Saturday, February 16, 2008

Contented Mother... (6)

This is from Chapter 5 on sleep. It is a favourite with my readers. This is the beginning, before it all went pear-shaped, when we buckled under pressure and tried sleep training. And then I write about the whole co-sleeping experience. But for now enjoy the positive stuff...

Over the last two years Jemima’s sleeping has been one long journey up a very steep learning curve. It is in this aspect of motherhood that I have felt least confident in what I was doing and in what I was being told to do. This does mean that we pretty much tried everything and learnt a lot along the way, but it feels pretty messy when I look back on it all. Of course you could say that by the end of the first year all of this becomes pretty irrelevant – since then she has slept like all nearly all other toddlers I know – usually through the night, with a long nap after lunch. But as they say, it’s not the end result but the getting there that counts. Our sleep adventures show just how hard it can be to stick to your guns in the face of peer pressure, and how easily you can lose touch with your instincts. We cocked up several times but lived to tell the tale. It’s kind of a long story, but then again I don’t think I have ever heard parents talk about anything in as much detail as they do sleep. Who can blame us? If our kids aren’t getting any then nor are we! It’s a pretty important subject.

Lazy bones
Jemima’s first few weeks were a haze of long sleeps on the sofa or in the sling during the day, short naps on James’s chest in the evening and then she would come to bed with us at about 11pm. She would sometimes settle in the Moses basket to begin with, if she was already asleep. Then I would wake up to hear her stirring and bring her into bed for a feed.

Those night-time feeds at the beginning took about an hour, sometimes two. Sometimes I would put her back in her Moses basket but often we would just cuddle all night. I remember it was roughly sleep for three hours, feed for one and half, sleep for two, feed for one and a half and then she would wake at about 7am. I would feed her again and hold her or lie her on the bed next to me until she went back to sleep again and we would often stay that way until about 10 or 11 am. So although the nights were very broken I was getting lots of sleep and spending ten to 12 hours resting in bed each night.

As I have said a thousand times already, I recommend this to all new mothers. Even now, when we get the occasional disturbed night but have to get up and go in the morning because I am working or Jemima has play school, I look back to those days with longing. Spending the mornings in bed is a luxury that is also unlikely to be possible the second time round. Not only did this help me catch up on sleep, and help us to bond, it also taught Jemima to go back to sleep easily in my arms. Whether or not this is a result of those lazy mornings in bed I do not know, but, whatever time she goes to bed, Jemima never gets up before 7am, and it’s usually more like 8 – 8:30am. If she does wake at 7 she often sends herself back to sleep for an hour. This is great for weekend lie-ins and, I have since discovered, common behaviour for babies who sleep with their parents. She is also a very flexible sleeper, perhaps after having learnt to go back to sleep when I do, or perhaps she was just going to be this way anyway. If we have to get up at 7am one day it is not an issue - for her I mean. For me getting up in the morning at any time is an issue. However, if we have a big night and she stays up a bit later (she loves a party) she will sleep in until 10am which makes holidays much more restful.

To begin with I loved the whole night time experience and not being tired helped enormously. Sleepless nights are easier to cope with when you have a miracle new baby in your arms. I would watch her feed in the middle of the night, with James sleeping by my side, and experience emotions so intense they were almost unbearable. Childless folk will laugh at this but ask any new, breastfeeding mother and I bet nine out of ten of them would say the same thing. It’s those hormones again. Of course we are soon longing for a whole night’s undisturbed sleep and I pretty quickly stopped gazing at her and tried to sleep while she fed.

James had an easy time of it too. There were mornings when he actually dared ask: “Did she sleep through?!” If he didn’t have to get up and go to work, while I had a lie in with Jemima, I would have been seriously unimpressed with this question. On nights when she would not settle in her Moses basket from the start we took our midwife’s advice and just put her in the middle of us, on top of the duvet so that we would not roll on top of her or smother her with the covers. I slept so lightly when she was with us that the slightest movement James would make would alert me to how Jemima was. Once I woke up to see James rolling over and Jemima, because she was on top of the duvet, just rolled over with him into my arms. Sleeping lightly wasn’t too much of a problem for me because not having to get out of bed meant that I never woke up properly so would fall back asleep easily. The hormone Prolactin, released when breastfeeding, helps mothers to quickly fall back into very a restful sleep. I later discovered we were part-time co-sleepers, but at the time it was just what worked for all of us and we continued like this for several months.

