Mumhood 2

Thanks to my wonderful and heroic ‘mum friends’ I have some new photos on the theme of mumhood.

These are photos that show the normal, everyday things that we do now that we’re mums, but that are possibly not that normal to other people!

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But I want to show that for every time we go to the toilet one handed with a baby on our lap, or turn a light switch off with our head, or get our hair pulled, or put a pair of socks on wriggly feet for the millionth time, we are not moving away from who we are, but adding to ourselves. I want to show that even though it sometimes feels that when you have a baby you stop being you and start being just a mum, this isn’t true. We become more of ourselves. We multi-task, we sacrifice, we clean up, we feed, wash, burp and change. But we do it gladly because we have become something more.

We gave life to these babies, but it’s them who have enriched our lives infinitely.

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And I want to show that although we rarely have time to shave our legs, or put on make-up, or go to the gym, or eat healthily, or do our hair, we are not any less womanly. I’ve said it before that having babies is earthy and messy, but it’s also wholesome, truly feminine and worth celebrating in all it’s bleary eyed exhaustion.

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And thank you endlessly to my new friends for their willingness to be photographed doing the things that they, and I, do every day.

My baby is a bad baby.

Typical conversation with anyone who meets baby:

“Oh isn’t she lovely. Doesn’t she have your eyes!”

“Yeah, she does look a lot like me.”

“And is she a good baby?”

———— awkward silence while I try to decide what to say…..

I hate that question. ‘Is she a good baby?’ I know what is meant by it. When people ask that, what they mean is does she sleep 12 hours a night, does she never cry, is she placid and smiley and happy all the time… And I want to shout “no! of course she doesn’t sleep all night, and of course she cries, and of course she gets grumpy and grisly and cross. SHE’S A BABY!” And to be quite honest, I’d be worried if she never did cry. It’s her only way of communicating with me, and so the way I see it is that a very vocal baby simply has a lot to say about the world. Whether it’s that she’s cross because I’m making her wait while I get dressed, or that she’s got painful wind, or that she’s too hor, or too cold, or she’s tired, or hungry or simply wants a cuddle- which by the way is perfectly fine since she’s my baby… I’m more than ok with my ‘bad’ baby.

Because that’s what she must be right? If a good baby is one that never cries and sleeps all night, then my baby must be a bad one.

I think it’s too easy to expect a baby to behave like an adult. I know I’m guilty of it myself when I wonder why she won’t sleep longer than an hour, or why she isn’t content to sit on the floor and play while I do the housework. But I remind myself that she’s only been in this world for a few short weeks or months and she has so much that she has to cope with. It’s ok for her to scream when I walk out of the room because for all she knows I might have just left forever and never come back. It’s ok for her to scream when she’s in teething pain because she doesn’t know that it’ll be worth it in the end when she has teeth to eat with. It’s ok for her to cry when she’s bored of something because she’s only got a short attention span.

And so when people ask me if I have a good baby, all I really want to say is that yes, I have a baby who’s exceptionally good at being a baby. She cries brilliantly. She can throw up wonderfully and her nappies are gloriously smelly.

And I truly wouldn’t want anything else. smackdown_screaming_car_baby-e1317052044846

Mumhood

I’ve been interested in the recent responses to Rupi Kaur’s photos on Instagram showing herself during a period. These photos are of images that every single woman in the world will relate to. The small leak of menstrual blood onto clothing and bedding, the spots of blood in a shower, the curled up position with a hot water bottle clamped to the belly. She states that through broadcasting these images she wants to demystify the period to make it what it is- something normal. Instagram deleted her photos twice and here is her response in full.

In many ways I am in full agreement with Rupi. It is wrong that we live in a society where it is ok to be bombarded with unrealistic images of women in bikinis, with airbrushed faces and thinned down limbs but it isn’t ok to be a normal woman. A woman who bleeds every month because that’s how her body prepares to bring about new life. A woman who doesn’t have time to go to the gym. A woman who doesn’t have the money to spend on expensive make-up. A woman who doesn’t like the way she looks but doesn’t have the time, energy, motivation or will power to do anything about it, and feels constant guilt and self-loathing because everything she sees and hears tells her she needs to be different.

I love the This Girl Can campaign and I feel like it’s one of the few that’s got it right. I jiggle therefore I am. Damn right I look hot. I don’t care what anyone, anywhere else thinks about me. I am going to just be.

All of this got me to thinking about another aspect of being a woman- being a mum. And in particular (because this is my frame of reference at the moment) being a new mum. I’ve said it before, there is nothing shiny or glamorous about being a mum. It’s earthy, and messy, and exhausting. There’s no time for putting on make-up, shaving legs or working out whether the clothes you’re putting on still have baby sick on them. My house is constantly untidy, the kitchen is constantly full of dirty pots and pans and just last week I went into the spare room to find a basket of damp washing that I’m pretty sure had been sitting there for 4 days. (It did not smell spring fresh at all.)

