Fur Elise

Dear significant pregnant person in my life,

I want to say some things to you, but I don’t want to be “that person”. The “you should” person. So I’m just going to post on here some stuff I wish I knew when I first became a parent. You can read it, or not. You can take it, or not.

For me, as a parent arising after complicated circumstances (bed rest, almost loss, ivf ) the transition was harder and easier. My road possibly had more potholes than normal. I don’t know how much that changes the transition. It must always be hard. So here goes.

No one can prepare you for how you will feel. You will simultaneously feel as though you’ve been skinned alive, every nerve ending standing to attention and raw, like there is no division or filter between you and the world. You will feel open and vulnerable, like a wound. And that’s ok.

To have a small person around 24/7 will feel perfectly right and amazing and completely wrong all at once.

You will also, simultaneously, feel stronger and fiercer than you’ve ever felt. More powerful. When your mumma bear gut kicks in, look out world. Nothing, and I mean nothing, will get between you and your child. Sometimes mumma bear views everyone as a threat. It takes time to get her to settle down. And that’s ok.

You will feel loss. I can remember almost bawling at my first mothers group meeting. I DIDN’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT MY BABY. I wanted to hear what people DID, what BANDS THEY LIKED, and they couldn’t seem to see their way above the fog of milk haze and sleep deprivation. I was ANGRY at the loss of self. I was hurt that I’d never realise I’d lose myself, the me I knew. I was so upset no one ever warned me. They probably tried, but it’s a lived experience thing. And that’s ok.

You will dream some weird shit. Night 1 I was hallucinating I was giving evidence at a coronial inquest into my baby’s death. That shit went on for WEEKS. It made me feel like I was losing MY MARBLES. You will wake up SOAKED in sweat. Its probably the hormones combined with a bit of hypervigilance. It’s horrible. But its ok.

You will feel the walls closing in, like someone is holding their hand around your throat. You look ahead and visualise what is happening now, ad infinitum. And you want to explode. EVERY night with this little person? EVERY day? Every HOUR? How. Breastfeeding feels like a death sentence.

But in a few weeks, it isn’t the same. And in a few more weeks, it isn’t the same. And in a few months you won’t WANT to be anywhere else. So don’t look too far ahead. Its ok.
You will feel terrified. You will have more than one instance of “what have we done” or “there’s been a terrible mistake that they let me look after this on my own”. Heart in mouth pulse racing terror. It ain’t just you.

I want to tell you there comes a time when you realise you’re back. You’ve been forged in fire and re moulded, but old you is still there. For me, it was the day I could wear dangly earrings again, without fear of having my ear lobes ripped off. It happens. I put them on and thought “I’m BACK”. Try baby steps towards being back, early. Little bursts of “you” time fill up your mummy tank. Put on your own oxygen mask before putting on a child’s.
I’ll repeat that: in an emergency: put on YOUR OWN oxygen before putting on your childs. Top up your tank. Look after yourself. Give yourself time out. Simply because you matter. Additionally because having a full tank makes you a BETTER mum.

I want to tell you to ditch western cultural control ideals, put Gina Ford in the bin or preferably the shredder. Look at your baby. This is not a manipulative schemer who wants to lie in your bed awake 24/7. This is someone who was in a warm muffled balloon and whose brain is now literally melting trying to figure out WTF is going on. You are their tour guide, so try to learn their language. This someone will try to tell you what they need. And this someone will be happier if you try to read those signals, and soothe and respond to those needs. You will be better at this than anyone else.

If you control all the things now, you might feel better. But control is an illusion, and the cost can be an unhappy toddler, an insecure bond, or a stressed child.

I want to tell you some people love blobs. I do not love blobs. I love people. Blobs are boring. Thankfully, your mother told me about this. She didn’t love blobs either. Instant bonding isn’t always instant. Sometimes we bond much more when the blob becomes an interacting interesting person. Sometimes a bond grows very slowly. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a bond.

