Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Best New Year's Eve of All

2014 is drawing to a close and I'm beginning to put some thought into what I'm going to wear this evening. Or, more to the point, which of my clothes I haven’t managed to balloon out of over the Christmas period. Our plans for tonight are fairly modest – an evening with a few friends and family members at my sister’s cottage, children in tow, but I expect it to be a good party. That said, it does have rather a lot to live up to. I've had some incredible New Year’s Eves in my time, from the big blow-outs to the drunken pyjama parties, and only very few of them have been shit.

However, not one of those drunken midnights, seeing in another year, will ever come close to last year. Last year was the best New Year’s Eve I have ever had.

It actually started terribly. I was still in hospital, recovering from my C-section, and was rudely awoken at about 1am on the 31st because the nurses needed my bay for another woman just out of surgery. In pain and exhausted, I tried to gather my things from the floor around my bed – I had been unable to move enough to tidy up until then, and the emergency nature of my operation meant that I’d hardly been able to get myself comfortable and organized beforehand – while the HCA stood and tutted at the mess. I was then instructed to move from my nice, calm, private room into one already occupied by two other women, both of whom were mothers to premature babies and had been in hospital for several weeks. One of the girls didn't even have her baby on the ward with her yet. Suddenly, in crashed Blake and I; him screaming for a nappy change, me blubbering that Blake was dying (the baby blues: that shit is as real as it gets). We were tucked into the corner bay – the only one without any functioning lights – and left to our own devices. Let me tell you that changing a newborn’s nappy in the dark is hard; trying to do so whilst looking through a curtain of your own tears and inexperience is even harder.

Fast forward a few hours and I woke up feeling refreshed after some fairly decent sleep, but desperate to go home. The pain in my incision wound was beginning to abate slightly, and the lighting on the ward was really starting to harsh my morphine buzz. Visiting hours didn't start for ages and, while partners could spend most of the day on the ward, Mr Meaney was still without his driving license and had to wait for my parents to bring him in. The day was about watching the clock tick and wondering if my tits would always hurt this much.

Eventually, visiting times came around, but still I was not allowed to go home. I had to wait for a nurse to give me a bunch of syringes to take home and a lesson on how to brutally ram them into my own stomach before I could leave. My Mum was due to babysit for my niece so that my sister could go out, and as day rolled into evening, I could feel the stress emanating from her pores. Finally, a huge bag of drugs in one hand, I was allowed to leave the hospital. Blake’s electronic anti-baby-theft device was cut from his teeny, tiny little ankle (his first ASBO, really) and we were set free into the world. I had to sit in the front of my parent’s Land Rover to try and get as comfortable as possible, while baby Bear had to go in the back; the wrench of not being able to see him on that hour long journey was intense.

When we got home, Mr Meaney gave the best present that any husband could ever give a wife that has just spent three days in a maternity unit: he let me go to bed. He helped me to get comfortable under my nice big duvet and took the baby for a couple of hours until the next feed.

I slept like the dead.

Resurfacing after two hours, I was greeted by a baby screaming for food and a clock that alerted me to the fact that 2013 was nearly over. I settled down with my two boys – the new one and the one that had been kicking around for a while – and watched the London fireworks on TV. I was tired, a little frightened of what lay ahead and yet completely elated by where I was. As the first few minutes of 2014 ticked by, I was happier than I had ever been in my entire life. For all of the wild New Year’s Eves I had had in the past, everything up until that point suddenly felt like I had just been waiting.

It has gone on to be an incredible year. There have been a few ups and downs along the way, but every single day is a new adventure and I wouldn't change any part of the last twelve months. Even the shit parts have been better than anything that came before.

This New Year's Eve will see me spending it with my two boys again, although I hope the newest one will be in bed by the time Big Ben chimes twelve. Last year was the best New Year’s Eve I have ever had but from here on in I expect them to just get better and better. As I watch Blake grow and turn into even more of an hilarious little weirdo, the future seems more exciting than I could have possibly imagined.


