Thursday, 25 August 2016

Tough Times, Baby

Having written a post all about the wonders of having a newborn baby, in the interest of providing balanced coverage (not least to my future self), it seems like a good idea to take a look over the challenges too. So here goes:

- For the first couple of weeks, your body is a wreck. I was looking forward to wearing normal clothes again, but in fact spent the first couple of weeks in tracksuit bottoms (soft and stretchy where you need them to be), cheapo vest tops (sore breasts and milk leaking everywhere) and my most ancient knickers (I knew you bled after giving birth but nobody told me how long it went on for!). I was expecting to be sleep-deprived, but wasn't really prepared for the physical exhaustion which followed the birth itself. The first time I went out myself, I walked 5 minutes to the supermarket, picked up too many heavy things in the fruit and veg aisle and had to call UFM to send his parents (who luckily were staying with us at the time) to help me carry the bag back. I think it took around 3 weeks for me to start feeling ok again,but I'm definitely not back to my normal fitness even now.

- Every trip out is an expedition, and sometimes also an ordeal. In Paris, it's pretty difficult to go to many places with a buggy, so until we got sorted with using the sling my main trips out alone were walks around the block. Also, with tiny babies, you never know when they're going to wake up and be hungry, so you can find yourself with a crying infant in all sorts of awkward places. My worst experiences were definitely medical appointments (of which there are a lot). You have no choice about the timing and can't be late, and Super Cool Baby was more like Stressed-out Crying Baby through most of ours, making it very hard to listen to the doctors and take on information.

- The Witching Hour. This is a common phenomenon where the baby cries unconsolably, usually some time between 7 and 11pm (and often for more than an hour). You can theorise about whether it's caused by gas, colic or releasing the stress of the day, but whatever the reason, there's no magic solution. (There are techniques which can help, but none of them is fail-safe.) The witching hour started for us at around 4 weeks. Since about 8 weeks, it's been shorter, less dramatic and less frequent, and we're really hoping that SCB got the memo that it's supposed to stop around 3 months!

- Your hormones are all over the place. Apart from one occasion when I burst into tears over a political debate at dinner time, I felt emotionally normal through most of pregnancy. Since the baby was born, however, I've definitely been more up-and-down and have to engage my rational brain to avoid behaving like a moody teenager at times.

- It can feel lonely. When people talked about this before, I thought they meant being stuck at home all day and lacking company, but between visitors, Skype and social media, that hasn't really been a problem. The loneliness I've experienced comes from a deeper place, from the feelings of bonding I have with the baby, and the realisation that nobody in the world, not even my husband, has quite the same bond. This is in no way a criticism of him: we have a very equal partnership and he's a fantastic dad, but his relationship with the baby, although just as important, isn't the same. (If it were, it probably wouldn't be a good thing.) And of course, the other person involved (the baby herself) isn't exactly a reciprocal partner. This is without a doubt the hardest thing I've experienced about being a mother so far, so in the spirit of sharing experience, I thought I'd better put it out there.

Tempus Fugit, Baby

The summer months have been flying by and soon it will be time for us to leave the fresh air and mamie's cooking in Brittany and face up to returning to Paris. As September draws near, I'm also getting my head around the fact that in a couple of weeks' time we will no longer have a newborn baby, but a 3 month old one. And while there's lots to look forward to in the next phase, I'm allowing myself to indulge in a little nostalgia as well.

Having a newborn baby is definitely not easy. Your body goes through the massive ordeal that is giving birth, then instead of lying in bed for a week to recover, you have to look after this tiny little being who requires all of your time and attention. I think perhaps I'll write another post about the hard parts of the first three months (that way, apart from anything else, if we ever decide to have a second baby, I'll remember that it wasn't all a bed of roses!) but at the moment I'm going to focus on all the reasons why the newborn period is awesome:

- Newborns really are super cool. I was expecting my baby to be sweet and adorable. (She is.) I was expecting her to cry, loudly at times. (She does, and it can be heartbreaking.) What I wasn't expecting was the sheer force of such a tiny little human - the changing expressions in her face, the determination with which she roots and sucks for milk, the extent of the stretches as she wakes up and her tiny limbs go in all directions, and the force of her cries when she doesn't get what she needs.

