Thursday, July 5, 2018

6 Things You Can Do For a Nursing Mama


I have been nursing for 5 months now and it's damn hard.

There's a scene in the aptly named "The Letdown" (available on Netflix) that made me laugh/cry: Audrey, a new mom, joins a new-parent-support group and struggles to get her baby to latch on at the first meeting ... various people, including the group leader, chime in with (read: yell)  their unsolicited advice until she explodes, packs up her bag, and walks out of the meeting (while accidentally leaving her baby behind - classic).

That's basically what it's like. It is not like those Botticelli-esque paintings where a cherubic child (or actual cherub, even) gazes adoringly into his mother's eyes while suckling at her breast (I can't believe I just wrote the words "suckling" and "breast" on here - now twice - has this really become that kind of blog?) or even like the mom you see in a coffee shop wearing a linen ring sling who just easily hefts her baby to her boob discreetly and the baby, satisfied, pops right off and gurgles lovely cooing noises.

No.

It's tongue tie and "how's the latch?" and hiccups (I'm talking literal and figurative here) and milk stains and vomit and more. So much more.

Anyway, my friend and I were talking about how frustrating it is to feed a newborn and, more specifically, how frustrating it is when our partners casually walk into the room and go, "Oh, you're feeding. I'll go watch TV" or "Is he feeding? Okay, cool. Bye."

Nah. Not "Cool, bye." More like, "Oh, you're feeding? What can I get you? Water? Cake? A muslin?"

Here are 6 things you can do for a nursing mama - especially in those early days of nursing (cluster feeding, anyone?):

Make her some damn food. She's hungry. I promise you - she's freaking ravenous. A bagel, a slice of pizza (or a whole pizza) - whatever. Just make her some damn food.

Make sure there's some cold and delicious water within easy reach. Hand it to her every time you see her about to feed.

Do the laundry! Yes! Wash the mom's and baby's clothes! Because feeding is exhausting and those are chores that definitely need to be done!

Hand her a muslin. Because burps = puke. Or better yet ...

Offer to take the baby away to be burped once he's fed. My mom did this for me and it was ah-mazing. I melted into a puddle on the sofa or else ate the cold bagel I unsuccessfully tried to eat over the baby's head while I was feeding him.

If the mom is expressing, wash and sterilize any bottles, pump attachments, pacifiers, etc. Self-explanatory, really.

Okay. Rant over. I just had to get that off my chest! (Pun intended.)

(Also: I put that Organic Zoo sweatshirt pictured above on my baby for the first time a few weeks ago and he immediately puked on it.)
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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

An Ode to French Butter (And Other Consumable Souvenirs)


We recently returned from a trip to France and as soon as we got home, I eagerly unzipped our suitcase and unwrapped my most valuable souvenir: a bar of Le Beurre Normand butter, still solid and intact despite not making it into my baby bottle cool bag (I realized it probably wouldn't have passed the liquid restriction, and I needed to bring the cool bag with me on the plane). Nothing fancy - I'd only bought it at Casino (the French supermarket, not to be confused with gambling on the French Riveria) - but still, so, so good.

Butter in France tastes different: creamier, richer, and all that more ... milky. I love it. I ate it every day while I was there, generously slathering it on pieces of crusty baguette we'd bought from the local boulangerie (John's eyes widened at every dollop I pasted on there, but I took no notice). I'm pretty sure I polished off a 250 gram bar in about 3 days, which can't be healthy, but, when in France ... *shrugs* I mean, don't get me started on the fresh vegetables ... I'd bring back a suitcase full of the produce aisle, if I could. Those tomatoes! Le sigh.

This morning, I crept downstairs while the baby was still sleeping and toasted two slices of brioche, before scraping a sliver of my precious beurre Normand onto each, and watching with quiet delight as they melted.

I've been really into buying consumables as souvenirs lately - they taste great, and don't take up any room once, well, consumed (which must be a relief to John, as I am constantly nagged about my "clutter" in the house - but that's for another blog post). Olive oil pressed on site at the beautiful masseria we stayed at a few years ago in Sicily is a standout favorite, as is the orange blossom honey John's dad brought back from Spain, which is nearly finished (I love spreading a thin layer on hot buttered toast).

What are some consumable souvenirs you've brought back from your travels? I'd love to know!
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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Full Circle


I waved off my parents this morning after a two-week visit and my heart is torn.

It was one of the most surreal moments of my life so far: introducing my son to his grandparents; hearing myself refer to them as "Por Por" and "Gung Gung", having only ever associated those names with my mother's parents.

And as I handed him over to be held, he fixed them with a look so certain that it shook me: pure recognition. As if to say, "What took you so long?"

