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:

A new vocabulary


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…

Sweet Surrender

My new little Australian

“You’ve surrendered,” someone observed of me recently. And it was true. I felt a lot better over the Xmas / New Year period than a month or so back and a big part of it was accepting the inevitable: The new baby is coming. Soon.

The concept of surrender is a good one to practise when you’re about to give birth because, without getting into too many gory details, the whole process of delivering a baby tends to involve giving yourself up to the physical and letting it happen. Of course it doesn’t always go smoothly. But that’s the ideal.

After I wrote about feeling so down with Antenatal Depression and being afraid to give birth, I did some good things. I asked for help from various sources and I received it, for which I am very grateful. One extremely useful thing I did was “reach out” to some of my amazing mum friends, all of whom have given birth more recently and more often than me. I found their advice so useful in pulling myself together and writing up a birth plan that I’d like to share some of their wisdom here. I hope they won’t mind me so.


  • Worry surfacing in late pregnancy is natural and obviously not feeling comfortable (in a foreign country) is going to elevate that.
  • Listen to yourself: your fears first, which lets you get to your strengths.
  • Every birth is different but the principle of surrender and embrace really helped me… I realised that with my [first] birth it was more painful when I was (not always consciously) holding on or fighting the pain but I had a fast transition when I started to give in to it. So with [my second baby’s] birth I did this from the beginning. When I had contractions I stood and circled a bit and said yes yes yes to try and embrace them. Don’t get me wrong there was yes yes NO yes times but I think this made it happen faster and in the end a lot easier than I imagined.
  • It is painful but focus that between contractions you’re not in pain. I was laughing joking apologising for yelling. For me an ipod of music got me through in my own world.
  • It is a good idea to get a birth plan together but the whole thing will almost certainly be better second time round.
  • I was DREADING contractions as they were so awful when I was induced with [my first] but I found it much more manageable with [my second] as it built up slowly and only had about 2 puffs of gas and air during the whole thing – mainly cos it all happened so fast!
  •  In the end [my second birth] was very quick and I ended up on the birthing unit with [my husband] and a student midwife. It was intense but gas and air really helped me and I was totally up for considering other pain relief (and had asked for some) but [the baby] was just too fast and arrived after about a minute of pushing.
  • I had a terrible time with [my first] and ended up in theatre in a blind panic and having forceps and an epidural. This time my plan was very simple… try and if it feels awful, have an epidural. And that’s what I did. [My second] was born quickly and I felt enough to know when to push but no pain.


  • If planning pain relief gets you through the worry now then you should plan for that or at least acknowledge it as a possibility that is totally fine and acceptable.
  • A natural birth doesn’t have to mean totally drug free.  I’m totally for it but it’s not about being a bloody hero or a martyr.
  • I wouldn’t rule out anything, you’ve got to do what feels right for you. I hate all this stuff about giving birth a particular way – I think it’s just designed to make women feel rubbish at time when you are particularly vulnerable.
  • “[For my second] I decided that I wanted to go for the same again (water birth) but I was definitely much more open to the idea of drugs both when I was thinking about labour beforehand and during labour itself!
  • I asked for an epidural and no-one was shocked or judgmental (as I had feared). It was incredible. I felt calm and happy because the pain had been taken away and I had mental clarity because it doesn’t affect your head. I chatted to the midwives and [my husband] and he kept asking me when the drama would happen…and it didn’t.
  • In my case the natural birth choice was (imagined) pressure and once I’d realised it wasn’t really the decision for me I felt really liberated to have the epidural if I wanted it. Don’t get me wrong, I totally respect a natural birth, but it wasn’t for me. Who remembers in the long run anyway?
  • The good side of being in Zurich is not only quality chocolate and alpine air – you will also get the best healthcare. No short supply of drugs and no shame in administrating or using them.
  • You know however you decide to do this, I’ve totally got your back.


  • It sounds mad but I would do it all again (both of my different labours) in a heartbeat, even with the pain – it is so wonderful to hold your new baby in your arms that I would love to go back in time to hold them again when they were so new.
  • [My third] birth was painful but I knew I could do it and in the end I’m so glad I did. Over 4kg with no intervention no stitches… Good for both of us.
  • My birth second time around was brilliant. It was such a happier experience than with [my first] and it some ways it felt quite cathartic to have a good birth.
  • My two goes at giving birth are two of my proudest moments. I love thinking back on them.


