Attachment parenting in a disconnected world

Archive for March, 2012

And then there were four

I actually have two children.  

I sometimes catch myself thinking “I’m really not grown-up enough for that kind of responsibility!” Not only one small person, wholly dependent on me and Alt.Father, but two of them.  Which means that we are a family of four (how convenient for theme park entry tickets!).  

When Alt.D1 was born, that amazing, indescribeable feeling of first seeing my own baby was a bit of a shock.  This was for real, and there would never be any going back ever again.  She was and is a fantastic force of nature, and I love her with all of my heart.  Which would be fine, except that when I was pregnant with Alt.D2, I suddenly realised that this love was going to have to be shared between Alt.D1 and the new baby.  I fretted that when the new one arrived, I couldn’t possibly feel the same as I had done the first time round.  I looked at my daughter and thought 
“She is my baby, what’s going on here?  What am I doing?”
Loving her with all my heart would surely not leave space for baby number two.

Then somebody told me not to worry, I would just grow a new heart when the next one arrived, just for them.  It turned out they were right and there is plenty to go around.  We have settled into four-ness quite nicely over the last six months, and it almost seems that things were always this way.

When Alt.D1 first met her baby sister, her main concern was where the legs were!  Being swaddled up, the new sister she had been waiting for so long to meet resembled a little caterpillar (certainly a hungry one!) and Alt.D1 ran a check thus:
“Aww, she’s got tiny little ears, and a tiny little nose, and tiny little fingers and tiny little hands, and tiny little… WHERE ARE HER LEGS?!” 
she was more than a little worried!

Having finally established that all parts of “her” baby were present and correct, Alt.D1 got on with the business of being a big sister.  This has not been without its difficulties as we’ve all of us been adjusting to Life As A Four.  Being 2 years 9 months old when your life is suddenly turned upside down by the arrival of a new person in your home can’t be easy.  I was sad to find that my happy, calm, friendly toddler turned into a grumpy, stroppy tantrum-ridden image of her former self.  To be frank, she was bored by the baby, who couldn’t do anything, wasn’t any fun to play with, and monopolised Mummy’s time.

As the months have gone past, this seems to have abated slightly, and while we still have our moments, Alt.D1 clearly adores her little sister, and Alt.D2 can’t get enough of the entertainment machine that is her big sis.  The biggest smiles are reserved for the funny faces she pulls and the noises she makes for her.  It warms my heart (or should that be hearts?) to see the little mop of blonde hair leaning over the little fluffy head as I hear silly talk being whispered into the baby’s ear and squeals of laughter in response.  Even at this stage, they are sharing private jokes!

Going along in the car yesterday, Alt.D1 said to me:

“Mummy, I have to take care of Alt.D2, don’t I?  And she has to take care of me, too.  Because we are sisters.”

I assured her that yes, this was true.  I started to think about the two of them, their relationship now, and what it will be, for the rest of their lives.  Who knows how many fights and scraps there will be, how many tears and slamming doors, how many hugs and giggles and shared confidences there will be in the years to come.  Through it all, they will always have each other, which is something else that I hadn’t considered before Alt.D2 came along.  They may not always like each other, but now there are two of them, it means that they will always. have. each. other. 

No matter what roller-coaster rides life takes them on.  

Siblings rock.



Roll over… roll over…

The one thing that I can confidently say about every parent, whatever their beliefs, is that we could all do with a little bit more sleep!  Here in the, we each have our own very different styles when it comes to sleep.  Whether this makes for harmonious times all depends of course on whether we are all actually asleep at the same time or not!

Alt.Father could sleep on the proverbial washing line.  His sleep habits have led us to wonder whether he was in fact quite possibly a cat in a former life.  A single shaft of golden sunshine falling across just about any kind of soft surface draws him in like a moth to a flame, and soon he is snoring gently.  He’s a big fan of quick naps and like a trusty Nokia phone a short charge-up leaves him re-energised and ready to go.

Whereas I can’t do naps at all.  A cat-nap for me will turn into a two hour zonk out from which I will wake slightly groggy and disoriented.  I’ll hold my eyelids open with matchsticks so that I can finish reading the last chapter of my book, and struggle with my self inflicted tiredness by being grumpy like a bear with a sore head the next day.  I love to sleep where it’s quiet and comfortable, although darkness isn’t mandatory.  A peaceful summer afternoon in the garden snoozing on a rug for a couple of hours would be absolute bliss.

