Saturday, 19 February 2011


Look at that, bless her.  She can read upside down and everything.

Retreat (verb) 
1) To take quiet time away from the normal routine of life; to spend in prayer, relationship and reflection.
2) To give yourself another treat.

We're about to go away for five days to the beautiful Lee Abbey, where we will be 'retreating' as a family together with some very creative people, walking on the blustery beach, road-testing a brand new Mei Tai (pictures to follow!) and indulging in the kind of messy play that I would never dare to inflict on my own home.

Unfortunately there can be no blogging while we're there, as there is no internet or phone reception whatsoever.  Not a sausage.  Not unless you drive into the nearest town, anyway, which sort of defeats the object of being on retreat.

Be sure of a photographic diary of our time away next week, though.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

New Tabs

I have found myself referring so often to my birth story and breastfeeding journey on forums, that I've come to the conclusion it's simpler to post them here as permanent pages.  That way, I can refer to them with a link instead of rewriting a whole explanation each time.

So, if you are interested (and not overly squeamish) feel free to clicky on the tabs above.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Our latest purchase

Abigail, her Nanou and I found this splendid creature in a charity shop for only £13.  What a bargain.

It reminds me, somewhat disturbingly, of a praying mantis.

Or maybe a begging dog?  That's a less shuddersome image, I'll stick with that.

Anyway...I've wanted a back carrier for a while now.  I have images of myself strolling off up mountains with Abigail perched between a sleeping roll and a tent, although I think in reality The Rev might get more use out of it than I do!
It's a pretty nifty item.  It's incredibly light, has a fully adjustable seat that should last Abigail a good few years, and a cool flicky-out bar at the bottom so that the baby can sit safely on the floor while not being worn.  This makes it nice and easy to get on and off - I even managed it on the train with Abigail, two bags and a buggy.

Abigail thinks it's hilarious, second only to riding on Daddy's shoulders, so I'm serenaded with squeals and giggles as we march along.  It didn't take her long to discover that she could pull my hair, either.  However, when that doesn't prove entertaining enough, it's apparently also comfy enough to take a little nap:

Bless.  It's designed with a padded headrest and a padded bar in front, and she still managed to fall asleep in the most uncomfortable position possible.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Notes To Self

For future reference:

  • When you are planning a 2 hour train journey with a one year old, pack plenty of toys and amusements, however many bags you already have to carry.
  • When choosing a seat, do not select one next to somebody who is reading a newspaper.
  • When the baby attempts to steal the newspaper, do not use a pot of vegetable crisps to distract her.  They can make a real mess of newspaper-lady's trousers when shaken hard enough.
  • When newspaper lady finally departs, do NOT pass the newspaper she leaves on her seat to the baby, even if she is really screaming for it.

  • If you do make all the above mistakes, remember to apologise profusely to your fellow passengers as you all scrunch and crunch your way out of the train.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Should giving birth hurt?

The highly entertaining channel 4 documentary One Born Every Minute, which has everyone who is either contemplating or remembering labour glued to the television every Monday night, has also given rise to a large amount of criticism from those who believe that the births depicted are all too, well, hospitalised.  The consensus seems to be that the women featured on the show, for the most part, aren't giving birth properly.  There's too much intervention; only two examples so far of breastfeeding; hardly any skin-to-skin contact despite the poster displayed on the wall of every room reminding midwives to encourage it.  And Netmums are currently discussing the disadvantages of giving birth lying down on this thread.  I must admit that I've joined in: "Why have none of these women been taught to breathe?" read my Facebook status on Monday; "Or to keep mobile?" replied a friend almost instantly.  It's both fun and easy to criticise when you're not the one doing it.

Woven in with this more general criticism are advocates of very natural births who seem to be of the opinion that, with enough mind over matter, any woman could squat down under a tree and pop out a baby in a few calmly controlled breaths.  And, in a couple of places I've seen the question: "Monkeys can do this, so why can't we?"  I think the implication is supposed to be "When we were monkeys we found this easy, and modern medicine has made it more difficult."

This annoys me, not necessarily because I think labours should be like the ones on One Born Every Minute rather than natural and calm, but because it is a very bad argument.  There are two extremely good reasons why we don't give birth like monkeys (and they both come under the general subheading "We Are Not Monkeys); one is that we can walk upright, and the other is that we can think.

