I can, actually.

There are things people say to mothers who let a thin sliver of lament show through the cracked veneer of their sanity.  Several of those things piss me off, and some of them mystify me.  One of the most befuddling is any variation on the following theme:

Well, yes, but I bet you can’t imagine your life without Sprout now.

I had a baby.  I didn’t disappear up a darkened tunnel to the lobotomy-station, or undergo a memory transplant.  I lived 37 years without having Sprout and I can perfectly recall what it feels like to be free to leave the house without an hour of forethought and an anxiety attack*.  I can imagine with crystal clarity what it is like not to have him around.

This weekend K-man took Sprout to visit some of his family for most of the day and I got a bigger, better view of the extent to which my freedom has been curtailed.  Obviously, I cleaned the house and cooked two bulk meals for Sprout.  But then.

Then, I walked into town without a pram and sat with a toasted panini and a book and watched the world breeze past me.  I shoe-shopped.  I returned some clothing I’d bought for Sprout because it was too small.  I had time to do all this because I didn’t have to repeatedly pause to deal with crying, puking or shitting, wait for the world’s slowest lifts, or manoeuvring the pram around too-closely-situated shop stands.  I was not on a timetable according to someone else’s apparently insatiable desire for food or movement.

It was so fabulous, so fantastic, that on the way home I cried in mourning for my lost freedom.

I’ve got a few coping strategies.  First, I look for a middle-aged woman who is having a good time.  I think look at her and how happy she seems.  She probably has grown children, and she has her life back now and a family. That will be me one day, I think.

Second, I try to remember what my friend JR said to me.  He’s so full of wisdom he can’t help leaking it wherever he goes.  He said two things.  Number one, every time I have a little wistful sigh about things I used to do, he says ‘and you will again‘ and gives me his Dalai Lama expression.  Seriously, he’s like a far more stylish Yoda.  Number two, when I expressed guilty feelings for wanting some space from Sprout, he said that although obviously I love Sprout, that does not mean I have to love everything he does or want to spend every minute of every day with him.  I should absolutely not feel guilty for wanting life’s balance to tip a bit less far towards childcare responsibility.

Third, I do one thing every day just for me.  Even if it’s only a ten minute thing and I have to wait until 8.30pm and ram it into the hour window before I collapse with exhaustion.  For example, today’s thing is this piece of writing.

When people tell me that I surely can’t imagine my life without Sprout I reply that yes I can, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want my life without Sprout.  It seems an obvious distinction to me.  And now, he has been asleep for over two hours and I must go wake him or he won’t sleep tonight.  I’m looking forward to seeing him.

*Yes, anxiety is a bitch.  I’d never really experienced it before.  Sprout-induced anxiety forced me to get help from professionals.  More about that in another post.

My Television is a Misogynist

My television thinks it is so smart.  It connects to WiFi and gives us Netflix and BBC iPlayer and all that good stuff.  This is quite useful if I want to soak Sprout in a bucket of neglect for ten minutes and show him psychedelic neon baby TV.  It also has internet radio.  This is quite useful if I want to educate Sprout as to the wonders of music; classical, rock, and classic rock.

My television is so smart it has identified that I am a feminist.  Further, that I am a feminist who believes that porn is inherently harmful to women and therefore A Bad Thing.

This is the only explanation that I can think of for the following phenomenon.  I press the button on the remote which says ‘RADIO’ and enables access to myriad internet radio stations.  When I’m done with the radio and want to get back to important Kardashian-related viewing, I press the button marked ‘TV’. Every time I do this, the TV station it default-views is XXX ADULT XXX.  Try as I might, I cannot get it to go back to the station I left last time I was watching (BBC1, 2, 3 or 4 – or even the bloody Food Network).  To add insult to injury, its internal computer also takes a little time to catch up with itself so I’m stuck on XXX ADULT XXX for about ten seconds before I can change channel.

Do you know what this means?  Apart from being even-more-often-reminded that life as a woman is pretty bloody unpleasant sometimes, I have to remember that my television hates me every time someone comes to visit and we want use the television, lest they believe that I have been sitting there viewing triple-x abuse while they were on their way to me with a giant Catherine McKinnon tome tucked in their bag.

