Friday, 31 December 2010

The first Christmas

I had so many clever ideas for Christmas posts. This blog is a lot about looking back and working out how and if that lets us/me look forward. I had things to say about my sardonic view that Mary did things right, giving birth in a stable with animals all around. And a more grown up view, which I find myself taking these days, that even though I don't believe in the whole story I have tremendous sympathy for her - young, alone, screaming into the night, surrounded by old men. I almost wish the inn keeper's wife had a role in the story, helping out, bringing hot drinks, showing Mary how to swaddle, chucking out her placenta.

Fate intervened however, and Son2 was ill all Christmas. I can confirm that A&E, Children's A&E no less, is as grim as you might imagine. For me it was upsetting because the little one had, among other symptoms, lost his voice. A dear little pup without his bark, I was humbled and terrified. Later, after we'd escaped admission, schlepped the country, opened lovely gifts and shared food he got more ill and I realised that I had committed a terrible folly. Because he was quiet I'd not really registered how ill he was - a 7 hour screaming fit is oddly easier when it is silent.

We returned to doctors and were admitted to hospital, he had lost a lot of weight and kept losing, throwing up each feed and needing help to breath. I stayed with him and learned a lesson in humility about the pressures of expressing and breastfeeding. Last time I had a shit run of luck when my son was born and was ill myself. I always said how lucky I was that it was me who was sick not him, and also that despite all of the hassles we had feeding him was always fairly easy. I was right. Watching the newborn covered in tubes and obsessing like a crazed extra in LOST over numbers I didn't understand - pulse-oxygen numbers darting in and out of danger zones and screaming and beeping all night whilst expressing to order was just useless. Being under pressure to provide food to hourly order, watching him get it through a tube, watching myself fail to pump enough milk. It was awful and made me feel all Dickensian - I truly have been blessed, for all my moaning.

The Good News, and now I sound like a vicar, is my boy is back at home, which means I can see both my lads snoring on the sofa as husband and I catch up with some Christmas telly and a hot cup of tea. It may not be the post I wanted to write, but it is pleasingly Christmassy: a newborn boy, wise doctors offering gifts, support and kindness and presents, room found for our boy at the inn. And as he is swaddled tight I am mindful of our short time as Mum and her little pal and really realise that whatever the truth of it Mary's story has a lot to say. After all, she had it shown to her so brutally that we are only borrowing our kids for a short while, they belong to everyone else, to the world and are at the mercy of it. Our job is merely watchwoman - to see if we can't help them grow enough to care for themselves and go forward alone, with us waiting in the background, thinking about the stable and how lucky we have been to have so many milky kisses and tantrums and sleepless nights spent all together.

So I wouldn't swap our first Christmas, for all its tears and terrors. But I'm hoping for noisy crying and less breathing apparatus next year.

Monday, 20 December 2010

the true lactivist in town

I like the term 'lactivist', mainly because I am a fan of puns, however poor and obvious. Just this morning I nodded mirthfully as I walked past Nationwide where an advert in the window announced 'tis the reason to save lolly'. Or last night I appreciated Urbon on The Apprentice.

I've been very lucky with feeding my kids, not least with the indulgence/tolerance/acceptance of my friends, acquaintances, relatives, lover (let alone strangers) for me not only whipping my bangers out but also inflicting the occasional milk shower. I've had good supply, and been able to cope with the early niggles and aggravations. It makes it easier to be comfortable and supportive of breastfeeding I'm sure. I see myself as a bit of an old school feminist too so rather like the idea of any 'activism' I can be a part of, especially one which has so much potential for empowering women however fucked up the breast/bottle debate my have become in the UK.

Yet this morning my three year old son (aka Spiderboy) demonstrated a sense of breastfeeding as the norm in a way I could never have done. Whilst creating sticky havoc making playdough dinners on the kitchen table he offered his brother a large, purple, squishy blob. 'Is that a ball you've made for son2?', I asked, touched by the inter-sibling generosity. 'No it is milk' he said. Adding, with a sense of incredulity at my puzzled face. 'A boob full of milk!'

