I think that my days as a flasher are drawing to a close. I don’t wish to upset anyone who hasn’t had a chance to catch “the saggy booby show”… Oh no, wait, everyone on earth has. Harry is four and a half months old and I have had two days of feeds with no screaming, no upsetting farts (kind of hoping the fear of farting returns later in life, especially if we’re still in this little house; I’m outnumbered by stinky boys, I’d rather not die of methane poisoning!) and no pulling off just as my supply lets down and getting a milky facial. Just peaceful, doey-eyed guzzling.
Since around three weeks old Harry has suffered with his wind. It got to the point where every feed during the day would result in crying, screaming, pulling off, spluttering and farting. So much farting. If he didn’t try to give me a nipplectomy every time he farted it would be mildly amusing how often it happens. I became obsessed with this also being my fault – surely it had to be what I was eating? I cut out garlic: less windy, but still farting. Chilli: no change. Alcohol: no change. Green veg: no change. Dairy: no change, other than me having to drink minging milk – I honestly think I would have preferred to drink my own. Then one day I just looked at my beautiful, perfect baby boy and it clicked: he’s just a baby and this happens to some babies. It doesn’t have to be a problem, it’s just life. The health visitor isn’t worried so, other than for my nipples and perhaps my nostrils, I needn’t worry either. And sitting here today, day two in the fart-free house, I realise that I was right.
I am sure that we are bound to have some fussy feeds to come still, but the fear of every public feed may be over and, hopefully, my anxiety surrounding feeding in public will ease somewhat now. It’s not that I am too anxious to do it, it is just that I spend the whole time tensed up, twisting my neck from side to side like a demonic rabbit, ready to catch anyone who might be staring so I can be ready to argue with them – should they dare protest! – that it is my right to feed my baby wherever and whenever I so please. As of yet, not a single person has ever had a negative thing to say to me whilst feeding. Whether this is because I am lucky enough to live in the modern world, surrounded by well-educated and non-judgemental people, or because no one would dare approach or speak to the woman with the glaring eyes, the twitchy head and one boob out, I guess we will never know… I like to think the former. If this new, calm feeding remains though, I will hopefully be able to feel a little more relaxed, knowing it is unlikely my new and unimproved boobs will be shown to the world!
So last week I didn’t upload a blog post as, instead, I wrote a piece for Cheltenham Maman – “what if I don’t want to let my baby cry?” I was very grateful to be featured as a guest blogger, if you’d like to read what I wrote you can follow the link here.
Summer is over. Gone for another year. It is the end of September, the weather is changing, the leaves are turning and Autumn has well and truly landed at our feet. It is such a cliché, and I don’t think that there is a parent on earth who hasn’t said this at least once, but time really does just disappear when you have a child. I read something really apt recently, that certainly rang true for me – “when you have a baby, the days are long but the years are short” – but, unfortunately, I can’t reference it properly and give credit where it’s due as my baby-ravaged, sleep-deprived brain has no idea who said it or where I read it. I am pretty certain that looking after an infant has a similar effect on your brain to doing crack. You certainly sleep about the same amount.
September has been kind to us. There have been engagements in the family (honestly, since joining the Phillips-Daukes clan I am certain that I haven’t said my goodbyes to anyone at a family event without closing with “see you at the wedding!” It should become their family catchphrase), friends have been made and we have been on our first family holiday.
Flying with an infant is interesting a bit shit. I am extremely grateful that we were given the opportunity to go on holiday, we never imagined we would be able to get away when Harry was so young, so a massive thank you must go to my parents who invited us (and my sister, brother-in-law and niece) to stay in their accommodation with them, but the sooner that someone invents a Harry Potter style ‘Floo Network’ for international travel the better! We only went to Spain, so I take my hat off to all those that I know who travel long distance with babies (a proverbial hat, of course, as those of you who know me will be well aware that real-life hats – even the ‘one size fits all’ ones – do not fit on my fat-ass head!). Nothing seems louder than your own baby’s cry when you’re in a confined space, and when that seat belt sign is on and all you can do is bob up and down in your seat as your poor baby screeches you really feel the heat; I genuinely felt like all eyes were on me, judging me for having a baby that does that most normal of baby things: cries. I always look at myself differently to how I look at other people too – if someone else’s three month old baby cries on a flight I’m on I don’t give a damn; babies cry, it’s what they do. When mine cried I assumed everyone wished they had a big red button and could eject us from the flight, sending us flying into the clouds, where they would still be able to hear Harry cry as it is just THAT loud.
