The Parenting Experiment

Before I entered the world of parenthood I was blissfully unaware of the stark truths that lay behind the parenting door.  I believed (as parents want you to) that parents know what they are doing.  Perhaps they have a strong passion or inclination toward a particular form of parenting, but generally (I believed) natural instinct kicks in and we follow those to produce a happy well-rounded little person.  So confident was I about this, that when my Husband asked me when I was 5 months pregnant “after we have the baby, what’s the plan?”, I laughed in his face.  What a ridiculous question I thought!  Isn’t it obvious?!  We simply raise said baby…  Yes, that is the plan.

What I’ve learned thus far (almost 8 months in), is that ‘plans’ and ‘children’ do not mix.  The reality of this hit me first during labour.  In the weeks leading up to my daughter’s birth I was advised to create a ‘birthing plan’.  I carefully took my time over this, trying not to be too specific so that I wouldn’t be shocked when those ‘plans’ didn’t quite happen.  Well, I may as well have used that plan to mop up my waters, it would have been more useful.  The only person that looked at that plan was my Husband for about 30 seconds before it became apparent that this ‘plan’ wasn’t ever going to materialise.  Goodbye low lighting, goodbye classical music, hello about 20 odd people up my bloody chuff!  I’m only glad I didn’t laminate the thing, so it could mock my pre-birth naivety.

Upon bringing my little bundle of tiny fresh baby home I realised that I didn’t have a bloody clue what I was doing.  So focussed was I on pushing her out that I hadn’t really considered ‘what next’.  The natural instinct wasn’t quite at its strongest following labour, childbirth and a whole 11 hours post birth of wide awake and feeding baby.  What became really apparent to me and my Husband at this point was that we were basically making it up as we went along.  How often should she feed? Does she need a bath? Is she supposed to be able to lift her head like that?!  Why the hell is she pooping black stuff???  We didn’t know, we were too tired to read about it, and all knowledge we had previously had slipped away in a sleep deprived oblivion.  And so it began, the parenting experiment!

An Experiment in Action
An Experiment in Action

The experimentation is an ongoing joy, and covers pretty much all babying areas:-

  • Crying – Yeah, babies do this a lot!  All you can do is try out various different things in the hope that one of them stops said baby from crying.  Clean nappy, check. Not too hot/cold, check. Full up, check.  Being cuddled, check.  That’s the basic checks done, let me tell you this, sometimes those things can all be accounted for and your baby will still cry.  Sorry.
  • Sleep – Things that may guide your baby to sleep may include some,all or none of the following; feeding, rocking, pacing, singing, putting them down, picking them up, going out in the car/sling/pushchair, allowing naps, preventing naps, music, white noise, silence.  Through much desperate experimentation we discovered Lady Gaga (see previous post), and after she hit 4 months we learned that she actually would nap, but only if we put her down.  Phew.
  • Feeding – Do you breastfeed?  Can you breastfeed?  Can baby?  Is formula the best way for you? Or combination feeding?  Would a formula feed make your baby sleep longer at night (for us not a chance in hell)?  Would a dream feed bring you a more peaceful night? How much, how often, who best to do it…?  More recently we’ve had the joys of weaning too, though this is more openly a big experiment it has still caused stress in other ways and prompted previous rants!

The more I talk to other parents about this the more I realise that it is all just one big experiment.  None of us know what the frig we’re doing!  NO ONE EVER HAS!  Parental knowledge is a ruse, an illusion, a hoax!  Sure you can read a book, seek advice, but even the application of these to your own child, in your own setting is one massive experiment, and all too often a failed one.  That’s why there are so many books out there and so much unsolicited advice!

So here I am, still at the beginning of my parenting journey and the experiments have only just began.  I have decided to just embrace this venture, perhaps if I ever have another I will have some kind of clue what the hell is happening (unlikely).  I shall willingly accept that just giving something a go to ‘see what happens’ is OK, it’s more than OK, it’s what we’re all bloody doing anyway.

