Archive for the 'Parenting 101' Category

Tools for successful breastfeeding

NS August 5th, 2010

In honour of World Breastfeeding Week, I’d like to share which tools I think are the most important for successful breastfeeding. Between my two children I have breastfed for 38 months (and counting!) and know how difficult and tiresome it can be. I also know how wonderful, convenient and rewarding it is. But a gal needs a lot — I mean a LOT — of support to get started. And that is number one on my list.

1. Moral and practical support – from your partner, friends, family, health care providers and the community at large. When the going gets tough and sleep deprivation + pain + massive learning curve + screaming baby hits you upside the head at 3am for the fifth consecutive night and formula sounds like a mighty fine option, lean on your support system.

My husband’s unfailing support when I was learning to breastfeed my first child made all the difference. Instead of running out to buy formula when I screamed, “This isn’t working!” he held me while I cried, walked our daughter around in the sling so I could rest and regroup and then did everything possible to make the next feed better, more comfortable and less stressful.

2. Access to helpful resources — My biggest regret about my first pregnancy is that I didn’t read much on breastfeeding, or source any professional support networks beforehand. When I ran into problems a few days after my daughter’s birth, I scrambled desperately to find someone, anyone, able to help me. None of the people I was closest to could help me, having either not breastfed, not having had children yet or having done it so long ago that they couldn’t really remember what it was like or how to explain it.

An online friend sent me some Kellymom links and others suggested the NCT or La Leche League. I scoured countless articles, watched videos and looked at diagrams and pictures, trying to figure out what we were doing wrong. I visited my GP and Health Visitor, neither of whom seemed to have a clue. Finally, an NCT breastfeeding counsellor came to my house and gave some advice and practical assistance, which helped a lot. Mostly though, it gave me a massive confidence boost to read about and meet all these other women who were going through or had gone through the same things.

In the end, I believe that finding those sources of information and support helped me to carry on and have a happy and fulfilling breastfeeding relationship with both my children.

3. A bit of determination and grit — Finally, my infamous stubborn streak paid off! I was determined to make it work and even though it took nearly 3 months for it to be a pleasant experience, I persevered and learned a lot about myself and my capabilities in the process. I also learned not to leave such a monumental life-learning process to chance and that forming a support network ahead of time is so important.

4. Small comforts make a big difference — Even though they may seem trivial things, a big squeezy bottle of water (glasses just spill and you need two hands to get a screw top off), a nice snack, reading or viewing material to cure boredom and a cosy environment can make all the difference between relaxed, comfortable breastfeeding and tense, stressful breastfeeding. My number one tool for making breastfeeding easy and comfortable was my Boppy pillow.

The Boppy pillow is a U-shaped nursing cushion that sits on your lap and supports your arms and the baby’s body, ensuring optimum positioning and ergonomic support. There’s nothing worse than the dreaded Breastfeeding Backache, which often results when you are hunched over a baby that is too low, or with your arms feeling like dead-weights from being pinned underneath your 10-lb. bundle of joy for an hour at a time.

I don’t remember who recommended I get one but it was one of the best purchases I made during my pregnancy. The £200 gliding nursing chair? It ended up in the rubbish bin when we moved as the arms were too narrow and the back didn’t give enough upright support. Instead, I used the Boppy every time I sat down for a feed, anywhere in the house. After awhile, I was able to use it to breastfeed entirely hands-free, allowing the early readers of Noble Savage to carry on reading my scintillating posts. Another handy use was when Noble Girl was learning to sit up, it created a safe little ‘nest’ around her, a soft place to fall. And dribble. Luckily, it has a removable, washable cover to sort that out.

The fact that it’s been through two children and still has pride of place on our sofa today speaks to its longevity and usefulness. It’s a great cushion for a small child (or adult!) to curl up with. It also makes a fantastic pregnancy pillow (for placing under your bump when trying to get comfy) and back support when reading in bed. My Boppy pillow has even been on holiday with us, to Greece and America! Perfect for sleepy children slumped over on hard aeroplane armrests and for long delays on airport floors.

