The Moopet Files

It has been so long since I last wrote blog posts, that I want to get some Moopetisms down before I forget them.

She is now 17 months old and oh, so cute! She can stand up now, and looks at us with a wide grin, seeking our applause, which we readily oblige with. Walking is going to start soon – we don’t know when, but the elements are there.

She is very affectionate. She kisses babies, other children, people’s knees. She wants to pat them and it is my job to stop her from going for the eyes but still encourage her lovingness.

She has lots of words and understands more. I give her relatively complicated instructions (yesterday afternoon: play with shapes? Go get shapes and the ball and we can play with them. And off she goes. Or she says “draw?” pointing to the high shelf where the crayons live. And I say: if you draw on the floor mummy will take the crayons away. And so on. Obviously a child genius 😉

She sings. She sings especially on her way to sleep, but also at any other opportunity – if I start singing, or if there is a song on the stereo. She still mimics sounds as she has since we counted her age in weeks: dad’s cough, the car engine, the microwave, the seagulls….

Her favourite DVD (and only DVD) is “Baby learns Chinese.” When the green screen with the DVD warning comes on, she looks at me with a big smile, as if she can’t believe it is going to happen.

Who knew that it would just keep getting better and better? She is so much fun and so interactive! I can’t believe how much I love her.

We have started taking her to a music session, which she LOVES. The whole time she grins at the music teacher (from the safety of my lap or its surrounds), revelling in all the sound. She dances and sings along, and when the silky parachute comes out, it is all I can do to keep her from crawling right on to it to be buoyed up by all the mothers.

She is our delight. She is cheeky and wilful and a little bit complicated. She is thoughtful and perseverant and smart. She is manipulative and coy and thoughtful. She is the Moopet package, all in one.

Sleep training

I have had a few friends ask about sleep training and emailed them my notes. I thought I would post them here too, in case anyone else finds them useful. I got a lot of advice from friends myself, especially Kate Pounder, for which I am eternally grateful. Also, I drew a lot of this from Baby Love, by Robin Barker, and Sleep Sense. And of course we nuanced it to suit our little bubba. We did the training at 12 weeks – some say to wait, but we couldn’t any more, as Ellie was refusing to sleep at all by then. Please add your advice too – every baby is different as we all know too well!

Here are some of my top tips for sleep training:

The objective is to teach your baby how to fall asleep on her own, in her cot. You want her to know her parents are never far away, and meanwhile, she is safe in her cot and able to fall asleep and go back to sleep, all by herself, from one sleep cycle to the next.

For the night time sleep: the book says that once the baby is about 6 kgs, they can sleep through the night i.e. 12 hours. Some babies may not last that long without a feed – you are going to be the best judge of this.

The following advice applies to the night time sleep AND naps. We found it was best to be consistent for naps and the night time sleep, so Ellie really got the message.

1. Make sure her room is quiet and dark. You may need to put up a blanket over the blinds. Make sure there is nothing in the cot apart from the mattress and sheet – no toys, no mobiles. No longer use dummies or any other pacifiers. If you need a sleep prop because the baby doesn’t suck her thumb, then use a small soft cloth or blanket, which the baby associates with sleep. But nothing that you are going to have to replace every hour (like a dummy) – use something they can get hold of themselves if they wake during the night and need it.

2. Make sure she is getting sleepy but is still awake before you put her in the cot. This means if possible, no falling asleep whilst feeding – I used to tickle Ellie’s feet so she did not fall asleep while feeding!

3. Have a simple routine pre-nap and night-time sleep. Eg for naps, we would always pick Ellie up, rock her a bit by the window saying “sssh” for about 30 seconds. Then we would put her in her sleeping bag and put her in the cot, all the while saying “ssh” and using the same words, e.g. “nap time” for naps and “sleepy time, night night” for the night time sleep. The night time sleep routine was a bit longer – i.e. when we thought she had about 20 minutes left of her awake time, we would do dinner, then bath, then feed, then the rocking/sssh ssh. We would always make the living room relatively dark before the night time sleep too – so when she came out of the bath, she understood that it was now night time.

4. When you put her in her cot, just give her a quick pat and ssh and then leave. Don’t linger. She is now learning to go to sleep by herself, without your help. If she starts crying once she is in the cot, wait for about 10 minutes if you can, before you go in to soothe her. If 10 minutes is a bit too hard on you, then try for 6.

5. When you go in to soothe her, just pat her a bit on the chest, whilst ssshing. Don’t spend too long there – less than a minute. You don’t even have to wait until he has stopped crying.