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Is She Good? – Not a helpful question for a new parent

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked since having a baby is “is she good?”. I find this question both confusing and annoying, even though I know it’s rarely asked with any malice. This question was particularly difficult for me in the early months, and here’s why.

From the ages of about 2 weeks to 4.5 months my baby cried, a lot! At first it was due to wind/colic, but even when we got on top of that she continued to scream most of the time. She wouldn’t be comforted by feeding, she only ever breastfed for hunger (and still does) and if I dared offer her a feed when she wasn’t hungry she would scream as if I was trying to murder her. I was lucky that she napped in the day but she just would not sleep in the evenings, often not going to sleep until 2am or 3am. The only things that stopped her crying was The Ohio State Marching Band soundtrack and Lady Gaga (I will love Gaga forever for giving me a break from endless screaming). The music alone wasn’t quite enough though, oh no, if we wanted her to sleep we had to pace and dance around for a looooooong time. Great for initial post baby weight loss (cake counteracted this), but terrible for my mental state. My baby seemed to hate everything we did and everywhere we went, she hated the car and the car seat, her baby bouncer, the pram, the sling, being put down and being cuddled. It almost seemed that she hated life itself and that she hated me.

I experienced some dark times in those early months. I found the hardest time of day was gone midnight when my husband had gone to bed, in those hours I felt so alone and helpless. I didn’t like my baby much at times, in fact, sometimes I hated her. Then I hated myself for feeling that way toward my baby. I can now understand how people come to shake their baby, something before having one I just couldn’t fathom. Sometimes I just had to put her down and walk away for both of us to calm down. I would have a cold glass of water, take some deep breaths, count slowly to 10, prep myself and get back to it, trying to remain as calm and soothing as I could muster. I wondered at times if I had Post Natal Depression, but really I think the way I felt was a normal response to sleep deprivation, having to deal with a screaming baby and having no idea what the hell I was doing.

I remember one horrible day when I was determined to get to my baby yoga class, just so I could spend time with other adults, that my baby screamed at the top of her lungs the whole morning and the whole journey over. As I parked up and went to pick her out from the car she was still screaming screaming screaming, so I snapped and I shouted at her “WHY WON’T YOU JUST SHUT UP!!!”. There was a very brief pause before she began to cry again, this time a traumatised, distressed cry, obviously terrified that her normally warm and calm Mummy had turned into a shouty monster. The shame washed over me and all I could do was cry. My yoga teacher and the other Mums in the group that day were amazingly supportive, and helped to build me up a little. My Mum and my Husband were also wonderfully reassuring around this time, I’m not sure without my family and friends if I would have coped at all. I have certainly learnt that a decent support network is key to surviving when you have a new baby.

As you can see, I wasn’t in the best of places in the early months of motherhood. So you can see why when friends or strangers asked me “is she good?”, that I struggled to think of an appropriate reply. Strangers don’t want to hear that you think your baby may hate you, and most of the time I didn’t want to share that at 1am the night before I had seriously considered abandoning my baby in the garden just to give me some peace and space. Often when I was asked this question my baby would be in full blown cute mode (she was absolutely adorable for about 15% of the day) and I would mutter an awkward reply while a oidig eye contact, stating that she can be very cute but she can also be a bit difficult sometimes too… I had a weird sense that I had to be a bit honest about it even though all too often the conversation stopped there anyway. The question caused a horrible moment of self reflection, a reminder of the difficulties, forcing me to decide if I was going to label my baby as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, thinking then to what that meant about me as a mother. Really I think it’s a bloody stupid question. A ridiculous, unhelpful, thoughtless question. There, I said it!

My baby daughter and I found our way through that time and thankfully it didn’t take all that long (although it felt forever at the time). I learned her quirks as she learned mine, and we found our ways of communicating and understanding each other. I also discovered Baby Einstein (see previous post) and the Jumparoo! Now I am out of that hazy, self-deprecating mist I can see that the question isn’t a piercing one, it is not really demanding that you confess your baby’s dastardly deeds, or a request of a list of their saintly acts. It’s simply asking, “how are you finding motherhood?”, which is perhaps a much more pertinent question. One could answer honestly without making a judgement on their parental ability or their babies tendencies toward ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I know had I been asked THAT question, my reply would be “a bit of a shock actually”, and I would have felt comfortable that I was being honest without sounding like a terrible person.

