The Semi-Attached Parent

Saturday, 28 March 2015

I've noticed lately on Instagram and twitter that a lot of hashtags are flying around in support of #attachmentparenting, #babywearing and #thefourthtrimester - which, if I'm right in thinking, are all part of the same trend. 

I feel that by using the word trend it sounds as though I'm displaying a hint of contempt so I'll apologise now because I'm really not...but I genuinely don't know how else to term this - an ideology?

I decided that I needed to educate myself about 'Attachment Parenting' because its something I haven't really come across too much in detail, and I found that my rather primitive ideas about the concept didn't cover the full extent of it. However, in simple terms, its all about being attached to your baby, physically as much as possible, and emotionally also. Sensitive, nurturing, caring, attentive and loving parenting. Sounds good so far. 

I think the sticking point with me is more specifically with the babywearing bit. I am not a babywearer. Not at all.  

Before I get too much into this, please don't think for one moment that I don't love my children and show them that love. I am very affectionate and loving towards them. I believe in kissing and cuddling and holding my children. I am a tactile person and I constantly touch Ollie, pat him, stroke him, soothe him, encourage him. I hold Harry close to me, I rock him when he cries, I love it when he nuzzles in to me and I fold myself over so he is enveloped in my arms.

But I just don't like the idea of having them strapped to me- and nor do they it seems.

When Ollie was born, he was the most laid back baby in the world. He never ever cried. Ever. To the point where we were worried. It's a very normal response to pick up a baby who is crying or fussing. To hold them, jiggle them, walk with them until they are soothed. Attachment Parenting principles state that babies cannot soothe themselves and need parents to do it for them. But what about babies who don't need soothing in the first place? Ollie was always very content in his own little space. Whether that be Moses basket, his beloved bouncy chair, or just lying on a mat. I would say that the vast majority of the time that I held Ollie was because I wanted a cuddle and a squeeze of him, not because he seemed to want it. Of course I'm sure on some level he enjoyed it when I held him, but I really do believe, judging by his actions, facial expressions etc., he was equally happy in his own space. I even remember one occasion where I felt like I had barely held him all morning and I picked him up for a cuddle and he started fussing and squeaking at me so I put him back in his chair and he started giggling and smiling. So I just used to leave him to it, and sit near or opposite him and talk to him- constantly- and give him my comfort and presence that way. 

Harry has not been dismilar at all, but I think that learned habits to put a baby down have meant that it's been more natural for me to refrain from carrying him around all the time- plus it's much harder to when you've also got a toddler to play with. I carried Harry a lot when we went through the colicky stage and of course if he was crying I would hold him. But Harry has turned into an equally laid back baby who doesn't demand constant picking up.

And the thing is, I think it's a good thing. I have friends who didn't put their babies down because they wanted to hold them all the time, or they felt like that was what they were meant to do, and in a very short space of time those babies became dependant on being carried around everywhere and would scream and yell if they were left alone. 

I'm not saying for one moment that holding your baby and showing them love isnt crucial for their development and your relationship, but I'm a little sick of these parenting principles that demand certain behaviours, because it's based on assumed baby behaviours. Babies and children are different. Yes some babies do want to be held more and yes some toddlers are always going to be clingy whatever you do, but it's about responding to your individual child. I think a lot of pressure is put on mums to conform to an inflexible principle. Obviously another big element of attachment parenting is breastfeeding which causes SO much stress and pressure and guilt on those mums who don't want to breastfeed...or worse who can't. 

I do agree that being emotionally responsive to your child is very important, I take a lot of time to speak to Ollie carefully, listen to his needs and respond to him drectly. I've written before about how important I think it is to listen to your children and take what they say seriously.  I make a very conscious effort to be very responsive to his verbal and physical needs. 

However I also think it's important not to become afraid of your children. To tip toe around issues or behaviours because you don't feel able to control them. Positive discipline is a successful tool and I am diligent in praising ollie when he behaves well. However I will also scold him if he behaves badly, because we live in a world where certain behaviours are not tolerable and I see it as my job to teach him what those behaviours are. I don't believe in trying to 'cushion' him too much - like telling him how I am going to leave him to go to the loo but he will be fine and safe etc. I might breezily throw into conversation that I'm going to the loo but invariably I just go. And he isn't phased, because I've never made an issue of it. Most children are only going to worry or be frightened about being left if you give them a reason to think that way. 

I think there is something so positive about a child who is confident by themselves and who is happy to play in their own company. About a child who will run freely into the park without looking back (even if it scares the life out of their sweaty-mess mother chasing after them!)

My boys could not feel more secure and loved, but they do not panic if I leave the room for a moment. They are constantly cuddled and touched but they are confident in their own space. Sometimes as Ollies races off without a backwards glance I wish he was a little more 'attached' to me but when he's in a playful mood he couldn't care less where I am, although he'll always want to come and show me things.