  • It’s brilliant how quickly you can change a nappy from day one, not panic about them crying, know the signs of wind, overtiredness  etc. You haven’t got the chance to obsess over pointless things like the colour of his/her nappy because you have a lovely toddler to hang out with. Your life doesn’t really change because you’re already in a kid routine and they just tag along.
  • I was very anxious throughout my [second] pregnancy. Once [the baby] arrived though I felt loads better, and actually enjoyed it more this time round.

My new baby S arrived a week ago after a relatively quick labour with a natural birth. We are both doing well 🙂

This sux, baby

Grumpy mum/to-be

After my recent moan about motherhood, I thought I may as well have a pop at pregnancy too – go for broke.

I’m totally bummed this whole second baby has got off to such a horrible start. I’ve been unwell, unhappy and uncomfortable for most of the pregnancy. I had all these rosy tinted dreams about having baby no. 2. I don’t know why I assumed it would be so wonderful but I guess I felt like the first time around, while it was all new and (relatively) exciting, it was more about getting through, moving to the next stage, wondering and worrying about what would happen next. And I think I was a bit thrown by it. Maybe even slightly… embarrassed? So, this second and final time, I was keen to embrace it, and even enjoy the pregnancy.

The first fly in the ointment of this plan came with trimester one’s fairly ick morning sickness. I wasn’t spewing but just felt rotten most of the time, physically and mentally. Unfortunately this also created a perfect storm/vicious cycle of not wanting to go out much, which meant my feelings of loneliness, isolation and lack of friends/support here were compounded. I did, however, have the slight comfort of assuming the baby would be a girl, purely by dint of the fact that I was so unwell. But I was wrong about that too.

The second trimester was all right. I felt a bit physically uncomfortable but I was mostly in Australia, so I was enjoying myself and managing to block out a lot of the negative feelings I’d been having. Also I had friends and family to talk through stuff with. Plus all the grandparental support made it easy to take it easy.

Since being back in Zurich, I’m pretty depressed again. It’s cold and dark and – surprise – since I’ve done nothing about it, nothing has magically changed about my life here to suddenly make it great! I’m feeling achey, tired and heavy and my 3.5-year-old son is annoying me just by being a 3.5-year-old (I read this article about how Time-Outs are damaging your child, oh how I laughed… don’t the authors realise that time-outs are so the parents can calm down and regain their composure?!)

I’ve read up a bit on antenatal depression. Unfortunately there’s not that much info – there’s more on PND (postnatal depression). I don’t know if this is because AND is less common, less talked about or purely the fact that there’s a time limit to it. So, for what it’s worth here’s what antenatal depression feels like to me:

It feels like: a big ball of regret and failure – physically and mentally.

It feels like: I can’t have this baby.

It feels like: I wish I wasn’t pregnant.

It feels like: is it too late for an abortion?

It feels like: knowing things are going to get worse before they get better – because how could this situation possibly be improved by adding a squalling, boob-sucking, sleep-deprivation machine?

It feels like: hating my body. I look disgusting.

It feels like: no one has touched me for months except my little boy. No one’s felt the baby move except me.

It feels like: drinking an extra glass or two of wine because you’re unhappy and alcohol has been your crutch for the past 20-odd years and it’s really hard to break that habit now, even though you know it’s doing untold damage to the unborn baby. (However, the stuff I’ve read on AND says it’s advisable to keep taking your anti-depressants. I am not on any SSRIs.)

It feels like: over-eating because I’m depressed. Then feeling sick and overfull – oof!

It feels like: I haven’t talked to the baby or “bonded” with it like I did with my first pregnancy. I can hardly bear thinking about this one.

It feels like: being angry a lot of the time with my beautiful, wonderful 3.5 year old because he won’t walk, or won’t come and get ready NOW, and insists on wearing a nappy even though he’s fine to use the potty.

It feels like: being terrified of PND – and not knowing how to prevent that.

It feels like: being scared of completely cracking up and/or doing something really dangerous to myself and/or others.

It feels like: being trapped. I really don’t know how to get out of this.

It feels like: there’s a sort of primal need to find a “safe” place to give birth and a part of me is frantic that I don’t have it.

It feels like: I should have stayed in Australia but I let convention and la-la-la-not-thinking-about-it guide me back here.