That’s why when the people at Boppy asked me to help spread the word about their product, I was more than happy to make an exception to my normal cynical, dubious attitude towards marketing and PR on my blog. When I’ve actually used a product and found it truly useful — no, loved it — I’m more than happy to give an endorsement.

To help promote the pillow, and breastfeeding in general, they’ve come up with this fun little game called Mom’s Revenge. It allows you to delegate tasks not relating to the hard work of breastfeeding and baby care to your virtual partner or mother-in-law while you relax and look serene.

Happy breastfeeding!

Summer helladays, err, holidays

NS July 19th, 2010

It is upon us. That time of year when parents across the land look at the calendar and see nothing but late July and all of August yawning across the pages like a giant abyss, the depths of which no man (nor mother) can scientifically measure, for its impact is mental and emotional.

Yes, the summer helladays, err, holidays are here. And it won’t be over until 6th September for me. I’m cream crackered just thinking about it.

In a way, it will be nice. No school run twice a day and the stress that creates. We can do whatever we want in the morning. We can sit in our pyjamas all day. We can eat cereal for dinner and no one will be the wiser (except my husband when my children inevitably tattle on me for not giving them a proper meal). But what else can I do to keep them entertained, and cheaply? I’m not really one for Chessington World of Disappointments Adventures, or Lego Land or any place, really, where I have to be dragged round endless, stinking animal pens and through vast arrays of plastic tat.

So behold: Noble Savage’s ten ideas for keeping your sproglets happy on the cheap.

  • Take them to a garden centre. Wide aisles, air-conditioning, outdoor furniture to break test out and lovely plants and flowers to destroy look at. Stay for an hour and a half and leave having spent a couple quid on a packet of seeds and a drink from the vending machine. Then when you get home, give the children  a spade and a gardening fork and command them to dig up the weeds in the flower bed to ‘prepare the soil’ for the seeds they’re flinging around in the grass and each other’s hair. Open a beer and stare into space while they get covered in muck. This leads me to cheap activity number two…
  • Baths. Lots and lots of baths. Kids get dirty in the summer. The sand, the dirt, the Cornish ice cream dripping down their grimy faces and onto their hands…baths are the easy fix-all for the mess. Chuck ‘em in the bath once, twice, even three times a day. Not only does it waste 45 minutes each time but your acquaintances and friends will think your children are exceptionally clean, if not well-mannered.
  • Set up an obstacle course in your garden or living room and change it around every few goes so they don’t get bored. Flip through a magazine or Twitter away while they run themselves ragged crawling through tunnels, running around a designated object several times and jumping as far as they can, as many times as they can.
  • Go to the library. It’s free, it’s educational and if you walk there, it’s environmentally friendly. If that’s not reason enough to feel smug and self-satisfied, I don’t know what is. Though the smug feeling usually wears off at around the 5 minute mark, when the kids begin tearing around, screeching and throwing books aside, while you run behind them growling through clenched teeth about being quiet and sitting still and ends with you screaming at the errant child who keeps running for the automatic doors that lead directly into the car park. Just keep the ‘free’ bit in mind and it will all be worth it. Sort of
