Hi everyone, sorry I’ve been quiet for a while – I’ve been working on a project that, quite literally, shits all over the poo diaries: A tiny human being who can out-poo an elephant after a curry! In fact I have a whole new set of poo stories for the diaries collection (or should I say diarrhea collection?!); from the vibrant green variety to the korma style yellow stuff that comes out with such force that it reaches his armpits (no exaggeration) and can be projectile across rooms. Yup, my little man arrived and I guess you could say it really did ‘hit the fan’!
Life has gone from being paid to write about safaris, taking wildlife photographs in the bush and – right at the end – interviewing Bono’s wife and her fashion designers about their interest in TZ jewelry company URU, to… being puked on at least 17 times a day, battling with naps (for him, not me, oh no, definitely not me!), putting on 5 washes a day and occasionally attending a mum and babies fitness class in a futile attempt to shed the big belly I now have. Oh and lots of poo, of course. The shine has gone, there isn’t much glamor in my new arrangement. But just last week we reached the three month mark and he laughed for the first time and I can honestly say it’s the best sound I’ve ever heard in my life (and I consider that I’ve heard some pretty great sounds – lions roaring across an African night, rugby scrums as they engage, the ocean lapping at the shore, I could go on…).
It got me thinking… about perspective, distance, and having a sense of humour. I mean I’ve been in some fairly ridiculous situations since having a baby. At the time I may have cried or allowed my stress levels to bounce off the ozone layer, but looking back, what amazing material for stories to share.
So in the spirit of laughter – and because he’s sleeping (little hands at right angles either side of his head like a pea on a fork!) and this is the first opportunity I’ve had to write anything at all since he was born – let me share a few of my experiences as I’ve begun my 18 year training programme in becoming a mum!
I definitely have to start with breast feeding – hmm not all it’s cracked up to be as a natural and simple solution to feeding your baby. They don’t warn you about the pain (for ‘pain’ read ‘agony’) of cracked nipples, the weird sensation of ‘let down’ or the embarrassment of high pressure leakage! That’s definitely caused some humour.
Early on I had managed to drag myself – on time – to one of the many doctor appointments you are expected (by some miracle) to attend after you have a baby. I was so proud of myself for making it but realised that the timing coincided with the need to feed him. I mentioned it to the receptionist. “If you’re happy to feed here then that’s fine,” she smiled and turned away. Hmm… in reception… with other people. I looked about despondently for a chair that offered some slight privacy. Luckily the other receptionist sensed my dis-ease (not my disease!) and rescued me: “there’s an empty office just there, you could use that if you like.” I smiled with relief,moved into the empty room and settled down to feed him, but for some reason the little blighter just wouldn’t latch on. Milk fired across the room like machine gun ammo, spattering the papers on the desk, the back of the leather chair and my little boy’s face just for good measure!
I managed to stealthily remove a couple of top sheets that were just blank headed paper whilst thanking my lucky stars for baby wipes and the fact that I hadn’t been in reception. There, the milk explosion would have resulted in a much more embarrassing moment as innocent sick people were sprayed in the face!
If I thought that was awkward it was nothing compared to my more recent experience. I was preparing for baby K’s christening and feeling thoroughly exhausted, pale and unattractive when my in-laws came to the rescue with a spray tan and babysitting combo. What a treat! Except…
Since this was my first spray tan I was briefed about getting undressed and putting on the disposable pants (fond memories of post-natal joy!). I was standing ready for the beautician to come in and spray me when my thoughts turned to when baby K might need feeding again. This is dangerous when you’re breast feeding, it triggers the milk. Just at the moment the beautician entered in her perfect, light pink top, I began to spurt milk like a crazed cartoon character! And she thought she’d be the one doing the spraying!
She was very kind about it, being a mum herself, and in the end I got tanned wearing my bra! All good, right? Nope!
In my embarrassment, I attempted to get dressed and leave quickly once I was done, throwing my jeans on and making for the door. I had forgotten about the dreaded string knickers… Just as I reached reception my actual pants (large lacy numbers that should not be seen in public and you only wear post birth!) emerged from the bottom of my trouser leg! I honestly could have died! Not only had my knickers been on display for all to see but now everyone was speculating – either I had no pants on or was still wearing the nasty string disposable ones. Neither was good!
You get used to being embarrassed, I mean childbirth doesn’t exactly leave you with a great deal of dignity. Since then I’ve cried in Sainsbury’s, been in town with puke down my back and milk down my front, answered the door half dressed, been weed on several times… Whatever. I clearly have very little shame left or I wouldn’t have publicly shared the stories above! (Luckily for you guys I have just enough to spare you the many comedy moments of my birth story!).
