Week Ten of Parenting: Routine Nightmares

When you have a baby, everyone tells you that for the first few weeks you have carte blanche to just sit around in your pants and do whatever feels best. You take this advice, and it goes some way towards soothing your sleep-deprived brain.

But when you emerge from that initial foggy cocoon, still-sleep deprived but marginally more with it than before, you are suddenly blindsided by a new barrage of ‘advice’ on how to get your little one onto a set routine. If you don’t do it while they’re small, the many books on this topic warn, you will face months – if not years! – of being wholly at the mercy of your child’s every whim.

As a side note (and to provide vital and relevant context regarding my current state of mind), I think I mentioned in a previous post that after giving birth I had the too-late epiphany that I should have spent my pregnancy reading up on what to expect in the first year of my child’s life, rather than about the pregnancy itself. Because I failed to do this, I was totally unprepared for the stage we have most recently entered. Now my son is 10 weeks old he is much more alert and demanding of my time. Whereas before he would sleep straight through my morning coffee and Love Island (I know, I know, so shoot me) session, now he either cries and fusses, or stares me down like I’m the most neglectful parent in the world. As a result, I have been experiencing extreme guilt about not stimulating him enough, and panicking constantly about how to fill his wakeful hours with meaningful interactions that will help him flourish. This has led me to singing maniacally along to Spotify nursery rhyme play lists, dangling every toy I have in front of his face for hours on end and generally being a freakishly over-attentive (and probably quite annoying) parent.

Now back to the routine. A couple of weeks ago I bought an old copy of Tracy Hogg’s ‘The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems” (which seems a rather grandiose claim to say the least) from Amazon. I decided to try and read it on our trip back to the UK, forgetting momentarily that the fact we would have our child with us on said trip meant I would have no more time to read than I do when I’m at home. Still, I managed a few pages and decided that when we returned to Brussels it was high time we got our son on a schedule. How difficult could it be?

Fast forward almost two weeks and I’m a shell of a human. The few pages I did manage to read on our ‘holiday’ (ha) left me so stressed and confused I didn’t know where to start. Tracy’s proposed schedule is somewhat infuriatingly named the EASY method, the idea being that your child will Eat for half an hour, do an Activity for 45 mins and then Sleep for 1.5 hours, during which you have the luxury of treating yourself to some much needed You time.

The fatal flaw in my being able to achieve this EASY way of life is the following: My son does NOT feed for half an hour (more commonly ten mins, which Tracy says means he’s already developed a bad habit and is a ‘snacker’ – fantastic), and he flatly refuses to nap for longer than 40 mins during the day (if indeed I can convince him to nod off at all). Both of which mean it’s virtually impossible to follow the EASY plan. All reading the book has done for me is make me painfully aware my son does not sleep enough or eat for long enough, to the point where I’m now totally paranoid about both. This week I’ve been keeping a daily diary of everything we do to see if there are patterns in my son’s behaviour, and if we can get anywhere close to the EASY way of life. So far my nerves are shredded and I’m no more enlightened than I was when I started.

Frankly, I’m exhausted from the effort of it all. I’ve been putting such insane pressure on myself that I constantly feel like a failure. I’m so obsessed with the routine and noting every detail of our day down that I can’t imagine what life was like before (though I do know it was considerably less stressful); it’s literally taking up every moment and I’ve no idea where the days are going. Coupled with the fact it’s hotter than the sun in our apartment and the building works downstairs are continuing relentlessly, we’re both a little (to put it mildly) hot and cranky.

So, after having a mental crash yesterday I’m taking a chill pill. I’ve decided to focus less on trying to change every aspect of our days all at once, and am instead focusing on getting the bed time routine nailed. On night one the 8pm bedtime ended up being 10pm, but by the second night we had already got it down to 8.45pm. As my husband rightly pointed out, we can’t expect it all to fall into place straight away. Ten weeks ago we didn’t have this little human in our lives. All things considered, we must remind ourselves we’re doing a bloody good job.

