How to raise boys

They have gone rock climbing with their dad. One will be scared, distrustful of the ropes and buckles, the hired shoes. He might cry, crack the shits and demand they come home after ten minutes. One will be too confident, arrogant even, annoying everyone with his bravado and swagger. It’s hard to say which will be which. They operate in relation to each other, like yin and yang. One up, one down.

At a Christmas party, I am given a pair of inflatable plasticky logs, meant for play fighting in a pool. I plan to save them for our next river swim, but the boys grab them from my hands and puff out their sweaty cheeks, before passing me the nozzle, gummed with their saliva. They circle around my legs like excitable fish. ‘As if you need another reason to fight,’ I laugh, and they both lift their arms in the air, cheeks red. They take them onto the trampoline and belt the crap out of each other, screaming, and I keep running to the back door thinking one is hurt, but they are red and sweaty and laughing.

I had an acupuncture session this morning, to strengthen my uterus. I have too much fire in my heart, the therapist tells me. Too much heat, too much excitement. More yang than yin. I think of the nights spent awake in the dark, thoughts racing. I promise to drink the herbs and teas she has prescribed.

In the night, one will climb into my bed. His head is permanently damp with sweat. He brings an armful of teddies: Sophie, Frankie, Blue Bear, Snoozy, Baby Bear, Dusty Martin, Fluffy, Bubble Bear and Bunny. He sleeps with them all every night. Their faces are squashed and the fur is matted where he rubs it in his sleep. I wake up face to face with the enormous eyes of a pink Beanie Boo.

I am on the toilet when the door is pushed open. There is a scramble of muffled giggles, and then a chicken named Jack Riewoldt is thrust into the bathroom and the door is slammed shut. Hysterical screeches from outside the door. The chicken and I eye each other, then the door opens again. They want to surprise me but also to see my reaction.

‘We put a chicken in the bathroom! While you were on the toilet! And shut the door!’ One states the obvious, the other rolls his eyes. Both are red faced and giggling maniacally.

The chicken shits on the floor and I wonder if you can die from laughing too much.

Will the circle be unbroken

I haven’t written anything here for months, in part because the posts below are a record of last year’s stillbirth, and it doesn’t feel right for them to become lost in chronology.

At one of our early sessions, my beloved perinatal grief counsellor drew a picture on the whiteboard in her office of a circle of grief, then another circle attached to the side. She drew more and more circles until it looked like a cluster of cells stuck together, a blastocyst. The grief was still there, in the centre, but the other circles had grown around it until it was just one circle among others. I was sceptical: at the time, Edie's death and birth were still lodged in sharp shards all over my body. Feeling normal seemed impossible.

At my youngest son’s Gymbaroo class, they have a machine that fills the room with bubbles, and the kids are encouraged to pop them using one finger. It is to improve their fine motor skills, I guess, in preparation for handwriting. Jed tries to pop them with his tongue, his toes. Sometimes the machine shoots out a string of mutant bubbles, three or four bubbles conjoined. ‘I got a triple!’ he yells, swatting it with his whole hand.

This is what I think of when I remember the conjoined circles on the whiteboard, the grief at the centre. A few months ago, I was stuck in the bubble, looking out through the swirly, soapy walls. Not letting anything else in, or out.

But now the grief has shapeshifted again and has become something that will forever be part of our family, but no longer feels all-consuming. The time between bouts of crying in the toilets at work has grown longer. I no longer dissolve into tears upon finding a pile of old maternity clothes in the bottom drawer, at learning about a colleague’s pregnancy. My life has grown around the grief, as promised.

I never thought it could happen, but here we are, nine months later, and I can look up from the daily minutiae that occupy a family: kinder enrolments, applying make-up in the car, late-night Panadol dispensing. Drying cheeks, wiping faces. I can look back, at what happened. At how we survived the impossible. Finding out your baby has died in utero, then carrying her, dead, for three more days before giving birth, without drugs, in a labour ward where you can hear women delivering healthy babies in the next room. Choosing a funeral home before she is even born. Going back to work, body and heart still aching.

It's amazing what humans can withstand.

This time last year, I was newly pregnant. By now I would have a four-month-old daughter. I would be deep in the throes of a new baby: waking through the night to feed, my belly still soft and swollen.

Instead, her ashes are in a cardboard box on the bookshelf. We have planted a pink flowering gum, in memory of the sister my sons never met. The wallabies keep chewing the leaves, and I keep forgetting to water it. It might live, or not. It doesn’t matter either way. She is not in that tree, or even in the cardboard box, really. She is still in me.

She is the extra depth of emotion I can access at any given moment. She is the fire in my belly, the survivor's instinct. She is in the way my son's pat me on the hand when I cry in kid's cartoons, in the way they have seen their parents bend backwards, almost breaking but not quite, before slowly straightening again, stronger than before. She was here only momentarily, but her legacy remains forever.

---

There is an old hymn I cry to sometimes. I don’t know who wrote it, but I listen to the June Carter version in the car, tears pouring down my cheeks.

Monday.

IMG_9329 Jed is stuck in the doona cover. He and Archie are both laughing hysterically as Jed flails around, a tiny body stuck in a huge polka dot bag. “No help me! Jed okay!” as he clearly is not okay.

--

Archie turns four tomorrow. He wants me to sing him to sleep, so we snuggle under the (aforementioned) doona and curl our fingers together. I start with It’s a Small World, which I sang for hours and hours when he was a tiny baby, slowly sure that I was destroying both of us. He never slept well. Even now, he bends into me with sleepy eyes, but still wriggling and jiggling his legs. “I am very very tired but my body won’t sleep.” I understand that feeling, of exhaustion tipping into jittery wakefulness. We do some deep breathing as I rub his back, calling sleep in.

