Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why There Is Little Point In Comparing Children

They tell you that you should never compare your children.

Well, I think ‘they’ probably never had children, because find me a mother who doesn’t wantonly compare their kids and I will find you a mother who is still under the influence of her labour-drugs.
Compare and contrast: Baldy Baby and the Blonde Bombshell

With Baldy Baby now five weeks old I find I am constantly comparing her with her eldest sister, the Blonde Bombshell.  This is because they look similar, were approximately the same size and – to be frank - because I simply cannot recall anything about the early days of my second child, Miss Curly Mop.  I assume she had early days because she is now two and still with us, but I struggle to have any memories of her as a newborn or infant.

This, from someone who wrote everything down.

And I mean that quite literally.  I did write everything down.  In the hospital where all three of my girls were born, the midwives ask mums to complete a chart documenting feeds (when, how long, which side) and wet and dirty nappies.  Most mums do it for a few days and then give up. The rest stop when they leave hospital.  I did it for a year.

Anal much?

In my former life before children, I was a researcher.   I also worked in clinical drug trials where documenting things can be a matter of life and death.  Perhaps that is overstating it slightly, but you do develop a love for small details, and become the type of person who loves ticking boxes and completing forms.  Some of you are nodding. Admit it, the thought of completing the census every four years gets you quite excited, doesn’t it?

Anyway… back to the point.  I can compare Baldy Baby and the Blonde Bombshell (look, they even have the same initials!  How can I not compare them?) because I have extraordinarily detailed records of everything the Bombshell did in her early weeks from which side breast she fed on, to what time of day she pooped.  The first night at home, I wheeled her bassinet into the bedroom and climbed into bed.  Five seconds later, Bombshell Baby and I were back in the family room where we slept for the next two months, having realised that she was going to scream pretty much solidly for the entire night.

I remember recording that first night in detail.  What time I turned the light off, how long she slept, when she started screaming, when the light went back on. Change a nappy, breastfeed, light off.  Scream, light back on, jiggle, sing, light off.  Light on, more jiggles, more singing.  Change nappy.  Light off.  Short nap.  Scream, light on.  You get the idea.

Why did I do this?  Surely it wasn’t just the researcher in me.  I suspect it was partly so I could complain in great and accurate detail to my husband the next day about how horrible it had been. Partly because it was one of the few things I could actually control, and dammit, I was going to have the most detailed baby diary known to mankind. It was just a pity about the baby.

The first two months with the Bombshell Baby were pretty difficult, caused in no small part by my complete ignorance about babies and my misguided belief that writing it down would somehow make things easier. 

Writing it down means that five years down the track, I can recall with great ease those long nights.  So very very long. And when I am up at 3am feeding Baldy Baby I can laugh at the utter ridiculousness of myself back then, why I couldn’t just let the baby make a tiny noise without feeling the need to rush to her. Why I over-thought everything, and sweated the small stuff.

This is when I realise that it isn’t the babies, but their mother I am comparing.  Over-anxious, na├»ve, first time mum with an over-reliance on white noise and stringent settling techniques, and older, chilled third-time mum with a dodgy Facebook habit. 
Maybe ‘they’ were right.

Turns out I still write things down in the middle of the night.  Only this time it’s usually ideas for my blog.  Much healthier.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Self-Promotion Sure Beats Self-Flagellation

Shift your eyes slightly to the right.  No, that's my ridiculously outdated photo that makes me look like a bug-eyed monster.  Below that.

There we go. 

Best Australian Blogs 2012 Nominee.  Yup, I thought I would put my writing on the line and nominate my blog for the national competition sponsored by the Sydney Writers' Centre.

Despite the fact that I plaster my life and the life of my children all over the internet, I am actually quite a introverted person. I realise how stupid that sounds, but blogging - any type of writing - is a very solitary pursuit and it is easy to separate the act of typing, sitting alone at the kitchen table, with the fact that my life is suddenly spilled across the net, visible to friends and strangers alike.

Self-promotion is difficult for many women, especially mums.  I am no different, but based on the extraordinary response I received to a recent post The Brutal Truth About the Third Child I thought I would nominate not only the blog to be formally judged, but I also put my hand up for The People's Choice Award.  That being you*.

So starting on Friday April 13th, if you have enjoyed reading my blog, please consider voting for me. 

I will post all the links and information closer to the date. In the meantime, keep poking around and I hope you continue to enjoy From Mum to Me.

* 'You' in this case is the almost 30,000 people who have read my post, and re-posted and shared 'The Brutal Truth' across Facebook and the internet. 