I've noticed recently that he's becoming a little more clingy and emotional and without being too paradoxical im actually really enjoying it because I want him to need me sometimes. Because I am a nurturing caring person and I want to give myself. If he wakes in the night crying I want to rush to him and hold him in my arms until he slowly falls back to sleep and he wants me there too. I want to cuddle him and stroke his back when he wakes up from a nap and is all disorientated and sleepy and he always comes to me knowing that's what I'll give. 

But I think that's all about the bond we've developed between us. The right blend of confidence and independence and attachment that suits him and that I, in return, make sure he has. It's certainly not based on a set of principles written by someone who has met neither one of us.

I think the point I want to make is that I don't think any parenting principles are full proof, or 'fit' all children. I went through a stage where I felt I needed to conform on so many levels as a parent and actually, the only thing that matters is that my child's personal needs are being met and that he is safe and happy. 

I actually thing that baby slings are a fantastic idea and look really comfy for both parties. But don't be sad if you want to 'wear' your baby and they actually prefer a Mothercare bouncy chair to your warm embrace. Or don't feel guilty if they like to be held all the time and you actually just want a bloody break. Don't be disheartened if you want to breastfeed but your baby thrives on a bottle and don't feel guilty if you enjoy weeing without a toddler on your lap.

Do what works for you both, and love love love.

That's my 'ideology'.

Thanks for reading xxx

Finding Formula

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

I think all expectant mums have a special image or fantasy in their mind for once their baby arrives. I know for some of my friends it was taking their baby out in their shiny new pram, for some it was bringing the baby home and lovingly showing then around their new home, others get excited about dressing their baby up in the teeny tiny clothes they have washed and ironed waiting for them. 

For me it was always just about breastfeeding. I couldn't wait to just hold him and nurse him. I didn't buy a single bottle, steriliser, expressing pump or ounce of formula. Because there was no need. I couldn't wait.

And then of course my little man had other ideas. I've written about my breastfeeding experience A LOT with Ollie but if you missed it- he mystified midwives and lactation consultants over the North West who I tearfully dragged him to- as he just wouldn't latch and had no 'rooting' instinct. I expressed and bottle fed expressed milk for 3 months, and one random sunny day, he latched. Just like that. And I fed him for every feed happily, painlessly and problem free until he turned one.

Once he finally did it, I LOVED breastfeeding Ollie. I got a real surge of endorphins every time I did it. I felt amazing- empowered, happy, joyful. I'm really not exaggerating. Physically the sensation was a wonderful relief from permanently full breasts. A bit like a large glass of water when you're really thirsty. 

I felt really sad when our journey came to an end but he was losing interest and I was back at work and busy and exhausted and it just made sense. But I always looked forward to feeding my next baby, should we be lucky enough to have one.

Harry's breastfeeding story was significantly easier. Within hours of his birth I was strolling around my hospital room feeding him in the crook of one arm whilst one-handedly packing my bag and eating toast in the other. He threw a major wobbly when my milk came in and I was really insistently forceful that he would go on and just persevered until he did, often amid screaming tears on both parts. But we got there.

The thing is though and the point I am, as usual, FINALLY trying to make, is that I haven't felt the same abot breastfeeding this time round. It is pretty perfunctory for us. It doesn't give me any positive feelings other than a satisfaction that my baby is having milk and gaining weight. It feels fine, but I don't have the rush of endorphins and my breasts are less full. Harry has always been a speedy eater and a snacker. I think because there is SO much distraction at home, neither he nor I have ever given his feeds the length of time they deserve. Ollie is always making noises or trying to get involved and Harry is a curious wee thing. Sometimes, exasperated that Harry isn't concentrating, I have to leave Ollie unsupervised and go upstairs to try and feed Harry in the relative calm, because I want to make sure he is getting enough milk. The accumulative effect is that he feeds more frequently and is hungry throughout the 24hr period. I know that the breastfeeding mafia will tell you that feeding on demand is key and that if a baby wants to feed every hour through the night then you do it- but actually, you really can't if you have a toddler in tow, and you really shouldn't have to full stop. A baby who is having full and satisfying feeds through the day should be able to cope with going for gradually longer periods at night, and Harry was getting worse and worse. It almost became the case that he was replacing daytime feeds with night time ones. I was so exhausted I felt like my eyes would fall out. Both boys weren't given the attention or energy they deserved from me in the day because I was a walking zombie. And the PND didn't help.

Eventually, one day, I tried Harry with a bottle of formula for his 7pm feed. He was just over 5 months old. Id had quite an aversion to formula with Ollie. It just represented giving up on what mattered to me. But with Harry I have felt totally different. I just wanted to feed him a bottle. I wanted to know how much milk he was consuming. I wanted to fill his little tummy and help him fall into a deep sleep. So I did. 

