Tuesday, 19 December 2006

In the midst of life

Having got all evangelical about home birth, I want to do the same about home death. Whenever I talk to someone about the death of someone close to them, I'm reminded how unusual it is that the two deaths I've experienced - my father and my grandmother, my father's mother - were both at home, not in hospital. Both of them I saw die; and I'm sure that if I hadn't seen my father die it would have taken me a long time to really believe that it had happened. He also made an incredibly brave death - something I'm not sure anyone has the option of in a hospital.

I do want to read The American Way of Death: I suspect that nothing much has changed since Nancy Mitford wrote it. I particularly hate people who extract money from you by hushing you into embarrassment, and I'm fairly sure that funeral directors come into that category.

What also sticks in my mind from my father's death are the florist who got quite pushy when my mother said she just wanted red roses to put on the coffin - obviously, a beautiful gesture can't be a beautiful gesture unless it costs more - and the local vicar, who after half an hour of talking about my father was still failing to get his name right. This turned out to be a good thing, as we decided we didn't want someone like him involved with the funeral, so we ran it ourselves.

It was lovely - as lots of people said afterwards, and then wondered if they should have. We chose poems and asked different people to read them: I read 'Fear no more the heat of the sun' and my Welsh partner of the time read 'And death shall have no dominion'. And we asked people my Dad had worked with and members of societies he's been in to just stand up and talk about him. It worked so well that someone we hadn't asked felt able to stand up and talk too, which was wonderful.

But in a way the situation was very simple. Last year a very good friend of mine died, and as he was in his mid-fifties and a lovely, lovely man, he had loads of friends as well as dozens of relations. He'd worked for the university too, so there was a huge memorial service in one of the colleges. There were two problems for me: one was that it felt odd to claim him as a close friend (he'd been one of my two best friends for some years) when so many other people had claims on him. I felt almost a fraud. But the other was a more general problem: the huge memorial service was to celebrate his life, but it took place not that long after he'd died, and his illness had been quite a sudden one. And I didn't want to celebrate his life: I wanted to mourn his death.

It almost seems as though you're not quite allowed to do that any more. I suppose there's a difference between funerals and memorial services, but even funerals seem obliged to have a positive slant. If you're genuinely Christian they probably ought to be anyway, but hardly anyone I know is. Though I suppose if you're going to believe anything, that's when it'll be - and why as an atheist I take particular care not to cop out at that point.

I suppose the sanitisation of death, removed to hospitals and controlled by other people, is related to the hygienic nature of funerals and their lack of outright emotion. Perhaps the latter is an English thing, though? I can't imagine Italians, for instance, dabbing with hankies instead of sobbing over the coffin, but perhaps I'm just thinking in cliches.

I suppose, also, that I don't like personal, domestic events to be taken over by church and state (and doctors). Ha! That ties up a preference for homebirth with being anti-marriage very neatly...

Friday, 15 December 2006

Five weeks old

So today it's five weeks since I gave birth. It seems like ages. The child is getting huge, and is currently insatiable - feeding every hour or so this evening. (At least I've worked out how to boot up obne-handed: it turns out that the key marked alt gr does the same as alt. What on earth can the gr mean, though?) My body's pretty much back to normal and has been for quite a while, except that I still have that weird brown line down my middle - linea negra, it's called, although mine also has dots on either side and so looks, yuckily, like an operation scar - and my pelvic floor isn't quite so super as I thought: twice this week I've realised I needed to go to the loo, an have dashed there and not quite made it. I blame this on my fabulous bladder capacity, which is such that even at nine months pregnant, I was only needing to pee two or three times a day. A, not pregnant at all, seems to go five or six times at least. [Digression: I love the vagary (can that be singular?) of the English language which makes it correct to say nine months pregnant but five years' experience and two weeks' notice (unless you're a semi-literate film company that doesn't employ sub-editors).]

FOUR WEEKS AGO TODAY
So, um, five weeks go I had a baby. Four weeks ago we had sex for the first time after the birth. This was something of a revelation as all the books seem to say six weeks and that's a long time to go without a shag... But then someone said to me yesterday, fancy my being up and about, and I thought that odd as I had been the next day, five weeks ago. Perhaps it just proves the uselessness of generalisations when applied to individuals. Argh. Infant now sceaming too much to ignore so I'll continue later.

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

An accident

A bleak day today. On Friday night we went out to sing carols with a friend of ours. On Saturday, we found out that, later that night, her 24-year-old son had been in a car accident. There was no more news yesterday except that he was in intensive care, in one of the best units in the country for this kind of injury. This morning, he was slightly worse. Tonight, she's waiting to turn off his life-support machine.

