The moment my life changed forever

I totally hate how I look in this picture.

May 2011. In labour. No idea.
May 2011. In labour. No idea.

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.

Toddler tantrums and two types of weaning

We’ve been going through some huge stuff with the Dude lately. Anyone who knows him will know he is a full on kid, really intense and wilful anyway, and quite unpredictable. I’ve never had much success pinpointing the cause of any particular problem, whether it’s physical or behavioural or emotional, and I think this is due to his nature. He is complex. That’s okay, so am I, and so is his dad in many ways. But it makes parenting him an extra big challenge most of the time.

I took him to a new playgroup yesterday morning and after a really difficult night the night before he was a bit out of sorts, to say the least. He spent about 70 per cent of the time having meltdowns and crying and screaming during the playgroup. The other mums and playgroup leader were extremely understanding and kind, gently offering him ways to be included and making efforts to include me as we are brand new to the group. After my initial tactic trying to coax him from his corner to join the circle of children, I sat down and ignored him and eventually he came over and sat with me, finally joining in a little bit of rough play with a boy of similar disposition. After nearly three years of parenting this crazy child, I am pretty good at remaining calm and giving him just the right amount of time and space to come back down to earth. Today was a massive challenge, though, as he was so unmanageable and screamed during times when the other children were trying to sing and participate in the various activities during the playgroup.

At one point, I found myself explaining what had been going on for him recently and I realised just how much he’d been subjected to over the last few months, how many big changes in all areas of his life. Not only have we made two big interstate moves, the last one barely three months ago, and he’s unwittingly been subjected to the conflict and stresses that inevitably arise during times of massive change, he’s also become more and more aware of the increasing presence of his little sister and the changes that will bring for him. He is really sensitive to everything I tell him about the baby, and takes it all in. I recently discovered, after he rejected me aggressively, refusing to let me lift him into his car seat, that he was just being considerate and not wanting me to lift him because, “you got a baby in there, I too heavy!” I’d only mentioned it once or twice when he wanted me to carry him for more than a few minutes, so I was shocked to discover how much he’d taken my words to heart.

I have found it quite hard going continuing to breastfeed him, although I know this is fairly common for women who are feeding and become pregnant. I have reluctantly night-weaned him in order to save my sanity and allow me to get some sleep, which initially seemed to be working quite well but now is really making it tough for all three of us. I really struggled with how to go about this, as I don’t want him to ever feel rejected, or replaced, and going cold turkey with breastfeeding is not a good idea for either of us health-wise. I wasn’t very consistent in my approach to begin with, mainly because I hadn’t come to terms with what I had to do. I had a brief but profound conversation with a woman at another playgroup we visited who said that she had to really get her head around what she was doing and why and be clear about the rules or boundaries. That really hit home with me and I realised I had to work out exactly what I was doing and how so the Dude wouldn’t be confused. It sounds simple, but in my experience breastfeeding full term (ie. into the toddler stage and beyond) is a very emotional experience and becomes more emotionally complex the longer it continues. The breastfeeding relationship accumulates more layers as it continues, and peeling back those layers prematurely can be painful and confronting. It may sound strange but I never really liked breastfeeding until the Dude was about two and suddenly something clicked. It’s not like I totally love it now, but there was definitely a positive change for me at that point and if I hadn’t stuck it out til then I wouldn’t have experienced anything akin to what I’ve heard described by other mothers in relation to the emotional pleasure of it.

Anyway, instead of arbitrarily refusing him as I’d initially done, I began to only refuse if he woke at night. He still fed to sleep if he asked for it, but if he demanded boobie any time before 6am, I refused him, explaining we had to save the boobie milk for the new baby. To begin with, it was a little hard, but he soon got used to daddy resettling him, and some nights he slept through. I thought it was working really well; until he started waking a lot during the night and expecting daddy to lie in bed with him for hours while he went back to sleep. I soon discovered he was getting really upset due to believing he couldn’t have milk any more, when really it was just at night time. Once that confusion was cleared up, it seemed to get better, until it got worse. That night before the playgroup was particularly hard. He woke at 3am, ran to my side of the bed and asked for boobie, which I of course refused. He immediately lost the plot and demanded daddy lie down with him as I hauled him back to his bed. I have little patience at 3am and didn’t appreciate being kicked and screamed at. I pushed him into his bed and shouted at him that he had to go to sleep and daddy was sleeping and not going to come. Pretty silly really, but that’s the kind of shit that goes down in the middle of the night when you’re just over it! Anyway, daddy came to the rescue, hauling me off the floor and sending me back to bed while he lay down with the Dude who went immediately quiet. I was quite upset and wondered to myself how the hell I would do this when Mr C is away for two weeks in May, or worse still, when the new baby arrives. I have no idea. I’m just hoping this is a phase and some kind of adjustment or growth spurt or something.

