Letter To My Baby

Letter to My Baby - First Birthday Picture - Boy

The First Birthday Milestone

Dylan, you will be turning one very soon. My tiny quiet baby has grown into a loud, robust and wriggly almost-toddler. Nearly every parenting cliché ever voiced has come true this year. It has certainly been the steepest learning curve I have ever undertaken. The days were sometimes long, but the year was short. Children really do grow up so fast.

 

What You Have Taught Mummy – 1

Most self-help books I have read have had great concepts to improve my life but I have always found it difficult to picture their practical application. For instance they declare that you should always try new experiences and live life to the fullest. They say don’t ever give up on your goals or let failure overpower you. You need to knock obstacles out of the way and focus on what you want. Clearly define what you don’t want and eliminate it from your life. Until now, this all seemed kind of trite to me.

Dylan, you like discovering new things and you don’t give up the first time when something doesn’t work. You try and try and try and try again. You fall down and get back up. You focus on what you want and go for it. You overcome obstacles (like other toys, furniture and Daddy) to get what you want (usually my mobile phone if it has been left anywhere accessible). You don’t ask permission. And you clearly show us what you dislike (broccoli, having your face wiped) and don’t want to do (taking naps). Thanks to you, Dylan, I have come to the realisation that to get more out of life we should all be a bit more like you, curious, bold and fearless.

 

What You Have Taught Mummy – 2

When I first when to ‘Mums and Bubs’ yoga, at the end of the class the yoga teacher asked us to look at our wee babies and say to them “thank you for being my teacher”. And I have to admit, I thought this was all a bit ‘woo-woo’. But perhaps there is something to this.

When I go to get you out of your cot in the morning you give me the biggest grin and jump up and down ferociously. Every day you wake up excited and happy to be part of this world. We share a laugh constantly, often about the silliest little things. The other day you were cracking up because I was swiping at one of your toys and moving it across the floor of the lounge. It kept you amused for a good ten minutes, chuckling away. You often laugh for absolutely no reason at all. You don’t care what you wear or if there is a mess or if you have food on your face.

So now I understand what my yoga teacher and all those meditation gurus have been trying to tell us over the years. Laugh loud and often. Live in the present moment and be happy and grateful for the simple things in life that you have now. Thank you Dylan for being my teacher.

 

My Big Secret

I kept hearing about this enormous blast of love that mummies got the instant they held their newborn child for the first time. One of my friends said she forgot the pain of labour as soon as her little girl was in her arms. I was looking forward to that (the love part that is – the reduced pain part being an added bonus).

And it just didn’t happen. I felt many things when you were born – relieved for having a straightforward labour, proud of myself, grateful for having a healthy baby and awestruck by how tiny and perfect you were. But there was no overpowering feeling of falling in love.

I didn’t really mention it to anyone, just hoped that everyone assumed that I had instantly connected with you, my beautiful baby boy. But day-by-day I was wishing and hoping that a ferocious crackling love would suddenly hit me. I knew deep down that it is something that cannot be forced, an organic emotion that cannot be willed into existence. But I kept thinking there must be something I could do to bring it on.

All of a sudden you are nearly one year old and I realise although I was hoping for this fresh surge of love, I failed to appreciate that I have slowly developed a simmering kind of love that has been bubbling in the background all this time. Every day it keeps rising a little more towards boiling point. It is now a magnificent love, enormous and powerful.

I am not saying it is a better way of loving than an instant kick-start. But I am excited and happy to know that it doesn’t really matter, that I love you and it is endless and wonderful.

 

Happy Birthday

I have learnt so much from becoming your Mummy in the last year. You remind me every day of what is really important in this life. I look forward to loving you and learning from you for many, many, many years to come. Happy birthday Dylan.

Love, your mummy, Julie

Letter to My Baby - One Year Old Dylan

 

Don’t Diss The Daddy

Don't Diss the Daddy Blog Post - Dylan and Daddy 2013-1

The Two Stereotypes

Primarily, there seems to be two portrayals of Kiwi Dads in newspapers, magazines and on the Internet. The first type is related to the atrocious news stories of family violence and child abuse. It is often a male known to the child that has some involvement in the abuse. I guess the coverage creates drivers for change, hopefully for the better. What I don’t like is that this image of the violent father/ step-father/ partner is the one that dominates the media.