Alt.D1 started off as a shocking sleeper.  Her preferred pattern was 20 minutes sleep at a time, day or night, with a lot of noise in between.  It would take us hours of pacing up and down in between those sleeps just to get her back down again.  Her sleep pattern was not unlike a series of delayed trains, with one sleep becoming so far gone as to roll into the next.  She settled down as she grew older, eventually taking morning and afternoon naps and at long last, bedtime in the evenings became a more predictable state of affairs.  Now she sleeps wrapped in snuggly duvets and blankets, legs and arms sometimes poking free, head sometimes at the foot of the bed and sometimes hanging off the side!

Alt.D2 was the opposite of her sister on arrival.  Sleeping for four hours at a time as a newborn, quickly making it known that she wasn’t hungry and just wanted to be put down to sleep.  We had made the decision to co-sleep before she was born, and she cuddles down comfortably in the evenings, sucking a thumb to send herself off.  We call her the “light police” though – no chance whatsoever of reading a book in bed for her parents, she’ll snuffle and squeak until we turn the light off!

Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, we used to frequently remind Alt.D1.  Somehow she always seemed to know when there was an early morning meeting for Alt.Father, and would choose that night to remain awake during the early hours, refusing to be put down, refusing to just GO TO SLEEP!  We tried all sorts of tricks: hot water bottles in her moses basket, warming the blankets in our bed, wrapping her up in my t-shirt… mostly to no avail.  We read up on all sorts of methods for encouraging good sleeping, including the No Cry Sleep Solution (although it wasn’t clear whether it was the parents or the babies doing the crying!), the Baby Whisperer, Babycalming, and the Dr Sears website.

Alt.D1 teaches Alt.Father the meaning of “share”

What worked for us?  Probably just the passage of time.  Alt.D1 did suffer from awful colic for many weeks, something I will probably write about another time, but that aside, things eventually just eased up.  We “gave up” on trying to get the baby into her own bed, and kept her in ours, moving her cot right up against the side of our bed with the bars removed like a little refuge she could be rolled into when she eventually dropped off to sleep.  Even then she was about 15 months old before she slept through a night (March 5th, 2010, I have it etched in my mind!) and sadly, it was a fluke!  We were like the line from that Alanis Morissette song “I’m tired but I’m working, yeah”.  Somehow, be it hormones, or adrenaline, or magic powers, we just kept going through the days and nights until things became easier of their own accord.

By the time Alt.D1 was 2, she was often sleeping through.  Sometimes it was in her own cot, in her own room, and sometimes it was in our bed, but sleep is sleep, as far as I am concerned!  We started to think about having another baby.  We reasoned that the sleep deprivation couldn’t be as bad as the first time around, and anyway, if it was, we would be prepared for it.  We bought a bigger bed.  Plenty of room for all of us.

Alt.D2 had a lovely moses basket.  I used it for storing my laptop, phone and book in.  Whilst we were in the maternity hospital, we had been tucked up in the bed together by the midwives, and she had slept beautifully, nestled into the crook of my arm.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, they say, so we continued that way once we came home.  I read Deborah Jackson’s “Three in a Bed” which reassured us that this was the right thing to do.  It’s working out ok so far, although Alt.D2 hasn’t yet begun to roll!  A much easier life for all of us, and still space when Alt.D1 decides she wants in on the action, too!

Co-sleeping isn’t for everyone.  You do need to be careful, as although you are unlikely to roll on the baby and squash them as many people fear, it is not without its risks.  The NHS current guidelines are that the safest place for your baby to sleep for its first six months is in its own cot in its parents’ bedroom.  There is more information available here about sharing a bed with your baby.  Statistically, mothers who co-sleep breastfeed for longer (probably because they are not driven half mad by lack of sleep!) so there are health benefits, too.

In most parts of the world, babies sleep with their parents, and it does make sense, really.  For 9 months they were inside their mother, then all of a sudden, they are out in the big wide world.  They feel safer, calmer and more relaxed when next to their parents, making sleep come more easily and life a little better for everyone!

I will leave you with a clip that sums it all up.  Michael McIntyre on children’s bedtimes:

Sleep well, all.

