Bella was born with a LOT of hair; I would go as far as to call it a shock of hair (I certainly didn’t expect my baby to enter the world sporting a mullet.) Since then she has been through quite the barnet journey. So knowing full well she will HATE me when she’s older, welcome to Bella’s Hall of Shame.
She was born with a party at the back and short at the front, emulating many an 80s tennis player. I should’ve expected this given my history. I too had a mullet in my early teens, a large reason why I suffered low-level bullying at school (I compounded this problem by washing it once a week max, prompting the moniker “chip pan head.” Kids are so mean).
P.S. Apparently the word mullet as we now know it was coined by none other than the Beastie Boys in the 1994 song “Mullet Head”. Fact for a pub quiz right there. You are welcome.
The monk’s tonsure
All babies seem to get a bald patch in a halo where they rub their heads as they sleep. Bella added this Spartan patch to her glorious long locks, looking like a monk with an identity crisis. We will definitely save photographic evidence of this particular hair atrocity to unveil when she is eighteen. We will probably turn it into a slide show for when her new squeeze comes round to meet us. That and pics of her in the bath with her feet in her mouth. Parent revenge is a dish served cold. Cannot wait.
The comb over
For a brief period she looked like a cast member from Last of the Summer Wine, with several long strands slicked across the top of her head. We’ve all met a coiffure-clinger before, the kind of person who thinks that seven strands has got to be better than none and all you want to shout is SHAVE IT OFF.
The Mohican 1.0
Then those seven strands came together into the world’s tiniest, shortest Mohican, making her look like a milk drunk punk.
The 90s boy racer
That then grew longer and longer and the start of the summer heat wave left her bonce slick at most times. As a result she had the same fringe as THAT guy you knew in the 90s who still went to raves, drove a car with a blue light under it, wore those trousers with the poppers down the side and tried to grope you in a McDonald’s car park whilst simultaneously chowing down on a pack of 20 McNuggets.
The Mohican 2.0
I have just discovered that I can style her quiff into a Mohican. This will NEVER get old.
When I first started this parenting gig Dr Google was my lifeline. Not only was I desperately sleep deprived, existing only on Hobnobs and a prayer, but I also had ALL of the questions and they came up constantly, day and night (especially night). I was in uncharted territory without a guide and worried incessantly about every move I made. The “Week by Week” book was good, but it couldn’t tell me WHY HER POO WAS GREEN. Reassuringly Dr Google was always there for me, a mere tap away. I didn’t have to wait for a reply or make an appointment. It was there for me at 4am whilst I lay awake with a baby strapped to my breast. It allowed me to wrestle a modicum of control back at one of the most unpredictable times of my life. And most importantly Dr Google never looked down its nose at me. It did not give me a condescending smile and enquire if I was a first time mum in such a way that I knew what it was actually asking was “were you dropped on your head as a child?”
But what you realise after about four months is that Dr Google is a false friend. We have all had false friends in our lives. At university I must have spent half my student loan on those dust-like cereal bars that look healthy but have more calories than a McMuffin. And don’t get me started on the pantsuit I bought that, whilst excessively comfortable and lunge-friendly, gave me a giant camel’s hoof that couldn’t be taken out in public.
And why is Dr Google such a pernicious false friend?
Firstly it has a penchant for all queries leading to diagnosis cancer. It also takes you down bottomless rabbit holes. Because it’s online where every opinion is welcome, you never get resolution, just seventy different, completely opposing views. You also find yourself wading through a baffling new acronym lexicon, including DH – dear husband, DD/DS – dear daughter/son, AIBU- am I being unreasonable (probably yes), DML – dear mother-in-law (I suspect the dear may be heavily laced with sarcasm in this case), and so on and so on. You start out with one question and end up with ten more, convinced you are an awful mother. Ultimately turning to Dr Google becomes an exercise in self-flagellation.
Here are nine things I turned to Dr Google for and apologies in advance, a lot of these are poo related.
1.Why is her poo green? This will happen at some point, probably at 3am, when you can’t even see the nappy properly. Dr Google will direct you to the Poo Pantone; yes, a spectrum of baby poo swatches, from Honey Mustard to Vivid Khaki to Wild Charcoal. As reassuring as this is, when you are trying to colour match in the middle of the night and don’t see your particular shade on there you can easily spiral out of control.
