Thursday, 2 October 2014

Mummy Time #11: Victoria Giordano-Bibby

Grey-haired mega babe, Vic, and her husband, Matt, have produced possibly one of the cutest babies I have ever seen. I think you will agree that Clark, who was nine months old at the time of writing, is a total heart breaker! (Those eyes!) Vic has kindly, and very honestly, shared her experience and insight in this week's Mummy Time and I hope you will enjoy reading as much as I did. 


Who are you?

Hey! I'm Vic, I'm 31 and I live in a Victorian terrace in the Hunters Bar/Nether Edge area of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, with my long-suffering husband Matthew, our happy little baby Clark (born 17 November 2013) and our very flatulent Boston terrier, Batman. We've been together for ten years and married for four of those, and we've lived in Sheffield since moving up from London in 2011 (a change which took some, um, 'adjusting' to).

How are you?

I am generally pretty good on a day-to-day basis but I feel I'm going through a bit of a rough patch when I step back and look at the bigger picture of how I'm goint to do this for the next 18 years, you know? But generally Clark is so content, eats well and now sleeps a lot better, and he does something new every day so we're really entering the golden period. I have a seriously cushy life - I'm really lucky because Matt works from home (he's a graphic designer for Superdry) and at the moment he's doing only a three day week, so I don't feel a lot of the pressure and isolation that a lot of mums seem to experience being at home solo 12 hours a day, five days a week. I couldn't ask for a better domestic set up.

But it hasn't always been easy, I did go through a seriously low patch for a few months when Clark was about three to five months old. He was being awful to feed - we think it was a lactose intolerance he suddenly developed, we tried Colief but it didn't work that well, and after a while we phased it out and his feed refusal just seemed to clear up on its own. I was just dealing with food entry and exit all day, every day and feeling pretty hopeless and quite guilty that I wasn't enjoying motherhood as much as I'm constantly told I 'should'. I couldn't see any end in to the incessant drudge every day: no sleep, get up, take the baby and dog out twice a day, deal with poo and milk all day, both sets of grandparents live far away (or are completely indifferent and determined not to help, in my case) so there was no chance of a break from the intensity of mothering. I wouldn't say I had PND as I've had clinical depression in the past and I didn't feel the same apathy and creeping dread, but I knew something had to change in our situation. And while you can never say 'it doesn't matter' about motherhood, because every tiny action all adds up to this weighty consequence; there is a great poem here called Already But Not Yet that says a lot to me about the culture of guilt we have built for our own generation of parenting. I had to learn to just cut myself some slack for feeling so crappy about not being a 100% perfect mother for 100% of the time, and while obviously I always do the best I can for my son, I also need to recognise my limitations in terms of how much stress I can realistically take.

That aside, after that difficult few months a lot of positive changes kind of happened at once for us: Clark turned six months and started on solids; we moved him into his own nursery so we could all sleep better; he dropped the dreamfeed; he just started reacting much more as a little person; and Matt decided to cut his work down and trim his other clients to help give me a bit of a break. That was when we really turned a corner, I just started enjoying being with Clark so much more. Nothing can really prepare you for how hard those first few months are, not just physically but emotionally too, but in the grand scheme of your life it's really only a few short months. It's so, so rewarding being a mum once you get past that difficult period. It just feels like another life ago that things were that hard... so I can attest to the fact that it does get easier (or, it did for me, at least). Part of that peace came from accepting that this is the new normal: there is no going back to how things were. You just have to find your own groove in the new order of things. 

What do you do for a living?

I'm a copywriter and content editor for the UK’s largest provider of skills, training and employment services. I write everything from radio scripts to press ads, website content, marketing campaigns, paid search, advertorials, brochures, leaflets and manage the social media, yadda yadda yadda. My job is what you do if you want to write for a living and you don't want to be a novelist or journalist - you work in marketing!

Before that I had a job I adored as a proofreader and editor at the Department of Health in Westminster, London, but there were no promotion opportunities and we couldn't afford a mortgage in London so we shipped up north. My old desk looked out onto Big Ben and the London Eye, and now I overlook Wickes car park. So, yeah, there's that. But I work to live, not live to work.

