Bedtime Battleground

So the Munchkin turned three today! I can’t quite believe it. I look at him every once and a while and I am just astonished by how tall he is, how well he communicates, how confident he is physically (he just recently started going up and down stairs/steps without holding onto anything) and just how grown up he can be. But bedtime comes around and I get a sharp reminder that he is a typical three year old and not the little adult he sometimes seems to be.

He is a real challenge a lot of the time; he is stubborn and fickle (yes, he can be both at the same time!), has a tendency to just completely blank us when he doesn’t want to do what we say, has complete meltdowns at the tiniest upset and is a bottomless pit to feed. But he is also bright, cheerful, gentle, loving and hilarious!

Bedtimes have become a battleground, much to my dismay. Bedtime now largely consists of the Munchkin refusing to stop playing in order to have his bath or go to his room for stories, refusing to take his clothes off, insisting things get done in a certain order and then changing his mind half way through, complete meltdowns followed by laughter-inducing games of chase around the house. I try to go with the flow, we are child-led in so many areas so it makes sense to me to be at least a little bit child-led at bedtime too, rather than mummy and daddy turning into these dictatorial monsters. I don’t want to fight with him. If he’s not ready to stop playing yet, then why not let him have another half an hour? If he wants 15 stories, then so be it. IF, and it’s a big if, at the end of it he will go to sleep a little more easily.

The problem is that’s not how it works. He gets overtired and even more prone to upset the later we leave bedtime. We have also learned from experience that that old adage “Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” is actually true. For example, one cup of juice every once in a while had turned into complete refusal of water and tantrums if he didn’t get juice ALL of the time. We are working our way back from that particular situation and today he had lots of water without complaint. It helps if we don’t ask him if he wants a drink and just get him some water and put it where he can get to it himself when he’s thirsty.

I think there must be some middle ground somewhere with bedtime. The balance I try to go for, though I don’t always succeed as I’m often tired and trying to see to the Bean at the same time, is to compromise. “You can have one more go around the track with your train and then we’ll take your clothes off.” I also try to make things fun and not get cross with him for running around and making it a game. I’d rather he be laughing than crying.

The problem with this is that hubby is NOT on the same page at all. He wants the Munchkin in bed, asleep, by 7.30pm, as opposed to the 8.30pm that the Munchkin finally fell asleep tonight, so that he can have some time to chill out. I get that, I want that too, we’re both the kind of people that need some child-free time in order to recharge our batteries. But I am also realistic. We did have a really good routine a few months ago and what with the support of my parents, we had quite a lot of child-free time. But we have a two month old baby now. My availability for the Munchkin is dramatically reduced because I’m the only one with the boobs to feed the baby. Then there’s the massive emotional upheaval that the arrival of the Bean must be for the Munchkin.

Don’t get me wrong, on the surface, the Munchkin appears to be absolutely fine with the Bean, he is very gentle and loving with him and he comes home from Montessori or a day with my parents really excited to see his little brother. But it is noticeable that the Munchkin’s behaviour has become more challenging since the Bean’s birth, he also wakes in the night again now, when he had been sleeping through for months. When he does wake he is really upset, more than once he has told me he can’t sleep as he’s too sad. He can’t articulate what is upsetting him, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that he misses being the only child and the centre of our world.

We made a big fuss over his birthday. He had a big party at the weekend, with all of his friends at a local farm park and today we went out with my family for a nice afternoon in the glorious sunshine. We’re trying hard to stick to our post-Christmas promise to minimise the presents and make the occasion about being together and enjoying new experiences, though it is very hard to convey the importance of this to others.

The clocks also went forward last weekend, so the evenings are suddenly much lighter and I am certain this has something to do with the Munchkin insisting that “It’s not bedtime yet!” He is also getting older and as children get older their body clock does naturally shift. I think he’s probably a little young for a 9pm bedtime just yet, but I accept that all of these factors are going to be having an impact right now. Hubby doesn’t. He gets so stressed and angry with the Munchkin that I find myself hoping that the Bean won’t need feeding during the Munchkin’s bedtime so that I can put him to bed instead of hubby doing it. But the reality is that by the end of the day I can be just as stressed out and short tempered as he is. Last night I had to walk away from the Munchkin as I got so upset with his refusal to cooperate.