In the spirit of being grateful for small mercies, it is a subscription channel and obviously I don’t subscribe so I merely have to stare at the logo in dismay.

Hell Weekend: the Director’s Cut

Attn: World Police, do not panic - we have stairgates now.

Attn: World Police, do not panic – we have stairgates now.

How did humanity become dominant without its young being focused on their own health and safety and without the adults having 360-degree vision?  I tell you, folks, I’m looking forward to returning to work for a relaxing break.

I am writing to let go of one of the most horrendous long weekends of my life, which – of course – involved an extended visit with all ten of my in-laws.  Before Sprout was born, planning commenced for the Great Golden Wedding Anniversary Celebration 2015.  His mother’s one wish was for her whole family to be together.  While this sounds simple in theory, there is a deep schism within the K-family because one brother refused to attend the wedding of another brother.  Furthermore, one brother and his family live in Singapore.  The Golden Couple live in The Province.  So, the celebration had to last four days.

I spoke sharply to myself before the Great Event.  I swore solemnly that I would maintain my grace and not yell at K-man or snap at the Golden Couple. This weekend is for them, I said, as a gift.  Suck it the fuck up.

Come Sunday night I was broken into a million tiny pieces in a hotel room, screaming at K-man.

The tale begins on a Friday afternoon: K-man set down me and the Sprout at a country hotel and immediately shot off to the railway station to pick up the Golden Couple (they won’t drive themselves anywhere beyond a ten-mile radius of their home, necessitating difficult chauffeuring arrangements). We had to change rooms because the pram and travel cot would not physically fit in the first room, and the Golden Couple had to change rooms twice because of – gasp! – a connecting door in the first and broken air-conditioning in the second.  That was the easiest three hours of the weekend.

Sprout was seven months old at this point, but he already had impeccable timing.  That night he developed his second ever cold, and it was a stinker.  If he was upright on my shoulder, his nose cleared and he was asleep within seconds.  That bought 20 minutes of lying down before snot choked him awake.  I sat in a chair with him on my shoulder until 1am.  Calpol worked for three hours, which bliss accounted for the three hours of sleep we got that night.

Not content with merely getting a dreadful cold, Sprout cut his first tooth the following day.  I had to listen to fake-sympathy from various in-laws, which didn’t extend to offering us some slack with the outrageous list of pre-booked and paid activities and mainly the need for us to be the ones to chauffeur the Golden Couple everywhere.  Others had, variously, too many children or luggage of their own, a ridiculous sports car with only two seats, and accommodation half an hour away from the rest of us owing to their delaying booking until the preceding Wednesday by which time every room in the locality was taken.

There follows a very brief summary of the reasons the weekend would have been tough even without these factors:

  • A cramped unfamiliar hotel environment where the solution to every baby-related problem must be MacGyver’d from string, buttons, and toilet roll using only a swiss army knife;
  • The Golden Couple behaving as though Sprout is their long-lost son from whom they were forcibly removed seven months previously;
  • The Golden Couple insisting he’s fine, he’s fine, when Sprout is crying, sliding half way down their shoulder staring pleadingly at me, desperate for my help;
  • Two ill-disciplined cousins, aged 9 and 10, who spend their entire time three inches from Sprout’s face prodding him and yelling his name and my brother and sister in law who did nothing about it; and
  • My sister-in-law having her own gravitational pull, evidenced by the extent to which all things revolve around her at all times.

On the Saturday, we went to afternoon tea at a nearby flash hotel.  Pre-booked, pre-paid, us-the-chauffeur, the family-photo-op meant there was no way we could get out of going.  The Golden Couple loved it.  Sprout was miserable.  I whispered Om under my breath for five hours.  The K-family went to the pub in the evening, and I settled my screaming snot-soaked son and lay in a darkened room reading by kindle-light.

On Sunday morning we repaired to Blenheim Palace, a 40 minute drive away.  K-man and I were late because well, snot-ridden, tooth-pain, sleep-deprived child, and then paid a princely sum of money to sit in the Palace cafe for two hours trying to get Sprout to take in some form of nutrition while there were no cousins insisting on ‘helping’ as he flailed around in pain and frustration.  The Golden Couple toured the house and loved it.  K-man and I sobbed quietly into our ninth cup of caffeine.    Sprout dozed.

