But it’s one of the most significant photos of my whole life. This was taken on Mother’s Day 2011 sitting on a bench on the coastal clifftop walk in Vaucluse, just up the road from the famous Gap. I look like shit because I am just not photogenic, but also because I am in labour with my son, my first child. I was 32 and had been having six minute apart contractions since 6am that morning. This was taken, well, sometime towards dusk, which is probably about 5:30pm at that time of year in Sydney. My son was born the following evening around 8pm. My life changed forever.
Now, people always say, oh yes, children are a big commitment but also a joy, your life changes forever, bla bla bla. You can’t conceptualise it and you just nod and smile and agree and maybe roll your eyes when they’re not looking. You KNOW your life is going to change. And even after it does, you think you KNOW just what you’re in for. But I’m here to tell you that you don’t. You have no IDEA.
I’m writing this nearly three and a half years later. My second child, a girl, is ten weeks old. I have no IDEA how I got through this morning. It’s freaking hard. It just is, and I make no apologies or excuses. Older, more experienced people have told me how straightforward it was for them, how they just swaddled their perfect little baby and laid it down in its old-fashioned cot with the sides up in a bedroom containing nothing else and it went to sleep for two hours during which they did all the housework and cooked meals for the next year and had a cup of tea and planned out the week. Yeah, great, nice work, good for you. That’s not how it is for mothers today. Well that’s not how it is for me, anyway.
My grandmother on my mother’s side had ten children. Her third child, a boy, died in infancy during the war. I’m not sure why or how. But let’s examine my maternal grandmother’s situation for a moment: she was either pregnant or breastfeeding for 20 years. She was a migrant, with half her children being born in Serbia and Germany and the other five here in Australia. She was poor. She grew most of the family’s food because of this. She had her babies in hospitals but could only stay a night after a birth because her other children needed her at home. My grandfather got up for work at 4am six days a week and was home after the children were in bed. No one but my grandmother cooked and cleaned, she did it all. Her name was Elisabeth and she was a Capricorn who never wanted children and didn’t marry until she was 23, virtually an old maid in 1937.
How did she do it? I have no idea. But I will offer one theory: life was entirely different. There were no computers, they never had a tv or other technology invading their lives. They didn’t even have a washing machine or fridge in the beginning. They ate from their farm and there was a purity of existence that has to be created with much effort these days. Somehow, I don’t know how, this lifestyle made for a gentler, more harmonious life. And babies who didn’t demand feeding 24/7, who wouldn’t sleep for more than a few minutes without being held.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am very much of an attachment parenting mindset and I believe that it’s completely normal for young babies and children to resist sleeping for long periods away from their mothers or carers. It’s basic physiology, part of being human. However. I’m not completely convinced that the reason babies don’t settle, the reason they cry, is due to the lack of attachment. I think there is too much stimulation in life today. Not only does all this distraction take up the time and space a parent might otherwise have had free, it changes the way we relate to each other, and to our children.
I don’t think there’s a solution to this, I think I’ve made a conscious choice to live in this way, and knowing my lifestyle impacts my babies in this way doesn’t make me want to change. I am however willing to continue on a “natural” parenting path as although it is a lot of work, I couldn’t do it any other way. I won’t be doing any kind of sleep training or controlled crying. I won’t be arbitrarily stopping breastfeeding and introducing formula. I won’t be forcing my kids to sleep in their own rooms if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. I won’t be pureeing meals and spoon feeding at some random age determined by some doctor.
I lie here in the dark at 9:30pm trying to slip my nipple out of my baby’s mouth without waking her so I can go back downstairs and watch Breaking Bad and I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s just what mothering is for me. And it’ll all be over in the blink of an eye.
This is the second in a series of posts I’m doing on our recent trip to South Africa and the UK.
When planning this trip and getting in touch with all the people we’d be staying with, the question was always, ‘oh, what about a cot for the little one?’ And the response was always, ‘oh no, don’t worry, he sleeps with us’. Most people, I think, know this is what we do. Some probably just think, okay, whatever, don’t know why you’d do that but okay. Others probably think the ‘rod for your own back’ thing. And obviously some, who do the same, realise how easy co-sleeping can make things. Not that I’m saying I’d have chosen to co-sleep before the Dude arrived. In fact, I was staunchly against it when my midwife first broached the subject. But it has given us more sleep than trying to get him to sleep on his own in a cot, that I’m absolutely certain of. I have a dream that the next one will be like I was as a baby and sleep 12 hours a night from three months. Ha!