The other change we’ve made in the Dude’s life, just over the last couple of weeks, is weaning him off television. We expected him to watch less or none while my mum was visiting as she doesn’t like him watching any and will play with him forever if it means the tv stays off. He didn’t watch any at all while she was here for just over a week, and for the next few days after she left. He didn’t really even mention it or ask for it after the first day or so. I’ve always felt quite guilty about him having any screen time, especially before age two when there is absolutely no reason to put the tv on as far as I’m concerned. I truly don’t think it adds anything worthwhile to the life of a child and while I completely love tv and movies and feel like they add something to my life, it’s really just pure entertainment, so in fact what they add isn’t necessary and can be replaced. Before I had the Dude I was convinced I wouldn’t let my children watch tv, or at least not much, and not at a young age. That all went out the window pretty quickly and we found the Dude was watching hours a day, entire movies, and endless episodes of Peppa Pig. Deep down I always assumed we’d see a difference in his behaviour if we curtailed the exposure to tv. The funny thing is, we haven’t. He’s been without it ten days or so and if anything he’s less manageable, not more, although I don’t think this has anything to do with the tv. I seriously don’t think watching tv affects his behaviour at all, and that really surprises me. But what the lack of tv does is provide space for a little bit more healthy play and imagination, which is always a good thing.

It remains to be seen just how the Dude will progress over the next few months and once his sister arrives on the scene, but one thing’s for sure: he is a challenge and a joy all in one! I always say it’s lucky he is so hilarious and clever, it really does make up for the craziness.

New Year’s Resolutions: 2012

I know, it’s not exactly an original topic for a blog post, but hey, I need to jot them down and by putting them here I feel as if I will need to stick to them more… or something.  Anyway, humour me, here they are, in no particular order:

1. Try to get the Dude into a routine.  This means getting his meal times a little more sorted out, as he’s a hungry boy but only when he’s not too tired, and also getting sleeps happening on more of a schedule, as I think he’ll respond better to that and I might actually get some peace. I’m getting closer to achieving this already, given that he now has 12 hours sleep a night (mostly) and a clear two sleeps per day, and I can roughly predict when they happen. Roughly.  I’d like to get him into going to bed earlier, as currently he goes down between 8 and 9 most nights, although saying ‘goes down’ implies that I put him to bed and he stays asleep for the night, which never happens.  He is slowly improving, but most nights I spend a good half hour to an hour settling him down the first time, then have to go in twice to resettle before we finally go to bed about 10:30 or 11.  My mum says I should just get over the fact that I can no longer be a ‘night person’ and go to bed early with him.  I’m still in denial.

2. Finish NaNoWriMo.  I’d like to finally do this, having attempted and failed for a number of years now.  I’m not sure what it will take.  Actually that’s not true, I know exactly what it will take: some discipline, daily targets, sticking to a routine.  Refer back to number 1.

3. Study.  I really want to do my Masters.  Probably Arts, probably creative writing or life writing.  I’m also thinking about finishing off the Grad Dip in Editing and Publishing I started a few years ago.  That way, I might actually be able to start working towards my dream job, editing books in a publishing house.  I realise that now I’ve left work to have the Dude, I have a once-in-a-lifetime golden opportunity to rearrange my career into something I actually want to do, instead of constantly being branded a ‘project management professional’ or being offered marketing jobs, which I’d frankly rather chop off an arm than consider.  The marketing and advertising machine and all who sail in her totally shit me.  Although I do like watching The Gruen Transfer.

