Ode to friendship…

Hello world

LOVING the new and improved summer weather we’re having. Even if it only lasts a week, what a glorious week. Mo and I spent the whole day yesterday soaking up the sunshine (and sensible shade) on Peckham Rye, which was beautiful, lots of bees busily pursuing bee pursuits in the clover. Gorgeous day.

The lovely day was topped off by meeting two very wonderful friends of mine to see Play Without Words, which is an exquisitely beautiful dance production currently on at Sadler’s Wells. If you’re not usually a fan of dance, go anyway. This is a truly swirlingly delightful piece of theatre, mesmerising and wonderful and engrossing and thought provoking. Not perhaps in a deeply intellectual way, more in a sensual way. Go and see it. Now.

My wonderful old friend Dave (old as in length of friendship service, not in age…) originally known as Dave the Babe from university but we dropped the “the babe” part as he became embarrassed being introduced to a crowded room in this way. No idea why. Anyway I digress, my wonderful old friend Dave bought me tickets to go and see this fabulous production with him and his lovely boyfriend. It was partly simply a lovely thing to do on such a warmly lengthy long summer evening. But it was also a tribute to another great friend of ours, who died 8 years ago. Dave had been to see this play with Zoe 10 years ago when it was first on at the National, and so on seeing it appearing once more he thought I needed to see it too.

So it was an evening of new experiences, redolent of a great wonderful friend of mine who has been departed since 2004 but never quite gone from our lives. It made us both quite pensive and I was musing on my cycle home about the nature of loss, of friendship and love and how it affects you over time.

Zoe was my best friend from school, and one of my favourite and dearest people in the whole entire world ever. She was part of my formative life times, my side kick through the embarrassments and awkward traumas of late teens and early 20s, my confidante and partner in crime, a comedy duo sometimes unintentionally (once in a club we retired to the bar after a particularly enjoyable bout of dancing…to Return of The Mack, if memory serves… and a bloke came up to us and told us not to stop as we were making him laugh so much…). As I was reminded last night ruefully, there was a moment when I felt that I needed to break away from the “Zoe and Anya monster”, that we were too closely intwined and I had no identity separate from her and felt no one knew me apart from my best friend who accompanied me everywhere. And then she died, and this seems like a peculiarly decadent and silly thing to have ever thought, as now I am irrevocably without her, forever more.

Grief is a strange and almost perversely wonderfully alive sensation that sears through your being and changes you, alters your very fibres for the rest of your life. Just as having a baby changes you entirely, so does losing someone close and special to you. I am not sure how the nature of death particularly changes the reaction you have to it, but Zoe died in a sudden and strange way, in a DIY accident when she was attempting to drill holes in her house in Brixton. The bizarre nature of the accident made her death all the more pointless and ridiculous, and her loss even more tinged with the unfair.

But…it was 8 years ago, and you feel like with time the immediacy of losing someone close should maybe disappear. And of course it does, the intensity of grief of course goes away, it would have been an evolutionary mistake for who/whatever created humans to make it as raw and bitter forever – life does go on, time does absolutely heal. But, as Dave and I both experienced last night, we really, really wanted Zoe to be there with us with her joyful cackle and glistening eyes. She is still my best friend, and I am gutted that she will never get to be the self-proclaimed “bohemian mad auntie” to my children. There are still moments and situations where I feel like only Zoe is the person who would get what I was thinking and I’d just love to give her a call and chat about things, momentarily lift the departed label and bring her back just for that one moment and then I promise I’d let her go again…

So yesterday felt in its entirety like it was a sunny musical journey through my life, Mo and I met new mummy friends in the sunshine to revel in the present, then had an al fresco tumbling babies lunch with a friend from the past 6 years, then the summer night whisked me towards a great and dear old friend in a requiem to a beautiful beloved departed soul who would have been such a huge presence in Mo’s life had she still been around, and now present in her absence. I know that Mo would have loved Zoe, i can imagine her face lighting up and her smile spreading over her beautiful face as Mo reflected the joy back at her.

