Emma’s 4th birthday: no such thing as too many rainbows!

A few months ago when Emma started to talk about her birthday party (yes, I know), we agreed on a rainbow theme. She tried to change it a few times but by then I’d checked out Pinterest and discovered a world of not-that-hard rainbow party ideas, so I shot down all subsequent requests. This was also the year Emma discovered Pinterest so we had lots of fun times looking through pictures on my phone together and saving 99% of them.

First up was invitations. My friend Tamar is super talented and has always done my invitations in the past but she’s still on maternity leave so instead we ordered these. There’s loads of cute rainbow themed birthday invites on Etsy and it was hard for Emma to choose but we were super happy with them.

Then there was the matter of Emma’s party dress. On her 1st birthday I started a tradition of buying her a new dress as part of her birthday present. Of course she’s now old enough to choose herself (kind of a bugger for me), but we managed to agree on another Etsy purchase (no longer available by the looks of it).

If I’d been more organised and rich I would have put some effort into clothes for the rest of us. In particular I found a lot of Pride-related stuff online, way too late to be ordered. Emma obviously didn’t choose a rainbow theme as a political statement but given the current (awful) climate around LGBTQ rights I found all the rainbows very pleasing and it would have been nice to support an organisation by wearing their merchandise. Never mind.

We decided to have the party at home, our first time of doing so. I’m a big fan of parties in the park for all the reasons but every year I stress about the weather. And even though it’s always fine in the end, given we have a bigger space now I wanted to save myself the last minute stress. Lucky I did because the day before we got three months worth of rain in one go. It cleared up on the Saturday but everything was still pretty soggy so I was happy we could just set up inside and not worry about it.

The food was easy because you just need things that use lots of different colours, like fairy bread, fruit kebabs, coloured popcorn, veggie trays, and lollies. In particular Di did an awesome job with this delicious salsa (highly recommended – made for a great nachos topping and was still good the next day) and also some rainbow cupcakes which looked fab.

Di usually does the birthday cake and from now on I will keep up that tradition. I did it this year because it needed six layers and I’m the one with the enormous oven, but making six layer cakes that don’t look melted on one side is not my forte. Still, it was fun especially the night before when Finn was asleep and the three of us stayed up making the layers. This is a good tutorial which I discovered a bit late. Also two days before I learnt about piñata cakes and ended up deciding I really really had to do that too

I was pretty proud of it in the end. And the whole thing, really. Emma had a great time with her friends and it was all around good fun. Now for the photos.

Baking six cakes takes a village

Organising the popcorn

I think they call this a tablescape in the party planning biz.

Fairy bread, lollies, rainbow cupcakes, oh my.

I was way too proud of the rainbow jellies.

The cake looks great from a distance.

Surprise!

I loved how Finn looked like he was ready to go to Mardi Gras. He was the life of the party, once he woke up from his nap.

Emma’s actual birthday was the day after – also Father’s Day and a fun run day. I thought she’d be annoyed Toby was getting stuff on her birthday, but she thought it was neat. And the fun run was an excellent morning activity since it involved a jumping castle and face painting. In the afternoon we went to the toy shop so she could spend some birthday money, followed by a trip to the park and then dinner at Grill’d since no one felt like cooking after that weekend.

Emma asked for a robot for her birthday and Toby was more than happy to oblige. Meet Kibo.

Seriously. She’s 4. How did that happen?

Toby bought her creaming soda as a special birthday treat, and this is what she thought of it.

Finn tried his first burger and he was a massive fan.

Happy birthday to our gorgeous clever sparkle of a girl. We love you more than words.

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Sleep deprivation is cruel, inhumane and degrading (exhibit A: sleep training diary)

It’s hard to understand before your baby arrives, when you are still the perfect parent, just how important sleep is going to become. And not just the fact that you aren’t going to get any for a really long time. But your obsession with someone else’s sleep. I’m talking apps, graphs, watching the clock, desperately keeping track of minutes spent awake, putting baby in the sleeping bag and turning on the white noise and giving the dummy and singing the same song every time like a superstitious athlete with the same routine before every game lest you put one foot wrong and THE BABY DOESN’T SLEEP. Or the baby does sleep, miraculously, and you try to figure out why, even though it’s like workshopping the meaning of life, ultimately futile because you are a mere mortal who will never understand such magic. Was it just the right temperature? The level of light? Was it because there was more protein at dinner? Less TV today? A more pleasing lullaby? Seriously. People without kids think I’m joking, but I’m not. This is why new parents do not just look sleep deprived, but genuinely crazed.

