Sunday, 2 August 2015

Real World Reasons to Breastfeed

It is often drummed into us at antenatal appointments that breast is best. I'm not here to dispute that; as a mother who has successfully fed one child and is gearing up to feed the one growing inside her, I'm a big advocate of what can often be a contentious issue.

Not everyone can breastfeed, and not everyone wants to, but there does seem to be quite a lot of women who are somewhat on the fence about whether or not they want to try. For those ladies that are unsure, there is plethora of information available about the evidential medical benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and their babies. In my opinion, that's kind of the problem; not only is this onslaught of facts and figures somewhat overwhelming, but a lot of us hear words like 'cancer' and 'SIDS' and immediately close ourselves off.

With that in mind, I'm here to provide some benefits of breastfeeding that women can relate to their immediate lives. After all, isn't it all about stacking up the real world pros and cons?

1. It's free.

A bit of a no-brainer, that one. Formula is expensive, whichever brand you go for, and breast milk is completely and utterly free. Ok, not completely, because you'll need extra fuel and those cakes soon add up, but it's still a whole a lot cheaper than buying milk in.

2. Less washing up.

Bottles are a pain in the arse to wash. You need a special brush to get right up into the teats, and even then you'll be paranoid that it isn't quite clean. Once you're finally satisfied that any trace of earlier feeds has gone, the rinsing starts. The ever-lasting bloody rinsing...

Boobs require a quick wash in the shower, which I hope you would be doing anyway.

3. No sterilising

I have never once popped my breast into a steriliser, which is probably a good thing; I've retrieved bottles from those contraptions shortly after their cycles have ended and given myself third degree burns.

4. Less clutter

Things you need for bottle feeding: bottles, teats, formula, steriliser, bottle brush, bottle warmer... the list goes on.

Things you need for breastfeeding: breasts. Of course, you can get all sorts of paraphernalia to go with breastfeeding too, but if you're anything like me, you'll use approximately none of it.

5. Baby doesn't have to wait.

Picture the scene: it's 3am and you have a hungry infant who can only communicate in shrill screams of despair. You have two options - you can either go downstairs, boil the kettle, mix a bottle, wait for it to cool and try and pacify your angry husband who has a 6am shift that day, or you can pop a nipple into the baby's mouth and provide immediate milk, perfectly mixed and at the exact desired temperature within minutes of them waking.

6. You can eat more.

I mentioned the cake, didn't I? Breastfeeding uses up calories, so it stands to reason that you need to put more in. Bring on the carbs!

7. It's a good excuse.

Don't want to go to that Ann Summers party with the loud girl from work? Best you tell her that little Albert won't take a bottle yet and cluster feeds in the evenings. In fact getting home for a feed is a pretty good excuse to leave anywhere. I once got out of having to go and sit and exam thanks to my magical boobies.

8. You can be a bit smug.

You're doing something that's universally acknowledged to be difficult, so be as smug as you like. But never, ever get self-righteous; just because you can do it doesn't give you a free pass to preach. People don't like that.

9. You get quality Netflix time.

While breastfeeding is being established, it can take a long time. This naturally means an awful lot of time sat in one spot, plugged into a baby. This is time well spent catching up on your television consumption. I once watched four seasons of Misfits in less than two weeks.

10. It sends baby to sleep.

Mastering the side-by-side feed will be a powerful part of your "please nap" arsenal. The baby will drift peacefully into the land of slumber, comforted by the close proximity of their loving mother. Of course, you'll be obligated to wait until they wake up before attempting to remove your nipple from their maw, so bring reading material or a fully charged smartphone.


Still on the fence? Ok, I have to admit it's not the easiest thing in the world and it absolutely isn't for everyone, but my advice is try it; you might love it, and it'd be a crying shame to never really know...

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Why My Brothers-In-Law Are The Real Heroes

Yesterday, I read a news story that made me angry. It was about a local man that was being hailed as a hero for turning a relationship breakdown into something positive, moving to Rio de Janeiro and helping the underprivileged children of Brazil. Very noble of him certainly, except I happen to know that there's one detail the newspapers weren't aware of. In the midst of the catastrophic break up that he did mention, there was a fling that he didn't. From that fling came a child. A child that he actively rejected and then essentially ran away from. A real hero, I'm sure you'll agree.