It was a string of cliches: he was driving, there was ice, he was going too fast, he'd had a couple of pints, he wasn't wearing a seatbelt. The two friends with him had seatbelts on; they walked away with scratches. He'd been in an accident before when he wasn't wearing a seatbelt; it didn't convince him. He went through the windscreen and hit the road. His injuries sounded horrible. Why on earth did he think he was invincible? What a stupid, stupid waste.

A relation of his told me she felt she wanted to work in road safety, to try to say something to people his age that would make a difference. I went to a film a year or two ago before which, for some reason, all the ads they showed were the ones that target drunk driving. They scared the shit out of me. They were really horrible - graphic and shocking. I don't know what else anyone can do. And meanwhile, someone who was only 24 is pointlessly, stupidly dead.

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Book!

Met a friend of mine for lunch who's a don - I think: it's quite an odd term, isn't it? - at Newnham. She gave me a book that she said she'd read while breastfeeding. It's one of those 1960s Pelicans with the blue spine, and it's called Patterns of Infant Care in an Urban Community. Cool! It's actually very readable and interesting, too, quite apart from the cool factor.

A is in the bath with the infant, who seems to like water, which is good as it's taken me decades not to flinch when it goes anywhere near my face. The child needed a wash, as it was dressed by the health visitor, who didn't apparently understand the point of the nappy wrap, which is to contain. She hadn't done up the leg poppers, which meant *leakage* , which meant that the poor child was wet to its heels. It hadn't complained, of course - it's been peacefully asleep for most of the afternoon, presumably building up stamina for a night of insomnia. Last night was hell. It screamed and screamed - some the sort of shrieks that make you convinced you must have somehow stuck a pin in it. Surely it can't be wind when it hardly gets wind during the day? Anyway, I fed it and fed it until I was drained dry, a mere husk. We have lost our copy of Stop Your Baby Crying, which might have helped.

We schlepped all the way to the surgery this afternoon, tempest toss'd (or is it tost?* Probably either), because the health visitor thought the child looked yellow. It does, but so do I - it's having an anglo-Indian mother that does it. It also depends on the lightbulb. The doctor said at great length that they might do a blood test, or then again they mightn't: my decision. I eventually decided that we weren't going to have any paranoia this early on, so we'll leave it until our next appointment in two weeks. And home we came.

* Yes, it is. I looked up the Robertson Davies novel, as that was quicker. Robertson Davies is wonderful, this trilogy especially. Well, I've read his second trilogy, also brilliant and rather more serious, I suppose, but not the third, which I've consciously been saving up to have as a treat (partly because after that there isn't much more, really). There's something about his tone that appeals to me, I think - his sense of humour, his use of words, the sly allusions: it's all very attractive. I also believe what he tells me, which may be one of the ways I recognise a good writer. I recently read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and found myself reflecting again on how little I trust Rowling: I don't think her characters are properly realised - she just doesn't seem to *see* them - and I don't think she's going to be able to knit together all the holes in her plots. And none of that would matter so much if she wasn't such a *dull* writer. I return to Diana Wynne Jones with relief: superficially similar, but worlds apart in terms of humour, convincingness, and sheer style. If I ever have a dog, I'll call it Sirius.

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

From here to maternity...

More shrieking today; then I put the infant into a very naff vibrating chair, which it decided it liked. Oh no - what if it grows up to have *really terrible* taste??

I'm getting behind myself, and the birth is seeming increasingly distant, so it's time to play catch-up.

FOUR WEEKS AGO TODAY
So we went to see the omniscient Mr Lim, and lo and behold... well, he didn't exactly see through the baby's head, but *something* happened, because suddenly my uterus was free of placenta, and a home birth presented no more risk than it would to the next person. Callooh! Callay! I went shopping to celebrate, and bought many more tiny garments in the charity shops of Mill Road. Also a fishing basket - I like baskety things to put toys in, and this one can also be sat upon.

Spookily, as though my body had just been waiting for the okay from an expert, my waters broke the next morning. Unfortunately, nothing else happened. I'd persuaded A to swap haircut appointments with me - we share the same hairdresser, which is handy - so as there was no action I headed into town to be snipped. Did a whole lot of Christmas shopping - in Halfords, glamorously - and came home. Drank raspberry leaf tea, then went out to a gospel concert and joined in the choruses, but nothing seemed to be getting going. The amniotic fluid went on leaking - it's an endless supply, the books said. I was yomping through maternity pads until A reminded me that we had a house full of nappies, so I road-tested a few terries.