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But I think we need to look at all of this differently. In the same spirit that Rupi is asking us to celebrate the messier side of being a woman, I want to start a celebration of the messiness of being a mum. So I’m starting a photo series (which I doubt will be as contentious as Rupi’s, but I’m taking my inspiration from her) entitled ‘mumhood’. These are not professionally taken photos, but that’s part of the point. We (me and some of my new mum friends) are not professionals, we’re mums. So I hope that these photographs illustrate some of the normality and beautiful untidiness of being a mother. Because at the end of the day, it’s not the state of the house, or my hair, or my clothing that matters. It’s the life that I’ve fed, nurtured, protected and loved. It’s all for my baby.

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Related articles:

https://instagram.com/rupikaur_/

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/menstruationthemed-photo-series-artist-censored-by-instagram-says-images-are-to-demystify-taboos-around-periods-10144331.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11503621/Instagram-deletes-womans-period-photos-her-reply-is-great.html

http://www.thisgirlcan.co.uk/

Ow ow ow ow ow!

I always knew that if I could, I would breastfeed my children. It didn’t really occur to me to consider any alternative. So when this little tiny body  was placed wriggling and screaming against mine in the delivery room I fully expected some sort of auto pilot to kick in and for us to be away. If only it were that simple. What they don’t tell you is that while breastfeeding may be completely natural, it is definitely not normal. It turns out that not only do mums not have a clue about how to hold or support a baby, the babies themselves often don’t really know how to go about extracting the good stuff from the fleshy mountains thrust before them. So the first few weeks found us fumbling and floundering around and using all kinds of new words like ‘latching’ and ‘let down’ and ‘vasospasm’ (don’t look it up, it hurts just reading about it).

Something else that they don’t tell you is that while breastfeeding is natural, that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt. Toe-curling pain as some would describe it. I could think of other ways to describe it, but perhaps here isn’t the right medium for expressing that (no pun intended). I also happened to be unfortunate in coming up against quite a range of other problems associated with breastfeeding that not everyone experiences, making the first 2 months really rather difficult. And in all honesty, pretty miserable.

You may wonder (as did some of my friends and even the doctor) why I continued. And I’m not really sure I know what the answer it. I have no problem with bottle feeding a baby, but I do think that determination was part of it for me. And laziness definitely came into it- I really didn’t want to be sterilising and preparing bottles in the middle of the night! So I kept going through the pain, the milk-soaked clothes, the awkward positioning, the down-to-the-minute-timed pain killers, the unquenchable thirst, the over-heating and all the general discomfort that comes with breastfeeding. It probably didn’t really help matters that I’m actually quite squeamish about anything related to my body and so it has taken quite a lot of mind over matter to come to terms with feeding a baby from my own body.

I have been heard to say that I can’t wait for baby to be weaned and off breast milk. In those times I have been reminded to stop and think about this statement carefully because it’s likely that I will miss it when it’s gone. Most of the time I don’t think that’s true- I genuinely am looking forward to having my body back, being freer to move around without feeling tied as the only one who can sustain this little life and not feeling any more pain or waking up with damp clothing. There is definitely nothing glamorous about breastfeeding! But while this is true, there is nothing glamorous at all about having babies or feeding them, there is something very earthy and beautiful about growing and nourishing another being. I am unashamedly proud of, and grateful for what I have been able to do when I look at our little girl and I think that all her growth was because of me. It is something precious and unique that has come from my pain and discomfort.

Sometimes, when she is feeding, she looks up at me and smiles, or she makes little noises of satisfaction. This is when I realise that there are bits that I will miss. It’s hard being so tied to another person and feeling restricted and sometimes trapped. But it is also breathtakingly beautiful how much she loves to feed from me. I am safe, I am warm and I am her life source. I cannot think of any other situation where I would endure what I have been through, but I look at my baby and I know that I have done it gladly.

Imaginary Conversations

Sometimes, when I am really, really tired- often in the middle of the night when I’m sitting feeding baby but trying not to wake up too much so that I can go back to sleep as quickly as possible when she’s finished- I imagine what a conversation would be like between us:

Picture the scene- it’s 6.12am and baby is gurgling, cooing and thrashing her arms and legs next to me in bed. The reason she’s next to me in our bed is because she woke up every hour from midnight onwards and I got fed up of getting out of bed to see to her. Her fingers are reaching out to poke me in my eyes, my nose, my mouth, and she periodically tugs on my hair. I, meanwhile, am lying resolutely with my eyes shut desperately willing her to go back to sleep, or it to not be something past 6 when I actually do look at the clock.

