How do you do it?

*This post was written over a period of a few days, beginning on Monday. Today is now Wednesday and for the past two nights, Beth has slept for 7 straight hours between 10 and 5! To say I feel like a new woman is an understatement. However, it doesn’t mean that the post is any less relevant and I so hope that it can provide a degree of comfort for other sleep deprived parents.*

That’s a question I’ve been asked many times recently, always after I’ve explained Beth’s (non) sleeping habits to someone. Murphy was having a laugh when he decided our babe might give us 6 hours of broken sleep each night if we’re lucky, considering 9-10 hours has always been my optimal sleep allocation. And I have to be honest, 8 months of cumulative sleep deprivation can do strange and singularly un-wonderful things to one’s mind.

So I found myself asking myself that very same question on Monday after a particularly awful Sunday night – how am I doing this? How am I going to keep doing this? Can I do this?

And this is what I came up with. This is how I do it:

Coffee
Or whatever else helps to get you through the day! I’m still drinking decaf even though I’m no longer breastfeeding, but the ritual of making an espresso, steaming the milk, spooning in the sugar – it is somehow comforting and reassuring, not simply a means to an end. I don’t believe that a “crutch” is necessarily a bad thing, unless of course it is a badthing!

Get organised
Easier said than done, I know, but I promise you the extra half hour you spend in the evening before going to bed might just save your sanity the next day. Sterilise bottles, prepare as much of your baby’s meals as you can, make yourself a sandwich for lunch, restock the diaper bag etc etc etc. Whatever you can do in advance, do. Because guaranteed in the fog of a new day after a sleep deprived night, you won’t know where to start. It’s worth the little bit of extra time!

Talk about it
You may well be tempted, as I was, to pretend that all is well and you aren’t taking as much strain as you know you really are. Don’t do it! Talk about it! Sure, you’ll be offered a lot of unsolicited advice but some of it may actually be helpful. But mostly, it helps people to understand why you are not in the running for any Best Friend of the Year awards. That you are permanently at the very end of your tether. That you forget everything. That you aren’t not making an effort but are actually using extraordinary amounts of energy that you don’t have just to make it from sunup to sunset (not to mention all the hours after the sun has gone down too). Your friends and family will get it. And seriously, if they don’t, at this point in time don’t waste what precious energy you do have worrying about them.

Make an effort
I love my pajamas. They are so soft and comfortable and they remind me of the sweetness of sleep. PAJAMAS AREN’T CLOTHES! And my husband’s baggy t-shirts aren’t my clothes! And despite what my husband says, I categorically do not look anywhere close to pretty, or to my age, on 3 hours of broken sleep (see previous mention of Sunday night). As tempting as it is to stay in pjs all day and embrace the eye bags, do yourself a favour and get dressed in the morning. Sure, you may have to pop a screaming tyke into the playpen or bouncer or cot for 5 minutes but they will survive. Put on something that you actually like and that you would wear out to a coffee date or casual lunch. Brush your hair. If it’s dirty at least it’s not tangled! Put on some makeup – not a lot and you don’t need to spend hours on it but it sure makes me feel better not to look into the mirror and see an ancient raccoon staring back at me.

Get out of the house
Even if it is just to get a few groceries and even if you know full well you will forget to get the things you really really do need, like nappies and wipes! Go for a stroll if the weather allows or visit a friend for a short while. Just do something. You and your baby will benefit from a change of scene and you will be further away from comfortable resting places like sofas or your bed, so you might lose a little of that desperate hankering to lie down, just for a short while.

Sometimes, hunker down
Having said that, some days it really is impossible to make that effort or to leave the house. And that’s okay. It truly is. Those are the days when you idle in neutral and do the bare minimum. They are the days when your baby benefits from independent play and eats food from a pouch rather than a homemade, gourmet meal presented as a smiley carrot, tomato and cucumber face with cauliflower hair. When you supervise a great deal and interact a little. As long as your baby is safe, fed, warm, dry and loved, one quiet day every now and then is no biggie. In fact, it teaches them that we all need to slow down sometimes and that life is not one big sensory fest.

