Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Gentle Sleep: Finding Balance & Perspective

Sleep. The topic that has consumed my every waking and sleeping (or not sleeping) thought for months. How long should she sleep? How should I get her to sleep? How many naps should she be having? Why does she fight sleep? It's literally all I think and talk about. But apparently I'm not alone. Every new or veteran mother I know or speak to seems obsessed with my daughter's sleep too: 'She is STILL waking in the night to feed?'; 'Is she self-soothing yet?'; 'Have you stopped nursing her to sleep yet?'

Where did this obsession with another child's sleep come from? 

The first three months weren't too problematic in the sleep department for us; Freya would sleep most of the day, anywhere and anytime and during the night, she would wake twice for a feed and go straight back to sleep. We could let her sleep in the living room with the TV on relatively loud, she would fall asleep in her pram or rocker when she was tired and actually I can honestly say I never felt sleep deprived at all. Then something changed. Suddenly, our sleep-anywhere-and-anytime baby turned into a total party animal- she wanted to stay up raving all day and night (not sure where she got that from!) and even when her eyes were red raw with exhaustion, she would scream and fight sleep whenever we tried to put her down. We had hit the so-called '4 month sleep regression.'

Having entered motherhood without any idea of how babies work or reading any books on 'what to expect AFTER the birth', it didn't even occur to me that I'd have to figure all this sleep stuff out. I just figured she would sleep when she was tired. What a school-girl error that was  (current me is laughing and pointing at pre baby me.) So as the 'regression' struck, I embarked on a one-woman crusade to figure out what the hell was up with my insomniac daughter's massive sleep issues and become an expert on the biology of baby sleep.

At this point, my first major lesson was learned. At about the time the problems started, Freya had come to the end of the 'fourth trimester' where babies basically do just sleep whenever they want, and had entered 'real infancy.' Apparently at this point, a baby's sleep cycles becomes more like an adult's and according to Ockwell-Smith (The Gentle Sleep Book) looks like this: "stage 1, a drowsy or very light sleep; stage 2, early sleep, muscles relax; stage 3, deep sleep, heart rate slows, body temperature drops and then REM, body immobile and brain highly active." This cycle happens in 45 minute blocks where baby essentially wakes up and starts the cycle again. Bloody hell- so this was why she was waking so frequently all of a sudden. It's flippin' science. Her brain was working in a totally new way when it came to sleep.
         But this didn't help when it came to her staying awake all day and how at nighttime, despite our meticulous bedtime routine, she would scream the house down, often falling asleep on my shoulder out of sheer exhaustion from crying. Not only this, but I consistently had to nurse her to sleep in my bed, followed by the use of the controversial pacifier (which, as it turns out, is a huge player in the reduction of SIDS) and then I would have to transfer her to her bedside crib- all the things people would tell me I should never ever do. I was exhausted and after weeks and week of dreading bedtime and feeling guilt over how we did it (based on the fact society was telling me I was doing it all wrong) I felt like I needed to do something: anything.

I would ask everyone I met how they got their baby to sleep and each had a different way. But one thing that kept on popping up was CIO or the 'Cry It Out' method (also known as the 'Extinction Method.') It sounded horrendous- a method whereby you check all of babies basic needs are met (fed, clean nappy, comfortable temperature etc) and once they were all OK, you leave them in their cot and walk away. Now if baby cries, you ignore them. You IGNORE them. You let them cry and cry and cry until they are so tired and exhausted from the screaming they give up asking for your attention (which is their biological response to extreme and continued stress- stop crying to preserve energy. Survival mode.) You do this for hours and hours and days and days and eventually, you have a baby who 'self-soothes' and 'sleeps through the night.' Brutal. Now when I learned about this method, I was shocked to see how many people on the internet and how many 'sleep experts' condoned and even suggested it. But I was even more surprised when my Health Visitor told me I needed to do it. In fact, in her words: 'You walk away and you let her cry. If you really must you pop back in fifteen minutes, but you don't talk to her or engage with her- you pick her up, check she is OK and then put her back in the cot and leave. If you keep picking her up and responding to her cries, she will start to manipulate you.' (Manipulate me?But she is a matter of weeks old?) My heart sank. My Health Visitor was telling me I needed to use this method and actually insinuated I would be doing wrong by her if I didn't. I was totally conflicted.

I began reading into the method and in my sleep deprived haze, I started to make plans to use CIO to train my tiny baby to go to sleep. Friends who have done it told me it was the hardest thing they ever did, but that baby now slept like an angel and I wanted a piece of that pie. Knowing how important sleep is for their development, I decided I needed to get started. But at this point, Freya's screaming was becoming painful and after several trips to the hospital and paediatrician, it came to light that Freya had a terrible intolerance to dairy. Her reflux, eczema and crying were all related to an allergy to cows milk protein. I was put on a dairy exclusion diet and as if by magic, her nightly colicky-screaming stopped. All those times I was told she just had normal colic, she was actually in genuine discomfort and pain. Imagine if I had let her 'Cry It Out'- ignoring her cries for help, her need for love and her pleas for me to take away her pain?

Thankfully, we never got as far as trying CIO which I thank the Universe for every day. But despite the end of her excruciating bedtime crying sessions, we still found ourselves with a string of 'bad' sleep associations. She HAD to nurse to sleep and when she woke in the night, she HAD to nurse again for comfort. She needed white noise to drown out the street sounds and black out blinds to block out the light, she would fall asleep nursing in my arms and without realising it, we had begun bed-sharing for about half of the night's sleep. At around 4am every morning, I would sleepily pull her across from her side-car crib and let her fall asleep nursing (following important safety guides which are generally only recommended for breast fed babies and parents who don't drink, smoke, take drugs or sleep heavily) and we would always wake at 9am. Five whole hours of sleep to end our 12-14 hours stretch.

