Week 38 – socks

Most of us have been there: you collect your laundry up and put it through the usual wash-dry routine. The time comes to put it away, but can you pair up all the socks? Can you heck.

There’s always an even number of socks in need of washing and an odd number which return from the laundry adventure. No one knows why. It is as though your washing machine contains a short cut to the Bermuda Triangle.

In our house, the mystery has just become downright odd.

One of the toys Reindeer has inherited from his eldest cousins is a washing machine which takes coins and lights up whilst making a spin cycle noise. He’d taken a pair of socks off on the play mat the other day so we put them in his toy machine for some play laundry. I wasn’t prepared for the fact that, when I collected up the socks later, there were now three of them. It was like a reverse of what happens to normal laundry. He’d definitely only had two socks down there and I have no idea where the other one came from.

Today, there were five socks near the toy washing machine. I can’t work out if last night’s lack of sleep is getting to me or whether we’ve been given the other side of the sock portal…

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Random Rambling – new parents and mental health

For friends of ours, a traumatic labour thankfully resulted in the birth of a healthy child. Unfortunately, it didn’t result in a healthy mum. Within a few days of the new arrival the situation reached crisis point and they were admitted to a specialist unit. The unit staff support new mothers when birth has resulted in a negative change in their mental health.

Listening, mostly helplessly, as our friends struggled, it really brought home to me how pregnancy and childbirth is a real contradiction. Fragile yet hugely destructive; incredible pain followed by amazing highs; happy expectation quickly overset by the grim slog, induced by sleep deprivation. There can be very few experiences in life which condense so many emotions into a single, intense physical event. It is little wonder many parents take a long time to pick up again.

Reading up online, I have discovered that more than 1:10 women will suffer from postnatal depression, whilst 1:1000 women will suffer from postpartum psychosis. With almost 700,000 births in the UK last year, that translates to over 70,000 cases of postnatal depression and 700-ish cases of postpartum psychosis. Postnatal depression doesn’t just affect new mothers either. Research by the NCT shows a similar rate of postnatal depression in new fathers too, although this tends to develop slightly later post-delivery, when the baby is 3-6 months old.

And that is just those cases reported. It shouldn’t be surprising that many people don’t recognise or respond to their symptoms by seeking help; mental health has long been the poor-relation in terms of socially acceptable illnesses. Regular, high-profile campaigns have taken place over the last few years to raise public awareness and challenge what is socially acceptable in the perception and treatment of people with various mental health issues. Several celebrities have joined these campaigns and spoken publicly about their struggles to maintain ‘normal’ levels of mental health.

I don’t know how such campaigns measure their success, but one which I came across long before we considered starting a family ourselves, was awareness of postnatal depression (PND). I can see why an awareness campaign would be necessary.

As we told family, friends and colleagues the good news that we were pregnant, those with children tried to warn us how wonderful, yet physically, emotionally and mentally demanding, new parenthood would be. Despite knowing that PND existed, we had no concept of just how gruelling we would find the early days even without this complication. Amazing and delightful, but a sleep-deprived, exhaustion-numbed-mind-battle to complete even the simplest tasks. At times it was a case of knowing ourselves to be happy rather than feeling ourselves to be so.

Looking back now, I realise that I probably did suffer from a minor degree of PND. Tearful, anxious, angry with myself for (I felt) not being good enough at my new role of mother, I spent several months feeling guilty. Guilty that, after the ups and downs of pregnancy, and a failed induction followed by emergency caesarian, I had my beautiful, happy and healthy son in my arms, and yet I wasn’t always happy.

The pressure to feel only the positive is huge. For some people, the idea that there could be any negative is totally anathema. You’re reminded how lucky you are, how others would kill for the chance to have a baby of their own, how you have it all. And yet, no matter how true that may be, those words aren’t a magic spell. They cannot make you feel the way others expect you to feel.

Rather than thinking too carefully about it, and before those feelings had a chance to poison the early days, I decided to begin this blog. Mainly it is a tool to record as many as possible of the fun, charming and unexpected moments we have with Reindeer each day. But it is also an outlet, a chance to get things off my chest or to make sense of my jumbled thoughts. And it works, if not in the way I expected. You see, I write about the difficult times but, normally, I don’t end up posting them. Just the act of writing it down allows me the opportunity to take those ideas, examine them, reflect upon them and then put them away again. It takes the sting out and allows me to regain equilibrium.