  • Buy a pack of dried spaghetti for 49 pence. Divide pack evenly amongst your rug rats and show them how to snap them so the pieces go flying. When they get bored of that, sweep the bits up, chuck them in a pan and cook them. Put them outside or in the bathtub and let them ‘swim’ in the pasta or make funny hairdos. When they are bored of that, tell them the spaghetti are sad little worms that miss their mummy and daddy and ask them to help collect the ‘worms’ into a bucket for transport back to their familial home. When they leave the room, dump the contents into the bin. Rinse bucket and pour a glass of wine. Speaking of wine…
  • If all else fails and it’s a choice between screaming obscenities at the children or having a cocktail or two, always choose the latter wherever and whenever possible. The trauma of watching you dance to ABBA at 4 o’clock in the afternoon will not compare to the trauma that would befall them if you told them to get stuffed in a variety of four letter words and gestures
  • Stockpile playdate favours. Grit your teeth and have some other people’s little wildebeests over for a few hours at a time. Then, when you are breaking point, text and enquire as to when they “want to get the kids together again” which is code for “Ahem! It is your bloody turn to have my devil spawn cherub over to your place so suck it up and invite her round.” We don’t actually say that though because this is Britain. You must be all subtle and passive-aggressive about it. Naturally
  • Dump all your clothes (including high heels, hats, hand bags and costume jewellery) onto the bed and let the children dress you. Then let them dress themselves up. Turn a blind eye when they put the cat in a choke hold and force a doll’s hat onto her head. Then, when your partner gets home, let them dress him up, too. Encourage liberal use of the sparkly hand bags and hair clips for him. Smirk while he gets his toe nails painted with a fake good-natured smile plastered on his face. Go downstairs and pour yourself a drink to congratulate yourself on your ingenuity
  • Go to the best, busiest and most exasperating playground or park you know, the one that makes you tired just speaking its name. Just before you get out of the car or turn the corner, put a fake brace on your foot or sling over your arm. Hobble in with one hand feebly pushing the pram. Struggle with everything. Bring tears to your eyes but do not let them spill just yet. Let your lower lip tremble momentarily but then stand up straighter and throw your shoulders back before crumpling forward again. When someone asks if you need help or if you’re okay, tell them you’re fine. Ten seconds later let one single tear slide down your cheek and choke back a sob as you hobble on your ‘bad’ leg or clutch your ‘sore’ arm to help Susie on the swings or get Johnny down off the fence. When the offers of help come pouring in, whisper “You’d do that for ME?” and look at them as if they are Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Mary Poppins rolled into one. Sit down and have a rest while your new helpers run after your children for you
  • Bribe them into good behaviour with the promise of an outing to their favourite restaurant. Look for sweet discounts and two-for-one deals on VoucherCodes.co.uk* (Pizza Express perhaps?), a service I have used many times before. Buy some cheap ice cream or biscuits to have for pudding when you get back so you don’t have to splash out on that, too. If your partner is working late and unable to assist you with bedtime, bribe them further by insisting they can have an extra helping of pudding after they’ve gone to sleep. If they are under the age of 5, they may be stupid innocent enough to believe this

