Please lie down, please lie down, please lie down

It’s important (mostly for my own benefit) for me to begin this post by saying my baby does sleep better than he used to. Things have improved. Napping is not going to get the better of me, oh no. I will crack it, and my babe will sleep.

(Please just lie down, just rest your little head, yes that’s it, no don’t get up again, ahh!)

There is one thing I can guarantee will happen to me every day, and that is that I will spend time sat on the stairs holding the tiny baby monitor screen, praying and cursing in equal measures, and repeating the mantras above. Still, even trying to focus on the positives doesn’t make listening to my stubborn and headstrong baby screaming and stomping to avoid sleep any easier.

(Please lie down, please lie down, oh god he’s never going to lie down)

He has many different strategies for trying to lure me back upstairs. He has the loud scream and the painfully hushed wimpers; the super angry face and the save-me-mummy-I-need-you face. I persevere, stay strong, don’t give in. He hits the bars of the cot, jumps up and down, throws himself around. He makes as much noise as possible, making sure I am completely aware that at this moment I am an awful mum, an awful person, I have abandoned him.

(Please lie down, lie down for mummy, come on you can do it, snuggle up with your ridiculously expensive comforter, feel soothed by your starry night projector and your lullaby player. Why are you doing this to me? Come on, just lie down already!)

Once this battle of wills reaches around ten minutes, we enter a new phase: dirty warfare. The crying reaches choking intensity. Reaching begins. The threat of vomit on a clean GroBag. Do I go up and prevent this? Do I ignore it? I try to remain calm, I try not to think about the smell.

(Come on now, mummy needs a coffee, mummy’s going crazy, mummy needs a break)

The crying subsides for a second. He lays down. Could it be? Yes, he is settling! I creep into the kitchen, silently fill the kettle and put it on. Is that… Oh there is a god! A long-forgotten Galaxy Caramel reveals itself from behind something in the cupboard! Oh happy day! Now this is living!

And then, just as the fantasy version of me has reached her sun lounger on her perfect fantasy beach and in the kitchen the kettle boils and clicks off: a noise. A scream from above. A glance at the screen and he is pulling himself up to standing. I’m sure I spot a knowing smirk at the camera as he pauses to take breath before the explosive screaming begins again.

Big, big sigh.

Fantasy happiness and real-world tea abandoned, I might as well go an get him.

Nap time has evaded us this time, but we will try again tomorrow.

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A breastfeeding mum writes

In the last week, many changes have happened in our family. Baby R has turned 1, going from a baby to a toddler, and with this milestone I too have changed – from a breastfeeding mum to an extended breastfeeding mum.

This has been an interesting transition. I have been aware for a while that my choice to continue to breastfed my now quite large and wriggly infant has met with some disapproving looks when out and about, and some family members have not been discreet in sharing their opinion that it is time to stop. It is a strange feeling that something that was once encouraged and praised is now frowned upon. This amazing gift which was once ‘natural’ and ‘beneficial’ and ‘miraculous’ is now damaging and strange and freaky. And just to make sure there is a clear distinction between the ‘good’ breastfeeding and the weird breastfeeding, someone has decided to give it a different name.

It occurred to me whilst thinking about this that there aren’t many good activities that get re-labelled when you decide to do them for a little bit longer. When I go swimming, I normally try to do 30 minutes of lengths. Sometimes I can barely manage this, but sometimes I have a little bit extra energy and try to keep going for another 5 or 10 or 15 minutes. Never once has a lifeguard approached me at the end of the 30 minutes and said “are you sure you want to continue extended exercising?”

I’m sure that if you’re reading this then you’re probably familiar with the breast vs bottle feeding debate, so I won’t bore you with details of the beneficial components of breast milk, or the bonding and attachment opportunities of feeding from mum, or the money and energy efficiency of direct breast feeding; just some of the reasons why I value and continue to breastfeed. I will, however, remind you that only 1% of babies born in England are breastfed beyond 6 months, despite the widely reported (and WHO recommended) benefits of breastfeeding for the first 2 years of life.

So I’ve decided that whilst I am elated at being able to continue breastfeeding my son, I am not so happy about becoming an extended breastfeeding mum. Instead I have chosen to just be a mum who is breastfeeding, plain and simple.

Party favours!

So I’m the kind of mum who is not so keen on traditional party bags for many reasons:

>they’re often full of sugary snacks and treats that get scoffed down before you can intervene

>they get chucked out and end up on landfill

>they are a kind of throw away toy, they don’t teach anything about valuing material possessions

>they cost such a lot, and after giving up work I am on a money saving mission like never before!

What I do believe, however, is that it is lovely to gift guests a little thank you for coming along and spending their time with you.

