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This week has been hard for me. I’m having horrible stabby back pain that kicks in every time I try to move/walk/everything. I saw my chiropractor yesterday and while it does seem to have eased a little, it hasn’t been a huge change. And because I’m tired and in pain I’m more likely to snap at Sebastian for little things, which oh god makes me feel horrible and guilty – along with not being able to get down and play with him properly. But my mobility is pretty constrained right now too. This makes everything so much more frustrating because there’s so much stuff I have to do and yet I’m feeling very limited.

It’s now less than six weeks until the baby is due. That really, truly and properly occurred to me for the first time a few days and I’m feeling a bit panicky. The nursery isn’t done! I have no idea what baby clothes we have! There’s so many dirty dishes in my sink! I haven’t sorted my clothes to figure out what I can wear post-baby but can breastfeed in!

The last few weeks of pregnancy are always super hard because the end is in sight, and it is both too close and not close enough. I have moments of truly profound anxiety where I wonder if I can cope with a toddler and a baby. Alex has four weeks parental leave arranged, but I’ll be recovering from a c-section, so it probably won’t be all special fun super family time. More like me with a giant hole in my abdomen trying to shield it from a toddler who likes climbing me like I’m a tree AND nursing a tiny human who is bound to be big. I console myself with the fact that standard recovery time for a c-section is six weeks, whereas I remained in pain and not completely healed after a natural birth for three damn months.

I am huge, too. Look at this picture from just after Christmas:

30 weeks pregnant

30 weeks pregnant

Now imagine me even bigger. And waddling. With my hand in the middle of my back like some sort of archetype for pregnancy. And making that noise when I get out of chairs, IF I can get out without help.

I worry that after I have this baby I will get consumed by the sleep-deprived brain-blankness of new motherhood again. I want to keep writing – I’m writing for The Peach now and finding that incredibly satisfying, and writing this blog has done a lot for making me feel like I have a voice again and my skills haven’t disappeared in the last few years. There’s a lot I want to do with this blog, and none of it will happen if I’m not writing and posting regularly. But then I remember the lack of sleep, the night nursing, the nappies, the overwhelming feelings that come with giving birth and part of me thinks, how will I manage anything else?

It’s supposed to be easier, isn’t it? Transitioning from one child to two? I mean, at least this time I have a fairly solid idea of what to expect. Having baby number one is like getting a reality bomb dropped on you – you think you’re prepared but there’s just no way you can be. At least with baby number two I’ve already lived through it once and confirmed I will actually survive.

The next few weeks will be busy, if this horrid back pain ever gets better – sorting through our baby things to figure out what we need and don’t need; preparing the nursery for bringing the bubba home; arranging our lives a little better in preparation for the big life change that’s about to happen.

Meanwhile I’ll just be the one in the corner armchair, making that noise when I try to get up.

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I haven’t written here because I needed a break; the last few months have taken a lot out of me. We moved house, with all those various stresses, I was working and studying during the same period, and fitting in endless medical appointments for this pregnancy. More recently, Alex has spent the last two months working insane graveyard hours that, while providing a bit more income, has generally just been bad for us.

Because he was sleeping all day and away all night, we were only just snatching conversations about household issues and holiday plans. He and Sebastian got to spend almost no time together, unless it was dealing with a tantrum or putting Sebastian down for a nap. I was trying to get Sebastian out of the house in the mornings so Alex could sleep, and organise Christmas plans and presents, and we were having no quality time together as a family. And that’s important.

We all suffered. Alex was constantly tired when he was awake and home, and I was handling all of the shopping, housework and parenting and reaching my last nerve. Sebastian became clingy and frantic and the tantrums were constant. And we just kind of plodded along like that for two months. Just surviving, not really living.

Christmas was another stress – we had some fantastic family time, but preparing for that and making sure everything was perfect took the last of my energy. The presents were beautifully wrapped and the tree trimmed and I made lovely food, but having a wonderful holiday season takes work.

