Sometimes I am struck by how much of a hippie I’ve become since having S. I am a lot more aware of all sorts of things, and have changed my ways a lot from before I was pregnant. The things I do today are very different from how I planned to do things while pregnant! Here are five things we do differently, both to how I had planned/imagine motherhood, and probably to a lot of other people.
1 S wears cloth nappies. I’d toyed with the idea when I was pregnant, but it all sort of fell by the wayside what with the whole moving house/early birth thing. When I started to settle into motherhood, I started thinking about it again and an amazingly generous friend gave me her old full set of cloth nappies, complete with liners and buckets, when I expressed an interest on Facebook.
A lot of people don’t understand why I would give myself the supposed extra work of using cloth nappies, but there are two main reasons why cloth nappies are infinitely preferable to disposables: 1. the amount of chemicals in a disposable nappy is ridiculous considering how long your darling baby’s bum spends in close proximity to them. Besides the idea of baby’s bum being pushed up against so many chemicals, they smell awful once they’re wet. Cloth nappies just smell of wee when the baby does a wee. 2. No more schlepping home from Tesco with a big bag of nappies hanging off my arm. This is a bigger bonus than you would think. Also I just resent paying that much for them. There are “hidden” costs involved with washing the cloth nappies, but my electricity meter tends to show that I use about £3 or £4 extra a week in laundering them, and I’m sure I’d spend more than that on disposables. Also you know the massive, right-up-the-back, full-change-of-clothes poonamis of doom you get sometimes? So far the cloth nappies have managed to contain those completely. No change of clothes required. She does wear disposables overnight, because when a cloth nappy gets wet they can feel it on their skin straight away, so it would wake her up. And if we go out for any longer than a quick wander around the shops, she’ll usually wear a disposable then for the same reason. Incidentally, I’m told that having a baby in cloth nappies, where she can feel the wetness against her skin when she’s done a wee, makes for quicker, easier potty training – idea being that with disposables they do their job too well, and the baby never realises they’re wet.
2 S sleeps in my bed, next to me. She still wakes at least twice every night to feed, and when she does I feed her lying down, and we both go back to sleep without much disruption. Depending on who you speak to, this is either a really good way of not going mad from lack of sleep when breastfeeding (breastfed babies apparently don’t tend to sleep through until they are established on solids, because breast milk is used so efficiently by the stomach it empties fairly quickly and the baby wakes up hungry after a few hours), or a ridiculous way of ensuring the baby will surely die from being rolled over on in the night. I’m not a particularly active sleeper any way, but trust me when I tell you that mothers just have a sixth sense where their children are concerned. Unless a woman is drunk, medicated, or otherwise likely to sleep very deeply, she will not crush her child in the night. Men, on the other hand, do not have this sixth sense, and if there was a man sleeping in my bed S probably would not because the paranoia would mean no sleep. When babies are very small they don’t breathe very regularly, which can lead to apnoea and even death in some cases. As S was premature, she was at higher risk for SIDS, and I worry a lot (as you may have noticed). Being close to me when sleeping means that her heartbeat and breathing will naturally fall in line with mine and it’s actually safer in that respect than having the baby sleep farther away from you. And when it comes to being woken in the night, I’d rather be woken by S poking me in the ribs than screaming from across the room. When she wakes in the night and doesn’t want to feed she will lay in bed and play with my fingers while I doze until she goes back to sleep. And when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I see is her massive, cheesy grin. We do have a cot; it’s in S’s bedroom, currently being used to store blankets, clothes and general homeless junk. People keep telling me I’m going to have to put her in the cot eventually; perhaps when she starts crawling I will worry so much about her injuring herself trying to sneak out of bed that I will put her in the cot. Or I might just take my bed off its frame, and pad the floor around it with spare bedding. Either way, I don’t anticipate S’s bedroom being used for her to sleep in for a good couple of years. In other shocking news, I do not believe that S sleeping in my bed will lead to her being a manipulative, spoiled or somehow damaged toddler.
