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...