I made sure I did something I’d like to make a tradition – on Christmas eve, Sebastian, Mum and I made gingerbread for Santa. It was an incredibly special thing, in its own way, just to stir and knead and roll the dough together, to cut the shapes and watch them bake in the oven. Sebastian was delighted because he adores gingerbread. And sure enough, Santa only left a few crumbs.

There is nothing in the world as wonderful as freshly baked gingerbread.

There is nothing in the world as wonderful as freshly baked gingerbread.

Christmas day for us was lovely – probably far too many presents for Sebastian, but he was delighted and watching him with family was a real pleasure. We ate far too much, I made Christmas pudding from scratch and made everybody admire it at length, and we had a peaceful evening, just the way I like it.

But what I really, really needed was the trip we took down to the Mornington Peninsula between Christmas and New Year’s. A gorgeous beach house to stay in, pleasantly warm and sunny days and nothing to do but rest.

I had gotten to the point where I desperately needed to recharge my batteries, and I got that chance. Alex, who’d missed Sebastian terribly while he’d been working crazy hours, spent lots of time with him and wow, I just slept so much. I had long, long naps and rests and afternoons in bed. I occasionally went to the beach or the park and did something fun, but mostly I just got rest. This pregnancy has been draining me so much.

The holiday period is special to me – a time to see family, to put effort into lovely food that everyone enjoys, finding perfect gifts for the people you care about and taking the time to unwind. Christmas has never had religious significance for me, but that doesn’t equate to a lack of meaning. Being a parent only intensifies that – being surrounded by family and spending quality, relaxed time together, Sebastian is the happiest I’ve seen him in months.

Life gets so busy, it’s easy to let priorities slide. For me, that’s time to relax and recharge with my family, so I feel grounded and close.

Sebastian with his train set on Christmas morning. He didn't move for two hours.

Sebastian with his train set on Christmas morning. He didn’t move for two hours.

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The day I brought my son home from the hospital, I was scared he wouldn’t like the car. That he would scream or cry or just fuss and I, sitting next to his car seat in the back, would have a broken heart. I didn’t want anything to upset or scare him, ever.

I needn’t have worried – he slept the whole way home. It was winter and Alex had put the heater on in our bedroom so it was warm and cozy. I had barely slept my four days in hospital and had no sleep for around 50 hours before and after the birth. I climbed into bed with my brand new child and he fit perfectly against my breast. Alex went out, because the doctors had convinced us I needed a breast milk to express, that Sebastian wasn’t nursing enough to help flush out the last of the jaundice. We needn’t have worried about that either. He never had a problem nursing again.

I held him, and breathed in his baby smell, and reveled in that sense of finally being at home, with my family, my new family. Although Sebastian was a big baby, he seemed so small. So defenseless and fragile. I am responsible for you, I thought as he slept peacefully next to me, I grew you and you’ll always be a part of me. I will love you until I die. I had never known before that you could feel that sure of love – that you would never overcome it, never try to escape it, never want to be without it.

bringing baby home

I cuddled him close. I had once worried that I wouldn’t bond with my baby, especially because I’d had such terrible pre-natal depression, but I was lucky. I felt bonded the first instant I saw him. I felt closer to him with every moment. I snuggled him close and felt his soft, squishy little body relax naturally into mine. Later, Alex came home with the pump we ultimately didn’t need, and we all lay together in the bed. I nursed, lying on my side, and Alex watched, fascinated that I could give him everything he needed from my body.

I tried to put him in the bassinet that night to sleep, but he cried, so I brought him into the bed, and the three of us slept together. Bringing him home, becoming a family together just by resting in the warm cocoon of our bed… it is one of the best memories of my life.

In just under three months time we’ll bring another little baby boy home, and there will be four of us. Closed off from the world, making our own little nest of safety, a family. I cannot wait.

