Tuesday, December 23, 2008

going AWOL on the AWACS
Christmas, eh? Different things to different people and, of course, much different depending on where you are in the world. However, no matter how far you run you cannot run away from yourself and, despite saying that we wouldn’t do anything at all this year, TA and I suddenly and simultaneously got the festive bug. It is going to be scaled back, mind, from previous Isle of Wight affairs, but still. We’re having the traditional smoked salmon and eggs breakfast, Baileys coffee mid-morning (me) and then Hugh F-W beef, roast veggies and Yorkshire puddings, followed by trifle (me) and baked custard (TA) for lunch. Nothing much*! Next year is going to be huge so we felt fine about scaling back. Actually, we’re both ‘stoked’ about having quiet - Sprout permitting - family time.
This morning TA got a call at work from one of the AWACs. Apparently, all the English are heading off to a park for a bring-a-course-each barbie. The plan was outlined in detail via email - what course did I want? Together with instructions to keep my receipts so we can split the cost. My heart sank like a stone.
Very tentatively I emailed TA - ‘thoughts?’
Luckily (I love my husband), his thoughts matched mine and as I wrote back, feeling more confident, ‘it sounds like hell on a plate.’ I made our excuses - possibly far too many - and returned to the kitchen to take a ginger sponge cake out of the oven. Project trifle was a go.

*I have made brandy butter ready for a shop-bought pudding (boo-hiss) that I will pick up reduced, with any luck, on Saturday. Also, planning to score a ham and a turkey crown if I can - since Thursday is TA’s first day of a week of holiday we’ll have plenty of opportunities for gluttony after the big day.

Monday, December 22, 2008

where did you get that hair?
Recessive genes can surprise anyone, I guess. However, somehow being adopted and having no idea what my blood holds makes this even more of a puzzle. I do wish people would stop asking though.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

diet of worms
My master class in how to alienate and horrify the few people I am friendly with in Sydney continues apace. I am in the post office queuing to pick up a parcel (something I do frequently as 1. the postman refuses to ring the bell but would rather leave a ‘sorry I missed you’ card and 2. the postal service here does not allow one to organise a redelivery - honestly, the list of things that are quite unbelievably rubbish here could fill a small exercise book) and I bump into another AWAC (Animal Wife and Child - TA’s company employs an awful lot of ex-pats and in theory I have a ready-made social network). This - bumping into AWACs in the post office - happens to me a lot (see points 1 and 2) and I’m not very good at the unprepared for social interaction with people I hardly know but am desperate to be friends with, despite feeling like we have nothing in common. So, I put on a friendly face and make small talk - ‘hello other AWAC’s baby, hello other AWAC. Collecting a parcel?’ - and it was at this point that I made a fatal error of judgement, letting my excitement blind me to the lunacy of what I was about to admit.
‘Me?’ I said with a big, thrilled grin. ‘I’m here collecting my worms.’
The AWAC visibly flinched and stepped back a pace. ‘Live worms?’ She said, looking with horror at the innocent-looking parcel in my arms.
In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought. ‘Yes, for my composting bin.’
‘You have a garden?’
‘No. The bin is on the balcony.’ I could see her make a quick mental note - never, ever visit these people’s apartment.
We made our separate ways out of the shopping centre and I followed her up the road at a discrete distance until she entered her building and then I raced home to soak my peat block and examine my worms.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's been a while, hasn't it? It did take a long time to get internet, it took a long time to get a flat and then our stuff was in shipping...
Anyway, we're here now. Sprout is walking these days. The sun is shining and, well, I'm brain dead. Suffering from housewifeitis. The lights are, sporadically, on but mrs brain is still in London. This country is lovely, but just all wrong. Woolies and Safeways are one company and that company is the most successful supermarket in the country. The bath/shower has four taps (all of which leak)...
I'm still breastfeeding Sprout, who is now 11 months old, and he still wakes three-five times a night. I doubt we'll have another one - I'm knackered and mildly resent my loss of autonomy. Also, I enormously resent having lost my identity as a nonmother - now all anyone says to me is 'you'll make friends with other mothers', but actually that's the stuff of nightmares...I want to make friends with other radical women. Strong women. Writers. Poets. Rebel gardeners. Yeah, it's a bit of a stretch, isn't it?
This flat is only a stop gap while we save for land, yes, land for our earthship! But is still needs a nom de blog. It's an Art Deco building in a nappy valley inner suburb, how about Base Unit?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

