Long haul: co-sleeping on the move

This is the second in a series of posts I’m doing on our recent trip to South Africa and the UK.

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The candelabra chandelier at out cabin on the farm. We never lit it but in winter, with a fire going in the grate, this would be gorgeous. No electricity is lovely!

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?

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London, man, you can’t beat it!

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.

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The pond down the road from Mr C’s nan’s house in Carlisle. Gorgeous and icy!

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.

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And it begins…

I was feeling odd yesterday.  Mainly because I hadn’t had any contractions and my waters had broken and all I was doing was leaking everywhere!  I didn’t expect it to be like this.  I spoke to my mum on the phone who told me this is just how her labour began too.  I couldn’t believe it, as I’ve heard her tell my birth story so many times, and yet she’s never mentioned this… or perhaps I’ve never heard it.  I was feeling a bit like the midwife was a bit annoyed at me, like I’d not done things the way she expected or something, I don’t know, all in my own mind probably, I’ve been known to blow things out of proportion…

We had a delicious spaghetti Bolognese, courtesy of Mr C, and watched Inception, almost falling asleep at about 9:30 at night, both so tired.  Went to bed about ten and read for a bit, must have dozed off by 10:30.  I had a really solid sleep which was great, I needed it.  I found myself awake in the early hours, as I have done for the past week or so, and immediately felt a bit annoyed that no contractions seemed to have started.  I had this fantasy about being woken by a strong contraction in the middle of the night – no idea why, that sounds a bit yuk!

I was dozing, and finally looked at the clock and it was 5:59.  Then I felt something.  Definitely a contraction!  Like crampy period pains, not really very painful, quite smooth and wavelike, a deliberate, firm sensation building and then tapering off.  I looked at the clock – 6:05.  Then another of the same – clock says 6:11. And again – 6:17.  And again – 6:23.  Wait a minute, that’s consistently six minutes apart!  Yay!  So I knew I was finally in labour.  I just lay and felt them come and go, timing them, now with the app on my phone.  I didn’t want to wake my husband as he’d been so tired from broken sleep the previous night and a rough game of rugby during the day before, but eventually he woke up about 6:50 and asked sleepily if anything was happening.  It was so nice, feeling the pains coming and going but being snuggled up in bed with him.  We enjoyed that time because we thought maybe this is our last night just the two of us.  We talked again about missing Ben Folds, I’m a bit gutted about that, but it’s just not going to be possible.

Eventually we got up about 7:30 and I was excited to see I’d had a show, and the fluid that had drizzled out during the night was tinged pink.  It was a little distracting getting up and dressed and walking around, I realised the contractions weren’t really that strong because I could sort of miss them if I was talking or doing something.  But what a great feeling to finally be having contractions!  I don’t know why I ever doubted I would, it’s just that I didn’t expect labour to begin like this.

We skyped husband’s mum in the UK to let her know, and had a bit of a chat – I happily timed my contractions throughout, didn’t need to stop chatting.  I made myself porridge and had that outside.  It’s the most beautiful day today in Sydney, very clear blue sky, sun shining, no humidity, just perfect.  I spoke to my mum again, who said she’d make her way down (about a 12 hour drive), and texted my friends who’ll come along when things ramp up.  I spoke to my midwife who was pleased everything seems to be going so well, and she said to take some more vitamin C, go for a walk if I felt like it, and generally just chill out.  She said I might find things will start getting heavier when the sun goes down, so I’ve got the day to just do whatever.

I feel a bit at a loose end actually!  Like I hadn’t really planned anything, because obviously you can’t with childbirth, but yeah, I feel as if I want to DO something, just because I can.  I’m just timing contractions and feeling baby move a bit between them, eating (still crazy hungry) and hanging around at home, waiting for husband to get bored and want to do something.  As soon as he finishes watching his rugby I’m sure that’ll happen…

39 weeks… and the moment has arrived

At least I think the moment has arrived… It’s just after midday on a gorgeous autumnal sunny day.  I’m 39 weeks pregnant today.  And I might be in labour, or shortly about to go into labour.  Let’s step back a bit…

I stayed up quite late last night, being Friday and all, and I expected my husband Mr Chewbacca home about 9 or 10pm.  As it happened, he’d left work a lot later and therefore his pub time started later, which meant he wasn’t home at 9 or 10 or 11 or 12… I wasn’t too sleepy so I just climbed into bed and was reading and just falling asleep when I heard Mr C come in.  He said how glad he was that I was still awake and I was glad to see him even though I was half asleep.  He quickly got ready for bed and we chatted very briefly, I think about birth stuff, before beginning to drift off.  It was probably about 1:30am at this stage.

