Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Becoming Mum, and the pressures of perfection

Reading 'The Mother Load' article from this weekend's Sydney Morning Herald (28/01/12) got me thinking. When was it that women threw instinct to the wind and chose to bow to an idealised image of perfect parenting? According to the Elisabeth Badinter, author of The Conflict: The Woman and the Mother, we have seemingly lost ourselves in the process of Becoming Mum, and the result is a new generation where child is king.

Badinter argues that modern motherhood is fundamentalist, and I must agree. When I was pregnant, I was looked down upon in the office kitchen for speading peanut butter on toast in "my condition". More than one person felt it necessary to tell me that eating nuts during pregnancy could lead to my child having allergies. I felt like screaming, "What about the millions of Indonesian women?" who eat nut-rich Gado Gado Satay as a staple part of their diet yet don't have any allergy epidemics? It's not exactly like the Japanese give up Sushi when they get pregnant, yet God Help the Aussie mum-to-be who wants to hoe into a nice piece of Sashimi.

The hunt for perfection is spiralling out of control. I have friends who have been made to feel so guilty for their inability to breastfeed that they have wallowed into the waters of depression. Nowadays, if your child is not exclusively breastfed you are led to believe that they will sprout a third ear and develop zucchini-mush for brains.

And breastfeeding is just the first stage of the food bullying cycle. Once 'real' food is introduced it must be scrutinised to ensure it is sugar free, egg free, gluten free, and organic. Gone are the days when whiskey was rubbed onto the gums of crying children, bothered by the emergence of tiny teeth. Bring up that remedy at your local Mothers' Group and watch Social Services turn up at your doorstep quicker than you can say "dirty nappy".

One can not discuss the pressures of perfection without addressing the issue of sleep. Babies must - of course - be sleeping through the night at three months of age. If they aren't self-settling at this stage than it is your fault for creating an environment of dependency  and you have unwittingly coaxed them into a lifetime of sleep behavioural issues due to your own incompetence. But don't worry! You can play Pick'n'Mix with hundreds of different routine books, all of which offer a unique approach to streamlining your child's sleeping patterns with other babies'. But if your baby doesn't fit the 'mould', just remember it is your fault, not theirs...

Does anyone else feel that mothers aren't allowed to show any dents in their armour?You can admit it is tough, but don't you dare say you aren't coping. Oh no - just make sure you are buying the latest learning-development toys, ensuring your child doesn't ever come into contact with the sun, donning your best Beauty Pageant Queen smile and pretending all is fine. Heaven forbid you greive your old life for even a moment. How dare you yearn for your former independence?

Badinter asserts that no matter what you do now, you will never win as a mother. When your children are teenagers, you will (at some point) be the villain so why get so caught up trying to be Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes now? Women who devote all their time to their children will forget who they once were as independent, childless spirits. And let us not forget that it is independent spirits we are trying to encourange in our own children. So why not throw caution to the wind, relax a little, and give ourselves a break. A little self-congratulatory pat on the back wouldn't do any harm either!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Frankie, the spy....

As the salt of my baby's tears lingers on my cheek, I question whether I will ever get the hang of this motherhood thing.

A few weeks ago, Frankie started sleeping through the night. I silently did a little 'V' is for 'Victory' cheer, donning imaginary poms poms and highkicking it to the heavens.

My partner and I had decided to try theTizzy Hall 'Save Our Sleep' routine and after just one night we experienced success. Frankie's 45minute cat naps stretched into 2hour sleep binges. She woke only once for a feed, if at all, instead of the 2-3 times she had in the past. Winner.

Coincidentally, we tried 'Save our Sleep' on the same day that we introduced our bub to the wonderful world of solids, so who knows which factor was the deciding one for a better night's kip. Whatever the influence, something was working and I wasn't exactly complaining.

