What do I do? Nothing special. I'm just another Muther.

This is my blog about modern motherhood. I have a 1 year old daughter who, though planned, was the biggest surprise of my life. I would compare being a new mother to riding a Vaseline smeared unicycle naked and blindfold through a field of landmines whilst every enemy you'd ever made jeered from the sidelines, pelting you with tomatoes full of wasps. A bit nervewracking then. If you tried to take my daugther off me however, I'd stab you in the head without hesitation...and with a corkscrew. It would be nice to use my corkscrew for something again. Love, hate, be indifferent but whatever you do, share with others to raise my ratings.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Ones company...twos crowd control

##]the past 24  hours I've been a mother of two. 

I've blogged before about whether or not I'll ever jump on the vaseline smeared unicycle again and expand our family to four, but it's an idea I keep shelving under 'maybe one day' as there's just so much going on in our lives, not least caring for our one year old.   Recently though, a couple of my friends have taken the plunge, and my mind has been churning thoughts of a little brother or sister for Iris over like the dirty clothes that relentlessly clog my waching machine. 

One strangely sunny evening last week, we were walking the dog across the fields behind our house when I said, out of nowhere...
'Sunday.  For a girl.
John thought for a second then said
'bit twatty, but I like it.' 
We carried on walking, and as we meandered home through the Victorian Graveyard that I find so fascinating, I mentally logged 'Ada' and 'Lilian' as potentials (my Great-Grandma and Great-Grandma in law's first names.)  Yesterday,  spotting the name of an up and coming young actor on the case of a DVD I exclaimed  
'Ezra!  Ezra Hornsby!'
'I really like Ethan' said John, without looking up from the tower he was building for Iris to knock down.
'Noooooooooooooooooo!' I exclaimed vehemently.  'That's Danni Minogues baby name, and she's shagged Simon Cowell, ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.'
Ezra Elliot Hornsby I mused to myself, mentally tucking him into a JojoMamanBebe sleepsuit and smoothing his soft, dark hair across his sleeping forehead.  On the other hand, I thought dreamily, I could tuck blonde, curly haired little Sunday Lillian Hornsby into one of the many Iris cast offs I've been saving in ziplock bags in the linen cupboard.

Gah!  What the fuck are we doing?   It's been happening way too much recently.  Not long ago I started having my periods again after an absence of 13 months.  Though I'm still breastfeeding, it's only really as a comfort for when Iris is over-tired or under the weather.  That, coupled with some extra hours at work, have kick-started my reproductive system, and I guess Mother Nature is letting me know that my baby isn't such a baby anymore.  It makes me sad to think that my tiny bundle is now a toddler who's taken her first steps, but it also makes me think of all the beautiful moments we've enjoyed as a family since her birth, and it may sadden me even more to contemplate the fact that Iris is potentially the only baby of my own  I'll ever hold in my arms.

When my friend asked me if I'd babysit her 4 year old daughter overnight while she went on a hen do, I didn't hesitate to say yes.   I'm very fond of her little one, let's call her Esme to keep things anonymous, and she's at an age where you can snuggle up with her on the sofa watching the Lion King or endlessly debate the merits of the various shades of pink in her tutu.  She's also at an age when the naughty step is a daily occurance, but I figured that on a night away from home in a relatively strange place, she'd be on her best behaviour.   I imagined us snuggling up in bed reading books or sharing a meal at Pizza Express, and to be quite honest, I was flattered that someone would trust me with their precious child - it meant I was doing a reasonable job with Iris, and it wouldn't hurt to earn some babysitting Brownie points to fall back on when I needed a break myself.

Yesterday was a typically manic day in the Hornsby-Martin household.  I fell out of bed at 6am to prepare for a talk and demo I was giving at a nearby private school with an assistance dog from my work.  On the way home, after addressing 100 flicky / bouffant haired sarcastic and unnervingly well-dressed teenagers (all of whom arrived driving better cars than me) I called in to our local post office to send some items I'd sold on Ebay.   An hour later I emerged, traumatised, after their computer system crashed mid transaction and the octogenarian counter assistant suffered a nervous breakdown that I somehow had to talk her round from, whilst calming the angry mob that had developed behind me as I tried to claw my already stickered parcels back from behind the glass screen.   Grabbing Iris from home where her Dad was watching her, I planned to nip in to work to return the dog I'd borrowed.  Arriving at the office, Iris threw up half a pound of cheese all over herself and crapped extensively out of either side of one of the frankly useless reusable nappies I'm trying to convert to.  Having forgotten our nappy bag (rookie error) I managed to scrape the worst of the bodily fluids (and indeed solids) off with A4 printer paper, whilst my colleagues gagged in horror.  Late for my counselling appointment (yep, I'm seeing a shrink again due to some weird and wonderful thoughts and feelings surfacing as Iris turned one) I hurled myself onto a bus into town, ditching Iris back with her slightly irate Dad who was trying to work from home.  After ranting for an hour, I grabbed some shopping, queued for half an hour at the bank and re-appeared at home to find the lovely Esme already ensconced in the bay window of our living room, building wooden towers with Iris and John - a lovely family tableau from the future perhaps?  I hadn't forgotten she was coming, I'd just lost track of time.  Suddenly I was a Mother of two and it's true what they say, it's more than twice the work.

Looking after a 1 year old isn't really a problem anymore - I've been just another Mother long enough to cope with that (though it has its highs and lows.)  Most of the time it's a pleasure, and so is looking after a 4 year old.   Put the two together, however, and you've had the kind of 24 hours I've just had, the kind that's set my mental health back several years and made my brain switch off in several different places (and I'm not joking, the endless questions make you shut down in a survive of die kind of way.)   Though I've had little experience of an older child, Esme is more fun to be around than should be allowed and reasonably easy to control given a bit of direction.  Initially, Iris, Esme and John were entranced by my sudden arrival, not least because I'd had the forethought to pick up a 6 pack of jam doughnuts from Tescos.  I was  impressed when Esme informed me (though Iris and John were already cramming their mouths full) that she had a chocolate bar in her Very Hungry Caterpillar suitcase and so wouldn't be joining in the doughnut fest as she already had her treat for the day taken care of. 
Her Mum's got her unbelievably well trained, I said to John, as Esme politely asked for a handful of grapes and a cup of water
We could learn a thing or two here.Twenty minutes later I learnt my first lesson about toddlers, they live very much in the moment.  During a game of tig, Esme plunged her little hand into the doughnut bag as she passed it by, exclaiming
'I loooooooooooooooooooooove Doughnuts, I'm eating them all.' 
As a rookie owner of a 4 year old, I bought her 'you are what you eat' propaganda.
'But you've got a bar of Dairy Milk in your bag' I protested, stung.
'Silly, that's for bed-time' she replied. 
Lesson one learnt about toddlers, they know all the right things to say (because they've been drummed into them by parents)  but they don't actually understand the messages they spout so freely, and their hearts rule their heads (indeed their stomachs rule their brains, like most of us.)

The next thing I learnt about proper toddlers is that they get off on pure unadulterated attention.  I kind of knew that, because babies like it too, but anything a 1 year old can do a 4 year old can smash to pieces.  If I was a tiny person in a big person's world I'd want to know that I could command an audience, my survival would depend on it - but heaven help the grown up lady that isn't prepared to take notice when a 4  year old lays her demands on the table. 
Look at me!  Look at me!  Said Esme repeatedly.  That was fine, I was more than happy to look at her with one eye; building a tower, reading a book, festooning herself with all of my jewellery grappled from the rack I hang it on.  She did it with grace, and she'd learnt how to flatter her audience all the better to cater to her whims. 
You have a pretty bedroom' said Esme.
'Thank you' I said, pleased that she'd noticed.
'Your bed is nice.  It's lovely.  Can I jump on it?  I'm jumping!  Watch me!  Watch me!   Watch me jumping up and down on your bed, on your bed, on your bed, watch watch watch, wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!  I'm wearing your necklace and your earrings and your rings and I'm jumping, jumping, jumping on your bed.'  
That's sort of when I zoned out of the whole 'look at me' business.  It didn't take a rocket scientist (or a tentative and under confident parent of a 1 year old) to realise that  you didn't actually have to do the looking all of the time.  As long as you reassured the toddler that you were there 'yes, you are building a tower, reading a book, playing with my jewellery, eating my jewellery...hey, hang on, stop it right now) then it was enough to satisfy their lust for looking - it seems that faking it around a 4 year old is the way forward, though it still doesn't work on your partner. dammit. 

The next thing I learnt about toddlers is that they may understand the concept of sharing, but they don't like to do it, and why should they?  Iris and Esme played quite happily next to each other for a while, and things were looking harmonious.  John and I exchanged glances.  'This is nice' our eyes said 'we could do this.'  Then Iris made a snatch for a plastic Dolphin that Esme was holding and mayhem ensued - naughty Iris, no Iris, that's mine Iris...you see her point, but at the same time Iris is a little baby, and doesn't know any better.  Put yourself in the place of the toddler.  You've been conditioned by your parents and nursery to see snatching and grabbing a toy as bad, then someone snatches and grabs a toy from you and you're told 'it's okay, she's a baby, she's allowed.'  An adult mind can understand the difference in development between a 1 year old and a 4 year old, but why on earth should the children involved be able to do so?    It would be okay if this sort of situation took place once a day,but for the Mum of two it takes place numerous times an hour, and you end up feeling more like a referee than a mother.  As Iris' Mum, I was inclined to take her side and to imagine that Esme, as the older of the two, should know better.  I can only imagine how hard it must be to be Mother to both of the contenders in the epic battle for objects and attention.  Esme also took it upon herself to police Iris with all the wisdom she'd been bestowed with during her 4 short years on planet earth.  I couldn't argue with her, her logic and behaviour was faultless..Iris shouldn't grab or  cry when she didn't get her own way, she shouldn't smear food in her hair or throw an all out paddy when she didn't get what she wanted.  Esme pointed out a number of occasions when Iris rightfully deserved the naughty step.  How can you explain to a toddler that a baby can't be disciplined in that way?