2.Why is she grunting like a wildebeest in her sleep? No one tells you that by about four weeks old your baby will start to sleep-grunt like an unholy combination of the Predator and Beavis/Butthead. Dr Google provided a host of potential solutions; elevating the bed, a reflux wedge, Infacol, colic water, vaporisers, earplugs (for us not her), howling to the new moon at midnight whilst rubbing yourself down with heather. Nothing worked, it just stopped at about eight weeks old, because it was (let’s hear it) JUST A PHASE.
3.What’s the longest a baby has gone without a poo? Reassuringly Dr Google told me they can last a couple of weeks, although if that actually happened I think I would lose my mind and start chanting to the gods of baby bowel movements.
4.Why did she just do a RABBIT PELLET? A rabbit pellet! And the turd queries just keep on coming.
5.How do I get a baby to drink from a bottle? We had an epic battle of the bottle with Bella. Dr Google provided a smorgasbord of potential solutions for this. My favourite was the suggestion that you should start breastfeeding and then sneak the bottle teat in half way through. I tried this and Bella stopped drinking, looked up and laughed at me. Mama didn’t raise no fool.
6.When should I start a routine? Here Dr Google directs you towards two opposing camps of parenting gurus. There are those who believe you should get your baby on a strict schedule the moment they pop out of the womb (perhaps to prepare them for a timetabled world of Outlook and Skype meetings) and those more laissez-faire experts who believe in going with the flow. With SO much to read you just end up ping ponging between the two until you are more baffled than when you started (if possible).
7.How do I get her to self-settle? There is a point when you think self-settling is the holy grail of parenting; you believe it exists and the idea of it gives you hope, but you’ve never seen it personally. Thanks to Dr Google I quickly learnt that I was doing EVERYTHING wrong here, and that Bella would still be either sucking on a boob or a dummy aged 21 in order to get to sleep. In the depths of the blogosphere I did find one thing that worked; replacing the dummy with a strip of cloth that I rubbed all over my chest like some kind of milky dance of the seven muslins.
8.How do I get my baby to nap – IN. THE. HOUSE? After they learn to self-settle they should be able to nap in the flat, in a bed. But no. Apparently at four months old she should’ve been sleeping for circa two hours at lunchtime and waking up refreshed and delightful, not sleeping for 30 minutes max before waking up a raging red eye-browed beast.
9.What can you do to help teething? Baby teeth seem like a pointless waste of time. All that protracted pain only for them to fall out and be replaced. Babies should just gum away at things until they hit adolescence. That or baby dentures. In the absence of mini falsies, I have spent TOO MUCH time Googling teething remedies and TOO MUCH money buying teething remedies, from devilish powder that gets everywhere and resembles class A drugs, to an amber bracelet that got stuck in Bella’s fat folds, to delicious tropical smelling gel that I want to eat as well, to a plethora of toys designed to be GUMMED to death all of which last about ten minutes before being lobbed out of the pram (literally toys, out of the pram).
Raising our little humans will always come with questions because looking after a baby is like nailing soup to a wall. They change constantly and just as you think you have it figured out the bar moves and you have to start all over again. But now I am saying NO to Dr Google. NO to the rabbit hole. NO to having 40 tabs open on my phone. OK even writing that scared me, so maybe it’s not NO, it’s sometimes. Dr Google will be my occasional friend, my once a month for coffee and cake friend, but no longer my bestie. What’s changed is that I am slowly learning to trust my instinct. Now my instinct is definitely not always right, but I am tired of Dr Google telling me I am always wrong.
Last week I got asked by another woman, a mum no less, “why are you still doing THAT?” A perfectly innocuous question I hear you cry. But the THAT in question was breastfeeding. And THAT was said with such disgust that what she could have been asking was “why are you still mutilating small dogs and locking them in disused refrigerators?” Well everyone knows I am a cat person. Why indeed.
This question really got under my skin. As a first time mum you are always on the cusp of a guilt trip. You are convinced that you aren’t doing it right MOST of the time, so you don’t need any help feeling bad about your choices. But of course I said nothing. Of course. So, warning up front, this may get a bit ranty. How you feed your baby is such a personal decision and there is no one right way to do it. I am still breastfeeding Bella at eight months, and I have got to say I have not felt wholeheartedly supported in that decision. I did not expect to feel bad for breastfeeding. A few weeks ago the Royal College of Midwives announced they were putting new emphasis on supporting mums who bottle feed as much as those who breastfeed, which is great because I think that support is THE most important thing. Whichever way you choose to go, whichever way you can go, as you can’t always choose, will ultimately work for you and your baby and should be supported.