*VoucherCodes.co.uk sponsored this post. Though I don’t usually accept these, I did this time because I had used the site before and think it’s a good resource for people looking for a bargain. Saving money for parents is always a bonus!

Photo credit

Raising children: it’s not rocket science, y’all!

NS July 13th, 2010

After writing about the devaluation of roles traditionally performed by women today over at Fertile Feminism and then reading Potty Mummy’s post about her attitude towards parents before she was one herself, I couldn’t help but smirk when I read this Daily Mail article (I know, I know but @boudledidge linked to it on Twitter) about women choosing housewifery and at-home motherhood over ‘high-flying’ (read: frivolous and/or selfish) careers. Commenter Zoe’s analysis of the differences in difficulty (or lack thereof) of caring for children as compared to office work stunned me with its utter failure to see the numerous similarities between the two. I’m guessing Zoe hasn’t raised any children herself so I’ll break it down for her.

Lets face it looking after a small child isn’t rocket science. It may be trying at times, even a tad monotonous but it’s hardly a stretch for the average graduate [and sitting in a cubicle or office performing monotonous, sometimes-trying tasks IS rocket science?]. Contrast that to the workplace where your performance, commitment and attitude is constantly monitored, measured and managed [you mean the same way that parents, especially mothers, are constantly monitored, criticised and managed by societal expectations, pressures and constraints?]. Tasks and targets are deliberately set to be barely achievable [much like being expected to keep every inch of flesh covered while breastfeeding in public and every toddler tantrum immediately controlled and silenced?], unpaid overtime is expected [both, simultaneously, are a given for at-home parents], salaries are frozen or even cut [divorce and benefits reductions, anyone?] and there is the omnipresent prospect of summary redundancy [30,000 women in the UK lose their jobs every year as a result of their pregnancies; many more lose the potential for pay rises and promotions due to their family commitments, not to mention those who must find a job after the children are in school or have left home]. Not only this but there is the endless efficiency initiatives, budget cuts, head count freezes and vicious office politics [we get parenting advice, studies telling us we're doing x, y and z wrong/not often enough/too much, budget cuts and vicious relationship politics in which we struggle to retain a shred of equality with our partners while performing a traditional role]. Compare this to sitting out the recession looking after little Johnny, who will be at school from the age of four anyway , while somebody else takes the flack and bank-roles your lifestyle [or, you could look at it as the at-home parent bank-rolling her partner by allowing them to avoid paying anyone to care for their children]. Personally I wouldn’t want to be reliant on one person ( call it experience ) so I’ll take my chances in the front line [oh Zoe, Zoe, Zoe; call it experience, but if you think working for The Man night and day puts you on the 'front line' of progressiveness and the cutting edge of modernity, I'm afraid nothing I say will make any difference to you -- you do read and comment on Daily Mail articles, after all].

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some bon bons to eat while I watch daytime television and my children sit silently and obediently at my feet.

Photo credit

Essay: Life in bed

NS June 30th, 2010

I wrote this essay in winter and sent it to two of my favourite magazines in the hopes of having it published. I received a rejection from one and never heard back from the other. Instead of letting it gather dust while I am busy with other things, on hiatus from submitting, I’m going to publish it here. No more waiting and hoping, just my words in my space, on my terms.

Bed. It is a place I so desperately want to be but also a place of worry and restlessness and exhaustion; the scene of a cruel prank in which I am awakened at the peak of a much-needed REM cycle but to which I will not easily return, even after the baby, my youngest, is soothed and asleep again. I strain my ears to confirm that which made me stir and find my brow furrowing with annoyance, anger and misery before smoothing itself into placid resignation when the cries become clearer and more urgent. In performing my nightly routine of Bedtime Bolero, I stumble and sway from bed to crib and back again, only half conscious. Too tired to sit upright in the velvet-covered feeding chair that belonged to my husband’s great-grandmother, I trundle back to bed with my warm bundle and curve my body around his, like we’ve done a thousand times before. The drug-like effect of milk production feels like small weights being pressed down onto my eyelids, willing me to nod my head sleepily in time to my son’s hungry gulps and allow his warm, searching hands to burrow beneath the fluffy blue collar of my robe. ‘How could I be angry at this little soul?’ I admonish myself, though I suspect that’s the oxytocin (the so-called ‘love drug’ produced in lactating women) talking. Seeing only occasionally the glow of the street light outside the window through the slits of my bleary eyes, I nestle into my pillow and reflect on the spectrum of life experienced here.

Though it seems quite a boring, unassuming place, so much happens in bed. We spend approximately one-third of our existences there, sleeping. We also read, write, eat, drink, smoke, dream, agonize, cry, vomit, laugh, make love and die there, among other things. Great novels and political manifestos have been written in bed. Inventions conjured up, cities planned, wars plotted, great love affairs begun, families started. In fact, that’s where the offspring of yore were born – in the same location as their creation. Today, the most common bed to be born in belongs not to the family but the hospital; the scratchy-linened, stirrup-equipped, mechanically-reclining kind or, if things don’t go to plan, the steel, sterile one in the operating room. Some babies aren’t born in bed at all but rather into bathtubs, on rural kitchen floors or the backseats of cars that didn’t quite make it in time.

