Saturday, 22 November 2014

A Decade Later (or A Tale of Two Dins)

A little shy of ten years ago, I was a twenty year old loose cannon with fire engine red hair, hell-bent on binge drinking and promiscuity. I had no one to worry about but myself and nothing to spend my money on except hair dye and vodka. I worked full time as a way of fuelling my hedonistic lifestyle, but had absolutely zero sense of responsibility. I had more male attention than was probably healthy, but not a single one of them was interested in sticking around once the weekend over. I was a bloody mess actually, but my word I was having fun.


Look at this kid.

Four years later, it suddenly occurred to me that I was jealous of the amount of time that my friend was spending with another girl, so I decided to talk to him about it. The rest, as they say is history. After that, I stopped being a hot mess and became someone with focus, a sense of purpose and, for the first time in my life, a true sense of intimacy and happiness. Naturally, first comes love, then comes marriage and then comes baby in the baby carriage, and almost a decade after that picture was taken, I am an altogether different person. I am a wife, a mother, a reasonably responsible member of the community. 

Everybody say 'FULFILMENT!'


Of course, the changes have happened relatively gradually and, with that in mind, I thought it might be fun to look at the stark differences between the Dins at either end of the decade. So I decided to conduct a fantasy interview with the 'Then' and the 'Now'...

What is your typical daily grooming routine?

Then: 'Well, I start with a shower in which I use a colour refresher on my hair, emollient on my skin and a razor on all of my unmentionable bits (well, you never know, do you?). After showering I cover myself in all sorts of scented lotions and perfumes before spending a good hour on my make up and a further thirty minutes styling my hair. I can change my outfit up to three times on an average day for absolutely no reason at all, which has no impact on me because the laundry fairies take care of all the discarded clothes I leave strewn about my bedroom floor.'

Now: 'I try and shower everyday. Sometimes it's a bit of a rush job while Something Special is on. Hang on a minute, I think I just heard the baby fall over... No, it's ok. He's fine. More often than not, my hair gets scraped back into a pile on top of my head while it's still wet and I've got my make up routine down to three minutes. Sometimes it even looks like an adult applied it. Outfit is usually made up of whatever's clean and if the shoulder of my top is still free of dried snot when we leave the house then I know it's going to be a good day.'

How do you stay in shape?

Then: 'What do you mean?'

Now: 'I go jive dancing once a week if the baby isn't having too clingy an evening. I then spend the rest of the week mentally berating myself for not managing to fit in any other cardio sessions because I ate one bag of Wotsits. Did he just put something in his mouth?'

Would you ever consider cosmetic surgery?

Then: 'No way!'

Now: 'Yes. Would you like me to write a list?'

How would you describe your drinking habits?

Then: 'Moderate. I only go out drinking on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and usually only drink at home on Tuesdays. I wouldn't say that I have a binge drinking problem because I nearly always remember everything that happens (up until midnight).'

Now: 'I buy a bottle of wine when I can afford it, which is about once a month. The bottle takes me a week to finish because I can only have one glass an evening, after which I still feel like shit the next day. When I do go out to attempt a big session, I have to stick to clear spirits and follow them with a water chaser; babies and hangovers are grim.'

What is your attitude towards sex?

Then: 'Incredibly positive. I'm all for it. Even if I do wake up full of self loathing on a Monday morning...'

Me: 'Sex is something wonderful that happens by accident between my husband and I in the middle of the night if we accidentally roll together. Was that a fart or a poop? Can you sniff his bum for me?'

How do you feel about your job?

Then: 'Meh. I work in a carpet shop so that I have money to spend on my hair and nights out.'

Me: 'I love my job. I work in a carpet shop a few days a week so that I can have adult conversation about something other than weaning and sleep patterns.'

Do you see (more) children in your future?

Then: 'Ew.'

Now: 'Yes. As soon as possible. Although if Blake doesn't take my mobile phone out of his mouth right now, I might have to reconsider that question.'