So, here’s to 2014; A truly vintage year! 2015 has got some pretty big shoes to fill, but I reckon it’s up to the challenge. Fingers crossed, next New Year will see us celebrating as a four…

Saturday, 20 December 2014

30 Things I've Learned During My First 12 Months as a Parent

Blake will be one next week, and the past twelve months have flown by in a way that I can barely believe. It has been an absolute roller-coaster of emotions, as well as learning curve steep enough to feel like I'm trying to climb up a demon drop slide. Here are a few of the things that I've learned along the way (only some of which involve bodily functions):

1. Throw unused mashed banana away straight away. You are not going to want to deal with it two hours later.

2. There is no upper limit to how many times a cupboard door can be opened and slammed shut.

3. Apparently bath bubbles are fine for consumption. That or it takes more than twelve months for adverse effects to appear.

4. Boys discover their willies way earlier than you might imagine.

5. Other parents don't always provide a particularly good support system; they have their own problems.

6. Poverty can actually make you a better parent.

7. At no point does poo-finger become any less traumatic.

8. Being dribbled on fast becomes a way of life.

9. As your baby becomes more active, you will find yourself putting nappy changes off until absolutely necessary; no one likes an impromptu wrestling match.

10. People will always criticise your decisions. 

10a. Take their advice with a pinch of salt and carry on doing it your way.

11. Controlled crying works. Sometimes. For some people. If the baby decides it's going to.

12. You will break every rule that you've set for yourself, from dummies to co-sleeping to television consumption. 

13. Broken sleep does not get any easier. 

14. Babies will hold onto an exploding poo for days, only to release it in spectacular fashion the moment you find yourself out in public and away from accessible baby changing facilities. 

15. At some point, you will probably have to throw away a rug or two after too many nappy free sessions.

16. Babies will do things at their own speed. Ignore the charts and milestone predictions.

17. Other parents do not want your opinion on what they're doing. Unless it agrees with them completely.

18. Hangovers will never be the same again.

19. Baby brain never goes away. Ever.

20. Your relationship will change, but that's usually mostly OK.

21. The post-partum hair loss does eventually slow down.

22. Join local buy and sell groups on social networks; baby clothes are bloody expensive and they grow out of them in the blink of an eye, so cheap used bundles of clothes are a money saving essential. 

23. Forgoing the baby monitor at night is a terrifying prospect. 

24. Sadly, some friends will probably lose interest in you.

25. Parents feel guilty about most of what they're doing, most of the time. Just embrace it; chances are you're doing a fine job. Let those feelings of inadequacy wash straight over you.

26. People will continues to ask questions like, 'how is the weight loss going?' even when you're feeling incredibly svelte. 

26a. Who am I kidding? Svelte is long gone.

27. Childcare is a fucking nightmare if you work weekends.

28. Baby socks exist in some kind of parallel dimension in which they are invisible 99% of the time, turning up only occasionally to be shoved into the baby's mouth. 

29. Pram shoes are completely pointless.

30. One day, you will unexpectedly stumble upon one of your baby's newborn vests and feel an uncontrollable broodiness that says it's time to do it all over again...

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Hints and Tips for The Reluctant Housewife

If you're anything like me then housework doesn't come easily. Ok, let me rephrase that: if you're anything like me then you're a complete and utter slob. Don't deny it; the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. When you only have yourself to worry about, being a slob is fine, if a little unhygienic, but I would assume that you are reading my blog because you are a parent in which case something will eventually give.

Having a baby does not turn you into a domestic goddess. What it does do is highlight how far removed from a domestic goddess you are. There are, of course, people who are natural born housekeepers and, for them, parenthood simply sharpens that set of already well defined skills. However, for us slobs, there is no automatic urge to pick up a steam mop the second that we push out our offspring. It's something that we have to work at.