Somewhere in Jemima’s second month I woke one night to hear her waking up in her basket. I reached out and laid my hand on her and the next thing I knew it was morning. I still do not know why I decided that night not to pick her up straight away. Perhaps it was sheer exhaustion. It just felt right at the time and when she did not cry I went straight back to sleep. This became a regular thing. She would wake in the night and I would hear her making noises and then she’d send herself back to sleep. I have no doubt that for Jemima, hearing, feeling and smelling us close by was enough for her to lull herself back to sleep. It was the beginning of our most restful period of parenthood until now. She was sleeping through! She would be awake most of the evening which suited us fine as she just lay there while we had dinner or got on with whatever it was we were doing. This also gave James more time with her. It also meant we could go out to dinner with her, something that becomes far harder when they get into their early bedtime routine and you have to worry about babysitters etc. Then she would go to sleep with us, at about 11pm and not wake until 10am. I was getting more sleep than before I had her.

At the end of this chapter...

Ten lessons learned about sleep
1. Enjoy the early months when all my baby does is sleep – wherever she happens to be.
2. Accept that babies are famous for sleeping badly! They have shorter and lighter sleep cycles than adults and it is normal for them to wake two or three times a night from birth to six months, once or twice from six months to one year; and may awaken once a night from one to two years.
3. Remember that they all sleep through eventually, whether at one two or three years old. The exhaustion will pass, even if for some later than others!
4. Babies want and need to sleep with their parents. We should all give it a try as emotionally-responsive adults willing to put our needs second to our babies. If it doesn’t work for us we should make every effort to make our baby feel calm and safe in their own bed, and always welcome in ours, if only for a cuddle in the morning.
5. Rubbing of eyes is not a sign of being ready to sleep but of over-tiredness. Try to anticipate the rubbing eyes stage.
6. Teething creates havoc with babies and sleep. Go with it, it passes.
7. Babies often start waking at night more often when they go through periods of developmental change such as walking or crawling, or when separation anxiety occurs, around eight to twelve months.
8. If my baby is sleeping badly at night it might mean they want more cuddles by day.
9. Most babies need lots of day-sleep. Usually, the more they sleep by day, the better they sleep at night.
10. Keep some kind of relaxing, nurturing routine leading up to bedtime, such as a soothing bath or massage, singing, or reading a book, to help prepare a baby for sleep. Young children who have their own bed will often go to sleep more willingly when parents lie down with them in their bed until they are very drowsy or until they go to sleep. Many parents have found that their children soon outgrow this need and happily go to sleep on their own.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Contented Mother ... (5)

This is a very long excerpt from Chapter 4 on Breastfeeding (The lazy mother's best friend)...

Jemima and I are unashamedly passionate about breastfeeding and I am lucky to have had a mostly easy time of it so far. I know that this is not the case for many women so I hope my positive experiences will encourage new mothers and that what I have learnt along the way can be of some help.

Quick rant
Before I get positive though, I just have to get a few things off my chest. Breastfeeding has had a pretty bad press in Britain over the years. Things are slowly changing but nine times out of ten if you confess to being pro-breastfeeding you are immediately stereotyped as a hippy, bra-less mother whose leaky boobs swing low beneath her milk stained T-shirt as she marches against formula companies, banner held high, her still feeding 10-year old on her hip. I object. I am no militant lactivist. Just because I believe breast is best does not mean that I look upon bottle-feeding mothers with scorn in the park, or ‘tut-tut’ loudly behind them in the formula aisle of the supermarket. For a while I belonged to a breastfeeding group, (don’t laugh) and we really were a fairly conventional bunch: there was me, a hairdresser, two midwives and several businesswomen. Half of us had gone back to work part-time. Yes really, contrary to popular belief the smart lady on the commuter train dressed in a suit and heels could well be going to breastfeed her child that night when she gets home from work.

So fed up am I of the way breastfeeding is portrayed by much of the press in this country, that I hope to train to be a breastfeeding counsellor one day. I think it is a subject shrouded with great ignorance and judgement, in the place of more education, information, and most of all – support. 99.9% of women are physically able to breastfeed. It’s the most natural thing in the world right?

Somebody help us!
It was only when I became a mother myself and began to hear other women’s stories that I realised that breastfeeding can be the cause of much pain, guilt and unhappiness to many women. This is particularly so in industrialised nations where we have less personal support from family and friends and more professional advice and intervention. We still hear horror stories of women being sent home from hospitals without having properly latched the baby on yet, health professionals forcing the mother to give a bottle of formula against her will (or even knowledge!) or midwives trying so hard to make the baby take the breast that both mother and child end up utterly distressed and put off for life. Of course there are many wonderfully supportive and sensitive health professionals and NHS and NCT breast-feeding counsellors out there, and the incidence of breastfeeding at birth has increased significantly in the last five years, largely thanks to them. However without the continued support networks that many other societies have, is any wonder that so few women in the UK continue to breastfeed beyond the first few weeks?
I read recently that 90% of UK women who stop breastfeeding by six weeks would have liked to have continued for longer. The most common reasons for stopping are pain and concerns about not producing enough milk. Both of these are largely avoidable with the right information and support.

