Friday, 4 April 2014

The Non-ternal Instinct

I've never been a particularly maternal person; a fact that was demonstrably clear a few days ago... 

I was at a mother and baby group with some friends who have babies around Blake's age, when everyone attending got into a circle to sing songs. The general mood in the room was one of elation while my internal adult recoiled in horror. Luckily my friends were also less than keen to join the circle and we hung around at the back, me clutching Blake like a protective talisman. However, it was at this point that a conversation took place about the song that was reverberating around the room, wailed by toddlers and seemingly delirious mothers. One friend admitted that her baby loved this one, while the other friend conceded that her boy was a fan of Wizard of Oz. I felt compelled to chip in: 

"Blake likes Nicki Minaj."

He does, he loves her. I don't own one single baby friendly song, and I'm working on the principle that the words mean nothing to him anyway, so it shouldn't really matter if the song is about drugs. Should it? 

This incident is not the first time that I've questioned my maternal instinct (or lack thereof). I never really wanted children before Mr Meaney came along; it just wasn't something that I saw in my future. But, when you meet someone that you want to breed with, a change happens and biology takes over: suddenly I wanted nothing more than to produce the fruit of this man's loins. However, wanting a baby and being maternal are really quite different things. Even when I was so full of baby that I thought my seams would split, I found myself making awkward and inappropriate jokes at midwife appointments and avoiding other people with babies. Being pregnant seemed to mean I should want to hold every precious newborn that crossed my path. I didn't, and I was beginning to worry about holding my own when he finally arrived.

Of course, when he was handed to me in hospital, I was more in love than I ever imagined being and his warm, wrinkly skin seemed to be the only thing that calmed my post-op morphine shakes. After a little while in recovery, the midwife made herself scarce to allow us to get to know each other and Mr Meaney went outside to make ten thousand phone calls. I was alone with my precious son, and I desperately didn't want to be: I was bloody terrified. What happened if he moved? What happened if he cried? Seriously, what happened if he shit? In fact, whenever I had to change a nappy in my hospital bay, I put the curtain around me so that the other mums on the ward couldn't see me make a total hash of it. 

For the first few weeks, I felt awkward holding him; unsure of how to support his head properly and completely clueless as to how I was supposed to wind him. Even now I hate taking him to baby clinic to get him weighed, certain that all of the other parents (not to mention the dreaded health visitors) are judging the way that I cack-handedly wrestle his arms into his jumper. Despite being perfectly happy and content at home, he would cry when we were around other people's houses and I was sure it was because I felt uncomfortable. Not with him, but with the way other people saw me with him.

Here's the thing: I was doing just fine. Perhaps I didn't have the classic maternal instinct, but I did have a Blake instinct. Just because I wasn't the most natural when it came to holding a fragile newborn didn't mean I wasn't able to learn as I got to know my son. I've managed to keep him alive and well using nothing but my body for fourteen weeks and he's an incredibly happy and settled little man; at least half of that credit is mine. When he's upset, I'm one of the only people who knows just how to settle him, and he looks for me whenever I leave his sight. Blake adores me, you can see it in his eyes. I'm no longer just a handy milk machine; as he gets older his need for me has turned into real love, and that's my doing. I may not be the most graceful person when it comes to getting him dressed, and I may be quietly looking forward to returning to work for a few days next month, but I still know I'm a fantastic mother.

I think there is a lot to be said for maternal instincts, but not having one doesn't mean that motherhood isn't for you. To this day I'm still as awkward as it comes with other people's babies, but I know my own like no one else, and that's all the instinct that I need.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

About a Grandfather

To my Little Prince

Grandparents are important. They give all the love of a parent, with none of the jagged nerves of the sleep deprived (you know the ones I'm talking about) and with just a slight tendency to spoil a child rotten.

You have several sets of grandparents, including two Grandads who love you very much. Little Prince Meaney will certainly never be short of affection nor, crucially, willing babysitters. However, there is one grandfather that you haven't met and, honestly, I doubt you ever will.

I fell out with my biological father around this time last year, and since then have done a pretty good job of pretending I'm over it. I'm not, of course; I probably never will be. And now that you've come along, I find the whole sorry mess at the forefront of my mind once again. Mostly, I feel guilty that I'm depriving you of that extra love, but part of me also feels guilty for what I've taken away from him.

Because, let's face it, you're pretty awesome
When I made the decision not to see or speak to my father, I had hoped it would be a clean break. I didn't feel like I had invested very much emotion into the relationship in the few short years I had known him, but of course that wasn't true. In my head, I'd had a relationship with him my whole life. Ever since I was old enough to understand, his spectre had always existed in the back of my mind. The only difference now is that it has a face.

