See the sleeping bunnies…

…sleeping til it’s noon,
shall we look at their happy parents’ smiles?
Oh they’re happy,
why is that?
Because their babies sleeeeeeeeeep.

This is how our new version goes anyway. Similarly they words in James’ baby books frequently become “Oh look, here’s a happy cow, she’s happy because she was allowed to sleep. And here is a happy horse, he’s so happy because his children slept all night. What lovely children they are.” You never know, it might work.

One night in the doldrums, one night of bliss

Angry, shaking and nearly in tears I grabbed my dressing gown and phone and headed downstairs to spend the night on the sofa. I couldn’t bear to stay in the same bed. It was too much, enough was enough. That was the night before last and the person I was escaping from was small, wild haired and very uncute right at that moment. Let me tell you that “Booooob” “Mum-mum” “Boob” followed by pinching, scrabbling and the odd foot in the belly are not in the gentleman’s guide to persuading your fellows to come around to your point of view. Equally, they are not in the mum&baby guide to maintaining an harmonious family life when your parents are working long days and need to sleep.

So there I was, downstairs and unhappy. Kicked out of my own bed by my darling offspring. I spent most of the following day unhappy, dreading going home because I’d be straight back into the no-sleep torture chamber. Then it came to me…I could choose to sleep in a different room from the start. My other half could look after our sleep thief and I could escape.

Queue that evening, I unfurled the sofa bed hopped on in. Aaaaaaahhhhh. It was like I’d gone on a dream holiday. Ok the accommodation was a dive (walls unfinished, no curtains, paint tins on the floor) but to me it was heaven. I didn’t care that the full moon was beaming through so brightly that it woke me up several times during the night, because they were natural wakings. I think if I count on my fingers and toes the number of times I’ve woken up naturally in the past 15 months I’d have plenty of digits left.

And where am I tonight you ask? Back with my husband and baby because I missed them so much? Don’t be silly. I’m in the other room.

Power suits and quadruple espressos…

…move aside. Ambitious women have a new ally: other women. I don’t mean the ones who snipe behind your back or make you feel bad for having the wrong shoes. I mean the ones who’ve become fairly senior and are now making damn sure that there’s not only a ladder for us lot to climb, but they’re pouring concrete and building a solid staircase.

Take my manager (well she’s sort of my manager, sort of not, I can’t get the hang of our ridiculous management structure) she’s currently spearheading a new programme to address the needs of mums returning to work after maternity leave. She sees that we have a million and one things to cope with, and that it’s not easy and that we need support.

You might think “Ah whatever, everyone’s got something to deal with” or “This is positive discrimination gone too far”…maybe even “This is simple proof that there is no place for women in any decent workforce, oh Hilda dear my shirts need starching, and would it kill you to have my dinner ready at 6:15 rather than 6:25???” To be honest many of my colleagues seem slightly bewildered that anything in my life has changed at all. I think they see it a bit like getting a lodger. Ok your junk room has to turn into a bedroom and you give them a shelf in the fridge, but after that they just do their own thing. Oh how wrong they are.

The fact is that apart from cataclysmic (and hopefully rare) events like plagues, war and famine, or huge serious health problems, raising a baby is the only thing that will change your life this drastically. And like all things of this enormity, no one will understand unless they’ve been there themselves. I know it’s cliché to say, but it’s true. And given that truth, women are other women’s greatest ally.

Only another mum would understand when you say that going to the toilet when you like and on your own is exciting. Only they would laugh knowingly when you say you’re sooooo excited to be wearing a normal bra. And only they would know just how hard it is turning your mind one second to a technical analysis and the next to making sure you sing Wind The Bobbin Up just right with all the correct actions.

I’m lucky and excited to have a manager who is pushing to get us working mums the support we need. Now it behoves the rest of us to keep up the momentum and pull each other up as we go.

And, I might add, the same is true for mums who have their kids to look after full time.

How to survive work when your baby doesn’t sleep

1. Arrive early. This will give you a chance to come to before everyone else arrives.

2. Have a sturdy breakfast. You need fuel.

3. When having a conversation, technical meeting, chat over coffee, try to make sure your expression is similar to the expressions of other people involved. It’s easy to forget what your face is doing, and you don’t want to be the one smiling when they’re talking about sacking people.

4. Don’t babble. If you find yourself babbling, right yourself by saying a couple of big words. It’ll get you back on track.

5. Other parents are your allies (unless they have those magical babies who slept through from 3 months…in which case avoid at all costs).

6. Get up. Take a walk around. If you need to, carry some paperwork to make you look busy. Exercise will wake you up, if only temporarily.

