The end of the fourth trimester

Tomorrow my son turns 12 weeks old – I can’t quite believe it. He’s been with us for such a short amount of time but it also seems like he has always existed.

I’ve loved these first twelve weeks because I’ve been following the school of thought that the first three months are the fourth trimester. A continuation of the baby’s time in the womb where the most important thing is bonding with Jenson and helping his transition into the world to be as gentle and smooth as possible.

To do this, I’ve found myself wearing him in a sling for the majority of our trips out of the house, spending restful hours in the bath with him on my chest, co-sleeping and have focused on what makes him seem happy and content. Lots of walking so he can be rocked to sleep close to me in the sling, lots of singing and dancing around the house and lots of feeding at his pace and at his demand.

This style of parenting wasn’t one that I thought I would take. And, for sure, it’s one that focuses more on Jenson and less on my marriage. Even though my husband sleeps in the same bed as us and is 100% present with us when he’s not at work, I miss the closeness we had pre-becoming parents. I’m sure our relationship will get back to where it was over time but I didn’t expect to have less resources, less patience and less energy to show my love to Gregg.

But let’s get back to talking about the fourth trimester! These thoughts about relationships with a baby are probably for another time and another blog post!

As I sit here writing my thoughts about the fourth trimester you, dear friend, I find myself slightly sad that it is coming to an end. I know that this gentle way of being doesn’t have to end but somehow I feel the permission to take things extra slowly and gently diminish as his 12 week anniversary arrives.

I know that 12 weeks is an arbitrary number and am aware that I can continue doing the same thing over the next few months but somehow it doesn’t feel the same.

Because Jenson is going to change. He’s already coming out of his womb-like haze and is interacting more with the world around him. He’s smiling so much, recognises songs I regularly sing to him and can now be distracted by the world around him or even can be stopped crying with a book or something new that I show him.

He’s not going to need as much of the slow and gentle pace that I’ve grown to love.

And I’m aware that I need to prepare him for my return to work in July when his dad will take over as the main carer. I feel an anxiety about having to push Jenson to do things before he’s ready to fit in with my desire to get back to work and his dad’s desire to spend quality time with him.

Making him sleep out of my arms, feed just for nourishment instead of a way of dozing off, get used to me not being around.

So I’m allowing myself to take a moment to feel sad about him growing up and all that this means. But I also remind myself that I can’t control the future and that the best thing I can do to reduce my anxiety is to be present with my son in the moments I have with him now.

And I think of all the moments to look forward to in the future – where I’ll get to hear him giggling for the first time, witness him playing with toys and interacting even more with the world around him.

He’ll soon be sitting up, tasting his first foods, clapping his hands and chances are that he’ll be less reliant on me when July comes around. And if he is still reliant on me when July comes around, I know that we’ll manage.

Baby moon

I wrote about my breastfeeding issues a few days ago and, while I’ve stopped being angry at myself for having trouble producing enough milk for Jenson, I’m still frustrated that things haven’t improved. If anything they’ve got a bit worse as Jenson needs to have all the extra milk I’m expressing in order for him to fill up. I’ve started to worry that his demand will outstrip my supply and that my milk will start to dry up…

My good friend Charlie recommended that I call the La Leche League breastfeeding support line to get some advice and I’m so glad I did this afternoon when I was having a wobbly moment. The woman at the end of the phone was really kind and supportive, telling me that I’m trying my best (it’s always nice to hear that!) and gave me some great advice that I’m putting into practice right now.

To have a baby moon.

Not a trip away to a tropical destination – although we’re planning to go away as a family to Vietnam in June (more on that in future posts, I’m sure!) – but a time to get snuggled up warm with my bubba doing lots of skin-to-skin contact*.

Apparently this can increase milk supply more than any food supplement, stout, breast pumping or concoction can.

I’ve written previously about how hard I’ve found the change of pace in my life. Slowing down has been tricky, let alone grinding to a halt to have my baby on me as I rest for as many hours a day as possible.

But this feels different.

Like in doing nothing, I’m doing everything that I need to as a Mum. There’s a point to this stillness.

And could it be that I’m comfortable with the notion of stopping because I’ve been given permission to do nothing? Instead of thinking that I should go out, be active, stimulate Jenson, I’m looking at this time as a chance to pamper myself (reading a book, eating chocolates, watching my favourite tv shows and writing to you) while getting endless cuddles with my son.

Suddenly the pace doesn’t bother me at all. It feels like I’ve entered the start of a very enjoyable baby moon where I relax, sit back, take things slow and look after both myself and my son.