When Iris was a newborn, her presence separated John and I a lot of the time, after the initial adrenalin rush of new parenthood wore off.  We came to understand that to wash, eat and sleep we needed to take shifts caring for her, and that the division of our family wouldn't last forever.  Now that she is 13 months old, John and I are coming back together as a couple, and it's about time.  During the first year, we really had to bank on our love for each other and commitment to our family unit to carry us through.  Now we can unite a little more as Iris sleeps a bit longer - giving us more of an evening together.  We eat meals together again, we allow his parents to babysit for full days or nights so that we can spend longer lengths of time together, we even went for a drink in the afternoon recently whilst I enjoyed an afternoon of work at the same time that Iris was at nursery (picking her up was interesting as we both stank of booze and were a little over zealous in our greeting - but we had had our first taste at getting back to some semblance of the life we had before combined with parenting, a difficult mixture.)  Looking after Esme was a shock, as it one again divided our family.  It's physically impossible to put a 1 year old to bed whilst a 4 year old, who quite rightly stays up slightly later, gets involved.  I needed to put Iris down, whilst Esme was entertained elsewhere - that was just a fact.  I'm at a loss to understand how single parents of more than one tackle bed time, as all parts of the process were compromised by my newly acquired toddler's 'helpful' interference.  In the end, I instructed John take over with Iris while I distracted Esme elsewhere.  Much of the time with bath Iris and read her a story together, and sometimes we all cuddle up in bed while I feed Iris before she sleeps.  I missed this time together, and I resented not having it - even for one night.

I used to have two dogs.  When I was 24, a ratty and rather cross terrier called Lucy trotted into my life and made me her bitch.  She'd been ill-treated by several different 'homes' and  had spent time as a stray.  Like me she was lost and looking for understanding.  We found comfort in each other and despite the fact that she was un-trainable, un-stoppable and rather un-likeable it was love at first shite.  We spent every day together, and cuddled up in bed every night.  Though I had a partner at the time, Lucy was the one who got me through the tough days with her unconditional love.  We were a team, and I never though I could love another dog as much as I loved my Lucy-Lou (or understand another dog's mind the way I understood the way she viewed the world after all the trouble she'd been through, though none of it was her fault.)   Three years later, I felt ready to expand my hairy family and this time I was going to get it right.  Visiting a litter of newborn Labrador puppies for work 'just to have a look' I left with a tipex mark daubed on the tail of the runt of the litter and, 8 weeks later, Buckley came home to join my family.  This time, he was going to be well trained from the word go.  He slept in a cage in the kitchen (whilst Lucy hogged my bed) and he became a chilled out, dependable chap with a happy go lucky nature.  Having one dog was hard, but surprisingly and delightfully two was easier.   Lucy and Buckley entertained each other and, after some initial 'only child' behaviour from Lucy, would cuddle up in one basket at night and keep each other company if I ever went out on the tiles.  When we lost Lucy last year, Buckley was without his playmate and spent a lot of time making deep and very pointed sighs as he lay on the sofa.  Sadly, we didn't replace Lucy with another little friend for him as I'd just given birth to Iris.  Though Buckley's currently a little concerned about her jabby and snatchy hands, it's looking like the two of  them will become very happy playmates soon enough.  Until then, Buckley gives us the guilty eyes.

I guess I viewed having two children as being the same as Lucy and Buckley, but human relationships are much more compicated.  As a mother, I already feel like I'm torn into pieces.  If I was a pie, Iris would get the Lion's share, then John and the dog would each have a slice, and  my wor, family and friends a smaller one.    On a good day, there would be a small and battered piece of crust left over to keep for myself.  On a bad  day, Rowan the pie would be entirely consumed by her hungry family.  Adding another child to the mix just makes a mother rip off another piece of herself  - carving up that pie  up ever smaller and serving herself up  some hefty helpings of guilt as she does so.  I'm used to giving Iris my full attention, she's my entire world, and right now it feels like we have all the time in the world to gaze at each other while she's breastfeeding or linger for half an hour in a warm bath before bedtime together.  How would I cope with sharing my daughter?  Wouldn't I resent that other child for its demands, or would I start to resent Iris for tearing me away from my new and more needy baby?  It's just another juggling act, and I'm getting so good at juggling that I think I might, one day, just fuck off and join the circus. 

Life certainly wont be easier with another child, if we do ever go down that long, dark and daunting road again.  Esme's presence taught me a lot of things, not least that you shouldn't believe a 4 year old when she says she's 'only cutting off a tiny bit' during a game of haidressers.  It was a lot of fun, and watching her bending over Iris showing her how to use a toy or cuddling her (a little too enthusiastically) on the bed, my heart melted a bit.  I could see how Iris and Esme, once they both got a bit older, could be like my two dogs...ganging up on Mum and Dad instead of each other.  I find that somtimes the most satisfying part of parenting is when your child's in bed and you can sit in a nice, quiet living room sipping wine and talking about her.  With two, we had a lot more to talk, and giggle about, and a lot more parenting issues to debate.  It felt nice, with the two of them upstairs asleep, like a missing piece  of the jigsaw had been found and slotted in.  Maybe I'll ask Esme's Mum if I can borrow her again, I'd reccommend it, and I only wish I had borrowed a baby before having Iris...but then I'd never have had Iris would I?

I'll leave you now, as Iris has poured a glass of squash into my laptop, and I'm not sure how much longer it's going to......................................

Monday, 9 April 2012

Jesus, Jesus never had kids

I sometimes worry that my blog paints a negative picture of motherhood.  I often come here to  rant and rave about how shocking I have found the first 12 months as a Mum, and it's true, nothing could have prepared me for just how much having a baby would turn my world upside down.  Writing has long been a form of therapy for me, and the comments my readers leave here give me hope that my blog is a form of therapy for you too - making you feel a little less alone on this epic adventure we call parenthood.    No new mother can know what it's truly like until it happens to her, and our childless friends may ask us for advice to prepare them for the awesome task ahead, but what can we really tell them?  It's terrifying but it's amazing.  It's knackering but you find reserves of strength inside you that you had no idea you possessed.  It's a gruelling slog of mundane tasks (you're basically an unpaid carer, meeting every need for a person who is helpless to do anything at all for themselves for a long long time) but the nappy changes, night feeds and merry-go-round of washing clothes and washing dishes are interspersed with moments of such sheer shining brilliance that somehow you make it through.  Just when you think you can't take anymore, your baby will flash you its first smile, it's first giggle will erupt past its first pearly white tooth or its valiant attempts to crawl will suddenly result in a daring dash across the living room and the clock is somehow reset.  The resentment builds as you give all of yourself over to this mini-Hitler that's more demanding and less forgiving than the worst boss you ever had...then in a second a wave of pure love can wash over you and knock you to your knees, praying to God that you'll give your last breath to keep your baby safe.  In the middle of many a long night, I've looked into Iris' face and thought 'I'm terrified by how much I love you, and how much I want you to go away.'  Such is motherhood, for me anyway.

I've noticed that over the Easter weekend (and a happy Easter to you all) my blog has had a noticeable rise in readership.  Two bank holidays and a weekend, with your partner hopefully at home to share some precious family time...you'd think we were all blissfully happy, pottering round some play barn or petting farm, relishing a break from daily life.  Let's face it though, the weather's been crap, and having your significant other at home for four days straight often creates more problems that it solves.  Daddy trails baby all round the house having endless messy fun - Mummy tuts and resentfully cleans it up.  Daddy thinks nothing of picking baby up at the first whimper, or jumping into the back of the car for an impromptu puppetry session when the screams start to rattle the windows, but Mummy can't replicate such instant devotion when she has 100,000 things to do every day that don't involve being instantly available. Daddy thinks cooking a Sunday Dinner and watching baby smear gravy into her hair before staying up late to watch Homeland on More4 is excellent fun -  Mummy pays the price in the middle of the night when overexcited baby points wildly at the remains of the chocolate egg and screams 'Duck.  Duck Duck Duck Duck Duck (did I mention she said her first word?)  Daddy snores loudly, and in the morning goes for an Easter grope.  Mummy pulls her pyjamas ever more tightly around a midrift bloated by some holiday comfort eating and curses Jesus for not, quite frankly, staying good and dead after the crucifixion.

On Good Friday, we sat down as a loving family and googled things to do in Leeds over the Easter break.  There were some lovely activities available for families to get together, but in reality, a 1 year old can't decorate eggs or bake hot cross buns, especially not a 1 year old whose developed hand, foot and mouth virus and is covered in crusty hives, screaming the house down for hours on end and refusing to sleep for more than twenty minutes at a time.  Our Easter holiday rapidly became a test of our patience, our endurance and quite frankly our relationship as we struggled to care for our poor, poorly and very cross baby.  I love her, I really do, but I need an all inclusive break in the Seychelles without her to repair my tattered sanity and salvage my relationship with her Daddy, who I used to love very much too, but who has now become my relay partner as we grope for the poo-smeared baton in the dead of night.  Granny and Grandad have fucked off to the Isle of Wight for the Easter Holidays, and I've tried not to resent their much needed break...but when they payed a fleeting visit yesterday to dish out Chocolate Eggs, they'd barely knocked on the door before I threw Iris at them and retreated to rock slowly in a corner. 

