Molly said her very first words this week. Dad dad dad dad dad dad.
I let him have it. It was a one horse race.
This time I was even egging her on.
Caillie’s first word was Mum, but I had to work very hard for it. I fully primed her. At every opportunity I was mouthing Mum in front of her face. Even then she only ever said it in a whingy voice, when she wanted to be fed. Mummmma. Mummmma. Whereas Dad always comes out in that happy sing song voice – Dada Dada. Daddaddaddaddadaaaaa. Like it’s just all fun and games when Dad is around.
There’s something truly exciting about those very first words.
It’s like they’re turning into a human for the first time. I mean you know that a baby is human but they could almost just be an animal. Before they can talk, they are really functioning purely on instinct, they cry when they’re cold or hungry or have a dirty nappy, and when they laugh they have no idea why they’re laughing. It’s an instinctive laugh and it’s beautiful but it doesn’t always make sense. You wonder what is going on in their little brains.
Already there have been little moments – fleeting moments – of consciousness emerging.
Molly is starting to work out that she can operate her hands and her feet. She’s grabbed at a spoon, sideswiped an icecream cone. She’s had a good look at her reflection in a mirror and you can see she’s thinking about it. She’s turned her head when I’ve called her name. She’s wriggled in delight when a song she knows comes on the radio. These are just little signs that the person in there is coming out.
I’m convinced that Molly is going to be a sociable person. It’s true that she’s been dragged around to more than her fair share of weddings, but it’s not just that. She’s also happy to be held by anyone. And it’s not just that she tolerates it, she snuggles into them, she smiles at them, she makes them feel that she really likes them. It’s like it’s her sole job in life to go around spreading joy. We took Molly out to lunch in the city the other day and she made friends everywhere she went. Even people who wanted to be grumpy couldn’t help themselves smiling at her!
Molly’s first words reminded me that there are two things that make being a parent really exciting.
The first is seeing your baby learn everything from scratch and do everything for the first time. Seeing them start to understand what’s you’re saying and what’s going on around them, hearing them learn to speak, watching them take their first steps. I really feel for parents who have to go back to work and who miss out on witnessing those first moments. They’re so precious.
And the other is seeing that little personality start to emerge. It takes a while, but you get these moments when you realise that they are different to you, they have their own interests, gifts and passions, their own way of being, they’re not just a mini-you. And it’s exciting to get to witness that personality being formed right in front of your eyes. I think looking after a baby gets easier the second that you start getting a sense of who they are, that they not just a little parasite attached to your body, there’s actually a person starting to emerge.
Yes I’m talking about MJ. She’s a runt. There’s so much emphasis on losing weight that it’s a bit of a shock when you find yourself with the opposite problem, not putting on enough weight! According to the paediatricians and the infant health nurses and the health department an infant needs to put on about 150 grams a week to be doing well. In a good week, little MJ has managed about 100 or 110 grams but in a bad week sometimes even less. It is natural for weight gain to vary from week to week, and there is some genetics involved, but even small babies still need to be putting on weight. And MJ just isn’t cooperating in that department. Each time after I’ve weighed her, I’ve been really diligent about trying to squeeze in extra feeds, setting my alarm for 3 am, dragging myself out of bed to give her an extra feed, but then after a week or so of that, I see her little double chin and those little fat rolls on the top of the thighs and think she must be doing OK. Then I put her on the scales again and she barely tops 5 kg. But she looks so healthy! It’s not like her skin is flapping around like an elephant or anything. But no matter how good she looks and how happy she is, the scales tell a different story.
So how can I fatten her up? Both the Australian Breastfeeding Association and the Raising Children Network recommend feeding more often as the best way to boost your milk supply. They say the evening and night-time is an especially good time to fit more feeds in because you tend to make more milk then. They also recommend giving little top-ups or snack feeds in between each feed, so you may as well just have the baby hanging off your boob all the time, African style. Of course you also have to make sure you’re drinking well, eating well and resting well, which for me probably means a few less social events and trips to the city.
This has all come as a bit of a shock to me because Birdy was a tank. She didn’t feed anywhere near as often but she just packed on the weight. I had milk spraying across the room. She could have survived a week in the Antarctic just on her own body fat if she needed to.
