The Happy Baby Project

A happy baby needs a happy mum


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When two tribes go to war – on breastfeeding, Bounty & competitive mums

So I wrote this post on why I combination feed my son, and while I knew it was an emotive topic, I was amazed at the ensuing bun-fight. While the comments were well-meaning, and very welcome, discussions by several mums on the benefits of breastfeeding were perceived by some other mums (most of whom had had to resort to formula) as being unfair and judgmental, even though I am sure, in the most part, the comments weren’t intended to be. The responses I got on twitter were even stronger.

As for me, I felt guilty. I thought maybe I was putting my relaxing evening over cluster feeding. Was I increasing my baby’s risk of allergic conditions? Was I being selfish? Well, turns out after a few evenings of trying extended cluster feeding, it was clear that it didn’t work for my baby either, and we’re back to a top-up bottle of formula a night. But what remained was my surprise at how guilty I’d felt and how vehemently women had reacted to the pro-breastfeeding comments.

And it wasn’t long before I caught another social media bun-fight, this time in relation to Bounty (Mumsnet and this petition are calling for Bounty salespeople to be kept out of post-natal wards). My personal feeling is that the Bounty bags are great, but allowing commercial salespeople into maternity wards where vulnerable, knackered, emotional mums are often alone and shocked, only a few hours after birth, is a violation of privacy and the protective bubble you need around you at that time. I had tears running down my cheeks, struggling to recall my address, while I was pestered for my postcode, just so they could send me marketing emails. Kingston won’t allow siblings to enter wards for fear of the norovirus, but salespeople are OK? I’m against it, but the angry taunts on twitter from both sides were incredible. Some women suggested those against Bounty bags were stuck-up poshos who sneered at freebies. Others said you should call to get the salesperson in question sacked. Mums judging other mums just for having a difference of opinion.

And I’m guilty of judging too. The woman I shared a maternity ward with fed her child formula from the get-go and then had to be woken by the midwife to change her baby’s nappy. What sort of mother is that I thought, unable to sleep a wink, jumping out of bed every time my baby made a sound. But, now, I think I judged her unfairly too – what do I know of her situation, of why she’s made the decisions she did? What did I know of how exhausted she could be?

Even the Daisy Waugh school of  “guilt-free motherhood“, can actually be guilt-inducing. Her description of pain-free inductions to fit in with schedules, and why stair-gates are a waste of time, suggest that any mother who has actually tried natural birth or invested in fripperies like changing matts are high-maintenance control freaks who probably aren’t much fun at dinner parties. Like other parenting philosophies, hers is extreme and judgmental too. So much for guilt free mothering…

Anger, blame, recriminations, guilt. Changing bags at dawn.

It might be because us mums are thrown together – the NCT, nursery and school all make shaky alliances of women who don’t know each other well enough to laugh off competitive jibes or support those who have chosen a different path. It reminds me of being 14 again, at an all girls’ school where, until we were old enough to know better, we befriended those who were the same as us, and ridiculed anyone who dared to be different. We had to have the best school bag, the flashiest pencil case, the shortest skirt. We fancied the same boys and liked the same bands. It was our way, or the highway – a very lonely highway in a deserted lunch room, a girl sent to Coventry, tray wobbling as she scanned the crowd for someone to sit next to. I rejected all that when I matured, of course, but here I am, 20 years later, with that same feeling that I have to fit in, that we’re all competing again.

It doesn’t help that a lot of these parenting philosophies (are you a Gina Ford-er or a Baby Whisperer or a French Children Don’t Throw Food-er?) are rather one-sided and not very pragmatic, and we tend to swallow them whole rather than picking and choosing from them according to what works for us and what doesn’t. We also tend to get a bit blinkered that what works for our child works for ALL children, even though every child is an individual person with their own characteristics, and often changing day by day, week to week. So it’s hard for us to accept that other mums might have found a method of parenting which might suit their child perfectly well, but might not work for us. But rather than accept that, we seem to feel the need to defend our own stance, or feel guilt that we’re trying something else. For example:

– My saying my son sleeps through the night might make someone who is up every 2 hours feel like they are doing something wrong. They aren’t and it’s not because I’m doing anything right either – it’s just the way he is and it might all change tomorrow anyway