Take my breastfeeding group for example. (I believe I asked you not to laugh). Organised by the NCT, we were basically a group of women who were still breastfeeding after five months and beyond. Some of us were happy about continuing, others were not sure and wanted to talk about it or just meet other women doing the same thing. We met at each other’s houses each month for an evening of informal chat, with or without our babies. Sometimes we had a breastfeeding counsellor with us but usually it was just mothers who came and went according to their need.

Why five months? This is the time when many women are thinking about continuing to feed beyond six months, but are feeling pressured to stop because everybody else is. Feeding beyond six months is still relatively uncommon in Britain. I think people confuse the advice to exclusively breastfeed for six months with stopping when you get there. I remember one friend saying: “I’ve done my bit – he can have real food now”. She seemed to think that one replaced the other, when actually this is not the case. The World Health Organisation recommends mothers continue to breastfeed until her child is at least two years old.

Five months is also the time when babies start to wake at night. This is a time of great developmental change. Many babies start to sit up and generally become more mobile. Sometimes they wake simply because of the extra stimulation brought about by the developmental changes, and sometimes the extra activity means they are burning more calories and getting hungrier. There are myths, upheld by many health visitors and doctors, that if you start to give solids at this stage it will help them sleep. Sometimes women came to the group because they are tired from waking at night but want to continue to feed anyway, and just need to hear from other people doing the same thing. Five months is also the time when many women start preparing their return to work and want to know if they can continue to feed.

I realised how important a group like this can be the night that Pip, midwife and mother of an eight-month baby girl, told us that if she hadn’t joined the group three months earlier, she would have definitely given up breastfeeding. Not because we are a bunch of bullies, I hasten to add, but because she was struggling and thought it would always be hard. She had no idea that she was, at five months, just weeks away from the stage when everything gets easier, the feeds get quicker and are less frequent. She had not wanted to give up but needed to hear that it would get better.

You just can’t beat sharing in this way with other mothers. We are all different. We range from the very nervous: “how do I know how much milk she is getting?” to the pissed off: “he’s using me as a dummy” to the positively horizontal: “I spent all day cooking for a party today with baby in the sling helping herself to milk whenever she liked! She kind of got in the way a bit when I was serving drinks though!” The first was Pip, which we all found fascinating because we naively presumed that as a midwife she would be more relaxed, but I suppose it’s a whole different ball game when it comes to your own baby. As she points out, she is in the business of delivering babies, but after one week she has no more contact with them. The last was Nicky, the incredibly cool hairdresser, who washes, cuts and blow-dries while wearing her baby. And the middle one could probably have been any one of us on a particular day.

The things I have learnt from this sort of forum are invaluable. For example, for a while I had very painful blocked ducts and what felt like the on-set of Mastitis. I was about to ask the doctor for antibiotics when someone suggested I try feeding Jemima on all fours. Hmmmm… well despite feeling very indelicate - down-right bovine actually - straddling my baby in this fashion, I have to say it worked. I also discovered that if a woman has had a really tough time breastfeeding at first and has decided to give up, she can try again a few weeks later when things have calmed down. That is surely something that all women should be told by their midwives right from the start?

I know there are many excellent ante-natal breast-feeding workshops about but the one I attended left much to be desired. Did anyone else find the plastic doll with a closed mouth less than ideal preparation for latching a real a baby on? Someone could make a fortune by designing the model baby doll, with moveable mouth and neck. I would definitely recommend you choose a class where they invite a real mother with a real baby to demonstrate breastfeeding. When Jemima was four months old, the NCT invited us to a breastfeeding workshop, so that several very pregnant women could watch and ask questions. As I told them my story, showed them how to feed and described how it felt, I realised how little I knew before having Jemima, compared to what they were learning then.

Before attending my own NHS workshop, I had had little reason to give much thought to breastfeeding. I assumed it was natural, right and something everybody did. Although it might be hard to begin with, it would very likely turn out fine in the end wouldn’t it? My only real experience of it was being around my sister Alex who breastfed both her children (her third was born soon after Jemima) until they were both a year-old. She had made it look like the simplest thing in the world. I don’t think it ever occurred to me to ask her how it felt. I hardly noticed she was doing it most of the time. Apart from when Tom decided to try out his new teeth. I do remember the odd scream now I think about it! So at the workshop I was surprised at how many women associated breastfeeding with pain, embarrassment, exhaustion and awkwardness.

