Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Tresillian's top tips

Tresillian is a remarkable place, unique to Australia and so popular, the queue to get in is longer than a James Bond Premier in Leicester Square. It's a "sleep-clinic" of sorts, for newborn babies through to toddlers of 24months. It exists as the Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies, and is part-hospital, part-"parenthood"-university. You get 24hr assistance with your child and advice/support regarding how best to put your baby to sleep, as well as individual counselling and group therapy sessions. After my four nights in the clinic, here are my key take-outs, based on conversations I had with nursing staff and from what I observed whilst there.

(1) Save Our Sleep and other such sleep doctrines, are not for all please, do not presume that what cracked your child's sleep patterns will crack mine. Well done you for finding something that works for you. But don't be arrogant enough to presume that a baby's sleeping behaviour is a "one size fits all" scenario.

(2) Early developers and hyperalert newborns are usually the ones who have difficulty sleeping. It's one of the only common threads that bind Tresillian babies. So don't beat yourself up over something that might not be within your control; if your baby was the type who had head control from the moment they popped into the world, you'll know what I'm talking about.

(3) Control crying usually doesn't work in children older than 12 months. By this time, your bubba will have developed very strong sleep associations. These associations give your child a sense of control and order in their world. A sense of comfort and security. Suddenly stopping their normal 'routine' (no matter how infuriating it is to you) can be incredibly distressing for everyone - including the neighbours, because at this point your kid could part traffic with the sound of his scream! So go slowly. Ease into your new routine. Stay with them while they fall asleep for their first night... The nurses at Tresillian advised that Baby Love was a good starting point for starting new sleep patterns.

(4) Find some patience. I have none of it personally. And it sucks that I need it. But I am going to have to find some from somewhere (behind the couch?) if I want this new routine to work. And you'll have to do the same. In the words of Rachel Hunter, "it won't happen overnight, but it will happen."  

(5) Close the milk bar at 6 months. You can stop breast/bottle feeding babies from 6months of age. They are physically advanced enough to cope without a nighttime feed (obviously, speak to a doctor before you do this incase your child has special considerations). The longer you leave it past this age, the more of a battle it becomes to stop the feeding. Think about it: if you were being offered a warm bottle of chocolate milk every night, even when you were drowsy, you certainly wouldn't refuse it would you? In fact, you'd be getting quite used to the sugar rush at a certain time and would start to wake for that chocolate milk, wouldn't you? Your baby, and your boob/bottle, is no different.

(6) There is no "one way" to send your child to sleep. This was, without doubt, the most frustrating part of my Tresillian stay. One nurse would send Frankie to sleep by sitting on a chair outside her bedroom and repeatedly Shushing her until she eventually fell asleep (this took forever). Another nurse sat in the room with Frankie and patted her, and calmly told her to "lie down". She then crept out the door, shushing the whole way, until she finally exited the room. This too, took forever. The third nurse simply picked Frankie up, plonked her on her tummy, and told her to "Lie down. Go to bed" in a forceful, and commanding tone. She then walked to the door and every time Frankie cried out or made a move to stand up, the nurse would (quite aggressively) shush her and once again tell her to lie down as she plonked her down on the bed. This was the most effective method for Frankie. But I'll be buggered if it has worked for me since I got home! The learning from all this is that you have to work at different strategies until you find the one that works best for you. Frankie is sleeping 2 hrs during the day (ish), and 10hrs straight at night. Something seems to have work, which proves the point that TRESILLIAN WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS...........

Monday, 17 September 2012

Happy birthday, my love.

At 4.30am this morning Frankie woke up distressed and I decided to take her into my bed. I lay her down, coaxing her back to sleep with a rhythmic, gentle shushing. But this time,  I wasn't able to join her in a state of blissful slumber. Instead, I remained awake and positioned myself so that her dream-breath kissed my face. I love the smell of her breath; it sticks to my skin like laundry powder on fresh linen.