- If you're on maternity leave, looking after the baby is your job. Being awake during the night is tough, but at least if the baby falls asleep during the day (admittedly that's a big if!), it's perfectly acceptable to have a little nap. And after three years of 6am starts and long commutes, I think I actually prefer waking up for the baby to the alarm clock.

- You get lots of lovely visitors who tell you how gorgeous the baby is. If you're lucky enough to have had a shower that morning, they'll probably congratulate you, and if you haven't, most people are polite enough to keep quiet about it. When you take your baby out in public, you'll hear people whispering, "Look, did you see the tiny baby!" and old ladies will chat to you at the traffic lights about how lovely this time is and how fast it goes.

Tiny baby with tiny baby hands
- Baby smiles. At first the baby sourit aux anges (smiles to the angels), then gradually starts to respond to faces and expressions. We're now getting the beginnings of little baby laughs, which are just magical.

- The theory of the Fourth Trimester. The idea of the fourth trimester is that, because human babies are born at an early stage in their development compared to other mammals, the first three months are essentially an extension of their time in the womb. All the reliable sources of advice recommend that during this time you sleep in the same room as the baby, feed on demand, provide lots of cuddles and skin-to-skin contact, and generally do exactly what the baby and your instincts are telling you to do. After three months, opinion starts to differ on whether you should continue in this way or start to impose a routine (particularly in relation to sleep) and you have to decide which parts of the very conflicting advice to follow. I'm not looking forward to the stress of making those choices!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

From the Mouths of Babes

Last weekend we celebrated my father-in-law's 70th birthday by having lunch with extended family and friends in a restaurant. The children were being served their steak haché and the waitress announced that she had one which was bien cuit for UFM's six-year-old nephew.

From the other side of the room, we heard his seven-year-old cousin comment, "Il mange sa viande bien cuite - oh là là!"

Because in France not only are small children asked how they would like their meat cooked, they know that saignant is best and that asking for anything more than à point just isn't done.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Baby Names and Faire-parts naissance

"Born on the xth June, she weighed 3.78kg and was 51.5cm long"

"I don't like the past tense," I told Understanding Frenchman. I was reading over the text for our faire-part naissance and I couldn't help feeling that those verb forms at worst made it sound as if the baby was no longer with us and at best drew a bit too much attention to the fact that we were very late in sending out our birth announcement cards. (Baby now weighs nearly 6 kilos and is 61cm long!) We eventually settled on a less pointed "She was born on the xth June weighing 3.78kg for 61cm".

Faire-parts naissance are a nice tradition on France where you send out a little card with pictures of your baby, the name and the date of birth. However, in the era of MMS, email and social media, they are also somewhat obsolete and had been hanging around at the bottom of our to-do lists (behind things like "buy a flat", "contact insurers re flooding issue" and "keep the baby alive") for weeks and weeks. Unfortunately, while most people probably don't even notice if the card is a little late in coming, certain members of the older generation can become quite vocal if they don't materialise within a certain number of weeks - we had some older family friends on UFM's side declaring that there would be no cadeau de naissance until they had seen one!

If I'm truly honest, designing and ordering the faire-parts was actually on my personal to-do list, not his, but I was putting off doing them because I knew that my inner perfectionist would be frustrated by not being able to devote hours to the project before being called away to feed/change/soothe the main protagonist. So in the end it was UFM who sat down with the computer and created the whole thing in the space of about 45 minutes using the best of our not-totally-professional-looking photo selection, along with a fairly inoffensive design from the standard selection on the site. Now all we have to do is address the envelopes and actually get them posted.

Inspecting my husband's fine work after failing to complete the task myself reminded me of something I found funny when we sent out the 21st century SMS version of the birth announcement to all our friends. Super Cool Baby has a first name and a middle name (let's pretend they are Supercool and Baby), and to me it was natural to put them both in the message, particularly as both names have family connections. Apparently the French don't do this, though, as a whole lot of UFM's friends and family thought we would be using both on a day-to-day basis, despite the fact that he put a comma in between them  (which I also thought was weird). Surely if we'd wanted to use both she would have been Supercool-Baby and not Supercool Baby or Supercool, Baby? It makes me wonder why people here bother with middle names at all if they are so unimportant that you don't even mention them in the birth announcement!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Holidays At the End of the Earth

I'm not really allowed to say that Finistère is my favourite part of Brittany - Understanding Frenchman is from the Morbihan, so obviously that's the best bit. But between you, me and the internet, the most westerly département is very beautiful and beautifully under-populated, even at the peak of the high tourist season, and that's exactly what's needed for a summer holiday antidote to Parisian living.