--

I eat baked chicken by the glow of the computer, shoveling and not tasting, but filling my hunger for words and news and stories and people.

--

There is a black wallaby in our front yard. It stays stock still as the boys yell out to it. “Wobbily! Do you have a baby in your pocket!” It turns and flees back down the hill to the river, bouncing comically through the scrub.

--

Someone has plastered the bridge and the roundabout with election campaign posters, or rather, anti-campaign posters. I feel a bubble of annoyance: surely this place, of all places, is above all that. I like to filter my news and thus my outrage.

--

We are going to Bali on Saturday. I sit in front of the heater wearing three layers as I pack the boy’s gear: three shorts, three t-shirts, a huge bottle of sunscreen, thongs, hats. I only have one decent bikini; it might be time to accept that I am 30 and have birthed two children and get a one piece. But my rising feminist streak wants to wear a goddamn bikini until I am 80 and a wrinkling, sagging old broad.

Musings

6am. Archie bolts out of his bedroom, scratching the sleep out of his eyes. He slams his bedroom door with such ferocity that the picture frames rattle. “I’m so hungry, mum. I was just thinking about having weet bix with yoghurt instead of milk. Is that funny? Or not?” 9am. Jed is refusing shoes. He is full of rage, tears and snot and fury smearing his cherubic face into a snarl. I throw three pairs into the car and tell him a complicated story about Grandpa and motorbikes as I wrestle him into the carseat. He looks sadly out the window as we cross the bridge, still sobbing. “No ducks, mum.”

10am. The goat in our front yard nibbles the patch of Christmas lilies. We eyeball each other as I scull lukewarm tea on the deck. She uses her horn to scratch her matted fur, then turns her back and saunters down the hill.

12pm. I remember a conversation with the old owners of our house as I clamber up the hill to the washing line. “Snakes everywhere, ‘specially when it starts warming up. We found them in the compost bin, under the car. I stepped outside one day and a big tiger snake wrapped himself around my leg.” We laugh together but I feel cold as I scan the ground.

1pm. The program I use to do our business accounts is frozen. I slyly open up trashy websites and scroll through endless beauty advice. I contemplate dyeing my hair again, or eyelash extensions. Instead, I find a tube of hand cream in my bag and slather it on my dry, garden-worn knuckles.

3pm. I hear Jed calling me from the carpark as I walk up to kinder. “MUM’S CAR. Hi Mum. MUM!” He points frantically at all his friends, his teachers. His favourite ball. Showing me his day.

4.30pm. Archie is following me through the garden, holding the end of a hose. He is obsessed with rescue vehicles, outer space and knights. He pores over the birthday cake book. “I want the swimming pool for my party day, and the castle for my actual birthday, mum, okay?”

6pm. I clean the kitchen while the boys and their dad empty the bath of water, one splash at a time. Weetbix from this morning is cemented to the floor. I scratch my nails into it, then have a go with the Chux. “You could render a house with fucking Weetbix!”, I yell to Lee, not for the first time.

7.15pm. Archie and I lay in his bed, telling stories of knights who fly space rockets to rescue aliens. He smells of sweat and dinner. I pretend to tickle him but take a deep inhale behind his ear, my hand on his round belly.

8.30pm. I lay on my bed, idly scrolling through instagram. Other people’s kids. Impossibly clean rooms. Green smoothies. I wander into the kitchen and make sultana toast smeared thick with butter.

10pm. I shove my earplugs in and mutter “goodnight, honey. Love ya.” to Lee. His response is muffled but he pats me on the bum and we hook our feet together, facing away from each other as the twin glow from our Kindles joins the moonlight, and the world retreats into inertia.

 

 

 

Lately...

2016-04-01 08.48.16So, we have had a huge month. We moved house on Good Friday, immediately all got gastro, then a week later I hosted a huge party for my 30th birthday. What a start to the year, amiright? It has been beyond hectic and I feel like things will hopefully start slowing down soon. Or not. My mind is chockers so consider this post a brain dump (I actually hate that term because DUMP is never a good choice of word).

  • Jed is sort of toilet training and is determined to do wees standing up. He is one year old and about three feet tall so it's not really working for him. Cute though.
  • I got my nails done for my birthday and they are this gel stuff, very fancy. I love looking down at them and feeling like a glam grown up.
  • We are all going to Bali in June and I literally own zero hot weather gear, so checked out the Myer sale today and found a pair of cute denim shorts on sale for $19 down from $80. And they were size six. I am not a size six by any means, so thanks Country Road for the positive boost.
  • My car is so insanely messy right now. It is filthy and I am horrified, but clearly not enough to do anything about it.
  • I am loving living here. We have seen rock wallabies and kangaroos in the front yard, a brown snake and heaps of cool little birds.
  • Speaking of snakes, Jed is pretty into snakes and whenever he sees a millipede he's like 'Mum! Snake! Sssssss!' That's all very cute, but yesterday he was up near our washing line (ie literally in the bush with a stunning view of the Dandenongs) and came down and says nonchalantly, "Snake up dere mum." Is is a millipede? Or a freaking tiger snake? We will never know.
  • I am doing quite a bit of writing over at the Creative Women's Circle blog. I love chatting to interesting dames about their creative practices.
  • I have been getting really into meditating using the Headspace program. It's really practical and simple, and doesn't have any of the woo woo shite that some other meditation apps love.
  • I want to do a bit of a reno update post, with pics of our new house, but we all know that it will be a crappy iPhone photoshoot so I'm putting it off. That said, the house is looking mighty fine and I am loving myself sick in this new space.
  • Archie and I spent the day together yesterday and it was ace. We don't get much one on one time so a whole day of library visits, cafe hangs and Legoing was perfect. He is turning out to be such a cool little person.