All The Very Best

Sometimes when you are passionate about something, it’s hard to remain objective.  Especially when the “thing” is something that only 1% of the UK population do, and when you wish everyone could do it because the benefits are so great.

I am proud to say that my second daughter is among the 1% of UK babies who have been exclusively breastfed to the age of six months.  This has been a journey for our family which started before the birth of Alt.D1, and which will continue until, for now, Alt.D2 decides she’s had enough.  

Yesterday I came across this article in the British Medical Journal, wherein the authors detail their findings in research on how the idealistic “breast is best for 6 months” message compares with familes’ experiences in the real world.  It’s a fairly hefty article, but the comments made by the women and their families (partners, mothers, sisters) make interesting reading.  The conclusion drawn by the authors is that despite the all pervading “Breast Is Best” message given to parents, there is not always the support available to enable breastfeeding to be confidently established and continued. 
I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree.  BBC3’s excellent documentary “Is Breast Best?” summed up the presenter’s own experiences:
“If you’re experiencing incredible pain, it’s not okay to go through that.  It’s not something you should just swallow and suck up.  I wish I had asked for help. I wish, I wish, I wish I had gone and asked for help and not just suffered in silence.”

It is noteworthy that this investigation centred on families, rather than just women themselves.  For me, and I know that if you ask Alt.Father, he will say the same, support for breastfeeding involves the whole family.  That is not to say that the decision necessarily involves the family, despite well meaning titbits of advice (no pun intended!) from elderly relatives!  What I mean to say is that the father’s role in a breastfeeding family should never be under-estimated.  Without the unending support of Alt.Father, I would not be where I am today.
I’d like to share the story of our journey, and you’ll see where I’m coming from.
My mum told me that when I was born, a nurse held me up and said 
“This baby will never breastfeed, look at the shape of her mouth!”
This was 32 years ago, to a stressed out, confused new young mother, who was trying and struggling to feed her new baby.  Yet despite this blow to her confidence, Mum struggled on and succeeded, managing to feed me for 9 months, and subsequently both of my younger siblings.
So it was with her in my mind that I tentatively pressed the buzzer in the hospital ward time after time during the first 24 hours of Alt.D1’s life.  I called for help, and each time someone different arrived at my bedside, giving me different advice, or no advice at all.
“Is this your first baby?” asked one nurse, “you’re very confident.”
I didn’t feel very confident.  I felt like I didn’t have a clue what I was doing!  My baby was waking every hour, making a noise in an overheated room full of other women without babies (mixed ante-natal and post-natal ward).  I couldn’t tell if she was getting anything from me.  I was sore, tired and lonely.  At 4am, when I hadn’t really slept for 2 days, a heathcare assistant asked me
“Have you got bottles at home?” and fed formula to my baby from a cup.  Alt.D1 slept.  In tears, I sent a text message to Alt.Father:

They just gave her some formula.  I didn’t want to do that.  I feel like the worst mother and she isn’t 1 day old yet.” 
In 30 years, nothing had changed.
I was lucky though.  The following morning, Alt.Father collected us from the Big Hospital and took us to our local midwife led maternity unit.  Still sore and sad, I was shown by my trusted community midwife how to hand express the rich golden colosturum and give it to the baby.  Over the next five days, I was given so much help and support by wonderful women who knew about breastfeeding.  I pressed the bell 100 times, maybe 200 times and I didn’t feel guilty, I felt supported.  I was struggling, but I was supported.
We left the unit with a medical grade pump and Alt.D1 on bottles of expressed milk.  As fast as I was pumping, she was drinking it.  We supplemented with formula, and I spent hours each day in tears, hooked up to a machine.  Alt.Father fed the baby, who cried a lot.
Then the day came of our local Breastfeeding Support group.  The three of us toddled along, and were made welcome, despite the bottles we were reliant on.  We tried “biological nurturing”, allowing the baby to seek out its own feed.  We all felt more confident.  Alt.Father commented at the time that it’s all very well telling us breastfeeding is best for your baby, but nobody had told us just how hard it could be.
With perseverence and the aid of nipple shields (sometimes controversial as they can affect milk supply) we mastered it.  Alt.D1 went on to breastfeed past her 2nd birthday, as if she had read the World Health Organisation guidelines herself!
By the time Alt.D2 was born, I had become involved with the breastfeeding support group, and had attended a training course for Peer Supporters of breastfeeding families.  I was armed and ready to feed my new baby from the moment she was born.  Every squeak she made, I latched her on.  She and I got the hang of it and never looked back.  This time, I proudly read the words “confident mum” written in my hospital notes at the maternity unit, and was pleased that I did indeed feel quietly confident with the breastfeeding aspect (if nothing else!).
So it was with a little sadness but without surprise that I read the BMJ article.  New mums, dads and babies need support.  Healthcare professionals need more training.  They need to care about this.  We are the “alternative” 1% of a population that exists because their forebears did something that like it or not is natural for 100% of the human species.  It’s up to us to encourage our children, daughters and sons alike, to get these figures up.  Let’s hope that in another 30 years’ time, something will have changed.