3 I take what some would consider to be a ridiculous amount of supplements each day. I counted up and over the course of a 24-hour period I swallow 12 pills. You can all line up to tell me they’re useless or don’t do what the manufacturer claims, or whatever else you want to say. The fact is that my daughter is growing and developing well despite her early start, and my depression is (for the most part) being kept at bay. Also my finger nails are nice and lady like and strong, which is wonderful if you’re into that sort of thing. It is very likely that I will soon no longer be in a position to afford the supplements I take, and that scares the bejesus out of me. I would like to keep taking all of them until I stop breastfeeding, but the omega oils especially I would like to keep taking indefinitely. I firmly believe they did more for my recovery from my breakdown than the prescribed medication ever did, and I do notice a marked difference when I’ve not taken them. Unfortunately I don’t think the NHS is in a position just yet where you can get a prescription for something as outlandish as fish oils, despite the mounting scientific and anecdotal evidence of its efficacy in mental health issues. Possibly because if you (or the NHS) bought fish oils instead of Prozac, Eli Lilly might get a bit annoyed.
4 I use a sling more often than a push chair. It started when I came out of hospital and realised the pram I’d bought was too big for me to be able to get up and down the stairs to the flat on my own. A friend gave me a sling so that I could get out and about without assistance (and to this day I am thankful for this; I’m sure she saved my sanity with that gesture). S was still under 6 pounds in weight at this point, and so I found myself carrying her in the sling a lot of the time; it calmed her, helped her sleep more soundly, and meant I could get things done. When she started to get a little heavier, the sling started to hurt my belly if I wore it for too long, so I bought a more robust, heavy duty one. We use that one when we go out, but around the house, or if I’m trying to get her to sleep in the evenings, we use the older sling, which is more cuddly. Apparently being in a sling means a baby’s heartbeat and breathing will adjust to be in line with whoever is carrying them, and my opinion is that all that extra cuddle time being close to me is good for S. People tell me it’s not good for her to be in the sling so much, but I think she’s just fine; she had excellent control of her head and neck form a very young age, and also makes good eye contact with me when she’s in it. It used to be a failsafe way to make her go to sleep, so I would time my outings with her nap times. These days though, it takes longer to get her to sleep in it, as she can see more than when she was younger, and likes to stay awake and look around. She also likes to suck and chew on the sides of it. I certainly get a lot more comments and a lot more people chat to her, when she’s in the sling and at eye level, than if she’s hidden away in the pushchair. I chat to her more as well, with a running commentary on what we’re doing, what she’s looking at, who we’re speaking to, what we’re buying in the shop, where we’re going next. She seems to enjoy the chatting and quite often joins in. Plus – if you’re feeling a bit rubbish there’s nothing like having a baby strapped to your chest and cuddling you to make you feel better. Having S in the sling has a remarkably calming effect on me; I end up wandering about town with this peaceful smile on my face like a Hindu cow!
5 Prepare to gasp and do your shock-horror face people; I feed S to sleep a lot of the time. Especially in the evenings, to me it just makes sense that if she needs a feed right before she goes to sleep, and she’s going to sleep in my bed, I may as well just lay down next to her and feed her until she drops off. Sometimes she stays asleep; other times she wakes up when she’s finished feeding, and I have to find another way to get her to sleep. I am aware this is frowned upon by a lot of people, but to be quite honest I don’t care. I’m on my own doing this job, which means that I really need my quiet evenings alone in order to remain sane. It’s probably quite selfish, but I want S to get to sleep as quickly as possible in the evenings so that I have time to do my various household chores and relax a little before I head to bed. Feeding her is the best way to get her to go to sleep. Longer term, if I ever want to have a babysitter look after her or, you know, stop breastfeeding her, I am going to have to teach her to get to sleep on her own on a regular basis. For now though, that can wait.
So there we have it. There are several more things we do that are completely different to how I thought I would be as a mother, alone or otherwise. I do think that being a single mother has meant that I’ve been free to make decisions and do as I pleased; for example, if I had a partner S would probably sleep in a cot, and I would probably feel more pressure in other aspects of our lives. If previous posts are anything to go by though, all these things I think I’m doing differently to everyone else are usually not so different – just we all tend to read the parenting books and assume that’s how everyone does it, and we’re on our own in doing it a little differently.