Friday, August 31, 2012


My friend, Sash, recently wrote a post on her blog (Inked in Colour) about encouraging her daughter to 'Rock the Boat, Baby', to have opinions and not be afraid of giving them. But it was also about political correctness and the way we want to avoid giving offense, especially to other mums. Important conversations are stifled or ignored. Voices are silenced. Part of this discussion draws on the topic of breastfeeding, making mums feel guilty and why there's not much talk out there about formula feeding.

I haven't talked about formula feeding here. I've skirted around it or glossed over it or hurried past it. Mostly because it's still raw and painful and the sense of sadness that surrounds what I still think of as a 'failure' is really hard to write about. Months and months of life with my wonderful, healthy, happy Dear Boy later and it still feels like failure. But perhaps it's time to change that and maybe throwing this out there into the world will help to make it feel less like failure and more like 'well, this happened'.

I wanted to breastfeed. I wanted to but it didn't work for us.

In hospital my supply was slow coming in and low. Dear Boy would reel back from me, arching his back and screaming with hunger. I attempted to pump; I was squeezed six ways from Sunday by the midwives; I had colostrum syringed from my body to drop into my boy's mouth.

I persisted. And persisted.

I tried alone in my room, weeping for help, with the call buzzer left blinking above my door.

I tried with the midwives lunging Dear Boy's head at my boobs.

I tried using this hold, and that hold, with pillows and shields and without.

I tried until my nipples were grazed, until they were cracked, until they were blistered and bleeding.

But Dear Boy either reared back and screamed or he slept, his lips trembling against my skin. On the midwives' advice, I tickled his feet, rubbed his cheeks, undressed him until he was naked and trembling, blew in his face, anything to try and rouse him enough to suck. But he wanted to sleep and not to thrive.

When three days had passed and my boy had lost too much of his birth weight, the midwives recommended supplementing with formula and I cried because I couldn't feed him. I cried when we were put on three-hourly feeds and after attempting to feed, pumping, bottle feeding with expressed milk and then topping up with formula, I lay wide awake for the half hour left before it had to start all over again.

Three days later, he had gained enough weight to leave the hospital but the three-hourly feeds continued - try to feed, pump, feed EBM, top up with formula, try to sleep.

The breastfeeding didn't ever go well. Not once did we ever achieve anything close to a 'good' feed - where Dear Boy got all he needed directly from the boob. Not once. We never had a feed where we didn't have to faff around with a bottle afterwards, where I didn't feel like I was broken.

I tried to increase my supply with extra pumping, with herbal supplements. I called the ABA's hotline numerous times. I visited the branch store just down the road. I hired an industrial strength pump. I paid for a lactation consultant to come to our house. I visited a day stay clinic at a hospital an hour from our house.

Nothing made it better.

After four weeks of screaming and crying (both his and mine), I gave up with even trying and just pumped and bottle-fed Dear Boy the expressed milk. I would feed him the EBM, settle him back to sleep and then sit in the dark lounge-room, watching The Hulk, Knight Rider, Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat and Charmed with the hiss-sigh of the pump keeping me company. Thirty to forty minutes of hiss-sigh, hiss-sigh, hiss-sigh and swapping the pump from breast to breast and still the mils never really went high enough to keep up.

After five weeks of being constantly reminded of my failure at this fundamental part of parenting (hiss-sigh, hiss-sigh, hiss-sigh), I fell apart. I cried every day - sometimes by myself, sometimes in a heap in Lovely Husband's arms. I started dreading Dear Boy waking from his sleeps because it would start again. I stopped feeding him at all, leaving Lovely Husband to cradle him and hold the bottle to his lips. I would use any excuse to leave the house and leave them there.

After six weeks I returned the pump. I bought extra bottles and another tin of formula. And I cried. While I still had the pump and was still expressing, I thought there was still hope. I'd try offering Dear Boy the breast every now and then just in case this was the magic time when it just all clicked. It never did.

As my supply dwindled and dried, I cried. Eventually, the crying dwindled and dried as well.

