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Sharing Is Caring

In August I went back to work, nearly 10 months after the Little Guy was born. I felt very mixed about it as I was sad to leave my son, but also happy to get some of my old life back. But it was even more complicated than that, because I was giving up some of my legal maternity leave to my husband.

And this was harder for me than I thought it would be.

I spent the whole first nine months of my son's life being his primary caregiver. I ended up breastfeeding him (something I never ever expected). I was the one up in the middle of the night, the one spending the bare minimum of 12 to 13 hours a day taking care of him. So even though I often used the Hub as sounding board, and as a constant support, at the end of the day, he always deferred to me, letting me be the final decision maker on anything child care related.

But those days are over. We are exercising our right in the U.K. to what is called Shared Parental Leave (SPL). The idea is that parents can now share the 12-month legal maternity leave allowed by law. So I took nine months of leave from work and the Hub is taking three months.

Three months isn't that long, but I think it's huge step forward for women's rights, and even more importantly, for all parents' rights.

For a control freak like me, it's been hard to go back to work and let go of all the influence I had over the Little Guy's life. When we had a few weeks of overlap -- which we called "Baby Boot Camp" -- the Hub questioned my organization of the diaper bag(s) attached to the stroller (pram), and it drove me nuts. The Hub also didn't want the Little Guy to wear onesies (bodysuits) anymore -- too difficult to snap -- and would put clothes on him that I would have never chosen. He was right about the stroller, and the other things didn't matter.

I think we've done pretty well so far, with only one significant disagreement over child-rearing methods. But when we were discussing our views, there was a part of me that wanted to rescind my agreement to forfeit all my legal leave. After all, was I making a mistake? You can never get this time back.

But then, in order for something like SPL to really work, for it to become socially acceptable, for both men and women to become comfortable with it, we all have to give a little. There are men who have to take the plunge at work, to grit their teeth and deal with a snigger or the fear of what it could do to their career. And there are women who have to give up a little bit of their leave, and time with their kid, to be O.K. if their baby is breastfed a little less.

And then there's the positive impact on the child. I keep having to remind myself that the Little Guy is benefiting from having more people in his life to care for him. After all, when we spent 10 days in the U.S. over the summer and he had lots of family members around to take care of him and dote on him, I could see the positive benefits. He seemed more well-adjusted already.

Finally, sharing the care taking is having a great impact on both the Hub and me. He gets it now, in a way he never did before and I feel like more than ever we are partners. We are also so lucky to be able to take advantage of this -- not everyone can. So while I do get a twinge of jealousy when the Hub sends me photos of the Little Guy at music class or sleeping in his stroller during a walk, I have to remember it's all for the best for all three of us, and appreciate the small fact that at least I can drink a hot beverage at my desk without being interrupted.

Top Ten Things For Moms-To-Be

Two of my friends are very recently pregnant! I couldn't be more thrilled for them -- and so I decided to finally roll out this post that I have been writing in my head for oh, the last ten months or so (the Little Guy turned 10 months just last week).

Of course the list of what I have learned is probably close to infinite. But I've tried to boil it down to what would be my key advice -- if anyone asked me. 

1. Don't buy any toys or cute clothes. People will get you loads of these things. And really, it's for the best. As a new parent you don't know what you will need really - and all the clothes and toys we were given were absolutely great. We used/are using them all. 

2. Audio books. Over the last 10 months this is the only way I have been able to do any reading. Listening to a book while pushing a stroller (pram), or feeding, is great "me" time. Podcasts work too, but I felt like I was actually doing something really self-indulgent by reading a book. Also good on a plane with a baby on your lap.

3. Do some feeding research. If you're planning to try breastfeeding (or not), do some feeding research. I actually didn't want to breastfeed, but the hormones kicked in and suddenly I wanted to. I wish I had actually understood more about it before attempting it. It all worked out O.K. in the end, but it was a very rocky start. On the same vein - buy bottles and formula ahead of time just in case. Even if you're breastfeeding, you will probably also need bottles. 

4. Wear support tights. I wore some cheap Boots support tights every day throughout my pregnancy even though we had one of the hottest summers on record in the U.K. I never had swollen ankles and all my shoes fit the whole time. Some people wouldn't care, but this felt like a huge victory to me. 

5. Pick a guru. My guru has been Tracey Hogg, A.K.A. the Baby Whisperer. Her book has been my bible the past 10 months because simply, everything she says makes sense to me and has worked. But you have to find an expert who resonates with you. I didn't follow her for weaning, but that is a whole other post...

6. Find a group. The Hub and I did a prenatal class (or as they say here antenatal) through an organization called the National Childcare Trust (NCT). It was one of the smartest things we did. There were eight couples in our group and all the babies were born within 2 weeks of each other. These ladies have been my lifeline over the past 10 months - I don't know what I would have done without them. We meet up at least once a week, if not more, and are constantly supporting each other through all our parenting wobbles. They are also all a lot of fun!

7. Do things your way. Every baby is different, and every parent is different. It's hard not to compare yourself with others, but you have to do things the way that feels right to you. You can read and read about the best way to manage whatever issue you're dealing with -- morning sickness, sleep, feeding etc. -- but there's unfortunately no "right" way. I was constantly reading completely conflicting advice. Do the research, but then go with your gut.

