It is a small piece of plastic with a rubber teet, some babies love them, some aren’t keen but, for those that do they can bring so much comfort, so why then do they cause so much controversy? Babies love to suck, it calms them, it comforts them and a dummy is the perfect tool for those of us who don’t have the time to walk around with our babies attached to the breast constantly (or those of us whose babies will not feed for comfort! If he didn’t literally come out of my vagina before my eyes I would doubt that Harry is actually mine… nothing I love better than a bit of comfort eating!).
Before I was pregnant, before my friends began getting pregnant, I was a dummy dummy. If someone had asked me I would have said I wouldn’t be giving my future children a dummy. If you had asked me why, I probably would have struggled to answer you… maybe it is the way they look? Maybe it was the resonating memory of being in school with six and seven year olds who still used them? I don’t actually know for sure but, for some reason, I didn’t like them. I never went so far as to say that other people shouldn’t use them, but I knew that I wouldn’t be giving one to my child (please see below for multiple photos of my baby with his much adored “dumbles” – yes we love it so much it has a name!).
When I had Harry I had been given multiple dummies in gifts and, at around six weeks old, we gave one a try. He had been crying for hours, feeding then crying then feeding then crying, never able to be soothed to sleep. It was around 10pm, the crying had started at about 6pm, I put a dummy in his bellowing mouth and he was quiet. He still didn’t sleep, but he calmed. It was enough to give me ten minutes to go to the toilet, grab a drink of water and recharge my mind and body (a little at least!) before the struggle to get him to sleep continued. It was on that evening, looking at him sucking away in relative peace, that I had the realisation that, actually, dummies are pretty fricking awesome. He needed comfort, he did not want food, so my super-fast-flowing boobs were only upsetting him, my cuddles weren’t enough, he wanted to suckle, so super-hero dummy came to the rescue! I realised that he actually looks pretty damn cute with his dummy in and, I realised, that the most important thing for me as his mother is that he is happy and comforted and if that means he needs a dummy sometimes well then I’m just damn grateful someone invented them!
From then on we’ve used dummies. He has one when he’s very upset and struggling to calm down (usually when he’s fallen backwards and bumped his head on the carpet or, heaven forbid, I try to dry and dress him after swimming!). He has one in the car sometimes and, more recently, he has one in the supermarket trolly to deter him from sucking the bar and making me nauseous. And you know what, from time to time, he just has one because he’s seen it and he likes it so he’s reached for it.
I’ve noticed though, that I must still have some mixed feelings about dummies, as I catch myself making sure that I tell people why he has one in, like I best excuse this behaviour. I hear myself before I can stop it “Oh he’s well thanks, he needs his dummy in though he’s tired and grumpy”, and “I best give him his dummy for the car in case he gets upset”. Why do I need to justify giving my child the tools to comfort himself? I, at first, thought this was just my personal problem, and then I started to notice it in people I know too. A friend’s baby had his dummy in in a beautiful photo she posted, the caption read “baby’s name had a lovely afternoon. Needed his dummy though he was tired.” I saw another friend out and when I spoke to her baby she quickly removed the dummy from his mouth “Oh you don’t need that do you.” It seems as though a lot of us are justifying the fact that our children use dummies and it’s just yet another thing that can make us feel guilty or judged as parents.
I wondered why at first, and then I realised that it is because some people do judge. I was recently in the supermarket, Harry sat in the trolley seat happily sucking on his dummy. An elderly man, seeing him from behind said “oh he’s cute, those are handy trolley seats”; then, as he came around the front of us and spotted the dreaded comfort device his face changed, and addressing Harry directly he said “you don’t need that. Shall I take your dummy out for you? I can throw it away you don’t need that do you.” Instead of, as I should have, saying “f$ck off you interfering old man, don’t touch my child or his dummy”, I felt my cheeks flush as I quickly went “oh he does need it, otherwise he sucks on the bar, that’s why he has it in, I’ve only just put it in” to which the elderly baby-guru chuckled and agreed that the dummy was, in fact, probably better than the germ-laden bar. But why did I need to justify it? That is the reason Harry has his dummy in the trolley, every time without fail, but why do I need to tell people that? What if he just wanted it? What if it just makes my baby happy? What is it to anyone else? And yet people feel they have this right to tell you what to do. On a separate occasion – also in the supermarket – a middle aged lady said “you should take that dummy out I can’t see his beautiful smile”; Err, have you thought about the fact that maybe if I take it out he won’t have a beautiful smile anymore? Perhaps the dummy is the reason for his beautiful smile, as opposed to your interfering face?
