OK, girls, we know you love ’em, and we know they make the world spin round. They are the fundamental reason we watch Rom Coms, divulge in glossy magazines, and listen endlessly to gossip – we love relationships. And the saucier the better!

When Greg and I were preparing for the birth of Elka, we took a birth education class. It was all very interesting and helpful. We laughed though, when we got to the part about the parent’s relationship after birth. The educator told us to all hold hands with our partner, and think of as many good things to say about the other person as possible, and when they talk, the only response you can have is “Thank You”. Greg and I laughingly did the exercise – no birth educator needed to teach us how to communicate positively with one another. We were the A team – the It couple – a couple who didn’t need any advice whatsoever, and what baby was going to change that?

And of course we were wrong. Like the majority of people I know who have had babies, our relationship has been tested like the rest.

The first week of Elka’s life, I was a blubbering mess, and tired and stressed, and somehow saw Greg to blame for everything. Although he was supportive, and did as much as possible to make life easy for me (i.e. housework, always washing the dishes, and the laundry) I still somehow thought I’d been dealt a bad hand in the caring husband and father department. I guess lack of sleep and the new found responsibility over a LIFE is a little stressful. Then there’s the Dad’s stress about managing the affairs, bringing in the bread and butter, etc. That’s stressful too. And he too is trying to get enough sleep to function effectively in his working life.

And of course there is the key factor – the change in your sex life. Everyone’s different – some couples jump back into bed together immediately following the birth. Others don’t have sex all year. From my point of view, I definitely didn’t feel like it that often – I was tired and …I like this term…”Touched Out”. When breastfeeding, the mother and baby excrete oxytocin, the lurve hormone. So biologically, we are probably being told – don’t reproduce! One is enough for now! The lads, though, don’t get this hormone (I don’t think). And sex for many is still a definite interest. I guess it’s where the ability to compromise comes in handy – he asks a bit less, she gives a bit more, or something like that…And eventually, hopefully, you both get what you want once more! Sex, though, isn’t the only way to share love for one another. We found giving each other lots of hugs was a very positive thing to gel us, and remind us of togetherness.

Everything changes with a bub, and relationships aren’t exempt. Fortunately, my partner and I bounced back pretty quickly. Greg reflects back that we didn’t fight much at all, but I still cringe when I think about myself bossing him around, criticising him for holding the baby the wrong way, or expecting him to do everything that I could no longer do around the house. I guess what held us together were a few vital ingredients:

* Tireless communication
* Lots of cuddles
* Humour

And yes the birth educator was right, complimenting each other where possible, and thanking each other go along way in restoring relationship harmony.

Now that baby life is easy, I look back with pride at our resilience to be so strong together and supportive. But I also know how easy it is to let such a momentous change take control, and let yourselves slip into negative habits, and a relationship that will never again reach it’s pre-baby bliss.

All I am saying, is that I reckon we all are subject to some relationship drama when a new baby arrives – so no-one is alone there!

Num num num

We all take a different approach to feeding babies solid foods.

When Elka was 5.5 months, I had a dream about feeding her an avocado. I woke the next morning, and offered her some mushed avocado – she ate the whole fruit!

The avocado was indicative of Elka’s general style of eating. Most food offered is usually eaten in its entirety and little food gets refused.

We spoon fed for a while – the menu included:
Sweet potato
Various grains, like quinoa
And a mix of any of the above.

At some point I introduced yogurt, at some point some cottage cheese, then some ground beef or chicken.

Within about two months, I began feeding Elka soft solids – things like cooked carrot, cooked zucchini, slices of avocado or tomato. Most pieces went into her mouth, and were chewed (Elka grew teeth at two months!) Some went onto the floor – this is usually an indication of ‘Had Enough’ or ‘Time to Play’ – we joke that Elka thinks the floor is a bit hungry. Some days, Elka is apparently more in need of food than the floor.

I admit I have never read any brochures, pamphlets, books etc about what babies should eat. In the food respect, I really do follow my instinct, and Elka’s cues. She seems to like most things, and is upset by little, so I am pretty relaxed with what I feed her. Elka probably eats a greater variety of food than most babies in her baby group. My friends tend to follow a more Steiner approach – introducing foods very slowly, and avoiding things like gluten or dairy for the first year or so. I occasionally feel a little guilty that I am not more fastidious with what Elka puts in her mouth. My approach reflects a little the fact that I am also relaxed about where things Elka puts in her mouth have been. The idea of sterilisation to me is a little taxing, and indeed foreign. I know some parents would find this revolting, but my theorisation goes along the lines of ‘the more germs Elka is exposed to, the greater her immunity’. And so far Elka has barely been sick.
Of course every parent should do things in their own way, and true to their own beliefs. This is just what works for me and my partner.