If you are reading this blog and wondering where you can get help near you, here are some useful links:

NCT Breastfeeding Helpline:  0300 330 0771
Open 8am – 10pm, 7 days a week
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers helpline:  08444 122 949
Open 9.30am – 10.30pm, 7 days a week
Breastfeeding Network Supporterline: 0844 412 4664
Open 9.30am – 9.30pm, 7 days a week

La Leche League: 0845 120 2918


Contented Little Whatnot…

I think I should probably open this week’s post with a disclaimer.  I have not read Gina Ford’s new book, nor do I intend to do so.  As a brand-new first-time mother, I did read the first couple of chapters of the other book, and very quickly realised it was not for me.  Alt.Father was lent a copy by a workmate on his return from paternity leave.  He gave it back, nodding and smiling as he did so.  Thanks, but no thanks.  Despite the bizarre love affair that the Daily Mail seems to have with Gina Ford, it does not seem to have escaped the notice of the general public that “Britain’s No 1 Parenting Author” is not a parent.  Now she is also apparently a relationship guru despite also being divorced.  I have learned that reading the Daily Fail, I mean, Daily Mail does nothing but make me angry and ranty.  It certainly does not make me contented!

Also, let me be perfectly honest, I may have harboured one or two judgmental thoughts about those who adhere to Ms Ford’s advice.  It’s none of my business how they choose to raise their babies, I only need to worry about my own babies.  For that, I am sorry.

I am not sorry though, that Alt.Father and I chose pretty much the polar opposite of the regimented routine based parenting style advocated in those books.  Somehow, both of our daughters seem to be perfectly contented little people.  And there in a nutshell is my point.  Babies are people, not pets.  Instead of training them, we need to train ourselves as parents, to respond to their needs.  That is the way we can truly be content.

When I hear my child crying, I am far from content. I am edgy, nervous, unsettled, until I know that she is unharmed and soothed.  If I want to teach her that there is no need to cry, I will do so by teaching her that I will respond to her needs.  “Use words” I find myself saying to Alt.D1 when she is frustrated.  She takes a deep breath and usually manages to express what’s wrong in coherent language.  At 3, she can do so.  At 6 months, Alt.D2 is less able to communicate.  Or is she?  I often hear that babies cry “because it is the only way they know how to communicate”.

Actually, I would disagree.  Alt.D2 astonished me in the first few weeks with the way she hardly ever cried to be fed.   As she is my second baby, she has very much had to go with the flow in the house, being dragged along here and there with her sister.  Yet somehow from even the earliest days, she and I had a communication going which let me know when she was hungry.  Then I would feed her.  I certainly didn’t add to my own agitation as well as hers by making her wait until a pre-determined time slot for her feed!  This has since developed and I know her cues for tiredness, boredom, comfort, and countless others.  We just co-exist, we just are.

Relying on your instincts could be considered a brave choice, whether for better or for worse.  It’s certainly something advocated by the author Jean Liedloff in her book The Continuum Concept.   This kind of instinctive parenting has been lost to most of the Western world as we’ve become increasingly keen to fit our babies and children into our busy, structured lives, somehow forgetting that perhaps nature intended us to listen to what our babies are trying to tell us.  “Happy Baby, Happy Mummy” is all well and good, but if that “happiness” is achieved by conforming to a recipe, how much guilt and discontent must be underlying? 

