Our Baby Led Weaning Journey

Ok so I’m going to begin with a self inflicted disclaimer. I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not a baby professional, I’m certainly not a chef, and my certificate in basic food hygiene (that is required for my job) is the nearest qualification I have to anything marginally food related. If you are concerned your baby isn’t eating correctly then it’s your call about speaking to a health visitor. I am simply a mum, who is now 3 months deep in this baby led weaning business, and is sharing her experiences so far and any tips and tricks she has picked up on the way.

So to begin, I’m going to recommend the book that kick started our own solids journey, Baby Led Weaning by Gill Rapley. It is basically like the BLW bible, a short book, easy to read with no waffle and a really great place to begin.

BLW is a way of teaching your baby to eat solids, allowing them to feed themselves from the very beginning with whole finger foods. Whilst the method of spoon feeding with puréed and mashed foods works well for some families, BLW is simply an alternative route available. My intention here is not to dismiss spoon feeding, and I know many people who prefer this way of feeding or quite successfully combine the two and do a bit of both, and as any mother knows, what works for some may not work for others. However as this blog is bout BLW I would like to explain some of the facts and benefits of weaning this way.

Firstly, BLW should only begin at 6 months old. Although many baby food jars begin as early as 4 months, there is much evidence to say that a baby’s gut is not matured enough and this can lead to increased risk of allergies. Both the government and World Health Organisation recommendations weaning from 6 months. By waiting until around this time there is also no need to spoon feed with baby rice, which offers no nutritional value to your baby’s diet and may actually only serve to replace a healthy breast or formula feed. Often people think their baby is ready for food because they watch their parents eat, but babies watch a lot of what their parents do, so it’s not always a reliable marker.

BLW is all about self feeding, and it not only improves hand-eye-coordination and speech and language skills, but it also teaches babies to recognise for themselves when they are full and therefore reduces risk of obesity later in life. BLW is about baby making choices to try new flavours and textures, they are in control of what is going into their mouth, and in this way it has also been shown to reduce aversion and fussiness with food in later years.

With Ray the first food we introduced was soft boiled broccoli and carrot stick. She tasted a tiny bit but mostly it was played with and thrown on the floor. Over the following weeks we offered various fruit and veg finger foods, sometimes with nibbles and sucking and sometimes with nothing. But each time it was a success, because each time was an opportunity for Raven to see new foods and become familiar with the concept of little meals. I soon realised this would be an up and down experience. To begin with I only offered finger foods at lunchtime, I stepped back and let do her thing. She started out very enthusiastic to explore these new objects, but ultimately her interest fluctuated greatly. I introduced breakfast around 7 months, and tea around 8 months. I’m not aware of a ‘rule’ per se for this, it was simply when it felt right to begin naturally expanding our horizons. We are still breastfeeding on demand and there are times when Ray seems more keen on sticking just to the liquid love of boobie rather than trying anything else, and other times she’s very keen, each day brings a new attitude so we roll with it.

Ok, so the book has all the real nitty gritty info, but here my list of things to consider when you are taking the BLW approach to feeding, from my personal experience.

Don’t expect a cleared plate.

First rule! I think I had this vision of a baby beginning with small bites and moving quite quickly onto heartier meals, but my experience hasn’t been that way at all. Whilst I post videos and pictures of Raven ‘eating’, the reality is there is always lots of food leftover and the pieces she munches on are often discarded after a few nibbles. She inspects the food, she holds it, squeezes it, passes it from hand to hand, sucks it and tastes it. Sometimes a blueberry will get a lick and then be thrown off the mat, and maybe it will be revisited later or maybe not. It can feel like a lot of waste, particularly when I was ensuring I had extra on hand in case it was all thrown on the floor when she wasn’t ready for the experience to end. But at 9 months Raven is now eating so well (still small amounts, but enthusiastically and with increased skill) that I look back on the beginning and realise it was not wasted at all. What I have realised is we have this inner desperation for our baby to eat and I know I was sometimes panicking when I felt as though not enough food had gone in. But over time I have witnessed a real evolution in Rays approach to eating, and as up and down as it can be, she has come such a long way. Would she manage to eat the equivalent of a whole jar of baby food? Not a chance. But she is still receiving all her nutrient needs from breastmilk and gaining weight appropriately. The motto ‘food before one is just for fun’ has reminded me many times than any food going in is a bonus, and my patience has really paid off. And oftentimes when I had thought she had eaten nothing, a nappy change quickly proved me wrong. These days she is closer to clearing a plate, but only a small plate, and whilst there is more and more going in her mouth, there is still a lot that ends up on the floor. *EDIT Last night her whole dinner went on the floor, today she wasn’t too interested in lunch and is instead a total boobie monster… teething? A bit of a cold? Who knows, we will ride it out. But I know that she can eat if she wants to, so I’m not stressed over here.

Try different approaches, and find what works for you.

