Six Month Check Up

No matter how solid your relationship (and I consider mine to be rock solid, thank God), becoming a parent shakes its foundations. For one, there’s the obvious sleep deprivation, which, as readers of this blog will know all too well, has been the biggest challenge I have faced since becoming a mum. When you don’t sleep more than three hours at a time (yep, still the case after nearly six months) the outcome is a state of permanent crankiness that inevitably puts a strain on your relationship. You don’t mean to snap at your partner over stupid little things (‘Why can’t you put your shoes here instead of there? What is WRONG WITH YOU??’) but find yourself doing so at every opportunity, which only serves to make you angry with yourself as well as with them. But you’re so goddamn bone-tired that you do it over and over again. Gah.

Then – and just as importantly – there is the sudden lack of free time. To do anything. Even basic needs like eating, washing, brushing teeth and going to the toilet come second to the needs of your baby (Note: when you’re a breastfeeding mum not finding time to eat properly is particularly problematic as it interferes with your milk production. I know this to be true and yet still regularly fail to eat my meals on time. Yesterday I actually resorted to eating C’s discarded mashed avocado to avoid starvation. Out of his bowl. With his plastic spoon). You think this will improve as they get older but sadly this is not the case. By the time they reach five months they are more mobile and becoming conscious of their effect on you (read: turning into manipulative demons). This is a lethal combination. Time to kiss goodbye to toilet breaks and buy some adult incontinence pads.

Which brings me nicely onto my next point: There is no better form of contraception than having a baby. Especially when you live in a one bedroom flat. For the past six months my husband and I have exchanged whispering sweet nothings in the bedroom with whispered baby chat over the kitchen sink as we hurriedly brush our teeth before bed (our bathroom has windows into the bedroom so we can’t even use that past 7pm these days – bang go the romantic, candle-lit baths we used to enjoy so much). My boobs may have grown but I feel about as sexy as a dairy cow (not helped by the fact I am constantly having to pump in order to keep up my supply – on the occasions I have tried to supplement with formula C has developed an angry red rash around his mouth, suggesting an allergy. Brilliant). Every day as I wander around in my sick-stained dressing gown, absent-mindedly clutching an organic carrot and humming Iggle Piggle’s song from In the Night Garden, I promise myself that today will be the day I make an effort with my appearance. But by the time my husband gets home I’m so frazzled I’m still wearing the hoodie with bits of carrot stuck to the front (hey, at least I made it out of the dressing gown) and am struck by the realisation it’s been two days since I brushed my hair.

When you become parents you have moments of panic about losing your identity – both as a couple and as individuals. Eventually that panic rises to a crescendo and you decide it’s time to re-enter the social scene. You organise childcare and have a night out, drink too much, stay out late and generally shirk all parental responsibility for a few hours. It is BLISS. But when your small-human-sized alarm clock goes off at half past six the following morning you curse yourself to hell and cry into your (cold) coffee, vowing never to do it again.

In short, being a parent is a bit like being entered into an ultra-endurance race you realise too late you haven’t trained nearly enough for. But nonetheless you’re in it. For life. So you may as well get your fat ass over the obstacles and make the best of it (Note: Coffee helps. A LOT).

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Okay, Mama?

I’ve been wanting to write a post about maternal mental health for quite some time, and as it’s world mental health day there seemed no better time than today. So (deep breath), here goes…

It started with the miscarriage. Nine weeks, although the baby technically didn’t make it past six. Nothing can prepare you for how it feels to see no heartbeat on the screen. Your throat dry, the air so still you could choke on it. A sympathetic touch from the doctor, then back out into the world. Except suddenly it’s different, all of it. And you’ll never be entirely who you were before that day.

After my miscarriage I wrote a blog post about it, and was inundated with responses from women who’d been through the same thing. Private responses, mostly, because they didn’t want the world to know it happened to them too. Of course I understood, because miscarriage is by its very nature a deeply personal thing. And yet. When nobody talks about an issue it becomes the proverbial elephant in the room. And the worst part of that is, if it happens to you, you’ve no idea you’re not alone.

Almost exactly a year after my miscarriage I delivered a beautiful, healthy baby boy. The delivery was traumatic, and afterwards I had to stay in hospital for five long days, hobbling around the room I was sharing with my husband and son dragging a catheter bag in my wake, and being poked and prodded (and, on one particularly mortifying occasion even photographed – yes, down there) by a steady stream of medical students who assured me that my case was very rare (hence the photos). It was, in short, nothing like how I had imagined giving birth to be.

A few days post-delivery a friend blithely commented in an email that “if women knew what childbirth was really like they’d never do it in the first place. That’s why they don’t tell other women.” I have to admit I take umbrage at this position. Granted, if you’re pregnant you probably don’t need to hear the detail of someone else’s traumatic birth (I learned my lesson sharing my experience with one pregnant friend who I’m afraid I may have scarred for life – if you’re reading this, sorry again), but surely it’s good to have at least a low level awareness that things don’t always go without a hitch. Because if you do go on to have a bad experience you know you’re not alone, and you’re not expected to deal with it alone.

Since having my son I’m not afraid to admit there have been some dark, dark days. I’d read about postnatal depression, but never thought anything of the sort would happen to me. And whilst I’m fortunate that I haven’t had clinical depression since giving birth, nonetheless there have been times when things have felt pretty goddamn hopeless.

