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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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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.

Facebook Free

For the past three Fridays, I’ve been trying to be Facebook-Free. (If you haven’t already figured it out, I like my alliterations.)

Yesterday marked the first time I’d been successful. (I had set WordPress up to automatically post to Facebook on my behalf, so that wasn’t me checking in.) All this effort only serves to highlight how sadly addicted I’ve become to social media. And as it turns out, I’m not alone. I was reading A Pendulum World yesterday, and she too was working through her habits and actions when it comes to blogging and social media engagement. Her post resonated with enough women to garner 21 responses and counting – all of them bemoaning the fact that they have difficulty switching off.

It’s very much a problem of the age. And before some of us start mounting our high horses about the generations after ours (in my case, Generation Y, Millenials, and iGen), let’s just say that the Corporate world – currently dictated largely by older Gen Xers and those before them – have a lot to answer for, too. We are now expected to be On Tap and fully accessible through the myriad of technologies availed to us. You can now get your emails through your desktop, your tablet AND your mobile, and for the more progressive companies, they’re pushing documents and news through instant chat apps and the like. The influx of information – whether prescribed to or subscribed by us – can be unrelenting.

And then there’s that big lie about multi-tasking, and how women are built for it.

“Contrary to popular belief, human beings cannot multitask. What we are capable of is handling a number of serial tasks in rapid succession, or mixing automatic tasks with those that are not so automatic. That’s one of the reasons that the NTSB reports that texting while driving is the functional equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. You just can’t effectively attend to two things at once – even the superficially automatic ones.” ~ From Psychology Today

“It’s a common belief that women are better at multi-tasking than men. After all, productivity studies show that women continue to do the lion’s share of household and childcare tasks, while also holding down part- or full-time work. So this must mean women are better multi-taskers, right? Not necessarily. For a topic that causes so much heat in the kitchen, there’s surprisingly little scientific evidence to declare a clear winner.” ~ From National Science Week 2011. The study goes on to prove that women look like better multi-taskers, because they are better at planning and strategy.

I speak purely for myself when I say my Facebooking is compulsive. If I have a free moment with the gadgets, that’s the place I’ll go. I may not be the type of Facebooker to post a pic of every meal I’ve had, repost every news article I’ve come across, or give a blow-by-blow of my hourly movements (unless I am pathetically trying to do A Photo An Hour). But if I posted a series of photos, you’ll be sure I’ll be checking in to see how the numbers are climbing. And don’t get me started on blog posts. Every blogger I’ve met not-so-secretly watches their stats climb after they publish a post. And that is something I have come to actively repress because of how narcissistic it is.

The scariest thing of all is that it’s become a reflex – I don’t know I’m doing it, until I’m already there. That’s when I knew I had a problem.

The biggest losers in all of this, of course, are the relations in my life. Specifically, the daughter I deliberately stayed home most days of the week to blog about. The Art of Being Present has started to elude me. And yet, I watch Arddun and all she does is live in the present. No casting back on the past, no organising about the future. Yet somehow, as we grow older, we take on this odd paradigm that thinking ahead is sagacious and living in the Now is indulgent.

There are a few posts meshed in this untidy one – multi-tasking, living in the present, turning things off – so I’ll try and focus just on the one for tonight.

Here’s a few things I’ve been trying out lately to discipline my social media-checking compulsion.

  1. Getting Alarmed
    I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned my FitBit One, but I went and got a nice maroon one from ebay early this year, and it has evolved into my Life Reminder – mostly because I can program several alarms on it and it vibrates against my body discreetly. My three main FitBit alarms are for waking up, for reminding me to sleep, and for my 3pm cup of tea – which is the permission I give myself to check personal emails and Facebook. This worked out great for about a month, until I stopped wearing it from the middle of my second trimester due to the lack of pockets in maternity wear. You read that right.
  2. Finding a replacement
    I think part of the reason I click on Facebook is the unthinking need to connect to someone, or to feed the mind. And so I’m starting to pick up my mobile and call others for a chat if I have a block of time. Or sit and plan for the next day with paper and pen. Or write an actual letter, stamps and everything. Or read an ebook borrowed from the library. Or write a summary of my day in a journal. All this takes conscientious effort and self-awareness. And it’s about unlearning an old habit, at the end of the day. I can still be in the middle of checking Facebook before realising I had defaulted to that without thinking. But at least the self-awareness is growing.
  3. Going cold turkey one day a week
    So like I said in the beginning of this post, Friday is supposed to be my Facebook-Free day. And yesterday was the first time I succeeded. Some of the things that helped – planning in advance. Resolving the night before that Friday was Facebook Free. Coming up with the alliteration in the first place, so I’d remember. And then moving/hiding the app icon, so that muscle memory wouldn’t kick in. I tried not to binge today after a day of Facebook fasting, so building in new rules for regular days of the week have been crucial for me. I get to check Facebook in the mornings, before I’m out of bed. I’m still sticking to my 3pm as far as possible — even without my FitBit One — and then after dinner to unwind.