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Then: 'I'd love to be living in London in a flat share with a few artistic, alternative types. I'll have money by then because I'll have a career as a... something, I dunno. We'll work in the city during the week and spend our weekends having drinks and bohemian dinners somewhere in Brick Lane or Covent Garden, catching night buses home just before dawn. I can't see myself ever settling down and getting married, so I'll stick to having flings; men or women, I'm not bothered. I fall in love with people, not genders dude.'

Now: 'I hope I'll be making a bit of money writing, but I also hope I'll still be surrounded by my family in our little town; my husband and my babies. Blake, put Mummy's laptop down please. Don't make me middle name you, young man. No; don't pull my hair. Stop screaming. Sorry, can we pick this up another time? He just puked in my mouth...'




Saturday, 15 November 2014

Babies, Bad News and Emotional Meltdowns

I have spoken about how emotional motherhood has made me before; briefly alluding to the fact that I am unable to cope with sad news stories about children without dissolving into tears since having a child of my own. It was just a small paragraph that made up part of a longer blog post, but it's such a huge influencing factor in my life nowadays that I think it's time to further examine it.

My decision to look at this issue today is brought on largely by the fact that I have just been crying at work. I was having my morning coffee break and flicking through the Saturday paper, when I saw a story about the sentencing of a woman who had ended the lives of her three disabled infants (you can find details of the case here). I would normally give such an article a very wide berth after seeing the headline, but I have been trying to re-harden myself against all of the atrocious shit that happens out there in the big wide world in the hope that I will one day be able to consider myself a fully functional adult again. Not only that, but I wish to be a writer, and shielding myself from the sad and the awful is not the way to absorb source material. So I chose to read this story; a baptism of fire, if you will. I got almost all the way to the end and the details of how the children were found tucked up in their beds, surrounded by toys, when I fell apart. My face crumpled in devastation and I began to cry in wretched, muffled sobs that would have made any passer-by think I was reading about the deaths of my own children. And that's the thing - I might as well have been. 

When you're a parent, any story about any child immediately becomes about your own. Not literally, of course, but there is something in your head that instinctively puts yourself and your child in the shoes of those on whom the tragedy has actually befallen. For example, any time someone on my Facebook friends list 'likes' a page that has been set up in memory of a victim of SIDS, I have to hide the story from my newsfeed. It's the same with stories about babies who have been stillborn; the very word makes me feel sick with terror because I can't help but maudlinly imagine that happening to me and my family. Last year, shortly before Blake was born, my own cousin gave birth to a baby boy at twenty four weeks gestation. He's a healthy and happy little boy now but I have to admit, whilst he was fighting the battle for his life in hospital, I had to skim over some of my cousin's updates; Blake was brand new and I found them too difficult to read.

It's not only the compulsion to put myself into the shoes of others that has caused this shift in emotional strength, however. After looking in more depth at the particular stories that affect me the most, I have come to realise that the real reason that I find these stories so hard to handle is that now I simply just know babies. Before I had Blake, I had a vague idea about the true innocence of infancy, but it's only now that I spend all my time with a baby that I really understand what it means. Babies have no knowledge of the absolute horrors that occur in the world around them; they happily go through their days in a blur of giggles and nappy changes, literally protected from harm by those that love them. It's when that system of protection and love fails that my heart breaks, because a baby has no capacity to understand what is happening to them or why. They know only one response: fear. It's the thought of these pure little souls being frightened and confused that makes me fall apart, and only knowing a baby as intimately as I know my own could have had this effect.

I wish that I could save all of the babies in all of the world from ever having to feel scared, but I simply don't have the capacity to do so. All I can do is pour as much love and protection into the one that I am responsible for, and hope that he will be happy and healthy for as long as I am on the face of this planet. I wonder if, one day, I will once again be able to scroll through the news without fear of any tragic infant stories popping up, but I won't hold my breath. I have known true innocence now and there's no forgetting that.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Cbeebies Shows Reinterpreted

I watch quite a lot of Cbeebies. I wish that I didn't. I wish I could be one of these parents that can righteously announce that my child is not allowed to watch television at all; that I instead engage them in active, learning play all day, every day. But the truth is that I have housework to do, and occasionally I just have a cup of tea to drink while it's hot, and Cbeebies acts as a handy temporary babysitter. Plus Blake truly loves staring at moving colours on a large screen; he is absolutely his father's son.