But I became embarrassed to talk about our sleep situation which people were still totally obsessed with, including me. I felt like I couldn't tell people that we co-slept and nursed to sleep and shock horror, that it totally worked for us and we all got excellent sleep despite it being broken with up to three or four night wakings. When she started to stir and moan in the night, a quick half-asleep nurse and we were all snoring again. So why was something that was giving us such good sleep also the thing that I worried about 24/7 and wanted to hide from friends? My mum co-slept with me as a baby and toddler while my Dad was away on various detachments in the RAF and I turned out perfectly fine?! I am fiercly independent. Why was I ashamed?

It was at this point that a Facebook parenting group friend pointed me in the direction of 'The Gentle Sleep Book' by Sarah Ockwell-Smith. The connotations of the title made me feel like this was something that would suit me, but I'd heard so many people scoff at the idea of 'gentle, no cry sleep solutions' and criticise 'attachment parenting.' As soon as I received the book, my attitude towards sleep completely changed. I was utterly reassured by everything she wrote; it was like taking a huge sigh of relief. Freya's sleep and what we were doing was totally normal and natural. This book was a life-changer for us.

In her forward, Ockwell-Smith writes: 'Much of what has been circulated in the parenting world on child sleep seems to be founded on parental convenience, rather than biology or science, and it's about time that changed.' Why is this? It is the Western world that has become obsessed with babies sleeping through the night and becoming independent sleepers to suit their routines and busy lifestyle choices. The rest of the world don't deal with the same obsession with sleep- instead co-sleeping, extended nursing, nursing to sleep and baby wearing are the norm and in line with the biology of the human infant. Born the most vulnerable of all the world's species, human babies NEED their mother to respond to their every need at any time of the day or night and in order to become 'independent' they must first learn to become 'dependent'. Therefore, nursing on demand and to sleep (my biggest insecurity) and co-sleeping (whether in a crib in the same room or in the same bed) is totally how nature intended. This was a break-through realisation for me and changed my attitude towards my parenting choices with regards to sleep.

Our expectations of children's sleep is based more on cultural norms than their natural sleeping patterns. Professor Margot Sunderland, when talking about the effects of Western expectations on a mother's psychological health (including how it is a huge contributing factor towards post-natal depression, something I have first hand experience in), says: "Babies are awful sleepers. When we accept this, maybe we will stop seeing a wakeful baby as a parental failure and instead as entirely normal." Babies and toddlers waking through the night, where it is not necessarily convenient if parents are working, is normal. This fact alone made me feel like, actually, I wasn't failing and my baby isn't broken. Letting a child 'Cry It Out' goes against their every biological need and increasingly, child psychology and behaviour experts are calling for the method to be removed from medical rhetoric because of the neurological harm it can cause in the long term.

At this point it's important to note that I will not be including any of the latest medical articles or studies that warn against the method or preach about how what we are doing is the safest thing (I'm not THAT Mum)- every mother is entitled to do what they feel is best for their family and I know using this method has meant for thousands of happy families and well-slept children which is so important. However, Professor James J. McKenna of the Mother-Baby Sleep Laboratory at The University of Notre Dam (the lead specialist in this field) has some wonderful advise and facts against CIO, in favour of co-sleeping and nursing to sleep, and the positive effects it has on the health of both mother and baby, which you can read here. Co-sleeping can often be the solution to these 'sleep issues' (which sometimes aren't actually 'issues' at all!) and where the UK suggests co-sleeping until 6 months, most other countries including the USA advise 12 months + in the same room. This is not least because of biological necessity- being close to the mother regulates breathing and heart beat, therefore reducing the risk of SIDS dramatically. What the media don't report in their scare mongering over cosleeping and SIDS is that 9/10 infant deaths involving cosleeping were because the mother and/or father were heavily under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

So after six months of utter obsession, I can proudly and confidently say that we are a co-sleeping (meaning in the same room and often bed-sharing), nursing to sleep family with a happy, safe and secure baby. Despite the fact she absolutely will not fall asleep day or night without help (which I now know is her disposition and NOT my failings), she goes to sleep at my breast- or bottle with her Dad-like clock-work, she wakes at 11pm and 3am every night for a five minute feed and we very rarely feel sleep deprived. Sometimes she will wake once at 5am after ten solid hours or sleep, sometimes we will have a bad night and she will wake far more than that, but half the time we don't even realise as I pop her dummy in and she settles back down (although this last fortnight she seems to be uninterested and seems to be weaning herself off it.) More often than not, just my proximity helps her to go back to sleep or 'self-settle' (which many suggest is actually an arbitrary notion, as to 'self-settle' babies would have to have the ability to regulate their own emotions which is a skill learned much later in childhood. If a baby 'self-settles', it is more that likely that their parents have been blessed with an unusually good sleeper or potentially that they have been subject to sleep training and- as some experts suggest- have learned not to ask for help anymore as nobody comes which personally makes me really sad.) Because she is now in her 'SleepyHead' pod- THE best baby purchase we ever made and if only we had done it from the start-we hardly have to wake to respond to her needs and every morning, I roll over to see her beautiful face smiling up at me, well rested and cooing with happiness that she is with her Mummy and Daddy.

 For all my worrying about Freya becoming 'too attached' or dependent on me, extensive studies have proven that co-sleeping babies are often more independent and confident children because they grew up feeling totally safe and secure. If and when this arrangement stops working for us, we will revisit sleep with some of the gentle suggestions we have researched but for now, we will be happy with how it is working for us and I for one have stopped stressing over what the implications might be in the future and just enjoying what is working for us now. I'm certain this realisation had helped me overcome PND.

Oh and for those worrying about the affects of co-sleeping on your sex life, it's far more fun figuring out other places to have 'adult time' than boring old bed! In that department, we are better than we have ever been, I am happy to report.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Growing Up On The Job

So I'm actually just about getting over the shock of our relatively easy bedtime- you know those days where you just nail it? Nap times on schedule, lovely snoozes in the pram and then our bath, book and bedtime routine executed to perfection. Smashed it; one hundred Mummy points.

Back to the topic in hand.