We all have different ways of parenting, different tools we use and different things we like and don’t like and, if you don’t want to use a dummy, that is absolutely fine, but I just think this judgement surrounding them needs to stop. I have heard so many people call them “dirty”… they’re actually usually extremely clean as, believe it or not, most parents sterilise things and don’t want their children sucking on germ infested rubber. Far cleaner than the fingers some strangers have been known to extend towards your baby’s mouth! They are a tool to comfort a baby – the clue is in the American name ‘pacifier’, they pacify! – and you would never turn to someone who breastfed their crying baby just to soothe them, not for hunger, and say “take that thing out of their mouth!” so I for one think we should cut dummies some slack! And If I could explain to my past self how handy they are, I definitely would.
Those of you who know me may be concerned that this is going to be a blog post about that song… THE song. The song that I have heard 1477828 times since Harry was born; 12716 of those times sung by yours truly, phone having run out of battery from playing that very same song on repeat. I am, of course, talking about Randy Newman’s Toy Story classic, ‘You’ve got a friend in me.’ Or, in this household, the Holy Grail for making Harry stop crying and what will, more than likely, push me past the brink and into insanity. I don’t even know why it makes him stop crying – maybe it’s his deep voice? Perhaps I need to hire a Randy Newman sound-a-like, or offer the man himself a job as an au-pair? What I do know is that, when you have a child, there is no worse sound than hearing them crying or distressed and so, if Randy Newman being the theme tune to our entire life is what it takes, then Randy Newman being the theme tune to our entire life is what we’ve got. What we haven’t got are any construction standard earplugs, so if anyone would like to send some my way….
Unlike in my actual life, that is it for the Toy Story theme tune for today. What I actually want to write about is my real-life human friends. Prior to moving to Oxfordshire I had a close-knit group of friends; we’re still close, might I add, just not geographically! When we first moved here I was pretty lonely; new area, new job – working from home, alone (well, with Nigel… it’s actually how Nigel ended up with his own Instagram, solitude will do funny things to a person!). I then changed jobs and met some lovely people and made a couple of friends but, being work friends they – you guessed it – work! So when I had first had Harry and Jonathan had returned to work I soon learned that you can spend your whole day with another human being (the best little human being in the world in fact) and still feel completely alone. I would – and still do – talk to Harry all day long; I would tell him what we were doing, speak to him about our plans for the day, tell him how much I love him but, unsurprisingly, he didn’t have a lot to say back! He slept. A lot! I would meet up with a friend from work usually one day every couple of weeks, sometimes once a week, but that still left at least four days just Harry, Nigel, me and my brain.
It is easy to become consumed by your own thoughts when you have all day to listen to them; it’s not healthy, I don’t think, to have too much time by yourself – especially when you’re not actually by yourself and therefore can’t dedicate that time to self-care. I realised that I really needed some friends, I needed some adult conversation and I needed some structure. I needed less time that I could spend self-analysing, self-criticising, self-doubting. I tried and failed to go to a few drop-in baby groups when Harry was around six weeks old (I needed to work on my timing with a baby!) which didn’t really help with the self-criticising, and then made the best decision when I chose to sign up to a term of Mum and Baby Yoga and a term of Baby Sensory. I decided that perhaps having pre-paid would encourage me to actually make it on time and give us some structure to our week; it worked!
From the first session I went to of both classes I knew that I had made the right choice; I arrived on time, I enjoyed myself, I got to spend an hour dedicated to Harry outside of our home and in the company of like-minded Mummies in the same situation. At baby yoga I quickly began talking to Kate – I quickly found we had quite a lot in common and a friendship formed. At Baby Sensory I felt so fortunate to have ended up sitting by Lucy who, super friendly woman she is, invited me for lunch with she and her group of friends after the very first session. They had all done an NCT course together and had maintained strong friendships and I feel very fortunate to have been welcomed into their group. Through Lucy I met and made friends with Rosie, Emily, Lucy (another one!) and Kat and now mine and Harry’s weeks are filled with play dates and baby groups and coffee and cake. Probably too much cake. I need to eat less cake. Seriously. Send help.
