Monday, 22 February 2021

On being a mother to a new baby, but not a ‘new mom’

If I reflect on my experience of being a mother for the first time, it was like the roar of crashing surf as a storm surge hits the cliffs, while being an ‘again’ mother sounds more like waves lapping on a sandy beach bay as the tide swells. It is calm. Serene. Uncomplicated, and has an inevitability. The frustrations, uncertainties, fears and lack of context I felt with Anna simply don’t exist anymore.

I don’t try to control nap-time because I know now that nap-time is outside of my control. If a baby needs to sleep enough, they will communicate that to me, and otherwise I will do my best to attempt to put them to sleep within a window of time I feel is appropriate. If it doesn’t happen, life goes on.

The baby eats, often pouches of pureed nonsense, but more and more the family table foods that will eventually become his normal. He sometimes has to cry for a minute longer than his sister did, because now I have double the amount of tiny people needing me, and the same amount of hands. This is also fine, because no one can get exactly what they want all of the time.

There are many things I appreciate about being a second-time-rounder. I don’t jolt awake at night to make sure James is breathing quite as often as I did with Anna, which I did constantly. I know what to ‘expect’ in terms of milestones and phases, and I know that no matter what I expect, I am personally in control of none of it. Biology, genetics, the agency of that tiny person are far more powerful than the wishes of a mother.

In freeing myself from some of the more anxiety-inducing experiences of that old New Motherhood, I find myself loving Baby James in a completely different way. My love for Anna as a small baby was a sort of euphoric and exhausting mess, tinged with sleep deprivation and insecurity. I loved her profoundly and obsessively, partly because of the lack of knowledge about how and when she would change. I had to love this version of her completely, commit every ounce of experience to memory, because I didn’t know when and how she would change. I had no other baby to compare her to, no other experience of being a mother. Most significantly of all, her personality is so vivid and intense, everything I gave to her, she demanded of me a hundred fold more.

My love for James comes with security, knowledge, maturity, experience. I know that he will change, and roughly when and how, and that is perfectly ok. I know that I am competent and a good care-giver, so my love for him isn’t tinged with insecurity that I need to love him the most of all in case it isn’t enough and in case I amn’t enough. Because I know that for a small baby, their mother can’t be anything but absolutely everything. Their first landscape to climb all over, their first source of absolute and pure connection. He is also most conveniently an easy-going and contented little soul, and so he doesn’t expect more of me than a squeeze and a kiss whenever he needs it. He is happy with his lot, and that allows me to take a deep breath and to be content too.

There’s a lot in being a mother of a new baby, but in being a mother of a new baby again, that is something completely different.

Monday, 25 January 2021

Life in Lockdown - January

We're approaching the end of the first month of 2021, and, excepting the ongoing nightmare that is Covid, it hasn't been terrible. I've always loved the new year, new beginnings, a clean slate. The idea of it and the lived experience. This year is strange and different of course - until we get the vaccine sorted it's going to be hard to travel, probably worth avoiding altogether. In the spirit of the lingering pandemic I kept the Christmas tree up until it was a crumbling, dry shell of it's former self. The sparkling and twinkling lights helped enormously. 

Weather-wise it's been a cold and windy one. But more importantly, we had our first snow! It lasted but a day, oh but what a day! Anna sled, made snow angels, a snow man, we had snowball fights and just walked around the park in awe. I waiting all year long in 2020 for snow, checking my weather apps daily, so 2021 so far has *not* disappointed.

Our little home endures, given the circumstances. We're plotting and planning for the coming months and really thinking about what our game plan is for the coming year. Big changes are afoot and I'm excited to get up and get on. Of course I'm hinging a lot on this vaccine coming through and being the saving grace we need. I just can't see how life can go on in this constant lockdown  

Perhaps the biggest change for me that's come this year is a change that's needed to happen for quite a while now. I spoke to my GP (quite unintentionally, as it turns out) about mental health, and I'm making a definitive shift towards improving my mood and bringing myself back to a mindset that allows me to be my best self, for myself. 

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Happy New Year - The Year That Wasn't

I lost a day somewhere this week It makes little difference, considering the year that's in it. Baby James had a 3 day fever from Stephen's Day, that might have something to do with the blurring of time and space. 2021, eh. What is there to say, honestly. 2020 feels like the year that wasn't. We ended 2019 on such a high - got married, packed up and sold our house, moved country. New opportunities, new beginnings. 'Making a better life' we called it.

So happy, so full of promise and hope, so naive. 

The year was begun with much anticipation. Ringing in the new year with my closest friends, flying on New Years Day, waiting for social security numbers, hospital scans, kindergarten spaces, unpacking our shipped boxes. I would try to get a job before the baby came. I might find the time to write a paper. Alas, dear reader, it was not to be. We did manage a lovely 3rd birthday for Anna in Meath in March, and that was the end of the road for us.

I don't want to be self-indulgent, many people have experienced losses this year. But it would be disingenuous to say that the only losses that 'matter' are the ending of lives. I can appreciate greatly how loss and death and grieving affect individuals and families. But there are other losses too, and we have a right to mourn them. 