It feels like: I should just shut up with my #firstworldproblems because women are giving birth in refugee camps and other horrible places all the time.

It feels like: I’m afraid of the pain of giving birth. If I don’t even want the child, how can I endure labour? Should I be planning for an epidural? C-section? Would that make it worse?

It feels like: what if I don’t love the kid once he arrives? Everyone says “oh you will” but what if they’re wrong?

It feels like: not being sure if my marriage can survive this.

It feels like: smiling awkwardly when people say – you must be so excited about the baby!! Being envious but slightly appalled that other mums-to-be are thrilled to bits.

It feels like: wincing when people say: wow you’re getting big/ looking really pregnant / walking like a pregnant lady.

It feels like: No one wants to hear it. I should just get over it.

It feels like: when bad things happen to other people, it doesn’t put it all into perspective. I just feel worse, like the world is a bad place.

It feels like: I’m wasting all these amazing opportunities but I just can’t seem to find contentment, let alone happiness.

It feels like: I must just be a cold, nasty, unfeeling person.

It feels like: I’ve made a huge mistake.

It feels like: I’ve made my bed and now I have to lie in it.

It feels like: a life sentence (ok: bad pun). But if motherhood is not really doing it for me already, how’s it going to be in six months, 3 years, 10 years… 😦

It feels like: being really, really tired.

It feels like: being bored.

It feels like: I hate myself and baby, you suck too.

Toddler time  

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A rather mundane post about the frustrations of a day spent toddler-wrangling…

As parents of young children will know, it’s expected that, on the days you’re home with them as primary carer, you take your kids out to the park (or some equally worthy place of child-centred activity: a friend’s house, playgroup, family-friendly cafes, the zoo etc.) Sometimes I find this a bit of a fraught activity. My son often says he wants to go initially, but when it comes to the ritual of actually getting dressed, shoes on, out of the house, he objects. Strongly. This is usually because he’s in the middle of some little game of his own devising, so I have the double whammy of tearing him away from self-perpetuated activity, coupled with the fact I’m not that plussed about going out myself. (I think I’ve become a bit agoraphobic since moving to Swizerland – fear of foreign places). And pregnant: it’s all soo much harder trying to manoeuvre physically and mentally right now.

Also – is this as recent phenomenon / modern parenting trap? My mum and her peers seem to think it’s slightly bonkers the way parents these days around and try to do something with/for the kid EVERY DAY. In their time it was much more about the child fitting the parents’ routine, it seems. Or maybe they’ve just forgotten. I’m also really starting to wonder if it’s one of those situations that’s worse for the part-time parent? Full-time stay at home, you’ve got the routine going a bit more smoothly (maybe?! I seem to remember this from my year off on maternity leave but of course that was with a baby. This is probably just a BS grass-is-greener feeling on my part). Part time, it seems like you’re constantly juggling and adjusting and so is your child. Those three or four days a week of daycare are great, but it often feels like you’re right back at amateur hour when the “mum time” kicks in…

Anyway so, back to my toddler day. We finally make it out of the house but I realize I also need to get some groceries in. Is the park in any way near or convenient to any shops? Is it fuck. Ok so now begin the negotiations of what we do first. Park first or shops first. You can imagine what a 3-year-old who has no idea of the joys of delayed gratification is gunning for. Ok so park. We get there. It is closed. Great. So… the other park it is. To get there, we may as well detour past the shops. But I’m already feeling somewhat defeated. Why is it so hard to achieve two relatively simple things? Park and shops? Why must I lug my prego belly so far just to buy food and go on the swings? Sigh.

We make it to the shops, I haven’t brought the list because I’d been thinking we’d just go to the park but once I was out, it seemed crazy not to swing by the supermarket as well. I get a clutch of goods comprised of some stuff I remember off the list, a few things I’ve thought of since and various bits that catch my eye as we whip through. I wonder, for the 837th time since P was born, if anyone without a buggy in the supermarket realises how bloody awkward and annoying it is to try to shop with one. Manhandling the stroller with one hand, while an increasingly weighty shopping basked dangles off the other arm… and pregnant. Ugh.

