breastfeeding

Guest blog: Breastfeeding

 

This week, my guest post / interview for Milk and Motherhood about the troubles I had with pain while breastfeeding was published. Here’s an excerpt

I hate being bad at things and I was bad at this… Looking back now, and maybe even at the time, I can take the perspective that there are some things you just aren’t good at and, for me, breastfeeding was one of them. Some people are terrible at maths, or they’re tone deaf, or they can’t catch a ball to save their life. I was yet to learn that motherhood is a series of “amateur hours” and I’ve always been scathing of amateurism. However, unlike deciding you’ll quit the basketball team or only do Arts subjects from now on, you can’t walk away from the aspects of motherhood that you suck at.

Read the full story here: http://www.milkandmotherhood.com/2016/11/interview-with-claire-constant-pain.html

The Great Divide

grandcanyon

Ok I’ve enjoyed the first two months of new-motherhood but now I’m ready for some time off. Maybe a week’s holiday? Or a two? Perhaps I’ll tackle a fresh project now, or return to an old one – get back to my German lessons maybe… What’s that? I can’t? No leave can be granted? Well maybe I could just chuck a sickie? Nope, not that either. What… not even one day to myself?

Sigh – just one of the many laments of early motherhood – it’s relentless and there’s no holidays in sight. Especially at this stage. Feed, sleep, poo, repeat. And the baby doesn’t do much more than that either.

It’s got me thinking about the roles of mum and dad (in general) again. I say “again” because the last time I properly contemplated this was the first time Himself and I became mum and dad (specific). And let me tell you, nothing highlights the Great Divide between the genders* much more than having a new baby. This huge change in the status quo of your relationship is something I’m yet to see listed in all those “Why I’m never having children” articles, but it should be right up there. Alongside the zero-holidays policy.

When you’re the one parenting a new baby at home while your partner is back at work, there’s no getting around the fact that in these early months, you are doing the motherload of childcare (pun intended) and dad is, well, working. In other words, you’ve suddenly taken on very traditional gender roles. And it makes your day-to-day lives very different indeed. Granted, this was more of a shock to the system the first time around when we went from the relatively equal footing of both being full time working “people” to a Mum-at-home-with-baby and a full-time-working-Dad (as opposed to just full-time-working person).

But in a funny way, the gender gap is gaping even wider now. Because I’m also a “trailing spouse”, I currently exist in a weirdly segregated world. The only new people I meet are other women, mostly mothers and other expats who are also usually trailing spouses. The facebook groups I join are generally populated by females and are parenting-focused. I never come across males in a social capacity, unless they’re the partners of mums I’ve met. It kinda sucks.

On the flipside, I chose this.  And I’m lucky to be able to spend this time caring for my kids and not having to work for money outside the home. Himself would love to be home with them more often. If money were no object, I’m sure he’d quit work in a nanosecond (although how long it would take him to reach the boredom/resentment/need-a-break threshold I’ve just bumped into is hard to say… and I guess we’ll never know). If only it were easily possible for me to go out and find employment in this foreign country that pays as well as a male salary…

Not that I even want to work full time. Do I? I’d be lying if I said part of the appeal of this move to Switzerland wasn’t the sweet notion of being able to QUIT formal work indefinitely. Of course nothing is ever quite as good as it seems. And this is an almost entirely female problem. Not many men even get the choice of whether to quit or take a break from work to stay home and look after their babies, although it would be great if they had real options for this**.

As the kids get older, stay-at-home Dads become slightly more common. Slightly. [ASIDE: You don’t hear the male voice in parenting very often so I found it really interesting what Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard writes in his semi-autobiographical book A Man In Love about the mind-numbing mundanity of life as a primary parent. It’s basically several chapters of Toddler Time but more brutal! I can’t imagine many mums admitting the “job” bores them so starkly although it certainly struck a chord with me.]

Then there’s the money and value factors. Of course, rationally, we’re equal partners who are both contributing valuable work so we can afford to live and raise a family. But in reality, it can be hard to see it as entirely “our” money or perhaps more importantly, half “mine”, especially when it comes to the more frivolous purchases I might want to make. And in terms of valuable work, sure I’m doing a very important job but, well, no one’s flying me business class to Boston to be a Mum for 8 hours then back again.

So it’s an odd conundrum. A paradox of feminism? We have the choice but we have no choice. And things aren’t equal, but how can they be? Parenting, at least in the first year or so, is not really an equal opportunity playing field.

In some ways I can see it’s actually worse for the dads – slogging away at a crappy job (all jobs are a bit crappy right?) and missing out on time with the babies that goes so quickly. Plus, he has to do a big chunk of childcare and housework too – particularly putting in the hours with our first child in this second-baby situation. And yet, and yet… he also gets to go out of the house every week day, he gets to talk to people who aren’t obviously involved in their own childcare battles about things that aren’t to do with kids, he gets validation for skills that have nothing to do with parenthood. And he gets the chance for 7-8 hours unbroken sleep per night. It’s not a competition, but if there were a ledger of achievements and sacrifices, I’d say sleep is a biggie.