The loss of first meetings of newborns, and maybe more profoundly, of last meetings with loved ones at the end of their life, in spaces of restful dignity. Of new friendships blossoming, visiting old friends, big weddings with lots of dancing, going to pubs and cinemas and galleries, of travelling to sunny destinations for a bit of a break, hugs, job opportunities, any opportunities, time to write and think and reflect. It's been a hard old year, hasn't it. 

But I suppose you have to look on the bright side. I learned some profound lessons about myself, I'm sure we all did. And there's a lot about life and all the messy things in it I'll never take for granted again.

Happy New Year, here's to something better than what came before.

Amy xo

Starting 2020 with so much hope

Friday, 18 December 2020

Looking Forward to Christmas

Weird one this year, lads. Weird one. Most people who know me know that I am a great lover of all things Christmas. I give myself permission to blast Christmas music from November 1st. I decorate cookies, put tiny ornaments on every surface. I live for the joy, the peace, the goodwill towards all men. I am, as I write, wearing Christmas-bow earrings 

But this year, as it does for many, Christmas feels a little different. All our Christmas 'stuff' is in boxes in another country. My children won't get to hug their grandparents on Christmas morning (in fact, all grandparents but one haven't even met Baby James yet). There's a lot about this season that's hard. But I'm under no illusion that this feeling is unique to me, nor that this sense of detatchment from how it 'should be' is different from a feeling that people the world over feel every day, pandemic or not. 

I struggled to write anything at all this year. Personal, creative writing has been a huge part of my life always and I've missed it. Somehow, continuing to show up for Christmas even when I'm feeling mixed feelings about it is a part of trying to overcome this creative funk I can't seem to get out of. I've been slowly but surely finding my old joy-loving self, but it'd be a lie to say she's been with me a lot this year. I'm doing my best to focus on celebrating the good times together with my dear little family - the cookie decorating, getting our tree, making clay ornaments, dancing to All I Want For Christmas Is You, Anna's endless questions about The Good List, the Nativity, twinking lights. 

This is an ode to Christmases, well wishes to have a celebration filled with Christmas movies and cake, and a wish for a more hopeful time in 2021 and onwards.

Peace and joy xo

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

For the Love of Blogs

Oh dear dear me, it has been a year. I used to so love writing blog posts. I had a think about it while I was in the shower earlier, and I've been bloggin on one platform or another for twenty years. Yes, since my first Myspace page had that little blog section in the top right hand corner. Over the past year, I have, like many people in this world, been incredibly sad. Sad, frustrated, overwhelmed, any number of less-than positive emotions. So I didn't write, I didn't share my stories the way I used to. 

I realised this morning that I miss that, that absolutely normal, often mundane practice of writing a blog post and talking about the silly stuff of life. It's been an important way for me to keep in touch with friends and family, and this past year I've found myself slipping further and further away from them - taking longer to reply to messages, not reaching out when I would love help or support, in many ways isolating myself emotionally as well as (obviously) physically. 

I started up a Wordpress blog for the purpose of discussing topics relating to the more 'academic' side of my interests, but to be honest I couldn't be bothered keeping that up at this point. I'm going to re-share those posts here, and then I'm just going to keep on writing here. This blog The Feel of Home, has been with me for so long that I'm just going to share those posts here and I'm going to keep writing about the topics that resonate most with me - being a mother, 'home' (what does that mean these days, when I live in a glorified Airbnb miles from home), muddling through life. 

Welcome back, friends. Thanks for sticking around. Sorry I never write back. I'm just very sad right now, you see.

Friday, 7 August 2020

On breastfeeding and The Algorithm

Happy #nationalbreastfeedingweek. I've been breastfeeding humans for going on 3.5 years. I never expected this, to be honest. I’ve immensely enjoyed my experience because it’s helped me bond with my children. I am a person who enjoys strategies of convenience and breastfeeding is very very convenient in my life, at this moment in time. It helps me get more sleep, my children seem to have gained a lot from the experience, and I can be smug in the knowledge that I have vastly exceeded the WHO recommendations on infant feeding.  So I'll take that as a net gain. 

But this post isn't about actual breastfeeding, #fedisbest, 'shaming', conversations how and where and when a person breastfeeds, any of that. They're all part of discourses around the fact that mothers feeding babies is part of a highly emotionally charged and politicised agenda centered on women's bodies, sexualisation, care, work and value. Instead, this post is about how my experience of being a mother is mediated through social media content, and how that is visually and affectively controlled by The Algorithm.

 I do think there is a tendency for people to amplify the importance of the significance of the experience they are going through. That’s just human psychology. This is important to me = this must be important to those around me, and ultimately be important. The algorithm that controls what we see on social media is very good at honing in on the things it thinks you want, or at least the things that are similar to you. So my online experience is dominated visually by images of parenting, pregnancy, babies, children. 

Instead of using social media as a form of home interior, food, political banter escapism from babies and toddlers, my social media landscape has become an endless scroll of mothers, babies, tiny baby booties, those wobble boards and Grimms rainbows everyone insists are 'heirloom' items, but are actually just unnecessary and very expensively hand-painted pieces of wood. 

