Breastfeeding and more…

More breast talk. The community midwife support worker visited the house last week. We went over what we’d discussed in the ante-natal class about breastfeeding (which was good because I’d forgotten half of it) and she gave me some practice in holding a doll in the position they’ll recommend for feeding. She left a whole host of leaflets on the table with advice on cot death, contraception, nappies (including pictures of poo so we can see what colours it will be – pity the poor soul who had to take those shots…) as well as feeding. It’s all preparation as they’ll be on hand at the hospital to help you to start with and she can come back to the house to coincide with a feeding time if I want her there once the baby’s born.

Shall we just have a moment to celebrate the wonder that is the NHS midwifery service? Yes, let’s.

Right, and carry on. I’m definitely keen to breastfeed and really hope I can do it right. Is there anything else on the planet where your instructions to do it properly include the line “tickle the baby’s nose with your nipple…?” Isn’t that hilarious and sweet at the same time? I want to use it to lose as much weight as possible and to save us some money, as well as it being good for the baby obviously.

(My bridesmaid’s dress for my sister’s wedding has been sent to me and I’ve found a dressmaker who can do alterations 2-3 weeks before the wedding. If the baby needs to be induced, then there will only be 2-3 weeks to go anyway so I’ll need to be at her shop as soon as I’ve given birth… eek! Since there will clearly not be time to lose anything at all before the wedding I feel the answer may lie in a large pair of control pants.)

But it’s important not to get too hung up on breastfeeding. There are constant reports of women feeling pressured to breastfeed and getting upset if they have trouble. Clearly I want to avoid this if possible. The community midwife was very clear on it needing practice and not to expect instant results. Perseverance is the key. And not getting stressed. And tickling her nose with my nipple.

And talking of such things in a unrelated context, it turns out that there’s all kinds of stuff people “know” about breastfeeding that I was completely unaware of. Some will tell you that if you’re breastfeeding then you don’t need contraception. What? Someone mentioned it at our ante-natal class and I thought it sounded like an old wives tale. But lots of people had heard of this. Come on, really? The midwife was pretty dismissive and said you really should be using other methods too. Having said that, the leaflet from the midwife did mention ‘natural’ contraception methods. Did they mean the rhythm method? In this day and age? Really?

With this in mind and while praying for my libido to reappear after the birth (it’s not as daft as it sounds – one couple were discovered doing it in a maternity ward bed by a midwife so why not me? Well, not the public exhibitionism but the urge…) my husband and I added a box of condoms to our weekly shop. (Incidentally, aren’t they expensive these days? No wonder the 13-year olds want access to the pill.) If you want to feel ridiculous I recommend buying a packet of condoms when you’re nine months pregnant – it must have been all the checkout woman could do not to say “Aren’t you a bit late for those?”

And apparently breastfeeding may delay periods too. Not that I’m keen to have them back but my mooncup may disintegrate through lack of use… So I suppose those two things are related. Still, let’s not take any chances shall we?

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Pregnancy parties and sexing the baby

The latest craze (do we need to say it’s from America?) is apparently to have a party to announce what sex your baby is. You do this by having an iced cake which, when cut, will reveal the sex of the baby through the colour of the sponge which has been dyed either pink or blue by the baker. There are YouTube videos of the moment which you can watch if so inclined. I’m not but here’s the link to the story.

Can you imagine anything worse? As if baby showers weren’t bad enough (and let’s take a moment to laugh at the woman who thinks giving presents for the baby before birth is “tacky” but is happy to force this horror on her friends…) this seems infinitely worse because it’s so self indulgent.

The Observer took this story and then ran an opinion piece on whether you should find out the sex of the baby before birth. It’s fashionable but is it right? In very few other areas of our culture are advances in technology questioned in the way that this one is. I understand you having qualms about this if you’re from a culture which prefers one gender over another to the point of aborting an unwanted girl, for example, but otherwise if you want to find out then let’s celebrate the technology that enables you to do that as well as its actual function in checking that the baby is growing healthily.