How long did you take for maternity leave & how did you decide how long you'd take?

I will have taken 13 months, I think, by the time I go back. I started my maternity leave at the end of 36 weeks, and getting that far was really hard as it was just mega stress at work and it's so uncomfortable to sit at a desk all day with a massive belly. I saved up £4500 while I was pregnant so that I could afford to take at least 12 months off without worrying too much about finances, but with the holiday I've accrued while on leave, I can extend my maternity leave by using paid holiday spread out over my new part-time contract, so I will only have taken 10.5 months really (only one of which has been unpaid) as the rest is holiday usage. I decided to take 12 months because I didn't want to miss a thing with Clark, given how much they learn and grow in the first year. I figured this is the only chance I'm going to get to have a year off work (and be entitled to go back to that job afterwards) and spend it solely with my baby, so why not take it, if funds allow? I wasn't especially enjoying my job so I was certainly in no rush to get back. 

How did you feel when you returned to work and how did it change things?

I'm not going back until mid November, but my new work pattern will be three days a week, Tuesday to Thursday. Clark will go to a great local nursery for Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Matt will look after him on Thursdays. Although I'm dreading going back to work, I'm excited for all Clark's development opportunities that are presented by nursery: I think it's so good for their skills and socialisation.

What do you do to relax?

It depends on the situation but walking the dog, with or without Clark, always chills me out. We are super lucky to live in a really villagey part of Sheffield that has loads of parks, bars, restaurants and shops and is also ten minutes' drive to the Peak District, so I just take a look around and remind myself what a jammy git I am to have it all. Pottering around our suburb with my husband, baby and dog is pretty relaxing. I like cooking for my friends too. After Clark has gone to bed, I like to curl up with Batman on my lap, a glass of red wine and watch something recorded off the Sky planner like Veep, Friday Night Lights or American Horror Story, or just read. Or play Pet Rescue because I am a loser.

What do you do when you have time to yourself?

It depends how much time I have, and I'm actually very rarely alone since Matt is usually at home. But generally, reading. Lately I gravitate towards magical realism like Angela Carter or just some Haruki Murakami for a total brain vacation. I'm a big fan of magazines when I don't have long to myself (like during nap times), so it's nice to read a couple of pages here and there. I also just started getting my weekend paper again after a year of DIY and baby distractions, so that keeps me happy too. I am prematurely middle-aged.

How does a typical day go?

Clark's wake time can be anywhere from 5.30am on a very bad day to 7.40am, but most days he wakes up about 6.30am.

One of us changes his nappy while the other makes up his bottle and two cups of tea. We then go downstairs and feed him about 7oz while we drink our tea. Then it's playtime while Matt and I quickly eat our cereal until Clark has his breakfast about 8am. He's usually ready for his morning nap about 9-9.30am or generally about 2-2.5 hours after he woke up. He'll sleep for anything from 30-90 minutes, and in that time I get ready (shower, make up, get dressed) while Matt usually walks Batman unless he needs a really early start.

When Clark wakes up, I dress him and he has his bottle about 10.30am. Then we have more playtime, or walk the dog if Matt's not had time, or we go out to run errands or sometimes to a baby group, although I prefer activity classes like sensory to the coffee morning type. Clark then has his lunch about 12.15, and he's ready for his afternoon nap just around 1-1.30. That nap is again anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour and a half. During that time Matt and I make and eat our lunch together and have a little break to catch up on our day's events so far.

When Clark wakes up for his afternoon nap, he has his bottle about 2.30, playtime or visits out to the park or Botanical gardens if it's dry, and then he has his tea about 4.30. Next we all go out to walk the dog from about 5.30 to 6.30. On getting in, we let Clark watch a little Cbeebies to wind down - he loves In The Night Garden - until his bedtime at 7pm. Sometimes we eat a quick tea before his bedtime or time it so it's cooking while we do bedtime and ready for us when we come down, or if it's a quick meal then we'll just cook together after Clark's asleep. Then it's bath, bottle, brush teeth, story and a little Twinkle Twinkle song swaying in our arms. We put Clark down sleepy but awake and he falls asleep pretty quickly by himself, nearly always by 7.45pm. We'll then eat dinner together on our laps (if we haven't already) and play with Batman, watch TV or do housework until we go to bed about 10pm. Sometimes around 4am Clark will have wriggled 180 degrees into a position that is uncomfortable and usually involves banging his head somehow, so he might cry whilst asleep. We just flip him over for a reset and he self-settles.