Speaking of bonds, we have boobs. This makes us pretty loveable to hungry small blobs. Having something physically attached to you 10 hours a day is pretty bond-i-fying. Not so easy for the dads. No boobs there. So first, give dad a job. Bathing was definitely my first choice. Swaddling to a degree of mental-patient –in-a-strait-jacket was my second choice. Hate that slippery little sucker.

Second, step back so he can step up. They aren’t a dad until bub is screaming down the house having pooed a kilo of slime up someone’s arm and you are nowhere to be found.

Step back so he can step up.

Every single week, designate a time, and walk out and don’t look back. EVEN if at first it is for 20 minutes. Make it sacred. Stick to it.

There will come a time when you look in the mirror and you see the weird little mummy paunch mummies get (it takes a while to show up) and you will think “hideous”. And your child will come up and grab a giant handful of squishy bits and say “I love squishy mummy”. And you’ll realise for at least one person in the world, you are amazingly perfect. You are everything. You are the North star, and to some extent for the rest of their lives they will navigate by what you put inside them, in these first short years. And that is more powerful than any size label or skinny jeans. It is a source of strength, and pride. And value.

On that note, read some parenting books. Read good ones. Things about baby led routines, about developmental stages, about the brain neuroscience of a developing child. You are a parent for a lot longer than you are pregnant. So read up now while you have some time and brain space. Get lots of tools in your parenting tool kit. Pinky McKay, Andrea mcNair, John Medina’s Brain rules for baby, I loved ‘how not to fuck them up’ Oliver James, Peaceful Parent Happy Kid Laura Markham would be a few for starters.

You will feel complete opposites at once. Often. You will feel the most amazing rage you have ever felt, and three minutes later when there are little baby snores and drool on your chest you will be transported to Kairos time. It is infuriating. You will think it impossible. You will loathe-love. You will impatient-stoic. You will bond-run away. You will feel power-powerless. You will feel motherhood is everything-nothing. That probably means you’re doing it right, not wrong. This article here BLEW MY MIND with how right it was. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/glennon-melton/dont-carpe-diem_b_1206346.html?ir=Australia

You can name it. You can say out loud when it sucks. You don’t have to love every moment to be an amazing mother. Sometimes, you can be a good-enough mother. You can go off your nana and still have a wonderful bond and an unstressed happy bub. Research says get it right about 64% of the time and you’re looking good. That will never seem enough. But it probably is, so cut yourself some slack.

Feeling loss and freak out at new parenthood is not post natal depression. Your world just went into the tumble dryer. It is normal to feel really thrown and unsure and nervous and a bit sad at the change. But there is such a thing as post natal depression, and post natal anxiety. And If you even vaguely suspect you have it, or just feel very wrong, disconnected, or the hypervigilance doesn’t settle, or you simply can’t feel or you struggle to make decisions about even small things, see someone. If they don’t help, see someone else. And keep asking til it happens.

You will almost weep trying to leave the house. It will take 3 attempts and 2.5 hours at first. It will improve around 1 year old and decline again at 2.5 years old. At first, you will watch the clock ticking as your bub feeds and you’re going to miss the paediatrician appointment and fantasise about walking out of the house with only your keys and phone.

You will fantasise about walking out and checking into a 5 star hotel without anyone touching you. If things get really bad, do it and send me the bill. I. Completely. Understand. Agree in advance which hotel it would be so we all know where to look.

It will change your relationship with your partner. Sometimes, the love for your child seems to eclipse everything so there is no room for three. That can be weird. Then, you will see your partner being an amazing parent, and it is a like a turbo boost for the love you had for him before. A supercharger. Prioritise keeping that relationship on track. Happy supported parents are better parents. And there’s enough room for all of you.

Here’s my guide to the first few months:
Weeks 1-2 Swinging between hallucinating from lack of sleep and thinking “I have this sorted” cooking over complicated meals because bub is entirely nocturnal

Weeks 3-4 Crap, bub is waking up. A lot. What the hell am I meant to do with it? “Can someone google clusterfeeding?”