So today I am making a polite request of you, if you see a new Mum (or Dad) and you want to make light conversation, please don’t ask if the baby is good, please just ask something as simple as “How are you?”, where the question is far less loaded.  Many Thanks.

Feeding and Weaning My Baby – A Rant

I’m going to have a mini* rant, and I apologise in advance because it will probably annoy people but I’ve got to get it off my chest.
I feel a bit sad that I don’t feel I can express my pride for breastfeeding without it being perceived as some kind of attack on those who formula feed. I have breastfed my baby for over 7 months now and it has been really frickin hard work at times, but I’ve managed to work through that and I am pleased that I have and that I have managed to meet my baby’s needs with just my body. Please know that my pride in succeeding in this is not a judgment on other people who have not been able to do this.

I feel pressure from some family and friends to stop breastfeeding now. I’m often asked when I’m going to stop (I haven’t planned any of this so I don’t know), and I can tell there is a suggestion in that question, that it should be soon. That if I keep breastfeeding past 6 months that it’s a bit gross, I’m being a hippy, my baby will get too attached. I don’t feel like I hear the question “how long are you going to formula feed” to other mums?  I have also felt pressure on how I should be introducing food. I have felt the stares in my Mummy group as I fed her a purée, with comments such as “she’s probably wondering why you’re feeding her toothpaste”. It was said in jest, but I could tell everyone was horrified that I wasn’t giving her bits of cucumber and rice cake.

Why oh why is our society so passionate and judgemental about how we feed our babies in general?! Why can a Mum not follow her instincts, or do what she has to do due to limited other options, without others smugly commenting?! I honestly don’t care how you feed your baby, as long as you are both happy with it. Why can’t people just be happy to let me and my decisions pass without a judgmental comment?

So…without having to explain my decision or reasoning I tell you this. I breastfeed my 7 month old and I am proud that I have achieved this! I will breastfeed until I so feel that I should stop or my baby decides to stop. I introduced food to my baby in the form of purée initially. I then gave her some finger foods for breakfast when I felt she was ready.  She now eats a mixture of purée and finger foods at almost every meal.  She has water with every meal too.

Dinner Time
Wow, I feel better for that. Perhaps this could be a thread that you just unashamedly share how you feed/dress/carry your baby.

*mini rant is now giant. Sorry again

A little more detail

I decided to start writing this blog on a whim one Thursday night. I enjoy reading articles and blogs and thought I would try my hand. The problem is I have no idea where to start. I have an idea, but not a clue on how to make it interesting or useful for other people.

The idea is to find effective ways to make the more monotonous components in life a little more pleasant. How can I minimise the time I spend keeping the house together so I can spend more time with my family? What things have we used that have changed our lives for the better? What things can I do to just improve my general sense of well-being? And how on earth do I judge that?!  Most of all I hope to try some new things and have some fun doing it.

I’m thinking perhaps I can break the blog down into categories:-

  • Material items – what objects do we use that make life a little bit better, what was not worth investing in?
  • Actions – what things do I do personally or we as a family do that make us feel happier?
  • Hacks – what tips and tricks have we learned that simplify annoying tasks

I will try and share my honest opinions and give balanced reviews. Obviously not everyone will agree with me, and that’s OK. I would definitely be interested to hear what others think, what advice they have to share, perhaps I can try some of them out.  I imagine that over time the blog will evolve and it’s true purpose will become clear to me, until then, please have a peruse and let me know what you think.

The magic of Baby Einstein

It's like magic!
It’s like magic!