I’m far from perfect, but I understand the Munchkin’s behaviour and I want to be flexible on this, I don’t want our household to be an angry one, not even for one hour a day, not when it’s every day like it is at the moment. So I am about to embark on a reading spree! I have a booklist, some of which I already own, others are on my Amazon Wish list (family – take note!)

  • Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
  • Screamfree Parenting by Hal Edward Runkel
  • Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph
  • Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort

It’s not that I believe in blindly following the advice in parenting books, far from it. I’m all for instinctive parenting; tuning in to our own gut feelings about the needs of our children. But sometimes you hit a blank wall and a few ideas to help you move forward are a good idea. And sometimes you are at loggerheads with your partner and need some proof that what you’re saying makes sense and has occurred to other people too.

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Rebirth: A Second Chance

Rebirth. “A new or second birth”. A chance to start again, a chance to make new memories that heal the old ones. In terms of healing birth trauma a rebirthing might consist of re-enacting the birth in the way previously imagined or it might be a spontaneous and instinctive moment shared between mother and baby in the bath or in bed in the middle of the night.

After the Munchkin’s birth, someone suggested I try a rebirthing in order to heal emotionally from the trauma I experienced. But he was already about three months old, I wasn’t ready to let go yet and wouldn’t be for over two years, and the more time passed the less like a newborn he was and it just felt wrong to try. The very thought of getting my birth pool back out again made me burst into tears. So we never did it. I had to find healing from his birth the long, hard way and we’re finally there after some intensive therapy and an empowering second birth.

That second birth, however, was not the experience I longed for. Though it wasn’t traumatic in any way, it left me grieving. Within days of the Bean’s birth I knew I wanted to try a rebirthing. I needed to physically recover from the caesarean though and I needed to prepare in practical terms. I thought I wanted my midwife and doula to be there and was considering having the Munchkin there too, though at other times I felt I didn’t want him there. Getting everyone together at the same time looked unlikely when my doula gave birth to her own baby a few weeks after the Bean was born.

As the days turned into weeks I started to feel a bit desperate. My little newborn was rapidly developing into a strong baby and I was afraid it would get too late. So I decided to grab the opportunity as soon as the Munchkin was staying at my parents’ house for the night. Finally that moment came, 8 weeks after the Bean’s original birth.

Today, after an absolutely beautiful day out with friends to celebrate the Munchkin’s third birthday, he went home with my mum and hubby and I made our preparations. We inflated and filled the pool, lit candles and put on my birth music. I got into the pool and listened to the song that had been one of my hypnosis triggers that I used during pregnancy and labour, Chimes, a song by an unsigned band called Glow. I thought about being pregnant, remembered my blessingway and the hope and anticipation I had felt about my forthcoming birth. These memories touched some raw emotions for me and I began to cry silently.
I changed the music to the song I had wanted playing as my baby was born. I had played it on repeat for a long time during my actual labour when it seemed I would be holding my baby imminently: Firework by Katy Perry. Cheesy? Maybe, but when I first heard it I felt it was the perfect song to accompany birth. What a strong message of the power and awesomeness of a birthing woman.

Hubby got into the pool with the Bean and passed him to me under my arm and through the water. I brought him straight to my chest and held him, I told him how much I love him and explained that this was how I had wanted to meet him. The tears flowed with overwhelming sadness and joy and hubby snapped away with the camera to capture the moment.

The Bean was calm and alert, looking carefully at me and around at the strange surroundings. We spent a few minutes in the pool and then moved to the sofa, wrapped up warm, where I fed him and hubby brought me some food. It was the post-birth chill that we should have shared but were denied by the circumstances of the Bean’s original birth.

This rebirth doesn’t undo that birth, nor would I want it to. His birth was truly awesome, in so many ways, but it wasn’t joyful. Now I have new memories, the memories I had hoped to create and that does undo some of the emotional damage of his birth.

But it’s late now, so I’m signing off to go and curl up in bed with my baby.

Examining the Contract

I have been asked to write about the thought processes behind some of my birth choices. I’d love to detail every decision and all of the research behind each, however, I am a busy mum of two and do not have weeks to draft, fact check and reference such a post! What I can do is highlight a few key aspects and talk about them in general terms.