Pelvises for upright walking and large brains are great for getting around and dominating the world, but they are a very bad combination for giving birth.  This excellent article explains why, as well as outlining other major differences: did you know that a baby monkey, once its arms are out of the birth canal, does the rest of the work alone by pulling itself out on its mum's fur?  Or that a monkey comes out facing its mother, whereas the crazy twists and turns that our walking pelvis has given the human birth canal mean that not only does the baby have to turn several times on its way down, but that it then comes out facing in the wrong direction to be given any help?  Where most primates can pull a half-born baby out if it seems stuck, in humans to do so without medical knowledge risks damage to the infant's spine.

I am all for home birth.  The snow thwarted us with Abigail, but next time I definitely plan to be at home (and to have a summer baby!)  But I am not going to live in denial either - birth is painful, it is hard and in some cases it's dangerous.  Perhaps it's meant to be:

To the woman he said,

   "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children..." (Genesis 3:16)

Whether you look at it evolutionally or Biblically, pain in childbirth is the price humankind have paid for knowledge.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Not Me! Monday

Not Me Mondays are the brainchild of the marvellous MckMama, veteran Mummy blogger.

This week I have NOT been fighting a constant losing battle with Abigail over food.  I did NOT resort to spreading vegetable pasta sauce onto oatcakes so that she would eat it.  I have NOT just finished a telephone conversation with The Rev, who was NOT despairing because Abigail hadn't eaten all day and was now making him late by not eating.  I have NOT spent lots of money on things called 'Breakfast Biscuits' and I have NOT kidded myself that they must be a perfectly healthy alternative to cereal.  I do NOT EVER succumb to that kind of blatant advertising.

Also this week I have NOT mentally broken several times when Abigail tried to crawl off the changing table or bed while I was changing her.  I did NOT literally throw her at her sleeping father and tell him to "put his daughter's trousers on" on one of these occasions.  And I did NOT leave her bare-legged for most of an afternoon because I didn't have the strength to put the trousers on AGAIN.  I did NOT turn the heating up so that I could do this without feeling guilty.


What have you all NOT been doing this week?

Sunday, 6 February 2011

By Any Other Name

There's a thread on Netmums at the moment about baby names that have been made illegal in various countries for all sorts of reasons - mostly because the child would be 'exposed to mockery', although in Germany it appears that they have a very specific list of allowed names and that being 'unclear as to whether it is a boy or a girl's name' will cause a ban.

The pope has also been appealing for sensible names recently.  There was a time not so long ago (our great-grandparents' generation) when a priest really could change a child's name at a baptism.  Nowadays baptism is no longer a naming ceremony, although many parents still think it is - it's a ceremony of entrance to the church.  It remains legally a reason to change a name, but most children are named long before they are baptised, and what the priest says doesn't make any difference.  Had my poor Aunt Reada been baptised today, she would have been able to be called Freda, no matter what the deaf priest heard.  My favourite story is the working class family who wanted to give their son the name 'Algernon'.  At his baptism, when the priest heard what they were planning to name him, he growled "Don't be daft!  I baptise you Bob", and the poor chap remained Bob from that day on until the day of his wedding, when he found himself having to explain to another priest why the name on his birth certificate was Algernon!

Names are really difficult.  Knowing that you are creating a moniker that will remain attached to someone for, hopefully, a good 80-100 years, is enough to stop anyone in their tracks.  I think I may have fallen prey to over-analysing it when it came to naming Abigail.

For years, my first daughter was always going to be called Imogen.  It's a Shakespearean name, apparently.  Except it isn't really; it's a miscopy.  Evidence shows that Shakespeare, who at the time was heavily into naming his heroines with meaningful labels such as Perdita (Lost) and Miranda (Wonder) really wanted to call this one Innogen (Innocence) rather than Imogen, which doesn't mean anything.  (Baby naming books will tell you that it means 'Image of her mother', but that must be a false etymology because surely that would be ImAgen?  And anyway, who wants to be the image of their mother?  And what if the baby comes out looking like Dad?!)

I just couldn't bring myself to call my daughter after an unfortunate mistake, even if it was really pretty.  And 'Innogen' sounds like something you take for constipation.

