Is that a smile I see before me?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Nine weeks in, what have we learned?

Babies have a capacity to shoot poo from their bottom at great speed and distance, namely right across the bathroom floor.

Baby boys feel no shame in peeing during a nappy change and find it endlessly amusing if they score a direct hit on Mummy/Daddy/Granny/the midwife/the GP’s face.

They also find it funny if they hit themselves in the face.

They then get enraged when they find Mummy/Daddy/Granny etc. tugging at their clothing, which has to come off as it’s now soaking and smelly.

Babies aren’t very bright sometimes.

Parents aren’t very bright sometimes, either: it took Mummy and Daddy a while to realise that you should never change a nappy in a room with carpet.

If Mummy forgets to wash behind baby’s ears, baby starts to smell of cheese.

If Mummy isn’t ‘allowed’ to shower, put the washing on, get dressed, iron clothes or brush her teeth, then Mummy starts to smell of cheese, too.

This is not Mummy’s fault, even though she’s perversely pleased to be more Slummy Mummy than Yummy Mummy.

Mummy isn’t very bright sometimes.

Babies can projectile puke, especially if you wind them on or near to a new sofa, across the shoulder of your new jumper or close to a (new) laptop.

Babies fed on breastmilk produce sick that doesn’t smell.

Well, that doesn’t smell too bad.

Which means that the new sofa, jumper and laptop only smell slightly of cheese. A bit like Baby. And Mummy.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Whatever you will be, you'll be

You’re almost nine weeks old. You’re changing, constantly, your face filling out, your little body becoming sturdier. You’re now double your birth weight, something I take particular pride in as it’s my milk, and nothing but my milk, that has made you so chunky. In fact, you’re now so hefty that I no longer worry about squishing you in my sleep, even if you do have a habit of snoozing flat on your back, arms splayed, your hands curled into tight little fists. I often wake to find myself shivering and balanced precariously on the edge: you’ve claimed my spot in bed, while your Dad has stolen my portion of the duvet. Like father, like son.

But you have developed an interest in the world beyond boobs and bed. When you focus on me it’s as if a long lost friend has just walked into the room: ah, thinks Milo, here’s Mummy at last. And you give me a big, gummy smile, delighted that you’ve got company. Never mind the fact that I’ve been looming over you for the past half an hour, waving, talking, singing and prodding like a loon, trying to elicit a smile. Oh no, you’ll see me when you’re good and ready, and not before.

You like other things, too: your play mat, and the dangling, rattling animals attached to the frame above it. I feel quite sorry for these marooned farmyard creatures, bellies strapped into harnesses, legs hanging uselessly in the air, never to roam free, but you just give them a big blue-eyed stare, impassive to their plight. Our wall of fame is another of your favourites, and the multiple pictures of family and friends dotted on the wall above the sofa constantly suck up your infant attention. And you like lights: pendants, desk lamps, the warm glow of a night light, fluorescent strips, the lights in the sky…

Which brings us neatly to one of the recurring topics of conversation concerning Milo: what you will be when you grow up.

‘He’s staring at the door frame again.’
‘Ah, he’s going to be an architect.’
‘Now he’s looking at the wall.’
‘A builder?’
‘Nope, now he’s looking at the fairy lights on the tree – see, he’s fascinated.’
‘Hmmm, maybe some sort of product designer.’
‘Product designer? What kind of a job is that?’
‘OK, he likes lights on trees: a landscape architect.’
‘He’s staring at the books on the shelves now.’
‘A writer, then, like his Mum.’
‘Yes, but look, he’s kicking his legs and jiggling his arms about again – he’s so strong!’
‘Footballer. No question.’
‘Whoever heard of a design loving, literate footballer, who has a particular love of lampshades?’
‘It could happen.’
‘I’d have to learn the offside rule.’
‘Good point, it’ll never happen.’

These conversations take up much of our time. We spend any remaining minutes watching and waiting, looking for clues as to what kind of a person you will become. You’re so full of possibility (and charm, and smiles and, er, with an amazing capacity to fill your nappy) that, to your Mum and Dad at least, you are the most captivating little lad this side of the Irwell.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Christmas Story

Last Christmas…

Here I am, sitting in Mum and Dad’s living room, surrounded by wrapping paper and half-opened presents, thinking, ‘You know what would make this better? A baby. Wouldn’t it be good to have a baby in time for next Christmas?’

I glance furtively at Simon, trying in vain to read his mind. Nothing. And then I shelve the thought, filing it in the box in my mind marked ‘for when I’m grown up’. Babies - or rather, having babies - is something that is a good idea only in theory, something to be put off until such a time as I feel ready. I think of all those sleepless nights and dirty nappies and shudder.

