Hot Chocolate Stories

For as long as I can remember I’ve had this thing for hot chocolate. It’s not so much a drink as a state of mind; soothing, nourishing, decadent and delicious. I don’t drink it that often; it’s as if I forget it exists for a while and then have a sudden wild enthusiasm for it and have it every night for a week.

At the moment I can’t have dairy because of my son’s allergies. Perhaps because of that I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had. I remember them in a way I’d never remember a cup of tea or coffee (although my Dad definitely does the same thing with coffee and has spent his life trying to recreate one he had in Crete in 1978).

A Spanish Stroll

I was seven and we were staying on the Balearic island of Menorca. We’d just been out for tea, me, my parents and my little brothers, and we were strolling through some sand dunes near a lighthouse when we came upon one of those lovely bar/cafes you get on the continent. I don’t remember much about it except for the cool parasols and the fact that it was twilight, and I was wearing my new shawl, because lace shawls were all the rage just then; and that mum and I had hot chocolate. I can still see the thick glass, the sediment in the bottom, and taste the rich sweetness of it. God, it was good. I’d never tasted anything like it before. I’ve never found anything like it since.

A French Breakfast

We used to go camping to France every year from when I was nine. One year we arrived on French soil very early in the morning, and we all had the kind of appetite you get after a long journey. We started the drive and had to “keep our eyes peeled” for somewhere to eat breakfast.

Passing through a small town we found a café. Well, I say café but it was actually someone’s front room. We were excited about the fresh, crunchy bread with little pats of butter, the croissants and the steaming coffee, but ten-year-old me asked for hot chocolate. Perhaps I was thinking back to Menorca.

Do you remember those battered metal jugs for water at primary school? The ones that beaded with condensation when the water was cold on a hot day?

The friendly woman (waitress? chef?) brought out one of those. It was steaming, and she set it in front of me. It was full to the brim of creamy, foamy, delicious hot chocolate. “Is this all for me?” I asked, stunned. The woman didn’t speak English but she understood the sentiment of what I said and nodded. Mum (who seems to be ever-present in my hot chocolate stories) peered over delightedly. I hope I offered her some, because I know that jug of delight defeated me and we had to go when I was barely halfway down it.

Hot chocolate served in a jug. Perfect.

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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.

One Year

It’s a little bit late, but I wanted to mark Arthur’s first birthday by writing him a letter.

Dear Arthur,

12 months. One whole trip around the sun. A year has come and gone since you burst into our lives, and it’s been tough, and wonderful, and awe-inspiring and hilarious.

Now you’re one there’s a lot happening with you. You started walking at 11.5 months, which was so exciting. I love watching you tearing around, investigating everything and pulling everything apart. You’re saying some words now, too. For a long while your favourite word was “Daddy”, even to the point of chanting it round Sainsbury’s. Your first proper word was “duck” but we haven’t heard it since. You say “Arthur!” tenderly as you recognise yourself in the mirror and give yourself a kiss. You’re also pretty good at “Wow!” and “Oh!” but my favourite word so far has to be “bauble” which has replaced all other words as you’re so pleased with it. No Mama, not yet. Why would you need it? I’m always here, after all. And I’m beginning to be concerned that you think my name is Boob anyway.

So, what else are you up to? Books. You love love love them. You’re never happier than when sat in a big pile of your books, turning pages upside down happily to yourself. You prefer to do this whilst listening to music in your bedroom. I didn’t get to that stage until I was at least 12, so well done there.

You’re funny. So, so funny, and you know it, too. Thankfully you still do your Roland Rat laugh, only now it’s accompanied by the cheekiest of grins, with plenty teeth. You love it when we chase you, especially if you notice the gate to the stairs has been left open and there’s an opportunity for some climbing.

You have so many amazing toys, but right now you’re not that interested. What’s more important to you is practising your walking, up and down, up and down the hall. You’re often carrying something as you go; a toy car, dolly, perhaps even the coaster I got from a wedding in Nice years ago. That’s a particular favourite. You’re sociable and loving and you adore other children, but Daddy and I are still your favourites.