We've pretty much been cooped up like an Easter Chicken for the duration, dragging out the same old tired toys to amuse our very bright daughter (well, we think she is) while she's contageous and seriously too spotty to take out in public.  She's not bought any of it though, and even the 'Do-Re-Me Dolphin Splash Set' has been rudely thrown over the side of the bath in her rage - usually such a winner.  We appear to have been playing a game of opposites this Easter.  It goes a little something like this...

I want you to sit down in your high chair please, as I lovingly prepare you some nutricious food.
You want to lurch to your feet and wave your spoon arrogantly like a conductors batton as you totter dangerously from one side to the other like a drunken football hooligan, chanting 'Duck Duck Duck.'
Do you want me to be the sort of Mother that microwaves a Rustlers Burger and pushes it through the bars of your cot?

 I want you to eat some of the lovely Turkey Casserole with Broccoli and Carrot that's been defrosted for your delight
You want to splatter it into the greedy mouth of the dog whilst laughing like a drain and did you mention that you ONLY EAT PEAS.  You know when the Peas have touched the Turkey, and you only want CLEAN Peas, UNADULTERATED Peas thank you very much.  You inspect each and every pea to make sure it's not contaminated by wholesome organic Turkey Casserole.   If it is, it gets short shrift, over the side of the chair it goes.
Oh Master, I have no greater wish than to wash each and every pea that comes into contact with your screaming mouth.  Nothing would give me greater pleasure, just let me get this wash of your soiled clothing on and I'm at your beck and call.

 I want to change the bulgeing nappy that contains a poorly baby cow pat, shit oozing out of the sides and staining your thrashing little legs, bits of digested onion and carrot flying onto the ill chosen beige carpet.
 You want to pull the books off the nursery bookshelf and I'm attempting to distract you from your task -which is nothing short  of distracting Lancelot on his quest for the Holy Grail.   You break free from my evil, controlling grip and crawl madly down the corridoor away from your tormentor, little bits of sweetcorn skin clinging bravely to your pale bottom as it bobs off around the corner in search of Daddy, who would never do such a cruel thing as clean your soiled lady parts for you.
Much as I would love to be a Crack Addict/Junkie/just-a-bit negligent Mother and leave you sitting in your own toxic waste, I have a rampant need to make sure your bottom is free from debris.  Forgive me oh great one, for I have sinned.  It's fetish of mine to scrape poo out of your every cleft.

Today, we ventured out to the Hebden Bridge annual Duck Race - slipping and sliding about on the muddy river bank in the pissing rain as we attempted to get enthusiastic about the possibility of our plastic duck beating of stiff competition from 999 other ducks involved in the epic and exciting event.  As the starting gun sounded, Iris threw herself into an all out swoon, fists clenched in anger as she chucked herself backwards out of the Baby Bjorn, inconsolable and attracting attention from families whose children weren't covered in oozing sores. 'I think that Baby needs to go home' said a  5 year old boy, wise and judgemental beyond his years.   Given her obsession with the word 'Duck' we thought Iris would enjoy the sight of so many, racing through the rapids as the drenched and demented crowds cheered them on.  As the first  once crossed the finish line however, she was sound asleep - it's not easy to wrestle ones boob out of a zipped up pac-a-mac and brandish it to an insistent infant, but when Iris wants booby, the whole of Hebden Bridge can watch in dismay as I meet her requirements, rain pissing down on my naked breast as I shove it into her roaring mouth.  I'm an all out advocator for breast feeding your infant as long as you, and they, wish.  It's days like this when I wish I'd weaned her at 6 months like the bloody books tell you to.

Easter has been pretty dire, and it's not over yet (Daddy has been tasked with putting Iris to bed and the screaming has been going on for well over an hour as she senses and scents that booby is in the building.)  If Jesus rose to Heaven on Easter Sunday, you'd think that Easter Monday would be a day when he, and we, could chill the fuck out and have a good old rest - but being a parent is unrelenting, you barely get to draw breath each evening before the morning comes and you're back on the rollercoaster.  Yes it's funny being a Mummy, but sometimes it pushes you to your limits.   Like the half hour we waited in a more than crowded cafe today with a restless, hungry and very vocal baby, only to be told, when we reached the front of the queue, that they had 'just this minute stopped serving food, sorry about that' (giggle from the camp waiter at the till.) You can't explain to an infant that there's going to be a bit of a trudge through the rain to another cafe that's serving food...they want what they want when they want it...and you can't blame them for that attitude, they don't know any better and why should they?  They trust you to feed them three times a day and meet their ever changing needs in between - something that's pretty stressful and we parents should give ourselves credit for trying to do.  After 3 days stuck in the house with an ever more frustrated baby wanting to get out there and give the world some shit however, I woke up this morning with a sense of doom.  'Do I really have to face another day of this?' I thought, then immediately felt guilty for resenting the child that has brought me such pleasure in the year that she's been in my life.  It can sometimes feel like Groundhog day with a baby.  They can't yet vocalise their many frustrations and aggressions, and you, the main carer, have to take it like a punch bag - despite remembering the dim and distant days when you once had needs of your own (and frustrations and agressions come to think of it.)

I will finish this pretty randon and directionless post, with a bit of a chart.  My top reasons for loving being a parent and my top reasons for hating it.  If this Easter has taught me anything it's that having a baby is a mixed bag.  You did it, and it's permanent, and that's scarey as shit.  You have to wake up each day, for the rest of your life, in the knowledge that happy or sad, hung over or fresh as a daisy, in sickness and in health, skint or flush...you have a child, and you're responsible for that child come what may.  In my mind, it's a much bigger deal that marriage, and the reason why I'm not in any rush to tie the knot with John.  It's not something you can get tired of and hand over to someone else.  It's not like a job where you can resign and make it someone elses problem.  Being a parent is 100% permanent - if you're a good one.  I console myself with the fact that that's what I'm trying to be - a good parent.

Reasons why I love being a parent:
1) I've learnt how to be patient and play the long game - because she's mine forever.
2) I've learnt that there might be someone in the world that's more important than me, and will hopefully live longer, so I need to recycle and give a shit about our environment.
3) The mirror has become something I hold my baby up to for fun, rather than something I gaze agonizingly into, wondering if I'm hideous or gorgeous.
4) Shopping's more fun because babies don't look fat in clothes like I do.
5) The friends you make with your baby are fantastic because they get it and they help you get it, and they babysit so you and your boyfriend can get it.  .
6) Babies make you laugh every day, and I never laughed every day before, but I cried a lot of days because I was lonely, which I never am now.
7) Having a baby with your man makes you love him in a different, deeper way - because you share DNA and he's a great Dad, which is sexy.
8) Having a baby makes vanity seem silly, their health is number one.
9) Having a baby makes you go to places you never went before, and who knew that Chester Zoo would be so much fun.  Alcohol used to be your ticket, now it's a family fun slide and a cup of tea.
10) You see the world again through your babies eyes, and all the new things they see are amazing again for you - my baby's face when she saw a Giraffe was worth more than its weight in gold!
11) You have a valid excuse to play again - swinging from bars or poking pigs with sticks - it's allowed

Reasons why I hate being a parent:
1) I treated myself to a gorgeous new coat from Zara, and it's now sporting sick on both lapels.
2) I used to have a handbag, I now have a Mum Bag that I have to restock like shop every day.
3) My weekly shop used to include condoms, chorizo and white wine.  It now includes bananas, full fat milk and bread bread bread
4) I often reach into my pockets for my keys and find dummies, rusks, used baby wipes, oat cakes and dried apricots but no keys,  because my  child has thrown them somewhere odd. 
5) I used to love going to new places with my partner, but now he strides ahead with our daughter in the baby sling and shows her all the boring things he used to show me (oh look a rare goose, a mediaeveal gate, a beautiful flower - latin name is 'oagnoinaoiaodngo' root.) I lag behind, wanting a fag.
6) When I had sex it used to seem like a big adventure if I got pregnant, now it seems like a massive nightmare of child tax credits and already busted guts.
7) I'd like to wake up one morning and not feel a massive sense of responsibility (I used to feel a massive sense of wanting a bacon/sausage sandwich and a diet coke and another few hours sleep followed by a sexy fumble....then more sleep.
8) My breasts used to be sensitive and sexy - now they're slabs of baby feeding meat - much as I love breast feeding.
9) I didn't have to balance a full time job with a full time job as PA to a baby - handling her clothing choices as if she as JLO styled by grandparents with a vendetta against each other...'yes Denise, she wore the leopard print thong combo for the nursery Xmas party and it was well recieved.'
10) I wouldn't be sat up writing this bloody blog if I hadn't have had her would I? 