Weeks 5-6 will this never end. What is with the screaming ? Why is it from 4pm -9pm? What is going on? My ears! My ears!

Weeks 7-12 How long does this parenting gig last for? Do I have to do that needle crap AGAIN? How will I ever…? Oh look at that, bub can…..! Oh, is bub trying to talk? So cute! Stupid baby has still not figured out they are on the outside.

3-4 months – I’m sort of getting this. Bub is starting to seem like a person. A 5 hour stretch of sleep makes you feel drunk and hungover all at once. This is kind of amazing.

4 months + – personhood. It just gets more amazing every day. You don’t want to deal with solids.

5-6 months – you deal with solids. It’s kinda fun.

7-8 months – oh my god you left the room therefore you don’t exist, I’m alone! I’m Alone! And I am going to send you MENTAL with waking up 65 times a night.

8-9 months – I crawl, therefore I sleep. Mostly.

Babies are the world’s property. Every man and his dog (pot? kettle?) feels they are entitled to a comment, a helpful suggestion, advice, questions you’d never ask any other stranger but a new mother. It is ludicrous. But babies are the world’s property. I think it’s a survival of the species instinct thing. Try not to take it to heart. Sometimes it makes the world seem wonderful and fun and friendly. Sometimes its just downright annoying and intrusive. Sip your coffee and see if they’ll burp the little bugger. “Have you only got the one? Gee he’s chubby! Oh isn’t he tiny? What you should do is….”

There will come a time, and it’s a ways down the track, I’d say at 18 months? When you wouldn’t take it back for the world. When you feel as though you were never not this child’s parent. When you feel you couldn’t be anyone if you were not this mother, to this child. You will be reforged, knitted together again. Pre baby and post baby self will become a whole that is so much stronger than the sum of its parts.

Welcome to parenthood. It’s a stupid ridiculous annoying wonderful miraculous joyous ride. You’re going to love it. Maybe not at first. Maybe not every day. Maybe not even every hour. But when you add up the whole, trust me. It is worth it.

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A thousand and forty one nights

So today, I’ve agreed to go on a brief last minute business trip, against my better judgement. An overnight to Brisbane for a presentation.

I can remember the feeling of the walls closing in when jman was born, when I looked ahead and thought about breastfeeding, about life in general, and thought “crap! I’m trapped. I’m really really trapped”. He needs me every two hours. Get me a paper bag to breathe into.

Somehow, as the blob turns into a small person, and the small person turns into a bigger person, as I adjusted to this new version of myself, the “trap” became what I wanted to do. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else, or wanting to be. Mostly. Like any mother I had the Thelma and louise meets disappear to a five star hotel alone without notice fantasy, yep, but mostly,I wanted to be there for him. Mostly, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

Tonight, after a thousand and forty one nights, I will be somewhere else. 36 hours apart…the longest separation we have had in nearly three years.

Parenting, where you have to go from separate to embedded and intertwined, wrapped together, and somehow, over time, get back to being separate people. Separate but bound. Tied. Linked. It’s like a personality decathlon for the parent. And I suspect, with this bring our first night apart, this is only about the fourth event.

I’ll be thinking of you, jman. I will also quite enjoy the king sized bed.

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It’s complicated: Accountability and risk assessment

So as a single person, you’re not that accountable. No lunch? No worries. Home and 3am and back to work at 9? No biggie some hot chips and a powerade can’t fix. Run out of time for vacuuming? Whatever.

As a married person, I have to say it wasn’t much different. Marginally more checking in with each other. More risk of the vacuuming not getting done as you have someone else to blame.

Having a lazy week and want to eat pizza, drink beer, and sneak chocolate? Yeah whatevs. Get back on the wagon next week.