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A cheery post-script

On a more instantaneously cheery note, two things today made me beam with pride. Firstly, spiderboy, my number1 son, was literally spidered today. His face painted red and black at nursery, with his playmates a rainbow of witches, superheroes, butterflies and cows. As I type I am still finding glorious face paint smears on my clothes and teeny infant. His excitement and coyly proud face as I collected him and he messily kissed us both is seared to my memory. I love boys.

Secondly an online acquaintance on a forum posted about graduating from the loony bench, having come through hard times and come off antidepressants. Go her. I may never meet her but having shared my depression in the interweb's secret corners too, I was moved and humbled. And mostly I was encouraged as reading her update I thought and felt a genuine sense of optimism that one day I could join her and talk with firm conviction about life off drugs. I suspect I'll always have one buttock squished onto the loony bench, but I can certainly imagine a time when I'm not welded to it.

Mirror, mirror

Today whilst collecting spiderboy from nursery I bumped into another Mum whose second is a similar age to mine. She was on her first trip out. As we worshipped each other's little ones (hers sleeping like an angel, mine screaming like a demon) our conversation was spiced with a strong sense of relief - both at not being massively pregnant any more and at having survived birth, and found it 'so much better than last time'. The ghosts of labours past were standing behind us, but in the December cold snap they somehow no longer chilled us.

I find myself at the moment, still bouyed by sparkling surprise, almost embarrassed in discussions about labour and birth despite my voracious appetite for all birth stories long and short. It seems indecent to mention a precipitous birth when speaking to anyone with a longer labour or more intervention. Especially when my second labour, still whizzing in my mind, so fast and unknowable, so hard to pinpoint properly or understand, is defined for my by shock - shock mainly, I'm beginning to think, that it hasn't left me traumatised.

But it reminded me of a defining moment after my first labour - that post-birth shower. I can still see, as I could at the time in that 3rd person shocked vision, a huge, stumbling, blood streaked figure staring at itself in the glass through swollen eyes. My hairs (all hairs) matted with fluid gore. A puddle of blood hissing at my feet. My belly just 20 hours earlier so large and firm and proud, a protruding bullet shaped protector, now just as large but softened and defeated, saggy, deflated, spent. And I think back to that woman, just turned 30, on the midnight hour of expectant woman to first time Mum. She's standing staring, unable to process anything, aghast at the sight, swaying with exhaustion, and talking in a tinny chipper voice which still makes me wince as it was the voice I used throughout every psychological and psychiatric assessment, at every physio appointment. She's telling the midwife that no, she's alright, the midwife doesn't have to stay with her for the shower.

And I want to run back in time and stand beside her as I don't think she does want to be alone, and reassure her that the midwife has stayed outside just in case. I want to hold her hand as she searches the mirror for herself and tell her somewhere in the torn and stretched out ruins she's there fiercely shining deep inside, her sense of herself a beleagured beacon only seconded by the love, white cold and burning bright, she'll feel for her baby till the end of time (even if she, like all Mums, comes close to forgetting it sometimes). And to say you'll be back, one day, one day soon. I want to wash her down and rub her with oils like some Biblical sister in the red tent (if that isn't just a fabric of fiction).

But mostly I want to tell her an anecdote from a dear, dear friend and fellow blogger @hovehousewife whose searing honesty was such a comfort to me halfway through my second pregnancy when I met her in a Soho bar for a glamourous lunch where all the Mums in attendance regressed to our pre-Mum selves for two hours. She said:

'Expect nothing, thatwoman, it could be better this time but you and me know, we KNOW it could be worse. Because we know, nothing in birth is natural. There's blood on the walls'.

I want to say, in three years time, maybe sooner, this honesty with sooth and heal. It will tell you your horror and surprise, that's okay. Your exhaustion, your confusion, that's okay too. And you will be, one day, too.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Out of the woods?

Since my first post I've been thinking that there are other reasons I wanted to write too. Partly because after my last pregnancy I experienced post-natal depression, another area which is plagued by both a lot of ignorance and also by a lot of teeny bits of knowledge. This time, so far, I haven't experienced post-natal depression - although I'm aware it is early days.