I think that's all. Now I'm going to watch Broad City and crochet in my dressing gown, like the 30 year old nanna that I am.

 

xx

On power and violence

I've been following the wretched story of George Pell and Tim Minchin and the child sexual abuse by clergy in Ballarat. And Melbourne. And Sydney and small and large towns all across Australia and the world. And pondering how this ties in with bigger ideas of power and religion and abuse. Of masculinity and feminism, sexual violence, rape culture and again, power.

We seem to be at a precipice of change:  victims and survivors of long-buried abuse are taking the lead of a the generation of people who didn't grow up under the stifling social norms of the mid-century, and won't accept the what-will-people-think excuse.

But.

The US justice system told Kesha that she must continue working with her abuser.

George Pell won't come home and face the music, and (surprise surprise) a Catholic right-wing columnist defended him.

Bill Cosby. Rolf Harris. Jimmy Savile.

One in three women globally are survivors of sexual violence. This number does not count the women who have been felt up in a taxi, had their hands unwillingly shoved down a man's pants, been leered at on a tram, had their bra strap flicked or their shirt pulled down or or or...  I am yet to meet a women who hasn't experienced any of the above.

I have two boys, who will one day become men and enjoy all the privilege that comes with their gender. The best I can do is mother those boys and teach them about consent, and power, and respect.

Here is a brilliant, wrenching post by Bec Woolf about how sexual violence begins with teaching men not to rape. 

And this article from the Good Men Project on how to do that, starting from when boys are toddlers. 

 

Go and give your kids a cuddle.

On parenting challenges

DSC_0009.jpgThese past few weeks, my gorgeous, funny, kind three-year-old has been replaced by a grumpy, shouty monster child. There is a lot going on: he's started kinder two days per week, we are getting ready to move (again), Lee and I are back at work after the holidays. Our little family feels a bit like we are in limbo - our Coburg house is open for inspection but we spend weekends building the kitchen and scheming plans for Yarra Yarra, the boys kinder and swimming lessons are in Warrandyte but all our friends are still in Coburg and Brunswick. All the disequilibrium must be rubbing off on my sensitive little dude, because oh boy is he playing up. He is not one to have big temper tantrums (except for one time at the Melbourne Zoo gift shop when I literally had to promise him that Santa would bring the seaplane toy he fell in love with (PS Santa delivered the goods)), but he throws things at me, runs away or collapses onto the floor giving me 1001 reasons why he doesn't need to have a shower, or put his shoes on, or immediately build a firetruck out of a cardboard box just as he's getting his jammies on for bed.

I am a pretty relaxed parent and encourage lots of playing outside, getting messy and taking risks. My kids use knives to chop food, can drill holes with an electric drill and (attempt to) skateboard on their own. I figure that taking risks now, when the stakes are pretty low, will minimise the risk taking when they are teenagers and the stakes are much higher.

We have tried time outs and reward charts but frankly, they don't work for my kids and led to a ridiculous bargaining system that Archie quickly outsmarted. I let them jump on the bed and run around screeching like banshees and play cricket in the hallway. My theory is that with two parents with 'anxious tendencies' (read: full blown anxiety disorders), my best tactic for protecting my kids' mental health is to encourage them to find their voices and strengths early so they are confident enough in themselves to be resilient in the face of anything the world throws at them. Some of our family rules posted on the pantry door are "We are loud", "We can talk about hard things" and "We are kind to each other and to ourselves" along with the usual no hitting, no punching, no being mean.

My favourite book about parenting (and business, and marriage, and anything involving humans dealing with other humans) is How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will  Talk by Faber and Mazlish. The emotion-based philosophy is really coming into its own for my moody kindergartener. When he is cross, even when he is trying to hit me, I hug him tight and give a name to his feelings. When he is sad, we talk about things that might make him feel better. I try hard to take him seriously and set firm boundaries which he constantly comes crashing up against. I read once that setting loving boundaries as a child helps encourage self-discipline as an adult. And after all, he will be an adult for a lot longer than he is a child. I need to remind myself that he is still tiny, still learning and that his big emotions are terrifying, to me and to him.

And now I'm going to go kiss his sweaty little sleeping head and hope that tomorrow is calmer

The Dictator

IMG_5990

I thought the Terrible Twos were kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, and if I just stayed positive and light it would not be too much of a big deal.

I was wrong.

The big one is a whirlwind of activity and intensity. He is stubborn, independent and contrary, quick to give kisses and cuddles, loves wrestling and climbing all over me, then will start punching me in the arm.

His inner world is a huge volatile ocean of emotions and thoughts and feelings, and the weather can change from happy and content to total devastation and turmoil in the amount of time it takes a Lego tower to fall down. There are some days when it's like living with a tiny, noisy lunatic dictator. He bosses me around, bosses Jed around, bosses his toys around. I have to keep reminding myself that I'M the boss, not this confident, decisive little man-child. I tell him it's time for lunch and he'll say, "Actually, no mum. Wait until I'm ready, please" like a three-foot CEO.