So Easter...sleepless...stressful...stupid bloody egg decorating events...fun....fucking stressful...fantastic because it's the first one we've been togher as a family. X

Thursday, 29 March 2012

For my daughter, who's 1 today

If I close my eyes, I’m still there.   Late March 2011, a million years ago and yesterday all at the same time.    I’ve been washed up on the sofa and beached like a bloated Whale, wondering how much longer the final stages of my pregnancy will drag on for.  For months I’ve been obsessed with childbirth in all its many forms, watching endless You Tube videos of babies popping out in various, but always painful ways, words like epidural and (the most dreaded of all) episiotomy running through my head on a loop.   From hippies having their kids in flower strewn birth pools to scary, hairy Germans perched on hard hospital beds, I’ve seen everything, and everything in between, yet I still can’t imagine what it’s going to be like for me.  It’s Sunday night.   I’m half heartedly watching Come Dine with Me, but my mind’s wandering constantly to the eventual emergence of the baby inside me that’s running out of room, too big even to kick.  As it slowly twists and shifts like a ship bobbing on the sea, as impatient for release  as I am,  I’m jolted out of my daydreams by a popping noise and a sudden gush of warm water between my legs.   Immediately I think I’ve wet myself, just another indignity in long line of beautiful gifts from pregnancy that’s ranged from piles to puking in public.  My brain alerts me to another possibility, spoken of at my NCT classes, and I sit bolt upright in disbelief and shock.  Could my waters have broken, a week before my due date?  Total paralysis and then panic.  This can’t be happening, I thought I had weeks yet to wait.  First babies are always overdue aren’t they?   That’s what  the old ladies at the bus stop say each morning as I waddle by them.  I sit as bolt upright as my giant bump will allow and rip off my sodden underwear,  uncaring of propriety.  My pants are soaked through, and a second burst of water shoots out onto the leather couch.    I trundle into the kitchen where John is cooking tea, trumpeting like a startled Elephant.
It’s happening
I screech, whilst wringing out my knickers. 
‘Oh Shit’
says John, poised over a bag of frozen peas and looking less like a father-to-be  in manly charge of a much practised birth plan, more like a 12 year old boy caught with his fingers in Mummy’s purse.    Frozen to the spot, we stare at each other.  A moment passes.   After 9 months of thinking, talking, dreaming and planning, we never actually expected this moment to arrive, and the responsibility of getting it right rushes over us in an overwhelming wave.    Surely our baby isn’t coming on a Sunday night, in the middle of cooking an elaborate Sunday dinner, with Yorkshire Puddings and everything? I’ve just hunkered down for an evening of moaning about my various aches, pains and anxieties, do I have to get back up and actually give birth?  I have a flash back to the lazy Summer night outside a pub in Camden when we excitedly  agreed we were ready and most certainly up for trying for a baby after I miscarried our first and unplanned pregnancy.  Now all bets were on and we were most definitely not ready.   Sure we’d painted the nursery.  We’d  bought all the kit.  We’d thought of possible names and I’d gone on maternity leave, but now it appeared an actual baby wanted  to come out of my body – I was enjoying having a little friend who very much wanted to eat cream donuts and Pringles at random times of the day.  Nobody told me it wanted all that food so it could grow big enough to come out.  We were suddenly scared shitless, why hadn’t we been before?   We’re completely clueless.’ I yelped.  We’ve only been together 18 months and I’m not good with pain and I don’t want my fanny to split open and I quite like having sex thank you and I very much want to go out on an evening and party and I’m still 16 inside my head and we don’t like the area we live in and my dog is incontinent and mental and you don’t have a job and the living room ceiling is falling down and I haven’t written a novel yet like my English teacher said I should and my Mum’s not up for being a grandma and there’s that little bit under the radiator we haven’t painted and we don’t have a girls’ name and I’m not sure I can commit the next 18 years of my life to a child or indeed to you since we’re not married oh God why aren’t we married we’re living in sin and now that baby’s coming and I haven’t rubbed vegetable  oil into my perineum to help it stretch and I don’t want an episiotomy and I was going to get a few books to read and I think we might have mice and we haven’t saved very much….’  Gah.     Yep, we were about to be parents.

If I close my eyes, I’m still there, two days later.   I’m flat on my back, bum glued to a guerney, paralysed with a pain that I’ve never found words to describe, perhaps because none exist.   An imagined and indeed assumed natural birth has been prised out of my clenched fists by the medical science needed to deliver my baby safely.  The fat needle rammed crudely into a vein on my hand has dripped tiny beads of Pitocin into my bloodstream, tricking my body into a labour it has neither expected, wanted or now welcomes.  I’m a failure as a mother before I’ve even held my baby in my arms, my body’s had to be tricked into giving birth.  The soft lighting, the caress of warm water to appease the agony and the gentle, loving touch of my partners hands, guiding me through the maze of pain are not possible.  Whenever I cry out, John tries  to touch me, but I push his hands away in anger as if they were coated with hot coals.  Any contact, physical or emotional,  would increase the trauma I’m feeling.  I’m an island of agony, lost on a sea of loneliness.    My body wants, with its every fibre  to move, to escape the searing knives that are stabbing it by twisting and turning, changing positions in order to appease the screaming of my red hot, knotting and pulsing muscles.  I can’t.  It’s forbidden.  I must lie here prostrate and watch my baby’s heartbeat fluctuate as it’s constantly monitored on a computer screen – every  moment hot, heated panic as it shifts and dips.  There’s a needle rammed into the base of my spine too, another failure, I’m drugged up to the eyeballs and have been since the Pitocin penetrated my system.  Ten minutes into active labour I was screaming the place down for the drugs I’d been sure I wouldn’t want or need.

If I close my eyes, I’m still there.  There’s a midwife holding each knee, bracing them into my chest as I push with every inch of effort I have left after 18 hours in labour, a surprising amount as it turns out.  So far it’s been the birth I dared to imagine only in my worst nightmares, and I’m determined to put this right, to get this right, to sweat and toil my baby into the world through effort not impotence.   The adrenalin floods through my system, rising up like a tidal wave.  Every way in which I’ve failed, during 29 years on this planet, I intend rectify in this moment.  Every person that’s ever put me down.  The love of my life that I almost married, but who didn’t quite care about me enough to fight for me when it mattered.  The girl that was supposed to be my best friend but bitched about me endlessly behind my back and knocked my confidence down to rock bottom for years.  The mother who has ignored my pregnancy and failed to prepare me for being a mother myself through her selfishness.  They can all go to hell as I give my all to deliver my precious child safely into a world where it will be loved and cherished above everything else.  My life before recedes and disappears, unmourned and unimportant.  I snatch my breath and my muscles grip as I pant then push, pant then push.  I’m being given instructions by the midwives but I don’t  hear or need them.  My body blissfully takes over as my mind gives in, overwhelmed with the magnitude of this moment.  I feel the rightness of nudging my baby’s head out of me, bit by bit, gripping and then letting go.  Nobody else is in the room.  I pray to a god I don’t believe in.  Let my baby come out now, whole and healthy.  ‘I can see the head’
someone says.
 ‘It’s got lots of hair’

says someone else, as if we’re in a film, reading from a well rehearsed script.  I reach down to make what they’re saying a reality, and as my fingertips make contact with wet, soft, hairy skull, I give a final massive push and a tiny person slip slides into reality.  There’s a gorgeous sound, a blissful sound, the most welcome sound my ears have ever heard.  A baby is screaming and as I come round, I realise that baby is mine.  It’s being held up for me to see like a prized catch on a fishing trip and it’s really a real-life being, purple and covered in a white coating of vernix, swollen and bloated, beautiful like every butterfly and sunset I’ve ever seen, every dream I’ve ever had is pinpointed onto its startled, screaming new- born face.  Its cries are piercing and prehistoric, it’s outraged and shocked and its arms are flailing, fingers spread.  It looks like it’s reaching out for something, or someone, and it takes me only a second to realise it what it needs.  Me.    I’m a Mother, it happens in a millisecond, and an instinct I’ve never felt before, if I’ve ever felt an instinct at all, prompts me to grab it out of the midwife’s hands.    In one thought and movement, fuelled by adrenalin and the first rush of maternal love,  I rip off my top and press bloody baby  against my naked breast.   In doing so, I pull out the Canula in my hand.  Blood spurts outrageously and dramatically across me, the baby and the bed.  As John and the midwives rush to attend to this tiny drama, I have a second alone to register that the baby is a girl.  Its sex is something that hasn’t yet mattered in this 18 hour struggle to give it life.  Though we never found out whether it was a boy or a girl at our scans (and we were so excited for the big reveal at birth) it’s not the huge revelation I thought it would be.  Time seems to stand still as, while everyone else deals with the blood spattering excitement, I gaze at my daughter.   She’s found my index finger and wrapped her whole fist around it in a gesture of such ownership that I already know I’ll be hers for life.    Her eyes are huge, dominating her face.  They’re  a strange grey, almost colourless in their lack of real pigment, and they swivel around like periscopes, taking in this strange new world.  If I was her I’d be terrified, but she’s already braver than me, and far more beautiful.   She looks ancient, like she’s been here many times before and could teach us all a thing or too, yet she’s somehow ageless, a total blank canvas upon which a life will be painted, day by day.  She’s not like any new born I’ve ever seen, in my complete innocence.  They’ve all been a few days old, pink and clean, wrapped in soft blankets and sleeping like angels.  This little creature is sticky and swollen, nose squished from being pressed up against my insides.  She has whorls of black hair that are fast drying into crispy noodles all over her shapeless skull.  She feels like she’s coated in Vaseline and, as I try to clasp her ever more tightly to me,  she slips through my fingers.  She’s  continued to do every day since I met her, taking more of an interest in the world with each second, sliding out of my maternal grasp as I try to hold tighter and tighter and she wriggles free to take her rightful place in the world.   Her umbilical cord is like a thick, soapy snake.   While I’ve been lost in my daughter, the midwife has wrapped towels tightly around her and is preparing to cut the cord (John wimping out of the job at the last minute for fear of hurting the baby by cutting into it.)  As the scissors snip through it, meeting surprising resistance, I feel a deep sadness that we’re no longer one entity.  She and I are now individuals, alone as we never have been before, two people where we once were one.  I feel my heart break a little as hers begins to beat without my assistance.  She’s been breaking my heart ever since.  I’m the mother of a daughter, what did I expect?   I could weep for the innocence I lose in the moment of her birth, but I gain her innocence, such a prize, I will treasure it for as long as is humanly possible.