As first time Mum’s I think it is so important to have these friendships because, through them, you can find a confidence you didn’t know you had. I think we help one another to realise that we are all good Mums. We never criticise or judge one another because we’re all going through it too and we know how effing hard it can be. It is all too easy to feel like your baby is the only baby who doesn’t sleep through the night or your baby is the only one who still naps in your arms; that your child isn’t taking to weaning as well as they should or that you aren’t feeding them enough milk or are giving them too much milk; these worries, though seemingly small, can gather weight and grow when you only have the internet as a reference point. All of a sudden, you make friends, you open up and realise that it’s all normal. Every bit of it. Some babies sleep, some don’t. Some eat well, some don’t. Some have reflux, wind, have happy days and cranky days. Just like adults. You realise that you have got this (as much as any new Mumma has!), but it’s okay to feel you haven’t sometimes too; you realise that it is normal to feel shit sometimes – hell, it’s normal to look like shit sometimes too! You realise it’s okay that you didn’t have time to wash your hair on Wednesday morning; it’s okay that you were so exhausted you put your baby’s nappy on backwards twice before working out what looked wrong; it’s not your fault that your baby has their fifth cold in as many months and it’s okay not to want to put them in their own room as soon as they hit six months; most importantly, you realise that, tough as it sometimes is, you’re a bloody good mother.
And, just like you do for them, there’s a group of kind, funny, amazing women there to remind you of that when you forget. Thanks Mamas, you all rock.
Last night, when feeding Harry at 4 am, I realised that our breastfeeding days will be drawing to a close in a few months time and then, with that, I realised that, tired as I might be, I’ll probably miss those moments when it’s just the two of us, and I wrote this poem. Follow this link to read it.
Oh the tears. Jesus wept – but not as much as me – the tears! They just strike at any time. Perhaps it is normal, perhaps it isn’t, but my goodness I don’t half cry sometimes! I can’t deny, I have always “been a bit of a crier” but nothing compares to these first few months. There’s the “my boobs / fanny / brain / all of the above hurt” tears – totally warranted in my humble opinion (and if you disagree I will probably cry!). There’s the “my baby is crying” tears, the “why is my baby crying” tears and the more common “it’s four in the morning why won’t my baby stop crying” tears! There are the “I’ll never sleep again”, the “I’ll never eat properly again” and the “I’ll never sit down without this damn doughnut cushion again” tears. There are the “why am I still fat” and the “I’ve lost so much weight, why don’t my jeans fit me yet” tears. The heartbreaking “what if I can’t do this” and “this is pretty damn lonely sometimes” tears. Then the far happier but far sillier “I love my baby so much it makes me cry” tears and, for the grande finale, the most common and most ridiculous “why am I crying for absolutely no reason and why does that realisation make me cry even more??” tears; these ones come in the shower, when you drop a mug you didn’t even like and when John Lewis release their, what is at best mediocre, new Christmas advert. Oh and not just the first time you see it – every damn time.
As I said, I have always probably been on the “sensitive” side, so when I became even more emotional during pregnancy I naturally thought that was it – surely I had reached the pinacle of human tearfulness! I was crying at pretty much everything I watched on TV; Hollyoaks – Crying; One born every minute – Crying; SAS Who Dares Wins – Crying?! So, since having Harry, I was shocked to find that there were more tears left! I would love to know my salt-water to actual-human-insides ratio… I feel I must be 60% tears, 25% vital organs and 15% left over baby fat. About two weeks post-partum I decided to watch One born every minute and I cried so much in the credits that I had to switch it off as Harry kept unlatching from my boob, probably wondering why his usually calm milk source was now snotty, sobbing and shaking uncontrollably!
It can be pretty exhausting being so emotional all the time, but I can definitely feel it levelling out somewhat recently and, the irony is, I think that half of the crying comes from being so exhausted in the first place… and so the cycle continues. I, personally, think it’s good to cry sometimes, it can be quite therapeutic to just let some of our emotions out, but when you’re crying because you spilled a tin of chopped tomatoes making dinner – despite having another eight* tins in the cupboard – and you can see your poor husband trying and failing to hide the fact he thinks you’re crazy – it’d be good to have some respite from the tears!
* Jonathan proof read this and told me that I shouldn’t lie, there aren’t eight tins of chopped tomatoes in the cupboard, there are closer to eighteen and I am a chopped tomato hoarder. This fact doesn’t irritate him at all…
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!