This week’s photos were taken at one of the groups we’ve been going to at a local church. It’s a fantastic group with a huge hall filled with various toys, books and ride-ons. The boys love it, and this week they were both especially fascinated by the dressing up table – Joel mainly because of the mirror that he could play boo with, and Andrew because he loves dressing up.
I’m writing this at just after 5am, having been awake since just after 4am with a hungry baby. Joel’s pattern for the past week or so seems to have been the following…. he wakes up at around 4am and feeds fairly constantly on and off until about 7am, when he falls asleep for a quick nap, just enough time for me to get Andrew up, have breakfast and do a bit of potty time with him, before Joel wakes up for more feeding until we go out to a group at about 9.30am; he’s then rarely bothered about feeding until we get home at around 12/12.30pm, because he’s so interested in looking at what’s going on; he usually feeds a little whilst Andrew eats lunch, and then once Andrew is napping, Joel feeds very enthusiastically for a couple of hours; he slows down more into the evening, and gets noticeably tired by the time we have tea together at about 6.30pm; he feeds a bit more after bath-time and then is pretty zonked in his Moses basket by about 8.15pm.
I know I can’t complain about sleep, because in this current pattern we do get a good chunk at the start of the night – I go to bed not long after Joel does, no later than 9pm (of course this could all change now I’ve written this!) It’s just quite draining being awake for so many hours before I even start the day looking after a toddler.
I’ve figured out that the reason he feeds so enthusiastically and is so awake from 4am is that this is a time when there is nothing going on. He has become so distractable over the past month, and he is very fussy when feeding if there is anything visually or aurally stimulating surrounding him. I remember this happening around this age with Andrew too, and I remember talking to some of my LLL friends who reassured me that this was normal – they called it the 4 month fussies. This went on until he was eating a good amount of solid food at around 9 months and the amount of milk he needed over a day started to decrease, and his waking up time gradually got later. I’m hoping a similar pattern will emerge with Joel, though of course it might not.
If I try and feed Joel at groups, because he looks like he might want some milk (cued by hands in mouth – though I think this might also be teeth pushing up now), he usually cries and struggles, maybe taking a little milk if he’s hungry enough to battle through the desire to not have his face pushed against me! Sometimes I don’t even bother trying because I feel I get more stressed as he gets stressed, and then it’s a vicious circle of us both getting the other one stressed, that usually ends with me feeling like the whole room of mums are looking at me thinking why on earth is she trying to force feed her baby?! But as often as I feel able to do it, I at least offer him milk in the hope that he might take something. As he’s having less milk than he once did mid-morning and whenever else we might be out and about, he has to make it up another time, and that time seems to be 4am.
As I’ve been sat awake feeding, knowing I’m unlikely to get any more sleep for the night, I’ve been pondering whether I can change anything myself to make the situation any different. My conclusion is that there isn’t much I can or want to do, as things are generally working as they are; they could be better, but they could be much worse. I feel that letting my baby take the lead on these things generally works better than me the mum trying to impose a schedule, and I personally find it less stressful in the long run not to try and battle against what baby wants to do. The hardest part is the fact that Tom and I don’t spend much time together awake and alone! I also can’t commit to going to any meetings in the evening for things I am involved in such as my Editor role for the local NCT branch or groups at church. But others understand my situation and we work around it.
With an active toddler to entertain and have fun with, we need to get out of our small flat, and besides which we’re a generally active family who like to get out and about in the fresh air and meet up with others at groups or cafes or parks. If it means that Joel feeds less when we do go out, then I accept that he will feed more at other times to satisfy his hunger over a 24-hour period. I think we have a good compromise of generally going out in the morning (the exception is Wednesdays when our group is in the afternoon) and coming home in the early afternoon so that Andrew can nap and Joel have a good feeding session, and then often popping out to the park or shops for an hour after nap now that the nights are drawing out. Andrew will nap in his buggy, and we used to stay out for naps quite a bit, but now it’s important that Joel gets some quiet time to feed well, and also I value that time to rest myself having been up so early.
The thing that I’m holding onto in all of this is that it won’t last forever. This is the second time we’ve been in this situation and I know now that it will change, albeit not overnight. Yes it’s tiring, and yes the fussing is annoying, but when I stop and think about it, there’s something deeply gratifying about being the centre of someone’s world at 4am. And I know that being the centre of that someone’s world won’t last forever, so I’m enjoying it while it lasts – before I know it he’ll be off out to school and not wanting me to kiss him goodbye at the school gate in case he looks uncool (if cool is still the word that’ll be used for it by then!) With all the distractions around, he’s already no longer that tiny newborn who did nothing but feed and sleep on me all day and night. Time flies!