About a week ago now, I realised something absolutely frightening: I have become a grown up. Until recently, I have been a thirty year old, Never-Never-Land living teenager trapped in a bloated, stretch marked and slightly wrinkled older woman's body. Farts still make me laugh, I giggle internally every time I'm teaching a lesson and am in the process of writing 'analysis' on the board; 'a-n-a-l... chortle.'  But during a recent visit to see an old school friend following the birth of her second very gorgeous son, a dawning realisation that I'd entered adulthood hit me in the face like the smell from one of Freya's particularly shitty nappies. I am a Mum. I am a kid raising a kid.

Jenny's oldest son, Alfie, playing with Freya on our visit.

Our visit to see Jenny was so lovely; we had bumped into each other a few times since leaving school fifteen years ago, but this was the first time we had spent quality time together and once again, it was the arrival of our children that brought us together. This isn't the first time a reunion like this has happened either. I have reconnected with so many old friends and connected with the most unlikely of new friends since Freya arrived- there's something about that shared experience of pregnancy, giving birth and parenting that creates a really special bond. We are like some sort of double-hard mega gang (not to mention we all pushed a watermelon sized object out of definitely not a watermelon sized hole. That's a pretty serious shared experience.)

As we sat there, holding each other's babies and sharing labour stories, I faded out to another one of my internal montages of all the times we had spent together at school. The evenings meeting up to practice singing for the school variety shows- which sounds cool until I point out that this was pre-Nirvana and Offspring discovery and we were singing Celine Dion duets. Two twelve year old girls, fighting over which lines we should sing: "BABY THINK TWICE..." *that so should have been my bit*

Then there was those years later on, getting drunk off White Lightning and Mad Dog 20/20, talking about unrequited love and how we were at a clear disadvantage in the love stakes from both being 5"11 and our crushes barely scraping 5" at 15. Now here we are, talking about if our babies sleep through the night, which nurseries we will send them to and breast feeding vs. bottles. It was amazing and crazy and a little sad all at the same time. Those teenage years I spent desperate to grow up and wishing my days away had flown by and all of a sudden two decades have passed. Two-actual-decades.

The arrival of Freya has taught me so much about myself and about life, what with my new adult perspective. One such realisation is that my body is amazing. For all those teenage years of hating my body, I now look back and realise I wasn't fat, I wasn't ugly and my ginger hair wasn't that awful. It's strange because now I do have a fat wobbly belly, I do have cellulite and my face is past it's best before date, yet I'm more comfortable with it all than I've ever been in my life. I may not totally like what I see, but I'm so in awe of my body for growing Freya.

Reading Festival 2010.

But probably the most important thing I've come to realise is that time goes so quickly- I mean, I swear two minutes ago I was a care-free teenager. Now, I've become acutely aware of my own mortality and unlike a few years ago where I made debauched decisions with little regard for the consequences, I now know that I won't last forever. Time is absolutely vanishing before my eyes. It seems like yesterday that I was a twenty year old girl, just broken up with my first long term boyfriend and going on a holiday with my best friend to Malia to recover; all the fishbowls, the bar crawls and the dancing on bars. It feels like yesterday that I was in London trying to make it in the world of PR and A&R; the mornings going to work after being out all night and realising that an hour journey home to Greenwich would leave me approximately 6.5 minutes to sleep before having to make my way back into Holborn so thinking: "Ah- screw it... one for the road!" And it virtually WAS yesterday that I was absolutely rotten drunk, crowd surfing my way to the medical tent at Reading Festival. All the beers. All the Sailor Jerry's.  All the hangovers.

Partying every weekend.

I'd been totally putting off growing up when along came my little bundle of life-changing joy. Gone are the days of random conversations with total strangers in the girl's toilets on a night out- telling each other our life stories, giving love advice, drunkenly shaking them and slurring "you are gorgeous do you hear me? Don't you ever say you're not 'coz you are. You're the best human I've ever met" and declaring love for one another. Now these random conversations with total strangers are usually with other women my age who are also pushing a pram, also covered in milk spew and make up half way down their faces as we clock each other in a cafe with that desperate look of: "This is well 'ard...be my friend!"

I didn't know when to stop!

I genuinely have had to grow up 'on the job'- this is like the scariest, most challenging work-based training you could imagine. I have to make decisions not only for myself now, but for a whole other person and they're life or death survival decisions too. I can no longer spend money like it's going out of fashion. Unlike the old me circa. 2008 who was up to her eyes in debt and overdraft, I now have complete control over our family finances (which includes the use of spreadsheets *shudder*) and Kris even gets pocket money if he wants to go out. I can't roll in at 4am after my husband desperately tries to drag home from the pub only to be told: "Look I'm a young woman Kristian- don't hold me back! I'm still in my twenties unlike you [harsh] and I'm going to stay out and have fun OK!" I'd put money on the fact he is not going to miss those nights.

Me and my girl: my world.

The truth is, twenty-something year old me dreaded this moment- the moment where I would be house bound by 6.30 every evening on account of a baby's bedtime. The moment I had to say 'no' to those spontaneous nights out or road trip suggestions. The moment I couldn't go out for dinner and get drunk with friends on a weekly basis. But guess what went and happened- I turned into a real grown up. My priorities changed and now I want nothing more than to be 'stuck' in the house with my new little family. Yes, there are times when I'm sat looking at the photos of amazing drunken nights out on Facebook and think about how much fun it would be to have been there. But I have been there and done that and will do it all again at some point. For now, I am constantly aware that Freya is probably going to be my only child and every first I experience with her is also the last-first I will ever experience as a mother. When I'm near the point of tears from the frustration of spending an hour trying to get her to sleep, I remember that one day very soon she wont need or want me to hold her to sleep. She may even refuse to cuddle and kiss me at all.

In the transition from twenty-something party girl to mother of one beautiful daughter, I learned a huge lesson in selflessness and that's, like, a well grown up thing to learn init. Give me a few years and I'll be making special appearances as 'Party Holly', but for now: enjoy your hangovers. I'll be the smug one, fresh as a daisy on a family day out somewhere and loving my new life with my girl.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Date Night: Our First Night Without Baby

"You have to make time for 'you' and remember you were a married couple first."