So, in all, we are blessed with a baby who eats enthusiastically, and healthily. One might suggest she inherited her appetite and her gusto for food from her father. In that respect at least, we are pretty certain Elka didn’t come from the milkman!

From sling to sheepskin

Sleep…when you are pregnant, everyone tells you to enjoy all the sleep you get while you get it. When you have your baby, every other mother asks “So, how does she sleep?” And hence sleep is Chapter no. 2.

I think the number one thing that defined the early months of being a mother was the incessant rocking, swinging, bouncing, shooshing, slinging, singing…every two hours all day, and then for about forty-five minutes or so every night. Elka only slept maximum forty minutes at a time during the day, and still does mostly. Firstly it worried me…it didn’t fit with the health nurse’s schedule, or the sleep clinic’s.

I later learnt that most babies were the same…sometimes twenty minutes was normal. I don’t know where the health nurses were getting their norms from, but it certainly wasn’t from anyone I had come into contact with.

And so I ceased worrying, and opted for the path of least resistance. For one thing, we were getting decent night sleeps, so I was in no position to complain about a thing. And in the day, the the Hug-a-Bub won out. For most hours of the day, my little bundle was wrapped close to my heart. It meant I could work at my computer, garden, have lunch with friends, clean the house, go for long walks at the beach…it felt amazing, and it also meant I more or less felt like a living breathing human being, albeit with a big green growth at my front. Even more lovely was that my husband – big, strong and masculine – got to wear our baby too, and feel that warm fuzzy mumma warmth that cannot be described, and usually shared, with our male counterparts.

Some babes don’t like the sling, but ours didn’t like prams, and LOVED the sling…so to anyone who’s looking for an answer to day sleeps…try anything that works, and don’t worry about how your baby sleeps…they are fine, and will get the sleep they need in some form or another. And then they change! Now Elka LOVES the pram!

Night sleeps started beautifully for us. I was still up a few times, but co-slept, so did a quick feed, and usually fell asleep again straight away, or during. As mentioned, encouraging Elka to get to sleep in the first part of the night was always a bit of a fiasco. She squirmed like crazy, and was obviously desperately uncomfortable lying down and lying still. She screamed like crazy too. I rocked, I bounced, I swaddled tightly, and I sang vigorously. Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah proved particularly favourable, and went round and round my head every waking moment.

Eventually a baby hammock helped the proceedings, by creating a little cosy nest the snuggled my baby up. If I was a baby, I think that’s what I would like too. And so every night that’s what I told myself…and I took every night as it came, never exasperating, and always ready for the next rock, bounce and sing duty.

Months in, still feeding every two to three hours, and sometimes more frequently, I wondered why and for how long. After a call out to mums on facebook, and ordering way to many mums of baby self help books, I returned to the path of least resistance, and found that’s where I was most comfortable. Being easy with how things go. And just tonight, after dinner, a bath, a feed and a mini rendition of Hallelujah, Elka fell asleep on her own in the dark on her sheepskin near my bed.

No crying, just immense amounts of patience, and very gently easing Elka from sling to wherever she needs to get to next.

A welcome note

Hi. I am a mother of Elka. She is my first baby and an absolute joy.