Though we may not remember our own births, bed quickly becomes a central theme in our lives. Early childhood memories revolve around that most magical and frightening place, where we are meant to peacefully slumber. The first flash of consciousness I can recall is clambering over the rails of my wooden crib, aged two, in order to dump pail after pail of water from the bathroom sink onto my older sister’s mattress, a middle child’s revenge for the new baby in the house who was taking up all her parents’ time. At age four or so, the light from the living room glowing in a thin yellow line under my darkened door was a portal into a strange adult world of which I was infinitely curious but infuriatingly barred. From bed I learned to listen carefully and observe with my ears, my parents’ parties intoxicating in more ways than one. The clinking of ice in a glass of bourbon, the crack-pop-fizz! of a beer being opened, the rapid ph-ph-ph-phhhlump of a deck of cards being shuffled, the chatter and laughter of friends…it seemed so glamorous and mysterious then. Eventually though, snooping would give way to somnolence and my head would connect heavily with the pillow of its own volition. Dreams would have to do while my body and mind rested.

Later, at perhaps six or seven, monsters made their way under my lavender dust ruffle and a fear of the dark and unknown often gripped me as I lay awake with blankets clutched tight, heart pounding in my chest and eyes inspecting every suspicious shape. This was not helped by my father’s propensity to allow us to watch age-inappropriate films when my mother was away, featuring nasty characters with evil grins and masks over their eyes, or a wild-eyed clown with an insatiable appetite for children. Nightmare on Elm Street brought just as many to Locust Street, I can tell you. Then, age nine, hearing the sobs and cries of my mother from her room, mourning the loss of her youngest child to the real monster under the bed: cancer. Though the other creatures faded from existence, that was the only one that never left my side and lurked, forever-more, in the shadows of my childhood. It never had a face or discernible features; it was just a deep, dark mass of seemingly indeterminate cruelty. On more than one occasion, I knelt in prayer before climbing into bed at night, even though ours wasn’t a particularly religious family, promising to be better, braver and stronger, if only God would lift the fog of grief engulfing us. Eventually, it cleared enough for us to find one another again, though the mist of loss will always be present.

Cancer wasn’t the only real-life monster I became aware of as a child, unfortunately. At a sixth-grade sleepover a couple of years later, what had begun as a standard pre-teen slumber party (giggling, videos, popcorn, talk of our first schoolgirl crushes, perhaps a bit of make-up or nail polish) turned suddenly into a confessional booth in which I was thrust into the role of priest and my three friends the confessors. But what they confessed that night were not crimes they had perpetrated or sins they’d committed, but those of the man in the next room: our host’s stepfather. It seemed the bed upon which we were sitting was not only the site of make-overs and sing-alongs, but of horrific abuse and intimidation. Ten minutes before I had been eating sickly-sweet candy with my friends. Very quickly, my head was spinning from not only the sugar rush but the sudden rush of reality. The next day, I sat down on my mother’s bed as she folded laundry and told her everything. She hugged me, then sprang into action. After the flurry of doctors, police and child psychologists had passed and their monster was safely locked away, the girls distanced themselves from me, from the pain, and our friendships faltered. I often lay awake at night, counting the stick-on neon stars on my ceiling in an effort to quiet my mind enough to sleep, wondering if I did the right thing. All I could do was hope that, one day, their beds would become places in which they could dream again, not cower in fear.

Upon entering the teen years, my bed became less a place I wanted to escape and more a place of retreat. I vividly recall throwing myself onto the mattress and crying tears of frustration and angst, sure that I was the most misunderstood, mistreated and misjudged 14-year-old the world had ever known. Weren’t we all? I lay there for endless hours, listening to the albums that best expressed my burgeoning independence and scribbled furiously and clumsily in my journal about my rage and the metaphorical cage against which I beat my wings, so desperate to unfurl them and fly away. When I wasn’t sulking in bed I was using it as a launchpad to adulthood with the opposite sex. Bed was simultaneously a place of exploration and exploitation, intimacy and intimidation. It was not only the stage on which we acted out our desires but where we learned of the thin, thin line between ecstasy and agony, of the art and importance of reading subtle body language. It is also where we learned that bedroom politics and the power therein will always be with us, even when we are well past our teens. Even now, as a woman who has been with the same man for eleven years, the vigorous campaigning for more, better, different sex and the why and how often and when it will occur is still ongoing. The passion of new lovers may have been replaced by something more familiar, but the complications remain the same.