And while, yes, I love the baby things in my own life, I don’t want to necessarily think about it all of the time. I don't want my social media experience to be dominated by it. Because it’s all about balance, isn’t it. Babies today are children tomorrow. Breastfeeding is a moment in time. Tummy time is given over to algebra and learning musical instruments. One minute it’s baby led weaning and the next it’s olives and steak (and then maybe back to softly mashed foods eventually, anyway, when you get much much older).

What I’m trying to say is that its all life and it’s all beautiful and messy and joyful and all-consuming, in a sense, but it’s also important to keep it all in context. And being in this perverse, highly intimate relationship with social media that we all are means constantly negotiating your boundaries with it, reflecting on how it presents itself to you, and how much of yourself is enough to give.


Thursday, 9 January 2020

Starting over again

It's now been a week since we moved back to Copenhagen. We loved living here when we were younger, and are now overjoyed to be back. I think Anna will thrive there, and in the long-term it's the best way for our family to progress and grow. 

It's sad, of course, to think of leaving behind family and friends, and that we won't see them every other week as we do now. But the reality is that sometimes hard choices have to be made to move forwards. The cost of living in Ireland for people in our position (with young children) is prohibitively high and you're either cash-poor or time-poor, no inbetween.

So for now, are the foreseeable future, we are back. We're now in that awkward in-between stage of setting up bank accounts, getting a bike, setting up social security numbers and registering Anna for kindergarten (!) and all of it.

I know blogs are mostly dead, but I'm going to keep writing, like I always have.

Not very typically Danish, but omg they have Dunkin' Donuts in the Central Station!
I love donuts. Anna loves donuts. We're donut people. 

Thursday, 5 December 2019

On valuing our own contributions as parents and carers.

I've been reflecting a lot this year on two things - firstly, just how hard it is to be the main carer for a smaller child. Their physical, emotional, creative needs are vast. They grow and change a mile a minute and there's no way of keeping up. You're just along for the ride. And I say this as the parent of an incredibly independent little kid. It's just such an exhausting, never-ending job. Anna is also still breastfed, which puts quite a bit of physical and emotional pressure on me to 'be there for her' in a lot of ways. 

Secondly, I've been thinking a lot about my own biases about what constitutes 'value'. It took me all this time, 9 months, to accept that the work I do taking care of Anna is valuable and that I do not need to qualify my 'so, what do you do?' responses with justifications. I really thought I needed to. I thought people who think badly of me for not being in paid work because, I suppose, I thought badly of me. But enough time has passed that I've accepted that the work Anna and I do every day (playing, mostly) is genuinely important. 

What's more, I've been doing my own empirical work on the topic. I've spoken to dozens and dozens of parents, grandparents, people from all walks of life and cultures (that's the joy of seeking out difference rather than staying stuck in your bubble, I suppose). Do you know what not one of these people has said to me? That I should go back to work. Not a one. All of them expressed very clear opinions about how wonderful and precious a time the early years is in a child's life, how much of an honour it is to be there with them to go through it alongside them, and how quickly this time ends.

So for now, I've made my choice. I do believe we should all contribute to the betterment of others in whatever way possible, and my way, for the next few years, is to be with my small people and be their greatest helper. If that isn't adding value, I don't know what is.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

On My Little Daughter, Who is Practically a Woman Now

 My daughter, Anna, is 20 months young. All through her early months I wrote little blog posts as a sort of catharsis. In those days she was still small enough and immobile enough that, balanced on a breastfeeding pillow on my lap, or nestle in the crook of my arm, I could wield a laptop or a phone well enough to jot down some thoughts. Which I did, hunched over in the dark, right from about Day Three. I've never been keen on sitting still and I don't think that's an admirable quality.  

There was a lot of breastfeeding in those days, weeks, months, sitting and waiting and holding her while she slept, and thinking about all the other things I might be doing, used to be doing, could be doing. I found it incredibly frustrating at times. I spent a lot of time thinking about what it would feel like when I wasn't bothered by it anymore. But by and by she changed, because eventually everything changes. 

One of my most cherished discoveries in recent years is the singer/composer Tom Rosenthal. He has two particular songs that just feel so much like my early thoughts of being a mother. In the first one he laments 'just as I thought you could not sleep, you slept', in the second he asks 'a lifetime of trouble, but how could I not love you?'.

How perfect are those sentiments, for a parent wonder if their baby will ever sleep out of their arms,  who comes crashing into their world and turns everything upside down? And how perfectly they encapsulate a memory you can hold onto when those experiences are long gone.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Life update as we enter the closing phase of 2019

It's been a minute. It's been several minutes. If I'm being totally honest, taking care of a toddler in a full-time capacity while doing all the other bits and pieces I do has left me with no time. I've been with Anna at home full time since January, since I quit my job, which ended up being an utter disappointment. 