And let me tell you that the feeling I got when I first fed Harry a bottle was the most positive and uplifting feeding experience I've had with him. I felt relieved, calm and relaxed. He was happy, guzzling away, focused and thoroughly enjoying himself. 

He is now nearly 6 months old and has a bottle of formula at 7pm and a dream feed at 11pm which my husband gives him so I can sleep. I never wanted to share the responsibility of feeding Ollie because I felt that it was my purpose and I loved doing it so much. But now, it makes life so much easier that I can go to sleep at 9pm if I want to. And Harry is starting to sleep through. He usually wakes between 5am and 6am but sometimes it's nearer 7am. My breasts are full and he has a long happy sleepy morning feed and then two or three more short feeds from me during the day. 

My favorite feed in the whole day though is when I give him his bottle at 7pm. I look forward to it. It's just us, and I hold him close lying on my bed, and he drinks the warm milk so happily and contentedly.

I intend to gradually replace more feeds with formula. I think I'm roughly aiming that Harry will be on formula alone at 9m onths, but we'll see what works for both of us. I've always been very supportive of women who bottle-fed for whatever reason because I do believe its your choice, but until now I never fully understood it. I couldn't comprehend how anyone couldn't desperately want to breastfeed like I did, nor who didn't think it was the most amazing experience ever.

But it isn't, always, and it's about finding the right balance and the right method for you. I'm so happy Harry and I have found  ourselves :)

Thanks for reading xxx

Long Time No Speak

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

So it's been a while!

I feel like I lost my voice for a bit. In fact I'm not sure it's really come back. I'm just writing something here because I still want to claim this little place of mine again. But I'm not sure what I want to say.

I got very frustrated that my blog was becoming such a negative place- that I was becoming so negative. Life was heavy and hard and sad.

It is much better. Time is going far too quickly and I can't believe how tired I am some days, but I am much happier. Harry has just turned 5 months can you believe?! He has two teeth and is confidently rolling and starting to army wriggle. Which I'm sure is all far too soon. 

He seems to be very determined to get along in life. For all Ollie was relaxed and subdued, Harry is so full of life. They both have transpired to be extremely relaxed and happy babies, but there is much more energy about Harry as a baby. His determination to roll, for example. But then Ollie gained his energy at 7 months when he suddenly rolled crawled and stood up all in one go, then walked a couple months later. Maybe Harry's just a little quicker on the up take. Maybe he has to be with such a busy older brother bossing him around! It's lovely to watch them start to play together. Ollie brings him his dinosaurs and Harry tries to chew them. That sort of thing. 

I made a promise to myself when Ollie was born that I would cherish every second and I'm pleased to say that I really did. I actively had a sense of huge contentment and gratitude every single day. My maternity leave was the best year of my life. This time round I feel like time is slipping through my fingers and I am struggling to hold it. Harry is just so big and grown up already. He is a gorgeous gorgeous baby and I want to soak it up and enjoy it and I feel it's just so fleeting. Of course life is so different and so busy. I am exhausted. I don't feel I give either boy enough time which results in much dissatisfaction and guilt- but I'm working on it.

Ollie is crazy and as exuberant as ever but dare I say is slightly calming down. He is expressive and emotional and warm and lovely. He likes to sit on Harry and really wants to wrestle him like he does with his Daddy. Time will tell how willing Harry is to play "tigers".

I have a few reviews I want to write but I'm not sure what direction I'm going in. In terms of so many aspects of my life. For one thing, I may not be going back to work, but that's another story.

Thanks for sticking with me.


Sick, sick and more sick

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Harry has got a sick bug. My husband had it first, and Ollie is tossing and turning in bed and I have this horrible feeling that we will all get it.

It is 22.35 and Harry and I are lying on a waterproof sheet on my bare mattress because he's projectile vomited over two sets of our bed linen, and his own cot linen twice. So my husband is downstairs supervising hot washes one after the other and getting stuff dry in between, and I am here, administering sips of boob and clearing up when it repeats itself. 

I hate it when my babies are poorly. Obviously any mother does. And Harry is too young for this, he doesn't understand at all what is happening which is breaking my heart. But I don't think I ever feel as much of a mother as when my babies are ill. It's a very primal need in me to be needed. 

Today, quite aside from the sick, was a very tough day indeed. I realise that Ollie has entered an entirely new phase. "Terrible twos" doesn't cover it.

I feel guilty and judgmental being critical of my child, my own mother is very critical and I fight myself if ever I sense negativity on my lips. BUT, in the interests of being honest and sharing what I am sure is a common issue for mums, it is so bloody hard once they start playing up, and he can be a little nightmare!