She will probably start crying again (if she ever stopped!). Try to wait a bit longer this time before you go in again. The books recommend you give her 10 minutes, then 20 minutes, then 30 minutes and so on. I say, just try to wait a bit longer each time – but do what is best for you. DO NOT PICK THE BABY UP unless there might be something wrong – e.g. poopy nappy – then you address this and put the baby straight back to bed. Do NOT feed the baby – if you really think she is thirsty, then give her some water in a bottle. She has to learn that crying, when you can reasonably assume she should be sleeping, will not lead to rewards any more.

6. Do the same things for naps. The key with naps is, DO NOT pick her up until she has been asleep. You now only reward SLEEP with being picked up, and nothing else. She might wake up after one cycle, and make some noises. Try and gauge whether these are “I am up and awake!” noises, or tired noises. If you think they are tired noises, you can ignore her and see if she re-settles. If she doesn’t resettle and actually starts full-on crying, but you think she should still be asleep, you can repeat the above process of patting, then leaving her for 10 minutes, etc. Personally I found this a bit hard to keep up for naps, so I would let her get up after one cycle if she seemed to be awake. This sometimes meant the next awake period was a bit cranky, but once she is up, she is up – no going to sleep on mummy, or ANYWHERE but the cot.

7. Once you start this training, try to stick to it as much as you can. Otherwise you are putting yourself through all sorts of agonies for nothing!

Tired signs:

Here is some stuff you probably already know, but anyhow…

By about three months of age, babies can really only stay awake for about 1.5 hours. Ellie could sustain a bit less e.g. about 1.25 hours, but some babies can last longer. You are the best judge. Basically, by around 3 months, I would wait for the first yawn after an hour. As soon as I saw the second yawn, it was nap time. Other tired signs are not wanting to hold eye contact any more; grizzling; balling hand into fists; arching back. Once they start arching their backs, there is a good chance they are overtired and might cry a bit when they are put down. So be prepared for that :-).

Make sure the baby has expended a bit of energy whilst awake – e.g. wriggling, rolling, crawling, bouncing…. Otherwise they might not feel like sleeping even though they are tired (we have all been there…)

Night time waking:

You know best if your baby still needs feeds during the night. With Ellie, she didn’t really need night time feeds after 3 months. I knew this because once or twice, she woke up crying because there was a thunderstorm, so I went in to comfort her (I thought that was a reasonable reason for waking up, and warranted a cuddle) and offered her some milk, which she wasn’t really into. This happened twice, so I knew she wasn’t waking because she was hungry – so I knew I could leave her to sleep all night, even if she woke up and cried.

For night time waking, if you don’t think it is because of legitimate hunger, then repeat the same process outlined above in steps 4 and 5. Only get the baby up if you think there eight be something wrong – e.g. the baby has a cold and might need a drink of water, or has a poopy nappy, or a thunderstorm scared them awake. If you do get the baby up, don’t keep them up long, and don’t give them milk (unless you really think they are hungry). I would check Ellie’s nappy, keeping her in her room and keeping the lights low but bright enough for her to see me or Yen (for reassurance). Once we checked the nappy, offered her some water, and checked she was OK, she would be straight back into the sleeping bag, rock rock, sssh, then back in the cot.

Repeat:

Ellie got the hang of this after a few nights initially, but would keep crying for up to an hour some nights, for the next month. We just kept doing the same thing. Every few weeks, she would cry for up to an hour at the night-time bedtime, right until the age of about 12 months. This would happen if she was overtired, or if she was going through a “wonder week” (developmental phase). Sometimes she would wake in the middle of the night and cry for up to an hour. We just kept doing the same thing.

Self-soothing:

At about 10-12 weeks, Ellie started sucking her thumb. That was fantastic. If your baby doesn’t suck her thumb, she might like a security blanket (a small soft cloth) to hold or suck which she can associate with bed time. If you give her this, make sure it is something you can easily get a replica of in case you ever lose it. Do NOT give her a dummy or anything you will have to keep putting back in her mouth. Giv her something she can grab for herself.

Sleep cycles:

Again you probably know this, but babies have sleep cycles of about 45-50 minutes. The first 20-25 minutes they are sort of dozing, so they can be accidentally woken really easily – you need to be fairly quiet! They will grizzle and cry and grumble too, or sing and coo. Ignore it unless it becomes proper crying, and then you start the 10 minutes, 20 minutes etc routine.

At about 20-25 minutes, they will fall asleep deeply for about 10 minutes. Yay!

hen they start coming back out of this for the remaining 20-25 minutes – sort of like dozing.

At about 45-50 minutes, they wake up fully and need to be able to get themselves back to sleep – this goes for naps and night-time, if the nap is meant to be longer than one cycle. This is where all your hard work pays off, because they have learned to get themselves back to sleep and don’t need your help.