If you really do start to feel like your baby isn’t eating enough, just try some different approaches. This was me as Raven hit 8 months and I saw other babies eating more than her. I suddenly faced some self doubt so I decided to up my game a bit. I made more effort to actively ‘teach’ eating without spoon feeding. I started to eat on the floor (on a mat) with Ray sat in my lap, and we physically shared a meal. Sometimes I had eaten beforehand and so I just chopped up some extra bits for me to nibble on and encourage Ray to copy. It wasn’t a huge pressured situation, just relaxed, me and my baby sat snacking together. This really worked for us, Ray wanted to take things out my hand as I was about to eat it and she smiled as she did it. Sure, some raspberries got squashed under wriggling feet and it got messy at times with crumbled muffin, but Ray really responded to it and it felt like a shared experience. After a while we reverted back to high chair again – aside from breakfast which is typically chopped fruit and a banana rice cake on my lap in front of In The Night Garden, as I found otherwise she wasn’t very interested in breakfast at all. I think it’s just what works individually.

Share meals.

It was pretty obvious from the outset that Raven always wanted to eat what I had. I have to say that I found it fairly easy to incorporate her foods into my meals. I would have stir fry when she was having peppers and beans, I would make an omelette and share with her or have steamed broccoli and pasta and let her eat the same. But if I didn’t want to eat what she was having, I would eat separately (discreetly) then sit and eat ‘with’ her, nibbling on whatever she had prepared. Just as my baby copied me to learn how to blow a raspberry or wave, she watched me and copied my eating. I also noticed pretty quickly which foods Ray liked best, and tried to include one of them in each ‘meal’. She likes food that has flavour and is easy to eat (I imagine most babies follow this pattern?) so liquidy fruits such as oranges, raspberries, blueberries, grapes etc, easy to eat veggies such as tomato, soft broccoli and baked beetroot. She also likes things that are easy to pick up and chew, such as twisted pasta, thin crumpets and any of the Organix baby crisps. All winners and so I mixed and matched these with new foods to give her a little eating boost.

Keep it simple.

So much information, it can seem a bit daunting to say the least. But it isn’t. You are simply offering food to your baby, they will play with it, they will throw it, and if your lucky they will take a bite or a suck. That is it.

Whilst I follow many really informative and inspiring BLW accounts on Instagram for meal ideas, it has at times left me feeling as though I’m not really offering enough variety or making enough effort. But these accounts are focused on building followers around BLW, and just as there are interior accounts that make us feel like our house is too messy, the BLW accounts are bound to be extra fancy. As lovely as they are, look past the posh plate and remember you don’t need to conjure up a completely different wholesome dinner at every meal. You don’t need to arrange your fruit into a dinosaur or spend hours cooking various meals, just take ideas from the accounts. Oftentimes you will discover that the food is quite simple but presented in a way that it looks exceptionally fancy.

Allow lots of time.

Raven can take half an hour or more to complete the process of discovering and eating her food. I know I know, how do you squeeze it all into the day? Well this was my first thought at least. But then I realised that teaching your child the art of eating and enjoying food is so incredibly important and absolutely one of the most virtuous tasks we undertake in our lives, and so it deserves great attention. A healthy attitude to food is priceless, and here we are raising children to enjoy a wide ranging palette, the ability to understand when they are full and teaching them that eating is a sociable activity. If we can find the time then it’s time well spent. I’ve been thinking of it as an activity rather than a chore. Especially on those days where we have free time and wonder how to entertain the baby, this ticks off a sensory learning activity for the day, and it is precious one on one face time that means you can feel less guilty bout leaving them to play on the floor for a bit whilst you hoover / empty the dishwasher / fold up the washing..

Have quick meals ready to go.

Eugh, the phrase ‘batch cooking’ hurts my face. I imagine myself with an apron covered in food, several giant pots steaming away on the stove and a sea of Tupperware ready to be filled. But it’s not at all that awful. Once you begin to move on from a few finger foods, there are literally hundreds of recipes on Pinterest and Instagram BLW accounts that require only a few ingredients, take minutes to prepare and cook, and can be easily thrown in the fridge or freezer for quick meals. I’ve included some links at the end of this blog. I am not a keen chef, these days I live off toast and weetabix, trust me when I say these are fast and simple. And if they make too much and can’t be frozen you can share it with your other children or eat the extra with your baby, there’s no age limit on them. I have another friend who is BLW with a baby a similar age, and any spare batch cooked bits we pass to each other, so we get double the recipes! It’s a great way of increasing meal options. Of course not every meal needs to be batch cooked, it can all be mixed up with other offerings.

Get your basics in the weekly shop, roughly map out meals in your mind.

Ok, it took me a while to get my head around this, and it may not be right for you, but I’ve included my basic food shop and loose meal plan.

So I found that small separate fruits were easier to have on hand as a staple rather than large ones, if that makes sense? So grapes, blueberries, strawberries, satsumas, raspberries etc, as apposed to ‘bigger’ full fruits like apples, pears, pineapple, melon etc – although I would include one or two of these each week for variation and bananas are handy for some batch cooking and easy spreads. They tend to keep longer than the date in the crispy bit of the fridge so I can make them stretch the week and do a fruit salad for me and Dean if their time’s up (he’s a lucky man).

Then I get in some veg too, half a cucumber, avocado (or is that a fruit who knows) broccoli, cherry tomatoes and I’m a big fan of pre chopped frozen veg too like beetroot, peppers, parsnip etc that is easy to put in the oven.