I insisted that on Sunday evening we be in our hotel room on our own alone, and get Sprout a nap, meal, bath, and sleep without anyone else all up in his face.  We would inhale a meal from room-service.  We made it to the hotel room at about 5.30pm after explaining this to the K-family, but Sprout would not go to sleep despite being exhausted so K-man took him in the pram in the hope he would nod off for half an hour before food, bath and bed – all of which are easier with a somewhat rested Sprout.  We agreed he would return after forty-five minutes at the most.  Meanwhile, I scurriedly prepared the travel high-chair, milk feed, solid feed, bedtime outfit, bath etc. I tidied the room, and then started to wonder where the hell my husband and child were.  Time passed, until the clock read 6.45pm.

Telephone calls yielded no response.  I was on the edge of being the angriest person ever to file a missing persons report when, at the french doors of the hotel room (ah, the joy of a ground floor room), a knock sounded.  It was K-man, with the entire fucking K-family on tow.  Sprout was still awake, in his pram, looking like he’d lost a teether and found a pile of dog shit. The cousins started making their way into the room, and I blocked their path.  My mother in law said ‘I suppose you’re looking forward to some sleep tonight!’.  Yes, I said, as soon as bloody possible.  Bloody is bad language, so she looked aghast.  We now had 45 minutes to feed, bath, and bottle-feed our exhausted child, order and eat room-service, and gently guide our baby to the land of nod.

The K-family dangled for five precious further minutes until my one-word answers finally hit home. When the door shut, K-man babbled some incoherent shit that amounted to his inability to be assertive with his family even when his baby’s welfare and his wife’s sanity depended on it.  Apparently the K-family spied him, bounded over, and followed him round while he batted away invitations to dinner/pub and explained that we really needed to make sure Sprout got what he needed and that we got a relaxing evening and hopefully some sleep.  When he announced he was going back to the hotel room they followed him.

The general issue with the K-family is that they are quite inconsiderate, and don’t take hints.  Yet, any kind of direct communication – even back-bendingly positive-framed and polite – when it corresponds to something they don’t want to hear causes immediate and lasting offence of disproportionate magnitude.  I find this extremely difficult to tolerate.

I thought that when we had the Sprout K-man might finally find a way to address this, and that weekend I discovered he wouldn’t.  He never will, and I must learn to live with it.  Whatever he did manage to say to them was not assertive enough, proven barely a few minutes later.

We were, I admit, in the middle of a pretty big fight.  Sprout was screaming, and I was failing to calm down while genuinely trying to understand whether my husband’s communication was really that bad, or whether the K-family really are that inconsiderate.  K-man, who has no problem being assertive with me, claimed that I was a) trying to ‘control everything’, b) unreasonably failing to appreciate that his parents don’t see Sprout that often, and c) upsetting Sprout.  This was the thousandth tiny cut.  I proclaimed that he could deal with the consequences of his actions and call me when he had taken care of the Sprout sufficiently that he was asleep. I knew he would really struggle to do this on his own but I didn’t care.  I would be at an undisclosed location boiling myself up into ever greater rage.

I marched out of the hotel room.  But what’s this?  I thought I must be so angry I was finally hallucinating, for my eyes alighted upon the Golden Couple heading purposefully down the corridor towards me.  I closed my eyes and opened them again: they were still there.  I didn’t even break stride; I went outside and wondered if my marriage was over.

After about ten minutes more Om, I returned to the room and asked K-man to shed some light on what the hell just happened.  His parents, he said, believed they were being helpful by bringing down some toys we had left in their room.  He had to stop trying to feed the screaming Sprout, answer the door, and explain that no he really didn’t need their help with anything at that precise moment and that they were in fact making a bad situation worse.  They went away, miffed.  Still, he insisted they meant well and simply wanted extra time with Sprout.  He believes they were trying to catch Sprout in the bath so they could witness it.  Because watching an exhausted sick teething 7 month old from afar is much more fun than being the one who has to actually deal with the consequences of other people’s ‘help’.