7. Trust your brain to come up with the goods when it needs to.

8. Treat yourself. If it’s biscuits, listening to some music, or checking your phone now and then, do it. You need to be nice to you because this is hard.

9. Make the most of the good bits, like the freedom to have lunch when you like and to eat it all yourself without being pestered by someone small and squidgy.

10. Don’t worry about how you look. You probably look better than you think you do.

Having it all: Day 2

I’m coming to realise that being a mum requires you to constantly balance what you feel guilty about. Last week I felt guilty that I’d left James with my mum while I went to work. What if she doesn’t really want to take care of him? What if James thinks I don’t love him any more? What if I haven’t kept the house clean enough and they both hate it? So many what-ifs. As it turned out they had a lovely day trundling off to my mum’s and back and James was so pleased to see me when I can home that I melted in the doorway and cried all over him.

So where are we this week? Well it’s my second KIT day and I am currently feeling guilty that I’m pleased to be going in to work. I don’t care that the house is messy, I’m not all that worried about how my mum’s feeling and James was a happy little chap this morning so that’s all good. Why so blasé? A teething coldy baby will do that to you. After 2 hours spent getting him to go to sleep last night I was definitely looking forward to work this morning (bleary though I am).

So there it is. I’m happy to be getting away from the responsibility of managing his little self. Mid morning today I will be sat at a desk or getting a coffee or chatting about giant fixed structures in the North Sea. I won’t be rocking him in the pram, singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and willing him to stop poking his fingers in his ears. I won’t spend the subsequent hour praying that no one rings the doorbell, telephones or pushes anything through the letterbox. I will be free!

Yes I feel guilty, but I’m pretty sure that every mum feels guilty about something all of the time. It’s all a balancing act.

Having it all: Day 1

I’m on my way to work for the first time without my baby and wearing proper work clothes. How does it feel? Gut wrenching. I’ve had butterflies all morning, odd dreams last night and I have a sort of nervous shake going on. I think I set a new PB for my walk to the station because the nervous energy meant my feet hardly touched the floor.

Leaving my baby is like escaping the earth’s gravity. I spent a long time about to leave the house but not actually going. I had to work up the energy to do it and then when I finally stepped out I went as fast as possible otherwise I’d have been pulled back in for one more cuddle.

But phew, now I’m on the train and one step closer to being that mum who somehow manages to juggle a career and babies and does both amazingly (ha!) I must remember that everything about being a mum is hard work (which is why it’s so rewarding) and every choice is difficult. Staying at home to look after your babies is just as emotionally draining and intense as leaving them with someone else and going to work. And in taking this first step today I’m not alone. All us mums know this feeling. The nervous shake. The inability to maintain a train of thought. The pounding in your chest because your heart is bigger than ever since meeting and nurturing your baby. It’s terrifying, nauseating and knee-wobbling.

But at the same time, boy, am I proud. Proud of him and proud of me. I want to be a strong successful mother. I want to know more and more about the world so that I can teach James everything and going to work is part of that. When the time comes I’ll be able to tell him everything he needs to know about the tensile strength of steel or the buckling modes of I beams. I bet he’s looking forward to that!

My thoughts on breastfeeding

I’ve been breastfeeding my baby every day for 264 days. I’ve fed him here there and everywhere, experienced all sorts of reactions and been given a lot of advice. Now, 8 months down the line, I’m sharing my thoughts on breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is tiring

It turns out that producing food for a whole other person using nothing but your lady udders is tiring. I didn’t expect that. This is no bad thing though because the extra energy required means you get to eat more food!

Shock at breastfeeding exclusively

I’ve never given my baby formula. This may shock some people. Many people suggested I give him formula before bed to help him sleep longer, but I didn’t. Instead I faithfully got out of bed every 1.5-2 hours and fed him. Some people suggested I use formula when I was suffering from severe food poisoning and dehydration, but I didn’t. Instead I did what I could to produce as much milk as I was able, and took twice as long to recover as I would have otherwise. I don’t know why. I’m not some sort of hippy with crystal skulls on the sideboard and a dreamcatcher over the bed. It just felt right for us. I’m not even particularly strict about following the official guidelines (to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months). It’s not been easy, but I’ve uncovered a dogged determination inside me that I didn’t know was there.