But what concerns me most about this story and the opinion piece is the predominance of gender stereotyping. You all know my feelings on girls in pink and nothing else by now (by the way can I say that I’m not outlawing pink or banning it, what I’m saying is that I’d like there to be a range of colours so the baby has a choice of what to like.) At our ante-natal class one woman who didn’t want to find out the gender told us that she’d been admonished by relatives who didn’t know what colour gifts to buy. “If I’m not worried by the colour of the babygros then I don’t see why you should be,” she said. Quite. My husband and I are asked a lot if we know the sex and when we say “she’s a girl” we get a lot of comments about pink nurseries and the like. When did we get so unimaginative? Is there really nothing else to celebrate when finding out you’re having a girl than whether you can buy a pink frilly dress with “Daddy’s little princess” written on it?

We decided to find out the gender of the baby because it was the first chance we had to get to know anything about her. And because I didn’t want to spend months referring to it as an “it.” It’s so impersonal. I wanted to be able to say “she’s moving” or “we’re going to try breastfeeding her” or something like that. I wanted to feel like I had time to get used to the idea of a person and it was easier for me to do that if I knew what the sex was. Perhaps I felt like that because for a long time I didn’t want to have children at all. I don’t see myself as naturally maternal so perhaps I need all the help I can get in adjusting to this.

I say all of this as a woman who really wanted to have a little boy. When I was coming to terms with the idea of having a baby at all it was always a little boy I pictured, one coming out of school covered in dirt with shirt untucked and bag straps flying everywhere. So finding out the baby is a girl was a bit of a disappointment to me; we’re not planning on having any other children so this was my only chance. But I’ve had months to think and talk and plan for her arrival and now, would I swap the prospect of her for a little boy? Of course not. If we hadn’t been able to find out the gender of the baby it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, and we wouldn’t have bothered getting a private scan to find out (my hairdresser did this, as did the woman in the op ed) but we’ve enjoyed having a girl to anticipate and I’m really glad that we did find out.

Just as I’m equally sure you’re all glad I didn’t throw a party with a pink cake to tell you what sex the baby is.

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The final countdown…

Just over a week to go till due date but of course I could still be pregnant for another three weeks if she decides not to make an appearance. The problem is if you fixate on the due date, which of course you do for most of the pregnancy, let alone in the last few weeks. I’ve been trying to mentally prepare for not giving birth on time, telling people the old line about first babies usually being late. It hasn’t helped, therefore, for most of them to reply “Oh my first was two weeks early…”

We visited the midwife yesterday who confirmed that the baby has not engaged yet (for the uninitiated, the baby’s head at some point goes down into the pelvis ready for birth, making it harder to sit down, close your legs etc. It’s at this point you see pregnant women waddling.) I must have looked concerned as she told us that some babies don’t engage until labour starts. Other babies engage early but aren’t born for weeks afterwards. So it’s not really indicative of anything but it would be nice to feel like she’s making some kind of effort in there.

I am, however, experiencing all kinds of odd twinges and pains. The guides offer various explanations of what this might be though I’m not really sure. I feel like I ought to know what each thing means – after all it’s going on inside me – but I have no idea if these are Braxton-Hicks pains or just my body complaining that there’s more weight to carry now. And evenings are becoming troublesome. My pelvis and my back ache. A lot. So I have to fidget and adjust position frequently – something of a pain if you just want to relax over two episodes of The Bridge on a Saturday night.

Having said all of that, maternity leave is FABULOUS! I’ve been writing in the mornings, heading out for a walk round the local park or to the local shop, knitting, watching the snooker and preparing food for the freezer. When my husband is at home I force him to take me out somewhere further afield to avoid cabin fever even if it’s just to a different park. I’m trying to remain active and relaxed while being REALLY impatient to get this all over with.