Know when you have reached your limit
This is, I think, the most important point. I reached my limit on Monday morning. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I absolutely could not cope with one more night like Sunday night. It’s really difficult to be in that situation without family nearby to reach out to and to ask to help out. Their unwavering support from afar is unquestionable and I know they feel desperate to help, but the reality is that we live on a Caribbean island in the middle of blinking nowhere! It was hard, but I had to reach out. I emailed a few of the mums I have met through a little music group and asked if they knew of a night nurse or nanny. I met another friend for a play date and a chat. That friend proved a very special sounding board and encouraged me to be strong both for myself and for Beth. I spoke with the mum of a little girl who I know also has reflux to find out how she copes. I asked our amazing housekeeper to back me up throughout the day by helping to change nappies, choosing an outfit for Beth to wear and dressing her, holding her while I made my coffee… The laundry didn’t all get done that day but I stayed sane. I am also going to get some professional medical help for sleep deprivation – I don’t really know what the solution will be but at least I will know that there is a professional out there looking out for me.

Lean on those who love you
My goodness am I blessed with loved ones. My husband is a rock. Much as people don’t know how I do it, I don’t know how he does it! We hold hands in the dark when the hours are so small they are distorted beyond recognition and we laugh at each other’s comically haggard faces in the morning! Our parents are but a whatsapp and a Skype chat away and Beth’s godmother constantly checks in, as do various friends who know it’s not always easy.

Pray
It is odd that I am putting this in my blog because Faith has always baffled me. Some say it’s meant to be baffling! But sleep deprivation baffles me too and so this prayer helps, whoever I perceive God to be:
God of peace
Be with us through this night which waits for us
Bless us if it brings us sleep
Support us if it brings pain or anxiety
Till we come once more to the morning light of another day

And finally, Beth
This post was never meant to be sappy or melodramatic and I hope I don’t go down that route now, but I cannot stress enough how worth every sleepless moment is a million times over just to have our baby girl happily and healthily in our lives. She brings such abundant joy and love, and her zest for life peps up the sluggiest day. Who could not be enthused and motivated by this little being? My energy may be limited, but somehow when it comes to Beth it is inexhaustible.

A different perspective

Those who know me well know that when I feel strongly about something, I really do feel STRONGLY! And tend to voice those feelings strongly too. Case in point, my most recent blog post, berating those who choose to explain our daughter’s behaviour away with, “it’s because she’s a girl”. My husband actually expressed his surprise at how strong the post was and my mum found it “interesting but rather vitriolic”. But the comment that made me decide to look at it all from a different perspective came from a very close, very honest friend: “Forgive others for their well meaning but meaningless advice”.

What might prompt another parent to make such sweeping assertions about someone else’s child? Is it because that is what they tell themselves when their own child won’t sleep? Or won’t eat or cries incessantly or doesn’t make any sense? Because if I’m honest, I too have my default explanations to try and help me find the much sought after answer we all seem to be after. Reflux is the first port of call. Thereafter I usually look to teething. And if it’s a particularly bad day, it will be because she was in NICU. None of which might be right, but it makes me feel better to have found a reason. Nobody likes a mystery to remain unsolved and babies, to my mind, are the biggest mystery of all.

So while I really would prefer it if Beth’s sleeplessness and occasional niggles weren’t put down to her being a girl, I get it. We are all doing everything in our power to get through each day as best we can. And sometimes we just need an explanation for why it is so darn hard!

Please forgive me my judgy rant and I will forgive the “because she’s a girl” brigade for their “well meaning but meaningless advice”.

Because she’s a girl…

Too often recently I have had Beth’s behaviour explained away with, “it’s because she’s a girl”. Even worse are the predictions some people make about our future relationship “because she’s a girl”. Initially I tried to laugh it off but to be honest it really gets under my skin. Beth doesn’t do anything “because she’s a girl”. She does what she does because she is Beth.

It’s no secret that Beth struggles to sleep soundly although hopefully she seems to be making progress in that department. Apparently she doesn’t sleep very well “because she’s a girl”. Really? It wouldn’t happen to be that she spent a traumatic first week in NICU, which is like a war zone where there is constant noise, flashing lights, and life and death situations every minute? Or that she suffers from severe silent reflux? Or that she is still really titchy and so needs extra nutrition at night? Or that sometimes she misses her mummy and daddy and needs a cuddle, just as they miss her in the night time? I wonder how that explanation accounts for the sleepless nights parents with baby boys have. Huh?!

Beth likes to feed herself and while at breakfast she is happy to be fed her porridge and fruit like a hungry little cuckoo, lunch and tea are often a bit of messy battle with Beth fighting for control over the spoon whilst blowing raspberries with any puréed food that makes it near her mouth! Give her a toast soldier with hummus on it or a broccoli floret or two to grab and put in her mouth herself and you’re onto a winner. This is “because she’s a girl”. Not because she is fiercely independent. Not because it is far more fun to get stuck in and make a mess. Not because it is extremely gratifying for her to be able to satiate her hunger herself. Not because the sensory experience brings a sense of satisfaction. No, it’s “because she’s a girl”. I guess my husband hasn’t told me that he’d rather I puréed his food and fed it to him every night. Is that because he is NOT a girl?