Ellie went through a phase, at about 6 or 8 months I think, of only napping for one cycle at a time, four times a day. Before that, she had been having 2 hour naps or thereabouts. Eventually she consolidated again and had one or two longer naps of about 1.5 hours. I used to get her up when I thought she “sounded” awake – a bit hit and miss, but I wanted her to learn that she does get picked up after sleeping, if she is genuinely awake.

Naps:

They are all different of course. Ellie was a good napper after she did the sleep training – I think she had a lot of catching up to do! She used to nap for a couple of hours at a time, with a shorter nap in the late afternoon. I think she used to nap four times a day, until she was about 6 months, then 3 times a day until she was about 9 or 10 months, and then 2 times a day (she still lodes this, but is in the process of dropping a nap).

The transitions to fewer naps can be tricky – when Ellie was dropping her late afternoon nap and going to 2 naps, I kept putting her down for the third nap because she was tired, but she would cry for about 50 minutes, not wanting to sleep. This left me in a bind because it was getting too late in the day to wait her out until she fell asleep, but if I didn’t, I would be rewarding crying and getting her up before she had fallen asleep! This was tricky because we started to undo some of the training – she started to cry before her night time sleep again.

So we stretched put her awake times for the morning and midday sessions, and dropped the third nap altogether – better to keep her up rather than undo her sleep training. So that worked.

Abandoning Moopet to Childcare

My arms and shoulders ache. I imagine it is from abandoning, deserting, throwing Moopet into the baby jail, behind the playpen bars of her new family day care place.

Actually, my husband did the heavy lifting of Moopet into the playpen, as I have bronchitis – and it may be this making my muscles ache rather than metaphors.

But nevertheless. My husband and I drove home in silence, which I intermittently interrupted with a status update on my emotions. “I am sad,” I announced, as we joined the main road. My husband squeezed my hand. “Now I feel depressed,” as we climbed the hill towards our house. My husband in response tried to fill the role of the jocular, rational one, but then said when we got home, “Poor thing. I am sorry, I shouldn’t start. But when she cries, I just want to pick her up and cuddle her too.”

We both plucked up as we thought of the benefits to Moopet. As an only child, she likes being around other kids (but can’t I just take her to more playgroups?) And it is good for her to spend time with other adults too and learn how to nap somewhere that is not her own room. And – what was the other thing – oh yes, we remembered how awful we felt when we sleep trained her, but how beneficial that was to her and us. We told ourselves that, back in tribal days, babies would have been cared for by a few adults while the rest went off to hunt, or gather (But couldn’t that adult be me? To which my husband asked, “Do you want to start a family day care centre here?” And I said, “No.”)

It is a bind you see. I want to work and do my PhD. Taking care of five kids in my home so I can be with my Moopet would be a step too far.

I hate, have always hated, these calculations of benefit. I have done them all my life. With a disabled sister, you ask yourself: what would be the benefit to her of me staying here in Qld versus the emotional cost to me of doing so? Always I come out on the side of me. There is an arrogance to assuming you can make a person happy.

Now here I am, back at my desk, writing about it while my Moopet plays with someone else’s mum. Here is the heart of it: I am jealous of others being loved by my Moopet. I want it all to myself! Also, I want to do the best thing by her. And finally, she is growing up, and I just seem to have sped that up, sending her away from me before she was ready to go of her own accord. I like to hold on to people until they wrench themselves away so I can always be the one saying good-bye.

I dramatise. I do it because these are words, you see, words to fill the gap between heart and the outside world. Maybe I should have stuck to describing the body blows. My chest hurts – I have strained a muscle in there, I am sure of it – the one which stretches the further away your baby goes. I reassure myself that I love my Moopet, and all this will work out.

A final note: I called the carer when we got home. She told me that Moopet had stopped crying as soon as we left. She is now eating some raisin toast. So I have taught her two good things to see her through this next stage of her independent existence: one, that there is always solace to be had from warm bread; and two, that we would never leave her with someone who did not know this and other, simple truths.

Childcare take 2

It’s been about a million years (in baby time) since I last blogged. Bubba is now 13 months old, and such a different little proposition to how she began. I think I need to find another bloggy pseudonym for her, seeing as she is not going to be a bubba for much longer. How about Moopet?

Weaning Moopet

It had to happen, and so we did it. Over a period of a month, I weaned Moopet, and Moopet weaned me a little slower. I gradually dropped feeds, until we were down to one a day, and she started to reject the boob entirely at that point – obviously there was not enough in it for her any more. I felt OK – I had done it slowly enough to feel like it had been my decision. It was just before she turned one. I was needing to go do more meetings, and wanting to be able to claim a day to myself again – a whole day, with no need to be any place to feed her within a few hours.