Talking of frozen, I pick up some veggie burgers and falafels and some small potato waffles too. I check salt and sugar content aren’t high, and I don’t offer at every meal, just good for sharing days.

Then I raid the Ella’s Kitchen / Organix / Kiddylicious ranges. Get in some of the rice cakes and crisps, and I also get the pouches to use as sauce on pasta or quorn.

I also pick up thin crumpets and a small brown bread for options such as hummus / cream cheese / avocado on toast.

Then I feel pretty prepared! Lots in to use in lots of ways and quick to offer. I don’t plan each meal precisely but when it comes to dinners I use up whats needed first (sorry I’m being so obvious) and I have plenty of choice to hand to build a mini meal. Obviously it can differ, sometimes I’ll fancy trying Ray with kiwi fruit, or offering sweet corn or an idea I found online, or we’re having another go with self feeding yogurt, (uki.be have great little rubber spoons for self feeding) but the above are my staple have ins that keep me ticking over. We recently picked up chia seeds and flax seeds too, I can mix them into a spread or a sauce, or mashed up potato etc. Sounds super fancy pants but it’s literally just a sprinkle here and there and a bag lasts forever.

So this is how I mentally organise the food;

I try to go for one bit of ‘stodge’ – so pasta, quorn, waffle, veggie burger, smashed up potato, beetroot, mashed butternut (oven cooked from frozen)na batch cook option or bread with spread.
Then I can add an option of either some cooked from frozen veg or fresh steamed veg, either some chopped tomatoes, cucumber, carrots or pepper etc. Or I will offer a fruit option, whichever goes best with the meal or needs to be used up first.
Ray goes mad for any of the Organix / Kiddylicious crisps so I include some of those, one or two is enough.
Then I finish with a drink. So water (guilty of adding a tiny tiny bit of squash…) quartered grapes and smashed blueberries or maybe 4 or 5 raspberries, satsuma pieces etc etc you get the idea.

Again, it’s not always set out like this, but I just find this approach had made it simple for us to grab bits and create lots of mix and match meals easily.

And finally… Enjoy it!

The fun is in the watching. You are witnessing your baby learn a very important skill, not just to ‘eat’ but to ‘enjoy eating’. Relax, remove the pressure, let them explore, smile with them, encourage without any force, make it a positive experience for them. When I look back over the last 3 months I can see that Raven has been on a remarkable little journey with her eating, and it is only now, at almost 9 months that she has really begun to ‘eat eat eat’. And what she is eating is healthy, her own choice and at her own pace. We don’t have food tantrums or crying (yet!), if she’s clearly beginning to get fed up then we just stop and the next meal is a fresh opportunity. It should be an enjoyable experience for you both, building up positive food associations and spending quality time together. So don’t stress about the mess, don’t panic about the quantity, just enjoy the moment and in time you will watch your baby learn to feed themselves happily.

 

Some links below for simple batch meals…

https://www.myfussyeater.com/broccoli-cheese-frittata-fingers/

https://www.healthylittlefoodies.com/banana-blueberry-fritters/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes

http://onehandedcooks.com.au/recipe/toddler-finger-food-pick-n-mix-vegetable-shreddies/#F076LCZ4QLQCf200.97

http://feedingmykid.com/article/toddler-finger-foods/?uaid=pinterest

https://www.craftsonsea.co.uk/family-recipes-for-baby-led-weaning-2/

https://pin.it/shh7io4j7y4r7t

Sleeping Soundly

S L E E P

It is an obsession and hot topic that arrives part and parcel with a freshly born human. From both ourselves, and from those around us. It begins the very moment they are born, when we take home our fruitful bundle with absolutely no idea what we are actually doing, when the nights are full of wakings and fumblings and soothings, and we are introduced to a new perspective of sleep. Suddenly we realise its true value and the impact it has on ours and our baby’s well being.

In the beginning, in my completely naïve and miseducated view of motherhood, I had this idea that newborns woke often, but over time they learnt the rhythms of day and night and around a few months old they would naturally begin to sleep through the night. Why did I think this? Well I guess it was because I had seen people celebrating when their own baby allowed them unbroken sleep, and I had heard people asking that age old question “Does she sleep through yet?” And from that I had come to my own conclusion that this was a goal for a baby to meet, and it would do so sometime within the first few months.

When preparing for Ravens arrival, I read all the suggestions and advice on leaflets and websites, of course I would carefully follow the instructions and keep baby with me in our room for 6 months and then transition them into their own room. And so we bought a Snuzpod for the early days and a cot for the nursery. I imagined me placing my sleeping baby down into the cot, not only at night but also at nap time, drawing the curtains and whispering ‘I love you’ as I left them to sleep for an hour or two whilst I cleaned / wrote / relaxed. I knew there would be moments of difficulty, teething, maybe an overtired baby from time to time that took longer to settle. But I was sold on the idea that ‘this is how it works’. What I hadn’t counted on was that it doesn’t actually always work like that.

