Me and Mine – March

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I was late to the Me and Mine party in January. And in February I failed to take and share a family portrait at all. But this month, we have progress: I have the pictures, and I’m on time!

As always, however, things did not go entirely to plan. I actually had a completely different set of shots in mind to share, but once again (this also happened in January) the memory card on which they are residing is not in my possession. And as is often the case with our family group shots, we have many of the same scene each one containing one or two good elements. But getting everyone looking at the camera with an appropriate facial expression in the one frame? It appears to be nigh on impossible for me and mine!

Here are some alternatives, all taken by my father-in-law:

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(Ian is probably going to kill me for sharing this last one, if not some of the others!)

Despite my issues with actually getting family photos (or perhaps because of those issues) I’m still really liking the idea of participating in this project, and I’m loving the photos others are. I’m  determined that I will get better at capturing all of us together!

TTC Whilst Breastfeeding

(If you are not prepared for a heavy dose of TMI regarding my menstrual cycles, or a bit of a biology talk, you may wish to move along and come on by again another day!)

Once we passed the six month breast feeding milestone and it became evident that breast feeding was definitely a routine that was going to stay, I had one caveat. I always said that I would be happy to give up at a year – even if it meant forcing the issue – if my periods hadn’t returned, in order to think about conceiving another child. Whilst I’m committed to breast feeding and assured of all the benefits it offers, giving my child a sibling, and hopefully a long term companion, is also important to me. And I think the overall benefits of being able to do that, to me, would justify curtailing breast feeding at that stage despite understanding its ongoing benefits.

As it happened, my periods returned when Thomas was ten months old. Although I know that the presence of menstrual cycles doesn’t always equal the existence of normal fertility, I took it as a good sign since I was obviously fertile before. So I stopped thinking about the possibility of quitting breast feeding in order to conceive. And that, in a nutshell, is how I have found myself trying to conceive whilst still feeding my first child.

I can’t honestly say though, that the role of breast feeding in our conception journey doesn’t frequently cross my mind. Almost every day, when we settle down on the sofa for a snuggly pre-bathtime feed, it crosses my mind that this may be a modifiable factor that will prevent a successful conception.

It’s not big news that breast feeding affects the hormonal balance in your body. Most specifically for trying to conceive, it raises the level of prolactin (the so-called “milk hormone”). Prolactin is the hormone responsible for the suppression of ovulation. As the number and frequency of breast feeds (especially night feeds, as prolactin levels are naturally higher at night) reduces so does the level of prolactin in the body which eventually allows ovulation to occur and normal menstrual cycles to reappear.

Sounds simple.

But this is the human body we’re talking about. And fertility. Neither of which are, unfortunately, simple.

Even if ovulation is occurring, the higher than average levels of prolactin can contribute to a decrease in the number of developing ovarian follicles. The follicles produce progesterone in the second half of the cycle (the luteal phase) which helps maintain the uterine lining for pregnancy, and ultimately would go on to help support an early pregnancy. When the level of progesterone drops, the cycle ends and menstruation begins. The decreased number of follicles present in a lactating woman ultimately mean a lower progesterone level which may cause luteal insufficiency (too little progesterone to support a pregnancy) or luteal phase defect (the luteal phase doesn’t last long enough for implantation to occur).

Ovulating and having periods, it turns out, isn’t enough.

I didn’t know all this about the relationship between prolactin and progesterone levels, despite being aware of both hormones and their role in the body, when my periods first returned. My first couple of cycles were 30 days, which is very average for me. But then, before Christmas, everything seemed to stall. Over ten days late I couldn’t help but get my hopes up that we had already done it. But it simply turned out to be a very long cycle. When the same happened again at the start of the year, I began to look more seriously at the effect of breast feeding on hormones and pregnancy.

And I panicked.

More than was probably reasonable. After all, I have one happy, healthy child. The balance of odds suggests that I will one day be able to have another child.