While we were on holiday he had a fullscale meltdown over banana glue. His banana broke in half, so I fixed it with imaginary 'Banana Glue'.

Mistake.

The high point of the resulting tantrum was me cleaning non-existent Banana Glue off the broken ends of his banana and presenting it to him to inspect. He would wail hysterically while I ran back to the kitchen to get every last bit of non-existent glue off the banana, muttering to myself "How did I get here? I am an intelligent person and THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS EFFING BANANA GLUE!"

I read something about Emphatic Limits, where you set a limit and can comfort the kid when he cracks it, but still don't give in. I think it is kind of working, maybe? At every stage of the game, I have felt waaaaay out of my league but never more than dealing with a defiant toddler. But! He is hysterically funny, and prone to random breakdancing displays on the footpath, or spontaneous "I love yous" while yanking his shorts on, or big face squeezing, eye gazing, lip smacking kisses. It's a rollercoaster of emotions and disaster and mess and joy.

x

So...it's been a while

IMG_5898 The boys are seven months old  and two and a half now. The little guy is a sitting, eating, smiling little human being, with a personality and an opinion. The big guy is two and a half, and is an assertive, boisterous dude who makes strangers in Kmart watch him jump and doesn't like carrots because "I'm not a bunny rabbit, mum!" I am twenty-eight. I am working on liking what I like, carving out time, staying calm in the face of sleeplessness and chaos. So that is where we are.

Reading...

I have read a lot of brilliant, eye-opening writing lately, all on the Kobo (which is like a Kindle). The e-reader makes me read SO much more. I thought I would have the opposite effect, but according to the Reading Stats on the device, I have read 46 books in 335 hours in the past 12 months. That's almost a book a week, which isn't bad considering I had a baby and moved house in the past year. For 2015, I am making a commitment to read only Australian fiction. I've started early and in the past month have read The Strays by Emily Bitto, Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett, This House of Grief, The First Stone and True Stories by Helen Garner, and The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. Reading so much of Garner's non-fiction work is what inspired me to start blogging again. Her writing slays me with its honesty, bluntness and total lack of irony or self-consciousness.

Wondering...

Part of the reason I haven't written here for a while is because I have conflicting feelings about sharing so much of my kid's lives online. There are a whole host of issues surrounding consent, identity and privacy that I'm not sure how to navigate it all... I don't know if anyone does, really. I think I will henceforth refer to the kids as A and J, and limit the amount of photos of their faces. It feels weird and curbs the flow of writing but we don't know how the online landscape will look in ten years, so for now I will be cautious.

Doing...

Enjoying summer. Having naked kids and me in a singlet, eating mangoes and peaches for lunch, rolling around hysterically on a rug in the backyard pretending to chew on little chubby thighs and grubby toes. Breathing in the bit behind J's ear that smells like almonds. Blasting the Lumineers and playing cricket in the laneway. Going to bed early and reading while sharing a Terry's Chocolate Orange with Lee. Making plans and schemes and lists for next year, our year of balance. Lee and I are both going to work part time. I am excited/scared about it, about sharing my domain of routines and dirty floors and playdates, and formalising working with my husband. It will certainly be an interesting transition - I will keep you updated.

x

Five things from the first twelve weeks

IMG_4702 So I have had a three month blog hiatus after my little dude was born. Understandable, considering I have become the kind of person who takes several days to reply to a text, let along write a freaking blog post. The little guys take up quite a bit of time, with the feeding and yabbering and feeding and laughing and pooping and feeding and not napping. Jed is awesome and cute and funny and much, much more relaxed than his brother was at his age. The first few months with a baby are messy, chaotic and emotional, but we are slowly emerging from the bubble back into the real world. Here's some stuff I've noticed from the first three months...

  • The logistics of having two kids is tricky. Do I leave Jed on the footpath while I strap Archie into the car? Or leave Archie to hold on to me while I get Jed in? Gah!
  • I have to include at least 10 minutes just to get out of the house. As in, the actual act of walking from the back door to driving down the driveway. It goes like this: Manage to get both kids dressed in relatively clean clothes. Watch Archie jump off the back step six times. Carry Jed's carseat and the enormous nappy bag into the car. Tell Archie not to run on the driveway. Clip Jed's carseat in. Chase Archie across the backyard. Negotiate with him to come to the car. Wrestle him into the carseat. Settle an unhappy Jed. Start car. Go back inside to get forgotten water bottle. Realise I have the wrong pram in the boot. Take single pram out and lug the enormous double pram into the boot. Resettle Jed. Finally start moving, while singing 53745750 verses of the Wheels on the Bus.
  • I am not as tired this time around. I think part of it is that I am already used to being up at 6am and going to bed early, and have gotten waaaaay more efficient with sleep. And I know the sleepless nights will eventually pass and I will miss the nighttime feedings one day. That said, Jed is currently only waking up once a night, usually at about 2am and sleeps 7-7, so I can't complain too much. Although Archie was a great sleeper until he hit four months and started waking up at least five times a night... so I'm not getting too excited.
  • Breastfeeding is a bit easier the second time around. I am more comfortable flopping the boob out in public or in awkward positions (while playing cricket with Archie, for example), and got a handle on the oversupply issues more quickly. Jed feeds every three hours, and takes 3-5 minutes to feed. And he only feeds one side at a time. I know, I know. I am pretty lucky, but because he feeds so damn fast he gets super gassy. The kid is like a freaking boob vacuum.
  • Two boys are ace. I'm looking forward to when they can play and wrestle and explore together. So many adventures to be had!

xx

And then there were four: Jethro's birth story

10441368_497360820391345_3765657742184911976_n Soon after Archie was born, I wrote up the story of his birth for posterity, before the details disappeared in the fog of nappies, milk and snuggles that descends in the weeks after giving birth. I’m so glad I did it, even though the boys are both likely to be horrified at reading about their mum’s ladyparts.

