Me, myselfie and I

I don’t know about you other solo mamas but I’ve found that one of the unexpected annoying, if completely trivial, things about having a child alone is photos. I know we live in the age of the selfie, and they are very handy for lone parents, but I sometimes wish someone would take a proper photo of me and my baby that doesn’t involve me holding a camera high above our heads and getting just half my body in shot. A candid, none-posed photo would be a miracle too.

In the early days, when family gathered round to view the new arrival, it was remarkable how they all took photos of themselves with the baby but no one thought to take one of me with him. I tried to put it out there but it sounded really whingy to bring it up and I didn’t make a big thing of it. Now, the novelty has sort of worn off for people but when the phones do get whipped out the odd time it’s still almost always for other people and the baby. Maybe I should just ask them directly more often but it feels awkward, plus you can’t get less natural than a photo that’s been requested.

Speaking of the baby being a novelty, my boy has learned his first harsh life lesson. As I’ve said before, he’s very friendly and engaging with people. In the early days, he enjoyed the (sometimes slightly intense and needy) attention very small babies get from complete strangers when out and about, always smiling back and charming people. Then, like an aging starlet, he became a bit perplexed to find that strangers were not as interested in him as before. I noticed this on a tram a couple of months ago, when he was expectantly looking at people and getting nothing back. (It’s actually a bit depressing how people just tap away on their phones now on public transport without looking at each other.) He was very excited one day when a man across the tram aisle started coughing, which my boy still does for attention, but his hopes were sadly dashed when he realised the coughs weren’t for him. Now, he doesn’t really bother seeking people out at all. The first of many knockbacks in life.

In happier news, he finally worked out how to crawl forwards shortly before turning eight months a week ago and this has been a big breakthrough. Crawlers are remarkably fast! I go into the kitchen to make bottles, turn around and meet him casually hanging in the hall. He is loving this new freedom, even if my heart is in my mouth a lot of the time. I see danger everywhere – patio doors, sharp-edged fireplaces, glass cabinets hiding intriguing cables, lamps waiting to be smashed down. It is lovely, though, watching him explore and find interest in ordinary things. He adores tearing (and eating) paper and goes absolutely berserk with a newspaper.

It will be a fab Christmas with him this year and the bonus is that I don’t even have to worry about getting him presents. Maybe a broadsheet paper if he’s really good.


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Life in the old womb yet

My period arrived this week, 12 weeks after I stopped expressing and 16 months after my last one started. I’ve used tampons since I was a teenager but for some reason I couldn’t bear the thought of inserting one this time.  I didn’t have a vaginal birth, so it was nothing to do with that. Maybe it was about all the poking and prodding I underwent in the four years of trying to get pregnant.

I had a handful of Always towels left over, I think from the start of my pregnancy when I was bleeding a little. Towels have come on since I was a lass but I still didn’t love having a bloody rag between my legs. I bit the bullet (ha) later in the week and bought a pack of tampons as I was passing through Lidl. I can’t say if it was the new type of tampon but it was not the most comfortable experience, a bit chafey to say the least. Whether it’s me or the Lidl tampons (I generally use Lil-Lets and these new ones were a mere 99 cents) I do not know. I’ll reserve judgement until the next time. Perhaps my body has changed.

A quick non-fertility-related word on Lidl and Aldi. Readers in the US mightn’t know how these two German discounters have come to dominate the grocery market here in the last 15 years. I would never have seen this coming, having shopped at these supermarkets as an exchange student in Germany back in 1992-93. Most students frequented Lidl and Aldi in those days, as they were super-cheap and for good reason: they were horrible, fluorescent-lit, Communist-style places with no fridges as I recall (nasty UHT milk, bleurgh) and goods stacked high in drab boxes. They’ve changed a lot since then and now even carry fancy deluxe ranges while still giving the established supermarkets a run for their money with amazing prices, which I think they achieve with scale and also fierce negotiation with suppliers.

Anyway, I imagine I am alone in this, but I often wander around these two shops with a smile on my face because of their own-brand packaging and names. As the Daily Mail outlines here, the packaging often looks very, very similar to that of equivalent big-name brands, so there is clearly some psychological trickery at play. And the product names are excellent and often reminiscent of big brands too.

