Friday, 25 April 2014

They're Only Young Once (or Why My House Looks Like Landfill)

I was laying bed this morning with an impeccable little angel dosing beside me, when it occurred to me that any normal person would probably use that time to perform some chores. With a small baby demanding my attention almost constantly, housework has become a bit hit and miss, and I'm probably only a few days from environmental health stepping in. 

When Blake was very young, he slept a lot and I spent an awful lot of time watching him do so. Nowadays he sleeps very well at night, but barely at all in the day, and housework generally has to be carried out in frantic ten minute increments whilst himself is suitably distracted by Mr Tumble; today it took me three hours just to finish cleaning the bathroom. Most of the time though, it just gets left. Not because I'm a tramp, just because I'm usually doing something else. Like playing. 

I had been feeling pretty guilty about my lack of domestic harmony. Mostly due to the fact that my poor husband works all day, and then comes home to find me sat in chaos like Stig of the Dump, grinning with baby sick on my shoulder. He smirks as I try to justify what I've been doing all day, Netflix betraying me with my 'recently watched' list. 

It has gotten to the point where, on the odd occasion that I do manage to have a good clear up, I have to fight the very real urge to invite over every single person that I know. I want to ring every contact in my phone and say, "Come for dinner! The house is clean and I don't want you to miss it!" After today's bathroom clean, I almost went out into the street and flagged down strangers to come and use our toilet. 

It wasn't until this morning, lying next to my slumbering Prince, that I realised that I've nothing to feel guilty about. I could have gotten up and used the time to mop the kitchen floor or fold some washing, but the other option was to lie there with my baby. He was cuddled up to me in that special way that he does first thing in the morning, my nose in his mouth, and there was nothing in the world that could have persuaded me to leave him. During the day, when I drop everything to tickle a giggling baby on his play mat, I know that I've absolutely got my priorities straight; and the fact that I'd rather dance around my kitchen for entertainment purposes than clean it doesn't make me a bad person.

Childhood is fleeting, especially these very early months, and sometimes we forget to make the most of it. We're so busy worrying about what we think we ought to be doing, we neglect to make the most of the things that are really important. Before you know it, they're grown up and you're lucky to get a brief hug, let alone have them fall asleep using your nose as a dummy. So, with that in mind, I've decided to stop feeling guilty: I've nothing to feel guilty about. After all, the housework will still be there in the morning, but every cuddle I miss will be gone forever, and I want to catch as many as I can.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Big Choice

I think it's probably something to do with my age, but my friends currently seem to largely fall into two groups: those who have or are having children, and those who are putting it off until they've achieved any number of goals. There are, of course, a few who do not want children at all, but today I'm writing only in reference to those with an active desire to reproduce.

The people who have or are having children at younger ages (under thirty), and I include myself in this (just), are doing so in order to be 'young parents' and to have their freedom in their middle age. Personally, I'm living by my own mum's example. She had her children in her twenties and is now enjoying her fifties exactly as she wants. When we were small children, she had all the necessary energy to run around after us and for the constant attention and play that we demanded. Despite the fact that thirty is nipping at my heels, this has always been my intention: to be a young parent and to be able to keep up with my children whilst they're young, and then to have some of my freedom back again before I'm too old.

At the other end of the spectrum are the people who want children, but who have made a conscious decision to wait. The idea behind this is that you have your freedom first, and the children in later years. More often than not, this decision is driven by career aspirations, although the urge to travel, money issues and a love for spontaneity are also often given as reasons. 

Although I have explicitly taken one of these paths, I do not see that one is more correct than the other. Yet, more and more I find myself questioning, why do we have to make the choice? Why does having children mean that our own lives go on hold, or even cease to exist? It's only now that I have a child that I realise I still feel like me. My body and my priorities may have changed, but my dreams haven't. In fact, if anything, it suddenly feels more urgent that I achieve them, if only to Blake something to be proud of when he looks at me. I may not wear make up as often as I once did, and wine may be an occasional luxury due to the feeding power of my boobies, but that's not to say that my life is on hold; it's just entered a different chapter. I still study when I can, and I still write when the baby takes one of his lesser spotted naps: I am still the exact same person that I was before I had him. 

Time and money naturally take a big hit whenever you decide to have your children, but it's a sacrifice that feels absolutely nothing like one. A family doesn't mean the end of your freedom; it signals the beginning of a kind of free that you'd never even imagined before. The freedom of knowing that, no matter what, this little human isn't going to judge you. The freedom of having a very distinct purpose in life, one goal that supersedes any that came before it. The freedom of knowing who you are and what you were put on the planet for. 