Rather than address these fears openly, the trainer tried to convince us that these were all myths, and brushed over them quickly. There was little realistic discussion of what ups and downs one might expect, what it might feel like to fail at first, how long it might take, and how to negotiate with your midwife. Nor were there any first-hand stories from breast-feeding mothers.

The best bit was the video we were shown, Breast is Best. This classic depicted middle-class Norwegian mothers feeding their new-borns in bed, with their beautifully chiselled, loving husband looking on adoringly in the middle of the night. That’s just not normal. When I was up feeding in the night James, tired-eyed and with several weeks of stubble, would grunt, mutter something about the light and roll over and back to sleep. That’s normal! The guy had to get up for work the next day for goodness’s sake. Mind you Norway does have some incredible maternity and paternity policy so maybe this husband didn’t have to go to work. This might explain how he was also capable of bringing his wife flowers and breakfast (containing all the right food groups) in bed, the next day. Oh yes, and then there was the four-year-old in uniform tugging up her mother’s shirt on her way to school for a vigorous suck.

These were hardly images likely to convince the average woman attending this workshop in South London. We mainly fell into two categories. Very young, black African/Caribbean, and Asian women, some without partners, most on low-incomes, and white 30-something professionals thinking they will have to go back to work to pay the mortgage and maintain their financial independence. To my embarrassment I noticed I was the only one crying at the images of newborn babies finding their way to the mother’s breast – that was just so incredible to watch! I also seemed to be the only one taken in by the fairytale portrayal of breastfeeding. I just hope I was not the only one who ended up enjoying feeding as well. Because I have to say it – breastfeeding really is the lazy mother’s best friend.

The great thing about boobs is that you can whip ‘em out anytime, any place and at night you needn’t get out of bed, let alone go down stairs to warm up bottles. Some of my happiest memories of Jemima are of long hours, sometimes days, in bed feeding, playing, cuddling and feeling an overwhelming closeness to my new daughter. Jemima took her time to get round to feeding, so I tried to relax and trust that she would feed when ready. I spent many hours holding her skin-to-skin, offering her my breast, and letting her refuse it. I also expressed some Colostrum, which we gave to her by syringe. When seventeen hours later she did latch on I was filled with awe and an unexpected joy. After all the anticipation I was able to feed my baby. You just can’t beat that drunk look babies have when they finally pull off the boob, totally saturated and content.

There are countless other benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child. It enhances the physical and psychological bond between mother and child for many reasons: the intimacy of breastfeeding; the prolonged cradling of the baby; the physical dependence of a child on its mother for milk, and gratification that she is able to provide it, and the constant source of comfort, are all obvious benefits. The ‘love’ hormone Oxytocin, that is produced the moment the baby takes the nipple in its mouth, brings on a sudden feeling of contentment and pleasure for many breastfeeding mothers as well as aiding sleep and protecting against breast cancer. Breast milk is biologically designed for the human infant, contains the right amount of the right nutrients, is easy to digest, gives immunity to certain diseases and viruses, protects against some cancers, helps strengthen jaws, eyes and formation of teeth, and helps ward off allergies! Breastfed babies are five times less likely to end up in hospital than formula-fed babies with gastroenteritis, and half as likely to end up in hospital with respiratory disease in their first seven years of life. Breast milk also protects against diabetes and obesity. Oh and it’s cheap, saves time, and makes travel easy. It’s pretty amazing stuff!

Even when we know all this though, it is not always easy, which is why so many women can not get on with it and decide that using formula is the best thing for them in order to enable them to enjoy their new baby. At first it can be excruciatingly painful and sends your hormones all over the place. Expect to cry, especially around the third day, or whenever your milk comes in. Remember what I told you about Legally Blonde? For a long while it also feels as though you never leave the sofa. I’m sure this is nature trying to make us rest and recover from childbirth. Whenever anyone asks me for one piece of practical advice to give to a new mother, I say this:

“Don’t fight the sofa confinement! Relax and enjoy it, because when they start moving more and feeding less, boy will you miss it. Get in all your favourite DVDs, and books, chocolates, loads of water, and a Teasmaid (do they still exist? A Norwegian husband might be even better, if you can find one) and snuggle down with your baby. And hang on until beyond six months because that is when breastfeeding becomes really enjoyable.”

