Sunday, 24 August 2014

7 Unexpected Side Effects of Motherhood

Obviously motherhood has changed me. For one thing, I'm a lot poorer and I have a lot more loose skin than before, but it has also brought with it some surprise changes that I wasn't entirely prepared for.

Let me take you on  little journey through my bizarre new personality quirks...

7. I cry a lot

Ok, maybe this is a bit of an obvious one, but motherhood has thus far turned me into an emotional wreck. I cry all the time. Occasionally I cry just because I love my baby boy so darn much, but more often than not it's triggered by some god awful story in the news that involves children. Anything to do with babies or little people being hurt or, gulp, dying and I'm inconsolable. Sometimes, though, it can be triggered by someone making it through the first round of auditions on Britain's Got Talent.

6. I have Asbestos Hands

All mums do. It's only now that I've discovered why this phenomenon occurs: it's all to do with sterilising. Because who has time to allow those things to cool down? I truly believe that, rather than asbestos hands, mums just have no functioning nerve endings in their fingertips; they've all been burnt out by nuclear bottle teats.

5. I burst into song

I've never really been one for singing in public, largely because my voice is more night-terror than nightingale. However, I will now suddenly launch into a few verses of Five Little Speckled Frogs without warning. Or, more often, I will begin wailing the theme tune from Mr Tumble, which is constantly playing on loop in my noggin. I don't care where I am, or who might be listening, if I get the urge to sing to the (poor) baby, I'm acting on it.

4. I can't drink

I had a glass and a half of wine on Friday night and, I shit you not, I woke up on Saturday morning with a raging hangover. The full works - headaches, nausea, excessive yawning to the extent that you think the top of your head might slide off, everything. This is not a one off. On the (very few) occasions that I have made it out on the lash these days, I always make it to just the other side of tipsy before having to switch to soft drinks. I think its part guilt, part intolerance, but actually it's no bad thing. As a rather emotional drunk - and an impossibly emotional mother - it does mean that I can wake up with some semblance of dignity the next morning.

3. I have a superiority complex

I once watched an episode of How I Met Your Mother in which new parent, Lily and Marshall, tell their friends that they could no longer counsel them about any problem that isn't an 'eight or higher'. At the time I had no idea what that really meant, but now I get it. When I hear people complaining about trivial things, I always end up internally shouting, "For goodness sake, I have to keep a small human alive!". I know that, rationally, this reaction is unfair - other people's issues are every bit as relevant as mine - yet I can't help feeling that I've somehow become some sort of superwoman as a direct result of becoming a parent.

2. I'm weird about dairy

Not weird enough to stop consuming it - I love my tea too much to change it - but I have suddenly become very aware of the fact that we're using a food product that is not even vaguely designed for us. This is obviously a side effect of breastfeeding; it has clearly made me very aware that a mother's milk is designed specifically for her baby. Well, the same goes for cows. Cow's milk is designed for cows. Baby cows. Yet we're guzzling it like it's an essential part of our diet. Does that not seem strange to anyone else?

1. I can do a fairly solid Scottish accent

For the first time in my life, I can do accents. Ok, I can do an accent. I can do some Scottish. A pretty large portion of the shows on CBeebies are apparently filmed in Scotland, which means that Blake and I spend a lot of our day surrounded by soft, Highland tones. It was only a matter of time before it started rubbing off, I suppose. If Blake's first proper word turns out to be 'och', we'll know it's reached full penetration.

Friday, 8 August 2014

The Great Milestone Race

Being a mum is a competitive business. With the first child at the very least. It's not an intentional phenomenon, we just can't help but want our child to be just that little bit further ahead in terms of development than their gummy little friends. Often, it's not even a conscious thing: I remember being so keen to tell my mummy friends when I first spied a little tooth under the surface of Blake's gum. I put it down to excitement, but the truth is that I was thrilled that he was teething before any of the others. Similarly, I had barely had time to wipe the sleep from my eyes on the morning of Blake's first uninterrupted night's sleep before I had announced it on social media. I was proud of him sure, but also I think that part of me just wanted to claim that little triumph before anyone else had a chance to. 