My rejoinder was:

  • we have been with them for two entire days by now, meeting everyone else’s requirements;
  • it was made abundantly clear that we needed some space as we were really struggling;
  • all parties were aware that we had had six total hours of sleep across the last 72 hours and we can’t just biff off for a nap whenever we feel like it;
  • if they wanted to be helpful they could have called first to check, rather than just appear at the door;
  • what they really wanted was to spend yet another few minutes with Sprout, regardless of whether that was the best thing for him or us, which at this point, was ridiculously selfish.

We re-bonded after lamenting his parents’ lack of sensitivity.  I explained that K-man had better find a way of dealing with the fact that his parents get unreasonably offended because if he couldn’t start saying things more frankly to them, I would.  And nobody wants that.

The following day, Monday, we went to Highclere (where Downton Abbey was filmed). I was so tired I could barely see, and we had another horrendous lunch where Sprout ate nothing because of the cacophonous cafeteria noise and the ministrations of his two cousins.  That afternoon, he marked the end of the celebration by doing a shit so enormous we had to find an emergency off-road stop-off to change him.

I was proud as punch of my son that weekend, because even though he was absolutely miserable he was extremely patient.  He smiled occasionally, and considering what he was going through he didn’t scream much at all.  He put up with a large group of people who were essentially strangers holding him and poking at him, and ineptly trying to feed him.  He is a star.

I just hope he will be as understanding during his first birthday ordeal, when we will have both sets of grandparents visiting.

The Small Things: a comparative study

Regular readers (hello!*) will be aware that my heritage is out of the USA.  When I visit I spend the whole time sponging off relatives and staying in suburban houses.

After complaining for as long as I can recall about what a fuck-up the USA is my parents, for reasons I think I now understand, bought a place in Florida.  We took the Sprout there to visit them, and two sets of aunts and uncles who also have places nearby.  I had to spend quite a lot of time listening to my father moan about subjects ranging from poor quality food to the evils of Comcast.  He was really harshing my mellow, and I took to yelling DOOM DOOM DOOM at him whenever I caught him mid-bitch.  Because while like any country it has its serious problems, the USA does plenty of things better than the UK.

I’m not talking about the big important things like equality, democracy, human rights, healthcare paid through general taxation, and non-shrieky news outlets.  I’m talking about the small stuff which has a minute impact on one’s daily pleasance.  After two weeks in the USA, I felt markedly less like I wanted to scream at random folk in the street about how bloody difficult life is.  So I started a ground-up compare and contrast study and I now present the results of seven whole minutes of brain-busting concentration.  What does the USA do better than the UK?

1.    Free and plentiful drinking water. 

In the UK if you want a free drink of water, you have to carry it with you or guzzle from a nearby river with a rusting supermarket trolley situated upstream.  This is even the case in nightclubs and airports.  There’s a thinly-carved exception for restaurants: there you must wait decades for a waiter to approach then request water, at which point they will offer you a choice of still or sparkling at a price that would make Bill Gates reconsider, and you have to ask for ‘tap’ to avoid being charged.

In the USA, drinking fountains abound.  In the airport they are every 250 feet or so.  At the beach, if it’s a decent one there will be a fountain.  In restaurants, a person with a jug of ice water appears ten seconds after you have sat down and pours you a refreshing free beverage before returning at intervals to top up your glass.  Incidentally, my father finds a way to hate even this: he says it’s unnecessary and intrusive (!).

2.  The availability of (free) toilets.

Let’s start with the notion that public toilets, in my view, should be readily available, free, and clean.  It is a public health issue not to mention a comfort one. Instead, in the middle of supposedly civilised London during a large street festival involving consumption of a fair amount of liquid on a hot day, I have had to pee in a bush in a council estate because all the local pubs and eateries had closed their facilities and I was in agony.  I had to walk past a makeshift men’s loo consisting of vertical slabs of corrugated iron to screen the action and jump over the streams of urine issuing forth from underneath and polluting the road-surface.  It was vile.  Was there a women’s toilet available?  Was there hell.

