The lovely people over at Pip and Pear have featured something I wrote about first time parenting as part of their Realities of Motherhood series!
It's here if you fancy a read.
Thanks Pip and Pear!!
The lovely people over at Pip and Pear have featured something I wrote about first time parenting as part of their Realities of Motherhood series!
It's here if you fancy a read.
Thanks Pip and Pear!!
Love this piece from one of the original fashion bloggers, Susie Bubble (Susie Lau) about managing her career while breastfeeding a baby.
Admittedly, she's in the unique position of working for herself in a creative industry where she is the brand and the product so she makes the rules (and can bring her newborn to work if she wants to). Even if work means front row in Milan or Paris. Most of us don't have that luxury.
Still, a lovely account of normalising breastfeeding and a glimpse into how the other half live!
I'd love to know how she finds breastfeeding appropriate clothes...I ended up just wearing a stretchy vest under everything so I could always lift up whatever top I was wearing and pull down the vest discreetly. Mostly because the designated nursing clothes in the maternity shops were hideous!
(via the Guardian).
"ENJOY THE BREAK!"
"How is the break going?" "Must be a lovely break"...
Literally what everyone said to me as I finished up in work before popping out Pearl. And I suppose at the time it seemed like it would be a break. A break from long hours, (sometimes) stressful work and office politics.
Still, it's a baby not a cruise. I've determined that anyone who told me to enjoy the break either has no children or was a man with a partner doing all of the heavy lifting.
In my experience no one sleeps as soundly as a new father...who claims not to have heard the baby during the night.
Despite my protests that maternity leave isn't a holiday, I had planned to enjoy it. Maybe write a book, take more time for painting, cook everyday, get fit, lose all the baby weight, go to yoga, swim etc. etc. etc. Having worked in a job with demanding hours, maternity leave seemed to offer much more 'me-time.'
But on Monday I rejoin the world of work after 13 glorious months at home with the baby (who's basically an adult these days with 6 whole teeth!) and I can safely say I've achieved none of these. Maternity Leave hasn't been what I expected.
In fact none of it has.
1. Labour (well not strictly speaking, as I never went into labour. Honestly couldn't tell you what a labour pain feels like.)
Firstly, my scheduled two or three weeks of nesting, rest and relaxation at the start were rudely interrupted when after only five days off from work, Pearl pulled the plug and my waters broke. I knew something wasn't right because instead of squirming and kicking she'd been vibrating all evening. We were half awake in the early hours of Friday 23 June, listening to the Brexit vote results filtering in from various London boroughs. When it became apparent that the British had actually voted for Brexit, I wet myself.
Towards the end of the pregnancy, I was up every 30 minutes or so needing to get to the bathroom so I wasn't surprised. Just irritated. They were clean sheets. I got up, went to the loo and stood frozen to the bathroom floor as the fluid kept gushing. I phoned my Mum (it was 3.30 am but she'd told me to call anytime) and then Holles St. I was a couple of weeks out from the due date and everyone told me she'd be late so I wasn't expecting this.
Three days later she arrived. THREE DAYS! Three long sweaty days in the Holles St holding pen on an antibiotic drip, trying to read the paper while listening to other women screaming in agony, which ended with an unwanted epidural, a failed induction and ultimately an emergency C-section*.
And the itch!
I almost forgot. A reaction to the morphine left me with an all-over itch which deepened every hour. Nothing could scratch it. I couldn't even sleep. I was like a cat, arching and rubbing myself on bedposts and door frames, anything to ease the unbearable itch.
A nurse helped me have my first shower a day later when the epidural had worn off and the catheter was removed. Yep a catheter. And I nearly had to have another one put in when I realised out of the blue that I hadn't peed in two days which is apparently not good. Another nurse had to sit with me in the en-suite bathroom and coach me through going to bathroom. It was as if I had lost the muscles required but she told me they were still there; I just had to learn to reach them again.
I had to lift up my abdomen just to shower the scar. I gingerly felt my lower abdomen and asked her when the layers of wadding and gauze would be removed. She looked at me like I was mad and told me that there was no gauze. It was my own stretched, distorted skin and flab. I had lost all feeling in the area after the operation. It felt like I was poking at someone else. Zero sensation.
I've often thought that if men had C- sections, we'd hear a lot more about it. It's a serious operation. You are sliced open (usually awake) and stitched up afterwards only to be handed a tiny human and told to breastfeed it. And then to look after it for ever. The only pain relief was paracetamol and the occasional Difene. And when they wore off.....FUUUUUCCCKKK. That's the only way to describe the pain.