I have personal experience of growing up with the knowledge that I'd been rejected by a man that had never even met me, so stories like that tug at my anger strings. However, something then happened that stopped my anger in its tracks; I was reminded of the power of stepfathers. Naturally, I have an automatic soft spot for any man that does a wonderful job of raising children that he has no genetic obligation to, and I was reminded of this by a post my older sister put on Facebook. Her husband is father to only one of her children and incredible stepfather to the other four. Her post was about the amount of money she had spent on school uniforms so far, and she mentioned how hard her husband has to work in order to be able to afford such requirements for all five children. It occurred to me then that, rather than getting angry about the men who were walking out of children's lives, my energy would be better spent recognising the ones who made a conscious decision to walk in.

I have two sisters and both of their spouses are heroes. They fell in love with these beautiful women and, almost without thinking, took on the children of lesser men as their own. The husband of my older sister went from a pretty responsibility free lifestyle to father to four children in just a few short months and, as far as I'm aware, it's never even occurred to him how amazing that was. My younger sister attracted the attentions of a man who already had a child, but who was living quite a bachelor existence; one which he immediately dropped, fitting naturally and comfortably into his role of dedicated family man. They are real men because they choose to be and I love them both for it.

My Dad - my wonderful, caring, occasionally terrifying Dad - he's a hero too. He moved in with a woman he had met and her two neurotic daughters. I was only three, but my sister was eight and was fast becoming the teenager that he would have to learn to deal with. I was young enough to be pretty open to the new man our lives, but I'd soon grow out of that. A few years back, I began to serialise my teenage diaries (you can find them here), but stopped that little project in its tracks when I discovered that my teenage self was horrible. I was horrible to and about my friends, but I was absolutely demonic when it came to talking about my stepfather. I was pretty awful to his face too; in fact, I once threw a drink into it while he sat in his armchair. My Dad didn't leave. He didn't get up and say "fuck this shit; these aren't even my kids". He waited for me to calm down and then dealt with me like any father would - with a bollocking and a grounding that he would inevitably let me talk him out of.

So sod the bloke in Brazil, who had the chance to know someone incredible and turned it down. Sod the men all around the World who are failing to be a part of the lives they helped to create. Sod them all, because there are plenty of incredible men who are willing to fill the gaps that they're leaving, and those men are the real heroes.


Wednesday, 8 July 2015

If Adults Acted Like Toddlers

This evening, Blake and I were walking from my friend's house to my car. He was looking after my keys and I was holding his hand and chatting merrily about seeing Daddy soon, when suddenly Blake stopped. He put my keyring into his mouth, making him look like an elaborate door knocker, and refused to take another step. Blake is eighteen months old; this behaviour did not surprise me in the slightest. However, it did get me to thinking how weird it would look if I had done the same thing. If, at the age of thirty, I had stuffed my keys into my mouth and stood stock still on the pavement, completely refusing to move.

Toddlers do some strange things. After all, they're still discovering the world and everything is new and exciting. Plus, and this bit is crucial, they get away with it. Somehow I don't think it would be quite as cute if I were to stroll down the road, trying to open every gate that I came across. I think it would be less cute still if I were to tackle Morrisons by shouting at the top of my voice the entire way round. 

Dinner time would also be interesting. If I were to suddenly start copying the way that my son ate, I would fill a spoon with peas, lift them carefully to my face, only to the tip them directly into my lap the millisecond before they reached my lips. I would fill my fork with food, then pick it off and shove it into my mouth along with my entire fist and, once I had had my fill, I would inexplicably pick up my plate and tip whatever was left onto the floor.

I would gurn for no apparent reason and stare at strangers until they acknowledged my existence. I would then smile coyly and look away. When my son does it, it's adorable; if I were to do it, my husband might see it as me flirting ineffectively with others. 

Sleeping would be altogether less restful. I'm of the opinion that Blake might never be ready to come out of his cot and go into a bed; he would fall out within minutes. I have never met a more active sleeper. If I suddenly began to imitate his sleeping pattern, I would cover every inch of the bed within the first hour of being in it. I would repeatedly try and crawl in my sleep until my head hit the headboard, only to turn around and try to go the other way. I would never keep a blanket on me and I would intermittently cry out for no reason at all, soundly asleep again within seconds. I would need bed guards and there almost certainly wouldn't be any room for Mr Meaney.

I would walk around the house, bumping into furniture, forehead first and I would fall onto my bottom without warning, apparently thwarted by my own centre of gravity. I occasionally do these things now admittedly, but there has generally been wine involved. To my knowledge, Blake has never once had drunkenness to blame for his incessant falling. 

I would laugh loudly any time I witnessed someone hurt themselves. Then I would attempt to climb the bookcase, hurt myself and shout incoherent obscenities at anyone that tried to point out the rough justice of the situation.

I would hide under the kitchen table if anyone mentioned the words 'get' and 'dressed' together in a sentence.