The alternative to this image is the condescending representation of Dads as bumbling but loveable idiots. There is a subtle but underlying current of disrespect to Dads. The jokes about how Mum know every single tiny thing about their child down to their favourite food, colour and cartoon character and Dad is vaguely aware of some little thing roaming around the house. The tales about leaving the baby with the Dad only to find they have propped them next to them on the couch while they watch the game. Yes I know it is nowhere near as bad as the violent and abusive image, but it is still insulting, even hurtful.

 

All the World’s a Stage

So we have a sort of Shakespearian view of Dads as either the villain or the fool. The vast majority of Dads I know do not fall into either of these two categories. Shakespeare had another main character type – the hero. In this context, the hero is fairly dull and ordinary, but you have to admit that Dads do deserve a bit more credit than they are currently getting.

My husband is one the millions of men out there who just get on with the business of being a husband, of being a Daddy. He cooks, cleans, sorts the rubbish, mows the lawn, bathes the child most nights, changes nappies and works full-time. I am especially appreciative that he has taken on the role of chief nail technician for our baby. Most of the time he does these things without prompting and in a reasonable manner. Yes I can still get annoyed that dinner is stir-fry again or it is at 9pm again, or that he put the baby clothes away in the wrong drawers. But overall, he does a brilliant job.

 

Trains of Thought

Right now you are in in two trains of thought. You are either thinking, well where is my thanks? Where is the gratitude for everything I do? And I completely agree that Mummies need appreciation too. It is just that I think overall we get a fair and reasonable portrayal in a social setting. We are known to be responsible and caring for the most part. This is not true for Dads right now. Anyway, I don’t know about you but even if every single person on this planet came up to me and thanked me for pushing that baby out of me I am not sure it would be enough!

Or you are thinking, but my husband/ partner/ baby-daddy doesn’t do half what you say your husband does. I think the stereotype of the useless Dad is actually spot-on in my household. Well here is the hard truth that you may not want to hear: YOU are part of the problem.

 

Asking is not Nagging

I have a very simple solution to the Mummies that fall into this camp – just ASK. Yes that is all there is to it. If your partner comes home late, ask him to be on time the next day. If he gets home at the end of a long day at work and turns on the TV and that bothers you then ask him to turn it off and bathe the child or start cooking dinner. If you are breastfeeding and want him to bring you a glass of water or give you a little massage, just ask.

There are a few things to take note of. Firstly, ask in a straightforward way. Say ‘Would you empty the dishwasher (now) please?’. Do not say ‘The dishes are piling up and the kitchen is a mess’. This is a statement, not a request.

You have to be prepared to accept any response you get from your partner.   He may say ‘OK’ (awesome!). He may say ‘No’. Well you did your bit and asked and even if he says no 19 out of 20 times, which of course is unlikely, at least you get a 5% improvement (well it is better than zero). He may do the ‘man grumbles’ and not give a definite response but in my experience this usually means he will do it, just maybe in his own time. Do not say anything more; just trust that it will be done. A friend of mine asks her husband once and then writes the bigger around-the-house jobs down on a whiteboard in the kitchen.

Also, if he does the job you asked him to do but not how you would do it then you have to decide whether you really want to go down the track of showing him the ‘right’ way. But pick your battles as this may lead to you doing the job yourself in the future. Maybe using sensitive washing powder is really important but putting baby clothes away in the wrong drawers is not as critical. I have found you can usually tell people what to do OR how to do it but not both.

After all you didn’t fall in love with your man and decide to have a child with him because they were exactly like you. That would be boring (and a little creepy). Embrace your differences. As I learnt on Contiki when faced with 16 countries in 29 days – it is not wrong, it is just different.

 

Martyr Mothers

So now you are thinking, why should I have to ask? He should just know how much energy and time it takes to run a household with a baby. My life has changed drastically, his should as well. We are both adults here, can’t he think about picking up a dishcloth himself? Well, one response to that is something I read that said that if the mum is at home and the Dad goes to work full-time that on average a woman spends 16 hours a day with the baby and the man spends less than one. If the tables were turned would you know what needs to be done and the best way to do it? Probably not.