To spare you further details let me just say that I had pencilled in personal training to begin two weeks after the birth. I was going to a friend's wedding and I thought I was just going to bounce right back to normal! That was unrealistic. A section means no exercises and no driving for 6 weeks. So when paternity leave ends, you're stranded at home alone. Thank God for Dublin Bus! BTW I went to the wedding. I waddled around in a black sack dress, nude Louboutins and an obnoxiously large hat** and made the best of it.
It was a nightmare at first. Torture and tears. (Mostly mine).
Until it wasn't. One Sunday about three weeks in, I settled myself into a chair and gritted my teeth, steeling myself for the pain but it never came. Just gentle sucking and a sleepy baby. We'd cracked it! Yes we'd also cracked my nipples and there was occasionally blood but we had finally got it right for both of us. It was a joy from then on.
So if you're struggling and you want to breastfeed, persevere. Seek help. La Leche League and Cuidiu aren't the breastfeeding police; they genuinely want to help breastfeeding families. Paracetamol and nipple balms are your friend. Nipple shields did nothing for me but I know other women who've exceeded their personal breastfeeding goals by using them. So it's whatever works for you. I grew to love it, for the closeness, the convenience and the snuggles. For me it was one of the best parts of the last year.
It's lonely as a first time mum. Especially when not many of your friends have children. And sometimes you just don't feel up to dragging yourself and the baby to a coffee morning full of strangers (often friendly strangers but strangers nonetheless). And some of them can be a bit judgemental, like the lovely 'lady' on a local mums' whatsapp group who suggested that complaining about the cost of good childcare in this country means you're not committed to your child and went on to suggest that you shouldn't have children if you can't afford them! Bitchy McBitch Face.
It's hard enough without some cow trying to get you down.
I told a friend recently that a large portion of my early maternity leave was spent binge watching Law & Order. She thought I was joking but there were days at the start when I'd sit down with a cup of tea and watch about 7 episodes back to back while feeding the baby and letting her nap on me (when she was very small). That's 7 hours of murder and courtroom drama. Spoiler - the good guys usually win.
Between the constant feeding and being up half the night, I hadn't the energy to do much else. It got me through some interminable rainy days when I'd check the clock thinking it must be nearing six and that my husband would be home soon, only to find it was 2pm. Those were the worst.
The first 4 or 5 months were HARD. I'd do the groceries and cook every night, trying to be the perfect wife, mother and housewife but that wasn't sustainable. I even gave up having the house cleaned weekly which seemed like an unjustifiable expense while I was at home. Bad idea FYI. Some days the kitchen was literally growing.
Instagram could suggest that my maternity leave was pretty glossy. A constant stream of flat whites in fancy places with my perfect baby. But more often than not I was alone with her and a six month old isn't a sparkling conversationalist.
But we had our fair share of afternoon tea, lunches (sometimes alone, sometimes not), art galleries, shopping trips and coffee dates with friends. Our ladies days out together are the part I'll miss most!
4. Sleepless nights
We were lucky in this respect. Ours is a sleeper. I generally don't shout this too loudly because it pisses off sleep deprived parents (and rightly so). That said, she was waking for a feed or two until about 18 weeks (it all feels like a distant blur now so I'm not sure about when she started sleeping all night). So it'd be a lie to say I got no sleep but I certainly got less than I need to function properly and everyone knows sleep deprivation is a form of torture. There were days I certainly shouldn't have been driving.
It's scary when you realise you're about to nod off at the wheel.
Weirdly, a breastfeeding mother's body adapts to the constant waking at night. It's like you're never fully asleep; the slightest baby murmur and you're wide awake. No grogginess. When you return under the duvet you conk out immediately. I read that it's like your body bypasses the initial stages of sleep and goes straight in REM to maximise your sleep.
If you're still in the sleepless brigade, just know that it gets better. You won't be a 'mombie' forever. And you might find that you come to miss those special 3am snuggles when it's just the two of you in the dark.
5. Working Girl
Although I didn't write my novel or shed the stones I wanted to, it's still been a good run!
Pearl and I got to a few baby events, including baby swimming (which I'll really miss) and some more cultural outings too - baby workshops at the National Gallery were lovely. We managed to make two of them and they're well worth booking for a day out. They book up weeks in advance though so email early.
