The Art of the Unexpected

Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.

Oscar Wilde

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This world is but a canvas to our imagination.

Henry David Thoreau

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I like Saturdays, even though I’m a stay at home Mum these days. Some might argue that every day is the same when you are a stay at home mum, but I love Saturday because my husband is home and that means there is a different feel about the house. I also like Saturdays, because every Saturday my husband and I do something fun. At the very least, we get take out and have an ice-cream on Saturday night and sometimes we watch a movie. That was a boring night before Little Birdie was born; now I look forward to it all week. However, we also like to go out on a Saturday and have lunch somewhere or with friends.

Last Saturday, my mother was supposed to come over but she cancelled so that she could visit my ailing uncle instead. So, all of a sudden, we had no plans for our Saturday. There’s not a huge range of choices when you have a small baby, especially last minute ones. It’s very easy to just fall into the trap of going out to eat. It’s also not easy to get out and get some exercise when you are a mum, so going out to eat all the time can be a problem.

We mused over what to do while LB had her morning nap. We tossed about the same old ideas. Shopping centre? No, it’s too tempting to spend money. Seaside? No, it’s too hot to walk at midday and then we’d probably just end up sitting somewhere eating fish and chips. Drive? LB was already asleep, so was unlikely to sleep in the car. Then my husband put forward a new idea – the art gallery.

I LOVE going to the art gallery, but I had never visited with a baby. To be honest, I felt very apprehensive about going, because it might interfere with LB’s naps. It takes time to really enjoy a gallery. You need time to read the information about the artworks and then peruse them. I didn’t think it was really the right activity for a little one, whose attention span is still pretty short. However, I was looking forward to getting out of the house, so I ignored my feelings of foreboding and off we went.

It seemed to be a disaster from the start. My husband chose to go to a car park that was at the opposite end of the expansive public parklands to the gallery. He was hoping for a family walk, as well as a trip to the gallery. I was concerned that it was going to be too big a day for LB but, once again, I decided to go with it and see where the day went instead of letting my worries take over. We couldn’t even seem to find the lift to get out of the car park and had to carry the pram up a staircase. To my amusement, we weren’t the only parents who were caught out, another couple carried their pram up beside us and they had a toddler to contend with as well. I looked at them and thought to myself how much easier our life was with only one child. It was a good leveler, I knew I was being silly and worrying too much about the day rather than enjoying it

When we reached the top of the stairs, we walked straight out into the weekend markets. I cannot resist a market and these were selling all sorts of beautiful things. We slowly walked along the stalls and I checked out all the children’s clothes. As we walked, we considered going to one of our favourite restaurants for noodle soup but we knew our time was limited. It was the soup or the gallery. The walk between the two was too far for us to enjoy both. We decided on the gallery and I felt a little tug of disappointment, I haven’t managed to go out for noodle soup since LB was born. I was reminded that these are the freedoms that we miss as parents. However, it was lovely to be out and going to the gallery at all and I was grateful for that.

Soon, we had perused all the stalls and we decided to walk towards the gallery along the river. As we walked along, I saw lots of people out who had babies in prams as well. I’m not sure whether I didn’t notice prams before I had a baby or whether there has been a baby boom, but wherever we go, we see lots of people doing exactly the same thing we are. It’s very comforting.

LB was just as tolerant of the walk along the river as she was of our journey through the markets. I hoped she was enjoying seeing all the people and the beautiful scenery. Taking a family walk is one of my favourite times to spend with my husband because we are not exhausted and about to go to bed and LB is safe and occupied, so we can have a proper conversation. It’s so hard to talk about life in the detail we used to before LB was born and I worry that I don’t spend enough time discussing his work and helping him unload some of that stress and think things through.

Before long, we had reached the gallery and, as I often do when we are out, I really felt for people in wheel chairs. It’s so hard to navigate a pram friendly route and you seem to have to walk so much further to avoid all the staircases and find ramps and lifts.

We were drawn to the gallery of modern art. I was a little anxious that we had wasted all our time walking and had missed out on the opportunity to spend time at the gallery and buy some lunch. However, LB was still being incredibly calm.