Ready for his holibobs
On the plane
Our holiday was lovely though, it was so nice to have a week away from housework, in the sun and by the pool. Of course the routine remains, he still needed breastfeeding every two hours or so, to nap every hour and a half or so, screamed when he farted (can’t wait for that to end! It will end right? I’m not going to live in a house with a gassy teenager who screams every time he trumps am I?) and got up multiple times a night to feed. But in the sun and with my family. I love the sun and I love my family. Not as much as I love neurotically applying and re-applying sun cream to Harry every fifteen minutes for fear my beloved sun might burn him… poor thing looks ill in most of our holiday photos he has that much cream on him. He had a lovely time in the pool too, he’s such a little water baby. We had some naps co-sleeping for the first time (I felt with another five adults in tow I was safe from crushing him – yes, I am that anxious) which was really nice – I totally get why people do it, it’s so peaceful and really nice waking up with them in your arms. He laughed for the first time and I did that annoying parent thing where everyone in the room had to shut-up instantly to listen to it – luckily it was just my family so they were just as excited, and it was actually my sister who made him laugh, so kudos Aunty Charlotte for being such a hoot! All in all we had a blast, some much needed family bonding time and all important vitamin D.
Since getting back we have started a Baby Sensory class which, in all honesty, seems to overwhelm Harry! He managed about half an hour before getting super cranky! We’ve only been twice though so I’m hoping as he gets older and more used to it he will cope a bit better. Unfortunately for him it’s tough-titties (not the milky kind!) because I’ve met a group of women there who seem really lovely and have even invited me to lunch with them, so sorry Harry, Mama wants to make some friends! You’ll have to cope with the sensory overload.
In all seriousness though, that is quite exciting, I like meeting new people and I was a little overwhelmed to be invited for lunch with them so soon, it was really kind, so I’m really looking forward to building some friendships here hopefully. It will make it worth having to sing “say hello to the sun” every Wednesday morning…
So that’s it, our summer-baby’s first summer is over (and the first month of autumn – I like to pretend September is summer because it’s so nice!). It has been a busy summer, a busy September, but as the leaves are falling I think my confidence is finally growing – some days I still have the “holy shit I’m a Mum” moments but, beneath all the anxieties that come with it, deep down I know I’m doing alright.
We’re fifteen weeks in and it is official, I no longer have a newborn baby! The “fourth trimester”, as it is so known, is well and truly over; Harry has made the transition from a newborn to a fully-fledged baby and we have kept a human being alive and well (gunky eye, furry tongue and Halloween-esque umbilical cord aside!) for fifteen whole weeks. Fifteen weeks, otherwise known as:
1 long birth
2 nights in hospital
1 spectacular poo that shot across the room, hitting the wall with such ferocity that it splattered, like an egg being dropped on the pavement from great height.
1 trip to London for our anniversary, which included: excellent ice cream shaped like a flower (I’m not hard to please!), a ride on the London eye, and Harry choosing to come away from my breast and scream, as I fed him in Jubilee park, resulting in three separate groups of people turning to look as milk sprayed ferociously from my boob into his face. I have since learned that not all boobs do this and that I am one of a select few whose milk sprays from them like a jet washer, causing tiny babies to splutter and scream or, as was the case in one of my yoga classes, hitting fellow mums in the back. No, I did not tell her.
7000 nappies. I think that’s a pretty accurate guess?
67 cold dinners
154 crying fits (87 of those being from myself)
2 nipples the size of 6
1 trip to Wales
2 trips to Purley
2 sets of vaccinations. Someone really needs to invent a triple barrelled, triple ended needle (or just sellotape three together?) because I’ve never felt crueler than I did holding him still for the next two as he sobbed from the first. Not as cruel as I would feel, though, if he were to contract a preventable strain of meningitis, or diphtheria…
3 wonderful Godparents
130 hours of missed sleep
2 times swimming
1 time swimming
1 time holding a screaming baby in a freezing cold baby pool
43 episodes of Goldenballs (41 of those where some sneak stole the money)
70 hours spent worrying over absolutely nothing
1 horrifically misjudged co-bath. I had visions of a lovely, relaxing time where we would both get cleaned at once, killing two birds with one stone. In reality, it was a disaster. He was slippy, I was slippy, I was petrified of dropping him, I couldn’t properly wash either of us and he kept trying to breastfeed and sliding off. After approximately three stressful minutes I called Jonathan upstairs to lift Harry out and we have not attempted that again since.