As I lay there on my side, I began to feel an odd sensation, as if fluid were trickling out of me!  Nah, I thought, can’t be, must just be a ticklish feeling.  But it kept happening so I felt behind and sure enough, there was liquid coming out!

“Umm, right, this is weird…” I said.

“What?” asked husband sleepily.

“I think my water might be breaking!”

At that point I hauled myself up and out of bed to our tiny bathroom, which is literally right next to my side of the bed.  As I moved the two or three metres between the bed and the toilet, fluid really streamed out; not a gush, but a dribbling stream.  I sat on the toilet and lots of fluid came out but I think it was partly urine as well.

“Turn on the light,” said husband, as he jumped up to grab the paper towel from the kitchen.  I launched myself at the light switch and saw, with my very myopic eyes what appeared to be clear liquid all over the bathroom floor!  Husband busily mopped everything up as I tried to get up from the toilet but then had to sit down again because more was coming out.

“Is it clear?” I asked.

“Yes,” said husband. “It looks cloudy though.”  And I looked into the toilet as he was doing and yes, it was a bit cloudy, but all the fluid on the floor was not stained so that was great.

By this point I was shivering quite violently.

“Is it cold, is that why I’m shivering?” I asked husband.

“Yes, it’s cold in the bathroom.”  I can’t seem to feel cold these days – never was any good at feeling the cold like normal people anyway!

“So what do you think,” I asked, “should we just go back to bed as normal?”

“Yes.” Husband knew the best thing to do and had already put a towel on my side of the mattress.

We cuddled back up and my shivering quickly subsided, but I was so wide awake.  Husband had to play rugby the next day and in case something happened we both knew it was important to rest while we could.  It was so hard to get to sleep.  I was uncomfortable as I couldn’t put my body pillow between my legs as normal due to the random face washer I’d shoved there to soak up the fluid that was continuing to leak slowly.  Husband was obviously having problems falling asleep too and I rubbed his arm and back to help him relax, which always works.  I knew I was far less likely to fall asleep myself anyway, so at least one of us would get some rest!

I eventually slept but very lightly, constantly waking.  My mind was racing about what had just happened – this isn’t how I’d imagined it at all!  And we were supposed to see Ben Folds in concert in a week’s time, I was going to miss it!  I’d been telling baby for ages that it just had to stay in until after 13 May so we could all enjoy Ben and then it could come out straight after that, any time from the 14th (due date) and the next week or so.  Clearly it is already not listening to its mum!

I woke up at probably about 4:30 or so, just couldn’t try to sleep any longer, it was so uncomfortable.  I tossed and turned for quite a while and eventually relented and checked the time. 5:30… I was wide awake but still tired.  I played Solitaire on my phone for a bit, and eventually put it down at about 6:10am and must have finally drifted off to sleep.  At 8:15 we were both awake, just barely, given we’d both had such a bad night’s sleep.  Husband had to get up and start getting ready for rugby, and I wanted to get up just to see if it was more comfortable.

We had breakfast and coffee, and yes, I was still leaking fluid!  But not a single contraction…

Husband has gone to rugby now, should be home in a couple of hours, and hopefully things will begin happening.  My midwife said to take some vitamin C, drink lots of water, just do what I’d normally do, and see what happens…

I feel happy that something is happening and that it isn’t painful or anything yet, but I feel slightly scared that I’ll never have a contraction and it will become dangerous for my waters to have been ruptured for so long.  I’m giving it 48 hours before I begin to worry though.  For now I feel like I should try to do a few things to bring labour on, and I tried some acupressure, which did nothing (maybe I wasn’t doing it right?) and I had a hot shower during which I got down on hands and knees and moved about slowly to help baby get in position.  My back got sore quite quickly when I took out a load of washing to the machine, and I’ve had the odd achy twinge in my tailbone, pubic bone, hips… but I can absolutely say I have not had a contraction, or to be more precise, I haven’t felt anything I’d consider to be a contraction.

I’m writing this mainly to remind myself what it was all like, and I know, despite how detailed my description is, that I’ll read this back in years to come and think, ‘but what about such and such?’  Many years of diary writing have taught me that you can never include too much detail.  It’s like a photograph; you go somewhere amazing, you take what you think are a million pictures, too many, of everything; surely you’ve overdone it!  But you look back later and think, ‘oh, that doesn’t do it justice… what about x, y and z?’

If nothing happens by tonight I will write again…