*skin-to-skin is where you get naked on top and have the baby rest on you. It apparently gets the mother’s hormones working, encouraging the body to produce more milk and gets the babies hormones working, encouraging him to breastfeed more.

Double standards

I’ve been having a bit of an issue with breastfeeding. Sorry if this is TMI but it’s true.

I’ve loved the experience of providing sustenance for Jenson and have no problem whipping my breasts out in public to do so. That’s not the issue. It’s that I’m not producing quite enough milk for him and so he’s been slow to put on weight.

I don’t know where the issue stems from, although there are a number of potential reasons why my supply isn’t quite enough for him. The blood loss I experienced just after giving birth that left me anaemic, that Jenson was tongue-tied for the first 3 weeks and perhaps didn’t feed strongly enough to bring my milk in fully, my genetics, my diet (although I don’t think that being vegan has any impact on milk production)…

Regardless of where the issue stems from, I’m potentially not providing enough milk or Jenson isn’t getting quite enough and, although my health visitor isn’t overly worried, there’s a chance that we may need to top him up with formula.

I’m not the only person I know who has been having feeding issues. A few people in my anti-natal class have had to move fully onto formula and others are doing a mix of bottle and breastfeeding. And when they shared their sadness at not being able to fully breastfeed their baby, I was understanding about how they were feeling, but also had a real conviction that as long as the baby was getting sustenance (through formula or breastmilk) and was loved, there was no shame in switching to formula.

That is, I felt this strong conviction until I was faced with potentially having to use some formula myself.

What double standards!

That other people can be human but I need to be perfect, that good enough is enough for others on this journey of motherhood but that I need to get everything ‘right’.

I started writing this post feeling sad and a bit ashamed but now I just feel pissed off at the bar of perfection I find myself yet again trying to vault over – a bar that is never achievable because it’s too high.

Because if I was perfect with my ability to produce milk, I would fall short in how I’m playing with him. Or if I did both those things perfectly, I’d worry about how he’s sleeping compared to others. Or how he’s developing or interacting or what clothes I’m dressing him in…and the list of self-judgement could go on and on.

I’m so glad I started to write this post because I see how far I’ve progressed. Yes, that bar of perfection may still be in my life and I may still start to measure myself against it, but I’m able to step back and see it for the unrealistic, cold, unhelpful measure it is.

It doesn’t take into account how I rock my son when he is crying for the 100th time in the day, or how my days are planned around what will bring him peace, or how I cradle myself around him at night so he can sleep soundly. It doesn’t measure the depth of my love for him or the effort I put in to be the best Mum I can be. Not a perfect Mum, but as good a Mum as I can be.

So what if I can’t produce exactly the right amount of milk. I’m doing my best – my body is doing its best – and that is good enough.

Pace

So far I’ve loved the slow, dreamy pace of motherhood. I’ve spent hours lying on the sofa feeding Jenson, forgot about housework and done very little with my time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written about my experience as a new mum, gone out to lots of groups and met up with loads of people. So I haven’t done nothing with my time. But I’ve been a ‘human being’ instead of acting out my usual ‘human doing’ rush, rush, rush. And it has started to feel a bit uncomfortable.

Yesterday Gregg was off work and I had written a list of things that I wanted to accomplish during the day. Not big things but some things that I was looking forward to getting done.

  • Batch cooking some pasta sauce to have the rest of the week
  • Going to the GP
  • Sorting out my wardrobe and putting away my maternity clothes
  • Uploading shoes and other items I no longer wear onto Facebook marketplace
  • Doing my ‘break up with your phone’ activity of the day
  • Putting some photo frames up in the bedroom

These were things that would have taken me a few hours to accomplish in the past but I would have stretched them out over several hours, enjoying the feeling of de-cluttering and streamlining my life. I would have perhaps extended my cooking to include baking some cookies or cakes and then I maybe would have also used my busy energy to give our bathroom a well-needed clean or left the house to sit in a cafe for a few hours, writing a blog post or a letter to a friend.

But that was not my experience yesterday. I managed to accomplish some of the essential tasks – cooked the pasta sauce (a task left over from the day before), spent 45 minutes frantically clearing out my wardrobe and put a few of my shoes on Facebook to sell. But it was punctured by Gregg bringing me Jenson for a feed or taking him outside for a walk so Gregg could do some of the jobs he’d set his mind to in the day.

It felt so frustrating to be going at this slower pace. To not be able to get things done and instead just surrender to being with my boy.

I feel so horrible saying this – like a really undeserving mum – because it’s a beautiful thing to spend time with Jenson. To witness him feeding, sleepy and content or looking at the world with wide eyes.

