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Childbirth – secret or over share?

Shouting about childbirth

In my PB (pre-baby) life, I heard my fair share of birth stories. Some from friends and family who had recently become mums but most of the tales were from near perfect strangers who were eager to share some of the most personal details of their body and birth to my naive and unsuspecting ears.

I’m particularly squeamish and listening to the beautiful natural process (aka horror) of childbirth made me very uncomfortable. My friends knew this and would give me a PG-rated version of their experience. But it was those who I didn’t know well that spared no detail. And it’s not exactly easy to tell strangers to shut the hell up.

I recall being at a work event where a female member of the group talked to us all about her blood loss over a glass of Champagne – painting a vivid picture of what the delivery room looked like. There had seemed to be no stimulus to start this story; nobody had asked to hear it, nobody was pregnant and it wasn’t even something she had just gone through – her daughter was two years old. I nervously smiled and nodded, being too British to be rude enough to walk away from the conversation. On another occasion, this time I was at least pregnant, another acquaintance spent an entire lunch graphically describing their birth – no holds barred. By the end, I was nauseous and visibly shaking. I’d tried to laugh it off, explain that I was squeamish and that maybe it was best to leave me in ignorant bliss. But they just laughed at what a big shock I was in for…and continued.

Now I’m a mum too, my eyes have been opened. Birth is such a life changing, often long and traumatic experience – physically, emotionally and mentally – that you are compelled to talk about it. You are never prepared for it. You will never be able to predict what happens. It’s like watching the most intense, 24-hour movie that you can’t switch off with no precursor as to whether it’s a rom-com, drama or horror. Oh and you’re not actually watching it, you’ve got the lead role. Afterwards, you have to purge yourself. There is a need to expel the trauma from you body and sharing the story is the only way you can make sense of it. You’re also pretty amazed that you’ve achieved something so incredible. I certainly didn’t think I was capable.

However, while there is this need to purge, I do think that it should be accompanied with an element of restraint. One thing I learned from being the recipient of birth stories in my PB life, is the danger of over sharing and respecting your audience. When family and friends visited, I only spoke about the birth if I was asked. I didn’t volunteer anything. Or at least I hope I didn’t. Just because we go through such a physically life-changing experience, doesn’t mean that the social boundaries of communication are gone; do strangers want to hear about tears, stitches, blood loss and how long we had to push?

The best purging opportunity comes when you meet other new mums. This is where the rules change; anything goes. You’ve all given birth, you’ve all had a baby thrust in your arms and been sent home expecting to know how to look after it. And you’ve all suddenly been deprived of what should be one of your basic human rights; sleep. My NCT friends know more intimate things about me than nearly everyone I know. And this was within about eight weeks of meeting them. There were even times when I went to new mums meet ups which quickly descended into a run down of everyone’s birth – something that would have sounded dreadful pre baby. But this time I didn’t feel queasy because I’d already achieved the thing I was so terrified about going through and I needed to purge too.

While you’re pregnant, you’re told that birth will be a positive, natural experience and it’s easy in the early days to feel that you’ve let your baby down if it wasn’t because you needed intervention or drugs. However, almost every one of us around the room had some form of complication and had come out the other side with happy and thriving babies. It’s reassuring to share these tales, realise that your experience was totally normally and even to find humour in the midst of a delivery room horror movie. But spare a thought for those that don’t have a baby as a common denominator with you; do they want to hear the gory details?  Maybe save it for someone who does…

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The Calpol Controversy

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When you’ve got a little baby at home, you start to think like a mad scientist. Each day I reinvent normal household items to have magical powers; a nappy that can actually contain THOSE explosions, a dummy that jumps into baby’s mouth when they wake at night, bed sheets that auto wash when covered with more than one bodily fluid, a pause button that allows you to drink just one hot cup of tea a day.
Maybe I have too many waking hours to think sensibly anymore.

But there’s one thing that already has magical baby powers which I think is getting too much stick at the moment; Calpol. Doctors say that Calpol is too sweet and looks like milkshake – it appears that babies actually like it. Here’s the original story in the Mail on Sunday but it’s also going widespread at the moment.

When I think of Calpol, I picture my screaming, tiny, ill baby, beside herself in pain from a nasty ear infection. And me trying to calm her enough to offer her a dose of Calpol. We quickly discovered the also magical medicine dummies in place of the syringes which I can never actually control without squirting it everywhere. After the initial taste, my baby would cautiously take the rest of the dose. The sucking motion calmed her and soon after, the Calpol worked its magic touch and she took a deep breath and quietly cuddle up to me as the pain subsided.