In hindsight, I realise I had built an expectation that breastfeeding would just happen. It was normal, and natural, and therefore, it would be easy.It wasn't even something I really thought hard about during my pregnancy. I simply assumed it would work. Millions of women, billions, had done it before me. I had seen the women in my family breastfeed without a problem. My mum had founded the ABA chapter in our town when I was a child - she had breastfed other people's children. I'd been given brochures about 'breast is best' and they'd been left unread because I agreed. Why would anyone in their right mind want to feed a baby formula when breasts were available?

When it didn't work, when it wasn't easy, when it wasn't 'second nature', when it hurt and didn't stop hurting, it shocked me in a very instinctual, animalistic way. My hormones were running wild, driving me to curl my body around around my boy, to hover when anyone held him, to lay sleepless with every noise he made. When I couldn't feed him, I was pushed out of that mama-bear mode and into a sterile, mechanical, refridgerated, electrical, pre-packaged place. There were guages and levels and scoops, there was temperatures and nuturitional minimums and bacteria. It was foreign and completely unexpected.

All of a sudden, the vision I had had of a natural, calm mama crumpled. Feeding was now equated with anxiety. Why won't he eat? What am I doing wrong? Is there something else I can try? Will it just work if I keep going? Is it something I did? Is he getting enough? Why isn't it coming out? Why does she have so much more than me? How will he even know that I'm his mum?

I know intellectually that being a mum is about more than feeding. But when such a huge part of his care was taken out of my control, it felt like I'd been fired from a job I'd only just gotten. If anyone could feed him, well, where did I fit in? It probably didn't help that the midwives were telling me different things, giving conflicting advice but all demanding I keep trying the breast. It probably didn't help that I was surrounded by serene breastfeeding posters and other boob propaganda. It probably didn't help that the formula fridge was corridors away in an all-access kitchen but the expressed milk was kept just next door under lock and key. The message was loud and clear - breastfeeding is best and anything else will make you a bad parent.

I still do believe breast is best. But that doesn't mean that formula is a bad choice or the worst choice. Sometimes it's the only choice. Sometimes it's the best choice in a particular situation. I also believe that in five or ten or twenty years time, my boy won't know how he was fed in these early days unless I told him. I also believe that in five or ten or twenty years time that no-one would be able to say with any kind of scientific surety that this child, teenager or adult was breast-fed and this one was formula-fed. In terms of Dear Boy's health, his growth, his intellect, I honestly don't think it's going to make a bit of difference.

A lot of the time, I wonder why I wasted so much time and anguish and so many tears on something that didn't work. I wonder why I couldn't see then that being so hard on myself made the first six weeks of his life the worst six weeks of mine.

Sometimes I still cry. I cry after seeing other mums breastfeeding their babies. I cry after I read things about breastfeeding mums and bubs and thinking about how beautiful it could have been. I cry each time my ABA magazine arrives because I forgot to cancel my membership. Mostly I cry though because I'll never get those first six weeks back again. And like I mentioned in the comments of the Inked in Colour post, that's my sadness and no-one else's. I would never expect other mums to change the way they feed their babies or how they talk about their own experiences to make myself feel less sad. Because it really wouldn't help.

My boy is formula fed. I didn't choose that. I didn't want that. I didn't expect that.

But he thrives despite it or even perhaps because of it. He's healthy. He's big. He's happy.

And that's exactly what I wanted.


I liked the idea of Jen Loves Kev's 'currently' posts (based in turn on Sometimes Sweet's 'currently' series). So here's mine.

Watching: Dear Boy playing under the table. He's having a clingy, whingey day and only the new or unusual is keeping him entertained.

Reading: Nothing! I returned my recent stash of library books only half or un-read. Nothing was really leaping out at me, making me want to invest my very limited free time on it. Now I'm mooning round my own shelves trying to sense what I might like to re-read.

Listening: To Dear Boy blowing raspberries. I really should turn the radio on.

Thinking about: Going for a long walk after his nap. I have a cold at the moment and haven't been able to exercise very well. But the sun is shining and a stroll along the creek sounds good to me.

Working on: Marking. Essays from both my undergrad and postgrad classes have come in. I made them digital-submissions only to avoid the flurries of paper, but some have still printed them off and handed them in at the different campus offices.