So when I was asked why I was still breastfeeding, despite myself I felt guilty. Maybe she IS too old; maybe if I don’t stop now she will still be supping on my boobs into adolescence. I will have to turn up at her university Fresher’s Ball to make her a White Russian (only classy cocktails for my gal). I will have to live under her dorm bed. I will be a 50 year-old husk of a woman, dedicated only to feeding my daughter, with two spaniel’s ears for breasts. I will be like one of those really sad dairy cows you see on the news, tied to a fence with pumps on their udders for 23 hours a day. The spectre of “Bitty” looms menacingly on the horizon. I need to constantly remind myself that she is eight months not eighteen. I also feel guilty that I am depriving Phil of father-daughter feeding bonding time (although nowadays there is more meaningful time spent over a piece of avocado than milk). And I feel guilty for not getting away from her more often as breastfeeding does tie you to four hour increments of freedom at most. Listen to that, I feel GUILTY that I can’t take time to myself more often…I am actually ridiculous.
So why am I still doing THAT eight months in? Well it’s not because I just love how my veiny, baggy, puppies-in-a-sack boobs look (FYI, so sexy). Firstly it was so ridiculously hard in the beginning that I resent giving it up when it is now easy. My nipples bled for almost four weeks. Bella was constantly sicking up a hideous pink mixture of old milk and my blood. I had to sleep with nipple balm under my pillow so it was warmed up and therefore soft enough to apply at any given moment, before, during and after every feed. And Bella fed a LOT. A LOT. At the beginning she was a classic cluster feeder. At one dark point she chowed down every 45 minutes between the hours of 5pm and whatever time we all crawled into bed. At the end of every night (I say end, ha) I wanted to scream into a pillow whilst simultaneously hitting myself in the face. So because breastfeeding was so hard won, part of me doesn’t want to give up on it now it’s simple.
And breastfeeding is great now, both practically and emotionally. In pure practical terms Bella is a lean, mean, breast-emptying machine. She is done in five minutes flat. And it’s convenient; I don’t have to carry bottles with me, I can just flop out said saggy boobs whenever, wherever (a lesser known Shakira song). It’s also cheaper, nay free. Phil made this very pertinent point, as he and his excel sheet are masterfully keeping us afloat during these perilous statutory pay times. And lastly, someone told me that breastfeeding burns between 200-500 calories a day. With my continued addiction to Nutella and my ball-bag stomach I need all the help I can get. As well as practical plus points, emotionally there is also no doubt I feel close to Bella when breastfeeding, especially when she stops, looks up and beams at me halfway through. Heart. Melts.
Saying all this my breastfeeding days may soon be coming to an end. Why? Because Bella has just developed both two teeth and a penchant for clamping down on my nip like a rabid terrier with a bone. Those teeth might be small but they are like two tiny razor sharp knives when applied to what was once an erogenous zone. This is NOT a fun game. THE PAIN. THE PAIN. So the finish line is in sight, but until then, yes, I am still doing THAT.
As a fully-grown adult, knocking on the door of the big 4-0 no less, sometimes it can feel like I have seen it all before. And even if something new does come along, I am far too BUSY and IMPORTANT to stop and care about it. I have EMAILS to send. EMAILS. So what is amazing about raising Bella is that it has forced me to cast aside my frenetic, commute-hardened fuck-off attitude and slow down to experience those first times with her. Because babies have seen nothing before and everything is brand new.
Bella’s young life is a series of firsts, from first sip of water (deeply underwhelmed), to first taste of avocado (deeply overwhelmed, in fact she can’t get enough, that’s my nice middle class baby; I didn’t have avocado til my mid-30s. Growing up in Blackpool in the nineties I didn’t even have pasta til I got to university, unless you count Alphabetti Spaghetti), to first roll over (incandescent because she couldn’t get back the other way), to first adult poo (easy to clean up but by god the straining, the straining). And now we have another first. We took Bella to the playground and she had her first go on the swings. After trying to gum the chain (natch), the look of amazement and sheer joy on her face as she took that virgin swing was just lovely to behold. Babies really do remind you to stop and relish those fleeting moments that make up life. They are simultaneously feverishly exhausting and an exercise in mindfulness. For someone who used to sprint across London from meeting to meeting whilst bashing emails out on my iPhone and somehow also doing Skype calls, this is a much-needed different perspective on life.
So seeing all these freshly minted moments with Bella got me thinking about MY most memorable firsts. And warning, not all of these are baby related.