Screaming the chorus of the Angels “am I ever gonna see your face again ?..no way, get f…d, f…off” in your car? No biggie. Enjoy.

Oh wow, as a mum.

Running late, skip breaky?
He can’t. And it takes A…g….e…s.

No lunch packed? Ah, get something when you get home.
Cue meltdown in public, premature nap that won’t last, mama guilt and a lot of banana /vegemite sandwich / sultana consumption.

Vacuuming not done? He finds a bobby pin, a five cent coin, a Panadol and several pieces of old food embedded in the pile. In ten minutes. And tries to eat them. All.

Letting your own diet slip? Nothing like the horror of seeing your 15 month old reach for a chip or biscuit or wine to pull you up short and get you back on the apples.

I can only imagine how cruddy I will feel when we enter the answer back phase.
” no Jman! You can’t eat THAT.”
” but mum, you’re eating it”.

Yep. I might do it to myself, but I can’t condone setting up another human being for a world of shit with food. Not going to happen. Which is why I was the strictest person on the planet when I had gestational diabetes…and why I’ll be the mum with the chopped up fruit for dessert. Says the woman who let him try baklava today…..

Then there’s risk management. Geez, you could get a job in risk assessment after being a mum. Your whole life is a risk assessment, balancing up costs and benefits. There are thousands of risk calculations a day. Thousands. If I pee now, and he comes in, he might reach over into the bath and fall and hit is head. But I really need to pee. And here he comes.

I need a quick shower, and he’s sitting very quietly in front of Sesame Street in his high chair. With toast.

He’s climbing the stairs to the slippery dip and he has no fear, no ideas about heights, and he’s fast and strong. And there’s an eight foot drop off on one side. But he also needs to stretch and test physical boundaries.

He’s running, on concrete.
He’s running, down a hill.
He’s running, and there’s a road / driveway / body of water / dog off the leash / bike rider /giant puddle 100 metres away.

He’s eating spaghetti in a white top.
He’s eating a whole apple.
He’s drinking milk out of a normal cup over the carpet in our rental apartment.
He’s eating avocado, and now he wants a hug.
He’s breastfeeding, a bit cranky, and growing more molars. Ouch.
He needs his teeth cleaned but he’s going to lose his shit when I try.
He is going to playgroup so we must cut his scratchy pinchy nails. But he’s going to try and move. A lot.

The risk assessments trade off his well being with my well being and others’ .
They trade off present shit for future benefit, and present pleasant for future shit.
They trade off the need to extend expand push and practice, with staying alive and in one piece.

It is the mental game that sometimes tires you out. The anticipation… of danger, of falls, of meltdowns, of naps….

You lose your shit, and you’re accountable to yourself and the mummy guilts, to him, to dada.
You eat crap, he learns crap eating is ok.
You swear, he swears back.
You yell or smack, he yells, and smacks.

And the risks. We assess risk all day every day. For ourselves. But it is sooooooo different when we are assessing risk on behalf of another human being who hasn’t got the good sense to keep themselves alive and fully functional. We are caretakers for their welfare, until they can take it on their own behalf.

And that’s complicated.

PAIL September Monthly theme post: Write to life.

This post is part of the PAIL monthly theme posts (Pregnancy After Infertility and Loss), and September’s theme is Why we blog. . Other posts from the members are here.

I started blogging in February of 2011 as a space to record my journey as we tried to conceive. I’d spent so long trying not to get pregnant, it was just weird to be on the other bus!!! I needed somewhere to clarify how I felt about it, and I’ve always done that with writing. Private Blogging was just an evolution of my existing emotional processes.

Six months later, I began thinking we may have a problem, reading infertility blogs, trying to get my head around what was next. On my fortieth birthday I was sitting in an IVF clinic waiting room with a wad of Internet research and an armload of questions, PCOS for me and a couple of low sperm counts for hub-in-boots. The thoughts had to go somewhere.