You see, I can be retrospective about this 'oneupmumship' now, because I've dropped out of the race. Sleeping through has thus far been the only thing that Blake has done before his gorgeous little counterparts. Remember that super keen tooth? Yep, that has only just broken through the gums, months after I spotted it and bragged, for want of a better word, to my friends; she's a weird one that karma. So now I'm on the outside looking in, and watching my friends compete with each other without even realising what they're doing. I mean, it's not cut throat or anything; there's no bitterness, resentment or, like I've said before, any actual intention behind any of this. Us mothers just seem to be hardwired to want to prove to the world what we already know: that our child is the best bloody child to ever grace the face of this planet. 

I don't think of it in terms of Blake 'catching up'. See, I've cottoned onto an advantage that my boy's reluctance to move gives me: I can put him down in the lounge and go and make a cup of tea, and when I walk back into the room he is exactly where I left him. While I'm all for him learning to get around, why would I be pushing for him to be climbing the DVD rack before he's ready? And that's the thing: I'm a really big believer in allowing children to do things when they're ready. It's why I eschewed the consistently preferred baby led weaning in favour of the purees to lumps route; Blake struggled with finger foods, he wasn't ready. We're now slowly moving onto him feeding himself and it's going beautifully, far from the disaster I was led to believe it would be.

Against every instinct in my body, I have been going to baby and toddler groups recently. It's nothing personal to anyone that loves them, they're just really not my thing. However, I think it's important for the boy to see other babies clambering about and, if nothing else, it's a good excuse for us mums to complain lovingly about our other halves a little. So I've been going. To be fair, the mums that I know at these groups know not to question me about whether or not Blake is crawling yet or whether he has managed to memorise the periodic table and complete works of Shakespeare. They know that I will laugh about the fact that he knows he can sit in the middle of the floor and complain until I eventually bring him whatever he wants. There is the odd mum that will insist on quizzing me about his development, but I honestly believe that's their own competitive edge; they're not really interested in whether my son has done something, they just want to be able to tell me that theirs has. 

What I do object to is the insinuation by the people that run these groups that I'm somehow not trying hard enough to force Blake to do the things that an advanced few others might be at his age. I'm sorry, but not crawling at seven months is not exactly unusual. According to my mum, I was ten months before I began to crawl and sixteen before I walked, and Blake is a lot like me as a baby (lazy - he's lazy). At one of the groups I was in last week, the lady running it told me that I needed to push Tummy Time. I explained that my baby hates Tummy Time and will tolerate it for short bursts before collapsing into a sobbing, angry heap. As such, he prefers to sit (which he does very well), and for that reason I suspect that we may actually end up with a bum shuffler on our hands. She frowned and said that I should put him on his tummy anyway, even if it makes him unhappy.

Sorry?!

Why on Earth would I force my child to do something that he quite clearly detests and that ends with him visibly distressed? Blake will crawl, bum shuffle, dance the Charleston, whatever, when he is ready and not a second before. Sure, if he gets to a year old and has shown absolutely no ability to get from point A to point B somehow, then maybe then I will begin to worry that something might be amiss. But right now, we're talking about one baby being a matter of weeks behind another. By time they all go to school, they will more or less all be caught up; I don't expect a single one of them to bum shuffle through the gates on their first day. 

We need to relax and enjoy our babies for what they are, not where they are in comparison to each other. We need to stop listening to the 'experts', or reading milestone predictions online (they should be waving good bye by eight months, apparently, and not a day later), and just let them work their way through these challenges at their own pace. They're their own little people, with varying levels of energy, ability and intention and it's time we started treating them as such, rather than a statistic on some bullshit chart that means exactly zilch in the grand scheme of things.

Babies of the World: don't worry, you're all doing just fine.

Monday, 21 July 2014

My Superman

It has long been documented that having a baby inevitably puts a strain on your relationship. To think that some couples have a baby in order to try and save an ailing union is beyond baffling; if you can't make it work when the sea is calm, how on Earth do you expect to push through when you're skint and sleep deprived, with another human sharing your bedroom?

My relationship, however, has always been the stuff of legends. Adam and I were one of those couples that single people would look at and say: "that's what I want". The best of friends before becoming lovers, we also had an incredibly solid foundation to our marriage and had already overcome some pretty big obstacles. With all that in mind, I couldn't see how creating a human that was half him, half me could make our bond anything other than even more awesome. 