The other funny thing about Lidl and Aldi (I don’t get out much) is their range of weekly offers. These are launched on a particular day each week and have different themes eg gardening, cycling, music, DIY. It’s not unknown for people to drop into Lidl or Aldi for minced lamb and come out with a set of drums or an electric steamer because they just couldn’t pass up an amazing bargain. When I was pregnant last year, I popped into Lidl for some batteries and left with a Swiss ball for my labour and a manual breast pump. And no batteries.

Anyway, I smirked a bit this week when I noticed the Lidl tampons and sanitary towels are called Siempre, which as you know is the Spanish for Always. (While, confusingly, their own-brand range of nappies, which I am road-testing because my boy is waking up wet at night, is called Toujours, the French for – Always.)

Just found this – very catchy:

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The breasts that keep on giving

I had a mammogram today (all fine), as a follow-up to my mastitis bouts earlier in the year. The technician warned me that I might leak some milk, even though I finished expressing on 1 August, and so I did, from both breasts. I was a tiny bit melancholy, as I never expected to see that again. The technician told me it happens to some women years and years after they’ve last nursed, which must be extremely weird. Breasts are mysterious things.

On other medical news, I still haven’t done anything about my blood pressure. I want to have another 24-hour test done but haven’t organised myself enough yet and haven’t gotten my bloods done either. All on the list, along with getting a bit more exercise. I’m back spinning, though. As my local gym changed the timetable, my friend and I accidentally ended up one evening in a HIIT class, doing weights, which I’ve never done before. The old elbows were in bits the next day. I still have the post-pregnancy joint pain, especially in my wrists and elbows, so I suspect there are still a lot of pregnancy hormones floating around my little body.

And I haven’t had a period yet, not sure if this is normal or not 10 weeks after stopping expressing. I’m sad I won’t have another baby, for both my son and me, but I know I’m very lucky with what I have. So, part of me wouldn’t care if my AWOL period means I’m going into menopause, as this old womb has done its job.

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Six months tomorrow

My boy is six months tomorrow. And I still don’t believe I’m a mother a lot of the time. Is this normal for women who have struggled to get pregnant? Part of it is also because I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been I think, especially considering his little heart problem. On which note, we had a second check-up in the children’s hospital this month and, once again, the consultant was astounded at how well the procedure in April had gone. There’s hardly any narrowing of the valve now and we’re not back until March. I can’t imagine what my boy will be like then at nearly a year old. We’ve been so lucky.

It’s been amazing watching how babies develop over these months. How many connections must be fizzing around in their brains for them to realise, without the benefit of a mirror, that the tongue sticking out of their mother’s mouth is the same as the unseen thing they are waggling in response. And the hands! My boy’s move from grasping things clumsily with his fingers to discovering the brilliance of opposable thumbs has definitely improved his quality of life. Newspapers can be ripped! Glasses swiped! Rattles placed delicately in his mouth rather than simply hurled at his face!

Gone his is “Aye!” shout. He now often coughs for people’s attention, including to wake me in the morning, which is very sweet. He is super-aware and can spend long bouts just staring out of the window, watching the birds or the wind rustling in the trees. We watch Teletubbies, In The freaky Night Garden and a little bit of Peppa Pig here and there and he loves them, except for the boring bit in Teletubbies when they show the film of the children (twice – so much repetition in that show).

He’s making some great sounds and seems to surprise himself sometimes with the noises he produces. He’s not a great crier. Since his rare bouts of colic finished, any tears are mainly of frustration, for example when he’s put down for a nap or back in his carrycot where he can’t see what’s going on. We’ve had several shopping trips when I end up letting him sit on the handlebar of his pram, where he rides like a lord through the shop, surveying his people, while I steer with his legs (don’t call Social Services). A future bobsleigh champ, if we had any snow sports here (or snow). I took the forward-facing part of the pram out of the garage tonight and plan to try it out tomorrow, as he’s way too hemmed in in the carrycot these days and getting too big for it anyway. At our last public health nurse visit in July, he was apparently in the 95th percentile for height (and the 50th for weight, so that’s all back on track after a rocky start). He doesn’t get the loftiness from me but the donor is moderately tall, at 5’10”.