Naturally when Ray was born and brought home, the nights were challenging. As a ‘new mother’ – at least to a bring home baby – I followed the popular parenting method of ‘making it up as you go along’. There were both moments of great beauty and great struggle. The intimate closeness of night cuddles when it is as though you are the only souls awake in the whole world, and times when the exhaustion set in and the nights felt lonely and long and I wondered if if I was doing anything at all right. As Raven is exclusively breastfed I didn’t see the need to wake dean, and so the night feeds were my domain and I thrived on the knowledge I was needed and held onto the fact that it was only for a short while, soon she will sleep through…

And as a tiny newborn it was accepted by visitors that she napped on me or her dad, and occasionally she would sleep a little while in her Moses basket. Everyone around me agreed that new babies like to held and cuddled. In those early days no one really questioned me holding my tiny daughter as she slept. I had just had a baby and we were bonding and relaxing together, isn’t that what maternity leave is for? When she was tired I let her snooze, when she was lively I let her be awake. It was really very simple.

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But time rolled on, and I was about to realise just how over complicated sleep can become with a little one. Looking back I can see that I got severely caught up in self doubt and hype, contending with all kinds of ideas and methods that really just stemmed from me not only wanting the best for my baby, but also from me wanting to be the best mother I could be.

Weeks 10 and 11. I’ll never forget them! Raven slept through the night for two whole solid weeks. I celebrated, naturally. I was so ready to get more rest and I believed we had ‘nailed it’, a milestone ticked off. I wasn’t smug, but I did feel proud. Which looking back is kind of odd, to think that I felt accomplished for my baby’s ability to simply sleep, as though it was a personal success. And ‘success’ really is a key word here, because without success, there is failure.

Needless to say, Raven slept through for two weeks only. Once the night wakings began again I fretted, we’re going backwards, and the thought of a fresh round of sleepless nights felt completely overwhelming. I had been so thoroughly exhausted by the end of her newborn wakings that I wondered if I could physically do it all again. Around the same time, someone questioned Ray sleeping only on me. It was a loving comment I’m sure, and I am certainly one to overthink and reach ridiculous conclusions, so absolutely no daggers thrown here, but it planted a seed of doubt. Yes, why would my baby only nap on me? “You can’t do that forever!” The newborn baby bubble was bursting, real life was beginning. There was a silent expectation that I couldn’t relax on the sofa any longer, I couldn’t let a little baby rule my movements, how was I going to get the housework done? And so many online photographs of sleeping babies in their Moses baskets or cot, what was I doing wrong?

Suddenly my baby’s sleep felt very complicated and I found myself questioning so much about when she slept, where she slept and how she slept. As her night wakings continued and the ‘success’ revealed itself to be short lived, a sinking sense of ‘failure’ set in. I had lost my boasting rights. And nap times too became full of anxiety. Instead of enjoying the lovely snuggly mother daughter cuddles, I would sit there thinking ‘I need to teach her to sleep off of me, I need to put her down’. I felt – wrongly so – that I was creating a bad habit, that I was being lazy, that my baby would never learn to sleep away from me.

And so it began. The countless adverts on Facebook about sleep training (I’m sure they hear your private conversations…?). Talking to other mothers about their nap routines and sleep schedules. Scrolling Pinterest and seeing a tide of posts ‘how to get your baby to sleep through the night in 48 hours!’. Conflicting advice, “don’t let them nap past 4pm” alongside “never wake a sleeping baby!”. If I implemented a routine of set times then I was bound by them regardless of if my baby was actually tired, and if I didn’t then I risked a tired baby napping too close to bedtime. It was all so confusing. What if she fell asleep in the car outside of her set times? Does it throw the whole day off? If she has a set bed time but isn’t showing any signs of being tired, do I soldier on and try to desperately induce sleepiness? Has she met her required awake/sleep times for the day? I read that babies need two short naps, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, but what if her first nap arrived naturally over midday? I found myself waiting for Rays sleepy cues later in the afternoon, but what if they never came? As Raven began to sleep increasingly well in the pushchair it invited some newfound freedom for me during her naps, but whilst I could celebrate the ‘success’ of a nap out of arms that too came with inner questioning. Walking with my baby in a pushchair to get her sleepy sometimes ends in a two hour sleep parked up in the hallway and sometimes ends in no sleep, but even good pushchair naps left me feeling like I was doing it wrong. “It’s time for her to sleep in her cot!” And night wakings were frequently seen as a problem to be solved. I lost count of how many times I was asked the dreaded sleep through question, each time answering no and feeling the empathetic looks as though I had failed a driving test or won second place. And it doesn’t end there, as a breastfeeding mother I found even feeding comes with complications. “You shouldn’t encourage the feed to sleep association, no one else will ever be able to put her down at night!” “She can smell your milk that’s why she wakes up, put her in her own room and you will all sleep better!” “You should be putting her down to sleep on her own at night by now”…

I began to feel like a fish out of water.

But you see, I was yet to realise three defining things;

1. The strength of motherly instinct.
2. No two women mother exactly the same.
3. The fact that you can do whatever the hell you want.

And it was here that my journey of realisation and self confidence really began. After a lot of wasted fretting and mental self punishment, it suddenly occurred to me that whatever I wanted to do, is what I could do. It was like a lightbulb moment. Perhaps Sandra down the road is timing her baby’s naps in her cot and that works for her, but that doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe Barbara on Facebook has sleep trained and now gets 8 hours of unbroken sleep and that works for her, but I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t have to do it that way. Some babies naturally sleep through, some families have more than one child’s needs to meet, or work schedules to consider. And I think I just realised one day that everyone is doing it differently and that’s ok! I will do my own ‘differently’ version. Back to basics, swipe away the countless pieces of well meaning advice, and simply follow my instincts.