At the moment, it's boundless energy, extreme emotions, and anger. He was always such a calm and placid baby- everyone always told me I must be doing such a fantastic job to raise such a content child, and now I realise that I don't recognise him sometimes and it was really all down to him. He has developed such strong emotional responses- which when manifested positively, I find marvellous- but which means that when he is frustrated or bored or upset it is like WW3. Both my husband and I are emotional so I should have seen it coming, and I love when he cries at a sad film, when he shakes with excitement and joy, when he caresses and kisses his baby brother. He shows such love and warmth and heart. But the negative emotions he displays, coupled with his obvious inability to understand or control his behaviour, because he is TWO for gods sake, can mean we have really naughty, destructive actions. Like stamping on his brother's head and screaming. Hitting other children in the soft play, in fact, deliberately trying to inflict as much pain on other children as he can.

A lot of this is a response to feelings of jealousy and envy towards his brother, even though he so openly adores Harry. He is constantly desperate for attention. He is also extremely clever and ahead of himself for his age. He will explain to me in hot shouty long full sentences why he is so angry that I will not give him a biscuit, and throw himself around because of it. But at least I know what it is, because he tells me. 

He is naughty and mischievous because he knows it gets my reaction. And I am trying so hard to do what I should and not rise to it. Because if I shout he shouts. But I am a shouty, emotional person, as is my husband, as is he. So I am spending most of my time pretending to be calm and cool when really I want to scream at him because he's pinched Harry and run off, smashing everything in his path as he goes.

I feel like the worst parent in the world some days, when all I want is to love and protect them and this parenting game is so much bloody more than that.

But then they get ill. And need you in a very legitimate and pitiful way and your heart breaks because you have never felt more needed. And when Ollie wakes tomorrow morning, hopefully after a sick-free night's sleep, he will come upstairs and kiss his poorly brother good morning. And I will have faith restored that we will get through all this eventually.

Thanks for reading xx

Getting Better

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Part of my PND councilling 'homework' has been keeping a diary and giving a lot of time over to self reflection. I feel good today. I feel sad today. Etc.

It's occurred to me over the last couple of weeks that the sad days are becoming less sad and aren't really full days anymore. Obviously I'm dumbing it all down a bit- the truth is I haven't felt hopeless or desperate or despairing. At all. For really quite a long time.

And I have realised that the depression has, in part, left me. I am still mind-numbingly exhausted but that is simply because Harry wakes every two hours at night for milk (he's still breastfed, and GIGANTIC), so of course I'm tired. I still have moments where I want to throw myself on to the floor and scream but I actually think that's pretty normal too as I am at home with two under 2.5 and Ollie likes to jump on his brother and trash the house in "scary dinosaur" fashion, whilst Harry screams for more milk and dinner is ruined as I forget to turn the stove down....

When you start to recover from a period of extreme depression it's an odd sensation. One I have, happily, experienced now twice. For one thing, "normal" feels like ecstasy, overwhelming joy, hilarious brilliance, etc. It can actually be a little embarrassing to be wandering round a supermarket and not feel the need to cry from despair and then feel so grateful and happy about it you want to cry from relief. Every normal positive sensation is magnified a thousand times over. If you remember that moment I blogged about when I was overwhelmed by 'the feeling of being alive' when I breathed in some icy winter air- well I keep doing that. Keep having moments when I'm very aware of how alive I feel. And that makes you realise just how bad it was before. How you didn't even feel like you were living.

Because life must have happiness. It must have joy. It must have hope and faith and laughter and acceptance and contentment. To some extent at least. If you can't find any of those things it is an extremely dark and horrible state to be in.

As part of all this, I have discovered a lot about myself. I am 28 and I think, without sounding like a total twat, that I'm only just beginning to understand who I really am. It was quite shocking, actually, to suddenly discover things about yourself that you had buried away or never taken the time to notice. A lot of what I discovered was not nice to realise. One thing, is that I have become such a negative person, even though I think I am often outwardly so positive. I hide behind a mask so much. I give a huge amount to this persona and to other people. I want to be liked more than is probably healthy. I don't have any street cred and am a total wimp and even though I am always trying to look after other people it's actually, deep down, because I want to be looked after myself. I am lazy and bloody-minded when it comes to things I don't enjoy doing, like house work. I can be stubborn and selfish. I'm over anxious and a control freak.

But I also really want to get better. To be the best version of me there is. To be better. To embrace who I really am and just bloody enjoy life a little more. My husband and I are both guilty of allowing stressful jobs and no money bring us down into an endless cycle where we don't stop and appreciate what we do have. And now, we have two beautiful sons and a beautiful house to live in and really good friends and family around us. Who could ask for any more?!

Here's to a better start and a better year. A better outlook and a better state of mind. A better time of it, all round. Starting now.

Thanks for reading xx

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