Friday, 30 September 2011

Reader, I won!

I don't normally blog slightly tiddly.

But then this isn't a normal evening!

I am sitting in a bus stop on Oxford Street. It is the end of September. It is 10.45 pm. It is 20-something degrees.

I won the MAD blog awards!

I am officially the best pregnancy blogger of 2011!

I am so delighted. Not least because I won, but also because I met more than just a mother (who B thinks is funnier than me - he's right, incidentally) and Sandy from Baby Baby, and Jen from the Mad House, and Kelly, and Circus Queen and Melaina, and Sally, who organised the whole thing... and many others.... They were brilliant, all.

Thank you so much to everyone who voted for me.

You have made me very surprised. And very happy too,

* Can't link from the bus stop (and my phone), so if you're reading this and there are no links, come back next week...)

ps I should also mention two specific thanks that I was too over-excited (ahem) at the time to remember - thanks to Bounty, who sponsored my award, and to M&S who amazingly generously gave me an outfit.  I bought a beautiful dress (which I'm clearly not alone in appreciating as it seems to be sold out, so I can't show you a picture) as well as some magic knickers (I did have a baby four months ago so I think that's understandable) and some black tights which it was way too hot to wear.   Thank you both.

Monday, 26 September 2011

"Pregnancy reduction" - pro-choice vs. pro-twin?

Mid-June 2008.  9 a.m.  I am pregnant for the second time.  We have a scan later that morning.

"I don't care what they tell us about this baby. Just as long as it's ok. And as long as it's not twins."

Same day. 11 a.m.  Still pregnant.

"Are there twins in your family?...Because I think I can see two... "

Last night. 10 p.m.  An article in the Guardian Magazine on Saturday has me leaping out of bed and scurrying along the corridor to sit in the dark in S and A's room...

I'd never heard of Pregnancy Reduction until last night.  This is the deal: you are pregnant with twins.  And you don't, for whatever reason, want twins.  So one baby, selected, usually, by the doctors on the basis of accessibility and viability is...well, is what?  I can't pick the right word.  Is terminated.  Is aborted.  Is "extinguished".  Is reduced.

It was late when I read this article. I was tired.  I wanted to snuggle down and go to sleep.  But instead I got up, padded along the corridor and sat with my twins for a minute or so.  Just to remind myself that they were there.

Why?  What is it about this article, about this possibility, that got, and gets, me so het up?

I didn't want twins.  I really didn't.   So I can understand, in part, the fear that drives this decision. But as soon as that sonographer told me I was having twins, I wanted them both, fiercely and protectively. So I can also say that had I even known that this was a possibility, I would never have considered it. 

But why not?  I am pro-choice.  I have, fortunately, never had an unwanted pregnancy, so I can't possibly say what I would do in that situation, but I am, in principle, fiercely in favour of another woman's right to choose.  If I am accepting and supportive, as I have been of friends who have had to make that choice, why and how is this different?  Why is it acceptable to me to "reduce" one baby to none, but not two to one?

Why, if I read an article about abortion, do I not insist on going to sit with L, or M, or indeed A or S, to reassure them that they were wanted?

This is, I realise, utterly illogical.  But I am not alone.   One of the early pioneers of the procedure (all these words are so nuanced aren't they? I hesitate in using each one) no longer performs it, after all his staff, from the sonographer to the receptionists, confirmed that they were not comfortable with what he was doing.

Why?  My twins are special, of course they are.  But if you asked me whether their specialness was bound up in the fact that they are twins, I would fiercely deny it, and point, instead, to S's charm, and A's determination, or A's demands for cuddles, and S's hesitations before she speaks.  I am certain that twins, any twins, are individuals before they are a pair. 

So if I have no moral objection to terminating a singleton pregnancy that would have produced a child that would have been just as special in its own way, why does the idea of destroying half of a pair feel so wrong?

Friday, 23 September 2011

A year in books

I said I was going to blog about each book I read as I finished it.

I was wrong.  Instead, for a whole year, I've done this with them:

I like to think they add a certain je ne sais quoi (messiness?) to the room.   But perhaps they're easier to see like this:

That's a year in books, or at least the books I read at home.