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That face though ❤

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Close to the Edge

As if new motherhood wasn’t challenging enough, in recent weeks my sanity has been tested by an altogether different situation. Back in March, work started on an extension to the optician at the building next to ours. Having bought the commercial property directly underneath our apartment, they proceeded to decimate it, bringing in the big guns in the form of wall-shaking drills and ear-splitting power tools. Needless to say, the residents of our building took umbrage to this unwelcome disruption. It was tabled at the residents’ meeting and formal complaints were made. As a result, the architect visited the residents, in our case reassuring us that the works would be completed by my due date in May, and giving us his number in case we needed to contact him.

Fast forward nearly four months, our baby is now six weeks old and the works are STILL not finished. The last thing any new mother needs to deal with is indiscriminate drilling, which is legally allowed to happen in Belgium between the hours of 7am and 6.30pm, six days a week. Some days there is relative peace and quiet, but on others we are woken by drilling so loud I have to leap out of bed, grab the baby and run to the opposite end of the apartment. I even had to buy ear defenders for him, because at times I have genuinely feared for his hearing. All this, and our texts to the architect have mostly gone unanswered. Admittedly, nobody wants to be bombarded by messages from an irate and sleep-deprived new mother, but the lack of response has really got my back up, not least because of his original insistence that we contact him should we ever need to.

On Monday I finally reached the end of my tether. Arriving home at 4pm, I was greeted by loud drilling beneath every room in the apartment. With literally nowhere I could take my son to protect him from the noise, I stormed, wild-eyed and raging, down to the optician with him in the buggy and demanded to speak to the manager. Confronted by this half-demented she-beast, I can understand her reticence to engage. But after some initial heated words we managed a civil conversation, which ended with her saying she would speak to the architect and ask him to call me. Has he done so? Has he bollocks (excuse my French).

So here I sit on high alert after another terrible night, clutching my coffee and staring glassy-eyed into the middle distance as I attempt to find the words to describe the ongoing shit show unfolding beneath us, about which I can apparently do precisely nothing.

Perhaps one day I will laugh about this.

Or perhaps one day I will be writing the sequel to this blog post from my padded isolation cell after going on a one-woman rampage with a power tool.

Such is the rich and varied tapestry of life.

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Learnings from Month One of Parenting

Hark the herald angels sing! Glory to the new born King! Yes indeed, our little man made his long-awaited entrance into the world at 11.45pm on 24th May. Introducing (drum roll please…) Charlie Joseph Batt! We are, of course, delighted with him. We have also experienced a maelstrom of other emotions in the past five weeks, some of which could be categorised as somewhat (read: significantly) less positive. In this post I will spare you the blow by blow account of the labour, not least because I have some friends whose own labours are imminent, and I’m not sure they would thank me for it. Instead, I will share the following:

Learnings from My First Month as A Parent:

