Having It All

AFTER years of working late, putting extra pressure on myself to do better, secretly trying to outdo my colleagues and calculating which moves would help me get ahead – I’ve given it all up. It’s been two weeks since I worked my last shift on the newsdesk, two weeks since I logged in, two weeks since I agonised over what would make the front page, two weeks since I sat around a table at a meeting, and two weeks since I went in to the office.

I’ve not shared stories with workmates about the weekend, I’ve not worn my court shoes, I’ve not joined in any group email banter laughing about some aspect of our job, and I’ve not lowered my voice while making a cup of tea and gossiping with another journo.

Since the Little Mister was four months old, I’ve only been working two days a week. But by resigning, I’ve given up something more than the paychecks.

Of course I agonised over quitting. I don’t quit. After years of manouevring, I was finally moving along the path I had planned, and I was making my way along it nicely. Of course, I thought before he was born, I could have it all.

When he was four months and I went back to the office, it hit us all hard. For two days a week, he went on hunger strike. Every week. He screamed at Tony. A lot. His weight kept dropping until he nearly fell of the chart and Plunket made us keep going back for weigh ins. He started waking every two hours through the night, my hungry baby.

My entire week was consumed by trying to express enough milk to leave for him. We all got more and more tired and stressed. But it never felt like we weren’t coping. We were all, I still believe, getting so much out of it.

Tony was able, twice a week, to look after his four month old son completely on his own. He got him to eat (eventually), he got him to nap, he bathed him, played with him, put him to sleep, sang songs with him, shared precious cuddles, and was the best dad in the world.

He became the Little Mister’s favourite person. Our little boy was so lucky to get this amazing one-on-one time – and they learnt so much about each other while I wasn’t there. I got to keep on moving along that work path I’d been carving out, and I loved it. Even though I was exhausted, I so enjoyed those two days of being among adults in that other world.

Still, on those mornings before work, I had to perform a feat that surpassed winning the Krypton Factor just to make it on time. Planning ahead and taking packed lunch and dinner to the office had never been so hard as in these months when we seemed to have no time to cook, or eat – unless it was takeaway or toast. I would try desperately to feed the Little Mister up before I left incase he decided to go without for the next nine hours. His naps were carefully orchestrated so he’d be due a very long one when Tony took over.

Tony would get home (or meet me at work) at a speed faster than lightning and each week we performed the miracle of getting out of the door by 12.36pm. There was the odd stretch of the truth that ensured he had Friday afternoon off, we called in favours, played sympathy cards, and did whatever it took for me to get to work without us putting the Little Mister in daycare.

I fed him in the work car park, in the health nurse’s room, in the empty office on our floor because I was running out of time to get the newslist done. Tony walked around and around Wellington with him so he would stop crying and sleep through his hunger. I spent the shift planning when I’d get a chance to express, carried sterilised equipment round in my handbag, always made sure the unused fridge was plugged in, and was careful to hold my bag upright in the taxi home. I experienced infections, discomfort, pain that only a working, breastfeeding woman can know.

Finally, logistically, it got too hard. If we didn’t want to do daycare, and if Tony was to keep studying and needing those working hours, we couldn’t keep on. Even when the Little Mister finally realised formula would fill him up in a way his shattered mama was getting less and less able to do, even when he started sleeping a little better, we couldn’t keep on with this life.

I don’t feel like I’ve quit wanting it all. Maybe right now my definition of “it all” has changed. In these two weeks, he’s suddenly gone down to one wake up at night. He’s started crawling. He’s lengthened his naps to two decent stints. We’re in our routine, seven days a week. I’m not checking work emails on my phone while feeding him at night. I’m not glued to the headlines at what also seems to be storytime most nights. Is it making a difference?

I love my new working week, which is spent doing my very best for the Little Mister. I do miss my old working week, but when he’s a little older, I think we will find a way to marry the two. Somehow.

I have given up what I’d worked for. But part of that is because we’ve decided to move to London and be with our family there so they can share these special years with us.

I no longer believe you can have it all, at least not the “all” I once wanted. The “all” has now shifted – and I’m still not quite sure what it is. When I figure that out, maybe then I’ll figure out a way of having something close to it.