The problem we had was that he would never be able to understand the hurt that he'd caused me, and when I tried to explain it, I was attacked by him and his family: accused of being selfish and ungrateful. Ironic, I know. I spent an entire evening receiving message after message of abuse from his eighteen year old daughter: someone who had never accepted me but was suddenly angry that she had lost a sister. Someone who would never have to feel like I had felt.

The aftermath of my decision to cut him out of my life was far more difficult to deal with than simply not having him around, and I realise now that I'd have been better off not having tracked him down in the first place. It would have been far easier to know that you were a grandfather short as a result of his choice, rather than as a result of mine.

The truth is that he would have really loved you, and that's what I find difficult to reconcile with the situation as it is. I'm not keeping you from him because I'm worried he'll hurt you, I honestly believe he never would, it's simply because of what he did to me. I'm depriving you of a relationship with him purely because I can't bear to have one with him myself and, for that, I do feel selfish. 

One day, when you're older, I'll sit with you and explain what happened, but I hope that you never really understand. As I write this, it's 5am and we're awake for a night feed. You look so content, and I pray that you will never have any experiences with which you can relate to this one; I never want you to feel the sense of abandonment and loss that you would need to understand my reasoning. Just know: the family that you have got around isn't going anywhere. 

Saturday, 15 February 2014

No Place for Heroes

I don't like dummies. In fact, I hate them, always have. I think that it's such a shame when a beautiful baby face is covered by an enormous plug, and I know from family experience that it's hard to get a child to part with them if you don't tackle the issue within the first year.

When pregnant, I swore that Blake would not be using a dummy, no matter how much he cried. I decided that I would rather spend an hour trying to soothe him myself than have him quiet in minutes using a dummy. But then he arrived and I swiftly learnt that parenthood is no place for heroism. Millions of families up and down the country turn to dummies every day, and there's a very good reason for that.

A dummy will keep you all sane.

If your new bundle hasn't found their thumb yet, a dummy might be the only thing stopping your overtired baby from fighting their naps, or that keeps them satisfied between feeds. If your baby is breastfed, the other alternative is often the nipple. The baby will demand to be fed regularly, only to suckle lightly until they sleep. I have let this happen for seven weeks now and I have paid the price: I have paid with my nipples. If I had tried to continue in the same vein, they probably would have fallen off. Blake and I were both tired and upset and I very seriously considered giving up on breastfeeding altogether.

Introducing a dummy has saved my sanity, my nipples and my relationship with my son, and I am thrilled that I stopped trying to fight the inevitable.

I had a lot of ideas about the sort of parent that I wanted to be when I was pregnant. Apart from the dummy issue, I also swore that my baby would never sleep in my bed with me, it was to remain a place for my husband and I; I promised that I wouldn't pick him every time he cried, if I knew that he was fed and dry I planned to exercise controlled crying from the start; and I made big statements about breastfeeding for at least six months. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have broken all of these rules apart from the breastfeeding one, but I have moved the goal post to three months.

It's not that my beliefs about parenthood have changed, my values are exactly the same as they were before, it's just that you take a new approach to the challenges of parenthood when you're facing them. That approach is 'Whatever Works'; if it gets you through the day and night without you packing up the car and driving away then do it. Don't be a hero.

For the record, I still hate dummies. It breaks my heart that his perfect face is covered by a lump of plastic, and I'm racked with guilt that I've probably created a sleep crutch for him that I'm one day going to have to break but, for now, he's rested and he's happy and that's about the most that any parent can ask for.

Who can argue with these results?

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Thanks for the Mammaries

I am breastfeeding.

If you follow me on any type of social media, you'll know this as I talk about it at tedious length. It's very boring but I can't help it. Breastfeeding is all encompassing; it takes over your life and you find yourself acutely aware that it's a job that's all on you. No one can help you. It's down to your body and your baby and no one else can make it any easier or take any of the burden.

Well, I say burden. Breastfeeding is also incredibly rewarding. It's an important bonding experience for you and your child and there's an overwhelming pride in watching your baby grow. Also, crucially, it's free and you don't have to piss about sterilising bottles and heating up/cooling down formula.

It does have its, erm... uncomfortable moments though...

For example, the other day I was diagnosed as having thrush of the nipple. Now, this diagnosis was upsetting for a number of reasons. For one thing, it means that my baby also has thrush in his mouth which is making him ultra fussy. By this I mean that he tries to unlatch from my nipple whilst keeping his jaws tightly clamped around it. Picture the scene: if Stretch Armstrong had nipples...