And then there we were. My husband took over four of the seven morning shifts, and I slept in for the first time in a year. The first day, I still got up at 7 am. I just couldn’t help it, and it felt like such a sleep in as it was! Now, two months later, and I find it hard to get up for my early morning shifts at all, and often I go back to bed for an extra nap when Moopet does. Unbelievable – the sleeper in me was just biding her time all along, waiting to be reborn.


Second babies

I held a friend’s newborn a few weeks ago. He waved his little fists, and tried to focus his eyes on the light from the window. Whilst I was extremely happy for my friends, I did not feel the maternal rush I had expected. I had imagined I would be swamped with a hormonal urge to have another baby. As soon as I weaned Moopet, I had desperately wanted another child, even though my mind wasn’t convinced. This is how it went: my husband wasn’t keen on the idea of a second baby, although we both thought it would be good to keep an open mind and see how we feel in a couple of years. But I wanted to be the one who was being refused, so I could retain any copyright over regret and blame when we are old and grey.

In reality, it was like this: I didn’t want, I don’t want, another baby. That’s not strictly true – I would LOVE another baby. But I do not want to have a life which involves having two children. I don’t want that life. I can see it now for what it would be: busy. I always thought I would have two kids, and I may still (and if I do, it will be because I dearly want you , second child, so if you are reading this, know that this was just what I was thinking for a short period of my life, before I met you). I thought for about a week that I was pregnant, last week, and that as when I truly realised that I don’t want another child. I am totally in love with Moopet – I am besotted in a way I could never be with anyone else. I look at her al the time – I can’t look away. I get bored, and annoyed, and often anxious that I can’t do it – but I repeat the same songs over with her and it is still fun. I don’t want her to grow up, and leave me. I know the day will come when she won’t look back, and i want that day, and I want her to be so well grounded that she does not need to look back. But I don’t want that day to come.

And yet I do not want to have a second child. I feel kind of like a big wuss – like, everyone has two, so we should too. But also, I think of it like this: my husband and I have a great life right now. Families of yore used to have too many kids (8, 9, 10 kids) and the stress was too much for the family. We have jobs with no security of income. and we don’t want jobs with security of income. So maybe for us, two kids may be the equivalent of 8, 9 or 10 in the olden days. Two may be too many. We are keeping an open mind and all may be different in a couple of years and if I did fall pregnant I would be overjoyed. But I also relinquish all rights to blame and regret. Equal partnerships have no room for people who are not making decisions for themselves.

Childcare Take Two

We just got a phone call that we might have a place in family day care for Moopet. This is good news. We are currently paying more than we can afford, for nine hours of babysitting a week. There is no rebate for this, but we need it to get a minimum of work done. We have been hoping for a place in one of the day care centres which have a higher carer to child ratio, but that is not looking likely. And with the phone call, came all the attendant fears and preparations for regret. She is bigger now, and more robust. She likes other kids now. But how will she go, one amongst five? And will she get enough attention? And will she nap or will she be ropable by the end of the day? Our little Moopet, into the world without us. Too soon! My husband and I are both already sad. So we revisit our work. Do we really need to do all of this? Can we survive on less for another few years? We will look at it, but I already know the answer.

Moopet-isms

Having a baby is so much fun. Moopet does lots of cool things now.

1. She comes in for cuddles. My heart melts whenever she does and I hold her for just a bit too long, and kiss her a bit too hard, hoping that she will always want to be near her mumma, yet also hoping she will be OK without me.

2. She has words. She has a whole bunch of words, and is trying to say a whole bunch more. Moopet was always a sound and music and word baby, not a walker. She is still crawling, as a matter of fact. But she can say nom nom, for food, and nana, for banana, and pe, for pear. She just started saying no, for nose, and mo, for more, and for a long time she has said No and Mumma and Dadda. there are a range more but I don’t want to sound boastful. She is doing fart kisses like there is no tomorrow, and like her parents, she laughs at her own jokes.

3. She is really, very cute. Her hair stands up in an Astroboy peak. She sings and has favourite songs and games. She plays with her baby doll, saying “baby,” and patting it and kissing it and cuddling it, just as we do with her, which makes me feel like a (relieved) good mum. She crawls to people after a few minutes of getting to know them, and taps them lightly, before crawling back to mumma or dadda and facing the other way, sucking her thumb furiously, taking a bit of time out from all the excitement before going back for more. We love her and we tell her so and it is so easy to start a new way of loving which is open and free because she doesn’t know any other way, so we can be new too.

Childcare

We have cancelled bubba’s place in family day care. I will explain.

My big caveat here for this post is that I absolutely do not want anyone to read this and feel that our decision is any sort of judgment on theirs to use childcare. At ALL. Just as with the bottle vs breastfeeding, I think that we can all care for our children in whatever way works, and as long as the bub is fed and loved, she will be just fine.