Balanced Diets are Over-rated

THEY are sweet, puree up nice and smooth, and gain a little something when steamed with a stick of cinnamon. Pears. The only food the Little Mister will eat.

It’s only since he was eight months that he has accepted any solids at all, so I’m not expecting him to be eating three balanced meals a day. But, I do wish he’d eat at least some savoury foods. Some days are better than others. Often in the morning I get him to eat some yoghurt and rice cereal with his pear. Other sweet fruits also go down quite well as long as they are totally liquidised and the main ingredient in that two tablespoon meal is still pear.

But should I try and mix in some meat or vegetables, he looks at me like I’m trying to poison him. Like I’ve betrayed him. Oh Little Mister, I just want you to eat.

I’ve tried finger food. Grated cheese, a bit of egg, a bit of bread, a bit of corn cracker, a bit of banana. Same result everytime. Gag, choke, vomit. The Little Mister isn’t ready.

So I wait. While his friends eat their lunch around him, we wait. I know all babies end up eating. I know the Little Mister is not starving – in fact, he’s drinking so much formula it’s quite the opposite. But on some days, like today, his total rejection of even a tablespoon of food makes me wish he could just tell me what I am doing wrong.

Then I’d make it better, he’d eat a balanced meal, and then we’d go back to playing toys. And crawling, and clapping, and waving, and trying to climb. Because all that stuff is way more fun than eating, after all.



The Ninth Percentile

CROSSING over two percentile lines on the weight chart, the Little Mister has well and truly outdone himself. I suspected he was filling out nicely with the formula, and now the scales have proved it.

Milin had his Plunket weigh in last week. 7.7 kg, which put him on the ninth percentile. This is the line he was born on, but by about ten weeks he had dropped to just above the 0.4th, where he stayed for months.

I have no doubt the weight gain has tied in with Milin accepting formula. After all the convincing he took to drink it, he now well and truly loves it. Our tins recommend four to five bottles a day. He has six to seven. The few solids he eats (quarter cups of very pureed ,very sweet fruit), he resists and resists, because he would rather have a bottle.

And since he has been taking that formula from a tin, that he can’t wait to get his hands on once he sees it being made up, he really has filled out. He sleeps better, he is calmer, he is happier to go down, and getting milk into him is no longer a frustrating experience for all concerned.

I’m sure there were many wonderful benefits from breastfeeding for the Little Mister, but there are also many others that he gets from formula. I stopped breast feeding him at seven months. Yes, I missed it at first. But I know he’s getting what he needs, and he’s not getting annoyed because it’s not quite filling him up. He still wakes me up twice a night screaming for a feed – but it’s no longer every two hours. And there he is now…

Excuse me while the anger subsides

HE JUST wasn’t ready. At five months, six months, or even seven months. But now he is eight months, the time has come for the Little Mister to eat. At last. Our progress over the last week and a half has been spectacular. I am almost at the point of boasting that he is eating three meals a day. Almost. And they are small ones.

I’m not going to complain about the fact that he only seems to want to eat very sweet and well-pureed fruit. I’m not going to complain about the fact that he will only be fed from a metal teaspoon, at the same time as holding another metal teaspoon himself. He’s gone from not eating any solids at all, to eating about a quarter of a cup three times a day. Success.

For months now my attitude has been that when the Little Mister is ready, he will eat. I’ve been confident that he has been putting on weight and drinking plenty of milk, so I’ve not been worried. But a conversation I had with a nurse about Milin’s eating habits last week did make me really angry.

We were at the doctor’s just over a week ago, when the doctor we don’t usually see suggested I speak to the health nurse while I was there – she was kind of the equivalent of a Plunket nurse. She weighed the Little Mister straight off and I rejoiced. She didn’t. I had an inkling he was packing on the pounds with formula and the scales showed I was right. At 7.1kg the Little Mister is no longer in the 0.4th percentile. He’s made it up to the second.

But of course, a lengthy discussion about solids ensued. How much does he eat, she asked? About two teaspoons of solids a day if I’m lucky, and up to eight bottles, I answered. I was actually quite pleased that he was eating that much – it was far more than he had been taking previously.

“He should have no more than five bottles a day and he’s not eating solids because he’s full. You must stop feeding him at night so he eats more solids in the day.” She said, or something to that effect anyway. It was a lecture.