A real turning point on my voyage to maturity was when I bought my own bed. After having slept on a succession of mattresses provided by my parents, relatives’ and friends’ cast-offs and landlords of ready-furnished apartments, my husband and I finally made the big leap to orthopedically-correct ownership. It wasn’t as intimate an occasion as we might have hoped, given that my father stood nearby while we tested for potentially embarrassing squeakiness, but we didn’t have a car back then and needed Dad’s pick-up truck and adeptness at moving large items to get the thing home. Still, it was ours and it was freeing, in a small, mundane sort of way. No more worrying about stains, chips, unsprung springs or ill-fitting firmness levels that had us rubbing our backs in the morning. We could make love in our bed and not think of who had done the same before us, or would do so after us. We could smoke right then and there after a marathon session, with the sweaty sheets tucked around our waists and chests, in a perfect, L-shaped improbability, while he grinned or slept and I looked, wild-haired and open-mouthed, into the middle distance — the very picture of Hollywood-styled post-coital bliss. We’d sleep there ’til 10, 11, even 12 on Sundays, with nowhere to go and no one to see but each other. Then, I had excuses not to get out of bed; now, I have none for not doing so. Even though we enjoyed nearly seven years of pre-children cohabitation, I sometimes look back on those days with intense longing and wish I could tell my younger, more carefree self to enjoy them while they lasted, that my older, parental self would want me to ignore the phone, the cat, the laundry or that movie time. ‘Stay in bed!’ I would shout. I’d tell that young couple to bottle up those moments so they could be uncorked and appreciated later (perhaps in the midst of an argument about whose turn it is to get up with the crying toddler or whose career is more important), allowing the weight of responsibility to drift away on an effervescent memory.

If I could replace the nights when anger and resentment sent us inching towards the far corners of the bed with fond memories of his arm draped protectively over my baby-laden, wriggling mountain of a belly, I would always be happy. If I could erase the time I wrecked our computer in a fit of sleep-deprived rage and substitute the memory of him placing our son in my arms immediately after he’d been born, I’d never again feel guilty. But I can’t and I wouldn’t. The bad with the good, that’s what we promised when we married. All the nasty, gory, ugly grimness in order to enjoy the uplifting, companionable, heart-melting wonderfulness.

My reverie is disturbed by my son’s babbling, his wide-open eyes and mischievous grin telling me I have no chance of slipping back into sleep. I smile at the blond mess of hair peeking out from the other side of the pillow, confirmation that my little girl has wandered through at some point in the night to curl up beside her father, her best friend in the whole world. All four of us lie there — breathing warmly on one another’s closely-assembled faces, tucking elbows and knees respectfully to our sides (us) or flailing about indiscriminately (them) — pressing our bodies together to form a pulsing, nuclear mass of love and security, stronger together than we ever could be separately. Despite the lack of sleep, the arguments, the bedroom politics and the hardships, this is what he and I wanted when we decided to become parents. This is what we dreamed of. Our idea of familial bliss, what we saw when we pictured our lives with children, revolved around this image, in this bed. All of the other stuff goes out of focus until only this moment becomes crystallized. We are reminded by their beautiful faces and rising, falling chests of why we do this, of what makes each day worth facing. My lover’s hand finds mine somewhere in the tangle of blankets and we smile faintly at one another, the outlines of our lips barely perceptible in the pink-grey light of a winter’s dawn.

Finally, as the first rays of real sunlight begin peeking through gaps in the blinds, illuminating the thin layer of dust ever-present in our house, the reality and routine of everyday life sets in. I swing my feet out of bed and into slippers. I change a diaper and brush my teeth, squinting away from the easterly-facing bathroom window. I pour the cereal and feed the cat, then wash the bowls and pack the bags. I contemplate crawling back into bed with my second cup of coffee, knowing it won’t happen. Instead, I sip from my mug in the kitchen while I write, my effort to forge a career in snatched moments of peace a distinctly exciting and frustrating endeavor, the possibilities as endless as the limitations.