 Yes, parenting is hard. Sleeping is really hard. If you are deep in the trenches of it, and desperate to fix it, don’t let anyone tell you it will sort itself out and just to go with the flow. Unless that makes you feel better! It works for some (very patient) people, but it’s not for everyone. Definitely not for me. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. We are not allowed to do it to prisoners. So why anyone expects parents to just put up with it indefinitely, affecting their mental and physical health, marriages, parenting of other children, ability to drive and form a coherent sentence and so on, is beyond me. Anyone who doesn’t understand how you can be so tired you forget there is a baby in the back seat of the car has never had a baby. There’s lots of things you can try to stop the torture, noting none are easy nor guaranteed, no matter what the internet says. Start with the top experts (your mums group) then the other experts (MACH nurses, sleep consultants, books). Find something that sounds bearable to you and give it a go. 

Finn has not been as good a sleeper as Emma and I won’t bore you with what that means except to say that when he was 8 months old I reached my limits and declared it was time to sleep train. We used the Gift of Sleep that had worked for some of my friends. Like a good blogger I kept a diary to show the world what the books don’t tell you about sleep training. Which is that it is also a form of torture, but short lived and with a happy ending. Hopefully!
Friday night

​6.40pm into bed, sans dummy as per the book

Crying

Set microwave timer

Pour wine

Have a slice of pizza

Knocking, retucking

Still crying, same level

More wine 

More pizza

Then calming down? Extend by two minutes, but no.

Knocking, retucking.

Still crying. Maybe worse?

Calming down

7pm

Give it 2 more minutes

No love

Knocking, resettling. Seems to make the crying worse

Pizza all gone. Wine nearly gone. Distract with washing up. Can’t put TV on as need to hear. Loving life.

But your husband thinks the world of you and loved you to bits (Toby made me write that)

Knocking, resettling.

Now up to the 30 minutes the book says it will take most babies. Still going strong.

And yet getting much quieter by the end of this 5 minute block. More stop and start.

Knock and resettle

Really getting into it now. Did not think this kid loved his dummy so much.

Knock and resettle

Back to the washing up. 45 minutes and counting. Lucky Emma is a heavy sleeper and our walls are double brick

Getting quieter so I extend by 2 minutes. Having to listen now during the pauses

And then … Silence! 50 minutes and he’s out. I finish the washing up and pour more wine to celebrate.

I do feel the sense of accomplishment the book promised! I do feel like I’ve given my son the gift of sleep. An even better gift that Toby draws my attention to – Netflix has released new episodes of Vikings! Friday night is looking up.

9pm all is quiet. I’m going to bed, apprehensive but OK.

2am woke up, settled himself apparently

2.55am woke up, crying

Knocking, resettling

Waiting, still crying.

Toby takes over because he is the best husband ever (also, he was already out of bed unable to sleep because a bureaucrat’s work is never done)

3.45am I can still hear crying and knocking but it did sound like it’s calming down. I fall asleep.

6.55am I’m awoken by Finn waking up. We made it!!! 

He’s happy, not at all traumatised. Still loves us.

Toby tells me it took over an hour of resettling until he finally gave him a cuddle which then calmed him down enough.

He ate a big breakfast!

Went down for his nap at 10am without any help and slept solid for 2 hours – we had to wake him up.

Tried for another nap at 2.45, less successful. Maybe because his sister got the shits and came into the room leading to much gnashing of teeth? Anyway. Slept for 30 minutes.

Saturday night

Decent witching hour tonight, I’m flying solo so read stories to both while finishing off his feed. Then into bed about 6.50pm. Was silent for a couple of minutes, long enough for me to think my god he’s figured it out already. He’s a genius! Of course not, this is why you never celebrate too early!

I set the alarm for 10 minutes (the night 2 maximum) and he keeps crying as I clean the kitchen. But then, when there is still 3 minutes to go… All is quiet. Success.

We watch House of Cards and off to bed before 10. Fingers crossed!!!

