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.