And in terms of grown-up activities, I made it a priority to get my hair and nails done to stay sane and feel like more than a milk-machine. I got out for cocktails with friends more than you'd imagine. We even managed a few weddings, an over-night in Hayfield Manor for a party (where Pearl started crawling...took a five star hotel to get her going!) and we threw a surprise party for my Mum too in the middle of everything.
But here we are at the end. And so on Sunday night, I'll lay out my freshly pressed clothes, my dedicated work bag (I treated myself to something nice to ease the pain) and pack up the baby's bag for nursery...and I suppose it'll be back to business as usual. Fingers crossed I haven't forgotten everything and they'll still let me be a lawyer!
*For the record, I was happy with my experience in NMH (Holles St.) I had a lovely consultant and I felt well looked after throughout the pregnancy and afterwards. My experience wasn't what I expected and I could have done without the three days waiting around but I also get that their preference (and mine obviously) was a normal delivery instead of a section.
** If you know me IRL you've probably heard about my paparazzo that day? A lady stealthily walked around me and took a few sneaky photos of my hat from various angles, then ran away! So odd. Fab wedding though!!!
Cuteness overload. Irish babies (all babies really!) need an Aran.
We have been stopped in the street by strangers asking where this Aran jumper is from. My mum picked it up as a present for Pearl and I assumed it was from Avoca or similar. It's actually from Carrolls Irish Gift Shop of all places!
It's hand-knit and in the region of €50. They have less expensive versions which are machine made but in my opinion a real Aran has to be hand-made.
It's garnering rave reviews so taking some time to see the Beyond Caravaggio exhibition at the National Gallery on maternity leave was a no-brainer. The National Gallery is heavily promoting the ticketed exhibition and that includes running various educational events and workshops based on similar themes.
Obviously, the exhibition focuses on the incredible use of light by Caravaggio and the Caravaggisti, his followers. So it made sense that this month's baby workshop at the National Gallery was a fun and interactive play session dealing with light and darkness.
The babies (infants not yet walking) sat on a colourful circular mat on the floor and played with lights. There were light boxes, light-up cubes and homemade toys (plastic containers filled with flashing fairy lights and other little trinkets). In the centre of the ring was a flat round lightbox that the babies could wriggle onto. They played with plastic shapes and patterns using the light from the centre. We introduced the babies to each other, sang songs and watched the babies interact with each other, which is more important than the artistic or educational merit of the meeting!
I'll be putting P's name down on the waiting list for the next event as soon as it opens. They're free but places get snapped up.
An added bonus is that the Winter Garden cafe (serving Itsa food) is one of the nicest places in the city to have coffee and it has a small play area for children. They encourage mums with buggies to visit and they help you bring your food and coffees to your seat.
The exhibition itself was excellent. I booked a ticket to see it at 1 pm after the baby session. Like anyone who grew up in Dublin or any neighbouring counties, I've seen the Taking of Christ too many times to count and I'd seen some of the other works which form the exhibition. But a number of the paintings are on loan from the National Gallery, London, the National Galleries of Scotland and some private collections.
Four major works by Caravaggio dominate the exhibition: The Supper at Emmaus, 1601 (National Gallery, London); The Taking of Christ, 1602 (National Gallery of Ireland), as well as two works never exhibited before in Ireland: Boy Bitten by a Lizard, 1594-95 (National Gallery, London) and Boy Peeling Fruit, c.1592 (The Royal Collection).
As a whole, it's beautifully curated and well presented. Well worth €15 (€10 on Tuesdays). Some American tourists were pretty put-out when they realised that "they've put the Caravaggio** behind a paywall!" and given that it usually forms part of the permanent collection I can see their point. But the exhibition brings a sense of freshness to the painting because you can see the other works alongside it and read the guidance notes to better understand the style of the paintings and their context. Also, the National Gallery needs to fund itself so it's not unreasonable to ask people to pay to see one of its best known paintings. They decided not to go in and it's their loss. They should have returned some of the tat they bought in Carrolls Irish Gift Shop (seriously) and paid in.
Photos aren't permitted in the exhibition so I only have a sneaky snippet of one I particularly liked - the Carravaggisti normalising breastfeeding!
*I'm BEYOND proud of this pun.