I thought the first few weeks would be the worst, when we got home from the hospital and were trying to figure out what to do with this little person in our midst who would need feeding every two hours. And whilst the sleep deprivation was unimaginably hard, I look back on that time now with fondness because in some ways it was a hell of a lot easier than the last few weeks have been. I didn’t know about the four month regression until it hit, and my God did it hit, like a tsunami. One minute we were starting to get more sleep and thinking we had things figured out, the next: BAM! Everything we thought we knew was turned on its head.

Fortunately now (I write this touching wood) we’re coming out the other side, and working with a sleep consultant in the UK has contributed hugely to this improvement. But God, the guilt I’ve felt about it, the weight of people’s judgement when you say you’re trying the crying out method because you’ve reached the end of your tether and you’ll do anything to make things better. And the anguish when your baby is crying and you aren’t able to scoop him up in your arms and comfort him (before you judge I must point out the method involves going in every ten minutes to verbally comfort the baby, not just leaving them alone until they stop crying).

[As an aside, it feels horrible when you’re doing the crying out method but it works. My son now goes to sleep without a murmur, wakes only once or twice a night, and in the morning he still greets me with an enormous smile, so whilst that’s not conclusive evidence he won’t be mentally scarred in the long term, speaking as someone who’s started to get some semblance of her life and sanity back, it’s enough for me].

The point I’m trying (in my own rambling way) to make, is that motherhood is hard. Bloody hard. From conception onwards things often don’t run smoothly. It can be a lonely and emotional rollercoaster, and yet women are expected to deal with it and keep all the plates spinning: work, relationships, family. And the fact a lot of women are too traumatised and scared to share their experiences makes it all the more isolating when you’re going through it yourself. You don’t feel like you can ask for help because you don’t see others asking for help. You feel a failure because everyone around you seems to be coping so much better than you. Well my experience has shown me this is not the case. And it seems that finally the tide is starting to turn. Women are beginning to open up about the challenges of pregnancy, birth and beyond, and receive the emotional support they need. Long may it continue.

mama

 

Parenting Level 2: Access Denied

This week I’ve learned a valuable lesson, namely that just when you think you’ve turned a corner with parenting another hurdle will pop up in the road and floor you. The only way to cope with such hurdles is to try and keep sight of the bigger picture i.e. you may be facing another setback now, but look at how far you’ve come (answer: very far, well done you). Adopting the ‘this too shall pass’ mentality is also helpful. And keeping a sense of humour is (hard but) vital. [See also: Cake.]

For us, by far the biggest issue to date has been sleep. Sometimes I feel I’m going crazy with my obsession to get C to sleep. There are (many) days when it is literally all I can think about. I look at other mothers (big mistake) and wonder why they aren’t tearing their hair out over this issue. They don’t worry that their appointments clash with baby’s nap times, or refuse to leave the house until their little ones have slept at least twice. Are their babies just better sleepers than mine? Or am I making too big a deal of it?

Last week we started a two week sleep routine, working with a sleep consultant in the UK. It didn’t get off to the most auspicious start as, on the very first day, I got struck down with a high fever and stomach bug and C developed a cough that has since turned into a cold (which, as I type this I can feel the beginnings of  in my nose and throat – joy!)

Despite these issues, by some miracle we saw an almost immediate improvement in C’s sleep. Indeed for several nights he slept virtually all the way through from 11pm until 6.30am without any night feeds (you may remember that previously he was waking three to five times a night for feeds). It seemed so easy I didn’t dare to tell anyone of our success, which is just as well because right now I would have a serious amount of egg on my face.

Fast forward a week and we seem to have had another full on regression. Those halcyon nights without wakings or feeds have been replaced once more with broken sleep and – worse even than before – fits of hysterical screaming (to say he’s found his voice would be an understatement) that cannot be abated with the tried and tested sleep methods. It’s hard enough leaving a baby to cry for ten minutes at a time during the day. When it’s the middle of the night and you are in the same room it’s virtually impossible. Last night, after almost a solid hour of screaming I gave in and went against all the sleep training rules – rocked the crib, picked him up, fed him, you name it. And still he cried every time I put him down. His day naps have got worse again too. Last week there was one day he slept for a glorious hour and a half in one go. I didn’t know what to do with all the time! Then yesterday we were back to fighting for a paltry thirty minute nap every few hours. When you only have two (fragmented) hours in your day where baby doesn’t command your full attention it’s a very different experience…

With all the angst of the (not) sleeping it’s easy to lose sight of the wonderful things about being a mum. C is, in the most part, a delight. His little smile lights up my day, no matter how hard things are. I absolutely would not be without him. And in my more lucid moments I know this is another phase and it will pass (and that motherhood is made up of such phases, and I just have to learn to live with that). But by God are some of the phases challenging. This one has been especially so because the sleep training requires us to be at home most of the time, eschewing all non-essential trips out (read: coffee and sanity checks with friends). I have been optimistically telling myself it will be worth it if we manage to crack the sleep problem, but now I’m beginning to wonder if ‘cracking the sleep problem’ is too ambitious a goal. Either way, I’m conscious I am in dire need a mental health break, so today I’m breaking the rules (again – sigh) to meet a friend for lunch. It may mess further with his naps, but if it helps mummy take a step back from the ledge I’d say it’s worth it…

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It’s a good job he’s cute…

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