This post is an example of that. I started writing because I was trying to make sense of the difficulties confronting our friends. Trying to understand, even a little bit, the incomprehensibility of going through the emotional tumult that is pregnancy and childbirth, only to have your mental health crumble around you for no apparent reason at the point when you should be able to enjoy the safe arrival of your child. I’m probably no closer to understanding their situation, but I’ve realised that they don’t need me to understand; how can I, when they don’t understand either? Rather, they need their friends to provide practical support. To assist with the mundane so that they can focus on finding their way through the chaos of expectation denied. So they can deal effectively with the reality of now and the support of their child and themselves.

For our friends, progress has been good (if frustrating for them) the last couple of days. There is every reason to be hopeful that they will soon be home and back to the normal new-baby-at-home chaos most of us experienced. But this is only possible because of the support received from the midwives and doctors and the availability of this specialist unit. Once again there is cause to be grateful for the cradle-to-grave vision of Bevan and the NHS that was born from it.

Week 37 – excuuuuuse yooou!

I have no idea why, but if you pronounce ‘excuse you’ with a very extended ‘u’ and ‘o’, Reindeer will laugh. If you do this in a variety of funny voices, he will laugh at you for a very long time!

This worked really well yesterday and, as an informal memory test, I decided to try it again today. Happily, it had the same effect today so we did this quite a lot. Including whilst we were out playing in the garden. The neighbours probably think we’re mad!

Week 36 – ups, downs and in betweens

Michael Glover; http://www.flickriver.com/photos/michaelglover/tags/stanwick/

Today has been a bit of a mixed bag.

In the ups section we had a lovely 3-mile walk in the sunshine at the local nature reserve. Reindeer was in the wrap and seemed to enjoy watching everything and everyone. He was particularly focused on the dogs being walked, although I’m not sure he was overly enthusiastic about them.

In the downs section Reindeer was sick this afternoon, all over a (thankfully) plastic toy and followed this up with an appalling nappy which he managed to put his leg in.

The in between section involved feeding. At various points during the day he broke away from breastfeeding to alternately laugh, smile, blow a raspberry, shout, sing, cry and talk. I have no idea why!

Overall he’s had a happy, if slightly clingy, day with plenty of laughter and lots of squeaking.

Week 35 -one day out

Today we met up with family for an afternoon at Castle Acre Priory. This is a 70-mile-each-way trip for Reindeer and I but well worth it to be with everyone! Whilst Reindeer slept on the journey home I had plenty of time to reflect on the day.

Just lately there has been so much going on each day that I struggle to recall it all so, just this once, I’m going to talk through our day on the blog. The idea being that in umpteen years time I will look back at it and go ‘Oooh!, I’d forgotten all that!’

Our day began when Reindeer woke, a little after 0700. I will mention here that this was extra special because it was the third night in a row that he’d slept the whole night without any interruptions! He’s never done this before and it constitutes a minor miracle given how difficult the weekend was thanks to teething.

He was so pleased to see me this morning that I was given lots of smiles and cuddles-into-the-neck when I went into his room. After a feed and nappy change we went downstairs – Reindeer to play and me to make breakfast. Our exceptionally good day continued with Reindeer eating all of his porridge and all of his fruit pot – result! He also splashed a large quantity of water all over everything, but that’s OK because he had quite a lot of fun doing it. Mealtimes are very variable when it comes to timings – they can last from 15 minutes to one hour plus, depending on Reindeer’s mood. Today’s breakfast was about 35 minutes.

While I had a shower, Reindeer sat on the bed and played games with Dad. Once I was sorted Reindeer practised brushing his teeth, had another nappy change and then I got him dressed for the day in non-matching monster socks (he’ll have to conform when he gets to school so I want him to be much less constrained while he’s little), jeans and a funky green top decorated with a safari animal pattern. I left his hair in alone in all it’s fluffy glory. This all turned out to be a bit premature because he then had a feed and promptly fell asleep. For 2 hours. I used this time to get everything ready and loaded into the car for our trip. It is impossible to travel lightly these days – with the toys, nappy bag, clothing change, packed lunch, more toys and bits to take to family the car was quite full today.

Just as we finished his post-nap feed, I got the call to say the rest of the family were about to set off, so that was excellent timing. After another 20 minutes faffing with another nappy change and saying bye to Dad (working and unable to join us today) we finally hit the road just before noon.

The weather was beautiful – sunshine and dramatic clouds with a slight cool breeze. This is Reindeer’s first Spring, so it is nice to have weather like this in which we can go out and explore the world.