Yes it’s true. The best-kept secret about breastfeeding is that it just gets quicker and easier the older they get. If only they told you this at ante-natal classes. It is ironic and seems unfair that so many mothers manage to feed until six months, surviving the days when it feels as though you, your cracked nipples and spreading bottom will never rise again, only to give up just when it starts to get easy. After six months the feeds get quicker, your boobs stop changing size and your milk supply easily adapts if you take a day or two off. By eight months Jemima took about three minutes to feed during her daytime feeds and longer at night because she likes to be cuddled close to me before bed. If I added up her feeds over twenty four hours they probably took less than an hour in total. In fact I even found myself trying to convince her to stay for longer so that I could have a rest.

At the end of this chapter...

Ten lessons learned about breast-feeding
1 Breast milk should be worshipped – almost as much as chocolate.
2 Breastfeeding mothers need support to make it enjoyable and easy. 99% of us can breastfeed with the right support.
3 It is entirely normal that the baby wants to sleep and not feed straight away after birth. If I found childbirth traumatic and exhausting, it is likely that my baby did too. We both need time to sleep it off and recover.
4 It is entirely normal for a baby to try to latch on but not succeed straight away. This need not be a problem for the first few days, as long as they are getting colostrum and my milk production is set in motion through regular pumping.
5 When getting the baby to latch on gently offer the breast, without exhausting myself or my baby and without causing stress. Never force it. Try to switch breasts so that the baby does not develop negative associations with one breast.
6 Lots of skin to skin contact is vital to get my milk production going. Keep my baby near my breast at all times
7 Check nappies. If it is coming out, I know it is going in.
8 When your baby bites you (they all try it at some stage) firmly take them off the nipple with your finger and look away. Make it clear that they cannot enjoy the privilege of feeding if they do not respect the boob!
9 If feeding in the night sends them straight back to sleep enjoy it and don’t worry about it becoming a habit. Everything is a phase.
10 It gets easier and easier after six months so don’t give up before experiencing her stroking my face while feeding. Bliss…

Read on - a snippet from Chapter 5

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Contented Mother... (4)

This is an excerpt from Chapter 3, And then there were three. On settling in It seems to be a favourite with my readers - my lovely friend who is a GP has just told me she now makes sure she tells all her new mum patients it is ok to stay in their PJs at home and not get out of bed.

Slobbing out at home
I do not believe it is possible to underestimate the importance of hanging around the house with a new baby (or any age baby for that matter). Going out and making friends is obviously also natural and important, but I have many friends who, in retrospect, feel they tried to do too much too soon and if they could turn back the clocks, they would get back into their pyjamas and take their baby back to bed. My happiest memories of our first few months together were just being at home with her doing normal household stuff. I talk about doing nothing a lot in this book because I think we set ourselves too many high standards and targets at the time in our lives when we most deserve and need to stand still and take each minute as it comes. The physical and emotional toll of bearing a child are enough, let alone having to learn on the spot how to care for this new life.

I first took Jemima out when she was a few days old, for a walk to the local shop. Although I appreciated the fresh air and getting out of the house for a bit, I also remember the incredible feeling of calm and relief when walking back in the door and unloading Jemima, putting the kettle on, playing some music and just collapsing exhausted on the sofa with my baby. I spent hours in bed with her and shared long midday baths. I would get in and relax while it was hot, with Jemima lying on the floor next to me, then when it cooled I would bring her in with me. We would curl up on the sofa so I could read my book, or watch a film while she slept or lay awake in my arms. Sears calls this “rooming in”.

Oh and I cooked for England. Jemima slept a lot in the day and I spent hours in the kitchen with Jemima in the sling, or lying on the floor. Sometimes James would walk into a kitchen full of more different kinds of food than even he could handle. Mostly though, he just found the remnants of a cake I had already polished off earlier in the day. The freezer was bursting with pasta sauces, soups and ice-cream. Ever noticed that when you go to the supermarket when you are hungry you buy loads of rubbish that you would never normally buy? It was like that with cooking. I was hungry all the time from so much breast-feeding and the result was some seriously manic kitchen activity. Oh, and the sad fact that while everyone else was losing their baby fat I was piling on the pounds.

Of course what I enjoyed as domestic bliss could well be another woman’s idea of utter hell and drudgery. Although I suppose one thing we all have in common is the desire to sleep so at least some of the above might be an attractive option for everyone. I also recognise it is not always easy, even for me, despite my lazy instinct. I guess there is a mixture of the desire to prove ourselves, show the world we are coping and are out and about, and the healthier human urge to meet other parents and socialise. I was new to Winchester and am someone who thrives on the easy company of close friends, so I suffered a serious bout of ‘must make a friend today fever’. I probably put people off I was so desperate. I do remember one day of total liberation though.