Toddlers are strange creatures indeed; part small, angry goblin - part hilarious, drunken hobo. They are that brilliant mix of snuggly baby smells and genuine comedy genius that mean they can get away with almost anything. As their personalities grow and blossom, their behaviour is puzzling and utterly fascinating. It's just a shame that we can't get away with replicating it, because toddlers really do look like they're having the most fun of all.


Saturday, 27 June 2015

Depressing CBeebies Reinterpretations

I have delved into the murky waters of CBeebies shows before, but if I'm honest, I would have to admit that I lacked conviction. My husband, on the other hand, does not. When I planted the seed in his head that these shows were open to reinterpretation, his dark little mind ran with the idea. Soon, he was coming to me with some truly depressing explanations for the seemingly bizarre plot-lines that we were subjecting our child to.

After that, it became something of an obsession. It began with his reasoning behind Old Jack's Boat and Mr Tumble, but led us to some pretty gloomy corners of our own brains. Because misery likes company, I've decided to share some of them with you.


Old Jack's Boat



Ah, Staithes; the place that our bleak, bleak journey began. I innocently wondered aloud one day why Jack's boat, The Rainbow, looked all rusty and decrepit right up until Jack walked aboard, when it would spring into bright, fresh colour. 

As I have already explained, my husband is quite dark, and a few days later he proposed a theory. His explanation for why the boat only seemed to sparkle with life when Jack was on board was that, actually, Jack has a severe case of Alzheimer's Disease.

Mr Meaney reckons that The Rainbow is exactly as rusty and un-seaworthy as we see it in the harbour. Jack, however, only remembers the boat how it was, and when it changes we're merely getting a glimpse into the mind of a horrendously confused old man who think his boat is still shiny and new.

This theory also goes some way to explaining Jack's fairly fantastical stories and why the locals of Staithes insist on talking to him with grating condescension.


Something Special



As if I wasn't feeling sad enough about the fact that Old Jack was slowly losing his mind, my husband then decided to move onto another family favourite: one Mr Tumble of Something Special fame. I cringed away; our boy loves Mr Tumble and I wasn't sure if I wanted to hear the sad stories behind his red nose and spotty bag. Unfortunately, I was hooked; I had to know what horrors my husband's brain was capable of cooking up.

There are several members of the Tumble family with which our hero interacts. We have Aunt Polly, Grandad Tumble, Lord Tumble, Fisherman Tumble and Baker Tumble, all of whom look exactly like Mr Tumble, but each wears a different variation of his trademark outfit. 

In steps Mr Meaney...

Mr Tumble is in a home. He has severe learning disabilities and requires round the clock care to make sure that he gets everything that he needs. Sadly, however, his parents were unable to cope with the difficulties that their son placed on them and have abandoned him completely. 

With no family coming to visit him, he creates the Tumble family in his own head. Dressing up in simple costumes (Aunt Polly's hat aside), he brings each character to life and engages with the family that he never had to stave off the crushing loneliness that he would otherwise face.

It also explains his proficiency with Makaton sign language.


Teacup Travels


Inspired (and completely depressed) by Mr Meaney's ideas, I decided to tackle a show myself. Namely Teacup Travels, in which two children, Elliott and Charlotte, visit incredible distant lands via the stories of their Great Aunt Lizzie and her precious teacup collection.

It's pretty obvious where my brain went with this one: Lizzie is drugging the children. I don't know why, perhaps she just worships chaos, but she is slipping hallucinogenics into those children's teacups, sitting back and relishing the results.

There are certain things that back up this theory, quite apart from the children in question being under the illusion that they're genuinely in ancient Rome/Egypt/China the second they take a sip of her 'tea'.

The children's mother features in both the opening and closing credits, dropping them off with Great Aunt Lizzie. Lizzie's very title would suggest that the two women are somehow related, even if by marriage only, yet the mother never steps foot on the property; she simply sends a child through the gate and leaves. When she returns to collect them, she waits again on the other side of the gate and never, ever goes inside or speaks to Lizzie directly. She also only ever drops off one child at a time.

Elliott and Charlotte's mother is desperately in debt. Lizzie is no relation to any of them, but she enjoys 'spending time' with the woman's offspring and pays generously for the chance to do so. The mother knows that something is wrong, but she needs the money, yet she absolves her guilt slightly by only ever subjecting one child to Lizzie's game at a time.

Bing


After that, I decided to take another look at Bing; the big bunny with the big heart. 

Bing confuses a lot of people, mostly because the parent type characters appear to be some kind of rag doll type things that the youngsters call by name. Also, why can't Pando keep his bloody trousers on for more than a minute at a time?