I soaked up the lovely evening with Dave and Gavin and cycled home with my cup of friendship brimming, reminiscing with a smile about the things that Zoe brought to my life and how she was just such a brilliant part of it for the lucky time that I had with her, the Anya and Zoe monster. I am reminded again of the Beatles song In My Life and how perfectly it expresses the intertwining of past, present and future. Play Without Words is also a beautiful depiction of how there are layers to your life, you have the present but there may be several layers like a tiramisu of emotions, memories and experiences that inform how you act and how you’re feeling in that present moment.

I allow myself to project forward fleetingly, and wish for Mo that he has the kind of amazing relationships that nurture his soul that I have been fortunate enough to concoct with my circle of friends and family.

The day that Zoe died, in the morning before it had happened I witnessed a car accident where a little boy was hit as he ran into the road (the mum in me shudders all the more now at the thought). He was ok, but everyone around was very shaken up. I sent a text to a few of my nearest and dearest that morning, saying “saw a boy hit by a car today. Take care of yourself you’re very special to me”. That was actually the last text I ever sent to Zoe. Sadly she didn’t take heed, the ninny, but it has since always made me stop and take stock of and appreciate the wonderful people in my life and make sure I tell them how great they are at regular intervals.

And on that note…another sunny day with friends and family and Mo beckons, so I will leave you to muse on the wonderful people in your life today!

Mo and my Peckham life

Hello world

So, yesterday was Maurice’s birthday, 15th July. It was also St Swithin’s Day, and according to olde english tradition, the weather on this feast day portends the weather for the next 40 days. Well, wish that it were true my friends, as yesterday was the first non totally rainy day that we’ve had for weeks and weeks, it was even quite bright and sunny, dare I say it, SUMMERY, for a few brief minutes at a time, and didn’t rain. So hurrah for the next 40 days I thought gleefully. But no…it’s drizzlingly wet and gloomy again today. It’s amazing the impact it has on your mood, weather like this. I have taken to listening to the Beatles Here Comes the Sun at intervals, so I can get the same effect as a ray of sunshine on my skin and to my psyche that way. I would suggest doing the same yourself if you’re similarly suffering.

Anyhoo…so, Maurice is a YEAR OLD! Wowzers! I am so happy and proud and excited that he is a year old, it’s been an insanely eventful yet uneventful year. I haven’t been on a plane or on holiday for 15 months, which is the longest I think i have ever gone without flying. So this is good for my carbon footprint, if nothing else. I have been pondering how the last year has affected my habits, my life generally, for the better.

Having a baby has definitely increased my dependence on all things local: the local community, neighbours, local parks…I feel much more integrated into my neighbourhood than I ever did or felt need to before. For the first 9 weeks of Maurice’s life i actually didn’t leave Peckham once, except for an excursion down the road to Brockley to visit a midwife friend who was giving me some breastfeeding coaching. That’s a long time not to leave anywhere, let alone Peckham, some people might suggest. This was mainly indicative of the fact that Maurice was a bit of a challenge when it came to…well, everything, for the first 9 weeks of his life, and so the idea of attempting a ride on public transport was actually more stressful than I could bear, and I found comfort in relaxing strolls around Peckham Rye park where Mo would slumber in the sling (never the buggy, he was NOT a fan of the buggy), which gave me some fresh air, some peaceful moments and exercise, simultaneously offering Mo some calming effects of kangaroo care in the sling which seemed to help his extreme fraught fussiness.

Now that my Pilates business is mainly a home-based business I am meeting more people in the community that way, and have become much more locally oriented. The other day I had to cycle into town for a course and I felt like a tourist, totally not part of the hub, swimming against the tide almost and not in sync with the sinews and twists and turns of central London life. I know that it would only take a short while to be whisked back into the swing of things, but it made me reflect that i rather like my Peckham life, my mummy friends close by, becoming attached to local cafes and knowing what’s going on with local events, independent shops, farmers market etc. It feels like a more sustainable way of living, if I could throw in a Good Life style market garden I’d be laughing. Maybe some time in the future…

I guess for the first time I feel like I have been planted for long enough that perhaps I am putting down roots.

So, from this more deeply rooted position, I’d like to commemorate some thoughts and grand moments of the last year for the little one year old man.

Taking him home from hospital: the main sentiment that we felt upon arriving at home was a surge of relief that we were home after a week which had felt like a year. We had our very little tiny new babe at home at last. The fact that we weren’t given a manual for looking after him was slightly disconcerting, but just the sheer relief of being away from hospital and into our own time zone and rhythm was enough to stall any fears about what the hell you do when they fill their nappy, does that wavy arm thing mean they’re hungry, why do they grunt like a little piglet, is that a smile or just wind, and if they are asleep for over an hour is it ok to poke them to check whether they’re still breathing?

