How Soon Is Now?

Today Emily was watching TV when an ad break came on. She pointed at the TV, confused as to why her film had disappeared. She looked at me and said, ‘TV broken!’.

Imagine living in a world where all you know is entertainment on-tap with no interruptions. Whatever you want to watch right there and then at the touch of a button. Anything that isn’t immediate and completely gratifying is deemed as ‘broken’.

At the risk of this turning into a ‘in my day…’ rant, I just couldn’t believe how different her entertainment experience is to my own as a child. I remember how excited I would get when The Broom Cupboard came on the BBC for that brief period each afternoon.

The closest I got to constant media entertainment was when we got our first VCR player when I was about five. My mum took me to Woolworths to buy my first video. The sheer choice and variety was overwhelming, and I just couldn’t decide which one I wanted. Then my mum spotted a video and said, ‘oh Charlotte, let’s get this one. I watched it when I was your age and I loved it.’ Trusting her better judgement and her ability to actually make a decision, I (foolishly) went along with her choice.

When we got home I was so excited to watch it. We pressed the play button on the VCR and then…what the fuck is this? It was in black and white. There were puppets on strings with stupid hats dancing around a pathetic looking flower. It was ‘Watch With Mother’. The 50s version of CBBC. The insufferable puppets were Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men. This actually passed for entertainment when she was young. Jesus. That was the first time I’d ever felt sorry for my mum. But because of a lack of other options, I watched and re-watched that one video until I was word-perfect. I even adopted a posh 50s BBC accent when I would mimic the presenter.

But now as I sit with Emily as she instantly switches between watching Minions, Zootropolis, Moana and Sing on her iPad that at 20 months she can already control, I can’t help but think about how Emily would react to what passed as ‘entertainment’ for me 30 years ago.

She would most likely stare blankly at Phillip Schofield talking to a rodent puppet in a studio the size of her wardrobe, and after 15 seconds she would expect to be able to turn on to another, more interesting and preferably CGI option.

Kids who grew up in the 80s didn’t have options, and they didn’t have immediacy. Instead, they had to wait agonisingly for the kids’ TV shows to start, then you just watched what was on, and that was your lot.

Even the very few kids’ TV shows that are still on air and have been running for decades have had to bastardize themselves out of all recognition to appeal to children today. Each new Postman Pat episode is like a cross between Emmerdale and Lethal Weapon. And seriously, a postman with a fucking jet plane? My postman doesn’t even have a van; he has to push a trolley of post around like a bloody homeless person.

Patience and the joy of experiencing something you’ve been waiting what feels like a lifetime for, is something that Emily may never experience. This worries me.

Aside from patience being an essential attribute to save her from growing up and turning into a total prick, there is something really exhilarating in the anticipation of having to wait for something you truly want.

Boundaries and time-limitations on how often she watches TV might help to some extent, but in a way, a narrower window of ‘online entertainment’ means that the need for immediacy in her eyes will be all the more acute.

If she begins to get insufferably impatient with things as she grows up, I may have to make her watch Bill & Ben in black and white as a punishment. Now that would really freak her out!

Girls Run the World

Raising a daughter and helping her fine-tune her emotional and social intelligence is a complex business. And for me, a huge part of helping my daughter learn about herself and the world around her will be framed within the context of feminism and equality.

There’s no right or wrong way to do this, and you may disagree with my approach, but this is how I see it…

My daughter will receive every support and encouragement in achieving everything and anything she wants to in life. I will bring her up to know that with hard-work and self belief, she can do anything.

However, I won’t sugarcoat anything. I won’t pretend that getting what you want is easy. I won’t shy away from telling her about the disadvantages that face many, many women. She needs to have an awareness and an appreciation of the hardship and struggle that the ‘fairer sex’ has endured for a over a millennia, and how this impacts her as a woman today.

She will know though, that this isn’t an excuse to hide behind, nor is it an opportunity to admit defeat. In fact, I will encourage her to use this as ammunition to work harder to achieve what she believes in. It won’t be easy, but she will know she has all the love and respect in the world from me.

Maybe a ‘girls run the world’ t-shirt is just a bit of fun. Maybe it’s a manifesto for tomorrow.

I have invented a new work-out for parents – ‘Baby Gate Gymnastics’

Fucking baby-proofing. I’m sorry for the Big Swear but I needed to get that off my chest. I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own home. I’d open a bottle of vodka to calm my nerves but it’s bloody locked in a cupboard behind a sophisticated and incredibly fiddly child lock, and I can’t be bothered with the faff.

The truth is, the baby is no longer really a baby at all. In fact, she appears to be a toddler-come-amateur-parkour enthusiast. Today I found her precariously balanced on the top of our fire guard which, ironically, we installed to keep her safe from the fire. I’m contemplating the need for a fireguard-guard.

With her gymnastics skills reaching new heights – literally – my husband and I have set about barricading sections of the house into ‘baby-safe zones’. With the introduction of baby gates seemingly everywhere, it’s currently easier to escape from Belmarsh Prison than it is our living room.