3am woken up. He’s not exactly crying – more chatting. Then a bit of a cry but then back to chatting. I get up anyway, ready to do battle. Let him whinge for a little bit then do the knock and resettle. Which kind of seems to make it worse. At least, he cries harder while I’m in there. Lucky this isn’t my first rodeo or that would be heartbreaking. Put the timer on for 10 minutes. Wish I brought my book.

After 10 minutes he is definitely quiet although I get the occasional little noise just in case I was thinking of going back to bed. Decide to wait another 10.

It’s getting worse. Trying to decide if it’s worth going in our not, because that will probably make it worse again before it gets better. Starting to wear me down a bit.

Then it gets better. Start another 10 minute wait. He’s trying so hard bless his cotton socks.

Dog starts barking outside. Grrrr!!!! More crying.

Only make it 6 minutes before I start the knock. He quietens right down but starts again when I stop. I go in. Instead of moving him I just tuck his flat bear under his hand and put my hand on his back and say ssshhhh long and slow. He quietens. Tempting to do this until he falls asleep but the whole point is for him to sleep without props. I leave. Crying starts again. It’s 4.10am.

4.16am there’s still no sign of stopping and it’s getting worse. He almost sounds like he’s saying dada. Time for the cuddle.

But by the time I get to his door, all is quiet. I can hear him tossing and turning so I stay and listen. The crying starts again after a few minutes so I knock and go in. I just put two hands on his back and say ssshhhh. He immediately calms, I can hear his breathing getting slow. One hand off, then the other. I keep sshhhing a few more times then leave. The crying starts, worse than before. It’s 4.30am.

4.37am crying is the worst it’s been so I decide it’s cuddle time. But – he thrashes in my arms, keeps screaming. This is the worst thing of all – I can’t even comfort him. Tears start. Toby arrives and I hand over the wriggling, screaming octopus that is my child and go to the couch to cry.

4.40am Toby emerges. Didn’t want to cuddle him either. We listen to the screams and tell each other we are not terrible parents 

4.46am I do the knocking, the sshhhing. He’s beside himself. I return to the couch where I feel my will to live ebbing out of me.

5am Toby goes in. Still screaming. He must be exhausted and starving after all this activity. It’s so hard to not give in. Silver lining – I might get my run in nice and early?

I decide I will get him up at 5.30 if he’s still crying. He will be due for a nap by then but I don’t think I can do any more than that.

5.07am Toby has gone back to bed. I go in. He quietens right down when I put my hands on his back. I can hear him trying to catch his breath and my heart breaks a little. The screams start again when I leave. Only 20 minutes to go and I can get him up. I’m actually starting to look forward to that now.

5.13am the first quiet moment in nearly an hour. But then we are back into it. I’ve read all the internet by now so start listening to a podcast. He is definitely calming now with long stretches of silence.

5.19am all is quiet except for the neighbour’s rooster. I go to bed, feeling drained and not at all like a good or even half decent parent. Please forgive me, beautiful boy.

5.24am I’m finally in bed when I hear crying coming from his room. “That’s it, I’m getting up!!” Toby grunts his agreement. I get to the bedroom door and all is quiet again. I fall back into bed.

7.05am woken up by the toddler after a series of weird early morning dreams. 

7.10am Finn wakes up

8am I go out for a 9km run, which is the last thing I feel like, but in fact I feel amazing and I’m so glad I did it. Even if I fall at the 2km mark.

Finn has a one hour sleep in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. No resettling required. I think it’s safe to say we have successfully weaned the dummy.

Sunday night

6.50pm off to bed. No crying.

He sleeps through! On Monday morning we have a new child, happy and well-rested just like the book promised. It all seems worth it.

Until two weeks later when against all common sense and the book, we go to the coast for a weekend and undo all our good work. And since then his sleep has been very hit and miss, mostly miss. For various reasons we haven’t done the training again but now, finally, at nearly 14 months old, just in the past two weeks, Finn is sleeping through at night. Not every night, but more nights than not. And I have no advice for how to get to this point. I’ve tried everything over the past few months and I can’t say what, if any of it, worked. Like I said to my mums group just this week when discussing sleep, sometimes babies are just a-holes. And that’s all you really need to know.

