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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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pregnancy

Well, helloooooo there!

Introducing our newest member of the family, Atticus Nolan Kai. Came 3 days early in a screaming mad rush this morning. Mild drama. Also, all those assurances that Boy Blob is “average size” might have been a tad conservative, since he’s a bonny 9-pound+ bundle of deliciousness.

More details to follow but for now, Arddun has taken to calling her new brother “Boy”, and referring to him as HER baby.

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We are delighted. We are tired. Talk more soon.

Clumsy Mumsy

Slipped on a patch of something at the food court in Canberra Centre this evening, felt myself falling backwards, overcompensated and fell forwards instead, braced myself with right wrist, landed heavily on my knees.

Entire food court (comprising, perhaps, of 5 people by that late hour), went completely silent in horror, before breaking into a chorus of “OMIGOODNESS ARE YOU ALRIGHT???!!! ARE YOU HURT??!!!”

To which my honest answer was, “Only my knees… and my pride.” Cue sheepish grin.

I think everyone was slightly more traumatised than I was. It must have been like watching an Oliphaunt keel over in slow motion.

I love that my friend had a death grip on my left arm, that I was offered a drink of water, that a seat was brought to me, that a woman was quick to tell me how, when she was pregnant, she had run into a glass door.

Nothing like solidarity to cheer the spirit and soothe bruised knees and ego.

Birth Plan discussion, continued

“Birth plan? How’s this for a birth plan?

Next Friday (5 December) is when the first Indian test match is playing. Bub’s gonna be a few days late by then. You go into labour, I’ll sit outside with a transistor radio and wait for you.”

~ Tony, loving husband, mad cricket fan.

A birth plan for a second-time mother

When we had Arddun, I came to the hospital without a written birth plan. Partly because Arddun was early (she came in week 38), but mostly because I wanted to go with the flow as much as possible. It was my very first time, I had chosen not to educate myself on other birth stories for fear of setting up unrealistic expectations personally, and I’d rather scoffed at the idea of planning a birth. As if something as mysterious and miraculous as that could be wholly micro-managed. Pfft.

I’m rethinking my stance now with Boy Blob.

It’s not about micro-managing Boy Blob’s entrance to the world, and nor am I trying to tell my obstetrician and midwives how to do their jobs. But I do want to capitalise on the lessons learnt from Arddun’s birth. At the very least, articulating on paper how I’d like to try new things and what I found disempowering will help crystalise what is important to me and my family.

So here’s what I’ll be trying to cobble together in the next 24 hours as the clock ticks over to Week 39.

Document length: short and sharp
If I am to whip this out and wave it in front of staff in a tremendous hurry, I need it to be scannable and easy to digest. Enter Web Writing 101 – good headlines, chunk content, use dot points to break down large sentences or concepts. Preferably kept to one page length.

The introduction: a disclaimer
I read the following introductory paragraph in a birth plan, and like it enough to want to adapt it for my own. It sets the context for the document, assures everyone that I’m not a control-freak (or try not to be), and that I understand things can get fluid.

Mine might go something like this:

We’re hoping for a natural childbirth without unnecessary intervention or the use of drugs, although we are open to changing our minds on pain relief medication down the track if needed. We appreciate your support with our birth preferences.

This plan represents our preferences. However, we recognise that in the event of unforeseen difficulties it may need to be re-negotiated. In this eventuality, please discuss all procedure options with us. When possible, we also kindly ask for some privacy to discuss our decision(s) between ourselves before agreeing to any new procedures.

Backgrounder: How did the last birth go?
Chances are, my midwife will be someone I’ve never met before. Which means she is going to assume that my body will labour at a similar pace to other women’s. Except I know what party tricks my body whipped out the last time, and that knowledge will ultimately benefit her judgement, too. Things like

  • the fact that Arddun’s birth was mostly drug-free (does paracetamol count?)
  • how Arddun’s birth was augmented and I was on syntocinon
  • how, after contracting every 1 to 2 minutes for about 2½ hours, I had dilated a mere 2cm
  • how, after being told I probably had another 12 hours to go, promptly dilated 7cm in 30 minutes so my obstetrician had to abandon his lunch and run back
  • how my total length of active birth was 4 hours
  • how I used vocalisation as my primary pain management tool, especially when hooked up to a cocktail of drugs and confined to the bed. Read: if you are going to constrict my movements, be prepared to hear me bellow for 4 hours like a dying animal. And oh, I have a pretty fit, choir-trained diaphragm. I can project.

What I’d like to try out
Because my last birth was an augmentation and I had a monstrosity of tubes and such sticking out my right arm, I ended up delivering Arddun while flat on my back. I’m not saying the same won’t happen, but if I could, I’d like help to move around the room more, get into easier birthing positions, and get into that bath so I can pummel warm water down my back for pain relief. Assuming, of course, that baby isn’t in distress and nothing crazy is about to happen.

What I’d like to avoid
I also want to stress my right to speedy pain relief if I decide that’s what I need. I think I’m going to try and do it without drugs again because part of me wonders if Arddun’s birth had been quick because of that. But if this birth turns out to be the opposite of Arddun’s (i.e.: slow, start-stop) and I feel that I need to conserve energy for the final push later, I just might opt for an epidural. I am older now. I am also less fit than how I was when I had Arddun, and I’m getting less quality sleep every night. I understand my limitations, but I want the assurance that others will trust my instincts, too.