Hopefully, as you enter your second year, I’ll be a bit more with it. It’s a tough gear to get into, parenthood, and I wasn’t always sure I was doing the right thing. I did my best, and that seems to be enough for you. As long as we get our sticky cuddles and kisses every time you toddle over to me, only to race off again, I think we’ll be OK. There’s a lot of fun stuff waiting for us this year. More talking, more playing, more holidays, more tearing about. Crayons, sticker books, play-doh and glitter. Trips to the zoo, trips to the seaside, chips and chocolate and apples and carrots. All of that and more.

I’m so glad you came along. I’m so glad we get to be your parents. I’m so proud of you. Keep being you, Little Droid. You’re the best person we’ve ever met.

Love,

Boob.


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!

Breastfeeding

(Before you read this, please be aware that this is based on my own experience only. I am not a trained expert, and provide useful links at the end of the piece directing you to people who are. I also think that however you feed your baby is great, whether you’re doing breast or bottle; I’m of the opinion that fed is best. Keep on keeping on, and if this isn’t useful to you I hope I’ll write something else that will be).

It’s a thorny issue, how we choose (or are forced by circumstance) to feed our babies. I was very clear during my pregnancy that I wasn’t going to put myself through the wringer if breastfeeding was too hard. I’d had the most dreadful pregnancy I could have imagined that still had a healthy outcome, and I wanted to let myself off the hook. I felt roughly the same about it as I did about labour vs c-section; however it happens is how it happens. However, nobody beats themselves up quite like a mother.

It was a bit of a surprise to me that Arthur really took to breastfeeding. It was really interesting that he didn’t seem too bothered about what the kind, NHS midwives and breastfeeding experts had told us about how it was supposed to work. We got into the recovery room, lovely Mary the Midwife put the baby onto my chest and helped him to my nipple; and that was that. He was on. He didn’t ‘scoop a big mouthful of breast’ as we were told. He just opened his mouth and sucked. Of course, there was a little more to it later. That would be when I’d start second-guessing myself and wondering if I was doing it ‘right’. I suspect literally every mother with access to Dr. Google goes through that stage, however hard or easy they find it. And make no mistake, some people DO find it hard, but there is a lot of excellent help available.

“If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong”

This is one of the things spouted when I was pregnant that makes me a bit cross in retrospect. My friend summed it up best when she said “Some babies find it easy, some find it hard, but the reality is your nipples have gone from having nothing sucking on them for 24 hours a day to having something sucking on them for 24 hours a day, They’re going to be a bit sore.” This was absolutely the best advice I received. Yes, it can REALLY hurt if your baby is struggling to latch, and if that’s the case you need help, but to suggest you’ll just blithely experience absolutely no discomfort if you’re “doing it right” is rubbish. If your baby is producing wet nappies (and the occasional dirty one) you’re grand. Just keep trowelling on the Lanolin cream until this phase passes, which it will.

“If they can’t do it straight away you need to move on to formula”

Not unless they’re not producing nappies and they’re losing weight. Babies need to learn everything. They even need to learn this. Yes, it is instinct, but they’ve never done it before. If you’re committed to the idea of breastfeeding, keep going and keep feeding on demand.

“It’s called breastfeeding, not nipple feeding”

Right, so if I try to latch him onto the side of my breast, that’ll work, will it? I was so confused by this one. My husband and I spent that first day convinced Arthur was doing it wrong because he didn’t have a “big mouthful of breast”. Everyone who stopped by took one look at him, nodded and told us he had the measure of it. We couldn’t understand it. What had they all been going on about then?

It was only recently (7 months into breastfeeding) that I realised if I was away for a while and needed to relieve a bit of pressure that it was my nipple I should squeeze to get milk out. Literally, this happened last week. Up until then I’d been kneading the whole thing like I was making bread or something. I’m pretty ashamed of how long it took me to get this. I used to be quite bright.

“ You’re feeding him too much”

No, you’re not. You can’t. If he wants to feed, let him feed. It doesn’t matter if it’s because he’s hungry, or tired, or because he just wants comfort; WHO advice is to offer the breast if your baby cries. If they don’t take it, they’re not hungry. Just smile, nod, and tell the kind advice-offerer you’re following current guidelines (rather than those of 40 years ago, add that if you’re really fed up). It’s really important to understand that at the beginning, as one wise midwife put it, your baby is “putting his order in”. At the beginning there’s no proper milk, only colostrum, and so baby needs to spend ages at the breast. When your milk comes in (and my, isn’t that unpleasant, sorry ladies) it’s supposed to calm down a bit. In my experience, that meant Arthur went from feeding all through the night to maybe 70 per cent of it. It was fine. It was normal. I was just terrified that it wasn’t.