I’d completely forgotten that this was the last day of the school holidays so, naturally, the traffic was plentiful and the roads ridiculously busy. Reindeer didn’t sleep on the journey. The first 50 miles were spent alternately playing with his toys, watching the traffic and daydreaming. During the last 20 miles we had to stop three times as he got quite sad and needed cuddles and a feed (as is so often the case when we’re out and about he was fed in the car). He finally slept the last 5 miles of the trip.

We arrived just ahead of everyone else, so I sat in the back of the car with Reindeer, looking out of the open door. Shortly after we parked the car a bin lorry pulled up beside us. Whilst the driver got out and dealt with loading the lorry, the co-drivers were taking pictures of the priory on their phones. Reindeer watched avidly, fascinated by the sound of the truck and the sight of people in high-visibility vests. As has so often been the case, the men working in the truck saw they were being watched and responded with kindness, smiling and waving at Reindeer, who stared intently back.We are so grateful that people respond so well to our son – he is hugely curious and, because we don’t use a buggy, is usually at eye level with the folk around us. He is liable to stare or babble at folk because he is basically nosy but, thankfully, I don’t remember anyone responding negatively to this.

Meeting up with family was great – everyone wanted to cuddle Reindeer and I got to spend some time catching up with my eldest nephews (6 years and 3 years going on 30!). He was a little hesitant as he’s going through a clingy phase, although he did snuggle into my Mum as soon as he saw her before making a quick retreat.

Once in the priory grounds we decided to sit opposite what was once the main, and hugely dramatic, entrance to the priory. I hadn’t really thought about it beforehand, but this was the first time Reindeer was close up to grass – he is a summer baby which means that his aware-and-grabby status only kicked off in the winter when sitting out on the grass was a definite no. He was fascinated with the green, stringy stuff – touching it and pulling it. He didn’t seem to want to eat it though, which was a relief.

After some time playing like this with his cousins it was time for another feed before walking through the ruins. Having perked up with the feed Reindeer was happy to be carried by his Opa, as long as he could see where I was. It makes me feel so happy to see him with family – another generation and link for us all. We are extremely fortunate that all of his grandparents, aunts and uncles would like to spend more time with him; the only barrier to this is the way that modern life means we don’t live close together. Distances range from a one hour drive to the nearest relatives to a 12 hour flight to the farthest. It is one reason why I’ll always try to make an extra effort for days like today – the opportunities don’t come along often enough.

As we walked, nephew #1 took great delight in showing me his three-and-a-half new adult teeth. He was chuffed to discover they are the same three-and-a-half teeth that Reindeer has and was also interested to learn that the fourth tooth is struggling to come through for him too – bleeding gums but not much progress.

Nephew #2, who persists in referring to him as Baby Reindeer, was mighty put-out that he couldn’t carry Reindeer like the grown-ups do, but was happy to play games with him whilst sat on a picnic table.

By 1600 it was time to begin the journey home. We made a quick stop in the shop for a magnet (I’m trying to collect one from each place we visit as Reindeer loves looking at the magnets on the fridge) before heading to the cars to say goodbye and exchange belated Easter gifts.

Reindeer slept for the first hour of the return journey and cried on and off for the last 20 minutes. I was really impressed with him though as he was clearly making a huge effort not to cry. Within 10 minutes of starting he’d managed to get things under control and only occasionally cried briefly after this. I desperately wanted to pull over but, naturally, we were on the section of road where there isn’t anywhere safe to stop.

Once home we had a cuddle and quick playtime before another feed and into bedtime routine. During the feed Reindeer was trying to kick his socks off. Usually we make a game of removing his socks but, as he was feeding, I tried to remove them without fuss. Demonstrating his growing awareness of self he actually noticed me removing them and broke off from the feed to laugh 🙂 I love that he remembers all the little fun things we do!

Tonight our story was ‘That’s not my puppy’ and was followed by teeth brushing time. Bathtime was the usual fun, especially as he’s still interested in the mechanical whale – as of today christened ‘Maxwhale’. So beloved is Maxwhale that he came with us from the bath to the changing table and then bed. Before getting into pyjamas I use E45 lotion on most of Reindeer’s skin; it probably isn’t essential any more but we started this in response to a small outbreak of eczema in January.

Cuddles another feed and prayers followed before a prolonged session of singing, rocking and more cuddles to get him to sleep for the night.

