Monday, June 29, 2009

Back To Life

Gorging on windfallen apricots. Picking gooey handfulls of tree ripened black cherries. Buying buttery pain au chocolat and pain aux raisins for breakfast. Watching Cave Baby chomp determinedly through chunks of baguette. Getting our faces covered in sticky melon juice. Stopping in the street every few minutes for a passer by to coo at Cave Baby. Dunking Cave Baby in a mountain lake.

These are the most memorable bits from our first holiday as a family. We were in southern France, on the edge of the Pyrenees. It was hard work, because I hadn't realised how much the usual day to day routine helps to keep my baby settled and calm. But she was an excellent traveller, going by plane, train and bus and hardly complaining. It was lovely to spend time as a family and I felt very sorry for Cave Father having to go back to work this morning. That is always the worst part of a holiday.

So it's back to normal life now, albeit with that funny feeling you get after a holiday that something at home ought to have changed while you were away.

Note on Recycling Week: Sorry, Cartside, I didn't know about Recycling Week until today. But here are some observations on recycling in France. Recycling facilities seem somewhat more accessible than here in Britain. In our village there were umpteen recycling bins for plastics, glass, paper, card, cartons, tins and cans. There was certainly a recycling point within a five minute walk of every house in the village. Having said that, I had a peek in the communal bin outside our rented house and people had dumped a lot of recyclable material in it - obviously a five minute walk is too much for some people. France really leads the way on reuse of plastic bags. For years, the big supermarkets have not given out free plastic bags. Because of this people really do make use of wicker baskets and plastic shopping bags. They have some nice funky shopping bags on sale - we bought one at a market. I know from experience that the reusable plastic bags the supermarkets sell are much better quality than the ones we get in Britain. We bought three bags from Intermarche three years ago, and we still use them for our supermarket visits today. But whenever I have bought a Tesco "bag for life", the handles have broken or the bag has ripped after only a couple of uses. To sum up: kerbside recycling collections are definitely the way to go, and when are the bloody supermarkets in Britain going to stop giving out free plastic bags? (Well done Marks and Spencers who already have).

Finally, thank you to All Grown Up for this award:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Unrealistic Expectations Of Little Babies

New parents have such high expectations of their babies. Baby will be beautiful and perfect. Baby will cry only when it is hungry, cold or has wind. Baby will know its place in the family and will not be overly demanding of its parents. Baby will require food every three hours. Baby will give its parents an uninterrupted night's sleep from 6 months. Baby will quickly become independent and will allow its mother to resume her solo social engagements. The list goes on.

The people we talk to, the books we read and the television programmes we watch all reinforce these expectations. It is when a baby does not match up to these high expectations that we demand solutions: dummies to silence crying babies; hungry baby formula for babies who insist on eating too frequently; controlled crying for babies who refuse to sleep alone through the night. Again, the list goes on.

Yesterday morning, I became all too aware of the clash between expectations and reality. I am usually wary of recounting tales of people I know because their lives are private, but in this case I hope the mother in question will not mind, because she struggles to change society's attitude to babies just as I do. This woman is the mother of quite a difficult baby, much more demanding than my daughter, and like me she has become an attachment parent without really planning to. While I am fairly happy to follow a slightly different path to most of the mothers around me, she is very conscious that she is not following the "normal" rules of parenting. I sense that she struggles to reconcile her motherly instincts, which tell her to keep her baby by her side all day and night, with her expectations of how a mother "should" interact with her baby.

So, back to yesterday morning. My friend has worried before that her ten month old baby "should" be independent enough to spend a few hours away from his mother. A quick aside to this topic: I have read in a mainstream parenting magazine that it is "unhealthy" for the mother of a nine month old not to have left her baby with babysitters at some time. Well, call me unhealthy. I am downright sick. The longest I have left Cave Baby was for an hour and a half, with her grandma, while I had my hair cut. Look at me, I'm a bad mother, I'm giving my baby far too much attention, I'm making a rod for my own back!

Right, finally, yesterday morning. I was attending a meeting with my friend; we both had the option to put our babies in a creche or keep them with us. I do not think my daughter is ready for a creche but, with the weight of society's and her own expectations, my friend decided to try her son in it. Around five minutes into the meeting, I needed to pop into the room where the creche was being held. There I saw my friend's son, distraught, crying his eyes out for the simple want of his mother. The creche supervisors were doing as they had been told, trying to comfort him but not taking him through to his mum. I could have wept. I could have scooped him up into my arms and nursed him right there. I felt my breasts tingling with the need to suckle him as I did my best to turn my back and get out of the room as quickly as possible. I just could not be there. The physical need I felt to comfort that baby was unlike anything I have ever felt for any child but my own; a feeling that I had never felt before I became a mother. I was bursting to tell my friend, "Go through and get your baby. He really needs you. He doesn't need to learn to be without you; he'll get there by himself. At the moment he just needs your love. Please help him."