When we arrived at the gallery, I really didn’t feel particularly inspired. If you manage to get out of the house with a baby, you really need to make the most of it. The gallery didn’t have any special exhibitions on and, as a fairly new gallery, the collections that were there were fairly sparse. We decided to catch the lift up to the second level to see what was going on and discovered an exhibition about every day life. It just seemed so mundane but my husband was drawn that way, so I followed him. After all, I’d survived thus far and LB was holding it together, so I decided that I may as well trust him and keep going.

The exhibition was as I expected, bits of junk (literally) repurposed to make comment about the everyday. I decided to make the experience less about me and more about LB. I put myself in her shoes, asking myself what would interest her? Getting out of the pram would be one thing, I thought. So I carried her around on my hip, looking for things to interest her. Just inside the door was a collection of diodes with all different coloured lights. I pointed them out to her and she seemed moderately interested. There was a father with a toddler across the room. He saw what I was doing and quickly followed suit. I’m on to something, I thought.

I gazed around to see what else would interest a baby. There was a large curtain of gold tinsel being gently blown from behind by a fan. It was sparkly, bright and moving. It was a real sensory experience for a baby. I walked LB over and she seemed genuinely engaged in watching the sparkly tinsel move. I thought it was a pity we were in a gallery, because LB would really have liked to touch the tinsel! I walked through a bit more of the collection and entered a room with a video of a man playing a traditional wood wind instrument on the side of the street in Asia. Once again, LB seemed interested. It became a challenge to spot things that would appeal to LB’s senses. Eventually, we ended up in a room painted light blue with trees made of plush; it was like being in a snowy, Dr Suess-inspired forest. Needless to say, she loved it.

One of my other favourite past times is going to art gallery gift shops. Since becoming a parent, I appreciate them even more, because the merchandise for children on offer is fantastic. Daddy came home with one of LB’s favourite bedtime story books after visiting an outlet of an American art gallery shop at Sydney airport. We weren’t disappointed on this occasion either. There were lots of brilliant books to choose from, but was chose a board book that taught children about blending colours.

That book came in handy too, because we did get a nice lunch out at a café my husband had been dying to try. I had brought some food from home for LB and she was very accommodating as I tucked into my duck salad. I read her the book over lunch and she even had a little crawl on the pavement in front of the café. It was a lovely end to a very enjoyable morning.

I can’t say I enjoyed the exhibition we went to see at the gallery, but I thoroughly enjoyed the day out with the family and a lot of that enjoyment stemmed from LB. As stressful as it can be going out with a baby, it can be really fun as well. I would have been disappointed by the trip to the gallery, because I didn’t enjoy the art, but the visit turned out to be much more fun when I made it about LB instead of me and tried to see the world through her eyes. She helped me get in touch with my senses and I was able to look at the art in a different way than I would have otherwise. The experience was a timely reminder of how even though sacrifice when we become parents, we gain so much as well.

The Tooth Gremlin (Eight Tips for Surviving Teething)

Just as the tooth fairy takes away baby teeth, a nasty, hurtful little gremlin delivers them. My friend’s older sister introduced me to the term “tooth gremlin” and I think it’s very apt. Little Birdie (LB) doesn’t teeth well. When her first tooth came through, she made a mewing sound, similar to guinea pig, for about three days prior and then all hell broke loose for two days. So, when the mewing sound started again, I was ready for a couple of days of hell as the second tooth came through.

This time, I knew another tooth was coming, because all the signs were there. She bit me a couple of times during feeding, she started dribbling a bit more and I could feel a lump where the tooth was coming through. However, I thought I had dodged the gremlin this time, because there was no mewing. How wrong I was.

LB has been waking a little earlier each day this week and today it was just before five o’clock. I tried putting her back down after her feed, but she wasn’t having a bar of it. So, we launched off into our feed, play, sleep routine, ready to go for a nap just before seven in the morning. That seems a ridiculously early time to go for a nap, but it seems that is how a baby’s world works.