By the next day, we were beginning to worry slightly, as you only have a certain amount of time after your waters break before they want to induce you - which, surprise, means ending up in hospital after all. NOOOOOOOOOO! So we started working our way down the list: eat a pineapple, drink more bloody raspberry leaf tea (filthy stuff), have a shag, have a curry, go for longish walk with friend and hyperactive pug. Also struck by cleaning urge and nearly asphyxiated myself spraying some vile orange kitchen cleaner into the under-sink cupboard then sticking my head into it. Coughing for ten minutes didn't start anything. Curses! And so to bed... we've read that the prostoglandins in semen that are supposed to get labour going are even more effective taken orally, and A has spruced himself up accordingly, but as it happens we're too knackered for any hanky-panky and pass out as our tiny heads hit the pillows.

I wake up at six the next morning, again, and wander downstairs to finish the rationalisation of the under-sink cupboard. Information design segues neatly into domestic ergonomics, and I'm trying to find the perfect location for a nappy bucket. At about half-past seven I decide I can't be botherered to have breakfast, and it might be a good idea to get some more sleep. So I go back to bed. And then not very much later, there's a funny kind of feeling that's sort of in my front and mostly in my back. And fifteen minutes later, another one. A is beginning to stir, and has done this twice before, so I ask him if he thinks it might be a contraction. He says yes. Oooooohhh...

And so they continue. They don't feel like anything contracting: the most localised pain is at the base of my spine. An hour or so later, they're getting closer together and rather more painful. And then suddenly quite a lot more painful, and nasty because you can feel the pain approaching and know it's goinbg to hurt, but also that nothing you can do will stop it. The only thing you can do is shout "Noooo, please..." and crouch over the sofa. At about nine-fifteen it seemed like time to call the midwife, and time to see if getting into the bath might help the pain. It's a big cast-iron rolltop which I habitually spend hours steeping in, next to a pile of snacks and paperbacks, but of course not ideal... we'd thought about a birthing pool (you can buy them on eBay, naturally), but then there'd been the possibility of a Caesarean, or at best a hospital birth. And bugger, we hadn't written our birth plan yet, either. I'd been pretty sure I'd be early - I've got a fast metabolism, and my menstrual cycle is only 24 days, so I reckon my body generally doesn't hang about - but hadn't, of course, acted on this assumption....

So by quarter to ten it hurts quite a lot, and I'm shouting "Where's that bloody midwife?" (Answer: trekking over from Cambridge) and "Get that bloody bubblewrap down!" (We have a brick floor, and I'm only prepared to take authenticity so far.) By about ten o'clock I've had enough of the bath, and want to be ON all fours, IN the living room, ON the bubble wrap, so I do that. I see what they mean about things being very clear when you're in labour. The midwife arrives with a great clattering of metal things - cylinders of gas and air, I discover later, which we never actually use. There isn't really time for introductions. "I don't suppose I could get you to lie down so that I can do an examination?" she says. "No," I agree. Being examined isn't high on my list of priorities at that moment.

We're apparently in second stage already. My blurred memories include lots of people's mobile bloody phones going off, and idiotic conversations - there's no reception in our house unless you stand in the garden. Surely there ought to be some situations in which you simply don't answer the phone? Thank heaven I'm not in a hospital room full of bleeping instruments: I need to concentrate and I don't multi-task at all well. An assistant midwife arrives and starts filling in a form with a very scratchy pen. I ask her if she could please not, and it comes out much more polite than it is in my head, weirdly. Our ante-natal teacher had warned us that language inhibitions might be loosened, and A was worried that my language might be even more - erm, colourful? than usual, but oddly there's no urge to swear, and I yell inarticulately instead. My throat hurts for days.

This bit hurts less because you can feel the purpose. But it's not as obvious as it could be: there's one huge urge to push, but after you've taken it as far as you can - like singing a very long phrase in music - you have to decide how far back to come and how much to breathe in before pushing again, and this time there's no involuntary urge to help you. I get frustrated because I can feel that there must be some trick to it: if I could only get the breathing right, it would all be easy... For much of the time, it really does feel as if you're doing a very big, hard pooh: so much of the pressure is on your perineum, and that's right next to your bum, so there doesn't seem much difference. And you push and push, and then *have* to give up for a bit and relax, and you feel everything going back inside again. Hell! At some point the midwife says I can feel the baby's head, so I reach underneath: it's warm, but squishier than you'd think. After that we don't seem to get anywhere for ages: I grit my teeth and push when the urge comes, and the midwife says "Excellent!" and I have to ask her to be more specific - "Push!" or "Don't push!" because I don't know if excellent means nearly there or go on. But she's good: she doesn't say too much, but what she says is worthwhile: she suggests shifting my weight from foot to foot (this shifts the baby about in your pelvis so it can find the best way through); later she suggests turning the other way around. I've been leaning back against A, who's sitting on the piano stool - who'd have thought *that* would be a useful birth accessory? - but turn and grip his ample waist instead. He is perfect: I mostly ignore him but know he's completely solid and reliable, and what's more know that being ignored won't upset him: he's left his ego behind for this one. Wonderful man.

