8 Weeks: First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

20 Jul

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The thing about kids is, try as hard as you like, you can’t force them to conform to cool music. As much as I play E the Jesus Lizard and Big Black, he’s not going for it.He wrinkles his nose and does his best frowny face (he has quite a few) and cries. E is much happier with Joni Mitchell and REO Speedwagon, even though I’ve got bored of listening to both of these through overplay now, so already we’re starting to differ in our taste. The one constant record we have agreed on over these last two months is First Aid Kit’s The Lion’s Roar, released last year and filled with woozy folky harmonies that make E’s eyes go big and round like saucers and his mouth drop open. I’ve been hammering this album since last year but the lyrics are so brilliant that even when the tunes get well worn I can still get plenty out of the poetry. Is it bad that I think these girls are too young to have written their own lyrics? The writer sounds like they’ve lived several lifetimes, passed through loss and bitterness back to a philosophical, detached state of self-reflection. All very beautiful anyway, and gets the baby to sleep when he’s bleating.

Ah sleep. Sadly still a long departed friend… we’re averaging 2 hour blocks at night which is showing no signs of improving in the stifling heat. But in spite of my general zombified grumpiness, it’s starting to feel a little bit more manageable. The reflux has settled, we’re only dealing with an hour and a half of colicky crying in the evenings, and to be honest the great big cheek-busting smiles E has been rewarding us with have made even the hardest days rose-tinted.

We achieve things, nearly every day now. We leave the house in the week. When strangers offer unwanted advice on why my baby is crying/not crying/whether he is or isn’t wearing too many or too few layers of clothing, I can let it roll off me and smile instead of wanting to stab.  We started going to a baby group. Got all the NCT babies (five boys!) together and laid them on a rug in a line and marvelled at them. Coped with endless family visits and smiled and actually meant it sometimes. Knocked over painstakingly expressed milk and cried and got over it. Left the house alone to go and do normal things for up to three entire hours. Forgotten to pull my top back over my bra and then left the house approximately twice. Been pooed on and weed on by E nearly as many times as I’ve dropped biscuit crumbs on his head, so we’re pretty much even.

We are getting there.

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The Inbetween Story

29 Jun

I’m an over-educator. I read endless books and signed up for every class going during pregnancy to try and prepare myself for childbirth. I found two extremes in the way labour was presented to me. The soft-focus, candle-lit, transcendental natural birth experienced (it seemed) predominantly by swaying ladies in tie-dye “breathing out” their babies, and the blood-splattered war stories of gruelling, endless, agonising and traumatic labours told to me with relish by friends and colleagues.

This is my “in between” story. On paper it looks like I had the perfect, intervention free home birth, but there is no way in the world I would call it perfect, or blissful or transcendental. It was brutal and scary. It was also powerful and amazing. I still think I made the right choices, and that was all I ever wanted to take away – the feeling that I’d done the best I could in the circumstances, that our baby was healthy and finally here with us and that I felt strong enough physically and mentally to  look after him.

If you want a peaceful labour story, you might not want to read this. Equally, if you want a horror story, you won’t find much to sate you here either. It’s just what happened to me.

I started getting contractions on the Tuesday afternoon. I didn’t know that’s what they were at first – they felt like dull, achey menstrual cramps. By 7pm they were one every half hour, and feeling pretty uncomfortable. I googled, and I got on board with the fact that I was probably in pre-labour. That’s the niggly bit that can go on for days – especially for first babies in an awkward position. Sometimes it starts and then goes away again completely. I tried to keep my expectations in check. I didn’t expect we’d be meeting our baby any time soon. I continued to watch the whole series of Broadchurch and tried not to grumble about the increasingly squeezy feelings.