Eating: There's a little jar of black olive tapenade in the cupboard that I'll be cracking open at lunch.

Planning: A trip up north to talk to a kindly professor about a research grant.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

12wbt: Unflattering photos ('Before')

I'm not going to be showing the whole photos. I just can't. At the same time that they inspire me to kick my butt into gear, they're also confronting and upsetting. It's strange going through this process because it's made me much more aware how large the blinkers I've been wearing are. I look at myself in the mirror pretty regularly - it's right next to wardrobe, I dress in front of it, I check before I leave the house to make sure I don't have stray vomit or Dear Boy's breakfast on my clothes or in my hair. But I didn't 'see' this. All that looking but no seeing.

In a side note, I think my knees look weird. Kind of like a Spartan wearing greaves, but without the actual armour. Huh.

52 Poems (week 47 & 48)

I know it's been weeks and weeks since I made some headway into this Before I Go project... but the end is so tantalisingly close - just six more weeks. I can do six more weeks. Here we go - I'm counting week 47 for last week and week 48 for this one.

Week 47

T.S. Eliot's work sometimes lists closer to the religious exploration than I'm comfortable with, but I like the idea of the spiritually exhausted people in 'Preludes'. Here are my favourite bits, hopefully in small enlough portions to comply with whatever copyright still exists on this work.
The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o'clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days... 
... One thinks of all the hands
That are raising dingy shades
In a thousand furnished rooms... 
...Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
The worlds revolve like ancient women
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

Week 48

Pretty sure I've posted some Pablo Nerudo here before, but I came across a print out of this poem the other day and I'm fairly certain I haven't read it. The following are the first and last lines of 'Leaning into the Afternoons'.
Leaning into the afternoons I cast my sad nets
towards your oceanic eyes... 
The night gallops on its shaowy mare
shedding blue tassels over the land.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

New Songs on a Saturday Morning (491-500)

As part of my ongoing effort to improve the range of my cultural consumption, I'm casting out for new things to listen to. Part one and an explanation of this musical escapade can be found here. You'll need to search for the rest yourselves.

491. Bad Books - 'Forest Whittaker' - The whistled melody and pop-synth beat make me think of Regurgitator.
492. Old Crow Medicine Show - 'Wagon Wheel' - Just a little bit of hillbilly banjo with a sweet country tune.
493. Morgan Page feat. Tegan & Sara - 'Body Work' - Not the best use of these two I've ever seen.
494. Lily Allen - 'LDN' - Huh?
495. Philip Phillips - 'Home' - Interesting voice but the song's nothing to write home about.
496. Beyonce - 'I Was Here (United Nations Day' - I go in knowing these things will be schmaltzy but I still get goose-bumps.
497. The Heavy - 'What Makes a Good Man' - Funky, gravelly, slick and awesome.
498. The Gaslight Anthem - 'Handwritten' - Um. Err. Meh.
499. The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band - 'Easy Coming, Easy Going' - Great guitar pickin' but not so keen on the strange, strange swallowing of words.
500. Pomplamoose - 'I'll Be There in a Minute' - Love this pair's covers but some of their originals are sweet too.

Hooray! We're halfway, people! Hooray! 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Finger food

Dear Boy has decided he's done with spoon-food. Except for a little bit of pureed fruit and natural yoghurt, he jams his lips shut at pretty much everything. Food he was eating happily and in great quantities last week, he's refusing now. But he's happily munching his way through anything he can pick up and get into his mouth before it shoots out of his grasp.

Cruskits are a winner - he sucks on them and they just seem to dissolve rather than shatter into little sharp pieces. Cruskits with cottage cheese, not such a huge success - but he loves them smeared with a tiny bit of vegemite. Happy little Australian boy - who cares if it's full of salt and may or may not contain MSG.

Watermelon was also a success. Although the pieces scooted around his tray with quite a bit of speed. He wrangled them into submission eventually, though. Very much looking forward to fresh summer fruits - watermelon in the middle of winter just seems wrong.

