As we get ready for Boy Blob, I’m already noticing the differences between our first time and the second. I feel a lot less prepared, for one thing – an offshoot of being so much more tired this time ’round, but also because experience has taught me that babies can throw you lots of curve balls. And I’m more okay with being uncertain. I think I’m learning to roll with the punches.
Which makes me wonder what else I’ve learnt after almost 3½ years with Arddun. Here’s a tentative list.
1. Have SOME sort of a birth plan this time
I hear of some first-time mums who were so determined to have THE most natural (read: non-intervention) childbirth they could possibly get in a hospital, that they prescribed everything. And then promptly freaked out when they had to go for an emergency C-section — or worse, endangered the lives of their babies because they could not imagine another way.
Determined not to fall into that mental cage, I had swanned into the hospital the last time with no birth plan.
I wouldn’t say it was a huge mistake… but this time, I think we’ll be a lot more assertive about getting the medical attention when we need it, and also telling them when to back off. Without getting into a bunch of hairy details, I had ended up with an augmented birth with Arddun, due largely to delays by the hospital. This meant a zero-to-hero experience for contractions (“No pain… still no pain… nuh uh… OMIFREAKINGLORDOWOWOWOWOWOWOW!”), and semi bed-riddance, thanks to the cocktail of drugs they had to hook me up to. Some midwives can also be quietly militant about their brand of Best Childbearing Protocol and push you along a path you may no longer want to take. And that is why I’m interested in learning how to articulate a birth plan upfront for this round.
2. Recognising the Bigger Evil
Totally convinced about the joys and benefits of breastfeeding exclusively, and sufficiently scared into secretly abhorring the “easy way out” formula route, I had completely not banked on the following happening:
- Having a baby come early, so her liver wasn’t quite ready yet
- My milk supply not kicking in that quickly (apparently very common among Chinese women)
- The lethal combination of post-partum hormone surges and broken, scant sleep.
Arddun lost weight and turned orange in her early days in hospital. And this was after I had spent hours and hours sitting up in that hospital room in the middle of the night, alternately stroking her tiny cheek to keep her awake to drink, and silently screaming from the sheer agony of breastfeeding. Sometimes, there were tears streaming down my face in the dead of night from confusion and frustration and embarrassment at “already failing”. And my child was overtired and still underfed.
When the gentle suggestion to supplement her feeds with formula was broached – by the very champion of Breast is Best, a midwife — I finally lost it. It was the report card I had feared the most in those early days. FAILURE TO FEED. Failure to sustain my child in her first days of life outside my body.
It was the best thing we could have done for both Arddun and I. And I wished I hadn’t been so stubborn, or so scared. Supplementing her breastfeeds with formula gave Arddun some rest because it was easier for her to drink out of a rubber teat than to work her darndest on a set of boobs that was still clueless about their new role as milk buds. It gave me much-needed sleep, which then helped to establish that supply. It quickly gave her the fluids to flush out the bilirubin, and helped her put on weight so she got strong enough to breastfeed efficiently.
I ended up breastfeeding for 22 months — well after many women I knew who had breastfed exclusively. That doesn’t make me a better mother, any more than giving Arddun some formula in those early months made me a lousier, lazier one. And if Boy Blob comes early and I have trouble establishing supply again, I’m going to seriously consider formula. Because tough choices. Because priorities. Because big picture.
3. Not Accepting Help
There’s something I’ve learnt about myself over the years: when it comes to problem-solving, I need to imagine the worst-case scenario. Once I think I have a handle on that, I’m fine.
I had approached new motherhood with Arddun like a problem to be solved. There was a fierce, visceral need to Manage Everything Ourselves, and as a result I think I had ended up shutting others out in the very early days — especially my mother. (Huge regrets on that score. Tonnes.)
I don’t know that it was pride at work, so much as the self-sustenance borne out of being by ourselves in Canberra for 7 years… and the realisation that everyone will go back to ‘normal’ eventually, and it’d be Just Me and The Baby. And I had needed the certainty within myself, that confidence, that I was going to be okay when that day came. That I could be an adequate, competent mother without the village.
That was the internal mental and emotional dialogue. Outside, I must have looked territorial, closed to instruction and advice, and rather selfish.
This time, I want to make a conscious effort to let others in. Because the village wants in. And having the courage to depend on a village is something I want to work on.
4. Save my money on those parenting books
What a waste of time and braincells those turned out to be. The best support and advice I got turned out to be from those in the trenches with me (thank you Mother’s Group!), from remembering lessons from my childhood, from chatting with family members, and from observing older families around me. The trouble with self-proclaimed parenting experts is that there isn’t a single right way to parent. Ever. The more valuable exercise was growing my own intuition and confidence through prayer and practice. And mistakes. And forgiveness. And rinse and repeat.
5. Take care of myself
I was the first-time mum who spent every ounce of energy on Arddun. And I stopped wearing make up (or taking care of my skin), and I stopped wearing pretty shoes, and I didn’t take time out to do my nails, or cut my hair, or doll up for special occasions because we didn’t date anymore. I didn’t exercise much. I wore ill-fitting clothes.
I wasn’t a fat slob, and I was still clean and hygienic. But I wasn’t a lady. I was only, exclusively, a mother.
I don’t know that I will be any better this time around, and I can’t imagine being one of those mums that manages to clown-cake on make up before going anywhere… but some effort would be nice.
6. Take care of each other
Date nights. A lot more of them. Just Tony and I. Not vegging in front of the couch, but actually making an effort to go some place and remember what it was like to focus on each other exclusively. It’s only going to get harder to do with TWO little ones and still no family around us within quick babysitting distance, but I suspect a large part of our current reticence is because we’re quite attached to our routine.
7. Trust their ability to adapt
One of the things that has been unconsciously drilled into both Tony and I is how young children need their routine, and how they are creatures of habit. And that is largely true: routine is what enables Arddun to get enough sleep. It affects her ability to learn and eat, and therefore have the capacity and readiness to develop mentally, physically and emotionally. Routine is part of the framework that enables her to be a happy child.
But I also think we’ve been too afraid sometimes to mix things up a little. We have, perhaps, missed opportunities to build good memories because we’ve held the bedtime routine as sacrosanct. I’m also wondering if part of our motivation hasn’t stemmed from a form of laziness. Of avoiding the hassle of the next 36 hours that might be affected by one unorthodox evening.
And yet, what have Arddun’s early years taught me? We have travelled back and forth to Singapore many times with her, battled with jet lag, adapted to different social expectations (they tend to hoist their babies around till late in those parts), worked through different sleeping arrangements (she co-slept for the first time), and she had more than survived there – she had enjoyed herself. And despite months away, she still managed to adapt back to Canberra life when we returned. It was a process, but it got done.
So why are we so conservative when we are home? It’s something we keep slipping into, but I’d like to get more adventurous as we expand our family. It will take effort and planning, but magic only stays with children for such a sliver of time. It’s worth making Wonderful for.