Not only was I smug, I was incredibly foolish. Having Blake is the single most wonderful thing that has ever happened to either of us, but it has also been the most difficult.

Retrospectively I can see that I have suffered a little (ahem) with some pretty low emotions since he arrived; something that I have relentlessly held Adam to account for. I am the happiest and most fulfilled I have ever been in my entire life, yet I have still somehow felt inexplicably sad a lot of the time. Sometimes this black cloud would hang over me for days on end and, rather than try and shake it off myself, I have found myself wondering why my husband hasn't tried harder to make it all better. He fixed me before, I thought, why isn't he fixing me again? Unfair, of course, as most of the time he hasn't had the slightest clue what's going on in my head. Rather than attempt to actually speak to him about it, I just snapped at him and resented him for stupid things, and basically tried to drive him away. 

Having a baby also takes its toll on your finances. This has never been an area that I've felt particularly in control of at the best of times, so suddenly finding my income halved has had some pretty dire consequences, which has naturally had an enormous impact on life at home. Suddenly we're scrabbling about, trying to pay a mountain of bills on what amounts to little more than a single salary. Of course, the pressure is falling onto Adam as the only one earning to try and make the ends meet, and he has naturally found it incredibly frustrating. This frustration has seeped into conversation on more than one occasion, with both of us feeling like we're barely keeping our heads above water and taking it out on the other person.

Speaking of frustration: anyone seen my libido recently? It walked out of the door when I got pregnant, and full time breastfeeding has kept that door bolted shut should it have the audacity try and sneak back in. Sex isn't everything in a relationship, but by golly it's a big part. It's not the actual lack of sex that really began to take its toll (Adam has been incredibly patient), but more the lack of intimacy. I know that's what I've missed anyway, and at times I've felt like we were pretty much back to being just friends again.

Blake is nearly seven months old now as I write this, and Adam and I are just starting to feel like our marriage is getting back on track. My sex drive is slowly returning and I've made a few changes to my life in general that mean my priorities are back as they should be. Our money situation still sucks, but my return to full time work is imminent and we're beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. In short, I think we both feel a little more in control, which has made room for the love to return. Discussing this noticeable change a few days ago, Adam admitted to me that he had assumed our relationship was all but over, and still he stayed. Desperately unhappy, and under the assumption that my heart was no longer in it, he still held his ground, adamant to not be the one who calls time on what was once nothing short of an epic romance.

To the man himself, I say this: The last few months are just another page in our love story; yet another example of how, together, we can weather just about any storm. I'm sorry things have been so difficult, but I promise you that I was never going to give up on what we have. You are, and always have been the one. Every single day I fall in love with you afresh because you continue to save me in ways that you can never know. 

You are my Superman. I love you x


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Woeful Weaning: Introducing Solids the Meaney Way

It turns out I have spent the last six months in a false state of feeding security. I knew where I was and what I was doing; breastfeeding had quickly become second nature and I'd even managed to get to grips with pumping for work. Yep, I thought, I've got this motherhood thing nailed. Then we began weaning and it blew my little breastfeeding bubble apart. All of a sudden I'm in unfamiliar territory again, trying to navigate my way through the murky waters of uncertainty and worry, and it's brought with a kind of delayed post-natal low mood (didn't you hear? PND has been downgraded so as not to offend babies or some shit).

The current fashion advice is to follow the baby led weaning technique: that is, to just throw them in the gastronomic deep end and serve them lumps from the off. No purees, these babies need to learn how to chew

"Just give him whatever you're having," said the health visitor. 

Well, that's all very well, but if I was to feed Blake the way I feed myself then it would involve waiting until he's about to faint before remembering to feed him, and then offering him a handful of biscuits or a pizza. Here's the thing, you see: I'm not actually very good at feeding myself. It's not that I can't cook, I can, I just don't really remember to eat until it's a matter of urgency and then I need something immediate; usually resulting in a bit of a junk binge. On a good day, I'll sort of vaguely graze from the treat cupboard until dinner time, when Mr Meaney will inevitably take over in order to introduce a food group other than 'pastry'.

