Friday, 24 June 2011

Where did our confidence go?

As I sit here, girls in bed (without too many tantrums), one hand on keyboard, little finger of the other in M's mouth (makes typing tricky but keeps him quiet), I feel, for a brief moment, like I know what I'm doing.

Which is clearly enormously tempting fate, so watch this space for news of an epic disaster (along the lines of the deer that jumped out in front of the car on the A1 last weekend - necessitating a lot of explaining to Direct Line about why offering us a fiesta to get home in wasn't going to work).

That aside, as I have a fleeting moment of confidence, I've been finding myself wondering: as a species, where did our confidence go?

This is my fourth baby, so you'd sort of expect me to know what I'm doing wouldn't you? I certainly expected that I would.  But, while I definitely do have more confidence than I did with L, and more time than I did with A and S, I still find myself at a loss more often than not; asking for reassurance, checking the baby bible, reconfirming to myself that if I feed him again, or leave him to cry, or take him out for dinner with my mum, or let him roll off the sofa at three days old (a real low point), I'm not going to doom him, or destroy him, or ruin his chances of getting a proper job in twenty-odd years time.

But if I were a zebra I wouldn't feel like this.  If I were a chimpanzee, or a kangaroo, or a mouse, I'd have my baby, or my multiple babies (and wouldn't having fourteen make twins feel like a walk in the park on a sunny day?), and I'd just get on with it:  I'd know how he latches on, and that I'm doing it right; I'd know how to keep him warm without letting him get too hot or cold; I'd know, instinctively, how to keep him safe.

So why can't we? Why is there this huge industry around telling us stuff that every other animal knows without asking? 

I mentioned this to my sister-in-law the other day, and she said it was about the information - because the information is there, we become insecure and we rely on it. She said if we weremembers of an undiscovered tribe living in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, we wouldn't feel like this; we would still have that instinctive certainty.

I'm not so sure.  I suspect that for all a Papuan new mum may not have Gina Ford, or the baby whisperer,  health visitors, community midwives, the co-parenting lobby, the nanny state or the breastapo, I bet she has a mother, a granny, an aunt or a neighbour, all regaling her with their stories of dreadful deliveries and breast-feeding nightmares, and all telling her, "We didn't do it like that when you were young" or, "Oh, no, we do it like this now".

I think it's something to do with being human. As a species we no longer have confidence in ourselves.  But I'd love to know when it was lost.  And I'd love even more to know how to get it back again.


ps Once again I feel like Cinderella.  I am not off to CyberMummy tomorrow, due to new babies, small children, builders and the late and not at all lamented deer.  Instead I will be heading back up the A1 to home, hopefully in a car which will fit us all.  I will however be wishing I were there and sending a big hello to everyone.  Have fun for me.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Four children, two adults, ten days.

Well.  Here we are. Ten days in. I have been discharged from midwifery care.  We're officially on our own. Flying solo, just me, B, the children (it's very odd not being able to say "the girls" any more) and the tummy bug.

Oh?  Did I not mention the tummy bug?  It came to visit about five days ago and has cut a swathe through the girls (see, I can use it, but only in very specific circumstances), though so far has avoided B, me and, thank everything, M.   While I'm grateful for that particular small mercy, I will confess that the clearing up of midnight vomit is not made better by the knowledge that you'll be up again at least once more before morning, whether anyone's sick or not.

Other low moments:

Tantrums.  Lots of them.  Not sure if it's being 2 1/2 or being a big sister or being ill, but the combination of all three has resulted in a lot of screaming. And that's just me.

The new shower screen shattering into a million pieces all over the plumber (who is fine, but shocked), meaning we can't move back into our bedroom this weekend after all.

The discovery by A and S that they can get out of bed.  On their own.  Whenever they like.

And the discovery that this gets more and more fun the later you do it.

The discovery by A and S that this skill is also useful during the afternoon nap.

Losing S's Piggy. Admittedly it was the spare Piggy and we have now found it, but it was a moment of sheer panic. For both of us.

B and I, both very tired, both fed up of clearing up sick and forcing recalcitrant toddlers back into bed, both at the end of our tether with being shouted at, nearly, but not quite, reducing each other to tears through sheer rattiness.

And the highs:

Paternity leave. Thank you, thank you, thank you Tony Blair.  I could not have got through the last ten days without B who has been utterly utterly fabulous in every way.  I never expected to have luxurious lie-ins with just my baby asleep in his crib beside me, but I have had them, every day since he was born, while B gets up with the lark (and the girls), gets them dressed, gets them breakfasted, even does their hair... It's six years tomorrow that we said "I do" and I couldn't be happier that I did.