I know one size doesn’t fit all, and I’ve stopped caring about all the advice that gets thrown at first-time mums, but this woman made me angry. It took a few days before I could again believe that I was doing the right thing with the Little Mister and following my instinct by letting him guide our pace.

As for giving up night feeds, I don’t mind getting up. He’s a little baby, and I think he’s young enough that if he wants his mum at night and the comfort of a feed, I’m going to give it to him. If I’m tired the next day, it’s not as if I can’t take a nap when he does.

Yes he drinks a lot of bottles instead of eating the prescribed amount of solids, but he is thriving. Plus, after the dramas we had trying to get him to take formula, I don’t mind if he doesn’t give it up in a rush.

I left with another copy of a colourful poster showing what foods to introduce at what age. The colours correspond to the colour of the jars at the supermarket. I also left with a leaflet questioning whether my baby was getting enough iron. It contained a whole load of recipes for beef and lamb dishes for babies – most of which took two hours to cook. Because yes, that’s what I feel like doing in my spare two hours to myself every night. Cooking shepherds pie and blending it into mush. Not surprisingly, the leaflet was from a particular lobby group with an interest in encouraging me to buy copious amounts of beef and lamb.

On another day, I wouldn’t have been angry, I would have beaten myself up about failing to feed my son well enough. I would have gone and stocked up on beef, lamb and colour-coded baby food jars. I would have tried to force feed my proudly independent Little Mister. I would have forgotten that his nutritional needs are being met, despite what meat lobby groups tell me. Nobody would have won.

For first-time mums, the industry that has grown around marketing baby products can be overwhelming. It can make you question whether what you are doing is right, and it can make you doubt yourself. Surely though, no-one knows what a baby needs better than his mother does? And surely, if a mother is trying her very best, that’s what her baby needs?


Bob Dylan at Bed Time

TONIGHT, as the Little Mister fell asleep to the sounds of Tony playing him the guitar, I learnt that everyone has their own way of doing things. And just because I’m used to doing things a certain way with the little boy, it doesn’t mean that they’re the only way that’ll work.

I love putting the Little Mister to bed. The process starts way before I step in. A little before six, Tony baths him. This is their time. I potter around in the background, getting laundry sorted, tidying up, arranging things for dinner, finding clean pyjamas. And then Tony dresses him in front of the fire, giving him a massage along the way. Story books follow. Our current favourites are The very hungry caterpillar (still) and Goodnight moon. Then (a recent and highly successful development in terms of the sleep that follows), the Little Mister has a big bottle of formula which sends him half to sleep.

I bundle him up into his sleeping bag and take him into his room, which is already dark, with the radio tuned off station and humming static in the background. I might feed him some more if that’s what he wants, but either way, we’ll sit in my chair and have a delicious sleepy cuddle until he drops off. Quietly, I’ll put him down in his cot, make sure his bunny is within reach, and tip toe out – silently cursing the noisy door handle on my way.

But tonight, I watched Tony on the monitor, Hal, and what he did was very, very different. I even went in and offered to put Milin down myself. I was turned away. Tony and Milin have their own routine. They perfect it two nights a week, when I am at work.

Tony put Milin in his cot, wide awake. He picked up his guitar and started to sing to him. It turns out that Milin likes Bob Dylan. So much so that he listened quietly for a while, and then turned on his side, jutted his chin into the air, and assumed his sleeping pose. Tony stopped playing, the boy wanted to sleep. Tony left the room. The boy was asleep.

To me, there had been so many things wrong with this scenario. Milin didn’t finish the bottle – he will be hungry and not sleep – I thought. Except he’s already done a longer stretch than  normal at this time. Too much stimulation at bed time, I thought. Except that it put him to sleep. He needs a cuddle, I thought. Except, clearly, he had already had enough cuddles.

As Tony pointed out, he didn’t learn the trick from a ‘how to be a good parent’ book, he didn’t steal it from his baby club mates, and he didn’t pick up the advice from facebook. He did things his way, and did what he felt would work. It did. I already knew the books don’t have all the answers. But tonight, I figured, that between us, we’ll get things right by the Little Mister, just by going with our instinct. And sometimes, that might mean, singing a little Bob Dylan at bed time.