We took bubba to day care three times: once to meet the carer, who was absolutely lovely. We wanted family day care as it seemed more homey, and like it may offer more scope for attention to the individual children. Then we took bubba for a test run, where I stayed with her for two hours and then we tried to settle her for a nap (see my last post about childcare). That day, there was only one other boy there, as it was still ramp up time for the carer. Bubba was perfectly happy to play, as long as I was there. She would not settle for a nap under any circumstances. We then had to go away for a week, but upon return took bubba back again. This time she was again happy to play, even though there were now three other kids there (and another would start the following week). Whenever I was out of sight for a brief moment, such as going to the loo or putting together her familiar portacot (in an attempt to help her nap better), she screamed until I returned. The nap was a failure again.

This time, when I went home, I had to face some realities. I want bubba to adjust to daycare, and with time she probably will. But the daycare we had chosen was not right for her and won’t be until she is big enough to feed herself, and get around, and communicate – basically, until she is about 18 months old or thereabouts. The carer was lovely, but does not have the time to take care of a bubba of our bub’s age – 10 months.

We are now looking at our options. We are going to visit a day care centre and see what the babies room is like. From this experience, we have learned that actually, a formal centre may be better than a family day care environment, if it means a dedicated room for babies of our bubba’s age group. We are also looking for babysitters who can come and babysit bubba at our home for two hour slots, two or three times a week. This is going to be an expensive option as it is not eligible for government rebates. But it might at least get our bubba used to being cared for by another adult. We have the luxury of doing this, because we work from home and so we can be flexible.

Part of me wants my bubba to learn how to be around others more quickly. I am impatient for her success. I feel like it is a failure that she has not been able to adjust and that we have to take “baby steps.” I feel indulgent; I feel extremely Western. There is something which rears up inside of me and scoffs at my “transition,” something which fears turning my baby into an over-protected princess/sissy: something vaguely working class, coal-coloured, something that looks a lot like my hardworking dad and his sacrificial ways: something about sucking it up, and getting on with it. Something about not wanting to be on the receiving end of those condescending glances I liked to give to those helicopter parents I swore I would not become.

I don’t really need to excorcise these particular demons at the expense of my bubba, whom I love and in actual fact, I don’t want to part with that much, anyway. She may be the only baby I ever have; in fact it is quite likely.

And we do have the flexibility to ease bubba into this. So we will work with a babysitter to get her used to other adults, because she has had so little exposure to anyone outside of me and my husband. We will take her to playgroups, to get her used to being around other kids. Gradually and eventually, we will get her across the line and into childcare.

The current approach to childcare does bother me, though, in the same way that all the state infrastructure around having a baby once bothered me. Economies of scale and the way in which we support individual freedom means that the state now provides the types of services that once your village would have: child care, mothers groups, playgroups and so on. This is wonderful in the breadth of expertise available at low cost to us all. But it is sad also that these things are part of a market economy at all. I wonder if there is a website where mums in their local area can connect and share their children’s care: either through sharing nannies, or directly by working out their work days so that they can not just job share but child-share. Hmm. Time for some interweb research – maybe there is another solution to my childcare dilemma after all.

First day of childcare

We had our first attempt at childcare today. In the morning, I was feeling a deep, echoing sort of sadness, the type of melancholy which threatens to gush up like an oil well, the deeps of which would make you a wealthy woman if you could trade in those sorts of riches. I took a deep breath, and reminded myself what Margaret, my PND counsellor used to say: “Approach, don’t avoid.” I also skyped Julie this morning in London, who reminded me that this could just be one step – a day, a few hours really, at someone’s house, playing. I didn’t have to make more of it than that. I didn’t have to think about all the days to come, when my baby might be crying for me, or I for her.

I have been re-reading Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, and taking bubba to childcare reminded me of his description of the feeling a human got when pulled too far away from her soul – she would ache with the deepest longing, like an elastic band stretched too far.

OK, so maybe that’s a bit melodramatic. But the thought ran through my head, driving down to Kristy’s house.

By the time we got there it was about 10.15 am and I had already been through all the reasons in my head why this would not work out. When we entered, I put bubba on the playroom floor and sat down a few paces away. Most uncharacteristically, bubba did not cry. She did not cry, in fact, for a full hour – and then she whinged, just because she was hungry. She played. She touched Kristy. She sang, eventually, in her own way – the bababa lalala way she has of imitating sounds. She watched the other little boy play (the other kids will start after school holidays), and occasionally looked as though she might like to play with him too, except he was busy packing and unpacking the toy supermarket.

True that she checked where I was sometimes. True that she whinged for her breastfeed at the usual time. And when she started getting tired, I carried her around a bit while Kristy fed the other child his lunch.

