Saturday, 20 February 2016

Criminally Mumsy

I nearly felt the long arm of the law this week, and it was during something as seemingly harmless as trundling round the neighbourhood with little miss for an afternoon walk.

While we call a modest maisonette in an in-betweeny bit of town home, a mere ten minutes of pavement-pounding gets us into seven-figure-salary territory: millionaires' rows of mansions and farmhouses often with impossibly pretentious or infuriatingly ironic names (I've lost count of the amount of sprawling Mock Tudor piles which are a 'cottage' in their owner's eyes).

It's these parts of the neighbourhood which I like to trudge round when I take little miss out for a walk in the pram, partly because they're the most scenic routes but mainly because I want to imprint in her mind from early on that these are just the kind of houses that she might want to buy for her doting parents to eke out their twilight years when she's rich and famous.

This week, I made the mistake of turning down a particularly Arcadian avenue boasting extensive driveways and oodles of old world opulence.  When I got to the end of the road and realised the route I wanted to take lacked a pavement, I had to turn around and give those halcyon homesteads a repeat viewing.

Then I spotted the police car inching towards me.  The officers were driving slowly and keeping a watchful eye on me and little miss, as if they were trying to work out whether I was a harmless down-and-out who had simply got lost or a more unsavoury individual staking out the well-heeled neighbourhood or trying to peddle narcotics and designer knock-offs out of my baby's pram.  I can only assume that some local dowager looked out of her parlour window and didn't like the look of the wild-haired woman shuffling down her road with her equally shifty sprog.

I probably hadn't done myself many favours on the 'respectable or riff raff?' front, given that I was wearing a battered, buttonless parka, maternity yoga pants and grubby trainers, crowned with a mumsy mane of lank, unbrushed hair.  As I got closer to the car I was trying to work out what I could say to stop the police from bundling us away, pram and all, or slapping me with a trespassing fine on a par with the local homeowners' salaries.

Luckily it didn't come to that in the end, as the car sidled past me, only stopping one further time when we had turned out of the road to check that we were well and truly exiting the neighbourhood.

Maybe I'll wear a Barbour, twinset and (fake) pearls if I want to chance my arm at blending in down that road again.  However, I think people sometimes don't understand that when you're a relatively new mother, getting dressed and leaving the house is an achievement, and your first priority isn't making yourself look immaculate but finding some clean clothes that fit and getting your baby out of the house in the tiny window between naps, feeds and mini-meltdowns.  Perhaps if the police do ever collar me for trespassing well out of my comfort zone and salary bracket, I should maintain innocence and just hand over little miss.  She's the sleep thief after all!

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Tummy bugger off

The past week has not generally been a keeper.  It began innocuously and ironically enough, with me looking in the nappy drawer and thinking: 'Oh, we've got plenty, they'll see us through the next fortnight or so.'  Then the tummy bug hit, and we must have gone through at least a week's worth in under two days.

Little miss has had a few minor ailments in her first half year of life, but this has been the longest-running, most challenging and messiest to date.  When the constant churn of runny nappies started, we assumed it was a side effect of finally mastering eating more than half a spoonful of the lovingly prepared purees we've been proffering over the last few weeks.  I never thought I'd say this, but I started to miss her pre-bug nappy habits, even the evening up-the-backers which she usually likes to do in the Jumperoo.

After four days, during which I really should have bought shares in Pampers and Metanium (poor little thing got a nasty nappy rash), a doctor checked her over and said she had most likely caught a tummy bug which had been sending local kids to the surgery in droves.  We were assured that we were doing everything right and both bug and rash should pass within five to seven days.

Eight days later, an out of hours GP said that the previous doctor may have been a little over-ambitious.  'It'll be more like ten, sounds like rotavirus.'  Fortunately, little miss is fully up to date with vaccinations.  Unfortunately, her dislike for medicine meant that about 90 per cent of the rotavirus vaccine coated her cheeks and chin rather than actually being ingested.