The wise words of my Mum.

Of course she is absolutely right, but at six weeks after giving birth to my baby, this just didn't seem natural at all. However, I knew I needed to get out of the house and Granny was desperate for some alone time with her 'wee angel.'

Pregnancy was an incredible experience for me. Despite the morning sickness, the painful stretch marks covering about 99.9% of my body and the 'fanny daggers' (those uncomfortable shooting pains down below from baby sitting on a nerve. Her head was so low in my pelvis from 34 weeks I actually sometimes wondered if I'd go to the toilet and find a leg hanging out. Googled it: not possible), I will always look back on those nine months fondly.

Crazy 41-weeks pregnant lady building flat pack furniture in our new house the day before induction.

I spent almost ten months knowing I was never alone. I had a little heart beating inside me, a tiny human that could already recognise my voice and would kick whenever I sang 'My Girl' or played her 'Aqueous Transmission' by Incubus. It  was a constant comfort knowing she was there and I would talk to her all the time. I even had a book by Dr. Seuss that was specifically written to be read to bump: "Oh Baby, the Places You'll Go- A Book to be Read in Utero." Kris read it to her almost every night.

But as much of a blessing and miracle as pregnancy was, when I reached 42 weeks, I was fed up of feeling like Sigourney effing Weaver in 'Alien' and wanted my little ET out of me. The kicks stopped being cute when I could see actual human toes under my skin. But she wasn't coming out of there fast- she was quite happy on her little All Inclusive Babymoon- food and drink on tap. Why would she want to come out? So I ended up stuck in hospital for a week of inductions. I tell you what- my foof has never seen so much action; the world and it's cousin were down there having a good old prod and poke at one point or another. I wouldn't be surprised if the caretaker had popped in for a nosey. It was like some really shit orgy.

The family have their last rub of the bump before the fourth and final induction.

Four days, four inductions and fifty million internals later, my girl arrived in all her beautiful ginger glory. The moment I saw her face, I said: "Of course- that's what you look like, little one!" (shortly followed by asking the registrar, Dr Will, if I could have sushi again now, explaining the uncanny similarities between my placenta and rare steak and asking him on a scale of one to ten how gross my fanny looked. Gas & Air- I love you.)

I felt like I'd known her face my whole life. 

Granny holding her first born grandchild minutes after she was born.

Freya Ivy Rose

Suddenly I had my body back. I forgot how it felt to bend in the middle and nearly rejoiced when I realised I could lean down and put some socks on. Oh and lying on my front in bed- the most blissful feeling in the world. But that moment of freedom wasn't to last-  Freya still totally owned my ass. I was a walking milk bar- every hour was happy hour and my little cluster feeding guzzler just couldn't get enough of the stuff. A total milk drunk. (It does taste amazing though, like the milk leftover at the bottom of a bowl of Frosties. So I get it.) 

Six weeks passed by and our friend's band 'Radar Test Target' were playing a gig at a local venue where there would also be a street food festival going on just around the corner. This was the perfect opportunity to get out and have a break- have some couple time. But the day arrived and the feeling of excitement I had been anticipating didn't seem to happen. The bond between Freya and I after spending the last eleven months together was so strong that being apart from her felt unnatural.
              I had spent the days leading up to the event pumping milk ready for my night out. I felt so sorry for Kris- there really is nothing sexy about watching your wife with an electric pump fixed to her udders and being milked like a cow. [As an aside it really annoyed me that he wouldn't try it- so you'll drink milk from a cows tit but not from your wife? Also, who actually figured out you could even drink it? *picture in head of prehistoric man lying underneath a cow and milking it straight into his mouth for the first time and thinking, 'Yeah, it's good that.'* I majorly digress.]

The hours before we went out I was desperate to get some more milk pumped just in case, but nothing seemed to be happening. The stress and anxiety of leaving her had clearly affected my milk supply and even Freya was picking up on my nerves and getting really naggy. My outfit didn't even occur to me until an hour before leaving when I realised I had nothing that would fit, resulting in my whole wardrobe on the floor and me sitting in a nest of maternity wear and size 40 clothes covered in baby sick absolutely sobbing.

It didn't help that earlier that day I had gone to get my hair cut so that I looked like some kind of super hot MILF on my first night out in months. I had internal slo-mo montages of me walking into the pub, hair blowing in the wind a la Beyonce, passers by totally awe-struck by how flipping fantastic this brand new mum looked.  Not to mention skinny. But the really lovely stylist made a major mistake and cut the front of my long hair into a bob on one side. I looked like some kind of asymmetric German lesbian from the 80's- mullets weren't sexy then and they aren't sexy now. So that was the shitty cherry on the shitty cake. Oh and then it rained.

At this point, the succession of disasters just became laughable and a feeling of SOD IT washed over me. I might be wearing a maternity top with sick on the sleeve cleverly concealed by my leather jacket (which has either shrunk in the wash or I've also put on weight on my shoulders), but I was going to go on this night out and bloody enjoy it of it killed me.  I ran out the door, making no eye contact with baby and we made our way, in the rain, into town. I absolutely felt like I'd left a part of me at home and unfortunately it wasn't my spare tyres of fat arse. It was like I couldn't get enough air in my lungs.

It was amazing to see all our friends. For the first time in six weeks I felt like young fun me again.  I'd even expressed enough milk that I could have four whole shandies, which went straight to my head after not drinking for over twelve months. I was a veritable party animal. 
At the start of the night, we bumped into another friend who had a baby not long before me. As I stood there chatting to her, her gorgeous baby started to cry in her pram and that oh-too familiar feeling of pins and needles covered my body. Total panic. Where is my baby and how could I have left her? But thankfully the feeling lasted for seconds and once that moment had passed, I realised that my boobs were indeed leaking. The sound of baby had actually made me leak milk- they weren't lying, it's a real thing. In true Holly style, I made a point of telling everyone that was in hearing range of this fact. In my head that meant I couldn't get embarrassed, not if I told them

The night was great and despite constantly checking my phone, it felt so good to watch the band play, dance with friends and catch up on what I'd been missing- which turned out to be, well, not much. Our social scene kind of carried on as it was whilst I was carrying a baby and being torn in two.  But the peak of night out piss-take was not long before we left. My boobs were at bursting point because I hadn't fed her for five hours and it was agonising; cut to me in the ladies bathroom, milking myself into the toilets. What have I become? The glamour was overwhelming.

