Tuesday, 29 January 2013

When only a mum will do

When I was in hospital for the night after my second birth, the woman in the bed opposite me seemed to be having a difficult time. We both had our curtains shut so didn't communicate with each other, but I could hear her conversations. She'd had a C-section and needed help to pick up her baby for feeds and changes. Feeding was not going well. She was being patronised by midwives. Her baby kept crying. She was exhausted. 

I wanted to go and see her in her cubicle and tell her it would be ok. I was so reminded of the moment in hospital a few days after my first birth when my mum came on a mercy mission. "Your baby needs a cuddle" I told her. "Which one?" she said. I meant me of course. I was exhausted and feeling defeated. Feeding had not been working. Sleep was elusive. I was rapidly becoming institutionalised. 

But on this night I also knew that the kindnesses of strangers, whilst sometimes just what is needed, isn't always the right thing to do - perhaps she didn't want platitudes from a second time mum, or a stranger inviting herself in to her private space. 

So I did nothing. But I was so pleased the next day when her own mum arrived, flung down her bags and gave her a cuddle. She started telling her mum how upset she was. And her mum, lionesses that mums are, growled. Literally, I swear. "No-one treats my baby like that" she said, and soothed her grown up daughter. I knew then that she'd be ok. 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Whole number love

I didn't meet my husband, or anyone else with whom I wanted to have children (or who wanted to have children with me) until I was 29, so being a young mum was out of the question. If I could have planned it though, and with the caveat that it is my children created by that very sperm meeting that very egg at that particular moment in time and not any other that I want, I would have had children younger. 

It's partly the maths. Our son is two weeks old today. Two weeks! A lifetime. For me, aged 34 and a half and a day (blame Adrian Mole, I am slightly obsessed by age fractions) those two weeks are just 1/897th of my life. What a small proportion of my life he has been here for so far. Had I had him when I was, say, 20, these two weeks would have been 1/520th of my life. No wonder they say they grow up so fast. 

It reminds me, and forgive me while I take some time to bawl my eyes out, of Fiddler on the Roof's Sunrise Sunset: "I don't remember growing older/When did they?/Sunrise, sunset/Sunrise, sunset."  One sunrise and sunset, that's just 1/12601 of my experience. 

In Linda Grant's brilliant Remind me who I am, again she is reminded by an expert in care of the elderly that her mother was someone before she was her mother, just as with dementia she was someone other than her mother again. Each incarnation different, but as valid as the other. My children will not think of the thousandths of my life before they existed (and nor should they particularly) but I will, not with regret, because to have that life before being a parent was great, but with a little sadness for the missing fractions. 

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Rules for a better birth

I hesitate to say that my first experience of birth, or rather the days after it, weren't that great, because you always know someone who had a worse time than you - a worse injury, a sicker baby, a meaner midwife, a more intense hormonal response, a longer labour. Nevertheless, the first time I had a baby it was very hard. Operations (immediately for me, in the near future for our child), health worries, possible infections, no sleep, five nights in hospital and the panic of first time motherhood made everything difficult. Wonderful, because our daughter was with us, but ever so fraught with fear and worry and exhaustion.

This time, everything has been easier, though it is still early days and I don't wish to count my chickens. But as a result I have come up with a list of things completely beyond your control that can lead to a better experience all round.

1) Go into labour in the morning after a proper night of sleep so you don't start the whole process tired.

2) Do not have an operation straight after birth taking you away from your partner and new baby and pumping you even more full of drugs. The drugs are great at the time, but there is a come down, and there is guilt at not being with your new baby from the beginning.

3) Get rid of any drips and catheters as soon as possible. Then have a shower, even if it's 3am.

4) Have a baby that can feed from the beginning. Or rather, feed your baby from the beginning, using bottle if breast not working. Contrary to the scaremongering breastapo, you can give your baby a bottle in the early days and still breastfeed later (as long as you don't stop breastfeeding or expressing completely). Unless I  am a freak of nature.

5) Go home after one night in hospital.

6) Accept that all of this is luck of the draw and that you cannot control it. A bad experience once does not mean you will have a bad experience a second time. None of it is your fault, or your achievement.

7) Despite the above rule, allow yourself to feel shit, or proud of yourself, or both. One day it will fade to be just part of your story. My mum said to me after my first birth, you will retell it and retell it and one day it will  lose its emotional hold on you. She's not right yet, but I see that she might be one day.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Raising men

We had a son. He's wonderful. 

So when he was about 30 hours old and we were settling in at home I thought it was time for the chat. The one about my role as his mummy and how he should feel able to tell me anything (but no need to tell me everything) and how it's my job, and his daddy's job, to help him grow up to be a man, and all that will entail. It must have been the hormones - the ones that place exuberance over exhaustion for a couple of days. 

You'll need, I told him, not necessarily to meet society's expectations of what a man is, but to know what it is that is expected. Know the rules to break the rules, that kind of thing. You'll be expected to be strong, I told him, whatever that means. And though you can cry, it'll be noted each time by people who either want you to or don't want you to. I want you to be happy and thoughtful and fulfilled and to love and be loved I told him. To care for the vulnerable and leave the world better than you find it and to value words and feelings but to also be able to create fire from sticks and unblock the sink. Not all that different from the chat I gave my daughter in fact, when it came to life skills. But above all, I told my son, in learning to be a man, you must be kind. 

My mum came over shortly after. I have been telling him all I will be teaching him to help him become a man I told my mum. I hope, she said, that number one was kindness. She's a wise woman my mum - she taught me everything I know.