But what did I actually do? I sat down, lips sealed, behaving as I was expected to, disregarding an infant's needs in favour of those of a adult. Thankfully the poor child was brought into the meeting twenty minutes later, still screaming, with swollen red eyes. He calmed down on the breast but sobbed quietly for another half hour.

Too many of our expectations are not baby friendly. Just imagine if you could be stripped of those unrealistic Victorian expectations of children. Would you think that it was desirable to leave a ten month old to cry in a room full of strangers? I certainly would not. And to my friend: if you read this, I hope you do not mind me telling this story. You are a great, long suffering mother and I know that you have turned your life upside down to do the best for your child. I hope your story can help other people to feel that it is OK for their babies not to fit the standard model.

I am off on holiday for a fortnight now so thanks for reading and I'll be back soon!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Have Attached Baby, Will Travel

Attachment parenting is not as difficult as some people make out. It is so natural, and it makes life with a baby easier in many ways. For example, when a baby is carried or worn, a parent can go wherever they like as long as it is accessible on foot. There are loads of jobs around the house, like vacuuming and mowing the lawn, that a baby in a sling will really enjoy. Breastfeeding can be tough to establish but in time offers ultimate convenience. There is no bottle cleaning, no sterilising, no waiting for the milk to warm. A breastfeeding mother does not need to worry about being caught out with nothing for her baby to eat. And co-sleeping is the bedtime arrangement that, for thousands of years, has allowed mothers to get enough sleep. Without the disturbance of getting out of bed in the night, adults do not fully wake up so they can get back to sleep much more quickly after a night feed.

But attachment parenting practices come into their own when the family travels away from home. This is when the advantages really begin to stack up. And here they are:

Public transport is so much easier without a pushchair that car-free holidays become feasible. Travelling with just a sling or two cuts down on the amount of luggage you need to take, and makes it simpler to use buses, trains and planes. Getting through airport security is much more straightforward when you are not wielding a pushchair. The sling also provides a familiar haven for a child in unfamiliar surroundings, which can be a godsend when trying to get a baby to go to sleep.

There are so many advantages to breastfeeding when travelling that I don't know where to start. On long journeys, breastmilk is a permanently available foodstuff that needs no preparation and cannot be accidentally forgotten. Even older babies who eat solids will be satisfied with breastmilk until some solid food can be found. Suckling on a plane is useful to help babies' ears adjust to pressure changes, and the other passengers might be grateful for the breasts' quietening powers. A breastfeeding mother does not need to pack bottles, sterilising equipment or formula - this means she can travel lighter and has more flexibility in the types of accommodation she can use. Mum Kay McFerrin says:
"Thanks to breastfeeding, our little girl was a delightful travel companion. Monica was six months old [when she travelled], and still on just mother's milk. All she needed for the trip was her mother, some diapers, and a bathing suit... I had no worries such as what to do if the room doesn't have a refrigerator, or what if I don't take enough formula, or how will I warm the bottles, or how to take formula and feed baby away from the hotel." (The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, p86)

For any baby, home is wherever mum and dad are. But at night, in a strange cot in a strange room, it must be very frightening for a baby on holiday. Put that baby in bed with its parents and a night away from home becomes the same as any other night, and a welcome retreat into familiarity after the excitement of the day. Co-sleeping is so convenient for the parents as well. There is no need to worry about finding accommodation with a cot, or carrying a travel cot. As long as there is somewhere for the adults to sleep, there is somewhere for the baby to sleep too. Deborah Jackson has written:
"A child who sleeps with his parents at home can sleep with his parents anywhere. Strange surroundings do not prevent him dozing off, because his parents are not strange, and they are the most important constant in his life." (Three in a Bed, p240)

So there you have it - attachment parenting and travel are eminently compatible. Though I came to attachment parenting as a way to calm my fretful, demanding baby, I am utterly convinced that it is the most practical way for me to bring up my baby.

I fully intend to make the most of the advantages of attachment parenting when I take our family on holiday next week. If you're an old pro at this travelling-with-baby thing, I'd love your tips in the comments.

Photo credit:

Monday, June 8, 2009

Swings: The First Time

Many are the times that my baby and I have stood on the fringes of the park, watching the children play. On a recent occasion we noticed a little girl, who looked no older than Cave Baby, having a go on the swings. Upon further enquiry it emerged that the girl was indeed the same age as my little one. And since the aforementioned little girl appeared to having such a lovely time, we seized the day and Cave Baby was mounted upon the swings for her first ever taste of adrenalin.