First Memory Ever: My first memory is of my little brother. He must have been under one year old as he was in the pram bassinet, and I must have been about three. We were in the park and I was putting grass in his mouth. Grass. From the ground. My mum also remembers this, less fondly than I do. My second memory is of building a castle out of old cigarettes that I found in the garden. I was clearly a rank and offensive child.
First Kiss: Sorry if this is a bit Mizz magazine, but this HAD to go in the list. My first snog was fuelled by a gallon of Diamond White, that infamous destroyer of 90s livers. It was at a young farmers ball (that’s how we rolled in Blackpool). This sounds faintly glam but was actually just a big room with sticky carpet, sodden with the secrets of events past, more sick, alco-pop detritus and fag butts than shag-pile. I vaguely remember kissing some boy with slicked forward hair who smelt of Cool Waters and had a Kappa shirt on, before I proceeded to vomit in EVERY corner of the ballroom. I think my friends just moved me round to avoid detection but I left a trail of vom behind me like a cider-powered slug. Classy. Very classy.
First time away from home: We had an 18-30 (does that even still exist anymore?) holiday to Magaluf in the late 1990s. We were three teen girls released from the parental shackles, free to down Archers and Malibu til we could no longer see. This sunny jaunt was EVERY stereotype you could imagine and more. Lineker’s bars, miming sex positions to win shots of rancid liquor, fry up breakfasts where the hash browns were 90% oil, and Union Jack towels on beach loungers at 8am. On day two I fell off a banana boat, got kicked by a fat man and ended up in hospital with a broken arm. So a raging success then.
First Moment with Bella: I will never forget the moment the midwife put her on my chest for the first time, as I lay there covered in ALL of the bodily fluids, so tired I was seeing double. As mentioned in my birth story I did not expect her to come out with full 1980s, eastern-bloc mullet, and the sight of a mini Bjorn Borg (let’s keep going with the old school tennis player references) nestling into me is one that will be imprinted on my memory forever.
First Nappy Change: This was in the maternity ward in the middle of the night and I had NO idea what I was doing, convinced that nappy changing was THE most fiendish task in existence. Bella screamed as I took her freshly christened bodysuit off, screamed as I took her nappy off, screamed as I cleaned her, screamed as I put a new nappy on (which obviously took ten minutes) and screamed as I re-dressed her. I was traumatised. Then all the other babies in the ward started wailing and I could hear their mums tutting in disgust at the squalling banshee who started it all.
So it seems that the great British summertime, that fickle friend, may finally have arrived. I say this whilst crossing all my digits, as I am well aware that in the UK we can go from bikinis to galoshes in the space of 24 hours (obviously I will not be wearing a bikini. No one deserves to see that. There isn’t enough mind bleach in existence to erase such an image). So as the mercury hits 24 degrees I have unveiled my pallid, nay blue flesh. My legs look like uncooked turkey thighs complete with thickets of unshaved hair. Despite my hirsute unreadiness I have always LOVED summers and I particularly enjoy them in London. They are so very different to the summers of my ‘youf’ spent up t’north.
In SW17 you know summer has landed when you head to the common and there are a wealth of neon inflatable chairs, far too many people playing that inexplicable game where you lob sticks at other sticks and some dude flying a drone, who you suspect is somehow looking up girls’ skirts. In Blackpool we knew summer had arrived when we got sent to Gran’s house to play next to the canal with the feral cats whilst she cooked us liver and chips in Trex followed by a generous helping of Neapolitan ice cream. And maybe if we were lucky after all that we got a trip to Kwik Save followed by a game of Spot The Ball.
Summer with a baby is fraught with all sorts of new conundrums. Foremost amongst them is protecting Bella from the sun. Being out in it is fine for my chamois leather skin (when I am proper old I want to resemble a shrivelled tan handbag) but she must be shielded at all costs from the FIREY ORB. Added to that she has a vampiric reaction to sunshine, shrinking back in her pram seat, squeezing her eyes shut and growling like an angry Shih Tzu. Growing up in the 1980s we had a somewhat laissez-faire attitude to being in the sun. My parents used to lather themselves up with sunflower oil and vinegar before hitting the beach; yes they were one piece of tinfoil away from actually frying themselves. Sun tan cream was for pussies. We even had a sunbed in THE HOUSE. Once on a family holiday to Spain I burnt my shins so badly I could see my face in them. I am determined this fate will not befall Bella, so I smother her in layers of Factor 50 until she looks luminous. Her big-gal pram also has a woefully inadequate sunshade (it seems to cover her forehead and that’s about your lot) so I end up darting swiftly from shadow to shadow like I am the only player in some weird, shade hunting game. When we go on holiday and it gets even hotter I am going to have to pour her into a head-to-toe wetsuit, like a neoprene baby ninja.