It was meant to be my gateway to academia in Ireland, but it quickly became evident that the job wasn't going to provide me with any networking opportunities and probably no tangible outputs I could put my name to either. I was crushed. I was isolated in my work, stressed out dealing with constantly shifting childcare arrangements, and the emotional aspect of leaving my child with other people all day was just more than I could handle at that point. It just wasn't worth it, so I quit. 

In January I had a miscarriage and that was tremendously emotional, so I was grateful to not have to worry about getting up early, packing lunches and taking passive-aggressive phone calls. A few months passed in a haze of...lots and lots of crying and lying there, if I'm being totally honest. Cognitively, I understood that what happened was not a huge deal - a first trimester miscarriage just isn't that uncommon. But my hormones went crazy afterwards and that caused me to struggle. Plus, we're allowed to grieve and perceive what our bodies go through separately from what we understand to be true about health in a general sense. 

But a lot of good things came out of the year. I worked on my friend's campaign in the local elections, and helped support female candidates in my role as Secretary of Labour Women. I helped to successfully set up our local Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann branch. I started teaching tin whistle and acted as Treasurer. We did a few musical performances  The book we wrote as a culmination of the project I worked on for my PhD was published (it's open access, have a read!). I did some research for a Union and we published a report on the state of the childcare sector for its' workers in Ireland. It was picked up by all the major media outlets, I spoke on the radio and in the Dáil. We didn't get the concession we were asking for, so the fight continues. 

So now we're entering the final few months of 2019. There's a lot of life-changing things coming up, and I can genuinely say in retrospect that everything at the start of the year has helped prepare me for the new and exciting challenges that await. Also, on a completely superficial note, I am incredibly excited to start the Christmas music and scented candles (I've promised myself I can begin as soon as the pumpkin has to be thrown out. Any day now).

Amy xo

Monday, 15 April 2019

It's Been a While - Miscarriage, Time, Good Things and Bad Things

 Greetings dear readers,

Up until about two weeks ago I was sure I’d never write anything again, so bummed out with my life was I. The start of 2019 was hard, and that’s why I wrote nothing. Just functioning was difficult enough. I had a miscarriage that started on the very first day of the new year, and it made me sad beyond belief.

During that journey I learned that hormones are incredibly powerful and, resilient as I might try to be, sometimes you can't control how you feel by just willing yourself better. Surprising, eh. I also learned how woefully inadequate the maternity services in Ireland are. I obviously already academically knew this, but to feel it on a visceral level is something else entirely. I now know we desperately need e-health  records and in the meantime much better and consistent paper record keeping. We need a way to link up GPs and midwives, ER and outpatients and community care. I had midwives both congratulate or commiserate when I was in the in-between portion of time, and neither was the right thing to do.

One good thing came out this experience. I talked about my miscarriage to everyone I came across, because I was going through something that felt totally surreal and unexpected (foolishly, yes). I couldn't accept that I had to keep something so sad completely secret. I discovered that so many women I know and care about have had one, two, or even three miscarriages in their reproductive journeys. We shared and bonded and it was cathartic. I never would have learned that otherwise.

I intended to write a newsletter to combine my academic interest in 'feminist political economy', an abstract way of thinking about the structural causes of women's inequality, with my own experiences as a woman and as a mother. This year I've been confronted with the reality of that, and it feels far from good. It has been bearing down heavily on me, and honestly it's been demoralising. In my PhD thesis I wrote about 'invisible inequalities' and how multiple intersecting factors combine to make women's lives difficult, how these factors are often masked and for all intensive purposes invisible. Their impact is often felt privately.

Let me delve a little deeper into this for one brief moment before I leave you for now (I have a pressing project I must get back to - I'm cataloging every trad tune I got from my flute teacher from 2000 - 2006). I just finished studying, and so I'm hoping to actualise my potential and get some sort of nice job that allows me to use my skills and earn some money. But I can only apply for part-time jobs because it would be too much to have Anna in childcare for 50 hours a week. Plus there are no creche spaces available in my area anyway (I rang at least 8), and I can't put Anna's name down until I have a job because I can't afford to pay without a salary. They won't hold places and it's first come first served. 

I had a casual child minder for Anna but I had to stop her going because I couldn't afford it. So now any academic writing, and job applications, anything for me, has to be squeezed into next to no time at all. And that weighs on me. It's also incredibly hard to even find part-time, flexible jobs to apply for. On the job site I look at, about 10% of the jobs are part-time.

It's a ridiculous situation to be in, really. Childcare is utterly unaffordable for most Irish families but they're forced into it anyway because the cost of living is so high. Women are still the primary carers of children. We still do the bulk of the housework. And we also have to work. But if we want to choose flexible, part-time work, it's very difficult to find, and it exacerbates the gender pay gap anyway. Women are delaying the age at which they have their first child, they're having fewer children, and the cost of living is creeping ever higher.

None of these issues are specific to me. And all of this comes with the caveat that I'm in such an unbelievably lucky position to be able to afford to stay at home with my child at all. These are issues of systemic maldistribution, a symptom of an individualistic society that pushes everyone to bend to the will of the market, devalues reproductive labour, informal work and all forms of care. I do believe we can change it, by getting involved in politics and challenging injustices we see in our everyday lives and teaching our small people to be very kind.