Eventually, when I feel as though I really need to just give up - and I'm fairly fit and healthy, so how does anyone who's not get through it? - we get to a different place and the midwife says to stop pushing just for a moment while she does something, and then a baby comes out. Head-first onto the bubble-wrap, A says later. It's 1221 - nicely palindromic. Goodness knows why or how, but I remember our lack of birth plan and manage to gasp that we don't want to know what sex it is, we want to find out for ourselves, so the midwives wrap it up in a towel and hand it over.

Yuck, it's horrible. Its head is really pointy and its nose has a Bajoran-style fold in it, quite apart from the waxy covering. Oh well. We sit down and look at it anyway. It feels like ten minutes, but is actually about an hour, just recovering and meeting the baby, and giving it its first feed, which seems quite straightforward. My most coherent thought is that it has no eyelashes so is probably a girl, since boys always seem to have long fluttering ones and therefore it's desirable for girls, with the typical perversity of sexism. The midwives come back now and again and say "Haven't you looked yet?" and eventually "We can't fill in our forms until we know..." We've had a change of assistant and the new second midwife is the one we met at the NHS classes we started the week before to supplement our NCT classes, in the hope that we'd meet some new parents both more local and less spookily from an identical social demographic. It's she who points out that - damn and blast it! - we still have the third stage to do.

There's nothing in the whole world I want to do less than push again. My first try is pathetic. For the second one, I try a bit harder and eureka! There it is! But wait. I have in fact passed a blood clot much the size of a placenta. Yuck and double yuck. In fact there is quite a lot of blood around by now, as the second midwife calmly points out. Give it one more try, she says, and then she strongly recommends the syntometrin injection, which is the one that speeds up the delivery of the placenta. Having had a totally drug-free birth up to now, I'm strongly tempted to get fetishistic about refusing this, but luckily sanity prevails. And anyway, the third contraction never happens. We have to cut the cord so she can use it to pull the placenta out. Nobody has mentioned that A has done this twice before, so when it's presented to him it's not quite the Big Moment that seems to be expected. Ah well. The injection in my thigh is stupidly painful - how the hell can THAT hurt? But thankfully, the wretched placenta comes out and is complete. My original midwife had a horrible tale of a woman who had a normal home birth, then couldn't deliver the placenta, so got taken to hospital, where it turned out to be attached to her uterus, so she had to have a Caesarean to get it out. Labour and a C-section - how crap is that?

Around now I lie down on our handy divan thing, and look out of the window at the glorious autumn day - which begins to fade alarmingly, and the light to yellow, and I think I'm going to die, after finding the perfect man and having the perfect baby... It's the blood loss, but the fade to black is just how they show death in the movies, and for a few moments I stare death in the face. And then I remember to say something, and am told to get my head down, and call for food - I missed breakfast to rationalise the cupboard, and lunch to give birth - and start stuffing food into my mouth. A little while later, the first midwife suggests taking a bath, but not standing up, and so I crawl across the ceramic-tiled floor of the hall to get there, feeling suitably penitential.

The bath is lovely. I shall stop in there for the moment. To be continued...

Sunday, 3 December 2006

Bloody amateurs

Great Scott, it's like Little Shop of Horrors here - the bit where the plant is getting bigger and begger and yelling FEEEEED MEEEEEE! Except that the infant doesn't articulate it - it screams very loud, and then it screams even louder. Then it knaws its tiny fists to show that it is STARVING and you are CRUEL... This is while you're running through all the other things it could be - wind? boredom? nappy change? - because it's only *half an hour* since the last feed and you really can't believe that the child can be hungry again. And all it can do is convince you by sheer volume. WAAAAAAAAH!

The midwife said this might happen, and that it might betoken a growth spurt. So now it's going to be a Giant Baby, too? Eek!

Otherwise, life is slightly lacking in anticipation, as we watched the final episodes of Buffy on Friday night. It did not disappoint - what a fabulous series, and a fitting ending. In all seven seasons, there was only one episode that we both thought was under par. Astonishing. Joss Whedon is our god. We've been telling people we're going to watch them all again from the beginning and watch Angel concurrently. They think we're joking.

A lovely poncey afternoon yesterday: we got together five singers (well, three plus A and me) to do the Britten 'Hymn to St Cecilia' as a slightly belated celebration of her day on 22 November (she's the patron saint of music, and the day was also Britten's birthday). Last year we did a workshop on it which involved quite a lot of analysis of the text, and some of it made sense for the first time. The year before, I got together a group of singers at the very last moment (eventually phoning every bass in Cambridgeshire); two of them are now dead, including the tenor who was one of my two best friends in the whole world. So now I want to try to sing the piece every year and remember previous occasions.