The best of that lot?  The Christopher Brookmyre or the Margaret Atwood
The most annoying? Definitely Sebastian Faulks
The most unnecessarily hyped? The Slap
The most useful? Probably the potty training one...

And for completeness' sake, here are some other books I read in other places:

It's a suitably random selection, if nothing else...

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

There's no such thing as a "baby essential"

When B and I got married we (I say "we", but what I really mean is "my mother") had arranged for a bus to take guests back from the reception to the various hotels they were staying at.  One couple had come with their then five-week-old daughter.  They had planned not to drink and to drive back to the hotel, but one glass of champagne led to another and 1 o'clock in the morning found them (with the baby, an achievement in itself) on the bus back to the hotel.  Unfortunately the carry cot, the spare nappies, the nappy bag, and all the rest of the paraphernalia were still in the car at the reception.

They are resourceful though, my friends, and so, finding themselves, a little tiddly, in a strange hotel with a new baby, they ransacked the cupboards for spare blankets, padded out the bath, settled her in and had as restful a night's sleep as you can have with a new born and the beginnings of a hangover.

I find myself repeating that story a lot whenever I read another press release about "Baby Must-Haves", normally shortly followed by "Top Unnecessary Buys for your Baby".   Because maybe it's just me but it seemed to me, particularly when shopping for baby things the first time round, that the entire baby stuff industry had, subliminally, one slogan:

If you don't buy this, it means you don't love your baby.

Made me cross then.  Still makes me cross now. Because, in fact, as it turns out, there is only one baby essential you can buy.

A car seat.  Because if you've had your baby in hospital they won't let you go home without one.  The midwives wanted to escort us to our car when we left with M because B hadn't brought the car seat in with him.  They did eventually concede that with three other children to control, it was understandable that he hadn't chosen to lug in a piece of reinforced plastic and it was raining so they decided to trust us, but apparently they shouldn't have. Hospital policy: no car seat; no baby.

But that aside, there is nothing a baby needs that can't be fabricated in extremis.

Cot? Bath, drawer, pushchair, blanket on the floor.  With a big blanket you can make a double bed for two babies and wedge them in on either side with pillows.  I know, I've tried it.

Nappies?  Muslin and a nappy bag with two holes in it for legs (not pretty but it will get you down the hill and into the nearest corner shop, where you can rip open an unpaid for pack of Pampers and stick your baby in one of them in the bread aisle.  It's not the best look for turning up at your husband's godmother's but needs must.)

Clothes?  Amazing how good a look the toga is on a three month old.

You get my drift. 

But I've also found, over the last four years, that while there is nothing you need there is plenty that you might want...

So here it is, my top wish list of lovely baby things.  None of them essential, all of them delicious.  Apart from the breast pads which are most definitely not lovely or delicious, but I wish I'd known about four years ago:

Posh nappy bag.  I just bought myself, on child number four, a swanky leather nappy bag.  It makes me feel feminine and glamorous, no small feat when your nipples are at your knees and you have sick on your shoulder.

Baby Bjorn bouncy chair.  Stupidly, stupidly expensive and I absolutely refused to buy one.  Then we were lent two for S and A and they loved them and used to wail when I used the cheapy one that we had had for L.  When my sister-in-law asked me for baby recommendations I said one of these.  She bought one and about six months later I'm borrowing it from her for M. Feel a bit guilty about that...

Sling.  Doesn't matter what sort, but hands free mobility is a life saver.

Merino stuff.  I'm a complete convert to merino.  It's one of those things, along with Napisan, that Antipodean friends raved about and I thought "yadda yadda yadda, yes it's wool, so what", but then we bought merino grow bags for L and they have lasted her, S and A and are now onto M.  You don't have to worry about tog weights and they last and last and wash in the machine and I could rave about them all day.  And then the lovely people at Nature Shop  (who, as it so happens, also sell the sleeping bags) sent M a blanket (although they call it a wrap) (as modelled above) and me a dress and I love them too.  The blanket is so fine you think it won't do anything but he's slept wrapped up in it every night since he got it, and it makes a splendid toga too (see above).  As for the dress*, well, it's not designed for breastfeeding, but it works (wraparound), and, even better, it makes me look and feel good, and warm, and it goes in the machine.  Genius.