Sure enough, by half-past-six, LB was showing tired signs and was really quite grumpy. I changed her nappy, put her in her sleeping bag, read her a story, and gave her a hug and a kiss. That’s when I decided to act on a hunch and I put some teething gel on the spot where the new tooth was starting to break through just prior to putting her in the cot. LB seemed bemused by the gel as I put her in the cot, sang her “Twinkle, Twinkle” and wished her sweet dreams. However, that wasn’t the end of it.

After twenty minutes, I confirmed my hunch was right. LB wasn’t settling, even though she was clearly tired. I decided to abandon the comfort settling. I went in, picked her up, gave her some Panadol, a big hug and a rock in the rocking chair for a few minutes, then I put her back in the cot, sang “Twinkle, Twinkle” and wished her sweet dreams, before leaving the room. For once, I had a win. Within five minutes LB was asleep and slept for a further hour-and-a-half.

This teething thing is no biggie, right? Wrong.

We enjoyed a nice morning but after a couple of hours, I could see that LB was getting tired. It seemed ridiculous to be going for a second nap at half-past-ten in the morning, but LB was grizzling, yawning and rubbing her eyes. So, I went into my routine – nappy, sleeping bag, story, cuddle, twinkle – but it just wouldn’t work. I started the comfort settling techniques that I learnt at sleep school but that didn’t work either. After half an hour, I tried a cuddle and a rock in the rocking chair again. No luck. Poor LB screamed for another half an hour before she finally went to sleep. To her credit, she slept for two hours, giving me a chance to wash, sort and iron some clothes, then write this blog post. However, I really feel for her. Teething must really hurt, because it has such a profound affect on LB’s behavior. As I was doing the washing, I began to think of my “Top Tips for Surviving Teething”. I will list them below.

Eight Tips for Surviving Teething

  1. Be kind to yourself when your baby is teething. They call it a teething gremlin for a reason. In reality, nothing you do will help much, so comfort your bubby so they don’t feel alone while they suffer. You are not being a bad mother if your baby is hard to settle, they are just uncomfortable and letting you know they need extra comfort.
  2. Don’t believe everything you read. Some Internet sites that give information about teething infer that it’s not really a problem and that the unsettled behavior babies experience is all in their parent’s minds. Hogwash. You just have to look at LB to see she’s not happy when she’s cutting a tooth and as soon as the tooth is through, she’s happy again.
  3. Teething is like labour; everyone experiences it in a different way. This is actually a tip from a friend from mother’s group and I think it’s a great way of looking at it. It’s the reason why some bubs seem to turn up with teeth with a minimum of fuss, while others seem to suffer and suffer.
  4. There are two types of teething, chronic and acute. Chronic is a term that refers to the whole period of time from when the first to the last tooth appears. Acute refers to those periods when the tooth is cutting through the gum. The acute bit is the bit that really sucks.
  5. Do anything you can to make your baby feel better. It will make you feel less stressed. I keep a teething ring in the fridge and produce it when nothing else seems to work. LB sees it as a real treat to go to the fridge and get her “fishie”. It distracts her for a while when she’s upset. I also find going for a walk in the pram with a rusk to chew on is a good way to get through the late afternoon. If all else fails, I sing lots of nursery rhymes. I’ve also heard that babies like to chew on frozen cucumber when they are teething, but I haven’t tried it.
  6. Use teething gel, even though it’s virtually impossible to get it in the right spot. And yes – I use the one with alcohol in the list of ingredients. I used it myself when I had problems with my wisdom teeth years ago and it seemed to make a small difference. However, if you’re not comfortable with that, there are herbal versions available. I suspect teething gel is a placebo, but if it makes you feel better to be doing something proactive to help your bub, then it’s worth it and will make you feel less stressed. Babies are calmer if their mother is calm. Put it on before feeds if your baby won’t feed while teething. I put it on before naps because LB has trouble sleeping at the best of times, so I will do anything to make nap time less stressful.
  7. Be proactive with the painkillers. There are a few brands available and they’re all good. The one I use allows you to give a dose every six hours, so I try to get one in early in the morning, so LB can have two doses in a day.
  8. Don’t try to do anything when your baby is teething. Accept that the day is a right-off and go with it. It will ease your frustration.