Here is Jed’s story…

So I had been having really uncomfortable contractions for almost two weeks before my due date. They were becoming pretty tiresome and annoying, and three times we had the car packed ready to go before the contractions fizzled out into nothing. I was waddling up and down the driveway and heaving myself up and down the stairs to try and get things moving, but no luck. I never thought I would actually be looking forward to childbirth, but I felt totally ready and was so sick of being pregnant. I was excited to actually get into the next stage of our life!

On Wednesday 28th I had a stretch and sweep, which is pretty much what it sounds like – my midwife gloved up and tickled the baby’s head to entice it out. Not exactly comfortable but I lost all my dignity somewhere around the time during Archie’s birth where I was screaming in the foyer of the Mercy hospital wearing a dressing gown and an eye mask. She thought that the baby would come that night, so I got excited and tried to rest as much as possible.

I woke up at about 5.30am on Thursday 29th – my due date - busting to pee, and as I got up I felt like the baby had dropped really low. My fake contractions had ramped up and by 6.30am I was pretty sure that things were happening. It was probably the best timing ever – Archie only goes to daycare one day a week, on a Thursday. Lee was installing a big job at Werribee Zoo and I had been freaking out that I would go into labour and he would be stuck at the zoo, but he obviously stayed home once we realised that the baby would arrive soon.

Going into labour during the day was a completely different feeling to labouring at night and I was a bit worried that I would give birth during peak hour on the side of Bell Street. We called Amy, my awesome midwife and told her that things were finally happening. The contractions weren’t that painful yet and I could still talk and walk around. I was leaning over the kitchen table breathing through a big one and Archie was just chatting to me, totally oblivious. Mum took him to daycare and I told him that he would be a big brother next time I saw him.

I got in the shower for a while but the hot water ran out which was pretty bloody distressing, as a hot shower is my number one form of pain relief. Since I figured the hospital had endless hot water, we decided to go. This was about 9.30am. The car trip was crap. I was fine in between contractions, but during them it felt like I could feel every single little pebble on the road. Lee managed to strike a balance between driving like an old man and driving like a maniac to get there as fast and as smoothly as possible.

Thankfully, the hospital was open this time and I didn’t have to bang on the door while screaming. We went into the birth centre just after 10am, just as the midwife was arriving and went straight into the birthing room. I was still talking and laughing in between contractions, but they were getting more and more painful and were about five minutes apart. Amy listened to the heartbeat and poked my tummy and said that the bub was in a great position and that I would spit it out soon (her words.) I stripped off and got straight into the shower, sitting on a plastic chair wearing nothing but a shower cap. The noise of the shower cap was a good distraction from the pain of the contractions.

I hung out in the shower for about an hour and a half. It was super hot and steamy and Amy’s glasses kept fogging up. Because it was daylight and I had only been in labour for a few hours, I was much more awake and lucid than last time. Judging by the pain level and by how long Archie’s birth was, I thought I had hours and hours to go so was trying to conserve energy between contractions by leaning on the towel rail. Lee’s mum and my mum had arrived and I could see them watching me.

The best bit about having a baby in a midwife-run birth centre rather than a normal birthing suite with doctors and medical staff is how hands-off everyone is. Obviously, if something was wrong they would spring into action, but I never had any internal examinations or monitoring or people fussing around and was totally left to just listen to my body and roll with it.

I felt a lot of downwards pressure and thought that I might be ready to push. Amy told me not to be afraid of the pushing feeling and to just go with it. She had told me earlier that the pushing stage in second labours can be as short as ten minutes, but I totally didn’t believe her as it took over an hour to push Archie’s giant head out.

Clearly she was right though, because I suddenly had a huge overwhelming feeling to poo and was sure that I was going to crap myself in front of my husband, mum and mother-in-law. Um, no, that would be the baby coming out.

Sitting down on a plastic chair is not conducive to pushing out a baby, so Amy told me to stand up. My legs were shaking and had turned to jelly, so I lurched myself at Lee in one movement. My waters broke in a huge gush, which freaked me out because they never broke with Archie, but it relieved a lot of pressure.

Lee had all 80 kilos of me and baby in an awkward headlock/wrestling move to avoid us all falling down, but managed to stay semi-upright and hold me while I let out a massive scream and the head started to appear.

If anyone is wondering what it actually feels like to push a baby out of you, well, it basically feels like you are pushing a baby out of you. It is that painful. I let out another scream and the baby’s head popped right out, then one more big push and Jethro Thomas Gratton plopped out onto the floor. Amy quickly picked him up and gave him to Lee for skin on skin time, and I lowered myself down on the ground. My first thought was that he was so tiny, much smaller than Archie, and was completely, totally perfect.

I had an injection to help the placenta come out – I held Lee’s hand because, hello, injections hurt, even if you have just pushed a human being out of your body – and managed to stand up and walk to the bed. I was a bit in shock at how easy it had been – three big pushes and he was out in less than five minutes.