The beautiful walk home along the River Severn.

At ten o'clock, I'd had just about enough of being the old me. I wanted my girl and was ready to go home. We left, letting everyone know that we 'had to get back to the baby'- I'm now that person on a night out. How times have changed. We walked home along the river and stopped to pick up a pizza en route just like the old days (only this one ended up in my mouth and not as a veggie supreme pillow and matching duvet. Oh those good old drunken days.) I burst through the front door to find my Mum gazing adoringly at our sleeping baby. She hadn't even noticed I'd gone.

We didn't venture out again for another ten weeks when we celebrated our three year wedding anniversary. We went for beautiful food at our friend's restaurant, Momonoki, and wandered around the town having drinks and enjoying each others company. At one point we realised that for about four hours, we hadn't uttered the words 'poo' or 'nappy.' It felt so good to be Kris and Holly the couple for a night.

Gorgeous anniversary food at 'Momonoki'

Date Night: celebrating three years of marriage.

So my wise Mum was right- couple time really is important. Whether it's once a month or every other month, remember your little human was born out of love and that is still a priority; happy parents means a happy baby. The wonderful thing about coming home now is that our little girl is there and the main challenge is not waking her up just to cuddle her cute little face off.

Mama La Rouge tips for venturing out for the first time after giving birth to your baby:

  • Make sure you feel ready to go out. It's quite an intense feeling of separation and you need to be certain you're ready for that. I know women that were totally ready just a month or so in and other's who couldn't leave their child until way after their first birthday. Both are just fine.
  • If you're breast feeding, make sure you start pumping a good few days in advance and freeze it/store in the fridge for up to five days. Don't make my mistake of leaving it until the last minute; the pressure to produce could be counter productive.
  • Depending on how long you are out for, be prepared that you may fill up with milk to bursting point. You may want to take a hand pump or hand express, especially in the early days.
  • Take it at your own pace- don't be pressured into staying out longer than you want to. This is a big step you're taking and you should feel proud of yourself for getting out there. Baby steps.
  • Get your OH to give you some pamper time. Have a bath, do your nails, spend time getting ready and picking out an outfit. You may feel self conscious wearing something you haven't for a year, but trust me you are rocking it. You just pushed out an entire person; you'd look like a rock star in a bin liner. 

Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Start of My Postpartum Weightloss: Breastfeeding, Slimming World and My Hipster Vegan Baby

*Wobble wobble wobble*

Sorry. That was just the sound of me walking over to start this blog.

Nineteen weeks after the birth of my beautiful little 10lb 0oz daughter and I've realised it's probably time to start shifting this mum tum and locate my core (which currently appears to be made up entirely of marshmallow.) Now I wasn't a skinny girl before I had her- quite the contrary. I'm a 5"11, size 16 big Mumma with fat rolls for days and a hefty appetite. Since I can remember, I have fluctuated between a size 12 and 16, doing various fad diets and exercise plans. Atkins, Weight Watchers, Paleo, Raw Food, Slim Fast- I've done them all and they worked to varying degrees.

My issue is that I LOVE food. I love the social element of eating out and sharing food with friends, I love to cook and experiment with ingredients and flavours, and I just love the taste of good food and the feeling of a full belly. I also used to love a glass of wine on a night out- ah who am I kidding: a bottle. So in order to not become the Michelin woman, I've always had to exercise and luckily I love doing it.

Just before we found out we were going to have Freya, I'd started on a bit of a health kick ready for the summer. I rejoined Slimming World (after the success of losing two stone in 9 weeks between October and December 2014) bought some weights and a bike and started to hammer the at-home exercise. It felt so good.  I documented everything I did on my Instagram fitness blog (@ larouge_on_a_mission) which kept me really focused and accountable for everything I was eating. I managed to lose a stone, really tone up and felt amazing. Then, on the morning of the 17th of July, the chunder bus came to town, fifteen clear blue tests confirmed I was pregnant (we really didn't believe it) and severe morning sickness was to ensue for the next 12 weeks. 

During that time, the weight fell off me. I just couldn't keep food down and hated the taste and smell of everything. The only thing I could stomach was ready salted crisps and toast. Kris and I took my stepson, Eli, and the dogs on a week long camping holiday to Shell Island. Despite the beautiful weather and the heavenly sound of the waves kissing the golden sands, it was like being trapped in the depths of burning Hell. While the boys took the canoe out in the ocean and went sea fishing, I sat on the beach in near 30 degree heat, periodically throwing up into little pre-made sand sick bowls before covering it up like a disgraced dog. Gross? Yes. Necessary? Yes. I was a disaster.

So when it came to my 10 week midwife appointment, I had lost another 7lbs.  Luckily, at around 13 weeks, the sickness passed and my appetite resumed in supersize.  I not only ate for two, but probably eight full sized adults. I was a monster. Oh and the sweet tooth- I've never eaten so much chocolate in my life. By the time 42 weeks pregnant happened, I was massive. But I loved it.  I've never felt so confident in my own skin as I did when I was pregnant. I wore tight tops for the first time in my life and even showed a little boob which is unheard of. I loved my body.

In the first few weeks postpartum, the weight fell off me as people had promised it would with breast feeding. But out of nowhere, my appetite became insatiable. All I wanted to do was eat! In retrospect, I put this down to feeding a very hungry baby girl on demand, my baby blues (I'm an emotional eater and I don't discriminate against which emotion- happy, sad, jealous- pass me a slice of cake) and exhaustion. I just wanted comforting.