There are reasons for this, of course. Our gîte in the little village of Plournéour-Trez, on the north coast west of Roscoff, was a six hour drive from Paris. A six hour drive from Paris would also get you to the Alps, the Atlantic coast, the Dordogne and many other places which are a whole lot warmer than Finistère. The difference in temperature even with the Morbihan was noticeable; even on sunny days there was a fresh breeze that's had us wrapped up in fleece jumpers as we eat our dinner on the terrace.

But when you can swim in sea which looks like this:

hike along coastal trails with views like this:

lay out your towel on a beach as empty as this:

and appreciate that the rain waters gorgeous flowers like this:

a little shiver every so often doesn't seem to matter too much.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Life Update

Apart from all the flat-buying drama, life has been quiet around here recently. My Facebook feed is full of other people's holiday photos from across Europe, from Bulgaria to Iceland, and I've been trying hard not to become frustrated at still being in Paris while my friends are off having adventures. This mostly involves Super-Cool Baby and me going off for our own adventures, usually discovering new parks. Having walked the Promenade Plantée, strolled in the Bois de Vincennes, toured the Lac Daumesnil and picnicked in the Parc Montsouris, I scanned Google maps for evidence of other accessible green spaces and picked out the Parc Kellermann in the 13th. It's not a very big park, but it has a high part and a lower part with a waterfall in between, and I always thing a bit of geographical relief makes things a bit more interesting. (In fact, when you're there with a buggy it can almost as adventurous as hiking in Bulgaria or sailing in Iceland. Honestly ...)

When not strolling around parks, I've been spending a lot of time of the sofa surfing the web one-handed, which has consequently got me thinking about the value of the internet and how different life might be without it. I wrote a little while ago about how while there are things about looking after a new baby which are hard, we have yet to find anything surprisingly hard. A big part of this is that so far we've been very lucky to have a baby who eats well, sleeps well and is generally healthy, for which we are massively grateful, but I think it's also down to what our expectations of parenting were beforehand. When I change my clothes and the baby's for the second or third time in the day after a series of milk- or nappy-related incidents, I know that this is par for the course.  If we spend several hours pacing up and down the flat holding her in the latest (and inevitably awkward) anti-colic position, we know that others have been there too. And when I leave her to cry for a few extra minutes because I want to finish getting something done, I know that this is not being a bad mother, but a normal, realistic one.

I think that this is largely down to the internet. In real life, people will tell you that having kids is hard and especially that you'll never sleep again, but they don't often go into the details of how and why. On the internet, I feel that people talk more honestly about their experiences, their mistakes, and particularly their guilt, and it's also a great source of advice and suggestions, available at all hours of the day, including the wee small ones. It's very similar, in fact, to the way expat/immigrant/living abroad blogs can be a helpful source of information about the reality behind the dream while at the same time keeping us inspired by reminding us of what makes it all worthwhile.

So, to finish with, here are a few recommendations for those who might be interested of sites to surf one handed as you balance your baby in the Tiger in the Tree position and gently jiggle your knee at just the right frequency to keep those colicky screams at bay:

La Leche League , Kellymom and Breastfeeding Support all have far more detail about breastfeeding than you're likely to pick up at the maternity hospital.

The Infant Sleep Source has information about what is normal in terms of baby sleep and research on sleep-training methods.

This page has great tips for soothing a crying baby.

Mumsnet has loads of information and a discussion forum about all aspects of parenting. Most sections of the forum are full of good advice, but if you're just looking for entertainment, try the Am I Being Unreasonable? section to reassure yourself of how normal your really are.

Selfish Mother and The Motherload both combine useful information with healthy realism and a strong dose of humour.