As I finish this post, it occurs to me that teething is like labour for another reason. Although different people experience labour pain in different ways, there is one common element. Eventually, labour ends. This is also true of teething. Eventually the tooth comes through. It might be painful, but it’s not life threatening. Just as you get a lovely little newborn after your labour, babies get a shiny new tooth after teething. As the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Did you hear that Tooth Gremlin? I must admit, though, I am looking forward to a time when it’s the Tooth Fairy’s turn to visit instead! She’s much kinder than the gremlin.

Home invasion

It was bound to happen. Fine weather can only hold out for so long. Our mother’s group has taken to meeting at a local park which has a conveniently located coffee shop across the road where we can go and get a good take away coffee. It’s a great spot, not too far from the river, which has shady trees and is cool even on a hot day. One of the mums even has a super-sized picnic blanket that can accommodate several mums and bubs. We were on to a good thing, until it rained.

We do have a wet weather plan, which involves going to the chocolate-themed coffee shop up the road from the park, but as the bubs get more mobile (Little Birdie is leading the vanguard by crawling), it is a less attractive option. So there was a little confusion on our Facebook group page as to what we should do.

I was pretty much the last person to log on to see what the plan was. It was the morning we were supposed to meet and it was raining. Some of the more organized mums had seen the weather reports the night before and flagged that there was a problem by posting to our shared Facebook page, but there was no general agreement on where to meet. In my usual last minute fashion, I logged on an hour and a half before we were supposed to leave and saw there was willingness by a couple of girls to meet up, but no agreed venue. One girl had offered her house, but it hadn’t been conformed. I knew one thing, however, I was looking forward to the catch-up. I knew what I had to do.

So I put my hand up for everyone to come around to our place. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, unless you are a parent. LB takes up a lot the majority of my time and I try to fit cleaning and everything else around that. Not to mention the fact that I am a pretty ordinary housekeeper at the best of times. It doesn’t come naturally to me and I’m always on the back foot with the house. Hubby and I had agreed to a program of spring-cleaning, but it fell by the wayside pretty quickly because our weekends always seem to be so full and we work very hard to preserve the structure of LB’s day so she can get some sleep. To compound matters, I had had food poisoning earlier in the week and decided to take things a little easier so I could recover faster. So, I really had no business offering up our house, but I did anyway. I really treasure my time with my mother’s group and I know I would have been disappointed if I hadn’t seen the girls.

Of course, the minute the invitation was out, I had to click into action. As soon as LB went down for her morning nap, I raced around cleaning toilets and basins, sweeping floors, tidying and getting dressed. It was a losing battle.

You have to turn off part of your brain when you are a perfectionist and a parent. My house was pretty untidy when the mums and bubs from mother’s group turned up but it wasn’t embarrassingly dirty. The babies had a lovely play on the mat in the lounge room, with access to all LB’s toys and the visitors got to see another side to LB, because she is a lot more confident in her own home. We also didn’t have to worry about ants, or the elements or parking. In fact, it was super good for me, because when LB started getting really tired, I put her down for a nap in her cot straight away and we went downstairs and continued our chatting. We have a coffee machine and I had bought some biscuits the day before to bring along anyway, so it was cheap and easy and comfortable.

As always, after the mums and bubs had gone home and I was thinking over our morning, I thought about how things had turned out better then I had expected. I refused to dwell on the fact that people had seen my imperfect house, instead choosing to focus on all the benefits of the day. One of the biggest plusses was that I had actually done a lot of housework in a short time while preparing for the visitors to arrive. I had sorted washing, put more washing on, cleaned, tidied, sorted and organized. It was very likely more than I would have done normally. I also had all afternoon to organize dinner.