Prior to The Brutal Truth, my blog was primarily read by a few friends and family (hi Mum!), and the odd occasion I received a comment from a 'stranger' heralded great celebration and some very girly hand waving. 

My previously most popular post 'To Three or Not to Three' had been hit about 120 times, hardly earth shattering, but as a writer it felt very satisfying. 

But there was something about the 'The Brutal Truth' that hit a chord with readers, and within a week it had been hit over 4,000 times and re-posted numerous times on Facebook.  Over the following few days I watched the views grow exponentially as it went viral across the net.  A friend told me he simply sat and watched the 'page views' counter click over one per second for hours.

Within three weeks of writing the post, it had been read over 20,000 times and now it is approaching 30,000 views, and as supportive as she is, I doubt too many of those hits are from my mum. 

It has been the most astonishing time in my writing 'career'.  Each comment has brought me great joy, even the negative ones.  Yet, as a friend pointed out, people may have criticised my parenting skills [especially joking about drinking during pregnancy], but no one has criticised my writing.

So thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read my blog, and even more so to those of you who have shared the post with friends.  It shows the infinite power of the web and the wealth of support within the blogging community.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Five Year Old Fickle

The Bombshell has a boyfriend.  She’s not even five.

I went to pre-primary on Monday to pick her up, and she ran out of the classroom, breathless with excitement.  ‘I have a new friend,’ she told me.

‘That’s nice,’ I told her as I tried to stop her little friends from poking Baldy Baby in the face.  ‘Is there a new kid in your class?’

‘No,’ she said as though I were stupid. ‘He’s always been here.’

‘What, and you just noticed him for the first time?  It’s week 8’.

‘Last week he chased me and I didn’t like him. Now he’s my friend,’ she clarified.


‘I love him,’ she told me quite seriously.

‘I love him too,’ her little friend told me.

Oh great, I thought.  I can see my life flashing before my eyes: it starts at school, trying to sit next to him in class, sharing bits of apple at morning tea.  Then she starts scribbling his name on her pencil case and folders.  Then it’s phone calls after school, becoming friends on Facebook.  Do kids still pass notes in class anymore? Maybe they text each other their love notes.

Then at some ridiculously early age she will ask to go out on a date with him.  Do kids actually call them dates?  I never did.  Holding hands in the movie theatres (3D of course), buying each other Happy Meals at McDonalds. Parties without adult chaperones. It gets worse, I know it does.  It’s not that long ago I was a teenager (ok, maybe a couple of decades) but I still remember what we got up to – and I was one of the good ones!

Then we have to deal with bitchy friends at high school, peer pressure, body image, too much homework, teenage sex, drugs, zits, getting your licence, drinking, getting into uni, figuring out who you are and what you want to be and all the other horrid aspects of being a teenaged girl.
The thing that is quickly becoming apparent – your kids don’t even have to be teenaged for these issues to start raising their ugly heads.

So it was with heart palpitations that I watched the Bombshell and her friend sit down and start drawing pictures of themselves with their new boyfriend.  I wonder if he knew the fuss he had caused in their little worlds, merely by not chasing them at lunchtime, whether he knew the effect he was having on not only their hearts but mine.

Then she presented me with this.

‘I’m going to give it to him tomorrow,’ she told me.

The following day after school, as I was emptying out her backpack I came across the picture, rumpled and squashed under her lunchbox.

‘I thought you were going to give this to your new friend,’ I asked her.

She barely looked up from the book she was reading.

‘He didn’t want it,’ she told me flatly.

My heart leaped and stopped at the same time.  I was sad for her, yet thrilled.

She’s not ready for a boyfriend, and clearly, neither am I.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Registering Alternate Realities

It surprises me how little paperwork is involved in bringing a new person into the world.

One day you are pregnant, and the next that bump has suddenly become a citizen, a consumer, a tax rebate (or liability), a future voter, a Medicare number.... considering how much paperwork is involved in opening a bank account for this new person, the forms required to acknowledge their arrival on the planet is relatively bereft.

The forms themselves are relatively simple. Name, date of birth, gender. That’s pretty much it. What stumped me this time round was when I got the bit that said 'Mother's Occupation' on the birth registration form.

Five years ago, after the Blonde Bombshell was born I reverted to my occupation at the time - I was working in clinical drug trials - and I think I put 'Health Researcher'. I had every intention of returning to work in the area. I was full of good intentions first time round.

