Wednesday, 30 July 2014

In the three month bubble

My brain is finally starting to come out of its postpartum fog.  The first clue was when I started thinking about next week's meal plan while still planning this week's.  It's difficult to understand the psychological and cognitive changes that happen after having a baby.  Almost everyone is familiar with the physical and emotional consequences of such a massive, life-changing event but the effects on your mind and thinking aren't quite as obvious.  It's easy to think that you ought to be able to get back to a normal level of functioning relatively quickly but after having three babies, I've realised that it takes me about three months to start to rejoin the world.

Initially following the arrival of a new baby, I feel like I've crawled into a little hole.  It's a cosy, comfy little hole, full of cushions and knitted blankets.  I can watch the world passing by up above but I don't quite feel part of it, a sort of dream-like quality.  Getting to know the new arrival and remolding our life around them takes a lot of time and energy.  Not to mention the tiredness that comes from sleep-deprivation and recovering from the physical exertion of delivery (however you deliver, it's still a massive undertaking; a Caesarean is a major abdominal operation).  Your hormones are raging, causing all sorts of emotional upset.  Plus your life has changed indescribably, whether it's your first baby or your third (I can't talk from personal experience past three, but I can imagine).  Add to that the change in your relationship with your partner, who's also trying to adjust to the baby, and helping any other children to integrate and accept the new addition, and you can start to understand the emotional toll.  Is it any wonder that your plate feels full by this point?!

After the first three months, I start to become comfortable psychologically venturing out of the house.  You might have seen my physical being out and about but I wouldn't want to guarantee that my brain was present too!  The cognitive difficulties still persist though.  This is just selection of the issues that I'm still encountering, more than six months after the birth of my third child;

  • Vocabulary - I just cannot find the words these days.  When I was going back to work after Isaac, I was really concerned that I wouldn't be able to remember the word in an emergency.  As it happened, I didn't struggle at all.  I couldn't remember the word for the "cold cupboard" in the kitchen but I never had that problem at work, go figure!
  • Names - I think this might be a side effect of having so many children but I can't keep them straight anymore.  I owe my mum an apology for all the times I complained about being called by the cat's name growing up!
  • Forward planning - seeing to the end of the week is getting easier, starting to plan for next week... well that's another matter.
  • Complex thinking - actually formulating something with more than one stage in my head?  Yeah right!  Give me twice as long to think about it!!
  • Distractions - I'm starting to think about getting my hearing checked because if there's more than one conversation going on at once around me, I just can't concentrate.  I can't multi-task, I have to focus solely on what I'm doing, so don't you dare ask me a question while I'm trying to put a vest on a wriggling baby!
  • Slow change - you want to move on in our conversation?  Change the subject to something else?  Give me another couple of minutes, announce the change, give it another couple of minutes and then I might be ready to talk about something else.

Things do get better; like I said, I'm moving out of the fog these days.  I have a few ideas of ways to cope and keep functioning during this time.

  • First, and this is the hardest step I think, take it easy.  Be kind to yourself.  Recognise that you've been through a lot (pregnancy is no picnic, let alone labour and delivery) and are still going through a lot.  Think about what you would tell a friend in these same circumstances and then tell yourself the same.  Far too often we look around us at how everyone else is managing their perfect lives with their perfect children and feel inferior.  The answer seems to be to just try harder, work harder, be more when actually there are seasons in life that require rest and recuperation.  Enjoy the first months with a new baby, you'll never get them back.  I promise you that the only person judging you is you, everyone else is too busy cooing at the baby!
  • Write it down, don't expect your brain to be able to hold on to all the important things whizzing round in there these days.  So lists and calendars are your friend, with the added bonus that you can buy a pretty notebook to keep those lists in!
  • Don't underestimate the importance of routines.  When you do something in the same way on a regular basis, you develop a sort of muscle memory and you don't need to engage the thinking bit of your brain in quite the same way.  Think of it as a rest for your brain.  It's like driving or playing an instrument; when you first start, you have to think about every individual action (mirror, signal, manoeuvre) but as time goes on, they get grouped together into action sets (turn the corner) and require less thought.  Doing the same thing at the same time each week, e.g. every Monday I go grocery shopping, reduces the decision-making element of the action, making it less of a challenge.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help from those around you.  And if someone offers to do something, at least think about it before you automatically say no.  Maybe an hour off while someone else walks your older children to the park and back will be the difference between sanity and the other thing.
  • Decide what's important to you and stop trying to do it all.  I do not clean.  Literally, I've said this before, I vacuum when my carpet is crunchy, I clean my mirrors when I can't see myself in them anymore.  It just doesn't bother me that much, I have better things to do with my time.  It is impossible to do everything you need to, everything you think you ought to and everything you want to in every day.  You'll only exhaust yourself trying.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