It was my birthday and I had a date with my only real friend living locally, Emily, who I met a month earlier over our naked bumps in the shower after pre-natal swimming, on what we discovered was our shared due date. We had planned to have tea at her house as I had felt I had to do something sociable on my birthday. Just as I was due to leave however, Jemima fell asleep. In a rare moment of clarity and decisiveness I called to cancel the tea. I told her I was going to stay in and eat my birthday box of chocolates and finish my book all by myself while Jemima slept. Could we reschedule? She thought it was a great idea, fully understanding the joy of realising you have a sleeping baby and a few hours to yourself. It was probably the best birthday afternoon I ever had.

At the end of this chapter, as with all my chapters, there is a 10 lessons learned...
Ten lessons learned about being a very new mother
1. Read books based on scientific fact rather than one-size fits all routine-advocating manuals that discourage emotional responsiveness to my unique baby
2. Have confidence in my ability to read and respond to my baby
3. Take my baby to bed with me whenever possible
4. Pamper myself with baths, yoga, nice food and good books, magazines and videos
5. Remember that once they start crawling the sofa will never seem so attractive again
6. Baby yoga and massage is a great way to soothe and bond with my baby
7. Don’t be afraid to get serious answers for why my baby cries
8. Go out and spend time with warm loving friends
9. Stop caring about what other mothers are doing or what other people think
10. There is no such thing as ‘too many photos’

Read on - a snippet from Chapter 4

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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Travels with my girls...

Just a quick note from Britain, where we arrived safely a week ago after a mostly smooth journey. (Oh, apart from Jemima wedging her hand in the lift door in Bangkok airport for several minutes, but at least that gained us entry into the posh lounge for a couple of hours of being tutted at and frowned upon by besuited business men.)

Everyone seems shocked and full of pity when they hear I am travelling to, and around, the UK, alone with two children, but I can honestly say it would be a lot harder and a lot lonelier without them.

There is something utterly exhausting about travelling with your children and being a guest in someone else's home. Something about trying to balance my instinct to care for my children as I feel fit (especially when I am extra sensitive about the emotional and physical strain of carting them around this country far away from home), and while being dependent on others and not wanting to impose, with the needs of all my family and their expectations for the visit... well, it's knackering, as all other expats will know, and I find I lose myself every day somewhere between breakfast and getting dressed. I have found the odd moment for my writing or yoga in the early hours of the morning before everyone else is up (which absolutely goes against my nature)and this helps me stay grounded. But mostly it is my children who make it all ok. Every night as we all curl up together and read stories and take a bit of a breather after a long (lovely) day of being with lots of other (lovely) people, I just feel so blessed that I have them to keep me company as I try to fit back into life in the UK. I shall write about the whole experience of coming 'home', culture shock etc another time, when I have time. Now it is late and a cosy be-childed bed awaits me.

So I shall just say that it is freezing cold, my children have red rosy cheeks, chapped lips, and a passion for swings. Hoorah for green space, wind and play grounds! Bella has two teeth and is pulling herself up and about to crawl at any time. She is growing way too quickly and every night I snuggle up with her under the duvets and encourage her to stay a baby - at least until we are reunited with her daddy. But the next day she just wants to be with the big children again. She is still waking non-stop for feeds but something about the air here means I pretty much sleep through regardless. There is something about cold wind and duvets that makes sleep so much more exciting and rewarding. I do love the extra cuddles inspired by her waking actually. I might actually be disappointed when she does start to sleep through. (Although I think that might be a year or two away...)

As for Jemima, well she always does me proud on these visits. I could not wish for a more adaptable, sweet-natured, friendly child. She falls right back in with all her aunts and cousins, loves the novelty of gloves and tights and has shown her 'winter shoes' to a host of strangers on the street. She normally keeps going for a few weeks of this nomadic existence before crashing, but this time she seems more sensitive to it all. I have been fuelling her with echinacea, probiotics and herbal tonics, but I can see she is already exhausted.

And so am I, so good night and have a lovely weekend everyone.

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Contented Mother... (3)

A few paras from chapter two, on birth. This chapter is called How do they do it in Africa?