As I am so often finding since becoming a mother, somehow you always get there in the end. So many times since LB was born I have wondered where all this was going to end up and yet we have just scraped through. I have also learnt that it is important to make the effort to get out and catch up with people, because it can be so lonely and depressing if you do not. That little bit of stress in the morning was worth it for the lovely time I had with the mums and bubs. It was also worthwhile because it lifted my mood and got me moving.

I don’t like having visitors when my house is messy, that will not ever change, but sometimes we have to accept that we cannot always be perfect and just move on. There’s also a little motivation to be gained from the experience. The wet weather was also a timely reminder to always be prepared for the unexpected. I think it’s time for hubby and I to get back to our program of spring-cleaning!

Bathing Beauty

Thank goodness for swimming lessons! I really didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but I booked Little Birdie (LB) into swimming lessons because it seemed like the right thing to do. Little did I know what a gem I would find.

Some of the other mums at mother’s group have been very proactive about booking their babies into swimming lessons but I felt a bit intimidated. I hoped there would be a little group who may decide to book in at the same place and time but it wasn’t the case. Finally, with the start of the term approaching, I brought myself to make a booking at the pool up the road. It was a bit of a gamble leaving the booking so late (I actually booked the morning the new term started). I’m not sure why I couldn’t bring myself to book, I kept making the excuse I was too busy. However, in hindsight, I think I was nervous about taking LB.

I love to swim. I really do. However, I don’t swim very often. I have had two stints in my life when I have regularly swum laps and both times have been when I’ve had access to a nice, cosy, quiet heated pool. In fact, one of those stints was just last year when I started swimming in the pool at the school where I worked. I injured my hip when I was pregnant and swimming was about the only exercise I could do and it made me feel great. The best part about it, though, was the company. I only ever swim with a friend or two in tow; I’ve just always been a bit of a nervous nelly about the whole thing. Also, I hate the cold. I really hate that moment when the cold water hits your belly as you enter the pool. Then there’s the whole wearing a bathing suit in public issue …

So, I had quietly worked myself into a tither by the time our first lesson came around on Monday. However, in usual fashion, I ‘white knuckled’ it. I had to just not let my fears take over for LB’s sake, because, after all, the lessons were about her, not me.  The day had not started well, I took LB for a walk before her first nap and then she didn’t sleep well. I refused to let that stop us, though.

The first thing that struck me, as we got dressed to go to our lesson, was how exceptionally cute LB looked in her little pink frilly swimsuit. Before we left for the lesson, I took a moment to take some photos on my phone and send them to the grandmas and her aunty. Next, I was pleasantly surprised to see that we had somehow made it to the pool on time. The staff there were also exceptionally welcoming and I was impressed to see that the pool complex had had a major facelift since my last visit. There was now an indoor pool and this was where I had booked the lessons.

The next pleasant surprise was how warm the water was. As I walked down the stairs into the pool, I wasn’t uncomfortable at all. I was also relieved by LB’s reaction. Prior to sleep school, LB tended to react very badly to new experiences, but with more sleep she is a lot calmer. She looked to me for reassurance and I gave her a big smile and told her the pool was like a big “splish-splash bath”. After an initial shock at getting her face wet and an incident swallowing a bit of pool water, she was at home. The lesson went exceptionally well and I was sad when it drew to an end. They offered us the opportunity to stay in the pool after the lesson, but I knew LB needed to go home for a feed and a nap.

LB was exhausted by the time we got home and fell asleep while feeding, which was a disaster, because she generally won’t go into the cot if this happens. I usually follow a ‘feed, play, sleep’ routine, but the swimming lessons mean I have to keep her up a bit too long and sneak an extra feed in before she goes down for her afternoon nap. It was a pretty messy afternoon with lots of crying around the afternoon nap but I still felt on top of the world. Our first swimming lesson together was a precious experience and I felt so grateful. I even mooted the idea that we take our babies for a swim together one Friday to my mother’s group.