I grew cocky. I decided to experiment with putting her down for a nap. I bundled her into her sleeping bag and put her in the portacot. She cried, for about a minute or two, then went quiet once she found her thumb. I grew cockier still. I went out to lunch, calling my husband from the cafe with a positive report. And then I found myself, with my child cared for by someone else, and with nowhere I needed to be for another 30 minutes.

My mind expanded with the possibilities. I had only hoped for two hours of childcare, two days a week to begin with, afraid that bubba would not handle much more than that. Now, I started to think what might be possible if I did not have to breastfeed. If she grew accustomed to the bottle? If she learned to take this midday nap at Kristy’s? If, in short, she grew used to childcare? The hardest moment had been watching the other boy cry for his daddy – then I felt the guilt reignite – but he was soon quietly sleeping, having simply been overtired. And presumably, my baby was sleeping too.

I got back to Kristy’s on the dot of 50 minutes – the sleep cycle. I could not hear a baby crying. I tiptoed hopefully to the glass door, and there was my bubba, sitting on Kristy’s lap. She had red eyes and had only slept for 5 or 10 minutes, before screaming the house down. Kristy had been comforting her and distracting her as well as she could. When I took her, she demanded full body contact – not this piddling, holding her up so she could stand on a chair. Not adequate! Visions of my 10.00 am to 4.00 pm drained away, and I watched them go as regretfully as I had earlier dreaded being a simple 2 hours away from my bubba.

I brought bubba home and agreed with my husband that there were 2 options: to go cold turkey, or to transition her in slowly, and then transition me out. We have opted for the slow transition. Am I being too namby pamby? Should I throw her in the deep end, so she will learn to swim? Babies are far more resilient and adaptable then we give them credit for, and bubba only knows what is acceptable because we show her what is.

I know it’s weird and unfair, but those 30 minutes gave me a taste. I started out mapping ways to not have to put her into childcare for another 8 months, and I ended up resenting the fact that I can’t put her in for a full day yet. I wanted more, and bubba crying for me meant that I can’t have it, or I choose not to have it, not yet, not until she is OK with it too. It did something to my sense of freedom, and made me remember my obligations. It is time to get her more used to the vicissitudes of life, but gradually.

I am grateful that I have the flexibility to take this sort of approach. I am impatient now for the approach to work. Time to myself – an almost forbidden elixir. I’m sorry bubba. Soon.

9 and a half months

Bubba has now been street side of the belly for longer than she was inside. Still, I told her the other day, “I invented you.” But I could never have invented everything about her. It’s more than I could have imagined.

We have been through a lot of changes in the last month.

Bubba’s head is bigger

Bubba has gone through another “wonder weeks” transition, which rocked her world, literally. Her brain got bigger and changed the way it metabolises glucose. Apparently now she can understand “categories,” and is busy comprehending that a picture of a dog and our neighbour’s poodles are part of the same group. She has also started to comprehend her own power, and has been using it to get what she wants from her gullible parents (I reckon she wins that game 80% of the time in the first round, and 100% of the time in the second. We are featherweights to her championship, 0-sized belt).

My sister is leaving home

I feel like my soul has been through the wringer – you know, that battered feeling you get in your chest after a hard, emotional pummelling. It has to do with moving house – always stressful – and the changes in our lives. It has to do with bubba getting bigger and starting family day care later this week – so soon, too soon! It has to do with my heart turning over with another thud, as my sister transitions to supported disability care. Her move is getting very mixed up in my head with my bubba’s care, and so I overreact to any wish bubba might have, as if I could somehow make my sister’s life a little happier that way. It makes no sense. It makes total sense.

I remembered that I was not alone

My husband suggested that I take a few hours of downtime, and so I went for a drive on the weekend, alone. It breathed air into my self. I gathered myself with more confidence; I recalled that I was not only on the planet to fulfil other people’s needs. I had a chat with a friend who could advise me about this, and I made a pact to let go of some control – I had seized it, and then complained about how heavy it was. I carry around this load on my back, like a Nepalese grandmother, except she carries far more useful things like aluminium sheets and bundles of blankets, whereas my bundle is a load of ideas and strictures about pleasing others, taking care of others, and not being worthy of others’ love unless I do so. It has backfired if you find yourself dizzy with the absence of weight when you do step out, alone. It is time to make some changes, to the words in your head and the baseball bat you have been using to beat yourself with.

And then you find that your partner doesn’t mind at all; in fact, he was just waiting for you to say the word (and in my case, saying many of them for me so all I had to do was say, “Yes.”)

Take the weather with you

Nothing brings home the fact that you are moving house so well as checking the weather forecast for the place you are going to. This coming week in Wollongong, it will be a bit cloudy with some rain, and cooler than Sydney. Which I had forgotten. Here I am, in a room full of boxes, which Paul Dempsey of Something For Kate once sang was not quite as bad as waiting, but pretty bad (or something to that effect. For Kate, presumably).