By bedtime, contractions were regular and closer together. S sat up with me into the night as I curled up on the bed listening to my hypnobirthing CD and tried to get into a deeply relaxed state. This bit was quite nice (with the benefit of rosy hindsight). I sent Sam to bed at 2am, convinced it would all ease off and he’d be going to work the next day. Then I nested in a load of pillows and sat up all night with my TENS machine on listening to ambient post-rock and trying to rise above the surges that were coming quite powerfully by this point.

7am was the first time I felt compelled to cry out with the pain – the start of my world of shouty noise. It was starting to become really difficult to manage. S got back up and I managed to get in the bath – chucking in some clary sage oil which really kicked off my contractions. I was getting frustrated as I knew I couldn’t call the hospital until my contractions were 3 in 10 minutes and they were averaging at 2 in 10 and nowhere near regular. Standard for a back-to-back baby, but triage weren’t going to give two hoots about that.

Two hoots was about right. At 10am and we’d been stuck at 2 in 10 minutes for hours – each round getting more painful until I knew we needed support. I had been adamant we wouldn’t call the delivery suite until we’d reached the magic number, but we caved. I had a cheery midwife on the phone telling me I was still in the early stages of labour and “doing really well!”. Thanks love. I was collapsed halfway up the stairs when Sam gave me the phone. I felt crushed. The pain was so bad that I couldn’t just not talk during a contraction now -  I couldn’t talk, stand up, think, or even breathe properly through them anymore. If this was going to get worse before they’d even let me go to hospital or send somebody out, how was I supposed to cope through the rest of labour?

I had another bath to take the edge off. Getting out suddenly everything stepped up enormously. The contractions were still irregular but often coming one on top of the other with no break and lasting two or three minutes rather than the textbook one. I was so far beyond my pain threshold now that I started to panic- not the conscious or rational panic of overthinking, but something quite primal telling me this wasn’t the “good pain” the books tell you about (apparently this was the baby failing to engage correctly with my cervix). The only thing I could do to get me through the contractions was to make as much noise as possible to try and block out the pain. At that point the home birth was actually a godsend (I didn’t realise it at the time – I was just freaking out that there was no way I could have any pain relief) as I couldn’t have got in the car even if I’d been carried. I was being sick a lot and S had sensibly cleared off to leave me to it. If I’d had a doula or birth companion at this point I think this hour or so would have been a lot less traumatic!

When the midwives finally arrived, they performed an exam and told me I was 7cm dilated – suddenly it didn’t feel like I was making a fuss over nothing. Just being believed that I was well into established labour and that it was nearly time to have our baby was a huge boost. I started to think that maybe I could do it after all. I realise now that the intensity was at least partly down to the baby lying in an awkward position.

Getting into the birth pool was like being embraced by angels – do not underestimate the power of water to relieve pain. I spent the next half an hour flopped over the side of the pool getting to transition pretty quickly. Transition is the bit where you’re ready to push the baby out – fully dilated and ready to rock. It’s renowned for women totally losing the plot/screaming for pain relief/punching their partners and S had been dreading it – I think he genuinely believed that I would be capable of filing for divorce in that window. I do remember feeling a wild, animalistic panic but realising pretty quickly even in the middle that it was just an adrenalin surge rather than real fear, and S and the midwives managed to soothe me. In a strange way it almost felt good to just go with it. At last I was working with my body and not fighting a frightened brain.

The pushing stage was great – hard and painful but psychologically incredible to feel I was actually moving the baby down myself. It felt really effective and although I did get frustrated and tired (I vaguely remember screaming “he’s never coming out!”) it was so exciting to know that we were so close to meeting our little boy. And I finally got gas and air for the last hour, which didn’t seem to help massively with the pain for me, but was great to have something to focus on. I made some highly weird noises though. S described me as “a cow-lion, doing a mooey-roar” which is about right. Our poor neighbours.

E finally turned right at the last minute which felt like transition all over again… I bloody well knew he was nearly out even as the midwives casually chatted and sent Sam upstairs for more towels. I was very much in my own headspace but I still remember hearing “ooh, better get dad back quick, baby’s coming!” and thinking “yes he bloody is!” I think by this point I realised that I’d known more than anyone else what had been going on with my body through the whole of labour – why had I ever doubted myself?