We leave and by now I’ve decided that fuck it, it’s already noon and we need to buy some food for lunch and we can take it to the park and have it as a picnic. This food will be Macdonalds. Fuck it. Yes, I feel bad, yes, part of me has THE FEAR that having fast food right now will set a dangerous precedent with P but it’s been a rough morning. The doctor told me yesterday after clocking my low-ish weight gain with this pregnancy “it’s ok to eat!” And I want a treat. I steel myself for feeling like slapper mum of the year and walk into maccas, negotiating the large stroller round school bags of teens and inadvertently ramming ankles. The area in front of the counter is packed. So full there are not even clearly defined queues . I can’t deal with it, I can’t be bothered and, literally  we can’t even fit. We trundle back out. “Are we going to the park now?” Asks P who, in all honesty, has been pretty patient up until now. “Yes” I sigh, thinking of Burger King one street over but knowing it will be equally full of student lunchers.

We make our way to the park. I have to wheedle and cajole P to hop out of the buggy to walk up the steep hill to get there – it’s too heavy for me to push with him in and the shopping, and did I mention 8 months pregnant? Finally he agrees. We get to the park. We stop for a pastry snack on a park bench in the sun. It’s nice. We get to the play area. It’s completely deserted. I remember that I sort of hate the park. Where is everyone? Am I missing something? Sheesh it’s no wonder I feel lonely. Of course, the times when another parent-and-child are there, they speak in German so I’m out of the picture either way. It’s almost more isolating when that happens, in fact.

I push him on the swing for a while, he demands more, more, more. I make bargains about finishing and have to back down every time. This is why parenting is so much harder than office work: the emotional undermining . Constantly being denied, overridden, bossed about by a 3 year old who in no way knows better than you and, in fact, you’re meant to be guiding to become a decent human being. Others have said this better than me. I can’t be bothered looking up the links to the articles right now.

I try to look around and enjoy the glorious autumn display of trees, leaves are all the colours, from bright lime green, yellow, orange and all shades of brown. A puff of wind sends a shower of them spiralling to the ground, looking up, it’s like a gentle leaf snowfall spinning out in the sky above me. It’s really beautiful. There’s squirrels and birds flitting about in the thinning branches and almost no one around, a few dog walkers passing, pleasant, productive sounds of hammering and home renovations nearby. But it doesn’t sustain me. We’re back to negotiations. I’m bored of pushing this shitty swing and it’s nearly 1pm now, we need to go home and eat a proper lunch. I don’t know where this Timetable Of Correct Parenting comes from, I just know I need to adhere to it as well as possible or I’ll feel even worse. As he screams and cries and I give in once again, I have tears my eyes. How can I feel so defeated after just a couple of hours? What do you do when a depression trigger is taking your son to the park?

We get home, he goes straight back to his toys. I can’t be bothered insisting on lunch although I eat some myself. When he asks for TV an hour later, I capitulate. When I finally convince him to eat, around 3.30pm, we have a 20-minute long fight about butter – whether it’s on the toast I’ve made him (of course it is, but he insists it’s not and demands I remake the meal to his specifications) which involves him crying and us arguing until I finally dab a token amount of butter on top of the already-spread toast and he eats it.

I’m sometimes get so sick of this motherhood gig, to whom do I address my resignation letter?

The pursuit of perfection

Hot wheels or hot heels… you get what you’re given

Last week, we found out we’re having another boy. I don’t plan on having any more children after this one, so right now I feel a bit disappointed. I was 90% sure it was a girl. Which would have made the perfect little family.

My disappointment in not “achieving” perfection here, and the headline of this blog, takes me back several years to when I used to edit a customer magazine for a semi-luxury car company, the tagline of which was The Pursuit of Perfection (er, not Lamborghini by the way!). The job made me unhappy for many reasons that I won’t detail now. Suffice to say, it was during my employment there that I first sought help for clinical depression. At that time, I was passed to a rather young, freshly qualified and enthusiastic NHS counsellor with pale pink hair who helped me in two valuable ways. One was putting me onto an online Cognative Behavioural Therapy programme (MoodGym) and the other was her “diagnosis” of me as a perfectionist.