I am feeling it. I guess it has only taken more than a dozen moves over less than a dozen years (I have lost count, to be honest; doing a passport application or a security check is a real test of my memory these days) for me to pick up the tell-tale of signs of house-moving-anxiety. I read somewhere that it is in the top, five most stressful things you can do in life (after losing someone you love, and divorce).

One thing that is making moving easier is the way that most of my bills and other contact with the outside world are delivered to me online these days. I realise, each time I make a move, that I have kept my email address and my mobile phone number longer than any physical address since I was a kid of 16, when the relentless moving began.

I have also not got sick this time as I have the past few goes. I think it might be because this time around, I allocated a whole week to doing the packing, rather than trying to do it in and around work. I have been working this week, but I have not had any pressing deadlines to attend to (well, apart from a few tender responses, but somehow they got done.) I have also not got as stressed as I usually do – trying to pack everything in one day, and worrying the whole week about the things yet to get done. Finally, after so many moves, I have learned that: it will all get done; and slow and steady will get us across the line.

I have also learned to buy as many boxes as it takes to make the move one of streamlined cardboard rather than messy, laundry baskets of knick knacks; and to pay for as many hours as are required of a reliable, word of mouth referred, removalist. Too many times have I been burnt by dodgy guys with a truck, dragging out the time it takes to do the move, making me eat my fingernails as I watch my money and my possessions roll away. Last time we moved (about 12 months ago), Sydney City Removalists actually accused me of burning through removalists and then complaining about them on purpose. I was six months pregnant and teary, and my husband was irate. We tried to post a review on True Local, but it was not accepted by the website – another reminder that the Internet is not so much objective as it is monetised. Rather amusingly, the company kept me on their mailing list and we have received a number of emails recently, asking us to recommend them to friends. Not Going To Happen.

I wonder if bubba will take to the move badly. I wonder how someone her age (almost 9 months!) can find closure. When she walks out the door with me of this place, her only home, how will I explain to her that it is for the last time? Will she occasionally remember the grey carpet as she slides along our floorboards back in Wollongong, with a sense memory that makes her look around, startled, wondering where she is? Thankfully I am too tired to speculate too much about this. And also thankfully, wherever I and my husband are, that is where she feels most at home.

And that is the truth of it. When I first moved to NSW, five years ago or so, there was a moment when I crested North Bondi hill aboard a bus, and I looked at the ocean, and homelessness welled in me like the waves below. Not long enough here to have spread roots; not long enough in the previous town to miss it like a home; too long away from Queensland to really regard it as mine. Now I have this little family, these two other people, this baby and this man. And wherever they are, that’s my home. Hat or no hat. Boxes or no boxes. Rather than think about the possibility of them ever not being there, I will snap them in this moment in time with a few words as markers:

Bubba is in bed; I heard her cry out once, then subside, into sleep. My husband is in the kitchen, cooking me dinner with the last of the fridge offerings. And here am I, sitting in a room full of boxes; shoulder muscles too tired to rise very far; heart bleakened at the prospect of moving; encircled, emboldened, imprinted with love.

My last mothers group

Today Ellie and I attended our last Crows Nest Mothers Group. At the risk of being a little sentimental, I wanted to say a bit of a good-bye.

I have seen the babies in my mothers group grow from the size of poppets into fully fledged leprechauns, the type who would hold out a pot of gold and then zip it all the way to the other end of the rainbow, gurgling and chuckling as they crawled, rolled and galumphed ahead of you.

When Ellie and I first attended the group, there were about 30 mothers and their bubs, seated in a giant circle at the early childhood centre. None of us knew what we were doing, I think it is probably fair to say. Now, nine months on and we and our wee ones have grown.

Alex has grown long, and Zahra still looks at my glasses like they are candy canes, but with the contented grin of the well loved. Adele is a roly-poly bundle of cuteness, and Oscar and Annabel are almost as quizzical as my bubba, although perhaps a little more forgiving of strangers than Her Royal Rotundity. Then there are John, Bos, Matty and Leo, and of course smiley Tommy, all kicking their trousered legs with the delight that only people who have just discovered they have feet can. Who have I missed? Kobi, the handsomest of the lot, and doubly so because he does not yet know it; and Allyra, with her cheeky grin and her upturned nose, a little, red-cheeked elf; Chloe and Frankie with their agility of dancers. Gus still has the same, wide-open smile he had five months ago, but he is quickly turning into a little boy, and Bronwyn’s baby is the last of the pixies.