And what a first taste it was. There were peals of spontaneous laughter, more glorious to a mother's ears than a skylark's song. There was joyous kicking of the legs and shaking of the arms, her whole body almost convulsing with the uncontainable excitement of it all. It was, in short, a success. Hurray for the swings!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

If Women Were In Charge

The Mosuo people of southern China have a matriarchal society. I came across a fascinating article on the German website Spiegel written by a male Argentinian writer, Ricardo Coler, who spent two months wth the Mosuo. Here are a few choice quotes for you to enjoy.

On whether the society is a feminist's paradise:
"I had expected to find an inverse patriarchy. But the life of the Mosuo has absolutely nothing to do with that. Women have a different way of dominating. When women rule, it's part of their work. They like it when everything functions and the family is doing well. Amassing wealth or earning lots of money doesn't cross their minds. Capital accumulation seems to be a male thing. It's not for nothing that popular wisdom says that the difference between a man and a boy is the price of his toys."

On the most astonishing thing about the culture:
"That there is no violence in a matriarchal society. I know that quickly slips into idealization - every human society has its problems. But it simply doesn't make sense to the Mosuo women to solve conflicts with violence. Because they are in charge, nobody fights. They don't know feelings of guilt or vengeance - it is simply shameful to fight. They are ashamed if they do and it even can threaten their social standing."

On love in the Mosuo society:
"The sexual life of the Mosuo is very distinctive and very active - partners are changed frequently. But the women decide with whom they want to spend the night. Their living quarters have a main entrance but every adult woman lives in her own small hut. The men live together in a large house. The door of every hut is fitted with a hook and all the men wear hats. When a man visits a woman, he hangs his hat on the hook. That way, everybody knows that this woman has a male visitor. And nobody else knocks on the door. If a woman falls in love, then she receives only the specific man and the man comes only to that woman."

On partnership:
"Love is more important for them than partnership. They want to be in love. The one reason to be with another person is love. They aren't interested in getting married or starting a family with a man. When the love is over, then it's over. They don't stay together for the kids or for the money or for anything else."

On fatherhood:
"There is a word [for fatherhood] but nothing like our concept of what a father should be. These duties are taken over by the mother or the family. Often, the women don't know which man is responsible for the pregnancy. So the children also don't know who their biological father is. But for the women it is usually not important because the men barely work and have little control over things of material value. The family is what's important and they would never separate themselves from it."

How different would our world be if women were in charge?

The full article can be found here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Please Don't Make MMR Compulsory

Yesterday the papers reported that Sir Sandy Macara, the former chairman of the British Medical Association, has called for MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) immunisation to be made compulsory for any child starting school in the UK. Apparently the government has also been seriously looking into this policy as a way of increasing the MMR uptake in the UK.

Here's my take on this. I support vaccination and I plan to have Cave Baby vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella when she is a year old. She has received all the usual vaccinations thus far. In my judgement, the benefits of vaccination outweight the risks of complications resulting from immunisation. I am fortunate that I do not have to fear my daughter dying from typhoid, tuberculosis or diptheria. These diseases have virtually vanished because of immunisation.

I myself suffered from measles and mumps during childhood: I can remember them, and they were both very unpleasant illnesses, but thankfully nowhere near life threatening. Western medicine is very good at dealing with these illnesses and in this country few people die from them. But serious complications do occur and, particularly in developing countries, people die from measles.

The MMR/autism connection has been discredited. I would urge anybody who still believes that there is a connection, to read the academic literature themselves. Or read this article by Good Enough Mum, who is a GP and a mother of a child with an autistic spectrum disorder. It is easy to be swayed by the testimonials of individual parents whose children are affected by autism, but there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the autism is related to the MMR vaccination. Autism symptoms have to emerge at some point: by pure coincidence, a certain proportion of parents will notice them soon after the MMR jab. Unfortunately, too many of these parents then conclude that the immunisation was responsible.

It is perhaps easy to take the view that measles and mumps are so rare these days that immunisation is unecessary. If everybody took that view, the diseases would quickly become common again. So I feel my decision to immunise is best for my child but also beneficial for the rest of society. Taking a global perspective, Europe's low MMR vaccination rate means that we are an exporter of measles to the rest of the world: we are responsible for causing outbreaks of measles in other countries. It is all very well if we take measles to a country with good healthcare and nutrition, but by exporting cases of measles to developing countries we bring about deaths.

I would concede that there is perhaps something to be said for delaying vaccinations. It seems intuitively wrong to overload a young baby's immune system with a variety of diseases, even if they have been reduced to weak strains. But that is a separate debate.