– Your saying that your 14 week old is going to monkey music, baby sensory, and swimming lessons, makes me feel lazy for only taking my boy to the park or chilling in the house all day because I’m a bit knackered. But in my heart I know he could stare happily at his toy chicken for hours and it blows his tiny mind, whereas other babies need much more stimulation

– Your saying you let your baby sleep and eat on demand makes me feel a bit strict in Gina Ford-ing mine, but as long as we’re all happy then that’s what matters

–  Your telling me you have enough milk for your child makes me feel inadequate that I don’t have enough for mine. But I don’t have to worry about milk seeping through my clothes, I don’t even need breast pads. But I’d take all that and more if I could feed him all day like you

– Your enjoyment of co-sleeping and carrying your baby around on a sling makes me feel guilty I shipped my baby off to his own room at 3 weeks and prefer to leave him kicking on his play matt. But when I think about it I know he’s an independent little squirt who loves being left to kick around on his own, with a big cuddle and a play every so often

– Your claiming that the weight just “dropped off” because you breastfed makes me feel crap that my arse has actually GROWN during the process. I’m actually quite depressed about it. But my body is obviously conserving calories for some reason and I love it all the same

So what is the answer?

Firstly, us women need to give each other the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know any mother who isn’t trying to do the best for her child, and dealing with a crying or unhappy baby is stressful and upsetting for us all. Let’s just accept we are responsible, intelligent adults who would do anything for our children, and let’s also accept that all babies are individuals and what works for one might not work for another, or might not even work a few weeks down the line. Let’s stop competing, and start supporting. And if that doesn’t work, let’s share a bottle of wine and talk about something else for a change.

Secondly, let’s remember no-one is handing out a prize for who is the best mother (unless you’re Foxy Bingo and think Katie Price is a paragon of parenting). All that counts is that you, your partner and your little one are happy, and that you aren’t making anyone else unhappy in the process.

And sometimes you will fuck up, and that’s OK. We’re not perfect, that’s what makes us human. One day we can teach our children that it’s OK to mess up sometimes too. And with a lot of love, and perhaps a bit of Calpol, everything will be alright.

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10 things you should never say to a pregnant woman

1. You’re HUGE!

This is normally accompanied by a laugh – ah wah ha ha ha! And sometimes pointing.

Yes, we all love to be laughed at, don’t we?!  Ha – yes – I’m the size of a bloody WHALE! I could blot out the SUN!

What people seem to forget is that we are still women, still filled with insecurities and vanities, even after getting knocked up. And we still quite like to look nice, especially when we’re out of the house and have taken off our “house clothes” especially to see you. We have no control over the size and shape of our bump, unless we’ve been eating dohnuts solidly since day 1.

Actually I love my huge bump, I have no stretch marks, and its a nice neat shape. I love compliments and comments on it, just not about its enormous SIZE thank you very much!

2. Your baby will be HUGE! You better hope you have a LARGE PELVIS!

This often accompanies 1. It was followed in one case by a GP who said “what you need is one of those large African pelvises.” Which was helpful.

I have recently been offered an induction on the basis that my baby looks like it might be big and there might be problems with delivery, including shoulder dystocia. That’s a lot of “ifs”, and in my mind not enough to justify an induction, with all the inherent risks and delivery complications. So I don’t believe I’ve been reckless in saying no.  

Let’s start with some basics. You don’t KNOW my baby is huge, no-one does until it comes out of me. I also can’t change the size or shape of my pelvis, although I know that it is actually DESIGNED to cleverly move and open to let my baby out. I know plenty of mums who were scared shitless by doctors telling them they’d have huge babies (some of them opting for inductions or caeserians on this basis) and actually ended up having 8-pounders. Scans can overestimate weight. And, if we trust our bodies and they created these babies, surely we can trust them to birth them too? If you read Ina May’s guide to childbirth there are plenty of HUGE babies born naturally, without pain relief and often with no tearing or episiotomies. In fact, practically speaking wouldn’t big babies be better at pushing themselves out quickly and easily?

And anyway what is the POINT of telling me my baby is big?! It only scares me and has no real benefit to me, other than making me google “shoulder dystocia” in a panic at 4am.

Anyway, now you’ve told me my baby is big, I am choosing to make it a positive. I have a big, healthy baby and that’s BRILLIANT.