If I close my eyes, I’m still there.   In the hospital overnight.  If I ever have another baby, I’ll take it home and we’ll spend out first night together in the family bed; clean, quiet, warm and snug.   I’d bundle it up and get the hell out of Leeds General Infirmary as fast as I could, better yet I’d give birth at home.  As a first time Mum, when  they told me I needed to stay on the maternity ward due to the possible risk of infection after my waters broke prematurely, I instantly agreed – they knew best.  The process after the birth was surprisingly brisk and efficient, making me feel like a cog in a wheel.  They weighed and checked our baby over, and I watched her confidently scoping out the situation as they placed her on the scales, relatives current and long gone flashing across the features on her newborn face, so tranquil and patient – my daughter already surprising me in how unlike me she is – and how  better prepared for this turbulent world she seems to be – perhaps trains inherited from her Daddy.   They gave her back to me, and I ask John if he’d like to hold his daughter for the first time.  He looksinstantly panicked, and begins to back away, not knowing how to take her in his arms as he’s done a thousand times since then.   The midwife needs to patch me up, so after some prompting he takes her from me and the look on his face as he gazes at her is so new that I feel a strange envy envelop me – the man who had once only had eyes for me has a new girl in his life, one that he now croons to, whispering that she is beautiful and precious and entirely his, and that he will love her forever – I believe her will love her forever, though I  have never been able to believe the same about his love for me .  As they wheel us down to the maternity ward, our baby begins  to feed for the first time, seeking out my nipple without any kind of direction, instantly appeasing my fears about breast feeding.  I try to remember the holds we’d been taught in our antenatal classes, but she has inbuilt instincts that override my clumsiness.   Ensconced on the ward, it feels like only 5 minutes before the nurses are telling John he has to leave for the night.  Still flooded with adrenalin, I’ve only been able to sip a cup of tea and toy with sandwich, and after 48 sleepless hours I spend another 12 wide awake, holding my daughter instead of putting her in the plastic box next to the bed I’m supposed to (it turns out that I never put her down for the next 12 month either, despite the prompting of my Mother who tells me it’s spoiling her – funny,  I don’t ever feel like she’s spoilt,  spoilt is milk gone off or a plan ruined.)  The other babies in their individual cubicles seem to wail all night, but Iris, as she’s been newly named, is totally silent.  The hospital porters  kindly position me out of reach of the call button, so when she is copiously sick in the middle of the night,  I can’t ask for help.  Listening to the chattering of the nurses at their station, and trying (though failing) to block out the screeches of the Chinese baby opposite us, I manage to reach into my overnight bag and pull out a clean babygrow and vest.  Grappling Iris out of her soiled clothes, I shovedher into new ones, wincing as my attempts at gentleness  jolt her little body about.  Though I am 29 years old, I have no younger siblings nor close friends or family members with babies.   I’ve held newborns for a few minutes, but given them back at the merest hint of screaming, sickness or the need for a nappy change.  Though my NCT classes have involved dressing, bathing and breast feeding a doll, they have in no way prepared me for doing the same to a real life breathing, moving infant, not least one that is my own flesh and blood, and more precious to me than I’ve ever imagined.  She is infinitely fragile and breakable,  though at the same time her eyes seem to trust me.  Love me’ they said, ‘and I’ll forgive your unpractised fumblings.   I believe in you.’  A strange and unworldly smell begins to pervade our cubicle, and as I peek into her tiny nappy I encounter an ungodly, jellyfish like substance.  Fearing her insides have fallen out, I start to scream the place down, only to be told by a nonchalant nurse, pissed off at actually having to talk to a patient, that a baby’s first poos resemble little sausages of black tar, the padding that’s been in their intestines during gestation making their way out into the world.  I’m not going to get on my soapbox here, because I’m remembering my daughter’s first hours on Earth, but a return to the good old days of women being taught how to administer to their infants over a few days on a kindly, clean maternity ward would not go amiss.  We don’t come from big families so much in modern times,  and first time Mums often  only  read about motherhood in celebrity magazines before doing it themselves, which paint an entirely unrealistic picture – those women have help that us mortals can only dream of.  All manner of mad things pop out of you and your baby in the first few days (as well as in and out of your head,) and it’s hard to even pick up your newborn when you’re in agony from passing its head out of  an orifice that seems maliciously designed to be too small for the task.  You’re reeling, bleeding, adjusting to screaming floods of hormones, your partner’s been sent home and you’re expected to become mother earth in a nanosecond.  Iris put her trust in me that night, and I vowed I’d never let her down.  To my knowledge I haven’t yet, but it’s been through sheer, grim determination more than anything else.  A few kind words, another cup of tea during that sleepless night where everyone’s baby cried blue murder, a friendly face and someone to change my blood and wee stained sheets…would that be too much for the nhs to take?  Would it have helped prevent my post-natal depression from developing I wonder ?  I cared a lot about my baby in those hours, and I care so much more now, but other mothers whose  maternal instincts didn’t kick in and get them through, who weren’t educated enough to recognize the depression like I did, and seek help ? Where are they now ?  How are their babies faring?

If I close my eyes, it all happened yesterday, I’m back there in those weird and wonderful first few days of parenthood at home, those first few weeks when you fall through the hours, and your house is littered with nappies, muslins, gifts, cards, strange paraphernalia and remnants of your former life like high heels, handbags, bottles of wine and clothing that fits you.  It didn’t happen yesterday though, someone played a trick on me and a whole year has passed since Iris made her way into the world.  Today is my daughter’s first birthday.  We’ve survived 12 months together, and though I’ve got to grips with many elements of parenting, I know that there will be many challenges to come. 

This post isn’t my attempt to tell you about the last year as a Mother.  It’s my chance to relive those few amazing, terrifying days when my daughter came into being.  Iris Eliza Hornsby is one today, and I couldn’t love her more, but it’s been a struggle, and one I hope to be strong enough to describe if you keep reading my blog.

I leave you with these:

You bring up your girls as if they were meant for sideboard ornaments and then complain of their frivolity.         
John Ruskin.

The mother should teach her daughter above all things to know herself.
C E Sargent.

Watching Clementine grow is one of the great satisfactions of my life.  The centre of my universe shifting from myself to another person is a great relief.  It gives me the chance to give to another person.  I’m not so concerned about my own life as I was before.
Cybil Shepherd.

The amicable loosening of bonds between daughter and mother is one of the most difficult tasks of education.
Alice Balint.

He that would the daughter win, must with the mother first begin.
English 17th century proverb

Thou art thy mother’s glass
and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime.
William Shakespeare.

She was a beautiful baby.  She blew shining bubbles of sound.  She loved motion , loved light, loved colour and music  and textures…She was a miracle to me, but when she was eight months old I had to leave her daytimes with the woman downstairs to whom she was no miracle at all.
Tillie Olsen.

O young thing, your mother’s lovely armful.  How sweet the fragrance of your body.

A perplexing and ticklish thing is a daughter.
Thomas Hardy.

I’d rather see you poor men’s wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace.
Louisa M Alcott – It was a big deal at the time not to marry ones daughter off.)

A daughter living out a mother’s thwarted ambition is a cause of fulfilment and envy to the mother, has a sense of the ‘mission’ of her heritage and a terrible feeling of pressure.  Such daughters have never felt free to fail.
Louise Bernikow.

All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy.  No man does. That is his.
Oscar Wilde.

Things to worry about:
Worry about courage
Worry about cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Things not to worry about:
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t’ worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure
unless it comes through you own fault.

F Scott Fitzgerald, to his daughter.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Just one egg

I've been wanting to write a post on this topic for some time, but couldn't find the right angle to approach it at.  Today, however, I had my scariest experience as a parent, and it brought what I'd been mulling over sharply into focus.  Having officially returned to work, 3 days a week, I've been consumed with adapting to my new life as a part time Mum, feeling like I'm living two lives.  In one life, a grown up, professional person who's required to turn up and do a job each day.  In the other, the dedicated and loving Mum of an almost one year old with shifting needs; adorable, lovable and knackering.  Switching between the two has been challenging to say the least.  Three days a week, I have to dampen down the flames of my all consuming passion for my daughter - I find if I don't think about her, I can just about concentrate.   The rest of the week,  I try to drink in every moment of her precious existence.  I'm a slightly bemused superhero, ripping off my clothes and blearily pulling  my knickers over my tights at a moments notice.  My name?  Captain-confused.  Knackered-girl.  Partially attentive employee-woman.  Sometime Super-Mum.   I bet Spiderman's tits never leaked milk through his lycra though, and Batman never blubbed uncontrollably in a shop doorway when he saw a baby in a buggy on his lunch break.  Sometimes the transition is required too quickly.   Last week at work, a volunteer asked me for a bunch of leaflets to take with her to an event.  'Mummy will get it for you in a minute' I said, distracted.  A double life, working 9-5 at the office and then driving home at 120mph to make the most of the moments before bath and bed with a child who's spent her day with strangers and must become mine all mine again before I turn out her light.