The placenta came out, Lee handed me the little dude and he found the boob and fed like a trooper. He is 100g smaller than Archie at 4.4kg, and a couple of centimetres shorter at 55cm. Most importantly, his head is a whole 4cm smaller than Archie’s hefty dome. Thanks, Jed. He is still considered to be a big baby, although he seems super-small to me, because he is much more petite and delicate than his brother. He has his dad’s enormous feet and long fingers.

My brother picked Archie up from daycare at about 2pm and brought him in to meet his little brother. Archie glanced at Jed and then asked if he could eat some more grapes. Then he spotted my lunch tray and ate the bread roll and grilled chicken, before he spotted a crane out the window and watched that for a while. Not so interested in his brother!

Archie seemed so big and grown up compared to Jed – he was bouncing on the bed in his Chucks and hoodie and kind of freaked me out at how quickly time has gone. It seems like only yesterday that he was a teeny, roly-poly newborn.

We were going to go home that afternoon, but they had a private room on the ward so gave us the chance to stay as we still had to meet with the physio and mental health lady and have Jed’s hearing tested and glucose testing done. Seriously, our experience with the public hospital midwifery system has been so awesome. We had a big double room with a view of the Dandenongs, a midwife on call and now four follow-up midwife visits at home.

While I was pregnant, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to love this next baby as much as I love Archie. I couldn’t imagine feeling the same depth of emotion and fierce protectiveness for another person. But you know what? A mama’s love is elastic and infinite and ferocious. It stretches and expands with each baby, filling up the space in and around her family like a web.

Before Jed was born, there was a feeling that someone was still missing in our little trio. He has been patiently waiting in the wings to complete our family. And now we are whole.

xx

My arsenal for surviving pregnancy.

Picfx If you'll allow me to indulge for a minute, I am excellent at feeding and birthing large, robust humans. Natural childbirth? Done. Breastfeeding? No dramas. Cruising through pregnancy feeling healthy and sane? Not so much. If there is an obscure pregnancy symptom, I have it. Blood noses, symphysis pubis disfunction (sexy), bleeding gums, peeling fingertips, dry eyes, anxiety, congestion, heartburn? Check, check, check.

I know pregnancy is a blessing and a joy and while there are many times that I have gotten misty-eyed over feeling the baby kick, for the vast majority of the time I am an overheated, sweaty, moaning mess of pain and emotional volatility. Anyway, here is a motley collection of things that I have found helpful, useful or interesting over the past seven months.

Lansinoh

As in nip cream. This stuff is made of 100% lanolin (wool fat from sheep) and is made to be smeared on your teats to stop cracking and bleeding. Thankfully I never had major nipple issues but still use this stuff as lip balm, moisturiser for my dry fingers and nails, and as a barrier cream for Archie's drool rash and mozzie bite scabs. I also smear some in my nose to help with the dry, bloody nostril situation (sorry for the grossness, but it helps!).

Maternity crop tops

Due to the fact that my puppies have been full of milk since I was 18 weeks pregnant (!), I have been sleeping in a bra for the past six months or so. Milky boobs with no baby to feed (yet) result in super-sensitive, massive cans that need to be contained and controlled, but I obviously don't want to sleep in a proper bra. I got these extremely daggy and unattractive crop tops from Target when Archie was born and wear them every single night.

Maternity leggings

I was adamant that I wouldn't need any maternity clothes with either pregnancy as they were all either fugly or super-expensive. Oh, bless the ignorant and stubborn first time mother. One day I was shopping with my mum, waddling along in my skinny jeans held up with rubber bands and pins, and she forced me to try on a pair of maternity leggings. I wore them out of the shop, and pretty much haven't taken them off since. Well played, mother.

eBay

Things I have bought on eBay for the baby: Two cots, one double pram, one Mountain Buggy tyre, one Ergo Carrier, numerous pairs of toddler shoes, a suede Seed toddler coat for $15  and few pairs of toddler pants. Pretty sure I have saved megabucks this way.

My New Baby by Rachel Fuller

After we found out that we were pregnant, I ordered this book online for bit of a subtle subliminal messaging to Archie. The baby and the toddler in the book are both kind of gender-neutral so we call one Archie and one Baby. The book shows breastfeeding, the baby crying, the toddler on the potty - all things which are relevant to us at the moment.

Calming the f*ck down 

This is probably the most important but most difficult thing. I am prone to a bit of the old anxiety/depression and was on medication for it for eight years until I got pregnant with Archie. I am fine 99% of the time but pregnancy hormones, exhaustion and general overwhelm has resulted in a few epic episodes in the past few months where I totally lost control of my head and my tear ducts. I am a prime contender for post-natal depression (I had a huge 'M' for MENTAL on my file at the midwife clinic last time, so all the midwives/doctors/nurses/orderlies/ladies filling the vending machine/other patients knew that I was MENTAL. Awesome) so am making a big effort to consciously do less, relax more, go to bed early and get help so that I don't get sick.

Saltwater Sandals

My feet are achey, hot and swollen and I have been living in my old trusty Salties since November. The leather is so soft now that my feet can puff up without looking like this, and they look good enough to wear pretty much everywhere. My pregbot uniform this time around has been black maternity leggings (see above), red Salties and a tunic dress/maxi dress/ muu muu. Throw on beads and a scarf  and I am ready to both meet with an architect at work or wrestle a toddler into a trolley at Aldi.

Nameberry

I don't know if I should recommend this website or not as it is both a blessing and a curse. We had a short, simple list of baby names, but then I found Nameberry where you can plug in names you like and they recommend other names for you. Our short, manageable list of names suddenly quadrupled and now I have so many options that the baby is likely to be starting kinder and still be called Baby. Or Joe, which is Archie's chosen baby name option.