Breastfeeding on demand and routines don’t mix

I’ve listened to so many people talk about their amazing ROUTINE and how it’s saved their sanity/sleep/marriage/etc. It means that you can get your little one to go off to sleep oh so easily and have that magical glass of wine you’ve been looking forward to all day. You know when your baby will eat, sleep, poo, cry, write a novel…ok I’m getting a little facetious. Anyway, when you’re breastfeeding on demand you don’t know how much they’ve had and you don’t know when they’ll want to eat again, so you aren’t exactly in a position to implement a routine. It just doesn’t work*.

*Some babies have their own natural routine and still breastfeed on demand. Their mothers are truly blessed.

Breastfeeding gives you a bad back

No, not because you have giant pendulous bosoms creaking with milk. It’s because of the weird positions you adopt in order to breastfeed. You could be sat in the perfect chair with the perfect support cushion and I guarantee that in your haste to get the little one on the boob you’ll be sat slightly wonky and that misalignment will give you an aching back for many hours to come. Repeat over days, weeks and months and you’ll get a tense and painful back and your neck won’t move like it used to. Mothers ought to be given free massages at least once a week if you ask me.

Expressing milk is difficult

I have expressed milk, but I couldn’t get the milk to flow anywhere near as effectively as my baby can. Maybe it’s because my boobs aren’t all that big so even when they’re very full there isn’t loads of milk waiting there to be expressed, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I didn’t keep on trying. To be honest though, there just wasn’t the time in between the frequent feeds to express milk. I take my hat off to mothers who manage to find time to express milk and to do it successfully long term.

Feeling close

There’s no doubt about it, breastfeeding has given me regular opportunities to feel very close to my baby. I’m sure you get similar moments of closeness if you’re 100% formula feeding your baby. I do love those cuddles.

I hope he hates football

It starts the minute they’re born.

Grandad: “I bet he’s a little Villa* fan.”
Daddy: “No, he’s going to support the Canaries like his dad.”
Friend: “If he’s got any taste it’ll be West Brom for him.”
Other friend: “So long as he supports England it doesn’t matter.”
Daddy: “Yeah. And he’s not allowed to support Arsenal.”

And so it goes on.

All the while I’m thinking “God no. He’s just a baby!” You see whenever anyone starts talking about football I think of the marauding yobos, with their bums hanging out of their trousers, a butty in one hand, a tinny of Carling in the other, grunting instead of talking, yelling instead of listening, dragging their shabby unwashed selves through the turnstiles to spend 90 minutes shouting at the top of their lungs before stumbling off too a smelly noise-filled hole to do some more shouting there. Now I know that this image is only true of say 1% of football fans, if that, but since the World Cup started that’s what enters my mind.

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And now I’m starting to realise why. It’s because I have a little boy. Little boys play football at school, they support a team and they go to the match on a Saturday with their daddy (I’m stereotyping). I can’t bear the thought that all that could lead to him becoming a yobo himself!

This is clearly never going to happen, but then what about all the other bad things? I don’t want him yelling swear words because some overpaid footballer was doing that on the pitch. Or what about someone going in for a two-footed tackle on James because they saw Suarez do it in the match last night. Oh it’s a minefield.

The whole thing has left me positively allergic to football! Don’t get me wrong, I used to enjoy going to matches, supporting England on tv, my heart has raced when it’s gone down to penalties and I’ve even been known to yell at the referee for a poor decision. All that seems to have been overridden however, by a protective instinct for my little boy. Sorry to anyone who will have to listen to me ranting about football. And please, gods of sport, keep him safe from all the yobos and ne’er-do-wells!

*Note – football team allegiances have been altered to protect the anonymity of any persons mentioned.

Not going out

I think my inner mummy bear is coming out.

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My poor little guy has been teething like crazy for the past 10 days and we’re finally starting to see some little white tips just under his gums. He’s been crying in pain before going to sleep and I’ve been giving him all sorts of things to help, from painkillers to hocus pocus powder (ok, homeopathic powder) to tons of extra cuddles. It’s been hard going for all of us, but it won’t be forever.

Thing is that it’s making me even more protective over my baby than before. Take tonight, I had the chance to go out on my own and drink cocktails with the girls. I could have had a whole evening baby-free, eating at a leisurely pace, enjoying whole conversations, drinking cocktails! But I couldn’t do it. I knew that little Jim would go to sleep eventually and that my other half could take care of him but I just had to be here. It’s a very strange feeling. Now I know what a paper clip feels like when it gets stuck on a magnet.

The saving grace is that while I can’t tear myself away from him at the moment, I don’t mind at all. It’s down to him that I have a whole new way of life, new people, new places, I’m fitter than I used to be, more confident. I can definitely put up with staying in tonight.

(Note-to-self: I O U one night out drinking cocktails)