Trying to conceive is inherently funny. IVF is inherently funny. The things you have to do to help science make a baby are madness. Absolute madness! Counting follicles like you have an egg carton in a supermarket, injecting yourself, wandering around secretly carrying ovaries that look and feel like bunches of lead grapes. Jerking off in strange rooms with bar fridges and porn…it ain’t your normal journey.

I also felt writing about it here would allow hub-in-boots to see my emotional journey in his own space and time, if and when he wanted to read about it, not by my leaning on him too heavily (at least at first). I thought it would help us communicate, with more space and reflection. I think it definitely achieved this, and our journey through IVF and bedrest were, I’m sure, much more harmonious and mutually supportive as a result.

Plus, once you’re out about IVF, you can get tired answering the same questions, talking about it all the time. I blogged so I didn’t have to spend my life talking about it. Everyone knew where we were at, so we could start conversations from a place of shared info. People didnt have to ask me how it worked, I wrote it out for them.

The decision to be “out” about IVF was a very personal and practical one. I had depression years ago. I suffered very very badly, before I knew what was happening. I remember thinking if I really knew what it was, what it felt like before hand, I would’ve recognised it, and got help sooner. When I got better. I swore I would be out about depression. I would always tell people, I would talk about it, if it was relevant. Just in case it helped just one person.

And so it was with infertility. Another taboo, another outspoken Jo. Another hope to suffer with a purpose. And with humour.

You would think that pregnancy would end an infertility blog, but the fact is, a pregnant “infertile” feels differently about being pregnant. It is a whole other category of complicated. Add that to pregnant infertile, with a sub chorionic haematoma of grave proportions with a complicated pregnancy on extended bedrest, hell yeah I still needed to blog. I was living in liminal space, on the threshold of everything, but nowhere.

I needed to blog my child into existence.
I needed to write him alive.
I needed to distance myself from the spectre of loss that sat beside us, waiting for tragedy.

And when jman arrived, I needed to blog myself into being a Mum. I needed to blog his first days, as a gift to him. I needed to blog away that spectre of loss that haunted us, to blog away the pregnancy trauma, (because waiting and hoping 24/7 it is traumatic).

As jman hit nine weeks old, my nephew, 22, committed suicide. No warning. Simon, originally himself a very premi baby with months in NICU, would have been twenty three on Monday.

I felt like the spectre of loss had just moved somewhere else in the family, that it was still here. I felt that our making it through somehow contributed to Simon not making it. I understand this is completely illogical, nonsense, but emotions can speak other truths from logic. My anxiety skyrocketed. I had nightmares about the ‘inquest at jensen’s death’ if he slept through more than a couple of hours. I dreamt of my nephew. I dreamt of losing Jensen, as in physically leaving him places. I didn’t always directly write about these things, but I tried to blog myself to a more positive mindset, to record each day, to see how real and alive he was, and to see how safe we were, even as my mummy radar shifted into overdrive.

On a more prosaic and joyful level, I wanted to share the joy of this special boy who we’d worked so hard for. I wanted to celebrate his life, with both those who loved us in real life, and those who had joined us in our journey, online, and rooted for us, and cheered for us, and cried for us, and helped to bring him here. They all pushed us another step forward.

It does annoy me a bit, people that condemn Internet over sharing about their children. I get the safety thing, I get it, but what they miss is how enmeshed you are at first as a mum, how their life is your life for a long time. I will end this blog at some point, when I feel it is taking from jman rather than recording for him. I’m his mother, I trust I can make that judgement, like I make a thousand other judgements for him, every single day.

I thought about transitioning to another space when he arrived, but it is all part of our journey. It is all part of the one continuum, and I don’t care who knows the gory details. I don’t care if it doesn’t have tidy easy to tag cookie cutter blogger edges. It is our life. It is messy and multi faceted. It is worth sharing.

