Writing

When I get anxious, I get jealous. It is an unpleasant trait, and one not immediately obviously related to my heightened state of worry, which makes it harder to rationalise away. I look at pictures of other people’s living rooms and think they are much nicer than my own. I assume everyone else has more money or if not, is better at managing it than I am. I see people smiling and I think dismally that everyone else knows the secret to being relaxed and taking life as it comes, and I do not.

What can make this go away? Writing.

It is a strange but true thing for me, that if I write, suddenly, alchemically, my world turns back into a known and trusted place. I am comforted and comfortable, reconnected with my reason for being. I love my family viscerally, spiritually, with the lifeforce which makes my heart beat. Writing however, that is something about me. It returns me to the inside of my skin rather than living on my own outer rawness.

I could live and not write. It is important that I know that, so writing does not become an addiction and therefore a burden. It is also not about writing well.

Writing is, importantly, my gift to myself. It is my chosen way of taking the ponding emotions and thoughts from my stomach and turning them outwards, feathering them, drawing smiley comic faces on them, blowing them up and letting them go.

It is not that writing gives my life meaning and without it, I would be a gap where the vacuum could claim another victory for lifelessness. I choose writing and in return it gives me a ball of oxygen to hold in my two hands – that is, it gives me nothing at all but the ability to connect myself to the air we breathe.

Tsak, tsak, tsak: working from home

My baby may be babbling like my ever sociable mother, but she is like me when it comes to motor skills – somewhat unconvinced of their utility until in a tight spot. Bubba was up every hour from 3.30 am onwards this morning. She sent herself back to sleep, but it did mean a broken night sleep for both her and I. She is still learning how to roll over in her sleep, and she gets stuck on her tummy. Which is as tragic and funny as it sounds, and has a diminishing return for both of us as the night turns into early morning.

On the plus side, it is Saturday, and that means Unstructured Time. My husband and I have this rather full-on routine going now, which we started last Monday, at the beginning of our working together life. I get up with bubba at around 6.30-7, while my husband goes for an hour exercise. At 8, we do a baby handover, and I go for a walk. At 9, I get home, shower and then attempt to meditate, although bubba is often up again after a one cycle nap, so I am back on bubba duty. My husband meanwhile has started work for the day, and he will be in and out of mine and bubba’s view for a few minutes every half hour for the rest of the day.

My day is then a comedy of running backwards. I play with bubba, feed and change her. Feeding is now a process, with solids on the menu as well as the trusty milk bar aka me. She is now awake for longer stretches of about 1.5 and even 2 hrs – a record for my bub – and naps for mostly only one cycle, which is 50 min in layperson terms. In those cycles, I prepare more solids, do the washing, try to do my physio exercises, and work. Bub still sleeps all up about 4-5 hrs a day, but that time is mercilessly broken up across the day and somewhat unpredictable.

By 6, we are all knackered. Bub starts the journey to bed, with my husband and I her personal trainers, bathing her, feeding her, and gently easing her towards sleep. Once she is tucked away at around 7, we eat our dinner, which I have hopefully prepped at some point in another parallel universe where time is 6 dimensional, or my husband gets our meal ready while I chomp down fruit and almonds in growing, hunger-inspired desperation.

Often we will watch a program on ABC iview while we eat, both of us needing to not-talk-about-work for a bit. Our favourite at the moment is Dragon’s Den, when we get to watch English wannabe entrepreneurs roasted by arrogant, so-and-so’s who can be as rude as they like because they have the money and the wannabes don’t. We used to also enjoy Grand Designs, because Kevin McLeod is such a great TV host and can milk drama from the most banal of building projects, despite his Ayn Rand-like sermons about the power of the human spirit. I also like Annabel Crabb’s Kitchen Cabinet, because she seems like a really nice person and it is fun to see politicians of both stripes in their homes, being human.