Some of the tears have also been caused by teething. I noticed a little white nub on his lower right jaw at around 3.5 months and two teeth came up fully this month, the bottom pair. They are sharp! No more allowing him to stuff my fingers in his mouth – the boy knows how to chomp.

Overall, my baby is thankfully still very chilled, with a great sense of humour. He laughs his head off at his granny and thinks his grandad is hilarious too. I looked up the donor’s profile again and his older boy sounds exactly like mine: charming and wanting to engage with people and leaving lots of smiles behind. Four and five months seems to be a great age, when they are more aware and so pleased to see you and just smile and smile and smile. Remind me of this when he is a sullen teenager who doesn’t want to walk on the same side of the street as me.

Apart from teeth, there’s been a lot of change in the last month, including loads of rolling over. You put him under the baby gym these days and, when you come back, he’s waggling his limbs in front of the sofa like a stranded turtle. Babies must have incredibly strong cores, certainly stronger than those of their mangled, c-sectioned mothers.

I also made a move to solids at 23 weeks, which has gone fine so far. We started with baby rice (horrible, disgusting wallpaper paste) and he immediately grabbed the spoon and knew exactly what was going on. I had worried slightly about how you know when to start on solids but he had begun to show a lot of interest in other people’s food and was wolfing down his bottles, pretty textbook and hard to miss.

To date, we’ve branched out to pureed cauliflower, broccoli, peas and sweet potato. I’ve avoided giving him any fruit so far to get him accustomed to more savoury tastes first but wonder will this backfire, as his mind will surely be blown by his first taste of sweet stuff. Why on earth would you go back to cauliflower after tasting stewed apple, I wonder?

The most important change has been sleep-training and this has improved everyone’s quality of life no end. We had zero routine and he had stopped sleeping much during the day, just a couple of 40-minute naps, if at all, turning him into an antichrist and making it very hard to get anything done. I was feeding him on demand with no schedule whatsoever, including a couple of bottles at night, and not getting more than a couple of hours’ sleep at a time. My friend had lent me one of the Baby Whisperer books, which I hadn’t had the energy or time to read, but I decided to give her approach a go.

I started at the five-month mark and was definitely delivering hate rays to her (Whisperer, not my friend) for a couple of days, as it was very hard, but it worked and we have a routine now, even if I don’t follow her advice completely. We’re more or less in four-hour cycles from 7am, with naps at 9ish, 1ish and 5ish. I will admit to helping him go asleep at his daytime naps (by rocking him in the pram for five or 10 minutes), which is a big no-no (acting as a sleep aid), but napping at all, and at regular times, is a huge improvement on no naps at all. Previously, you could spend an hour singing to him/taking him for a walk/rocking him, and he might sleep for 20 minutes, which was so frustrating for both parties, not to mention very time-consuming.

This may seem totally obvious to those of you with babies who napped properly and fed at regular intervals but it makes such a difference knowing what to expect and when you’ll have time for yourself during the day.

Most importantly, he miraculously falls asleep on his own at night now, which was amazing when it clicked with him a couple of days into the training. He goes down at 7.30pm-ish, with a ‘dream feed’ while he’s asleep at 11pm (I find that part really strange but if it helps him to stay asleep longer I’m up for it). We’ve had some glorious nights where he’s slept through until 7am, though there have been others when, for whatever reason, he’s awake at 5.30am (though who can complain when you’re woken by a polite and cute “Cough-cough”?). It’s all so much better than before.

And we’ve been using the co-sleeper, at long last, so the €220 I forked out on that is not lost after all. He seems to like sleeping on his side facing the wall of it, which means he has his back to me, which just looks hilariously adult. (Though no one told me that active five-month-old babies tend to hurl themselves around and out of their co-sleepers and sleep half-in and half-out of them, or scrunched up in the corner, or on their tummies at a right angle across them, and occasionally (I’ve no idea how many right angles this took) surprise you by ending up parallel to you on your own bed.)