In my scrapbook

I have three scrapbook pages to share with you guys today, all made with Amy Tangerine's Cut and Paste collection plus some extra little bits and bobs.
The first is a page inspired by a semi-recent discussion on the Paperclipping Roundtable podcase about the importance of documenting collections.  These two small figurines were the first presents I bought for my mum, on consecutive Christmases.  I used my own money and we went to this lovely, random shop called Turtles in Croydon.  Sadly it's shut now but it was a DIY-garden-craft-type store and seemed like a treasure trove to a young child.
I've been thinking about making this page for ages and it's one of my 'must-scrap' topics.  I love to knit and crochet in front of the tv in the evenings.  I quite often give my creations away as gifts for new babies; there's something wonderful about giving a handmade blanket or hat as a welcome present.  Each of my children has a handmade blanket but I never managed to make a hat for the older two.  You'd think it would be easy but apparently not!  I was inspired by Leanne's colour choices for her younger son's hospital blanket and she used the leftover yarn to make a simple stripey hat too.  I used Little Tin Bird's Peacock Blue blanket square and the Magic Coffee hat pattern.  I also made Samuel a puerperium cardigan and a Milo vest and you can find details on both on my ravelry page.
And this page is a 'capture now and celebrate cute pictures' page.  There's no important story to tell but sometimes the little everyday moments are the easiest to forget and the sweetest to recall.  Samuel in a box, cos that's Andy's sense of humour.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

For the love of family food

While I am a qualified children's doctor, I'm only relating my experiences with my children on this blog. The NHS has plenty of information available for mums and dads in the UK about weaning and other children's health issues.

I'll be honest right off the bat and say that this isn't Sam's first tastes of food. He started with cucumber ten days ago or so and we've just returned from a big family holiday where my mum and my siblings delighted in offering him bits off their plates.  Whenever I recommend baby-led weaning to anyone, their first question is always "what sort of foods do you give him/her?" My answer, whatever we're having, doesn't seem specific enough so I guess this post is me fleshing that out a bit.
When I say 'whatever we're having', I do mean it literally. That did require some changes to what I was cooking at first (more fruit & veg, less salt) but with two children already eating with us four days a week, our family meals are pretty baby-ready these days.

We've literally just got back from a week-long holiday in the Lakes so there's pretty much nothing in our fridge and I had no plan for dinner. That usually means oven-ready food or pasta and sure enough I scavenged up the ingredients for tuna pasta bake. Since the replacements straps and padded insert for the highchair arrived while we were away, there was no reason Sam couldn't join us.
I started off with some pasta and 'bits' in a bowl but he's not quite tall enough to see into it yet so we quickly moved on to using just the tray.
This is a new experience for Sam; it's only the second or third time he's been in a highchair so he has no idea what to expect. He's fed-up! I hand him a single pasta twirl and he takes it to his mouth to suck.
He struggles to pick up the pasta initially and gets frustrated so I pass him pieces of pasta. I also put smallish bits of tuna and sauce on my fingers and offer them to him. He takes the food eagerly and moves it round his mouth. I'm not sure he's swallowed anything yet but he's very happy just 'playing' with the food.
After a little while, maybe 10 minutes, he's getting frustrated with the pasta so I slice a nectarine into quarters and offer him one. Again, he doesn't know what it is or what it's for, so I gently wipe it across his lips. He licks the juice and realises this is good. And then he's off. Nectarine is a winner!  He struggles occasionally to pick up the slippery fruit but for the most part he's doing this all himself.
After finishing most of the nectarine, he goes back to the pasta. Random food combinations are a big feature of BLW; strawberry petit filous and king prawns, anyone?! He's getting the hang of it now and quite confidently brings pasta to his mouth for a suck and a chew. I'm sure I've heard him swallow at some point but I guess we'll know for sure with tomorrow's nappies!
This is all going on during a family meal. We're talking about our favourite parts of our holiday with the children and discussing our upcoming house project. All four of us, the children are great at this, are positive and encouraging to Sam. Lots of smiles and praise for what he's doing. We've also introduced the signs for 'more' and 'finished'; these are the two I found most useful with Isaac at this age. It'll take a while before Sam joins in but the repetition is key to getting it to stick.
A note about the floor; weaning is a messy business. No, sorry, children are a messy business. And never more so than when they eat. Isaac knocked his cup over, spilling his squash. Anna doesn't wear a top whenever we have tomato-based sauces. We have tile flooring that wipes clean beautifully. Usually anything that hits the floor comes straight back into the bowl to be played with/eaten again. But like I said, we've just got home from a week away, leaving the cats in the house and I haven't cleaned the floor yet. Plus tuna and pasta are a pretty good cat-attraction device!
On clean-up; start at the top and work your way down. I wear rubber gloves and remove the food first. I wipe the tray, knocking leftover bits onto the floor mostly. Then I wipe the child and remove bibs or dirty clothing. As it happens, hubby is running a bath so I offloaded Sam to him but if I'm on my own, I get the baby something to do before I carry on. Quite a lot of meals are easier to clean up once they're dry anyway. Then I wipe the highchair from top to bottom, not forgetting the rails on the floor. And finally the floor. I don't generally use disinfectant unless there's some stuck-on mess or it's really gross. Hot soapy water on an e-cloth is enough for me; wearing gloves means I can use really hot dish washing water.
And highchairs? I love our East Coast folding wooden chair. I bought it for Isaac along with a traditional, padded PVC one, which was a nightmare to get clean and went mouldy in storage. I've just ordered a new insert (from Argos but look online for the best price) and new straps (from east coast) and it looks great. The tray lifts over the top so you can sit them right up at the table too. But if I were buying again today, I'd get the ikea highchair. I can almost guarantee you've seen it out & about. A white plastic seat with a removable tray (both dishwasher safe!!) and long grey legs. It's so easy to clean, light and it's only £12 (£16 with the tray)!!