The second lesson today was even better than the first. LB was a lot more confident and the other two parents in the class were lovely and their children delightful. The instructor was supportive and the lesson had a good balance of fun and safety. In time, I’m confident that LB will be able to save herself from drowning if the need arose, which is really the point of the whole exercise. We don’t have a pool, but our neighbours on both sides do. In addition, there are so many other developmental aspects to the lessons that make them really worthwhile. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that LB is a bit of a natural paddler and kicker, which should help her in the future.

Once again, motherhood has made me overcome my petty anxieties and fears and try something new. I’m so proud of LB and her efforts at swimming lessons. Now, instead of dreading getting into the pool, I am looking forward to my next opportunity to spend time with my little bathing beauty.

Nightmare Tuesday

Diarrhea. It’s a word I can’t actually say out loud, especially in polite company, but apparently I am writing a blog post about it now. One of my biggest fears since becoming a mother has been contracting gastroenteritis. On Tuesday, my fear became a reality. It wasn’t good.

My day began like any other, I was tired and I was concerned about Little Birdie’s (LB) naps. LB hadn’t slept well the day before and it seemed history was repeating itself on Tuesday. To make matters worse, I think her poor day sleeps were my fault, because I had started doing something new. I was taking LB out for a morning walk before her first nap and the change in routine meant I was putting her down a little late. It wasn’t working out well and I felt torn between the joy of a morning walk and the need to get LB to sleep well.

I was musing on this on Tuesday morning as I sat cutting up vegetables for that night’s dinner and listening to LB grumble instead of sleeping. It wasn’t a cry but it certainly wasn’t sleep either. I didn’t know whether to go in and resettle her or let her go on whinging. She started to cry a bit, so I decided to try resettling her. Big mistake. Big cry. Darn.

I went back to peeling my veges, listening to LB on the baby monitor and willing her to nod off. Eventually, she started to settle and that is when I felt it. My stomach was doing flip-flops, my heart was racing and I felt cold. Odd. I wondered if my vitamins were upsetting me again. I have been taking a high dose of vitamin B and it was irritating my stomach a little. I resolved to monitor the situation.

Soon, LB woke from her nap and I made myself a cup of tea and sat down to feed her. Big mistake. That cup of tea was the last straw. Soon after I finished the feed I felt that familiar cramping. Panicked thoughts flashed through my mind, I knew I was in for trouble, but what to do with the baby? She was very cross from poor sleep and wasn’t handling the day well as it was, without Mummy being tied up as well. However, I had no time to waste, the cramps were getting intense, so I popped her on the lounge room mat and ran for the toilet. Huge mistake. Ginormous. Why did I not opt for the cot or the playpen? Goodness knows.

Predictably, as I was stuck in the toilet, I realized I hadn’t shut the gate at the top of the stairs. As soon as I could, I cleaned up and raced out to close it. Why didn’t I put her in the playpen then? I had only been out a few seconds when the cramps returned, worse this time. I ended up doubled over the toilet, moaning in pain. LB began to cry in a distressed manner and I felt terrible for leaving her alone in the lounge, but what could I do? My heart broke and I called out to her that she was OK, willing my body to get back on track so I could return to LB.

Before long, I was able to clean up a second time and go and get my bubby. She was crying terribly and she’d managed to pull the cord that charges the dust buster out from behind the fridge. I noticed she was drooling a lot and was really very upset. I picked her up to comfort her, giving her a big hug and as I tried to calm her down. Nothing worked. I needed help. I grabbed the phone to ring my husband, dreading the onset of the next set of cramps, hoping I had washed my hands well enough not to spread the germs to LB. The line was dead. I hung up and tried to ring again. Nothing. LB kept crying, I kept reassuring her. I raced over to my mobile and had more luck this time. I got through to my husband, who agreed to work from home for the afternoon. What a relief! Now I just hoped that the dreaded cramps didn’t return.

The troubles didn’t end there, though. LB continued to be upset and wouldn’t eat her lunch. I assumed it was because I was trying her on white fish for the first time, but she wasn’t impressed with cereal or fruit either. I put her down on her play mat and it dawned on me. She had sucked the electrical cord; it must have given her a zap. I stuck it on my own tongue to test it out and ZAP. Oh dear.