4. Get a job.  Money is really tight.  I’m talking really tight.  Okay so it’s not to the point where we have to ration our food or stop eating meat or can’t ever have takeaway, true, but it’s not great.  And me not working is making it super hard.  It’s hard for me because I have this mortgage and all these bills to pay but no income.  Actually scratch that, I have Centrelink and their awesome $24 per week.  Strangely enough that doesn’t suffice.  So I need to start earning an income again and I really don’t want the Dude in care just yet as I don’t want him catching all sorts of colds and diseases from all the other vaccinated, non-breastfed, chemical-ridden kidlets, and I also don’t think it’d be good for him to be away from me for that long, so it’s going to have to be working from home.  Which is doable.  I just have to find the time.  Refer back to number 1.

5. Write more.  Yeah, this one always makes an appearance.  But it needs to be there because I do need to write more.  And by writing I mean working on actual stories that will one day be published, not blogging.  How I’ll ever find the time is beyond me, but I must have this one in the list just in case its presence helps make it happen.

6. Blog more.  I go through phases of being really good with blogging, but then I slack off or Christmas happens or I forget or the Dude has a hard few days or weeks or some other shit goes down and I forget I have a blog for a while.  I would like to blog at least once a week minimum, preferably more.  Again, no idea how I’ll find the time but I just have to.  I read all these blogs by all these other awesome mums and think, how do they do it?  But they don’t have the Dude.  Although The Feminist Breeder is one that I am pretty amazed by, her baby is currently not sleeping at all at night yet she still manages to blog and presumably do all her other stuff like work and study and be a mum to her other two kids and a wife to her husband.  But she might actually be an Amazon.  That’s what I think anyway.

7. Move house.  This isn’t much of an actual resolution, but I want to have it in there because it’s something big that will be happening next year and it represents something bigger for me.  I guess it represents a compromise, but at the same time it represents a new phase for us as a family because we’ll finally be in a new place, an actual house, and even though it’ll be in shitty Sydney it’s one step towards what I want.  A small step, but a step nonetheless.

8. Refinance the mortgage.  This has needed to happen for a while, pretty much ever since I let the fixed interest rate lapse and started paying way too much to a stupid finance company in WA who handle my mortgage from a bank in Adelaide for my house in Canberra.  Yeah, makes no sense.  I’m close to getting this sorted, although it means husband taking it on technically as he’s the breadwinner, but by marrying me he gets half the house anyway so I figure that’s fair enough.  Once I’ve done this, I’ll be paying so much less that the rent will more than cover it, so paying bills will be a little easier.

9. Discharge all debts.  This one is important, not just because I need to be debt free, but because I don’t want to end up with a terrible credit rating like my dad and be unable to ever get a loan.  I also hate the stress of bills and debts hanging over my head, and it’s particularly hard because what is hanging over my  head is automatically hanging over husband’s head and he doesn’t need all that.  He shouldn’t have to pay for my inability to manage my finances.  So I plan to get a little extra money when I refinance so I can pay off all the debts and consolidate.

10. Refurbish my house in Canberra.  I’ve needed to do this for a while, and just recently when the carport randomly collapsed I realised it needs to happen in the new year.  The house is nearly 40 years old, and although the kitchen and bathroom were re-done not long before I bought it in 2005, that was six years ago now, seven actually, so it’s definitely time to do something.  I shudder to think what it’ll cost to deal with the issue of the water leaking from the bathroom upstairs through the ceiling of the laundry below it, but that has to be tackled.  In addition there are a few other things like a pergola that I’d like done.  I need to speak to a real estate agent to gauge just what I need to do in order to improve the value without over capitalising.  As it stands, I have great equity in the place and excellent tenants, so I’ve done well.  But if I don’t do something soon it will all fall down!