  1. Sleep Deprivation
    It’s not as bad as they say: It’s worse. These days “who am I?” is less an existential question and more a genuine 4am moment of confusion. If you loved your sleep before, the first thing parenthood does is smash that love affair to pieces. And believe me, it’s the worst heartbreak there is.
  2. Alcohol
    The hard, sore boobs when the milk ‘comes in’ were enough of a shock to the system, but more so was the painful realisation that, far from being able to drink wine at every opportunity as soon as you’ve pushed the little bugger out, the breastfeeding period is basically an extension of being pregnant. Unless you’re super organised (two things you are definitely not in the first month of parenthood) and express your milk in advance, you can only have one drink without raising eyebrows in the mummy – and wider – community. This, for someone who had literally been dreaming about champagne and red wine for nine months, has been a bitter, bitter (so bitter it needs naming twice) pill to swallow.
  3. Caffeine
    Apparently, stimulants such as caffeine can dehydrate you and lead to a hyperactive baby (trust me, no one likes a hyperactive baby). Ergo, after months of dreaming of coffee, I can only safely have one a day – and believe me, when you’re not getting more than two to three hours sleep at a time during the night, one coffee doesn’t even touch the sides.
  4. Maternity Leave
    Having spent months looking forward to time off work, dreaming of balmy summer days brunching and drinking mimosas with other new mummies, the reality is somewhat different. Admittedly it’s still early days, but thus far our attempts at meeting for brunch have fallen considerably short of our expectations. It turns out there’s one thing balmy summer brunches need to be relaxing and enjoyable: no babies.
  5. Comparison with Other New Mums and their Babies
    This one’s a killer. Even though you all got on like a house on fire during your pregnancies, as soon as you’ve popped the sprogs out everything becomes a competition. As you drain the dregs of your single cup of coffee or glass of wine (sigh), other new mums will regale you with tales of little Ophelia, who was sleeping through the night at only three weeks! And she never poos at night, making nappy changes obsolete! How wonderful, you reply, whilst staring murderously at your coffee grinds and ruminating on last night’s 5am poonami.
  6. Baby Books
    During your pregnancy you spent hours poring over books charting the daily changes in your little one inside the womb. Then you realise, too late, that what you should have been reading for the past nine months was the books about what to do with them when they arrive. Because once they do you will never again find more than five minutes to sit down and read anything.
  7. Personal Grooming
    As soon as you deliver your little bundle of joy, personal grooming becomes a thing of the past. Your legs are the first to suffer – as if you’ve got time to shave them when you’re grabbing a micro-shower as baby naps in the next room. Next you find yourself staring longingly at the tweezers and nail clippers, noticing you’ve still got the (now very chipped) pedicure you had when you were waiting for baby to arrive five weeks ago. From now on, the only nail maintenance you’ll be doing is clipping your baby’s nails so they don’t gouge your eyes out with them as they writhe in digestive discomfort post-feed. You’re welcome.

Aside from the learnings detailed above, I thought it would be helpful for those that come after me in this joyous and rewarding journey if I also listed some tips on how to cope in the first few weeks of being a parent.

How to Cope

  1. Establish a routine.
    For me, mornings are now sacred. When you’ve barely slept it’s imperative to have some things you do daily to keep you sane. For me, that means washing myself, getting dressed, drinking my coffee while it’s still hot (or at least warm), and – God forgive me – watching the previous night’s episode of Love Island while I eat my breakfast. Only once these milestones have been reached do I feel truly able to start my day.
  2. Accept you will henceforth (or at least for the next two years) be covered in puke and poo.
    And make peace with it.
  3. Accept that your brain is essentially broken.
    At least in the short term. Anything important must be written down or forgotten forever.
  4. Your ‘To Do’ List should now be renamed ‘Not to Do’ List.
    Linked to point 3. If you do find the time or energy to do anything on it you will literally feel like Superwoman. Revel in that feeling. It won’t last long.
  5. Live by the ‘Good Enough’ Rule.
    If you were a perfectionist before, you need to adjust your expectations. The ‘good enough’ rule applies to everything, but in particular baby changing: baby’s pooed/puked a little bit on his/her Babygro? Unless it’s sodden/stinks to high heaven, give it a wipe and it’s good to go. Unless you’re prepared to give your kid more outfit changes than Naomi Campbell on the catwalk, this is the only way to go to preserve your sanity.
  6. Everywhere you go must be baby friendly.
    Or you don’t go there. Simple.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to revel in my five minutes of feeling like Super Woman..

The Little Prince Himself

The Little Prince Himself

The Waiting Game

Today I’m 39 weeks and 4 days pregnant. I’ve been on maternity leave for 3 weeks already and whilst it’s been great, I am now more than ready to meet this little person who has been kicking me relentlessly for the past few months, testing out his motor skills and preparing to make his debut on the world stage.

It wasn’t an easy journey to get here. But neither was it a desperately hard one. We suffered one miscarriage before this pregnancy, something I have since learned is painfully common, despite being so often brushed under the carpet. That was a very sad time, but it also made us stronger, and more grateful than ever when the second pregnancy came around and was viable.