Last January…

I am in Bangkok, sitting in the shade of a banyan tree, looking out over the murky waters of the Chao Phraya. I’m here to finish my novel, to write a travel feature and to get away from work. An unopened book lies on my lap. I am thinking of absolutely nothing: no worries about what people think of this strange farang sitting on her own; no deadlines; no need to think of the next thing to do, or think of all the things I should be doing. Sparrows hop about above my head, occasionally darting to the ground to peck at the ants marching purposefully around my feet. I stay perfectly, blissfully, still. For the first time in my life, I am happy just to be.

Last Valentine’s…

Simon and I go out for a romantic meal, drink too much and, when he suggests we have a baby, we both giggle. In the cold light of the following day, even with a monstrous hangover, it still seems like a good idea.

This Christmas…

There’s a glass of champagne by my side, the dog has a Christmas squeaky toy in his mouth, I’ve just polished off the remainder of the After Eights and Simon is wrestling with a nut roast in the kitchen. Christmas dinner is not going well. Simon has just popped his head round the door to tell me that a) the parsnips have cooked but the carrots haven’t, b) the roast potatoes have degenerated into a fluffy mush and c) the nut roast would probably be OK but for the fact that he can’t get it in the oven due to said root vegetables clogging up all available space. To counteract the likelihood that dinner will be ‘the worst meal you’ve ever eaten’, Simon is knocking back port, red wine and champagne. I’m not sure how this helps me.

And then Simon walks over to where you are lying in my lap. ‘Ah, who cares about Christmas dinner?’ he says. ‘Look at him. He’s an absolute angel.’

Simon totters off; you give me a milky gurgle and promptly puke all down your festive dungarees.

So here I am, sitting in my own living room, surrounded by wrapping paper and opened presents, thinking, ‘You know what would make this better? Nothing. Nothing at all.’

PS. For the record, Simon’s Christmas dinner was lovely…

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Last night an iPod saved my life

Talk to midwives, GPs, new parents, grandparents, people who’ve never had kids and random strangers on the street and they’ll all tell you the same thing: the first three months are the worst. The focus is on sleepless nights, nasty nappies, post-partum recovery (or lack thereof), the terrifying lack of freedom, cracked nipples, a sex life that you remember wistfully and a sense of responsibility so heavy that it would flummox Atlas.

I’d steeled myself for all this. But what the naysayers neglected to tell me was how great my baby boy would be. Mum and me sat on the sofa last week, crying with laughter as you pulled a succession of comedy faces. You’re currently lying spread-eagled on your dad’s chest, arms splayed and face squished against the collar of his t-shirt, dribbling. There’s a damp patch where you tried sucking, hoping against hope that Daddy’s t-shirt would elicit some milk.

You are impossibly cute. You like Count Basie (you quit crying and went all still and wide-eyed when Simon played it to you). And although you don’t do much, you change every day: a new sound, a never-heard-before gurgle, attempting to roll over, responding to my voice.

Plus Mum and me bought up Baby Gap last week and I’ve been enjoying (very much) dressing you in tiny boy clothes – proper socks, teensy trousers and miniscule parodies of grown-up polo shirts. You’re like a gurgling, puking, living doll.

Of course, I’d be lying if I said it was all plain sailing. Sleep – I’ve never been one to go without a good eight hours. There have been a fair few nights where I’ve found myself slumped against a bank of pillows, willing you to finish feeding and weeping silently as you show no sign of coming up for air. At 3am there’s nothing so lonely as breastfeeding: Simon is snoring, the dog is snoring, you appear to be sucking and snoring and I feel like I’m the only poor soul in the entire universe who’s wide awake (well, me and the drunken revellers reeling down our street at chucking-out time, but they don’t count because they have a life and I, patently, do not).

And that’s when my iPod came to the rescue. Like a digital knight in shining armour, it’s enabled me to while away the wee small hours listening to podcasts. Those endless night feeds have suddenly become bearable (‘Growth spurts,’ said the midwife, when I asked her if this was normal behaviour. ‘Torture,’ said I, after 4am came and went and you hadn’t taken a boob break FOR FIVE HOURS).

‘How is she doing?’ asked my Dad (AKA Grandad) when Mum stayed with us for a blissful fortnight.
‘She’s very tired,’ said Mum (AKA Grandma)
‘Oh dear,’ said Dad, ‘is she very grumpy?’
‘Well, surprisingly, no, she’s not.’

I am renowned in my family for being incredibly bad tempered if I’m a) tired or b) woken up. But not only have I surprised my parents by not being an absolute cow to anyone who strays within bad-mouthing distance, but I’ve surprised myself. I’m not sure if it’s the iPod or the fact that I stopped fighting the night feeds, but the nights are OK. Not brilliant, but definitely do-able.