But I’m impatient. I used to think that women trying to conceive their second, or third (or more!) child couldn’t possibly find it as hard as trying for your first since you already have one child. Of course I’m thankful for Thomas every day, but the desire to give him a sibling, and to have a small age gap, is huge. And that age gap pressure doesn’t exist with your first child.

Complete weaning crossed my mind. But I wasn’t sure, and Thomas definitely wasn’t ready. So I decided to look at other options, beginning with charting my basal body temperature to get confirmation of whether I was ovulating at all. A clear thermal shift, showing a move from oestrogen to progesterone dominance was reassuring. But what charting also revealed was that my luteal phase had shortened from my pre-Thomas length of 12 days, to 9-10 days. Which is borderline for luteal phase defect.

Since February I’ve been trying two things to help. After extensive research on its safety (especially whilst still feeding) and efficacy, I opted to try Agnus Castus, which allegedly helps balance female hormones and specifically is thought to reduce prolactin levels. I am also taking a B vitamin supplement which is thought to help lengthen the luteal phase, although I can’t claim to understand the mechanism.

My last cycle was 28 days, possibly my shortest ever, so something is probably working – although I’m also open to the fact that it could be coincidence. However, I had a ten day luteal phase, which is right on that borderline again.

I’m so not ready to quit feeding. But it’s also no longer a secret that I’m desperate for another baby. I suppose I’m hoping that somehow, I can have it all.

Two Years Ago

Two years ago today, I found out that I was pregnant. I didn’t know then, of course, that the end result would be Thomas. I had no clue about the little person he would become, the joy and challenges he would bring in equal measure, or how he would change me.

Two years ago, I didn’t know that the end result would be anything at all. Or rather, I didn’t know whether I was on a road to nothing more than heartache. I worried from the moment I saw that second pink line, which I think is normal for expectant mothers. But alongside the typical fears about miscarriage and carrying a healthy baby to full term, I worried constantly about whether my best efforts to control my own broken body would be good enough to keep my child safe. Or whether my own body’s failings, and my inability to mitigate them, would leave an indelible mark on my child. I worried about failing them before they were even born.

I look back to that day and remember only too well the anxiety that settled heavy in my chest and weighed me down for the following eight months much more than my growing bump ever could. But I remember too the excitement. The expectation and the feelings of possibility for the little life that was only just taking hold and beginning to grow, an entire future just waiting for them. I can’t believe how far we’ve come in these two short years, and how those possibilities are being fulfilled each day. Watching Thomas grow fills me with more pride and a greater sense of achievement than anything else I have ever done.

And now, I’m ready to do this again. I know that when I next see those two lines, I’ll still feel an irrepressible panic. But I know now something that I didn’t know two years ago: That the effort, the worry and the sacrifices are all absolutely worth it. I know my next child won’t be another Thomas, but I do know that I’ll love every inch of them and that no matter who they turn out to be, they won’t fail to bring me joy. I know that they, like Thomas, will be worth it.

Project 365 – February’s Final Fourteen

I’m well behind on updating my progress with my 365 Project. I’ll hold my hands up and say time as been something in short supply lately – as evidenced by te overall lack of activity here – and I’m definitely struggling to keep up!

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I love this picture. He’s always stuffing his face!

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Fast asleep, squashed in the corner of the sofa next to me, sweaty from feeding, and still wearing dinner all over his face! Just about sums Thomas up!

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Pure joy! The weather was lovely, so after Sunday Lunch at the pub we went for a walk around the local castle grounds. Thomas had great fun watching the ducks and chasing the pigeons. he ran at them flapping his arms as if he had wings of his own. catching him on camera is tricky because he moves so fast!Feb182013

Brushing Daddy’s teeth. Despite having no teeth (still) Thomas loves “brushing” his…. and ours!

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Conquering playground equipment.

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This is Ian’s “stop-taking-photographs-of-me-and-do-something-useful” face. I was only taking picture because he was modelling his new apron!