manic panic
Years ago "manic panic" meant violently red hair or, on one memorable morning, waking up with a blue pillow and a blue-faced young man as well as blue hair. Now, sadly, it means full-on, for real, waking-up-with-a-pounding-heart manic panic. Things I am currently manically panicking about include, but are no way limited to, the pupster's failed blood test (requiring a new test to be carried out on Friday the results of which will take a week to come back from DEFRA and he goes to pre-flight kennels that day), my lack of visa, Sprout's lack of Australian passport, money and our lack of, time and our lack of... the list goes on and on.
Why oh why did this seem like a good idea and why oh why did I refuse to start preparing when TA was interviewing for fear it would jinx his chances? I wish someone sensible had told me the correct way to prioritise the to-do list - how was I to know that dog travel was harder to organise than human travel, which is itself much harder to organise than renting out The Sett. I did it all backwards, alas.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

who hasn't?
So, I'm about a million miles behind the bleeding-edge of popular culture; I'm at the suppurating flank, if you will. Anyway, please forgive my tardiness on this topic, but I have to get it off my chest. The oh-so-catchy tune from the pop moppet Katy Perry, “I Kissed a Girl”, it’s doing my head in.
The plot of the song is she got a bit drunk and went for a bit of sexual tourism by snogging a pretty lassie and - shock, horror - liked it. She’s not a lezzie though, hell to the no: her main concern is that her boyfriend doesn’t mind. Where to start? Objectification is still objectification when women do it to each other; girl-on-girl is not for the gratification of the lads (though, yes, I know girls do snog each other to get lads’ attention)... I wonder what the other woman (sorry, girl) thought of being kissed as a bit of experimentation - it’s silly fiction, but the narrative has obviously rubbed a raw spot in my imagination and now it’s itchy and sore and I keep thinking about it, mentally scratching before it has a chance to heal over.
Oh god, it makes me want to come over all radical dyke - shave my head, get some tatts, bulk up and run out of my soccer mom life just to support the sisters. That can’t be a healthy reaction to a pop song I can’t help humming along to. And, really, what am I going to teach my son? What am I going to tell him? The whole “if someone gives you a present you don’t complain about the wrapping paper” line is all well and good, but there would be a certain amount of dishonesty if I didn’t put some context in there, wouldn’t there? And I’m actually not very fond of men - TA is something of a huge exception - I never really thought I’d get here. So having a son - who I adore to the point of unreason - makes me scared...I fear that I will raise a misogynist tyrant, a mummy’s boy, a womaniser. And I very happy with the stability and love and support, I fear there’s something bubbling under the skin though. Not sure what it could be - perhaps regret that I wasn’t more edgy when I was going through the years where edgy was acceptable or at least there was a space for it. Now, I feel that my life choices have defined me in such a way that rebellion is no longer an option. But this glosses over the fact that edginess made me unhappy and insecure.
All this questioning angst from a slice of plastic pop? Oh dear, perhaps it’s time to go back to therapy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