The time to yourself before children, or after they've grown up may be wonderful, but the time in the middle, the time when you have no time, that's the most wonderful of all.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

An Accidental Attachment

Attachment parenting is a concept that seems to be going from strength to strength in terms of popularity in recent years. As more and more parents turn away from the more 'traditional' parenting techniques that discourage 'spoiling' a child, the ideals of attachment are creeping into homes all over the country. The reputation of attachment parenting has also had a boost from celebrities such as the late Peaches Geldof, who was an enormous advocate of this rearing style. 

Attachment parenting is based around the seven B's: birth bonding, breastfeeding, baby wearing, bedding close to baby, belief in the language of crying, beware of baby trainers and balance. The idea is that the baby remains close to at least one of the parents at all times, right from birth; fed from the breast and therefore establishing a firm bond with the mother; worn in a sling, carrier or wrap and so rarely losing contact with the parent or parents; CIO (crying it out) is discouraged, parents are instead encouraged to respond to the baby's needs as soon as they become apparent; any form of baby training is frowned upon, whether it be in terms of sleep, feeding or some other issue; and balance in reference to the needs of the parent (if they get time!).

I was always a little bit wary of attachment parenting, familiar with the idea but never having actually seen it done. The concept was alien to my parents' generation: a time when the aim was to feed baby every four hours and to get them sleeping through the night as soon as possible. I was raised using traditional parenting methods and it had certainly never hurt me. However, I seem to have adopted many aspects of the AP style without even realising it was happening, as have many of the other parents that I know.

Attached. Often at the face.


Birth Bonding

Skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth is now very much encouraged in the UK, and Blake's birth was no different. The midwives make sure that the chest of the mother is easily accessible as soon as the baby is born, even when (like in our case) the birth has gone less perfectly than planned. Having just been subjected to a rather traumatic labour and emergency Cesarean section, I was upset and shaky, yet my baby boy was automatically placed on my numb and recumbent body despite that. I'm not going to lie: it was terrifying and I was afraid that my violently shaking torso might throw him off at any time, but it was also fleeting as the doctors needed to put me back together. Blake was handed back to me as I was wheeled into recovery and the skin-to-skin contact that we had calmed by jangling nerves. 

In many hospitals, including North Devon District Hospital where I had Blake, the fathers are also now encouraged to remove their shirts and to establish that early bond.

Breastfeeding

Throughout pregnancy, I looked at breastfeeding as something I'd 'have a go at', with absolutely no expectations of being able to continue. I had heard so many people tell me that they had been unable to do it, I had automatically assumed that I would be the same. However, due to the health (and financial!) benefits, I elected to try Blake's first feed from the breast: again, something that is actively encouraged in NDDH. In addition to this, the NHS now recommends that babies be exclusively breastfeed for the first six months: a fairly recent guideline.

I truly believe that every mother should try at least that first feed. Breastfeeding is absolutely not for everyone, but unless you try, you'll never know. For many years I had assumed I would bottle feed, and had I not tried, I would be missing out on the wonderful experiences that breastfeeding has given me since.

Baby-wearing

This is one element of AP that I haven't adopted. Not because I don't want to, quite the opposite: I have an unused baby carrier sat in its box in the nursery, just waiting for its first outing. The problem is, whenever I get the urge to try and put Blake in it, I seem to be at home on my own and our carrier really is a two man job. I also tried a wrap sling once, a loan from my local breastfeeding support group, although I didn't feel that it was secure enough (I do, however, admit that that is more due to the way that I had fastened it). 

Instead, I pretty much just hold Blake all day: something that has seen me receive gentle criticism from older members of my family. My parents, especially, do not agree that a baby should be held as often as Blake is, and are often found telling me to put him down. However, where I go, Blake goes. In fact, I'm currently balancing both him and my computer on my lap just to write this.

Bedding Close to Baby

Again, this one has become the norm, and simply refers to having baby sleep close by. The official guidelines recommend a Moses basket, crib or cot in the parents' bedroom, although Dr Sears does go a step further and suggests that attached parents bed share with their infants.

I am not allowed to bed share, Mr Meaney has put his foot down, although I do bring Blake into my bed for a precious hour or two first thing in the morning. If I'm honest, the idea of all night bed sharing scares me a little bit, and I agree with my husband that our (small) bed should remain our own. Luckily for us, Blake has always been happy to sleep in his own bed and the dreamy morning cuddles are more for my benefit than his, but I will encourage him to spend the early mornings in with me for as long as I feel appropriate. I'm also in absolutely no rush to put him into his own room.

Belief in the Language of Crying/Beware of Baby Trainers

To me, these two aspects are just two halves of a whole: responding to baby's cry is not spoiling it, it's simply attending to a need, much in the same way that if a baby wakes up hungry in the night, the parent should feed it. This obsession we have with getting our babies to sleep through the night is counter-intuitive; when our babies no longer need us in the early hours, they'll stop asking. The trick is knowing what each cry means and distinguishig between the different types and their meaning.