And yes, our photos were sent back by the Passport Office, so we now have a passport with a horrible but regulation-fulfilling pic. We’re good to travel at least.

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Post-partum joint pain and other pregnancy pleasures

I’ve been feeling like an old woman these last few weeks. My ankles, knees, elbows and, particularly, wrists and knuckles ache. I’m very bad in the mornings, when it’s hard to hobble downstairs. I sometimes find it hard to grip and lift things, especially with my left arm. My concept of time is a bit rubbish at the moment, so I can’t remember what the pain was like before I stopped expressing, but it’s definitely at its worst now.

I’ve been avoiding looking this up, wondering if the steroids have caused osteoporosis (which does happen to some women post-fertility treatment due to long-term use of steroids and other meds). I had a test for this 13 or 14 years ago and was told I was at risk of osteoporosis in later life. I’ve also been wondering if it was rheumatoid arthritis or similar or some immune thing caused by the fertility drugs/pregnancy/my crazy immune system. Last night, my mind was concocting scenarios in which I was no longer able to type and make a living.

So, this morning I googled “joint pain after pregnancy” and it turns out it’s a thing, thank the universe. It may be down to pregnancy hormones depleting or relaxin doing its job, and many of the ladies who posted on various pregnancy sites seemed to notice it around the four-month mark. Lots of GPs don’t seem to recognise what’s going on and girls are sent off for blood tests for arthritis and auto-immune disorders.

I’m going to assume that post-partum arthralgia, as it’s called, is what I’ve got and just wait for it to subside. Another thing they don’t tell you about pregnancy.

I’ve also had a headache for the last couple of weeks, pretty much constantly, but I think that’s down to something else. The blood pressure saga has reared its ugly head again. When I was discharged from the BP clinic at the maternity hospital, the doctor told me to get a full check done in a month’s time, including bloods and a 24-hour BP monitoring. I had the monitoring done last month and, to my surprise, the bottom number (as in the 80 of 120/80, the diastolic measure) was high. The drama previously has been about the upper number, the systolic reading.

So, my GP wants me to go on ACE inhibitors. I was pretty taken aback by this. I’m only 43 and taking drugs for the next 40-odd years wasn’t in my plan. The GP explained that this was probably more about genetics than lifestyle and that her family was the same; her sister had to go on BP meds after a pregnancy.

My Dad’s had a few strokes, so I don’t want to be irresponsible, especially as I’m now the single mother of a new baby. Yet, I’m still a bit reluctant to go on meds for the rest of my life on the basis of one 24-hour analysis (one that missed a few readings for whatever reason). The GP argued that the analysis was done when I was at home, with little activity and stress, and that taking a small pill with very limited side effects was preferable to the damage that might be done.

I suggested making lifestyle changes (which are really more about exercise for me, as my diet is quite good; I don’t smoke and hardly drink now; and I don’t have weight on) and coming back to her in six months to see if there was an improvement. She said no, and no again to three months. We agreed on a month, which would have started around 1 August. But, of course, I’ve been lazy/busy and have done little. I was to get bloods taken at the hospital at the same time as the monitoring but haven’t done that yet either. Plans to go back spinning in the evening have been dashed by my boy’s recent refusal to sleep during the day, meaning I’m having to work at night. Mainly, it’s down to a lack of enthusiasm and organisation, though. The pain in my old joints is not motivating me to get out and exercise, though I see some of the ladies on the forums found exercise helped.

It may not sound like it but I am taking this seriously and suspect the writing is on the wall: meds it’s probably going to be. The only thing up for grabs is whether I humour myself for a month and try to make a difference before caving to the inevitable and getting the drugs.

I have been ticking things off a post-pregnancy to-do list (baby’s passport, child benefit, a new will and so on). This has been a slightly unexpected addition to the list for sure.

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Bye Bye Boobies (Boobies Bye Bye)

I had intended to express for six months, partly out of sheer stubbornness owing to the slightly outrageous €168 price tag on the electric breast bump I got the day I returned from the maternity hospital: I figured the cost per use would be less painful over half a year. (Also because of the health benefits for my baby, of course *cough.)