“You need to start her on solids”

There’s a lot of guff about this. I decided to start giving Arthur some solid food at 5 months, and almost immediately wished I hadn’t. He wasn’t ready. He had IGE Mediated Allergic reactions (red rash on his face) to pretty much everything at first, and I have been kicking myself for doing it ever since, because now I have something else to worry about. Now I’m worried that I’ve caused the intolerance by starting him on food early. Pretty much impossible, but hey, Mum Guilt. NHS advice now is that milk feeds are the most important way a baby gets nutrition until they’re 1 year old. If only I had trusted the good old NHS and really waited until I was sure. The bottom line here is you know your baby. Trust yourself, because you are the best expert here, even as a first-time mum. Nobody else has raised your baby, after all. There are babies that sleep round the clock, there are babies that barely nap. There are babies who walk at nine months, and there are babies who refuse to lift a hoof until 18 months. They are all different. Trust yourself, and if you need to, seek expert medical advice.

“You need to move on”

This is really a judgement call. I thought that once you hit six months and the baby miraculously took to eating like a pro, drinking out of a sippy cup as if swigging a pint of best bitter, you could just, you know, stop. Boy, was I naive.

Babies have to learn to do everything.

Arthur doesn’t really understand what the sippy cup is for. He likes the bright colours and enjoys putting it in his mouth the right way, but when the water comes out he jumps, amazed. What’s this stuff? Weird, wet stuff I have a bath in. What’s it doing in my mouth, then? Curious. Maybe I’ll just bash it against my high chair instead. Ooh, nice noise. Do you like, Mum?

Even just today, I got it in my head we needed to start giving him a bottle of formula to give me a bit of a break every now and then. Wouldn’t that be nice, I thought. Well, for starters he’s forgotten how to take a bottle so just chews the teat and squeezes it, and cries for boob. He also appears to have had The Reaction around his mouth, meaning I can add ‘dairy’ to the list of things to give a wide berth for a while. I called my Mum, expecting her to tell me to keep trying and it would be fine, but as ever, I was surprised.
“He’s a breastfed baby” she told me. “If it’s working, why would you change it?”

Why, indeed. Good luck with it everyone, and remember, there are a ton of really excellent places to go to for advice. Here are the best I’ve found.

http://kellymom.com/

https://abm.me.uk/ (Association of Breastfeeding Mothers)

https://www.laleche.org.uk/ (La Leche League UK)

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/breastfeeding-first-days.aspx

http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/ (World Health Organisation)

 

 

 

 

 

Stretch Marks and Scars

I was 35 when Arthur was born which had never been my intention. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t one of those people with a “plan” to have two kids by 30 or anything, but I sort of thought it would be earlier (and easier) than this.

Having said that, being an older prima gravida does have some advantages. A lot of friends and family had their babies quite a while ago, so I’d already changed my fair share of nappies. I’d also heard a lot of truthful birthing stories, so my Birth Plan was basically “Get the baby out without killing either of us and we’re cool”. No home water births for us. I read the hypnobirthing book with a healthy dose of scepticism. (Read: I giggled like a loon at the idea of my atheist joker of a husband reading aloud the visualisations during birth. I thought it might give us a laugh though).

One of the most interesting personal developments to come out of all of this though is a genuine respect for my own body. The media likes to bang on about getting one’s “figure back” or being your “pre-birth weight”. Honestly I’ve realised that in the heat of parenting, when you got up more times in the night than an elderly incontinent, a bit of sugar is the least you deserve. I was back to my “pre-birth weight” pretty quickly, but that’s mainly because of HG and the fact I wasn’t skinny to begin with thanks to four years of comfort eating. My post-natal body is quite something.

My breasts are hilarious. Huge, saggy, stretch-marked and one is at least two cup sizes bigger than the other. My husband regularly sings “Hooray, up she rises/She’s got breasts of different sizes” when I wander round nude. Which I do all the time now, because I just Do Not Care. So liberating.