Hubby and I are resigned to spending the majority of the next couple of days hunched over the changing mat; little miss, meanwhile, seems none the worse for it bar a bit of soreness and sleep disruption, and has played her usual lovable pickle spiel throughout.  And, because every (shitstorm) cloud has a silver lining, she has started to say 'Mama' constantly, whether she's playing, feeding or batting me round the face when I take her into our bed in a desperate attempt to steal a few more minutes' shuteye.  She probably has no idea what it means yet, but the fact that it's directed towards the wild-haired, worn out woman changing the fifteenth nappy of the day means an infinite amount to me!

Sunday, 31 January 2016

To c or not to c: thoughts on a section

When I agreed to speak to the Observer for a piece on the ‘incessant increase’ in caesarean rates among first time mothers in the UK, I knew from the get-go that this wasn’t going to be a straightforward, ‘cut and shut’ story, but that it would spark reams of comments from readers outlining their own birth experiences or debating mothers’ rights and mindsets, the adequacy of antenatal information and the state of the NHS.

When the photographer arrived to take a (lovely!) picture of little miss and me, his first question was: ‘So, are you one of the good or bad case studies?’  I didn’t want to be the poster girl for either – my operation was unwanted but medically necessary, and while it ran smoothly the recovery was brutal.

I was relieved when, in the resulting article, the journalist had managed to make good sense of what I babbled at her and my case study seemed relatively balanced.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for some of the rest of the piece or, predictably, the comments underneath.  Do calls to action such as ‘stop first-time mothers having caesareans’ and phrases like (shudder) ‘too posh to push’ really help in any way when we are talking about mothers undergoing major abdominal surgery, in most cases on medically necessary, sometimes life or death, grounds?  Even the usual terminology, ‘elective’, is a complete misnomer, suggesting that choosy new mums opt for a caesarean in the way that they might pick out curtains or a Pret wrap.

Few people who have been adequately informed about the process, risks and recovery period want to have a caesarean over a natural birth.  For me, however, the knowledge that I might need one was never far away in the late stages of pregnancy, even as I pored over the pros and cons of water births and weighed up the merits of hypnobirthing. 

At 33 weeks, I was told that I would have to have a planned caesarean if my baby, who was using my uterus like a hammock, blissfully unaware of the complications she was causing, didn’t turn from a transverse position to head down by week 37.

Four weeks of frenzied bouncing on a birthing ball and uncomfortable moves from the Spinning Babies website and we’d nearly got there – I had a head down albeit slightly diagonal baby but she hadn’t engaged yet.  I thought I had plenty of time before I needed to start worrying about it.  Sod’s law had other ideas; my waters broke at 37 weeks and my tiny (4 lb 11) girl was pulled screaming into the world through an emergency c section after things didn’t get going after a day and a half and her heart rate went sky high mere minutes into induction.

I’d be lying if I said that the recovery period was a walk in the park – just walking up the stairs was an ordeal in those early weeks, and trying to sleep for the short stretches my new baby allowed propped up in an armchair was a fitful, excruciating affair.  The whole area surrounding the scar was black, purple and swollen for several weeks, the curse of someone who bruises like a peach.

Do I wish I didn’t have to have a c section?  Of course.  Do I regret that I said ‘yes’ when a concerned team of consultants scurried into the delivery room and gently recommended that it was the safest course of action for me and my distressed, low birth weight baby?  Not for a moment. 

However, I do recall a brief, pre-spinal, moment of weakness, where I said to my scrubbed-up husband and the midwives, ‘I’m sorry if I’ve failed.’  This comment was probably mainly fuelled by tiredness, nerves and nausea, but I think it’s a sorry state of affairs where pregnant mothers, especially anxious first-timers, are conditioned into thinking that they have not given birth in ‘the right way’, or that having a c section is in any way something that they or an obstetrician have decided to go through on a whim, for convenience or on cosmetic grounds.

There probably is a small percentage of pre-parenthood people who think a c section is a less painful, more straightforward option, or who prefer the idea because they are legitimately anxious about natural delivery.  Rather than slamming this group as selfish or weak, surely we need to be giving them the tools to make informed choices about how they give birth, and not stigmatising c sections when we are talking about saving the lives of the mother, the baby, or both?  In the lead-up to my op, I was equipped with advice from friends who’d already had c sections and what I’d learned in antenatal classes – that isn’t the case for everyone by any means.

