Monday, February 22, 2010

On Being A Parent

Overheard: two mothers with babies, each around six months old, discussing teething.

Mother 1: "He's been waking up in the night, crying. I normally let him cry, but..." [said as if we would disapprove if she did not let him cry, that we would tell her it was her own fault that her baby was waking her up because she was not tough enough].

Mother 2: "Yeah, mine's always got her hands in her mouth".

Mother 1: "He was sick the other night. Not like baby sick, proper sausage and beans and everything."

Mother 2: "Oh yes, teething can do that."

Mother 1: "Yes, he was crying and crying and after half an hour it was totally doing my head in so I went in to him and there was all this sick everywhere."

Doesn't it make you sad? That in our therapy and psychoanalysis obsessed culture, we still think it is acceptable and even desirable to leave a baby to cry by itself for half an hour? I'm hardly going to jump down anyone's throat and tell them they're doing the wrong thing, because everyone does what they believe is right, but I happen to believe that leaving a six month old baby to cry itself to sleep in the middle of the night for half an hour is wholly unacceptable. It's a hangover from the austere Victorian era and it is high time that it stopped. What damage does it do to a child? I can't believe that it is harmless.

And while I'm on my soapbox, this weekend I read this slightly depressing article on packing your children off to "kids' clubs" when you go on holiday. The article's author even puts his five month old baby in the resort's nursery! A five month old? Poor little thing. Do you ever wonder why some people bothered having children in the first place, if all they want to do is pack them off to a nursery the minute they catch sight of a beach? Isn't the fun of being a family in doing family things, together, en famille? I guess holiday resort kids' clubs must float some people's boats, but when I was a child they would have been my worst nightmare. Strangely enough, I actually enjoyed doing things with my brother and my parents! And I shall certainly not be wasting any precious holiday time with Cave Baby by sticking her in some dodgy resort's nursery. No siree. We shall take our holidays as we take the rest of life - united as a family. I hope I can give her as many jolly holiday memories as my parents gave me.

OK, rant over for the day. I hope you weren't too enraged by my opinions but, as always, leave me a comment to tell me what your angle is.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When Life Happens To A Family Bed

When we started co-sleeping, I wasn't so sure about the term "family bed". I thought it sounded a bit twee and nursery rhyme-ish. But I get it now. You know how sleep experts advise us to use our beds only for sleep and sex? Co-sleeping totally blows that out of the window. The bed has become a kind of hub for family life. I don't know why I bother to make it every morning - it's rarely straight for five hours before the first nursing session or nap gets it all messed up again.

The dirt that our family bed sees is in a totally different league to its pre-baby days. This weekend, when I changed our sheets, I calculated that those sheets, which had been on the bed for a fortnight, had been exposed to:

  • Soil. A walk at the park tires Cave Baby out and she usually crashes as soon as we get home. Hence, dirty feet in the bed.

  • Sand. Our local park has a massive sandpit. Cave Baby's favourite hobby is transporting handfuls of sand from the sandpit to the wobbly elephant thingy. As I said before, she usually goes to sleep as soon as we get home. Ergo, we have sand in the bed.

  • Wee. Sometimes her nappy is so soaked in the morning that a fresh pee leaks out the side. The sheets therefore have to absorb a modest amount of wee. Am I going to change the sheets every time this happens? No way. Poo is dirty, wee doesn't count.

  • Biscuit crumbs. I like it when Cave Father brings me a biscuit in the morning. So does my daughter. She is a much messier eater than me, however.

  • Breadcrumbs. Sometimes you're in the middle of a nice sandwich when you get the urge to climb on the bed. Do you know what I mean?

  • Sweat. We have all had a stomach flu type thing. We all had temperatures for a day or so, and we sweated a lot. Our trusty sheets took care of it though.

  • Milk. My breasts don't leak, but my baby sometimes goes to sleep in the middle of a full-blown nursing session so there is sometimes a little milk still leaving my nipples as she unlatches.

  • Saliva. Hey, we all dribble when we're sleeping. If you say you don't, you're lying. At least baby dribble smells a lot sweeter than mine though.

Isn't that a lovely list? Doesn't it make you glad that I shower in the morning? Although this list might seem appalling to childless couples, I suspect that anyone with a baby in their bed will be nodding their heads in recognition. By the way, I am quite clean. I change the sheets every fortnight. But life's too short to wash them every time they see a bit of life. Isn't it?

So what I want to know is, what life does your family bed see?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Busier, More Popular, Nicer, Richer, Thinner etc

Just got to get this out while it's on my mind: I must stop comparing myself to other people so much! It's like a disease that eats away at the mind and it never has a positive outcome. I am never good enough.

I don't know where this tendency comes from, but I think a lot of people suffer from it. Whatever company I'm in, I always find some way in which I do not measure up. One morning I might be at a meeting for a voluntary organisation; following the meeting I will feel like I didn't take on enough responsibility or assert myself enough. Another day I might be chatting to breastfeeding mothers at a support group; after the group I will feel like I didn't fit in well enough. On another day I might meet up with some slinging, cloth-nappying attachment parenting mums; afterwards I will feel like I'm "not AP enough" because I don't do cloth nappies or elimination communication or some other such activity. I can even find fault with myself on a visit to the park: maybe I don't look good enough, or I'm not attentive enough to my daughter, or I'm on my own so I feel like I must look like an outcast.