I have paid 30 pence to use a toilet at a railway station.  K-man has been trapped for three hours on a broken down train without a functioning toilet available and emerged in serious pain.   When one is lucky enough to come across a toilet that is free (whether that’s a public or pub/restaurant one) it is often woefully filthy and lacks the key element: toilet paper.  They are often so tiny that it’s near-impossible for me (and my 5 ft 3 inch medium-build frame) to enter, turn around, and close the door without advanced yoga postures.

In the USA, many of the toilets lack sensible joinery and afford little privacy, but they are very available and are always (as far as I know) free.  They are also generally clean.  I have climbed a mountain and found, to my astonishment, a well-kept toilet at the top.

3.  Refrigerators

Refrigerators in the USA are sensibly proportioned, and because of the vertical split approach easy to access.  They also come with an ice-maker about which I am generally ecstatic (see 1, above).  They are better in just about every way I can think of.  Refrigerators in the UK involve a stupidly small freezer compartment at the top of the fridge, or a hard-to-manage drawer arrangement at the bottom which requires double-jointed elbows and wrists to properly access.  You can get an American-style fridge, but only if you’re one of the ten richest people in the country.

4.  Sandwiches

I hadn’t noticed this one until my most recent trip to the USA.  It was painful to acknowledge because generally, I find food in the UK infinitely more palatable.  But the sandwich is the awful racist uncle of the UK food world: you wish it would buck up its ideas or just fuck off.  It is typically 80% limp bread and a thin smear of flavourless filling.  If there’s meat, you might get one extra-thin slice and it will be disguised among a forest of wet lettuce that has caused unacceptable bread-sog.  If it’s Sunday and you’re in a pub it might be accompanied by some stale crisps.  It is not a meal, it is a rip-off.

In the USA, the bread is a side-show to the main event: a creatively compiled gut-busting array of filling plus condiments.  It will probably appear alongside an acre’s-worth of fries.  You will not require further food for a week.

5.  Road layout

Even driving in cities is easier in the USA.  Roads don’t change names half way down them.  They do not bend back on themselves seventeen times to purposely disorient travellers: they are set out in a grid pattern.  They don’t lose a lane without warning.  Two-way roads aren’t so narrow that while it may have been possible for two horses to pass each other without brushing whiskers, it definitely isn’t possible for two modern cars to do so without someone losing a wing mirror.  There are no roundabouts.  This video neatly illustrates how many things you have to think about simultaneously to cheat death on a roundabout.  What it does not explain is that many drivers view roundabouts as a racetrack and will drive like dickheads.

There is one exception in the category of road layout: highway entrances/exits.  Why, USA, why?

UK 1

There is no reason to force cars trying to exit to cross paths with cars trying to enter, all in the space of less than ten seconds’ driving time.  It is entirely logical and possible to avoid this problem by having the entrance come after the exit.  In fact, it’s been tried and tested elsewhere.  Everywhere else:


Observe Car ‘A’ calmly exit the motorway.  Car B didn’t exit and continues on his merry way.  Road etiquette dictates that if it is possible for car B to move into the middle lane to create extra room for Car C, that should be done.  Car C can enter without fear of someone trying to cross his path to make the exit.  At no point do cars A and C cross each other’s path.  They don’t even know each other exist.

OK, that’s all I’ve got today folks.  If you know of any small stuff that’s done markedly better in a country other than your own, have at it in the comments section!  I’m always interested, even if I can’t find the time to reply between nappy changes.

* Thank you for continuing to read my sporadic writing and for saying lovely things to me.  I really do appreciate it.

Cruel World

Just a warning: this subject is profoundly upsetting. I’m fine, but someone else isn’t.

Since giving birth, I have more often lost control of my emotions beyond a reasonable response under the circumstances.  The first time it happened, a few days after Sprout’s birth, was when this story* hit the headlines.  I sobbed uncontrollably for a while, thought I’d got over it, and then was being driven through the city concerned weeks later when the tears fell again.  The second time I saw a documentary featuring a couple whose baby had died at 26 weeks’ gestation.  Their baby’s first two names were the same as Sprout’s.  It took me several hours to stop crying, and several days to stop dwelling on it.

And then.