The drawback to finger food? Handfuls and handfuls of half chewed, smooshed and slobbered food. And finding little pieces in unexpected places - like his nose.

Monday, August 20, 2012

(Un)Fitness Test (12WBT)

Today's 'pre-season' task: to set a benchmark for our fitness levels and to see which level of fitness we'll be starting out. The choices are beginner, intermediate and advanced.

Eighteen months ago, I would have ticked the advanced box before the test and been fairly confident I could hit all the right benchmarks for the time trial, push-ups, abdominal strength, the wall sit and flexibility tests. Okay, I've never been great at push-ups and I'm not very flexible but I still would have felt pretty confident.

These days, I just don't know where I'd fit in. I haven't done regular exercise since I was 5 months pregnant and my body (I'm looking at you, Pelvis!) said enough was enough, relegating me to occasional sessions in the hydrotherapy pool. After Dear Boy was born, I started walking regularly (albeit slowly for a while), fitting in afternoon walks to coincide with his late sleep. But then winter hit and the rain drove us both indoors. My gym membership reactivated in March without me and was chugging along, regularly pulling funds from my bank account without me even setting foot back in there. So I've been doing the odd class, the odd walk, the odd this and that because *whingey face* this was too cold, this was too wet, this didn't suit the boy's sleeping times, I worked late, Lovely Husband worked late. More and more excuses. So, fitness-wise, who knows where I was at.

Yesterday afternoon, my mum was visiting from NSW and I dove at the chance to leave Dear Boy in her capable hands and head to a gym class. I careered into the room in the middle of the Body Attack warm-up and managed to stick with the high-impact options almost the whole way through. I felt good. I felt strong.

So it was in this mindset that I stuck into the fitness test. I was feeling I could reach the intermediate benchmarks. And I did. On most of the tests.

Time trial (walking/running 1km):
Intermediate benchmark: 5.5-8 mins
My time: 6:05 mins

Push Up test (number of push ups in 1 min):
Intermediate benchmark: 21-30
My number of push ups: 23 (and I think that last one took me 10 seconds)

Wall Sit (legs at 90 degrees while pushing back against wall):
Intermediate benchmark: 1-1:59 mins
My time: 1:08 mins

Sit and reach test (how far past your toes you can reach):
Intermediate benchmark: -4cm to +5 cm
My reach: 2cm

I was a little surprised by the sit and reach test results as I'm not at all flexible (shortened hamstrings from too many years sitting at a computer - gotta stretch those suckers out more, I know, I know).

So far, so good. Intermediate all the way. But the last test got me.

Abdominal strength test (ability to do different kinds of sit ups):
Intermediate benchmark: level 2-3 (full sit up with arms crossed on chest or behind head)
My level: 1... just.

With my hands crossed over in front of me, I could just barely get up past my knees without my feet coming off the floor. In fact, the first one I did, my feet came up. The second one I tried, Dear Boy had rolled onto my feet and held them down. I made it up but that's cheating. So I tried again and just managed to get there. Just the once. So I'm a beginner again in abdominal strength.

I used to be able to do a 30 minute ab-class. I used to be able to do a 3 minute plank on my toes. I used to be able to do more than 1.5 minutes in a side plank. Now, I can barely do one. My excuse for how I got this way: I had a baby 7 months ago. I had a finger-width abdominal separation that took a few months to stitch itself back together.

Okay, now I'm putting that excuse aside. It was a good one while it lasted but I can't use it anymore. I'm back at square one again - I'm a beginner. And there's no excuses for not getting better from there.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

New Songs on a Saturday Morning (471-490)

As part of my ongoing effort to improve the range of my cultural consumption, I'm casting out for new things to listen to. Part one and an explanation of this musical escapade can be found here. You'll need to search for the rest yourselves.

471. Laura Marling - 'Alpha Shallows' - I love, love, love her 'Mexico' but have yet to find anything of hers I like as much. This is good, though, with a foreign, centuries old folky feel. Love the sticky friction of fingers sliding on the acoustic strings. 
472. Justin Hopkins - 'Love on the Radio' - Cheery.
473. Paloma Faith - 'Let Your Love Walk In' - A Lovely Husband lady. Not loving this as much as some of the others of hers I've heard playing on his computer.
474. James Vincent McMorrow - 'Higher Love' - Not technically a new song, but a lovely, stripped back cover.
475. Passenger - 'Let Her Go' - Sounds like a teenager in the first few verses.
476. Sharon Von Etten - 'Serpents'.