How was your pregnancy?

I guess it was fine and easy compared to a lot of people's, but I didn't enjoy it. I didn't have morning sickness or swelling or anything too untoward, but I really struggled with acid reflex all the time and one time I had to go to hospital with really bad stomach pains that were constant and lasted a few days. When I got there they went away and the doctors said it was wind, so I wasn't too impressed with that whole experience. I kept really active through my pregnancy and was still cycling to work at 7 months pregnant, until Matt asked me to stop. That was probably the main reason I didn't enjoy it: it was difficult to be so restricted in my movements being such an active person and I really resented asking other people to put my shoes on, and every single day there was some kind of niggling pain in my body. And now since I am lifting a heavy baby every day too, I've kind of forgotten what it's like to have a pain-free day!

How was your labour?

So tiring! I had an emergency caesarean, and spent the whole previous night having really intense contractions, so by the time Clark was born at 6.46am I was on morphine and so tired I could barely register what was going on.

My labour had started about 10pm the night before when I suddenly had a really weird twingey abdominal convulsion, and I knew immediately that it had started and my contractions were about 5-7 minutes apart. I tried to keep active and relaxed and sort of rolled around on my bean bag watching TV until my waters broke and the contractions became so painful that I had to get in the bath (didn't help me, personally). Having a bath slowed my contractions right down again and after a few phonecalls to the maternity wing, we went into hospital about 1am because they let you stay at home only a few hours after your waters have broken, in case of infection.

At the hospital I started on the midwife-led unit, which is the default option at our hospital, where I had gas and air and another bath (again didn't help with pain, for me). I tried to stay upright and active for a while but that soon went to pot as I was exhausted and ended up in a foetal position on the bed just so I could rest. Then Clark's heartrate started to become slow to recover after each contraction, so I was transferred to consultant-led care. At some point during this time I had morphine for the pain so it gets a bit blurry and the time seemed to go really fast, and I don't think I quite understood the gravity of the situation because of the drugs. The doctors did a couple of foetal blood samples from his scalp and were dithering about whether I needed an emergency caeserean (when is an emergency not an emergency?!), when I told them I'd prefer for them not to risk his health at the expense of a natural birth and that I was totally fine with having one. At that point we were whisked into theatre where I had a spinal anaesthetic and got cut open by the surgeons who wanted to talk about my hip tattoos a lot (?!) and Clark was born at 6.46am, weighing 6lb 12oz.

We were both in tears as this little bundle was handed to us and then he was quickly whipped away again to go in an incubator for a few hours, as he had some fluid on his lungs and needed to warm up a bit. During that time my body went into some kind of shock and I shook violently for the next few hours as my spinal wore off (tons of fun), and I finally got some sleep once I had my hand on Clark in his little plastic box next to my bed.

Did you have any cravings?

Nothing weird, but in the early months I was after steak all the time. After a few meals of that I'd had enough though - I also had an iron deficiency for which I had tablets, so I guess I'd satiated my bloodlust.

Did you find out what you were having?

Yes we did. We were undecided at first but it really helped with things like nursery decorating and clothes, and I'm just a tad anal about planning things and being prepared. 

How did you decide on your baby's name?

As we've been together for quite a while, we'd always talked about baby names even before we decided to have a baby, so we had a few in mind. We wanted something fairly old-fashioned, and uncommon without being too weird. I saw something on the Guardian website about historic baby names, so I had a look through the US SSA website by decade and we came up with a few more for our shortlist. I think we were always settled on Clark though. We kept it a secret because I was aware of various friends' families' reactions to intended names and I didn't want people turning their noses up at a decision that wasn't theirs to make. Whenever we were pressed on it we made sure to say something completely culturally/ethnically disparate, like Manuel or N'duku, just to see people's reactions (pretty funny, try it).