No VEs. Vaginal examinations are often thought of as an essential part of labour, few women seem to question their use and a great deal of emphasis is placed on “knowing” how dilated a woman is, both by health care providers and by many mums. The fact is that the use of routine VEs is not evidence based. Experts in normal birth agree that women do not dilate in a linear fashion and that time limits placed upon birth are unrealistic and have no place in normal birth. How dilated you are at any given examination tells you nothing about how quickly your labour will progress and some, notably Ina May Gaskin, speculate that the vagina behaves as other sphincters in the body and can actually close up upon intrusion.

For women planning a hospital birth or a water birth in or out of hospital, they will be led to expect VEs in order to assess whether they are in “established” labour or not and whether they are “allowed” to get into the pool. The whole idea of latent and established labour is undermining. It implies that women in the early stages of labour do not need or are not entitled to support and for women experiencing a long latent phase, repeated examinations with little to no progress can be extremely demoralising. As for getting into the pool, it is thought that getting in too soon can slow down labour. Well so what? If that does happen then surely she can just get back out of the pool. Besides which, what is the rush, exactly? Women birthing at home with a pool should feel free to use that resource as and when they feel the need for it. They do not need permission to use it.

An experienced midwife should be able to assess the progress of labour without these intrusive examinations, the woman’s behaviour, the noises she is making, the dark line that extends up from the anus and up the back and even the smell in the room are all signs that midwives can look for to give them an idea of how the birth is unfolding.

I have to emphasis at this point that about six or seven hours into my second labour, all the signs pointed towards a very imminent birth. I laboured in much the same state for another twelve hours before consenting to a caesarean. So these signs are not always reliable, but I would argue that they are no less reliable than VEs and in a normally progressing birth they are probably more reliable.

On a personal note, I felt that VEs were the cause of my first caesarean. I had intended to decline them, knowing how pointless they generally are, however when I was in labour I was told that I “had to” have them every four hours and I wasn’t in a state to refuse. Had I had a doula who could have reminded me that I didn’t want them and that I was entitled to refuse then perhaps that birth would have been different. I was having a long and intense latent phase, it took me twelve hours to reach 4cm. Each examination was painful and intrusive, disrupting my labour and crushing my confidence. This was reason enough for me to decline them second time around.

I did, however, ask for them when I was in labour because I knew that something was not right and I knew that some useful information might be gathered from one, such as the baby’s position, which can be found by the feel of the skull plates. I had to work quite hard to persuade my midwife that I really did want to be examined. She knew how strong my feelings on the matter were and she, quite rightly, wanted to make absolutely sure that I wanted one. I asked her not to tell me how dilated I was, I knew this information was irrelevant, but I needed to know if there was a reason why I had been pushing for hours already and felt no closer to birthing my baby.

No induction or augmentation. As a woman with a previous caesarean under my belt, the risk of uterine rupture was a hot topic. The real risk is tiny, 0.2%, but the use of drugs to induce or accelerate labour dramatically increase that risk. Even without a uterine scar, there are risks associated with this intervention, chiefly foetal distress. There are very few good reasons to induce labour, in my opinion. As long as the pregnancy is straightforward, and even some complicating factors warrant only a watch-and-wait approach, then there is no reason to interfere. I certainly wouldn’t accept induction for going “overdue”. You can see what I think about the length of pregnancy here.

As far as I am concerned, there was no good reason to augment my labour. Either birth will unfold in its own time, or urgent assistance is needed. My first labour was augmented. I was persuaded that my body wasn’t up to the task and I needed help to “coordinate” my contractions in order for my cervix to dilate. I begged for time, I really did not want to open myself up to all of the risks associated with the use of syntocinon, but I was bullied into it, told that my body had had plenty of time already and was clearly failing.

I can see how the use of synto has become so common, it is very normal for women to not labour well in hospital, the conditions are so far removed from those needed for birth to unfold naturally. In some situations augmentation may help to undo the damage caused by transferring into hospital, but for me, planning a home birth, this was irrelevant. I was only going to be going into hospital if me or my baby were in danger and needed immediate assistance.

