Wednesday, 18 December 2013

ENTRY EIGHT - PRAMFACE

Everyday as I stroll down the high street or through the park with Felix in his pram I am struck by the fact that I have joined the formidable force that is the Chiswick Motherhood. Sometimes I feel I am but a tiny wave in a fathomless sea of strollers, a pawn in an army of prams.  

How do I feel about joining the buggy brigade of W4? At first I felt I had assumed an identity I was not ready for, as if I was wearing a mask. Due to the nature of my delivery I was not able to ride my bike for six weeks, and I ached for my more familiar wheels. If the bike is the hare; agile, efficient and speedy, the pram is the tortoise; cumbersome, trundling, slow. How heavy I felt the first time I stepped out with the pram. Used as I am to the nippy nature of my 'everywhere in five minutes' bike, the pram felt like a brace; holding me back. Ballast to my balloon. I longed to throw off the extra weight and sail off in a blaze of glory...

Six weeks passed and I have the all clear to ride my bike, and the first time I did I felt as if I was flying. Such speed, such efficiency, such ease of motion!!! And yet my daily pram walk is a firm fixture in the daily routine of motherhood and I have grown to love it. Gradually I have adjusted to pram pace. Nevertheless, I long for the day when I can secure Felix in his bike seat and ride off with him, the two of us united in our need for speed. Make no mistake; this is a baby who has already travelled a great distance 'in utero'. Being as I cycled each and every day of my pregnancy, until the very last afternoon, I have calculated that together we covered at least five hundred and fifty miles. Felix was the foetal eqivalent of Bradley Wiggins, and I'm sure that when the big day arrives he will feel it all strangely familiar, like a baby bird that flies the nest and finds that it knows exactly how to use its wings.

My musings regarding buggies have resulted in a strange phenomenon induced by constant close contact with a multitude of stylish strollers. I have nicknamed this 'pram envy'. I push a respectable Mamas and Papas pramette in light blue and grey, and I used to be perfectly content with it. However when faced with a confection of strollers in tempting ice cream shades - lemon sorbet, pistachio, raspberry ripple - something stirs in me. A monster with gleaming green eyes rears its head. All those shining Silvercrosses and Bugaboos with their matching livery of bags and accessories make me feel inadequate. Have I really started to envy other mothers buggies? Is this who I am ?

***

Less disturbingly, the other day London experienced a proper pea souper, a
truly foggy day when the mists barely thinned all day long. I loved every second. I have always adored fog; its photographic qualities, its mysterious nature, its ability to render the familiar unfamiliar. Just like its more boisterous cousin snow, fog is transformative. Ethereal. Transcendent. This being Felix's first fog I took the chance to have a really long walk. We took the river path, only to find the water utterly obfuscated by thick blue mists that swirled alluringly. A heron loomed out of nowwhere like an apparition, while ghostly boats slid along the white wafting water like the vessel in the Phantom of the Opera. All was muffled and wonderful and magical.

And then a phrase popped unbidden into my mind. Pram Face. A cruel and ugly expression from my school days, used to describe the kind of girl who leaves school early and seems immediately to be pregnant. Thereafter she produces a succession of raucous, squalling infants, each seemingly more unruly than the last. The poor girl is deemed to be a Pram Face due to the premature aging associated with having children when you are still a child yourself, and the copious cigarettes and cheap alcopops she consumes in order to bear her burden. So goes the theory anyway. It’s a mean and horrid little phrase and is terribly unfashionable and unPC – rightly so – but there it was, lodged in my mind like an annoying stone in the bottom of your shoe that refuses to budge.


So I decided on the spur of the moment to reclaim Pram Face, to resurrect her as an icon of motherhood. My name is Kat Kowalewska and I am a Pram Face. All of us pushing our buggies, whether they be box fresh and glossy or second hand and slightly down at heel, we are all Pram Faces. For every mother has her story, every mother has the right to hold her head high and say ‘I bear the burden of being a mother. I surf the dizzy heights and suffer the crushing lows of motherhood. Let us unite! For who am I to judge when is the right time to have a child, and who is the right person? Let she who is without sin cast the first stone. Pram Face and Proud'. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

ENTRY SEVEN - BRINGING UP BABY

Writing this latest blog has been a real strugge. Nearly a fortnight has passed during which I have half composed several entries but scrapped every one. Nothing has felt right. The words have refused to flow. A touch of writers block perhaps? 