But it's now Frankie's 4 month birthday and just when I thought we had it all under control, the little minx got her skates on and started rolling over. She's been rolling during playtime quite happily for a few weeks, but has never before mixed her playtime activities with her bedtime ones. And since she started flipping over in bed, she's never slept the same since. I quite simply don't understand why she insists on turning onto her stomach yet as soon as she gets there she starts crying. If I try to roll her onto her back again, she freaks out as though I've tricked her with some sort of devilry. Cranky Frankie emerges and shakes down the walls with her wails.

For the last two nights she has slept no longer than 45 minutes in a row. I am still trying my best to stick to the self-settling rules of 'Save Our Sleep', but occassionally I crumble and pick her up for a cuddle. Hence my tear stained face, as her cheek presses against mine for whatever token of warmth and comfort I can afford her. My partner is so much stronger than I am and can put up with the tears because he can sanely rationalise that she is warm, well-fed, and comfortable so she must only be protesting against some imaginary hardship thrust upon her. But each cry, each scream, each wail claws at my soul and I literally have to stop myself from drawing blood as my fingers dig into the palm of my hands.

I can only hope that some sort of routine will establish itself and I will finally understand my baby. At the moment it feels as though I am babysitting an alien spy who works ever so hard to imitate human behaviour, but reveals her true self at sleep time by proving unable to match typical bedtime rituals. Be gone, alien! Come back my darling sleep-loving daughter. Oh, how mummy's missed you....

Monday, 16 January 2012

Hungry eyes, fantasize

I'm not one to dish out advice, but in this instance, I think I have some that might be of use. When questioning whether it is time to introduce your little one to the Mighty Mushy Stuff, revert back to the Gospel of our generation: Dirty Dancing. With Patrick Swayze in mind, ask yourself: does Baby have hungry eyes??

We realised it was time to give Frankie a bit of 'nah-nah (banana, for my non-native speaking friends) when she quite literally started panting like an overly-excited German Shepard every time we ate with her sitting on our lap. For example, my partner was happily licking away at his Mango Weiss Bar when Frankie defied her own age-appropriate fine motor skills to reach up and pull the icecream away from her daddy and shove it forcefully into her mouth. What followed promptly was a contented 'hmpf' as she flicked her little tongue furiously in all directions. We stared open mouthed at this creature: only 4 months old and already ready to feast. Atta girl, Frankie - chip off the old block.

Looking back, I think we could have spotted the warning signs sooner if we had been prepared for them. But I  had been so confused about when to move on from exclusively breastfeeding that I had buried my head in the sand about the whole issue. And it's not like the parenting books are universally aligned with their recommendations and suggestions. It seems that mothering tips go in and out of fashion like haircuts. Currently, you are advised that you can introduce a baby to solid food from 4months on. But only a generation ago it was advised to stick solidly to breast milk until the 6th month at the very earliest.

Still, I should have introduced food sooner given that Frankie hadn't put on weight for six weeks. The doctors and nursing sisters told me she looked perfectly healthy and there was nothing to worry about because a lot of babies will plateau in weight for a while. I followed their advice and never even thought about giving her something more substantial! God, what a div....

After the "shove-daddy's-food-in-my-mouth" experience, we immediately gave her the good stuff. And just ten days of being on Farex, banana, apricots, nectarines and pear, my little waif morphed into a cherub and put on a whopping 400grams. Delightful.

As Frankie takes her first tentative steps into the world of real food, I mourn yet another loss of the girl she once was. There goes her complete and utter dependence on me. Granted this dependency had sometimes felt like an anchor weighing me down but now I question whether there is anything so natural - or wonderful - as a newborn baby's dependence on her mother? Here she goes, taking yet another of her big girl steps forward and I have a sneaky suspicion that with each achievement and milestone reached, a little part of me will miss the stage that has come before... 

Friday, 13 January 2012

The lady bush, and all things beautiful

You know that feeling of dread that claws at your stomach when you're faced with something you really, really don't want to do? Like having to tell a genuine 'nice-guy' that it's over because you just don't fancy him enough. Or when you go into work the morning after a boozy office Christmas party, unsure whether anyone captured photographic evidence of what you were trying to do to your sexy (married) boss on the dancefloor.