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So with that in mind, I created these flower pots to give out to Baby R’s friends and family for attending his first birthday.

The pots were bought from a local DIY centre costing 79p each.  I painted them with left over bits and bobs I found in the husband’s shed and then decorated them with spots of colourful pain and ribbon.  I also made some luggage labels using cereal boxes and fixed them on to the ribbon.  I put a personal message on each of them for the guests, and popped in some basil seeds with some growing instructions I wrote by hand.  I bought 2 packets of seeds that cost 99p each and divided them between the 20 favours and wrapped each portion of seeds in a little bit of foil.

Ta-da!

Personalised, keep sake, sensory, stimulating and educational party favours for less than £1 per head!  Now that’s cause for celebration!

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The mummy competition

Being a mum is a competitive business.

Firstly, there’s the material decisions – what to buy, from where, and what it says about you. There will always be a newer version of a car seat, a more expensive pushchair, or more beautiful or exclusive baby clothing that you just haven’t got.

Then there are the strange comparisons made between children. “I can’t believe how big/small/noisy/quiet/clingy/confident your child is.” “What age did he start walking? Mine was walking independently at 6 months.” “How many words can he say? My 1 year old has a vocabulary of 250 words, and can count to 10. In 15 different languages,”.

Hmmm. Ok.

And finally there is the strangest competition of them all. The contest to prove who is suffering most as a mum.

After attending a few baby groups and mummy meetings you start to recognise this beginning of a passive aggressive showdown. In the early days of motherhood you might be tempted to enter the ring, but as you focus less on your own misery and begin to look at the world as a functioning human being again, you try to avoid these conversations at all cost, because you know there are no winners.

They always begin the same way. Discussions about birthing experiences. Someone soldiered through with only gas and air. That’s nothing; someone else only got one paracetamol to help her manage through birth and getting her stitches. Then a trump card is played – someone only just made it to the hospital, they laboured in the back of a taxi because they couldn’t get hold of their partner, they forgot the batteries for their tens machine and to add insult to injury they stubbed their toe when picking up heir hospital bag. You can see where I’m going with this.

But these badges of honour don’t just get awarded for physical endurance and suffering. Every miserable detail of pregnancy, labour, birth and baby-related traumas are fair game to be shared out over coffee and exchanged in return for sympathetic looks and hugs.

Now don’t get me wrong, after only just surviving the past year with Baby R, and at times desperate for some recognition, I am as guilty of the next mum for sharing my horrors and seeking comfort from the sympathy of strangers. I would go so far as to say that I think it is healthy and therapeutic to talk through these experiences with other mums, and that engaging in these discussions can make it easier to let go of some of the pain.

But there are some mums I have met who are unwilling to act to make changes to their lifestyles which might alleviate some of their suffering. An example of this is a mum I know who is still getting up to sooth and feed her 18 month old baby 5-10 times per night, despite working full-time. She has the support of a partner, extended family and friends, as well as professional resources at her disposal; and yet she is unwilling to actually do anything to improve her family’s sleep situation. She is addicted to the sympathy elicited from her peers, the reward for her ongoing misery.

As much as I despair every time I meet this mum, the sadness I feel for her runs deep. It frustrates me to have the same conversation with her over and over again, for her to tell me how exhausted she is and that she is broken and that she would do anything for some rest. I remember that feeling – Baby R has only been sleeping reliably for 2 months so it was not that long ago that I was not coping myself – but I also remember making the decision to end the misery and work towards trying to improve my life. Unlike this other mum, I acted on good advice and tried different things. I did more and talked less, looked for the improvements and not the setbacks, and slowly happiness not desperation became my everyday reality.

One of the unifying truths of motherhood is that it is hard. It is hard in ways you don’t know and simply cannot appreciate before having children. And it is lonely, and it hurts, and your body hurts. We all know this, we have all experienced this to some level, and we all find a way through it. No one should feel like they have to deliberately extend their suffering for attention or to justify themselves, to feel like a good mum or a proper mum.

All our experiences of motherhood are different. For some, the pain begins and ends in the delivery suite, but for others it endures and starts to define many aspects of their lives and themselves. Everyone thinks they want to participate in mummy misery top trumps, but there is no real glory in winning the competition for the most unhappy mum or the mum who worries the most. We need to remember this – I need to remember this -and we need to remember to be as kind as we can be to one another.

Car seat woes

Oh my head hurts. My brain is full of thoughts and facts about car seats; questions and information and more questions! I’m not sure if there answers or solutions, but below is some of the things I’ve been thinking about…

So here’s what I want: an extended rear facing isofix car seat that fits in the back of a vw polo. This, it seems, is the holy grail.