So the question is does it really matter if babies aren’t putting on the correct amount of weight? Surely to get those averages there have to be some babies above average and some below. The answer to that question seems to vary depending on who you ask. I was speaking to a midwife at a charity function a few weeks ago, and she told me not to even bother weighing her. She said if she’s happy and she’s got plenty of wet nappies and she’s sleeping well then don’t worry about it. And lots of Mum’s say that as well. Any time I tell another mother that she’s not putting on enough weight, they usually have a story to tell about their own baby who had the same issue. My own mum even said that I didn’t put on much weight until I started solids. It was the good old Farex (the baby rice cereal) that fattened me up. We’ve only got two weeks to go until we start solids so I’m hoping that will solve the problem. But there is always the risk that the baby could have some kind of food intolerance or an infection that is preventing them from putting on weight so that’s why it is important to see a doctor if giving extra feeds doesn’t help.
And if that doesn’t work, what next? I have considered eating hot chips and chocolate chip cookies and see if that helps fatten her up! But usually if a baby isn’t getting enough milk, and if you’ve tried to boost your supply without success, then the next step is to compliment with formula. I really don’t want to do that, because I know that once you start giving formula there’s a risk your milk supply drops even further. So on the advice of a paediatrician friend, I’ve just started expressing extra milk. But it’s so demoralising. I sit there pumping for about 20 minutes and wind up with 20 mls if I’m lucky so it hardly seems worth the effort. The plastic pump just doesn’t get the feel-good mummy hormones flowing in quite the same way as cuddling a beautiful baby. But as much as I love breastfeeding, if she’s not thriving then it’s really not the best thing for her, so I may just have to overcome my pride and put her on a bottle. For now though, I’ll keep setting the alarm for 3 am and hope it pays off at the next weigh-in later today… it’s the least I can do for my little MJ!
Have you had the same problem? How did you fix it? What was the turning point for you? Do you think it matters if some babies put on less weight than others?
I am not very good at living in the moment. Ask my husband. I’m only happy when I’m planning the next holiday or working towards a goal. I always need something to look forward to. I remember when mobile phones first started to become widespread. It became quite common to go to a party and see people talking on their mobile phones, talking about the next party while ignoring everybody who was actually at the party with them. Or you would find yourself having lunch with somebody who would be on the phone planning the next lunch with somebody else. At the time it seemed utterly ridiculous! Now it’s just normal. We accept it. But with smart phones we’re not just talking to somebody else, we’re also updating our status, checking tomorrow’s weather, catching up on emails, googling for information. We’re never fully in the moment. We’re never just with the people we’re with. We don’t give each other our full attention. Maybe I particularly feel this because I’m a ‘quality time’ person. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman). Spending quality time with people, especially one on one, is what makes me feel loved and connected to them. But to get ‘quality time’ people have to be fully present. And you just don’t get a whole heap of that from anybody these days. Except maybe kids.
One of the best and hardest things about having a baby is that it forces you to live in the moment. The real and present moment. You can’t plan ahead too much. You can’t put the baby on hold. You can’t make him or her wait. If the baby wants to be fed, they’ll get fed. If the baby wants to sleep, the baby has to sleep. The baby only knows the here and now. And children are the same. When you spend a day with a small child, you spend it in the moment. And that can be a challenge to our task oriented, list-making, adult way of thinking. But children at least give you quality time!
One of the reasons I decided it was time to have a baby the first time was because I wanted to spend more time with friends and family. My Dad had just recovered from pretty serious bowel cancer surgery and we all felt we were lucky to still have him with us. About eight years before that he’d had a triple heart by-pass. It was like we’d already been given a second chance and now we were being given a second ‘second chance’. Suddenly it hit home to me that family was the most important thing in life. I wanted my Dad to meet my children. But I also figured that work had eaten up way too much of my life and it was time to just slow the pace a little and spend time with the people I love.