Crowning and the actual delivery had really worried me- I was scared of tearing and the baby getting stuck – but it was actually the simplest part for me. I managed to stop pushing and breathe through it and he pretty much shot out. With hindsight it was an amazing moment – at the time I just felt relieved that it was over and in complete disbelief that I’d managed it.

When the midwives bundled little E onto my chest at roughly 3:10pm and he opened his eyes and looked at me…. there aren’t words in the world that would do justice to that moment. I have never felt anything like it in my life, I don’t think I ever will again. Both S and I were crying, ironically, like babies, and E was just lying there blinking at us, frowning a bit, probably wondering who these stupid people were who were blubbing all over him.

People say that after you give birth, your brain kindly gives you amnesia so you forget about the pain. I can honestly say I haven’t. In spite of having a really successful and amazing homebirth, I still think about that hour and a half where I was lying alone on the bathroom floor and I wonder what I could have done to make it less horrific. I realise now how brilliant it would have been to have somebody there to tell me that I’m not being a baby, and to verify what I already knew (that back to back labours are awkward and may not settle into regular contractions) and to recognise that things were intensifying much more quickly than I or anyone else realised. The midwives were fabulous – I’m sure I got even better support than I would have done in hospital with two midwives all to myself – but they arrived two hours before the birth which left a big chunk of labour to manage on our own with no idea whether what I was feeling was normal or not. I can see why that element would be ok for a second or third time mum, but for a first timer it was a lot to process and I still feel shaky about it if I’m perfectly honest. I would really recommend a doula if you’re thinking of having a homebirth for your first. Or just thinking of having a baby at all – I really get why they’re so effective now.

You make the birth choices that are right for you, and I absolutely chose the right thing for us by picking a homebirth. I wonder now if it was sixth sense that it was going to be an unusual labour best left to its own devices (I’ve no doubt I’d have had all sorts in hospital – and I’d have been shouting for most of it!) and that I wouldn’t be moved when things started kicking off (honestly, I roared if anyone came near me). I had come to terms with the fact that hospital transfer was a very real possibility for me as a first time mum, if I’d ended up needing interventions that would have been fine – I had got my head around pretty much every medical eventuality. For me the shock and the loss of control came with the pain and the realisation that I couldn’t manage it – and that I sensed nobody was taking me seriously. I hated how that made me feel.

It’s funny how much I’ve played over E’s birth in my head since – this need to recount the experience is almost a compulsion and I get now why people feel the need to share. At the same time all the matters is that you’re safe, and your baby is safe. It’s amazing how quickly labour fades into insignificance when you’re faced with caring for a newborn for the first time.

And now that’s off my chest, on with the baby adventures….

Week 40

29 May

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This time last week, only 3 days fashionably late, 7lbs 11oz of Ernest George was born in a birth pool in our dining room.

We have been so dazed with sleep deprivation and heart-stopping love for our new baby that we only realised last night we hadn’t even played him a single piece of recorded music. We have been too busy singing him silly Ernie songs and squishing his delicious cheeks.

Parenthood so far is a glorious, screaming technicolour smack in the face. The emotional power of every single second of the day is set to overload. I cry at least five times a day, and find myself absent-mindedly beaming at my son at least ten times that. It’s like somebody ripped off my skin and left my nerves bare to feel every. single. thing.

Never has anything been so terrifyingly relentless and brilliant all at once.

I’ll be back with the birth story when little monkey learns to sleep for more than an hour at a time….

Week 39: Texas Is The Reason – Do You Know Who You Are

19 May

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The most amazing band I never got to see is coming back to the UK for their last ever performances and playing in Manchester.

