Monday, 27 October 2014

More Than Just Mama

Yesterday I had a hangover and announced the fact to my Twitter followers. Not half an hour later I spotted a few comments about wasted hangover days and priorities. Whether this was aimed at me or not, I've decided to come out in defense of the fact that I have maintained my social life since having a baby.

Before Blake came along, I was someone with a fully developed personality. One that I'd been working on for twenty eight years in fact. I had several groups of friends and I had things that I enjoyed doing that didn't really involve looking out for anyone other than myself. I was happy, but something was missing. That something was Blake. I didn't know he was missing from my life until he wasn't anymore, but there had always been this gap that was crying out for me to fill it, and doing so was the single best decision I've ever made. However, the person that I was for twenty eight years prior to having him did not cease to exist the moment that I fell pregnant; she just went on the back burner. 

I love motherhood, and spending time with my son is absolutely my main priority. He is my best friend and I would rather spend time with him than anyone else. That said, he is not so much of a conversationalist. I have other friends that are mums and, while I do enjoy spending time with them and the babies, I do actually quite like talking to other adults about things other than nappies and weaning and sleep patterns and nipple cream. That doesn't make me a bad mother, it makes me human.

Parenthood isn't always easy either, and I occasionally like to blow off a little steam and not have to think about being responsible for a whole other life. Again, this does not mean that I'm some kind of selfish devil bitch who should never have brought life onto the planet in the first place, it just makes me someone who knows who she is as well as being a mother. Who I am is someone who, once a week, likes to go dancing for a couple of hours while my son stays at home with his father (a perfectly capable parent in his own right) and, every couple of months, likes to ring my friend - who has no children and represents a more carefree me - and go out and drink an unhealthy amount of tequila. Blake is only ever left with Mr Meaney or my parents and nine times out of ten is fast asleep before I even leave the house.

Yes, I may occasionally wake up the following day with a hangover, but I can guarantee that the only person who ever suffers as a result of it is me. My son is still cared for, played with and loved; the only difference is that I might be doing it in my pyjamas, wearing make up from the night before.

Since having Blake, I have sacrificed a great many things -  including, but not limited to, sleeping in my own bed and underwired bras - but I don't see that I should sacrifice this small piece of who I was if I don't have to. It doesn't mean that my priorities are wrong. Blake will always come first. I've just come to realise that I have to come somewhere too.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Why I'm Still Breastfeeding My 10 Month Old

Yesterday I was having one of those Groundhog Day parenting conversations (different person, exact same words) when I happened to mention that Blake was still on the breast. The lady to whom I was speaking recoiled with horror and told me in no uncertain times that it was high time I stopped all that business. In her defense, this lady is in her eighties and that's one hell of a generation gap, but actually she's not the first person to insinuate that I've taken breastfeeding as far as the boundaries of decency allow. It's not always elderly acquaintances either. I see a little twinkle in the eye of close family members when I grumble about having had enough, and I know that several of my friends think that I'm approaching creepy whenever I nurse my son.

When fielding the 'so how long are you actually going to breastfeed for?' line of questioning, I often just humour people and say something vague about considering quitting, but there's actually very little truth in it. Of course I have shit days with it. For one thing, I fucking hate breast-pumping more than anything I've ever had to do in my life - it's uncomfortable, undignified and, when at work, it's absolutely freezing. As well as that systematical torture, I now have a very mobile child who likes to climb all over me whilst nursing, occasionally lunging at my nipple teeth first, but none of that means that I'm necessarily ready to stop.

Giving up breastfeeding is an enormous decision. Once you stop there is no going back, your breasts literally stop producing once they realise that nothing is being used up and that's that. I can't think of any scenario where that doesn't end in me regretting it. That special time between Blake and I will be gone and there will be no getting back. It makes sense then to not make the decision at all; to let it make itself. I have set no time limit on my breastfeeding journey. There are certain situations in which it would be less than ideal (for example, when I get pregnant again because Blake kicks), but even then I will almost certainly push through if my son wants me to, because he loves his nursing sessions. 

Blake will take a bottle. He'll even take formula when I have to work and haven't been able to pump much of a supply, but to him that's just food. Nursing is so much more. As soon as I make the gesture that tells him it's time to feed, his face lights up with pure excitement and it's more powerful than any medicine when he's feeling off. How can I take that away without any consideration for his wants and needs? I can't. Not only that but, with nursing, Blake is in charge of how much and how often he eats. The second I put him onto bottles, I'm in charge. I'll be regulating the amounts and times of his feeds and that just seems like a lot of pressure. It seems to make more sense to just let him eat when he's hungry and to stop when he's full, without it ending in a shit load of expensive formula going down the sink.