Well, that same feeling is what I was experiencing today, right before I went for my first post-pregnancy wax. I had been dreading it so much that I'd been delaying the inevitable. At some point, it would be crunch time, and that point was today.

I turned up at the beautician full of apologies. As I unbuttoned my jeans I rambled through a dozen reasons to excuse my lack of self-maintanance: I had been travelling in Africa during a lot of my pregnancy and it wasn't possible to find a good beautician... I was so tired when I found out that I was having a baby that I couldn't find the energy for it.... After the C-Section my scar needed time to heal....

Soon enough the jeans were down and there was nothing left for me but to lie down on the freshly-papered table, staring up at the ceiling and blushing in shame.

The whole experience got me questioning my attitude towards beauty now that I'm a mum. Evidently I don't have the time to preen and polish - I am more likely to hunt the aisles for nappy rash cream than I am for wrinkle ones. It actually took my partner buying me a gift voucher at the beauticians and a promise to babysit for me to finally (and I mean FINALLY) face the music and trim my lady bush. 

Truthfully, I don't feel attractive any more and I understand why:- I haven't had quality beauty sleep in 16 weeks. It's not exactly top priority at the minute. But will it ever come back? Will I ever pamper myself enough to feel 'lovely' again? Or does the ability to put yourself first leave you the moment you enter the recovery room and stare at your little bundle of joy; the essence of beauty itself?

All I know for sure is that the wax was every bit as painful as I'd dreaded it would be and the results don't seem as worth it as they once did. Not for me at least; maybe my fella is feeling a little more favourably towards the results!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Pressure at the petrol pump

I was cruising down Military Road with the windows down and my right arm lightly burning in the heat of the summer sun. Cyndi Lauper's 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun' was on Classic Hits radio, and I was humming contentedly. My daughter had drifted off into a deep slumber in the comfort of her car seat. It was utter bliss.

My carefree mood quickly dissipated with one quick glance at the blinking red light on my dashboard. Uh oh.... I needed to fill up on petrol.

Having been aware that the fuel was running low for quite some time, I was still holding out hope that I would be able to make it home and let my partner take care of it later. Now, I'm no mathemetician, but I did realise that the only way I was going to make it back to my house without filling up on petrol would be in the back of a tow truck. So, what's the problem, you ask? Fill the car up and be done with it, woman!

The problem, dear friends, is that the filling up of petrol presented me with a certain predicament. My child was asleep in the back of the car.  I was faced with a choice - leave my child be, or wake her from her slumber and take her with me into the service station to pay the bill.

What to do? I tell you what my mother would have done in the early 80's - she'd have left me counting sheep while she strolled into the servo without a moment's hesitation. I don't believe she would feel even the slightest sliver of guilt. If we were to time travel back to 1982 and interrupt my mum mid-pump to question whether she would wake me, I am quite confident she'd look at us incredulously and think we were mad.
My instincts told me that Frankie was perfectly safe in the car with all the windows down, loads of fresh air, and safely within my sight. But my ego kept telling me "this is socially unacceptable" and I'd be looked down upon if I even walked ten feet away from her.

As I continued to ponder the ethics behind the quick dash, a car pulled up behind me. The driver was a woman in her late 30s, with a kid of about 7 years old. I caught myself wondering what she would say if I she saw me leave Frankie to go and settle my bill. Would the mother run in, shaming me with accusations of recklessness? Would the parent-police show up and strip me of my license to Mother?

I sighed as I unclipped the childseat buckles and watched Frankie stir into confused wakefulness. Displeasure radiated from her skin as I carried her into the shop over my shoulder. One brief minute later and there I was, re-clipping the seatbelt and putting Frankie back where she had started from. Only this time, the mood had distinctly shifted and was less Cyndi Lauper and more Nick Cave.

Sometimes I wish there was a Morality Handbook that de-muddied the waters around these sorts of things and gave us a clear guide about exactly what is acceptable, what is forbidden, and what is downright stupid when it comes to Motherhood. On my own, with only my instincts to rely on, it would seem that this particular mother does not know best.