On a more positive note, my little human turned 2 and is as kind and happy a child as I have ever known. Her favourite songs are John Denver's Country Roads and Tears for Fear's Shout, which is fab. 

Amy xo

Two Years!

Two Years!

Friday, 10 August 2018

Does anyone use blogs anymore? It feels like as time goes on we use more and more instantaneous and hastily gratifying means of communicating online. It seems like the dominant model of social media communication is more-now-fast-sell. I've decided to start posting here a little more frequently about the things I get up to in my daily life and not just my experiences of postpartum life which obviously dominated my mental skyline for the last year and a half. 

My life of late has been as lovely as ever - I handed in my PhD and, pending a successful Viva in a month, should be able to change the title on all my household bills to 'Dr' in January. Anna continues to be the brightest star that shines in my day, Leo is forever my best friend and the one I bounce all of my entrepreneurial ideas off (and share all my most illogical worries with, sorry about that). We live in a lovely home, in a lovely village beside two beaches, and all is, quite frankly very well.

Here's to the future, to being well, and to new things.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Starting over

When Anna was three weeks old Leo went back to work and I was at home, very tired and quite unsure of myself, with this little nugget to look after. I also had a PhD to finish. Determined as ever, I tried to cultivate some sort of positive practice around it. Anna didn't nap anywhere but on me in those days, so, armed with a breastfeeding pillow I could strategically lie her on, she alternated between feeds and sleeps on the pillow that lay on my lap. I sat, blind and confused, trying to start writing a chapter. I was tired beyond words and still feeling wounded and worse for ware from the delivery. 

When she woke every twenty minutes or so I took a break from the chaos on the screen and just scrolled through the internet, or wrote blog posts that were so cathartic. I ate a lot of bread and biscuits because my body was depleted and I craved sugar and carbs all the time. We developed a nice rhythm in those days, and I managed to do my best written work on an uncomfortable IKEA foldable chair with the baby on me.

In those first few weeks I didn't know how I was going to do it, and honestly I probably shouldn't have. I should have slept and rested and sat quietly. Next baby, I will. As a new mother, my motivation and drive to challenge myself were quite intense, we travelled to so many countries in those first few months, I spoke at conferences and wrote and visited people and I managed to do it all with a pelvic prolapse (don't underestimate your pelvic floor health, folks) and a baby that puked and boobed around the clock. I don't think it's the smart thing to do, to push yourself so hard, but reflecting on it now I am proud of myself. 

Here I am, 14 months later. Same chair, same coffee, same laptop (although Anna broke the hinge on it sometime between then and now). I've finally managed to complete that damn thesis and handed it in, and while I wait for my Viva in September I'm back in the uncertain, muddy time of in-between. Anna isn't here now, she's gone to a minders because that little girl doesn't even want to sit on a lap anymore, let alone sleep there. She's grown into this spirited and rowdy little one, and I've managed to finish something that I'm quite proud of, and help a little girl grow out of her newborn self into a wonderful rambunctious toddler. 

Sitting here feels like starting over all over again but also familiar and sort-of heartbreaking at the same time. It's time to begin my job-hunting spreadsheet. Thanks for reading, lovely people xo. 

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

January, 2018

For almost ten months, my dear, wonderful, excited and enthusiastic little baby would nap in one of three places. In a sling, walking around, in a buggy, or on me. 

Do you know what it does to a person, not having a baby-free minute in a day (because she wakes to nurse a gazillion times a night too, so no breaks there)? It means you have to rush up and down stairs a lot to make cups of tea and eat lunch while the baby plays upstairs and screams at you to get back up here as soon as she realises you're gone. It means you rush quick showers while the baby blows raspberries against the glass and laughs at you, wondering what you're hurrying for. It means that all that time to meal prep, or clean, or take care of yourself, or read a book, becomes time that is only to facilitate the baby in her sleeping. 

Sitting on the bed, with a sleeping baba in your arms, scrolling Instagram. It's kind of really a wonderful thing. It's cosy and warm and comfortable. But it also takes it's toll. I really started to question myself. Had I created this situation? Was it a 'habit'? Would I ever be free? I'll admit that it had a negative effect on my mental health. Around month 8 and 9, I just wanted her to nap, on the bed, on her own, like all the other babies I imagined did. I blamed myself for my failure to make this happen. I couldn't get anything done and I was stressed out because of that. When I had visitors over it was a disaster, because I couldn't disappear for an hour at a time but she wouldn't nap otherwise, so she'd be cranky and then teary. People would give advice, but honestly, well-meaning advice from people who don't live your life is at best useless and at worst upsetting.

The end of this particular tale is that she worked it out. Call it whatever you like, cognitive development, a 'leap', growing up, maturing, becoming more comfortable in herself. Whatever. She worked it out. It didn't make a damn bit of difference what I did, the different silly little tricks I tried. When she was ready, she let me lay her down on the mattress and curled up and stayed contentedly asleep. I can go downstairs, make my tea, read a book. I don't have as much time as I would like because we never have as much time as we would like, but I have some time, and that's more than I had a month or two ago. 

