Lessons from Mum School: making friends with your microwave

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Our cheery red microwave. Or is it a mirror?

Babies (and toddlers) are unpredictable. Lots of people told me this but no one told me how important routine was to become to me as I adjusted to being a mum.

Alex (now 15 months) has always been a very happy eater. But every time we think that we’ve got it sussed he throws another curve ball. We’re still battling with fruit as finger food, but lately mummy’s home cooked meals are being cast aside in favour of ready meals. The other day I got rather upset by this and it set off a major postnatal depression-wobble. Yesterday it happened again, but I resigned myself to the spaghetti bolognese. For lunch today we’re reaching straight for the Heinz little kidz sweet & sour chicken because, quite frankly, life’s too short to faff about with food that Alex won’t eat. I’m learning to go with the flow.

I’d planned a trip to Sainsbury’s this morning – actually more enjoyable than it sounds as Alex loves sitting in the trolley seat and is fascinated by everything he sees. But by the time we’d finished breakfast, the shopping list, and loaded the washing machine and dishwasher, it was almost 10am. He’s not been well, which for Alex usually means a longer daytime nap (or two) and probably a bit less during the night. So, conscious that he really needed a sleep, the last thing I wanted to do was to make him miss out on it. Then I remembered that we needed to phone mum/grandma. So now I’m writing this at 12.15pm, Alex has been asleep for over an hour and we’ll go out this afternoon. I do generally find it easier to go out during the morning, but we’ll get there in our own time. The shopping bags are in the car, the change bag is packed and I have stuffed my bag with snacks and handheld toys. In short, I’m serious about going out today.

Scrap the second sentence of this blog entry about having adjusted to being a mum. I’m still adjusting to motherhood. It’s taking time, but I’m getting there.

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“Put on your red shoes and dance the blues”

What a year. But enough about the wider world; it’s been a rollercoaster for me as well. After finally seeking help for my postnatal depression (PND) in December 2015, I felt I was on the mend, only for progress to stall a few months later. I went up to a higher dose of Sertraline but am back down again, which seems to be going ok.

Around Valentine’s Day (the least romantic ever experienced) we realised a little tardily that green diarrhoea meant four-month-old Alex was very poorly, finding out during a late night visit to Paediatrics that he’d caught the norovirus. Cue several more urgent appointments as his poo proceeded to turn almost every colour of the rainbow and a month or so on lactose free milk to coax his tummy back to normal.

The silver lining to the clouds in that sky was joining Twitter, where I soon stumbled upon the #PNDfamily, #PNDchat and #PNDhour hashtags. It’s impossible to overestimate the value of peer support.

At around the same time I took David Bowie’s advice (from ‘Let’s Dance’) in this post’s title above and ventured to my first Zumba class. I loved it so much I asked for some more suitable clothing for my birthday, although the trainers I chose were not red, but purple. Zumba – featuring an eclectic mix of pop and Latin (how about Enrique Iglesias, Zara Larsson, Justin Timberlake, Sia and even a helping of The Jam?) is brilliant exercise and the buzz from the music and the dancing is infectious – whether you’re an expert or just managing to keep up with barely half of the moves (that’s me). I’d always fancied having a go – funny how I eventually did with a baby in tow! Alex, for his part, loved both the dancing and attention, and instructor Niki was convinced he preferred the Latin tracks…

What’s more, shortly after an hour of Zumba on Wednesday mornings, the same hall was transformed into a ‘rhythm and rhyme’ class run so Alex could get his fix of ‘Old MacDonald’ and then we could walk home in time for lunch.

As Alex grew, so did my confidence and before I knew it we were rapidly approaching August and my return to work. I knew without any doubt that I was not cut out to be a stay-at-home-mum but a full time job also seemed a little too much. I know how lucky I was to walk back into the same job, albeit for three days instead of five.

A friend recommended a childminder who worked… three days a week. Alex settled in brilliantly and so did I, with a clear sense on my first day back that I was meant to be there. Five months later I still genuinely look forward to my time at work (not least the hot cups of tea) but I also enjoy knowing on Wednesday evenings that I’m done for the next four days. Thursday and Friday are my days with Alex, and although we get out and about, he’s still a good daytime sleeper so I have the satisfaction of being able to catch up with housework too.