How did he know?

Over the next two weeks, I watched as they doted on him: my dad humming the University of Oregon fight song ("Go Ducks, go!") as he marched him to sleep, my mom coaxing him to smile and gurgle (which he did, and seemingly only at her encouragement - no one else's) - and I felt sad that we would have to say goodbye so soon.

They babysat while I sneaked off for an hour's blissful postnatal massage; watched him as I attended a hospital appointment in Surrey, my mom texting me to say, "He's fine! Take your time! Window shop if you want, get some retail therapy." I bought a soy hot chocolate at Costa in Waterloo station, watching dizzily as commuters rushed past me - remembering that part of my life that's still in there, somewhere.

I took the tube home and asked my dad - an architect - to sketch our house, as a keepsake.

Our first home.

I passed him on the landing in the mornings as I carried the baby down the stairs and glimpsed him working, intently, in his sketchbook.

After he left, I stared at the drawings and took in the pencil strokes until tears threatened to dampen the pages: each blade of grass in the garden, and a faithful rendering of our Audi A3 parked in front.

And so, I've come full circle: mirroring my parents' trajectory of living abroad, starting a family abroad, and waving goodbye - back and forth, back and forth. A 9 or 10-hour journey (depending on the tail wind) back and forth, across the ocean and another country, transversing time, memories, love, continents. Little toes that seem to grow by the day. Smiles that become increasingly forthcoming. Chubby fists that extend overhead; arms outstretched and wanting.

Waiting.

If I thought that being an expat was hard, being an expat with a kid is much, much harder.
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Monday, May 7, 2018

Travel Link-Up: How The &*%$ Do I Travel With A Baby?


This month's travel link-up topic is "Travel Challenges" - and it couldn't be more timely. We're heading to a friend's wedding in Antibes later this month and I just ... I mean ... how the &*%$ do I travel with a baby?

"It's the best time to travel!" they say. "All they [babies] do is sleep!" they say. (Mine doesn't - at least, not during the day, which is better than not sleeping at night, I suppose!)

I thought I had enough worries travelling on my own, but now I have things to think about like diapers, bottles, strollers, pacifiers and ... how do I get him to the airport in a cab (answer: we'll book a cab with a car seat). Through security (dreading this in particular)? On the plane (answer: probably in a wearable carrier)? I've been told to nurse him during takeoff and landing to help his little ears adjust to cabin pressure, but I can totally picture myself fumbling and him crying and both of us being a mess together on the plane!

In short ... HELP!

But on a lighter note, I'm looking forward to staying in the very Instagrammable Airbnb John found in Cannes (a pool! Pretty tiles!) and seeing my friend get married in the beautiful French countryside.

And I'm glad the flight to Nice will be short as it'll be "practice" for our longer flights to the US and Hong Kong later this year to see relatives, but I'm having serious anxiety - not to mention the fact that he'll have had his second round of vaccinations a few days before, so will probably be a little ratty on the plane.

If you have kids, or have travelled with kids or small babies before, do you have any tips? As I said before, HELP!

This month's Travel Link-Up is hosted by Emma, Angie, Polly and Binny. Head over to their blogs to read more about their travel challenges!
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Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Ultimate Gift Guide For New Parents



(... or for yourself, if you're expecting!)

Figuring out what to buy for new (or expecting) parents can be a challenge: what would be practical and useful, but stylish and fun at the same time? Here are a few of the favorite items for our newborn that I've bought or that we've been given by friends. Each one has been indispensable (or, in many cases, just darn cute) in its own way, and I guarantee it'll be a hit for your new parent friend (or you!).

These XXL muslin cloths can be used for everything - and I mean, everything. I use it to: wipe spit-ups, tuck under our baby's head when he's feeding, provide a bit of coverage when I'm feeding in front of other people, and generally placing it under his head wherever he's lying/sitting to avoid any messy post-feed vomits.

A friend from Australia recommended this and I'm so glad we bought it (in fact, we have two!). Our baby loves it and it allows his hands to be up by his face, rather than down by his side like traditional swaddles. He's happiest and most settled when he's in his Swaddle Up.

This has been a surprisingly useful purchase for us. So much so, that I bought two sets: one for upstairs and another for downstairs. The shark hamper is perfect for tossing dirty muslins and clothes into (which quickly collects!) and we use the storage box for diapers and other changing accessories. 

I really wanted to buy the Sollybaby wrap, but decided to forgo the expensive customs duties and taxes we'd incur if I ordered it from the US. Luckily, Ergo just released its new Aura wrap and our baby settles fantastically well in this. It's comfortable, easy to use, and comes in a variety of stylish colors.