I don't write as many blog posts as I did in the first few months. As time goes on, it becomes easier. It's more hectic than ever, but it makes sense, you know? Anna communicates her needs and wants quite clearly, without words (unless 'mamamama' or 'babababa' count), and I don't feel the need to  write these meaning-making posts to work it out. It's nice to have a written log, but it's also nice to know that I can just live it, and not think about it too much. 

Cheers to that.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

'Oh why can't we start old and get younger?'

The experience of real butter will always remind me of my granddad.
Sitting at the table with the waxed tablecloth as old as time,
in their kitchen that always smelt faintly of gas.
There was always butter - Connaught Gold. Salty, creamy.
Just at the right temperature for spreading on fresh, seeded wholemeal bread.
I remember the taste, a layer of butter, a layer of tart blackerry jam.
I remember sitting there, savouring it, never wanting it to end.

I have the memory of it now, and it's as clear and real to me today as it was when I was 7, 8, 9.
Sitting in the kitchen, eating bread and jam.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

The far side of the postpartum experience: mourning, loss and recovery

It’s a really weird experience, going through pregnancy and having a baby. You foster that life that grows inside you and then it emerges into the world and continues growing. But for a long time it’s not independent of you – it relies on you for food, to keep it warm, to lull it off to the sleepy-world. Your baby is an extension of you, and you are an extension of your baby. And then, it begins to shift. Baby can move, baby begins to realise they are independent of you. Then baby begins to eat food. Real, solid, human food that anyone can feed her. She relishes this new set of experiences. Baby can crawl. Baby is growing up.

Somewhere along the way this story stops being about you as a pregnant body, you as a new mother. The bleeding stops, your stomach slowly and steadily decreases in size with each passing week. You can walk farther than a mile without needing a rest, you get to sleep. You aren’t craving sugar and carbohydrate all the time, your body has replenished the iron and zinc that it donated to the placenta. There are newer babies that replace your baby as the ‘new thing’ and that is beautiful too.

Somewhere along the way this story starts being about you again. You, and this other little human, this baby that is now independent of you, that can be cared for by a loving and well-meaning relative or a minder. She needs you, of course, but it’s not in that primal, biological ‘basic needs’ sort of way, more of an emotional support and a care-giver like anyone else could be.

And then, what are you? It’s been eight months of breastfeeding and naps-in-arms. On the outside, little has changed. It’s still breastfeeding and naps-in-arms. But a subtle shift has been tip-tip-tipping away the last few weeks. Fewer feeds, sometimes napping in the bed. More solid food. Trying to stand. The change now is taking place in your own body. A niggling change, as your body shifts once again.

Bodies are funny. Nothing happens suddenly, it’s all subtle thief in the night type stuff. You feel a little cramp here and there and feel the hormonal shift that you can’t really explain to anyone else. Your body is changing, again. You’re beginning to phase out of being a postpartum body, and back to being a regular (what does that even mean?) woman who has the capacity and the potential to do it all over again.

Matter has this impatient, eternal desire to perpetuate its own existence and to reproduce itself. It just wants to keep on keeping on. And you realise that your body is just a part of that bigger picture. It’s a funny thing, adjusting to all these changing roles. It’s a funny, emotional time. A time for grieving a loss, anticipating the return of an old friend, expectation and waiting. It’s a time for crying and not being able to say why. Of incomprehensible rage and a void of sadness welling up. A huge part of being a breathing, feeling body is the huge amount of feeling that it entails.

We don’t talk enough about the feelings. The feelings matter a lot. 

Monday, 18 September 2017

Some thoughts on 'the time will fly by'

It seems the 6 month+ version of 'is she a good baby' is 'make the most of it, the time will fly by'. It seems like all of a sudden strangers in the supermarket queue and middle aged people on trains are full of this wisdom. It's another one of these emotional cliches it seems everyone has internalised, and really, I have no idea why it's such a popular one. 

Firstly, experiences of time are subjective. Gretchen Rubin, who I love, has this mantra - 'the days are long but the years are short'. I get it, I love it, but I've never been a person who has found time to fly by. Honestly. Maybe it's because I've spent so much of my life working in numerous jobs, studying, working on hobbies, travelling back and forth to whatever place is 'home' or 'temporary home' or whatever, but time has never seemed to rush past. There is honestly nothing more agonising and slow than a 1 hour 40 minute Ryanair flight when your headphones are dead. Or 1 hour bus journeys twice a day. Or polishing cutlery. Or repeated the same movements week after week at the barre. Maybe I'm a total weirdo, but I've never felt the rush of time whizz through my outstretched palms, facing down my impending demise. Time is time, it's experienced in lots of different ways, but for me it never ever flies.

Secondly, there is a certain privilege in this testimony. Someone in a FB group posted a comic the other day and it went like this:

Mother and father are walking with baby. Mother pushes buggy. Father carries baby. 
Mother goes 'oh but it's such a long way and she's so heavy'. 
Father gushes 'one day she'll be too big to carry'. 
Father walks off into sunset with babe in arms, mother pushes stroller.