do not pass go
Sprout is asleep in my arms as I type this softly and slowly. Today - hell, the last week - has been a trial. My thoughts have gone like this: can't plan without a departure date - can't book cleaners, removals or dog shipping; can't tell the utilities we're going - can't get a departure date without flights. Can't book flights without three passports (TA and I both let ours expire last year so let's worry about visas and/or Sprout's Aussie passport once we can at least book a seat on a flight). Can't get new passports until I've changed my name - well, we could but that would mean updating it from Australia and, let's face it, it may as well be now.
First, I ballsed up the deed poll by getting TA to witness it (because I didn't read the instructions). This added the best part of a week. Then, with a new deed poll successfully witnessed, I ballsed up the passport application, not once but twice, by signing my name in such a florid manner that it went outside of the box. This added two days.
This morning I went to the GP's so that they could certify Sprout's paperwork and photos. At a cost of 25 squid, natch. The receptionist told me to check the paperwork while I waited. Suddenly I panicked - I'd left his photos out of the envelope. I rushed home - in 30-degree heat with a 21lb baby strapped to me (shielded from the sun by a sheet - him, not me). Just as I was approaching home I checked the envelope again and, lo, there were the pictures. I turned around and retraced my boiling steps to the surgery.
With his application completed, I set off to the nearest post office that offers "check and send" and an express service, that I believe to be one week. It is only a mile or so, according to the website; however, since not every shop on Walworth Road is numbered, I spend fruitless, sweltering minutes walking in the wrong direction and then heading back before finding the Post Office. I queue for 15 minutes to secure a new application pack, fill it out - signing my name very small inside the box, yay - and then queue for another 15 minutes for the "check and send" express bit.
The woman at the counter claims that my passport will take two weeks, despite the information leaflet stating that a premium service will get you a passport in a week. Then she says that Sprout's passport will take six weeks. We are leaving in five.
I storm home and speak to TA in a frenzy. Sprout needs to be registered as an Aussie before he can get an Aussie passport - it'll be a month and it will require all the same forms (birth certificate etc) as his UK passport, but a month is better than six weeks. TA still hasn't renewed his, even. I'm losing the plot.
TA talks me down from the ledge and later, after lunch, I read through the bumpf again. I can get my passport in four hours and Sprout's in a week if I make an appointment at the passport office. Perhaps I can go tomorrow.
I call the hotline.
Now I have the first available appointment, on Wednesday - a week and a half away. For such a big, life-changing move, this all feels very ramshackle, precarious and unreal.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

two summers in one year
What on earth have I been doing all these months? Well, looking after Sprout, mostly, but also reading and listening to Radio 4. Meanwhile, TA has landed himself a new job. And now I am crazy busy, as crazy busy as one can be while still allowing an infant to sleep in one's arms for up to six hours a day (we've tried putting him down with no success whatsoever - it's easier this way). Why am I crazy busy? Because we are moving to Sydney in September, that's why.
Yep, the other side of the world with a baby, a dog and far too many possessions. Eek, I believe is the technical term. There's a million things to do and each day I try to achieve three. Unfortunately, it's often impossible to even get one thing done, thanks to my full schedule of dog walking, baby nursing, baby napping, cooking and laundering.
Trying to pull words out of my head is akin to pulling spaghetti out of my nose - I've got such a tangled mess of thoughts - it seems impossible to make any kind of narrative sense of the last few months, let alone what's happening now. Visas, passports, flights, renting the Sett, contracts, shipping, vet bills - it's too much, so much that we haven't begun to think about what we'll do when we get there. We'll have two weeks in Melbourne with TA's friends and family and then three weeks in Sydney in accomodation (two of which TA will use to house hunt with me). I've spent 12 hours in Sydney before and know nothing about the place. However, it has to be better than gangland London, right?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

well, I'll be...
Out of the blue, out of nowhere, I have been contacted by social services because my birth mother wants to get in touch. Crap. They are forwarding 30 years' worth of letters to me as way of introduction; with the disclaimer that her writing style is "florid" and that she's more normal in person.
How unbelivably tiresome. I have absolutely no interest in re-establishing a tie with her - although I recognise that it might well be beneficial for her - this merely complicates my life and feels like an obligatory chore. Bugger.
Happy news: Sprout has learnt to smile.