So, on this trip, we slept in a lot of different places (including the plane, although I don’t know I’d count that as sleeping, more passing out temporarily from exhaustion, only to be woken by a kick in the face and an angry screech). First up was our good friend’s parents’ place in Krugerstorp, just outside of Johannesburg. They have a typically South African gorgeous big rambling house with heaps of room, pool, tennis court, beautiful grounds, all surrounded by tall iron gates. We spent one night there before driving out to ‘the farm’, and we stayed in a lovely big room which was sort of outside the rest of the house, or at least the entrance was, with an ensuite bathroom across the way. The bed, we were informed, was very old, apparently made by our friend’s grandfather or great-grandfather, beautifully carved wood, but sadly only a standard double size. We have a queen at home with the Dude’s cot side-carted (he has finally started rolling into it sometimes when he’s asleep, woo hoo!) so lots more room. It was very peaceful in the room. I finally succumbed to sleep when I put the Dude down about 8:30pm and he did manage to stay asleep for a couple of hours. We dragged a big old piano stool to my side of the bed and put pillows all around, just in case he decided to roll off, and that sort of worked although he did push it away when he was really restless. Of course, because of jet lag, he woke about 2:30am and started playing around. I gave him some travel flower essence and some rescue remedy for sleep that I’d bought in preparation and let him play around a bit. Mr C, who’d stayed up far too late having beers and catching up with our friend’s brothers, was in no mood to be jumped on, but he sleepily tolerated it. Amazingly enough, Dude was awake about 40 minutes, and then I switched off the light, laid him back down and he went back off to sleep! That was pretty much the extent of his jet lag, and when you consider that Sydney and Johannesburg are something like nine hours apart time-wise, I think that was pretty impressive.
The next day, we drove through to our friend’s parents’ game farm, which is about 90 minutes away. I sat in the back between our friend’s mum and the Dude. He slept part of the way and was pretty good, but towards the end he got really upset and just wanted out. Of course, I’d forgotten: TIA! This is Africa! Stuff keeping kids restrained and all that! His mum said to me she’d actually prefer me to have him on my lap and that it’s no big deal, they wouldn’t get pulled over for it. I realised she was right when I noticed all the utes with half a dozen guys just sitting in the back, cruising along the dusty, pot-holed highways at 100km/hr. So I put him on my lap, held him firmly, fed him, and he was happy. When we arrived at the farm, it dawned on us that there is no electricity. None at all. But paraffin and gas lamps, gas hot water, and even a paraffin fridge meant we had all the comforts of home, more or less. It did pose a bit of a problem arriving home after dark and having to get the Dude changed by the light of lamps, or when we were feeling too tired, our phones. On that first night at the farm, the Dude woke again around the same time, but he couldn’t get up and play because it was absolutely pitch black. Mr C found it quite unnerving, being unable to see even your hand right in front of your face, but for me it was just brilliant not to have that distraction of electricity and technology. And because it was so dark, I think the Dude must have thought he was still asleep, so he wrestled around for a few minutes, had a booby, and fell back to sleep. And that was it for jet lag, all done. I seemed to have recovered fairly well too, but Mr C struggled the whole time, waking at 2am and being unable to sleep or see anything. The cabin we stayed in was well ventilated but no fly screens were on the windows which we left open the whole time. Luckily it cooled down nicely at night. The Dude had to sleep between us which was a bit squishy, again, in a double bed, but it worked and made things so easy without having to work out the logistics of fitting in a cot and trying to get him to stay asleep in there. The interesting thing about co-sleeping is that when I’m telling others about it, I always find they have their stories about how they did it, even though it wasn’t the done thing. Our friend’s mum had stories like that, and she’d had five kids, all grown up now.
After our five night in South Africa, we headed over to the UK for the Dude to meet his grandparents in Manchester. We had explained to Mr C’s mum that Dude doesn’t sleep in a cot, but I think she had a hard time working this out in her head as her kids had all slept in cots whether they liked it or not. She had gone to the trouble of getting us a travel cot (which was never even unpacked) and even another little blow up bed which was really cute, but again, the Dude just jumped around on it for a few seconds and then was totally disinterested. Because he’s always slept with us, he doesn’t get the concept of having his own bed and I wasn’t about to try and transition him when he’s already in a strange place. So he slept between us in the spare bed, again, a double, which made it pretty squishy. I’d forgotten how much smaller everything is in the UK, space-saving.