At nine weeks postpartum, I had piled on the weight. But my body started to feel a little more normal and so I thought it was probably time to get my arse- currently the size of a small country- in to gear.  I joined a local club called Mummyfit. The first session was a boot camp with prams- it felt so good to be moving again and it was so much fun watching Freya giggle in her pram as I ran, inadvertently twerking like Nicki Minaj with every step on account of the newly acquired junk in my trunk. But it was hard. The trauma of third degree tears and the damage such a massive baby had done to my bladder meant that with every squat jump and burpee, a little bit of wee escaped. I'd become bloody incontinent. Great. It actually really upset me; I'd been doing my pelvic floor exercises religiously. But more than that, it kind of hurt. I'd suffered severe birthing injuries 'down there' and now I was pushing and pulling my body in such a way that it hadn't been for over nine months. That same week I attempted Mummy Spin- my favourite class pre-baby. But every time I sat down after a standing hill sprint, the pain was as though I was being impaled by the saddle and not in a good way. I hadn't realised that I was still black and blue between my legs.

This was not my time to start exercising.

After that, I returned to gentle walking to keep my activity levels up. But with my constant low moods I didn't want to cook or eat healthily. I wanted a big emotional cuddle from Ben & Jerry; I wanted to spoon them all night long and for them to tell me everything was going to be OK. Maybe several times a night. I definitely wasn't ready to start Slimming World despite people saying: 'oh it's such an easy diet with or without a baby.' So the take outs, ice cream and chocolate continued to feed my darkness and they would still be doing so now if Freya hadn't been diagnosed with CMP (cows milk protein) allergy.

The day we found out, it was week 14 of 'colic'. But I knew it was something more than that. Nobody knows your child better than you- not even doctors sometimes. So we took Freya to the Urgent Care Centre at the hospital where the doctor agreed Freya was in agony with her tummy and reflux and so referred us urgently to a paediatrician. In the meantime, I was told to cut out all dairy from my diet. But doctor, I'm currently on a prescription of ice cream and chocolate. What will I do?! 

This was probably the kick start I needed.  If anything was going to encourage me to stop eating that junk, it was the health of my baby. We went straight down to the super market and bought a range of soya products and immediately eliminated dairy from my diet. The difference to Freya in the first couple of weeks was unbelievable and to this day her stomach issues have totally subsided.

At this point I felt like it was the perfect time to start eating well and losing weight; my mind and body felt healthy. But because I was worried about my milk production I didn't want to do anything too extreme. That's when I was told about the Slimming World breast feeding programme; a diet totally supported by The Royal College of Midwifery. I had managed to lose so much weight before and could eat loads on the plan, so it made total sense to rejoin.

On Wednesday 5th August, I started my postpartum weight loss journey. The Slimming World food has been so good- hardly any restrictions which works well for me, just a little harder than last time as I try to figure out getting my Healthy Option 'A' (dairy) in due to my little hipster vegan baby. But we have started to figure it out. I also worked out three times with my personal trainer husband (I really have no excuse do I) and at long last I have built some pelvic floor strength and don't feel the urge to pee every time I move. Result.

Hello, normality. I've missed you.

At my first weigh in this week, I'd managed to lose 6.5lbs in six days. What an incentive to keep going. Plus my milk supply is as plentiful as ever* and I feel incredible. This is only the beginning - I have another 35lbs to lose before I reach my goal and even then I probably need to readjust my target. But it's a start and I'm so proud of myself for doing it, after all my mind and body have gone through.

So my Mama La Rouge tips on postpartum weight loss and dieting:

  • Don't rush in, especially if you had a traumatic labour. I did and set myself back by months.
  • You have to do it because you feel ready- don't feel pressurised by other mums who have those magical 'snap back' bodies or haven't gone through the same emotional and physical trauma of labour that you have. You will know when the time is right. Be led by your body.
  • Don't let weight loss even enter your head in the first few weeks. You are going through a lot- enjoy your baby, eat what makes you feel good and relax. My god, relax. I wish I'd listened to everyone and slept when she did. 
  • Slimming World is great for breast feeding Mummas. They encourage you to eat all the right foods for your baby and milk production. Plus you can eat so much, meaning you can beat the breast feeding uber appetite.
  • Start with gentle walks with baby in the sling or pram. Suck in your core as you walk (and the pelvic floors- you really need to do these) and enjoy spending time with your little angel. You can step it up a level when you're feeling ready.

I will be posting progress updates throughout my journey. I've got a bit of mountain to climb but I'm absolutely on it.


Click here to find your nearest Slimming World club; go and chat to their advisors about weight loss whilst breast feeding.

*I've also been taking 'Fenugreek' tablets to help with my milk production. I can't recommend them enough. Almost an immediate difference in my supply. I bought mine from Holland & Barrett.  

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Parenting 101: I Never Got My Copy

My first post gave you a little insight into the incredible roller coaster four months I've experienced as a newbie mum. The elation, the depression and all the soiled nappies and milk burps in between. But I barely touched on the level of crazy I actually reached during those introductory months of Motherhood. 

All new mums are nervous, that's a given. It's all totally alien. Buying the 'how to' books, whiling hours away on Baby Centre forums and googling every move and sound your baby makes. But I took this to a whole new level. I'm talking 'coo-coo', someone give the girl a Valium type levels of cray cray.

As I mentioned in my first post, my 42 week long pregnancy revolved around studying and practicing hypnobirthing and preparing myself for labour. I was an expert in the art of taking my mind to my 'happy place'; I could breath away pain [in through my nose to the count of 4, out through my nose to the count of 8] and feel absolute calm through the practice of rainbow relaxation [breath in the colour of blue, glide through fields of purple, breathe love down to your baby.] I was able to completely zone out and enter a beautiful state of meditation and despite the horror story labour that was to unfold, I still absolutely believe that these hypnobirthing techniques allowed me to remain totally calm and silent during labour and manage the pain of contractions. But amongst that stack of well-thumbed pregnancy and birth books on the coffee table, sat not one single book entitled: "What The Bloody Hell You Do Once The Baby Is Here: 1st Ed"

But I was told I'd 'J Breathe' my baby out on a chuffing rainbow! A baby that didn't shit or cry or need feeding every 2.5 minutes... Why did nobody tell me I had forgot the bit when she actually arrived?