And then there are the mums. Each one an amazing, dedicated and determined woman. Each one giving their babies the very best that they can – making these babies some of the luckiest on the planet, because when these women set their mind to something, you get the strong feeling it is going to happen. Each one of the mums is kind, and smart, and resourceful. Each one has a wicked sense of humour. Each one is a friend you will miss if you are going to move away from Sydney.

Farewell my fellow mums! It has been such a privilege to share these last nine months with you all – to be part of these blossoming days, these wondering eyes, these chirping, crawling footsteps! I have enjoyed every meeting, and every moment of knowing that I have not been alone with the intense weirdness that is becoming a mum.

Some hopefully non-condescending advice about having a baby

I have a couple of friends who are pregnant at the moment. Sometimes I envy them. Not the being pregnant part – that was not a glowing time for me – but of it all being just, about, me. There is something wonderfully young and naive about the time before you have a baby. And I absolutely do not mean that in a condescending way, and I don’t mean to say that now I have one, little baby, I know everything there is to know about life, being an adult and so on. I absolutely do not think that only parents have the licence to tell others what real life is all about. And I do not think of my friends as young and naive.

Here is what I mean, if I can find a way to express it….

Before you have a baby, you are the centre of your known universe, even if you are a really unselfish person. You have all sorts of thoughts and you have the time to wonder about what they might mean. Then you have a baby, and your brain is re-wired. Neurons are re-directed towards the parts of the brain that need them most – your empathy bits. You find yourself having to really focus on someone else, to work out what it is they want and need. Women do this a lot anyway, but once they have a baby, it is like being a person pleaser on steroids.

There are a bunch of things no one told me before I had my baby. When I asked a friend why she didn’t, she just said, “What would have been the point?” Now I guess I know what she meant.

What would be the point? Your friends are going to go through it, no matter what you tell them. Of all life’s experiences, this is not one you want to pre-empt for someone. And it will be their unique experience, and will bear little semblance to yours, most likely.

My friends know that it was incredibly hard for me in those first few months. With the PND and the sleep deprivation and insomnia, I was under. Back then, I probably would not have advised anyone down this path. But now that I have bubba, and she is awesome and I am better, much better, I think, Yes, do it. I would not have wanted my doubts and dread to have stopped anyone else from finding their own way to the hardness and goodness of parenting.

That’s probably my main reason for not telling my friends all there is to know about those first few months – not even on this blog. Because not only would it be pointless, it might cause harm if it stopped someone from proceeding, or if it coloured their first view of their own experience. And although we make a decision to have children based on absolutely no evidence as to what that actually means – still, it is all sorts of indescribable.

That said, there are a few things which I want my friends to be prepared for, if they haven’t already read about them. I don’t mean this in the way of unhelpful or unwanted advice – you’ll get enough of that – but more as in the way of information, I hope.

1. Day 3 or 4 after delivery you lose your bundle. Apparently, a woman at this point after pregnancy has less estrogen in her system than a 65 year old woman. Then the milk starts to come in and I have been told that the tears subside – they didn’t for me, but that is part of my PND story, told elsewhere.

2. The night sweats. Again, no one mentioned this to me. When my milk started to come in, I had night sweats for about a week. I thought I might have a fever from the C-section but I called the hospital and the nurse called me sweetie. Nice nurse. Would have been nicer to have been forewarned, though.

3. Midwives. They will each have a different opinion on what you are supposed to do. Basically, all the health professionals you will encounter are going to broadcast public health messages at you, in the manner of the local council putting up signs telling people they let their children play at the park at their OWN RISK. They have to tell you it is best to breastfeed, and you have to wake the baby to feed, and so on, or else I guess they are scared that we could sue them if something went wrong. Here’s my advice, or really, anti-advice: you don’t have to do what they tell you. Take the advice you think sounds most suited to you and your baby, and check the baby’s weight and wees, and you will be fine.

4. Boobs. Lather on the lanolin as soon as you start breastfeeding, and in between feeds. Don’t wait until the nipples get cracked to start using the lanolin. I didn’t do this, because I didn’t realise that it’s a preventative thing as much as a healing thing – and once they are damaged, they hurt for a while.

5. Clothes. Make sure you have at least 2 pairs of comfortable maternity pants you can wear in and out of bed. I only had one pair of maternity trackies when I was pregnant, and that was not enough for my hospital stay. I got really upset about not having decent, clean clothes to fit into when in bed and wandering up and down the hallway; and you are not going to fit your regular clothes for a while after the birth. Also make sure you have a couple of tops to wear which you can breastfeed in – a button-down t-shirt and a medium or large, maternity, pull-on bra are a good option to start with, because you might not know what size your boobs will be in order to buy the bras with the clips. Rachie gave me a “Majama” bra, size L, and that continues to be awesome.

That’s it. Good night, and good luck.