In the end, we had three names and we waited to see would Abigail would look like.  If she looked like her father, she would be Abigail (meaning: Her Father's Joy).  If she looked like me, Isobel, which is a form of Elizabeth; and if she looked like neither of us, Meredith.  I secretly loved Meredith, which means Great Leader, but The Rev hated it because it's originally a boy's name and it's neither a Biblical name nor a saint.  He was probably right.  I'm glad we ended up with Abigail, which met all our demanding requirements: a pretty name, can be shortened several ways, with a good meaning, can be said in other languages, comes from the Bible, and the only girl called Abigail that I ever taught was quite nice, really.

Despite all this, I still wonder occasionally whether we will regret calling her Abigail, because it seems to be insanely popular - we know three other Abigails her age already.  No matter.  It suits her.  If she has to go by Abi Jane for the whole of her school life, so be it.

Friday, 4 February 2011

You Know You're Tired When...

Most parents have tiredness in common at some stage.  Pregnancy itself comes with a kind of dreadful chemical tiredness which was like nothing I've ever felt before - especially right at the beginning, when you're still at work and before you've told anyone, so you have to think up other reasons for falling asleep in the middle of a sentence.

Just for fun, here's a list of things I have genuinely done, either while pregnant or through general lack of sleep since Abigail was born.

I Know I'm Tired When...

...I pour all the pasta into the sink, forgetting to put a colander underneath it, and then cry about it.
...I drive from the post office to my house on the wrong side of the road, only noticing when a large truck comes in the opposite direction
...I get into the car wearing my slippers
...I do an entire supermarket shop before realising that I left my purse at home with all my money in it (and I was so proud that I had my well-equipped nappy bag with me!)
...I tell The Rev to "sit at the table like a good boy" when it's dinner time
...I spend several minutes, while tidying Abigail's baby jigsaw, trying to fit an elephant into the slot marked 'rhino' and wondering why it won't go
...the fridge is the first place I look for my car keys

And I have a baby that sleeps!  I think there should be 'TP' (Tired Parent) plates to stick on your car and warn other drivers...and perhaps I could also design a T-shirt that says, "Speak slowly to me...I'm a Mummy'.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

That Thing You Do

I think that every parent/child relationship has a Thing.  An area of lowest confidence, a land of unavoidable conflict; that one subject which is certain to make a parent bristle when other parents start to talk about it.  The one area of life which is best summarised by a cry of "I've tried everything and nothing works and I just can't bloody do it any more!"

For Abigail and me, it's always been feeding.  At a baby group, if mums are talking about sleep, I'm chatting happily; if they're complaining about constant crying, I'm the envy of them all; but if they bring up the subject of food, I'm the one skulking in the corner or studiously entertaining my oblivious daughter with a plastic sheep.

At first it was breastfeeding.  The moment my milk came in, it all went pear-shaped.  Abigail couldn't latch properly - we still don't really know why.  After a week, on Christmas day in fact, she was whisked back into hospital and put on a cannula because she had lost 20% of her body weight and was at risk of a stroke from high sodium levels.  I had to 'top up' with formula, but was producing so little milk by then (having been full of milk she didn't drink just days earlier) that 'topping up' basically meant feeding.  By the time we got home three days later we were formula-feeding exclusively.

I was determined to get back to exclusive breastfeeding, and I did, by the time Abi was 8-9 weeks old.  (I might post about how I did it later if the mood takes me, but that's all you need to know for now!)  But she still wasn't latching properly.  Midwives, lactation consultants, breastfeeding peer supporters and a paediatrician checking for tongue tie couldn't help.  We'd just have to soldier on.

There followed nearly a year of the most trouble-haunted breastfeeding journey I've ever come across - possibly because anybody sane would have given up.  As all my mummy friends got over the first breastfeeding hurdles and started to enjoy themselves, we struggled on as if wading through treacle.  Even the health visitor ditched the usual script and advised me to give up for the sake of my mental health!  I had two bouts of mastitis, constant cracked nipples, and for several months Abigail would only feed from one side sitting up and the other lying down, which ended in my lying flat out on the wet grass, in March, in the middle of Alton Towers, feeding her on a pile of coats.  I rarely had the impression that she was enjoying herself much, and I wasn't loving it either.  Then we tried to re-introduce an occasional beaker (after weaning her) and that was a nightmare too, as she couldn't cope with any kind of valve and couldn't get a thing out of a bottle.  Eventually she took to a free-flowing beaker and we just changed all her clothes after every drink.