So those are a couple of the reasons that I'm still breastfeeding Blake as we approach his ten month milestone and why, if appropriate, I might still be breastfeeding him when he can walk or - shock horror - ask for it; I refuse to apologise for that. I know that some folk may find it strange or uncomfortable but this is, and always has been about Blake. He comes first.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

Sex. It's what gave us our babies in the first place, yet it's suddenly the last thing we want to do.

A couple of friends and  I were recently discussing our sex lives - sorry gents, it's just what we do - and I realised that the post-baby beast with two backs really is an issue for many couples. In particular, I was suddenly acutely aware that a new mother's intensely complex relationship with her sexuality is something that her partner is almost certain to struggle with. The men in our lives suddenly find themselves with a partner who is potentially both emotionally and physically distant. With that in mind, I wanted to explore my own feelings about sex over the past year in the hope that the menfolk will feel a little more enlightened and a little less rejected. 

First of all, there is the physical side - I have already discussed the physiological aspects of sex after a C-section in my guest blog for Girl on the Net - and regardless of the type of birth that you had, your body has undergone and enormous amount of trauma and change. The first couple of attempts at sex absolutely have the potential to put us off a bit. For me, it was pain that knocked my confidence, but for many people I know who have had natural births, it was the change in, and sometimes even lack of sensation that made them draw back from intimacy. 

Then there's the emotional side, which is where it gets really complicated. The feelings that I explore here are completely my own, and I will avoid paraphrasing anything that I have heard in confidence, yet I know that I am not alone in how I've felt on occasions. 

The first mental barrier to sex that I had to overcome was caused by breastfeeding. All of a sudden, my body was no longer for me to use for pleasure; it was a functional milk vessel with a very important job to do. Somehow it seemed wrong for the two things to happen in the same place. I felt that a body that was making food for my precious child had no place wasting time with things like orgasms. The sheer thought of someone licking or sucking on a nipple for sexual reasons still makes me feel quite uncomfortable. In fact, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to use my breasts for pleasure again.

Another problem is this: mothers are always thinking about their children. We can't help it, and I'm sure you'll agree that it's very sweet, but it's also something of a mood killer. There's nothing quite as squirm-inducing as enjoying some foreplay with your partner only to hear a crackle over the baby monitor. As your partner carries on, oblivious, your attention has unconsciously switched to what's happening in the other room with your beloved baby. Gentlemen, we don't stop you in your tracks because we don't want you, we stop you because it would be plain wrong to let you go down on us while we're wondering if the baby has shit.

Personally, I had an interesting third emotional obstacle to get over. I could be on my own with this one as I haven't actually discussed it with other mums, but I somehow got it into my head that if I was doing something as grubby as having an orgasm, then something bad would happen to Blake - punishment, I guess. I have no idea where this came from. I have always struggled with some feelings of shame when it comes to sex - perhaps as a result of not respecting myself much when I was younger, or more likely because I'm incredibly British - but this level of self loathing over something as innocent as sex with my husband or masturbation was entirely new. When Mr Meaney and I did have sex, I would have to rush into Blake's bedroom as soon as we'd finished to make sure he was still breathing, and I wouldn't dare to pleasure myself if the boys were out of the house in case it caused them to get into a car accident or something. Mental, I know, but I felt it anyway.

This three-tier emotional turmoil is slowly abating, and with the return of my menstrual cycle - and thus, fertility - my body's hormonal response has also helped to kick start my libido, but it hasn't been easy at times. I have had to completely pick apart my sexual history and examine the fragments to see how these attitudes, now exacerbated by motherhood, were developed in the first place. On the other hand, the entire process has been quite healing, and the shame that I have carried since my late teens is gone. 

Nothing wrong with an orgasm, after all...

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Menstrual Limbo: Breastfeeding and Periods

As well as nourishing your infant and forming an unbreakable bond, breastfeeding also does a very important job as a natural contraceptive. In order to prevent a woman from getting pregnant whilst caring for her very young offspring, nursing actually delays ovulation until the child is older and taking less breastmilk, or sometimes until they are taking none at all.

Once your initial post-natal bleeding stops, you sail through the month; almost forgetting that periods exist. Sex isn't particularly high on the agenda anyway, but it's reassuring to know that the chances of falling pregnant by accident are relatively low. All in all, the period free life is quite peachy. 

Or so you'd think.