I tried listing my daily itinerary and scaffolding some observations of daily life on top. This merely came over as a pathetic 'poor me' bleat, for it is impossible to convey the fullness of a day spent in the company of your nine week old baby. It may be an impressively repetitive list of tasks but it is the spaces between the tasks that are so difficult to convey. The niggling cry that interrupts the morning nap and which effectively ensures you can't get anything done. The extensive burping session after a tricky feed that bleeds into two hours. The afternoon walk that you left too late and which ends in you running the half mile home with a bawling banshee in the pram.   

So I have decided to come clean about how I'm really feeling at the moment. Crushingly, brutally tired. The cumulative effect of never sleeping more than four hours at any time is starting to take its toll. I worry that I haven’t had proper REM sleep for weeks, and that the exhaustion is drying up my creative juices like a drought in the desert. Until now I have powered through, refusing to surrender to the despotic routine of the baby. The tiny tyrant who dictates the ebb and flow of each day and night. Whose needs are so vast and so urgent, whose moods are so unpredictable. 

What have I learnt in the past ten days that I can communicate to you, my dear reader? I have learnt that motherhood is relentless. Overwhelming. It demands 100% and nothing less; for you cannot half feed your baby. You cannot half comfort them or half dress them or half love them. It is all-consuming, impenetrable, stifling, and yet wonderful, rewarding and incomparable. It is unique and cannot be explained, cannot be taught. It can only be learnt through cold hard experience and trial and error. You earn your mothering stripes through graft alone, and though you can be supported no one else can do the job for you. You alone are the mother. You are the centre of your baby’s universe and therefore must be their sun and their moon. There is no shortcut, no substitute, no 30 day return policy. There is simply a long and sometimes cruel road, one with plenty of blind corners and hairpin bends that test the mettle of even the most diligent driver. There are potholes aplenty and never a hard shoulder to pull onto when you really need one. There are sheer drops and excruciating hills and endless irritating bumps. And yet the views are magnificent. Life-affirming. Unsurpassed. Only a mother sees the whole view, and in her heart of hearts she nurses the secret truth; that she would never exchange the journey for anything else the world can offer.

Friday, 22 November 2013

ENTRY SIX - METAMORPHOSIS


This morning as I gazed down into his cot Felix opened his eyes and smiled. A real smile, not a copy cat smile. My heart swelled with a love so deep it was fathomless, a love that could eclipse the sun. 

In the last few days I have noticed a profound psychological change materialising, a process that began with Felix's birth and has slowly and inexorably been gathering pace in the eight weeks since. The self centered only child is being written over with something different, something better. I am finding a patience and selflessness that I never thought I could posses. An urge to care for and nurture my baby and my family that overcomes the tiredness I feel, that gives me new strength when I am all wrung out.

A new me is emerging from the chrysalis of the selfish child. A deeply caring, nurturing, patient and loving person whose primary concern is the welfare of her three boys (cat included) In other words, a mother. Until now I have at times been going through the motions, indulging in resentment at the sabotaging of my sleep, at the trauma to my body, at the constant tidying and sterilizing and feeding. Grimacing at the crying, the face turned away from the bottle, the arms that rail and nails that scratch at my chest. The hard labour of true motherhood. 

During my pregnancy I worried that I was incapable of sacrificing myself for someone else. I feared having a tiny dependant that constantly needed me, a helpless being whose entire welfare was my responsibility. I was terrified of it, fearing that I simply did not posses the right qualities and the emotional resources to care for an infant. Yet this morning, as I gazed into his deep blue eyes with their whites so pure that they appear almost blue, like the snow at the poles, I realised that the qualities I sought were already in place. All I needed to do was let go of the little blonde green eyed girl who made her mother walk the long way home. Who demanded a chocolate ├ęclair after school every single day, the best ones from the bakery. Who would sit and refuse to eat a plate of food for hours on end. Who insisted on riding her scooter for miles until her weary legs could push her no further and had to be carried home in her mother’s arms, scooter and all. I had to let go of that little girl who was me, for now it was Felix's turn to be the child. The centre of the universe had shifted and a new equilibrium had to be found. 

