note to self: breast feeding is not a contraceptive) and as I became more relaxed and confident that I wasn’t going to miss some obvious medical problem in him and started looking at him simply as a baby not a potential patient, I think I started enjoying it. And it just got better and better.
The older they have become, the more I have enjoyed parenthood. In general of course. Not every moment of every day. Not when I am screaming at the top of my voice to clean that bloody room before I throw you in to the street. Or when the phone rings at 4 am and it’s the police. Or the school rings to ask you to come in. Or you come home from holiday to a noise abatement notice because your house has been party central for the week….. It’s not all been completely joyous, but it has been, and continues to be, great.