We’d decided we’d try and take advantage of having grandparents around and head out a couple of nights. The second night we were there, we had tickets to see Ben Folds at the Manchester Apollo. I got the Dude down to sleep at 7pm and we headed out. Nanna was in charge. I’d warned her that he almost never stays asleep and that he won’t just go back to sleep after a bit of a grizzle. She’ll need to go in and pick him up and rock him back to sleep, or lie down with him and cuddle him. Even that, I was pretty sure, might pose problematic. I knew he’d scream because he’s used to me being there, or even daddy coming in sometimes to lie down with him. He barely knew this person, despite the fact she is is nanna. When we got home, shortly after 11pm, the scene was pretty dismal. Nanna was exhausted, having tried everything to get him to chill out, and Dude had eventually passed out once or twice but was lying half awake in her lap. She whispered at me in horror, ‘he’s not normal!’ as I went upstairs to get him back to sleep again. I knew this would happen. It’s nearly impossible to impart to someone with such different ideas about parenting just what we do and how we do it. And I don’t think she realised that the Dude doesn’t ever back down, he never gives up, he tells you what he wants and will keep telling you as loudly as possible until he gets it! I don’t see this as a negative thing necessarily, not for an 18-month-old, as I think he isn’t aware of himself as an individual yet and is just expressing his needs and happens to be very good at doing so. My mother-in-law is of a different school of thought. She believes babies and children should be placed in their cots when the adult determines it’s bed time and the door shut and the baby left to get to sleep any way possible, even if that means lots of screaming and crying. Personally I believe this can permanently damage a child. And aside from that, I don’t agree with ignoring cries of distress from any loved one, adult or child. If my husband was afraid and confused and needing the comfort of my arms, I’d give it to him. Why not a baby?
Anyway, the ten days or so we were in Manchester were very interesting. I know my mother-in-law doesn’t see eye-to-eye with me on many aspects of parenting, and I know she mentioned it a few times to Mr C, but to her credit, she didn’t try to have a go at me about it or start a fight. She mentioned a few times politely what she thinks should happen and why, and I explained why that wouldn’t work for us and we really just left it at that. I would love the Dude to sleep in his own bed, and yes, in his own room, I’m not going to deny that, but I know that’s not what he needs and it’s not in keeping with the basic, instinctive needs of babies and children, which dominate more than our learned behaviours, particularly at this age. One day, he will transition to his own space, perhaps with some gently assistance from his parents, but never will I force him into anything. I know someone who is now desperate for love and touch and comfort because he never received enough as a baby. I don’t want the Dude to end up that way.
On our second last night in Manchester, something interesting happened. We went for dinner with friends, leaving nanna to deal with the Dude again. When we got home, he was miraculously sleeping peacefully by himself in bed. Apparently he’d woken as usual but she’d done something different this time. She got the distinct impression that he was afraid of the dark, so she turned on the light. He saw she was there and quickly fell back to sleep! Of course, I don’t know how long all this took or what else happened, but he seemed very different. My mother-in-law said she just knew he was scared to be in the dark and as soon as he could see where he was and that someone was there, he was fine. I have had that idea before, but I can’t say it’s ever helped me, although my experience of getting him to sleep is always going to differ because I’m the mummy with the boobies! So I was relieved that MIL managed to work out how to get him settled and he was happier to be around her. I was also glad because I think she had been feeling somewhat rejected and this really turned things around.
We stayed in London with friends for the last five days of our trip. They’d asked the cot question too of course and had kindly arranged a whole bunch of other stuff for us which we actually didn’t need, like a highchair and stair gates. It was interesting because they have chosen not to have kids, so while they like them, they are happy in their lovely house, just the two of them. We tried our best to make sure the Dude didn’t trash anything and that meant turning off most electrical stuff at the wall and turning the bin around so it was less accessible. The bed, thankfully, was a queen size, so we were pretty comfortable. Of course, the Dude getting sick and vomiting in the middle of a restaurant and then later in the hallway and in the bed (luckily we’d already put towels down) was a pretty hideous way to end the trip, but what can you do? He is a vomity person, it seems.
Overall, co-sleeping worked really well for us while travelling, and saved the hassle of organising cots and rearranging rooms. Small beds are hard to deal with, and I know sometimes he is disturbed by us being next to him, but other times he is woken because we’re NOT there. It’s hard when the Dude is between us and kicks off the covers as we all end up cold. So there are pros and cons. As I say, if I had a child who would fall asleep and then be put in a bed without waking, I’d be doing that. But I don’t. Next time we go, he’ll be in his own bed, I hope.
The next and final installment in my series of posts on long haul travelling with a toddler will be about coping with big cities and non-child-friendly places.
