Toddlerhood and the sleeping myth

And so it seems a fitting tribute as to how little spare time I have now as a full time working mum that I have only just got around to resuming this blog. The last post was when she was twelve weeks. She is now 18 months old.

So sleeping through the night, eh? Parenting books and websites led me to believe that my daughter should be sleeping through the night after six months. If not, there was a problem. She shouldn’t need a bottle after six months during the night, there is no medical reason at all. I was always fascinated by this fact. There may not be a medical reason as such, but I often wake in the night for a drink as an adult. I still find a dark room a little scary at night time sometimes when there are unexpected noises from the depths of the house. I am not sure I remember the last time I slept through the night even pre-baby and from speaking to other adults, this is not unusual. In fact, good sleepers seem to be a rarity, even in adulthood.

Bearing this in mind, why should I think I have somehow got a problem or failed if my daughter still wakes during the night even though she is not an infant anymore? She has had phases when she has slept soundly for around 9 hours, but these have been the exception rather than the norm. It is difficult to remember sometimes that a toddler is also an individual with an increasingly independent personality, so why should she conform to the specified guidelines given by the medical profession about what she supposedly needs?

Anyway, on that note, I need some sleep. Goodnight.

The Feeding Learning Curve

So how much should my 12 week old baby be drinking every day? According to the guidelines on the back of the tins, (and I have compared several different brands,) she should be drinking 4-5 feeds of 180 ml each time, and now she has turned twelve weeks, that should jump to 240 ml each time. I appreciate these are just guidelines, but should I be worried that she cannot ever fit that quantity in her belly in one go? She has never moved past smaller feeds at more frequent intervals, and regularly only manages around 100 ml at a time every three hours.

However, she is putting on weight and is healthy and happy, and the guidelines don’t seem to take into account individuality. Some adults are grazers, and some like to pig out, surely that can be the same for babies? Breast feeding mums don’t have a measure on their boobs to tell them how much baby has drunk, after all. One of the most nerve wracking thing with a first baby is that every minute of every day is a learning curve. And a steep one at that. It is like being on a course every single day about something I know absolutely nothing about. As each day goes by, I begin to feel more like an old pro, and then just as a think i have something sussed, she changes the game. A false sense of security if ever there was one.

That’s one of the crazy juxtapositions of first time parenting. The thrill of discovering the new, contrasted with the terror of realising I don’t know the rules for this part of the game. It seems crazy in some ways to worry about the fact that she isn’t following the exact guidelines on the formula time; after all, she can’t read them and she is a human being, not a robot. But then, as a first time mother, it is difficult to keep the worrying at bay, and I am sure the wonderful gift of hindsight will show me just how unnecessary most of my worries were. I wonder what the next one will be?

Surprising Reactions of other People to Miscarriage

One thing that has astounded me during my whole pregnancy journey is the way in which others have reacted to my two miscarriages. After one pregnancy loss, my husband and I found most people to be supportive and caring. After two pregnancy losses, some reactions changed.

Our close friends were still there for us. I will be eternally grateful to those people who remained caring throughout; who came to visit us in hospital, who sent messages just to check how we were, made food for us when we would not have had the motivation to do this ourselves. Those people who called to invite us out, and still treated us as ‘normal.’

Because many people did not treat us ‘normally’ any more after two miscarriages. It seemed as though our personal misfortune had somehow tainted their world, our unhappiness threatening their secure existence. Did they worry that our bad luck was contagious? Perhaps I am being harsh, maybe they simply looked the other way as our misery made them uncomfortable. Either way, it made a devastating situation lonelier than it should have been.

And then there were those women who feel judged. A situation as personal and devastating as pregnancy loss affects every person differently; speaking as someone who has been through this, I would not presume to know how another person would deal with this if it happened to them. During the height of my grief, I was told by certain people that I was dealing with my grief wrongly, that I should not appear upset in public, and that the person in question understood as they had had a long battle to conceive themselves and that this was somehow the same as my loss. This was all by other women. Not just other women – mothers.

Most people didn’t know what to say. This is understandable, it is a very hard topic to broach and thankfully one that many people do not have experience of. We really learnt the meaning of friendship during this time; those people who we knew were there without having to say it. Those people who didn’t judge, didn’t ignore us, didn’t turn their backs. Who didn’t make me feel like a leper because I had experienced trauma. Who understood when I couldn’t face certain situations.