Home birth
It was Sheila who made me realise I did not have to have a hospital birth. I do not feel strongly about where a baby is born in principle, this is a personal choice. For me home birth was by far the most attractive option. The thought of wandering around labour wards for hours on end, with other women’s wails reminding me of more pain yet to come was less than appealing. At home I could walk around our house, feel free to be as naked, loud or silent as I liked, and James would be able to make toast and tea to keep us going, between contractions. The neighbours would just have to get over it. I imagine it could be rather traumatic for the two teenaged boys,but I was feeling rather traumatised by them right then. I was not sure what to worry about most - these kids’ welfare or the fact that their expletives were likely to be among my baby’s first words. But one thing I didn’t care about was making them endure a few hours of agonised screams. Besides, I was not planning to scream…

While writing this I have just heard that a friend of a friend has given birth at home. Two hours after the baby was born the midwife went home, the dad got a takeaway and they are now sipping champagne on the sofa with their new babe in their arms. I’m so jealous (my ‘home birth’ didn’t quite go according to plan, but more on that later). Compare this to being left alone on the post-natal ward, woken by other babies’ cries, and eating hospital food. Not to mention the humiliation of being watched on your way to the loo. I am not joking - this takes an age. I staggered so slowly, protectively clutching my very sore undercarriage, convinced it would fall to the ground if I let go, that it took me at least five minutes to pass my neighbour’s bed. Enough time to say “hi”, listen to her conversation with some twenty relatives also watching me pass, say “bye” and still not have made it past her bed. And then I had to go through it all over again on my way back to bed half an hour later. Cringe.

Comforts aside, Sheila reassured me that a home birth would be safe and was increasingly common. Importantly for me, I could also change my mind at any time before or during labour. We lived five minutes from the hospital which helped! I decided to go with the flow, do as much as I could at home and see what felt right at the time. And, as community midwife, Sheila would attend the birth if I were lucky enough to go into labour on the right day.

Before I go on I recommend anyone planning a home birth to think carefully whom they decide to tell. My decision was greeted with many a horrified silence followed by cautions, warnings and even pleas that I might change my mind. I was not to be dissuaded. I’d had a fairly straightforward pregnancy and felt very relaxed and active until the last minute.

As is customary with home births, a week before the due date Sheila came to leave her bag of goodies behind. A word of advice:


Medical equipment can resemble torture instruments to the untrained eye. I mean I’m all for forward planning and preparedness and all that, but couldn’t she have hidden it in the shed or something?
Read on - a snippet from Chapter 3

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Contented Mother... (2)

A very, very short excerpt from my first chapter, on pregnancy, for any pregnant women out there. Enjoy and bask in the knowledge that you are extraordinary :-)

Pregnant women are goddesses and should be treated as such. Everyone should know that each of us feels like THE most special and important person on the planet. Given that we are vessels for nature’s most incredible inspiration yet, this should hardly come as a surprise. People forget, as they see us going about our busy days as usual, that we are carrying at least one tiny new person around inside our bodies. It is amazing. Totally incredible. Truly overwhelming. I always wonder why people aren’t more impressed by us.

If we turned to the person next to us on the tube in the morning and said: “Hey, feel this. A real live baby is scratching his head” we would probably be certified mad. The number of times I sat in some tedious meeting smiling to myself as Jemima would start to walk about and dance and jiggle her hips inside me. I wanted to stand up and shout: “Have you any idea how much more interesting things are inside my womb right now than they are in this room?” Instead I just sat there confident in the fact that while all they saw was one big, fat, pregnant woman whose constant shifting and tummy stroking was getting annoying, I knew I was Princess Nurture, Queen of Gestation, a super-mum in the making.

Read on - a snippet from Chapter 2

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Monday, February 4, 2008

Contented Mother... (1)

I said I would do it and I am. It terrifies me but I am publishing the first excerpt of my book. Seeing as it's the first we may as well start at the beginning. After this I shall probably post a few paras from each chapter for the duration of the time I am away. Read on for the intro to Contented Mother. Please be gentle with your criticism! If you like what you read but do not usually comment please take the time to send a quick email or feel free to comment anonymously.

Ask anyone expecting their first baby how they feel about the life-change to come and most will reply: “I’m afraid our lives will become unrecognizable” or “I’m dreading the sleepless nights” I was no different. I was terrified about losing the freedom and intimacy I had with my husband, I enjoyed a fulfilling career, and as for sleep? Put it this way: for me the perfect day would involve not getting out of bed before noon. Even if you don’t fear the worst, there will always be someone else who’ll do it for you. How many times have you been told: “Enjoy your freedom. Life will never be the same again” or “Live out your dreams now, this may be your last chance”? Sometimes it’s hard to look forward to being a parent, even if you want to. Many parents hastily plan their return to work, imagining that staying at home with a baby can only be mind-numbingly boring, and very hard work.