And my other answer to that is just don’t ask that question. Just accept that asking for help is better than not asking. Do you really want to be a ‘martyr-mother’? Trying to out do each other at coffee group with tales of the minimal sleep and the loads and loads of washing you have helps no one. Think of it as good practice for when kids are older and you want their help with chores. Do you still want to do the entire household’s cleaning and washing when they are teenagers?

And guess what is the best thing? Men actually like doing stuff for you.

 

Thank You

I often get asked how I have time to write a blog and I would like to think it is my sensational time management. But about 95% of the reason rests firmly with my amazing husband. So thank you Andrew for being there for me, for being an incredible Daddy to our son Dylan and for being you, man grumbles and all. You are my unsung hero.

Don't Diss the Daddy Blog Post - PawsUpforDad

The Things THEY Don’t Tell You

The Things THEY Don't Tell You - Cartoon - Baby Fingernails

The new baby is here!

You are now a parent. You prepared for this – many of your friends and family have children and you have played with them, maybe even volunteered to babysit from time to time. You have read all the books, been to the antenatal classes. You have had months to glean every bit of information that you may need and have been fed lots of (perhaps unwanted) advice from well-meaning folk. You know that being a parent will be hard work at times but you are looking forward to the challenges as well as the joyful times.

Even after you have prepared yourself as much as you can, there are still some things that no one ever tells you. These are some of the things I have learnt about my baby and being a mum for the first time that came as a surprise to me.

Baby Secrets Revealed
The first week or two can be a relatively easy time for getting the baby to sleep. In-between feeds, he falls asleep quite fast without much fuss. Maybe it is because they are still exhausted from the birth. Maybe it is lull you into a false sense of certainty.

Then suddenly it gets really hard. There is crying and short naps and more crying. And then you start getting desperate and deciding to take baby in the car, or rocking him in your arms or in the bassinet to sleep, or start using a dummy. And you feel bad about it because the baby needs to sleep but you don’t want them to rely on these things to get to sleep. And you didn’t think your baby would be like this. But they don’t tell you that EVERY baby has at least some issue in this area. This is why there is a whole industry built around helping babies to sleep. There are a ton of books on the subject and many ‘baby whisperers’ who have the next full-proof solution. There is no ‘full-proof solution. All you need to know is that your baby will fall asleep eventually and when he does, you can too (unless he has fallen asleep in your arms and you are standing up and you are getting pins and needles but you don’t want to put him in the bassinet as he may wake up and that would be worse….)

Remember your baby is NOT a textbook! You can do everything the ‘right’ way and not get the same outcome. We can have two identical days and one day Dylan will go down for a nap without any trouble and the next day he will scream and cry like napping is the worst possible idea in the world.

And talking about crying. You will find a lot of the time you may not know why your baby is crying. Sure, you can hypothesise and then decide on the best answer, but you will not really know. They sometimes cry for absolutely NO reason at all. The other day Dylan was blubbing and we couldn’t decide if it was because he was teething, had a sore tummy, had nappy rash, was hungry or tired, or had woken up too abruptly or had a nightmare – can babies have nightmares?? You just have to decide on what cause you think may be the issue and provide a solution. Cuddles are usually a good start.

There is a major design fault with babies (other than not being able to talk) and that is their nails. No one tells you that you are going to become a full time manicurist to your baby. Babies’ nails grow fast, they are sharp and are hard to cut. And if you don’t cut, file or even bite their nails off as soon as possible they can easily tear up their own face with their sharp little claws. You baby’s beautiful skin can end up with scratches all over it. Do not neglect the toenails while you are at it, they are almost as bad

There are some other minor things that I either wasn’t told or didn’t take much notice of. Our midwife showed us when you can tell when you little baby boy is about to pee by noticing the stance of the penis which is useful to significantly reduce peeing accidents. We also found out that you can use plain old corn flour as a powder for the baby’s bottom and it works just fine. Many babies go through stages of preferring only one side if you are breastfeeding and this is perfectly normal. It may not be OK for you, but usually fine for the baby. If your baby clothes do not have domes then they are not worth wearing. Do not ever buy baby clothes without domes, preferably ones that go all the way down the front.

And finally, I just assumed from reading all the books that babies only ever wake up crying. I was in shock when I discovered that Dylan could wake up and actually be very quiet for a while. It was a pleasant surprise when I noticed that most of the time he woke up cooing and even laughing to himself.