8. Sometimes think: "My only job is..." Pregnancy and parenting is overwhelming. So it sometimes helps to forget about the rest of the world and focus on the job at hand. After all, it is a new job, and like any new job, it's exhausting and you need to focus. Especially in the early days of the Little Guy's life, it helped to think: "My only job is feeding this baby." Nothing else mattered at that one moment, and that helped me to cope.

9. Accept help. Especially, in our case, if it comes in the form of your mother offering to come for the birth and stay for two months -- including Christmas! I don't know how we would have survived without her. It allowed us to be human, to shower and eat, and even have people come over to see the new baby and drink prosecco and eat cake with us.

10. Be grateful for the wonderful things at each stage. I feel this will continue to be something to live by. Children are always changing and there are great things -- and of course challenges -- at each stage. There have been many times when I was wishing away some difficult stage, but tried to keep in mind that the magical bits of that stage would disappear as well. So you have to appreciate the new fun things and bear with the challenges. It's just going to be the way.

I'm back at work now, while the Hub runs Daddy Day Care in our home until the Little Guy turns one. So hopefully this means more frequent posts from me again. Congratulations again A and C! Hope something from this post helps you in some way. 

Wherever You Go, There You Are

Wherever you go, there you are. Which in some ways is comforting. You can't escape yourself, but maybe that also means that you can never really lose yourself either.

In October, our son was born. About two weeks before his due date. He was breach and surrounded by very little amniotic fluid, so the NHS consultant wanted him out early, and by c-section. (I wasn't too disappointed about this, particularly after the fact, having heard the screams of the women in labor as I strolled to the operating room).

And just like that, we were no longer only me and the Hub, but now there was a Little Guy in the mix too.

Our lives are different now, but I suppose what has surprised me the most throughout my pregnancy, and as I've become a mother, is how much of me is still here. Perhaps it's the way that everyone talks about the life-changing experience of becoming a parent that I wondered if I would suddenly find myself another person.

I am certainly more sleep deprived and crazy. I picture one of us accidentally letting go of the pram on the steep hill that runs behind our house and the Little Guy ending up in a tree, like in one of the Babar stories. And one night, I made the Hub lock all the windows upstairs and hide the key, as if somehow our infant could hop out of his crib and catapult himself out a window -- when at the moment he can only just about hold his head up.

Throughout my pregnancy and these first four months, there are certainly parts of motherhood that are universal. The conversations with the lovely women who comprised my NCT prenatal class - in person and on our whatsapp group - have shown me that I am not alone in finding feeding my child one of the most difficult things I have ever undertaken. We all dread the inoculations our babies seem to need every 4 weeks, and we all seem to think our own child was crying the most in the mom and baby class at the GP surgery.

But in spite of these universities (and some others), I am certainly still shockingly me. As the weeks wear on aspects of my pre-baby personality are emerging more and more, this feels comforting and grounding, in a way I haven't felt since my world suddenly got turned on its head. I've got the Little Guy into a routine -- because I like, and need, a routine. I've got him signed up for classes now that he is a little older and awake for slightly longer during the day, but more because I like classes. And although I eschewed parenting books beforehand -- which is surprising for me -- I now spend a lot of my very spare time reading child-rearing books.

One of the most amazing things about this whole experience is how everyone approaches things differently. You have to I suppose, because you bring so much to the game in terms of your personality, your strength and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes. And because taking care of a little being who really isn't very well-developed when he or she emerges from the womb is just really tough, you have to do things in a way where you can survive -- and eventually thrive, as I think this is the only way your child will end up thriving.

People are so different, so people make completely different parents. And that's O.K. Because all children are different too. And as long as they are loved -- and don't end up in a tree -- I think things might be alright.

Super Physio Returns

I haven't written about Super Physio for a very long time. When I first started this blog she featured heavily as initially it was about my very long and difficult struggle with chronic neck and back pain. (If you are interested in the back story, you can read the The Whole Story.)

But all you really need to know for now is that I suffered with chronic pain for many years and Super Physio helped me fix it -- although towards the end, to get better 100%, I had to help myself fix it.

I always knew, however, that if I got pregnant, I would go back to see her, to make sure that I didn't end up with any back or hip pain in pregnancy -- as it's common in normal women, and I happen to be hypermobile (i.e. bendy), meaning that I am even more at risk.

The bump - 34 weeks

It's been great to see her again. She really is a super lady, very knowledgeable, very calming too. I can't even hate her for giving me at least one hour of exercises to do daily -- split into two sessions: morning and night. I'm certainly not enjoying them, in fact, they are really getting really old at this point, since I've been doing them religiously since well before halfway through the pregnancy and I reached 35 weeks this past Wednesday.

I find it interesting as I haven't thought that much recently about the time in my life when I was in chronic pain -- it seems so long ago (I stopped seeing Super Physio in 2014). I'm a different person now. More sure of myself, more able to stand up for what I need and take care of myself, instead of crumbling into a heap of pain and fear.

And although there are of course disadvantages to being an (ahem) somewhat older mom, one of the main advantages I've found is that although pregnancy is clearly difficult -- I've suffered from pretty bad nausea, heartburn and of course the slog of hours on the floor doing my physio exercises -- it is definitely not the most difficult thing I've ever dealt with physically or emotionally.

Of course, I still have to make it through the last few weeks to term and of course, childbirth. So watch this space. But for now, I can at least be reminded of how far I've come since my chronic pain, and feel pretty incredulous that I've made it almost the whole way through a pregnancy without it returning. Super Physio can really hold onto her title.
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