2 hearts fit to bursting with love and pride for one not so little, not so newborn, beautiful baby boy.
The journey so far has been more amazing than we ever could have anticipated, here’s to the next three months!
There is something about being a mother which will make you forever think that everything is your fault (I was actually naive enough during pregnancy to think that once he had arrived safely I would be able to worry a little less…). I think it is because you are just so utterly desperate to be and do the very best for your child and so, if something goes wrong, you naturally feel guilt for not having prevented it – even if your rational brain is well aware that it was completely random and unpreventable, your anxious and doubting brain is somehow always louder! So at just six days old, when we ended up in paediatric A & E, my rational brain was MIA and I was beside myself with worry – Harry’s umbilical cord was bleeding heavily and I was certain that it was my fault; maybe I had caught it? What if I had knocked it? What if he was damaged for life? What if I had pulled his belly button out and he would forever have hole into his tummy… turned out it wasn’t me, it was just one of those things, the midwife at the maternity unit was being cautious sending us to A & E and, following some tests, the doctors told us he was absolutely fine and he and his pesky belly button have a penchant for the dramatic. Not sure where he would get that from…
before opening the blanket to reveal a pool of blood on his tummy
On our way back from the hospital
When he got conjunctivitis at three weeks old that was, of course, my fault. It must be that I hadn’t cleaned him well enough and he would, subsequently, lose an eye and blame me for it for the rest of his life, glaring at me with his one good eye as his glass eye wandered aimlessly around the room. He – obviously – didn’t lose an eye; six days of antibiotic gel and it was perfect again. Oh the fun we had getting gel into a newborn baby’s eye four times a day… said no one ever.
A few days before the gunky eye I noticed that my nippes were shiny – I did warn you when I began this blog that I would share too much information. So many weird things happen to your body during pregnancy and birth that, to be honest, when I looked down and saw that my nipples looked like they had been sugar glazed I wasn’t actually that surprised and figured that it must be the next stage in the reaction to nipplegate (after having spent nearly three weeks blistered and sore, shiny and smooth was probably a bit of an improvement). After a couple of days I thought I’d best consult Dr Google on the matter (honestly, my search history has been deleted more times than a teenage boys since being pregnant – “why are my nipples shiny / leaking / sore… how do I know if I have haemorrhoids… could I have prolapse… pregnant and gassy…” you get the picture, Dr Google is my best buddy and my worst enemy). In this instance it came back with thrush, which can be passed to you by your baby if they have oral thrush. Unlike the multiple times that it has told me that I have only days to live, this time Google was correct; a quick look in Harry’s mouth and his big white tongue told us he had thrush. The guilt came instantly – how could I not know that my own baby had thrush? How could I have been so stupid as to have thought that was milk on his tongue? Had he been in pain? The reality is, he wasn’t in pain (it was fairly mild), how was I to know and babies do get milky tongues that look an awful lot like mild thrush, so much so that even the doctor took two or three looks when deciding whether it had cleared up! Yet, I felt terrible.
The truth of the matter is that, as first time mothers, we’re all winging it to some degree. We don’t know everything, even mothers of five or six or even ten can’t know everything – though they probably know a hell of a lot more than me! We want to do everything right by our babies and so we are predisposed to blame ourselves when everything isn’t seemingly perfect. Motherhood isn’t perfect though. Babies are perfect, but motherhood isn’t, motherhood – parenthood – is real. And so are we. I’d like to think we could, in time, let go of blaming ourselves for everything but, knowing some incredible, strong, amazing mothers who still blame themselves for the tiniest of ‘issues’, I have a feeling that ‘the blame game’ is here for the long haul. I think they call it Mum guilt… I call it a pain in the arse. Though seeing as it comes from loving our babies so completely, it can’t be all bad.
(This week I published a poem about Harry, This boy of mine, on my poetry site if you’d like to check it out)
After two weeks of paternity leave Jonathan went back to work and I was left in charge, fully responsible for Harry. Me: the person who can’t decide what to have for dinner on a daily basis; the person who confused Archbishop Desmond Tutu with “Africa” singer Toto and the person who, during pregnancy, attempted to put the kettle in the fridge and left the house with two different shoes on. I was now one hundred percent in charge of, in our opinon, the most precious little life in the world. Shit the bed.