Huge muslins.  Another kiwi thing (top tip, next time you're having a baby, have it in New Zealand, they appear to have all the best stuff).  I have no idea where these came from as a Kiwi friend gave them to me but they're brilliant: muslin, blanket, wrap, tent, breast-hider and picnic rug in one.

Carry cot.  Pushchairs are controversial items. They're so eye-wateringly expensive that everyone you ask has to try and convince you that theirs is the absolutely best one, last word, bees knees thing in baby transport solutions.  Clearly, the right pushchair for me is not going to be the right pushchair for someone else who has different numbers and ages of children living a different sort of life. (Prime example: the pushchair I have now, which  I love, wouldn't have fitted through my front door in London, despite the manufacturers' claims.  Top tip: if buying a side-by-side double pushchair, please measure your door first).  The one thing I would recommend though is that your pushchair has a carrycot.  I love being able to lift M in and out, and in fact he likes his carrycot so much he sleeps in it day and night.  I also love the fact that I can get four children into a pushchair made for two, but that's a different story.

Lansinoh breast pads.  It has taken a great deal of messy market research by me but these are absolutely the best.

And on the same front, lovely dress above notwithstanding, I am a big advocate of breast feeding clothes.  There's something very liberating about being able to feed your baby in public without exposing your post-natal stomach or anything else.  There are all sorts of small companies out there making really nice clothes that don't look "specialist" and are definitely worth supporting (pun intended).

Oh, and Anita make underwired nursing bras.  Genius.
Reading through this list, it occurs to me, not only that this post has got too long as usual, but also how many of these things are for me, and not for my baby.  Now I could, in a spirit of maternal guilt, take that to mean I care more about myself than my baby, but I don't think it's that. Or at least I hope it's not.

In fact, I think I've hit on something more important here than just "lovely new stuff".  I think if there's one thing that really is essential for a baby, it's that its mother is, as far as she is able, happy and comfortable in her new life.  I think even for those of us who are lucky enough to escape any form of post-natal depression, and even fourth time round, it's a huge adjustment and one in which our own identity can easily get lost.  Now I realise that my identity shouldn't be tied up in my physical appearance, but I also know that if I look together, I find it much easier to feel together, and at a time when my identity feels fragmented into disparate parts of 95% harrassed mother and the rest varying proportions of daughter, wife, employee, friend, sister, neighbour, self; nurturing the "self" bit feels like less of an indulgence and more of a necessity.

So perhaps it's not If you don't buy this, it means you don't love your baby, perhaps it should be more If you want to be able really to love your baby, it helps if you love yourself.  Sounds like the sort of thing that you'd buy, laminated, to stick on your fridge.  Doesn't make it not true though.

* This is not a link to the website of the people who kindly sent it to me, as they seem to have taken it off there, but it is the same dress.  Ask them if they can get you one! It's brilliant.

And in the interests of disclosure, Nature Shop sent me the wrap and the dress. They also sent me a really lovely organic cotton baby grow for M.  Everything else I mention in here was either bought with my own money or a present/loan from a friend or family.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

M is for midget

So I spoke to the GP about M's weight.

Actually, that's a lie. I sent the GP a text that said "I'm a bit worried about M. I can't get an appointment with you for a week.  Fancy coming round here, so that I can cook your children lunch and you can inspect  my baby?"

And he said "Yes, how about Sunday?".

Sometimes I love living in a very small town.

Anyway, they all came round (his wife is also a GP), and poked at M, who smiled obligingly and looked thoroughly healthy, and we agreed that there was nothing obvious wrong, and that maybe we should come in to the surgery to have M checked out properly for the scarily vague Failure to Thrive.

Which we did, last Thursday. M was weighed and measured and prodded and listened to, and turned upside down and tickled, and had put on 8 ounces in just over a week.