The weekend that we installed the gates culminated in a text-book passive-aggressive argument between me and my husband. He was sick to death of me nagging him about it, and when I asked through gritted teeth for the twentieth time how much longer he would be putting them in place, I got the ultimate tradesman’s spiel in return; “Look love, it’ll take as long as it takes, OK?”

The one-size-fits-all stair gate turned out to be a one-size-fits-most-but-for-some-inexplicable-reason-not-my-stairway-gate. These contraptions seem to have been invented less for the safety of a toddler, and more as some sort of cruel aptitude test for new parents.

Now with the gates and locks finally all fully installed, getting around our house is like an automatic lock-in game on the Crystal Maze. As I’m trying to navigate my way through two separate gates and a flight of stairs from the living room to the bedroom with a sleeping toddler, I half expect a leopard-print-clad Richard O’Brien to be loitering in the hallway with a sand timer, playing the harmonica.

It takes all the agility and cunning of Catherine Zeta Jones in Entrapment to successfully make it to one side of my house from the other without tripping up, setting off an alarm, or having to fumble with a stubborn child lock.

This has led me to seriously consider setting up a post-natal exercise and mental aptitude training session, involving installing and then hurdling baby gates and opening a series of child locks with a pinky finger, all whilst holding a 15-pound sack of flour. Think a ‘buggy run’ will get your heart racing? Try child-proofing and then moving around your home with your partner without totally losing your shit at each other. I’m thinking of selling this idea to Joe Wicks or Davina McCall. I think I’d make a killing.

 

The Pramshed

Why I wouldn’t have survived without my Mumates

It seems crazy that a group you’ve only known for a year can be the people you confide in and expose your rawest emotions to. But when you’re in the trenches together as new mums, an inevitable bond develops. It’s stronger than any other type of friendship you’ve had before, and it can pull you through even the darkest of days. And it’s because of this I thank my lucky stars for my ‘Mumates’.

As a new mum, it can be a terrifying prospect to leave the house with a newborn. In my case, I wouldn’t even open the curtains for the first three days. The outside world seemed like a terrifying place. I was barely holding it together and the thought of someone glimpsing in to my life and seeing how much of a mess I was made a lump swell in my throat.

It wasn’t until I saw how worried my husband and my mum were about me that I finally took the plunge and ventured out into the big bad world, but more specifically, to a post-natal breastfeeding clinic.

My hair was lank and in dire need of a wash, my nursing bra was unclipped at one side to accommodate my inexplicably one engorged breast and I’m pretty sure my mattress of a maternity pad was visible even through my thick jeans and long padded coat. I opened the door and almost instantly a wave of relief hit me. We all look like shit! Hurray! We’re all terrified out of our wits! Woohoo! That girl over there is crying! Hallelujah! Now I’m not one to revel in someone else’s misfortune, but hell I’ll revel in our collective misfortune all day!

A few cups of tea in, and I felt more like my old self than I had in weeks. Maybe it’s an extension of the maternal instinct but they all went out of their way to make me feel human again.

Mumates just get it. They’re going through it too, and they’re just as shit-scared and lost as you are. There is no greater feeling as a new mum than to be able to come to the realisation that you aren’t alone, and that someone else has also sat on the stairs and cried at least three times today too.

Just knowing someone is feeling the way you are feeling is a huge comfort. They don’t give you any answers most of the time, because they don’t know the answer themselves, but by simply sharing your experiences with someone who’s going through it too, being a new mum can seem like less of a daunting and lonely place.

In the first few hours of our new-found friendship, we had already seen each other at our most vulnerable. For me that was sobbing in a chair as a breastfeeding councillor rhythmically squeezed my breast to stimulate milk whilst my new Mumates sat with me and chatted as if we were getting our nails done and what was happening was the most normal thing on Earth. Once someone has witnessed something as surreally messed-up as that, you’re pretty much going to have to be best friends for life, or vow to never see each other ever again.

Luckily, we collectively agreed on the former, and we saw each other nearly every day of maternity leave. We have laughed together, we have cried together, we have talked about our ‘battle-scars’ (mainly tearing and episiotomy-related) and after a few months of getting used to being mums we finally solidified our friendship by getting drunk together too.

These women are warriors. I adore them. Having known them for little over a year, they still manage to inspire me every day. They juggle jobs, babies, older children, sleep deprivation, chronic illnesses, marriages, separation – all with such strength and determination. They are a constant source of comfort and support to me and I honestly wouldn’t have made it through this last 12 months without them.

I would urge anyone who’s a new mum to take that daunting first step outside and visit a local mother & toddler session / clinic / baby class. Odds-on however scared and shitty you’re feeling, someone near you is feeling exactly the same way, and they’re just as desperate to rant to someone about how hard they’re finding everything.

And for those about to have a baby, make sure you to join at least one pre-natal class. Joining NCT and attending the NHS pre-natal workshops was hands-down the best decision I made. I was able to meet a group of girls that I love so dearly, I will forever be in their debt for the support and love they have shown me, and trite as it might sound, I know we’ll be friends forever.

Breastfeeding: Milky misery or lactose loveliness?