Today, one of my days off work, was a reminder of the maternity leave I didn't fully appreciate until it was over.  Iris and I went for a swimming lesson and my heart lifted as I held my sodden, splashing daughter in my arms, sharing her joy in the simplicity of the warm water holding up our buoyant bodies in the baby pool.  We dried off together, then visited a friend, drinking endless cups of tea and chatting about parenthood as our kids happily trashed her living room.  I came home to spend some time alone with Iris, hoping to read her a few of the books she's starting to take an interest in and share a snack of strawberries before climbing into bed for an illicit afternoon nap.  She seemed a little out of sorts when we arrived back at my house, clingy and uninterested in lunch.  I made myself a sandwich and settled her on the sofa next to me while I ate, giving her a fish-finger to munch on in the hope that I could eat mine in peace.  The next thing I knew, she was vomiting copiously into my hastily cupped hands, not an experience I'm hoping to repeat any time soon.  She seemed okay in herself, but fairly hot, so I took her temperature which was on the high side.  When John came home, half an hour later, a rash had appeared on Iris' delicate belly, spreading up her stomach to her chest and chin, even appearing on the lobes of her dainty little ears.  Together we took her temperature once more,  trying to keep our voices controlled, though both of us were worried as hell.  Finding it had risen even higher, we decided to take her to the doctors surgery which is mercifully a short sprint across the road from our house.  'I'm sure it's nothing to worry about' I said, but my stomach had begun to churn.  I take back everything I've ever said about the nhs (the care we received during the birth of my daughter is a whole new post) as they saw us so quickly, without an appointment, and our gp had only praise for us rushing her in.  As a new Mother, I err on the side of caution, and it's a shame that medical professionals can sometimes make you feel that you're having hysterics when you do so.  Iris was checked over, and the doctor looked concerned.  'Her temperature is 39, and that's high.  You need to take her home, take off her clothes (I'd mummified her in 47 layers of wool and loft insulation) and sponge her down.  Give her Calpol and Ibuprofen.  Check her temperature every hour.  Keep an eye on the rash.  It looks like a virus, because she's well in herself (Iris was, at this point, jumping up and down on my lap, punching me in the face and shouting 'Ducka Ducka Ducka Doy' - the mysterious phrase that has become her mantra in recent weeks, a combination, we think, of Duck (her favourite bath toy) and Doggie (her favourite member of our household - thanks Iris) and, because it's the weekend now, take her to A and E if things deterioriate.  Did we have any questions?  John had about 50, and they were all sensible ones.   Thank god for the practicality of Dads.  I was sitting in the surgery, but my mind had gone elsewhere.    My imagination began to run riot, as I imagined her being bundled up and raced to Leeds General Infirmary.  I saw it all so clearly, as if I was living it.  How she'd be ripped out of my arms and placed on a trolley on arrival.  How we'd have to sit in a waiting room, wordless and numb with fear, as doctors worked on our daughter.  The word 'Meningitis' burst into my brain and ran riot, sending adrenalin rushing through my bloodstream.  I saw us setting off down a road which would end with something so horrifying, so unthinkable, so paralysing that I dare not even write it here, but I have to.  We could lose her.  My child.  The most precious thing I have ever called my own.  My heart.  My soul.  My body.  My life.  She could die. 

I don't think of myself as a stupid person.  Those who know me might disagree, but I like to  believe that I'm reasonably intelligent.  I understand and abide by the rules of life.  I've always worked for a  living and am happy to pay tax so that we can all benefit from the many amazing things our society takes for granted; safe roads, clean water, assistance in an emergency, vaccinations for our children, free healthcare and bins that are occasionally emptied, once in a blue moon if you live in Beeston.  Though I once shoplifed a mascara from Boots, I generally stick to the rules and regulations that society imposes upon us.  I like to think I'm in control of most things, but that was before I became a parent.   Pretty soon after coming home from the hospital with our newborn bundle, I realised that being in control of a baby was like trying to catch a fart.  We wanted Iris to sleep at night, but she wanted to sleep during the day and be up all night.  We asked for practical presents, but she received a ton of tiny ballgowns.  We preferred her to eat healthy green veg, but she begged to differ on more than one occasion, flinging sprouts into the air with glee as she gobbled the chocolate bunnies her visiting grandparents brandished.  When you're pregnant, you imagine a perfect, pliable baby that lies lovingly in your arms, and that may be what you get in the first three months, while they're learning that their limbs belong to them.  After that, you're dealing with a tiny and very determined person who's completely separate from yourself and has their own room trashing agenda, often involving eating loo roll and hosting an ear splitting disco at 3am.  But that's not the worst of it. That you can and will handle, though sometimes it feels like an impossible task.    What you might not be able to handle, is that life can and will dicatate the fate of your baby, and no amount of wishing, and hoping, and praying, and feeding them only organic food can change that.  As a Mum, it's something I'm finding hard to live with. 

Almost a year has passed since Iris burst, screaming, into the world I knew before.  Though I've grieved heartily over my former life (no more getting off my tits on a Friday night or fitting into Topshop clothes, or any clothes come to think of it) I've finally let go and embraced the change.  Now, Iris is my life.  She hasn't just consumed it, she's become it.  My life depends on her survival.  She's the master of my waking thoughts and I dream of her every night.  Since I saw her tiny heartbeat, at 6 weeks, the beat of my own has drummed out her name.    I'm a Mother, I get it now and I've stopped kicking against it like a bewildered horse shut in a stable.  I'll never be free from dividing up my time and my thoughts and my body so that my child takes her share, a share that's much bigger than my own, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  There are raisins in my handbag and a tube of teething gel in my pocket.  I've sold all my 'hot to trot' dresses on Ebay.  I get up, instantly, at 6am if I have to.   I no longer even bother to grumble or nudge Daddy in the ribs - it's a bonus, in that I'm now on time for work three days a week.  I've accepted motherhood, and I'm more than happy to give my life to my child, because she deserves it, because it's rightfully hers.  

Today, though Iris didn't turn out to be critically ill, I stared into the face of the most horrifying fact I've ever stumbled across.  Despite any declaration of selfless love we make, despite our desire to raise our child with truth, honesty and the utmost care, she might, at any moment, be taken from us by the world, and there's nothing at all we can do about that.  I always knew the world was cruel, but it's a whole new ball game to realise that  it wouldn't even let me plead for the life of my baby, or take into account the seconds, minutes and hours I've spent  ensuring her  survival.  It wouldn't even let me lay down my life for hers, though I'm sure I'd do it in a second.  I don't believe in God.  We chose to have our daughter named in a non-religious, humanist ceremony, rather than having her Christened as both her father and I were.  There is, for me,  no old man up in the sky that can hold out the hands I sometimes long to put her life into or offer us the chance to see each other again in beautiful after life.  She's all mine, and though I often wish it weren't so, I know that if she somehow ceased to be, I couldn't be either, and I wouldn't want to be without her.  I didn't mean to let this post get so utterly depressing, but sometimes, when I'm looking at my daughter's innocent, sweet, naked body, I ache with sadness that I can't guarantee I'll always be here to protect it, and that she wont always inhabit it - these are the realities of existence, but motherhood wants to defy them through love, all enduring, unconditional love.

 Iris is one of the lucky ones though.  However much I berate myself daily for not being a perfect mother, she was born with a specially constructed plastic Tommy Tippee weaning spoon in her mouth and a chance at a full and long life, just due to  geography.  We all hear on the news, every day, about countries we don't live in and worlds that are far removed from our own by miles and miles, where children die every second due to lack of clean water or begin their lives already inflicted with HIV, through their parents lack of education (though you'd think John and I were in the third world due to our lack of contraceptive know-how sometimes - hello Iris!)  Babies are born into conflicts that their mothers don't buy into or understand and lives are lost because of politics and religion every day whilst we're perusing supermarket shelves stuffed with organic meals in disposable jars.  I'm sometimes embarrased by how much I love Iris.  After all, I have every reason to believe that she'll survive into adulthood and will be the one wiping my bottom when I'm old and grey, just as I'll no doubt be wiping my mothers...though I'm sure I won't wipe it just right and I'll get an earful of abuse.

That leads me to the title of this post.  Just one egg.  Female, adult humans, on the whole, lay just one egg.  Don't ask me how anybody has twins  Holding a screaming, squirming newborn, hungry on the hour, every hour during the night, I often praised the god I don't believe in for having just the one to contend with.   I got what most people get, just one egg. 

When I was pregnant, every Tom, Dick or Auntie Mildred would ask me the same set of questions.  By the end of nine long months, I felt like having a t-shirt printed up with my answers so that I wouldn't be required to speak to another blue-haired old biddy, or, in fact, anyone at all.

Q: You're pregnant!?!
A: Am I? But I always use...  (thinks for a second)  Bugger.   I thought I'd just got all fat and cross and developed a thing about Cream Horns.

Q: When's it due?
A:  April and yes, that's Spring, how wonderful, leaping lambs and all that.  Yeah, of course we planned it that way. We didn't just have sex in July or anything like that.

Q: Is it your first? 
A: Do you see a displaced toddler hanging off my arm asking why I don't love it anymore? 

Q: Do you know what it is?
A: Erm, yes, we're pretty sure it's a baby, but have you seen the film Alien?  Anything could happen. 

Do you people have a book called annoying questions to ask a pregnant person or what?

Now that Iris is nearly one, it seems that a new set of questions have been issued to random passers by, family members and friends alike.  Some of them I can handle.  Is she sleeping through the night?  Well the only answer to that one is yes, to avoid a tirade of unwanted advice (rock her, ignore her, cuddle her, gas her, smother her,) but since you ask, she isn't, as you can plainly see from my haggared face.  Is she eating well?  Her nappies suggest that a good amount of solid food has passed through her system (somtimes they suggest she's been to an all-you-can-eat Chinese Restaurant.) Those questions are fine, but the one that baffles me, when I'm just getting to grips with being a mother of one who's recently gone back to work  is....are you planning on having another then?   Within a day of being back at work, a colleague cooed over photos of Iris just beginning to toddle then hissed 'when's number two due?'  I'm assuming she didn't think I already had another one in the oven, although some friends have already had to stenuously deny baby number two is already expected (and examine their exercise regimes.)  Once you've given birth to one, planned or otherwise, society expects you'll 'get it all out of the way' and expand your family asap - bugger your complete lack of time, money or the fact that you haven't had sex for six months.