Well now I’ve been there and done that (only once so far, and with only one child) I too have something to say: don’t panic. It doesn’t have to be that way. Believe it or not, having your first baby really doesn’t have to be such a big deal. You do not have to give up all things you treasure most; ‘me time’; adult space, your brain! Nor must you turn your lives upside-down, or your home into a madly-coloured, padded play house. The birth of your first child needn’t signify the death of romance and spontaneity. Squishy tubes of processed cheese and spaghetti letters need never grace your dinner table.

Becoming a mother has given me two new lives – my daughter’s and my own. I am responsible for both. Hers has been pretty extraordinary so far. In the two years described in this book, she has discovered how it feels to touch, taste, smell, see and hear, she has learnt how to eat, walk, talk, dance and play. She has understood what it is to have feelings and, boy, can she express them. She has learnt to live. Mine? I have made some sacrifices, compromised a little, but mostly the last two years have been pretty amazing for me, too. Three quarters of it was spent at home in England, baking cakes, planting vegetables, cycling in Scotland and writing this book. For those of you horrified at the idea of such domesticity – though I promise you it was bliss - you might be more seduced by the last few months which were spent living and backpacking in Asia. And writing this book.

How is this possible? “What kind of nightmare mother are you?” you must be thinking. Have I slotted my poor daughter into a neat compartment of my civilized adult life while I soldier on in a state of deep denial? Do I have a strict routine that ensures Jemima is seen and not heard in the right place at the right time? On the contrary I am every parenting manual’s nightmare.

I have disregarded the advice about sleep routines, black-out blinds and bath before bedtime. I have let my child govern her own routine, while getting her to fit in around me when necessary, and got on with the business of living. To the casual onlooker this looks remarkably like doing nothing. In fact it makes me sound downright lazy. I didn’t really notice until in the company of other parents. Really, it was embarrassing. While friends were making sure their spouses had play time with the baby before leaving for work, I took Jemima into bed with me and persuaded her to go back to sleep, so that I could lie in. I took naps with her during the day when I was tired or when she needed me to be with her. I rocked her to sleep each night, and gave her the breast if she woke, instead of training her to fall asleep alone. I sat back and watched her pull out all our CDs from the rack instead of getting up and telling her not to. I let her climb the stairs instead of bothering with stair gates. I didn’t puree her food and spoon feed it to her. I rarely sat and stimulated her with toys. I have hardly spent any money on her.

I have said enough. While I admit to having a somewhat lazy instinct, what might appear to some as simple apathy was really a conscious effort on my part to let go and allow Jemima to take hold of the reins. I tried to just sit back and be there when needed; to hold, feed and cuddle. The rest of the time I simply watched my daughter get on with it, making sure she didn’t get hurt in the process (bumps and bruises not included).

Guess what? Chaos did not reign. It turns out this approach to parenting does not breed the bedlam many people fear it might. Instead it has resulted in a harmonious (usually) relationship of give and take with a child who is flexible, relaxed and has a healthy attachment to her mother, while also being independent and happy to spend time away from me. She is not wild and unruly (well not always) as a result of my negligence, but is a sweet-natured, affectionate child who plays nicely with other kids (sometimes) and is progressing along with her peers just fine. Although she is grossly lacking in educational toys and the latest baby accessories compared to her friends, she is great at helping me cook dinner and clean the house, and will happily hang out in the sling while I go for a walk or have dinner with friends. I confess I once spent a whole morning reading a book I just could not put down, while a seven-month old Jemima happily played around me, climbed all over me, breast fed, slept on me and sat next to me ‘reading’ her own book.

Of course she has her darker moments, too - I prefer to call them ‘spirited’ – but that’s ok. This book is not about being a perfect mother or raising a perfect child. It’s about embracing parenthood and all the opportunities and changes it can offer. Every child is different and I believe that a relaxed, instinctive, hands-off approach to parenting is the best way to find out who they are and what works for them and us. I’m sure this has given both me and my daughter the freedom to be who we want to be and do what we want to do. I’ve survived the lows, loved the highs and got on with my own life at the same time. Of course every parent is different, also, and my approach may not be for everyone. But maybe I can inspire and encourage any prospective or new parents out there who may be feeling a little terrified at what’s in store, or disillusioned by the parenting manual’s prescription for getting through the day.

Life goes on… really. It may look a little different but change is good for us too. Parenthood is what you make it and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have so far.
Read on - a snippet from Chapter one

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