To my surprise I welcome it. My metamorphosis, painful as it is at times. I wave goodbye to the little girl knowing that truly I am not bidding her farewell, as she will always live on inside my heart. It turns out my heart has an infinite capacity for love, and space inside for both the child I was and the child to whom I had given birth. As the moon pours its silver light onto the page of my notebook I shed a tear for the closing of my childhood. The end of the era of selfishness, of being number one. And yet I embrace the new era, of being a mother. Of being the carer, the worrier. The shoelace tier. The dribble wiper. The one who kisses it better. I know in my heart of hearts that it is time. I have lived my wild times, my endless lazy days of summer, my halcyon days of happy go lucky frippery. I have fallen in love and in lust, had my heart broken more than once, made and lost friends, lived on different continents and discovered and nurtured passions. I have tried and failed and studied and worked, and now I am ready to invest myself, to pour all this experience into my treasure, my child. It is time to share with him all these joys and passions, to awaken in him the love for nature and the wonders of the universe. To look through his eyes at the world afresh. 

Dearest Felix. My sweet fair prince. My fresh green acorn. I am ready to be your mother. I will not hold back. I will surrender myself to caring for you, to nurturing you, to being your number one. For as I look into your deep blue eyes, as you smile at me so sweetly, full of all the innocence and goodness of childhood, I realise that the circle of life is never-ending, a truth both beautiful and bittersweet.



Sunday, 17 November 2013

ENTRY FIVE - THREE WISE WOMEN

When you have a baby your life is supposed to go on hold while you struggle to mother a newborn. Sleepless nights, non-stop feeds and endless nappy changes become de rigueur and mummy turns into a blobby, downtrodden workhorse with giant eye bags and grotty jogging bottoms.

Always keen to challenge such preconceptions I organised a weekend away to the seaside with two of my best friends and Felix. Hythe in Kent was the destination, and I duly booked a family room for our unorthodox menagerie at the Stade Court Hotel on Hythe seafront.

We arrived to pouring rain. Proper cats and dogs rain, the kind that soaks you instantly and thoroughly. No matter, we retreated to our favourite Nutmeg Cafe where we consumed high levels of carbs and caffeine. But first off a trip to Aldi to stock up on junk food and decidedly moderate amounts of booze. With one pregnant and one nursing mother in our trio it seemed clear that our vodka shot days were over, at least for the time being. Like a true gypsy I breastfed the baby in the back of the car whilst the others shopped, thankful for the steamy windows that partially obscured me from view. 

As the sun began to set the weather turned and the sky lost its leaden coat. We set out along the promenade, the pram bouncing merrily along the pebbles that the high tide had strewn upon the path. Soft streaks of pink and rose brushed the horizon where the setting sun met the sea. Barrel shaped waves launched themselves at the shore, creating a rhythmic roar as they dragged stones back and forth in the undertow. Keen to give Felix a proper lungful of sea air we manhandled the pram onto the beach and stood looking out to sea. Jubilation washed over me in a warm wave. 

The next morning dawned bright as a new penny, and as I sat and breastfed the baby I watched the sun climb out of low clouds into a faultless blue sky. Ever the modern girl I facebooked a photo of the rising sun, captioning it 'Good Morning Hythe'. 759am on a Sunday morning...how things had changed! 

After breakfast and a mercifully brief incident of being locked out of our room, me and Bells headed down to the shore for a swim clad in wetsuits and wide shit-eating grins. As Monika pushed the pram along the seafront we entered the November sea, feet frozen instantly, soles blanching from the pinpricks of sharp stones. We gasped, we grimaced and we cursed but we got in, and shrieking with adrenaline and gusto we swam triumphantly back and forth. The sea that morning was as calm and blue as the Mediterranean, the low morning sun pouring honey-golden light onto its calm expanse. A million points of light glimmered and glittered in the sun-trail, and I let the buoyancy of the sea and the wetsuit combine and render me almost entirely weightless. Bobbing like a buoy I turned my face to the sun and closed my eyes, letting the serenity of the sea wash into me and over me. Heaven. 