To me, that’s magic. Could you imagine baby Calpol NOT existing? It would be our number one want on the mad baby inventor programme.

The argument is that Calpol tastes so good that there’s a risk of overdose. There are reports of kids clambering into cupboards, busting open the caps and glugging their way through the bottle. Sounds like me and gin at baby bedtime.

In the reports I’ve read, Calpol makers are taking a hammering. So much so that I was compelled to write this post. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making light of the serious issue of potential overdosing. Yes, action does need to be taken to reduce the risks. But part of me thinks that there is an education process with parents about the very real danger that overdosing on paracetamol can cause with advice on storage – even if it involves hiding it in a locked medicine cupboard. I know that terrible accidents can happen when you’re a parent. But if your baby rolls off a changing station, do you blame the manufacturer or do you start changing the baby at ground level?

Calpol, here’s my message to you: Thank you for not only making a magic potion that takes excruciating pain away from my baby but also making it appealing enough that even in the deep dark depths of despair, my baby will take it.
Let’s not forget that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”. Even Mary Poppins agrees.

What do you think?

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Do mums moan too much?

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Everyone knows that having a baby is wonderful. Fact. However, as parents cross into this unknown baby territory, we unfortunately find quite a lot to moan about. This doesn’t mean we are ungrateful for our lot or that we’re not experiencing an unfathomable amount of joy, pride and happiness at the same time – we just didn’t realise how hard some of the new moments were going to be.

Before becoming a parent, you expect to be tired. You expect to have to clean up a lot of dirty nappies. You expect babies to cry. You expect things to change. But you have no idea of how much sleep deprivation can turn you into a crazy lady. You have no idea how much poop can explode out of one nappy to the devastation of everything around it (no doubt just as you’re getting in the car). You have no idea that babies can cry inconsolably for three hours. And you have no idea of the scale of how much your life changes.

As I said, it’s not that we’re not happy, just caught out and overwhelmed by some of the harder things that such a tiny seemingly helpless baby can throw at us. Sometimes literally.

What got me starting to think about all of this was when my husband came home from work a couple of weeks ago and my friend and her baby were visiting for a play date. We were laughing over the usual high brow intellectual topics of conversation – how often our babies had pooped in the bath that week, tallying up our night-time wake ups, debating whether to get a steam mop to tackle the porridge that had been formed a rock-hard immovable mass in between the kitchen tiles and eyeing up the last hob nob. Later that evening, my husband teased me about how much we’d been moaning and how it must make me a right hoot to hang out with.

Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t have won an award for the most sparkling conversationalist of the year but it’s conversations like these that have kept me sane for the past year. Who would want to listen to me continually gloating how my baby is THE most beautiful and THE most genius baby on the entire planet?

There are moments as a parent when you feel you almost can’t cope anymore – when the number of hours sleep you’ve had in a week doesn’t even reach double figures or when you wonder what silence sounds like after bouncing/feeding/rocking/singing to a screaming baby for what seems like forever. Or you catch a look at yourself in the mirror covered in baby sick and sweet potato mush with scraggly hair and no make-up and you wonder what you’ve become. The only thing that gets me through some of these moments is knowing that there is a country full of other new parents who are going through the very same dilemmas and being able to share our mishaps together with laughter.

I used to see one particular mum friend weekly on what we described as ‘Moaning Mondays’. We did put ourselves through the mill by attempting to go to TWO half-hour classes in the space of three hours. It doesn’t seem like much but the desperate panic to get babies napped, fed, changed and traveled for two whole activities was exhausting and highly stressful. Afterwards, we’d laugh at how much we’d managed to moan that day but it genuinely made us feel better – happier people and therefore happier mums.

So yes, maybe we do moan quite a lot. But we’re not sorry about it. We need it. Although I do appreciate that I’ve responded to a comment that I moan a lot by moaning…but I’d rather be a normal (and honest) mum who laughs with her friends about her mishaps than one that needs a slap in the face for only gloating about how wonderful and perfect my life is.

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This is my baby – butt out!

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After I had my baby, I had to stay in hospital for four days.
Now I look back and think how long it was that I was stuck in a baking hot ward full of other mums and crying babies and being woken all night – not just by my own baby but the ‘helpful’ staff who had to take my blood pressure every four hours.
At the time, I was desperate to be there. I didn’t know how to take care of a baby or what I was supposed to be doing. I looked up to every midwife and nurse like an oracle – “please tell me what to do, I want to be good at this”.