I spent an awful lot of time making excuses for having a messy house. It wasn't just messy either; the bedding was musty, the shower drain was clogged and a thick layer of dust covered the shelves and windowsills. Don't even get me started on my kitchen. I kept telling myself - and anyone else who would listen - that I was sorry for the mess but that it wasn't my fault. I honestly believed that it was nigh on impossible to maintain a household as well as looking after a baby. The problem only got worse when I went back to work because it gave me yet another excuse to not clean up after myself; I was a working mother gosh darn it. I deserved to put my feet up at the end of the day. Unfortunately, my feet may have been up but my conscience was as clean as my kitchen work top; I ended every day feeling guilty, stressed and overwhelmed.

It's only now that I've realised that I can have a clean home and put my feet at up the end of the day; it's just about having a system and breaking life long terrible habits. I'm still finding my own routine and I don't want anyone to think that I'm preaching - I'm not - I just want to share some of the ways that I've sabotaged my own internal tramp. If I can help out just one fellow stressed out slob then it's been worth it.

1. Laundry

Do at least one load of washing any day that you're in the house. Personally, I hate sorting through laundry; it's not the washing and drying that bothers me, it's the putting away. I despise it. It takes so long and I can think of a thousand things I'd rather be doing. However, rifling through baskets of clothing looking for a clean sleepsuit gets really old, really fast. It was when I found myself doing this at every bed time that I eventually cracked. 

By seeing one load of washing through to completion each day, I can completely avoid the overwhelming sensation of 'Shit, I've run out of everything', and the sight of three separate airers groaning under the weight of all of the clothes.

2. Routine, Routine, Routine

Babies love routine, so it stands to reason that a few weeks in you will find that you've adopted one without realising it. The trick is in shoe-horning a little bit of daily domestic into what is already a well established itinerary. 

For me, this means getting up and, before I so much as make a cup of tea, I tidy away any post dinner carnage in the kitchen and put the hoover round downstairs. It's not much, but it makes me feel like I have my shit together. It then means that the little things are more or less taken care of, so I can often tackle another room at my leisure during the baby's nap times.

3. The OCD Friend Technique

As you are cleaning up, keep telling yourself that the most judgemental clean freak you know is on their way round to examine the fruit of your labour. 

I use my little sister; the girl is a complete bleach fanatic. In order to keep myself on the straight and narrow, I firmly convince myself that her arrival is imminent and that, if I don't finish, she will go away with a diminished opinion of me. If I'm having a really lazy day - more often than not - I will tell myself that she's bringing my mother with her.

4. Get a Dishwasher

Ok, so this is technically just a way of cutting a corner, but hey, we've admitted we don't like chores so let's not put on any airs and graces. The more that you allow dirty dishes to clutter up your work surfaces, the less inclined you will feel to tackle them. 

Babies mean bottles, sippy cups, dummies, weaning spoons, teethers... any number of plastic objects that need constant cleaning and sterilising. Take it from one who found out the hard way that it's far more difficult to stay on top of your baby's bottle output if your worktop is covered in crusty saucepans. By putting as much as you can into the dishwasher, the space around your sink is freed up for washing teats and other non-dishwasher safe bits and pieces. Again, it's about protecting yourself from feeling overwhelmed - the enemy of organisation - but it's important to remember to work unloading the dishwasher into your routine. Out of sight shouldn't mean out of mind.

5. Establish a Holding Zone

I actually read this tip in Psychologies magazine. The idea is that if you're inclined to dump stuff on a chair/table/desk then that inclination should be embraced rather than fought. Nominate a 'Holding Zone' - mine is my kitchen table - and plonk anything that needs to be dealt with, but that you haven't got time for right now, here. Here's the important part: You must have regular sort through of your Holding Zone. If you don't clear it on at least a weekly basis then you'll be right back where you started.

