Together

Sleep, sleep, sleep. I’ve spent so long thinking about it, worrying about it, trying to fix it. I’ve written several pieces for the blog about Arthur’s sleep and how difficult it’s been, but I’ve canned all of them. They all seem so moany, so ungrateful somehow. How dare I complain about this gorgeous boy, this boy I longed for for so long when he can’t help it and he’s only a baby?

The fact is that even the parents with that amazing baby who sleeps through the night from 6 weeks onwards will eventually come a cropper with sleep. Maybe it’s worse if you’ve had it that good to suddenly go back to multiple night wakings or (shudder) the 2-4am party. I don’t know; I can only go on my own consistently grim experience. Arthur has always been fine at napping and found sleep at night difficult. At his worst he wakes up once an hour (thankfully we haven’t seen those days for a while), at his best he’ll do one middle of the night feed then wake very early to start the day. Those nights have always been rare, but it’s been my mission to achieve that as a starting point. None of this “sleeping through” nonsense for us. I honestly think I’d be awake with crippling anxiety if he did that anyway.

Arthur is very advanced in a lot of ways. He’s been zooming about the place since eleven months, has amassed an impressive vocabulary for one so little (although he’s still to give me any kind of name consistently), can tell you where lots of body parts are and makes some impressive animal noises. He’s great fun. But he’s still only fourteen months old, which by any standards isn’t a long time to be in the world. He’s been poorly for pretty much the entire winter which has ramped up breastfeeding again, and now he’s old enough to ask for it he also understands when he’s told he can’t have it, and that makes him sad. For the last few weeks, in order to try and get him a bit of sleep we’ve given in and pushed him to sleep in the pram upstairs and left him there while we have something of an evening. The problem with that tactic is that he has to be transferred, and as any parent of a newborn knows that’s pretty hit and miss, never more so when the baby in question is a pretty heavy lump rendering stealth unlikely.

However, for the past two nights we’ve managed to go back to those heady nights of one short wake-up. I think I’ve figured out what he’s trying to say to us, why he struggles so much.

He needs to be with us.

We’ve tried him in his own room on and off since six months, but it’s never lasted. I’ve always thought that was just for my convenience; multiple night wakings for a breastfed baby are much, much easier if that baby is in the same room. For the last two nights, however, after his bath (and making sure I’d given plenty of milk feeds in the hours prior to bed), I’ve put Arthur in his trusty travel cot in our room and sat with him. He has books and his teddy; I have my book too. He complains a little, chats a little, picks his nose to make me laugh, reaches out his hand to me in protest. It’s adorable. I smile and ask him to try and go to sleep. More dancing. Then it happens. The key in the lock.

“Who’s that?” I ask him. A huge, beaming smile comes over his face. “Da-dee?” he asks. His Dad bounds up the stairs, two at a time, desperate to see his lad. They have a touching little chat, and Arthur demonstrates where his eyes, nose, mouth and ears are, sometimes getting them wrong on purpose with a little grin. After a few minutes, his Daddy kisses him and goes downstairs to make dinner. Arthur looks at me and cries, so I get him out of the cot and feed him.

He falls asleep. He knows we’re all home, together, and that’s what he’s been missing. That knowledge that his beloved Daddy has come home.

When we come up to bed he stirs a little but just rolls over. He knows we’re there and he’s happy with that. We sleep, all three of us together, just as families have since families began. I don’t wake and strain to hear him; I don’t need to. He’s right next to me.

He won’t be little forever, and when he’s older and more independent I can’t imagine ever regretting the nights he needed us to be together in order to sleep. I won’t get this again. Time to stop wondering how to fix what doesn’t need fixing. Time to start enjoying the process.

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When your baby gets a little bit older you’re sort of expected to go back “to normal”. People stop offering help, and start expecting you to be back to the way you used to be. As if you had some kind of lengthy convalescence and are now back to full health.

The thing is, though, you’re not.