But finding myself behind a desk in Uxbridge meant we had to say goodbye to that Zumba class. I needed a new form of exercise. It just so happened that a gym had opened in a secondary school a few minutes’ walk away. They hold evening Zumba classes. I also tried Spinning, but after three weeks of that managed to break my elbow while on a simple walk to the park. As anyone who’s tried spinning knows, you spend a fair amount of time standing up on the bike and therefore put a lot of weight through your arms. Luckily by this point I realised it was more cost effective to pay monthly for full gym membership than by class; which also gave me access to all the machines during opening hours.

I was still in shock that I’d joined a gym at all, which made me feel even more of a fool turning up with my arm in a sling. But I needn’t have worried: everyone was so encouraging and with care and common sense, there were still a lot of machines I could use.

This week has definitely been more about Toblerone than trainers but that’s ok… There’s always 2017.

Happy new year.

An overdue post for Caesarean Awareness Month

10am on 14 October, 2015. I checked the bags one more time before we loaded them into the car. We stopped at the garage to fill up with diesel and as I sat in the front passenger seat I remember looking at the other people around us, going about their daily lives in the sunshine. Ours were about to change forever.

Why so calm? Our baby was transverse for most of my pregnancy, but they didn’t stay that way. At our 36 week scan to assess the situation the sonographer said “Well, baby’s moved, but is now breech.” I let out a nervous laugh; my husband James hugged her. The news that they won’t have the ‘preferred’ birth is not what most mums-to-be would want to hear, but not me. Without going into detail I was more than usually worried about labour, so a breech baby was a blessing, there’s no doubt at all in my mind. Was I disappointed? Well, maybe a little that I wasn’t going to experience the excitement and spontaneity of realising that I was in labour but that feeling was far outweighed by one of relief.

So, we were calm because of course a breech baby identified before labour begins will usually be delivered via a planned caesarean. I was offered ECV (external cephalic version) twice to try to turn the baby, but both times encountered no difficulty when I politely refused. There’s only a 50% success rate and even then the baby could decide to flip themselves round again – meaning the mum has to endure the discomfort for nothing. Funnily enough, both my brother and I were breech, although to my knowledge there’s no established genetic basis for breech presentation.

On arriving at the hospital I was given a bed, all ready with accompanying perspex cot. This felt very strange when baby hasn’t arrived yet. The doctor insisted on another scan, even though I could feel their head at the base of my right rib. And so to the operating theatre. Or rather the anaesthetist’s room as it would be another 45 mins until I got into surgery. The first epidural failed – giving only pins and needles when complete numbness was needed. Thankfully the second attempt worked, but at no time was I in any danger of being operated on without anaesthetic. Only when they’d rigorously sprayed cold water first on my arms, which could sense the low temperature, and then my legs, which eventually couldn’t, were we allowed into surgery.

But all the same it was a bit nerve-wracking: I looked across and saw my already anxious husband sitting looking fairly uncomfortable. And as I lay there longer and longer, I started to worry that I was going to have a general anaesthetic, and therefore wouldn’t meet my baby until hours after the birth.

Thankfully the second attempt worked. I have to praise all of the staff involved in our care that day, but particularly the brilliant anaesthetist whose sense of humour helped us get through both pre-surgery and the operation itself.

James really came into his own in theatre. After the frankly surreal moment of the eight medical professionals in the room introducing themselves while I was stark naked from the waist downwards (although strangely when you can’t feel a thing down there it doesn’t seem to matter) James just talked nonsense to take my mind off what was happening. It worked, otherwise he wouldn’t have had to ask the anaesthetist if it was OK for me to laugh so much…

So, after about 20 minutes of interesting sensations and sounds, a baby was lifted out. I will never forget the sight of a red, messy and quite unhappy little person appearing above the screen. James had the job of revealing the gender: “It’s a dude!”

“Hello Alex” I said.