Wednesday, January 30, 2008

OK Alright

It's about time I started blogging again about things other than baby poo and breastfeeding, so here we go:

On our end we had some professional baby/family photos taken a couple of weeks ago. If you have your baby at the Portland they throw in this deal where you get a free professionally taken A4 photo of your baby by a studio based on Great Portland Street. Also known as we send a photographer round that takes a gazillion pics, and then calls you a week or so later to go and 'proof' the A4. You then see the entire 80 or so they've shortlisted for you, and surprise surprise land up choosing an additional 30 or so which aren't so much free are they're extortionately priced. At the end of the 1.5 hour session you walk out of the studio feeling vaguely stunned and confused, having spent the equivalent of an African country's GNP, and realising you've just been talked into purchasing a poster-sized canvas with a closeup of your child's face on it.

I'd love to post the photos up here, but gee, I guess we didn't pay the extra 200 or so quid (per pic) for them on CD - cheapos that we are. All those interested welcome to visit to peruse the leather-bound A3 must-have tastefully assembled family album.

Ahh the joys of being first-time narcissistic suckers parents. Is there any other kind?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What's happening with Britney?

I realise I've totally neglected to follow and write about the latest foibles in the land of celeb. Shocking really, but as it happens the latest antics of Britney et al have had to take a backseat to my new pastime - expressing, also known as breast pumping. But it's early and a lot of you are probably drinking tea and just about to bite into a biscuit, so I won't turn your stomach with any more on this subject. For now.

I've just about recovered from a nasty case of something - I never know the difference between a cold and the flu because I feel equally crap when I'm diagnosed with either. Anyway, I was really ill for a while there, so ill that Elizabeth suggested I get one of those Michael Jacksonesque germ-evading masks to use when I breastfed Julia. Yeah, you can imagine how that one made me feel. I didn't get the damn mask, and tried my very best not to sneeze, cough, and sputter all over her. The good news is that we are both a lot better.

So if I haven't been responding to emails or calls, please don't take it personally. I've been ill, and knackered, and using free moments to clean our house and try and beat this cold/flu thing. Hopefully now I'll be able to start getting back to people.

And on the subject of visits, this is a tricky one when it comes to new babies it seems. Julia sleeps a hell of a lot. In fact for every hour she's awake, she sleeps between 2.5 and 3 hours. So scheduling visits becomes a bit difficult, because for part of the awake time I'm breastfeeding, which is something I really don't feel the need to share with my friends at this point. Then after that it's about another half an hour to 40 minutes of other baby related stuff and then she's put down in her little basket to sleep in her nursery. I then need to go off and express to 'empty' my breasts fully so they start producing for the next feed. Oops, sorry, there I go again with the details.

I think if you haven't had a baby and or don't know the whole spiel, you tend to expect to get to a friend's house and be able to cuddle an awake baby or at least hold a sleeping one. And if you don't, you feel as though the parents are being selfish or perhaps inventing the fact that they even have a child in the first place. But in our case at least, contrary to popular belief, this is not another Suri Cruise situation. We are not hiding our baby, she just likes to sleep - much like her father in fact. And likewise, she is not Chinese, an alien, or the product of L Ron Hubbards inseminated sperm. Glad I cleared that up.

I think until she's a bit older and has more awake time, 'visiting the baby' may involve having to settle for a peek at her sleeping in her basket. And trust me, that's a much preferred state to dealing with her feelings on being woken up so she can be passed around. Not a good idea for anyone involved.

Right, and now I need to prepare for a visit from the health visitor where they come and check to see that our baby and I are both OK. Apparently this is generally considered a good time to get rid of all the beer cans and whiskey bottles lying around, and to switch the channel from the Jerry Springer show.

Friday, January 11, 2008

And so and so - notes from the trenches

Julia is one month old tomorrow. She started smiling this week - actually Monday was her first one. I'm sceptical about these things and asked Elizabeth if it wasn't just gas, and she said no, this was a real smile. She's been doing it ever since, though not predictably. It's hard to tell what sets her off but sometimes it seems to be a certain tone of voice - like when I was breast feeding her and telling her that there are probably strange men out there that would pay good money to do what she gets for free. I know, very bad taste joke, but she found it funny and broke into a huge smile promptly releasing my breast from her mouth.