Here I am now with a second baby and the world has changed. In just five years, it’s changed. People don’t spend as much time with people now, they spend it online, connecting through social media and blogging and emails and facetime and anything but face to face contact. This becomes more obvious than ever when you have a new baby or a birthday. When I had Birdy we were inundated with visitors. This time we were inundated with facebook messages. Nobody feels the need to come and see the baby because they’ve already seen it on facebook. Ten years ago, when you had a birthday the phone used to ring all day. Now those same people send a text or leave a facebook message. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it seems like these forms of communication are a bit less personal. They’re more immediate and it’s nice that you can have conversations with people on the other side of the world, but it’s also a more distant way of communicating. And more temporary. I know I’ll keep every single card that was sent to welcome Molly into the world. And when she’s older, I’ll get them all out of their musty shoebox and read them with her, whereas the facebook messages and texts will be lost forever. To me, there’s something unspeakably beautiful about the fact that those cards once ran through a physical printing process, travelled to a shop, were carefully selected, were held in the hands and homes of the people who wrote them, that they then travelled through real space and time to get to us, were delivered by another pair of hands to our mailbox and were held and read by us in another place and time. It’s like a big community effort to deliver those greetings and messages. One day when Molly is much, much older she’ll hold them again, even if it’s only to throw them in the bin!
We Mums have particularly embraced social media. When you’re stuck at home with a sleeping or feeding baby you can go online and feel like you’ve connected with somebody. You can put a question out there and a bunch of people will have something to say about it. But I think it can also make us lazy and, in a way, isolated. We’re less likely to pick up the phone and call our friends. We don’t bother to drive across town to visit. We don’t open up our homes quite so much as we used to and we miss out on spending really good quality time with each other.
Last weekend we had Birdy’s 5th birthday party at our house. We always have our parties at home. It was nice this year to include a few of Birdy’s pre-school friends who have never been to our house before. I always think you never really know a person until you’ve been to their house. Sure you can see on facebook what a person’s fave movies and TV shows are, but you learn so much more when you eat a meal in their home. You can tell what year they got married by the colour of their crockery (Blue & yellow, 1999, Square plates, 2005, Brown & maroon 2006, black & white patterns, 2010 and 2011)! When you visit someone’s home you see photos of their family and their travels, artworks they treasure, their CD collection, instruments you never knew they played, books on the shelf (or the fact that there are no books on the shelf) or whatever!
So my goal for this year at home is to try to reconnect with people face to face. To have more friends over to my house and to just pick up the phone and call, rather than always sending messages on facebook or by email. I don’t have a beautifully renovated home or a blitzed backyard and I don’t cook like a Masterchef, but hey, I’m aiming for reality, not reality TV. So if I blog a little less this year, hopefully it’s because I’m calling a little more often! And living in the moment. The fully present, real, right now moment. And hey, if you’re my friend and you’re reading this, maybe you could call me too, and we could catch up sometime… face to face, not on facebook or facetime. But right now, I’ve got to go. Molly needs a feed. And she needs it right now!
Do you use social media and technology to connect with other Mums and to the outside world when you’re at home? Is there a down side to all this interaction or do you feel it’s only a positive force in your life? Do you agree that children help you to live in the moment?
It’s been nearly nine months since I put pen to paper. Or fingers to keyboard.
I just wasn’t able to write during the last 9 months.
Initially it was because of the morning sickness. I was just so sick every night that as soon as Birdy was in bed, I passed out from exhaustion. If I didn’t go to sleep, I started vomiting.
Then as the pregnancy progressed further, (we got through the dreaded 12 week ultrasound without any bad news!), we started to wonder if maybe this pregnancy would actually result in a baby! But I still didn’t really dare to hope. And I just couldn’t bring myself to write about it. What if I wrote about the pregnancy and then something went wrong? Then I would have to write about that too.
So I stayed quiet. At least on this blog. I kept thinking that when the time was right, I’d start writing again. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. After sharing so much of my last 6 failed pregnancies, I decided to keep this one to myself. It was like there was just too much at stake. Too much going on emotionally. And if I can’t share openly what I’m really going through, then why write anything at all? If a blog is going to be anything, it should at least be personal. And real.
So here we are now. At the end of a three-and-a-half-year heartache and the beginning of a whole new little miracle.
