Monday, 18 August 2014

On having a crying baby

Natural birth, peacefully at home in water, quick and easy, immediately encircled in his mother's arms, skin to skin and first feed, brief wrench away for weighing but then back to human contact, always human contact.

Breastfed whenever he so much as shuffles or stirs, always available for him, patiently, two minutes on, ten minutes off, but freely on again when he needs it.

Worn in the sling for all his daytime sleep, put in it for warmth and comfort and reassurance, rocked and swayed and patted and oh so continually cherished.

Sleeping in the curl of his mother's arm, only has to squeak at night for instant comfort, his first sight at every waking is his mother's face, welcoming him back.

My god, he cries. He cries and he cries and he cries. Most evenings, a peaceful sleep in the sling while dinner's made then wakes as we sit down, groans a bit through dinner (me eating one handed, balancing, readjusting, cooing, shushing, feeding) then howls and screams and cries cries cries for hours.

Nothing helps, or at least nothing helps more than once. One evening, a hundred frantic repetitions of "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz" reduced him to shuddering sobs and eventually exhausted sleep on my shoulder; another time, it was deep knee bends that let him break state and relax back into me. The wrap just doesn't cut it when he gets like this, he fights and pushes and claws as if he's being bagged up for a kidnapping, so it's arms, and rocking, and walking, and patting, and stroking, and bouncing, and just letting the noise go on and on, imploring him to relax, begging for a minute's break from it, desperately offering to feed only to have him arch away and sob harder.

Let's be clear, it's not just in the evenings, sometimes it's all day. He's happy when he's feeding, then he smiles for five minutes, then out of nowhere the crying again. Cry cry cry cry cry cry.

And in the mean time, his brother looks on bewildered, tries to talk to me but can't make himself heard, waits for a break in it at his bedtime so he can have a few minutes of precious mummy story time. At the start he used to fuss and nag me to do things with me in the daytime, now he seems resigned - the crying starts, and he goes off on his own. This afternoon we settled to make a book together, and the baby started crying, and was obviously not going to stop quickly, and he said we could do it later, but then when I was out of sight he scribbled all over the book, what was the point, I couldn't get the time to do it with him.

I thought that second time I'd have the confidence in knowing what I was doing, and when it's going well I do, but in the hammering noise of that crying, in the feel of that body braced and writhing and pushing and the taste of those tears I'm hopeless, I'm useless, my baby is hurting, somehow, I can't begin to tell what or how, but it's just the same as if someone was stabbing me.

When people ask how he's doing I first say he's lovely, because he is, and the smile moments are wonderful, but then I say "and he cries a lot" and you can see them glazing over, thinking oh this stupid woman is on her second child and still doesn't know that babies cry. Lady, this isn't just the kind of crying babies do. This is the kind that breaks grown women, that shatters their peace and self-belief and relationships, that makes them desperately count the days to the magic 12 weeks, as if it was even slightly possible that it could change.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Dynamic positions in birth

Sounds like it could be a highly personal post packed with too much information, but in fact this is a semi-formal book review...Dynamic positions in birth by Margaret Jowitt, published by Pinter & Martin.
I should say, I had a review copy from P&M but there was no obligation on me to review it positively - it just happens that I love love love it.
I've not written up A's birth story for this blog yet, and I might not (these things are so personal, but at the same time I love reading them online, so perhaps I *should* contribute) and I've also not yet written about this feeling that somehow I'm not done with birth. I feel pretty sure we'll be sticking at two children - they are such a blessing, and I feel so rich, but we're constrained by space, and money, and age, and I only have two arms, and almost I feel I would be tempting fate to risk another when my current two are such a delight. Anyway. I'm not done with birth, somehow - A's birth was so very thrilling and empowering and just perfect and I want to shout about it, and shout for the opportunity for other women to have the chance of experiencing it like this too, not as a thing of fear and pain and sadness, but as something that leaves them as giants, swelling with joy about what their bodies can do.