Leaving the cord alone. I planned and had a lotus birth. I recognise that this is an extreme most people will not be interested in, however, the principle of leaving the cord in tact at least until it stops pulsating, is one that is gaining popularity. Research now shows that babies whose cords are cut prematurely are deprived of up to half of their blood volume and are more likely to be anaemic, suffer brain damage or develop autism. In a straightforward birth there is no reason whatsoever to interfere with this process and doing so is potentially very harmful. Where my view is considered a little more radical is in the belief that even in a complicated birth, leaving the cord alone is possible and even advisable. If a baby is compromised at birth then it needs all of the blood and oxygen that it can get, cutting the cord deprives them of both. Many people seem to be under the impression that a nuchal cord, that is, when the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck, is an emergency situation and that cutting the cord is necessary in cases when it is tightly wrapped. This simply isn’t true and this article explains why.

I’ll leave it there for now, but if there are any other aspects of my Birth Contract that you would like to know more about, please comment and I will do my best to explain my reasoning. Thanks for reading.

A Healing Birth Can Still Hurt

It’s a secret no one will tell you. My dear friend, and fellow blogger, Chloe, wrote about this recently. For those of us who have had traumatic births, we sometimes place a lot of hope on a subsequent birth, it becomes a lifeline out of the pit of that trauma. So what happens when that lifeline snaps? What happens when you don’t get the amazing birth you were planning? What happens when, like me, you get a birth that is far removed from the one you wanted but one that was not traumatic, in which you were completely respected and had your contingency plans followed to the letter?

My recent birth genuinely was healing and empowering. It was a positive experience, by and large. I was incredibly well supported, I was respected and listened to. I had all of my wishes listened to and accommodated where at all possible. I came out of it feeling elated that I had done something so rare and thrilled that people were talking about it. It might make a very real and positive difference for other women. My relationship with the Munchkin has improved massively. I can say with absolute sincerity, finally, that I gave birth to him. For years I could not say that, he was surgically removed from me, my caesarean wasn’t the same as giving birth. Now I feel differently and because the Bean’s birth followed such a similar pattern to the Munchkin’s, I can also speculate now that no amount of support would have resulted in a vaginal birth with him either. For years I was carrying this heavy weight around my neck: what if we had just done x, y or z? Well this time we did do x, y and z and it still didn’t result in a normal birth.

But there is a dark side to that realisation. For the first few weeks after the Bean’s birth I felt lighter. I felt relieved. But as time passed I realised the consequence… if nothing I could have done would have made any difference then why did my births both end in caesareans? If it was nothing to do with the support that I had, nothing to do with my antenatal preparation, nothing to do with the external conditions of my labour, then what is wrong with me? Because that is where my mind wanders, towards a reason. I’m not the sort of person who can just accept that “these things just happen”. Maybe once they do, but twice? Twice the same thing happened to me and my babies. To me that means something. To me that means that there is some sort of problem with me.

That’s a dark place to be. No matter how much those around me bent over backwards to make my birth as positive as it could be, no matter how close my bonds are with my children, I am still left aching emotionally. I am grieving for the birth I did not get. Again.

I know there will be people who think, and indeed, say, that I should shut up and be grateful that my babies are alive. I’ve heard it before, I’ve been told that I have “lost sight of what is really important” and to them I say: I matter. My mental health matters. My scarred uterus matters. My obstetric future matters. I don’t intend on having any more children, two has long been my theoretical limit, so right now I’m trying to come to terms with the idea that I will never, ever have a vaginal birth of any kind, never mind the beautiful home birth of my dreams.

There are three little words that I have read dozens of times in VBAC birth stories, three little words that carry such depth of feeling that I don’t think many people could fail to be moved by them and I expected to be uttering them myself: “I did it”. I will never say those words and that hurts.

So to all those wonderful, Very Brave And Courageous women out there who didn’t get their VBAC, or whose births have not taken them on the journey that they expected or wanted: I love you, I am crying with you and it is OK to cry, to grieve.

I Am Woman… Hear Me Roar

Today is International Women’s Day, so I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the wonderful women in my life and write a bit about what the event means to me.