I can answer both of those questions. Bing and his friends are foster children. The little rag doll things aren't their parents and, although the nice people at social services have tried to match them with someone as similar to them as possible, they haven't quite found that perfect fit.

The adults are nice, however, and the children are largely happy despite their turbulent early starts in life. Sadly, some behavioural anomalies still remain. Bing, for example, has trouble coping with day to day life and is almost completely unable to follow simple instructions. And that sodding panda just can't stop taking his clothes off.

Happy watching...

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Second Baby Syndrome

There are certain questions that people tend towards asking when they see that a woman is pregnant:

1. When is it due?
2. Do you know what you're having?
3. Is this your first baby?

And it's this third question that I'm here to discuss today. In fact, I'm as guilty of this as anyone; I found myself asking a girl just the other day if the small human concealed under her considerable bump was to be her first. She said yes and I cooed and reassured her that it wasn't nearly as horrendous as people liked to make you believe. All in all, it was a rather lovely moment.

When I was pregnant with Blake, the same thing would happen; people would get so excited for me when I told them that he was to be my first child and made such a fuss of me and my ever-expanding belly. 

This time it's different. This time people ask me if the baby is to be my first and I respond with "no, my second" and, more often than not, the response is a slightly disappointed sounding "oh" and a change of subject. People just don't seem to really care about subsequent children.

I'm not complaining as such, because I'm just as bad. We toyed with the idea of not bothering to announce the pregnancy because we just didn't expect people to care. Not only that but I haven't really given the person growing inside me much thought. It's only now that I can feel it moving that I regularly even remember that I'm having another baby in a few months. Partly, I think this is because I simply don't have the time for sitting around and mooning over what my child might look like this time around. When Blake was still on the inside, I would spend hours each day obsessing over him. In short, my mind was completely preoccupied by my son. Well, my mind is still completely preoccupied by him, and the poor little one in my womb is having to settle for filling little gaps in my consciousness. 

Perhaps this is all to do with the fact that the mother knows what to expect with subsequent pregnancies and births. People are less compelled to give out advice because she simply doesn't need it, while she's less likely to give much thought to the pregnancy because she knows just how much feeling like shit is normal. Instead of obsessing over every ache and pain or googling gender prediction old wives' tales, veteran mums are far more likely to take the whole thing in their stride (between the vomiting if they're anything like me).

I do feel sorry for the child though. They haven't even been born yet and already they're having to compete with Blake for attention. There's also a very real chance that there's going to be a third (especially if this one is another boy), so they're probably going to have Middle Child Syndrome to deal with at some point too.

Poor baby number two. I think I'll spend some time rubbing my bump and telling it that I love it tonight. You know, just so it doesn't feel quite so left out...

"Hello? Is anyone listening out there?"

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

"It's Probably Just a Virus"

If there is a more infuriating phrase that us parents have to endure then I am yet to find it. I'm sure that doctors must find it tedious fielding a never-ending stream of worried mums and dads with snotty nosed infants, but is this really the best catch-all sentence that they can possibly muster?

Look, I get that viruses don't respond to antibiotics. I get that most healthy bodies are perfectly able to fight them off without the need for medical intervention, but sometimes what a parent really wants is for a professional to just have a good look at their child, put a name to the nasty that's currently poisoning their little bodies and offer some sodding reassurance. Is that really so hard? Is that really a million miles away from the services that the NHS is supposed to provide? Or does the fact that no physical medicine changes hand make the entire thing a waste of precious resources?


Oh, bugger off.


Blake has been ill since Saturday morning. At first, it was just a bloodshot right eye which had developed into full blown, gloriously gungy conjunctivitis by the next morning. Being the dutiful parent that I am, I marched straight down to the pharmacy and came away armed with antibiotic eye drops, the orders to administer them every two hours and a cold certainty that it wasn't going to be that straight forward. Blake was happy to prove me right and the Optrex wrestling matches quickly went from pretty tricky to completely traumatic within a few doses. Not only that, but they don't seem to be working; we're four days in, Blake's eyes are worse than ever and he is now tracking a pretty impressive fever as well as several other bonus symptoms.

Today, I got home from work and almost burst into tears when I saw him. His eyes were puffed shut and thick with dried green gunk and his lips were blue and shivering despite his baking temperature. My first instinct was to call the doctor to try and get him seen immediately. I wanted someone to look at his eyes, to take his temperature properly with a more reliable thermometer than my own and to tell me exactly what was wrong with him. When a doctor called me back and I explained the symptoms, I got the exact response I expected:

"It's probably just a virus."