Banana-stained Success

TWO MONTHS might be the magic number. That’s how long it took, of trying every day, for the Little Mister to take formula. And that’s how long it has taken, of trying every day, to get the Little Mister to eat. Now, at nearly seven months, I can say he has had his first real go at solids.

I don’t know what happened to change things today, but I’m notching it up as a success. Breakfast went as it does everyday. Milin refused his puree. (Today it was pear.) He pursed his lips, arched his back, and tried to squirm out of his high chair.

At lunch, he threw his rusk ceremoniously on the floor, reached for my salad, and started drooling. Caught short with none of my fancy creations defrosted, I decided my balsamic-drenched quinoa and raisin bowl wouldn’t be the safest thing to try him on, so I mashed up a banana.

The Little Mister allowed me to guide the spoon into his mouth. He probably ate almost a tablespoon worth. At last.

Perhaps not-so-secretly, I have spent the last month or so gazing enviously at other mummies as they feed their babies. I’ve wanted to join in with Milin. I’ve watched studiously for tips – what have I been doing wrong? I’ve taken books out of the library – and renewed them because if I read them a second time I might figure out some answers. I’ve ordered my baby-led weaning book – and still plan to do a little of this, because my boy clearly prefers feeding himself.  And now, finally, (unless this was a complete one off, but I’m being optimistic), I can start making the meals I’ve been eyeing up in Annabel Karmel’s book that has been gathering dust on the shelf. I’ll hopefully also stop being consumed by this obsession that is centred on getting the Little Mister to eat.

And if the first month of his life was milk-stained, this seventh month may be characterised by the brown smudge of banana. It’s horrible.

I know babies aren’t tidy. Our house is already filled with Little Mister themed clutter. And I know it’ll get worse once he’s mobile and pulling things off shelves. But the mess that comes with eating is going to take some getting used to.

We both learned something today. The Little Mister learnt that eating off a spoon really isn’t that bad. In fact, he almost grizzled once the banana was all gone. And I learnt never, ever, to feed him banana while he is wearing his cutest cardigan, and while I am wearing cashmere.

Post banana high

In other news, because I know there is more to life than solids and my obsession with them will now wane, the Little Mister is getting pretty good at sitting up.

Four hours good, two hours bad

THE FOG of exhaustion has lifted. Thank you Little Mister, thank you.

Life has been getting easier these last two weeks. It’s because Milin is sleeping better. And Milin sleeping better means we all sleep better and the house is a happier place.

I am convinced this sudden improvement is down to the Little Mister finally succumbing to drinking formula. For the last fortnight, he’s dropped his dramatic two-month rejection of S26 gold, and he is now happy to guzzle it from the bottle during the day. At night, he still quite likes his mum, thank you very much.

He’s still not drinking anywhere near the recommended quantities, but he is clearly not going to bed hungry anymore. Instead of waking every two hours, which he did for two months, he has spent the last fortnight letting us get more sleep. He is still sleeping from 7pm – 7am, but now with only two night-time pit stops for feeds. That’s down from about four wake-ups. It’s making quite a difference to my life.

When you have to keep getting up every two hours at night, the next day is a foggy, confused, hazy experience you bumble your way through. You have whole conversations with people and moments later cannot remember what you talked about. You walk into a room with no idea what you were looking for. It’s not worth trying to concentrate on anything. When that goes on for two months, you become a zombie.

The difference between getting up every two hours and getting up every four is phenomenal. I’ve realised I can, once again, string complete sentences together. I don’t spend the night time feeds fighting sleep while holding my baby. I don’t wake up in the morning with no recollection of how many times I got up in the night – because I was doing it while half asleep.

Tony thinks I’m tempting fate by celebrating the Little Mister’s improved sleeping patterns. That’s ok. Even if he goes back to frequent waking and this is a short-lived blip, at least it’s been a much-needed and much-enjoyed reprieve from exhaustion.

If the Little Mister’s bright red cheeks and constant gnawing are anything to go by, we could soon be embarking on a road of teething adventures. Tony points out that these are likely to bring with them another run of sleepless nights. But, again, that’s ok. It’s what we signed up for.