Frankie is turning one this week. Time is never truly measurable until you have a child and witness the change that a day can make. It can mean the difference between a stumble, and a stride.  A gurgle, and a word.

The bad days pass agonisingly slowly, and yet by the time dawn breaks the child you put to bed is not the child you now hold in your arms. She is bigger. Wiser. Stronger. And always, eternally, surprising. The good days are the ones you brag about. The ones that you simply can't hold the pride inside, and must share it with the world or you will burst. They're the days that you bombard Facebook with videos, or call your cousins just to say 'hello' (but secretly, to brag a little bit that your baby is now crawling!)

Frankie - Frances - because of you I now live on a wide, flat plain of love. There is air, there is earth, and there is you.

Happy birthday, my love.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Mumma Anxiety: Stress Less Jess

I take a deep gulp and feel the blush creep up my cheek, hot with shame. Invisible pins prink my eyes so I close them, knowing that the embarrassment will be worse if I cry.

"I'm not coping", I whisper. My stomach heaves with the effort of the words. "It's taking over my life".

I open my eyes and see compassion in the face of the doctor opposite me. She sees my child writhing about in my arms, and a look of sympathy washes over her. Instantly my shame dissipates - I know she doesn't think I'm a failure. She just recognises that I have a problem.

Before I had my child, I was an anxious sort of person. Since having Frankie, I've become a mess. I knew things were getting bad when even the thought of doing 'ordinary' things started to paralyse me. I long-ago gave up taking Frankie shopping; it was simply too difficult to have her in the pram for such a long stretch of time. And here I was thinking it was her....restless, active, energetic Frankie. No, quite simply, it was me. And my issues. It's never been about her. The truth is, she feeds off my anxiety - not vice-versa. She sees me panic, and has a field day.

Last weekend I knew it was serious when Andy and I went for a hiking trip in the Blue Mountains. We hadn't done our planning in advance, and I was in a state of full-blown-panic. I screamed at Andy that we couldn't go. How could we possibly expect her to sit still in the backpack for a few hours in a row. We hadn't prepared her food. Where would we change her nappy? She would need to be in the car for 1.5hrs......IMPOSSIBLE!!! The fear welled up inside me and manifested itself into rage, poor Andy bearing the worst of my attack.

Gently, Andy insisted I get help.

This is killing us. This is killing me. And I'm sure, soon enough, I'll be the one to blame for all of Frankie's insecurities too.

It's tough to admit when you're not coping. That the slightest of tasks leaves you feeling weak at the knees. I look at other mums who manage to work, bake, exercise, and wax and I wonder HOW they do it. It's too steep a mountain for me to climb. And I need to stop using my overly energetic child as an excuse and look at the real problem source. Me.

I feel like a spectacular failure, and I wonder why the Universe doesn't hand out points for how much you love your child and the higher the score, the easier the motherhood experience. If that was the case, than I'd be the most chilled out mum in the world, because I love Frankie more than I love breathing. I never cease to wonder why I find things so.........difficult. And not just difficult...........frightening. 

Next week I have an appointment with a psychologist to help me get things back on track. I hope that the adage "Happy Mum, Happy Bub" rings true, and soon enough I'll be calmer in myself and have a calmer child as a result. Wish me luck. I feel I need it.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The grass is greener, and all that jazz.

I look at other mums, and I reckon they've got it made. Their babies sleep longer than Frankie, some even through the night. Their babies don't scream every time they're peeled out of mummy's arms. Their babies sit still for more than 4seconds at a time. It's not that I don't love my child, but my endless baby-comparison-cycle has me questioning - Is the linen really always softer on the other side of the cot? 

I look at the mums around me who somehow manage to do "it all". They make hairdresser appointments, and keep them. They cook organic, sugar-less, salt-less, wheat-less creations from scratch while bub plays happily alone with a trolley full of toys for entertainment. These women can even go away for weekends and leave bubba with the grandparents because (and this point is completely outside my sphere of comprehension) their bub will behave himself and will sleep through the night.