The bond between mother and child is something inexplicable; from the moment the pregnancy test comes back positive you know that you have a task to fulfil, a life to nurture and grow, and a hand to wash thoroughly! For me, the bond certainly began then. From the day that I took a pregnancy test, and told a very hungover Jonathan the great news, I was a Mum. You would be forgiven for thinking that Jonathan wasn’t quite as excited, grunting and vomiting, but I know that deep down he was and that is all that matters; that, and the fact that he made it to the toilet.
Jonathan, dying in the sun the day we found out
Being left just the two of us has naturally had its challenges; the first few weeks I only ate lunch (or breakfast, or anything for that matter) when my mother or mother-in-law were here making it for me (until Jonathan got home and I proceeded to hand Harry over and eat the contents of the house in five minutes flat, wondering when I would fit back into my jeans); I planned multiple trips out that failed due to poo / boobs / sheer exhaustion (from cleaning so many poos…); I arrived late for near enough everything that I did make it to; I spent whole days just staring at our beautiful baby boy and I felt love, happiness and tiredness like I never have before.
As I struggled to get myself out of the house on time for pretty much anything I wasn’t meeting anyone and, so, with that motherhood can, at times, become quite lonely. It is a weird feeling spending so much time with another person that they come with you to the toilet – to stop them from crying, and you go with them to bed – to stop you from dying, and yet you still long for human interaction. There was certainly a lull, in between Jonathan returning to work and Harry and me going to stay with my family in Wales when Harry was eight weeks old, where I spent some days desperately trying to figure out how to make friends. I attended some drop-in groups but didn’t do very well at integrating myself into the already-formed friendship groups. I do have some friends in the area who I saw during this time, but they work and, quite rightly, can’t be expected to spend every free moment with me and, so, I decided that we needed to join some classes; having pre-paid for them when on statutory maternity pay will surely force me to arrive at least vaguely on-time. Plus, as Harry is getting older (I know at 14 weeks he’s not “old” by any means but I can certainly feel us speeding away from that newborn phase) I am getting far better at changing / feeding / burping in a timely manner and, more importantly, when it comes to arriving on time for things, I am getting far better at not giving a shit what people think of my hair. I have realised that no one is going to think I am a terrible mother because I have dark roots or baby snot on my neck – I don’t think “Mum has poorly plucked eyebrows” is high on the agenda for Social Services. So for two weeks now we have been attending ‘Mum and baby yoga’ on a Tuesday morning – I love it. I feel the start of some friendships forming, I’m getting some exercise, Harry is having fun with other babies, I am getting some quality time with Harry where I don’t feel guilty that I am not doing the hoovering (I don’t know who I’m kidding… I rarely feel guilty about that anymore! It’s more ‘quality time where I don’t have to look at my house that needs hoovering…’) and, drum roll please, I arrived on time the first week and EARLY this week! Early!!! I felt like superwoman. In a couple of weeks we start a “Baby Sensory” class so, as the weeks and months are progressing, I am looking forward to developing new friendships, developing some any tone to my body in yoga and, very excitingly, developing my sense of time-keeping with a baby!
me, having arrived early to yoga
Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the days at home with Harry too; I like getting all his toys out and watching him, mouthing everything and gargling; I like our cuddles on the sofa, our naps together and our walks around the village, I like being able to feed him and not feel like passers-by may throw pennies at me, like a public fountain, when he comes off mid-flow, but I do need a couple of days, I think, where I have further structure and some time with adults – where we can discuss intellectual things like what we think of Mr Tumble on CBeebies (he gives me the heebies!) and whose baby’s poo has shot the furthest – I’m pretty certain they’re aerosol powered!
I hope I do manage to build some friendships as the weeks progress but, if not, I do have two best friends at home – sorry Nigel, three – and I know that better than new friends, better than arriving on time, better than having the baby whose poo shot the furthest (it hit the wall – he’s got to win, surely?!), better than being just the two of us, are the weekends – when it’s just the three of us.
The first night at home is a shock to the system. By the time that we had left the hospital the many, many, many drugs that I had been pumped with had worn off and, as I waddled to the car, I began to wonder who had taken a football pump to my nether region and when someone would be kind enough to deflate it for me.