The book isn't so much about positions, really - it's a sort of hymn to the female body and its perfect design for labour when not impeded by unnecessary interventions. Perhaps the most thought-provoking part for me was the distinction between positioning and propulsive contractions. The idea is that latent labour, the early stage which is often seen as just being pointless "niggles", is in fact the process where a mother's body is getting her baby into a perfect position for birthing. Pain, Jowitt writes, works as a signal to the body to change something, and in those hours, days or even weeks of "non-progressing" contractions (ie those that are doing little or nothing to dilate the cervix) an empowered mother can keep shifting her position in response to these, allowing the uterus to contract in response to where the baby is, nudging him into the best position. This runs counter to the most commonly accepted current view that contractions start at the fundus (the top) and work as an ejector-type mechanism.
The part where Jowitt uses charts to show the pressure changes to support her suggestion that the pressure doesn't all come from the top are quite dense, but she also uses some fascinating analogies (the uterus compared to a balloon, and then to a trampoline). It then gets really interesting where she talks about the consequence of the top-down view for interventions - if you believe that the way to get a baby out is to apply as much ejective force from the top as possible, then it makes sense to give artificial oxytocin to make contractions very strong, which means women often want or need very strong pain relief (usually an epidural), so their birthing position doesn't really matter, because if the baby's pushed hard enough he *will* come out.
The alternative view set out here is that women can work with all of their contractions, from the beginning, by staying broadly upright (lots of cool stuff in here about the dynamic pelvis) and responding to what their body seems to be needing in terms of position. When all contractions are viewed as useful, it changes the whole mindset of both the mother and those attending her, and allows the birth to proceed at its own pace, so the baby doesn't start making his way out until he's already well positioned.
I also loved the piece about how a baby works to be born too - there's a fascinating table listing out newborn reflexes and how each one might be helpful in adopting a good birth position (eg the rooting reflex, turning the face to one side when a cheek is stroked, may help the baby to turn his face when it reaches various bony protrusions on the way out, rather than being shoved up against them and therefore requiring more pushing and more pain to get him out).
Reading this over the last week or so has given me the chance to reflect on my own birth experiences, and particularly to think about how lucky I was to give birth in water this time around. It's the ultimate freedom for changing position because it gives so much support; also because I was at home I moved around completely freely beforehand too. I've looked back and seen how much time I spent in some of the positions Jowitt recommends, without having read the book at that point - I was overtaken by instincts and these made me upright, then forward-leaning, and gave me a pretty quick labour with a four minute second stage. It also - retrospectively - makes sense of my two or three weeks of discomfort (and, let's be honest, frustration) coming up to the birth - I felt so sure that "something" was happening, then felt silly that in fact "nothing" had happened - it seems to me now that my body was working hard to put the baby exactly where he needed to be.

If I was going to criticise, it would be that some of the references are a bit woolly - I can't take a Wikipeda citation seriously, and some of the other sources are websites maintained by just one person, or personal communication. It's not a serious problem, because she's putting the whole thing forward as a theory, coherent and fairly complete, but still a theory. I wish I knew what it would take for healthcare professionals to look into this properly and consider enacting more of the principles in the final chapter, where she describes environments conducive to a good birth (mainly, ones without beds in) but I don't know, I don't know how long it takes to change practice.

For individuals, though, there's no reason not to read this, be informed by it, and put it into practice. Not as a lecture for those whose births didn't go to plan, or as admonishment for anyone planning to use pain relief, but just to make sure that decisions are based on the fullest possible understanding.
If you were looking for a suite of birth books to prepare yourself, I think you'd also need Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, Grantly Dick-Read's Childbirth without Fear, maybe something from the natal hypnotherapy stable, and then perhaps Balaskas or Kitzinger; if you're looking for more theory, particularly on how things follow through to breastfeeding, I'm just finishing up Smith's The impact of birthing practices on breastfeeding which is fascinating, technical, and scary. Oh, and you'd need some Odent, any Odent, maybe the man himself just installed in the corner of your living room.

But, this one should definitely be in there - it may look dry, but it's not, and I'm big on knowledge reducing fear.
Now, how to persuade the husband we could do it all again....

(Note - please forgive me - I'm struggling to write as clearly as I want to at the moment, combination of babybrain and doing everything two sentences at a time in between talking to bonzo...but I just wanted to get this written while I was still fresh from having read it. I'd love to be writing more on here about what I'm reading - I seem to have lots of reading time at the moment, in the cluster-feeding evenings, but time at the keyboard is sparser, so I'm doing what I can with what I have, which I suppose is really all we ever do)

Thursday, 19 June 2014


Well, Gonzo is here, and is as delicious as every newborn should be. His birth was just perfect, exactly as planned, healthy and safe for him, affirming and empowering for me, and almost entirely ignored by his big brother. I'd love to write more about it, because I think the internet needs more joyfully positive birth stories, but tonight I need to express myself on something else.