How did your prepare for your baby’s arrival

We went to a series of NCT evening classes over 10 weeks. They were useful for stuff like relaxation and pre- and post-birth coping techniques as well as the more technical stuff. It was pretty hard doing an evening class though as I really struggled to stay awake to 9.30 in a warm room! I didn't read any books as I didn't have any idea what kind of parenting technique I wanted to go down until Clark had shown his personality a little.


How did you get on with breastfeeding?

I think it speaks volumes that you made this question optional - look how much society has swayed in favour of breastfeeding, so that now shame and guilt are all we feel for not doing it, and nobody dare admit their breastfeeding failures!

I really didn't get on with breastfeeding as I found it so painful that I just couldn't carry on past 5 days. I was so convinced I'd be able to do it too, and the guilt was just overwhelming. The midwives kept telling me that Clark's latch was perfect, and we're indoctrinated that 'if it hurts, you're doing it wrong. Your baby knows how to do it and you have to learn', so I figured if everything was perfect and it was still horrendous then it just wasn't right for us. I had a friend who tried the breastfeeding support workers and all they do is just keep reattaching your baby, which you can do yourself anyway, so I could just see that happening again with me. Also the midwives on the labour unit in our hospital are just so mean if you want to try breastfeeding: they told me I couldn't go home until I was breastfeeding properly because Clark's weight would plummet and he'd be readmitted. Maybe it's about tough love. And yet it all changes to smiling reassurance once you admit defeat and go on to formula. Once we'd given Clark a bottle he could get all the food he needed without being constantly unplugged and readjusted, so he was much happier (as were my boobs). Don't be intimidated by the Bre[a]stapo!

Does you baby have a feeding routine? 

As Clark's nine months now, he has 3 bottles and three meals a day. When he wakes up he has a big bottle of about 7oz although he doesn't usually finish it. Then he has breakfast at around 8.30, which is often a fortified cereal like Ready Brek or half a Weetabix with chopped or pureed fruit, or he'll have full-fat natural yoghurt with fruit, occassionally a rusk, or pitta bread with butter or cheese spread. Yoghurt is his favourite! If there's a food he's not into (usually fish), we add a spoonful of yoghurt into it and it goes down better. 

At 10.30-11am he has snacks like yoghurt or rice pudding and maybe some Organix rice cakes. Then for lunch he'll have either something home-cooked like beef casserole, chicken with carrots and peas etc, some fish monstrosity I've concocted, or a jar or an Ella's pouch. His next bottle is about 2.30pm which is around 6oz, and then his tea is about 4.30, which will be something different again.

I try to alternate between home-cooked and bought stuff as our freezer simply isn't big enough for a million baby meals and I'd struggle to cook the variety that's needed to give him 14 different main meals in a week (and when is this 'me' time we're meant to have if we're spending every spare minute cooking?). But generally Clark's meals are stuff I've cooked out of Annabel Karmel's weaning book so I try to give him a wide range of foods including red meat, oily fish, chicken, lentils, pasta. He also gets plenty of finger food alongside each meal, like Organix snacks, fruit, roast veg, bread, cheese, etc.
His last bottle of the day is about 7.15pm, which is about 8oz. Again, rarely finished unless it's been a bad solids day, but we like to give him the option.

What was your approach to weaning your baby onto solids?

I bought a few Annabel Karmel books and took my cues from them. We started at about five and a half months just giving him a couple of spoonfuls of baby rice each day for a week or so then moved onto pureed fruits like apple, pear, banana. Then onto pureed sweet veg, then after a few weeks, moving onto a combination of all of them. When he was about 7 months we started on meats and dairy too and we've been giving him progressively chunkier textures and upping the finger food. I found for bought food that Ella's Kitchen Stage 2 pouches are a useful transitional texture between super smooth stage 1 and the jars, which tend to be really lumpy. 

I'd say we do a combination or regular and baby-led weaning as we've always given him finger food, but I didn't want to do solely baby-led weaning as one of my NCT friends was doing it and it didn't really seem like her baby was actually eating any of it. I feel the way we do it means that Clark gets all the nutrition he needs whilst developing his motor skills on the side. 