But it’s also frustrating to have my wings clipped and to find myself unable to do all those small things that would have taken up a mere fraction of the day in times gone by.

And I’m also finding the ‘break up with your phone’ book hard to put into action. Because the premise of the book is to do something else with the time you would have spent on your phone. But activities I’m able to think of that are possible with a little 7 weeker in tow (especially one who wants to do nothing more than feed and sleep on me!) are near impossible.

So I suppose today I’m having a bit of a moment of feeling a bit down. Looking back on the ease of my pre-mum life and wishing I could be back there for just one day. And I’m also becoming aware that parenthood is going to teach me so much about just being – something which feels so uncomfortable for me when I’m used to rushing around and accomplishing so much.

I think this is one of the biggest lessons in my life – letting go of doing and allowing myself to just be. Relaxing into this moment, whatever it brings. Learning to adapt and let go of what I want in order to enjoy what is.

I know it’s good for me but I also know that it’s hard for me. So I will have hard days, and that’s ok. It’s all part of the experience of being a new parent and finding my feet in this new reality.

His best interest

I’m just leaving Derbyshire after a long weekend of family celebrations and time with friends. If I’m honest, I was a bit apprehensive about the time up here before we came because it was my first big trip away from home with our son and it was quite a busy time with lots of plans in the diary.

We would being seeing people who would be so excited to see my little newborn son that they would want to hold and cuddle and cherish him. It’s normal for them to want to do this and, as a baby, it’s normal for Jenson to sometimes be happy to get their attention and to sometimes be in a bit of a cranky mood and just want to be left alone or to be nestled close to me or his dad.

I think of myself as a kind person – generally happy to oblige others and go with the flow. But when it comes to my son, it isn’t a case of obliging others and making exceptions. I have to act in his best interests. And this makes for a different dynamic, one that I was slightly apprehensive about:

  • Saying ‘you can’t hold him at the moment‘ to those who I usually would make exceptions for and sitting with the discomfort of having disappointed them
  • Leaving dinner halfway through with friends to comfort a cantankerous baby
  • Turning down offers of help to rock a crying baby because I’m trying to learn Jenson’s language to respond to what he needs when he’s upset (different temperature, nappy change, food, time alone, cuddles, being played with…)

And with the slight apprehension I felt, I also wanted to be able to cuddle him and hold him close if I wanted to without feeling obliged to always pass him around to other people when he was in a good mood.

It felt a bit rude sometimes and it felt a bit uncomfortable but I think that these feelings were a remnant from my people pleasing days. And my role as his mum isn’t to be polite and put the needs of others before Jenson, it’s to, as his mum, put him first.

I know there will come a time when I need to model sharing and generosity and kindness to him. But at 6 weeks old, this was not the time. This was the time to put him first and that’s exactly what I did.

Coping with a crying baby

I’ve been bouncing and singing and cuddling and feeding and talking to and loving Jenson for 45 minutes while he cried and cried and cried.

Well tried were the ideas I’ve got written on my ‘things to do when Jenson cries’ list and none were working in calming him down. He would not settle.

It’s so heartbreaking to have your little one in distress and to not be able to comfort them. But dare I say the thing most on my mind this morning? My ultimate truth when Jenson is crying – it’s bloody tiring.

Knowing I’ve done all that I could for him and still nothing was working I felt myself detach from the situation. But this came with the worry that I was the most terrible mother. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t leave him to cry in a room by himself for hours, I just stopped feeling so acutely the sadness of what he was feeling and instead focused on going through the motions of caring for him.

I ask myself, as he’s finally asleep in the sling (Sod’s law, the only thing I hadn’t tried as he usually hates being in his sling indoors and screams like he’s being tortured on previous attempts) what is behind the detachment and whether I’m comfortable with this reality.

And I suppose what comes to mind is this – Jenson is one of the great loves of my life. I’d do anything for him.

But he is also a crying baby and crying babies are tedious, infuriating, very loud and tiring.

And these two things co-exist side by side. The deep love and semi-fatigued annoyance, the perseverance of trying and trying again to calm him whilst thinking to myself ‘I wish he would stop, this is horrible for me’. The investment in caring for his wellbeing and the detachment of going through the motions to just get through it.

Nobody told me this was how I might feel and it is quite a lonely place to co-exist in these two realities of caring whilst going through the motions. Especially when you think that everyone else is somehow coping differently.

So I thought I’d put my thoughts out there. As a way of embracing my experience and also, hopefully, as a way of reaching out to other parents to say:

You’re not alone. Feeling like this is normal and is ok. We’re all doing our best and that’s all we can expect of ourselves. It’s bloody hard to care for a crying baby who will not stop. I’m with you.