Likewise, I’ve been wondering about breastfeeding and feminism. Is breastfeeding a feminist issue? Feminism is about choice and equal opportunities. So Bfing is another paradox. Sure you have a choice, but there’s also no choice, as in, no one else can do it for you (with rare exceptions), well, your partner can’t anyway. And, like giving birth, it’s in no way an equal opportunity situation between the sexes. So I’m stuck. But I chose this. But, only by dint of being a woman was that choice possible. And, based on where we are at as modern, first-world people and parents, it was in many ways the only option. So therefore I had no choice. But still… I chose this. Argh.

I’d really like a day off.

 

 

*I suppose this is true for same-sex couples (assumptions, assumptions!) if you substitute “mum” for “primary carer” and “dad” for “the one who continues to go to work”.

** I’m a total advocate of The Wife Drought theory articulated so well in Annabel Crabb’s book – for society to move on, men need a life and women need a wife.

A new vocabulary

Geburt

My parents flew back to Australia on the weekend so I’m left feeling a bit more alone again. I think I’ve mentioned this before but, without mum and dad around, my little English-speaking enclave narrows and the isolation of not knowing the local lingo presses more heavily. I guess it’s time to sort out some more German lessons!

Thinking about words – new, old, unusual and familiar – I wanted to write a list of pregnancy-related words you barely hear at other times of your life. I kinda like the way so many unusual small things have their own term: like the first poo your baby does and the early milk they get. I also realised that while waiting for this baby, I actually really dislike the word “pregnant” – it seems a fat, awkward sort of term. Particularly when people would use it as a verb: How pregnant do you look now? Ugh. The German word for it, Schwanger, is not much better, although it does have a sort of swingin’ appeal.

Here’s some interesting words around pregnancy and childbirth I do like:

  • trimester
  • perenium
  • meconium
  • colostrum
  • lochia
  • letdown
  • Hebamme (German for midwife)
  • Schwangerschaft (German for pregnancy – somehow less blunt than Schwanger)
  • Stillen (German for breastfeeding)
  • Geburtshilfe (German for giving birth / obstetrics)

Got any other good ones? Let me know in the comments below…

Beer and Anxiety

Rhinefelder Beerhalle

I got out of the house on Sunday and went into central Zurich. Hooray! It’s so hard to strike the balance of staying home and resting, and not going stir crazy with cabin fever. It’s been snowing a lot too, which makes going out less attractive. But sometimes you gotta GO!

Anyway, I found a good solution in the form of a trip into Zurich’s old town (Niederdorf) in the snow to eat Cordon Bleu crumbed pork with ham and cheese in the middle) and drink Weissbeer. Did this calm my body or soothe my mind? A bit of both, and well worth it. We went to the Rheinfelder Beerhalle – very old school (we were the youngest people there by a few decades, well, baby S certainly was!) Then we wandered around the cobblestone streets for a bit. None of the shops were open because: Sunday. But it’s actually quite nice to take shopping out of the equation, on occasion.

It’s been good to explore a few more restaurants and cafes with my parents in town. They seem surprised I haven’t been to more local places but who do I have to go with? I’m not much of a one for solo cafe exploration… will that affect my novel writing? I hope not! 🙂

The first two weeks with baby S were just bliss. I felt amazing – so happy and content. I wish I could feel that way always. Why can’t I? Unfortunately anxiety has crept in. I remember this “newborn anxiety” all too well from when P was small – a breathless sort of stressy feeling like I need to get lots of things done quickly before… what? He wakes up? But so what if he does?

I don’t quite know what causes this nasty anxiety, but lately, I’ve been thinking about the Two Factor Theory of Emotion, as you do. I might not be completely undertstanding it correctly but, as I read it, it’s about how sometimes if you experience the physical symptoms of a certain emotion, you feel that emotion mentally. Even though you might not actually be “feeling” that emotion.

So – breastfeeding and early weeks with a new baby. Physically I’m tired, which always makes me cry easily. My chest hurts and my back and shoulders are stiff, which makes me feel kind of stooped and vulnerable. I’m sweaty (a common postpartum thing) and the waterworks are still a bit dodgy (it takes at least six weeks to fully heal –  Sorry if TMI!) And I’m anxious as hell.

But I wonder which came first? Because all these physical manifestations are also symptoms of anxiety. Eg: when you’re anxious, you’re sweaty, stooped and need to wee. Is my brain taking cues from my body or the other way around? Maybe I’m not actually anxious at all, it just feels that way in my body, so my brain is reacting to it!

Or maybe I have a 3-week-old baby and I’m trying to do too much: housework, spending time with a toddler and attempting to crack breastfeeding with a hangover of failure the first time around (bfing is much harder than all the literature says – most things you read seem to say a few days and “no pain”. But when you talk to people in real life it seems as though everyone has issues. Pain can last for more like weeks or even several months, there’s problems with oversupply, undersupply, letdown and engorgement – so many women have these issues that I’m surprised the prevailing attitude seems to be that bfing is no problem. Maybe it’s just that once it goes right, people forget?).

So anyway, perhaps I’m faking myself into anxiety by being a puddle of postpartum and bfing mess. Or perhaps I am just freaking out with a 3-week old. (For the record, I mentioned this physical anxiety theory to my Hebamme/midwife and she said: nah you’re a mass of hormones now and you need more REST!) Either way, the answer is beer. Cheers!