We seemed to have become members of an elite club; one miscarriage is bad luck that others could relate to. But after two miscarriages, no one know what to make of us it seemed. After one miscarriage, it was surprising how many people had been through the same. After two, our pool of contemporaries got infinitely smaller. One thing is for certain, we learnt who our friends were.

Social Networking Sites and Motherhood

The modern world that we live has come up with a new way for mothers to judge each other and to inflict pain on couples struggling on the road to baby; the social networking site, more commonly known as Facebook to you and me.

Don’t get me wrong, I am an avid user of Facebook, and that is the problem. I fell into the social network trap along with the rest of society, hook, line and sinker. I recently read a newspaper article about women and the phenomenon known as FOMO, or the fear of missing out. Facebook is the ultimate culprit contributing to FOMO, with everyone showcasing how perfect their lives are, and everyone else avidly logging on to check them out and make themselves feel inadequate.

When it comes to pregnancy, conception, giving birth and raising children, Facebook and other similar sites enable women to compare themselves to others like never before. It starts with conception, or the struggle to do so. I personally have been knocked sideways by these pregnancy announcements whilst I struggled to conceive, with each ‘friend’ of mine who posted their news feeling like they were sticking the knife in and twisting it that bit further. Of course, I was happy for them, and everyone should be free to share their news in the manner that they wish. But true friends broke their happy news a bit more gently and a lot more personally than on a social networking site for the world to see with no soft edges or prior warning. Needless to say, some friendships suffered greatly as a result.

Then there is pregnancy. Every picture of burgeoning baby bumps reminded me of my bump that would not grow, of my miscarriages and of our loss. Again, everyone should feel free to share their happiness how they wish, and in hindsight with a rational mind, I should have simply stopped looking. This was my responsibility and I should have taken control. But in my traumatised state of manic anxiety to conceive again, a slightly sado masochistic tendency took over and I could not seem to stop torturing myself with news of my former friends happiness. During my third pregnancy, we did not announce anything on Facebook, partly due to the paralysing fear that it would not work out this time either, and partly as my Facebook account has many ‘friends’ whom I do not even really know anymore, and I didn’t want to share this personal news with every random acquaintance I had. I told those in my life that mattered until it became obvious and impossible to hide, and the news only made it to Facebook when friends and family posted photos or made comments during my third trimester.

Birth and child rearing seemed to be another mine field altogether. Women cannot help comparing themselves to other women and being self critical in response. The status updates and photos of seemingly perfect births did little to improve my self esteem while hobbling around after my c section, hooked up to a catheter for days and unable to even shower myself. Again, why did I keep looking at the site? A modern addiction perhaps, or maybe I really am a fan of torturing myself, but I know I am not alone. Photos of contented, joyous mothers enjoying days out with their off spring do little to assuage the guilt of a mother soon to be returning to work, and force the neurotic side of ourselves to ask; am I spending enough time with my child?

Of course, none of these issues are really the fault of Facebook, I could always stop looking. But I am afraid I am a product of the technology savvy age we live in and have been suckered in along with the majority of the rest of the population. I don’t have the will power to stop checking out other people’s lives and I don’t have the ability yet to stop comparing myself to others. I guess if we all had that ability, Facebook wouldn’t have over 900 million active monthly users and Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t be worth billions of dollars, would he?

Breast vs bottle follow up

As a follow up to my post yesterday, I quote from a national UK newspaper; ‘Only 1 in 100 [mothers] are obeying NHS guidelines that they should exclusively breastfeed for the first six months,’ Daily Mail, Wednesday 21st November.

This illustrates my point about judgement from society perfectly. Obey? The use of the this word is loaded with the insinuation that new mothers are wilfully deciding to act in a disobedient manner and ignore doctors guidelines. It is the choice of the individual woman and her partner to make. I heard this advice, along with many other new mothers presumably, and I tried to do what doctors said is best for my baby. My baby is six weeks old, and I am still expressing religiously at regular intervals for my baby. I have had to start supplementing so my baby gets enough to eat.