Baby R and I have been back and forward to mothercare 3 times. The staff have tirelessly carried car seats and bases in and out to my car. They have put them in (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) and out, smiled through some major stroppy meltdowns (mostly from the boy, although the 20 mins it took to get the one out that technically should not have gone in our car did push me to the edge), and they’ve patiently stood by and kept silent about the grubby state of my vehicle even though I know they’ve noticed the empty food wrappers and dirty muslins and discarded toys. My lasting impression of these shopping experiences (other than frustration about the fact that I still have not got a new car seat) is that I strongly believe the way car seats are sold needs to be improved, and my observations and suggestions are below:

>information from staff needs to be consistent. I have asked various members of staff the same question (which is one I am struggling to answer at the moment): is it safer to put my child in an extended rear facing belted car seat, or in a forward facing isofix car seat. I have had conflicting answers to this which has confused me further.

>additional information about car seats – particularly safety ratings and the results of crash tests – should be available for customers from all car seat retailers. This is the focus of most parents when choosing a seat, and without it you are relying on the sales persons opinion which may be biased by a number of factors. I asked one sales person about safety ratings and she told me all car seats are as safe as each other, they just differ in design and style and I should base my decision on the one I prefer the look of as they all essentially do the same thing. Which? does not agree with this statement and neither do I. This is a dangerous message for parents, particularly those without the time to do their own research.

>manufacturers need to be aware of how the seat is fixed in the car and the impact this has on the parents ability to get their child in and out of the car. In both belted rear facing car seats and isofix using a top tether car seats, the fixing passed between the car seat and the door, cutting the space in half and meaning I had to ‘post’ Baby R through a tiny gap to squeeze him in. This was highly unpractical and surely must be unsafe in the event of an accident or other situation when getting the child out of their seat quickly is important. We have ruled these seats out for this reason, I’m sure no parent would be be able to use them rear facing for long.

>the only car seat that met our criteria and that fitted in our car was at such an angle that when my son was secured in the seat he was dangling forward and his head was further forward than his knees. It was obvious that if he fell asleep his head and arms would dangle forwards, and the sales person said she was shocked and said it seemed dangerous, although it was correctly installed. I cannot believe that this is truly a safe or comfortable way for anyone to travel, particularly someone so small and precious.

In summary, my experience has been extremely disappointing, not at all because of the service from mothercare – they have been patient and helpful and lovely, but disappointed at the lack of choice and the barriers preventing me from keeping my child safe. I am shocked to discover that I have almost no option but to put my child forward facing, when all the recent research I have read is clear that rear facing is five times safer in the event of an accident.

Parents and grandparents and carers and friends – we need to demand better for our children. For now, we will not be taking Baby R in the car until we have found an acceptable solution, if such a thing exists!!

Perfect mum strikes again

Wherever I go, one thing is clearly obvious about me: I am not a perfect mum. It is something I cannot hide, and it is something that all perfect mums detect immediately with their secret perfect mum powers.

I have identified some of the magical ingredients that are required to achieve perfect mum status: immediate loss of any weight gained during pregnancy (minus 5lbs), perfectly packed changing bag filled with organic home-cooked baby snacks and luxury designer one-of-a-kind toys, the ability to push an expensive pushchair containing the worlds most contented baby whilst simultaneously updating twitter, sipping on a skinny latte, and giggling with enormous amazingly perfect group of other perfect mum friends.

Perfect mums stick together, you see, they don’t interact with regular people like me, except to gather information and anecdotes to share and laugh about with the rest of their kind. When I enter a room full of perfect mums (as I did again today), they notice that my hair hasn’t been cut or styled for a year. They know that I sometimes wear the same clothes for two (*cough* or three) days in a row. They are imagining what I would look like with make-up on, and they know the imaginary beautified version of me is no improvement on reality. They can spot hand-made and hand-me-down and hotchpotch. They see the signs of lonely and failing and desperate, and they keep their distance.

Sometimes I think I should look to my perfect peers as aspirational role-models, and that I should work to make myself more like them. But then my baby – my angel – calls for me, and I remember that I have no time to worry about how I look, because for now my time and energy and effort belongs to him, and he doesn’t give a shit about how I look. Don’t get me wrong, I have every intention of sorting myself out, but for now that can wait.

A day to remember

This week is a bit of a weird one for me. In this week last year, I: left work; discovered my healthy baby was PROM; and then experienced an emergency induction, all in very quick succession. This, of course, all preceded the pure and unmatched elation of meeting my baby, a feeling which has intensified every day with every time I see my child, every cuddle and smile and touch. As time has gone on, the pain and disappointment surrounding his unexpected entrance to the world and the feeding and health difficulties that we both suffered in the following weeks and months has faded from memory, but a year to the day of my last carefree moments of pregnancy, these anxieties and emotions have come back in to focus.