Sometimes Beth gets grizzly and I don’t know what she wants. Is it her gums? Gas? Reflux? Is she tired? Is her nappy wet? Is she too hot? Does she want a particular toy? Does she need a cuddle? Is she feeling a bit overwhelmed? Is she overstimulated? The list is endless. Nowhere on my list is she grizzling “because she’s a girl”. But no, that’s what I’m missing! You see, girls do that. They’re manipulative from day one and wrap you around their little finger as soon as they lay eyes on you. WHAT?!! Yes. I have actually been offered this explanation more than once. What an indictment on girls! And on Beth. Babies grizzle. Both girls and boys. And it’s because something in their environment needs to change, whether physically or emotionally. Certainly not because they’re genetically predisposed to grizzle or not.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I am really fired up now. And so will segue into the horror of predictions about Beth’s future behaviour and the relationship we will have “because she’s a girl”. I’ve been told to expect it to be tumultuous, tempestuous, torrid. If I look back at the relationship I had with my own mum, I would struggle to use any of those three words to describe it. Sure, we had our moments and I know I gave her countless sleepless nights (and not just as an infant) but our relationship was and is firmly rooted in love, respect, admiration and sometimes even awe. Am I not girl enough that we aren’t at loggerheads all the time and haven’t ever had one door slamming or hateful shouting episode? I am not so naive as to think that there won’t be challenges and clashes but I refuse to accept as a given, “because she’s a girl”, that our own relationship can’t also be built on qualities that are affirming and positive and entrenched in love.

Adam and I love our Beth with every fibre of our beings. And not “because she’s a girl”. We love her because she is feisty. She is the most determined person we know. She is so funny. She is a sensitive little soul. She is curious. She looks to us for reassurance often. She squeaks when she sees us first thing in the morning. She cries for us at night. She smiles not just with her whole face but with her entire body. We love Beth because she is Beth.

Back to Basics

It hasn’t escaped my notice that I last posted something 4 months ago. It’s also no coincidence that 4 months ago, unbeknown to me at the time, I had my last consecutive 6 hours sleep in a row. Any hope of regular blogging flew out of the window with those last precious zzzzzz’s. Unfortunately, as sleep flew out the window, sleep deprivation and anxiety crept in until I quite honestly reached the end of my tether about two weeks ago. When Beth went off the food she usually wolfs down with mucho gusto, I kind of lost it a little. Not eating on top of not sleeping… It was the limit! But I am back on the blog right now and not in bits and pieces. So, what changed? I decided to go back to basics. Instead of losing myself in a fog of sleep schedules, ounce measurements, fancy stage 2 weaning meals and endless google searches for the magic solution, I took a step back and looked at what really matters. What works. And what is good.

IS MY BABY HEALTHY? Yes! She most certainly is. Despite still suffering from reflux, Beth is thriving. Her paediatrician is so pleased with the progress she has made and even declared to me, “She is perfect”.

IS MY BABY HAPPY?

2015/03/img_0152.jpg IS MY BABY SLEEPING?

Okay, not really! But it could be worse and we have made huge progress already. At one point, Beth was waking up every two hours until midnight and then every hour after! It was utterly untenable, especially considering the only way she would go back to sleep was for me to breastfeed her. It took months for us to get the hours to stretch to two, then three, then four and now five between feeds! Realistically, what more can we expect of her at night?! We’ve attempted sleep training to reduce two wakeups to one or even none but the upset for the whole family, including the dog (!), just is not worth it. Day naps have always been an issue for Beth, ever since she was a newborn. It used to be that the only way she would nap during the day was in her bouncer or being pushed in her pram. Not really practical, let’s be honest! Now, with the help of Al and Jen Ferguson and a very patient and long suffering sleep angel named Sarah from Jo’s Sleep Angels, Beth goes down for three naps a day, in her cot! She may only nap for 30 minutes, half the time she “should” sleep for, but it’s progress and we continue to work on helping her extend her naps. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve gone from dire straits to manageable straits.