As the end of this pregnancy draws near it feels, ironically, less real than ever. We have all the ‘stuff’ that one is told one needs in order to prepare for the arrival of a baby, and in theory are equipped with at least a rudimentary knowledge of how to keep a baby alive for the first few months of its life. But the enormity of how different things will be any day now is still somehow eluding us.

The waiting is so strange. I know I have to go through the pain of labour in order to get him out, but until you’ve done it there’s no point of reference as to how it will be or how you will feel. Similarly, we know our sleep – something we prize above most other things in this version of our lives – is about to be decimated, but can’t truly imagine how it will be to carry on regardless, in the new version of reality we will be crossing into.

Most of all, until he’s here it’s so hard to imagine having a little person around us all the time, entirely dependent on us to find his way in the world, at least in the early years. The weight of responsibility to be good parents is huge, and to say we aren’t nervous about that would be an untruth.

And so we wait, excitement in our bellies and hearts in our mouths, every night settling into our normal routine – chat, dinner, TV, read – knowing that soon, so very soon, things will never be the same again. Hoping we can hack it. Hoping we can thrive.

Come on little one. Let’s see how we do.

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Week 32: Amazon Warehouses and Hands-free Breast Pumps

Preparing for the birth of a baby feels a bit like preparing to jump off a really high ledge into choppy waters below. You’ve done your calculations and think you’ll be okay, but you know there’s a chance you’ll land on rocks or be sucked under by the current. Either way, you know you’re going to jump, so you may as well do it with the right attitude…

Our house is fast becoming an Amazon warehouse. My husband, bemused by the rapidly growing pile of (entirely alien) miscellaneous baby-related items by the front door, has become both adept at stepping around them and wise enough not to question their necessity. Quite frankly, I’ve no idea if we need it all or not, but at this stage that’s somewhat of a moot point. No matter how strong my willpower was in the early stages of pregnancy (“I shall only buy the absolute essentials”), it seems the third trimester urge to ‘nest’ is an impossibly persuasive force. Fortunately, thus far, I am still rational enough  of mind to avoid any really outlandish purchases (double ‘hands free’ breast pump bra anyone? Because nothing says ‘welcome home, honey’ like a lactating woman doubled over the sink furiously doing the washing up whilst a machine deposits her milk supply into plastic bottles attached to her breasts). But given how much I’ve been forgetting in the past few days (loath as I am to ever use the phrase ‘baby brain’, I have to admit something is afoot) it may only be a matter of time.

Having successfully completed a 15 hour pre-natal preparatory course, we now at least have a rudimentary understanding of the process of labour, which is nothing short of terrifying. As the day approaches I feel the panic rising up inside me. Whilst a natural, drug-free birth would obviously be the ideal scenario, my pain threshold is so low I’ll probably be screaming for an epidural before we’ve even reached the hospital. The stories in the pregnancy books of women who had ‘perfect’ natural births in the comfort of their own homes are all well and good, but forgive me if I prefer not to watch my husband giving himself a coronary trying to blow up the birthing pool as I writhe in agony on the floor, calling him every swear word under the sun. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll go as long as I can without pain relief. But the moment it becomes too much, get the gas and air on the go, hook up the TENS machine and fill that spinal syringe, because the role of stoic earth mother just isn’t me.

The thought of being solely responsible for a tiny, helpless human is even more frightening than childbirth. Even more so the idea this is for EVER. If we don’t immediately bond with the little rascal there’s no money back guarantee. We can’t return him. He’s ours. For life. It’s only now, as I stand on the precipice of parenthood, that I realise just what a big deal becoming a parent is, and have a genuine appreciation of all my parents went through to get me to where I am today.