Two years ago, after the birth of the Curly Mop, paid work was a distant, vaguely blurry memory. I cannot remember what I listed as my occupation on the birth registration form. Maybe something helpful like 'Domestic Goddess' or ‘Trophy Wife’. The concept of returning to paid work was an unpleasant thought. If I ignored it, maybe it would go away.

Now, with the very real possibility of my being out of the workforce for a decade (if I wait until Baldy Baby is in full time school before returning to full time work) the label I give myself has suddenly become very important.  Partly because it is the label the rest of the world gives me.  Perhaps because I am also very afraid that once I am out, I will find it too hard to get back in.
Sidenote: a few years back when working in Canberra we were researching working Mums and Dads, and looking at the impact of their work on their health.  I interviewed a wonderful mother of three, in her early forties, who was working on the registers at a department store.  Turns out, she had two university degrees but after taking almost ten years out of the paid workforce to raise her kids to school age, she found herself practically unemployable.

That scares me.

So there I was sitting in my hospital bed, staring at the forms.  Mother’s Occupation. What was I when I hadn’t worked (for money) in years? Is Stay-At-Home-Mum an occupation?  Am I a Health Researcher if I haven’t done it in years? Should I just leave it blank?

So I put Writer.  Why not, I thought?  I write, therefore I am a writer. You don’t need a degree (though I am working on that), or an income (though I have earned a few dollars with my reviews) to claim an identity. 

In all honesty, it probably makes little difference what I wrote on the form, unless one day distant descendants look me up on Surely it doesn’t make any difference to the sudden legality and existence of my former-bump.  I wonder why they even bother asking, except to remind poor, exhausted, floppy, bleeding new mums that they have lost one of their former identities.

But even though it felt a little bit naughty, claiming this new identity on such a formal and enduring document, it also felt right.  Now I just need to back it up with some formal and enduring publications.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Missing: Aspects of the Former Me

I’m not sure if it’s the sleep deprivation or the loss of blood, but something about having a baby can alter aspects of your personality.

I am known to be a rather organised person.  Some might say anal, but they have probably just been reading too much Freud.  I am the person with the lists, the person who organises the Secret Santa each year for Mothers’ group, I am the coordinator at Playgroup, I keep the house stocked up with toilet paper and pretty much know where everything is from Hubby’s iPod earphones (under the pile of mail) to the Bombshell’s favourite Barbie doll (wedged in the cushion of the couch) to the Curly Mop’s dummy (hidden behind the fruit bowl).

Before Baldy Baby was born in late February, I ensured that I had bought and wrapped all birthday and other presents necessary up until Mothers’ Day.  They even had little sticky notes on them reminding me what they were.  I arranged online shopping so that we wouldn't run out of groceries while I was in hospital.  I wrote detailed instructions for the grandmothers on how to get the older girls to pre-primary and daycare, and even took a picture of the Bombshell’s lunchbox so that Hubby would know what he needed to pack each day (complete with little arrows and suggestions).

Anal, moi?

So now that Baldy Baby is two weeks old, why can't I make the most simple decision?  It literally took me five minutes this morning to decide what to have for breakfast.  Do I wash the sheets or the towels?  Are they really that dirty?  Do I actually care? [No].  Do I feed the baby or change her?  Do I go back to bed or sit down at the computer? (ahhh the dilemmas of the a modern day blogger)....

I think part of the problem stems from your stay in hospital, where you quite literally relinquish control of all aspects of your life to the nurses.  You no longer have any control over your body, your baby or your bodily functions.  Hell, they even tell you when you need to poop.  Trying to sleep?  Too bad, it’s time to take your blood pressure again. Visitors about to cuddle the baby?  Too bad, it’s time for her to be weighed and measured again. The in-laws are popping by to see you?  Too bad, whip your knickers down - it’s time to check the Caesar wound.

Your most challenging decision is which box to tick on the menu each day – do you want Weetbix or porridge?  Ham sandwiches or fish pie? 

For a week you are as helpless as your new baby, and as soon as the irritation leaves and you begin to enjoy the lack of responsibility, you are sent home, back into your former life. 

'Muuuum, where's my library bag?'

'Muuum, cwacka, cwacka? Cwoc milk? Cwoc milk?'

'Muuum, can I have a rainbow-Dora-Barbie-zombie-fighting-ScoobyDoo party for my birthday this year?'

'Where are my headphones?'

Previous to the birth I would have had a rather strong opinion on all of these things, or at least an answer.  Now, I close my eyes and just don't care.