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CHRISTMASCHRISTMASCHRISTMASCHRISTMAS.

I just had to get that out of the way. I’m excited for Christmas. On Sunday we finally, finally went and chose a Christmas tree, and decorated it with Sebastian, who calls the Christmas tree ‘delicious’. My mother gave us some lovely wooden Christmas decorations that light up too.

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We’re having Christmas with the Melbourne contingent of Alex’s family a couple of days before the 25th at our house, and spending Christmas day with my family on my parents’ farm. I’m making Christmas pudding and gingerbread men. Most of my shopping is done, and we’re slowly getting everything wrapped. No tree looks complete without presents underneath.

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For Sebastian we have one big present – an enormous Chuggington set that I actually bought secondhand, because that much track would cost a bazillion dollars new. He’s obsessed with trains so this is perfect. Otherwise, we have a few small presents – books, a tambourine, and a stocking.

The stocking is a big deal to me. I remember as a child, waking up when it was still dark and sneaking out to the lounge room to see what Santa had left, poking through the stocking while it was still dark. It was always filled with little [resents – a doll, lollies, plastic jewellery, toy cars.

I wanted to continue this tradition with Sebastian, so I’ve been collecting little toys for his stocking for the last couple of weeks. Here’s a glimpse at what I have:

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Asides from the Chuggington die-cast figures, which go with his big present, none of this cost over about $4. In the picture there are:

  • Stickers, both foam and plastic
  • Crayons (his crayons constantly break so more are always welcome)
  • Magnets – you can’t quite see in this picture but there’s a cool metal frog and a jointed lizard on a spring
  • Bubble wand
  • Bead bracelet and necklace in multicolour, and metallic bead necklaces
  • Tiny rubber duckies
  • A crocodile that goes with a zoo toy set he already has
  • Chuggington figures
  • Toy truck with a toy truck on the back
  • And an alphabet puzzle that will not actually fit in the stocking.

I always wanted to put a food treat in the stocking, and have been scratching my head as to what I could put in that isn’t pure sugar, and it finally occurred to me this afternoon – a small package of unflavoured popcorn. That will be a treat because we never have it, but won’t fill him up with sugar or salt, plus I can make it myself and put it in a cute paper package.

I’ve seen other lists for toddler stocking stuffers put on Pinterest, but I didn’t like them because they were gender segregated. I mean, Sebastian LOVES necklaces, but that’s something that would normally only end up on a girl’s list. So here are some more ideas for non-gender specific stocking stuffers for toddlers:

  • Sunglasses or novelty glasses
  • Bug chalk for outside or pavement drawing
  • Finger paint
  • Bouncy balls, not too small
  • Sports whistle (this was last year’s favourite from the stocking)
  • A set of keys
  • One of those small weird soft cat/dog toys that moves when you pat its back
  • Tiny board books
  • Bath stickers
  • Bath toys of any type, or even a novelty shaped bottle of bubble bath
  • New colourful toothbrush
  • A funny hat
  • A simple doll/figurine with no small parts
  • Toy cars
  • A special Christmas teddy
  • A pack of cards with interesting pictures – toddlers can’t play, but they love to look!
  • Alphabet fridge magnets
  • A torch with an easy button
  • Special tree ornament
  • Kaleidoscope
  • Stamps and ink (for supervised use only)
  • Drawing pad with a nice cover
  • Family photo in a frame (with no glass)
  • Cool drink bottle
  • A wallet or purse, just like grown ups!
  • Tubs of Playdoh
  • Home made biscuits

What else would you add to your toddler’s stocking? If I had more time I think I could make a list a mile long, but only so much will fit in the actual stocking!

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Because I’m the primary caregiver in this parenting partnership, half of what I do goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Usually it’s the mother who stays home with the kids, or only returns to work part-time or on flexi-time, and the mother who becomes the expert on her children and home.