Supplements

I started taking Blackmores Pregnancy Formula once I got the positive pee stick result. I had a blood test recently that showed that I am both anaemic and Vitamin D deficient, so now I take a cocktail of the Blackmores preggo multivitamin, Blackmores Magnesium for the achey muscles, fish oil for the baby's brain, Floradit iron for energy, Ostelin Vitamin D capsules and Normafibe to counteract the iron's constipating tendencies (TMI, sorry). I take some in the morning and some at night, and always take the iron with orange juice to help absorption. The rad nutritionist and blogger Katie180 wrote a great post about preggo vitamins which was super interesting.

Hope this helps any fellow pregheads out there. Got any hot tips for me? Leave 'em in the comments.

Forget me nots #3

DSC_0040 Funny, random stuff I don't want to forget about Archie at this age...

  • Archie has decided that the new baby's name is Joe. As far as I know, he doesn't know anybody called Joe so I have no idea where it came from. I have started calling the baby Joe now too, and I think it is growing on me (and in me, ha ha)! Possible boy name? His other baby name ideas are Banana, Dirt and Archie, so honestly I'm not trusting his judgment.
  • He has started saying "See ya!" when I put him to bed. Our routine is read books, lights off, sing twinkle twinkle and cuddle and then into the cot. I say "I love you, good night!" and he replies with "See ya mum!" So freaking cute.
  • When we talk about what he did that day at daycare, in this tiny, sad, resigned voice he says "Bye Mum." It KILLS me. So cute, so heartbreaking. He is only there one day a week and loves it, but it kills me that what he remembers the most is saying goodbye to me.
  • His favourite foods are cheese, pasta and sultanas. He will eat anything in soup form and and any kind of quiche or lasagne, or anything in a wrap, but will freak if I put raw vegies on his plate. I read that it takes kids up to 15 exposures to a certain food before eating it, so I keep offering him vegies but don't stress if he doesn't eat it. There's always veggie soup!
  • We have just introduced him to a tiny blunt knife for cutting up his food. He manages to hold it in his left hand and use his fork correctly, but if he is getting frustrated then he just shoves handfuls into his mouth with his fist. He is pretty fussy about the rituals around eating and always wants to use a plate and sit down properly, which is great. My table manners nazi ways are paying off! He's doing pretty well for 21 months.
  • We are getting more into potty training. He gets the whole process and what goes where, but still doesn't know when he is about to do a poo or wee. There have been lots of messes but I think we are slowly getting there. I don't know if my grand plans of getting him out of nappies before the baby comes will actually come to fruition, but I think we will come close.

xx

The new normal.

TNN_iTunes_1400x1400 Hola! My friend Tess McCabe (of Creative Women's Circle fame, amongst other things) and I have started a podcast called The New Normal, which I have alluded to in previous posts. I am a big podcast listener, especially with all the driving I do these days, so am pretty stoked about it. 

It is pretty flippin' rad. Tess' husband Patrick made a very catchy intro song which gets stuck in my head for days. We basically just chat to different parents about kids, parenting, working, being creative and getting shit done. The thing I am loving is how it highlights how everyone is just schlepping along, trying to make the whole life-with-kids thing work. We have talked to some amazing ladies so far and have a few equally amazing blokes lined up for the near future. 

Go and listen to our ramblings. You can download the file or stream it from the website.

Pregnancy update: I only make large humans

DSC_0007 I sometimes forget that I'm pregnant because this pregnancy has gone so damn fast. With Archie, I had about 15 pregnancy tracker apps on my phone, baby name books, a colour-coded Excel spreadsheet of baby items I needed to get and a massive case of I'm The First Woman Ever To Be Pregnant, Ever.

This time around? Between work and the business and the podcast and the house and raising Archie, I don't have the luxury of time to do daily prenatal yoga, research cloth nappies (ha!), read 7, 648 pregnancy books and write lengthly self-indulgent blog posts about the joys of pregnancy. This pregnancy has been more about playing Lego while doing my Kegels, feeding Archie sultanas to keep him quiet at midwife appointments and not even attempting to wear things that fit anymore.

Speaking of things fitting, this next baby, the one that has been growing inside of me for the past 25 weeks and will join our family in oh, about 15 weeks? It's large. It is a large, healthy, tall bubba. Just like its big brother, dad, mum, uncles, aunts and great uncles. My people are not small people. We all sit around the six foot mark, some of us heading well north of that. None of us are what you would call petite, or narrow-framed, or dainty. The women in our family tend towards being child-bearing-hipped Amazons and the men are all built like solid brick walls. We are born to build and to breed (and to feed). 

At my midwife appointment last week, our fabulous midwife told me that the baby is measuring big. Like, really big. This was not surprising as Archie was 4.5kg and loooong, and is still big for his age now, and my bump is currently larger than a family friend who is due the same time as me....with twins.

She suggested another scan at 30 weeks to see just how big it is and to check the dates are correct. But honestly? I don't really know what to do with the knowledge that it is going to be another big one. Our midwife said that the birth will have to be managed and slowed down as much as possible to reduce the risk of tearing, but otherwise just to roll with it and continue with the intended birth: I go into labour, I push, baby comes out. That is what happened with Archie and that's what I hope will happen this time, whether it is a dainty 3 kilo bub or another chubster.

It's weird though, how many feelings I get around having big babies and big kids and being a big pregnant woman. I think it's all tied into weight and body image issues. Society dictates that women, and to some extent, people generally, should only take up a minimal amount of space. Don't be too fat or too heavy or too tall or too loud - don't be too much of anything.