Your joints still ache from breastfeeding. Your back hurts. You get barely enough sleep to survive. Your body feels like it’s been rearranged somehow; it’s still not entirely yours. And that’s not even thinking about the psychological effects of having a baby; the lasting effects of PND or PNA, constantly worrying about the little person you brought into the world and love so much you’re bewildered and frightened by it. After a year has passed you’re probably trying to juggle work with parenting, and, if you’re a stay at home parent, you might be bored out of your brain. Whichever path you’ve chosen (or been forced into due to circumstances) you more than likely feel guilty. It probably gnaws at you.

Whatever you’re doing right now, at this moment, your little person is there, in the background on a loop in your mind as you worry about whether you packed enough snacks for tomorrow and whether that rash us just post-viral and whether it would be selfish to get your partner to take over for a couple of hours so you can meet up with your friend who’s going through tough times.

I don’t have any answers for you, I’m so sorry. I won’t trot out the cliché “you got this” because if you’re anything like me a) you find it annoying and b) you feel very much as though you don’t got this.

All I will say is that I’m pretty sure most women feel like this after having a baby, and that it takes a lot longer than twelve months to get over pregnancy and birth, especially if you’ve endured trauma in either or both. All I will say is it’s OK. You’re OK, or, if you aren’t, you probably will be soon. Try as much as you can to reclaim something you used to love; even if it’s just relaxing in the bath with a paperback. Cling to your mum friends, because they know. They really do. And this:

Well done.


Arthur is nearly 11 months old. In some ways it feels as though my tiny baby disappeared in the blink of an eye, but mostly it feels as though he’s been here forever. In the blur and fog of the first year, it’s hard to remember what it was like before he showed up, perfect despite everything, and we lost ourselves to him. Now he’s almost a toddler really; pushing around the baby walker I found at a charity shop for peanuts, turning over all his toys with wheels to examine them intently like a baby mechanic, babbling as though he really wants us to understand him. 
I’m still breastfeeding. In all honesty, I thought I would have stopped by now but we’re dealing with a very specific set of circumstances. When I started to offer Arthur food five months ago (is it really that long?) he started to show signs of something called an IGE Mediated Allergic Reaction. Put simply, certain foods give him an alarming rash. Eggs, dairy, soy, citrus and banana are all off the table. I check ingredients obsessively, making sure he isn’t going to consume anything that will make him poorly. He can’t have any commercially available formulas as they all contain one or more of the things he’s allergic to.
In addition to this issue, Arthur won’t take food from a spoon. By necessity we’re doing ‘Baby-Led Weaning’ which means he hardly eats anything at all, and he also won’t take a bottle or drink water from a sippy cup yet. 
Breastfeeding is wonderful, a perfect cuddle, stillness in a busy day and a chance to check on Arthur at night. It helped us to get that elusive bond from day one, and I’ll always be so grateful that we were able to do it first time. But after such a long time of being my baby’s only real energy source, I find I’m tired. I’m starting to look forward to a time I can say yes to evening invitations, or to going out on the weekends for longer than three hours. I want to know that next year I’ll be able to organise some childcare without worrying that he’s not going to eat anything for hours. My hair and skin are suffering under the strain of my body providing nutrition for someone else for so long. My shoulders and back are always sore, as are my joints because of the relaxin that’s still being released into my system. Teeth make it very uncomfortable. I’m tired from having to get up at least once every night to feed, meaning I haven’t had an unbroken night’s sleep in nearly a year. My husband can’t really parent in the way I’d like him to (or the way he’d like to) because Arthur is still so dependent on me. It’s me he needs when he wakes up in the night, only me who can do bedtimes and first thing in the morning wake-ups. So, as a way of learning from my experiences, here’s what I’d recommend to other breastfeeding mothers in the early months based on my experience. Hope it’s helpful to someone!
Introduce a bottle and offer it consistently
At  5 months Arthur was able to take a bottle, and we’d offer it sporadically on the very rare occasions Will was parenting solo. To my regret we didn’t keep doing it, and by 7 months when we tried again he angrily rejected it. We’ve tried tonnes of different teats, all to no avail. He just won’t have it. I can’t help thinking that he might have found drinking from a cup a little easier if he’d realised he could actually suck from a bottle!
Introduce foods one by one and monitor for reactions
I had never even considered that Arthur might have food allergies. I blithely assumed he’d be just like me and be able to eat anything. If I had my time to do over again I wouldn’t crash straight in and offer everything at once the way I did this time, and I would (despite all current advice) start with the blandest foods, one at a time, which is what I eventually had to do on the helpful advice of a friend who’s been there before. It was hard to tell at first what he’d reacted to, and I didn’t even realise the rash was a problem until I raised it with my wonderful online Mum group. The only way to tell what was going on was to give those foods again, and I really think part of Arthur’s reluctance to eat is that he remembers those early reactions. I’d also (sorry, sorry BLWers) offer a spoon consistently every day. Even if I had done this there’s no guarantee, but I suspect Arthur might be a little further on with his eating and I might be able to leave him with someone else once in a while!
I know just how many women try to breastfeed and find it impossible, and I’m really glad and grateful for our success. Having said that, when the time comes to finally move on I think I’ll be glad that Arthur can be a little more independent. As we say in our group “This too shall pass”. Until then, my boob monster and I will keep plodding on.
Good luck with your feeding, however you’re doing it!