And the funny thing is, the minute I stopped being cross about being awake at 3am, you chilled out. OK, so you do sleep in bed with me, and I do quite often stopper your mouth with my boob (I like to think of them as mummy-sized dummies), but you’ve started sleeping for four, sometimes five, hours at a stretch. Compared to only sleeping for an hour at a time, it feels like heaven. I know it’s early days, but, little Milo, your Ma is a whole lot happier.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Remembering Sunday

I am a mother. Or rather, I am your mother. I know this is obvious to you; that you will only ever know me as 'mum' and that the idea of me having a life before you were born is unfathomable. For a great many years - and possibly for the whole of your life - you'll find it hard to consider me anything other than that slightly annoying woman who tells you off, washes your clothes and cooks your dinner.

Yes, Mum, I have done my homework. No, Mum, I didn't mean to kick that football into next door's garden. No, Mum, how was I supposed to know that if I fed the dog chicken it would puke it back up all over your new carpet?

But I digress. I am your mother: you were born on Remembrance Sunday, 11 November 2007, at 8.50pm at Trafford General Hospital. You weighed a 'good' (according to the midwives) 6lb 7oz - 'good' because you were three weeks early. And I laughed when you were born. I was so delighted with it, with your appearance, that I actually laughed. It was incredible, to meet this tiny, perfect baby.

It felt like I'd known you all my life. You looked like you. You looked like my son, Milo: of course that's your snub nose, of course that's your shock of dark hair. Of course those are your murky blue eyes.

You just made sense.

It wasn't then, though, that I fell in love with you. Simon - your Dad - reckons he fell in love at your 12 week scan but I know the moment I fell in love. It was 24 hours later, in the dead of night. I looked down as I fed you, at your eyes tightly closed and your fist curled around my little finger and felt this big rush of love. Wham. My heart was yours.

You'll break it, of course, a thousand times over, but that's OK. I'll still love you.

And part of the rush of love is, I know, hormonal, the ebb and flow of the all-purpose hormone, Oxytocin. The one that brings on labour, that produces milk, that makes me love you like a mother. Clever stuff. Potent, too.

So welcome to the world, Milo James. I hope you like it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Remember, remember, the fifth of November

Written just over two weeks ago:

So here I am writing to you from my hospital bed. You’re not due for another four weeks, but on Sunday, just as I was about to go to Mothercare to buy some baby gear (not for anything, you know, important, just the cot, the sling, the pram, some nappies, a baby monitor, your bath, a moses basket…), my waters broke.

Just like that. It wasn’t dramatic. It was more of an ‘oh my god, is that what I think it is?’ moment. I reluctantly called Trafford General, they told me to come in and before I knew what was what I was legs akimbo on an NHS-issue bed while one doctor after another poked about to see what they could see. Doctor Number One (a bossy lady doctor who you’d think would be a bit more maternal in her bedside manner), couldn’t tell. She barked at me like it was my fault and ordered me to stay in bed, overnight, in the hospital. I complained loudly that it was like being in prison (I can’t call anyone! I have to pay to watch TV! There’s no email or internet! And I didn’t pack a toothbrush!) but the Doc wasn’t for moving. She unveiled her trump card: if I went home and then came back, I could be misdiagnosed and that could lead to a c-section. As if, I thought, huffily. But I got into said NHS-issue bed anyway.

Next day, Doctor Number Two pitched up and asked me to assume the position. Just as he bent down to get a closer look, my/ your waters flowed forth, soaking the bed, the blanket, me and, I think, the doctor. He stood up and, with a slightly pained expression, said, ‘I think we can safely say your waters have broken.’ Given that the ward was now knee-deep in amniotic fluid, Doctor Number Two should be awarded the Trafford General Hospital Medal for Stating the Bleedin’ Obvious.

Since then, midwives have come and gone, I’ve been assigned a consultant, the other patients who were in the not-quite-ready-to-give-birth ward have been allowed home (or ‘set free’ as my midwife chirpily tells them) and I’m still here.

I’m currently waiting for a scan and to see the doctor again. They told me I could go home earlier but may have changed their minds since – the decision-making process here appears swathed in several impenetrable and inexplicable layers of gauze bandage. They also want to take me for said scan in a wheelchair. I said I’d walk.

As you can probably tell, I’m not the best of patients. But it’s really not my fault: in amongst the lack of sleep, the boredom and the terrible realisation that I have deadlines I can now never meet, is another, altogether more important one.

Whatever happens, and however it happens, I’ll be giving birth to you this week. If you don’t come by Sunday, they’ll induce you.