A pox on our house (or: anti-vaxxers, you SUCK)

Here’s the imaginary conversation I had with an anti-vaxxer every night at 2am during the week we nursed Finn through chicken pox, which was two weeks ago. Last week we were still in recovery (still scabbing, still social pariahs), and this week we are tackling hand, foot and mouth disease, because childcare is the gift that keeps giving when it comes to illnesses. So yeah, lots of time to sit in the rocking chair with a crying baby and imagine what I’d say to whoever it was who didn’t vaccinate their kid and it ended up in our childcare infecting all the little ones too young for their own vaccination.

ME: Ohhhh, why us? Why our little baby? This is shit! He’d be immune in six months, after his shots. Just six months and this would have been avoided! I hate everything!

ANTI-VAXXER: But, aren’t you pleased he’s been immunised NATURALLY? This is the way nature intended!

ME: Oh yeah, a totally uncontrolled dose way before his little body is able to handle it! It’s natural the way bushfires and cancer are natural! Everything sucks!

ANTI-VAXXER: You need to get over yourself! Chicken pox is a MILD CHILDHOOD ILLNESS!

ME: I know it is, usually. But not always, as I discovered when I made the mistake of consulting Dr Google. And Finn’s has gotten infected, his temperature’s out of control, last night I slept on the floor next to his cot because his breathing wasn’t right and the home visit doctor couldn’t send anyone out to check on him and I was too worried to leave him alone. And now he needs antibiotics, which is the last thing anyone needs, let alone a baby. Wahhh!

A-V: You know, we all had chicken pox when we were kids. And we’re all FINE!

ME: I know! I had it when I was 14, it was unpleasant and I scratched myself to bits but mostly I remember watching Sister Act every day with my sister, who was quarantined with the same illness. And more to the point, I knew what was happening to me! Finn has no idea! He just knows he feels really, really shit. And why should a baby feel that way, especially for a preventable illness? Why should he have to suffer? This is not character building! This is not teaching him an important life lesson. This is something he shouldn’t have to deal with. A suffering baby is the worst thing in the world. How do parents of truly sick children cope with this? Day in, day out? How do you live with yourself, knowing your unscientific views lead to this kind of suffering – unpleasant, but short-lived with no long-term consequences, despite my histrionics – but also much, much worse?

A-V: Because vaccines are mostly a conspiracy between government and pharmaceutical companies.

ME: Dr House already explained that. Also, I work for the government and trust me when I say we are not organised enough for a conspiracy.

A-V: You know vaccines cause autism, right?

ME: OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE

Twelve months of Finn

So, our little troublemaker turned one a couple of weeks ago. This seems impossible, since Emma is still a baby and I am only 21 myself. And yet, here we are. I’m in my mid-thirties. I have an almost pre-schooler. An almost toddler. It’s been a rough year in many ways, since we like to make our life more difficult by adding house renovations to an already full life, and since two children is more difficult than one no matter what anyone tells you. But it’s been a wonderful year too. Watching Finn grow into the cheeky, busy little boy I knew he’d be during that pregnancy has been marvellous. Watching Emma grow from a toddler into an actual child, learning more about what goes on in her head, seeing her start to find her place in the world, has been amazing. Watching them together makes my heart sing.

We celebrated Finn’s birthday multiple times, because a birth festival is much better than a birth day. There was an early family celebration, where he got a caterpillar cake courtesy of his very clever grandma, some awesome presents, and we all exclaimed over the fact that it had been (nearly) a whole year since he’d been born.

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The Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Cookbook continues to bring magic

Then there was his actual birthday, which was a Monday, and there were more presents before breakfast. I wonder how many birthdays it will be before he insists on opening the presents himself with no help from Emma? Not many is my guess.

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We gave him cars, because we have a lot of toys already, but not many cars. He thought they were pretty neat.

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Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from his daytime party, where our lovely mums group gave him cake and presents and made a fuss. I felt very blessed to be surrounded by awesome women who care about my kids so much. It has made a huge difference this year to have them in my life. Even if it’s your second baby I highly recommend finding other people with babies to hang out with, because no one else will want to workshop your various feeding or sleeping issues or have spare nappies in their bag if you forgot to bring yours.