As I say in the Observer, a caesarean is by no means an easy way out. But the most important thing is the baby’s safe arrival, whatever method it might be by.  I have the amazing efforts of the NHS to thank for that, and it’s something I am grateful for every day.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The big girl's room

We have done the deed.  As of two nights ago, and at just over six months old, little miss is no longer spending her nights swallowing up her parents' bedroom floorspace with her cot bed, but in her own, not-quite-finished nursery.  Hubby and I knew the moment would come eventually, but unfortunately the transition ended up a month or two earlier than we'd hoped, born solely out of neighbourly necessity (those of you who know me well will know exactly what sorry state of affairs I'm alluding to here!).

In the lead-up to nursery night one I felt the expected mix of emotions.  Excitement that little miss would now be sleeping in a tailor-made, less cramped space which, thanks to a recent ebay smash and grab, is starting to look more like a little girl's room than a blank-walled dumping ground. Bittersweet pangs that she would no longer be sleeping mere inches from her mummy, and that the bedtime lullaby will now be on a rocking chair rather than snuggled up in her parents' bed.  Apprehension at how the switch would go, remembering how the first night in her cot bed produced a hyperactive and livid baby who somehow managed to traverse the vast mattress with her flailing limbs, ending up wedged and wailing in the top corner.

Speaking to other parents, it seems that the transition to the big girl's/boy's room provokes a range of reactions.  Some parents seem to be on a countdown from day one to the time when they can put baby in their own bedroom and enjoy a night free of nearby grunts and grumbles, while others put it off until they're sharing sleep space with a toddler.

There are no rights or wrongs to what to do or how to feel, but suffice to say I found it an ordeal, with a few tears after lights off.  Little miss, on the other hand, barely clocked any differences, settled quickly in her new surroundings (for the first night at least) and, aside from a brief bout of fussing at 2am, slept through happily.  As I'm not ready to leave her alone yet (not least because the baby monitor's only just been ordered!) I joined her later for a sleepover, spending a slightly less peaceful night shivering on a pile of sofa cushions.

All in all, the first night was a success, albeit an emotional rollercoaster.  I wish I could say the same for the second night, but that's another, sleep-deprived and sweary, story!

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Teeny Weany

The time is finally upon us.  From now on, little miss will no longer be confined to thin, oddly fishy-tasting powdered milk when she needs to satisfy her hunger, she’ll get to supplement it with a wondrous range of painstakingly pureed mulch too.  Let the weaning commence!

I imagine that many first-timers have approached the lead-up to weaning in the same way that I have, veering between stages of excitement, apprehension and, to be frank, bemusement at having to suddenly master and find time for a whole new area of food preparation and administration at a time when their little ones are only just managing not to puke half their bottles up. 

During the excitement stage, I’ve pored over Annabel Karmel’s advice, drained Amazon of every bit of weaning paraphernalia I do and don’t need, and got hand blender-happy with assorted root vegetables.  During the apprehension stage, I’ve fretted over allergies, mess, routine disruption and the prospect of even more explosive nappies.  During the bemusement stage, I’ve bought vast quantities of Ella’s Kitchen pouches and reasoned that they will probably be received better than the unappetising orange lumps currently wedged in my freezer.

Little miss shared none of her mummy’s qualms in the feeding lead-up.  For the last few weeks, she’s been eying up her parents’ bolted-down meals as if she’d never been fed.  When we recently let her lick a piece of apple it was as if all her Christmases had come at once, plus many more considering she’s only had one so far.

Yesterday, after an evening of pummelling squash and sweet potato (a task my husband relished, since he hates both with a passion), it was finally time for our first teeny weany session.  We filmed little miss’s initial smiles and quick onset of disdain for her first mouthfuls of baby rice, as it formed a white goatee on her chin and her face started to say ‘Have you nothing else, dear?’ to her jittery parents.

One outfit change, a ginger goatee and a lot of grizzling, gurning and spluttering later, and today’s offering of pureed carrots has been met with even more indifference than its predecessor.  I know we can’t expect mealtime miracles in the first week or so, but I’m hoping for a little more success over the next few days as we move on to apple, squash and sweet potato.  My husband sure as hell won’t be eating the latter two if she doesn’t like them!