Sleep.  I know, that sounds ridiculous, but when the girls let us, we are actually getting some sleep. I realise that I am dooming myself by even admitting this, but M is letting us have six hours between feeds at night which at 10 days old I couldn't have hoped for and am more than happy with.

Breast feeding. And breast feeding just one.  Don't get me wrong, I am delighted for both me and the (little) girls (see, it gets confusing, doesn't it?) that I fed them myself, but it was rarely anything other than functional:  strap on cushion, lower self heavily onto sofa, roll baby up arm onto cushion, repeat on other side, feed...  With just one you get all that lovely post-feed cuddling, the incredible lightness of a newborn against your shoulder as you wind him, the weird lopsidedness of having one full and one empty.  I'm loving all that, I really am.  And even better, he's regained his birthweight so I feel like I'm doing a good job too.

Big sisters. We've had our moments (see above), but there is something so incredibly heart-warmingly magical about how they want to stroke his head, or change his nappies (aka hold the nappy bag), or choose his clothes.  I know there will be fights, and arguments, and tantrums, to come, but when it works, it's amazing.

And us.  We are complete now. This is our family, and there hasn't been a day since he was born that I haven't, if only for thirty seconds, looked at the six of us, walking down the lane, or transfixed by Octonauts (well, maybe not all of us) and felt a glow of pride, and luck, and joy.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The birth story

We are five days in.  I am typing this half-lying on the sofa, arms outstretched to the laptop balanced precariously on my knee, while a small, very small, person snuffles into my neck.

It is magic. The sleepless nights, the logistics of managing four under five, the living in a building site are as nothing beside how magical it is to know this little person, who five days ago we hadn't met and couldn't imagine.

Can you tell we're still on a high?

It seems incredible that it is only five days since he was born.  I'm already finding it impossible to imagine a life without him in it, as though he has always been here.

Yet it is only five days.  This time six days ago I was settling down to bed in hospital, believing, irrationally, that I was never going to have this baby, and, more rationally, that I was going to be sent home in the morning, still bleeding, still intermittently contracting, still pregnant.

It was not to be. 

If you are squeamish, uninterested in these sorts of details, or related to me by blood or marriage,  you might want to look away now...

If you're still reading, and haven't read this post, it'll give you the background, but when I woke up in hospital at 3 am last Tuesday I was definitely not in labour, and I was definitely fed up.  My mum had dashed up on Sunday when I was admitted and B sent her off to Tesco's to buy pineapple and curry, while he came in to bring me home, and the girls went to nursery. 

And then the doctor appeared, examined me, and said; "Actually, we've changed our minds, we're going to break your waters.  Have a nice morning, get some lunch and we'll be back at one-ish."


We spent the morning sorting out the logistics back at home and walking, just to get some fresh air.  I wish now that I had spent some more time relishing being pregnant, but I didn't and now I can barely remember what it felt like.

2pm.  We are in the labour ward.  I am not contracting, haven't, in fact, since mid-afternoon the day before, but nonetheless, this is happening.  A midwife and doctor are doing unimaginable things with what looks like a knitting needle.  Nothing happens, although they think they've broken through the membranes. We are sent for a long walk.

2.55.  We are back from our walk. We have got very familiar with the loop up and round the hill over the last couple of days.  The views from here are still much nicer than they were in London, and even better, this time the walking seems to have worked.  I am definitely having contractions.

3pm.  Oh.  My waters have definitely broken now.  Ow.  Tens machine. 

3.45. I look at the clock.  This pain is almost unbearable  I've only really been going for an hour.  I can't take much more of this.  I desperately want to be examined, to be told that I'm nearly there, but I know I can't be and I am frightened to be told that I have hours more of this to endure.  I have apparently lost all my colour.  I am made to lie down.  I turn the machine up.

4.10. I ask, somehow, what happens next, and am told that although things seem to be happening quickly, I am probably still a way away, but I will, in due course, feel pressure in my bottom and an urge to push.  I think; "I've been feeling pressure in my bottom.  Don't hope.  Don't hope. Don't say anything.  It can't be."

4.15 (according to my notes). The midwife has gone to the loo.  "I am pushing!".  B is rushing down the corridor, desperately shouting for her.  She runs in, dragging on an apron. Shouting for a colleague.

Push.  Pause.  Pant.   Push.  Pause.  Pant. 

I am very present in the moment, in a way I don't remember with L.  It hurts.  More than I could have possibly imagined or remembered.


4.29. "Put your hands down". 

I have my baby.  M.  He is warm, and wet, and pink.  He is not crying, but he is snuffling, breathing loudly and noisily.  B is crying and now so is M.  I am in love.