As well as what to dress Bella in, another issue is what on earth to dress my post partum body in when the sun comes out. Straight after having Bella I lost loads of weight quickly as the water left my body and I deflated like a sad lilo at the end of the holidays. But then I reached equilibrium and since then I can’t seem to shift the post labour “gunt” (an unholy union of gut and… yep, I don’t have to say it), a wobbly, pendulous, needs vacuum packing into jeans, gunt. What to dress this new body part in when the temperature soars is a problem. Thus far my answer has been dungarees and I own ten near identical pairs with varying leg lengths. I basically have the wardrobe of a 90s children’s TV presenter. I half expect Ed the Duck to launch out of my closet every time I open it to bemoan my lack of sartorial choice. I tried to buy a playsuit, the slightly flashier cousin of the dungaree, to hilariously awful results. I ended up looking like a big fat baby with a camel’s hoof.
Then there is summer’s rampant insect population, all of which seem to make a beeline (see what I did there) for Bella. The worst are those limp bluebottles the size of baby birds who act like they have had a few too many tequilas, crashing into everything and sliding to the floor in a heap. And then there are the bees. We have all seen My Girl. Macaulay Culkin’s character was killed BY A BEE. Our flat also seems to have been hit by a coordinated attack from a moth army, who, when not eating holes in my favourite items of clothing, are leaping out from behind the nursery curtains, flapping their massive moth wings with what seems like gusto and scaring the bejesus out of me. This all means constant vigilance when it comes to protecting Bella from these vicious and ubiquitous creatures. (Thank god I am not raising a baby in Australia, or somewhere with ACTUAL insects, I would probably lose my mind.)
So although I bloody love summer, I fear that I may spend this year in a state of high alert, ready to leap into action. Ready to apply sun cream, dive for the shade or defend from rogue insects at any given moment. Summer, summer, summertime, time to sit back and unwind? Not so much.
So I might be having a mid-maternity leave crisis. I just tried to get my nose re-pierced. I traipsed all the way to this tattoo shop in Earlsfield only to be told by a very responsible man who was more piercing than face that I couldn’t have it done whilst breastfeeding. I was strangely gutted. The last time I had my beak pierced I was nineteen years old and rampaging around the wilds of South America, wearing head-to-toe “local” clothing (the kind that marks you out as anything but local), downing tequila from the bottle and passing out on the street. The “gap” in gap year actually stands for memory gaps. I fear I am trying to recapture a sliver of that heady, heady freedom as I slide irrevocably into domesticity. And I am sliding. Last night after I put Bella to bed I found myself cleaning the kitchen. Rather than sitting down on the sofa with a jumbo bag of Hula Hoops, a well-deserved glass of Gavi and another episode of Say Yes to the Dress, I was marigolded and vigorously scrubbing the top of the washing machine. The top of the washing machine. Then the draining board. The draining board. And then I looked at our bargain washing up liquid and thought “well, it really comes out too fast, so actually although that was cheaper it’s a false economy.”
That was how I knew I had changed. Ask Phil, ask my mum, ask my old flatmates, I have never been a particularly conscientious person when it comes to cleaning. Not cleaning myself, there I am on point, but house cleanliness. I mean I am not unhygienic and don’t live in my own swill, but let’s just say I used to have a laissez-faire attitude to it all. One particular highlight from my younger flatshare days was when I let a cup of hot chocolate grow mould under my bed (the kind of mould that is so fluffy it almost looks like a pet you want to keep). It was my flatmate’s Newcastle United FC cup, a treasured piece of Toon Army paraphernalia, but rather than wash it I threw it straight in the bin. At university the cleaner for our halls went on strike after we wore her down with our mould growing antics and our insistence on using the carpets as wardrobes. See, laissez-faire.
Since having Bella and being at home more I can feel myself turning more and more domestic. Day by day I feel myself slipping into the stereotype of the stay at home mum as I run around the flat trying to tidy things whilst Bella is either asleep or distracted. Both of these things could end at any given moment so it adds an air of jeopardy to proceedings, like the Supermarket Sweep of cleaning. But this means that you learn to grab every minute you can to DO STUFF, because you might not get a single second, you might get ten minutes or on exceptionally lucky days when a butterfly in outer Bolivia has flapped its wings at the right time, you might get a WHOLE HOUR.