Frankie is healthy, beautiful, and very, very strong. She is 11 months old, and can run. She can push her pram around at the park even when it has its breaks on. I love watching the way in which she learns from the world around her - she is a kinaesthetic learner and understands things best through touch. I love her unconditionally for who she is but sometimes it feels like she is, quite frankly, tougher work than the other kids.

Frankie rarely sits still for a story. Or, for that matter, a nappy change. On a daily basis, like a looped record, I hear myself say to kind strangers who approach Frankie, "It's not you who's made her scream, she's just going through a shy stage right now" (Sometimes I find it easier just to tell people she's sick).

I secretly wish that she'd perform for others the way she does with me some times; I quite literally WILL her to giggle, dance, sing, and kiss like she does for me at home. But Frankie glares at people suspiciously, clings to me, grows silent and stubborn, and at times seems genuinely frightened of others.  And whilst I do get some incredible moments with Frankie on my own, I also find that the majority of my time with her is spent entertaining her. She seems to tire so quickly of the toys she has, and when I leave her she follows me around the house as though the umbilical cord still binds us, and she hasn't quite understood that it was cut 11 months ago.

Sometimes I wonder whether my anxiety is rubbing off on her, but have no way of determining this. All I know is that a very small part of me wishes I could 'trade her in' for a different model - just for a day or two - to see how the other half live.

I'd love to wake up (after 5am for a change) and do my make up or have a shower. I'd love to hear Frankie murmuring contentedly in her bed when she wakes, rather than screaming the house down, and launching herself out of my arms to run around like a crazed chicken. What I'd give for a baby that would allow me 20 minutes alone to prepare her dinner while she pranced about with only her toys for company.

But maybe a "swapsies" to see how the other half live would teach me a thing or two about how lucky I am with my overly-energetic, overly-skeptical child. Maybe the experience would open my eyes to some of the things that I take for granted with Frankie. She eats virtually everything (although, in fairness, she'll eat nothing off a spoon...) She already knows how to tell me when she's doing a wee or a poo, which I think is pretty spectacular*. Perhaps I will find her own quirks and behaviours more adorable, such as her obsession with the electric toothbrush and her fascination with carrying the potty around the house under her arm.

I know that these tough times will pass and that in the not-too-distant future she will be sleeping well, and out of her separation anxiety phase. But this feels like a lifetime away and in the meantime all I can do is ponder whether the grass is greener on the other side, or whether I should stop my pondering and be grateful for the divinely beautiful baby girl I have in my life right now.

*Frankie is virtually always running around our house without a nappy. She tells me when she's going to have a wee by pointing to the ground, and rubbing the spot where the wee is about to fall, and saying "Weh weh". Sure enough, 5seconds after she has done this, she will wee right onto the floor. (Or, unpleasantly, poo.... I really should put her in nappies more often but I love staring at her gorgeous bottom too much!) 

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Poor little possum

The dreaded first illness has finally descended upon us. It's taken a full 10months to unleash it's wrath, but it has struck with violent force in the guise of an ear infection.

I should have realised something was up when Frankie's started to tilt a little to the left. She was walking in circles, like a stunned possum who had recently fallen out of a tree and couldn't quite get her bearings. I found it funny at first -- 'oh, look at Frankie, she's doing a silly little dance', but I soon realised something was up when she couldn't walk in a straight line without tumbling over.

Things got progressively worse and I finally clocked that something was wrong when Frankie's temperature registered above 38degrees, and her cheeks were burning like a shamed Aussie rower on a night out after a medal-less final.

My partner and I rushed her to the local GP (PS. if you live in Coogee, don't go to the Bream Street Practice) who wasn't exactly lavishing attention upon our child. She barely took her eyes off her computer screen long enough to assess Frankie's condition; perhaps we interrupted a good game of Grand Theft Auto or something, who knows?