A friend and colleague became pregnant.  There was much rejoicing, and she had a text-book pregnancy.  She went on maternity leave amidst a flurry of gifts and smiles.  We all looked forward to meeting her offspring: no doubt it would be, as she is, a delightful kindhearted ridiculously-smart wonderful human being who would never intentionally harm anyone or anything.

My boss called me the other day.  He said, through a cracking voice, that my friend had been for a routine scan feeling fine, but doctors were unable to locate the baby’s heartbeat. Her baby had died.  That is all the information he was able to give me, so my brain filled in the rest.  Intra-uterine death is the medical term.  How that term disguises the true reality.

I knew that at some point, her living baby-with-feelings would have closed its eyes for the final time.  Her labour would have been induced, and my friend would have had to go through it knowing that her baby was dead.  Perhaps she hoped it had all been a terrible mistake and she would have a living baby after all, only to have this tiny hope smashed too.  She would have been asked if she wanted to hold her dead baby, and she probably said yes.  Then she would have looked into its face and felt, well, who can say except she?  She would have had to choose whether to consent to a post mortem.

I do not know if the baby was a boy or girl, but I do know that she had chosen names, and prepared her home with all the equipment and accoutrements one needs to care for a tiny delicate being.  She would have had to go home and face all the preparation, and un-prepare it.  I know she will be feeling disbelief, anger, devastation, loss: emotional pain so bad it is physical.  Her heart just fell off a cliff and got stomped on when it landed.  In addition to that, she is recovering from labour: hardly a walk in the park on the sunniest of days.

What do you say or do to help?  I finally settled on sending a card, and agonised over what to write in it.  After all, my own baby is alive and well and six months old.  I am acutely aware that I have what she so desperately wanted: being reminded of my very existence might worsen her pain.  I do not want to intrude, but I also did not want her to feel alone, unacknowledged, and ignored.  So I sent a card; it’s all I can really do until, in time, perhaps she will be ready to see people – me, and maybe my son – again.

I grudgingly observe that there are two tarnished silver linings.  First, she is young and has plenty of time to recover and try again (though lard knows any future pregnancy would surely have its own emotional issues attached).  Second, my friend is entitled to a full year of maternity leave should she wish to use it.  This gives her plenty of time to access the kind of emotional support she will need, without financial concern, and only return to work when she is ready.  Plenty of people don’t have that.

I feel odd about my own reaction: weirdly self-focussed and guilty about that. Like I have no right to be, and should not be, as upset as I am.  I have not gone through this terrible tragedy; she has.  I can only gaze in from the periphery and begin to imagine how it feels.  Yet I am unable to press pause on my brain.  I am desperately sad, and enraged that such tragedy could happen to such a wonderful person.  I feel helpless, and wonder even whether I did the right thing to send a card.  I look at my own baby and feel incredibly lucky but also devastated for my friend.  Buying a card for her, I burst into tears in the shop.  I wake at night and think about what happened, and cry.  I ponder for hours the fact that however sad I feel, she feels infinitely worse.  It is unhelpful that I have only baby-care to occupy me, so everything I do (down to the nursery rhymes  – seriously, have you paid attention to nursery rhyme lyrics? many of them are acutely distressing) reminds me of her situation.

I know that in time, these feelings will pass.  Far into the future, perhaps they will lessen for my friend, though I am damned sure hers will never disappear.

How could this happen to her?  It is a bloody cruel, cruel world.

*In summary, a woman with mental health issues left hospital with her four-day old baby and jumped off a cliff.  Mother and baby died.

When the wheels fell off, and I became obsessed with my hair.

The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that.

The three hour daytime naps are a thing of the past. Our quiet little routine, and my magical sleeping son, flew out the window and waved goodbye eight weeks ago.  That’s when the Sprout had a whole-body eczema experience, and his cradle cap got infected.  His angelic self was replaced by someone who could out-grump Oscar the Grouch.