It is also changing my relationship with Phil, as I slide irrevocably into domesticity. Before Bella I saw us as best friends with no real roles. In fact Phil is far better at cooking and far more attentive to cleaning than I am, but now I am evolving into lady-about-house. It is my responsibility to look after Bella, corral the never-ending stream of laundry, mop up the vomit, soak the poo stains, empty the nappy bin, tidy the toys away, sanitise the bejesus out of everything she touches and wash the dishes on a daily basis. And this isn’t because Phil asks me to or expects me to, it’s just a natural evolution because I am at home a lot of the day and I don’t want to spend time in a flat that smells pervasively of baby poo.
As well as the daily chores that come as a side dish to looking after a baby, there are also a PLETHORA of daily decisions that have become my responsibility. These are on a spectrum, from tiny choices such as what to pack in her nappy bag (beyond the obvious nappies) to more momentous ones like when we start weaning. Sometimes I talk to myself about these, boring my way to a resolution. Sometimes Phil gets this treat. Last night was a classic example. In what world does which clothes we put her in at night when it’s 22 degrees outside require a 30-minute monologue? “Shall we put her in the sleep suit and the vest? Or just the vest? But then maybe her arms will get cold? And the sleeping bag or just a blanket? And should we open the window, but what about the foxes that make very loud sweet fox love outside her window every night at 5am?” AND SO ON.
I never expected us to change into the traditional stereotype of mum and dad, yet it happened within weeks of her being born. This has not only made me question myself but has also really dented my confidence. Firstly I never saw myself in this role, I was WORKING WOMAN, at the office for twelve hour days on conference calls with China with a headset that made me feel like a cross between Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl and a 90s Madonna. Secondly, I am also fundamentally just not very good at running a household. I am the opposite of a domestic goddess. If there was such a celestial being I think she would be called Hooverite, and she would send me to domestic goddess purgatory to clean public bathrooms with only a toothbrush and my own spit until I got good at it. I am not one of those people who has Tuppawear in different sizes (I don’t in fact have any Tuppawear at all), I always put colours in with the whites and am constantly surprised when nice crisp shirts turn a mottled pink, I seem to iron creases into clothes, and I can’t really wash up properly, my plates always have bits of stubborn cheese stuck to them. I no longer grow mould in receptacles under my bed, but I just don’t have the type of brain that lends itself to efficient domesticity.
So I am learning as I go, and some days this stresses me out more than it should and has given me a mid-maternity leave crisis. I am a work in progress. A slow work in progress. Yesterday when washing I turned a white cushion; you guessed it, mottled pink. It will be interesting to see what happens when I go back to work and am not spending twenty hours a day in the house. But for the moment this is the new normal. I am one crinoline skirt shy of being a 1950s housewife. And for the first time I get why 1950s housewives had a well-known addiction to speed.
This morning I went into Bella’s room to find that it stank like the inside of a Glasto Portaloo at the end of day three. I half expected to find a festival reveller passed out under her cot having fully soiled themselves. Not only had Bella pooed herself in her sleep, she had also done her first ADULT POO. For those of you not intimately familiar with the topic of baby shit (I have become that person who spends too much time on Dr Google looking at the poo-Pantone), breastfed baby poo looks like chicken korma and smells OK (OK being all relative). However as soon as they start eating purées and solids they start to produce adult-like poo, which bloody stinks. You need a Hazmat suit and tongs to remove the evidence. My only consolation is that one day she will be changing my pensioner nappies. Her first foray into the world of adult turds is a sign that she is growing up fast.
In fact now she is six months old she is looking more and more like a little girl each day, and less and less like a capuchin monkey. I had a frightening flash forward to her as terrible teen, which, if she’s anything like me, will be truly horrific. One day she will be going out sporting inappropriately tight velvet outfits from Bay Trading and I will put on my mum voice and tell her that she “forgot to put on a skirt” and to “get back upstairs and put some clothes on”. She will be sneaking off to the park to drink cider (read lighter fluid) and heavy-pet with boys who work at McDonald’s. Phil has already got a list of probing questions and a torch to turn inquisitor on her first boyfriend, or girlfriend, or gender-nonspecific-friend, as the case may be.
The biggest change so far has been moving out of the newborn phase, which happened at around three and a bit months. This created a maelstrom of bittersweet emotions inside me. On the one hand I am beyond excited by her development into a proper child. “She ROLLED OVER”, “she PUT HER FEET IN HER MOUTH”, “she SAID HI” (she definitely didn’t) being just a snapshot of text messages to my mum over the past few weeks. But on the other hand I also hark back with rose-tinted nostalgia for those (let’s face it horrific) newborn days. How quickly we forget.