The theme this year is “Connecting girls, inspiring futures”. I think it is so important that young girls and women are encouraged to think about their sexual health, their futures and their relationships, to value themselves enough to make positive choices. The only way that happens is through the examples of positive role models. There are far too many pop tarts gracing the magazine covers and television these days. Hyper-sexualised “singers”; super-skinny celebs who are famous for being famous and make a reputation for themselves as lacking intelligence; lost and desperate starlets who poison their bodies and have their own rooms reserved in rehab for their frequent falls from the wagon. It’s a sorry state of affairs.

There are a small handful of alternatives out there, such as Tyra Banks, who not only represents a more healthy body type these days, but who works to help girls and young women value themselves. That’s not to say she isn’t also making a lot of money out of the good PR of her apparent altruism, but I think that’s true of most philanthropists if you look at the whole picture. Then there’s one of my favourite singers, Pink, whose attitude and music set a wonderful example to young girls, showing them that they can be themselves in the face of peer pressure.

It’s really important to me to recognise that even in the UK, there is still inequality between men and women. Women still earn less than men in the same jobs; women fill more service roles and less professional roles than men; the socially valuable role of mother is extremely undervalued financially and culturally (how many times have you heard a woman say “I’m just a mum” when asked her occupation?); women bear the brunt of the government’s spending cuts too. Women often seem to be the ones to take responsibility for their contraception too and many of the options are hormonal; that is, they work by changing our biological functioning. What are the physical and social implications of that?

Teenage girls were routinely paraded through the school nurse’s office in the last couple of years, to be given the HPV vaccine, with the promise that they would be protected from cervical cancer. There is some concern that this vaccine gives girls a green light to have unprotected sex, as they, and their male peers, may believe that being vaccinated against one STI makes it safe to have unprotected sex. Not the right message for these young people at all. A number of my friends with daughters of the appropriate age talked about the issues with their daughters and helped them come to fully informed decisions about whether to accept the vaccine or not.

As mothers we are censored and discriminated against for the way we feed our babies, both breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers report being discriminated against or judged, sometimes by businesses but all too often by other women. Whether women really are judging each other is not easy to determine, we often project our own insecurities onto onlookers and read judgement where there is none.

It’s acceptable for the female body to be depicted as a sexual object, but not as a mother growing or nourishing her child. Men’s nipples can be shown in public, but women’s nipples can’t. For a very thorough exploration of the topic of infant feeding as a feminist issue, please see this blog post by The Alpha Parent, particularly points 4 and 5. Caution: If you are offended by the facts of formula feeding it’s probably better for your blood pressure to simply not click the link.

Birth is also a feminist issue, both for the women giving birth and the women providing care. Midwives who refuse to conform to the medical model and instead provide woman-centred care, are bullied and harassed in the workplace, in some cases risking their livelihood and even imprisonment. Pregnant and birthing women are taught to expect to lose all of their dignity during birth, to have decisions about their own bodies made by someone else. This is, of course, absolutely unacceptable and untrue, it is perfectly possible to retain both one’s dignity and bodily autonomy in birth, no doctor or midwife can legally force a woman to comply with hospital protocols against her will, to do so is assault. But the language used by maternity care providers often hides this fact. Women are told that they are “not allowed to do x”, or that they “have to have y”. Care providers who use this language should be reported to their supervisors.

The global picture for women is even more bleak. The very fact that we need an International Women’s Day is itself a telling sign of the huge inequalities and difficulties that women face. I think it’s vital that we take the opportunity to reflect on the situation and see if there is anything we can do to change it. One day a year isn’t much, it’s a token gesture really, unless people really take notice and do something positive. One off events like this are intended to do that, to draw attention to an issue and have an impact reaching beyond that one day.

An individual can contribute in a number of ways, from simply letting those important women in their life know how special they are, to mounting a campaign against a sexist corporation or government! Check out the IWD website for ideas on how you can make a difference.

I’m already a birth and breastfeeding activist, albeit on maternity leave at the moment, so I will mark today with a huge thank you to some very special women:

My mum, Linzy; my dear friends, Jo R-D, Lisa S, Vicki M-W, Debs R, Lori F, Sarah C, Kellie R, Sally P, Chloe B, Gillian S; my friends and colleagues Beverley B, Nadine E, Debbie C-D, Jo W, Ruth K, Ruth W, Caroline W; fellow campaigners Emma K, “Mrs BWF” and everyone else who is working tirelessly to inform and empower other women. Thank you all for being amazing women.