It was then that the real meaning of the weekend struck me. I was still me. I was still free. I had survived the ordeal of his birth and I was alive, more alive than ever. Far from taking away from my life Felix had merely added another string to my bow. The sweetest and most melodic sound I ever heard, like an angel singing a lullaby.

Friday, 8 November 2013

ENTRY FOUR - TO TEND A ROSE

In order to grow a rose one must endure the cruel prick of thorns. 

So far this blog has mainly been a celebration of motherhood, but as I promised in my first entry I aim to be absolutely honest about all aspects of motherhood, which brings me to the thorny issue of childbirth. 

I know of women who seemed to sail through childbirth like a ship on a calm sea, embracing the pain of labour and recalling the final push as a painful yet beautiful experience. Hearing the first cry of your child as it sucks air into its lungs for the first time is surely a moving and magical experience, but one I was unable to appreciate. To be brutally honest I found childbirth the most excruciating and traumatic experience of my life, one I am not certain I can face again. Dark visions of blood and pain and long hours of torment haunt me. I wake night after night soaking in sweat, partly from hormones, partly from demon. 

I went into labour on a Friday evening, initially finding the contractions painful but bearable. Sometime during the witching hours of 3/4am I became plagued by a terrible nausea, after which every hour or so when a particularly strong contraction hit I would vomit copiously. As I became weaker the pain intensified. I felt like a small boat in a terrible storm, battered by waves that crashed over me, threatening to capsize me and drown my crew.

We were ill advised by the midwives we spoke to on the triage hotline. 'Don't come till the contractions are closer together' they repeated like a mantra. The truth is we should have driven to the hospital there and then for the anti-nausea injection which would have saved me twelve hours of torment. 'Take a couple of paracetamol' they said. All very well but when you can't keep anything down it becomes an exercise in futility. I vomited up many pairs of pills before my partner had enough. 'We are going to the hospital' he announced, but by then it was four o clock the following afternoon and I was already in a bad way, weakened and white and whimpering. 

Upon arrival the relaxed manner of the triage staff chimed badly with how I felt. Could they not see how I suffered? Shortly they did, for my ketones test showed severe dehydration. Hooked up to a drip and having been given the anti nausea injection, I lay in the triage room staring up at the strip lighting. Some codeine based painkillers blunted the pain for a while, but all thoughts of a natural birth had been banished. I had already suffered enough. 

Some hours later my contractions had stabilised enough to move into the delivery room. I felt relieved, it was all happening and shortly the big guns would arrive. 'I want the epidural' I said. The following hours are difficult to describe. Dizzy from gas and air I lay and endured the strengthening contractions, watching the clock opposite my bed ruthlessly clicking away the minutes. Only the bleep bleep and drip drip of my machines, and my partner playing some soothing Paul Simon. My mother at my side. 'Where are the anesthetists?' I asked. 'Coming'. Hours passed. My midwives exchanged worried glances. 'Please' I begged. 'I need this pain to go away'.

Suffice to say that the relief never came. On the night of the September Harvest moon the hospital experienced an incredible surge of births, of women needing emergency c sections. Both operating theatres in full swing and no time for anyone to come to tend to me, the small boat sailing doggedly towards my ultimate destination, though each wave that crashed over me made the very wood of which I was built creak in agony. As the midnight hour loomed it became clear that help was not going to arrive. Biblical phrases ran through my head as the midwifes prepared the delivery bed. 'Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?' Fully dilated but with waters unbroken I was in limbo. A doctor arrived and broke my waters manually; pain and a huge gush of waters that lessened to a trickle.