Baby: “mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum, mum”

Me: “I’m asleep”

Baby: “mum, mum, mum… wake up, wake up, wake up… it’s light outside”

Me: “It definitely is not light outside. Go back to sleep”

Baby: “mum, mum, mum… I’m so happy. I love being in your bed. I love stroking your face. I love morning cuddles”

Me (feeling slightly guilty for being grumpy but still with my eyes tight shut): “So do I. But I also love sleep, and I do not love that you wake me up every hour”

Baby: “Love sleep? Why would you love sleep when you could be awake and playing? I love playing with you mum. And I love waking up to cuddle with you in the night. You’re my favourite person and I just want to be near you all the time.”

By this point I’m now feeling really guilty so I open my eyes. She smiles at me and I instantly feel less grumpy, and more guilty. I don’t know how it works, but all she has to do is smile at me and I honestly don’t mind all the lack of sleep in the world.

But she’d better not be still doing this when she’s 10 years old.

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A lesson in gratitude

My baby has some lovely toys. Some that we have bought for her, and thought very carefully about what sort of development or enjoyment she might get out of each one. Others that have been bought for her from people who want to give her nice things. She seems to like her toys, she smiles and reaches out for them. She seems to enjoy being entertained by the ones with lights or music.

Which is her favourite toy though? This one:

IMAG0540-1Now, I’m not even sure what this is, but when she sees it she flaps her little arms up and down and smiles and giggles. It makes a strange squeaking sound and I think it’s meant to be some sort of butterfly, or caterpillar, or alien… And whatever it is, it was passed on to Esther in a bag of toys and books that someone else’s baby had grown out of.

Don’t get me wrong here, I am very grateful for passed on toys and games. What amuses me here is that Esther has no idea how much money is spent on her. Or what money even is. All she knows is that the sound and shape of this thing makes her happy.

I’m not going to churn out some great philosophical statement from this, but I do think that sometimes it’s worth remembering that the best things in life don’t have to be new, or shiny, or expensive. We don’t even have to be able to identify exactly what there are. But it’s definitely a good thing to find enjoyment in the small, strange, squeaking alien butterfly caterpillar things in out lives.

TV or not TV… that is the question.

Every parent wants what’s best for their child.

A sweeping statement, but one I’m fairly confident is true.

The problem is figuring out the definition of ‘best’. Never mind what this book says, or that book says, or what other mums say, or what the health visitors say… I’m not always sure that I know what I mean by ‘best’.

I mean, my baby is only 5 months old and yet already I’m finding myself trying to work out how to go about life with her. How long it’s ok to leave her crying before going to sleep, the ‘best’ way to get her back to sleep the 7th, 8th, 12th time she wakes up during the night, whether it’s ok to allow her to be entertained by the TV…

Let me explain a little bit more. Most people advise that breastfed babies aren’t fed to sleep every time they wake up because the likelihood is that they’re not hungry but just looking for comfort and they need to learn ‘good’ sleep habits at an early age. And I have previously been known to say (probably rather pompously) that I would never use the TV to entertain a child rather than playing with them.

The thing is though that, as much as I would like to be, I’m not a super mum. I’m not really super anything in fact, I’m just a very normal (and permanently sleep deprived) person.

Last week I was trying to eat my tea with a very wriggly and slightly grumpy baby on my knee. Eating with one hand isn’t easy at the best of times but the wriggling was making it harder than usual. So I turned the laptop round, searched YouTube for Peppa Pig and hit play. It worked. She remained still, interested in the colours and moving shapes long enough for me to finish my tea. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I did feel a slight twinge of guilt when I sat baby down in the living room to play with her and the first thing she did was to turn and look at the (switched off) TV.

I don’t want my baby to be plonked in front of the TV to keep her quiet.
But I sometimes just need a few minutes to catch my breath.

I don’t want my baby to learn bad sleep habits.
But I need to make sure I get enough sleep so I can look after her properly during the day.

I don’t want my baby to rely on me for sleep forever.
But I can’t stand to let her cry when she’s so little.

The best piece of advice I’ve yet been given was simple: you need to pick your battles. Sometimes it’s simply not worth fighting when the fight is not worth the outcome. This means that I try not to feel guilty for letting her watch TV when I need to have some brain space to myself. I try not to worry about the future of sleep when she wakes up for the 6th time and I just need to get her back off again as quickly as possible. I try to remind myself that she has only been in this world for 23 weeks and if she needs to cuddle into me for comfort during the night then that’s ok.

I don’t know anyone who is a super mum. And that too is ok. And as hard as it is, I think I’m learning to have confidence in the decisions I make without worrying what other people will think, or whether my child will be ruined for the rest of her life.

Sometimes I just have to remember to pick my battles. (And thanks mum for the advice!)