And so to my final rant about pregnancy and parenting guides. I came across one this week in the cupboard – The Best Friend’s Guide to Motherhood. I’ve pretty much given up looking at the pregnancy books now for reasons outlined in previous posts *makes mental note to sling them in the direction of the charity shop* but thought I’d have a look at this one. After all, what do I know about motherhood? I’d had a look through Miriam Stoppard’s practical guide in the library a few weeks ago and it has all kinds of helpful info about things to try to stop crying, how to handle the baby, what a nappy looks like etc. This book, however, is aimed at mothers themselves rather than the baby.

Remember what I was saying about people being negative about parenting when they talk to you? It turns out that this is basically all this book is. It wants to warn you about what happens after birth. In a way I understand, it’s pretty boring and not that useful to witter on about how much you love the new little person but… even so.

So what can I look forward to after birth? Vast amounts of bodily fluid oozing from every orifice with all that entails, body insecurity, post-natal depression and possible marital disharmony. And that was just the first three chapters. I’ve slung it out. I can’t read any more. At my mum’s house last weekend she said to me “It seems like you don’t think anything else is going to happen after the birth except a lot of puke and shit.” Well yes, but can you blame me?

You may wonder why I still rely on books at all, especially after the advice in the ones I’ve had for pregnancy seems to be conflicting. Good point. This is just how I do things – I learn from books first just to get an idea and then I learn by doing. I prefer to feel prepared before diving in, to have some idea of what is going to happen. But if I’ve learned one thing while being pregnant, it’s that I’ll have to change this way of doing things.

Roll on D-Day..

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Car seats and rampant consumerism

I’ve had a flyer through the post for the Baby Show at the NEC. The flyer promises all kinds of excitement and shopping for all your essential baby items. Leaving aside the fact that I won’t go because the date is impractical (either she’ll be born by then or I’ll be two days off being induced…) I won’t be there as I’ve had the misfortune of going before and it’s akin to the ninth circle of hell.

If you believe the stats, then new parents apparently spend over £9,000 the first year of their child’s life. (That statistic doesn’t take into account loss of earnings or childcare – I think) If that is true for some, then I guarantee that the surest way of spending that kind of cash is by going to the Baby Show at the NEC. It’s an emporium to stuff you didn’t think you needed and then some.

For someone like me who gets intimidated by a small Mothercare shop, then you can imagine my reaction to the Baby Show. I went with my sister who was expecting at the time and who is much more clued up about babies than I will ever be. She wisely didn’t spend anything but we saw people staggering out, their arms full of bags and boxes. My forays into baby shops are often led by fascination about what you do with some of the products rather than wanting to buy them. (Breast shells, anyone?)

I mention equipment as this week I have been mostly flummoxed by a car seat. As with the majority of the things we have for the baby, it’s a second hand one (two careful owners, both known to me) and we decided it must be time to see if we could fit it correctly. There are many horror stories about car seats so we thought if we attempted it early there would still be time to seek help if necessary.

The instructions are on the base part. We don’t have a car that has the slots for the base to go into so this is fixed by the seat belt. So far, so good. The foot bit went down to the floor, slotted about, went green (the indicator lights are very important – all the YouTube videos we consulted tell you that.) But it seemed a bit wobbly. Still, all was green so that must be right, yes?

It took several attempts to get the actual carrier part onto the base. We got half in but it wasn’t fixed properly. My husband gave up and we went indoors – it was the next day when I pushed the front passenger seat forward and fitted the carrier on. More green lights. Result! (Except that now if I sit in the passenger seat of the car I have hardly any room to get in and out as easily as I used to – oh to be slim again…)

Next step – to remove the carrier and take the baby out, carry her around, stick her on the pram, supermarket trolley etc etc. Not so easy. In fact, for me, impossible. I pressed buttons, knobs, banged my head several times, yanked, swore, got stuck in several strange positions, discovered a small storage compartment and a hood at the back but still couldn’t get the carrier part out of the base.

Essentially, what I’m saying to you is that is easier to make a person from scratch than it is to fit and use the car seat that person will sit in for a few months. If that sounds ridiculous, then consider this statistic – a study last year found that 66% car seats are not fitted correctly.