Later, when the boy is napping, I go upstairs to make the bed. My hands linger as they fluff and smooth the duvet and my lips smile at the morning’s memory. I perch carefully on the edge, close my eyes and try to picture what other memories I will create here, how many more times I will sob into my pillow or lay awake with worry or excitement. I wonder if, once the children are grown and gone, my husband and I will revert to modified versions of our pre-parent selves, with less mind-blowing sex and more cups of tea, but with the same unfettered blitheness on a Sunday morning that we enjoyed in the beginning. I imagine our rekindled closeness will make the likelihood of watching him die, perhaps in this very bed, all the more unfathomable. I’m not able to imagine any further than that before the ache in my chest makes me draw breath and shake off the vision. I go back to the scene from this morning and hold it in my mind until the monsters and demons, both past and future, scurry back under the bed where they belong.

I hear my son awaken in his room, calling to me. I stand and sigh good naturedly. Up and out once more.

On my shoulders

NS June 9th, 2010

I stood in Noble Boy’s room at 9.15pm last night, rocking him, singing to him softly and with tears running down my face. I was slightly annoyed that he wasn’t in bed yet, yes, but it was much more than that; it was the crushing weight of responsibility for his health and well-being.

Earlier in the day, he had had a scary episode upon waking from his nap, wherein he screamed and raged and kicked and writhed with such force and for so long (25 minutes) that for a moment I thought he was having a seizure or was choking.  He howled and turned red and bent his back in such contortions that I feared it would snap. The terror in his eyes mirrored my own. What was happening to my little boy? He arched away from me so violently that it felt like Rejection itself had inhabited his limbs. I sat on the floor and cried with him, both of us desperate for whatever it was to ease its grip.

Finally, it went. He choked out, “Mama!” and held his arms up to me, ready for a cuddle. He clung to me like a baby monkey and sighed great big hiccuping sobs into my neck. I rubbed and patted and sang and whispered and soothed. Fifteen minutes later he was running around after his sister, laughing and chomping on a snack. He was fine but I felt like a ghost for the rest of the day.

So that night, when he wouldn’t go to sleep and I heard him crying in his cot after NH’s third attempt at calming him had failed, I climbed the stairs once more and scooped him into my arms, even though I had a ton of work to do downstairs. He needed lots of cuddles and reassurance so I had a long time to stand there in the dark, thinking.

I was thinking about my first doula client interview, which is today, and the conversation I’d had with my mother-in-law when I’d had to ask her to come watch the children while I raced off to the dentist at 4pm and then straight onto a train at 5 to be with the client at 6. Noble Husband would leave work early and be home by 6 to relieve her, would that be okay? It was, but only just. She had other plans and would have to change or delay them accordingly. I felt bad. I felt guilty. I felt frustrated.

This work-life balance stuff, the childcare arranging and juggling, the endless ‘favours’ being called in — it’s all on my shoulders. I’m the woman, I’m the mother, I’m the one who has to try to carve out a career after her other commitments have been met. For my husband (and most other ‘breadwinners’) it’s the other way around; work comes first and family is squeezed around its looming pillar of worth. I can’t go anywhere or do anything on my own without my mental tally of who I can count on, what time x or y has to happen and how early I can get NH home. It’s exhausting.

Taking care of these little people all day, trying to make a career work and creating my own sense of self…it’s really difficult to feel confident and autonomous when you’re dependent on others for everything; their salary and cooperation (NH), their flexibility and willingness (mum-in-law) and your children to not to scoop the contents of your heart out, day by day.

Eventually, I realised that NB was not going to let go of me and settle in his own bed so I carried him through to mine. I laid down beside him and stroked the soft skin of his arms and face as he took comfort in the warm milk and closeness my body provides. He drifted off to sleep, finally. And even though my eyelids were heavy and I wanted to stay with him, to stay cuddled up with my baby, I knew a mound of paperwork and dishes awaited me downstairs. I disentangled myself from his embrace and crept away, stealing one last glance at his face in the moonlight.

Sometimes, the weight on my shoulders is lifted just long enough to set me afloat.

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