477. Mykonos - 'Fleet Foxes' - Lovely Husband just called out from the kitchen that he loves this song. He's telling me a story about Rage and Denmark while cooking a risotto. It sounds terribly familiar to me but I don't think I've ever listened to it the whole way through before. 
478. Mumford & Sons - 'Timshel' - Glorious and sad and hopeful.
479. The Civil Wars - '20 Years' - Feels more folky than just about all the other folk I listen to. Lovely.
480. The Head and the Heart - 'Down in the Valley' - Captivating but kept hoping for less of the almost spoken lyrics and more of his captivating singing voice, especially once he hit the higher register with his 'oh, oh's'.
481. Peter and Kerry - 'Knees' - Seriously impressed with the incorporation of the word 'puke' into such a lovely song. Heartbeat steady and harmonies raw but sweet.
482. Ray LaMontagne - 'You Are The Best Thing' - That old school upbeat Motown sound.  
483. Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs - 'Repo Man' - Bluesy but his voice doesn't seem quite rough enough to carry this off - more wispy smoke than whiskey.
484. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - 'Stars' - Lovely voice but not a terribly captivating song.
485. The Decemberists - 'Don't Carry It All' - Great blues harp intro. 
486. Nick Drake - 'One of These Things First'.
487. Keaton Henson - 'Small Hands' - Stripped back and simple but really, really sweet. The vibrato warbles can sometimes grate.
488. Joni Mitchell - 'You Turn Me On I'm a Radio' - classic.
489. Patrick Watson - 'Into Giants'.
490. Switzerland - 'Bison'.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Finally finished: peas in the pod

I finished my peas back in June but the pod was a joke: a sloppy, shapeless badly stitched piece of fabric. So I regrouped, I bought a zip, I stared at the zip and wondered how I could possibly stitch that sucker in. It took a few days but I finally figured it out and the results are so much better than I hoped for.

It looks like a pod now - a pod with a purple zip, sure, but a pod all the same.

It was suggested the names (in the spirit of my other creations Octavius, Tiberius, Pliny the Elder and Linus) be the Brothers Gracchi... but there were only two of them, so now I'm thinking they should be the Horatii.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I liked the idea of Jen Loves Kev's 'currently' posts (based in turn on Sometimes Sweet's 'currently' series). So here's mine.

Watching: The really crappy Nine Network coverage of the Olympics. Can't believe they play exactly the same thing on both Nine and Gem. They're repeating things three or four times and then skipping coverage of so many events to be able to have stupid non-sports-related Leila McKinnon babble about crap all every morning. The British guy they have on the Gold program is just far to awkward - give the man a desk or a chair or something. Okay, I'll get over it.

Reading: John Grogan's Marley & Me for my bookgroup. It was a choice between that or The Lovely Bones and I'm very firmly not reading about murdered kids. I'm guessing the dog dies in this one but that's less traumatic for me at the moment. James Patterson's 11th Hour is waiting for when I finish the dog book.

Listening: To everything I can find. I'm coming late to spotify and I still don't really 'get' it, but I'm messing around in there somewhere.

Thinking about: Getting more sleep. This of course requires that Dear Boy sleeps through, which requires that he eats and drinks enough during the day. Which he isn't. So the sleep thing is a pipe dream, really.

Anticipating: Summer. C'mon already. I'm longing for laying on warm towels on crispy grass; for Dear Boy to be scooting round in the nude or with bare legs; for swimming and not freezing; for eating outside; for a tan; for the beach; for the smell of sunscreen; for Christmas and morning swims at the beach and late afternoon swims in the creek, for Dear Boy's first birthday, which we'll be having in the country.

Working on: Marking. Created a rod for my own back by making my students do a homework quiz before coming to class. This was meant to encourage them to do the required readings. Instead, it's just driving me bonkers.