After dinner that night there was more cake, of course, using my current go-to vegan cupcake recipe (Emma chose the pink icing with pink sprinkles, because she loves her brother). And this is how Finn felt about that. (This is classic Finn eating behaviour. He loves his food. Finally, someone to celebrate my cooking.)

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And we basically just high-fived ourselves that we survived our first year as a family of four. This is an achievement deserving of cupcakes for all.

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Unlike with Emma’s first year, I did attempt to document Finn’s first twelve months in typical blogger fashion, by taking a picture on the 27th of each month with the stuffed dinosaur we bought him before he was born. Of course some months we weren’t at home, so there’s just a random picture, and then by the 12th month it’s impossible to actually get him to stay still for more than approximately 0.5 seconds, but in any case, I did it, so here’s the proof.

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And here’s the best picture out of about 50 that we took on his first birthday, where he just thought this is a super fun game of tickles and wrestling with the dinosaur:

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Here’s to Finn. Our funny, clever, super strong, lightning fast, deliciously snuggly, determined, handsome boy. Can’t imagine life without him. (Well okay, it would be quiet and calm and easy, but much less fun and much less interesting, and I wouldn’t live it for quids.) Thank you universe for choosing us for him and him for us.

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Race Report: 2016 Canberra Running Festival (and also, how to train for a fun run*)

*when you have two small children, are not a runner, and aren’t going to break any records.

[Obvious disclaimer: Not an expert! Talk to one if you really want to train for a fun run!]

Two years ago I ran the 10km in the Canberra Running Festival and it was not fun. So this year, after Andy and my sister convinced gently encouraged me to register for the 2016 event when I’d not run more than 5km since before falling pregnant with Finn, I promised myself it would be different. I drew up a (very basic) training program for myself, told Toby I’d be training twice a week leaving caring responsibilities in his capable hands, and got to work.

I built up from 5km to 10km by increasing my distance by 1km every two weeks, adding in some cross-training when I could. Any time I was tempted to skip my long run (usually on Sundays – a day of rest!) I remembered how horrible that 2014 run was and how I didn’t want to feel like that again. Also, when you are at home most of the time with two small children it is actually not that hard to want to leave the house and have some time to yourself. It’s like a magic motivator.

The run was at 7am on a beautiful April morning, my favourite time of year in Canberra. I’d been up most of the night before because Finn had started childcare orientation, so obviously he had gastro that night. That he’d caught from spending two hours in a childcare room. Because of course. I thought I’d be okay without much sleep; I was mostly worried about coming down with it myself before I had to leave, but I was feeling fine so off I went.

I had my new playlist ready to go, thanks to Spotify, I was perfectly dressed for the weather (tip: pay attention to the temperature during your training, and what you’re wearing, and how comfortable you are), and I was feeling really great. And that feeling just continued.

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I’d done most of my short runs around Red Hill and Mystery Bay with lots of hills and had been getting discouraged at my times, but I was so glad to have done so many hills as I barely noticed the ones on this route, not even the one I remembered being a killer from last time. And instead of completely losing sight of Jude for the whole thing I managed to keep her in sight for most of it, which was excellent motivation. I never felt the need to walk. I started to struggle a bit around the 8km mark, so I couldn’t catch up to her for the finish like I’d planned, but once I hit the 9km mark I felt stronger and finished with a time of 1 hour 1 minute 30 seconds – a whole 30 seconds off my previous personal best.

I just about cried when I crossed the finish line, I was so proud of myself. Jude was still there drinking her Hydralyte (she just calls it cordial, because she calls a spade a spade does Jude) so I jumped up and down to make sure she knew how amazing I was. I nearly hugged the girl who gave me my medal. I hung around the event for a while so I could give dad a pep talk for his 5km event starting at the far more civilised time of 9am. But then I started to feel a bit ill, a bit bad for Toby being stuck at home with two kids, one of whom had gastro, so I high-tailed it out of there. (I was fine, by the way. And so was Toby, because both kids had slept until 8.30. Because of course they do that for dad.)

So, if you’re thinking wow, if a person who spent 30 years making up lame excuses to avoid running can now actually enjoy a “fun” run and somehow manage to spend time away from her children then I can do that too, read on!