Because who wants to be fussing with snap buttons at 3 a.m. when the baby's just vomited for the second time and needs to be changed? These are pricey, but they have zippers on both ends and - trust me - are like gold for sleep-deprived parents.

I shunned all breastfeeding products but decided to try this (and managed to buy it second-hand) after my little one became too heavy for me to prop up and kept rolling off the pillows I placed under him. This pillow is fantastic for helping the baby latch correctly and gives mom excellent support too.

Our newborn (usually) loves baths and, since he's a little more awake during the day now, I try to give him a little leg and tummy massage using the fragrance-free baby oil and baby balm in this set, which friends sent to us shortly after he was born. 

My manager at work bought this for our baby and it is incredibly soft and cuddly! I adore the shape of this unique teddy.

I use this in the changing bag for diapers, wipes, and extra outfits. It's super affordable and is very useful, especially as the "wet" part is perfect for storing soiled clothing when you're out and about.

 I never thought I'd be into personalised clothes for our baby, but our neighbor gave us this onesie and it is so adorable. It's excellent quality and makes for a very thoughtful gift.

I searched high and low for a baby record book that wasn't too corny or too formal ... and ended up buying one from Mamas and Papas. Their record books have spaces for a family tree, scan photos, and family photos, along with plenty of space to record "firsts" and "favorites". So sweet.

Forget the cute outfits - bibs will outlast the growth spurts babies go through and are very handy for catching spit-ups, drool, and later, food! The White Company makes them in chic patterns and generous sizes. I bought two.


*Products marked with asterisks contain affiliate links - this means I receive a percentage of each sale of the product. So far, I've made a whopping £0.71 from affiliate links, so, you know, it's going really well - I'm thinking of quitting my day job. All joking aside, the products I've mentioned above have either been purchased by me or for me - and they're truly my favorites! xo

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Mothering


There is a photo - amongst hundreds of photos - that I love of me and my son.

It is early morning, and the sun is streaming into the room we sleep in. I am smiling up at the camera, bare-faced; eyes full of contentment. He is sprawled on my chest asleep, a wild mess of chestnut brown hair pushing into my chin and one chubby arm extended upwards past my shoulder, fingers curled into a fist.

Every time I look at that photo of us, I am reminded of the unrescindable bond between us - that of a mother and child. After he was born, I had a vision of us meeting underwater in a vast ocean, seeing each other for the first time - me, reaching out to him and he, swimming steadily towards me. It was very much a sense of, "Ah, there you are." Because I had waited for him all my life.

It is a more romanticised version of how we actually first met, with me having labored for 42 hours and losing four pints of blood and him being abruptly pulled from me with forceps, sustaining significant bruising, given five "rescue breaths" and rushed to special care without us having any skin-to-skin contact. I was in a daze when they brought him to my side in the operating room, my finger just grazing his cheek. Even then, his eyes flickered toward me as I said shakily, "Hello, sweetie."

I didn't see him for 36 hours after that.

But - as crazy as it sounds - we already had an inexplicable connection. After all, he spent 8 months residing within me, his arms and legs stretching as they do now when I pick him up for night-time feeds.

In his early days, doctor worried that he hadn't passed his first meconium, the dark, tarry stool that newborns produce. They murmured about possible blockages and x-rayed his abdomen as he lay in his incubator receiving phototherapy for jaundice - wires connected to his hands, nose, chest, and feet.

So I asked to hold him, and the first thing I did was cup his knees: to feel the familiarity of them under my hands, as they had felt jutting out under my ribs when I was pregnant. Then I patted his bottom, just like I did when I was pregnant with him. And he let out a little heave and voila: he pooped! I laughed and felt like a miracle worker.

Two days after we'd been discharged, we were readmitted to the hospital again. Doctors told me I needed to feed him 60 ml of formula or breast milk on a three-hourly basis, to boost his plummeting weight. "It would be exhausting and impossible for you to express 60 ml of milk for him at each feed," the consultant explained. Having exclusively breastfed him for the first couple weeks of his life, I stared at the empty bottles and teats they placed before me and cried. Then I stared at the bottles of formula they'd put on the table and cried harder.

So, I sat and proceeded to express 130 ml of breast milk in one sitting - and continued to express at least 60 ml for him after every short stint of nursing.

I did this despite my body being in the full throes of exhaustion and recovery. I was fatigued and beside myself with worry. At just over a week postpartum, I could barely walk from the hospital bed beside him to the bathroom down the hall - I shuffled and grimaced in pain every time I sat down.

I cried all the time.

But somehow, my body continued to provide for him.

So I laughed when I read the concerned email my dad sent me yesterday, saying I looked "tired and wasted" in that beloved photo of me and my son. I read it while nursing him at midnight, stroking the chubby folds of his neck as he suckled in a dream-like state.