In episode 19 of the Blame the Mother Chronicles, two people (one of whom is related to me, and should know better) asked ‘but how did it get infected?’ in tones suggesting marked chastisement designed to plummet my self-worth.  Pointless, really, since I didn’t know how to feel worse than I already did.  Hell, I have no idea how it got infected.  Maybe because he’s a baby and he rolls around on the floor all day, and if I sterilised the vicinity every time he dribbled or puked then he would starve because I wouldn’t have the four-ish hours a day required to effectively feed him.

Anyway, Hell Week consisted of administering liquid antibiotics four times daily and crossing fingers that his nappy would contain the orange shit-fireworks he experienced in consequence, rubbing hydrocortisone and emollient cream all over a squirming screaming red thing twice daily, and hoping against hope for a fucking break for both of us.  But no, because of what must have been his horrific discomfort, not only were daytime naps limited to half an hour (four, if lucky) but also (possibly because my son has a Viking’s appetite) night-waking became a thing.  A big, bleary-eyed, please no not again, thing.  It’s still a thing even though he is back to perfect health.  In the last nine weeks he has slept through the night twice.

The infection took a week to clear, his skin a further week to heal up, and then we went on a transatlantic holiday.  But more about that in future writing.  First, I must talk about my hair before I burst from vanity-related angst.

I never really paid much attention to my hair before.  It was up there, on my head, with hair-schizophrenia: really quite curly in parts but straight in others.  Dealing with it was a minor chore: three minutes of attention every two days because.

It turns out that it’s only possible not to care about your hair if, without really considering it, you know deep down it looks OK.   A little bit birds-nest, but basically OK.  Nobody is laughing at you on the street so it must be OK, OK.

Well.  Hormones bitch-slapped my hair down the plughole in vast quantities starting when the Sprout was nine weeks old.  It was coming out in handfuls, and I do mean handfuls.  I had a lot of hair, so this happened for a few weeks without aesthetic consequence.  Now, over three months later, I have a receding hairline to rival Jude Law.  If I scrape it back into a ponytail, the volume is about one third its former glory.  Last month I went to the hairdresser and pleaded with her to cut my hair in a way that would make it look half-decent then and after further hair loss.  I tried not to have unreasonable expectations.  She tried to make me look like I hadn’t gone three rounds with a world champion hair-puller.  We both failed.  In a shampoo advert, I would be the limp, grey, lifeless ‘before’ picture.

People, observe:

DSC_2531 - Version 2

I am not making this shit up.  To the right hand side of my hairline on the photo you can see the recession.  But for the angle, you could see the same thing on the other side.  At least it’s symmetrical (see: small mercies).

People (by which I mean the hairdresser, and the internet) tell me this is completely normal, it will grow back, and be patient.  But I’m still trying every volumising shampoo on the market, staring into the mirror holding up my few remaining strands of hairline, and weeping.  I dwell endlessly upon how it will be a year before I look like myself again.  I have toyed with the idea of getting it all cut off, but that might make a bad situation worse.  There are no places where I am completely bald, but large areas around my temples where it is a damned close call.  As you can see, in bright sunlight it is particularly noticeable.  Oh, hello summer!

I know I’m not alone in these struggles.  I am eternally grateful that the Sprout doesn’t (I am touching wood) have a serious illness.  And there are more important things in life than a temporary hair-blip.  But good grief, Charlie Brown, motherhood is harder than a really hard thing.


Down the Hatch

Thanks, Wikimedia Commons

Thanks, Wikimedia Commons

The pearls of wisdom dispensed to expectant mothers include a string of statements about the importance of breastfeeding though it may be ‘slightly uncomfortable‘ at first.  Perseverance, I was told, is your friend.  Soon I would be snapping and unsnapping my contented baby from my boob with the kind of careless abandon generally reserved for summer holidays.  It should not hurt.  Soft pillows and feathers would surround me.

After Sprout’s very medically assisted entry into the world, I was determined to breastfeed exclusively for the recommended six months.  I went to a class about it, I read books, I watched videos.  The latch, well-meaning internet videos opined, is all-important.   Just follow the easy steps and everything will be golden and glowing.


I hardly know where to begin.  I am still exclusively breastfeeding, but if I had one iota less of bloody-minded resolve, I would have given up after six weeks.  I knew the first two weeks would be difficult; the information I had overloaded assured me that I would be trapped in a chair with a baby clamped to my chest.  If only that were all I had to contend with.