The first tentative crawl (backwards), at 5 months…as soon as Mo started moving, something seemed to click for him, that this thing was All Right. He had simply been stifled and anxious before as he couldn’t get around. He needs constant motion, my little man, which is why slinging him has always been the best way. On his own, lying down, he never felt comfortable being stranded on his back..I looked at babes who would merrily lie on their mats or on cushions for ages totally happy and content, with amazement – Mr Mo was never one of those. Once he could edge around and travel, his world became a much less anxious place. Mine, on the other hand…

His boundless enthusiasm and smile. I love it…makes me happy to the brim. Even on a day like this, Maurice can manage to be gleeful about a dance around the kitchen, or a picture of a dog (ah! Ah! he says, pretending to be a dog), or the sight of a toothbrush.

The pure way he reacts to life…as yet there is no ambiguity, everything is taken at face value and as such he feels things very strongly, but can also be lifted from a grump very easily into happiness again. We could probably all learn tips from this easy transition between light and dark, shrugging off low thoughts and moving on to the next happy.

He managed to sleep for just over 9 hours on the eve of his birthday, which was a breakthrough and shows that at least I know he can do it, uninterrupted slumber for nearly a whole night, he went to bed at 6.45pm and didn’t rise until 4.15am which is simply astounding and better than he’s ever done before. He didn’t replicate it last night, but I still have hope that there WILL be sleep in our future…some time…

We had a wonderful birthday party for Mo on Peckham Rye Park in the sort of summery day, with some of his friends and nearly all of his family around him, and he ate jelly for the first time. As far as he was concerned, this appeared to be the best moment of his life so far.

Long may these moments continue!

My year of no sleep…

Hello world!

It’s the eve of my original due date of little Maurice monkey. He was supposedly due to arrive into the world on 3rd July last year. And although this “due date” phenomenon appears to be an entirely arbitrary plucking of a date out of the air rather than adhering to any particularly concrete science that I can see (my calculated due date had been 7th July and the 12-week scan brought the date forward by 4 days…but then he was born much later…), you can’t help but be in some way emotionally caught up in the date you have been told your baby will be bouncing into your world on. You tell people for at least 6 months that your baby is due on this particular day, and coming up for the day everyone is asking you about it and merrily counting down to it…the day arrives and you feel a sense of anticipation, akin to waiting on the side of the Jubilee street pageant, waving your flag and admiring the bunting, waiting for Queenie to drive past regally. And so if Queenie doesn’t arrive, you’re left waving your flag as the streets empty around you, with a sense of slight deflation. Once you’re past the day you receive well-meaning texts with shouty messages such as “NO BABY YET???” “HAVE YOU POPPED YET??”, as if you’d had your baby but omitted to let anyone know. And if bubba hasn’t appeared within 2 weeks beyond it, you’re more than likely to be induced into labour artificially. But that is a whole other issue, as we know…

So from 3 July last year I remember my sleep suffering, as every potential twinge was noted “is this what a contraction feels like….or do I just need the loo…?” wondering every night whether tonight would be the night I met my baby. He stayed inside for 12 days after his due date, he wasn’t particularly keen to come out, and due to the narrative of my birthing experience I had had absolutely zero sleep for about 3 days when he did finally enter the world. Now, when you’re about to start a new job you’d probably want to start it feeling refreshed and energised and ready, rather than feeling like you need some industrial strength caffeine injected into your bloodstream just to keep your eyelids open.