I thought I would share some of my daily experiences as a mummy, and some of my friend’s thought and ideas about motherhood. We live in northern NSW, and I am not sure if it is because we live in the vicinity of the magical Byron Bay – home of hippy happy yummy mummies – or if it is simply coincidence, but I think we are doing a really lovely job of being new mums.
There’s a lot of hype about motherhood. And on the whole I agree with the cliches – it changes your life, it’s fulfilling, it’s the best thing you ever do and all that. But of course there are some things the not-so-earthy-mother in me finds challenging – such as staying in doors with your babe in arms whatever the weather, finding time to clean and organise the house in a domestic goddess like way, finding time to bake home-made bread also in a domestic goddess fashion…hmm. But I guess the ever-present, over-riding factor is that sweet little toothy grin, smiling at you so lovingly it’s heartbreaking….makes the lack of breadmaking worthwhile.
My journey into being a mum was planned, and well-timed. I have a loving and happy relationship with a guy I have been with for about four years. He’s eight years older than me, but for both of us, the time was very right to have a baby.
We talked about it on and off over the years, and then one day decided to make it happen, for real. We were one of the lucky couples who were able to conceive almost instantaneously. And from the word go, it was a very safe, and comfortable pregnancy. No morning sickness, little stress, good hormones flying.
In the midst of it, we decided to move from Melbourne to northern NSW, which seems huge, but really was just a minor part of the whole period. My body was changing, my mind was changing, as this amazing thing grew within. Moving, or anything else for that matter, paled in significance.
The due-date came and went, and two weeks of trying everything “natural” like acupuncture, herbs, curry and ..ahem…hot sex (well, hottish, given the fact that my husband was completely not turned on by our baby’s head very near to the whole saga)… stillnada. I was planning to birth at the natural birth clinic near Alstonville & Lismore, so 14 days over due was really pushing the envelope when it comes to safe practice. A day longer, and I would have needed to be induced in hospital. Fortunately I had Australia’s best obstetrician on watch, and an amazing mid-wife, and her equally amazing support person. In the end, Castor-oil did the trick.
In our waiting period, Christmas came and went, and New Years 2010 was looming. The Castor-oil worked its magic at about 7pm New Years Eve. We sat around the pool eating dinner with neighbours of the birth centre, when the contractions began, thick and fast. My first stage was only about 4-5 hours (who knows exactly – it was a blur), and was very intense. By midnight, fireworks were cracking over Alstonville, the full moon (a blue one at that) hung high in the sky, and I was fully dilated. My baby was crowning. She continued to do so, though, for several hours. So in the end, I was maneuvered backwards into a Hyundai Excel, hanging face down over the front seat, bum in the air. My ever-cautious partner panicked secretly, but we made it safely to the hospital. An on-call obstetrician oversaw the procedure (as it turns out, Australia’s best obstetrician was out celebrating the dawn of a new decade) and our baby girl was born at 3.13am. She came out…big! and healthy and rosy. As any new parent will tell you, it was an amazing moment, compared to no other.I felt pretty up and down the first week. We stayed at the birth centre on a beautiful property under the care of qualified lactation consultants. I can’t imagine how people do without such support, because even then, I was a bit of a basket case. The baby howled, especially at 1am in the morning. My boobs hurt, I felt anxious about…well, everything. Especially how I was going to do this whole mothering thing! I felt separated from my partner, cranky and lost in an unknown world, not sure if I had done the right thing by deciding to have a child, and frightened by the fact that things would never go back to how they were. It was rocky, but I made it through.
The first three months were pretty much a blur. I barely remember them. There was a lot of rocking, singing Leonard Cohen’sHallelujah and bouncing on the gym ball. One of the highlights – make that a pinnacle – came when someone warned me that bouncing on the gym ball regularly could cause brain damage to your baby…! You can imagine the freak out and despair I felt after such a comment. Everything is hanging by a thread in that first period – your sanity, your patience, your relationship. All you need is something to tip you over the edge. (By the way, we researched into this “fact” about bouncing = brain-damage, and in fact discovered it was a piece of “fiction” – at least that is what relevant websites say.)
I was saved because
1. I didn’t ever get too tired – I was co-sleeping, and found I went back to sleep extremely easily after each feed, and sometimes during.
2. I walked – excessively. One of the only ways to get baby to sleep was walking quickly up and down the hills of Lismore with her in a sling.
3. I had a husband who was very supportive, especially in the cooking and washing up department.
4. I socialised.
For me, the social aspect of mothering is crucial. I know people talk about “Baby Moon”s and staying in to get to know your baby, but I needed to get out! I needed to share my experiences, talk to other women, and hear other mother’s stories. I needed nurturing as much as possible.
And hence, when the three months were over, and baby girl only cried when she needed something I knew how to respond to, and became an absolute delight, I was in one piece, and in fact doing very well.

Six months later, every day still gets better. It really is wonderful, this thing they call being a mother. When your baby laughs, when your days are filled with wonder at the changes, at their ability (and your own ability) to become absolutely engrossed in the present moment, their precious soft skin…there are endless things that make this journey magical.