Monday, February 04, 2008

dr google
Sometimes I wonder why the health service bothers with diagnosing mild complaints when, frankly, the internet is so much better at it. A case in point, I was chatting to the health visitor about the shooting pain I get in my breasts sometimes - is this normal, I wondered. She breezily replied that I wasn't the first person to mention it. Perhaps I would have been satisfied with that if I didn't have recourse to a diagnosis from Dr Google, so I ran a quick search...
[Now, I should mention that the pupster ate one of my nipple shields recently so the day before I'd Googled to see if I could order some more online - Peckham Mothercare not being somewhere I ever want to return to - and discovered that shields can impair milk flow, resulting in a baby that is slow to gain weight. Why did no one tell me this? Sprout has been under additional supervision and getting extra feeds of formula because he, you guessed it, has been slow to gain weight. I told the midwife and the health visitor I was using nipple shields (because of the copious bleeding, the skin loss, the pain and the mastitis), but no one put two and two together until Dr Google dropped the hint.]
...Anyway, Dr Google confirmed my suspicion that pains in the breast were not something to be ignored. Apparently, it is a sign that the breast isn't being fully drained. Add that to the impaired milk flow information and I suspect that the shields are once more to blame. So, Sprout is now feeding bareback again and I am hopeful that the early problems will not return. I shall have words with the health visitor!
Finally, Sprout is now gaining weight (9lbs4oz at last measure) and the midwife discharged us on Friday. We have been studying him, so far he has my ears, hands, feet and possibly chin. Everything else, except eye colour which is a mystery, is pure TA, including - judging by the weight-gain difficulties - metabolism.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I’m not sure quite what I was expecting, but I don’t think that this is it. Sure, there’s the clich├ęd tiredness, of course, and there were tearful days as the preg hormones left my system, but the rest? So far it’s been an odd combination of fear, anxiety and bewilderment.
Perhaps it is difficult to love a baby who makes nipples bleed - this is an understatement, the last two weeks have seen me lose skin and contract mastitis - or perhaps it’s just that parental love feels like fear and bewilderment a lot of the time.