First, decide you will do a fun run. Talk to other fit people who will encourage you. Don’t mention it to anyone who thinks “fun run” is an oxymoron. Choose one far enough in the future that you’ll be feeling comfortable with the distance, but not so far that you lose your mojo in the meantime. Twelve weeks or less. Then, start training. You can get programs online, in books, or just in your running app on your phone. (You should get an app either way, so you can track your distances and get friendly updates on your pace. I use Run Keeper.) I didn’t follow a specific program this time, because SMALL CHILDREN. I just aimed for a part realistic (one long run a week, two rest days a week when I was at home with two children), part idealistic (four other sessions, including Jazzercise, strength, HIIT and a short/fast/hilly run, plus continuing my core work) program. Some weeks I did it all; lots of weeks I only managed the long run and a Jazzercise class.

If something isn’t working during your training, fix it. Bored? Change up the playlist, switch to podcasts, try running in silence (I’m too scared to try this but many people swear by it), invite a friend, go to a different spot. Disappointed in your times or that you’re still feeling shattered by the end of your long run? The route might be the problem – I was struggling to get past the 7km mark until I switched from the trails around Red Hill to a flat concrete route around Lake Burley Griffin. It’s boring but suddenly I was able to do 10km, and I still do the hills on my short run days. Uncomfortable in your clothes? Invest in a new bra or pants (we don’t want any wobbling), new shoes, socks, whatever it takes. Also, wear sunnies and a hat even if it’s not that sunny. I can’t believe the number of people I see who are so busy squinting and brushing the sweat out of their eyes that they trip over themselves. Really sore? Invest in a foam roller (seriously), book a massage, do more stretching. No, like really sore, like something is wrong? Then go see a physio and think about booking into a running coaching session for some help with technique. You shouldn’t be in real pain. But, don’t let annoying socks or an outdated play list stop you. You’re going to make it!

Finally, organise a post-run celebration of some kind. If you know other people in the same event, convince them to join in. Whether it’s hanging around afterwards for an egg and bacon roll or meeting up at the pub later for a debrief, book it in. Don’t be shy to go to the nearest coffee strip still in your sweaty gear. You won’t be the only ones and you’ll get to feel all smug in amongst the hangover crowd.

I hope this encourages at least one person to give it a go. For me, that feeling of accomplishment at the end was worth every tough kilometre in the lead-up, every Sunday morning spent pounding the pavement when I could have been still in my pyjamas. When you spend your days knee-deep in nappies and play-dough it can be really empowering to do something that’s just for you. Massive thanks to Toby who was just as committed as me to making sure I got out there and didn’t die. It feels really good to be back.

 

 

Life lessons from Alison the midwife

Sometimes in life you meet someone very briefly and yet something about them stays with you forever. You remember their scarf, their joke, their voice, even just the way they walked. But you remember it, long after you’ve forgotten all other details of the encounter. And so it is, with me and Alison the midwife at Queanbeyan hospital. Alison was one of those people – she came along at exactly the right time, saying exactly the right things, and changed my life in the process.

I met Alison around the 35 week mark. I’d dropped Emma off at childcare after a difficult morning during which we fought over every detail. Breakfast. Brushing teeth. Clothes. Getting in the car. Saying goodbye. I was exhausted and pretty over the whole parenting thing – not a great feeling when you’re about to start all over again with another baby. At the hospital I sat in the consult room making small talk with Alison while she got her things ready.

Then she said, “And how’s Emma?”

And I burst into tears. Between sobs I managed to get out something about “rough morning” and “threenagers”. Alison tut tutted sympathetically and got me a tissue.

“I bet you feel like you’ve been a terrible mother!” she exclaimed.

“I have! I can’t believe I’m about to do it all again,” I said. “I’m going to mess up two children, not just one!” I really was genuinely worried about this at this point.

“This is very normal,” she assured me. “The more pregnant you get, the more you will start turning inward. You are starting to focus on your new baby, and the birth process, and what’s coming up. You don’t mean to, but you are – you have to. Emma will be picking up on that, and she knows there’s changes coming. So between the two of you, this is very normal. Give yourself a break.”

It was honestly like a gap in the heavens opened up, and sunlight poured down on me, and Alison and all the angels were singing in beautiful harmony about how me being a horrible mother was a natural part of life right now. And Emma and I would both survive. The relief was enormous. Alison had more to say about that, based on her interest in evolutionary psychology, but you get the general gist.