So how do you know when your baby is leaving those hallowed fresh-from-the-vagina days behind?
Here are nine sure-fire signs:
1. They start looking weird in romper suits. At the start rompers are the easiest to put their floppy bodies in as they scream bloody murder at your sheer audacity in dressing them. But from about four months they start to look like Matt Lucas in a onesie.
2. Their bald patch grows over. When they are first born, if they have hair at all, they develop a monk-like bald patch where they rub their heads when sleeping. When this starts to fluff-over you know your newborn days are numbered.
3. They don’t fall asleep on you anymore. At the start they would just pass out on you at any given moment like your dribbling drunk uncle at Xmas. Now they are just TOO EXCITED (imagine eyes bulging) when in company to do any such thing.
4. In fact they don’t fall asleep anywhere anymore. You start to walk that tiredness tightrope – too tired and they won’t nap, not tired enough and they won’t nap. Basically they will only sleep whilst lying in a south facing direction, with you standing on one leg and rocking them to the rhythm of “Stayin’ Alive”.
5. You have to invest in distraction techniques. Weapons of mass distraction (more on this to come) are essential to keep them from getting bored and firing you.
6. They start to get thighs like the Michelin man. They get folds on their folds and you just want to EAT THEM. Their thighs are particularly crease-heavy, and don’t get me started on the “multi-gina” (thanks @ElleHuntingford for that very apt description).
7.The you-facing carrier starts to piss them right off. Suddenly you are carrying a wriggling piece of snarling custard.
8.They move to the big gal pram. You know it is time when you have to concertina them into the bassinet and being laid flat, unable to see the world around them, creates merry havoc.
9.They start to gum everything. Anything in arms reach goes straight in the mouth for a generous gumming. Anything. Your hand, your hair, cushions, napkins, cutlery, the side of the table, the floor, their feet, the cat.
Nothing can prepare you for those early months with a newborn baby. They are nothing short of a siege, a siege where you are fighting blind. After 24 hours in hospital I was parachuted into an uncharted battle zone with only Ewan the Dream Sheep and my ravaged boobs in the armoury. The time passed in an exhausted fug, the kind of exhaustion I have never known before. It felt like I was constantly at the wrong end of a 48-hour bender (without the bender). I sleepwalked through the days (and nights) in a haze of milk encrusted sweat pants, Hob Nob biscuit crumbs and adult nappies. One morning I even brushed my teeth with Sudocrem.
They call this tumultuous period the fourth trimester (or “100 days of hell”) because the baby should really still be inside you. That’s why swaddling, skin to skin and white noise work so well; we are tricking them into thinking they are still in vitro. Human babies are the least prepared to exist in the real world when they pop out. Just think about those iguanas on Planet Earth 2. The minute they hatch they have to run through a gauntlet of hungry snakes and escape to the beach where the parent iguanas are hanging out, chilling with their piña coladas. RUN. THROUGH A GAUNTLET OF HUNGRY SNAKES. Human babies can’t even hold their heads up. We should be more like elephants – pregnant for 22 months. Actually scratch that, I could not have been pregnant for another second more, I was practically beached at 9 months never mind 22.
The good news is that this doesn’t last (let’s not forget that everything is JUST A PHASE) but to get through it you have to live just one day at a time. You also learn to look forward to the little things, the small wins that make sleeping in two-hour chunks bearable.
So here are my top five small rewards:
Nutella with a spoon: I have history with Nutella; we go way, way back. At one dark point our relationship descended into addiction. I would eat a whole jar every week with just a spoon (OK fine, sometimes just my fingers). My flatmates would find me huddled in the kitchen pretending to do the washing up whilst shoving dessertspoon upon dessertspoon into my gob. I would constantly find telltale chocolate residue lingering round the corners of my mouth and smeared in my hair. I had to go cold turkey circa 2012. Let me tell you, the Nutella DT’s are not pretty. Despite warnings from my friends Nutella is now back with a vengeance. It is my breakfast food of choice, my reward for getting through the night before.
Clean (ish) hair: Labour left me feeling like I had been run over and then backed over by an aggressive freight train. Added to that my hair was so filthy it looked like a large, flea-riddled rodent with a fringe had died on my head. So that first shower at home was a beauteous moment. It is also a daily joy, five whole minutes to myself (and by myself I obviously mean that Bella is sat outside the shower cubicle, my own tiny voyeur.)