As a result, I've found that I'm worse than clueless when it comes to feeding Blake. The whole thing is exacerbated by the fact that I'm bombarded with images, videos and tales of the latest homemade spinach and bacon dauphinois potato fritters (or something) that have been successfully ingested by other babies Blake's age. Not being particularly good at remembering to cook clean, healthy food, I have turned to (shock horror) Hipp Organic jars of food. I know, right? I'm a fucking terrible parent. 

As well as the jars (boo, hiss), we've also been offering fruit and salads, bread, cheese, cereal, yogurts, and just about everything has been met with initial enthusiasm and then complete disinterest. He was keen on the jars for about a day, until he realised what was going on. He began weaning with an enduring love for cucumber that now gets thrown across the room. Fruit was offered in a mesh feeder that he adored, on one sitting he ate quarter of a mango, but he won't even pick it up anymore. In fact the only thing that he seems to get excited by is water. It doesn't particularly help that he is cutting the world's slowest tooth and can't get to grips with chewing. You know what happens when you give a baby that can't chew a piece of tomato? They choke.

"Stay calm. If they're making a noise then they're not choking, they're just gagging," more golden advice from the health visitor. 

I tried to stay calm a couple of times, but the noise never came and Blake would inevitably start to turn purple. Cue a slap on the back and some projectile vomit. Seriously, it's no wonder the boy isn't keen. I think it's probably a testament to me, but he also has absolutely no intention of giving up (or even cutting down) on the breast milk intake any time soon.

I know he is getting some solid food; mostly because his poop has begun to stink and his weight gain has suddenly spiked enormously, but I'm just finding the whole thing to be a little bit soul destroying. I feel inadequate because I'm not spending the entire day creating grape and goats cheese pin wheels (or something), and then worried that Blake will never eat and will end up like me as an adult: alternately forgetting about food and then raiding the nearest freezer. On the other hand, with every piece of food that he refuses, I'm glad it's not something I spent hours creating.

It gets easier, right?


Sunday, 29 June 2014

Tears Before Bedtime

I'm pretty lucky in that I have a baby who sleeps. He's always been a good sleeper, ever since we came home from hospital; never waking more than once or twice and sleeping right through until morning from about twelve weeks. However, we have had one stumbling block that we just haven't been able to overcome: bedtime. 

Bedtime in the Meaney household has been traumatic ever since Blake stopped falling asleep at the breast and going to bed only when I went. Soon he wanted to sleep from around seven o'clock, but was too big to snooze in my arms while I waited for my own bedtime to roll around. Sadly for all of us, Blake is not a fan of being put in a room and having his parents walk out of it, no matter how tired he is. Before long, bedtime had become a tear and stress fuelled dance of rock-sleep-cot-wake, in which I would be backwards and forwards to his room for up to two hours before he finally gave in; both of us exhausted and upset. Cuddles would soothe him, the transfer back into his cot would wake him and we'd start all over again. When I did manage the transfer without him waking, he would inevitably rouse himself in the middle of the night, suddenly aware that he was alone, and howling would commence. More than once I have ended up sleeping on the spare bed in his room, cuddling an overtired and emotional baby to me, feeling pretty overtired and emotional myself. 

Something had to change.

It was after a particularly frustrating evening in which I didn't even have time to feed myself between comforting baby, that a friend suggested I tried Jo Frost's Controlled Timed Crying method. I was unsure; crying it out is a fairly controversial technique these days, with many preferring a much more natural and intuitive approach. However, I know at least one child who was allowed to cry it out as a baby, and who has never once had an issue with bedtimes (she's now nearly three). But I was at wit's end and decided that I had to at least try it, my intuition was getting us bloody nowhere.

Last night we took the plunge. As recommended by Jo, I let Blake cry, comforting him (briefly without picking him up) at increasing intervals until he fell asleep. He cried, I expected that, and then he got angry, I also expected that, but to my surprise he was fast asleep within half an hour. He woke around an hour later, at which point I comforted him in the same brief way as before and walked away; he was asleep within minutes.