**(meaning the Taking of Christ)
When she's not feasting on her own delicious foot, P is horsing through solids. After a dodgy start where she'd only eat pureed pear, she now eats almost anything I give her (although she turned up her nose at eggs recently having enjoyed them previously...who knows why).
She's just shy of 8 months old and I introduced solids at 6 months. It's tough work planning and cooking for another mouth! No added salt and no sugar to start obviously but I want to give her nutritious and tasty foods (as well as a variety of flavours and textures) without being chained to the hob.
So, what's P eating these days and what's working for us? I'm taking a relaxed approach to weaning onto solids. It's a mixture of traditional spoonfeeding and new-fangled baby-led weaning. I'd love to hear your comments on this; everyone seems to come at it differently and some switch up their approach on the second or third kids.
Homemade skinny hummus - I spread this on toast or potato farls as a handy baby-led brekkie or evening tea. P's not on a diet; it's only 'skinny' because I leave out the oil you'd expect in hummus. I don't need the oily calories and I think it would be too much for her tummy to manage. I blend a tin of drained chickpeas with lemon juice, a tiny bit of garlic and some cumin and about 20-30 mls of water. It's easy to make and keep in the fridge.
The Happy Pear Beetroot Hummus - this is expensive and it has a small amount of added salt so I limit it. But she LOVES this. I tried to make it as a variation on my hummus above but it was a purple gloopy failure. I'll keep trying. Until then I'm shelling out €4.99 for a tub in my local SuperValu to keep P happy (and looking like this!).
Toasted thin potato farls - These potato breads are delicious and lovely and soft for toothless wonders like herself to suck on. I buy the Rankin and Aldi versons. Almost identical in taste but a vast price difference! 59 cent in Aldi so I stock up when I'm in an Aldi and freeze them. A great quick and tasty breakfast or tea with a variety of toppings or just toasted and plain.
Glenisk baby yoghurts - Ideal to pack for lunches out and about, these are obviously a spoonfeeding food because even my little prodigy isn't feeding herself yoghurt yet. So, if you're a militant baby-led mama these aren't for you (and that's ok!)
Pasta with passata and mashed vegetables - I use organic baby pasta because the pieces of pasta are tiny so she couldn't choke on them. Of course you could use any pasta and chop it up finely! But you know, #lazymumsforthewin. The first time she tried pasta, I had made a beef ragu for lasagne but had set aside a portion for Pearl before any salt or wine was added. It was mince, tomato, garlic, onion and a little pinch of cheese. After the first couple of spoonfuls, she started shaking, opening and closing her mouth quickly and her eyes widened like mad. Obviously I panicked and started thinking about potential allergens in the sauce and whether she needed to go to the GP or straight to Crumlin. I spoke to my Mum and we realised that P was simply showing her appreciation for my amazing cooking and the new taste sensation she was experiencing!
Salmon with mashed sweet potato - Steamed or roasted salmon is so soft and flaky that it's ideal for babies, whether baby-led or spoonfed. P can picki up individual flakedn and feed herself or if we didn't have time that day, she'll devour it mashed with a tasty veg like sweet potato.
Porridge made on milk or breastmilk - no explanation required. Quick, inexpensive, filling, nutritious. Don't judge me but I often use breastmilk only because it tastes so good (and everyone knows the spoonfeeding rule 'one for baba, one for mama'). It's like sweet, creamy porridgy manna from Heaven and I'm not ashamed to get high on my own supply.
Cubes of cheddar cheese and slices of soft pear and kiwi - a baby's continental breakfast if you will. Great when I need a coffee and don't have the energy to prepare anything else because someone has been up all night.
Almond/cashew butter (no added salt or sugar) - thinly spread on toast or potato farls, it's a tasty treat for teatime.
She's also exploring different fruits, both mashed up and handheld so she can experience the taste of the fruit and the feeling of feeding herself too. I average about two baby-led meals a day with one old fashioned spoonfeed. Today's spoonfed dinner was chicken, cauliflower and passata with a pinch of cheese. She devoured it.
I also came across the Pip'n'Pear pre-prepared baby meals in Aldi. They're fresh (kept in the fridge near the yoghurt section) and they've no added salt or sugar. The fishy one is yummy and she really enjoys them. Great for a day out when I haven't packed a dinner for her or for an easy evening. PLUS they're an Irish company. Always a bonus.
What's your approach on the baby-led question? Are there any fantastic baby meals out there I'm depriving Pearl of?! Let me know!
Are you in a support group for mums?