Two weeks ago, I thought I understood what patience was, and I prided myself on how much I'd developed since becoming a mother. It's not exactly been a strength for me, but I was managing it - I was not shouting at the 3 year old (much), not even getting shirty with the husband (much), and congratulating myself at sometimes managing to show the serenity I so admire in others.

But now? Gosh, now. I know I am jam-packed with hormones - it's only been 11 days - and that things will settle. But the walls I'm hitting here are granite - the bounds of my patience seem to have contracted to inches apart. I don't know quite what it is - obviously Gonz isn't exactly doing anything yet, and Bonz is doing nothing different from two weeks ago - but I seem to have the shortest leash imaginable. I think the worst is the dim awareness that often the subject of my impatience isn't the true cause - so H annoys me, and I express it in anger with bonz, or bonz annoys me, and I project it on to gonz. I find myself exasperated when he's fussy on the boob (of course he's fussy. I have a supply made for quads, and it all comes out at once, the poor wretch is half drowning) or, last night, when he wouldn't conveniently go quiet just at the time I was trying to help bonz to sleep. And then I'm minding about my poor big boy's needs, am frustrated when he howls for me and only me at bedtime, or tells me the baby wants to be put down so I'm free to play, or needs a wee suddenly whenever I sit down to nurse....but this is a child whose whole world has been disrupted, who's doing so wonderfully, who kisses his brother so gently and tells me he loves me many times in a day, and philosophically goes and plays on his own while the midwives are around (and indeed, did this for the several hours he was awake while I was busy having a baby in the conservatory). He's being a treasure, a love, and gonz is being a squishy fuzzy newborn delight.

My only hope is that most of this is internal. I feel wretched about not feeling saintly, but I think I'm behaving better than I feel. It's just exhausting to manage, to keep on top of the urge to shout and slam and scream for a moment alone, a moment not holding or touching anyone, a single occasion when someone will tell me unambiguously what they want, say thank you when they get it, then go about their business.

Of course there's also patience with myself. I've got a lot more brewing on this, but having this whole new baby experience second time around has shown me how much I expect of myself, and how embarrassingly important it is to me to "do well". I wanted to have a heroic birth after working as close as I could to it, and I now want to sail on through the early baby days making it look effortless, parenting my older boy intensely and playfully and brilliantly while selflessly giving my all to the baby, surviving on minimal sleep, achieving all sorts of personal projects during my maternity leave, and so on. Sounds like anyone's wish list but it turns out to matter a frightening amount to me - I really am grading myself and so, of course, finding myself wanting. (Note - must also have body that returns to pre-pregnant shape within a month, two at most). It could be that a lot of my feelings of snappiness with my boys are to do with snappiness with myself, being constantly aware that I'm not doing as well as I want to, that my house is a tip and our meals are more "freezer surprise" than loving organic freshly prepared creations.
I know, I know. This kind of post is designed to be read and laughed at a month later once the hormones are settled, but I want it here anyway, I want to show how it feels less than two weeks in, and to get my ugly confessions in writing, as if this diluted them.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Mothers in the night

Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 2 – ‘The Mothers’ This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. This week our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Mothers’ (the second chapter in Cathy’s poetry collection). Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants. ***

Although I've been a mother for more than three years now, I still have a weird dissociation from it - say "mother" or "mum" to me, and I think of my own mum, or of the LLL Leaders and members I work with - they're all "real" mothers, and I'm still just a big fraud.
But there's a time I feel connected, a time when my identity fits with the name, and that's at night.

When bonzo was small, and waking all the time, and up more in the night than he was asleep, and when we weren't even managing lovely dozy cuddly feeds, but instead the sitting-up, wrestling, whimpering (from both of us), occasionally cursing (just me), desperate feeds, I reached a really low point. I suppose he was probably about 9 or 10 months - a famous killer time - and it was getting me down pretty badly. I'd started to let myself feel very hard done by, and would always always look at the clock and add a number to the mental tally - this is how many times you woke me, this is how long I was awake for, this is how little sleep I had, this is what a martyr I am and how miserable I am entitled to be.

Two things helped. First, a call to the LLL helpline, and I so wish that I now knew who it was I talked to that morning. I asked her for a pep talk, she gave me one; she gently urged me to hide the clock, to look at ways of sharing sleep, to haul myself back to meetings, and  things that have followed since have been life-changing.