Also, the idea of forceps and episiotomies scare the living crap out of me — even more than a C-section. I’ll brave them if I have to, but I’d really rather not.

 

I’m open to hearing other birth preference ideas, if you have any. Even if this turns out a purely academic exercise and I don’t actually whip out a plan on the day.

Preparing for the next two chapters of our lives

It’s funny how all of us are now eagerly anticipating – no, expecting – Boy Blob’s arrival any day now, even though we are still 11 days out from the official due date. With Arddun, her early arrival had caught us all by surprise. First babies are notoriously late. And second babies are notoriously earlier than their trail blazers.

Well, it’s starting to look like both kids are determined to flout expectations.

The hospital bag is more or less packed. The rented bassinet is where it needs to be, with fresh batteries inserted so now it can vibrate and/or play music while allowing a small night light to shine on. Christmas shopping is mostly done. I’ve handed over most meal preparation duties to my mother-in-law next week. We are stopping by the Baby & Kids Market tomorrow to see what else we can score, but I think we’re almost ready. Materially ready.

And yet, it doesn’t feel like we’re that close to going into labour after all.

Meanwhile…

One of the other things I’ve needed to prepare myself for is Arddun’s entrance to preschool early next year. A small deluge of emails have recently swamped our inboxes from the enrolment office, and Arddun has been fitted out for her uniform.

Arddun was not impressed by her new togs. After very reluctantly allowing me to put on her polo T-shirt and sports shorts (that ballooned out enough, as unisex school shorts always do, to more closely resemble badly fitting culottes), she looked me very seriously in the eyes and quietly pronounced,

“Mummy, I don’t want to wear this.”

In the 3 years+ of my dressing her, I have never heard her utter a preference – much less a statement saturated with such obvious distaste. She has never really commented on what I choose for her to wear. And I have never really given her much choice in the matter, such is the peaceful arrangement we have always had.

But put her in shapeless unisex polyester, and suddenly her fashion senses are screaming.

I had a good read of the school website today, and got the heebie jeebies myself. There’s something about the language and tone of school administrators and teachers that take you waaaay back, and can make you feel this small. I think it’s the no-nonsense way rules are spelt out in full. Read our policies. These are our requirements. You will not bring your child in before this hour. You will sit with your child until such a time. If your child is late, go to the office and fill out a late slip. If you are late picking your child up, God help you. And gaudy colours are not permitted.

I felt like I was going back to school again. And I suppose Tony and I will be, in a way. We may not be the ones in front of the interactive whiteboards, but we will certainly feel every bit as assessed as our child.

Still, I’m glad we’re starting Arddun a year early to ease her (and us) in. And I’m glad that still leaves majority of the week for her to enjoy unschooled, uncurriculumed, unprescribed Play.

Arddun blowing bubbles with her eyes closed

Never ready

Today, a total stranger manning a small cafe in Forde commented that I obviously don’t have long till I drop my bundle. I’m not familiar with that euphemism, but apparently that’s very Australian for “you’re lookin’ like you’re about to have your baby any second now, luvvie.”

And indeed, gravity seems to be working on Boy Blob. Tony and I went to the obstetrician on Monday and true enough, the Boy has started his descent. On Tuesday during a dinner with church family, I was asked if I was able to place my hand between my bosom and my tummy – apparently another test of The Drop. (I managed four fingers.)

This means that I am running out of time to pack.

I’ve been slowly adding to my hospital bag for close to a month now, and I don’t have very much more to pack. Perhaps I’ll get a new pyjama set, perhaps a nice robe. Perhaps a night light, the kind you bop on top for some local illumination that won’t drench the room in blinding white. I had written some notes to myself about what to do for next time, and that list of things to bring (and leave at home) came in handy.

Ear plugs. Definitely a must-bring. Especially if you share a wall with a tribe.

Food, because hospitals here ain’t anything like the hospitals in Singapore. One miserable sandwich kiosk and a cafeteria? The latter closing at 8pm? COME ON!

Ran out today and bought a second-hand baby bathtub (the one with the molded seat for toddlers and a hammock for newborns) for $10. Might be on the hunt for a second-hand electric bottle steriliser, as ours is starting to get dodgy. Baby & Kids market on this Saturday, maybe I’ll find other things there, including a near-new breastfeeding pillow. Haven’t really cleaned the pram yet. It’s been a while.

There’s all this minutiae and I feel this time around that I’ve not got a handle on it like I did the first time. Mostly because I really don’t want to run out and spend a bomb on Second (and Final) Child. Is that bad? Or just prudence?

I’ve been asked a lot if I’m ready for Boy Blob. And I’ve always answered honestly – that I don’t know that I can ever be truly ready. How can it be that I felt surer about Arddun’s arrival than Number Two’s? Or perhaps experience has taught me better about babies and the absolute tumult they bring to our lives. I feel relaxed, but I also feel excitement and apprehension. And I’m convinced Arddun is sensing that Big Change is afoot, because she’s teary and moody one moment, cheerful and affectionate the next.

I am calm and all over the place. It’s week 38. Anytime now.

 

First-time Mum Lessons I hope to learn

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.

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