I have been quite stressed about this, because I know we have two tickets, and I know in the back of my mind that, when it comes to it, only S will get to go. This is just one of a number of incidents in the last few weeks that’s made me sit up and think about how things that I once took for granted are going to become enormously challenging. Something is very, very shortly going to become more important than all of that stuff.

I have spent a lot of time over the last 9 months worrying about money, and it all sort of ended in me having a bit of a meltdown last weekend. It doesn’t matter how many ways I turn it over in my head, I don’t have a plan, we don’t have a way to cope beyond the first 10 months. Then, this week, I got offered a small freelancing job, which turned into about 2 weeks work, and my brain exploded. It’s the most phenomenal opportunity, but I’m taking it on at a time when I’m going to be at home looking after my newborn baby – the first 2 terrifying months – by myself, for the first time ever. Yes yes yes I want the job but holy fucking shit I have no idea how that is going to work. Where to draw the line between my new tiny, screaming first priority and earning us the money that will enable us to survive. They tell us we can do it all, have it all, but I know that’s a myth. So what’s going to give?

I had been so perfectly cool and calm about everything, and now I have The Fear. The fear about labour (he hasn’t moved, and I can’t stop reading back-to-back birth stories on the internet and terrifying myself – I swear I’m not a massochist I’m genuinely just trying to find some non-horrific ones), about being unable to manage by myself afterwards, about not letting my career stagnate so I can actually go out and earn us some money to live on at some point, about this being the biggest thing I’ve ever done and the terrible, pernicious fear of failing at it.

I’m not an idiot, I know this Fear stuff had to come and dress itself in scary makeup and say “BOO!” really loudly to me at some point, and it’s not surprising that I’m sitting here on my due date having finally had it leap out and shout in my face.

There have been so many lovely people reassuring me about this, and so much has really helped. Have faith is the big one. Trusting instincts, not overthinking it (not my forte at the best of times). But the best thing I’ve heard came from my Mum, who simply said “you won’t care when he’s here”. Or rather, I will care, but not in the same way. Same furniture, different room. So there’s no point worrying about making my bed yet, before I’ve got to get in and lie in it.

Week 38: Kyuss – Welcome To Sky Valley

11 May

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I think we all have those records that transport us out of our mundane lives and take us away somewhere magical.

When I listen to Kyuss, I’m floating on a psychedelic sparkly cloud 10 miles up above a desert canyon. I am not on my hands and knees scrubbing the skirting boards, rigid with backache and praying this baby will turn into a slightly less awkward position for birth.

This week I have been mostly hoping that with the gut-shaking power of rumbling bass and downtuned guitars, the baby will flipflop around into prime position, thereby saving me hours of googling back-to-back babies and sobbing with the fear of being in agonising back labour for a week. On the up-side, at least I know both of my TENS machines are working now. And there are many spare batteries. Many, many spare batteries.

Back to the music. I think when you’re a youngster, or maybe during a particularly thoughtful period of your life, you have those albums or songs that let you vanish inside yourself. It definitely gets harder to lose yourself in music as you grow up, but the second you put on an old CD or song – BOOM. You’re floating in space again, suspended above the canyon, or getting whatever it is that feeling is that transports you. I think this is what inspires legions of embarrassing uncles and aunts to leap onto the dancefloor and start fist-pumping at weddings the second a song from their youth comes on. The opening notes in that song push those magic brain receptors and they’re young again, and they can get away with dancing like that (even if they really can’t).

These magic switches are also helpfully effective at distracting you from pain. Need to push out another impossible 2 kilometres in your half marathon? Put on your favourite songs, get the endorphin release, take your mind somewhere away from it all. Stub your toe? Put on something REALLY loud and angry and let it block out the pain signals. Works with broken hearts too, ask any teenager.

Anyway. Giving birth to a human out of your foof. The music admittedly might not help towards the end of it, but if the first part is going to be a muscular endurance test lasting days on end, I’d better get prepared with with as many psychological tricks as I can read up about. And two lovely, lovely TENs machines with their sticky stinging pads all over my back all at full electrocuting power.