I acknowledge that while I am a UK citizen and follow current UK medical advice, I am not currently a UK resident and so my baby was not born in an NHS hospital. However, she was delivered in a hospital abroad by a British trained obstetrician, following current UK practise.

Should I be vilified for failing in the eyes of the NHS? Does this make me a failure as a mother? Is it not a measure of success that I managed to breastfeed for a shorter period of time, even if I did not make the six month mark? Did my baby fail to get any benefit at all? Would it be preferable for her to become undernourished and hungry during the first few months of her life?

Or would the NHS prefer it if I kept developing mastitis, and possibly other complications, and if I were a UK resident, keep making return visits to my local NHS doctor and costing the health service money? Does it not say something about the amount of difficulty faced by new mothers that only 1% of mothers meet their target? As a middle manager and a teacher, I do not consider that to be a realistic or successful target setting procedure by any stretch of the imagination. If only 1% of my students were meeting a target I had set them, I would not be doing my job properly and I would be answerable to senior management and government bodies alike.

So are all these women, the other 99% of new mothers who do not exclusively breast feed for six months, wilfully disregarding medical advice and choosing against providing the best for their baby? I find this a staggering indictment on British women if this is what is being suggested to any degree. I certainly have not chosen this path. I want the best for my baby, as do, I am sure, the 1% of breastfeeding success stories. So why make 99% of new mothers feel like monsters?

Our story –Pregnancy after Loss

The Beginning of our Journey

I decided to write our story after suffering two miscarriages in less than six months. Our baby is now six weeks old, a result of my third pregnancy and I have only recently felt able to begin to share our situation. Miscarriage is such an isolating experience, even more so after two. Our elite ‘club’ that my husband and I have unwittingly been made members of seems to be a taboo area for discussion and I decided to share our story in the hope that it may provide support or comfort to other women out there who have endured their own struggles.

My husband and I first fell pregnant in late June 2011, after deciding six months earlier that we wanted to have a baby. The trigger for me, as it seems to have been for so many other women, was hearing a close friend announcing the news that she was pregnant, and feeling a rush of longing and almost devastation that this wasn’t us making the same announcement. Until that point, I had not really been aware of how strong my desire was to have a baby.

We decided to stop contraception six months later, to give ourselves time to come to terms with the enormity of what we had decided to do. I had heard so many stories of women becoming pregnant immediately after stopping birth control, and, it seems rather naively now, was worried the same thing might happen to us. Even though we had decided we wanted a baby, the revelation had come in a rush of emotion and hormones rather than as a clear and rational decision, and we still did not feel ready should we fall pregnant straight away.

In hind sight, this concern seems minor and trivial even, but at the time, I hadn’t appreciated how long it would take my cycle to settle down after more than a decade of taking the contraceptive pill. My cycle had always been long and somewhat erratic, and I hadn’t appreciated the anxiety and anticipation every month waiting to see if I was pregnant, without knowing if everything was even working as it should. The hope and excitement every time I waited to see if the line of the pregnancy test would reveal itself was only compounded by the fact that imaginary lines seemed to appear before my eyes the harder I looked, and the fact that I didn’t ever know exactly when to expect my period made the situation even more painful, as I didn’t know if I was dealing with a ‘negative’ or a ‘maybe’ each and every time. About 9 months, and 6 cycles later, we finally got a positive result.

The Breast versus Bottle Debate

I will start by stating the general assumption that every mother wants the best for their child. I think this is a safe assumption to make, regardless of the philosophy or style of parenting that each parent chooses to follow. But the breast versus bottle debate rages, with bottle feeding mothers being portrayed as less caring mothers who are not interested in providing their child with the best start in life.  I realise that by writing this, I am opening myself up to criticism, but please hear me out.