We worked our way through the Oxford Book of English Madrigals, too, and once again managed to find one we'd never sung before. This seems to happen however many years you've been using the book for. This time it was 'Adieu, ye city-prisoning towers' by Tomkins: the words seemed a heartfelt farewell to city life, something with which I felt a great deal of sympathy, having just finished seven years of commuting.

One of the singers was complaining about some group that had chucked him out, which seemed a bit rich as he's a member of a group that's recently chucked me out... Amateur singing is mostly fantastically rewarding - especially when you realise what a dog's life a professional singer has (I'm thinking about rank-and-file consort singers, not the tiny proportion of mega-stars) - but when there's back-biting it can't half get nasty. The most successful groups I've been in - well, maybe there's only been one, in fact - are those that stay very clear about the fact that if you were a pro you'd be doing it for the money, but if you're an amateur you're doing it for the FUN, and so if it's not fun, you've got it wrong. Almost all groups at some stage seem to get ideas above their station and either start wanting to be terribly terribly good - which would be okay, except that it invariably means aiming beyond the abilities of the group, which makes it all a horrible fag, which means it stops being fun, and kapow, you've blown it - or get completely sidetracked. Almost every choral society I've been in has had some ongoing saga whereby *somebody* wants the women to wear something 'to make us look more professional'. It's never the men - they stay in their DJs and nobody messes with them. No, it's always the lay-dees, and it may be scarves, or little jerkins, or some ghastly frock or robe or sash or... aargh. Hours and hours of committee meetings. Like vampire slaying, music-making can have only one leader. Wasn't it Shaw who said the best form of government was a benevolent dictatorship?

I seem to have got rather earnest. It's because I've been sucked dry and left an empty husk. The child is whickering again now. Wasn't there something like this in The Midwich Cuckoos?

Friday, 1 December 2006

Shake it all about

So you know when there's a bit too much to be done as well as all the breastfeeding, because instead of looking to see which breast you pinned your little hairclip on to tell you which you were going to use for the next feed, you just glance to find out which breast is still sticking out after the last feed, pack it away and drag out the other one... I know it won't be long before I walk down the high street exposing myself involuntarily. The question is, I suppose, will I care? Ooh - anyone remember that 'Not the Nine O'Clock News' sketch in which the woman arrives home with one breast exposed (it wasn't Pamela Stephenson in this one, for I suppose an obvious reason)? The husband, approaching along the hallway, looks at her, looks at it, looks at her... She looks down, sees the breast, and says "Oh my god! I left the baby on the bus!"

Off for our hearing test today, which we passed with full marks. It's just the start of a life full of tests and assessments, I fear - welcome to Blair's Britain, otherwise known as World of Statistics [TM].

My stomach has now assumed pre-pregnancy beergut proportions, which seems pretty good when today is only three weeks since giving birth. Presumably it all just depends what kind of stomach you have - it's certainly not through any special activity on my part. How do you do pull-ups, anyway?

The child has caught its father's stinking cold, which is a pain - lots of snuffling and grumpiness, poor mite. Even when their noses aren't blocked, you wonder how they can breathe while breastfeeding. Add snorts and snuffles and it seems even less likely.

I see I'm having random thoughts. Oh well.

Thursday, 30 November 2006

Full-throated ease

Oh lord: inexplicable screaming for the last half an hour - the kind where the baby consists only of a gaping red maw issuing uninhibited yells with the dial set at 11. We've just eaten - in the bath, which worked well - and been winded, and put on dry clothes, so what can it be? Adoring Grandma has gone home and Daddy is back at work, so is it that poor old Mum is already deemed insufficiently entertaining? The sound of unfettered screams is amazingly distressing, and I've already (bad mother) resorted to shouting - "What the hell is wrong, and WHERE'S MY OTHER BLOODY SHOE?" Oh *god*.

And then, as always, it's all over. Turns out darling creature was hungry again although we only ate - oh well, I suppose by now it is actually an hour ago. I've been footling around on eBay, wondering what the heck size I am now. In charity shops - where I buy most of my clothes - I can hold something up and tell if it's my size, and I'm not that fussy about a perfect fit, but buying online is trickier. I'm back to wearing the larger of my pre-pregnancy clothes, but I've also got these BREASTS, and where that leaves me on the size 10 to 12 to 14 thing I don't really know. I've always tended to buy things I like if they fit approximately anyway, and ignore the size labels. Other women seem to be terribly specific about it.

Time to start my retrospective, if I'm ever to catch up with myself. Or something - watch out for temporal paradoxes...