By about 8 we are ready to remove to the couch, where my husband will play Words with Friends and I will basically vague out, waiting to think of something to talk about that is not work. At 8.30, we have scheduled creative time, which we unwillingly drag ourselves to and which always makes us feel better about the choices we have made the rest of the day/life. 9.30 pm and I am ready to hit to pillow, rarely needing to listen to relaxation tapes to get to sleep any more. My husband soldiers on a little longer than I. Overnight, I will wake several times to the sound of my baby complaining, cooing or generally doing whatever she does as she turns in her sleep. And so to another day.

It is a demanding schedule but certainly not the hardest out there. Work is going to intensify pretty fast, and we have agreed that we might need to work in the evenings or weekends sometimes, and our creative time may reduce to half an hour a night. But we can’t let it go. Otherwise, what is it all for?

Similarly, I want to, as one of the other self-employed mums in my mothers group put it, “be a mum,” when bubba is awake. I will only let myself check emails once or twice in her awake times – the rest of the time is all about being on the home front. I may run around getting the washing and so on while she wriggles about on the floor, but then I will spend time at her level, verbalising right back at her.

Occasionally I will catch myself watching the clock, wanting her to go back for another nap so I can get on with things. It is then that I have to look at her closely, put away the phone, and remember why.

Working from home is a wonderful gift, and I do not want to squander it. All the routine and discipline and structure is only worth it if you stick to the boundaries. And a pat on the back now, because I don’t hand those out very often to myself, and so when it is due, I want to give it: so far, so good. I have a life time of compartmentalising behind me and can now put it to its best use to date. I may not have great motor skills, but my home-work sleight of hand is a sight to behold.

Switching off (before it’s toooooo laaaaaaaate…..)

When I was pregnant, mums would variously make recommendations to me about how best to use my time before the bub arrived. With a certain, hungry look in their eye, they would say, “Get lots of sleep.” “Go out to lunch with friends.” “Eat dinner at the same time as your husband.” “Travel. “Take it easy.” “Get a pedicure.” And my personal favourite: “Go to the toilet with the door closed.”

I was not one to mind the prospect of spending large portions of my time at home. I am a couch potato by nature, and like my father before me, enjoy nothing better than to solder myself to the armchair and wait out anyone else (ie my husband) to get up again, thereby conveniently asking him to get me x, y or z, seeing he was “already up.”

That said, there is one thing I would recommend to my pregnant friends to do before their bub arrives:

Go out – for five minutes, an hour, a day, I don’t mind how long – and switch off your mobile phone. Because once you have a baby, you are going to be plugged in for the rest of your life.

A case in point. My wonderful husband bought me a massage voucher after a particularly hard week with bub. I managed to get out of the house and use it a week ago. I entered the massage room, inhaled the sandalwood and gave myself over to the Enya soundtrack. I took out my phone from my pocket and ceremoniously switched it off.

“Oh, you don’t want to do that,” the masseuse, a woman in her 50s, shook her head. “Here, leave it on and put it here where you can easily see it and reach it,” she indicated a small shelf under the hole in the massage table where my face would soon lie, staring, it would seem, at the screen of my phone for the next 60 minutes of “relaxation.” “Anything could happen.”

So my fellow travellers, I don’t mind if you don’t get yourself to New York for a last hurrah, or go scuba diving with sharks as your final risk taking adventure before you have another life to take care of. I just want you to press one small, inconsequential button on your phone. Because soon, all too soon, you never will again.

Something hard and something good

This morning I had a realisation. It was a bit late in coming, and for all my intelligence, there are some things that I am pretty slow on. I watched bubba play on her mat, and I thought about my own mum. I can be cynical about the world, and right now, various of my fears are on the up. Change will do that, and this change is pressing quite a few buttons I have skilfully avoided for the last 35 years. So anyway, I was thinking about my mum, and about how many times I had felt unloved, or unwanted, or ignored, or loved on condition of various objects in return. I was thinking about her and it came to me at last to see beneath those behaviours of hers which made me feel that way. And I saw that I was one of the lucky ones because I really am loved.