6. Tackle Other Areas of Disorganisation 

For me, this meant emptying my email inbox of 2,456,354 unread emails and replying to a bunch of (quite important) correspondence that I'd been hiding from. By starting to claw back some control in other areas of my life, I felt able to start tackling the superficial issues inside my house. It's amazing how quickly things can begin to feel like a huge weight on your shoulders if you try and push them to the back of your mind. Eventually you just find yourself unable to deal with any of it, and that definitely includes doing the dusting.

7. Enlist Help

If you're lucky enough to have a partner or family/friends that are willing to pop round and lend you a hand then, by all bloody means, make use of them! By halving the time you spend cleaning, you are doubling the amount of time you get to spend playing with your baby.

8. Have a Day Off!

In other words, go easy on yourself. Even with all the best intentions, it's very difficult to maintain domestic harmony if it isn't something that comes particularly naturally.

I always find the end of the week is a bit of a problem, because I have to go to work. Usually, by Sunday, things have begun to get a bit scruffy again. My heart tells me to just close the door on it and go out for the day, but I know that doing that just means more work for me the following week. So I do try to get on top of it before it gets on top of me.

All of this is just fine, but it's important to remember that the idea is to minimise the time you have to spend cleaning. The single most important thing to spend your time on is your baby, so don't get too obsessed. There is more to life than bleaching and tidying; it's just about striking a balance that makes your life easier. So, if you want a day off, have a day off. Don't torture yourself, but also don't think that one 'off day' is an excuse to throw in the towel. Housework has to be treated like the Boo ghosts in the Super Mario games: if you turn your back on it for too long, you're going to end up in all sorts of trouble.


And now your bathroom needs cleaning again


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...

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Here's to The Daddies!

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that I recently returned to work. This has largely resulted in two things: an increase in breast-pumping frequency has left me with alarmingly stretched nipples, and I suddenly have an enormous amount of respect for baby daddies.

After nine glorious months off work, I have dutifully agreed to honour my full time hours for the next month before switching to a part-time contract in October. The result? I'm absolutely bloody exhausted. Blake isn't a particularly difficult baby, and yet getting us both organised in the mornings, delivering him to various family members/child minders, working, coming home, dinner, bath and bedtime has somewhat taken its toll on my energy levels. This got me thinking about my husband. Wait! No! Come back! I'm not about to get all doe eyed (again), but I was suddenly very aware that he went through all of this when Blake was less than a month old and waking at all times of the night. Naturally, due to breastfeeding, Mr Meaney was unable to actually give any night feeds himself, but he would nearly always get up before me and change the baby's nappy and get everything set up for me to come and nurse. Let us not forget that a father's sleep is broken by a crying baby too, even if they're not actually waking fully. While we can often spend the next day in a halfway catatonic state, more often than not the men have to go to work and function as full human beings. 

Mr Meaney, in particular, would then come home to nothing short of chaos and find himself tidying up an ocean of toys and making dinner for the wife that was now more or less constantly plugged into a baby. It puts what I'm doing now into perspective, that's for sure. Don't get me wrong, I'm bloody proud of what I'm managing to achieve - not least the fact that my baby is still on breast milk despite my loathing of expressing - but I do have to give my husband the recognition that he deserves; the man's a bloody machine. He does all of this and still finds the energy to stay up until the early hours on a school night watching WWE.


Resulting in this.

Then I got to thinking about dads in general; not just the live-in daddies of small babies - changing nappies and giving bottles - but the dads of older children, the dads who don't live with their children and the step- and foster dads of the World. Every single dad who makes the effort to be there for a child deserves a little recognition; so often they are forgotten about as the mother is showered with love and attention. I know dads who don't see their little ones as much as they'd like, but for whom that tiny person is their entire universe. I know dads who work away a lot and for whom every night spent in a lonely hotel room causes fresh heartbreak. And I know step-dads who would move heaven and earth to make life just a tiny bit easier for a child that doesn't share their DNA - mine included.