Yet at the end of the day, I'm happy with how my life is. I don't want to take on more responsibilities, because they stress me out. I don't want to overburden myself with tasks because the whole point of staying at home with my daughter is to give her my time and attention. I don't want to get bogged down in so-and-so's parenting ideology because I do what I do because it works for me. I am friends with people that I want to spend time with; I don't waste my time with hollow meaningless relationships. And I enjoy spending time on my own, or with just my daughter: if I am too busy, I long for these quiet days.

So I actually don't want to change who I am in any way; I am, for once, content with how I look and behave. In fact the only thing I would change about me is this infernal voice in my head that is constantly telling me I'm not as worthy as someone else.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dolphins Nurse and Carry Their Babies, Just Like Us

Dolphins are incredible, intelligent animals - more intelligent than chimpanzees, according to some scientists. They are also mammals, which means they must give birth to immature, helpless calves and nurse them until they can fend for themselves. The mammals of the sea might seem very different from us, but the differences are not so huge when you look closely at the ways they look after their young.

A few weeks ago I wrote about dolphins' births, and how they are sometimes attended and assisted by close relatives of the mother. In this post I am looking at how dolphins nurse and carry their young.

Dolphins breastfeed their babies for around two to three years. The mother usually weans her calf when she is pregnant with a subsequent baby, but a calf has been observed nursing up to the age of ten. Like other intelligent mammals, the mother-baby bond seems to be very important and mothers only leave their calves when they need to find food. Even when they are apart, they use sound and echo-location to remain in touch.

Dolphins do not have protruding mammary glands like primates, but evolution has found a way for them to breastfeed and remain streamlined in the water. The mother's nipples are hidden within slits on her belly. A baby dolphin must locate the nipples and latch on with its mouth, forming a tight seal that prevents any salt water from mixing with the milk. Dolphins obviously need to go to the surface to breathe, so a mother helps her newborn baby by lying on her side near the surface so that the calf can feed safely, close to an air supply. As the calf gets older, it is able to find the nipple without such assistance.

The act of releasing the milk, which we call let-down in humans, is under the voluntary control of the mother dolphin. The milk is richer and fattier then human milk, meaning that dolphin calves do not need to spend as much time feeding as human babies. Newborn calves feed around four times per hour but each session lasts for a matter of seconds rather than minutes.

Infant carrying is seen in all land-dwelling primates, and ocean-dwelling manatees and sea-otters also physically carry their young in the water. So it is no surprise that dolphins have evolved a method of "carrying" their offspring. When the babies are very young, the mother-calf pairs swim in "echelon" position with the young dolphin by its mother's side. It is thought that the flow of water around the pair's body creates pressure that keeps the infant close to its mother and helps to propel it along in the water. Older calves swim in "infant" position below their mothers where they have better access to the nipples and are possibly given more protection from predators.

I think it's astounding how many similarities there are between the ways dolphins care for their young and what we humans do. As I wrote last time, we both have assistants attending childbirth (at least some of the time) and, if we are behaving as biology intends, we nurse our babies for similar lengths of time. For the majority of the global population, baby carrying is the normal method to transport a human infant. And though they do not have arms and legs, dolphins also have a way to carry their young. Most importantly, we both form close mother-infant bonds that last many years before a youngster is ready to leave the care of its immediate family.

Although we walk on land and dolphins swim in the sea, there are clearly many behaviours that bind us together.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Stories and Songs Meme

Is there a special song that whisks you right out of the present and sends you back to a memorable time in your life? I was tagged by A Mother's Ramblings to take on this meme, so here is my song.

I had to think long and hard about this one. So many songs have formed a soundtrack to my life, from the Stones and Cliff Richard when I was a child, through Kylie Minogue when I was learning what music was, through R.E.M., James and The Velvet Underground in my teens, David Bowie and The Smiths when I was at university, and finally to Nick Cave and John Cale at present. But a song that conjures up a particular moment to me is (and you're not going to like this)... Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive".

It was the end of a long, hot dusty day almost seven years ago. Cave Father and I were on our first trip away together, travelling around California and Nevada by crap rental car, and we were just on our way back to Vegas after visiting the Grand Canyon. We were tired from so much driving and it was dark, and I was feeling a little mournful. The choice of radio stations in the middle of the desert is not that great and we were stuck with a typical country rock station when "Wanted Dead or Alive" came on. After exclaiming his disgust at the lameness of the record, Cave Father (to be) proceeded to sing the entire song to himself under his breath. I watched him from the passenger seat, staring at the road and singing in deep, deep gravel tones. But his voice was so human and sweet and gorgeous, I just sat there in the dark silently swooning, and that was the first moment when I thought, "God, I really love this man". And though I've never even told him about this moment, I still remember it whenever I hear that bad, cliched, but somehow perfect song.

So there you go. Feel free to play along if you wish, and by all means leave a message to indicate that you have done so (I'll stick a link to you as well).