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Going for a walk. With conspicuous lack of hand holding or reins! I have realised that we have a lot of pictures of Thomas like this and people may begin to worry that he doesn’t have any hands! It is simply that this coat is MASSIVE. Thomas is not 16 months old, and this is 9-12 month size. I’m thinking it will do next winter as well at this rate. We usually leave the house with the sleeves rolled back, but that doesn’t last long.

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Tea party! Thomas loves to stir imaginary cups of tea, before drinking them. He offers about one in five to someone else.

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With the Wheely Bug. This was a first birthday present from Granny and Grandad. It hasn’t seen that much play yet, because his feet didn’t reach the floor when he sat on it. This week it’s suddenly had a lot of attention.

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Another stuffing-his-face photo. Toast. Another favourite food.

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We bought the BabyBjorn Babysitter in a panic at around 9 months of age when he completely outgrew his previous bouncer. At that time the bouncer was still the only place he would nap during the day. This has been one of our best purchases, and he still uses it as a seat now.Feb262013

Crazy hair. It really does need a(nother) cut now.

Feb272013

Spaceman Thomas! Who knows what was going through his head.

Feb282013

First day of the vomit-fest. He looks so sad and unwell in this picture.

 

Sixteen

Dear Thomas

Another whole month has passed. You’re a little bit bigger. A little bit stronger. And ever more loved every day.

This month has been partly defined by your first proper illness. Of course you’ve been ill before. You’ve had an endless stream of colds, two ear infections and several bouts of sickiness. You’ve had a raised temperature necessitating a call from nursery at least three times, and have been sent home twice for throwing up. But this month’s bout of gastroenteritis was the first time you’d been so unwell for so many days in a row – eight in total. You were miserable and quiet, preferring to sit still on my lap rather than race around at breakneck speed – so not like you. (Whilst I hated to see you so forlorn, I did enjoy all the quiet cuddles!) You missed a full day at nursery, from start to finish, for only the second time in ten months. And you stopped eating. For almost a week, you survived mainly on breast milk and dry toast. Oh, and Mini Cheddars. For some reason you absolutely loved those.

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Fortunately your appetite came back, and with it your boundless energy. Your favourite game this month has been “chase”. You love playing it at home with us. We’ll hide behind the sofa and pop up, roaring at you whilst you race away from us as fast as your little legs will carry you. You love to be chased up and down the kitchen with your toy carpet sweeper or your broom. And you love playing chase with the staff at nursery too.

You’ve always liked to copy what other people do and that has been so evident this month. You now love to brush your “teeth” (you still don’t have any real teeth, however) and also to try to brush ours. If you see your toothbrush, you reach out for it and it will keep you occupied for as long as it takes me to dry my hair in the morning. Speaking of which, if you see a hairbrush, you pick it up and begin to brush your own hair. This month you’ve also started to try to brush my hair! When we put cream on your dry skin before bed, you take it from our hands and rub it on yourself. You imitate us playing with your new tea set, pouring and stirring to your hearts content. You also demand to be allowed to stir real cups of tea and bowls of food. We can’t carry you past a light switch without you wanting to stop and turn it on. The off again. And on again. And off again…..

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You communicate a lot of these desires to us by pointing. Pointing at everything. Sometimes we have no idea what you are pointing at and sometimes I don’t think that you do either. We pick up objects from the general direction of your finger and offer them to you. You’ll consider each for a moment before firmly shaking your head. The head shake is another top favourite signal this month. The only thing is, I’m not sure that you know how to nod, because you usually shake your head before grasping the object that you finally decide you do want! (And this is often something you can’t have, like the biscuit tin!)

Your ability to communicate with words is growing too. Yes and no are frequently used, but no much more than yes! And you love to sing to us. You say “row, row row” especially clearly along with “round and round” when you want us to do “Round and Round the Garden”…. Or do it back to us! The giggles we get when we tickle you are infectious, and even better than any words.