Having said all of this in support of the MMR vaccine, I would be strongly opposed to any move by the government to make it compulsory for all schoolchildren (as is the case in the US). In this country the government has historically allowed parents to make their own decisions about their own children's upbringing. Whilst I might disagree with parents who choose not to vaccinate, I recognise their right to make their own decisions based on their own priorities and experience. The government can campaign for us to vaccinate, but forcing us to do it would be one step too far. If they did, I think there would suddenly be a lot of parents choosing to home educate. So please, UK government, invest time and money into educating parents about vaccination but do not - for a moment - think that it is acceptable for you to dictate how we raise our children.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Mother's Sleep

Think you wouldn't be able to sleep through a crying, wriggling child lying right beside you? Think again. The hot weather we have been having in Britain has an interesting effect on me: it makes me sleep like a log. Cave Father rolls about all hot and sweaty while I am comatose on the other side of the bed. Between us, Cave Baby cries for boob; I sleep on. Her daddy does wake up, fortunately, and guides her mouth to my breast; I sleep on.

What about that, Deborah "breastfeeding women don't enter the fourth and deepest stage of sleep" Jackson? Not sure what this says about my close attached relationship with my daughter though!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Nine Months In, Nine Months Out

This morning I realised that we had missed Cave Baby's nine month birthday on Sunday. Not that nine months is a particularly important milestone - but it did occur to me that she has now been out in the world for as long as she was inside me. Nine months in the tum, nine months out of the tum. A wonderful symmetry.

So this thought, and reading Monkey's birth story on That's Not My Monkey, inspired me to write something about Cave Baby's birth.

I had been in the early stages of labour for around 30 hours when we called a midwife to our house. Before she arrived I had been labouring in the bath, so I was stark naked, kneeling on the bedroom floor when she came in. "Oh, we're having a baby", she announced as she saw me. At that point I was only 4cm dilated and I laboured on in the bath for another couple of hours. I can remember that time quite well: with every contraction, I leaned forward to put my head on the bath taps and I kept banging my forehead. I was using gas and air and it felt pretty ineffective, though it must have been doing something because I was literally pulling my hair out before I started on it, and afterwards I wasn't.

I spent another hour or two on my knees in the bedroom and this period really is hazy. I only remember the occasions when I was interacting with other people: when the midwife called the hospital to tell them to put an ambulance on standby because my waters were stained with fresh meconium; when I peed in a bucket because I couldn't imagine getting up to go to the toilet; when the midwife asked me if I wanted to push.

There was about an hour of pushing before Cave Baby emerged. I found this stage much less painful than the first stage of labour. Whilst I had visualized each first stage contraction as a huge hot fire, the second stage contractions were like a line of gas burners lighting up in a row across my back. Each push was a gust of air whooshing through the fires and casting them aside. I felt like an athlete. Half way through the pushing stage I abandoned the gas and air because I was worried it would impair my performance (seriously. That is a glimpse into the strange mind of the labouring woman).

I felt the baby's head crowning (not painful, just a strong sensation). I felt the baby turning inside me to get her shoulders through ("The baby's moving! The baby's moving!" - probably the first thing I had said for hours). And I remember her skidding out of me, and the midwives catching her and wrapping her in a towel before passing her through my legs so I could hold her for the first time.

I wish I could remember it more clearly. Everything is so fuzzy. And I wish we had taken some photographs of those first few moments. But I am thankful that she arrived safely and that I was also well. I am grateful that I had wonderful midwives who did not transfer me to hospital, despite the meconium (though we did have an ambulance at our house for the last half hour of labour). The lovely midwives followed my birth plan exactly, letting me do whatever the heck I wanted during labour, delaying cutting the cord until it had stopped pulsating, and allowing me to deliver the placenta naturally.

An hour or so after the birth I was sat up in bed, feeding my baby and chatting to the midwife who had to stay for two hours. I remember thinking, "I gave birth a hour ago and here I am wracking my brains to come up with entertaining smalltalk at 6 in the morning."

I was so lucky to have such a great birth experience.

Monday, June 1, 2009

May in Review

It's June already! I can't believe it. So, thanks again to Holistic Mama, here is my May in Review.

May has gone so quickly I can barely recall it. We are getting increasing amounts of sleep, including a couple of memorable six hour uninterrupted stints. I am loving my breastfeeding peer supporter training where I get to spend time with other mothers who share my values and attitudes towards children.

Feeding Cave Baby strawberries and watching her eat them like apples.

Cave Father sometimes gets fed up with his job, and I feel guilty that I stay at home with our baby without contributing financially.

I do not want to miss a second of my daughter's first year so I am making a conscious effort to be calmer and more present in each moment.

An insight/thought
Through the act of becoming a mother, we learn so much more about our own mothers.

Website/blog Find/Tip or Idea from web
I've been enjoying discovering breastfeeding blogs like
Breastfeeding Moms Unite, Breastfeeding Mums Blog and one of those women.

Words (quote/reading/book recommendation/1 sentence review!/anything word-related)
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is the book of your grandmother's homely advice on babies, and every pregnant woman should read it.

Note to Self
Stop worrying about the future!

Slice of home (A photo of a tiny corner of your home, or objects, that represent something about this month)

Finger painting!