But something that I have found more difficult than sacrificing my dignity is the absolute change. It’s not just physical, though that would be enough. It’s the fact that you will never be alone again; the way you suddenly think differently; time operates in three hour slots, not morning/afternoon or night/day; weird and wonderful brightly coloured things appear all over the house; doing basic housework is a feat of vast achievement; you forget to brush your teeth or put mascara on both eyes; you suddenly are excited about and interested in the most minute and tedious details; you will never go out in public without a car seat and a pram again. The list is endless, and no matter how much you knew and prepared before, it is one hell of a shock. It changes everything about your life and your relationship and you, fundamentally.
The required equipment for a baby is also overwhelming. I swore I wouldn’t bother with most of it. In Africa they survive without prams, car seats, baby bouncers, teething toys, so why would I need it all? But it doesn’t work that way… I mean what kind of a mum would I be if my child didn’t have a bloody Sophie the Giraffe to chew on?! And there you have it. Sucker!
I used to laugh at women desperately trying to exercise in the park with one hand on their buggy and a screaming baby looking on in horror at mummy’s wobbly bum. Again, I have succumbed. Well, let’s face it there’s no going to the gym or getting out for a run with a new baby. What choice did I have?
In fact the buggy becomes your new best friend. But, oh, how I battled at first to learn to get it all in and out of the car, let alone doing it holding a baby at the same time. It’s a whole new level of learning, patience and dexterity. I broke nails, I pulled muscles, I still have bruised legs. The thing weighs a tonne, and I swear the guy who gave us the demo in the shop was a genius! Our pram barely fits in the boot of my car and must be placed precisely at the right angle and the right way round in order to get it in. Add a screaming baby and some rain and it’s a real laugh (note the heavy sarcasm here).
Of course doesn’t stop with the pram. There’s also the baby bath, baby manicure set, change table, change mat, baby bag, bath toys, mobiles, bouncer chair, Moses basket, baby gym, bottles, steriliser, travel cot… You should see how full my car is when I head to my parents’ place for a couple of days. And this from the girl who spent a year living out of one 20kg back pack!
And on top of this, the logic of guidance for mums is as flawed as our brain function post-birth. I mean, let’s take the steriliser as just one example.
1. Apparently we all MUST sterilise, but as soon as you open the lid of the steriliser everything in it is no longer sterile anyway.
2. The steriliser collects nasty brown stuff in the bottom that must be cleaned out every time, generally with the dish cloth which is surely less than sterile!
3. Nothing dries in there so when you put milk powder into a bottle ready for adding water later it sets into nasty lumps, but you can’t dry anything as the drying up cloth would contaminate it (it took me 3 months before anyone mentioned the solution to this!)
And the greatest irony of all is that if you over-sterilise you risk your baby not developing a strong enough immune system! Oh well, once they’ve pooed on the change mat, been sick on their hands and then shoved them in their mouths, and been licked by the dog a few times I guess we’re even!
OLD DOG NEW TRICKS
As a new mum there is so much to learn. It starts with the feeding and the sleep training and then first aid and health care, play and development and into teething/dental care and weaning. I feel like I’m studying for another degree, and yet it is all fairly mindless and mundane and warrants no certificate at the end of it all.
Plus, there’s so much that can go wrong: inconvenient feed times
(like at his christening where my planning went wrong and I hadn’t considered my outfit carefully and while everyone else sat down to starters I had removed my dress in the bathrooms and was feeding baby in my underwear sitting on the loo!); mega poos in a public place when you forgot to pack a spare outfit; screaming during weddings/christenings/anything where it’s important to be quiet etc. And the pressure you put on yourself to be the smiling, calm and glamorous super mum of the glossy magazines is incredible. It’s amazing the coping mechanisms and ability to anticipate problems you develop. There should be certificates for those skills alone – maybe like a guides thing where you collect the badges!
And all the while you are mourning your old self: your old body (which I slagged off no end but would now give millions to have back!); old job (where you were respected as an intelligent adult member of society and didn’t feel like an inept learner); old timetable (when staying up at night was fun and the day was not divided into 3hr feeding slots!).
But – just as everyone told me – it does get better and a little personality begins to unfold. First a smile aimed right at you, then learning to grab or lift their head and now a laugh; a beautiful tinkling, rolling giggle that makes tears rise up in my throat and a giant idiotic smile spread across my face.
I haven’t slept in three months, yesterday was a disaster, today I’m doing better. I’m not saying I’m out of the woods, just maybe out of the bear trap! It’s been hell, it’s been joyous and tear-filled and exhausting and incredible. And here I am with a nearly 4 month old – we’re all pretty ok and I’ve actually sat down to write a blog post! Ok, it took me three weeks to finish it, hemce it being a little bit all over the place, but it’s done and you’re reading it. (I hope you’ll be a little bit forgiving if it doesn’t all quite work, and perhaps you’ll even let me have the ‘published it’ badge!) Next target is to return to my book, but it will still be there next month whereas baby K will never be this age again. Did I just say that?!