What is actually happening is that I am an adult, sexually active woman whose period is failing to arrive every month. The fact that women ovulate around two weeks before their periods means that this could be happening at any time and I would be completely unaware of the fact. Should intercourse coincide with that happening, it doesn't take a genius to work out what the result will be. The effect of this knowledge coupled with an ever absent period? I think that I'm pregnant after every sexual encounter my husband and I have. It doesn't even need to be penetrative; if there's been sperm involved, I assume that some of it has found its way into my fallopian tubes. And hey, we all know I'm fertile. 

You're probably wondering why I don't just take a contraceptive and eradicate this risk, and that would be a very valid point. Except that I did, at first. I began using a breastfeeding-friendly progesterone only 'mini-pill', but I hate hormonal contraceptives - side-effects, anyone? - and we weren't having sex that often anyway, so I stopped. Also, it turned out that being on the pill made absolutely no difference to my almost constant assumption that I was pregnant. A period that completely fails to arrive will trump any rational knowledge that you probably aren't up the duff. I've done more pregnancy tests since having Blake than I ever did when trying for him.

The other problem is that your menstrual cycle could kick it at absolutely any time. How on Earth are you supposed to be prepared for that? I've got a couple of dusty tampons kicking around my bathroom from last March, but I have been a little loathe to stock up on expensive sanitary essentials 'just in case'. My period could arrive next week, but it could also decide to hang fire for another six months; I literally have no idea. Many of my breastfeeding friends began to get theirs as their babies started to take more solids, but there are plenty of nursing mums feeling a bit cheated because Aunt Flo arrived just six weeks after giving birth. 

Once you get to my age (early twenties... ahem), periods are generally quite easy to predict. Unless you're unlucky, the arrival of your monthly visitor can be predicted to almost the exact day. I do not have such a luxury; what if it happens when I'm out and have no immediate access to a toilet or clean pants? Even if your cycle is a little irregular, you can usually sense an impending period by the way that your body feels, but I can't even do that. The hormonal effects of breastfeeding mean that my body is always up to some weird shit that I can't explain, and I'm not entirely sure I can remember what a period really feels like.

I live in the reassuring knowledge that my husband has always been able to sense the oncoming menstrual storm long before I'm even aware of its approach. As soon as I hear the familiar words "What is your problem lately?!", I'll know that something evil this way comes...

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Here's to The Daddies!

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that I recently returned to work. This has largely resulted in two things: an increase in breast-pumping frequency has left me with alarmingly stretched nipples, and I suddenly have an enormous amount of respect for baby daddies.

After nine glorious months off work, I have dutifully agreed to honour my full time hours for the next month before switching to a part-time contract in October. The result? I'm absolutely bloody exhausted. Blake isn't a particularly difficult baby, and yet getting us both organised in the mornings, delivering him to various family members/child minders, working, coming home, dinner, bath and bedtime has somewhat taken its toll on my energy levels. This got me thinking about my husband. Wait! No! Come back! I'm not about to get all doe eyed (again), but I was suddenly very aware that he went through all of this when Blake was less than a month old and waking at all times of the night. Naturally, due to breastfeeding, Mr Meaney was unable to actually give any night feeds himself, but he would nearly always get up before me and change the baby's nappy and get everything set up for me to come and nurse. Let us not forget that a father's sleep is broken by a crying baby too, even if they're not actually waking fully. While we can often spend the next day in a halfway catatonic state, more often than not the men have to go to work and function as full human beings. 

Mr Meaney, in particular, would then come home to nothing short of chaos and find himself tidying up an ocean of toys and making dinner for the wife that was now more or less constantly plugged into a baby. It puts what I'm doing now into perspective, that's for sure. Don't get me wrong, I'm bloody proud of what I'm managing to achieve - not least the fact that my baby is still on breast milk despite my loathing of expressing - but I do have to give my husband the recognition that he deserves; the man's a bloody machine. He does all of this and still finds the energy to stay up until the early hours on a school night watching WWE.

Then I got to thinking about dads in general; not just the live-in daddies of small babies - changing nappies and giving bottles - but the dads of older children, the dads who don't live with their children and the step- and foster dads of the World. Every single dad who makes the effort to be there for a child deserves a little recognition; so often they are forgotten about as the mother is showered with love and attention. I know dads who don't see their little ones as much as they'd like, but for whom that tiny person is their entire universe. I know dads who work away a lot and for whom every night spent in a lonely hotel room causes fresh heartbreak. And I know step-dads who would move heaven and earth to make life just a tiny bit easier for a child that doesn't share their DNA - mine included.

I know that to raise, love and support a child is a basic requirement of being a father, but there are many out there - and mothers, too - who do none of these things. On a blog that so often celebrates what it means to be a woman with a baby, I just wanted to say to the ever present and loving fathers: you guys absolutely rock and I love every single bloody one of you.

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.


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.