The following two hours were as close to hell as I hope I shall ever come. I struggled to prepare myself for the pain I knew was coming. I gulped the gas and air frantically but in vain. I lay on the bed with my eyes closed trying to contain the pain and the fear of more pain. The baby was very low but stuck. Back to back they call it. Going nowhere. Suddenly bedlam. The babies heart rate was falling, he was in distress. Running feet. No sight only sounds and feeling. Eyes closed, contain the pain. Do not let it break you. Stay afloat. Somehow stay afloat. Doctors racing to my side from surgery and yanking me into an impossible position. Knees beyond my ears. 'Push, you have to push'. I pushed. Behind my closed eyes tears of sheer agony. Instruments inserted, staccato instructions from doctors, a sense of terrible urgency, of fear. And all the time the pain. Unforgettable, unendurable pain. 

'We need to get him out' a doctors voice. And then the forceps, clamping down on my unborn childs head and a vicious feeling of pulling. Screaming now, begging, sweating. The doctors voice piercing my hell 'You have to push, now, hard'. I hear the word caesarian. 'Don't cut me' I beg as I keen a high note of agony. Surely my boat cannot withstand this onslaught any longer. I am broken, lost, adrift in a sea of red hot blood, lashed by pain, tortured and tormented and demented by it. And then a giant sucking wrenching as I grunt like an animal stuck with a knife and then it's out. Suddenly I feel hollow, like the very stuffing of me has been removed. I hear the scream of my child and through eyes as swollen nearly closed I see him, red and bloody and kicking. Alive. They clean him and place him on me but I feel nothing. Only the knowledge that I have made it through the worst storm of my life and the fear that my injuries are terribly severe. The doctor talks me through it. I hear the words 'Third degree tear. Danger of incontinence' in a blur of panic. I cannot take it in. Is it over is it over? My mind races and tears pour from my eyes. The flow cannot be contained. They lay my boy on my chest and for a moment I study him. His face is squashed and his features flattened and yet bloated looking. A huge bruise marks his forehead from the forceps. His skull is a strange cone shape from the vontuese. I look at him and his deep blue eyes are open but unfocused. I stare at him like the alien that he is, a strange being landed from an unknown planet, and I know that in time I will love him.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

ENTRY THREE - GRAVEYARD SHIFT

On the baby-feed graveyard shift. So tired. My eyelids like lead weights I turn on the lamp. The baby makes his keening sounds of hunger from the crib as I fumble for my nipple guard (guardian angel of nipples) and stumble to the bathroom for a glass of water to staunch my thirst. The immense, desert-dry thirst of breastfeeding. 
As I unswaddle him his little arms and legs rail and pump like furious pistons, and his lips form an upside down U of total desolation as he gears up for a full bodied cry. The heat of his body under the blankets always shocks me; how can this tiny being contain such a powerful thermostat? As I cradle him in my weary arms he planks his body and struggles with unbridled fury. MILK. WHERE IS MY MIIIIIIIIIIIIILK????????

As I put him to my breast he seizes my nipple with the urgency of a lion bringing down its prey. His need is palpable, insistent, almost frightening. The drive to feed is primitive; just like the lion he knows that if he does not feed he will die. He drinks thirstily, greedily, his lips rolled back against my skin. He sucks and gulps like a man dying of thirst who has just been handed a bottle of cold clean water. Slowly his hands uncurl from fists and he lays a tiny palm on my chest. His eyes roll back a little in the ecstasy of milk. His raging body turns soft and yielding in my arms and for a while there is total peace. 4am. 

I gaze down on him in the many-pointed light from the star shaped lamp. His closed eyes with their tiny fair lashes look like twin crescent moons. I study the faint rosiness of his eyelids, the network of veins under the alabaster skin. Nothing can compare to the sweetness of your infant child when it is feeding or sleeping. When the needs that drive its survival are met and it is in repose. The infant child is a miracle of evolution and yet is completely dependant on its mother , or parent, to meet its needs. I look down on him cradled within my arms and see him as an extension of my own body; the mother and child as a perfect circle. One nestled inside the other in an endless curve. I struggle to comprehend the reality that my own body produced this. Life from life. One from inside the other, like Russian dolls.