3. Let’s just split the bill

Yeah sure! Much easier! I don’t mind paying £10 for each of the 3 sips of Rioja I had! It’s not like I have anything to buy right now, not like I need to budget for anything like maternity leave or essential baby clothes! Yeah, you go ahead and order your third round of digestifs, I didn’t need that cotbed anyway!

4. You’re giving birth next week? Oh my god, I / my friend / colleague had a NIGHTMARE birth… [INSERT NIGHTMARE BIRTH STORY HERE]

This isn’t a recent thing – my own granny told me on several occasions that giving birth was like having your leg amputated without anaesthetic. Thanks granny! WHY do other mums insist on doing this?! Don’t they remember what it was like to be about to give birth and be a bit scared? Do they think sharing battle stories will help?

I don’t need to know right now about the baby that got stuck, the organs that fused together with caeserian scar tissue, the pain and the agony and the panic. Yes, I’m realistic about what might happen, but you should couch all information right now in a positive way – that everything with baby and mum was OK. I want to be surrounded by positive birth stories please!

5. Get all the sleep you can now, you won’t be getting much later!

Good advice in theory, unhelpful in practice, given you need to get up 5 times a night to pee, are wedged uncomfortably on your side by a pregnancy support cushion which doesn’t allow for any movement, while being kicked constantly by a squirmy baby who decides to wake up between the hours of midnight and 5am. You might as well get used to insomnia now ladies.

6. Make sure you [go to the cinema / eat out / go for weekends away / insert other seemingly innocuous activity] now as you WON’T GET TO DO IT AGAIN FOR 18 YEARS!

No. I’d rather spend the entire day watching a Modern Family boxset on the sofa in pajamas while eating choc ices, thank you very much.

7. Wow, you’ve got some appetite!

Yes, at 38 weeks, my appetite is equivalent to that of an 18 year old rugby lad. I could literally stuff my entire body weight in carbs and chocolate in my gob right now, and I’d still want seconds. Now, pretend you didn’t notice, make yourself useful and go get me some cake.

An addendum to this is that pregnant women often cannot help but emit some rather embarrassing noises at this time, at no fault of our own. This includes farting, burping, hiccuping, and I once saw a pregnant friend involuntarily snort like a pig at the sight of chocolate. This is also best to ignore, and blame entirely on the baby.

8. You’re definitely having a girl / boy, I can tell by the [shape of your bump / colour of the moon / other completely unscientific method of detecting gender]

No you can’t. Shuddup.

9. Oh, so you’re OK to [drink that wine / have that coffee / eat that prawn sandwich] then? *frowns*

Well I was just enjoying my twice-weekly glass of vino, really loving the taste, savouring it – my little ray of sunshine in an otherwise shitty week. But now I’m worrying about harming the baby, thinking I’m a terrible mother, and suddenly it doesn’t taste as sweet and I might as well pour it back in the bottle. It would be nice to be trusted that I’ve read up all the advice and am making sensible, responsible choices for me and my baby, whatever you might personally believe.

Add to this the opposite which is “you aren’t going to be silly about eating this are you?” (while simultaneously placing an underdone piece of steak or similar on our plate). This makes you feel obliged to eat it even though you wouldn’t have chosen to do so otherwise, and are unlikely to enjoy it. Again, mums should be trusted to make their own choices about food and drink, whether or not everyone else agrees.

10. AND FINALLY…(on being told the intended name of the child in question)….Really? That’s the name you want?! I thought that was a joke name?!

Thanks mum 🙂 xxx


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A party girl’s guide to pregnancy

After I got knocked up, I spent a lot of time contemplating the important issues of pregnancy. The stuff that really matters about parenthood.

You know, like:

But when will I get to go to New York now?

Or:

Why did I not lose my post-wedding weight before I got pregnant and even fatter?  

And:

When can I legitimately start drinking wine again?

Obviously I am being facetious. I worried – worry – about lots of things – what will I be like as a mother? Will I handle the pain of birth? How will this affect my friendships, my relationship, my family? What will happen at work? Will my baby be healthy? Will they be happy?