FOUR WEEKS AGO TODAY
We'd had a scan at 20 weeks that showed a low-lying placenta (mine), and another at 32 weeks ditto, so they'd told us to come back at 36 weeks. Everyone had trouble seeing much, as the - foetus? baby? - had its head stuffed right down into my pelvis and wasn't budging for anyone. This time (Thursday 2 November) the radiographer said she could see the child's hair waving in the amniotic fluid - which A and I found a little freaky - but she still couldn't really see much around the cervix: she thought there was about 3cm clear. This was an improvement on the previous scan, when the placenta had been 'abutting' the cervix, but wasn't enough to let us off a possible Caesarean or at best a hospital birth. The more we'd found out about even our very nice local maternity unit, the more we'd thought home sounded a really good idea. Hospitals are, after all, for sick people. Anyway, after the scan we waited to see the consultant. And waited. And waited. A deeply patronising nurse eventually ushered us into a tiny cell and took my blood pressure. Then she asked for a urine sample, at which point I said I'd wee on a stick if it would get us to the consultant, but did she realise we hadn't actually come for a check-up? We'd come to see the consultant... We waited some more. I propped the door open, in case they forgot we were there and all went home.

The consultant when she came was, inevitably, harassed, apologetic, friendly and extremely competent. The verdict was still that a home birth might mean dying in a pool of a blood and was therefore not to be recommended. But why not come in again on Tuesday and see Mr L, who was very senior? I didn't see how even a very senior radiographer would be able to see through a baby's head if nobody else could, but hey ho. We wended our weary way homeward, pausing only to eat in a pub, bid and win a baby sling on eBay (hurrah for other people's WiFi), and take in our first NHS ante-natal class. We'd already done the NCT course, but were hoping to meet a few more people nearer our area and not quite so precisely the same social demographic at this one. The first class covered what to pack in your hospital bag, which was a useful reminder that we hadn't done this yet. Or written our birth plan. Bother. Didn't seem much point when we didn't know the location for the birth or the exit point for the infant.

We spent the weekend, daringly (I was 37 weeks pregnant by now) in Leeds, where the revamped Grand Theatre was opening with a new production of Peter Grimes. A is a Britten nut and I once played Second Tart, so we were keen to try it. Unfortunately, it was one of those productions where someone is keen to Make Their Mark rather than let the music speak for itself. Enjoyed the gratuitous nudity though - you don't often get to see Peter's bum. Sadly, though, this Peter wasn't the usual rangy type with wayward hair (and fairly pert buttocks, one generally assumes), but a fairly portly tenor who didn't look his best in the bright yellow oilskin dungarees supplied. Oh well: a joke's a joke (and fun is fun).

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

If tickets cost a pound apiece...

Our first breastfeed on a bus today. All the jiggling around was quite useful, as the child does tend to latch on with verve, suck with great enthusiasm for five minutes, and then drop contentedly off to sleep - which isn't quite the point. Minor disturbance - gambolling toddlers, text messages sent behind its head, Beethoven symphonies, water scooped around in the bath - helps to keep its attention focused on the matter in hand.

I've almost perfected the art of the discreet feed, as well. Not so much from any desire not to offend (if you know me, you'll know that this would be uncharacteristic) as from the wish not to give any perves out there an unwarranted thrill. Which is assuming a lot from one little flash of nipple, I suppose. The only problem is that I've got so many layers of clothes on in this weather, and every cunningly designed nursing garment has a different system, so - especially if I'm wearing two at once, say - there's a lot of tugging and swearing to get inside, made all the more stressful if the spookily patient baby has finally decided it really is HUNGRY.

Caught up this morning with several back issues (if one can use an offline term) of the Money-Saving Expert emails. Good stuff. Red-hot tip this month is that Computer Shopper magazine has a cover CD or DVD with a free copy of Quark XPress 5 on it - this is for PC not Mac, but still well worth having. I didn't even know that there was a PC version, but then my job (building large dull websites for large dull companies) had been steadily turning me into a Luddite. (Even apart from that, though, I'd challenge anyone to tell me of a Word feature they use that wasn't in version 5.1. Most people I know don't even use the styles properly. Oh, don't get me started...)