I call my sister who is bored at work and has time to Google picture instructions and another YouTube video. So I know which of the knobs to push but am still unable to manage it properly. I have visions of carrying the baby everywhere and never being able to put her down until she can walk. Luckily my husband has a look and can manage it. He shows me the trick – it still takes me three goes before I get it right. And even then it’s not a smooth process – let’s hope she’s not fast asleep everytime I try and get her out of the car or she’ll be jolted about.

Even now I’m not convinced and will be spending more time this week trying to get it all done smoothly. Not to mention checking the safety several times. It’s enough to drive a woman to the Baby Show for recommendations for a smoothly fitting new one…

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What ARE you going to do?

I have finished work. Hooray! A week of annual leave this week and then official maternity leave starts next Monday. I am thrilled to bits about this but it has led to a huge number of people all asking me the same question.

What are you going to do?

It turns out that they’re referring to the three (or so) weeks of leave before the baby arrives – ie now. They’re concerned about my being bored I guess.

Well let’s see. Today I have: had a man round to fix the loose swinging TV aerial on the roof, caught up with blogging and administrative duties for creativenottingham.com, read a book, done a spot of shopping for lunch tomorrow, packed my hospital bag, tidied and sorted the baby’s room (a plethora of donated clothes from friends – in age order – thanks everyone!) and slept for two hours.

The rest of the week will involve a visit by some friends, my reading group meeting, a website meeting, more Creative Nottingham blogging, a visit by the midwife community support worker, some updates for my writing group and a possible haircut. I also have to find a tailor to alter a bridesmaid’s dress I’ll be wearing just after the birth, make an appointment with a mortgage adviser, do more research for a novel I’m attempting to write, as well as carrying on with the chapters I’ve already drafted, there are two short story competitions to prepare work for, finishing making the baby’s record book and I’ve four impending knitting projects. My husband gave me two books last night as a gift and the house is full of books, about 1/3 of which are unread. Oh, and he’ll be around for a couple of days too so we can spend some time together.

Of course, there’s also the stuff I’m supposed to be doing at this time – nesting and resting.

Do you think that’s enough? Presumably the people asking this question are worried I’ll get bored sitting in front of daytime TV for weeks (they’re right there) but really! I’ve been asked this so many times! Here’s reassurance – I’ll be fine. I like doing this stuff. This is the stuff I’ve been wanting to do instead of being at work. Someone did suggest to me that I take 8 weeks off before the birth – now THAT would be weird – but I really have been counting down the days to being here and enjoying myself before life gets hectic and full of new experiences. Being bored at home is infinitely harder to achieve than being bored in the office.

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Swimming underwater

We’re on the home stretch now. 36 weeks. In theory, only four weeks to go though who knows how this will actually work out.

It feels strange.

I’ve started the first week of lasts. This week is my last at work before a week’s annual leave and then the start of maternity leave. It’s also the last meeting of my writing group that I’m going to be able to attend for a while. Next week is the last of my reading group and also the last meeting of a website I help to run. I find I’m reluctant to make plans about what to do with the free time I will suddenly have from this Friday. There are things I said I would do after I stopped working – last bits of knitting, haircuts, a visit to the mortgage provider and so on – but I feel a bit stuck. In limbo. Just waiting.

I’ve started seeking reassurance. This appears to have manifested itself in re-reading old books I’ve loved and haven’t picked up for years and in music. Over the weekend I’ve padded out my itunes library with a tracks and albums sung by men whose deep voices I find comforting – Eddie Vedder, Mark Lanegan, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.

It feels a bit like the baby is waiting too. She doesn’t move as alarmingly as she did even a few weeks ago. Although I know this is because she is running out of room in there it’s actually comforting to think that perhaps she’s mirroring my mood. We’re just sitting here waiting for life to begin (again in my case) while everyone else just gets on with things.

I don’t know. Perhaps I’m not this explaining well.