The subtitle of this post should be: “How parenting a high needs child is completely at odds with being a writer”. I made the excuse a while ago that I hadn’t been blogging because I was busy transcribing my granddad’s memoirs. And that was true, a while ago. I got to the end of the first 90-minute recording which equated to about 10,000 words, and discovered that the other three even longer recordings are barely intelligible. I scoped out some software to fix the sound quality (turns out we already had it on the computer). But before I could do anything, the Dude decided to mix things up a bit. No more going down for sleeps! Therefore no more uninterrupted showers and no more computer time. We soon got the stroller on his first birthday so I’m now taking him for walks every day and he usually sleeps then. I’m pretty sure this is some kind of premature transition to one sleep a day. And he’s close to walking and talking, plus his molars are due any time now. So I can forgive him for being out of sorts.
The problem is, I can’t sit at the computer to write for more than ten minutes. He hates it! And that’s fair enough, in basically ignoring him. But the fact remains that I no longer get any writing time. I’m writing this on my phone. It’s frustratingly slow as I’m a touch typist so can more or less type fast enough to keep up with my brain.
I know this may be a short period, and it’ll pass soon enough, but I’m finding it very frustrating. I must have a dozen posts half written in draft, and all these ideas punching me in the head every day but I just don’t get any opportunity to write.
How do others tackle this? I guess the majority of people have babies who actually fall asleep fairly predictably. Babies that calm down and relax when given a bedtime routine and lots of milk. Babies that don’t smack you across the head and then laugh within two minutes of waking up.
So instead of wallowing in misery (not really, slight exaggeration there), I’m going to think positively about this. Perhaps I’ll be the first person to write a 50,000 book entirely on a hand-held mobile device! Imagine what Dickens or Tolstoy would think about that! They’d probably think it was nonsensical and ridiculous. Aside from being confused as to how one can write a book on something the size of your palm. Technology is pretty cool, let’s face it, and I can safely say my iphone (actually Samsung Galaxy SII now) has saved my sanity millions of times while I lie for hours trying to get the Dude to stay asleep.
But the fact remains, parenting has gotten in the way of my writing, my passion. And it’s not just general parenting, it’s the kind of child I have, his personality, mixed with the way I’ve chosen to parent. Oh God, should I really say it, should I really attach that term to myself? Shit, I think I already did. Yes, Attachment Parenting. I’d never heard of it until after I had the Dude, and frankly I thought it was all a bit of a wank. Not the principles of AP per se, those make sense, but more that people are yet again being sheep and just going with a certain theory or way of doing things. Of course many so-called AP parents will tell you that they just do what comes naturally and have fallen into the AP category. I’m one of those. And I actually refute the assertion that I’m AP. It’s a label. We know how I feel about those.
I had the Dude at home, as readers of this blog may be aware, and I had no interventions in pregnancy and birth. Well actually that’s a lie, I had three ultrasounds (all of them completely unnecessary) but yeah, no real interventions. I’ve still never been to hospital in my life, apart from when I was born. I plan on keeping it that way! I don’t vaccinate my son, never been done myself actually. He has only ever drunk breastmilk and water. We know about nutrition and natural ways of helping the body thrive. We don’t take drugs like paracetamol and ibuprofen. We like homepathics and they work for us. Dude enjoys the ergo regularly, and previously enjoyed the Hugabub and even a ring sling for a short time. We generally like to avoid regular mainstream doctors as our experience has been that they have little idea what they’re talking about and recommend toxic chemicals that just cover up symptoms and don’t help the body heal. Oh and we co-sleep. Now I’m sure I’ve said before, co-sleeping was not really my plan. I was totally against it when my midwife first mentioned it, but once the Dude was here it was the only way I ever managed any sleep. He’s a crazy dude. His cot has been side-carted to our bed for the last nine months but he’s pretty much never slept in it. Occasionally he’ll squirm into it half asleep and pass out there, usually with half his body still on the bed. But generally speaking, he is right next to me; taking up half the bed to himself. He’s beautiful and I love having him right there but I would LOVE to have my own bed again. I am very touch sensitive and find it hard to be comfortable with someone right up next to me. I even push my husband away when I’m going to sleep sometimes. I like my space. Which was the whole reason I had an issue with co-sleeping in the first place.