My day starts when our alarm clock (aka Andrew) goes off at about 6am. I get up, play with Andrew for a while before giving him a milk feed around 6.30am, and then it’s family breakfast time at 7am. After that, it’s time to get washed and dressed. When we’re ready, it’s at that point that things have to be done differently depending on the day of the week. My brain is (usually) conscious of the next step:
it’s Monday/Friday = no rush, play with Andrew some more before putting him down for a morning nap, then do some things around the flat and get ready to go out for the rest of the morning;
it’s Wednesday/Thursday = pack up some lunch for Andrew and myself, put nappies in the change bag, wrap us both up warm in coats/gloves/hats etc., and walk round the corner to Tracy’s (our childminder) to arrive as she’s leaving for the school run at 8.25am, then cycle to the office;
it’s Tuesday = leave Andrew in Daddy’s capable hands and head straight off to the office for the morning;
it’s Saturday/Sunday = have some family time, then do some housework or go to church.
We’ve been in this routine for over a month now, since I started back at work half-time after 9 months of maternity leave, and it seems to be working. Two and a half days a week I work as a post-doctoral research associate (fancy name for the fact that I do research and have a PhD). I’m based in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge, as the resident phonetician in a lab of psychologists and neuroscientists. The project that I’m working on is looking at how children with a language impairment perceive rhythm and pitch in language and music. I should go into that in detail in another post, but for now I’ll stick to the balancing act of being mum and going out to work.
Before I went on maternity leave, I loved my job and felt very privileged to have been offered it, given the competition for academic jobs when funding is relatively limited. I planned to go back part-time after 9 months, though I found it hard to return once those months were up, because I enjoyed spending so much time with Andrew when on leave. There was a feeling of being torn between two jobs I loved doing, and there still is most days. Being with Andrew all day really makes me happy, but I do see advantages to going out to work too. I thought I’d share some of the things I like and don’t like about splitting my week in half.
At the office I get to drink hot cups of tea, eat my lunch when I like, and there’s not a nappy in sight. As I work in town, it’s very handy to pop out at lunchtime and go shopping for a few bits without the buggy. I have such lovely work colleagues who are great friends and make the office environment a happy, sociable and productive one. It feels good to know that I’m taking part in research that ultimately aims to get to the bottom of something that affects many kids, and one day may make a positive difference in individual lives.
People talk about being able to ‘use your brain’ again and get ‘mental stimulation’ at work after having a baby, and that is true to the extent that I get to put to use my ‘training’, i.e. the skills for research that I gained by doing a PhD and continuing in an academic job. But I would say my brain gets put to good use looking after Andrew too. I mean there’s no training for being a mum, so you figure things out as you go along, and that uses a fair amount of brain power I find. All the things that I’ve started to think about and get interested in since having him certainly keep me mentally stimulated. An example is doing my own ‘research’ on baby-related matters, by reading up and talking to other parents about issues like breastfeeding. I can do this either at groups when Andrew is with me and happy to play with the toys and other kids there, or at home when he’s asleep and I need to put my feet up. So I feel like I get enough brain usage on both Andrew days and office days.
My Andrew days are fantastic because I get to see him develop and start doing things he couldn’t do the week before. He is such a good-natured baby, so I get lots of smiles and cuddles. There’s never a dull moment as he’s so active too, making me and himself laugh at the latest thing he’s managed to find/do/get stuck in or under. We go to fun groups where he can toddle around, play with different toys, sing, hear stories, make things and get messy, whilst I get a cup of tea made for me (which might go cold admittedly) and can chat with other mums (and dads) about the joys and woes of parenthood. I get lots of fresh air and exercise, which comes naturally in our routine because we walk everywhere.
So that’s a lot of good stuff so far. The hard part is having to split my time between the two jobs. I worry that I’ll miss out on one of Andrew’s ‘firsts’, that I’ll be impatient with him because I’m too tired after a day or two in the office, that he’ll miss me either lots or not at all when I’m gone (the former being detrimental to him and the latter to me and my identity as his mum). I also worry that my heart might not stay in my research like it was, that I’ll be too tired to function properly, that I’ll not do my research to the highest standard I set myself. These worries on both sides basically come down to the fact that I’m a perfectionist, and by splitting my resources it might not be possible to do either job at 100%. So far I’m pleased to say that none of these worries have actually been an issue, but they are always in my mind.
When I think about it, I’m not splitting my week exactly in half. In fact I’m a full-time mum, and always will be, as I do my mum thing before and after going out to the office (including in the middle of the night if he wakes up – what am I supposed to say? ‘sorry Andrew, work tomorrow, no soothing back to sleep for you tonight’); walking out the door to go to work doesn’t stop me being mum. I just do interesting research for about 19 hours a week on top of that. I’m happy with the way things are for now, but it’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for the future, especially as my contract ends in December 2012 (the research one that is – I don’t think Andrew will terminate my contract as mum anytime soon 🙂 )