But as big a responsibility as it undoubtedly is, it’s also an honour. When you’ve suffered miscarriage, as I have, you have a deep sense of the fragility of life, and perhaps an even greater sense of wonderment as a life successfully grows inside you. As hard as the next few months and years are bound to be (there are not words sufficient to articulate how much I will miss Sleep), I will try not to forget how much we wanted this baby, how lucky we are to have him and how much joy he had already brought us before he even entered the world. The countdown to meeting our baby boy is on, and we are ready for the challenge… ❤

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Third Trimester: Entering Warp Speed..

Today I’m 27 weeks’ pregnant, officially at the beginning of my third trimester. I can hardly believe how fast the last few weeks have gone, it feels like only yesterday I was staring at the digital test in disbelief, and now we’re 13 weeks (or less!) away from meeting our little man. Crazy. Despite the sleepless nights, leg cramps, mood swings and anxiety, I’m so excited about entering into this next phase of our lives. I know it’s not going to be easy – far from it – but I’ve needed a new challenge for a long time and this will certainly be that!

Talking of challenges, this week I’ve finally put to bed the first (long!) year of my Master’s course (or at least I hope I have – results of the assignment are still pending..) which is a huge relief. Now I can finally turn my attention to the list of ever-more-pressing baby-related tasks that need doing. We’ve managed to sort the basics (so he will at least have somewhere to sleep and something to be moved around in) and have this week managed to confirm a creche place starting in January (this has been really worrying me as in Belgium creche places are few and far between, with women urged to start the application process when they are only three months’ pregnant – what?!!!!!), but we have yet to fill out all the complicated paperwork (in French – which complicates things more, given that neither of us have much of a grasp of the language) which will confirm our maternity/paternity leave and baby-related benefits. And as for all the other stuff we’ll need, I’m not sure where to start!

Something else I have confirmed, after thinking about it for a while, is the presence of two doulas at the birth. In case you don’t know what a doula is (as I didn’t a few weeks ago), they are basically non-medically trained birth support partners. Apparently, evidence suggests that women who have additional support beyond their partner and medical team have shorter, easier labours. For us, there is also the additional concern of our limited language skills, so I see our team of doulas as being critical in ensuring that our wishes are actioned by the medical team. I also figure that the more support we have the better – living abroad is great, but at times like this you miss your friends and family more than ever.

So things are moving along, which is just as well, because if his recent Tyson-esque bouts of stomach boxing are anything to go by, this baby is keen to get out and make his mark on the world….

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Week 23 woes

I knew January would be hard, but this is something else. Navigating the rollercoaster of a stressful job all week, then spending every weekend trying to pull off my end of year master’s assignment would be brutal if I wasn’t pregnant. But it is what it is. The only way out is through. So on I go.

Last night I went to see the doctor. When I stepped on the scales she raised an eyebrow and told me I had put on 3kg in a month. Apparently rather more than the 1.5kg she would have expected. She put it down to ‘Christmas eating’ (fair) and told me to cut down my sugar intake (cue immediate guilt about the double sized portion of egg custard tart I had consumed not two hours before my appointment). She told me my blood pressure was low. I told her I was stressed, so she wrote me a prescription for a magnesium supplement, asked if I needed a doctor’s note for some time off work. I’d love that, frankly, but right now it’s not the solution.

I’m trying to manage my stress better. It’s strange knowing that now I’m not just responsible for myself but another tiny human. Whereas before I would have pushed through the pain barrier, stayed late every night in the office, deprived myself of sleep and food and whatever else stood in the way of hitting deadlines, now I just can’t do it. I’ve set myself boundaries – not working past 7pm being one of them. I’m also trying to adopt a ‘one day at a time’ mentality, focusing only on the things I can realistically achieve in each day, instead of the mountain of things I can’t. If it means deadlines sometimes can’t be achieved, then so be it. I’m human, not a machine.

Prenatal yoga three times a week is helping, but it’s not enough. So when it feels the walls are closing in – like last night – I’m just allowing myself to stop, talk to a friend, have a bath, do whatever I need to get my heart rate back down, my blood pressure back up. This baby is more important than work, than course, than anything. I have to prioritise him.

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