Anyhoo, a barely-there doctor took one look at her and advised us that Frankie had 'Slap Cheek'. What now? I looked nervously about me, wondering whether today was the day that the social workers would peer out from behind the curtain and take my daughter away from me. Dr. Disinterested started to explain it was a type of viral infection, but midway through her monotone diagnosis-delivery, she saw Frankie pulling on her ear and decided to give it a quick looksy. Well, what do you know, it wasn't Slapped Cheek after all (what a name, I tell you!). A routine ear infection, and wham-bam-thank-you-maam, here are the Antibiotics.

5 nights later (2 of which, shock horror, Frankie slept for a whopping 12hrs in a row) and she's not an awful lot better. So displeased with our GP's prognosis were we, that today we sought a second opinion. Turns out Dr. Disinterested was right enough, it was/is an ear infection, but quite a serious one, requiring a fair bit more patience on my behalf to ride out the infection and wait for better days ahead.

Poor, poor bubba has never been so sooky. But I've soaked up the extra cuddles and put up with the backpain inflicted upon me by carrying a red-cheeked baby around 24/7. And, somewhat selfishly, I'm kind of OK with her delayed return to health. It means I clock up a few more hours sleep at night than my daughter would normally afford me!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Bambi on ice...

Separation Anxiety (for mums)

You've probably read all about separation anxiety in the baby books that adorn your nursery shelves. Anticipated at around the 9-month stage, it can be full of misery and woe. We mothers suddenly experience a metamorphosis - we are no longer milking cows. Suddenly, we're a second skin - our departure from the room ripping a tiny piece of them away, making them howl in perceived agony.

Or so they say.

This is not the case with Frankie and I. I politely cough and give a weak nod when mothers with similarly-aged babies tell of their woes when they leave their kids. The dramas of daycare. The nightmare of nannies. I was expecting Frankie to go off the charts when I went to Bali on holiday - my first time away from her for longer than 5hours. I secretly hoped she'd scream the house down, rip the vinyl giraffes off the wall, tear the chest hair off her father in desperation and longing for her absent mum. Outwardly, I wanted her to be happy (or so I told my friends). "I just hope she'll cope OK without me around", I said, thinking that even if she did manage, her father wouldn't fare quite so well with the round-the-clock bottle sterilising, cooking, cleaning, washing, cooking, washing, sterilising...

Well, guess what?

In the 4nights that I was away, she slept through the night (ish).

She had the occasional "I am ready for dinner now" whimper.

She took the nappy-changing lying down.

My partner, Andy, emerged from the ordeal without a scratch (whereas I was still nursing teeth and claw marks all over my shoulder and neck).

The moment I arrived at the Arrivals gate of Sydney Kingsford-Smith airport, I was awash with Mother's guilt and certain that Frankie would be haphazardly dressed (with at least one sock missing) and probably stained with dirt and grime. But no, she was rosy cheeked and content; one might go so far as to call her placid.

I had feared that she would stare blankly at me and have difficulty trying to place my face. You know, the "I know I know you, but can't place you" face? This lasted all of 3 seconds, before she erupted into a fit of kicking, squealing, and grinning so hard her little dimple almost burst. I was overjoyed by her reaction -the pleasure radiating from her at my presence. But I was also slightly perturbed. How is it that the world didn't stop turning when I left? 

As Andy shrugged a "she was awesome" response to my question regarding her behaviour, I felt rage surging inside me. Why did she save all her naughty energy for me? Why was I bone-tired and weary at the end of every day, in bed by 8pm with a good book and a medicinal glass of wine?

I can only gulp dryly at the possibility that Frankie's behaviour is, inexplicably, linked to my own. My anxiety feeding hers. My energy drives hers. Dear God, help me - I've created a monster. Frankiestien, shall we call her?

If she was Miss Magic for everyone that looked after her while I was abroad, then surely I am the variable in this scientific experiment of childhood behaviour? Bali has taught me that I need to look more closely at myself before labelling my daughter's own habits. "She is always moving" I say....well, this is a case of pot/kettle it would seem.