I admit, I will ignore a whinge. Blake and I are very in tune and I know the difference between a cry that is asking for something and the testy moan of a baby that just can't get himself settled. However, if Blake cries, he gets my attention. I immediately set about finding the cause of the upset and putting it right, never once have I let him cry in order to teach him that it's not the done thing. He's a baby: he doesn't understand. Similarly, I have never interfered with the way that he chooses to order his sleep pattern, as I believe that distinguishing day and night should be an organic process, one that the baby needs to work out on their own. Again, he will occasionally whimper a bit in his sleep, and this I will ignore, as I know that he has the ability to settle himself effectively.

Balance

This part is more difficult! The balance between Blake's needs and my own is something that I still need to work on, particularly in terms of my marriage, as poor Mr Meaney has effectively taken a back seat during the past four months. As Blake gets older, however, and establishes his own routine, I do find myself having more time of my own, so I look forward to getting this element back on track as soon as possible. 


For Blake and I, attachment parenting, or at least our version of it, has been nothing but positive. We are both happy, rested and contented and we have an unbreakable bond, as well as a mutual trust and understanding. Our participation may have been accidental, but I would recommend elements of this pioneering parenting technique to anyone.


Reference: What AP is: 7 Baby B's (2013) Available at http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/parenting/attachment-parenting/what-ap-7-baby-bs (Accessed April 2014)

Friday, 4 April 2014

The Non-ternal Instinct

I've never been a particularly maternal person; a fact that was demonstrably clear a few days ago... 

I was at a mother and baby group with some friends who have babies around Blake's age, when everyone attending got into a circle to sing songs. The general mood in the room was one of elation while my internal adult recoiled in horror. Luckily my friends were also less than keen to join the circle and we hung around at the back, me clutching Blake like a protective talisman. However, it was at this point that a conversation took place about the song that was reverberating around the room, wailed by toddlers and seemingly delirious mothers. One friend admitted that her baby loved this one, while the other friend conceded that her boy was a fan of Wizard of Oz. I felt compelled to chip in: 

"Blake likes Nicki Minaj."

He does, he loves her. I don't own one single baby friendly song, and I'm working on the principle that the words mean nothing to him anyway, so it shouldn't really matter if the song is about drugs. Should it? 

This incident is not the first time that I've questioned my maternal instinct (or lack thereof). I never really wanted children before Mr Meaney came along; it just wasn't something that I saw in my future. But, when you meet someone that you want to breed with, a change happens and biology takes over: suddenly I wanted nothing more than to produce the fruit of this man's loins. However, wanting a baby and being maternal are really quite different things. Even when I was so full of baby that I thought my seams would split, I found myself making awkward and inappropriate jokes at midwife appointments and avoiding other people with babies. Being pregnant seemed to mean I should want to hold every precious newborn that crossed my path. I didn't, and I was beginning to worry about holding my own when he finally arrived.

Of course, when he was handed to me in hospital, I was more in love than I ever imagined being and his warm, wrinkly skin seemed to be the only thing that calmed my post-op morphine shakes. After a little while in recovery, the midwife made herself scarce to allow us to get to know each other and Mr Meaney went outside to make ten thousand phone calls. I was alone with my precious son, and I desperately didn't want to be: I was bloody terrified. What happened if he moved? What happened if he cried? Seriously, what happened if he shit? In fact, whenever I had to change a nappy in my hospital bay, I put the curtain around me so that the other mums on the ward couldn't see me make a total hash of it. 

For the first few weeks, I felt awkward holding him; unsure of how to support his head properly and completely clueless as to how I was supposed to wind him. Even now I hate taking him to baby clinic to get him weighed, certain that all of the other parents (not to mention the dreaded health visitors) are judging the way that I cack-handedly wrestle his arms into his jumper. Despite being perfectly happy and content at home, he would cry when we were around other people's houses and I was sure it was because I felt uncomfortable. Not with him, but with the way other people saw me with him.

Here's the thing: I was doing just fine. Perhaps I didn't have the classic maternal instinct, but I did have a Blake instinct. Just because I wasn't the most natural when it came to holding a fragile newborn didn't mean I wasn't able to learn as I got to know my son. I've managed to keep him alive and well using nothing but my body for fourteen weeks and he's an incredibly happy and settled little man; at least half of that credit is mine. When he's upset, I'm one of the only people who knows just how to settle him, and he looks for me whenever I leave his sight. Blake adores me, you can see it in his eyes. I'm no longer just a handy milk machine; as he gets older his need for me has turned into real love, and that's my doing. I may not be the most graceful person when it comes to getting him dressed, and I may be quietly looking forward to returning to work for a few days next month, but I still know I'm a fantastic mother.

I think there is a lot to be said for maternal instincts, but not having one doesn't mean that motherhood isn't for you. To this day I'm still as awkward as it comes with other people's babies, but I know my own like no one else, and that's all the instinct that I need.