It is difficult not to get reflective at this time of year. I imagine it is universal that for every mum, a child’s birthday will reawaken forgotten fears, regrets and what ifs; anger at decisions and actions and inaction, plans changed with and without consultation, the end of ‘us’. Initially I resented the shortening of my pregnancy and the abrupt and clinical way my child arrived. Back then It felt like none of us were ready. A year on and my boy is unrecognisable in my arms as the same tiny, fragile creature I met back then. Today I am thankful for the events that I once resented and which cast a dark shadow over my first few months of motherhood, because they potentially saved him, and saved me from unimaginable heartache.

The significance of this date in our family’s history means there has been celebration as well as reflection this weekend, creating new memories to replace those from a year ago. Love and pride now overpower desperation and exhaustion; temporary misery replaced with permanent and enduring joy. Reflection reminds me of the things I am often too busy or tired or distracted to fully appreciate: that we are together and that we have everything. And for that I am truly grateful.

In my child’s best interests

This week I was chatting to a dear mum friend who told me that one of her lifelong (and child free) friends had pressured her into agreeing to a holiday at a cottage in Wales, a 6 hour drive away. My friends baby is just about to turn one, the same age as my own babe, and the cottage is in the middle of no-where – the only buildings for miles around are the two adjoining cottages. Which are currently undergoing major structural renovations. I can’t lie, my mouth fell open as she told me this. My idea of hell is a long car journey with Sausage Chops. The husband and I have gone about 100 miles as a family, but that was done at strategic times, included multiple stops and boobing in petrol stations. A drive which would take 6 hours without an infant would take at least 15+ hours avec child. And unless for an unavoidable or urgent purpose, I do not think would be in the best interest of my child.

I appreciate that living a childless life means that at times you as an adult can choose to be more spontaneous and selfish and indulgent, but let me tell you this: being stuck in a semi-constructed farm outbuilding in the middle of nowhere with a screaming, sleep-avoiding, snotty toddler is not fun. Neither is running out of bum wipes in the middle of a 5-poo day with not so much as a tesco metro within 50 miles. No one wants that on their holiday, no one. So I think it’s quite ok to say no to things that we know in our hearts are not in the interest of our children, for us, them, and all those who share our air space.

Interesting read

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-27838255

I feel the emotional complexities and conflicts faced by new dads are so often overlooked. Sadly in our household this was not a realistic option, however for those considering it I feel heartbroken that the main reason for not taking the opportunity to spend time at home and watch their baby grow was office politics. I know two lucky babies who spent time at home with mummy and daddy but would love to hear from other families who shared the parental leave about their experiences at home and when returning to the workplace. If that’s you, please get in touch!

Unexpected guilt

So this week has been quite surreal. I have told someone for the first time that I have no occupation, I am a stay at home mum, and I have spent time in the company of my much loved mum friends whose return to work is imminent.

Telling someone that I don’t know about my change in home circumstances is simple – they can chose to make a judgement or not, to care or not, to talk to you or not. Telling friends whose opinion of me I care about is not easy, especially when the are facing the same kind of family dilemmas and dramas that I am. As it happens I am the only one of my friends who is staying home, even those who have cried and told me how sad it must be to leave a child at nursery have decided that returning to work is for them. I will always support them – I am of the firm belief that motherhood is the single most difficult and challenging thing in the world, those of us who are attempting to do things the best we can need to stick together not tear each other down at any opportunity – however I am unsure that support is being reciprocated at the moment. There is guilt, envy, embarrassment, and sympathy between us, feelings unspoken are lurking behind the smiles and everyone carrying on as normal. But the comments about my sons social development being hindered, his opportunities for play and learning limited, and his enjoyment of life in general being dampened by being forced to stay home with mum have cut deep and hurt me.

By choosing not to return to work, I know that I am choosing (in part) a life of loneliness and frustration as much as cuddles and laughter. I have not made any mum friends outside of my existing circle (despite my best and at times desperate efforts) and my husband will be gone for the entire day, so by waving goodbye to work I am voluntarily signing myself to a lifetime of chores, meal planning, eating leftovers and sitting on the floor in my living room. The foreseeable future will be lonely and frustrating and I will be tired and sad. And we will be poor. But it will be worth it to know my beloved baby will be comforted every time he needs a cuddle and he will be protected from the scary world.  My message to my friends: I know the decision you have made is breaking your heart, but the route I have chosen is not the ‘easy way out’. Whatever we do there will be some people who agree you have done the right thing and others who think you are making a mistake, just as there will be those who think you are mad those who secretly wish they had done what you’re doing.  I’ll let you know later which of these applies to me!