Monday, January 14, 2008

blood and profanity
I have been itching to write up the labour experience before it gets all misty, but was unsure where to put it. I’ve decided my lengthy reminiscences can be posted here and ignored at will - perhaps this way I won't inflict the story on other people ad nauseam.
So, Tuesday afternoon, after a day of chores and interruptions, I finally get into bed for a short nap. Bang! As soon as my head touches the pillow I feel a strange griping sensation just below the bump and an urge to visit the loo. Now, I’d had something similar occur much earlier in the pregnancy and demanded TA come home from a party as I was convinced something was happening but it turned out to just be a stomach upset so this time I didn’t want to get worked up with nothing to "show" for it.
The crampy sensations came at around 15-minute intervals for the rest of the afternoon as I pottered about and cooked a roast beef dinner for us. TA rang on his way home from work and I told him that I thought just maybe this might be the start of labour; however, we were both somewhat sceptical since there was no "show" yet. It was at this point that I rang our volunteer dog sitter to say that perhaps we’d need her help on Wednesday or Thursday as I might possibly be entering the early stages of labour. Unfortunately, she said she was unavailable this week. I tried not to panic at this news.
By the time TA got home the cramps were coming harder and faster, perhaps every ten minutes or so. They weren’t terrible, but I couldn’t sit down through them so periodically through dinner I’d get up and pace around for 30 seconds or so. Yet another desperate need for the loo revealed the "show" had arrived, but since we were eating I decided to hold off telling TA.
At this point - around 8pm - I was in denial that we might need to go to St Thomas’s that night. I was convinced that these cramps would continue for hours before anything really got moving. TA insisted that I get ready to go, just in case. I showered, washed my hair, trimmed the foliage, plucked my eyebrows...perhaps I thought I was about to go on a hot date.
At around 10pm we decided to time the cramps, which I suppose even I realised were contractions now. They were regularly coming at five minutes and lasting 30-40 seconds. Also, there seemed to be more blood than the “show” warranted. I rang the hospital and was told to wait until the contractions were three minutes apart and told not to worry about the blood, just take a paracetamol and go to bed. TA went to bed - there was no way I was going to lie down through a contraction so I stayed in the living room. I sent emails to people, changed my IM status to "in labour" and tried to stay calm in the intervals between the contractions. I kept up the pacing every time a contraction came. Another visit to the loo - my bottom was very sore by this point - now there was a truly scary amount of blood, surely this couldn’t be "show-related"? At a little past midnight another call to the hospital and now I was told to come in.
I woke TA and we got ready to go. He rang the 24-hour minicab office that is just down the road, only to be told that there would be a 45-minute wait. We decided to take our chances on the Old Kent Road, figuring that in 45 minutes we’d either be able to get a bus or hail a passing black cab. As we walked down the road I reminded TA about having to hail a cab on Greys Inn Road to take us to the Register office when the minicab didn’t show on the morning of our wedding. It seems a recurring theme. We found a cab quickly and sped to St Thomas’s.
After a couple of false starts - most of the doors were locked - we found our way up to the maternity centre triage waiting room. St Thomas’s has two birth centres - one is called home from home (HFH) this is midwife led and supposed to mimic having a home birth; the other is the more medically oriented hospital birth centre (HBC). There were two other pregnant women waiting to be assessed in front of us - a black woman with two attendants and a stereotypical mid-thirties white couple. I took an instant irrational dislike to the white middle class couple - a few things stand out: they had TWO roller suitcases with them (as compared to our modest rucksack - more on which later); she was plugged into a TENS machine (no idea why this bugged me, but I thought it was overkill); she was gasping and puffing every five minutes or so, which I thought was hamming it up a bit; her husband/partner kept whispering "you’re doing really well, really well"; she looked as if she hadn’t brushed her hair. Like I say, it was irrational. Anyway, there was no way I was going to huff and puff no matter how uncomfortable I was, so I tried to keep my pacing fairly low key and stay static, but standing, or perched on a chair and when I did need to pace I covered it up be getting water for TA and myself. TA wasn’t fooled, he timed my pacing - I was now contracting every three minutes.
Finally, after about 30 minutes, it was our turn to be seen. I was ushered through to a room in the HFH and questioned about the blood. The pad didn’t do it justice I tried to explain to the brusque midwife - most of it had ended up in the toilet. She seemed to piss-fart around a lot - I guess there’s a lot of paperwork to do during admission - and I needed to have blood pressure and temperature readings taken. Now it was time for the internal exam - I braced myself as I knew that lying down was not going to be pleasant. The good news: I was 5cm dilated, in other words I was in established labour. The bad news: I was bleeding a fair amount and needed to be transferred to the HBC so that the baby could be monitored. Yet more fucking around. And by this stage I was in no mood to put up with it. The brusque midwife disappeared and now it was my turn to huff and puff. Pace, pace, pace. "TA, I can’t handle hours of this. I want the drugs. It’s only going to get worse and it’s bad now. I know I said I wouldn’t but once we’re in the new room I want an epidural." Pace, pace, pace.