I wasn't worried about post natal depression after having her because I'm not really prone to depression per se. But I must say there's something that having very little sleep so unrelentlessly does, that can start making you feel as though you are teetering on the edge. That and those crazy pregnancy hormones that stick around for a few weeks after the baby is born. Some mornings I feel like that woman who drives the school bus in South Park - all psychotic twitches and bad hair.

And on the subject of bad hair, I used to take great pride in my appearance, spending a lot of time and money attempting to be presentable and vaguely attractive. This morning I was just about to breastfeed when the doorbell on the ground floor rang - a delivery. So I had to quickly grab what turned out to be a stained sweater and pair of jogger bottoms over my nightie, and race down three flights of stairs, while Julia screamed in protest behind me.

Then there's showering with the baby monitor in the bathroom with me trying to watch it eagle-eyed through the wet glass just in case she starts crying, and I have to race out sans clothes to see to her. There is little enough time to make sure I've soaped and rinsed properly, let alone my previous laborious skincare regime that involved exfoliators, pre-cleaners, cleansers, toners, firming creams, moisturisers etc. And before I used to have my haircut and highlighted every six weeks, in the last few months it's now got two styles: Washed, combed, and left to dry in a half-curly mop, or swept back into an unflattering yet functional ponytail.

I've lost all of my pregnancy weight except for 5kgs (a definite bonus to breastfeeding), but none of my pre-pregnancy clothes fit me, so I'm still having to wear my pregnancy gear that now sits on me at odd stretched angles, but is at least comfortable. Last week I put on a pair of trousers, other than my usual jogger bottoms, and Elizabeth exclaimed (genuinely surprised), "Oh, you've dressed!" I ordered a pair of jeans in a bigger size online shortly thereafter.

I haven't been out with friends since, well, I can't remember, and working out the timing for that is tricky. Julia eats at around 6pm and 10pm. Eating isn't just a half an hour exercise, but more like an hour and a half one where you feed her, burp her, play with her, feed her some more, change her, and then settle her down for her sleep. Then there's the fact that I'm breastfeeding, and while a glass of wine before her next feed isn't going to do any harm (breasts are good filters), more than that and you risk having to express and dump your next lot of breast milk. Sounds OK, except of course if your don't have loads of milk to begin with and every last drop is considered gold dust. Don't get me started on the mechanics of breastfeeding and expressing.

On a more positive note, thanks to Elizabeth, I'm now starting to feel a lot more competent and confident with Julia, so the anxiety that I had in the first couple of weeks when I didn't know what the hell I was doing is beginning to wear off. I probably still don't know what I'm doing, but I'm a fairly adept mimic, so now at least I look the part. Well, at least that's the theory.

And now, I really must continue with the exciting business that is expressing breast milk.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Life as a new parent

For those of you who are curious as to what it's like to have a new baby, I might recommend the following experiment. Set your alarm clock so it goes off randomly between every hour to two hours for, let's say, 48 hours (I'm being generous). Then imagine that that alarm clock doesn't simply have an 'off' button, but that you have to spend an hour or more each time figuring out (from scratch) how to do that in your completely sleep-deprived state.

That's not factoring in some extremely messy nappies (newborns are known for the creative palate of shades their poo comes in, not to mention some rather unappetizing consistencies) that need changing, and trying to get a baby to latch on to some very sore breasts.

When I was about ten or so the film Blue Lagoon came out. The one with a very young Brooke Shields getting stranded on a dessert island as a child with another equally beautiful boy. When they reach puberty they discover sex, and soon she has this baby. The little thing is screaming and she, having no clue because they've grown up on this island with no other people to teach them, puts the baby to her chest to comfort it, and it immediately grabs her breast in it's mouth and starts to suckle. She makes this sort of 'A-ha' sound, and it's all happy days after that.

Yeah right. I guess I should have known better. But seriously, I honestly thought that having boobs was all you needed and that the baby would just know what to do. Well it turns out that's not the case, and you actually have to teach your baby how to latch on, and more so, you yourself have to learn how to do it. I won't go into it on here, but the short end of the stick is that it takes time, and in those early days your nipples are red raw and it hurts like hell.