Sometimes, I hate it. I really, really hate it. Because it’s so easy for me to shoulder the load that there’s a perpetual slide, so on days like to today something small happens, like Sebastian not going down for his nap on time while I am out, and I totally lose the plot.

I lost the plot today because if Sebastian doesn’t go down for his nap on time then I have to decide whether to wake him up before he’s had enough sleep and deal with a nightmarish toddler for the rest of the day, all so he can go back to bed at an appropriate hour… or I have to let him nap late, which means he’ll be up later, which means I get more tired and stressed as the evening wears on because he’s still not in bed.

This might seem like small change but I am tired, and pregnant, and reaching the horribly uncomfortable stage of pregnancy, and feeling resentful as I mentally tally all the tasks and responsibilities I have been shouldering lately without any recognition that I do these things, and our home runs smoothly because of it.

It’s invisible work. The things that I do without question, the lists and information I carry around in my head, the schedules I make and the information I obtain. Things that SOMEBODY has to deal with, and because I’ve got it sorted then nobody else bothers.

I know all the relevant parenting information, because I have made myself an expert on the topic. I know my son’s vaccination schedule, I know how to keep our Family Assistance income coming in smoothly from the government, and even though Sebastian’s not in daycare right now, I know which three daycare centres in my area have current vacancies.

I buy all the Christmas and birthday gifts for both my family and Alex’s family, and I’ll be doing all the wrapping. I have a fairly precise idea of what’s in our pantry and fridge on any given day, so I do almost all of the grocery shopping. I know what foods Sebastian will and will not eat, and I’m the one looking up new recipes to get vegetables into him.

Right now, because Alex is on graveyard shift, I do pretty much all of the naptimes and bedtimes – I know the favourite books and the precise routine. I get up with Sebastian in the morning, and plan activities and outings for us – I know where his fresh clothes go when they are dried and folded, and I know when we’re running out of nappies and wipes, and where his clean sheets are for his bed. I buy his clothes, and sort the ones he’s grown out of, and put away his toys and wipe his nose.

I’ve read up on potty training and toddler discipline and early childhood development. I know what behaviours are normal and what to anticipate next, because I’ve spent the time and energy doing that research. When he gets sick I give him medicine and take him to the doctor and hold him and stroke his hair just the way he likes, and I’m the one that knows to call the Maternal and Child Health Care hotline, or that we can call a GP to come to our house with bulk billing. All of this information about him lives in my head, just my head, and nobody else except stay-at-home mums and dads knows this stuff.

But there’s other things too, that aren’t child related – because I’m home, I’m the one calling our landlord about the broken dishwasher or calling a repairman when the washing machine broke. I set up our utilities when we moved in, and arranged for an emergency call out when our gas connection had a leak, and as the bills have come in I’ve paid them. I set up our internet and phone account, and badgered the service provider when it didn’t work, and let the technician in to repair the phone line in our house.

I write lists about household budgets and ways to save money – I think about money constantly – and plan ahead for the baby to make sure we have everything we need. I arrange all of my pregnancy appointments and keep all the medical information in my head too. I plan meals and keep an eye out for sales on meat so we can stock up the freezer, and invest in appliances that will save us time and money. I’m making curtains for the house, and decorating the bedrooms, and organise family outings and babysitting and amongst all that, try to remember to see friends and eat and shower and get enough rest and time to myself.

Single parents, of course, handle all of this and more, with no partner to step in and give them a break. But being a partnered parent, I sometimes wish I could get a pat on the back for the knowledge and care I use to keep things running smoothly. Because when I don’t keep up with one of these millions of little tasks, THEN it’s noticeable. But when I’m doing it right, it’s invisible.

There are people out there without children, or who have children but are not the primary caregiver, who have no understanding or sensitivity for how much work goes into being a stay-at-home parent. I’m sure some of them think it’s all play centres and lattes. But here is the reality: getting a screaming child clean, fed, dressed and out the door but 9:30 in the morning is damn hard work, never mind all the planning behind the scenes that went into it – the breakfast being interesting enough for the child to eat it, the clothes being clean and the right size, and knowing the magic words to make a two-year-old let you close enough to scrub last night’s encrusted snot from his face.

