Friday, March 16, 2018


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.

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!
© angloyankophile

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