A big turning point for me was when I discovered breastfeeding legend ‘The Milk Meg’. Reading her book and blogs, I could have cried with relief. There it was in plain black and white; a lot of babies like to only nap on mum, night wakings for feeds and cuddles is natural, breastfeeding through the night is normal, feeding to sleep is peaceful and perfectly healthy. The endless comments on her posts of mothers saying ‘18 months in and still feeding through the night!’ didn’t fill me with nighttime dread, instead it confirmed to me that Raven wasn’t broken and I wasn’t failing. It removed my expectations for a full nights rest and I could simply relax in the knowledge that all was as it should be, my baby was getting nighttime nutrients and cuddles. Night waking wouldn’t last forever and it also wouldn’t end anytime soon, but I was prepared to make the sacrifices necessary with motherhood and I could feel confident whilst doing it, after all Ray wasn’t crying in the night, she was simply stirring and needed a little extra comfort. Sometimes lots of feeds, sometimes few. Go to bed early, celebrate the nights filled with sleep and prepare for the ones that aren’t. Someone said to me – when we feel it’s been a bad nights sleep for us, it’s been a good night for your baby, because you have continued to meet their needs whenever they have needed you.

And so armed with this newfound knowledge, I felt brave enough to commit in other ways too. When it came to Raven outgrowing her Snuzpod I knew I wasn’t ready to place her to sleep away from me, she was still dream feeding and I actually just loved having her so close at night. I realised the milestone of my baby sleeping in her own cot wasn’t a ‘real’ deadline. So we bought another cot, medium sized, took the side off, adjusted it to bed height and continued to co sleep. These days night feeds simply require me to sleep with a loose bra top so Ray can turn to me to feed without much stirring at all. I began to relax and enjoy her napping in my arms. I didn’t feel trapped, I liked it. My baby needed it and with no other living dependants I was able to give it to her. I didn’t feel lazy, I was recharging my own batteries and giving my baby a safe and peaceful bonding feeling. And that was as important and as much a part of my motherhood and maternity leave as awake time interaction, activities and daily chores. I utilised the wrap and was able to move around as she snoozed if necessary. I relaxed the expectation of a nap routine, Raven doesn’t appear to follow set schedules so I reverted to a looser outlook; she sleeps when tired. Oftentimes a morning nap at 10ish, Then sometimes she naps at 3pm and goes to bed at 7pm, other times she has a snooze at 5pm and is in bed for 8.30pm. We still have routine but it flexes to meet the needs of the day and that works for us.

Of course, the way we work in our house isn’t for everyone and that’s a big point here. You don’t have to breastfeed or co sleep, your baby is also perfectly fine if they nap away from you, nod off midway through playing or drift off happily on the sofa. It’s cool if they are sleeping in their own cot or sleeping through the night from early on, you can have a nap schedule if that works for you. I’m free from judgment and I hope that’s clear, this was simply my personal journey to sleep confidence.

As Ray grows I see changes in her every day, and it’s sometimes hard to keep up. But some things never change. Just today in the supermarket I was asked by a kind hearted and well meaning stranger ‘is she a good sleeper?’ And I simply smiled and said ‘yes.’ Because I’m there now, I don’t need to scramble for a reply, feel like a fraud or speak through self doubt. I’m happy with my choices.

My daughter, who feeds through the night, who sleeps practically in our bed and will do for a long time yet, who I cuddle as she naps, who is one hell of a happy baby.

The Beginnings of Motherhood

Motherhood.  The experience that nothing can ever truly prepare you for, the most unprecedented upheavel a of a life beforehand and the most wonderful interruption of an easy life.

Before we had Raven I was, of course, already a mother, but there is no doubting that my mothering experience with a living baby is far different from that of mothering a memory.  From the very moment I first discovered I was pregnant with Winter, 33 long months ago, I had been imagining what being a parent would be like.  I did the prenatal yoga, listened to the hypnobirthing CDs and planned endlessly for my confident and serene transition into motherhood.  When I was close to my due date with Raven, I told Dean that I would have beautiful dinners ready each night and an empty laundry basket, I said that his days off would be set aside purely for big fun family days out.  I’d spent a lot of time on Instagram you see, and it seemed like that was the standard, well dressed babies, catalogue homes, smiling mother.

When Ray first arrived my confidence was sky high.  I had been waiting SO LONG for her and I was full of energy and bursting with excitement.  She took to breastfeeding immediately and the sleepy newborn phase meant she was content snuggled up in a blanket in the moses basket whilst I ate / washed the pots / stared at her.  Dean had 2 weeks with us and we fumbled nonchalantly through the days, happily making it up as we went along. The 2 hourly night feeds didn’t phase me, I had spirit and energy and spent the nights gazing at my creation.  ‘We are nailing this!’ we chirped, as I simultaneously nursed Ray and hung out the washing.  I felt like supermum, riding on oxytocin and being fed and passed things by an equally chuffed team mate.  I was brave, we went out for strolls around the park, the summer sun was beaming and isn’t everything just so much easier with soft weather? If Ray was crying it was for a feed or because I had cruelly pulled a vest over her head to dress her or dared to wash her with wet cotton wool, either way she was easily soothed and most likely asleep again in a matter of minutes.  Motherhood felt nothing but easy and ethereal.