Week 37: Prince – Sign O’ The Times

6 May

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The wall! I’ve hit the wall. I had such a good week of getting things done last week, but this week has involved a lot more lying in bed wondering if I’ll manage to get out of it before I piss myself.

It’s a deliciously sunny bank holiday weekend, and Sam has been busy pressure washing the back yard and reupholstering our rocking chair, whereas I spent a grand total of TWO hours walking round town on Saturday and then had to stay in bed most of yesterday with the curtains drawn to recover from my “exertions”, like some sort of sickly 18th century literature heroine. I’m not very good at feeling like I have no purpose. I am a giant, pathetic heap of sorry-for-myself. What’s annoying me most of all is that I’m STILL seeing things that need to be done, but unable to sustain the energy to get up and do any of it anymore. It’s scary that there could be, potentially, another whole month of this. Another whole month of getting progressively fatter and moanier.

Generally speaking though, I am in good spirits! I’m not at work and the sun is out. I’ve picked a good time of year to be useless and vegetating.

Oh apart from hayfever, good LORD. I’m going to have to send somebody else to the chemist for me as they won’t sell me so much as a Halls Soother anymore. The days of hiding this with a baggy jumper and buying contraband over the counter drugs are well and truly over.

No, can’t be bothered to talk about Prince either. I prefer this record to Purple Rain, which is just overplayed. That’s all you’re getting.

Week 36: Joni Mitchell – Blue

28 Apr

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More blue ladies this week!

I’m not blue though, I’ve just had my first week of maternity leave and I’m absolutely buzzing. I can sleep when I need to, I can eat when I need to, I can order things off the internet and actually be at home to receive them. I feel like a normal human being again, albeit a rather fat and achey one. The house is even slowly becoming something like an actual place where grown-ups live, rather than the student house-meets-jumble-sale thing we’ve had going on for the last five or six years.

I find myself pleading now “baby just wait til I’ve finished washing all the bedding we’ve ever owned…. baby just wait til I’ve painted the skirting boards and the banister and all the internal doors….baby just wait til we’ve put our mannequin Ken into a decent outfit…” I’m well aware that the baby won’t judge us if he’s born and Ken is wearing a dodgy blue jumper/Swedish tennis player wig/floppy hat combo that makes no sartorial sense. The health visitor might though. She eyed Ken fearfully this week: “Ooh what a lot of things you’ve got! Are these all your husband’s things?” “Oh, yes, yes, he is a one!” I chuckled, as I imagined the long-suffering wife of an eccentric hoarder might. No point social services thinking we’re both insane, right?

But let me talk about Joni.

I have this totally shallow, lazy, anti-music thing where I don’t really get into bands, I just get into records. I could sing you every note of this album, even though I have never listened to anything else by Joni. Actually – lie- I did have the Hissing Of Summer Lawns lent  to me (Prince’s favourite Joni Mitchell record, fact fans) but I couldn’t get into it. And I think I have Court and Spark lying around somewhere, which some people say is the best thing she did, but, pah, why should I bother listening to anything else when I like this so much? If I want to listen to Joni Mitchell, I put on Blue. This is probably horribly disrespectful to a tremendous artist, and definitely shows me up as being fickle and a philistine, but I’m not picking on Joni, I do it with everyone.

If a record is perfect I don’t want to go and listen to something by the same artist that I like a bit less and then think they’re not such a genius after all. I mean, who’s had a flawless career? Name me someone. Nobody has, everyone has meandered. I have enjoyed many other excellent Sonic Youth records, but in some ways I do wish I had left it at Daydream Nation, because it was my first and is still my favourite. I was so excited about the second and third Hot Snakes records, and gutted when they didn’t get within yelling distance of Automatic Midnight. And don’t get me started on Weezer.

Why disappoint yourself? Just put on Blue and sing along to every word.

(side two is my favourite)

Bliss.

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