Mummy Secrets Revealed
I didn’t realise that I would be in a kind of shock after birth. For days afterward I would constantly look at my baby and just not believe that he was finally in the world. I was astounded that this fully made human came out of me. Honestly, if I weren’t there myself I would have scarcely believed it.

I also didn’t understand the amount of decisions you have to make all day long. When and how much to feed. When and how long they should sleep. How to wind them and what to do if there is no wind. And that is just the early days.

Because of this you also suddenly get a mother’s guilt – and it creeps up on you and it is about everything, every tiny little decision. It can be overwhelming if you let it. For instance, should I wake Dylan from his afternoon nap so that he goes to bed at a reasonable time or should I let him sleep? Every day there are a million decisions to make and there is no black and white ‘right’ answer.

I had no idea how hard it can be to stop swearing. I certainly didn’t realise how much I swore in the first place. You think it may be easy to rid yourself of ‘potty mouth’ but, like all habits, it is harder to break than you first think. And the latest research says that babies can understand some sounds from as young as six months old so it is important to stop it (or significantly reduce it) as soon as possible.

I am not sure if this happens to many new parents, but I have become ultra-sensitive about the news. I guess you know bad stuff happens but when you are a mummy and you think of all that terrible stuff in terms of your own sweet little baby, it is enough to make your heart break. I have found the easiest solution is to no longer watch, listen to or read the news, as I usually get upset. It doesn’t even have to be about babies and children. For some reason even the Pope resigning was distressing for me.

But there are also pleasant surprises. You end up singing all day long. You find your singing voice again and make up silly songs and also dredge up long forgotten nursery rhymes. For some reason I keep singing a few lines of ‘A Bicycle Built for Two’ – huh? And what is awesome is my baby absolutely loves it which is great, as no one else in the universe likes my singing!

So there it is, the good the bad and the ugly in all its glory. It is certainly not a comprehensive list, but it is all true and all things that I wish I had known before becoming a mummy.

The Things THEY Don't Tell You - Dylan at One Week Old

My Breastfeeding Journey

My Breasfeeding Journey Blog Post - More Attention Cartoon

Prologue

I wanted to share my breastfeeding journey, and like all good journeys, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Even though everyone has a different breastfeeding journey, I hope some of the mums out there will relate and I hope mums-to-be will gain some additional insights into the mysterious world of breastfeeding.

The Decision to Breastfeed

The breastfeeding journey for all of us starts with the decision to breastfeed. Throughout my pregnancy I did a lot of reading and went to workshops and seminars. About four weeks after Dylan was born I was given a really good DVD about breastfeeding that I recommend watching before birth. I gleaned as much information as I could, but it is such a weird and foreign concept that until the time came, it was hard to imagine what it will be like, let alone how I would ever enjoy it.

I love this country, I was born here and I wouldn’t live or raise my children anywhere else. However, the enormous and overwhelming cultural pressure to breastfeed has just got to stop. There has got to be a more balanced and less guilt-ridden message out there. There has got to be more help and assistance to feed your baby how you choose. But that is for another day.

Regardless, I decided to give breastfeeding a good go for a few weeks at least, to get it established, and then aim for six months or longer. I always had six months in my head.   Like exclusive breastfeeding for six months is some sort of golden aim. Who decided that?   Why? What happens if you start feeding solids earlier than six months – is that deemed not exclusive breastfeeding? By its nature I would guess yes. I read somewhere that only 6% of women in New Zealand exclusively breastfeed for six months. Does that mean the other 94% of babies are doomed? I digress again.

The Beginning

Well we didn’t get off to a good start. My milk did not come in until day 5. Dylan got a touch of jaundice, became lethargic and didn’t take to the breast very well. In the hospital, I was offered formula without anyone batting an eye. By the time we left the hospital he was breastfeeding adequately, but exclusivity fell out the window in the first week. Oh well.

The pain of the baby latching onto my breasts in those first couple of weeks was excruciating. It felt like a burning razor blade had seared onto my nipple. This feeling lasted for about 10 seconds, and then it eased. The lactation consultant at the hospital said count to 10 and that helped a lot. All I can say is the pain is fleeting, only lasts a couple of weeks, and a Lanolin based product, applied liberally at every opportunity, helps enormously.