I love breastfeeding my baby. She’s 13 months old and we’re still going. It’s easily the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done and I’m lucky enough that she still relishes feeds; her little eyes rolling back into her skull after her final gulp, like a tiny drug addict. That sweet, sweet hit of lactose.

Let me assure you now though, that this isn’t simply another rosy ‘pro-wabs’ post. All this symbiotic mushy stuff came at a huge price to both of us. I’ve been to the brink of depression with it, I’ve experienced physical pain that in all honesty far eclipsed the birth, and worst of all it nearly cost us being able to bond at all in those precious first few months.

‘Why the frig did you do it then?’, I hear you cry. Fair point. I’m not sure I’ll ever really understand my motives for carrying on back in those early days. It was such a haze of surging hormones, lack of sleep and utter shellshock. But I guess I felt that by stopping I would have failed at the one thing every woman is supposed to be able to naturally do.

All the pre-natal classes I went to, everything I’d read before, all those beautiful pictures of naked women breastfeeding their cherubic, doe-eyed babies, it all made breastfeeding seem as natural as breathing. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this was absolutely what I was going to do.

When it came down to it though, it just wasn’t working. We’d been doing it as a species since the dawn of our existence, I thought, so why the fuck was muggins here having such a hard time of it? Essentially, I felt like I’d ‘failed’ at being a ‘natural’ mother.

Of course I now know that’s all bollocks. Not feeding a baby breastmilk isn’t failing. It’s not even conceding. I’ve fed my baby formula plenty of times in the last 12 months and it’s a successful alternative for tons of women.

What I do feel is a real tragedy is that we are constantly bombarded with the ‘breast is best’ mantra, and yet there is often little or no consistent support past that.

Personally, I came across some wonderful individuals in the NHS who tried their best to help, but there never seemed to be any overarching strategy for post-hospital support, and little understanding of how to help when thing were REALLY going wrong. We’ve been told time and again how breastfeeding reduces the strain on the NHS and how all mothers need to do it. Yet they fail at every turn to facilitate educating women on how to breastfeed, how to deal with the NUMEROUS painful side-effects and how to emotionally support these broken, tired new mums that feel like failures because it isn’t working for them.

The truth is (and they never tell you this in pre-natal classes), breastfeeding is fucking hard. And that’s why so many people stop doing it. It isn’t because people are lazy, it isn’t because people are ignorant or selfish. It’s often because people go into it with the expectation it will simply ‘click’, and it’s a shock to the core when it goes wrong.

In all my travels, out of the hundreds of new mums I’ve met since having a baby, only a handful have found it a piece of piss. Those lucky bitches.

In all honesty, I’ve never known pain like that of trying to latch on an uncooperative baby to nipples so raw and tender you could cover them in rice and serve them up as sushi. By day three after giving birth, when I saw the baby’s ravenous mouth coming towards my cracked, bleeding nipples, it was as if a buzz saw was about to make a valiant attempt at breastfeeding from me.

The worst bit wasn’t the pain though, it was the dread of the pain. The dread that consumed me and made me fear the baby, and fear the pain that she caused me. It hurt to bend over and tie up my shoes, it hurt to lay on my side in bed, it hurt to put on a seatbelt, it hurt to unload the dishwasher, and worst of all it hurt to pick her up and hold her against me. I resented her. I felt guilty to the point of depression for resenting her. This was supposed to be easy. They all said it would be easy. Where is my doe-eyed, tranquil baby that’s supposed to lap gently at my breast like in all those bloody pictures? Why couldn’t she just do it properly?

The poor baby, try as she might to sustain herself from the trickle of milk she was able to squeeze out, was not gaining any weight, and a return to hospital was almost on the cards.

In those first nine agonising weeks I had managed to rack up a bevy of glamorous ailments including blocked ducts, mastitis, a bacterial infection and the little-known condition, called what-the-fuck-is-happening-to-my-nipples-they-feel-like-they-are-being-Jack-Bauer-style-tourtured. All of this before the baby was FINALLY diagnosed with a tongue-tie and we were able to have it corrected, and that was only because I paid a private specialist to examine her and me as a last resort. (I’ll do another post on tongue-tie in particular down the line.)

In the weeks following the procedure, feeds finally became quicker and more importantly she finally started gaining weight. The damage was so severe it took a good few weeks for the pain to subside, but after helping Pfizer stocks soar with the amount of painkillers I was taking, at around 12 weeks in, I finally started to enjoy breastfeeding. And we finally started to bond. Thank fucking Christ.

And from there things just got better. After all that agony and upset I was finally able to hold her close and let the love course through me as she fed, snuggled up next to me in bed. And she seemed to enjoy it more too, now that she could finally get her fil. I’ll tell you there is no stranger, more amusing sight than being motor-boated in the cleavage by a six-month old baby. Weird, lovely baby.

I can’t help but wonder how different it would have been for us in those early days if her tongue tie had been spotted in the hospital when she was born. We’ve been lucky that it so far hasn’t caused any long-term issues. But when I think back to the pain, and the feeling of helplessness that I couldn’t give my baby what she wanted, it’s frustrating to think that all could have been avoided, and probably could have been avoided for many, many women in the same position, if only the right support had been put in place.

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