These shows have not only seeped into my subconscious as I dust the lounge, but I have also found myself occasionally watching them when Blake isn't even in the room. I have to admit that a great many of them are very educational and I am happy for my son to absorb them. For example, Alphablocks appeal to every fibre of my English nerd being, while Blake's favourite, Mr Tumble of Something Special, teaches acceptance, diversity and Makaton sign language.

However, there are other shows where the misguided attempt at education tends to come off as something altogether different. I have reinterpreted some below for your pleasure.

Balamory: All Adults are Idiots

Is your child going through the terrible twos? Threes? Fours? Are they suddenly resisting your every attempt at asserting authority? Do they watch Balamory? I have a theory that these things are not unrelated.




Balamory is about a village full of adults who are completely unable to navigate their way through daily life without having to call upon one another for help with otherwise simple tasks. Their constant questions take the young viewers on a meandering exploration of the confused adult psyche and it doesn't paint them a pretty picture. 

Seriously, how can a three year old be expected to trust authority when this man is being heralded as a master inventor:


Seriously

Bing: A Simple Man Mountain (who also happens to be a rabbit)

Bing is the slightly clumsy bunny rabbit who always learns a moral lesson by the end of his five minute episodes. 



It's all very cute, and the values that Bing picks up on his way through his young life are certainly ones that you would want instilled into your child. However, the writers and animators of this series have, for some reason, seen fit to make the apparently young characters enormous while the adults are little ragdoll type... things that the 'children' call by name. Bing's guardian (they don't appear to be parents) is called Flop, and serves to reinforce the moral core to each story.


Bing, left, and Flop, right

This almost certainly artistic decision gives the viewer a very definite feeling that Bing is just a very large man-child and Flop is his slightly exasperated, but very patient, carer.

And I will not - WILL NOT - rest until someone can offer some explanation for why the panda strips down to his underpants whenever he appears on screen.


Abadas: Confusing 'Words' With 'Objects'

Abadas wants to be a programme about language. It is centred around a young boy who has a pop-up book in which three animal characters come alive and play with him. In The Word Game, Ben gives the animals a word that they do not recognise and they have to 'guess what it looks like'. 


Which would be fine, except that the Abadas don't look for a word, they look for an object. For example, in one particular episode, the hippo (Harry) was searching for the word suncream. What he actually found - after telling the viewers that the sun can't get to you through water... - was a stick of suncream. 

Now, maybe it's the English nerd in me getting on its high horse again, but if you asked me what the word suncream looked like, I would have to say that it looked like this: SUNCREAM. 


Not this.

The above picture demonstrates what sun cream, the object, looks like beautifully but in no way does it look like the word.

Mr Bloom's Nursery: Reinforcing Regional Sterotypes

I was reluctant to put Mr Bloom on this list. You see, I have a bit of a crush on him. He's ever so warm and friendly, plus he sure knows how to handle those veggies. 

Cbeebies wanted to make it obvious that Mr Bloom was a gardener, so they made him look like this:


Hot.

Now, in my mind, that is quite obviously a man of the land. However, it was apparently felt that the wellies, hat and spade weren't quite enough and that Mr Bloom needed one more thing that really alerted viewers to the fact that this man toiled in the dirt. Only one thing would do: A Yorkshire accent!

Ben Faulks, who plays the eponymous hero, is from Cornwall.

Interestingly though, when Ben appears on Bedtime Stories as himself, without the accent and the wellington boots, he does nothing for me. I'm sure this speaks volumes about my mental state...



Cbeebies: a heroic babysitter, but with interesting subtexts if you dare to delve deep enough. And don't even get me started on the disproportionate number of characters who live next to the sea... 

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...