Mummy Mantra #5: Some things we’ll just never know.

well never know

If you had to describe your parenting experience in 3 words would one of them be ‘unpredictable’?  Do you find that whenever you detect and begin to ease into a pattern it suddenly changes again? It’s like as soon as you say anything out loud (e.g. ‘he has a really reliable nap in the mornings now’) it just stops happening. Mildly exacerbating, no?

My previous mummy mantra was all about sleep. ‘All babies sleep eventually’. I did mention in that post that Bubs was sleeping pretty well these days. So, guess what happened that very night? Wakey wakey, mumsy!! What a fool I am!

Now, this time I’m pretty sure I know why he’s waking. It’s the obligatory bi-monthly snuffly nose fortnight. He’s currently pulling of the snot-moustache look with some aplomb and I’m pretty sure it’s that that wakes him up. (Can I take this opportunity to thank Calpol for all it’s done for parent kind??) However, there have been other times when I’ve had no clue why, after 5 nights of sleeping through (aaah, sleeping through, those magical words) he suddenly decides that he needs two feeds a night again. Good one.

How many times have you heard the phrase ‘it must be a growth spurt’ come out of your own mouth? Or said ‘maybe she’s teething’? Or agreed with a friend over coffee that it must be a ‘developmental phase’ as they are ‘processing so much new information at the moment.’? I mean, there’s got to be an explanation. Riiiiight?

In the modern era we are used to having our questions answered. Gone are the days of long drawn out debates in the pub over which actor played So-and-So in that Bond film, or which year it was that Channel 4 came on air. Nope, our pocket Google-machines have rendered all that unnecessary (other search engines are available). Even at work where we may face knottier conundrums there is usually, eventually, a satisfactory answer to whatever the problem is.

So, when faced with our baby’s crying/not eating/being hungry all the time/not sleeping/being in a right mood, it’s understandable that we think we should be get to the bottom of it all. The books (arg, those pesky bloody books again) encourage us to think that way. ‘How to soothe a crying baby’ promises the chapter title, followed by basically a ticklist – hungry? dirty nappy? tired? bored? etc. When we have exhausted these lists and our baby is emphatically not soothed it can be more than slightly disconcerting. ‘What had I missed?’ We ask ourselves.

But, the truth that we all come to learn, Dear Reader, is that sometimes, we’ll just never know. By the time Bubs is old enough to explain why he was so screamy on that night back in February, or why one day he went from eating whatever I put in front of him to throwing most of it on the floor, he won’t remember. In fact, I’m not really sure he remembers now. Babies don’t work like that.

As loving parents we all want to solve every problem our children will ever have. But we half of the time we won’t even understand what the problem is. We’ll just never know. A wise woman (OK, my therapist) said to me last week ‘you can’t solve an emotion’. Sometimes there’s nothing to solve, no question to answer. So we’ll just carry on trying out best. And that’ll be good enough. Promise.

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Mummy Mantra #4: All babies sleep eventually, all babies sleep eventually, all babies sleep eventually…

Honestly, they do.

Honestly, they do.

It’s 3am. Your baby didn’t settle until 11pm. Now they are just crying. And crying. And crying. You are soooo tired but if you so much as sit down the decibel level increases tenfold. How do they even know? I’m still jiggling around but somehow the 2 foot descent provokes screams of despair. Bleurgh.

We’ve all been there. For most of us it’s in the first months, or when our children are teething or ill. For those of you who endure this nightly for more than 6/12/18 months, we salute you. Hang in there!

I don’t know about you but when my baby has had a few atrocious nights I start to feel quite mad. The depleted brain function caused by sleep deprivation is coupled with a nagging mental search for the cause of this nocturnal malfunction. Is something they ate? What have I done or not done to cause this??? Double bleurgh.

When your mind is thus befuddled it may help to repeat this simple phrase: all babies sleep eventually… This little mantra works on two levels.

1) No human can fight sleep forever (though it sometimes feels like it) and so you can rest (or not) assured that at some point the crying will give way to that adorable sleepy face. You know the one, it makes you remember how cute and lovely they are. It may not last as long as you want, but sleep will happen.

2) I don’t know any 18 year olds who still wake 4 times a night demanding milk/cuddles so when you say ‘all babies sleep eventually’, you can be telling yourself that the night waking won’t last forever (I know for some it lasts far too long though).

Every baby insists on having these battles with sleep even though, as I often tell Bubs, this is only time in their lives when they can literally go to sleep whenever and wherever they want (it’s like, duh, take advantage!). To call this a bit frustrating is a bit like calling Ryan Gosling mildly attractive; it just doesn’t cut it. But we get through.

So as you sit (if you’re lucky) rocking back and forth in the corner of the nursery, you can repeat this mantra for some reassurance. Or even just for something else to listen to! Yes, you will look ever so slightly insane, but hey, it’s 3 am, who’s watching?

FYI: This post is dedicated to my own mother. I woke every two hours, every night until I was 9 months old. And she was a single parent. So. Much. Bleurgh. Sorry mumsie!

Got your own mummy (or daddy) mantra? Please share by commenting below or tweet me @aafew

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Supply and Demand: When the ‘let down’ is a let down.

Wowza, turns out A LOT of you have had similarly frustrating experiences with breast-feeding. Thanks so much for the response. So, time to get specific and talk about the issue that particularly effected me: supply.