Another phone call to my husband followed. By this time, LB was in a slightly better mood and she seemed fine, so we resolved to monitor her instead of rushing off to the doctor. In hindsight, I think she got hurt but was also shocked that Mummy wasn’t there to help her. She struggled with the afternoon nap, but she had struggled with her nap that morning and the day before, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary.

Soon, my husband was home to run back up and my luck began to turn. The dreaded cramps did not return and I tried to take it a little easier for the afternoon (virtually impossible when you have a baby). LB had a reasonable night’s sleep, waking a bit earlier than usual at 2.15 am for a feed. I decided to skip the library this morning so that I could rest and we could work on LB’s napping. My decision paid off. We had a lovely day today, I put LB down every two hours for a nap, as soon as she showed tired signs and she settled better. I went to bed and rested during her first two naps and I could feel myself recovering from the day before. We even managed to get out for a family walk this evening when my husband got home from work.

So, from a nightmare Tuesday I found a silver lining. By staying home today, I had a better time getting LB to nap and had a lovely walk with my hubby. Even better is the fact that neither LB nor hubby appear to be sick. I’d rather not have to go suffer the dreaded diarrhea to make me appreciate my day but at least it’s all over now!

I’ll attach a link to the Australian Breastfeeding Association fact sheet on Gastroenteritis and breastfeeding. I found it very helpful.

https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/breastfeeding-and-gastroenteritis

Sleep Easy … I don’t think so!

Self-flagellation seems to be a specialty of mine. As such, I found myself in an information session about sleep for babies older than six months today run by our local Child Health centre. I constantly live in fear that we’ll lose the precious sleep balance we’ve gained in the last six weeks. So, when some of the other Mums from my mother’s group signed up, I thought it would be a good idea for me to do so too.

The issue is that Little Birdie’s (LB) sleep issues are more complex than a general information session can address. I know this but I still hope there will be some magic answer that will help me to relax in the knowledge that the bad old days won’t return. Of course, that is an unrealistic expectation, and so today’s session was always going to be a let down.

It does drive me nuts that the information given in such sessions is so vague, consisting of what is virtually a string of platitudes, rather than concrete strategies that can help those in trouble. I know there are better answers out there and I was able to access excellent help at the sleep school we attended, but it took me six months to get there. My husband and I were on our knees by the time the help became available. In fact, I was on the edge of a nervous break down. Now that we have graduated, I feel terrified that things will go wrong again, because I know that it is so hard to get more help if we need it and it would take months to get back into the sleep school again.

However, as frustrated as I get by these things, it’s important to focus on the positive. In the scheme of things, today’s session was worthwhile. I learnt a tip for dealing with older babies when they stand up in the cot and you want them to lie down. Apparently, it’s best to sit down yourself and get down on their level and they will most likely follow you. I’ll be filing that away for when LB is standing. At the rate she’s moving, that will be the near future! I also had a chance to ask the nurse a couple questions about diet after the session. As it turns out, I need to give LB less banana, because it’s causing her a few bowl troubles. That was a shame to hear, as LB loves banana. I will have to be a little more creative with the fruit I offer her.

Overall, I think my frustration speaks to some wider issues. According to the nurse who spoke to us today, poor sleeping in babies is largely a first world problem. Apparently, this is because we tend to expect our babies to sleep away from us, when in the third world, children often sleep with their parents and mothers carry their babies more. The SIDS guidelines are very effective in saving babies’ lives but they also discourage sleeping on the belly and co-sleeping, two things that can help babies sleep better. I know LB started sleeping better after she learned to roll and has slept on her tummy ever since. There is also the issue of how isolated new parents are. The old cliché says it takes a village to raise a child but we have very little help available to us. My mother is still working full time and my mother-in-law still tutors, so they have other commitments. I also realize so much knowledge about raising children has been lost from our society. I mostly relied on the Internet to find answers in the early days of LB’s life and the advice varies in quality.