What makes matters trickier is that in order for a baby to sleep a decent length of time between feeds (the ideal at this age being around four hours), is that they have a sufficient amount of milk in a given sitting. But as you grapple with the latching on and your milk is just starting to come (this takes a few days after the birth), they often aren't getting enough, which is why they do the whole erratic every hour or two waking up thing. That then means they also aren't sleeping enough, so you don't just have a hungry screaming baby, but a tired one too. And yes, a cranky, sleep deprived mother who looks down at the sweet angelic face of her daughter, now contorted into a series of distressed expressions, and thinks to herself, 'Oh sweet Jesus, what the hell have I gone and done?'

So yes, I think it's safe to say that the days of being footloose and fancy free are indeed a thing of the past, as are uninterrupted afternoons of watching back to back reruns of CSI. The hardest adjustment for me though has been that I'm usually a very goal/task oriented person and I like to see results - specifically short-term ones. Suddenly I have this little person who is a human being with all the complexities that go with that, and it's not a simple case of if I do x then y. In those first few days after we got back from the hospital, I found myself experiencing an enormous sense of anxiety, helplessness, and even failure. A lot of this tied into difficulties with breastfeeding. And suddenly, the full impact of how we were totally responsible for this little person and her very life, dawned on me. That was perhaps one of the scariest moments of my life.

Last week an angel from heaven arrived in the form of Elizabeth, our maternity nurse. We had spent a week in the hospital with Julia rooming in, and then a week at home without any external help. I imagine we looked a sorry sight when she met us - all hollow-eyed and anxious, with the house in a complete state (my cleaner has quit - but that's another story).

Elizabeth is wonderfully warm, kind, anecdotal lady in her 60's - and a classically trained English maternity nurse/nanny. Most people get a terrified expression on their face when I tell them we have a maternity nurse, as their mental picture of English nannies if of someone formal and starchy that doles out Victorianesque punishments.

Elizabeth is anything but. It's more like having a lovely competent granny for Julia in the house - someone who is teaching us the ropes and helps out when she is needed, and supportively yet unobtrusively lets us get on with it too. She's respectful of our opinions (even if she's probably thinking, 'Oh dear lord, these people are deluded'), and offers her own ones in a suggestive rather than a bossy forceful way.

The best part though is that our little girl is thriving. She's more or less on a four hour schedule already, and has comfortably got back to her birth weight again and beyond. Her face has changed from a lean little heart-shaped one, to one more closely resembling a pudding - lovely fat cheeks. She's well-rested, calm, and happy. And for the record, no, getting a baby on a schedule does not mean leaving them in their cribs crying. By Elizabeth's method it comes down to a simple formula (I say simple, god help me when she leaves) of ensuring baby eats enough at a given sitting, and then gets wrapped up nicely and put down in a quiet darkish room for a good rest between feeds.

Elizabeth has had an extraordinary life, and times feeding Julia are made all the more enjoyable listening to one of her many humorous stories.

Despite Elizabeth being here and helping us, the slight overtone of anxiety continues to envelope me, and I wish it wouldn't. R reckons it's part of being a new mother and that we're probably instinctively wired to be that way - primed to protect our young against potential danger. Julia also has a cold and at times a really rattly cough. We've had it checked out by the doctor and got the all-clear, but when it first started it manged to send me into complete nervous breakdown mode. I'm the sort of person who reads instructions on the back of shampoo bottles, so having a small little girl that's sick and can't tell me where it hurts is torturous. The doctor said, with a teasing smile on his face, "Get used to it. And in a few weeks when your antibodies in her system begin to wear off, I'll be seeing a lot more of you two as she catches everything that's going around." Great.

There's not a lot of up time with babies at this age. They mainly eat and sleep, oh yes, and there's those lovely number two's to contend with. They also don't smile and interact with you much, so you don't get a lot back in that sense. There are little moments however where her developing personality surfaces for a moment, and we get these lovely little expressions or sighs. Or when, after an early morning feed, she curls up on my chest in a little frog position and falls fast asleep. The incredible sense of love and delight is incomparable to anything I've previously experienced. And it's these moments, however fleeting, that make all those hours of lost sleep and missed parties and pints, suddenly seem very unimportant.

Indeed we are not in Kansas any more.