It seems odd that the fields for all my favourite stuff in the Biog section don't include one for websites. Written by someone wearing an old media hat, perhaps. Anyway, I've only ever read two other blogs. One was by someone called truepenny, who wrote some fabulous stuff on Dorothy L Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books. I read all these in one huge binge earlier this year and loved them to bits. If you're fond of the subtle quotation, they are a joy. And the last of them, in particular (Busman's Honeymoon), has some *very* interesting things to say about relationships. The other is by Andrew Brown, who writes for the Guardian, and is excellent on religion and politics but also good on life. His is called Helmintholog (I still don't know why). One tiny comment of his has stuck in my mind: he once said that he'd spent an evening at home in front of the fire, with a good book and a glass of very nice red wine, and it had struck him (I'm paraphrasing and possibly re-writing, of course) that two hundred years ago, such an activity would only be possible for the very privileged, whereas now there couldn't be many people who wouldn't be able to do the same if they wanted to. It really made me think about the small pleasures of life and how lovely they are - and how much, in every age, and at every age, we take them for granted. Oh, and he can also be very funny. And of course he's an excellent writer.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

The time is out of joint

The child woke and fed at six-thirty this morning, then slept until half-past noon. Bugger! We've got an infant not yet three weeks old that *would* sleep through the night *if* we could get its internal clock in sync with real time.

The midwife had a theory (well, it may in fact have been scientifically proven) that babies don't like to sleep at night-time because it's too quiet - they're used to all the mother's internal gurglings, you see. And it's true that ours went to sleep just as the traffic noise started this morning. Heck. Ah well. We had a very nice bath that was curtailed only by the production of an explosive poo that reached every corner (yes, I know baths don't have corners - at the round bath's imagin'd corners, then) in five seconds flat.

We still haven't worked out the cause of night-time screaming - the child does genuinely seem less happy at night than during the day. Or maybe it's really us, and we don't get so bothered by day-time screaming, or don't even notice it so much? Anyway, A's catch-all diagnosis is wind, or colic: I'm increasingly thinking that any shriek is a demand for food. Especially as having fed at one-thirty after the bath, we did it again at a quarter-past two. The nice thing about demand feeding is that I don't feel obliged to keep track of the timetable - but it's certainly an erratic one.

A book in this morning's post - not yet opened. One of the best things about internet shoppping is that you finally get some interesting post after years of marketing circulars and loan offers. Btw, my favourite tip for revenge on the offerers of unsolicited loans: tear all the forms and the envelope it came in into tiny pieces (this in itself is therapeutic), then pack them into the reply-paid envelope. And post them back. Nothing to throw away, and whoever wasted your time pays the postage. Neat, huh? Anyone know any other urban revenges of this type? (If anyone's reading this - I'm not sure that even A is...)

Monday, 27 November 2006

Is this just fantasy?

A weird day yesterday. One of those days when you have a lingering sense of sadness. And then you keep remembering it's because of something you've seen on television. In my case, Buffy, five episodes from the end, took a nasty turn and it looks as though (a SPOILER coming up for anyone who's watching Buffy but hasn't finished season seven yet) poor old Xander has had his eye poked out. Yuck and double yuck. There is something particularly horrid about eyes - hence the yuckiness of "Out, vile jelly" and similar. Feeling queasy just typing it. Hmm, maybe that's why my contact lenses are mildly painful today. It's empathy, man.

Saturday, 25 November 2006

That season of all natures

Bleargh. So we went to bed about midnight after watching another stonking episode of Buffy. [Pause for digression: this is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it's what's described as a 'cult show' in the US. I'd heard it was good, and bought the vidoes of the first series when I found them in a charity shop. It wasn't good; it was BLOODY BRILLIANT. Really well written, fantastic characterisation, and a fully fleshed out universe. We bought all seven seasons on eBay (hurrah for DVDs, and people selling off their video collections - we find videos less irritating anyway, as you can carry on where you left off without having to stumble through some over-graphical interface) and have been watching them in strict chronological order (cos we're like that). We're now only six episodes from the final one, but it's just getting better and better - the writers have pulled out every stop. Whereas earlier on we'd binge (and that's the joy of videos over live television (which we don't have anyway)), watching six episodes in a row and going to bed at 4am, now we're just watching one episode at a time to give its fabulousness a chance to sink in. The writing is just fabulous. Last night's episode was Lies my parents told me (btw the BBC site for Buffy has great reviews and trivia). The discussion about Spike's chip, soul and trigger was just priceless. Could any other show be this classy? We're going to call our baby after a character on the show...] Oh my god! We've got a baby!

Yes, that's still how I feel, just about - surprised and delighted, but perfectly capable of leaving the thing on the bus, actually, because it just hasn't all sunk in yet.

Just realised I've been saying 'we' without introducing the other inhabitant of the pronoun. That would be the chap I'm going to call A, my partner of nearly two years. He's 38 years old, no, hang on, 39, and the father of the infant. Lives here with me in the county of Cambridgeshire. Wonderful, wonderful man. Ahem - did I say I'd try not to be smug?