In conclusion, I will still keep educating myself about the best ways to support LB to sleep but it’s not easy. At the end of the day, you can only do your best. Attending today’s session was not a waste of time but it reminded me of why parenting is challenging. However, as the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. LB teaches me to be a better person every day and, one day, I’ll look back on this and know it was all worthwhile. In the meantime, I just wish LB sweet dreams!

So what is it then?

It seems we have a mystery on our hands. Recently, we took Little Birdie (LB) on her first holiday to the beach. We were having a lovely time, but it was a little bit cold for the first couple of days, even though it is Spring here. So, we hadn’t had a chance to take LB for her first swim in the pool yet. On our second last day, however, an opportunity presented itself.

I was very excited. As always, I was conscious of preserving LB’s routine so that she could have her naps but the week had been going unexpectedly well in that respect. I made a plan to take her for a swim straight after breakfast, so that she wasn’t exposed to too much sun. I was also a little concerned about LB getting enough protein, so decided to give her some scrambled egg for breakfast. Her daddy made a lovely egg, while I put some sunscreen on LB. Her Daddy then fed LB the egg, but she wasn’t too impressed. She had eaten scrambled egg once before and had consumed most of it but this time she wasn’t having a bar of it. I made her a second breakfast of cereal, yoghurt and banana instead and she was much happier. I then put her on the play mat while I got dressed nearby.

It was then that things took a turn for the worst. I was distracted by my joy at having dropped a dress size, allowing me to don a swimsuit I hadn’t worn since my mid twenties. I pranced out to show my husband when I noticed LB was making a quiet little mewing noise on her play mat. I thought she must be over-tired and felt disappointed that our swim plans were about to go awry. However, it was worse than that. I picked her up to comfort her and noticed her face was swollen and blotchy. I carried her into the main bedroom, calling for my husband. I pulled off LB’s little suit to find she was bright red and covered in rash and hives from the shoulders up. By this time, the swelling on her face was getting worse. My husband came in, took one look at LB and told me to call the ambulance.

It took twenty minutes for the ambulance to arrive but luckily for us, LB kept breathing the whole time. By the time the ambulance arrived, LB’s reaction had started to calm, although she still looked dreadful. She was very good-natured about the whole thing, sitting up on my lap looking so tiny and vulnerable in just her nappy and singlet. We made a game of having her vital signs checked, and she seemed very amused by the whole thing. The ambulance officers suggested that we put a cool compress on her and the reaction begin to abate. We didn’t need to give her any medication in the end and we decided not to take her to hospital. Instead, I rang our local doctor back home after the ambulance left and they advised us to get some antihistamine.

My husband and I felt very fragile for the rest of the day. We didn’t want to let LB out of our sight! It was terrifying to put her down for a nap, because I couldn’t keep an eye on her while she was in her bed without waking her. I’ve since been told that we probably should have taken her to hospital for observation, but the medical staff we worked with at the time didn’t suggest that we do so. Apparently, there is a risk of a delayed reaction a few hours later. Luckily, it all work out for the best and we finished our holiday and headed home the next day.

It is now almost three weeks later and we have been to see an allergist. This is where the mystery kicks in. LB had a patch test for all the common allergens that affect babies her age and didn’t react to any of them! The allergist said we may have gotten a false negative or she may already have grown out of the allergy. It is also possible that she reacted to something else in the holiday unit. However, for now, we have been advised to live as though she has an egg allergy and we’ll try her on egg again when she’s older under more controlled conditions.

We’ve had so much grief lately, with the death of a dear friend’s husband and my uncle being diagnosed with terminal cancer, that this incident made us very aware of the fleeting nature of life and how vulnerable LB is. All parents have to deal with medical emergencies from time to time but that doesn’t make it any easier. The whole incident was a stark reminder that life is precious and we should treasure every day we have together as a family. It also goes to show how, in such a short time, you realize that you can’t imagine life with this little person who has become the centre of your world.

I will include a link to some information on egg allergy from the Sydney Children’s Hospital for anyone who is interested: http://www.sch.edu.au/health/factsheets/joint/?egg_allergy.htm