Run out of toilet paper?  Drip dry.
Run out of fruit for morning tea? Send the leftover pasta. They won't know it was us.
Homework has sat untouched in the Bombshell's backpack for a week?  Take it out, crunch it up a bit and they might think we had a go.

In short, the birth of a baby makes women want to be men: all care and no responsibility. 

I have lived like the other half for a week or so, and I LIKED it. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I really should mention that the other reason I have lost the inability to make decisions is because Hubby has stepped up and become a superhero over the past couple of weeks.  He has taken care of everything, from ponytails to playdates, so all I have had to do it sit in my chair and feed the baby.  He has spoiled me totally, and I am very grateful.

But that part of me (the list part, the part that does the shopping and the washing, and cares if the girls have eaten protein and vegetables), if not completely and utterly dead, is at least temporarily disabled.

And I'm not sure if I want it back.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Boobinator

Before I had my first child I had certain ideas about the type of mother I would be. 

In the case of the newly pregnant, ignorance is not only bliss, but it also gives you a warm, rosy glow of self-righteousness that you don't actually realise is self-righteousness.  You just think you are 'being a good mother'.

Breastfeeding was one of those things for me.  When I had my baby, I would breastfeed.  It would come naturally, it would be easy, and my baby would love me for it.

I was wrong.

I think I lasted about four days in hospital before my battered, bleeding and blistered breasts meant I joined the group of new mums who could be seen poking their heads out of their rooms, scanning the hall, and making a dash for the nearest breast pump before rolling it back into the sanctuary of their room.

Once inside, and all the tubes and bottles and cords were connected, I would sit, every three hours, as I pumped milk for my baby.  Modestly covered with a shawl, and refusing to express if I had visitors, I would do this for two weeks before my breasts healed sufficiently to attempt putting the baby back on the breast.

When my next baby was born, I lasted about two days before the damage to my breasts prompted even the most hardened midwife to grimace involuntarily.  The day I pumped 20ml of pure blood without realising was a low point to be sure, and soon enough my baby was used to drinking pink tinged milk.  Less modest this time around, I would walk around the room with the pump going, sometimes forgetting to cover up when visitors came. But once I was discharged from hospital and made it through the laser therapy, mastitis and staph infection, expressing six times a day for ten weeks, things went smoothly.

You see, when I was pregnant with Baby Number One, a friend mentioned that a newborn needs to be fed up to eight times a day, and a feed can take up to an hour. I'm good at maths so I quickly figured out that this breastfeeding business would take as much time each day as a full-time job. Just spread rather inconveniently over a whole day. What? AND the night as well? Must be a design-flaw.

To add expressing into the mix, you can double this time commitment.  Not only do you have to sit and express, but then you have to feed the baby as well!  Once you have done all the washing up and sterilising, you have time to pee and you are back again in the chair expressing again.

So you can imagine this time, things were going to be different.

And again, I was wrong.

With Baby Number Three, hereafter Baldy Baby, I lasted approximately one day before bursting into tears and declaring it was too painful.  The midwife who was with me at the time, backed away telling me that she 'doesn't do tears' before tossing a tissue box at my head and scurrying away. 

So I joined the hall-crawlers again.  Slugging through the hall in my PJs, eyes scanning for the good expressing machines. It wouldn't take long before you figured out different machines each had their own personality, and they were in hot demand. When you spend 20 minutes to express 1.2ml of colostrum, trust me, you develop a relationship with that machinery.

I returned home hopeful that Baldy Baby would be back on the breast, but after bleeding all over her head on the first night, having another tear-fest, and feeling like a failure, I pulled out my secret weapon.

I call it the Boobinator.
Do you like the black bar for added privacy?  I hope I don't offend anyone or fall foul of the censors!

A supersonic, electronic, hands-free, battery-operated, extra efficient double-pumping expressing machine, imported from the old US of A, and generously donated by my sister.

Seriously, look at this thing.  I feel like one of the FemmeBots from Austin Powers, shooting milk out of my breasts.  It moos like a cow every time it pumps, which is highly appropriate, and while my husband pretends not to notice me when I am strapped into this piece of technology you need a physicist and two engineers to get you into, the girls just think it's fabulous.  I dread to think what the Bombshell is telling people at Pre-Primary...

So while I am still not quite the natural, free earth mother, swanning around in white robes breastfeeding her baby yet, I am certainly on my way and Baldy Baby won't be starving while the Boobinator is providing for her.

And if you're wondering about the appropriateness of my putting a picture like this on the internet (and I am probably going to regret it), and you're asking 'what would her mother think?'... let me just say: who do you think took the picture?
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