Molly Jean Macdonald Roe was born on November 21 at 8.40pm after a fantastic birth. I looked at her in amazement. “You’re real,” I said as I held her in my arms for the first time. “And you’re alive. And you’re perfect.”
But more about the birth later.
For now, we’re just all enjoying the fact that she’s here.
And that she’s real. And she’s alive. And she’s perfect.
I received an interesting email at work yesterday that I want to share with you. It went like this.
Hi Katrina. Wondering if you can help. I have a friend with triplets who has been given sooooo many newborn nappies that her 3 have outgrown them before she has used them all.
They are all Huggies and all still in packaging, but with no receipts the shops aren’t letting her take them back.
Is there any chance we could get behind her and see if people who need newborn nappies would be willing to buy a bigger size and then swap them to support her? Happy to arrange a drop off and collection from anywhere in the area. Thanks, Helen.
Of course this email touched my heart. Firstly, I remember how expensive it was buying nappies all the time and can’t imagine what it must be like for triplets. Secondly, I just thought it was really sweet that Helen would go to such lengths for her friend. So I gave Helen a call today to find out more details.
Helen’s friend, Sarah has six-month-old triplets. She also has a two-year-old daughter, so she’s probably actually buying nappies for four kids! Ouch. Sarah’s triplets were born ten weeks premature so even though they’re six months old, they’re a little smaller than most. However, they’ve outgrown their newborn nappies and are ready to move onto the 3 – 8 kg size (or bigger).
Both Helen and her friend Sarah live near the Hills District in the North West of Sydney (Glenwood and Castle Hill) so if you live not far from there and need some newborn nappies, they’d love to hear from you. Thanks to the generosity of her church friends Sarah has plenty of newborn nappies to spare. She has 2 boxes of 4 x 36 napppies, 6 packets of 36 nappies and 3 packets of 54 nappies. That’s a lot of nappies and they ain’t cheap, so you can see why Helen wants to help her exchange them.
So if you live in the Northwest of Sydney and are expecting a baby, have a newborn, or have a friend with a newborn, here’s how you can help. Either offer to buy some of the newborn nappies from Helen at the retail price, or buy a packet of 32 nappies in the next size up (3 – 8 kg) to swap with her! Then all you need to do is contact Helen by email to arrange the pickup and drop-off. Her email is nolanmh @ bigpond dot net dot au. Or if you comment here, I can get your email address and pass it onto Helen.
Thanks Sydney Mums. Hope we can help each other out!
Cracked nipples. Mastitis. Breast pads. I left out all the gory details when I discussed this topic on breakfast radio this morning. I wanted to talk about breastfeeding today because some new research has come out looking at the public health impacts of early weaning. 90% of 35 – 45 year olds were weaned before 6 months, and that’s impacted our overall health as a nation.
One reason for early weaning today is women returning to work, but the other is that there’s not enough breastfeeding support and expertise in the general community. Before I breastfed my daughter I’d never seen anybody attach a baby. We’ve lost that communal passing on of knowledge. I know a few mothers who chose not to breastfeed because they didn’t like the idea of it. I think the sexualisation of our culture is partly to blame – young women just aren’t used to thinking of their breasts as a functional piece of equipment for feeding.
Personally I had a positive experience of breastfeeding. I absolutely loved it. I loved the closeness and the bonding – the skin on skin contact with my baby. But, I also remember one phase at about six months where I got sick of it and wanted to quit. Sometimes I felt like I did nothing else for that entire year. But fortunately I never had any problems with my milk supply – actually I had so much milk I felt I should be bottling it.
So what made breastfeeding work for me? I don’t think there was any one thing, but some things that helped were:
– I found out as much as I could before I gave birth. They ran a breastfeeding course at my hospital and I did it twice – once before I gave birth and then again afterwards. I’d really recommend that to anyone who’s having their first baby or who’s wanting to breastfeed for the first time.
– When I was in hospital I rang for the midwife every time I fed to make sure I had her attached correctly. If you don’t get a good attachment then you can really do some damage and it affects your confidence as well. I think it’s really important to get as much help as you can in the first few days.