Walking, walking, walking: I was never a fan of walking, being a destination-not-journey kind of gal. But from our second day home we started going on long walks with Bella in the pram. Even though it was mid-November and the weather highlight was ‘mizzle’ it got my battered, saggy body moving again, albeit at a glacial pace. Five months on, as the weather highlight is still mizzle and a trot round Tooting Common comes with risk of trench foot, I am still walking every day. I must confess it has somewhat lost its charm as the British winter persists into May and I feel like I intimately know every paving crack in SW17. I wish I had invested in galoshes. Here is a soundtrack for an hour long walk:
Having your food cut into tiny bite-sized pieces: Bella had an unerring ability to want feeding the moment my breakfast/lunch/dinner/any snack was ready. Not able to use both a knife and fork and breastfeed, I relied on Phil to cut and dice my food into small chunks so that it could be eaten with one hand. The alternative was writhing away at my meals like some kind of rabid woodland creature.
ALL of the box sets: in the first three months babies sleep a lot. After you are done with the just STARING at them phase, box sets are essential to maintain your sanity. Incapable of any real thought, I enjoyed proper mind-mush series on Netflix, from Pretty Little Liars (definitely aimed at teenaged girls), to Gossip Girl (aimed at teenaged girls in 2007) and all the series of Friends from start to finish. I also spent a disproportionate amount of time selecting my favourite Friends episode. All I will say is “pivot….pivot…pivot.”
So, let’s talk about boobs. Yesterday whilst Bella napped I decided I would clean out my underwear drawer (it was that or watch The Bachelor, which I know for a fact actively kills brain cells). After I had consigned to the bin an array of off-white, off-pink, off-cream granny pants I put on a normal bra for the first time in five months. Not for the whole day, not for keeps, but just for fun, because I was nostalgic for the simple pleasure of a Primarché, two-for-£8, fabric so synthetic you need to keep away from open flames, balcony bra.
Post birth, it’s not enough that your stomach turns into a ball sack, your boobs also turn on you. Three things happen. Firstly your size A’s (OK fine, AA’s) turn into veiny, lumpy barrage balloons, at times so bloated that actual sailors stranded at sea could use them to float home on.
Secondly they start doing their own leaky thing, sometimes at the most inopportune moments. Like a faulty faucet they constantly drip, forcing you to invest in breast pads (think Tampax for your bra), which I swear gave me the boob equivalent of nappy rash. I also did not realise that milk would squirt out of the breast like a jet powered shower head with no Off switch, leading to the constant risk of splashback.
Lastly, your boobs are no longer your own, as you effectively lease them out for as long as you breastfeed. And the start of that rental agreement can be a war of attrition, as your besieged nipples adjust. Mine were bleeding with every feed at one dark point, and nothing makes you feel worse than seeing your baby vomming up your own blood. So your boobs are there only to provide the all you can eat breast-buffet (customers of Chez Linds may complain about the lack of variety). If you aren’t actually breastfeeding, you are expressing breast milk, a process so damn farmyard it will put you off dairy for life. And when your boyfriend has seen your nipples stretched to over an inch long strapped to a pump, there is no longer any romance left in the world. Whatever sexual desire wasn’t killed by seeing a baby rudely ejected from your vagina will swiftly by extinguished by seeing the breast pump in action. Phil can’t watch as I express, for fear if he looks the pump in the eye it will turn him to stone.
Alongside changes to my boobs, I have also made changes to my wardrobe, changes that facilitate the seamless unveiling of a nip at any given moment. Gone is the plunge, the balconette, the push up, the strapless, the nipple tassels (no? me neither) and here to stay is the nursing bra. This tarp-like contraption is designed to give maximum coverage and is feed ready, with a handy flap that unstraps to reveal boob. It is the mum equivalent of the flasher mac. You could also use it to cover SW17 when it rains.
I also invested in a range of absolutely rank nursing tops; vests with straps that clip undone and T-shirts with flaps of loose fabric that I can stick Bella’s head under. All of these are just plain nasty and despite the breast pads, are constantly milk stained. I now smell like the underside of an udder. You could bottle my odour and sell it as ‘’eau de lait’. I have become one of those people that you avoid standing next to on buses.
So it was with great joy that for ten glorious minutes yesterday morning I was not a MILK-BOT, I was just a girl in a reasonably priced bra dancing round the bedroom to Trevor Nelson’s rhythm nation grooves. I will take that.