I know that to raise, love and support a child is a basic requirement of being a father, but there are many out there - and mothers, too - who do none of these things. On a blog that so often celebrates what it means to be a woman with a baby, I just wanted to say to the ever present and loving fathers: you guys absolutely rock and I love every single bloody one of you.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

7 Unexpected Side Effects of Motherhood

Obviously motherhood has changed me. For one thing, I'm a lot poorer and I have a lot more loose skin than before, but it has also brought with it some surprise changes that I wasn't entirely prepared for.

Let me take you on  little journey through my bizarre new personality quirks...

7. I cry a lot

Ok, maybe this is a bit of an obvious one, but motherhood has thus far turned me into an emotional wreck. I cry all the time. Occasionally I cry just because I love my baby boy so darn much, but more often than not it's triggered by some god awful story in the news that involves children. Anything to do with babies or little people being hurt or, gulp, dying and I'm inconsolable. Sometimes, though, it can be triggered by someone making it through the first round of auditions on Britain's Got Talent.

6. I have Asbestos Hands

All mums do. It's only now that I've discovered why this phenomenon occurs: it's all to do with sterilising. Because who has time to allow those things to cool down? I truly believe that, rather than asbestos hands, mums just have no functioning nerve endings in their fingertips; they've all been burnt out by nuclear bottle teats.

5. I burst into song

I've never really been one for singing in public, largely because my voice is more night-terror than nightingale. However, I will now suddenly launch into a few verses of Five Little Speckled Frogs without warning. Or, more often, I will begin wailing the theme tune from Mr Tumble, which is constantly playing on loop in my noggin. I don't care where I am, or who might be listening, if I get the urge to sing to the (poor) baby, I'm acting on it.

4. I can't drink

I had a glass and a half of wine on Friday night and, I shit you not, I woke up on Saturday morning with a raging hangover. The full works - headaches, nausea, excessive yawning to the extent that you think the top of your head might slide off, everything. This is not a one off. On the (very few) occasions that I have made it out on the lash these days, I always make it to just the other side of tipsy before having to switch to soft drinks. I think its part guilt, part intolerance, but actually it's no bad thing. As a rather emotional drunk - and an impossibly emotional mother - it does mean that I can wake up with some semblance of dignity the next morning.

3. I have a superiority complex

I once watched an episode of How I Met Your Mother in which new parent, Lily and Marshall, tell their friends that they could no longer counsel them about any problem that wasn't an 'eight or higher'. At the time I had no idea what that really meant, but now I get it. When I hear people complaining about trivial things, I always end up internally shouting, "For goodness sake, I have to keep a small human alive!". I know that, rationally, this reaction is unfair - other people's issues are every bit as relevant as mine - yet I can't help feeling that I've somehow become some sort of superwoman as a direct result of becoming a parent.

2. I'm weird about dairy

Not weird enough to stop consuming it - I love my tea too much to change it - but I have suddenly become very aware of the fact that we're using a food product that is not even vaguely designed for us. This is obviously a side effect of breastfeeding; it has clearly made me very aware that a mother's milk is designed specifically for her baby. Well, the same goes for cows. Cow's milk is designed for cows. Baby cows. Yet we're guzzling it like it's an essential part of our diet. Does that not seem strange to anyone else?

1. I can do a fairly solid Scottish accent

For the first time in my life, I can do accents. Ok, I can do an accent. I can do some Scottish. A pretty large portion of the shows on CBeebies are apparently filmed in Scotland, which means that Blake and I spend a lot of our day surrounded by soft, Highland tones. It was only a matter of time before it started rubbing off, I suppose. If Blake's first proper word turns out to be 'och', we'll know it's reached full saturation.

Friday, 8 August 2014

The Great Milestone Race

Being a mum is a competitive business. With the first child at the very least. It's not an intentional phenomenon, we just can't help but want our child to be just that little bit further ahead in terms of development than their gummy little friends. Often, it's not even a conscious thing: I remember being so keen to tell my mummy friends when I first spied a little tooth under the surface of Blake's gum. I put it down to excitement, but the truth is that I was thrilled that he was teething before any of the others. Similarly, I had barely had time to wipe the sleep from my eyes on the morning of Blake's first uninterrupted night's sleep before I had announced it on social media. I was proud of him sure, but also I think that part of me just wanted to claim that little triumph before anyone else had a chance to. 