I had an induced labour (after my waters broke but my lazy baby couldn't be bothered to get going.)  Though I remember, in minute detail,  my induction being administered, both vaginally and intravenously, I can't recall much about when the first wave of (albeit chemically enhanced) contractions hit me.  One minute I was fine, and reading Carrie's secret sex and the city diaries.  The next, I was dancing on hot coals with pains radiating from deep in my belly to far beyond.  In under a minute, I went from lying on the bed, chaste and fully clothed, to ripping off my knickers and doing a river dance of agony on the spot, screaming 'give me pain relief.'  So much for my planned, natural water birth.   When asked by childless friends to describe the pain, I'm at a loss.  It hurt, but so does stubbing you toe.  It hurt so much that  I wished I was dead is my normal response, but that doesn't quite cover it.  What's worse than dead?  I wished I was that, and then some.  The most enduring thought from my labour does stay with me however.  Perhaps not enough time has passed, and many women must say this, but I remember with all my heart feeling sad that this baby, the baby that was causing the current trouble, would sadly be an only child.  'It's terrible' I sobbed to John, jumping from one swollen foot to another.  'I never wanted an only child, but that's what we're having.'  Though he told me to concentrate on the giant head that was splitting apart my pelvis at the time, I could only feel terribly sad that though I'd imagined a big family, I'd be having just the one, lonely only.  They say the memory fades, but I still remember the absolute, sure knowledge that I'd never put myself into that position again, dancing a jig while satan poked me with a cattle prod.

 I have just one egg.  Through being Mum to Iris, I've made a number of wonderful friends who have babies - something every new Mum needs to do ( like Roses need the rain and poets need the pain, according to Bon Jovi.)  The ones I love the most are like me, they have only one egg too.  We talk endlessly about our eggs, and how much we love them, and loathe the sleepless nights and complete selflessness involved in looking after them.  The ones I like less but envy the most, are the ones who have two eggs.    They've done it more than once.  They've been brave enough (akin to painting your face like Mel Gibson in Braveheart and shouting 'OOOOOOOOOOGAH) to repeat the experience of birth.  Even when they've had the most hideous experience imagineable (and I refer you back to hot coal and satan's pronged fork) they've repeated it for the sake of another little, tiny person that looks good in teddy print and will grow up to support them with its job as a lawyer or doctor.   The scary thing is, I've started having fantasies myself.  When these mad friends place their newborn baby in my arms while they nip to the loo or tackle their toddler, I cuddle their bundle and my ovaries give my womb a nudge.   My best friend from school recently gave birth to a baby boy, as her baby girl turned 18 months.   Wrapping up a cute little stripy sleep suit as a gift I found myself fingering it a little too long and lovingly.  Could I one day fill one of these with a little brother or sister for Iris? 

You see, there's a terrible problem with having just the one egg.   Take as an example, the experience of the Emperor Penguin: Emperor pairs gather together near a solid iceberg to each lay a single egg. There are no special preparations or nest. Laying typically occurs in May or June at the start of the bitter Antarctic winter. The Emperors are believed to have developed this winter breeding pattern to allow the chick to grow to independence at a time when food is most plentiful.  After the female lays her egg, she passes it over to the male - though not quite immediately. Sometimes females sit on a newly-laid egg for hours before their mates finally get them: eggs are very precious commodities, and the changeover is a very hazardous transition. If the male does not manage to scoop up the egg very quickly, it freezes and the breeding season is over for a pair before it has really begun. So the females are not very keen to risk loosing their valuable egg. The female travels across the ice to feed in the fish-filled waters far away in the north. She spends the winter at sea.   The male Emperor fasts through the winter during incubation of the egg. Incubation is solely his responsibility. He positions the egg on top of his feet and covers it with a warm fold of feathered abdominal skin. The incubation lasts nearly two months. During the Antarctic winter, the period of darkness can last more than 20 hours. Huddling emperor penguins may spend most of a 24-hour period sleeping while they incubate eggs. Sleeping conserves energy while they fast.

Who would want to be an Emperor Penguin?  I'm one. And my partner John is one for sure.  We have just the one egg, and we transfer it back and forth between us. We may not be living in sub-arctic conditions, but modern life is scary, and it only takes a fumble on the ice to lose our precious egg forever.  While fasting doesn't sound like too much fun, I wish we could make like the Penguins and sleep for months with our daughter's tiny body in the bed between us, curled up safe where we can see her.  Unfortunately, we have to go out and do the jobs that make the money that buys our egg the clothes, shoes, food and future it needs.  I sympathise with the Emperor Penguin, because life sometimes feels like an endless slide on thin ice, and one false move might result in the devastating and utterly unimaginable loss of our one egg.   If we had, for instance, another egg, tucked away at home in a box, it might, just might, make the possibility of losing an egg just a little bit more imagineable. 

The next time someone asks me if I'm going to have another baby soon, I'm not sure what I will say.   I can't imagine Iris being my only baby, I've enjoyed seeing her little life unfold way too much to say no to a brother or sister for her.   Whilst I still feel the pain of her birth all to keenly, I can't say I want to do it again right now.  I know women have second and third and fourth babies after vowing they wouldn't.  The fact that we've survived the hell of childbirth leads me to belive we'll do it again, however traumatic it was.  For me, an induction followed by a 12 week stay in a psychiatric hospital due to postnatal depression, I have more to fear that most if I repeat the experience.  Why then, do hold a friend's newborn and remember only the good things; the sleepy, warm baby in our arms, the expertise we learnt that we'd like to repeat?  The feeling that once might not be enough, that just one egg seems too fragile.


Wednesday, 1 February 2012

A toddler ate my baby and bit my boob.

I'm going to start this post with a disclaimer, just in case anyone reading it reports me to Social Services and they come and take my daughter away (although at about 3pm today, I would have packed a bag for her and handed her over willingly.)  I love my child.  She is the world, the stars, the universe and everything in it to me.  I sold my most revered and adored French Connection dress on Ebay in order that she have something beautiful to wear on her naming day, or indeed a naming day full stop.  It was beaded, bloody gorgeous and cost me £120, which is the most I've ever spent on a single item of clothing, or will again I imagine.  The day I wore it for a wedding was the only day I've ever really felt beautiful in my life, but my daughter's beauty far out shadows mine these days and her needs are placed before my own, without question.  I'm not bitter about the dress, honestly.  I couldn't get into the fucker anyway, it was a size 6.  I'm just attempting to illustrate the deep and fathomless pit of adoration I have for Iris before I begin the mother of all rants about motherhood. 

On Monday of this week, the Chugger struck again.  I was walking through the centre of Leeds on my way home from Little Voices, the beautiful musical baby group we attend at Opera North every week, this time with Iris strapped to my front in a baby carrier instead of in the pushchair.   I was in a good mood until a cock with a clipboard shouted out
'Hi there Super Mum, can I stop you for a second?' 
Super Mum?  I don't remember donning a cape and hot pants outside my tights that morning.  I didn't have a massive 'M' emblazoned on my chest and I wasn't driving a talking car.  I was just a woman with a baby, so in the mind of a spotty boy, that made me a generic Mum, period. I'm guessing that the addition of the prefix 'Super' was a form of flattery.   I'm afraid I didn't have time to address the youth with a carefully constructed speech about the folly of thinking all women with children care to be defined by their reproductive capacities.  I just called him a Dick and walked off.  It set me up for the week from hell, and the scary thing is that it's only Wednesday.

On Tuesday evening, I was alone with Iris, John being at a networking (arse kissing) event for Jobseekers where he partook in pleasantries (pleaded on his knees for work.) I sat down with my daughter to feed her a nutritious tea of home cooked cottage pie, Broccoli spears and banana custard. She didn't have much interest in fine dining as she's recently discovered that anything she holds over the side of the highchair will be snapped up by our giant greedy dog, a source of great merriment to her, and the dog.   Not so much to the mummy-slave who cooked her cuisine.  Never mind. I continued being a caring Mother as I ran her a beautiful hot bubble bath.  On  the odd occasion that it's just the two of us at bedtime,  I often share a bath with Iris, and it's one of the most wonderful gifts that parenthood has granted me.  We slip and slide together in the warm water, giggling, cuddling and playing with her bath toys, the imaginatively named Ducky McDuck and Boaty McBoat aboard his plastic barge.  At these times, I marvel in my daughters sweet, pink, chubby body and I stare at my sadly deflated stomach, not in distaste but in wonder that it performed the miraculous task of housing the very vocal, lively life force that's sat astride it, wearing a bubble beard.  This Tuesday night however, Iris made the stunning realisation that the bath is actually a giant bucket that one is placed into and therefore must climb out of.  My daughter has turned, in the blink of an eye, from a bashful baby to a very determined toddler, an adventurer whose only desire is to travel away from her loving mother at great speed.  It was like bathing with a baby oil smeared Baboon.  Gone was our innocent bath time bonding.  Instead, Iris wanted to climb up the sides, again and again, her wiry little arms heaving her out and over the side while I desperately clung to her ankles.  When she wasn't attempting to escape, she took great pleasure in pulling out the plug, or trying to swig from the shampoo bottles on the side.  I couldn't believe our soapy sensuality had turned into a giant naked wrestling match.  Still, did I mention I love my daughter?  I forgave her for ruining bath time, and I even forgave her for the screaming, writhing and wriggling she did during the donning of pyjamas, sleeping bag and blanket, ready for bedtime snuggling.  What I still can't forgive her for, is what she did next.