That's great, that's beautiful, but it's kind of bullshit. Why? Because babies are freakin' heavy, and my back and shoulders ache a lot of the time. It is totally central to the gendered inequalities of parenting in our society that the father in this comic is lauded as being some sort of bloody martyr while the mother wants the easy way out. I hold Anna and feed her and carry her about for about 8 hours a day. I love to put her down or better still, have someone else hold her. I can't wait for the day when she can just sit on a chair herself. 

Finally, babydom doesn't seem like all that much fun, guys. You pee yourself 10 times a day. You have to ask for absolutely everything you need, and you can't even customise your requirements. Why would I want my baby to stay in this suspended animation stage? I want her to flourish. To go to school, climb rocks, fall down, get back up, love and travel and cook and dance. I don't want her to be a baby for any longer than is absolutely necessary, for both her sake and mine. This is because babies are a hell of a lot of work, and also because I think she'd rather be a sentient being, squishy and adorable as she is.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

What it looks like, five and a half months of livin'

Five and a half months. Can you believe it? I can't. Sometimes I look at Anna and I'm totally floored by the fact that she exists. Every day her face looks a little different (I personally think she's starting to look a bit like me), every day her noises are a little more enthusiastic, her play choices more discerning. It's really crazy. 

Here's a few thoughts about it all:

How do I feel? I feel exactly the same as I did before. I don't really feel like 'a mother', I don't feel like any divine and sacred wisdom has been imparted upon me. I have a lot of lovely conversations about caring with mothers, grandmothers, aunties, people on the train or in the street. But when I'm without Anna, it's not as if I get knowing looks from other women, an 'I know you have experienced it'. It's weird, I feels I'm only a mother when I'm actively caring for Anna. Outside that, it's all a bit abstract. I don't think I know a whole lot about being a parent, I've only been doing it for the wink of an eye, and I'm constantly being challenged in new ways and having to renegotiate what exactly it is I'm about. I sort of feel like me, enhanced. Like I have this cool little buddy to come around with me and who I can explain things to. 

Caring for someone is so much more challenging and exhausting than I could ever have imagined. I breastfeed Anna, so 24 hours a day, I am on call. I wake up several times a night, if she needs a nap more often than not she needs to be fed to sleep. Recently she's been going through a phase of waking up every 2-3 hours. That's a lot. Being someone's sole source of sustenance is a big responsibility. It's time consuming, calorie consuming. It's wonderful and I don't regret it for a minute, but how on earth can a breastfeeding woman be expected to do so much, with so little support. That isn't a slight on the wonderful people in my life, that's a slight on our fragmented society. Caring for another little person is so tough when we live such solitary lives.

I think it's a good idea to slow down. I did lots of things in the first few months. We went to America, Sweden, the UK. I cleaned, a lot. I breastfed for about 7 hours a day (at least). I had an idea that I needed to go on with my life and take care of Anna. But that is too tiring, not least of all when recovering from pregnancy/labour. That's not to say I don't enjoy bringing her places where babies don't normally go. Proudly having her in a sling while I present at a conference, having her attend meetings, bringing her to conferences, libraries, the pub, Business Class flights. It's been really liberating to to break the mold, of keeping the baby hidden away unless it's pristinely dressed, silent and sleeping. Anna is as important as any adult and not only does she deserve to be present, but we can all benefit from having babies and children present in the things we do, to remind us of who we keep things going for (they are the future adults, after all), and that if a space isn't accessible for a woman and her baby (women do most of the caring after all) then maybe the space should be changed. But back to my original point. I'm tired, and I really enjoy spending time at home and going for long walks.  

To conclude: I enjoy caring for Anna a whole lot but it's very tiring and I sometimes wish I could press pause and have a break for like three hours. The presence of babies in public life is important. I am tired, but not very tired. A nice tired. Anna is a fantastic, joyful human. PhD, ha ha ha. Babies are better when they don't puke all over everything. Tummy time is a concept I never knew about before having a baby, but now dominates a lot of my waking life.

This post was very fragmented, but I think that represents what my life feels like right now: it's lots of little bits, half finished, all the time. But it's great.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Have baby, will travel

Anna is 21 weeks old (!!!!!) today! In her brief jaunt on planet earth Anna has travelled a lot. I mean really, really, a lot. All three of us are totally exhausted. We have been to:
  • Belfast (on a train - we did first class on the way up, standard on the way back)
  • New York (Aer Lingus - business class on the way over, economy on the way back)
  • Sweden (Norwegian - budget airline)
  • Newcastle/Durham (Anna and I travelled alone sans Leo, it was fine - Aer Lingus/Stobart Air over, Ryanair back)
  • Cork ( train down, car back)
Here's some stuff I learned on our travels:

Sure, the first time we went away I had a slight freak-out the night before, but after that it was fine. Plus, Anna was really young then and we were pretty much still in the 'I need to be strapped to you 24/7 phase' which made getting the headspace to plan packing hard. When we went to America we had access to a washing machine so we definitely packed way too much. By the time we were on our way to Sweden I had it down. Planning everything and giving yourself way too much time is essential with a baby because they will poop/sick/you will lose something at the last minute, and it's good to have a buffer. Always have a buffer.