Now I'd like to specify at this point that I'd managed to get to thirty without ever having held a newborn baby. Never changed a nappy, never seen a baby be breast or bottle fed, never thought about what they do in a day and certainly never considered what night time with a baby might look like. This was absolutely foreign territory and almost as soon as I arrived home, I had to radio in the troops for back up and supplies (meaning my Mum, chocolate and a shed load of it.) Mum was here pretty much constantly. She would stay over and sleep in my bed with me when Kris was on nights because I didn't want to be alone. She likes to laugh now at one phone call she received from me when we first arrived home from hospital: "Yeah Hi, Mum. Oh yeah we're fine thanks. Uh- Mum... what do I actually do with her when she's awake?" This was a real thing. I had no idea.

Part of what makes Kris and I a perfect match is that we have the same interests, the same outlook on life, the same naughty sense of humour and the same life values. We are a total cliché in that he genuinely is my best friend.  But we are polar opposites when it comes to how we handle certain situations- I over think everything where he is super laid back, almost blasé. But more often than not we find a perfect balance by coming to a middle ground in our decision making (or this is what I lead him to believe- we still do it my way, obviously.) However in the context of handling a new baby, this same formula didn't apply. Kris did you hear the way she just cried, is she struggling to breathe of maybe she is choking? NAH doubt it, go to sleep [snores like a pig.] I was on the verge of calling 999 at every wet fart; Kris would sleep through the night and was phased by nothing.

Now this laid back approach should have been a good influence on me; he had been-there-and-done-that eleven years ago with his gorgeous son, Eli. But it didn't. It made me panic even more, spend my life consulting Dr. Google and turned me into your archetypal bunny boiler. I googled everything:

"Baby just burped whilst simultaneously looking left, is it terminal?"
"Baby cries even though I'm giving her everything she needs. Does she hate me?"
"Baby tries to suck nose when hungry. Visually impaired? Clearly looks nothing like a nipple."
"Baby three weeks old healthy poo pictures."

OK so some of those are made up, but if anyone saw my Google search history I'd have been sectioned (including utterly hilarious questions about the recovery of my 'lady bits', which I'm happy to report after 18 weeks are fully back to normal, answering my "will it forever look like a windsock?" google search.)

Now we've departed the so-called fourth trimester where babies just sleep-crap-eat-repeat, the real hard work has begun. Having regained relative sanity, I'm slowly realising that there are absolutely no definitive answers. There is no text book in the world that will detail the perfect way to raise a baby. In fact, every single text book will tell you a totally different 'perfect' way to do it which- if you're anything like me- will make your head slowly implode.

Sleep is the massive one for us at the moment. Freya absolutely refuses to sleep- she lulled us into a false sense of security during the first four months by sleeping anywhere and everywhere. Now, she will fight and fight it -there's far more interesting things to do when she is awake apparently- and so I have to catch her in that tiny window  of 'tired but not too tired' in order to put her down to nap. At bed time, for some reason, she seems to channel Michael Flatley and flails her legs around as if she is Lord of the flipping Dance. This is followed by about ten attempts to keep her sleeping before I dash out of the room like Ninja Mum, desperately trying to avoid every creaky floor board in our Victorian semi. So if one more person asks me: "is she sleeping through the night yet?", I'm liable to whack out some of my Jiu Jitsu moves circa 1996. No. She does not sleep through the night. In fact, having reached the well known 'four month sleep regression", she actually wakes up nearly once hourly some nights. Oh and she doesn't self-settle either. Cue smug face as 'little Harry slept through from night one!'

I bet Harry shits solid gold bars and farts glitter too.

The suggested methods are endless: 'cry-it-out' vs 'no-cry techniques' and everything in between. Just as you think you've decided on a route to go down, some research pops up that suggests "letting a baby cry itself to sleep is psychologically harmful.  The child will grow up thinking they cannot trust their parents and will exhibit trust issues in adult life." Brilliant. So we will go the 'no-cry' gentle parenting route then: 'Not if you want to sleep ever again in your whole life EVER.'

The truth is, there is no one size fits all. Just as every adult has a different personality and temperament, as do our babies. When I get frustrated that Freya won't go to sleep on demand, I remember that I sometimes struggle to sleep. Sometimes it's too bright, my head is too busy, I'm stressed or I've had a really exciting day. Now that Freya is at the age where babies have sleeping patterns more like an adult (this happens around the four month mark), she too may find it hard to sleep sometimes. However, there are folks (like Kris) who are lucky enough that they can fall asleep anywhere and everywhere and again, some babies are lucky enough to be the same. This helps me manage the utter frustration that bedtime sometimes brings.

It turns out my baby would rather stay awake all day and night partying just like her Mumma: she has to nurse to sleep otherwise we have a mini meltdown; she can't seem to nap anywhere but our dimly lit and quiet bedroom so we have a two hour window to go out of the house before the next nap (unless we go for a drive where she will sleep almost instantly); sometimes taking her out in public is hard work if she is having a bad day; she can't self settle because for four months I didn't know whether she was crying from agonising pain and needed me (which turned out to be the case) or if I should just leave her to cry so that she learned how to get back to sleep herself. It is hard. But I'm not jealous or bitter: she is mine and I love her so much it hurts. Utterly beautiful, a kindness in her smile that warms my heart and a wisdom in her eyes that makes me feel she has been here before. Despite all the hard times with colic, dairy allergies, chronic reflux, teething and her own frustration at not being able to do the things she wants to yet (little Miss Independent), she is our perfect princess.

As far as I'm concerned, if your baby will only go to sleep while you stand on one leg, patting your head with one hand, rocking him in the other whilst singing Metallica's 'Enter Sandman' backwards in Finnish,  then you do that.