Love is a doing word. It comes to you in acts. If you don’t behave lovingly, then the person you love won’t know that you love them, until they are 35 and have worked it out for themselves, watching their own baby squeal and smile and thinking of all the ways in which she wants to make sure, and will inevitably fail, but will keep trying to make it known to her bubba that she is loved.

I realised something hard and something else that was good. My mum has always loved me in her own fashion. Her own demons sometimes make her behave unlovingly, without knowing it, perhaps sometimes knowing it but ignoring it because her needs can be so great. I can keep questioning it or I can use my intelligence to see beneath those behaviours and know that the underlying river of love that I have floated on all my life is real. I didn’t realise it about my dad until he was gone. So I am glad I have finally figured it out about my mum before it is too late to let go of some of my own personal baggage and reach out to those I love, in actions as well as thoughts.

The hard thing I realised was this. As a mother, I can make mistakes. Sometimes I will not do the right thing for my bubba. Sometimes my own personal stuff, or my lack of awareness, or my inexperience, or my being human, is going to mean that she will sometimes feel that I don’t love her. All I can do is try to make sure that the times she feels loved are more than the times she does not. I know there is no such thing as a perfect mother and worrying about it is only going to put up a barrier between us. I am reassured to know, even though it might have taken me 35 years to figure out, that there are many ways to heal something that seems broken. In my own chance at loving, I hope I can keep my broken heart to myself and reach out with the heart that renews itself in giving – including, maybe especially, in giving to those who may have broken it without realising.

Monday stream of consciousness

This morning, my husband and I started the first day of the rest of our lives together. Which is what we do every morning, of course. But today, we started officially working together. My husband got up at 7.00 and went for a walk while I fed and played with bubba. Then I went for a walk. I took my nano, but I prefer to listen to the sound of the world when I walk, so just listened to a few tracks as they came, then switched it off to listen to the birds and the cars and the trains.

I crossed a footbridge over a ravine which on one side, looks like you are in the bush, miles from the city, and on the other looks towards a block of 1980s era units built in the cascading style which reminds you exactly where you are. But I don’t mind; this morning I quite liked the juxtaposition. A man with a biker beard and an expensive t-shirt pushed a pram across the footbridge, so I had to step to one side to let him pass, but I smiled, because I belong to that club too. He didn’t smile back and I wondered if he was trying to prove a point. I said good-morning to a pot-bellied road worker, who looked up from smashing the bitumen into manageable pieces and said, “Morning,” back. He was a 40-something year old, with blond-brown hair and blue eyes, and was better looking than I had expected. As I came into the home stretch, I crossed the road towards an elderly Asian woman who walks at the pace of every second second hand. She smokes a stinky, cigar-like thing every time I see her as she paces slowly. The word “cheroot” floated into my brain and it sounded right even if it is not. She inhales, then waves the cigar away from her in a lazy, exaggerated gesture. She does not dress expensively. She smokes like a worker.

I looked at her in order to smile but she looked at my feet only and let me speed ahead of her so I couldn’t form my community with her, verbally, anyway, although she is part of it now, on this page, because I have written her into my story. I thought about writing about her on my way home, the last eight minutes of my walk, and that made me feel better about the construction workers, on the block across the street, whose name I will never know.

At home, Ellie napped and then woke. I tried feeding her and she made a funny, new expression, all pursed lips, scrunched nose and big, puffed out cheeks. What is she thinking? “This is my muma. She is warm and smells like milk and I am safe. I want to eat the world today, and maybe I am doing that right now. What’s that sound? It’s me! It’s coming right from my very own throat. And that person who leaps, that’s my dada, and he is also always there, my reliable. I blink, because there is light. Muma wants me to go to bed now and I don’t want to, but there it is and I am safe and warm again and all is well, she is part of the door as it closes, and here is the darkness and the familiar. I ate the whole world today and tomorrow I will eat a whole new one and my muma will hold me up to it and my dada will shield my eyes from the light.”

Something like that. Maybe not so many words.

I like first days. I am tired and I am a little, niggly worried. Mostly though, I am free.