I get defensive and (depending on how hormonal I am) upset when people comment on how big I am. No woman ever wants to be described as big, even when she is nine and a half months pregnant and looks like Free Willy. The thought of my kids ever being teased or bullied for being big makes me shudder. Archie is still rocking a double chin and round belly and arm rolls at 20 months, but he is in proportion and the correct weight for his height. He is in the 95th percentile for height and weight and the 98th for head size. He eats like a horse, but very rarely has sugar or snacks or packaged anything. He is clearly one healthy little guy, so why am I so defensive about his size? Get over it, Clark.

I want  to teach my kids the importance of standing up tall, literally and figuratively. I want them to be proud of themselves and their bodies. To move with grace and avoid the stoop of a tall person trying to be less conspicuous. And in life, to take up as much room as they possibly can, to expand their minds and hearts and purpose to fill the nooks and crannies in and around them. To be happy with their ability to see over everybody's heads at concerts, and always to be considerate of the people standing behind them.

2014 thusly.

photo 3 So 2014 has been weird/awesome so far. I have been a bit mopey due to apparently getting every single freaking symptom of pregnancy (Epic blood noses! Cracking hips! Weird peeling fingertips! Inability to bend!) coupled with exhaustion and a toddler who has only two settings: LOUD and FAST. Also I am lacking in inspiration for the old blogaroo so when I read this 'Taking Stock' list on Pip's blog ... JACKPOT.

Making: MY CROCHETED BLANKET IS FINISHED! This is worthy of a whole other post, which I will be boring you with shortly.

Cooking: Cakes. It was my brother's birthday on Monday so I made a baked lemon cheesecake and a good old Chocolate Ripple Cake. Ain't nothing like a two ingredient dessert to excite this time-poor lady.

Drinking: Water and tea.

Reading: The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. It is pretty dense, but I'm reading it on the Kobo so I don't have to hold a giant brick of a book awkwardly in one hand. I have read a few of his other books and find them super-interesting. It raises lots of questions about industrial farming and Big Organic. The biggest lesson is how screwed up America is food-wise and how a lot of their problems stem from the reliance on cheap, subsidised corn. My dad has a 6000 acre pig, sheep and crop farm and it is really interesting comparing how his genetic breeding practices, land management and animal welfare issues stack up against the big American ag-industrial complex.

Wanting: To feel 100%. A constantly sore pelvis, lack of sleep and general malaise is making for a grumpy mama. I am currently wearing a girdle to hold my pelvis together. Hot. Pregnancy FTW!

Looking: Forward to a hair appointment next week. I get my hair done approximately twice a year and cut my own fringe (badly) so like to make it worth my while. I am thinking of going a bit lighter... maybe something like this?

Playing: So. Much. Cricket. Who would have thought that two extremely unsporty people could produce a child obsessed with cricket. What Archie lacks in skill he makes up for in enthusiasm. He has his own version which involves throwing the ball, running with the bat towards the ball, hitting the ball, clapping himself, throwing the bat, frantically running in the opposite direction, clapping himself for scoring a run, then starting again. I have to play all the fielding positions and am not EVER allowed to bat.

Deciding: On dinner. I think I'll pick some sushi up on the way home.

Wishing: That the coffee machine at home was not so freaking loud. I get that freshly-ground beans are important, but waking up every day to one of my four coffee-addicted housemates grinding, brewing and steaming is getting tedious.

Enjoying: My new king size bed. There is room for me, Lee, Archie and the seven pillows required to keep me comfortable.

Waiting: This dress.

Liking: Using my new Kikki K diary properly. I know it is only the third week of January but I am feeling super-organised having all my stuff in one place instead of scattered over fifteen different apps and notebooks and Post-Its. I am fully aware that any sense of organisation will all go to shit once the new bubba arrives, however.

Loving: Girls Season 3. So, so good. I loved Hannah's 25th birthday party and how horribly awkward and earnest Marnie is.

Pondering: The meaning of it all. Also, how to get inside the mind of a retail stockist and give them what they want, without going bankrupt. The wholesale furniture business is HARD, yo.

Considering: Paint colours for my brother's house. Because I am the Official Clark Family Paint Colour Consultant for all our various properties.

Watching: Archie grow bigger before my eyes. He tends to get really chubby, then have a huge growth spurt and get leaner, then get  chubby again. He is definitely in a growth phase now.

Hoping: That the weather will stay nice and mild like this for, oh, ever.

Marvelling: At how much the baby moves around. Archie was never still when he was inside, and this little bug is the same.

Needing: A massage. Also, a finished house.

Wearing: A Marimekko dress that is pushing the boundaries of appropriate maternity wear. I keep forgetting that my bump makes non-maternity dresses shorter at the front. Awkward.

Noticing: How much crap I eat. My sugarfree experiment starts next Thursday GOD HELP ME.

Knowing: Everything will work out in the end.

Feeling: Weary.

Admiring: Mothers who work fulltime and have lots of kids. And the daycare ladies at Archie's daycare. They are rad.

Buying: Groceries, presents for my new niece (!), ingredients for a lasagne for a new mum, maternity underwear.

Getting: Older. Ben's birthday made me realise that I will be 28 soon. Obviously I am channeling all my efforts into planning my 30th party in two years.

Disliking: People getting grumpy while waiting to turn right without a green arrow. I have right of way, dude!

Opening: Bills, Bills, Bills.

xxxx