I've touched on the issue of lactation before. Late in my pregnancy I began to leak a little colostrum and thought it was a nuisance. I had no idea. The leaking that I do now wouldn't go amiss on a dairy farm.

It all began on Day Three. Day Three is capitalised for reasons that any mum should understand, for Day Three is the big day that your milk begins to come in, followed swiftly by an almighty case of the baby blues. I found myself sat on the edge of my hospital bed, a tiny and windy baby slung over my shoulder, tears and snot on my face and a two very dark waterfalls down the front of my nightie. Where I had decided to rest my beloved son on my boob, I had started the mother of all let-downs. Not being familiar with this concept, I hadn't noticed until I looked a particularly sad wet T-shirt contestant.

It's really just escalated from there. The day before yesterday, I was stood in my bathroom after jumping out of the shower and felt a steady drip on my feet. I had to run into my husband, hands cupped under my nipples and slowly filling up with milk, yelling at him to grab a bra and some breast pads.

I only have to actually look at my baby and I get the warning tingle that assures me that let-down is about to begin and that, if I haven't already padded my bra, then it's too late. They practically flood my vest top if he cries.

All of this naturally means I have rather enthusiastic milk ducts which, when coupled with a fussy, yeasty baby that won't latch on properly, basically equals the poor boy being slowly drowned in my 'liquid gold'. The other night he pulled away and I noticed what I thought was a string of saliva still connecting his perfect little mouth to my boob, it was only when I tried to break it that I realised it was actually a thin stream of projectile milk spraying him in the face. I then try desperately to latch him back on before both of us, his clothes, my clothes, the chair we're sitting on, get covered in milk.

This rarely works. You see, my nipples are quite large. My baby's mouth is not. Plus he's probably the laziest feeder you've ever seen, so I generally get a nanosecond of his mouth being open wide enough to fit the teat in. If I miss that opportunity then it's tough and he begins a very cute chomping motion with his jaws, and I have to play a game of skill and precision to aim my nipple at him at just the right time. More often than not, I just end up mashing it into his closed mouth. Then, when on, sometimes he remembers that he's hungry and cries for my breast while his mouth is full of it.

The midwives are full of advice about breastfeeding. Of course, none of matches from one expert to the next. They tell you to point your nipple at the baby's nose, something which just makes Blake sniff it with a confused look on his face. They tell you to remove the baby and put him back on if the latch is incorrect, something which makes Blake get bored, pout a bit and go back to sleep. They tell you (well, me) to treat his oral thrush with drops that make him projectile vomit for a full day.

And boy, can this kid vomit. Apparently breastfed babies get less gas and need less winding. Not so for my Blake, but then we all know that my digestion isn't the stuff of text books. In the early hours of the morning, I find myself desperately trying to coax a burp out of his blue little chops, only to dislodge an air bubble trapped under the most recent feed, bringing both up in an exquisite white stream that ends up all down my neck, back and cleavage. In fact, I can't remember the last time I didn't smell like sour milk. I'm like that kid in primary school that no one wanted to sit next to in assembly (his name was Darren in my school, for the record).

I still haven't mastered breastfeeding discreetly yet, either. I went to a support group for nursing mums last week and watched as all the seasoned pros fed their children without showing a hint of flesh. When Blake woke up for his feed, I tried my best but ended up sheepishly pulling my top down, my bra up and exposing my entire left breast to the group. Blake didn't mind, I wasn't so keen. That, coupled with the fact that the boy likes to feed about every two hours, means that I don't get out of the house much. I am a slave to Blake's appetite, covering a well trodden path between the bedroom, my tub chair and back again in my vomit and milk stained onesie, a tiny little sicky human slung over my shoulder like a sandbag, thinking wistfully about the wine in my wine rack and the unlikelihood of anyone being able to babysit for us any time soon.

I refuse to give in though. I will continue with my breastfeeding mission, after all, we've come this far.

Plus, formula is bloody expensive... 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

This Ain't The Body I Ordered...

I'm fairly body confident. Mostly because I've made a conscious effort in recent years to cultivate a body that I can be confident about. Yes, my weight has crept up on the odd occasion, but as soon as I start to spill out of my size 12 jeans, I tend to switch to non-processed foods and ramp up a fairly strict exercise regime. It started with a wedding dress that didn't really fit and became something of a project; one which left me with a body I could be quite comfortably proud of.
To the point where I have quite a lot of photos of it.
And then I got pregnant.