My belly has a lot going on, too. I remember thinking I’d got away without stretch marks until after the birth when I finally dared to look in the mirror. Ah. There they are then. I don’t really mind them at all now, despite my obsessive use of products to keep them at bay while pregnant (newsflash: these work about as well as wrinkle or cellulite creams).

I love my c-section scar. I think it’s cool, like a tattoo or piercing. Sadly it’s not visible thanks to the overhanging spongy flesh. I won’t be wearing bikinis any time soon, but honestly I didn’t wear them before anyway.

I’ve called a truce with my body. We’re OK now. I’m unlikely to ever be a size 10 ever again and that’s fine. I recently watched an old family home movie on which 13-year old me was chasing around after my little brothers and cousins. I already had a big bottom. It was a revelation, frankly.

The really important thing to me now is health. After 9 months of throwing up every day, you stop taking that for granted. My body managed to grow a baby despite the fact I was barely feeding it. It has, in turn, fed that baby for six whole months. It can already walk long distances again, as well as perform complicated yoga routines. My body has healed itself admirably. Food is wonderful now; rather than restricting what I eat because I want to be smaller, I’m eating what I want because I can. I’m still enjoying food far too much to stop eating chips just yet. HG is great for perspective on dieting.

My body and I have always been wary allies. I’ve never loved it. But now? Now I think it’s amazing. 

6 Months

Yesterday marked half a year since Arthur was born. 

We’re past those newborn days. They were amazing and impossible and hilarious. We’ve had to learn how to be parents and get to know our boy. I thought I’d mark the occasion by writing him a letter. 

Dear Artoo (I call you this because R2-D2 has always been my favourite Star Wars character. Like him you’re brave, clever, and indispensable to the adventure)

You’re getting big. So big, in fact, that I’m starting to have to strain the 6-9 month vests and sleepsuits over your bottom. You have a sharp little tooth sticking out of your lower gum, only just through but it’s there. You’ve got a new cry that I think means “I’m bored, change it up” but I can’t quite be sure yet. Your hungry cry and tired cry are VERY clear now. You can sit without me holding you (although you still pitch to one side like a drunken sailor on deck, and once threw yourself backwards and gave your Dad a real fright), and you can roll. A lot. You’re working on the crawling which is more like a face slide with your bum in the air, but it’s coming along, and you chat to us all the time. These are all the obvious things that everyone does; you’ve also got some of your own going on too. 

1. In the bath you reject all toys except the little purple cup I use to rinse your hair. I have no idea why, but it’s your beloved. 

2. Cuddly toys aren’t really what you want when you go to sleep. You like to rub a muslin all over your face and clutch it with your chubby little hands instead. 

3. You always start laughing with what I call your “Roland Rat” laugh (look him up, he was 80s awesome) before the belly laughing. It’s the only way I can describe it. 

4. You adore your Daddy, and spend ages every morning gazing at him, chatting and grabbing his nose and beard.

5. You love books.  LOVE them. You’ve been turning the pages by yourself since you were four months, but now you’re finding it easier to do that without shouting at the book at the same time.

Over the next six months we’ve got some exciting things going on. Your first holiday with me and Daddy, our party with the other November Babies and another little cousin coming your way too. Tomorrow is your very first Eurovision Song Contest! I’m very much hoping you’ll be asleep for it, but still. 

In the future there’ll be babysitters, nursery, family, friends. Right now it’s all about the three of us. Because I can feed you with my boobs I get to keep you to myself, and if I’m honest that’s pretty fantastic. I’m not ready for anyone except Daddy to have you yet. We’re a team, the three of us. I’m clearly Han and Dad is Chewbacca.

I often ponder just how unlikely you are, my brave little droid. When me and your Dad went to the clinic I got the date wrong. I was so upset, thinking I’d blown it by taking my last injection at the wrong time, but they ended up managing to collect 13 eggs the next day. I’ll always wonder if you were the 13th egg, the one that might never have been if I hadn’t got the day wrong. Did you hear me when I told you to grab on? Of course not… but you did anyway. You wanted to be born, or at least that’s how I’ve always seen it. If your Dad and I had gone for IVF sooner, if we’d had kids without help, if scientists hadn’t invented IVF in the first place, if your grandparents had never met, if me and Daddy never met; it’s just the most unlikely cosmic chain of events really. 

Yet here you are. 

Thanks for picking us. 

Love Mum xxx