Week 3 saw Dean return to work.  I imagined myself at a loss of what to do, but the continued roll call of visitors broke up my days and I began to drift into a simple daily routine.  Sometimes Ray cried and I didn’t know why, but I loved the idea that we were getting to know each other and I played detective.  I spent a lot of time staring at her, lost in her little creation.  The nights were long and littered with two hourly feeds, but I enjoyed our special secret time together on the nursery rocking chair when it felt like the whole world was asleep except for us. 

By week 4, however, the exhaustion began to set in.  Whilst I still was – and still am – ripe with devotion, my body was beginning to feel flushed with aches and I struggled more and more with resettling Ray after feeds.  Her arms and legs seemed to get even wigglier than before and she often startled herself awake.  I would spend hours in the dark nursing, burping, swaddling, soothing, only to lay her down and watch devastated as her arms flung up and her eyes pinged open.  I told Dean it was like writing a whole novel only to set it on fire.  Never did she particularly wail in the night, but the sad murmurs marked another round of settling, and I adhered with eyes half open.  Dean was always adamant I wake him if I struggled, and he absolutely supported me if ever I did, but as I was breastfeeding there seemed no real need, and I am aware that he is working long days to keep us clothed, fed and housed and so I chose to troop on alone and keep little Winter in my heart for extra patience and energy.  But now the nights were shifting from harmonious mother and daughter moments to lonely, exhausted slogs.  The days were still filled with precious moments, and don’t get me wrong I was happy and thriving in many other ways, but I found myself desperate for sleep and dreading nighttime.

Colic arrived around weeks 5 and 6.  For anyone wondering how this experience plays out… it is essentially hours of continuous screaming baby every evening.  Raven was simply inconsolable.  Aside from Winters death, I can honestly say it was the most emotionally challenging thing I have ever been through.  I was heartbroken as I found myself incapable of soothing my baby with her wide pleading eyes.  Her endless cries translated to me as HELP ME HELP ME, and I could not help.  The evenings were slowly getting dark earlier, on more than one occasion I stood at the window in my lounge with a thrashing baby in my arms just waiting for Dean to walk around the corner on his way home.  Ray cried, I cried.  A sense of failure, it wasn’t the fairytale I had been imagining, I wasn’t the mother who could solve all the problems.  Help was on hand, I’m lucky to have friends and family ready available to help.  My sister in law took some washing home for me,  I text my mum and asked for help and her presence was like a weight from my shoulders, my brother came over one evening in the midst of Rays meltdown and washed the pots.  After 2 weeks of trying Infacol and various google tactics, we went to the doctors and I came out wondering why we hadn’t been sooner.  Colief, an improved feeding latch and no spicy foods pretty much solved our problem and the change in Raven was dreamy.

The colic and exhaustion impacted on my confidence.  Winters second birthday was fast approaching and my grief drowned me.  I suddenly felt very incapable and worried that I wasn’t ever going to find my groove again.  What had begun as a smooth slip into motherhood, suddenly felt very fumbly.  I could barely juggle feeding myself let alone preparing a nice evening dinner. A rather ambitious full family day out ended rather abruptly as an already frazzled and unhappy Raven was moved from wrap to car seat to arms to car seat to arms to post poonami full body change and back to carseat… I abandoned the day and took myself and baby back home to the sofa.  It was a far cry from my early days of exploration and I wondered why I was going backwards. I realised that I wasn’t able to settle her with ease at times, and I began to worry about being out in public, flustered with a screaming baby.  Hungry?  Windy?  Tired?  Bored? I felt as though I didn’t have the answers and I couldn’t manage if she blew out whilst I strolled around Sainsbury’s. In hindsight, weeks 5 and 6 were our hardest yet and it came at a time when Ray was transitioning from sleepy newborn to more awake and aware newborn, and I was just learning how to transition with her.  A few weeks later and we had emerged so vividly from the fog of colic and sleepless nights that we had adventurously taken on a trip to London, an effort I would have never imagined possible when I was stood by that window waiting for Dean.

By week 7 we were co-sleeping.  Given the long nights previous it was only a matter of time before I gave in to biology.  It’s a controversial subject, but all I will say is that I followed safe practices – no pillows or blankets nearby, baby cupped under my arm laying flat on her back etc – it was a beautiful experience and we all slept exceptionally well.  After a few successful nights together, I began to place Ray into her Snuzpod with me lay right up close as if we were still in bed together, and over time I was able to move further back into my bed.  By week 9 Raven is now happily asleep in her Snuzpod for 8 hours at a time through the night.  Of course that could all change again, but it’s a far cry from the nights where I panicked that my baby would never sleep for longer than two hours at a time.  Here we are refreshed and colic free.  I rediscovered my groove.