I wish I had spent less time reading the 'how to' books and just did it. You will find a way that suits you and your family-whatever your hurdle or challenge- and you might have to change the way you do things every week to suit the ever changing needs of your baby. But never forget that you are doing amazingly, despite how tired or frustrated you may be some days. You created that tiny little energy-draining, all-encompassing, life-fulfilling human. What a bloody miracle. Every day s/he grows and develops is another day you've absolutely nailed it.


NB. One book and app I have to recommend is 'The Wonder Weeks'. Click here to find out more. It might just save your sanity- no parenting advice as such and again no definitive answers, just a lot of 'this is a normal developmental thing' from a bunch of doctors that have studied baby behaviour and development for 35 years. Plus it's really interesting. Freya has been a text-book case of every developmental behaviour leap they outline. 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

New Beginnings: A Why and Wherefore

I've wanted to start a blog for years, but despite my annoyingly overactive brain, my continuous internal monologues, my love for the written word and my ability to find myself in the midst of the most unusual and extraordinary situations, I've never really known where to start. I have done a fair amount of travelling, but my spare time was spent boozing and dancing my nights away with my twenty - something counterparts. I have plenty to say about music, film and the arts, but could never decipher my audience or purpose. Then, twelve months ago, life as I knew it changed forever.

I met my husband in 2007- I had returned home to Shropshire, disillusioned after my second attempt at London living, and decided that after being pursued by him for years, I was going to let this attractive father of one take me out. Fast forward five years and we married in the beautiful Spanish town of Nerja.  In that time I qualified as an English teacher and secured a position at a lovely local school, we brought two furry babies into our family and moved house three times. By 2014, we decided that perhaps it was time to bring another tiny little ginger human into the world. What we didn't expect was to hit a bump in the road before we had even got the chance to pick up speed.  

My husband found out that he would find it very difficult to conceive a child naturally and though he could, getting fertility help wasn't off the cards. Seven months of ovulation tests, fertility apps and reminder alarms later and we finally managed to do it ourselves (I'll skim over the part where I sent Kris a text to tell him to 'hurry home sexy; I'm ovulating and in bed waiting' only to find I'd sent it to my Dad. One panicked phone call to my mother later and the phone was retrieved and messaged deleted.)

Though I never forgot the miracle of pregnancy or the blessing we were given, it had its highs and lows. Lows: 12 weeks of first trimester morning sickness, becoming stressed with work and being signed off when my blood pressure sky - rocketed and moving house at 41 weeks pregnant. Highs: feeling my little human growing and moving inside me, feeling closer than ever to Kris and adoring my pregnancy body.  

Getting ready for the arrival of baby was fun: attending hypnobirthing classes; baby shopping; ALL of the baby name books and half hourly name suggestion texts to my (then policeman) husband; building cots; baby showers and decorating the nursery. But despite reading every book going about labour (which was a futile exercise as everything I read and planned went out the window. My serene, candle lit, atmospheric ocean sounds, no pain hypnobirth turned into a week in hospital, four inductions, water broken via massively unnatural sharp stabby object, intense contractions, 28 hour labour, short lived birthing pool stint, failed epidural, forceps delivery followed by 900ml blood loss and roughly ONE MILLION stitches to my third degree tears) nothing prepared me for the real challenge. Motherhood.

The moment I held Freya Ivy Rose in my arms, my body was overwhelmed with love. I looked into her beautiful eyes and the dawning realisation that she solely relied on me washed over me in a cocktail of sheer joy and utter fear. Here I am, a thirty year old woman who still has to call her Mummy to get her advice on what to wear that day, now totally in charge of keeping this perfectly fragile and utterly reliant little being alive. That first night alone together in a dark hospital ward, two drips in my arm, a catheter installed, totally bed bound, wound dressings being changed every two hours (by a nurse that was my ex- boyfriends current fiancee- a whole different blog) was scary. Just me and her. Nobody else on the ward, the nurses a panic button away, husband at home in our bed, visitors gone- what do I actually do with you, little one? Tears of joy flowed, panic raised from my chest to my throat, my heart felt like it beat only for her yet the fear of responsibility was overwhelming me to the point of regression and calling MY Mum to come and look after ME. I panicked that I wasn't ready for this. 

After our first wobbly night together, waking to see her face in the perspex box beside me was probably on par with the combined feeling of joy of every Christmas and birthday rolled into one.  I don't think I will ever experience that particular feeling again. Pure and overwhelming happiness. There began the tears that would flow continually for about six weeks. Tears of love, agonising pain as I tried to function with my internal and external stitches, from the flashbacks of my horrific birthing experience- I was a total basket case.

Baby blues hit me pretty hard. My dignity went out the window as I peed in the shower to stop the stinging from my stitches. I didn't leave the house for fear of something happening with baby that I couldn't handle and strangers looking on at the terrible new mother that couldn't make her baby stop crying. Breast feeding was painful and left me with bleeding nipples and mastitis. I felt utterly helpless as she screamed in agony at what was dubbed colic for 14 weeks but would later be diagnosed as dairy and lactose intolerance (a lesson learned in ALWAYS trusting my motherly instincts and again another blog!). I wondered why other mummies made it look so easy yet I felt so utterly crap and incapable. Those were dark days. 

Four months later and though my life is ruled by nap times and I'm still woken up at least every two hours throughout the night (I write with baby using my boob as a pacifier as I feed her on my third wake of the night- it's 11.45pm!), I'm starting to feel like the old me. Well, the new old me. 

So here starts new beginnings. This blog is going to be some in retrospect of the last four months and mostly the experiences we share as a family as we start our journey through life. Expect some rants, some reviews, a little about music, film, food, health, relationships but above all some very frank accounts of life as 'La Rouge: The 30 Year Old Mummy Version'


**La Rouge is a nickname I was given many years ago by two beautiful friends on account of my red hair. Maybe also my sexy and mysterious worldliness. But almost certainly just because of my red hair.