Why am I even wanting to do this? Because Being Present with Arddun is my greatest gift to her at this stage. Quality time IS Quantity time. The two are intertwined. And while Being Present isn’t just about not Facebooking (I have many other distractions like housework), it is at least a good start.

Household cleaning tips to try

Just stumbled upon a few household cleaning tips, and thought I’d pick a few to try out. Here’s a list of things I never knew and haven’t tried. If you’ve tried out any of them, could you let me know how effective it is?

Those marked in red are some I really want to try soon.

  1. Eucalyptus oil removes the gummy residue left by shop stickers.
  2. To remove furniture indentations from pure wool carpet place a tea towel over the area and then press with a warm iron. The heat will lift the fibres. Do not attempt this with synthetic or a wool/synthetic mix carpet.
  3. Light a match and let it burn a few seconds to remove toilet smells.
  4. To stop bathroom mirrors steaming up, regularly rub a dry bar of soap over the surface and rub in with a clean cloth.
  5. Stop clothes with thin straps falling off hangers by sticking small felt furniture pads onto the hanger just beyond where the straps sit.
  6. To keep your car windows ice and frost free when left outside overnight in the wintertime, mix three parts vinegar to one part water, put it in a spray bottle and spray on the windows as needed.
  7. To prevent buttons from becoming loose or undone, dab a little clear nail varnish on the top thread or onto the stem of the thread and leave to dry.
  8. To stop ants entering your house, draw a chalk line on the ground where you want them to stop. If you live in a rainy area where ants are a problem, you must re-draw the chalk lines each time it rains.
  9. To deter silverfish, place whole cloves in wardrobes and drawers.
  10. To remove body oil stains from collars and cuffs of coloured shirts and blouses, rub hair shampoo directly on the stains. Rinse out the shampoo, then wash the clothes as usual.
  11. To revive a vase of wilted flowers, add a teaspoon of mild detergent.
  12. To keep pinking shears or scissors sharp, cut through a sheet of folded aluminium foil or coarse sandpaper.
  13. To leave a room smelling fresh after you have vacuumed, place a few drops of your favourite essential oil (such as lavender or peppermint) near the vent where the hot air is released. The air warms the oil and blows it into the room.
  14. To mask unpleasant odors, put some coffee beans in a saucepan and burn them. The smell of coffee will overpower the other nasty odors.
  15. To clean a microwave oven, add four tablespoons of lemon juice to one cup of water in a microwave-safe bowl. Boil for five minutes in the microwave, allowing the steam to condense on the inside walls of the oven. Then wipe them with a soft cloth.
  16. To clean a stainless-steel sink, put the stopper in the sink with two denture-cleaning tablets and half fill with water; leave for several hours or overnight and the next day it should be sparkling. Then use the water to clean the draining board, too.
  17. To remove fingerprints from stainless-steel appliances, place a small amount of baby oil on a napkin and wipe the affected areas. The fingerprints will just wipe away.
  18. To remove marker pen off hard surfaces, spray on hair spray and then wipe it off.
  19. To restore toilet bowls back to their shiny best, clean with old, flat Coke or Pepsi. To dissolve limescale, leave the soda overnight to soak.
  20. Vacuuming a mattress, particularly along piping and crevices, removes dead skin cells that attract dust mites.
  21. Clove oil (sold in chemists for toothaches) kills mould spores. Mix three drops in one litre of water and then use to wipe down areas susceptible to mould.
  22. To get rid of the smell of garlic from your hands, rub against stainless steel – your sink is ideal. Then wash hands with soap or detergent.

 

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