As we step into week 10, I can reflect candidly on the early weeks.  The brave naivety of the beginning days, the confusing changes, the emotional trauma of colic and the slog of sleep deprivation.  I can say that I’m proud to have taken it all in my stride, and reasonably stress free.  Motherhood for me is so far both harder and easier than I had expected.  I’ve learnt to juggle a baby on my boob and signing for a delivery, I’m really good at picking things up with my toes, and my diet is mainly soup and cereal based.  As Ray learns to play and nap elsewhere than my arms, I find I am able to prepare a half decent dinner, half empty that laundry basket or type up half a blog post.  But really, I love the naptimes in my arms and I’m not in a rush to tidy the house rather than soak up my baby.  We’ve survived post immunisation fever, colic, sleep deprivation and nappy rash.  These days Raven is smiling more than ever and over time I have learnt to distinguish between her cries and cues and so I’m able to settle her faster and with greater confidence.  I feel braver again, I understand her little routines – she poops right after a feed, she’s hungry as soon as she wakes, she wants ‘comfort boob’ in the evening, she like to be held in a certain position, she sleeps well in the baby carrier in the morning, try and get her sleepy before she’s put in the carseat – simple understandings that have gifted us a softer flow in the day.  She’s on the cusp of giggles now and last night she shrieked in delight as she kicked around in the bath.  We celebrated Winters birthday together and I held her especially close as I felt his loss so monumentaly.  Her presence reminded me to enjoy the journey, even the fumbly parts.

The biggest lesson for me is that motherhood is what we make of it.  I’ve realised I don’t need a huge bag of supplies to go out – a few nappies, wipes and a change of clothes is all I need for a tiny baby – and a train down to London and back IS possible… why not?  Just with foreplanning and working around baby’s needs.  And yes, some days baby’s needs are a sofa and play mat day with no humping around.  No doubt when I (hopefully) have future babies I will have to bend around more than one need and life will be a little more complicated, but for now I’ve realised that whether we get out of bed and dressed at 10am or manage an early morning baby wearing stroll, we can do whatever the hell we want.  Isn’t that what life is about after all, ever changing, going with the flow.  Even as adults our moods and wants shift daily.  I’m letting go of Instagram perfection and ideal parenting and instead I’m embracing my own personal journey of motherhood, one where I realise that every day is different and I’ll never stop learning how to care for my child.  My baby is happy and loved and I’m peaceful with that, through the easy breezy times and those trickier times, I’m holding onto that truth.

The Wolfe & The Raven: Our Little Bird Is Born

Ok so it turns out that having a tiny wriggly little velcro newborn makes it difficult to sit down and write up a piece that has reasonable depth and grammar… so in the words of Miranda, bear with…

Our labour story begins on Tuesday 15th August, a whole two days before Raven made her entrance.  I went to bed feeling light sporadic contractions, but having had several other false alarms previously, I downplayed it to Dean and we just went to sleep like usual.  Throughout the night I woke several times to tightenings and labourish feelings, but each time I felt certain that nothing would come of it.  When you have already had one labour you imagine that the next time you will know exactly what to expect, but in reality I had already googled and called my local Pregnancy Assessment Unit several times over the previous week asking ‘Am I in labour?!’.  With Winter my waters broke and my contractions began a few hours later, there was no denying labour had arrived.  This time felt like a constant guessing game.

On the morning of Wednesday 16th August, I told Dean that throughout the night the contraction feelings had continued.  By now I was feeling more confident that labour was not far away but still not certain if it was real. It was Deans day off, he was asking me all day ‘How do you feel, do you think it could be labour?’ and each time I would reply ‘Well I think so, but I don’t really know…’. I rolled and bounced on the ball, we took a stompy walk over the road around the retail park.  By this point the contractions, although still very faint, were arriving every 45 minutes to half an hour apart. I made a little instastory of my feet walking with the caption ‘walking the baby out’ and it wasn’t until I posted it that I realised Dean was on the phone to his work in the background saying ‘Pea’s in slow labour’.  I deleted the video, initially keen to keep my labour a surprise, but of course it was too late and I decided it just didn’t matter anyway, I was just pleased that something seemed to be finally happening.

Once we got back home Dean ran me a bath.  It was around 7.30pm.  The warm water must have worked some magic… BAM… in that moment my contractions jumped from every half an hour to every 4/5 minutes, and they quickly intensified.  I shouted to Dean and he started to time them.  Even at this point I wasn’t keen to go into hospital in case it was another false alarm, but they continued and I got out of the bath to lay on the sofa.  Eventually we called the PAU and they agreed we should head in to at least be checked over.  Dean called my Dad to pick us up and we arrived at hospital at around 10.20pm.  Just as I got out of the car I felt my waters go, the timing could not have been better!  And so off to Labour Ward we went instead of PAU.

When I went into hospital during my labour with Winter, I was only 2cm dilated after a full day labouring at home, so I wasn’t too hopeful during my first examination with Raven, and when the midwife said I was already 5cm dilated I nearly leapt off the bed in joy!  For those not down with the labouring terms… your cervix has to be 10cm dilated before you can push out your baby, and so I felt as though I was already half way.  I took the photograph of my belly and posted on Instagram ‘IN labour… see you on the other side!’.