Once I’d recovered from that teary moment we talked about other things and she asked how my husband was going preparing for a second baby. I said something about Toby being an only child, and not sure how this whole two children caper was going to work.

“Oh, only children always feel that way,” Alison said. “They wonder how you can possibly love two children.” I distinctly remember she starting washing her hands at this point. “They don’t realise, you just get more love.”

It was so simple. So obvious. After all, I’d been wondering the same thing – and I’m not an only child, it was just hard to imagine. And yet since Finn has been born, her words keep coming back to me. There is always enough love to go around – you just get more of it.

But Alison wasn’t done in doling out words of wisdom. She got me up on the bed and I lifted up my shirt so she could measure my belly.

“What lovely skin!” she said. Which is what every woman wants to hear, all the time, no matter what the situation. I had miraculously escaped my genetic fate and gotten to this point without any stretch marks at all, from either pregnancy. “Do you eat a lot of good fats?”

“Um, yes.” What an odd question. But as a vegetarian and the mother of a peanut butter obsessed toddler who thinks avocado is a vegetable, I guess I do? I hadn’t equated it to my skin though; mostly I was assuming it was this nutrimetics cream which I’d been using religiously.

Alison nodded knowingly. “That would be it.”

[I did get one stretch mark in the end, around the 38 week mark, when my cream ran out and I decided not to replace it. After all, how much bigger was I going to get? LOL. But also, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest; I actually feel a sense of pride towards it. I carried two kids in there, and then got them out here, and the mark is a part of that story.]

And so my appointment with Alison came to an end, having just changed my life – or at least, how I was feeling about my life. I wasn’t a terrible mother. I was going to get more love for the new baby. And I should keep eating good fats if I want to have nice skin. I was in love with Alison.

At my next appointment the midwife commented on my lovely skin. “The last midwife said it was because I eat good fats,” I said.

“Was it Alison? She’s always going on about good fats.” LOL.

Alison was on duty when I was in labour with Finn and I got really excited to see her friendly face but she didn’t end up being with me (which was fine).

The last time I saw Alison was a few days after Finn was born, when I had to take him back to the hospital to have his hearing test. She gave an appropriate comment about how lovely he was and then asked how Emma was.

“She loves him,” I said. “But she hasn’t forgiven us.”

Alison nodded wisely. “That’s very normal,” she assured me, making me feel 100 times better with just three words before rushing off again.

So thank you Alison. I hope you don’t mind I’ve shared your wisdom here for the benefit of others – who knows how many lives you might change.

 

 

 

Trying to not die of cancer (or, a DIY muesli recipe)

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but we’ve abandoned the War on Drugs, admitted defeat. There’s a new war on. The War on Sugar. My dad was recently informed by a colleague that she and her husband had cut out all sugar. “It’s been a month now,” she said with all the solemnity of an AA meeting attendee. There are books and blogs and disciples aplenty. Some people take it to what I consider extremes, especially if they have no medical condition that is improved by cutting out sugar. No fruit?! But then, something kept niggling at me.

Since Emma was born, I am like most parents and terrified of something happening to her. The first night she slept through I woke up convinced she’d died in her sleep. I always check she’s breathing before I go to bed, and I like hearing her cough during the night because it lets me know she’s alive. I’m relaxed enough about activities that could result in a broken bone or tooth or scrapes and bruises but I’m not at all relaxed about potential head injuries. I’m paranoid about gastro and wipe down public high chairs with anti-bacterial wipes before I let her sit in them. I studied YouTube clips of baby CPR when we started solid food. After a while though, and one too many sad newspaper stories or Facebook posts, I developed a new fear.

Something happening to ME.

The world is full of heartbreaking stories of young mothers dying of breast cancer or ovarian cancer or brain tumours or random rare diseases not picked up in time because they were too busy being mums to go to the doctor. I am also nearly 100% convinced I’m going to die in a car accident, but that’s because so many other drivers seem intent on killing me. But mostly, one day it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I might not grow old and be able to watch Emma grow old at the same time.

This is TERRIFYING, obviously. I don’t want to end up a Facebook fundraiser or “super touching” YouTube clip. I don’t want Emma growing up without a mum. I don’t want Toby to have to find a new wife, as if he’d be able to find one as awesome and neurotic as me anyway.