– I also asked lots of dumb questions. Every midwife has a slightly different opinion on how often you should feed, whether to wake your baby, how long to feed for, but the more you ask, the more you learn how to make those decisions yourself.
– Also I had a goal for how long I wanted to breastfeed and I was determined not to introduce bottles until I was ready to wean. So many Mums I knew were disappointed when their milk dried up after a few months, but they’d been substituting breastfeeds with bottles and then their milk supply dropped. So don’t substitute or supplement with formula until you’re ready to wean (unless of course your baby’s starving. That’s a different kettle of fish!)
People have very different ideas about how long to breastfeed for. I don’t actually have a strong view on when is the right time to wean. In terms of health benefits, the first 6 months are the most important. But extending breastfeeding does extend the health benefits. My goal was to breastfeed for 12 months, because that’s when you can introduce cows’ milk. So I started weaning at 12 months and had her totally weaned by 14 months. That felt natural to me because that was when Birdy started walking and it was a clear time of transition from baby to toddler. But some babies just wean themselves and there’s nothing you can do about it. Finally, I think it’s valid to consider the mother’s social, physical and mental needs when deciding when to wean. After all, it takes two people to breastfeed! Both parties have to be happy with the situation.
PS. I received a wise piece of advice once. When you meet an adult, you can’t tell whether they were breastfed or not! So if, with all your best efforts, it didn’t work out, don’t stress too much!
Did you breastfeed your babies? Was it easy for you or did it take practice and persistence? At what age did you wean and why? Would you have preferred to breastfeed for longer? Did you breastfeed in public or were you too embarrassed?
Why is it in Australia that we seem to have such militant lobby groups around our health care system? You can’t go within coo-ee of a labour ward without realising there’s a virtual war of words going on between midwives and obstetricians. The midwives accuse the obs of over-medicalising childbirth and being too interventionist. The obstetricians think the midwives are too focussed on the process at the expense of outcomes. Or something like that.
There’s strong feeling on both sides of the vaccination debate too. Those who are against vaccinations are really against them. Last week though, one mother’s story was dominating the headlines. That of Toni McCaffery, who lost her four-week-old baby girl, Dana, to whooping cough last year. Toni wasn’t particularly involved in the vaccination debate before her baby died, but after Dana’s death became public, she says she was targetted by anti-vaccination lobbyists who argued that Dana must have died of something other than whooping cough. The lobbyists believe the vaccine is more dangerous than the disease. But if a four week old baby dies, that throws the theory out with the bathwater.
I interviewed Toni McCaffery on my radio show last week. (You can listen to the interview here.) I was surprised by how mild mannered and reasonable she was about the vaccination debate. If my baby had died of whooping cough, I would be shaking my fist in rage at anybody who didn’t vaccinate their kids. Toni simply makes the point that her area on the north coast has the lowest rates of vaccination and also the highest rates of whooping cough. For vaccinations to be effective, she says, you need a high level of herd immunity, so that those who are most vulnerable – like newborn babies – aren’t exposed to the disease. As soon as the vaccination rate drops, community safety is threatened. Those who choose not to vaccinate have to be sure they can live with the knowledge that it may not be their child who dies from the disease – it may be the newborn baby they unknowingly pass it on to.
I don’t doubt that there may be some problems with vaccinations. Every time my daughter has been vaccinated, she has developed a persistent unexplained cough for about a week after. There’s been some suggestion of links to increased asthma. I have no idea if there’s any evidence for that. But if that’s what it takes to make sure that somebody like Toni McCaffery doesn’t lose her newborn to whooping cough, then I’m quite happy to make that sacrifice. Overall, we all benefit. Our kids aren’t dying or deformed as a result of smallpox, rubella, or polio. Not to mention the fact that there are many places in the world where vaccines aren’t so widely available and people still suffer the consequences of preventable diseases. Maybe if we had to live with those consequences ourselves, we wouldn’t take our health system for granted so much. I guess that’s exactly what Toni McCaffery is doing… living every day with the terrible consequences of somebody else’s decision not to vaccinate their child.
Did you vaccinate your children? Do you think there are too many vaccines these days? Do you have concerns about some vaccines or are you in favour of widespread vaccination?