You spend your whole time in hospital waiting to hear that you have been discharged and then the moment comes and, like a teenager who has been caught out as underage in a bar, you hang around wondering how long you can stay before somebody forcibly removes you from the premises. It genuinely took Jonathan and me around two and a half hours from being discharged to actually set foot in the lift and bid farewell to the safety bubble of the maternity ward.
Out of the hospital
And into the car!
After the surreal and sore drive home, spent staring intently at the beautiful life we had made and willing it not to all be a dream – interspersed with multiple shouts of “mind the bump!” – we arrived home to be greeted by family, food and even a glass of prosecco. Motherhood was seeming pretty blissful, eerily peaceful. Both Jonathan’s and my family were there (not all of Jonathan’s family of course, a car nor our house will hold them all!), we were home, Harry wasn’t crying and I was still floating around in the new mother “I-just-pushed-a-baby-out” haze. At this point I was unaware of the sneaky nature of the newborn babe; placid whilst visitors are over, they cuddled him and cooed and he snuffled and slept and then, they bid us farewell, the door snapped shut and BOOM! Scream city. Suckle city. The beginning of nipplegate and the end of my life as someone who sleeps.
Never before – you will be glad to hear Mum and Dad! – have I ever had anything suck on my nipples until they were raw. Those first weeks of breastfeeding were rough! I am one of those annoying people who hates to be annoying; “Oh no, don’t call an ambulance, I don’t want to waste their time, I’ll get the bus” I would probably say, having just simultaneously been hit by a car and bitten by a dog and, so, I “didn’t want to bother” the midwives on the ward by asking them if I was feeding Harry correctly. I plodded on, naively thinking “it doesn’t hurt, I must have got it right first time – I’m a breastfeeding WIZ!” HA HA HA…ouch. Night one at home, five hours of solid feeding later, nipples skinned, tears streaming down my face and Jonathan stood in front of me, a cup of tea in an outstretched hand, his face an amalgamation of pity and “my nipples don’t make milk, please can I sleep?!”, and I realised that breastfeeding sucks (pun intended) at first. The videos they show in antenatal class are just lies – these babies with huge open mouths that latch on perfectly and calmly are lies. Newborn babies don’t do that. Well, my newborn baby certainly didn’t. Instead, he opened his tiny mouth an even tinier amount, thrashing his head back and forth like the girl from the exorcist, whilst I tried to aim my massive, sore, skinless nipples in and did a celebratory scream in agony upon succeeding.
The first two nights at home were just the constant feeding to get my milk to come in. By day five I had tears in my eyes every time that he latched and so, when we went to our checkup at the maternity unit, we met with Michelle who is their breastfeeding-guru and all round angel-woman. She asked me to show her how I had been breastfeeding; I curled my toes in anticipation, revealed my glowing red nipple and gritted my teeth as I clumsily bent my back to latch Harry… she shook her head. I looked at her with pure desperation in my eyes and she kindly took a very, very long time showing me how to latch him correctly. I was, however, mortified to discover that by doing it right the pain did not just evaporate. When you have allowed a tiny human to peel your nipples like onions it takes a few weeks, not a few seconds, of correct latching to rid you of that agony. Cue two to three more weeks of curled toes and daily texts to my sister asking her when it would get better, unsatisfied with “soon” – I need a date and time damnit!!
As we approached the end of week one I had made my peace with my new life as someone who winced when they sat down, cried when they fed their child and slept with their eyes open whilst visitors held Harry because, as well as being that person, I was everything I had ever wanted to be – I was a Mum. And if my weak pelvic floor didn’t, that thought alone was enough to make me shit my pants.
NB. Proverbial pants. Proverbial shit. I have not – yet – shit my pants. I will be sure to let you know if I do.
I would like to add, for anyone reading this who may have just had a baby or is expecting soon and planning to breastfeed, it is incredible. It is difficult at first but it does also, quite soon, get better and becomes this wonderful and peaceful bonding time with your baby. Even in the very early days, once the toe-curling, eye-watering latch has been completed and they are feeding it doesn’t hurt anymore, and I have never been more proud of my body than I have since watching it sustain a life. Sure, my nipples now aim for the ground rather than straight ahead, but that’s a small price to pay for keeping a human being alive.