Newborns are renowned for sleeping a lot in the first couple of weeks or so. Maurice, for whatever reason, wasn’t one of these newborns. He slept for 20 minutes here and there, occasionally slept blissfully on my chest for an hour at a time, but was mainly unhappy and crying a lot poor wee man, as he was tiny and had lots of problems with establishing feeding. He seemed to have a pavlovian reaction to being put to the breast: he would scream. Take him away, he could be calmed. Put him back, he screamed…given that he needed to be calm at the breast to get any nutrition into him, we had a bit of a tough screamy time of it over the first few weeks (I was rather tunnel-visioned for various reasons about the idea of simply offering him a bottle of formula to give him some proper nourishment and me some rest – after all, your milk supply actually really suffers if you’re run down and exhausted, which seems like an evolutionary defect as far as I’m concerned – but in the dogged daze of trying to establish breastfeeding and the various opinions around it didn’t seem like an option). Even with a calmer easily feeding baby, those first few weeks of having a baby are a turbulent melee of experiencing every hour of the 24, operating on a very basic level, learning new skills, fumbling in the middle of the night to change nappies and get to grips with the inconceivable popper arrangement of some sleepsuits (those clearly not designed by a parent), and if your baby is sleeping, chances are you’re not as you’re gazing at him/her with awe and smiling that you get to keep them and don’t have to give them back, or generally constantly checking that they’re still breathing.

The first two nights in a row back from hospital Mo slept from 4am to 8am, rather cruelly on his behalf as it lulled me into thinking that he would sleep from 4am to 8am every night, and eventually this would elongate and soon he would go to bed easily and happily at 7pm and sleep for 13 hours straight and always wake up at 8am and that would be just brilliant, this baby thing was a complete doddle, why do people complain so much? Turns out this long 4-hour stretch of sleep wouldn’t be replicated until he was 7 months, and even then certainly not every night…

From about 8 weeks on, one of the first things people ask you about your baby is “does he sleep through the night?”, or “how’s his sleep?”, “is he a good baby?”…and in the various parenting guides you read confident paragraphs such as “by this time, your baby is probably sleeping for much longer periods, maybe even sleeping through the night, so you’re probably be feeling more rested and normal by now” (I remember wanting to throw this particular book out the window when reading this paragraph). You may have friends who have babies who have started to “sleep through”, waking or being woken briefly for a feed at 10pm and then sleeping soundly until the early hours. So if you’re still stuck with hourly wakings, you begin to feel like you’ve missed a bus that everyone else is comfortably on, having run for it in the rain and been left bedraggled on the pavement…

Up until Mo was about 6 months, I could just about feel like it was “normal” that he was still waking so often, sometimes hourly to feed. The fact that we had so many problems with breastfeeding (another topic for another blog day) made me reluctant to stop breastfeeding overnight as it was the only time he would feed calmly at the boob. I had seen a lactation consultant when he was 6 weeks old about the various feeding issues we were having, he had been losing weight and wasn’t thriving. She glimpsed a copy of The Baby Whisperer sitting on my coffee table (the “light” Gina Ford…which seemed so easy and so simple and foolproof when I read it before having an actual baby in my arms), and said that if I had tried to impose a 3-hour feeding rule such as the one in that book on Mo he would simply have died. Which was slightly disconcerting to say the least, but made me feel better that i had followed his vociferous demands for feeding rather than try and place some regime on it. And on some level it probably made me nervous about ever not feeding him overnight if that’s what it felt like he needed or if it was the only thing that soothed him.

And in those early weeks/months, all you really do with your days is sit on the sofa trying to feed your baby and probably watch a hefty amount of daytime TV (I became slightly obsessed with the Real Housewives of Orange County), or meet other mums and eat carrot cake and drink coffee (probably decaf), and talk about poo and sleep and nappies and whether your baby is actually smiling yet or whether it might be wind…and you’re probably all talking sleepless gibberish and not really paying attention to what anyone else is saying, nor do you need to as you’re all in the same boat… so you really don’t need to be firing on all cylinders of the brain really, everyone is operating within the same haze of bleary-eyed newness.

Once the first three or four months are under your belt, it becomes slightly more problematic having a sleepless baby. For me personally, I am freelance and I went back to teaching a couple of classes a week when Mo was 3 months old, and started various forays into other freelance work, including a day working at my publisher editing the app to accompany the My Pilates Guru book. Operating within the real non-baby world having had 4 hours’ broken sleep highlights how much affect sleeplessness has on your brain and body, and makes you realise you’re inside a strange slow-motion bubble while everyone zips around unforgivingly at normal speed. I felt I needed to wear a badge that said “it’s ok, I’ve just had a baby” to explain the blue black bags under the eyes, the grey pallor and the occasional slurred or incompressible speech, along with the bizarre penchant for discussing poo.