Well, yes, maybe it is, but why do these viruses never have a fucking name? A virus can be anything from a common cold to meningitis, so wanting a little bit more clarification is hardly a lot to ask. What type of virus? How long can I expect it to last? Have you seen these symptoms together before? Could it be an allergic reaction to the drops that I'm forcing into his bloodshot eyes while I pin his arms to the sofa? I don't want some umbrella terminology designed to placate me and make me go away; I want to know what's wrong with my son.

In the end, the doctor reluctantly made me appointment for tomorrow that I'm to cancel first thing if Blake shows any improvement overnight (his actual words) and, while I'm sure this ailment is fairly minor, I find it incredibly frustrating that parents are so easily dismissed as paranoid. Blake has some kind of complication revolving around conjunctivitis and I'm sure it'll clear up in time, but how often do we have to hear about a child being sent home with a vague virus diagnosis, only to end up critically ill in hospital a few hours later before doctors begin to take us seriously? As spoken sentences go, "it's probably just a virus" is particularly meaningless, and I for one am sick of hearing it.

*** UPDATE: Blake's 'virus' was actually a severe allergic reaction to his eye medication. ***

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Why I've Stopped Giving a Sh*t About What Other Parents are Doing

When my son was younger, I was all about keeping up with the proverbial Jones's. I spent my time on the internet reading about what other mothers were buying for their children or giving them to eat, and I ended up driving myself to the very edge of insanity. There was no way I could keep up with what everyone else was doing; my budget simply wouldn't allow it, and yet here I was torturing myself about all of the crucial developmental tools that Blake was missing out on. I truly felt that he was being held back in life by my lack of Fisher Price gadgets and Nuby feeding utensils.

It's only now that he's older, and as developed as I'd expect at his age, that I've realised that material goods in a baby's life are no different from material goods in ours; that actually they don't matter. It's just stuff.

For example, when Blake was a little less mobile (oh, blessed days) I was completely obsessed with the idea of the Jumperoo. It seemed like everyone else had one and the internet was basically telling me that if I didn't have one then I was failing my child at a most fundamental level; he would never learn to walk and his fine motor and communication skills were going to suffer irreparable damage thanks to my crap finances. In truth, not having a Jumperoo really meant that the only thing we were missing out on was having half our lounge taken up by a plastic monstrosity. The actual functionality of a Jumperoo was easily achieved with a bargain door bouncer bought from eBay and a reasonably priced (but perfectly sufficient) baby walker given to us by Blake's Granny. 

Blake never had a Sophie La Girafe teether. As I jumped from forum to forum, I was crippled with guilt over the fact that I hadn't invested in something that had brought so many other children such hours of joy. Let us not also forget that it's made with all natural materials, as though we're somehow poisoning our offspring by daring to let them put anything man-made into their mouths. I've seen people putting out impassioned pleas on social media to find lost Sophies because those sodding giraffes cost a small fortune. Can you guess what happens if Blake loses one of his cheap teethers that I buy from Boots? I buy another one.

When I introduced Blake to bottles, I spent hours online researching the best types to buy. I tied myself up in knots reading about Dr Brown bottles that prevent colic and will make your baby the happiest he can be and eventually save him a fortune in therapists when he's older. I read about techniques to alter the hole in rubber bottle teats to make the flow more resemble that of the breast, and stood in Tesco nearly in tears wondering what sized teats to buy in the first place. In the end, I bought the pretty standard Tommee Tippee bottles and now, sixteen months later, we're still bloody using them, alteration free.

I bought the cheapest travel system that I could find that still had good reviews, and I absolutely love that thing; I'm pretty certain it could survive a nuclear holocaust.

We used a mid-priced Moses basket and put it next to the bed instead of bothering to hire a Bed-nest. 

We put the landing light on and opened his bedroom door a crack instead of buying a night-light that projected stars onto the ceiling. 

I downloaded a free lullaby app on my phone instead of worrying about a Slumber Buddy. 

We used a hand-me-down baby monitor that does nothing but transmit sound instead of investing in an Angelcare mat that sets of alarms in case of an emergency. 

It's not that I didn't want any of these things, because I did. The more time I spent on Google and Twitter, the more I convinced myself that I was somehow failing my child by not keeping up with everyone else, but then something strange happened: Blake stayed alive. He started to crawl, and then to walk and kept up developmentally with all of his peers despite the fact that our house was more 'car-boot' than 'Mothercare'. So I relaxed and I learnt that things are just things. Clever marketing is designed specifically to make us feel like shit if we can't afford a particular product but, chances are, you can probably do just fine without it. 

I began to work on the principle that my Mum never had any of this crap when she was raising us and we all still grew up into (mostly) fully functioning adults. I mean, look at me: I can read and write and I never even watched one, single episode of Baby Einstein.