The ‘breast feeding at all costs’ brigade might try to remember that life doesn’t always go according to plan. I had every intention to breast feed my baby. Our baby was the result of my third pregnancy after two miscarriages. With the current barrage of information extolling the virtues of ‘breast is best,’ mothers are under immense pressure to give breast feeding their best shot. However, my baby spent the first two days of her life in the special care unit of the hospital, and was given a bottle during this time as well as fluids via IV. All of this created what I believe to be a serious case of nipple confusion. As soon as my baby was allowed, we tried breast feeding with guidance from the hospital. This was fraught with difficulty and we only successfully managed to feed for a few seconds at a time. These sessions were characterised by a hungry screaming baby being forced to try to take my nipple into her mouth, and my baby only knew that she was hungry and that her food was not coming as quickly or in the manner that she was used to. At less than 72 hours old, I imagine this was quite difficult to understand. So I began expressing milk for my baby, every two to three hours around the clock to keep her healthy and fed and to maintain my milk supply, whilst still striving for the ever elusive goal of the purported closeness of a successful breast feeding relationship.

This pattern continued for much of the first three weeks of her life. Each time, I offered my daughter my breast, each time, she refused.  Every time, one or both of us ended up in tears. Every time, resorting to the bottle of expressed milk so that I didn’t feel as if I was starving my newborn baby. There are different schools of thought on this, I was urged by some to just offer breast for a period of twenty four hours as she would have no choice but to accept me rather than the bottle, but this didn’t sit well with me. Perhaps I gave in too soon, who can say. I was reassured by some people that a baby wouldn’t starve themselves, but I found it too stressful to watch my baby cry for food, knowing she would take a bottle, and refusing to give it to her.

So after three weeks of trying this seven or eight times a day, I stopped offering my breast. It wasn’t exactly a conscious decision; I was not coping with the constant stress of rejection. My husband and family hated seeing me spend a large proportion of the day in tears and missing out on the joy of our new baby. My dogged desire to bond through breast feeding was putting an unnecessary amount of stress on our family. We stuck to bottle feeding expressed milk, and this worked for a week until I ended up in accident and emergency with a temperature of nearly 40 degrees, an inflamed breast, vomiting, chills and blurred vision brought about by a case of mastitis.

Unfortunately, the only way to overcome mastitis is to continue expressing. So I continued to express through the pain of swollen and inflamed breasts, every two hours, day and night, the limited amounts my blocked ducts would allow. The blocked ducts meant that I wasn’t able to express enough milk to keep up with my baby’s demands. So we started supplementing with formula. Stating it in this matter of fact way makes the decision to supplement sound easy, but the hysterical reaction that I had and the feeling of complete failure I felt at having to give that first formula bottle was unexpected and highly distressing. The guilt I felt at not being able to feed my baby was palpable, and not made any easier to deal with while recovering from the affects of the blurred vision, nausea and fever. The advice from the doctors to rest seemed wholly incompatible with their prescribed treatment of expressing every two hours. If it took me half an hour to express, I could get maximum of one and a half hours rest between expressing, without adding in time needed to fall asleep, wash, eat, do chores, let alone play with and enjoy my baby as I kept being urged to do by worried health professionals. So in reality, I was not getting more than forty minutes sleep at any one time. This was unsustainable.

The mastitis took a week to clear up, and the effects remain. My milk supply seems to have been affected as the amount of milk I was producing was erratic, and lumps kept reappearing in my breasts. And so the formula supplementation carried on and increased so that my baby didn’t go hungry. Now I am continuing to express milk at longer intervals in the hope that milk production may slow down and enable me to transfer fully to formula.  I am not finding this an easy process, as sometimes painful lumps appear in my breasts and the longer I leave it to express, the more chance there is of the mastitis returning. It seems to be a no win situation; if I do not empty my breasts fully, the risk of mastitis increases, but if I do empty them each time, my body will respond by increasing my milk production and I will not be able to wean my baby to formula now.

My decision to move my baby to formula was not an easy one. In fact, it was barely mine to make and I still have not fully committed to this, in no small part down to the overwhelming judgement and criticism I feel on a daily basis from society as a whole. The decision to move to formula  is being advocated primarily by those closest to me, who have witnessed my trauma and stress during the three pregnancies my body has coped with in the last eighteen months, and who are witnessing my struggle with emotional and physical pain trying to do what is being advocated as best for my baby. After all, what mother would not want to do what’s best?

Formula is a viable alternative, and is it really best for baby to have a highly stressed and physically sick mother? Perhaps you would have carried on and persevered if you were in my shoes. Perhaps you would have thrown in the towel a long time ago. Who knows? So militant breastfeeding brigade, hear my plea, and please remember, options are not always as simple as they seem.