IS MY BABY EATING? With the transition from breast to bottle, Beth lost her appetite for solid food. This really threw me as she is usually a voracious eater! However, when I stopped to think about it after a particularly tearful and trying tea time (I genuinely thought she would love the chicken, apple and sweet potato purée I lovingly prepared), she had a lot to contend with. In two weeks she had moved on from the only milk she knew – mine – and all the cuddles and emotional closeness associated with that, to not one but two different kinds of formula from a cold, hard bottle. Of course we cuddle when I give her her bottle but it’s not the same for either of us. The upside is the anti reflux formula has finally put a stop to the regular spitting up and hiccups that punctuated every milk feed previously. But the bottom line is, yummy chicken was not at the top of Beth’s priority list when it came to food consumption! I went back to old favourites like butternut squash and zucchini, on their own, and voila! Beth started to eat again. I’m just thankful her default comfort food is zucchini and not ice cream, unlike her mum! It turns out all she needed was a taste of the familiar and known.

IS MY FAMILY HAPPY?

2015/03/img_0153.jpg The bottom line is that babies do things in their own time and at their own pace. Every step forward is progress. And sometimes it is okay to go back to basics. Not just okay, absolutely vital. Especially if a few steps back facilitate giant leaps forward. We have a healthy, happy baby and a family full of joy, gratitude and love. Basically, as they say in Barbados, “We good, man.”

Oh! What a beautiful morning…

Today began at 4am. A certain little someone had slept for nine straight hours and had worked up quite a hunger. And what a treat it was to open the mosquito net, lean into the cot and be met with the happiest smile anyone could possibly muster up, never mind at 4 in the morning! What a way to start the day.

How special it was to bundle our little blessing in my arms and to smell her sweet sleepy scent. The first morning feed is my favorite. It is time for Beth and I to begin our day together, sleepily catching each other’s gaze and gently fiddling with fingers. Sometimes we sing songs, sometimes we listen to music and sometimes we just quietly relish the moment. But always we meet the morning in a dozy haze of togetherness.

Usually, after a nappy change and a few cuddles, it’s nap time again and I can either snooze too or get myself showered and dressed. There are occasions when I even manage to finish the mug of tea my husband lovingly presents before he leaves for work. This morning was miraculous as I tidied my clothes cupboard too!

Bath time is the best part of Beth’s day. It usually takes place in the evening with Daddy, so this morning’s bath was a bonus for her! Her little face just lit up as her toes hit the water, and the splashing and smiles began. I love a bath as much as the next girl but Beth takes the cake when it comes to enthusiasm for a good wash. If only we all took such pleasure in life’s simple things.

Hot on the tails of bath time is coconut oil massage time. As Mum sings an adapted version of Bob Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” (which goes along the lines of “Coconut Baby”), Beth wiggles and squirms and tries to giggle while thoroughly enjoying a full body coconutty massage. What a life! And the best part is she knows it. She loves it and she shows it!

Right now, we’re sitting in a coffee shop and I’m sipping on a decaf cappuccino while Beth snoozes again in her stroller. People smile without knowing it as they walk past her and old ladies comment on her chubby cheeks. My heart leaps every time. Oh! What a beautiful morning…

Strength in vulnerability

Sure, I knew giving birth was going to be tough. I was aware that it would hurt. A lot. I was so excited to meet our baby whom I already loved beyond measure. What I was not prepared for was quite how vulnerable I would feel, yet how very strong I would need to be.

Without going into too much detail about the birth itself, I was induced the day before my due date because I had Gestational Diabetes, opted for an epidural and was hooked up to IV antibiotics as I had tested positive for Step B a few weeks before. I’d been in pre-labour for 10 days so was exhausted already. I was in active labour for 8 hours before I needed to push, at which point the baby turned herself sunny side up and got stuck! She was extracted by ventouse and I was left, to put it bluntly, in agony. That said, as soon as Beth was placed on my stomach, I felt a sense of peace and such love as I’d never felt before. Our baby had arrived safely.

The first 24 hours were a blur of feeding, cuddling, messaging, half-snoozing and full-on loving. My husband and I could not get enough of our beautiful baby Beth. We were relieved because everything had appeared to go so well and she was, to our inexperienced eyes, healthy. However, exactly 24 hours after she arrived, Beth started to throw up bile, her stomach was distended and she turned grey. In a heartbeat she was whisked away from us and into an incubator, hooked up to IVs, monitors and tubes, and had to endure a spinal tap at all of a day old. To be fair, the support we received was amazing, but the sheer cold fear was overwhelming. There were concerns about Strep B, a deadly illness that requires intensive treatment fast. She had signs of sepsis and the doctors were worried.

As it turns out, after three nights in NICU and intensive antibiotic treatment, all Beth’s test results came back sterile and the problem had been a blockage in her lower intestine which was resolved thanks to the paediatrician’s swift actions before she even reached NICU. She was released and we all went home together.