I awoke this morning at 6:40, hearing a happy little boy chattering to himself over the baby monitor; a pleasant change from the desperately unhappy wail that usually wakes me at 5am. I went into the nursery and was greeted by an enormous smile and the happiest morning we've had together in weeks.

But was it just a fluke?

Tonight was day two of using controlled crying. I put Blake to bed at around 7pm. I gave him a kiss and told him it was time to sleep and, having done so for the past three months or so, I offered him his dummy. He refused it. I was stunned; Blake never takes a dummy during the day but it is nigh on impossible to settle him at night without one, yet here he was happily indicating that he didn't want it. I turned on the monitor and went downstairs, waiting for the inevitable to begin. After about ten minutes I turned to Mr Meaney, "I think he's asleep...".

We crept upstairs and peered through a crack in the nursery door. He was indeed asleep, and neither of us had shed a single tear!

He has just woken up and I'm currently on the four minute interval, desperately straining to hear our movie over the wailing through the monitor, but he's already starting to lose momentum. I expect him to be asleep before I make it upstairs to comfort him again. 

Crying it out (or controlled crying, as in our case) is difficult at first, but it works. Crucially, my son didn't hate me this morning. He was rested and happy, whereas he's usually tired and grumpy and one hundred per cent holding me responsible for the whole sorry mess. It's tough, but it's bloody worth it. 

Jo Frost claims that the crying will stop altogether within seven days, with baby effectively (and happily) soothing themselves to sleep before the week is out. I'd be amazed if it takes us more than a few days, and I'd emphatically recommend this method to anyone. 

Oh, as I wrap this up, the monitor is silent. Baby boy is sound asleep...

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Extended Breastfeeding: The Great Parenting Taboo

I recently shared an interesting article about extended breastfeeding with my facebook friends. I had unthinkingly clicked 'share' after reading and then gone to bed. When I woke at 6am and checked my notifications, I found a fierce debate had taken place on the post, one that had become really quite heated in places, and I was genuinely taken aback.

In all honesty, I don't know why I was surprised; extended breastfeeding is, by nature, a deeply controversial topic and incites a passionate response from both camps: those in favour of it and those that think it's downright creepy. I didn't really get involved with the debate (in fact, I found myself trying to smooth out the many ruffled feathers), as my own feelings about it are complex and not entirely clear even to me. However, after mulling it over for a couple of days, I decided that it's something I wanted to explore.

For those who aren't familiar with the term 'extended breastfeeding', it simply refers to continuing to nurse past the World Health Organisation's recommended two years, sometimes right up to school age and even beyond. I think that this is the part that makes people squeamish. The fact that, at this age, breast milk is no longer perceived to be essential to the child's nutrition and development means a shift in how comfortable people are with it. Extended breastfeeding is seen much more as the mother's choice, and is often regarded as an attempt to stunt the child's independence. I also think that, once a woman no longer has a small baby to nurse, her breasts are once more seen as a sexual organ that should be covered up and kept away from children.

Before having Blake, I too thought that extended breastfeeding was a bit creepy. I would cringe whenever I saw someone feeding a child older than about one, dismissing the entire act as completely unnecessary. However, since beginning to breastfeed my own child, my attitude to this enduring taboo has shifted enormously. I've developed an understanding for these women and children that I never would have had if I didn't have my own breastfeeding experience. 

I've come to learn that extended breastfeeding often tends to happen by accident. It's not an active choice by the mother (who would probably quite like to start wearing normal bras again now, actually) to feed until a particular age, but rather a choice to allow their child to self-wean. Often this will happen before two, sometimes almost as soon as the child begins to take solids. However, a child will occasionally continue to nurse until a much older age, as in the case of the woman writing in the article I shared. It's only now that I can understand why a mother would want to indulge that desire. After all, once weaned, we acknowledge that they still require milk and encourage them to take dairy for their calcium needs; yet it actually makes more sense to continue giving them the milk that was not only designed for their species, but also tailor packaged to them individually.