The hunger that accompanies breastfeeding is like nothing else. Even pregnancy cravings do not compare. I would eat an enormous breakfast followed by a mid morning snack, huge lunch and something in the middle of the afternoon before polishing off whatever was on my dinner plate and asking for seconds. Then I would wake up in the night and need nuts or a muesli bar to slake off the worst of it. It is really weird knowing your body is expending so much energy just sitting and breastfeeding.

The Middle

I never had a huge amount of milk. I had a good steady trickle but it wasn’t a fire hydrant gushing torrent that could fill a baby up in minutes.

The two results of this being … well the first was the hours and hours and hours and hours of breastfeeding. In those first few months I would average 20 minutes on each side and up to 8 times or more per day. You are supposed to wait until the baby comes off by himself, or until the breast is drained, but that never really worked for me. Dylan would quite happily comfort suckle without taking much in and stay on for much longer than was required. It took weeks for me to realise that this wasn’t helping either of us very much.

You are not supposed to care about how long it takes, and you are supposed to enjoy spending time with baby but when you look around the house and see all the other things that could be done, like even having a shower, and this is the fifth time this morning that baby has fed (at 40 minutes a time), it just gets tedious. There I said it, breastfeeding can be tedious. I wanted to be one of those women who loved it, but no.

On a more serious note, it didn’t seem that Dylan was getting enough milk, as he wasn’t putting on weight like he should. When he was a couple of weeks old, my midwife suggested a controversial method of only breastfeeding for 5 minutes a side and then changing then 5 minutes then 5 then 5. Apparently then the baby gets all the best sucking and best milk, but some people agree with it and some don’t. I didn’t because the thought of him latching over and over on my extremely sensitive breasts was too much. I just couldn’t bring myself to de-latch almost as soon as I started so I could go through that latching pain again.   Yes, waves of mummy guilt wash over me when I think about that, but sometimes there is only so much you can put yourself through.

At 6 weeks Dylan only weighed what he weighed at birth (he had lost some and put some on, but very slowly) and my midwife was talking “failure to thrive”.   So I gave the 5-5-5-5 method a go, and it worked for us.   Or perhaps that is the time that breastfeeding gets a bit more established, the milk is in better.   Anyway whatever it was, Dylan started putting on weight. He will never be a nice chubby butter-thighs baby, but he is growing and happy.

I think there was a ‘Golden Age’ of breastfeeding with Dylan when he was about 3 to 4 months old. Latching was easy and painless, the feeds were (slightly) shorter and there were not as many, and he was still young enough to be quite still and not look around very much.

The End

Some of you will have journeys that are fill of more obstacles and are more exciting than mine. I feel very grateful I never had engorgement, blocked milk ducts, mastitis or any other breastfeeding inflictions. I am even happy that on the positive side of not having a huge supply of milk, I didn’t have to wear a breast-padded bra to bed each night, like some mums have to do unless they want to replace their mattress. I have been lucky so far to not even been bitten.

Now Dylan is 9 months old and for the past couple of months I have introduced formula to some of his feeds. This took a while and he didn’t like it at first but I did a mixture of expressed breast milk mixed with formula for a while then one day he just took to it wholeheartedly.

I did this for a number of reasons. One reason funnily enough is that I reached the six-month milestone (not exclusively, but pretty close). Also, he is a very active boy who likes to pop off the breast every few minutes to see what is going on, and therefore not taking in much milk. Plus, going back to work is looming up, and I know some women express but I couldn’t see that working for us with my limited milk supply. On the few occasions I did express I would get on average 60 mls in 20 minutes. That is just tedious. Yes that word again.

So now we are down to one or two breastfeeds per day and I am sad. I have heard that weaning off can be a trigger for post-natal depression. I am not in the realm of being that sad, but I am a little bit glum. All that lovely time spent with my son against my chest, looking down on his suckling sideways profile, gazing at his beautiful skin, it will really be over all too soon.

I have surprised myself by discovering that don’t want to give it up completely just yet. Although it was painful and infuriating and messy and boring at times, I do enjoy that very special bond that only I have with my son, much more than I ever realised. Hopefully we continue our peaceful morning feeds for a little while yet.

My Breasfeeding Journey Blog Post - Sleepy Dylan Sep13