Which still doesn't make him huge, but does put him back on the scale (at the 0.4th centile rather than just under it).  More importantly his head circumference is still where it was at birth (75th centile - it's all those brains), and so is his length (25th).  The GP and I went through the list of possible causes of Failure to Thrive (I feel it needs capitals) and none of them seemed to apply, so we are left where we were.

With a small baby.  Whom I am to feed a bit more often.*

He's still not weed on me though.

*That bit obviously because one is not allowed to leave a health professional's office without having added to the layers of maternal guilt...It's one of the NHS's founding principles.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Would I know if there was something wrong with my baby?

My baby is off the scale.

He is the best baby in the world. Officially. I've had three other babies so I should know.

He is three months old now. He gurgles, he smiles, he giggles. He grins at me, B, and the girls. He recognises our voices, he turns his head towards them. He rarely cries, preferring to sit and watch the chaos, smiling and nodding in non- judgemental approval.

He feeds well and happily, jaw moving strongly, eyes closed in pleasure, or wide open, framed by unfairly long lashes, as he seeks my gaze.

He sleeps, sometimes calmly and without moving, and sometimes noisily, sucking determinedly at the thumb he discovered about five weeks ago, but always deeply and solidly. For twelve hours a night and several during the day.

He has never weed on me.

He is the best baby in the world. He is off the scale of wonderful babyness. Even if he proves me wrong tomorrow and wees all over the place before wailing solidly through the night.

He does everything you would want a baby of his age to do. Only, of course, better. He is perfect.

But he is off the scale.

He is three months old and he weighs 10lb 4oz. In the last six weeks he has put on six ounces. Plotted against the newborn growth charts he is below the 0.04th centile.

He is off the scale.

If you lined up 1000 babies born on the same day as him, he would be one of the smallest four. The NHS red book says that babies of this size "will normally be referred to a paediatrician".

But M is not, yet, being referred. He is developing normally, he is doing everything a normal baby would and should do. He is not hungry. The health visitors are not worried. I am not worried.

Until we look at the charts.

One of the health visitors told me, and I don't think she was joking, that I should just stop getting him weighed. But then they looked at each other, and I could see the confusion and the tiny little edge of concern. Instinctively we all think he's fine. Small, but fine.

But what if we're wrong?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

An off-line life

It's opener there in the wide open air.

said Dr Seuss.  And while I'm not normally a Dr Seuss fan (I think, like Bugsy Malone and pink biscuits, you have to have loved him as a child to appreciate him as an adult), there's something about The Places You'll Go that has resonated since I first read it, not that long ago, when I was a mother of a mere three.

Because that's where I've been. Off-line and out there.  Since I last posted, over six weeks ago, back in the distant country that was July, Summer, sunshine and short sleeves, I have been, well, nowhere very exciting.  But just out there, in the wide open air.  And not here. Not on the computer.  Not online. 

That's a lie, of course, because I suspect that you have to make a conscious effort really to be off-line, and I wasn't doing that. I just wasn't actively here.  I wasn't actually even passively here either.  I read comments on my blog, because I get emails with them in, and I get them on my phone, but that was it.  I didn't read other people's blogs, and I certainly didn't write my own.

So if anyone's done anything really exciting over the last six weeks, do please let me know.  I'm going to try and catch up, but I'm bound to miss something.

And I enjoyed it. Without realising it, somehow blogging had become a chore. Another job to be done, to be squeezed into the lack of hours in my day. This blog is my space, and I was starting to resent it.  I wanted to be doing something else: talking to my children, or my husband; reading a book; cuddling my baby; unpacking a box.

And I started to forget about this blog, and when I did find myself reminded, to think of it with a bit of a jolt, and a slight feeling of dread.  That dread you get when you know there's something you have to do but you can't quite make yourself do it.

So I pushed it to the back of my mind and turned the computer off, ignored my emails and let it, and my mind, gather dust.

But then, a little while ago, about last week, I found myself writing posts in my head, and wondering what was going on in here, online, and so I am back, blowing the dust off and flexing my knuckles.

Now I've just got to think of something to write about.