Anyway, because of this attachment style parenting we practise, and because the Dude is so full on, I don’t get a lot of time to myself. Now let’s be clear here: if I was into letting the Dude cry it out and leaving him in bassinets to go slowly insane or fobbing him off to childcare centres, I’d be in a worse situation. Yes, okay, we might have more money because I might actually earn some, but the Dude would be miserable, we’d be sleep deprived and he’d probably be sick a lot. I’m sure about my choices. And I’m not asking for sympathy for them or for my predicament. I just think it’s ironic that I slacked off for so many years, sat around watching Seinfeld repeats and eating Sarah Lee Honeycomb and Butterscotch icecream instead of writing my heart out when I had the chance. Things will change. This will pass. Before I know it this little crazy blonde dude currently sitting on the floor next to me destroying daddy’s uni notes will be asking for lifts to concerts and sneaking vodka from our liquor cabinet like we wouldn’t notice half a bottle of it slowly but regularly disappearing. The old ‘evaporation’ explanation never worked.
Gosh, has it really been that long since I’ve updated?! So much has happened!
So the Dude is going to be five months on Sunday (I think he’s 22 weeks this week, kind of losing count). He rolled from front to back for the first time at 19 weeks and has since done it a handful of times. He mostly doesn’t do it though, when I put him down for tummy time. He does stay down longer than he used to, without losing it, but daddy still hasn’t seen him roll! And then yesterday for the first time I witnessed him roll from his back to his front!! I couldn’t believe it, it was awesome, he just did it with a little effort.
I took him to visit a friend yesterday, who has a little girl two months older than him, and she is really wriggling about, twisting and turning over and over, pretty much crawling. When I put him next to this little girl, however, I suddenly realised just how massive he is! He is slightly bigger than this little girl, even though she’s so much older. And she’s not a small baby, I’d say probably around average. But he just sort of lay there and watched her wriggling about in awe, like, wow, why can’t I do that? ha ha!
So speaking of his size, I did take him for his first check up. We went to the doctor as I’d had a blocked ear for ages and although I’d killed any infection in there with onion juice, my ear just wasn’t clearing. I finally relented and went to the doctor (the same one I’d gone to when I was first pregnant). She’s a nice woman but god she’s so ignorant! The things she said to me during the appointment, I had to really make an effort not to laugh. She actually started telling me how to ‘discipline’ my four month old baby and she even referred to babies as being ‘like puppies’!! Can you imagine! She didn’t help my ear problem either. She just looked in it, confirmed it was blocked beyond syringing (der, that’s why I went to see the doctor!) and then told me to go and get Ear Clear from the pharmacy! Seriously, I could have just gone and asked the pharmacist, what a waste of time and money that was. She weighed the Dude (which is main thing I was interested in) and he was 8.14kg! So he’d doubled his birth weight! He is in the 97th percentile for weight, height and head circumference, so yes, he’s a biggie. She asked me if I was practising ‘attachment parenting’ and I was like, erm, I don’t actually like to apply any labels to things, I just do what I do, but I guess it’s along the lines of attachment parenting. She thought we were co-sleeping because it was AP, but it’s got nothing to do with wanting to practise AP, it’s just about what feels right and what’s simplest and easiest. She also asked if I was vaccinating and I said no and got her to sign the conscientious objection form, which she had no issue with (yay!). She looked at his skin and advised me to get a cream with cortisone in it! I didn’t say anything but there’s no way I’d put it on him – I wouldn’t put it on my own skin, let alone a baby’s! Anyway, so the only good things to come out of the appointment were finding out how much he weighs and getting the form signed. Ho hum.
You’ll be happy to know my ear has unblocked itself (although the infection soon arrived in the other ear, which I killed with onion juice again and the blockage is just about gone there too). No thanks to Mrs Useless GP! She means well, she’s not a bad person, but gawd, ignorant as hell! I could provide a better service and I have no medical qualifications!
I don’t want to wish time away, as there’ll never be another time where the Dude will be little like this, but I really can’t wait for him to be more mobile and to sit up by himself. He gets so frustrated that he can’t, I can tell. Anyway, it’ll come soon, he’s almost there.
His skin has been pretty bad, comes and goes, so although I didn’t think he had intolerances I think the dairy does contribute to his skin so I’m going back off it again. My eating, that’s a whole other story and not for this post… anyway, he has what seems to be eczema, and also recently started getting red blotches with white dots in the middle randomly on him, and they’d disappear as fast as they appeared so I think he’s allergic to something, possibly the wool fleece my mum bought him. I am just keeping an eye on it really, I think it’ll come and go as his constitution works itself out.
We had a couple of very successful osteo appointments where there was total relaxation achieved twice, it was great, and he’s been much more relaxed since. And we took him to a wedding about five hours drive north, and that was fine, we managed, although I was quite illegal a few times and just took him out of his seat to feed him while we drove. Meh. I used to sit on my mum’s lap for every long trip we ever did and nothing ever happened, so I’m not worried.
Must stop, as he’s just woken, I can hear him chatting to himself in the bedroom.