The thing that I really loved about the article was that the mother in question was able to comfort her very unwell daughter in this uniquely special way. At the risk of repeating myself, this is something that is absolutely impossible to comprehend if you've never experienced breastfeeding first hand. Don't get me wrong, I've bottle fed babies and it comes close, the eye contact, hand-holding magic is still there for formula fed babies, but breastfeeding goes just a little further. Blake will sometimes nurse when I know for a fact that there's no milk to be had; it's a comfort thing, almost like a really connected, intense cuddle. The thing I took from the article was that her mother's nursing had helped the four year old to recover from major surgery on her skull, which seemed to negate the argument about whether the whole thing was appropriate or not. For this family and for this sick child, nursing was an absolutely necessary part of her healing process, which essentially takes away any right that society has to comment on it.

Here's the thing: like every element of breastfeeding, the age at which you stop is a deeply personal thing and influenced by a hundred different factors. Is it for me? Honestly, I don't know. I plan to nurse Blake until he's two, in line with WHO recommendations, although I find myself qualifying this decision with "but I'll probably express and bottle feed in public so as not to creep people out." I doubt that I will, I hate pumping with a passion and Blake isn't keen on waiting for a bottle, but I feel I have to say that to calm the horrified expressions I'm met with when I announce my goal. However, extended breastfeeding is rarely a planned path and if Blake wants to carry on, I know I'll be powerless to deprive him of his need.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Pump Pump Brrrr

We made it. We survived my first few days back at work and our first real time apart. Well, I survived (barely), Blake hardly even noticed I was gone.

Actually, it wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. I honestly thought I would be in floods of tears within half an hour of being back, but I dealt with it far better than I thought I would. If anything, it felt a bit like the last six months had been nothing but a dream and the baby was just a figment of my imagination, which was rather disconcerting. You know that feeling when you get back from a holiday and wonder if the whole thing actually happened? It was like a really extreme version of that. Thankfully, I had regular updates and facebook photos from my sister and from Mr Meaney, which was like a little pinch to remind me that it wasn't a dream at all, but a bloody beautiful reality.

As I say, Blake breezed it, barely a whimper, but we did discover that he eats far more when feeding from the bottle and, despite the fact that I'd thawed out more than enough milk plus a little bit extra for luck, he soon ran out. As a result, I was greeted on both days by a hungry and grumpy baby rather than the excited face I had hoped for.

The real difficulty came in the form of expressing at work. It really brought home to me that breastfeeding and work don't really mix very well, or at least not in my circumstances. My work were actually very accommodating, and allowed me to disappear off to pump whenever I needed to, but each session was carried out with me feeling guilty that I'd left the shop floor for an unofficial 'break'. Over the two days I must have spent an hour an a half in the kitchen on top of my scheduled breaks. It was necessary of course, and far from relaxing, but that did nothing to alleviate my feeling like a pain in the arse. Particularly yesterday when it was just my boss and myself in; I felt like I was abandoning him. 

The kitchen itself is quite a chilly room, a factor that made the entire process uncomfortable and quite depressing really. I was plugged into the wall, with a blanket wrapped around me in case the delivery boys or fitters came in for their lunches, shivering as a cold rubber plunger sucked at my nipple. I was self conscious about the noise of the motor should any customers venture up to that end of the shop, and the pump picked those two days to keep separating and losing suction. During one session, I had to hand express from my very full right breast as the pump simply wasn't getting anything and I needed relief urgently. Picture the scene: I was leaning forward over a little plastic cup, milking myself like a cow, blanket off to allow me to see what I'm doing, more milk running down my arm than going into the cup. It was at this exact moment that the carpet fitters walked in for their coffee break: poor boys nearly cried. 

The pump itself needed washing and sterilising after every pumping session, meaning that I spent yet more time in the kitchen rather than actually working, and the whole thing actually made me wish that I just had normal, non-udder breasts for a few days. It seemed foolish though to wean him off of the breast just for the sake of a few days so I carried on, alternating between shop assistant and dairy cow. Whether or not I can continue to breastfeed once I return full time will depend entirely on Blake. If he still wants milk during the day once he's weaning, I'm going to have to switch to formula and let my boobs retire until the next time that they're required. I'm not going back full time until September and he'll be coming up for nine months old then, so I hope I won't feel too sad about the whole thing.

It's funny really: my breastfeeding goal post was three months, now here I am lamenting the fact that I may have to stop at nine. It sure does suck you in...