When Bubs was a newborn he screamed. A lot. Yes, I know they all do that, but, phew, not quite like this. Honestly, nurses on a post-natal mental health ward were wide-eyed at his fits. When my Health Visitor heard him bawling directly after a feed she just turned to me and said. “Yes, that’s a hungry baby.” Up to that point I hadn’t really grasped the idea that there just might not be enough juice available to fill him up. The thing is that there was definitely some milk there. I didn’t know that it was supposed to be squirting out by now. I didn’t know that he cried more than most. He’s a baby. I just thought I wasn’t very good at coping with it all.

Before I started Bubs on formula I was pretty much breast-feeding all of the time. All. The. Time. I know this because of the hazy sleep-deprived memories of constant suckling, but also because in those early weeks I can find no photo of me with him where I’m not breastfeeding. Not one.

Here's a typical example.

Here’s a typical example.

And another. (note the mystery bruise)

Oh yeah, and this one.

Oh yeah, and this one.

Also this, in which my boy is giving the finger to all of the unhelpful advice.

Also this, in which my boy is giving the finger to all of the unhelpful advice.

Sometimes a girl has to multitask

Sometimes a girl has to multitask.

See, every bloody photo. I wasn't joking!

See, every bloody photo. I wasn’t joking!

Okay, I’ll admit, there are a few pics of us asleep too. But you see my point. I remember someone remarking sympathetically that I was doing a lot of breast-feeding. I also remember hurriedly snapping something back along the lines of “well it should be on demand do I just so it as much as he wants!” I got a bit defensive, mainly because I had no idea what I was doing and I didn’t want anyone to realise that. A mother should be able to feed her baby, right?

I know that many women find that breast-feeding eventually becomes a close, warm, cuddly time of connection with their baby. I know that it’s hard for everyone and there is always a degree of ‘pushing through’. This was not my experience. No amount of resolve on my part could have made a difference. My baby rarely settled satisfied in my arms after a feed. He often just kept sucking until he tired himself out and fell asleep. Or resumed his regularly scheduled screamathon. Even now I feel a pang of guilt when I think that he was hungry all that time (you know, whilst I’m having a break from feeling guilty about formula feeding), though there was no reason I should have known that. He wouldn’t sleep alone because he wanted to be close to the source. He cried so much because he was trying to tell us something. Like “I’M F**KING STARVING OVER HERE WOMAN!”

Seriously, the very day I started to give Bubs formula a near-magical transformation occurred.  He cried about a fifth of the amount he usually did. I was so indoctrinated into the woes of bottle-feeding I actually worried I was drugging him or something. Drugging him. With food? Sigh.

Recently my sister-in-law has had a lovely little girl. Thankfully breastfeeding has generally gone well for them but, of course, the baby has the odd day when all she wants is to be nursed, you know those golden ‘upping mum’s production’ days? Fun. My wonderful sister-in-law says these are the days when she feels the most overwhelmed and on the edge. She realised that this must have been how my boy was behaving for the first month of his life. Putting it like that clarifies for me how hard I did try, and that helps to quieten the guilt a little. What’s more, I know I’m only one of thousands (millions?) of women who has had this experience.

So why no supply? I think for me it was a combination feeling traumatised by his birth (not awful in the scheme of things but, you know, forceps and operating theatres were involved, bleurgh) and the pain from an infection I got in my stitches. No one realised I had it for a while and by the time we did I was having to breathe through the pain (thank you Voltarol!), lie only on one side and go to the loo with a walking stick. Bleurgh again.

Let’s just take a minute here – I could only lie on one side and was in pain with every movement. But I still breast-fed. On both boobs. Oh the ridiculous contortions I made that young lad go through to get a few insufficient glugs of milk!! And I’m not saying this to show off – no no! This wasn’t a triumph of motherly love, it was a consequence of the fact that I thought giving your baby formula was basically like feeing them McDonalds! If I had a time machine I’d go back and tell myself to get some bloody Aptimil and go to sleep.

The fact is that the pain, trauma and antibiotics were giving my body and mind a lot to cope with when it should have been concentrating on getting that milk out. At a time when the best thing you can do is be relaxed (ha ha) my body was tensed against pain. So the ‘let down’ didn’t really happen how it should! It all seems pretty much like common sense now but in the haze of confused, tired, early-parenting the ‘breast is best’ mantra was heavily etched onto my psyche.

With all the “everyone can breast feed” chatter it’s hard not to feel that if it doesn’t work for you it’s because you didn’t ‘stick with it’ or that you’ve done something wrong. But this stuff happens a lot and it’s not anything you’ve done or haven’t done. One particular midwife kept telling me to eat more. “We’ve got to look after mum.” She’d repeat. The thing is that she never actually asked me how much I was eating. The answer was loads. Nobody has to tell me to eat 2,500+ calories a day twice; I am fine with that! Oh, butter and whole milk you say? Ok, well, if I must (nom nom). Oh and people kept lecturing me about how to breastfeed properly, how to get a good latch etc. This was usually before they’d actually observed me feeding, at which point they’d say something like “oh yes, that’s very good”. One midwife who observed my side-lying contorted breast-feeding described my technique as ‘expert’. So, I knew that the mechanics were not the issue; it was the fuel supply that was out. Grr, arg.

So do bare it in mind if you’re expecting or know someone who is. Sometimes you just ain’t got the juice. And that’s fine. No harm will come to your baby. (true story, a Health Visitor told me so!)

What’s your story? Share in the comments below, give a tweet @aafew or…

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