Pregnancy changes things, of course it does. I was expecting that. I expected a bump and a waddle, but there are all sorts of other changes that I wasn't warned about and, dear reader, it's time for me to share a few of them with you (whether you want me to or not).


Don't get me wrong, I've always had breasts. Good ones. Good ones that I liked to show off. In fact, with some fairly simple searching of the internet (and, indeed, this very blog) you can see them for yourselves in all of their former glory.

However, pregnancy changes things. 

My beautiful boobies suddenly became big, sore and covered in dark veins. My nipples grew in size and turned dark and lumpy. The above picture gives you some idea of how they look nowadays. Not only that, but they've learnt a new trick: lactation. A few days ago, I looked down at my udders (they no longer deserve the name 'breast') and noticed what looked like blocked pores on the teat. Giving them a gentle rub, I apparently awoke the milk-bearing Kracken and they have barely stopped since. I try not to touch them at the moment, but it's pretty difficult to avoid when you have to, you know, wear clothes and things.

Head a little south of the beef burger udders and you reach my belly. 

Well, I was expecting changes here, right? Yes, I was, but there are a few things that you can never quite mentally prepare yourself for. The first is the linea nigra. I knew this would more than likely happen in the later stages of my pregnancy, however it began to appear around the twenty week mark. Not only that, but it appeared to have been drinking before its arrival and set up camp from my bra line to below my belly button, and ever so slightly off centre. The result is a bump that always looks a little bit like it's pointing off to the right. In other words, it looks like my belly button is gazing wistfully into the middle distance.

My belly button has always been deep, and I never truly expected it to 'pop out'. Bless it, it has tried but, due to sheer depth, what it's actually done is fashion itself into a rather fetching cat's anus type affair. With a top over it, it actually looks ok; a lot like an outie. When I lift up my top, it looks like you could use me to store tea towels. 

Head further south still, and you reach another big change: my bottom. And 'big' really is the word here. I've always had a fairly large bottom, but it was the kind of arse that, while large, was smooth and strong enough to crack a nut with. Not so anymore. Suddenly it spills out of my pants with a texture more akin to orange peel than buns of steel. It wobbles when I walk and seemingly farts at will; a bodily function I apparently have no control over anymore. 

It's ok, I know you're all thinking it too.
My pants are now less size 10, more size 14 and even those are unflattering. I'm told it's something to do with water retention, so I have faith that it's nothing to do with the family sized bar of dark chocolate I just consumed. 

Around the corner from my bum, you find yourself at the baby's intended point of exit.

Somewhat naively, I always thought that the changes to your foof happened at the very end of your pregnancy, when the baby uses it to make its grand entrance into the world. I was wrong. The changes began almost immediately, something to do with blood flow to the area. I'm not going to pretend that these changes were altogether unpleasant.

Sadly, I then stopped being able to see it. Ignorance being bliss, I also stopped really thinking about it, although I was vaguely aware that it had been some time since I felt safe about tackling it with a razor; or shaving blind, as it were.

A few days ago, curiosity got the the better of me and I decided to view myself naked in a mirror. There's not really any flowery ways of putting this, so I'm just going to say it: my fanny looks like Rasputin.

Yep. This guy.
I feel like I should probably try and do something about it before I thrust it into the midwife's face, but part of me is tempted to leave it and see if it starts speaking Russian.

So there you go, my body is no longer my own. It's simply a vehicle for this little human to grow in, and I'm acutely aware that it will never be the same again. Somehow, though, it all feels really quite worth it...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A Letter to My Son

At least, we think you're a boy. The sonographer seemed pretty sure, but they have to add that these things are never 100% at the end, kind of like a little legal disclaimer. Still, whatever flavour you actually come out as, you're a boy in my head for the time being. You'll also be largely dressed in Batman-themed boy clothes for the first few months, whatever happens.

Of course, we're also fully prepared for your being an alien
I don't really know why I'm writing this letter, apart from the well documented fact that I write about pretty much everything else that goes on in my head. 

I suppose that I want a record of how things were between you and I before you were even aware that I existed. Right now, I'm little more to you than a heartbeat, a handy source of nutrients (ok, sugar) and an occasional poking hand when you're undoubtedly sleeping and a little bit too quiet for my comfort.

You don't know who I am, but I'm your Mum. I've been your Mum for the last 33 weeks and I'll be your Mum for the rest of your life now. I guess I'm sorry about that. There will be times, I'm sure, when you'll wish that I wasn't, but I'm afraid you're somewhat stuck with me. 