In many ways this is a very mundane read – it could be the story of any family on any day out (well done if you’ve gotten this far!) – but for me it is anything but mundane. My memories of today contain the visual of the smiles, the sound of the laughter and the feeling of seeing my son reach to me for cuddles. They also contain the pride of watching him respond well to new experiences, the happiness of time with family, the shame that neither of us actually ate a ‘proper’ meal for lunch or dinner as I forgot (Reindeer is still fully breastfed so he wasn’t affected), the frustration that I can’t seem to be the organised and effortless mother I try so hard to be and the sadness of not being able to safely stop the car to comfort him as soon as he was sad.

Each day is such a mixed bag, with so many variants and new experiences, that it is easy to see how memories become blurred, how it is hard to hold in my head the earliest days for comparison with the current ones. This is why I keep photographs from each day, video from some days, the book of our daily events and this blog for the stuff I need to try and articulate in case I lose it forever.

Random rambling – items & tips for hospital & home

Last weekend Reindeer and I attended a friend’s baby shower. We had a lovely afternoon and were glad to share the celebration with her.

As a first time mum-to-be, knowing that I was so recently in the same position, she has been asking me various questions about what to expect and what she needs. Our gift to her was a selection of the personal items which I found most useful, but which she didn’t already have/hadn’t been told about. In terms of expectation I had to point out that my experience wasn’t exactly ‘normal’, but that I would happily share all the tips I received that I found useful.

In case anyone else is interested, I thought I would list some of the items and tips here:

  • A nursing-front night dress or two – I was an idiot and packed normal pyjamas in my hospital bag. The top was totally unsuitable for breastfeeding and trying to remove and replace the trousers every time I went to the toilet was ridiculously painful, as well as putting unnecessary strain on my caesarian wound
  • Disposable maternity pants – I laughed when these were suggested to me. Less than a day post-partum and I couldn’t go two hours without them. The thought of changing normal pants every time I went to the toilet, never mind finding the energy to wash them, was eye-watering
  • Granny pants – see above. Once the bleeding reduces after the first couple of days granny pants are great for replacing disposable maternity pants. They cover your remaining lumps and bumps, keep your maternity towels in place and, if you’ve had a caesarian, keep additional dressings in place. They also don’t have to look awful – my mum (who is much wiser than I) ignored my breezy pregnancy comment ‘I’m sure I’ll be fine without them’ and bought some for me with pretty lace trim. I was pathetically grateful to receive these on my return from hospital!
  • Maternity pads/ towels – whichever type of delivery you have, you will bleed for some time afterwards (I believe 4-6 weeks on average). For the first couple of weeks at least you will definitely need maternity pads/towels rather than ordinary sanitary towels – you can switch to those later. I seriously underestimated how many I would need – I bought one packet! – and had both my mum and my husband buying in extras for a while. An extra tip, if you’ve had a caesarian, is that you can use a pad against your wound to keep the area dry – micropore tape and granny pants will help hold it in place
  • Lanolin – if you’re going to give breastfeeding a shot, this stuff is amazing. It isn’t cheap, but you only need to use a little after each feed and it really does help reduce the discomfort of those early days
  • Breast pads – this is probably an obvious one but I’m adding it in for completeness. I use at least four a day – two after my morning shower and two when I get ready for bed. On a leaky day more are required. This works out at a lot of pads over 7-months (approximately 1,000 so far!)
  • A cheap, oversized, nursing bra – in addition to the normal ‘day’ bras, this is really handy for night time as I use it to keep the nursing pads in place. In the early days I would just try and tape the pads to my pyjama top roughly where my nipples were. Inevitably the bed sheets ended up soaked in breast milk *sigh*. I say cheap and oversized as (1) having a baby is hugely expensive and I didn’t want to spend money like it was going out of fashion and (2) I didn’t want to wear anything restrictive and I found that if my breasts were going to engorge then it would be overnight so I needed the extra room
  • Feeding chair – before baby arrives, have a think about where you’re likely to want to feed them. Once you’ve identified your feeding chair, keep nearby a selection of cushions pillows and a blanket to ensure comfort – you’ll likely be spending a lot of time there! 10 days after Reindeer arrived, realising that I was pretty much pinned down in the chair for half the day at least, my husband brought home a music stand on which I could put a tablet, phone, the notebook and pen and a muslin. This was so useful because I could sit and cuddle Reindeer while he slept and watch programmes on the iPlayer or read a book. I kept the stand by the chair and moved it to the relevant side before each feed – it was a lifesaver although it is also partly to blame for my addiction to GBBO…
  • A notebook and pen – this might sound strange but for at least the first month health professionals will keep asking you ‘when did baby last feed?’, ‘how long for?’ ‘when was baby’s last wet and/or dirty nappy?’. I was in such a sleep deprived haze that I could never remember, so I kept a notepad, pen and clock by the chair where I fed Reindeer so that I could always write the time down immediately. I would also write L or R depending on whether I’d fed him from the left or the right; this meant I didn’t lose track of which side I was feeding on next. It was such a useful technique that I still write down feeds, nappies and anything else of interest, e.g., if we need to administer Calpol or teething gel, so we don’t lose track. One day, if I ever have time, I’ll be able to look back on those books as a neat reminder of how our life changed (yes, I’m a tad sentimental at times!)
  • Day 5 post-partum – when your placenta formed in the first trimester it took over hormone production for the duration of your pregnancy. Five days after your baby arrives is about the time that your body suddenly realises your placenta has gone and it should have started producing hormones again, but hasn’t. Some women get past day 5 with no problems. I became a sobbing wreck. It wasn’t so much that I felt sad, it was more that every emotion was heightened. Happiness became elation, sadness became desolation, love became overwhelming. It was too much to take everything in and so I ended up crying randomly and for no apparent reason. Thankfully we didn’t have any visitors that day; depending on how you cope with things it may be a good idea to ensure someone you trust is available to support you around this time
  • Metanium – thankfully, Reindeer has never suffered from full-on nappy rash, but with his teething nappies his bottom did start to get a bit pink. The metanium was recommended by our health visitor and was great at preventing a rash developing
  • Snacks – eating can be tricky with a newborn. Finding time to make a meal isn’t always possible because sleeping, showering and using the loo are also important. Snacks can help get you through; cereal bars are great as is fruit. My Dad quietly made sure there were plenty of snacks available in the early days!