Anyway, better get back to the baby bit (this blog was originally going to be called babycrap...). I fed the infant (we are of course breastfeeding - and using cloth nappies - being in that particular social demographic (and more on all that later, of course)), then remembered - oh bugger - that we'd agreed we'd try to change the child's nappy a bit more often. Apparently they don't actually mind sitting in warm wee, but eventually their bottoms get a bit sore and then you feel guilty. I bought a lovely book secondhand called Stop Your Baby's Crying, apparently by the TV guru of its day (published 1996), one Nanny Smith, who says:
One reason a new baby won't be crying
"I have met people who, when their brand new baby cried, said 'Oh dear, I expect he wants his nappy changing'. Babies really and truly wouldn't care if
their nappy was changed or not. Of course they would care if they got a sore botty, but a dirty nappy doesn't worry babies - both urine and faeces are warm and comforting. People do change babies' nappies far more than they used to. No doubt it keeps the nappy manufacturers happy."

I applaud her cynicism! I also read somewhere-or-other about a study in which they (the omnipotent they) took a hundred babies (I picture it all happening in a large hall, but I'm sure the reality was much duller), waited until they cried (must have been fun), and then changed them. BUT half they changed into clean nappies, and half just put the old ones back on. And lo, the proportion of babies who stopped crying was the same in both groups.

However, we've really been leaving it too long, we think, so decided we'd try to do three changes a day, which if we change in the morning gives us roughly 8am, 4pm and midnight. This I remembered at 1am this morning. Oh, as I said, bugger. A had just gone to sleep and wasn't to be roused. So I did it, and it wasn't too bad - cloth nappies are actually a cinch, and I'll explain all about them another time - in the meantime, the nappy lady can tell you everything - fantastic site.

Anyway, the baby then slept till 0330, then woke up and fed for 20 minutes (this is good as previous feeds were more like five to ten minutes, and we got a bit panicky), til I plucked my nipple from its boneless gums. [Digression: The Scottish play is horribly apposite for breastfeeders, as you keep thinking of "I have given suck, and know how tender 'tis/To love the babe that milks me..." and then you remember what comes next, and try not to. Also all the bits about murdered sleep, and how sleep would (if you could get enough) knit up the ravell'd sleeve of care, seem all too true.] I'm definitely lacking that season of all natures right now. Because after that feed the baby just didn't seem happy. It wasn't full-throated screams: just whimpering, but all the more pathetic for that. A said colic, and wind, and after *he'd* tried everything too, and it was 5am, we caved in and gave the infant a dose of Infacol. Which seemed to work. [I love thinking about those branding meetings, with all the callow young men in suits brain-storming to come up with names, and being *really pleased* that they thought of Infacol. Ho ho.]

After all that drama, I got to sleep until 0800 or so, when A's children started to wake up. They're from his previous relationship, so their privacy is pretty important: I'm going to call them B (aged six) and C (aged four), but may not say much about them. We have them every Wednesday night, and every other weekend, so we've got them today, and we also had them the weekend I gave birth, which was interesting. Again, I'll write about that another time. And now it's time to stop typing and eat some porridge, I think. TTFN.

Friday, 24 November 2006

A very good place to start

Good evening! My name is Beck, I'm 41 years old, and I live in the south of England, in the county of Cambridgeshire.

I'm an information designer by trade, and two weeks ago I had a baby. I had a really straightforward conception, pregnancy, and birth - despite my advanced age - and the whole experience has left me high as a kite. So given the amount of trepidation I felt beforehand, not to mention all the scary stuff about that kind of thing on the net, I thought it might be good to write about my positive experience. Trying not to sound too smug, naturally...

I also want to write about all the stuff I could't find out beforehand, such as what really happens to your Private Parts when you give birth and whether sex really is the same afterwards (news from Smugsville: it's *better*, woo woo, but more on all that later), and suchlike. My aim is to be frank but not explicit (don't really want to give any of the many, many pervs out there too much of a thrill), but we'll find out whether that's possible or not...

So. I'm starting this on Friday 24 November, exactly two weeks after the baby was born, writing in real time; then I'll go back and fill in the previous stuff from my notes.

Oh, I forgot: the other reason for doing this is that I love writing, but for the last seven years, almost the only writing I've done (for the company I shall refer to as CompanyIworkfor) is corporate crap for Big Nasty Companies. Not nice, and not fun. I can't write novels or poems or stuff because I don't have anything to say - no stories to tell. But I once worked on a keyboard magazine you won't have heard of (almost nobody had, and even fewer people bought it), and the editor who gave me the job offered me the chance to write features and interviews, and I found that if I had something to write about, I could do it. Keeping a diary seems to work in the same way.

Not a very exciting beginning, but hey: I'm new to this, and besides, the Infant is now shrieking, so it's feeding time at the zoo. More tomorrow.