But there was also (moving into some slight relevance to the subject) a visualisation that I developed, to run through in these horrible times where I felt so very sad and alone.
I would sit in the bed, with the baby, and imagine a golden web, a web connecting me to all the other nursing mothers.
In this picture, the first round of the web had my new mother friends, all those who were struggling with the same things right now - it was quite realistic to think that at least one of them would be awake too, at exactly that minute, nursing a child, drunk with tiredness.
Next, there were all the nursing mothers around the country and the world, those I didn't know, those for whom it wasn't even night, but still busy at the same activity, and connected to me through this bond.
After that, the women whose babies were all grown up - my own mother and grandmothers, the women I'd worked with, mothers of my friends - our links stretched back and forth in time, but still glittered and shone. Going back further in time, I'd think of all the women who had ever nursed their babies, going back to the beginning, doing what was natural and true.

Now the web was huge and complex, so many golden lines between us all, connecting us whether or not we were aware of it. Finally I'd add those who weren't mothers, and wished they were  - with lost babies, or never-arrived babies, and empty arms at night.

Part of me finds it a little embarrassing to describe this - I know that at one level it sounds, for want of a better word, naff, but when I really needed it, it gave me such strength. I wasn't Helen, alone, I was Woman, Mother, part of a body that grows and embraces us. I'd almost forgotten it, as the night feeds gradually trailed off, but it's been reawakened for me recently, with the challenges of intense toddler needs, and my imminent brand new child. I can plug back into this network-web without permission, and without putting my hand up - it's the biggest club I've ever been in, and by far the most fulfilling.


 Look At All The Women is now available to buy from: The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world! and as a paperback from
Book cover for Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant
It can also be ordered via your local bookshop. If you’d like to get involved in the ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival please find more details about it here: Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women:
‘Moments with Mothers and (Imaginary) Daughters’ — Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares more poetry from Look At All The Women — her own version of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ and a poem inspired by her imaginary daughter.
 ‘The Cold Cup of Tea’Marija Smits shares some poetry that gives a glimpse into the everyday life of a mother.
 ‘Creative Mothers: You Need to Stop!’Georgie St Clair, shares an important reminder, that all mothers need to dedicate time and space to be creative.
 ‘The Mothers – Or Promises to My Future Child’: Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word what she has learnt from her own mother, and writes an open letter to her future child.
 ‘Bonobos are my Heroines’: Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines puts the nature back into nurture.
 ‘Baby Body Shame: it's Time to Push Back’ — Stephanie from Beautiful Misbehaviour wants to challenge society’s treatment of the post-birth body.
 Helen at Young Middle Age talks about finding strength from thinking about all the other mothers, during hard times.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014


Just a quick check-in one, really: I have a couple of longer posts in drafts but they're not quite ready for the world yet.
I'd forgotten this stage of my first pregnancy. A little over 36 weeks, and the world is slipping away from me, or perhaps I'm slipping away from the world. I find myself inexorably drawn inwards, to quiet and reflection and a sort of contemplation of my core. I want to shut down everything that isn't absolutely necessary - no calls, no emails, no contacts. Nesting never really hit me last time and it hasn't this time either - I suppose my version is a kind of "interior nesting", a compulsive need to get my mental house in order before starting on this journey again.
It's quite a bit harder this time, what with an about-to-be-three-year-old who's practising his use of the word "why". There's also a big work target that just has to be met before I can have the baby - the book has to be submitted, and it's all written now (as of tonight!) but I'm awaiting editorial comments and will have some more work to do on it. Somehow I feel sure that I'll be able to hold off on the birth until the book's done, but it's a frustrating blockage - I can't quite let go and surrender to the sort of trust in my body that I want, until this final external task is completed.
No, of course there are other external things too, we need to eat, I need to fold tiny baby clothes and find my nursing bras and pack a bag and work out exactly what will happen to bonzo when I'm not there with him, but these are all known needs, and really now I am driven by felt needs. I need to be an animal, I need my instincts for warmth and dark and privacy, I need to lose swathes of time to communing with the new child before we meet face-to-face.
I'm brimming with hopes for the opportunities that six months away from working will give me, even if I'll also be wrecked by the realities of combining toddler and newborn care. But these are vague fancies, really, compared to the vivid reality that is all inside and that I must inhabit fully.