Tools for worrier/warrior mothers

I once explained myself to a similarly anxious friend in the following evolutionary terms: “100,000 years ago, I would have been an ideal village lookout.”

When you have a bub, you want to make sure you can manage your anxiety so you can put it to good use, and ensure it does not ge in the way of enjoying your bub, as much as you can. So I thought it might be a good idea to list the top tools I have found useful in making my anxiety work for me. To become as much of a warrior as a worrier, so to speak.

1. Angelcare baby monitor. Either the AC401, which detects movement and sound, or the AC1100, which also has video, and does infrared video at night. I originally bought a Philips sound only monitor, which was great until bubba started rolling in her sleep and couldn’t get herself back again. SIDS was my main concern. So, after talking it over with my husband, who sensibly said to get whatever would stop me losing sleep, we bought the AC401, reasoning that the main worry was to know bubba was still breathing. The monitor instantly relieved me of some anxiety, allowing us allto get a better night’s rest.

2. A baby capsule with four or more stars, if possible, from the CREPS website. I got the Safety First infant carrier. I also got the Meridian Tilt and Adjust for when she is bigger. This would have been fine as a capsule too, except that it didn’t fit our car in capsule mode, so I had to also get a capsule.

3. A firm cot mattress. I tested quite a few and settled on an inner spring mattress from IKEA, for about $90.

4. A SwaddleMe swaddle. It velcroes the baby in so you don’t have to worry about bubba breaking out of her swaddle when she is still little. I bought two in different sizes online. They are a bit pricey but if she keeps getting out of her wraps it might be worth trying one.

5. Sleeping bags when bubba is past swaddles. I got the standard bag from Merino Kids, which was pretty costly, but I was also given a couple of Grobags of different weights, and that has been great, so bubba has summer, fall, and winter sleeping bags. These are great because when bubba is bigger she will start rolling everywhere and you don’t want her to get caught in blankets.

6. Some mums recommend Safety Mesh for the sides of the cot to stop bub getting caught in the bars. I have not needed this…yet…

7. Relaxation tracks on your ipod for you which can help your tired, busy brain wind down. I use Sarah Edelman’s Magic Moments.

8. Meditation tracks for when bubba is bigger and you aren’t going to fall asleep the minute someone talks in a soothing voice. I use Kabat-Zinn from The Mindful Way through Depression. Helps anxiety too.

9. Lots of DVDs for the early months. I favour Gilmore Girls, cos no one ever raises their voices and nothing happens you can’t pick up on a few episodes or series later. Also Modern Family and Scrubs for some well needed laughs.

10. A nice, big digital clock so you can always see how long bub has fed for, or slept for. Put it where you can see it when you are nursing. We also kept a notebook and recorded feeds and poos and wees in the first twelve weeks.

11. A copy of “Baby Love”, by Robin Barker. For me, that has been the best book of them all. Non-judgmental and practical advice. Not all of it may be spot on for you, but a lot of it might be reassuring nevertheless.

12. A copy of “Weaning”, by Annabel Karmel, for when bub is ready to start solids and you haven’t the foggiest how to go about it. (Thanks Rachie for your copy!)

13. A copy of “Is Breast Best,” if you are thinking of bottle feeding and want some reassurance that your baby will be fine and not grow up to either hate you or have low IQ.

14. The Tresillian phone number if you are in NSW. It’s 02 9432 4000 at Wollstonecraft. You might need a referral from your early childhood centre. I found the counselling with Marg Booker, their resident social worker in Wollstonecraft, to be absolutely unbeatable in helping me manage my anxiety for good and not for evil. If you are not in NSW and you think anxiety might be getting out of hand, go to your local GP and get it sorted. As Marg said to me, anxiety can be your best friend – when you are on top of things, not sleep deprived and using it to fire up your engines. It can be your worst enemy when you are tired, stressed and under the pump of expectations and things to do.

That is all for now…..I am sure I will think of more as she starts crawling! If anyone has anything to add, please do.