Where you will sleep is very important
If it is too hot/bright or if the mattress you will sleep on with your baby is too soft, you will not sleep well. It is hard to function if you haven't slept well. Obviously. Try to take care of yourself first and foremost. You can't take care of anyone else if you aren't your best self.

My baby still hates the car
Anna doesn't enjoy being strapped in in the car. This means we just avoided cars as much as possible. Public transport was our friend, and when we needed it, taxis (and a few times, the car). Enduring the screams has probably aged me +5 years. We drove home from Cork and she cried a lot. I found it really hard. At 4.5 months, she still really resents being strapped down (don't we all, love). I hope she gets used to it. 

Pack light
Easier said than done when you've an intensely pukey baby that requires multiple costume changes a day. But honestly, just having hand luggage (it is possible!!) saves time and hassle. Everyone packs too much anyway, you know it's true. I've pretty much accepted I may not be able to read a physical book for another few months, but with a pair of headphones I listen to podcasts every day. Plus, headphones take up basically no room.

It's easy to be happy when you're rich
You know those middle-class English families you see on trains with well-behaved children and a smiling, relaxed demeanour? They're happy because they're calm, their lives are ordered and they've got money. Paying more for extra space on a plane or train, being able to go by car (I guess, if your baby doesn't hate the car) and having people be nicer to you because you're going business makes a huge difference to your mood. We were really lucky to get Business Class (first time, probably the last time), and actually First Class on the train was totally affordable. Having that extra space, but also the extra attentiveness of staff was amazing. It was, of course, angering too because everyone should be very kind always, and this kindness is especially lacking when you find yourself back in economy.

How people behave towards you makes a huge difference
On my flight over to Newcastle I was sitting beside a man who was expecting his first baby. He was quite emotional to be beside such a little and excited baby. He was chatty and kind. On the way home I was sat next to a man who refused to even acknowledge us, even though Anna kept smiling at him. I found, every time someone made eye contact with Anna, wished us well, or offered to carry something, it elevated my mood. If we were ignored, pushed in front of, or spoken to rudely, it made my mood sink a little. Having people be kind to you makes such a difference when you're out there in the world with your baby, especially without a partner. You're quite vulnerable at times and do need an extra pair of hands and a smile from a stranger.

It's your (and your baby's) right to travel. Don't feel embarrassed
I had a few people (I guess ones who don't have children) make snarky comments about us travelling with a baby. But at the end of the day, Anna is a human being, and has the right to use public transport just as much as anyone else. As well as that, to assume that babies shouldn't be in public places is to render their mothers (generally) invisible too. Babies are wonderful. Sometimes they cry, or coo, or scream, or laugh. But, hey, so do adults. Babies should be seen and heard, it's normal and good, and exposing them to new things from a young age is great for them. We were all babies once. Look at Donald Trump, he still is one.


It's such a huge privilege to not only have the means to travel, but to have a passport that means we can take Anna anywhere we can afford to go. When she's older, I will have to explain that a lot of children in the world can't do that. We're very lucky, and we shouldn't forget it for a second.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The myth of the Good Baby

The question I am most frequently asked is about my baby is - 'is she a Good Baby'. What is this supposed Good Baby? Well, it's inferred that a Good Baby sleeps 'through the night' (what does that mean, anyway?), doesn't cry too much, but also should cry sometimes because that's a good sign, feeds enough to be gaining weight but isn't 'on the boob night and day'. A good baby is the stereotypical configuration of all our worst, most selfish and scientifically void expectations of a tiny human. 

How can so many demands and expectations be made of such a tiny, flawless and perfect human being, so unblighted by the rules and fancies of culture and convention, gender roles and glass ceilings? A baby is a baby, and a baby just is. If it cries, it cries. If it sleeps, it sleeps. If it doesn't, it's because it isn't born with the innate ability to regulate it's sleep habits. Sometimes it will cry without a specific identifiable reason and all you can do is hold it close and love it. That's not bad.

In the Christian tradition, babies are baptised so that they can be absolved of Original Sin. It used to be that babies who died before baptism went to limbo/purgatory, but then the Catholic church reneged on that idea. All those poor babies who were just floating out in space were granted their rightful place in heaven then, I suppose. It's many years since I've believed in sinners or sins, and I've never believed that a tiny human, so innocent and impulsive, is capable of being anything other than good. 

Now, Anna does actually sleep pretty well, and smiles at strangers and stops crying when her need is met. But if she didn't, and if my future children don't do those things, is it right to call them Bad Babies? Is there some sort of bad baby bootcamp where they learn to sleep for 12 hours straight, never do poo-splosions and coo sweetly upon waking, not cry out for their mother who is not in the room, therefore is not currently in their world?

If we could just cut out this nonsense about bad babies, like we should about women being delicate or 'hormonal', periods being embarrassing, maybe women would be able to chill out, enjoy their experience as mothers, and love their baby for who they are and not what society says it should be.