I deserve a damn latte.

 

 

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I thought that if I had another baby, it would be a planned pregnancy. There is so much shock and worry involved in an unplanned pregnancy that I didn’t want to go through it again. Life had other plans. I’m pregnant again, and while I’m very happy to have another baby, I can’t help but wish it was something that came about deliberately rather than accidentally.

Someone I know once told me that no matter how much you love kids, there’s a certain amount of depression that comes with an unplanned pregnancy. This is true. In fact, I felt so ambivalent about this pregnancy at first that I started to feel terribly guilty – until I remembered that you have to make distinctions between the baby and the pregnancy. That’s where my ambivalence was coming from – I wanted the baby, but dreaded going through pregnancy again. My first pregnancy was horrible. I was unprepared for the overwhelming physical changes, the fear, the panic surrounding my life and lifestyle, the huge financial and emotional changes, the impact on my fledgling relationship… I was about as unprepared as you could get.

This time, while many things are different, some things are the same. I had a list of goals to achieve before a second pregnancy. Be fitter and stronger and healthier (which I was working on, but wasn’t where I wanted to be). Have moved to a bigger house (which we were planning to do soon anyway, but moving while pregnant sucks). Have been employed long enough to get paid parental leave (I think I’ll just qualify, but I’m not sure). Have saved some money (um… no). Go on a holiday (we’re still planning a holiday, but it probably won’t be the tropical escape I was dreaming of).

On the brighter side, I feel like I know what is coming this time, so I can be a better advocate for myself. So much of my first pregnancy was filled with uncertainty and illness and physical disability and fear. I had crippling pelvic pain that made it very difficult to walk. Sebastian was an ENORMOUS baby (a condition called Macrosomia), eventually weighing 10lbs 2oz when he was born, and that was a week early – so the final few months of pregnancy I was a swollen blimp in constant pain from him bumping my cervix and putting pressure on my weak and painful pelvis. I had doctors telling me contradictory and frightening things – that there was too much amniotic fluid, which could cause neural tube defects, that surely I MUST have gestational diabetes (even though I tested negative over and over again), that macrosomic babies were invariably premature.

Throughout all of this, nobody would tell us what should be done. I kept having late term ultrasounds that made the ultrasound technicians very worried, because the baby was so big, and yet nothing would happen. Ironically, there’s a procedure in place if a baby is so large because of gestational diabetes – they induce before the baby gets too big. But because Sebastian was big for no reason, they just waited. Which I believe resulted in his potentially life-threatening shoulder dystocia when he was born.
I know all these things in advance now. I can already feel my pelvis starting to twinge, but I’ve been seeing a chiropractor for pelvic adjustments. If that doesn’t work, I’ll keep seeing other practitioners. I refuse to be crippled again. I know this baby will be big, but I also know I’m entitled to a scheduled C-section – which I’ll gladly have, thankyouverymuch, if it will save me and the baby from the shoulder dystocia (him) and tearing and losing  a litre of blood (me).

I’m going to take care of myself this time. When morning sickness kicked in, I went and got the medication straight away, rather than faffing around trying to grin and bear it like I did last time. I know how to manage the hunger and headaches and cravings better. I’m more relaxed, even though this week we had a potentially high-risk result from our ultrasound screening for genetic abnormalities. I mean, that was frightening, but I knew which questions to ask, I knew how to speak up for myself, to deal with the information. And everything is fine, further testing showed I’m actually very low risk, and I felt like Alex and I dealt with the situation pretty well, all things considered.