11. Collect all my stuff from my shed in Canberra.  Back in mid 2007 when I went to London, I sold a lot of my stuff, but the stuff I didn’t sell or give away that I still wanted to keep; important stuff; stuff with sentimental value. I packed it all into my little shed in the front garden before I left and when I came back in January 2010 I peeked in.  It was all still there.  That’s as far as I got.  I haven’t been back.  When my tenant rang to say the carport had collapsed, I thought she meant the shed.  It’s not exactly the most stable building in the world, just a little tin shed someone bought from Bunnings.  I can’t believe it’s still standing.  And I wonder what state my stuff is in!  There’s so much important stuff in there, pictures and stories from my childhood, an Edwardian sideboard that was in my parents’ house which I always meant to refinish, some random art projects, all my artwork from my year at art school, probably even books that are no doubt damp, mouldy or eaten by insects… There’s so much stuff I can’t even remember half of it.  At some level I’m looking forward to going through it all, the process of rediscovery, but the thought of seeing just how much it’s been destroyed and then trying to work out what to do with it and how to get it where I want it is not appealing at all.  No doubt I’ll update about that at some point…

So that’s it.  Bloody long list!  Only I could write 1500 words on my new year’s resolutions…

Nearly five months

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.

Get a life!

I’m starting to get really sick of online forums and the boring shit that people discuss there.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made lots of lovely friends via online parenting forums since I’ve been off work to have the Dude, and as I don’t intend to return to work outside of home in the near future, I’m going to be spending a fair bit of time hanging out online, so forums make sense, to chat and exchange ideas about parenting etc.  But seriously, some people discuss the most inane things ever!  I’m thinking, hang on, don’t you have kids to look after?  Don’t you have shit to do round the house or other constructive activities?  Is a discussion about how long to leave it before you reply to someone’s text message REALLY a good use of your time?  I think it’s more than just people being losers that bothers me, it’s how incredibly over sensitive some people are that is getting under my skin.  People talk about not being judgemental – hello, that’s human nature, every sentence uttered is a judgement, really, let’s face it!

Here are some of the really inane and annoying topics I’ve come across recently:

  • Those people that decided not to give their baby’s gender away – urgh, whatever, so over it, who gives a shit!  And frankly, I reserve the right to judge them for it.
  • Whingeing about the Go the Fuck to Sleep book because it’s apparently offensive – oh for fuck’s sake, seriously, get over it, is there anything you’re not offended by?
  • Shit about feminism.  God it pisses me off!  It’s so anti male, I hate it!
  • How some child/woman/non-male person unless a child was abused/ignored/treated in a bad way – yeah okay, it’s terrible, but why are you posting it on a forum?  Like, a link to a news article about it?  We know, it’s shite, why do you want a whole bunch of people up there commenting on how bad it is?!  Pointless.  Urgh.
Okay, maybe I need to get off the forums and find some strategies for amusing myself in another way if I don’t like it, right?  Meh, this is my blog, I’ll do whatever I like thanks!  It’s true, I don’t need to be on there reading it all, and to be honest I don’t post at all on one forum, just read every down and then.  I guess my issue is also with these die hard feminist types – just because I had my baby at home and don’t vaccinate and wear him in a sling and don’t agree with controlled crying doesn’t mean I’m a freaking feminist!  I’m all for women and girls, and yeah, I don’t like being treated like a second class citizen, but I’m not into man-bashing.  I find it pretty funny how a lot of feminists are trying to become men without realising it, all this ‘I can do anything men can do’ shit.  Yeah, I installed the deadlock on my front door, I love cars, I’m not afraid of a fight, and I paved a 15 square metre area in my back yard all by myself, including using an 80kg plate compactor, but I’d happily have handed that job over to a big strong man, no worries!  They’re bigger and stronger for a reason, because they’re men and their role is more around physical stuff.  Men and women are different, that’s a fact, and it’s okay.
There are plenty of female obstetricians and GPs who think having a baby at home is madness and are completely ignorant about the way a woman’s body works and how not interfering is best.  And there are plenty of male obstetricians and GPs who agree but aren’t misogynists.  Similarly, there are a lot of men who were pioneers in the homebirth movement; I’m just as grateful to and admiring of Michel Odent as I am to/of Ina May Gaskin, put it that way!
So yeah, people talk about a lot of shit online when they’re at home with children and have nothing better to do.  I gotta get back into my writing and away from the online forums, they’re doing my head in!