Those instructional videos might have been relevant for the 1% of mothers who have a perfectly calm hungry baby who obligingly gapes open its mouth while the rest of its body hangs relaxed.  Me?  I had to feed an angry octopus.  Trying to carefully manhandle a flailing fragile red-faced bundle of desperation into the correct position was a game I was destined to lose.

Oh, I won in the sense that it worked: he got enough to eat.  But the teeth-clenching toe-curling pain I endured for the first few minutes of every feed; the cracked and bleeding nipples which took days to heal; the number of times I almost sent K-man to buy an industrial quantity of formula.  These things will stay with me forever.  Sprout puked pink, and I worried about him bleeding internally.  No, said the midwife, he’s swallowing your blood and he can’t digest it.  For two weeks I used a combination of lanolin cream, nipple shields, and a breast pump: I stopped bleeding, and the pain lessened from severe to serious.

The assorted instructionals implied that this was happening to me because I was doing it wrong.  Maybe I interpreted it this way because I was a hormonal emotional wreck, but one thing I’ve learned so far about motherhood is that there really is a shit-ton of Blame the Mother flying around.  That’s a whole separate piece of writing I’ve got boiling away inside me.  The three breastfeeding advisers I consulted all checked the latch and pronounced it to be perfect.  One told me I have Reynaud’s disorder (I don’t).  I expended far too much mental anguish worrying about the need for a ‘correct’ latch and trying to follow step by step instructions and ‘bring the baby to the boob, not the boob to the baby‘ while Sprout wailed and tried to turn himself inside out.

After eight weeks, it gradually stopped hurting.  I believe several things happened concurrently to cause this.   First, Sprout’s mouth had grown so he could feed more effectively and not abrade the surface of my skin with his tiny tongue.  Second, my nipples had toughened like an old goat’s.  Third, I jettisoned the well-meaning advice about how to achieve a latch and just jammed as much boob into his mouth as he could take.  It worked.

I wholeheartedly appreciate, accept, and support breastfeeding and would never suggest formula is better for the baby, and would not have it any other way for Sprout.  But I still find breastfeeding a pain in the tit both literally and metaphorically.  But I don’t think it would hurt humanity if it were publicly acknowledged that not every woman finds it a blissful spiritual experience.  I cannot think I am alone in finding it very difficult but continuing because it is better for the baby.

Even without the pain, there are still major drawbacks.  Chief among these is that nobody can do it for me and sometimes I would like to spend more than two hours of my life without boomeranging back to my son to present my boob.  Pumping milk enables this, but means I have to prevent my milk supply dropping by either feeding or pumping as close as possible to the time I would have been feeding anyway so it seems rather pointless.

Sprout has gastric reflux, which means that after most feeds I need to give him Gaviscon Infant.  To do this, I have to dissolve lumpy powder in just-boiled sterile water in a sterile container immediately before feeding him, then find a way to get it into him at the end of a feed when he is full.  At home, this is difficult.  On the road it is virtually impossible.  If I were formula feeding I could simply tip the sachet of powder into his bottle, shake, and have at it.

Yes, I know it is but a short section of my life.  I also know that the benefits for him outweigh the inconvenience to me.  But this inconvenience should be acknowledged as such: the fact that a benefit exists does not mean a corresponding disadvantage disappears.  I don’t need or want a medal.  I’m simply fed up of reading and hearing information given in a wrist-slapping chagrined tone, and which implies that women who do complain about breastfeeding or give up before too many weeks have passed are selfish delinquent mothers who are doing it wrong.  Breastfeeding might be all marshmallows and halos for some, but the truth is that for others it is a painful, dismal, lonely experience which they go through because they know it is the best thing for their child.

I refuse to feel bad for finding breastfeeding difficult and looking forward to its end.


Edited to add:  This morning, an envelope arrived from my mother containing a cut-out of an article by Eva Wiseman (my mother said it’s because she thought I’d enjoy receiving post, but I think she had no idea how to search for and email a copy of the article to me).  In the article Wiseman says pretty much what I’ve said above, only she says it better and more succinctly.  Find it here.

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