But aside from that…in my experience, all the other babies in the world started to sleep for decent stretches by 4 or 5 months, usually with little input from their parents in terms of “training”, they simply started to sleep for longer stretches… but Mo was determinedly sticking to his guns and waking vocally and moodily at least every 2 hours, and not able to settle himself back to slumber. Quite apart from the lack of sleep starting to kick in as a very real and debilitating physical and emotional issue, you also start to question why you’re the only one who’s still having this problem. And have to contend with opinions, advice and judgements, however well-meaningly delivered, every day that might help you to get the little man to sleep better and sort your life out.

It’s a curiously lonely thing, having a sleepless baby beyond the acceptable time for sleepless babies…everyone accepts that the first 3 months is a weary bleary time which you need to just take on the chin having decided to plunge into parenthood, but if your baby is still not sleeping “through the night” at 4 months onwards, people look at you with a sympathetic/pitying raised eyebrow and probably suggest you try controlled crying or that there’s something else you’re probably doing wrong, be it cosleeping/feeding to sleep/use of a dummy/(insert other emotive issue), and you realise that with a prolonged situation of sleepless baby syndrome you sort of end up doing whatever you can just to find some semblance of normal night time in your household. Things that people who have no children, or parents of “good” sleeping babies, look wide-eyed and silently disapproving at, such as cosleeping, or sleeping on a mattress on the floor of your baby’s room, or maybe perhaps, I don’t know, falling asleep with your face squidged up against the bars of the cot so that your baby can hold onto your hair while he falls asleep… And it’s something that no one can really understand or empathise with unless they have also had lengthy experience of sleepless baby syndrome. Like I said, the baby book The Baby Whisperer on paper seemed like such an obvious and easy thing to put into practice before I had a Maurice, of COURSE put your baby down drowsy but awake in order for it to learn to self settle and therefore not rely on you to go to sleep ever, and build independence and healthy sleep patterns, of COURSE that is sensible and practical and right. But, ah, so hang on, my baby only has AWAKE or ASLEEP settings, he doesn’t have a DROWSY BUT AWAKE (and stay drowsy don’t ping fully awake and get angry when set down in cot) setting…erm, what are you supposed to do now book…?

Nearly a year on, and Mo has only three times slept for longer than a 4-hour stretch…There are days when Ben and I feel utterly destroyed by tiredness, but then actually because we haven’t experienced a night of proper sleep for a year we’re probably completely used to it and would feel a bit jet lagged if he (and we) were to suddenly sleep for 12 hours tonight. The times that he has slept his longest stretches, from 7pm-2am, I have been almost entirely awake from midnight wondering when the next waking will be. I have lost the sense of “going to bed”, the looking forward to laying my head on the pillow to welcome the sandman and relax into dreamland, as my “going to bed” is always slightly on edge, wondering when I will be woken, as I will definitely be woken at some point, a few times, before the break of day.

I believe that eventually Mo will get it, all in good time. I know that I won’t be complaining that he wakes up crying every 2 hours when he’s 15…I hope…but in the meantime, in the moment, some days are a bit of a fog, feeling like a bit of a misfit in a land of functional parents who efficiently get their functional babies to sleep for the designated baby sleep 7pm-6am/7am timeline. 7am…wow, Ben and I used to have an alarm clock that woke us up at 7.15 pre-baby. Now we’ve usually been awake with Mo for about 2 hours by that time.

So…I have met a group of friends who also have sleepless babies, and wow it makes such a difference to know you’re not alone, you no longer feel like you’re doing something hugely wrong, but instead realise that babies are all different, and ours happen to be slightly more highly strung when it comes to being able to sustain sleep for a long period, and they are all fine and jolly and confident babies who just seem to function just as well on less sleep (dammit). As an aside: these are friends who i believe will remain friends even if one of our babies suddenly starts sleeping magically…one of us said in a worried fashion the other day that her baby had started sleeping better for a period, and she was a bit concerned that it meant she couldn’t see us as she had moved to the “other” side… So now, nearly a year on, I may be still waiting for a good night’s sleep, but i am massively and smilingly thankful for my amazing little man, who is wonderful and fun and funny and lovely and sweet. This makes him a good, nay, great baby in my eyes. Sleep or no sleep.

But…I’d quite like to be able to boast having had a good night’s sleep this time next year please Mo…