I have breastfed my daughter from 10 minutes after her birth, when she mercifully put aside all my fears by finding my nipple, opening her mouth wide and sucking on it, simple as that.  Although the breastfeeding issue is another post entirely, it's safe to say that for a good few months, it wasn't the peaceful and fulfilling method of feeding I thought it would be.  Breastfeeding was a battle in the early days, and there have been many times that I've vowed I would give it up, however good it was for Iris' health.  The breastfeeding mafia have a lot to answer for.  It's a huge commitment, and any woman who isn't able, or doesn't want to continue doing it, has my full sympathy.  I've persevered, and now, nearly 10 months down the line, I can't believe I've done it for so long or enjoyed it so much.  It's truly lovely.  It's a time when my very active and opinionated baby lies perfectly still in my arms.  It's a time when I can see that she's content.  It's something only I, her Mother, can do.  When she's tired or upset, it provides instant comfort and calms us both, like pressing the reset button on my satnav when it's spazzing out.   Quite honestly, it's the only time I ever get to read a bloody book.  After months of wrangling a squalling infant who came on and off the breast, worrying about her gaining weight, feeling like a Zombie after numerous night feeds and whipping my tit out at every Tom, Dick or Harry who pretended not to be staring , I was finally enjoying breastfeeding, something I never thought I would do.  From about 6 months old, Iris has made eyes at me around my nipple.  It must be a bonding thing, because seeing her big baby blues staring at me so innocently as she feeds has always melted my heart.  It's as if she's asking 'Am I your bestest baby?' and my answer has, of course, been yes yes yes.  That gaze of adoration as I'm providing her with sustenance has been the most beautiful thing about Motherhood.  Which is why I was so very shocked when it happened.  She pursed her sweet pink mouth round my nipple, looked at me lovingly, and bit me as hard as she could.  My baby has four very new, very white and very sharp teeth, all at the front.  As I snuggled her around the curve of my body in our warm, blanketed bed, preparing for milky minutes before sleep, she inserted all of her tuzzie-pegs into my right nipple and bit down for England.  I did what anyone would do when an intimate part of their anatomy was gripped in a vice, I screamed.  But then so did Iris.  Her little face crumpled in distress at hearing her mother bellow like a wounded Wildebeest.  To mine and John's credit, our daughter doesn't hear shouting.  When we argue, it's always in hisses rather than hollers.  Whenever she's defied us, we've been careful to talk to her in positive tones.  It's no wonder that she found it frightening when her Mother shouted like a Sergeant Major, but what would you do?  Later on I googled the biting issue, and I learnt that apparently the worst thing you can do is scream.  Some babies are so traumatised by it that they go on a feeding strike.  I defy anyone to smile serenely as their nipple is attacked so viciously, but as usual, the guilt kept me awake long after Iris had gone to bed. 

When I woke up today, I was the proud owner of an infected nipple, oozing with pus from four vampiric little punctures.  What's more, I had developed what I believe to be a natural and justifiable fear of inserting said nipple into the jaws of my crocodile daughter.  Possibly due to my scary shouting, she had also developed a slight aversion to breastfeeding, but only from the offending breast, the one that I will now call exhibit A.  Exhibit B, my still functioning breast, has now been drained dry and is the size and shape of a mouldy marshmallow.  Exhibit A, it's bitten sister, is swollen to pineapple sized proportions and is too painful to touch.  Whenever Iris has seemed inclined to feed today, I've bitten the bullet and offered her the nibbled nunga.  The pain when she has latched onto it has been indescribable, but I'm aware that if I don't feed her from it, I run the risk of my milk drying up, something I'm not ready or prepared for, despite the jaws of death situation.   The titty traumas aren't the only terrible parts of a truly awful Wednesday though.

Iris awoke last night at 2am, 3am and 4am.  She didn't want to feed, or be rocked or shushed back to sleep.  She wanted to stand up and shout and swing from the bedstead.  She wanted to pull the dogs tail, and my hair, and (though I didn't mind this so much) she wanted to yank the covers off her Daddy and twist his nipples with great gusto.  Though it amused me that her nightly campaign of terror turned on her Father last night, I did feel sorry for John when he eventually awoke and subsequently arose at 5.45am when he couldn't take anymore.  It's a shame that I had to get up an hour later when I was awoken by effing and blinding from Iris' nursery, the little room next to our bedroom.  John was attempting to put our baby's clothes on for the day ahead, a task that he can normally complete with ease (if little attention to size of clothing or matching colour schemes.)  Our darling appeared to have turned into a devil child overnight.  Refusing to lie serenely still while she was dressed, Iris had buggered off down the corridor with one leg in her nigh time nappy and one arm in her daytime top.   No amount of waving her Sir Prance-a-lot toy in her face or distracting her with a Dig the Dog book could keep her still.  I'm now the proud mother of a toddler.  It's official.  Though she only crawls or stands and doesn't officially yet toddle, her mindset has altered beyond belief.  Everything we want, she very vocally vetoes.   It's been brewing for a while.  With each nappy change, I've had to be more and more imaginative to distract her from flipping like a fish and disappearing out of the door.  My most enduring image of the last few weeks has been my daughter's cute little bum crack rounding a corner, proudly caked in poo, whilst I chased after her with a wipe.  Iris ignores me a lot of the time these days, so intent is she with discovering newer and naughtier pursuits.  Recent escapades have included taking bites out of the loo roll, removing her own soiled nappy and wearing it as a Balaclava, holding the lid of the dustbin up at her father like a riot shield and using the toilet as a finger bowl.   But whenever my attention is momentarily turned away from her and toward a task I need to do (whether it's holding a friend's newborn or doing the washing up) she suddenly appears with a face like thunder and a hankering to crawl up my leg like a kitten  - a kitten with an iron grip.  I've developed a one legged jig to remove my calf from her clutches before she falls, she's not steady enough to stand for too long and if my hands are full, she could easily fall.  Unfortunately I did it at a baby group last week and all of its members were treated to the sound of Iris' head clunking on the polished parquet floor.   My daughter dislodging dance was just a little too effective.   I'm going to have to get used to this Tasmanian Devil that was recently my pleasingly pliable infant.  Just when you think you have things sussed eh?

Weeks like this one can erode the careful stash of confidence you've slowly built up in your mothering abilities, even coming 10 months down the line when you know you're not going to break them if you have a blip.  It's been a good few months since I've stared at Iris and thought
'I honestly don't have a sodding clue why you're crying little matey, but I sure as hell wish you'd stop.' 
Yesterday though, I'd put aside some time for us to play and was baffled when Iris showed interest only in crawling all over my body making high pitched whingeing noises.  She didn't want to be set down with her toys or picked up for a cuddle.  She didn't want to be breastfed or to eat solid food either.  Teething?  Separation anxiety gone wrong?  I bet Google could have given me a thousand different suggestions for her being, quite frankly, impossible to deal with and driving me more than a bit mad.  What usually works is taking Iris out for a brisk walk in the baby carrier.  She gets some fresh air, sees the world go by and giggles as the dog galumphs about with his stick.  Yesterday however, we'd walked right to the end of the park when she began to emit ear splitting screams.  Anyone who knows my baby knows she's loud.  We used to call her 'The Lungs' as a newborn and we've never needed a baby monitor because believe me, you could hear her if she was on the Moon.  I had to do the walk of shame home, with passers by looking at me in disgust (it's because I've lined her baby grow with nails, I wanted to explain.)  Jesus, this baby's broke, and the only answer can be that I'm a shitty mother when I can do nothing about it at all - my usual tried and tested techniques having fallen flat. 

 I'm beginning to realise that children alter frighteningly rapidly, far too rapidly for their parents to cope with, we who shy away from change with our mortgages and marriages and same-item weekly shops.   She's still the same lovely Iris, and I adore her just as fiercely as I ever did, but I'm beginning to be a bit frightened by how quickly I need to adapt to change to keep up with her, and how I must  now stand and face the hurricane that I've created.  Seemingly overnight, she's started growing a full head of the kind of hair that can be pulled into pigtails, and pointing at the things she wants with a jutting lower lip and brewing bellow.  Her newborn cry tugged at my heartstrings, but when she cries now I know I ignore it at my peril, because it gets louder and more heart wrenching, The biting whilst breastfeeding thing is a worry.   It might well be the start of weaning her, I know some babies bite then they're ready to come off the boob but don't know how to put it politely.  After 10 months of breastfeeding, I know I have nothing to be ashamed of if this is the end.  Still, I look at how much she's changing in every way and want to hold onto the one constant we have, the thing that I do when nothing else works.  At the weekend, her Dad took her off for the morning in her furry bear suit to ramble through the woods with Buckley the dog in the bracing cold.  I enjoyed a blissful lie in and only woke to John unhooking the baby carrier, a bear eating a Pear dangling over the bed, smiling widely to be reunited with Mummy.
She's been crying a bit
John said,
I think she wants you.
Funny how I'd get mad about that when she was a newborn.  I'd want John to try everything before handing her over.  Having missed her morning,  I couldn't wait to be reunited with my baby.  Half asleep, I fumbled down my pyjama top to allow Iris access to my breast.  As she suckled, I watched my beautiful baby's face, my life in a circle of flesh, milk gathering at the corners of her hungry mouth.  The scent of the Pear clutched in her tiny fist filled my nostrils as I drifted back into sleep.  Bears and Pears.  My daughters warm, heavy body in my arms.  How can I stop her growing?  How can I stop her changing from the fuzzy suited silent sleeper in my arms to a toddler who uses me as a springboard to a new and exciting life away from my breast? 

I love my daughter.  It's not a disclaimer that I really need to make.  But it's a love that kicks you in the teeth as often as it warms your cockles.  Someday soon she's going to walk, and while her first steps will probably be towards me, the ones that follow soon after will be in the opposite direction.   I know, if your baby turns away from you now, it's only because you've done such a good job in making them feel secure so far.  This turning into a toddler thing comes too hot on the heels of your return to work, and it's easy to think they don't need you anymore.  Iris may have bitten my boob last night, but when she fell on her face at a friend's house today, she wanted me, and only me, to hold her while she roared through the pain and shock. Everyone in the room could see that.   It's about letting go again, and my empty arms ache just as much as my boob.  I've got to start learning that life with a baby is never constant.  We're building up to the day, at 18, or these days, at 35, when they leave us for good.  It's our job (though I never saw it in the original description.)  I'm going to try and wake up tomorrow with positivity for Iris' new developments that day, even though many of them will take her away from me, rather than towards me.  She will still need me, just in different ways.  I'll have to change as fast as she does.  I'm ready.  I'll have to be.