The Humble Travel Cot And Why It Is Awesome

I’ll admit it, I never expected our cheap Red Kite travel cot to become our son’s main bed. We had this beautiful inherited sleigh cot, snowy white and gorgeous and so lovely in the nursery. It looked like the perfect picture of a baby’s room you’d see on Pinterest or Instagram.

 

When we were ready for Arthur to move into a bigger bed at 4 months (he’s incredibly tall and was starting to outgrow our side-sleeper, plus my back was killing me), I had the idea of putting him in the travel cot in our room as we’d done at my parents’ house. It worked a treat. Once I’d got over not having him right next to me, we were golden. Still in our room, still next to us, just in his own bed with a nice extra mattress we’d bought for the purpose.

 

A month or so after that we decided we’d move him into his own room. How exciting! Getting our own room back! More sleep! Finally using that gorgeous cot!

 

Nope.

 

Firstly, we hadn’t reckoned on Arthur’s thrashing around. In his travel cot with the stretchy sides it was absolutely fine for him to roll over and over in his sleep, because there was nothing to bash him. All nice and soft and fun to make silly faces against. In the wooden cot he would repeatedly wake himself up with a limb stuck out the side, crying. Enter the ‘airwrap’ cot bumper, a safe breathable mesh to stop that happening. Great, worked for a few nights, but then Arthur started crawling, practising even when he was asleep. Now he was banging his little head into the solid end of the cot. And, yes, waking himself up.

 

After agonising over it for a few days (the cot! The beautiful cot!) we were resigned. Arthur crawls in his sleep, pulls himself up to standing and is generally a night time menace. To ensure that the sleep we did get was less punctuated by anxiety dreams about him maiming himself as we slumbered, we agreed to give up, take that lovely white cot down and let him sleep in his beloved travel cot.

 

As it turns out, it was a blessing. Arthur loves his bed, and is happy in there playing as I get everything ready for bedtime. He sleeps better (OK, it’s still not great but much, much better), and we’ve even bought another one to act as a playpen for downstairs when I need a break from chasing his little bottom round the living room. When we go away we take his actual bed from home, which is great for him. But the real dream is the weekend. We obviously don’t get a lie-in any more, but now we just bring Arthur’s bed into our room and let him play and nap in there. He can’t fall off the bed that way, and we still have a lovely time all together. And naps. Did I mention we all nap at the same time?

 

I’d say that’s worth retiring the beautiful cot for now.