However, my second bout of mastitis in July (painful right breast, teeth-chattering fever, exhaustion, and back/shoulder/underarm pain) decided me – enough is enough. (Where is my famed immune system when I actually need it?) I suspect the mastitis was caused by my somewhat irregular pumping schedule. I was expressing three times a day but, daily life with a newborn/very young baby being as unpredictable as it is, I sometimes had very large gaps between goes, not exactly conducive to clear ducts.

Breastfeeding is a lot about bonding and comfort, neither of which applies when you are sitting in the kitchen alone at 1am after the baby has gone down, waiting for bottles to sterilise before you spend a further 20 minutes pumping. Pumping seemed to take a disproportionate part of the day and was robbing me of vital snooze time when the boy was asleep. And trying to keep a hungry baby amused (singing, playing with mobiles, doing whatever the length of the pump flex allows you to do) while you pump breast milk for him seems really daft.

So, I reduced by a pumping session per week from mid-July and finished on Monday, getting him to four months. Breastfeeding didn’t work out for us but I did my best to give him some of the good stuff.  I thought I might be sad but I’m not at all. I know from reading some of your blogs that giving up nursing is a very emotional and sad time but I’m feeling nothing but relief. I’m happy to be getting my body back and already have tons more time during the day and one less thing to tick off the list. Plus, I won’t be facing the horrors of weaning as many of you are and will probably sleep a good sight better over the next couple of years than I would have done if nursing.

I bought my co-sleeper in the belief that I would be sleepily turning over to give my boy a breast and then settling back into my own bed. That didn’t work out either and he has slept a grand total of ZERO times in his own upstairs bed. It is lovely having him sleep on top of the duvet beside me, though, and there’s plenty of room in my king-size bed to keep him safe. Seeing his little smile beaming in the morning is one of the nicest parts of the day.

I wish I had taken a picture of my pre-pregnancy breasts. I can barely remember what they looked like but I do wistfully recall my once raspberry-like nipples. Even if they return to normal, which looks doubtful (my right nipple even has an extra bit on it now, bizarre), I suspect I will still be left with the crazy dappled pigmentation that developed during pregnancy, a trophy of sorts, I guess.

breat milk in bottle

The last batch: the factory is now closed and the breasts are retired

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Passport – first taste of single motherhood bureaucracy

Brexit is affecting our passport offices here in Ireland, as lots of eligible Brits scramble to get an Irish passport before the UK exits the EU. Handy to have an Irish granny up the sleeve if this entitles you to an EU passport. I’ve no plans to hit an airport with my boy any time soon if I don’t have to, but the passport office situation is such that I’ve been thinking it might be wise to get the little fella’s passport sorted sooner rather than later. I am toying with getting a ferry abroad this summer and would need it then anyway.

When I registered his birth, they simply asked if the father was to be on the birth cert and I said no. I was delighted it was so simple but it did cross my mind that they couldn’t really know I wasn’t just freezing out some poor guy who had every right to be named. Fathers get a raw deal sometimes.

For the passport, however, as I have no father to sign his bit, I’m having to get a solicitor sign an affidavit confirming that I am the sole guardian.This is fair enough, as I could be abducting the child, but it’s my first taste of being a little bit different to most other people. I’m going to get a will done at the same time and then my to-do list of admin things such as getting him a social security number, applying for child benefit and so on will be completed at last. I looked at schools last week and most of them don’t open their registration lists until a couple of years before the child starts attending, so I can relax about that one for the moment.

Rather than go to a pharmacy or photographer to get the boy’s passport mugshot done, I took one at home with him resting on a white pillow, which is apparently acceptable for little people. The rules for babies are a little ridiculous: mouth closed, eyes open, both ears and chin showing. This must be absolutely nightmarish with a very tiny baby. Happily, my boy co-operated brilliantly and we got a decent photo. I did notice when I got it printed yesterday that the background looked slightly brown where the pillow was wrinkled. Here’s hoping the passport people let that pass and don’t go all jobsworth on me.


I am a name, not a number



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