You see, I can be retrospective about this 'oneupmumship' now, because I've dropped out of the race. Sleeping through has thus far been the only thing that Blake has done before his gorgeous little counterparts. Remember that super keen tooth? Yep, that has only just broken through the gums, months after I spotted it and bragged, for want of a better word, to my friends; she's a weird one that karma. So now I'm on the outside looking in, and watching my friends compete with each other without even realising what they're doing. I mean, it's not cut throat or anything; there's no bitterness, resentment or, like I've said before, any actual intention behind any of this. Us mothers just seem to be hardwired to want to prove to the world what we already know: that our child is the best bloody child to ever grace the face of this planet. 

I don't think of it in terms of Blake 'catching up'. See, I've cottoned onto an advantage that my boy's reluctance to move gives me: I can put him down in the lounge and go and make a cup of tea, and when I walk back into the room he is exactly where I left him. While I'm all for him learning to get around, why would I be pushing for him to be climbing the DVD rack before he's ready? And that's the thing: I'm a really big believer in allowing children to do things when they're ready. It's why I eschewed the consistently preferred baby led weaning in favour of the purees to lumps route; Blake struggled with finger foods, he wasn't ready. We're now slowly moving onto him feeding himself and it's going beautifully, far from the disaster I was led to believe it would be.

Against every instinct in my body, I have been going to baby and toddler groups recently. It's nothing personal to anyone that loves them, they're just really not my thing. However, I think it's important for the boy to see other babies clambering about and, if nothing else, it's a good excuse for us mums to complain lovingly about our other halves a little. So I've been going. To be fair, the mums that I know at these groups know not to question me about whether or not Blake is crawling yet or whether he has managed to memorise the periodic table and complete works of Shakespeare. They know that I will laugh about the fact that he knows he can sit in the middle of the floor and complain until I eventually bring him whatever he wants. There is the odd mum that will insist on quizzing me about his development, but I honestly believe that's their own competitive edge; they're not really interested in whether my son has done something, they just want to be able to tell me that theirs has. 

What I do object to is the insinuation by the people that run these groups that I'm somehow not trying hard enough to force Blake to do the things that an advanced few others might be at his age. I'm sorry, but not crawling at seven months is not exactly unusual. According to my mum, I was ten months before I began to crawl and sixteen before I walked, and Blake is a lot like me as a baby (lazy - he's lazy). At one of the groups I was in last week, the lady running it told me that I needed to push Tummy Time. I explained that my baby hates Tummy Time and will tolerate it for short bursts before collapsing into a sobbing, angry heap. As such, he prefers to sit (which he does very well), and for that reason I suspect that we may actually end up with a bum shuffler on our hands. She frowned and said that I should put him on his tummy anyway, even if it makes him unhappy.

Sorry?!

Why on Earth would I force my child to do something that he quite clearly detests and that ends with him visibly distressed? Blake will crawl, bum shuffle, dance the Charleston, whatever, when he is ready and not a second before. Sure, if he gets to a year old and has shown absolutely no ability to get from point A to point B somehow, then maybe then I will begin to worry that something might be amiss. But right now, we're talking about one baby being a matter of weeks behind another. By time they all go to school, they will more or less all be caught up; I don't expect a single one of them to bum shuffle through the gates on their first day. 

We need to relax and enjoy our babies for what they are, not where they are in comparison to each other. We need to stop listening to the 'experts', or reading milestone predictions online (they should be waving good bye by eight months, apparently, and not a day later), and just let them work their way through these challenges at their own pace. They're their own little people, with varying levels of energy, ability and intention and it's time we started treating them as such, rather than a statistic on some bullshit chart that means exactly zilch in the grand scheme of things.

Babies of the World: don't worry, you're all doing just fine.