I have a teeny three weekold snoozing at my feet and a super busy three year old who is part fireman, part spiderman, part bewildered first baby not sure of his place yet. I find myself eager to make comparisons regarding the post-partum period, but also keen to avoid any suggestion that the birth of my first son was a terrible time for which my second son's birth and infanthood could make up. After all, that wouldn't be fair on either of them. But I do feel moved by some realisations.

The first, which may only be news to me, is that childbirth can be something which ends, psychologically at least, on the birth of your baby. Yes you have to push (or have pulled) a placenta, but last time, three weeks in I was in and out of hospital and deranged with tiredness, horror and confusion. I was bleeding dreadfully, terrified because of the constant readmissions with something I could barely spell (haemorrhages), and still feeling like some bewildered teen at the mercy of a large medical building and the constant stream of nice but everchanging care givers. A lost Gretal covered in blood, inching her way through an unknown forest really unsure of whether she'd ever lose her hospital bracelet.

This time I am sitting in my lounge in some non-maternity trousers with a sense of who I am, or at least who I have been and could be, and no hospital notes or ID to suggest I am absconding from the scary wooded wilderness of childbirth. Part of me feels it could all go wrong at any moment, but I took the plunge and let the midwives sign me off. Maybe I can be ready to go it alone after a mere 24 days? Who knows. Still, it really is a revelation, and something I feel inordinately lucky about. I'm sure I'll be moved to graphically describe my births at some point, and maybe to politely make the mental adjustment which allows me more correctly to refer to them as Son 1 and Son 2's births. But for now, an easier time with Son 2 has offered me a platform to look back and forward rather than stumble around barefoot in the dark.

It is partially a whimsical observation on my part as come the first week in January I must woman up and make my way to the gynaephysios to have my fanny assessed and possibly rebuilt. But for now, I have a couple of weeks where I can dip my toe in the normal, brilliantly boring chaos and confusion of a new born. Hours lost gazing at his teeny face and toes, more hours lost changing nappies just as I should be leaving the house with spiderman in tow.

Friday, 10 December 2010


So this is the start. I was prompted to start blogging after reading a piece in today's Guardian about birth injuries. The piece is both upsetting and startling, and the posts in response similarly fascinating, moving, political, and to some, it appears, terrifying. Here it is:

I am a dreadful gore whore when it comes to birth stories and birth injuries, of which much more later I'm sure, and I've recently given birth for the second time. The Guardian piece made me want to start a blog because I realized there is a lot not being said, and certainly not being normalised about birth and birth injuries despite birth and birth injuries, along with motherhood (and all the political issues therein) being a newspaper feature and online forum hot potato at the moment.

I find my own birth injuries, which are by no means the worst I've come across in my webchat travels, are a strange part of my personality now, as well as a part of my anatomy. I carry them round, some days wearing them proudly as a badge of honour, others hiding them, sometimes at peace with them, others raging against the light about them. But whilst it sometimes feels that they define me, at other moments I want to kick them aside and be the woman I am despite, in spite, regardless of them.

On the one hand I feel there should be more talk about incontinence, physiotherapy, scars, the wounds and tears and tears and wounds that some women wind up with - that if there were more talk, they'd be more normalised and accepted, there would be less stigma and, crucially, more help available.

On the other hand, who wants to be a poster girl for post birth incontinence? The role's there for some of us to be brave warriors acting unembarrassed and all grown up about the prospect of potty training again alongside our kids, but who needs it? Who'd take it? Why would anyone want to be defined by their soggy knickers? Who wants to be THAT woman?

And on the third (what multitasking Mummy wouldn't have a third hand?) I don't like the culture of scaring women about childbirth or about feting childbirth as a defining feature of being women - I haven't the space to list the wonderful women I know who are incredible, inspirational, whole, amazing and will be till the day they die though they aren't Mothers for whatever reason.

Which is a longwinded way of saying the process of motherhood, of becoming a mother is so many things - physical, psychological, emotional, financial, social, political, gynaecological. It is defining, and yet not the only key thing about any woman, even that woman with a broken snatch whose life is disrupted and sometimes determined by having been mangled along her way.