It sounds silly and there was nothing so formal in my own Mum's day but it's been a life saver. Mine is a whatsapp group of mums including some experienced ladies on squish number 3 or 4. There are stay at home and working mums, bottlefeeders and breastfeeders so the conversations are varied and balanced. We discuss schools, childcare, health questions, feeding questions and everything else. I can ask any question and someone will try to help. They're also really patient with first-timers like me. When P had a temperature and I was panicking, I stripped her, sponged her down and then asked the group if I should go to the doctor. I'm sure they rolled their eyes at my stupidity but in the heat of the moment I had completely forgotten to give her Calpol. They all told me to try it and watch her. Of course, that brought the temperature down and luckily she wasn't fighting off anything serious. Rookie mistake!
New mamas and babies are added daily but there's a core group who started the whatsapp thread and they also have an informal meet-up on Tuesdays in Mayfield in Terenure. I don't always make it but they're a lovely bunch of women so when I do they're very welcoming.
It's been one of the best supports while I've been at home with P. They're the ones who spurred me on to start applying for schools when P was about 4 months old. I had other things on my mind and I was a bit down and I hadn't realised how important it was in Dublin to pre-enrol on a list where possible. My poor child would have been home-schooled but for them!
Do you have a support system? This whatsapp group started life in Dublin 6 as an offshoot of a Rathgar based breastfeeding group but it's huge now and there are no geographical boundaries so hit me up if you need someone to help with your questions or if you just want a laugh (some very funny ladies there too!)
I had been warned about the invisible toilets. They were my first port of call when I descended into Luna, the subterranean addition to Drury Street’s popular eatery Super Miss Sue.
My immediate inspection of the facilities was required by the weight of the growing person resting on my bladder. As predicted, I struggled to find the cubicles in the dark-wood panelled unisex bathroom so I resorted to waiting for another diner to emerge and hopping in after them.
The dimly lit interior is a feature of Luna, which models itself on a 1950s New York Italian-American bistro. The waiters wear plum coloured velvet tuxedos by Louis Copeland and our server was American, adding an air of authenticity. Despite contemporary background tunes, I half expected to see Sinatra and Dean Martin drinking martinis in one of the curved leather booths.
We booked last minute on a Saturday night after a booze fuelled rave review from a friend who said that the waiters were gorgeous and that she’d spent the night chatting to Bono, so we were quite happy just to be squeezed in at the bar where we could see all of the action.
Unusually for a new Dublin hot-spot, there was a limited choice of libations. There was a wine list (including somewhat gimmicky Prosecco on tap) and a Campari bar for aperitifs but no cocktails yet. (I think they have a cocktail list now though). My companion had a carafe of the perfectly serviceable on-tap Prosecco (€18.50) while I mostly abstained, just tasting his occasionally, for research purposes.
The comically oversized dinner menu is all in Italian but the staff helpfully explain each dish clearly before they take your order. We started with salume and sourdough (€14). It’s a generous selection of cured meats, including a particularly good five-week aged sirloin served in transparent slivers. My current condition means no cured meats so I tried three tiny but delicious lobster tortellini instead, swimming in a spicy ginger broth (€15).
My main course of truffle spaghetti (€30) was predictably rich and creamy but the tomato, n’duja and basil dish (€18) was the more flavoursome winner.
The retro styling allows dessert to be served from a trolley without too much pretension. The sweets make their way round the dining room as you eat. My companion initially declined dessert but while he was feeling his way around those toilets, I ordered him Italian style death by chocolate, a smooth layered creation of biscuit, mousse and ganache. Once again, his choice, albeit by proxy, was better than mine. My tiramisu was creamy and enjoyable with a coffee but a little bland.
Luna won ‘Best Restaurant in Ireland’ and ‘Best Customer Service’ at the Irish Restaurant Awards 2016, although we visited before that was announced. Of course, the gong for best restaurant is judged on more than just the food. The food at Luna is certainly good but in my view, the atmosphere and the service contributed strongly to its success. I can’t promise you the rat pack (although I’m reliably informed that Bono and his own pack of hangers-on ate there a couple of days before we did) but Luna is the place to see and be seen right now and it made for a stylish pre-partum date night.
Our meal including Prosecco and one decaffeinated Americano came to just under €115 (excluding service).
Luna at Super Miss Sue, Drury Street, Dublin 2 (www.supermisssue.com)
*Excuse the blurry old iPhone pics