Because, to me, I have never looked more beautiful, or healthier, or happier.

Even though I'm my son's mother, I hadn't felt that way until I saw myself in that photo - mothering. I fed him, bathed him, advocated for him, and worried tremendously about him ... but I still didn't feel like a mother.

But now I notice how he reacts when I walk into the room or when he hears my voice; when he falls asleep against me when I take him out for a walk in the sling, or when he curls his fingers around mine and brings it into his chest as I feed him.

And that grainy photo, taken on my phone, of the two of us, is a reminder of all these things.
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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

5 Lovely Things You Can Do For a New Mama (and Papa!)


I'm slowly adjusting to my new role as a mother (so surreal to write!) and, because our newborn spent time in the hospital and because my own recovery has been a slow (and hard) slog, I've quickly realized how invaluable it is to ask for - and receive - help.

Even in the tiniest ways.

The day our newborn was discharged from hospital, my mother-in-law arrived from her interrupted holiday in Spain to help, and I couldn't have been more grateful. Like, in tears grateful. She always knew exactly what to do - not only with the baby (it helps that she's a retired midwife and health visitor), but with simple household chores. Her help around the house meant that I had a few extra minutes to catch some sleep whenever I could, and John wasn't run ragged trying to hold everything together.

So, if you know a new parent, here are 5 things you can do for them that will be guaranteed to be helpful.

Bring food. Always bring food - especially food that can be frozen and reheated quickly. Soups, pasta sauces, casseroles, and snacks will be gratefully received, especially if the parents were totally caught off-guard by a baby who arrived 4 weeks early (that's us!). I WhatsApped my NCT group to let them know our baby came early and received a separate message from a couple asking if they could bring around some food for us they had prepared. I'd envisioned cooking in batches to freeze during my maternity leave, but wasn't afforded that time with our premature baby, and the thought of cooking when we were just beginning to find our feet at home felt overwhelming (and we didn't want to depend on unhealthy takeout). I nearly wept when I got home: eggs, milk, a fresh loaf of sourdough bread, homemade muesli bars, frozen homemade apple cake, moussaka had been left on our doorstep. Our fridge and freezer were stuffed to the gills for days by their generosity.

If you don't bring food, offer to cook. It's a little extreme, but nearly every day, my mother-in-law would walk to our favorite grocery store and buy ingredients to make nourishing meals for us, which she would prepare and present to us right after I'd fed the baby. From pork loin steaks with baked potatoes and sour cream to steaks with steamed spinach (crucial for my iron levels as I lost nearly 2 litres of blood during delivery), it felt amazing to eat home-cooked meals after weeks of microwaved meals and hospital food. It doesn't have to be complicated - when I was pregnant, my friend Sophia came over and made the most amazing roasted cauliflower, capers, and parmesan linguine. I'm salivating at the thought of it!

Ask if there's anything you can get to make the mom or dad more comfortable. When my best friend called me while I was in hospital anxiously awaiting test results for our baby, I sobbed to her that I didn't have any clean clothes that were nursing friendly or that fit my postnatal body. John was driving back and forth to our house to get me stuff, but nothing fit. I still had a bit of a bump and very swollen legs and ankles. She arrived two hours later with a bag full of maternity and nursing clothes from H&M ... I tore the tags off and changed right in front of her! It made all the difference when I was stuck in hospital, already feeling emotional and stressed about our little one's progress - having clothes that fit and worked well while I was nursing him made me feel not only more comfortable, but also more human.

Bring distractions. I vividly remember scrolling through Facebook during our second stint in hospital with our baby and watching a 2-minute clip of an Olympic figure-skating routine (which was on at the time) - those two minutes gave me the most heavenly respite from the exhaustion and stress I'd been experiencing. So, along with the clothes she brought me, my friend also stuffed the newest issue of Hello! magazine in the bag for me to read. I laughed, but it worked! Reading about Meghan Markle's upcoming nuptials provided an excellent distraction for me and helped me cope with the anxiety I had over our little one's well-being.

Offer to hold the baby or do chores around the house. Our friend Nick crashed at our place last night and, in the morning, he offered to make me breakfast, hold the baby while I had a shower, and deposit the bed linen he used in our laundry bin. Granted, we're good friends, but I didn't feel shy about asking. My mother-in-law would always ask me, "Is there anything I can get you?" while I was nursing, and she'd helpfully pass me my water bottle or stuff an extra pillow behind my back - it's those little things that make the world of difference to a new mama.

Are you a new parent, a parent-to-be, or a new auntie/uncle, perhaps? I hope these suggestions are helpful!
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