Perfection – I scoffed at the time – was something I absolutely did not seek. I’d worked in publishing too long to be an adherent of ‘perfection’ – that way lies missed deadlines, endless do-overs and disappointment. Near enough is good enough: do it well, proof it, fix it, proof it again, sign it off, ship it to print and move on! Bear with me, she said, and take home this document, read it and see what you think. I did and she was right. Perfectionism in psychological terms is not always trying to be “perfect” per se, according to it is:

1. The relentless striving for extremely high standards (for yourself and/or others) that are
personally demanding, in the context of the individual. (Typically, to an outsider the standards are
considered to be unreasonable given the circumstances.)
2. Judging your self-worth based largely on your ability to strive for and achieve such
unrelenting standards.
3. Experiencing negative consequences of setting such demanding standards, yet continuing
to go for them despite the huge cost to you.

I am not going to comment on whether the car company I worked for achieved this goal but for myself, I was glad to recognise and acknowledge these traits and try to work on them. However, like depression, I’ve found perfectionism can rear its head at various times life and screw around with you. And I guess now is one of those times…

I have been thinking about the fact I’m carrying a boy for a few days now and I guess I can only describe it as thus: I feel like people will judge me as though it was a choice I made. “Oh, you wanted a 2-boy family.” When my choice would have been to have one of each. And I know that’s stupid, and selfish and anal and stuff but there you have it. Of course the main thing is he’s healthy and I’m healthy. There are people out there desperate to conceive, or with rafts of other baby- and child-related problems, and I truly am grateful we’re all healthy so I really should shut up. I will love the kid and I will get over this. But if you’ll indulge my wallowing and justifications for a moment or two?

So: I am a girl. And one who enjoys dressing up, shopping and vanity things. And it would have been so nice to have a female child to do this kind of  typical girl stuff with. Plus, in general, when they become adults, women are better at staying in touch, remembering birthdays, helping to tidy up after a dinner party, all that stupid stereotypical shit that perhaps shouldn’t matter but of course it does. (And I know I’m getting about 20 years ahead of myself, but these are some of the conclusions I jump to).

Also, it means I will never have a daughter who has a baby so I can go through the pregnancy with her and tell her what it was like for me, etc.  BUT – this is all a bit silly. Who’s to say that even if I did have a daughter that she would be any of those things? Or that I will “miss out” in any way? For example, I was at a 3 year old’s birthday party the other day and the mother-in-law (MiL) was just lovely and obviously very involved with the family of her son (her only child). In fact she reminded me of my own wonderful MiL (who I know reads this blog, hi Avril!), who has given me some fantastic motherly advice over the years and been very involved with P’s life as well as in the lives of the children of her other son (she also has a daughter, but her daughter has not had children so there’s no guarantees of that “shared motherhood” experience anyway!) . I would hope to do the same for my son’s partners one day. Assuming they have them. Because my son/s might be gay, or not have kids, or be perpetually single, or anything. And that is also fine.

So I guess it kinda comes back to this weird feeling of no choice, or the wrong choice somehow. It’s like – everything else in your life you basically get to decide on (if you’re a privileged WASP like me): where you live, your tertiary education and/or career, if/who you marry, what you wear, the stuff you have – from the car you’re driving to the handbag you carry to how you decorate your home. And while I might not love the fact, it all signifies stuff about you. And I guess I feel like the outside trappings of my life are all fairly well curated. I’m happy with them and the impression that I give off and, yes, I do think about it a fair bit (does that make me a pyscho?!)  But this, well, it’s not my choice – the way it will be reflected on me feels like it doesn’t quite fit. So I feel a bit sad and, if I’m brutally honest, slightly embarrassed? Like people will whisper: “oops, unfortunate, was that on purpose?!” God that’s awful. But that’s why I wanted to write about it – get it out there, see how ridiculous I’m being.

I went online and read a few forums and stuff about this topic. One commenter had a really nice suggestion which was: enjoy your sons and if you feel the urge, just go and buy that frilly dress and donate it to a child in need. I like this idea. Besides, many of my close friends have girls, and I have two nieces. Being “cool Aunty Claire” to them should surely be almost as satisfying! Plus I won’t get the growing-up girl tantrums (when I think how horrible I was to my mum at some points in my life, agh), I won’t have to deal as directly with all the horrid over-sexualisation that’s shoved in girls’ faces as they grow up (although I will make damn sure my boys respect women and join the feminist fight), and selfish, vain old me will never have to “compete” against a fresh, younger version.

I am glad we found out though. I wouldn’t want to deal with these feelings on top of the “baby blues” a few days after the birth. And I know I’ll get over it. But right now, I am a bit sad and, for a perfectionist like me, it’s tough to bid goodbye to what I thought my family “should” be.