Please send positive waves or vibes or thoughts or hopes or prayers, whatever form comes most naturally to you.

Monday, 3 March 2014

More new beginnings

It's not meant to have such a tone of weariness as perhaps it does, but I'm feeling weak and irresolute about more new starts.
We moved house last week, away from a nice enough but damp rented place on one side of Bath to an owned, warm place on the other side. The house is going to be great - it's not the kind of place you'd fall in love with, but it's got space (I have my own study!) and a garden with a bit of room but not too much, and a big greenhouse, and lots of toilets (this seems to be the part that's most impressing bonzo).
I suppose just thinking back to other posts, I'm struggling to gather strength for all that newness again. When we first moved to Bath I found it so hard to drag us out to meet people: I remember making pathetic little hand-drawn calendars desperately filled up with any kind of group I could find, just so I'd feel we had somewhere to go to, and I remember coming home and making little notes whenever I met a new mother and child, her name, the child's name, something that might help me remember was all a bit "like me, like me" but still with all that effort it was hard hard hard, hard to overcome my current natural introversion and force myself out there.
And now it's the same all over again. Our nearby neighbours seem friendly but are a whole generation older than us (at least), and we're on a cul-de-sac so I'm not even seeing people walking past. Bonzo's had the chicken pox so in our first week here we didn't leave the house, but now that we can I'm too shy, I'm too tired, I can't build up the resolve.....we managed a walk to the shop this afternoon but I'm starting to think my mouth's sealing up, I can't just initiate a conversation, I can barely talk.

Such a negative take, and not really how I feel, but somehow the comfort of the internet's just what I need at the moment. Perhaps I'll get it all out of my system here so that I won't, when I finally meet some people here, let out a huge splurge of incoherent self-pitying rambling that will have them backing away and making excuses...

The latest attempt at baby number 2 is progressing well, though - 26 weeks now, so I'm impressively bulky and it's starting to feel believable.

I swear I'll be back to this again soon with something more positive, or at least better written and more interesting. Perhaps the incentive of having such a gloomy post on the front of my blog will be enough to make me write something again soon and knock it off....

Friday, 15 November 2013

A stillness filled me...

...bitterness lifted from me.

It's a line from Brian Patten, and it's bitterness that I've been thinking about at the moment, but not so much I want the word in my post title, because it's a horrible word and a pretty horrible sensation.

It's just occurred to me that I hold myself back with being bitter. It creeps in when I'm not looking and it's invidious, it shades the way I think about so much. Well, I think, when I see someone doing things I wish I was doing, it's ok for her, she has childcare, or her children are older, or her children sleep. When I look at the craft bloggers that I so love to read, I'm filled with an unpleasant envy, same with all the people who write, who talk about getting up early and doing morning pages, and spending their evenings honing their craft. Not fair, I want to shout, they've obviously got rich husbands or private means, they're not like me, they obviously don't need to earn a living. Poor poor Helen spends all her free time doing "real" work, moneywork, earning a living, being an adult, having responsibilities, and it's so unfair that "they" have the chance to do interesting things, explore their skills, do real creative work, etc. What's more, poor Helen never gets a decent night's sleep, and if she got up early to do things then the child would wake and howl, and so on.

This stuff is, to some extent, true: I do have an awful lot of claims on my time right now, in this season of my life. But, I could still find spaces for things that aren't paid work, and I could still dream about the things I'll do once I have a little more time, and there's no point at all now in being bad tempered about the way that things are. I didn't marry a banker, and he wouldn't be the man I'd wanted to marry if he was the all-hours type; I did birth a high-maintenance child, and am parenting him in a high-maintenance way, but there's nothing to do with that other than suck it up.

Also time does bend and flex, when you really want it to, and if I let go of thinking that it can't, then it might. When my Booker books came I'd probably read only one or two novels in the previous three months, then I hammered through five of them in a couple of weeks, because I was loving them, and I had a target, and so I found the time, I eked and scraped it, and it was there. (Now, number six, the one that in a travesty ended up winning, I still haven't got through, which tells you all you need to know about how you're much better at making time when it's for something you like).

Realistically we do need an income, and that's going to be from me, so it would be really unwise to pack in the accounting and try to making a living from selling unfinished crochet pieces, but I can still man up a bit about the rest of it.

(It's a very sad poem, by the way, called On time for once, as beautiful as all of his love poems, but not actually relevant to the post apart from those lines, just for the avoidance of doubt).