Eating: Salad with strawberries and Swiss cheese. Love it when Lovely Husband adds surprise fruit to dinner meals.

Planning: Christmas stockings! The Christmas fabric is out already in the craft store. I'm thinking Mama, Dad and Dear Boy stockings for the mantelpiece. I know it's early but it might take me that long to get them all finished.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mother & son meals

Now that Dear Boy has tried so many new things and is eating more complex flavours, he's just about eating what we eat. Now we have quite a few mother and son meals based on the same food but with a few tweaks.

Yesterday's breakfast: weetbix with milk (mine with skim, his with formula), banana (mine sliced, his mashed) and yoghurt (diet passionfruit for me; full-fat Greek set natural yoghurt for him).

Today's lunch: pumpkin and carrot soup with yoghurt and a cruskit for him and pesto and toast for me. His portion was bigger, don't worry, he'd just eaten most of it by the time mine was done and I could take a picture.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Farewell baby body; hello... something else.

It took many , many months after Dear Boy was born for me to do anything more than slob around the house in my pajamas. Sure I was walking with him every afternoon, strolling through the green corridors near us while he slept, but I was also eating everything and anything to see myself through sleepless nights and helpless days. I ate what was quick, what was handy, what was filling, what was comforting.

Now it's time to stop moaning about it. To stop feeling shlubby and depressed when my work clothes don't fit, when my play clothes feel ugly because I'm buying for size not what I like to wear. It's time to start eating better and exercising smarter. It's time to stop whinging about how hard, how inconvenient, how cold, how wet, how unmotivated...blah, blah, blah.

I've joined Michelle Bridges' 12 week body transformation to make it a bit easier - to get some guidance on eating and exercising and some help organising myself, my family and my days so I can make it work.

There's a wedding at the end of this 12 week program, a wedding for a beloved brother where the dress is cocktail and I'll be expected to be in at least a few photos. 

But first, maybe in the next few weeks, I'd just really like to be able to wear my own wedding ring again.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dear Boy (7 months)


Dear Boy,

Today you are seven months old.

My very clever soul, you starting rolling this way and that in the days after you turned six months. Since then you have been chasing toys around the living room, finding yourself wedged under the couch, jammed against the coffee-table and rapidly whisked off the floor when you stray too close to the heater. You're mobile. You can take aim at something you want and go get it... eventually. Sometimes it requires 3-point turns, frog-kicking, push-ups and squealing, but you get there eventually.

You've also started to reach our your arms for your Dad and me. It's heart-melting.

I think you melted your Dad's heart even more when you started saying 'dad'. Of course, you say 'dadadadad' to just about everything but every now and then you look him in the eye and grin, or spy his picture on the fridge and 'dadadadad' to your heart's content.

A few weeks ago, you and your Dad had your first boys night because I had to work late. Every Wednesday is boys night now. Your Dad gets to pick you up from daycare and walk home with you in the pram. The first time, you fell asleep and your Dad sent me a picture on my phone of you snoozing away with a little frown on your face. Dad brought you home, played with you, fed you and bathed you... and then you snuggled up together on the couch for your evening bottle. You were still awake when I got home, so I got to sneak in a snuggly cuddle with you and put you to bed.

In the last month, we introduced new protein to try and help you sleep a little better at night. And it worked! You love your Greek yoghurt and devour lots of the beef stew I made for you. Now we're melting cheese into some of your mashed veggies and giving you bits of chicken to gnaw. It's a whole new world, Dear Boy.  I think there's lamb, lentils and tofu in your near future.

You've also become a maniac in the bathtub. I think you've decided it's amusement park, your own personal slip'n'slide. You flip onto your belly and use your hands to push you down the tub, then launch yourself back up again kicking off the end. It's certainly not a calming wind-down anymore. You aren't sure about the bubbles but I'm guessing that because they make the tub more slippery, you don't mind them so much.

You're still a delightfully happy and easy-going little boy. People tell us all the time: family, friends, your carers, strangers in the street. We're so lucky you that we're the ones that get to watch you grow-up, that we receive the sunniest of your smiles.


Your mum.


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