On the plus side my husband and I went for an Easter walk yesterday and we suddenly noticed I was walking up slopes and inclines without having to stop for breath. Does that mean she’s moved down? I look at myself sideways in the mirror but can’t tell.

I know it’s a good idea to get out and about in these last weeks. Everyone has been telling us to go to the cinema while we still can. (The thing is, we don’t often go the cinema anyway so I can’t imagine I’m going to miss it) One piece of advice I’ve had from a friend is to plan to go out to dinner on the due date so that we’ve got something else to look forward to. We both like the idea of this. And I ought to stay as active as possible as it’s supposed to be good for the baby and for labour.

And yet I also like the idea of holing up here. My nights are a mixture of deep sleep, odd but vivid dreams and half-wakeful tossing and turning. I’ve spent today in a sleepy-lazy funk after getting up at 9.30 and have been reading, writing, knitting. I’ve not stepped out of the house.  In a way I can see how going to work each day takes over everything else – a reason to move, a reason to get out and engage with people beyond your immediate family. Nothing gives me as much pleasure as the idea of not working for a while.

People have been warning me of the loneliness and isolation of being at home with the baby. I’ve never minded being by myself before – when you grow up living in a separate village to your friends you learn to rely on yourself for entertainment – and I’ve spent hours at university, travelling, at Glastonbury festival, sitting alone with my thoughts. But this will be different. Now it won’t be just me – there’ll be someone to rely on me, someone to interrupt my writing, sleeping, reading.

So am I just clinging on to the last bits of an old life? Or is my mood today just a reflection of today’s dismal Bank Holiday weather? I’m not sure. Somehow though, I seem to have got past the scared phase – the phase where I was sitting realising there was no way out of labour, of having the baby there, of learning what to do and being petrified that I wasn’t going to manage, that I was going to let her down in some way. Instead I’m left with quiet determination, an acceptance that together she and I will come through these last few weeks and start her life with as much love and strength as I can give her. And for that, I cannot wait.

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Default stories and smugness

This weekend’s Guardian featured an article from a 40-something single woman who’d never met the man of her dreams and kissed goodbye to her fertility. She wanted mothers to stop moaning about how hard it was to be a mum because they should count their blessings that they have children instead.

Leaving aside my extreme annoyance at anyone who uses this argument – in any context – for a moment (after all if suffragettes or feminists had counted their blessings we’d still be vote-less and asking our hubands and fathers for permission to apply for a credit card…) and leaving aside her obvious self pity (irritating but perhaps understandable) she does have a point.

Hardly anyone tells you anything positive about having a child. Sharing the worst does seem to be the parents’ default position. My least favourite is the smug look you get when you make the mistake of mentioning in passing that you’re a bit tired today.

You make loads of resolutions as an expectant parent, knowing most of them will be broken. As much as I want to be realistic about my skills as a parent, and clearly my child is going to shit, puke and keep me up as much as, if not more, all the others, the one thing thing I really do not want to do (check the emphasis there, eh?) is acquire that smug insufferable know-it-all look just because I’ve been constantly awake for the last six months. I mean, is it something they teach you in the hospital as well as checking your breastfeeding technique? “Now that she’s latched on successfully, you need to do this…” *demonstration* “No, no, you haven’t got it quite right, you just look a bit peaky. You need to look much more superior…”

When I was pregnant with the first baby, the one we lost, only one person, a good friend, told me how great children were. This weekend, another good friend has given birth and her text message to announce the baby was so full of love and amazement (he’s her fourth so you might forgive her for not being as amazed this time round). These two incidents have stuck in my mind purely because everything that everyone else has said to me has been negative. Or warning of hard work. Or the positive stuff has been tacked on the end like an afterthought.

Clearly all these people love their children and think they’re amazing too. But I want to try and remember to tell other people something great about my daughter before I tell them about poos floating in the bath or puking on my legs. And I definitely want to avoid thinking I know more than others just because my mind’s addled with lack of sleep. Wish me luck.

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