You’re still happily playing with many of the same toys, but you’ve added some new favourites. Maracas, a tambourine and an old biscuit tin form the basis of your very own band. You’ve spent some happy time conducting us in noisy banging and crashing, directing us when to start and stop shaking and banging by your own actions and by putting your finger to your lips as if to say “shusssssh” when we need to stop. I dread to think what the neighbours are saying! Pushing vehicles around, usually accompanied by a nee-naw noise, has been another frequent game. You even spied a toy fire engine in the bottom of the push chair whilst we were at the park and wouldn’t rest until you’d got it out and pushed it along the path for a while.

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You’ve also mastered some new skills. You’ve started to identify body parts, although your head and feet are the only ones you will reliably get right. But you like to point to a part of your own body whilst pointing to the same part on ours. You are getting better at tower building and can now push Duplo bricks together all by yourself! You’re getting the idea that toy trains are meant to run along tracks, and will push them along even if they aren’t quite properly aligned with the grooves in the track. And you’ve come round to ride on toys, perhaps because your legs are finally long enough to brush the floor. You learned to climb the stairs several months ago, and then lost interest, but climbing has been back with a vengeance this month. You’ve cracked climbing on to the sofa, and just last week you climbed the steps of the littlest kiddy slide at the playground all by yourself for the first time. You took your time and did it slowly and steadily, despite an older child trying to push you out of the way. For some silly reason, the determination on your face, and your resolve not to be pushed aside made my heart swell with greater pride.

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Your steely determination is one of the bits of myself that I see in you. You know your own mind and don’t want to let anybody or anything stop you. That’s why you still won’t hold our hands, or walk in anything like the general direction we’d like to go in. If you want to get somewhere, you’ll try no matter what the obstacles. Keeping you out of the kitchen entirely with a safety gate has now failed and we’ve resorted to latches on all the cupboards and moving everything out of reach… well, out of reach for now at least! We went to a play morning at your nursery just this weekend and you were the only child that managed to climb in to the area that was supposed to be closed off! You were probably in pursuit of a broom, since you’re able to smell one at fifty paces. We visited a friend a couple of weeks ago, and before I’d even got my coat and shoes off you’d run off and come back carrying a toy broom! At the nursery play morning you even had a tug of war over a broom with another child, which made me a tiny bit embarrassed. I do feel for you in these situations though, because whilst other children often just want something because someone has got it or wants it, you do genuinely want any and all brooms.

Despite all this, you’re still so happy. I watch other toddlers at the groups we go to and you’re usually the smiliest by far. At a new group it always takes you a short while to warm up, but then you’re off, racing around laughing and grinning at everyone. You make me so proud as I watch you go, lighting up people’s faces as you pass. And I love it when you run back in my direction to check in with me and share with me an especially big grin.

Keep smiling baby.

All my love, always

Mummy xxx

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Breastfeeding a Toddler

When Thomas was born, even before Thomas was was born, I was determined to breast feed for six months. I was prepared to be open minded and go with flow with almost everything else about parenthood, but breast feeding was the one thing I was prepared to do almost anything to try to succeed at.

I won’t lie. It was tough going to begin with. I think the first thing that needs to be scratched from breast feeding education is that it’s what nature intended, and that it’s easy. And even the snippet that almost everyone can breast feed. (Something less than 1% of women physically cannot do it. Another small number of women can’t do it due to true medical or practical reasons). Those things may be true, but when you’re a new breast feeding mother, they aren’t helpful. Because if you are struggling, finding it painful, draining and down right difficult, the last thing you need is the added reminder that this is supposed to be straightforward and natural. That’s a recipe for feeling like a failure. Motherhood is littered with guilt and feelings of inadequacy without adding in unnecessary pressures.

For us, it took a while for breast feeding to click. I struggled with cracked nipples and over supply and I battled through ductal thrush. But once it did, it was indeed easy. Not having to worry about the faff of bottles. Having milk instantly available anywhere, at any time. Milk at the right temperature and without any worries about sterility.

And once it clicked, I knew that I’d have no problem meeting my six month goal. But I didn’t really think beyond that.