But at 19.5 weeks (yes, the bump has popped), with energy apparently flooding back to my veins and Christmas party season approaching, my thoughts have been turning to how a former party girl handles her new pregnant social life. I can’t help but be struck by how my life has changed inexorably – how my interactions with some friends is totally different now, how I’m often hit by the FMO (fear of missing out) – and I wonder whether I will ever go back to being the carefree, irresponsible wine-guzzler who stayed up til the cows came home that I once was. Let’s be realistic – I am still enjoying a glass or two of wine a week, and since I got my energy back I’m trying to reinvigorate my social life and still really enjoy hanging out with friends – but my life and my identity have changed from before and it is sometimes hard to get my head round that, especially when the lives of the people I love carry on the same as always.

After almost 4 months of sober partying (we can forget the first 4 or so weeks when I had no idea I was pregnant), I have realised a few things – positive and negative – about my new predicament. While I’m obviously not talking about a chilled out meal with friends which is as wonderful as before, I’m thinking about that Saturday night session that started with a pop of a cork and ended somewhere around 3am on the floor with a cigarette and a dance-off-cum-wrestle with your best mate. Here’s my guide to pregnant partying:

1. It is always nicer to have other pregnant women or breastfeeding mums around at parties – you can unashamedly have long conversations about hypno-birthing and maternity clothes, make that glass of champers or wine last an interminably long time, prepare each other interesting soft drink concoctions when others forget, and make yourself feel better about leaving early by doing it together.

2. But someone will almost always make a comment about the boring preggie women in the corner, or similar, not realising that you might be a little sensitive about your demotion from party girl to home girl….

3. While a temporary energy boost or spike in conversation can make you feel like you want to stay up for hours like you used to, it is ridiculously lovely (and novel) to leave before midnight, get in your jammies and read in bed with a cup of hot chocolate laughing about the night you’ve had. And remember it all afterwards.

4. Driving to parties, sipping on soft drinks and choosing to stay in more = a healthier bank account (just don’t waste it all on your new-found catalogue shopping fetish).

5. I may just be imagining it but I appear to have developed both a bump AND a waist, which (based on no medical evidence whatsoever) I am attributing to losing an alcohol-induced fatty waist dohnut.

6. There is nothing more satisfying than the smugness that comes with being up early on a Sunday, sans sore head, and having a productive day while your other half smells like a brewery and fails to make it off the sofa.

7. You often have better conversations while sober than you used to in the midst of a Saturday session. Before when I was in a party mood, I often didn’t want to have deep and meaningfuls, I wanted to laugh and joke and flitter about and dance. I just didn’t have the concentration span for long, in-depth conversations. But now I really enjoy one-to-one chats about life and love and happiness and other things I never used to talk about on a night out. I actually feel like I’m getting to know people better and its lovely.

8. After around 10.30pm, sessioners who have been necking wine will make poor conversation partners. They are unlikely to have the concentration or inclination to discuss anything in depth, and you may find conversation flitting manically between topics, jokes and wine spillages. While this can be funny for a while, at some point in the night you need to give up, declare your tiredness and head home to reconnect with your duvet and sheepskin slippers.

9. You can make up for the hobbies you’ve lost (namely binge drinking and chain smoking) by taking up new ones, and try to convince your party friends to join you even if it’s stuff you’ve never done together before. I’m enjoying cosy pub lunches and long walks, catalogue reading and online shopping, interior decorating, buying things to bake with (while putting off the actual baking bit), and husband-baiting.

10. Hungover people really do talk a lot of shit.


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An introduction to The Happy Baby Project

I write the blog The Happiness Project London and here’s the last post I wrote which may explain why we’re now here:

I’ve been quiet over the last few weeks because life has changed somewhat, and it has something to do with the little wriggly person that’s been growing inside me. Yes, the HPL is having a baby!

And while I’m wildly happy about it now, there were times in first 12 weeks when I really struggled to remind myself of all I’ve learnt about being positive. Of course I appreciate how lucky I am, and what an exciting thing is about to happen to us, but my body’s reaction to the news wasn’t exactly pleasant. And it took this wonderful blog post by Caroline No to give me the strength to say IT’S BEEN BLOODY SHIT! I’ve been a bit rubbish at this pregnancy stuff! And finally – who cares!