The same naive yearning for advice stuck with me for the next few weeks as I struggled with breastfeeding. My midwife and a breastfeeding consultant visited me at home but I was so desperate for help that also took on a half hour trek, a train and then a bus journey just to get to a feeding drop-in session. Did I mention this was with a one week old baby and a walking ability best described as hobbling?

But I never felt fully reassured. What I couldn’t understand is that everyone was telling me different things. Different methods, different ‘facts’, different ways of doing everything from holding my baby to responding to her cries and interpreting what she wanted. What I now know is that nobody knew my baby and nobody knew the right way of doing anything for her. It was something that only I – and her daddy – could understand and would learn instinctively each hour and day that we were with her.

But that doesn’t stop people trying to impart their often conflicting advice. The ‘experts’ portray everything they say as FACT. Many were brilliant and just wanted to help me but so many others treat new mums as idiots over the simplest of things. One scoffed at me for the way I was winding my baby (the way which actually worked). Another acted shocked that I was changing a dirty nappy mid-feed (because the previous midwife told me I had to). On day three of our feeding struggles, another sighed at me when I winced in pain, shaking her head saying “it doesn’t hurt” (it DID!)

But it’s not just the ‘experts’ you need to watch out for. When you become a mum, you suddenly find that everyone is a baby expert. Relatives, friends and – worst of all – strangers on the street. All want to give you their opinion.

I remember on several occasions being told that my baby couldn’t possibly still be hungry after cluster feeding for over an hour. So, being inexperienced and lacking confidence, I listened to them and watched as my baby became more and more distressed as I desperately tried to comfort her. I ended up leaving to feed her again secretly – which is what she wanted. Being tired, hormonal and worn out in every way, I felt paranoid that I was being judged and that others thought I was doing it all wrong. And worse, that their opinion mattered more than my own.

Surprisingly, strangers – mainly grannies – would stop me on the street to coo over my tiny baby. I’m not sure how holding a baby gives strangers the right to ask personal, intrusive and quite frankly inappropriate questions on topics from if I’m breastfeeding and how I’m raising her to childbirth and my recovery. And, most helpfully, little gems like how their baby never cried and fed beautifully every four hours.

I understand that having a baby can be a bewildering experience and there’s so much that I wish I knew. I’m hoping that all the people who gave me advice did so with the best of intentions – aiming to guide me and give me tips to make my life easier. But as I’ve mentioned, every baby is different and what works for one baby won’t work for another. I also think that the older generation look back on their parenthood experiences with rose-tinted glasses and don’t remember all of the hard times or when their babies cried for hours. I don’t believe that there was a generation of babies that didn’t cry unconsolably for their parents and that breastfeeding problems are just a 21st century issue.

To be blunt, I wish I’d told all of those people to butt out. It would have given me the opportunity to learn my baby’s cues and how to respond to her much sooner and I could have put all of the energy I wasted worrying that I was doing a bad job into much more constructive things. When I speak to expectant and new mums now, I do my very best to not give any advice. To just reassure them and empathise with how hard the early days are. And that way hopefully they won’t feel that they are being judged, won’t feel paranoid and will find their confidence much quicker than I did.

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It’s for the baby – a blog to keep me sane

A bit of a boring blog post I’m afraid, just to set the scene. Future ones will be more interesting. I hope…

When I found out I was pregnant in November 2012, I thought it would be a great idea to start a blog.

I think (and talk) a lot but it was excruciating not being able to share the biggest thing in my life. But even when it was official, I didn’t think the people I see every day would want me wittering on about babies constantly.

This blog would give me the opportunity to chronicle my journey through pregnancy into motherhood which would hopefully connect me with other new mums – perhaps people who would want to listen to me and it would also be something nice to share with my baby when she grew up. So off I blogged – anonymously until I could tell people I was pregnant.

However, after a few months, we had a little bit of a scare with the baby. It all turned out fine but at that moment, blogging wasn’t my number one priority. Then when the baby was born, I didn’t have the time let alone the mental capacity to keep it going. My baby is now 15 months old!

I’ve wanted get going on this blog again for a long time. In fact I’ve actually written a few blogs along the way and not published them. I had intended on back-publishing all my old blog posts but actually, I doubt anyone would back and read them. So I’ve spiked all my old blog posts and today I’m officially starting It’s For The Baby from the beginning (again).

What gives me the authority to write about babies and being a parent? I’ve got one of these…..

My first day

My first day

…and we’ve both survived – so far at least.

Right, hopefully I’ve explained myself. Boring post over.