What struck me most upon reflection on that time is that never in my life had I needed to be stronger than those three days when Beth was in NICU and, as far as we knew at the time, fighting for her life. From the second she was born I was her mother. And that meant I had a job to do. I couldn’t just fall to pieces. And yet, I had never been more vulnerable. I was exhausted, in pain, a hot hormonal mess and absolutely terrified. Thankfully, because of testing during my pregnancy, raised antennae following her birth as a result of my positive Strep B test and extremely swift intervention as soon as things started to go wrong, our three month old daughter is now thriving.

So where did that strength come from? It came from deep within, where from the minute of conception the instinct to protect my child grew and prepared me for just such circumstances. It came from my husband, who was a rock – he kept his head when I felt like I might lose mine, he helped me to see reason and logic when nothing made sense, he loved Beth with a tenderness that broke my heart and his own vulnerability reminded me that I was never alone. It came from our families who wanted to get on the first plane out but understood when we said it would be too much; they were quietly there for us when we needed them, never pushing or pressuring but praying and loving. It came from our “village” which extends from Barbados to London to Mexico to Australia to South Africa and beyond. And it came from a renewed faith in the God who created our beautiful baby girl and who knew her before she was conceived.

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Gestational Diabetes: work with it not against it

When I heard from our doctor 26 weeks into my pregnancy, “You are, unfortunately, a gestational diabetic”, my heart almost stopped beating. To my mind, this immediately meant I was a bad mother who had put her baby at risk and would be judged forever more as irresponsible. Luckily our doctor, one or two friends and my ever supportive Adam took me swiftly in hand and helped me to launch onto a comprehensive research campaign to manage a potentially lethal situation.

Initially I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the fact that I had GD in the first place. I consider myself a relatively healthy person and was probably the fittest and healthiest I’ve ever been when I fell pregnant. To be fair, I’m no saint and love ice cream and cake as much as the next pregnant mama, but I just couldn’t understand how someone as mindful about nutrition and fitness as I am could “let” herself become diabetic. It wasn’t until I had worked my way through reams of literature, engaged in numerous conversations with others who had had GD, and met more than once with my endocrinologist and nutritionist that I realized I not only hadn’t “given” myself GD but also that it is a manageable condition that need not result in a stressful and miserable third trimester.

Here are some tips that I can offer to hopefully help any other expectant mums who might be facing a few months of GD:

1) Accept it.
There is no point in fighting it or trying to convince yourself you can follow the regime you will need to follow only when you feel like it. You have GD. It requires certain lifestyle changes. Deal with it. But also be gentle with yourself. Don’t blame yourself as you are not to blame, regardless of how many Percy Pig gums you snarfed down that one Sunday afternoon!

2) Do your research.
Be discerning about what websites you choose to visit, but make sure you do as much reading around the condition as you can. Knowledge is most certainly power and the more you know the better you will be able to understand your own body, its needs and how to meet them.

3) Consult the experts.
Ensure that you put yourself in expert hands and ask as many questions as you can think of. This links back to doing your research – going into the consulting room with a list of questions about what you have read will lead to a constructive and reassuring conversation. Trust the experts as well though. You may have done a few hours of comprehensive research. They have dedicated their lives to the topic! If the endocrinologist tells you to eat more and to stop avoiding all carbs, as I was tempted to do to start, then make sure you eat more and take in good carbs. On that note…

4) Embrace the lifestyle.
What better way to look after yourself and your growing child than by eating a healthy, balanced diet that includes complex carbohydrates, lean protein, plenty of vegetables, and snacks such as nuts and limited fruit? Add to that at least 30 minutes of gentle exercise each day and you’re onto a winner! Although this is what my lifestyle looked like (mostly) before I got the diagnosis, which is why I was so upset to hear about it, I have learnt to monitor portions more closely, I measure my carb intake with each meal and work hard to include protein in every meal. It isn’t always easy and breakfasts are particularly frustrating, but it’s meant that I have hardly gained any extra weight beyond the bump, that I’m still relatively fit and that I actually feel good about my relationship with food and the positive effect it is having on me and on the babe.

So finally….

A Gestational Diabetes diagnosis is not the end of the world. It is an opportunity to adapt your lifestyle to ensure that you and your growing child get the very best that nutrition and exercise can offer. It is frustrating at times when your sugars are high for no reason you can tell, but there is a wealth of information and an army of experts at your disposal, so use them. Work with it, not against it, and you may just find that you will have a healthier pregnancy with GD than you would have had without it.