I told my sensible, calm sister Jude of my morbid thoughts, assuming she’d tell me I was being ridiculous and was definitely going to live to be 100. But instead she told me she felt exactly the same way.

This did not help.

What did help was Jude’s sensible, calm suggestion that we can only do our best and cross our fingers. Disease might find us anyway, but so might a wayward car, a bolt of lightning or some dodgy seafood. I’m pretty sure that if I lived perfectly and got cancer anyway I’d feel completely ripped off, but at the same time if I don’t look after myself and get cancer or some other horrible thing, I’d always wonder if there was something I could have done to avoid it. So, I’m doing my best to avoid it.

I haven’t given up fruit. Or dairy. Or bread. I like to keep things achievable, and I know myself well enough by now to know what’s not going to work. I decided to focus on looking for sugar-free alternatives to some food, and getting more vegetables into my diet, and Emma’s for that matter. (Toby’s a grown man and can look after himself, obvs.)

Am I the only grown-up who can’t figure out how to get 5 serves of vegies into my day? Okay, I can figure it out, but I can’t figure out how to do it every day of the week. By Thursday the fresh vegies I bought on the weekend are either eaten, or not looking all that fresh anymore. I can’t put fresh spinach in a banana smoothie on Friday unless I do a second shopping trip during the week. Is that the answer? I don’t know, who has time for that? But I’m going to try a few things, like individual packets of frozen vegies for Emma (I know, I know, but sometimes it’s going to be the best I can do), making things like zucchini slice on weekends that I can freeze and use as snacks during the week, and maybe I will slip in a trip to the markets on a lunch break because I do like the markets and probably wouldn’t mind that as a lunch break on a work day.

On the sugar front, the main thing I’ve started doing is making our own muesli. I’ve attempted this in the past but it never lasted. Toby eats a LOT of muesli and it’s hard to keep up, plus with the amount he eats it is cheaper to buy it in bags from Coles than make it myself. But he was getting on the sugar-free bandwagon too and so I took it upon myself to start DIY-ing muesli. I started off using a Michelle Bridges recipe and have ended up with this:

900g rolled oats (seems like a random amount but that’s the size of the bag from Coles)

500g bran (specifically this one)

1.5 cups seeds (combination of pepitas and/or sunflower seeds)

1 cup slivered almonds

2 cups chopped dried fruit

Teaspoon of cinnamon (or a bit more, or none if you’re not a fan, or maybe other spices would be nice?)

This amount lasts over a week and sometimes nearly two, depending on how often I eat it.

It’s a total process of trial and error with getting the ingredients right. One week I did my shopping at Woolies and they didn’t sell a bran that I wanted so I replaced it with puffed rice (the “health food” kind, not the Rice Bubbles kind). BLAH. Another time I didn’t have almonds so I used walnuts. NO. One time I thought it would be an awesome idea to chop the dried fruit in the food processor but I got distracted and let it go so long it was a solid mass of Christmas cake flavoured stuff. On the other hand, last night I didn’t quite have enough rolled oats so I added a cup of shredded coconut which was a total winner. The dried fruit is also tricky – some of them have sugar added or other rubbish so you have to check labels if you’re being careful. They also come in weird textures that don’t necessarily work well – fresh dates tend to stick together and some of the really basic organic ones are really tough and dry. So yeah – trial and error, with even the errors being pretty edible and you only have to put up with it for a week or so until it’s time to make a new batch anyway.

Out of curiosity I googled Paleo muesli, interested to see what a grain free sugar free muesli looked like. I made this and it was divine. But it definitely wasn’t as healthy as my usual mix – how could it be when it’s got coconut oil and maple syrup in it? Therein lies some of the problem with a “sugar free” diet. It’s definitely a once or twice a week kind of muesli, or to be combined with plain rolled oats. But Toby’s not into those sorts of alterations to his breakfast routine (seriously we’ve been together 11 years and the only times I’ve seen him deviate from his usual breakfast is when we go out for breakfast, or he’s sick). So I’m back to a plain, unbaked, perfectly edible muesli and we’re starting off the day feeling oh so virtuous. One more small step towards not dying of cancer, with any luck.