Before I had a baby I was fairly adamant that I wasn’t going to be one of those parents who let their children watch lots of television. I had beautiful fantasies of me and my baby playing together on the floor, giggling and happy all day long.  It was a shock to realise that actually babies are initially pretty limited to what they can do and how they can engage.

I was blessed with what I describe as a ‘High Maintenance’ baby, one who didn’t want to be left alone for more than 7 minutes.  That was the magic number.  She would play on a mat for 7 minutes, she would be held by someone else for 7 minutes, she refused rocking/bouncing chairs, and there’s little else you can do with a baby of three months. That seemed to be the extent of her attention span. Once those 7 minutes in heaven were up it was back into my arms, not content with that alone, I had to be moving, while playing music. Joy.  I was exhausted, the house was a tip and I was beginning to smell pretty bad.

Then one day, one magnificent, wonderful day while perusing YouTube I found a video, “Baby Einstein Orchestra” it called itself.  I knew my little beast had a penchant for brass bands (a story for another day) so I thought I would give it a go.  My baby stared agog at the screen as puppets and cartoons danced about and played various instruments.  She sat silently, drinking it in…for 15 minutes! I almost wet my pants! Imagine, imagine the things you can achieve in 15 minutes… Washing up, vacuuming, a shower, a crossword, a workout, or what I did, make a cup of tea and eat cake while checking out Facebook. Bliss.

Over time I discovered other Baby Einstein videos. Some clever people had cut out the boring bits and made clips of just the puppets (which I found far less annoying), these went on for over and hour. My 7 minute baby sat and watched these for up to 45 minutes with the help of some other devices (will discuss this in another post).  At first I felt a little guilt (see first post), but what I came to realise was that the space that Baby Einstein gave me, allowed me to achieve some of the basics that then meant when I did play with my little one, I was 100% engaged with her. I wasn’t thinking about the cleaning that needed to be done or what to cook for dinner that night, I had already attended to these while she enjoyed a bit of Baby Einstein, I was just in the present enjoying that moment. A true gift!

So, for any tired parents out there, desperately in need of some time and space from their wee one, I can highly recommend trying a bit of television. It may initially feel wrong, but if baby is enjoying it and it allows you to achieve those basic daily tasks, do it. You may find that it frees you to enjoy the time you spend with your baby more…

The Beginning

As a 32-year-old new mother to a (mostly) lovely 7 month old daughter, a wife, a nurse and an owner of 4 cats I have decided to take a moment of reflection on my life.

What I looked like last summer through the hazy eyes of Instagram.
What I looked like last summer through the hazy eyes of Instagram.

I have lived a pretty nice life, and as you can see above it has culminated in some really lovely things. I have been struck however, particularly since having a baby, by how there is a big expectation to have and do it all, and do it well! Work full-time, mother full-time, wife full-time, be free, be sexy, be natural, have fun, be careful, be thrifty, be thoughtful, be kind, do the best, be the best.  I’m not entirely sure where this pressure comes from, a general source of ‘others’, the media, from myself?

I am often shocked and surprised by the amount of debate that surrounds every single parenting decision that is made. It seems people and ‘the media’ all have an opinion about everything. The way you feed your baby, the amount your baby sleeps, how you dress your baby, the way you wean your baby, how you transport your baby, where you take your baby…and the list goes on. Overwhelmingly what I notice is the strong sense of guilt that arrives whatever you so choose to do. It seems you are damned if you do and your damned if you don’t.  Well sod that!

I have decided that what I need (and maybe what we need?) is to treat myself better, more kindly. I hope to find a way to achieve everything i so desire.  I think perhaps starting with a little step back to take a moment to decide what I actually want to do, and how best I can do it would be wise.  That is where this blog is going to come in.  I’m going to take my time to assess the daily details, what helps me to achieve my goals, what helps me through the days, what makes me feel good, what makes me feel better. This will include how I feel, how I look, how I manage my daily tasks at home, at work and out and about. Hopefully I can learn which stuff to ditch and which to keep, use and develop. I shall graciously share my discoveries here, and maybe, if we’re lucky, it may help you too.