Honey, I don’t know that I’m ready. The house is barely back to normal (update on Colin the builder: he STILL hasn’t finished. I entertain fantasies of calling him during a contraction and screaming ‘just finish it – I’m having a f***ing baby!’)). Simon is, as I type, running round Mothercare doing a supermarket sweep so that you at least have somewhere to sleep when you come home. And all my plans to finish work this week, file my accounts, put my feet up, clean, wash all your cute little outfits and read some childcare books have gone out the window. My hospital bag so far consists of some lucozade tablets, several pairs of big pants and a tennis ball.

I wanted to be ready for you, but it seems you’re just as impatient as your ma. And I’m worried, too. How can I not be? The visions I had of you as a 10lb bruiser with your Dad’s giant head and your Mum’s colossal appetite have disappeared and now I’m left wondering whether your lungs will be strong enough, whether you will be strong enough. Doctor Number Two says you’ll be fine, but….

The one thing I’ve learned during all this is that you never get what you want. You will be who you will be. You will come when you’re ready (with some chemical assistance if necessary). You won’t be anything like the little boy I entertain fantasties of. You will owe me nothing and you will be, I hope - I truly hope - your own person. And it’s times like this that I’m reminded of that and all I can do now is sit and wait, and hope.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Missing in action

Ah, baby, where do I begin? The reasons I haven’t updated this blog for a few weeks are:

The house fell down. I came home from a day of meetings to find Colin, the builder, standing several feet below where the living room floor had once been. Dust everywhere. The dog traumatised and in a complete huff upstairs.

To illustrate the point about the parlous state of the (crumbling) joists, Colin clambered out of the hole-that-was-my-front-room and jumped up and down on what remained of the floor. Everything wobbled. ‘Yup, that’s all got to come out,’ he said. I was just about to lie down in the hole and pull rubble over my head when your Dad pitched up. I left him with Colin, chewing the cud. Between them they worked out a way of making it all better.

Joists fixed, Colin then went AWOL. Again. This, so I believe, is common. You are a builder, ergo you are incapable of either commitment or communication (hmm, sounds like every relationship I ever had before I met your Dad...). After a period of increasingly hysterical phone messages, Colin turned up again this week and we’re back on track. He is the only person in the entire Manchester-sphere immune to your imminent arrival. Such is a builder’s blissfully unaware life.

Then I developed a kidney infection. If anyone had told me that I could drink three pints of water and not pee, I’d never have believed them. I mean, where does all that water go? I couldn’t sleep for, ooh, about three weeks due to chronic back pain and the hourly need to drink and/or visit our freshly decorated WC. ‘Well at least when the baby’s born I’ll be able to sleep again,’ I told Simon, thinking these were just the symptoms of pregnancy. He looked at me quizzically until the penny dropped that no, I will not be sleeping after you’re born, not for a long stretch. I started thinking it might be worth having a caesarean so that I could at least get a little shut-eye on the operating table.

Due to your mother’s total fear of being branded a malingerer by the NHS, I didn’t do anything about said infection for some time. It was only after I looked up ‘symptoms of kidney infection’ on t’interweb and scared myself silly that I decided I should do something about it. So that’s how I found myself in Trafford General at 9pm hooked up to a fetal monitor.

This late night trip to Trafford (the place you’ll be born, please note) had its upsides. I got to listen to your racing heartbeat for one (I never knew that babies have really fast heartbeats compared to adults – our heartbeats get slower and slower as we age, presumably until they just stop altogether, at which point we are packed in under the floorboards to prop up rotten joists). And I also got seen by a rather luscious Greek doctor, who sauntered into the room wearing ER-style scrubs and speaking in a husky, heavily-accented voice. While I drowned in his enormous brown eyes (look, it’s my hormones, OK? I’m not proud of regressing to the level of a simpering teenager), Simon remembered to ask all the right questions.

I recounted all this to Eliza the following weekend as we elbowed our way through mums-to-be at an NCT Nearly New Sale.
‘Was he single?’ she asked.
I shrugged.
‘Oh god, did I really just ask that?’
I nodded and carried on looking for babygros…

And there’s more, but I’m running out of space and time: I’m still learning to drive (so far, I’ve managed not to kill anyone, though I do frequently spark road rage incidents thanks to my talent at stalling at traffic lights); your Dad is still deep into DIY and thus close to losing the will to live; your grandparents came last weekend and helped out on the house; we finally finished your bedroom thanks to help from our friend Vic; I interviewed Rose Tremain, the new issue of Transmission came out, I had a few features published in new places and went to an event with Martin Amis, Will Self and bezzie mate John Banville. And I’ve been over in Liverpool beginning research for a book I’ll be writing next year.

But, mostly, I’ve been reading about babies and childbirth and alternating between terror and excitement. Which is nothing new: I’ve been feeling that way for the past 34 weeks. So, not long now; the childbirth clock has begun its countdown.