Finally, a week before her first birthday, I was once again struggling to give her the bedtime breastfeed (the only one left every day) when she bit me very hard, then screamed and refused to go back on.  She'd been wriggling, biting and fussing for weeks, but I finally got the message, and that was it.  No more mummy milk.  I tried briefly to feel disappointed, but I couldn't - I was mainly relieved.

Now all that already seems light years ago, but I still hide when the subject of food comes up, as in the world according to Abigail, anything not hard and dry is not a foodstuff.  She will eat oatcakes, breadsticks, dry toast, rusks and  - to my shame - chicken nuggets.  It's the texture rather than the taste, since anything wet, sticky, squishy or cold goes straight on the floor and nowhere near the mouth.  We have tried spoon feeding, giving her spoons, sitting her with food and leaving her, sitting her with food and standing over her, eating it ourselves with exaggerated choruses of "MMMMM!", hiding vegetables between pieces of bread, singing as a distraction, TV as a distraction, feeding her one weeto at a time and chucking raisins at her through the bars of her playpen as if she were a little caged animal.  Nothing has ever worked more than once.  Oh, and now she has learned how to spit things out in case Mummy dares to tuck a piece of fruit away inside a pot of yoghurt.

I could go on for a long time about how I feel about this, and indeed I have done on Facebook and in other forums, but all I want to say for now is: I am thoroughly sick of hearing about how other people's children love to consume tagliatelle and sauce with their bare hands.  That is all.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

A bad day for Mummy skills

It's been a bad day for Mummy skills.  Really, if anybody was this rubbish at a conventional job, they'd be sacked.  Fortunately Mummies are very rarely sacked (though the downside of this is that they are also unable to quit).

The Rev is away on potty training (that's Post Ordination Training, to the uninitiated) so this goes to show how much I generally rely on him as back-up parent even when I'm 'taking care of Abigail' and he's 'at work'.  One of the things we struggle with as a family is how difficult it is to keep these two job descriptions distinct when it all takes place under the same roof.

For a start, this morning I put the television on so that I could get dressed, and allowed Abigail to watch Waybuloo, a programme I disagree with on every level including educational, spiritual and artistic levels.  After that I felt like such a bad parent already that I decided to go for a nice healthy walk at about the time that I really should have been thinking about getting lunch.  I put Abigail in the sling because using the pushchair would have involved finding the garage door keys and opening the garage door from the front (tricky at the best of times, impossible with a baby under one arm.)  After a lengthy, damp, cold and generally uncomfortable walk for both of us, we arrived home to find that Abigail had removed a leg-warmer and hidden it in the middle of the hall floor before we'd even left.  I hadn't noticed.

Remembering that I didn't have much in the house to cook with, I made toast pizza (take a slice of toast, spread it with tomato puree, grate cheese on top, add little bits of ham, pop under the grill) for my now tired, cold and hungry baby.  To my surprise, Abigail ate it.  So that brings the total of Things Abigail Will Eat By Herself to chicken nuggets, pizza and rusks.  Mmm, healthy.

After lunch, I tried to persuade Abigail to have a nap, but she must have had about 5 seconds' secret sleep on our walk because she was wide awake and bouncing.  So I took her to the clinic to get her weighed instead - something I haven't done since she was 7 months old because the clinic coincides exactly with her nap time.  I managed to arrive at the clinic without any spare nappies, or even a nappy bag.  Happily I had changed her just before we left, so I didn't have to put a dirty nappy back on in front of the health visitor,  but I'm ashamed to admit that I said loudly, ostensibly to Abigail, "This one's still nice and clean, so we'll put it back on, shall we?"  I don't know whether the health visitor was fooled, considering that I wasn't carrying any bag that could have concealed a clean nappy.

After that, we went to the co-op for a few things and then drove home.  On the way home, Abigail predictably fell asleep in the car, so I mentally cancelled all the things I was going to get done while she napped, and then realised that I had forgotten to buy full-fat milk, the main thing I had gone to the co-op for.  I'm glad that Abigail was too fast asleep to hear the word I said at this point.  Stopped at the post office shop on the way home and went in to get milk, leaving her asleep in the car.

And now she's sitting on the floor, happily deleting apps from my iPhone, since in a room full of toys that's the only thing that would distract her from my laptop long enough to allow me to write this post.