We’re having a little boy, a brother for Sebastian, and looking at the 3D images on the ultrasound I wanted to cry, because as much as I hate pregnancy, and I wish it were planned, we’re having another beautiful baby, and that’s pretty amazing. It’s a tiny person, who at the moment looks a lot like an alien, but will slowly grow and develop into someone we will hold and love and teach and play with. Isn’t it fantastic, that we can grow a person inside of us and take photos before he is born?

Cute or weird? 13 week ultrasound.

That’s the main thing that is different about this pregnancy, I suppose. Before Sebastian was born, I didn’t know how spectacular and joyful and terrifying and wonderful being a parent really is. This time, I already know how I’ll fall in love with my child and love him more and more each day. And I can’t wait.

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Often I write about the harder aspects of parenting – the tiredness, worry, logistical difficulties, blah blah blah yeah it’s hard. But really, it’s easy to write about these things – they’re what bugs me and makes me grind my teeth. However, it’s just as important to remember the wonderful things about parenting, the hilarious things, the sweet moments. Here’s a list of things I love.

1.- When you have a tiny helpless infant who just likes to gaze adoringly at your face, you can dress him up in cute outfits and pose him for hilarious photos. Exhibit A:

A baby monkey and his garden gnome friends!

2.- You have instantly joined a club that makes you share knowing smiles with strangers in public, because they have a kid and you have a kid and you all know how great it is and how tiring and how worth it.

3.- As your child grows up, you start seeing the world again for the first time – the brightness, the colours, the way a bird flying is pretty amazing when most things walk on the ground, the way a horse snuffling your hand is fantastic and tickly and a tiny lizard cupped in the palm of your hand seems like the weirdest creature on earth. Sebastian amazes me every day with what he finds fascinating – a light switch is frickin’ magic and learning to peel a banana is a huge accomplishment.

4.- Related to #3, you start rediscovering the joys of your childhood, like Christmas and birthdays and Easter egg hunts, Lego and cardboard forts and hiding in a castle and the wonder of trains. Your cynicism starts eroding and you begin to give a damn again, and experiencing a far simpler kind of joy that you thought was lost when you got your driver’s licence and right to vote.

5.- Big gummy fat-cheeked beautiful baby smiles.

Eating food is awesome.

6.- Family. Having a child brings your family closer together, your parents and grandparents and siblings and all of your partner’s family too – I gained a whole bunch of lovely in-laws and nieces and nephews. My parents are super-involved in Sebastian’s life, as is Alex’s mum, because it really does take a village to raise a child.

7.- I finally understand my parents. My mum was 19 when she had my older brother, and not quite 22 when she had me. Having a child yourself helps you to understand who your parents are – what they went through as young parents, the choices they made, and how amazing it was that you remember a wonderfully happy childhood and your parents never let on that it’s incredibly hard to have a family and work and study and your own interests. I feel closer to my parents now, because I only now do I truly understand who they are.

8.- Baby kisses. Sebastian’s started out as a weird lunge he’d do at my face, with mouth wide open and inevitably aiming for my chin or my eye instead of my cheek. And there was always tongue involved, and he wanted a good long pash, too. Now he makes proper kissing noises, and if he gets a little hurt on his hand or foot or arm, then he will present it to the nearest adult to be kissed. Nothing can go on until it has been kissed better.

For a while this was how Sebastian kissed. He’d latch on and things would get weird. I look forward to showing him this photo when he’s 16 and too cool for me.

9.- Sometimes when there’s a group of adults around talking, and someone says something funny and everybody laughs, Sebastian laughs too. Even though he doesn’t understand what the joke was, he laughs because he is joyful that other people are laughing. He’s a little social animal and delighted that he’s included in our world.

10.- My child challenges me to be thoughtful and creative, to think of new activities and new ways to learn. I’ve learned how to be patient, to stop myself from raising my voice, to explain things simply and how to teach by example. Basically, having a kid encourages you to examine who you are, the good and bad qualities you possess, the things in life that you love, and the values you want to pass on. It may be trite, but it’s true: being a parent makes you a better person.

He’s worth every minute.

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