Right now, with a fourteen month old tear away on the loose, blogging is sometimes another nagging chore, but mostly it is a perspective changer. It can be hard when you’re picking up books for the sixteenth time that day, have just been hit in the head with a yoghurt covered spoon, and you’re wondering why you bothered with two degrees and whatever happened to your brain? Because I might blog about them, because I have a problem with perfectionism and at times negative thinking, blogging, particularly humourous posts, make me stop and reframe the moment, from “what a disaster!” to”what a hilarious post!”.

When I travelled solo, or dated idiots, I’d always think how Would I Tell the Story; as I got stuck in carriage full of smugglers having lost my passport on a Bulgarian night train on the border, faced with an Alsatian with bad breath, the thought of the dinner party story it would become made me stop and reassess, and not panic. And so it is with the parenting trip. I think in stories, in words, in connecting my story with other stories. I always have. A blog is simply a logical next step.

The value in blogging after, after infertility and insurmountable odds, is firstly to show it is possible to those still in the trenches. Secondly it is to celebrate the joy of a little person becoming a person, growing, developing, and thirdly to acknowledge that how I parent requires everything I have been until now, and more.

Lastly, and this is something I only thought about after I first drafted this post, when you become a mum it is a time of personal upheaval. You lose who you were. You lose your edges. You get to be someone else, but eventually I think you need to try and recognise which parts of yourself are lost, and to an extent mourn them, which parts are new and worth celebrating, and integrate those disparate selves into a whole. This, I think, is how you avoid becoming “just a mum”, how you avoid resenting your partner or child through the upheaval, how you find a way to parent well, and how you find a new normal by selecting from the smorgasbord of selves to create a new plate of you. I’m laying out my dishes in these pages, I’m looking at what is there, I’m thinking which parts I want a second helping of. That’s why I blog.

The Monday snapshot: and gave me a Vegemite sandwich

First trip to the zoo this weekend. Jman was pretty happy about it.

Though the Vegemite sandwich rates higher, in his estimations, than the elephants.

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He’s big on giraffes.

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He adored the aviary, pointing and exclaiming at every little bird that flitted by.

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He roared at the lion. (Must have been from the Fisher Price app, as I don’t think they’d let a lion in peekaboo barn, and we don’t have many lions in our books yet….).

It was very kind of the chimpanzees to have a turf war right in front of us. Jman kept his cool as a chimp beat his chest and shouted, eye to eye with jman just inches away with only a pane of glass separating them! The old man chimp wandered up and waved to jman. Jman waved back. It was very cute. They continued to wave and gesticulate at each other for about a minute. It was too amazing to stop and get photos of!

The Jman didn’t get the seal show, but he liked the applause.

What a top day out.

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Mother of invention #15: baby barometer

Oh the kids home shopping network has a good one for you this week, parents. We finally get our long absent product launches back on track with this week’s special treat.

Are you tired of waking up to an unforeseen crap day? Have you steeled yourself for another day wading through s%^t, only to find you have a little ray of sunshine? Is the unpredictability of life with baby just messing with your mind?

You need the baby barometer.

More accurate than any weather report, able to predict small babies in a single bound, the baby barometer will return a measure of control to your chaotic baby life.

Just before you retire for the evening, glance over the easy to read dials.

Forecoming low pressure system:
Cancel all plans, batten down the hatches, stock up on the baby Panadol. Under no circumstances should you go near a supermarket.

High pressure:
Make a coffee date, captain compliant has come to stay.

Poonami warning:
Don’t wear white. Wipes in every room.

Sunny with a chance of grizzle:
Continue with existing plans, but pack drugs, snacks, distracting toys and a dummy ( pacifier).

Red bull:
Your child will act like he has a secret stash of energy drinks in the cot. Which he didn’t share. Get him outside, early, and get physical. Continue until unconscious.

High Velcro warning:
Forget getting things done, forget babysitters, it was never going to work. Don’t fight it. You are doing everything one handed today, or not at all.

The baby barometer. Only $89.95 plus postage and handling. Get it now.