There are probably other things I’ve missed, or just plain forgotten in the months since Reindeer arrived, but I think this list covers the main points. Hopefully it will be useful for someone.

Week 31 – back to work?

The inevitable return to work has been playing on my mind a lot recently. The more time I spend with Reindeer, the less I want to go back.

Over the last few days we’ve been swimming, out for dinner as a family, attended playgroups and generally had a lovely time. If we didn’t need two wages in the household I would be crazy to give up any of this.

In order to get some control over things, I emailed my line manager requesting that we meet to plan my return. It may seem a little early but I don’t need the stress of unexpected news.

Today was meeting day.

My husband took a big chunk out of his day to come with me and bring Reindeer too, so they could catch up with my colleagues as well as providing me with moral support (and so we didn’t have to worry about me not being there to breastfeed Reindeer).

Although I was hugely stressed on the way to work, it turns out I didn’t need to be. My line manager was fabulous; she has twice returned from maternity leave herself and so was very practical and reassuring about how things could work.

There were three bits of good news for me:

  1. I have accrued 9 weeks of annual leave/closure days/bank holidays which HR recommend I add on to the end of my 12 months of maternity leave. The best part is that it will be paid at my normal rate – hurrah! This means I don’t need to return until after the summer 🙂
  2. My manager is happy to be flexible about my agile working request – we can try different working patterns until we find one which suits me and the team. This is a huge relief as I’ve heard so many stories of parents trying to return to work but having to quit because their employer isn’t prepared to be flexible
  3. There are plenty of projects coming up and I can have a large degree of choice over what I come back to. This is likely to work well as I don’t want the large development projects just now. Much as they are the most exciting ones, and I really love having something challenging to work on, I just don’t need that level of stress. The plus side is that the quieter ones are very likely to be compatible with the sort of working patterns we discussed and I’m unlikely to be competing with colleagues for them. Hurrah, again!

Having found considerable peace of mind in this conversation, it was time to catch up with folk. I have some lovely colleagues and it was great to meet up with a few of them over the next hour. Reindeer was a lot of fun – interested in all of them, squeaking and talking and generally being as adorable as only babies can be. When the weather is a bit more conducive we’re going to head over one lunchtime for a picnic and proper chat which I’m really looking forward to.

Now it is time to spend a few days playing with the numbers to try and work out what the optimal working pattern is likely to be for me so that we can start getting plans in place. At the same time we need to work with Reindeer on drinking from a cup – he’s never had a bottle in his life so this is proving quite challenging! Until he is able to hydrate himself from something other than me, I won’t be going anywhere…