My skin decided it didn’t like the preggie hormone or the preggie hormone didn’t like certain foods anymore and broke out in giant red itchy spots all over my chest, neck and face, which might or might not have been hives. I got teenage acne. I developed an agonising pain in my right buttock which turned out to be my pelvic girdle pinging out of place, making walking nigh on impossible. I found myself sobbing like a heartbroken teenager for hours on end, once hysterically laughing and sobbing at once, not knowing why. I felt nauseous and fat and bloated and frumpy, unable to squeeze into my old clothes but not big enough for maternity gear. I ate three burgers in a week. I missed wine and hangovers, still do. And don’t get me started on itchy boobs and cracked nipples and giant wire-less maternity bras which make cycling to work an interesting exercise in pot-hole avoidance and agonising bouncing droopy pendulous bosoms….

A cumulative force of utter exhaustion, the need to cry repeatedly and teenage acne-like skin meant I lived as a hermit for weeks – not even wanting to go for a walk and covering my face when I saw anyone including a man reading our meter: “Don’t Look at Meeeee!”.

There were sudden periods of anger, an unbearable urge to snap. The Poor Chef got the brunt of it, being the only person in my vicinity for much of the time. You put a wine glass in the dishwasher the wrong way – YOU IDIOT!!! You didn’t put the plant pot in the right place – YOU RUINED MY BIRTHDAY!!! And how could he understand the raging hormones that were filling my body with negativity and fury and sadness, when he was just really really happy?

But on the cusp of 12 weeks things got better. I got my energy back, which built up to something like hysteria when I realised I could finally socialise and actually see my friends again (lunches and walks along the Thames best – drunken dinners not to the most fun when you’re sipping on Schloer all night and wondering why everyone’s laughing at an unfunny joke). My skin cleared up and my hair went from greasy to full. I contacted friends, I felt positive, I started thinking about the future. And The Poor Chef came out of hiding.

And then this week we had the scan. I was a bag of nerves, wondering if it was there at all, or alive or deformed, or multiple. But then we saw him (for we call him “he” after the scan but we don’t know if he is a she yet of course). What a gorgeous wee wriggler. He was tiny, of course. But with a round little belly and a lovely face with big lips. And beautiful frogs legs and two feet, which he kicked in the air before turning his little bottom towards us. I can’t feel him yet but my tummy is getting more solid and I love the little reminder that he’s there, wriggling and waiting.

So now it’s different. I’ve told people which really helps. I’ve bought a few bigger clothes and am enjoying better skin and shaking off the indignity of the last few weeks. I’m loving my new body – the round curves, the bigger breasts, the hardening belly. I’m so proud of my body, so impressed at its strength and the way it seems to know exactly what to do. I can see why women who’ve given birth often want to do marathons  afterwards – and I feel the same – because I love my body in a way I never have before and I’m amazed at what it is capable of and I want to get fit, not just work out at the gym to lose weight, but get stronger and faster and show myself what my body can actually do. I feel womanly and dare I say a bit beautiful.

I am already aware of competitive mum syndrome and what lies ahead. There are the I’m-still-a-party-girl mums (I stayed up til 2am and wasn’t tired at all! Yes the baby is two weeks old lets book that girls’ holiday to Ibiza!). There are the body-beautiful mums (I’ve not put on ANY weight! In fact I’ve LOST weight! Who’s the first for botox?!). There are the capitalist mums (I’ve just bought the most fabulous baby papoose to match my bugaboo pram travel system in a neutral colour to match my tastefully decorated nursery!). And there are the this-is-totally-natural-to-me mums (vitamins? I didn’t bother with those. Epidurals? I’m just going to power breathe with my doula).

So what sort of mum will I be? Well who knows. But I’m not pining my party days any more. In fact I’m loving getting to bed at 10pm and being cosy under a woollen blanket on the sofa. My favourite recent purchase is a great pair of sheepskin slippers.  I’m looking forward to my body getting big and round because I have a feeling it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be doing and I really want to take care of it from now on. And I believe what my child really needs is our unconditional love, and a favourite cuddly toy which is soft and old and worn, and being read to all the time, and its grannies and granddads and aunty and uncle teaching it about life and the world and where it came from.

I know one thing for sure. This is the biggest adventure of our lives and its one that I’m finally ready for. And sometimes it will take all I’ve learned about happiness and positivity to keep me going when times are tough, but the joy this little thing will bring will teach me more about life and love than I ever imagined possible.

So wriggle away wee man, we love you very much, and we can’t wait to meet you in March!