Suddenly a euphoric feeling of release and a loud pop - loud to me anyway, somehow TA didn’t hear it - the waters broke. I started to laugh, it felt almost orgasmic. I was suddenly standing in a puddle. Brusque midwife was back and trying to get me in a wheelchair. "I want to walk," I said but she wouldn’t listen. The contractions were more intense now and what the books call "the urge to push" kicked in. Now, I don’t know what it’s like for other women, obviously, but this was no urge. My body was pushing and there was nothing I could do to stop it - "Jesus Fucking Christ!" I shouted. The brusque midwife was really angry, both at the profanity and the pushing, "You’re pushing!" she said accusatorily. "I can’t fucking help it!" She left the room and TA told me off for inappropriate swearing.
We got to the HBC - me in the wheelchair getting my hands bumped against walls, doors and various pieces of medical equipment - and brusque midwife disappeared yet again. She flitted back in "I want drugs - where’s the gas and air?" my voice was plaintive. I finally got hooked up and started inhaling like a desperate stoner. At least I was able to stand up again now and the gas and air began to work its magic. Nice midwife arrived, but had no clue what was going on - more minutes ticked by as she tracked down brusque and got a rundown of what had happened so far. Puff, puff, push, puff, puff. "I want an epidural." Puff, puff, push, puff. Nice midwife tried to explain that the anaesthetist was unavailable. "I want an epidural." This time she said there was no time. I didn’t believe her. I tried to send TA home to look after pupster. "Nothing’s happening here, it’s going to be hours, you must be so bored..."
Now came the really crap bit of the whole experience. I had to have various things attached to me to monitor the baby and this meant lying down. That was done and I’d hoisted myself back up on to all fours - no easy task - when they decided they needed to stick a canula (?) in my hand and I needed to be on my back again. "No!" I shouted. "It’s for the baby," they tried to reason with me. "Fuck the baby!" Somehow they dealt with my compromise measure of sticking my arm out while remaining on my knees.
With all the periphery nonsense sorted out, finally, we got down to business. I was told to stop with the gas and air and concentrate on pushing. I still thought that the birth was hours away and when the midwife said she was checking for hair I thought she was eyeing up my bikini line. TA told me he could see the head. I have no idea how fast the contractions were coming now, but they still seemed a little spaced out. I was able to get in three or four pushes per contraction and thought I really couldn’t push any harder. "Push down with your bottom" the nice midwife said. The inevitable happened and was cleaned up. "Stop holding back with your stomach muscles - you’re pulling him back in!" I was getting pretty cross now as, as far as I was concerned, there could be no bigger push in the world. Quite soon after this she said "I want to get the head out on the next push." It didn’t quite work out that time, but soon afterwards - now that I was focused on it - the head came out with a burning stretching feeling. Then there were a couple of contractions where she manoeuvred the rest of Sprout out - very odd and uncomfortable squirming. I rolled on to my back and saw our son. Disbelief. Total bewilderment. Was that it then? Joy! Suddenly I was back with the birth plan - since entirely against my will I’d managed to fulfil its terms so far - "I want a natural third stage; don’t cut the cord," I declared. It wasn’t to be as I’d already been bleeding, so with an injection in my thigh the placenta was out in minutes. "With onions for breakfast?" I said to TA smiling weakly. The midwife rushed the placenta away in a kidney-shaped bowl before I could make good on my threat. TA checked the time - it was 3.40am, about two and a half hours since we were admitted.
Then it was a mixture of forms, tests and skin-to-skin time. It passed in a blur. I had a shower while the midwife cleaned up the bed - the forms say I lost about a pint of blood, but I can tell you I sure did spread it around. The bathroom looked like a crime scene. Sprout had his first feed and I asked when I could go home. I felt a little weak and shaky, but mainly fine so I got dressed and ready to leave. I was told that I could probably head home at lunch time so TA and I parted company and arranged that he would come back after 10am when I’d be on the postnatal ward.
The rest of the day was really boring. I sat on the edge of the bed, rang people whose numbers I could remember - somehow I had TA’s mobile and he had mine - and asked every passing member of staff if I could go home. We had to wait for a paediatrician to check Sprout over and there were babies in the queue ahead of us. I was press ganged into attending a breastfeeding propaganda session just as I was about to go to sleep; a session where some of the information was inaccurate and some of the flip charts were misspelt. I was not amused and learnt nothing. All the other women seemed to be either crushed or enjoying their stay so much that they had settled in for the long haul. I ignored all the things I had brought with me in my rucksack - pyjamas, moogie, book - and concentrated on looking as though I was about to leave. TA turned up and lunchtime came and went. TA went home to take care of pupster. Finally at around 3.30pm we saw the paediatrician and Sprout was declared fit and well and good to go.
I summoned TA back in. While we were waiting for my discharge papers I overheard a conversation between two other women on the ward - they were discussing how long it takes to be discharged and the consensus was days. I began contemplating discharging myself, wondering if this would mean Sprout would get put on the “at risk” register. At 4.30pm we were finally back in a cab and coming home.
I sent emails and changed my IM to “proud mum”. I played with pupster and got back to normal, or as normal as one can be when there’s a new person in the house.

Friday, January 11, 2008

3.40am, 9 January 2008
After a two-and-a-half-hour labour, we said hello to our son.