So Gina Ford now seeks to remind us that our relationship with our partner is going to change when we have children.  She encourages us to start leaving the baby with others soon after birth, to take time together as a couple, before resentment starts to set in… well thanks, Ms Ford, for the vote of confidence!  For the suggestion I might have forgotten about the person I have chosen to build my life with, to have children with, and to grow old with.  Contentment in this relationship might have less to do with being able to leave the children with a babysitter, [not conducive to breastfeeding, anyway!] and more to do with the fact that caring about and caring for each other when you have young children is enough.  It’s just enough to think to say “I love you” and “thank you” every day to your partner, and to know that he will be there and she will be there when these babies have grown and flown the nest.

If I am going to be content (and I am, thanks!), I really don’t think that heaping on the guilt is the way to go about achieving that goal.

Rant over, Alt.Mother resolving not to follow links to the Daily Mail website this week, in order to return to positive stories of alternative parenting next Friday!  

The Annoying Thing

In the Alt.House at the moment, The Annoying Thing is a small four legged wooden stool.  Reminiscent of a miniaturised school science lab stool, it stands about 12 inches tall, and mainly serves as a pain in the proverbial.  It gets in the way, constantly under foot, never put back where it is supposed to live, a permanent trip hazard in a house already plenty hazardous enough. Alt.Father has on more than one occasion threatened to reduce it to firewood having tripped over it for the 59,785th time in the same day, but somehow we’ve managed to keep it. 

In itself, the stool (or “the Standing”) as Alt.D1 refers to it, is perfectly innocuous.  It was bought from Ikea as a helpful aide for the short people (she and I!) in this house to Reach Things.  And therein lies the problem.  Alt.D1 can reach things.  Lots of things, that she probably ought not be able to reach.  The location of the Standing at any one moment in time is a clue to what might have been going on.

Example of case in point:  

I am trapped, breastfeeding Alt.D2 on the sofa, out of line of sight of the kitchen.  I hear the Standing being taken from its hiding place.  My ears prick up.  I hear a cupboard door, the clink of glasses and the thud of the fridge being opened and closed.

“Alt.D1…” I say, tentatively, “what are you doing?” (of course I know full well what she’s doing, but still).  The response comes:
“I’m making a drink, Mummy”  
Now, I’m quite happy for her to have a drink any time, but in order to pretend I have some kind of control, or minimise chaos at the very least, I’d like her to get permission.
“Really you should ask me first, you know?”  I call back.  A little face appears at the door, eyes wide.
“I’m sorry, Mummy,”  she says, seriously, “would you like a drink, too?”

Of course this made me chuckle to myself, but I said “yes please” and was presented very carefully a few moments later with half a glass of apple juice.  Just what I needed!

I was incredibly proud of her for being so thoughtful, but realised at that point that the Standing had the potential to unleash all kinds of trouble and mischief!  Since then, she’s used it to make herself a sandwich (yes, really, bread, marmite, a butter knife and a plate) and to hang keys on the key rack.  It’s been used “to check how many eggs were in there!” (not quite so successful, that one!) and latterly, as part of some kind of energy saving drive, to switch the fridge off at the mains.

Whilst I was not quite so appreciative of the broken egg or the notion that I was going to have to shell out (no pun intended there!) for a new fridge, the role of the Standing, AKA the Annoying Thing, has got me thinking about independence.

Alt.D1 is 3 years old, and it seems the only thing that is currently holding her back is her tiny stature (and she is quite small for her age).  Should we also be holding her back?  Hovering over her, telling her it’s not safe for her to do this or that?  There’s a school of thought which says that if we tell children that something will happen to them, then it will.  For example, “get down or you’ll fall off!” is inevitably followed by that parental gem “see, what did I tell you?” whilst said child is being scraped up off the floor.

Alt.D1 knows that some knives are sharp.  I’ve told her, and shown her.  She knows to choose a flat, blunt butter knife to make her sandwich.  If she’s doing it while I am otherwise occupied with the baby (and man small kids are quick!) there is every chance she’ll be successful and come through it unscathed.  Should I be taking away that learning opportunity for the sake of safety?  Somehow I don’t think so.  (I’ve moved the sharp knives, though, just in case!). 

So the Standing is helping my daughter to grow, if not in actual height, but in independence.  Long may it continue to do so, unless of course it ends up as firewood!

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