Considering the tragedy that unfolded shortly after my first labour – my son Winter stopped breathing in the delivery room shortly after he arrived and subsequently died the next day – I had been feeling understandably anxious about the birth of our rainbow.  Hours had been spent fretting, worrying, planning, preparing, I was certain I would lose control and panic and my baby would die so cruelly at the final hurdle.  It’s pretty incredible though, this human body.  The moment that labour arrived at my door, my natural senses kicked in and I realised, as everything continued smoothly, that I felt very in control and empowered.  This time I was more determined than ever to get baby out quickly and have them safely in my arms.

I laboured mostly in the same 2 positions that I took with Winter, first kneeling and resting over the upright bed frame, then lay down to push in the later stages.  I was continuously monitored and my midwife Siobhan was exactly the right balance of calm and on the ball.  I had a little gas and air, but my experience of it with Winters labour – where I struggled to breathe in through a contraction and it made me feel quite sickly – meant I went for 2 deep breaths just before the contraction and then rode it out.  Luckily for me, this labour felt much easier, the contractions were faster and more intense but it moved along with greater pace and therefore I managed to keep energy and spirits up.  Throughout the labour I had a photograph of Winter in my eye line.  Every time the pain washed over me and I felt myself struggle, I looked at his photograph and I was reminded of his strength and bravery and the reason why my body was working so hard in that moment – to meet the rainbow he had chosen for us.  Thinking about my son really was the best mind over matter medicine.  Dean was amazing as usual, he held my hand, he cheerleaded me and told me how proud he was.  He already knew from my previous labour that I didn’t like being touched during contractions, so we had an understanding of how to support each other in those moments.

When the time came to push, I lay down.  I know that textbooks suggest that isn’t the greatest position for pushing, but you really are at the mercy of your body during labour and that is the position mine requested.  Then the most extraordinary thing happened… my waters burst!  I hadn’t realised earlier that whilst my back waters had broken, my front had remained intact.  It was quite something, like a little water balloon had popped!  As I had pushed for 2 long hours with Winter and ended up with a ventous delivery, I was surprised when after a few pushes the midwife said she could see baby’s head.  I remember I made a lot of noise this time… I was pretty much silent throughout with Winter, bar the odd grunt here and there, but this time as I pushed I know I was loud and I apologised inbetween contractions!  I was working SO hard, pushing with all my strength to finally deliver our rainbow.  The whole event was nowhere near as chaotic and medicalised as I had imagined, it remained intimate with just myself and Dean and one midwife predominatly, and two as I delivered.

And so, she was born. 1.57am Thursday 17th August 2017, 6lb 14oz.

She was pink and crying, Dean cut the cord.  I rested her right onto my breast and she fed during those first minutes of life.  I was an absolute crying pile of human, yesterdays mascara all down my face, eyebrows sliding off.  Nothing can ever prepare you for that moment, when your womb baby is brought Earthside, and when the last time you held your newborn son was 22 months ago as he took his last breaths, that moment becomes even more intensified.  I was sure I would explode, nothing about the moment seemed real, I was in disbelief and awe.  A miracle on my chest.  Literally, heaven sent.

We named her Raven Rain with a nod to her angel brother Winter Wolfe and her status as a rainbow baby.

Ravens have a special relationship with wolves both in folklore and real life.  They are often called wolf-birds as they form social attachments with wolves and depend upon each other for hunting food.  Wolf cubs often chase after playful Ravens, and there are many beautiful images of the animals together.  We liked that it could be shortened to Ray, our very own little Ray of sunshine.

Rain is a popular rainbow baby name, and quite rightly so.  It is not only ethereal but also poignant.  I knew I wanted the name Rain for my rainbow not long after Winter had died when Coldplay released Hymn For The Weekend and the lyrics struck a magical cord.

‘Oh angel sent from up above, I feel you coursing through my blood, when I was a river dried up, you came to RAIN a flood.’.

Rain is the bringer of life, it waters the crops and fruit trees, it feeds the streams and oceans, it drenches those in drought and blooms the flowers.  Without rain, we wouldn’t have rainbows.

We were able to call parents, this time with the news that our daughter had been born and she was healthy.  Raven was checked over and given the immediate all clear.  A detailed heart scan later showed that one of the valves in her heart had not yet closed – this usually happens upon birth or in some instances the next day – and so we stayed in overnight for another scan.  The valve was still not closed upon her further scan, but our consultant reassured us it was not a life threatening occurrence and was confident to send us home with a further scan booked for November.

We had visitors arrive, I was exhausted but running on adrenaline.  Dean had to leave the hospital to go home and I was tearful to see him go.  It can feel suddenly very lonely when your partner leaves and you are left with your baby.  Dean asked the midwives to check on me more than usual as I was nervous of something happening to Ray whilst I slept.  I need not have worried, I barely managed any sleep on the ward, lots of other crying babies, mine included.  Raven did not like being in her crib next to my bedside and eventually we fell asleep cuddling on the bed, which both terrified me with the risk of SIDs, but also felt like the only natural way to soothe and hold my baby that night.  It was just the two of us, the beginning of many night times where we shared moments just us.  I could feel myself relaxing and trusting that this baby was here to stay.

By the next morning Raven had already lived longer than her brother.  It hurt then and it still does now.  I felt her weight in my arms, the feeling I had been pining for ever since I last held her brother.  I held her close and breathed her in, and I said out loud ‘Thankyou Winter for giving us your sister.’.