There's also someone else you need to meet. You'll probably recognise his voice when you eventually arrive; he's been talking to you through my belly button for several months now. He pokes you too, but you ignore him. He'd hate me for telling you this but it upsets him that you always stop moving the exact second he puts his hand on my belly. Personally, I think you're just comfortable with his hand there. I happen to know that you roll against things that you don't like: the waist band of my work trousers are a particular source of bother for you, by all accounts.

In fact, there's a whole bunch of people out in this world that you know nothing about, all just waiting to meet you and to love you. We don't even know you yet, but we love you more than you'll ever know. 

The truth is: I miss you. You're with me all the time, every second of every day, but I miss you so much that it makes my heart hurt. You feel so unbelievably fragile that part of me is convinced that one day I'm going to wake up and you'll have just disappeared, leaving me with the realisation that, for a short time, I'd held on to something far too good to be true and fate has come to give me a reality check and bring me back down to Earth. 

And then you move, and I know that you're real. You're really there: growing inside my swollen tummy, and you're mine. You're strong and big and really bloody heavy, and I suddenly know that you're not going anywhere. Not without a fight. I feel that every time you do battle with a slightly too tight waist band or when I try to shift you from under my rib and you push back. You're staying right where you are, and if that means that I have to drive in an almost horizontal position then so be it. 

I'm scared too. Sometimes I get a bit upset, and I know that you probably get some of those hormones, so I'm sorry about that. Just know that it's never because of you that I'm frightened. I'm mostly frightened that I won't be good enough for you. I've spent nearly twenty-nine years being a pretty rubbish human being, and I'm terrified that I'll let you down in every way possible. Luckily, your Daddy is there to pick me up, dust me off and put me back on my feet. He's pretty wonderful. I hope I don't, but if I do ever let you down, know that he will be everything you ever needed and more. In fact, I have no idea what I've done to deserve the two of you: my beautiful boys. Whatever it was, it must have been good!

Anyway, I'm rambling on a bit and you're kicking as if to say "wrap it up, woman". In a few weeks we'll meet. You'll finally know who I am and I'll finally see the little face that I've been dreaming of my entire life. I can't wait. 

I love you and I'll see you really, really soon xx

Saturday, 2 November 2013

On Friendship

If I was to be completely, brutally honest with myself I would have to admit that I'm not a very good friend. Not because I'm evil, with no capacity for love; I'm just not naturally inclined to rely on friendships the way that some people do. I'm an inherently selfish person, who would rather stay at home than go visiting, with the result being that I often prove to be incredibly unreliable. I was even a rubbish friend to Mr Meaney back when that's all that we were. I wasn't there for him half as much as he was there for me.

In other words, I make plans and immediately begin thinking of a way that I can get out of them. I hate actively letting people down, but I find it difficult to force myself out of the house if it's just not something I want to do. Like I said: selfish.

When I see articles in magazines about 'maintaining and relying on female friendships', I always (unfairly) assume that the writer must have something missing from some other part of their lives and go on about my day. I don't know why that is, but I assume it has something to do with having sisters; I already have very close female relationships so I've never felt the need to fill that void. 

A lot of my friends are also male, which leads to a certain amount of complacency. Boys are lazy friends, which suits me just fine. I don't need to be in touch with them regularly for them to know that I'm there. I just need to occasionally invite them over for a beer and make the odd joke about tits and I know I'm not going to be forgotten about.

However, I do love my friends. Despite my apparent reluctance to make any sort of real commitment, I have actually chosen certain people to be part of my life without being the type to actively need them there for any sort of personal gain. So, even though I flake out on plans on a regular basis, I do class my friendships to be pretty special.

I have lost a good many friends in my lifetime, and I've let a lot of them go. There have also been people that I have found myself leaning on just a little too heavily at times and, perhaps not coincidentally, these tend to be the relationships that fizzle out (or, at times, explode with dying star ferocity). These are not the friendships that matter to me and I have never fought for them. Instead, I highly value the people who are in my life on a long term basis who are understanding about my inadequacies.

The friends who stick around are people who know better than to really expect a lot from me. They know that I'll be there for them if they really need me, but who don't expect me to pick up the phone just for a chat. They're people with whom I have common ground, but don't  rely on me to validate their own interests and passions. They're people who choose to have me around without needing me there.

My friends are varied in age, walks of life and experience. I know each of them through wildly different sources and many of them are sole survivors from larger groups that I have gradually distanced myself from; and I love each and every one of them more than they could ever know.

So, I guess what I'm saying is this: my wonderful and weird friends, I'm sorry I'm a bit shit and I'm incredibly grateful that you've stuck around regardless. You rock.