No one ever really talks much about the how-to of stopping breast feeding, beyond warning that you shouldn’t do it suddenly if you want to avoid engorgement and possible mastitis. There is information out there, but you have to actively search for it. And what hadn’t occurred to me without looking for that information, or having experienced it first hand, was that stopping isn’t as simple as saying “all done”.

Six months isn’t some magical watershed where your child will suddenly stop needing or wanting milk. Thomas had no idea that he was six months old and certainly had no desire to stop. And even if you do stop, you’ve still got to introduce something its place, which at this stage is most likely bottles and formula. To me it hardly seemed worth introducing all the hassle I’d loved avoiding in the first six months when carrying on was so simple. So carry on we did.

I still didn’t really give any thought to where it might end. I wasn’t averse to feeding beyond a year, but I wasn’t desperate to do it either. I certainly wasn’t determined to allow self-weaning, although I wasn’t against the idea. The only thing I will admit is that I’ve never really wanted my child to have a conscious memory of breast feeding, so I suppose that means I definitely wouldn’t want to go past three.

As it turns out, we’re still going at approaching 16 months. After his first birthday, I began a policy of “don’t offer, don’t refuse” which meant that I wasn’t going to purposely offer him a feed, but if he made it clear he wanted one, I wouldn’t deny him. Around this time I started to get some comments about breast feeding. They were a mixed bunch. Some people congratulating me – which felt odd because feeding is just something we do. But I suppose it is an achievement. Some people started asking when we would stop. A few went further and comments of “bitty” began to crop up. Whilst I still didn’t feel in a rush to stop, I did begin to feel more self conscious about public feeding, and if I’m honest I did actively seek to prevent it happening. But again, if he really needed or wanted it, I wasn’t going to deny him.

At the beginning of this year, still with no strong feelings either way about giving up or carrying on, we took steps to stop offering the morning feed. And Thomas has asked for, and had, just one single morning feed in the two months since. At one point, it looked a lot like he was going to give up his one remaining regular feed, which he has between dinner and bath time. He’s now become much more forceful in his communication about wanting that feed again though, so for now we’re still very much carrying on.

Breast feeding a toddler is very different to breast feeding a newborn. Obviously. He eats three good meals and two snacks each day. He doesn’t want or need to breast feed every couple of hours. Night feeds are the exception not the rule. He’s generally quick and efficient, rather than drawing each feed out to forty minutes or more. Physically he’s much bigger. And wrigglier. And more inquisitive and distractable.

The former points make breast feeding a toddler much easier and more pleasurable. The latter make it much harder and much less enjoyable. He’s capable of really hurting with his thrashing and pulling. And he can get distracted after a few minutes, go away to do something else, and then come back to it a few minutes later. He treats me like a milk bar when he pulls my top up, but then stands by the sofa to feed from me.

But suddenly, for the first time in several months, I really don’t want to stop.

Because breast feeding is still my go-to parenting solution and weapon of choice. If Thomas is really upset, it’s the one thing that will instantly calm, comfort and quieter him. Although feeding to sleep is a long stopped habit, when he is over tired, it still works better than anything else we’ve tried. And when he is I’ll, it’s nothing short of magical.

That last point has never been more apparent that in the last 10 days where we have battling the gastrointestinal bug from hell. I never knew so much diarrhoea and vomit could come from something so small – and that’s saying something, because Thomas has always been a sicky child! And I’m still figuring out how to truly banish the smell of sick from a carpet (any hints gladly received!). During the long week where he hasn’t really eaten at all, breast milk has provided him with nutrition and rehydration without upsetting his stomach further. When he’s cried in confusion, or just because he feels lousy, breast milk has been his comfort source of choice.

It’s at a time like this that I’m most grateful that I still have breast feeding to fall back on. For now, no matter how many disparaging comments I get, we’ll be carrying on. Because the boy clearly isn’t ready to stop, and I’m not willing to give up the most useful tool in my parenting box.