I've also got the River Cottage Babyand Toddler cookbook too which I want to start using a lot more now that he's older and can handle different foods and textures. I'd recommend that one especially because it's stuff you can eat as a family, whereas the Annabel Karmel ones are really only for babies.

Does your baby have a nap/ sleep routine?

He does now: two naps a day at around 9am and 1pm. What we do is generally the same each time and also at bedtime: some wind-down time and quiet play, cuddle him gently in our arms whilst singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, then put him awake but drowsy into his cot before kissing him night-night and quietly leaving the room. I've found verbal/singing cues like this really useful and Clark has always responded really well to them and settled himself to sleep.

However, while he's always had the same bedtime routine, we didn't really implement a nap schedule or routine until he was about 4 and a half months old. That was a bit of a mistake on our part as his sleep got all out of whack and he was often overtired during the day, and that sleep regression thing they do at that stage just made it all a bit of a nightmare. We had habitual night wakings and tried loads of things including the hand-on-the-chest trick to stop him jolting awake, trying waking him for his dreamfeed, all sorts. What worked for us was moving him into his nursery and dropping the dreamfeed and he seemed to sleep a lot better from there on.

How do you keep your baby entertained/ what are their favourite things to do.

Clark loves being active, standing up and walking with support especially. He also loves lots of games and songs with actions which we do together, like Row Row Your Boat, The Grand Old Duke of York or Humpty Dumpty, and other nonsense that I make up for us to play. Sometimes he will crawl to me to be picked up, so we put on some questionable cheesy pop-hardcore and have a good mosh together. Other favourites are peekaboo, knocking stacked toys over, riding on Matt's shoulders, grabbing Batman, fake sneezing, clearing my throat, headbanging with my hair down, and my Tom Waits or Gollum impressions (I missed my vocal calling there).

When you're baby's freaking out what helps to calm them down?

Clark is pretty content and seldom cries unless he's tired, teething or wants to get out of his highchair, so I don't have any special tricks. But he does love peekaboo always, and a song of Old MacDonald seems to stop any tears.


Does your baby have a favourite toy?

At the moment he loves his activity table, some lurid treehouse-helterskelter thing, his Vtech First Steps walker as he loves standing up, and anything where he can press a button to make a noise. He has this weird story book caterpillar too whose nose says 'hello' so I get to hear that about 592 times a day. He also really enjoys his Fisher Price pull-telephone and a shape-sorting house from Ikea. Basically if it looks like a unicorn has puked on it, makes a really irritating noise and/or he can put something in it, he loves it. Clark also gets super-excited about his bedtime story, as he likes to pat all the pages and keep turning the front cover to inspect it.
What was your most recent baby or baby-related purchase and why did you buy it? 

Loads of toys from Ikea! We bought him a ball, shapesorter, finger puppets, stacking cups and more bath toys, as he'd had the same toys in rotation for a while now and we needed to update them for his developmental stage. We also just bought a Phil and Ted's Travellertravel cot as we are finally going on holiday with him.

What have been the most useful thing you've bought, been given or discovered?

It's varied with each age. To begin with we had a couple of beanbag nest things called Bambeanos which he loved to rest, feed and sleep on, then it was his playmat to do tummytime and rolling on, and from about 4 months I'd say the Jumperoo. That thing is amazing, Clark loves it! We also kept a logbook for the first six months, noting down how often he ate, how much, when we last changed his nappy etc, and it was useful to spot when he was settling himself into a pattern.

What is your baby’s mode of transport?

The Uppababy Vista: from birth when he had the carrycot, and then he moved into the pushchair. It's pretty easy to use, I guess, but I don't have much to compare it to. Although I think the brake is a bit dodgy, and it's quite bulky, but it copes pretty well with the bumpy woodland paths in our park. I chose it after reading loads of reviews on Mumsnet and Which? as the choice can be so overwhelming, I wanted someone else to tell me which one to get. 

We also used the Baby Bjorn carrier until he was about 5 months for walks in the Peaks, but Matt had to take him in that as I found it agonising on my shoulders and back, and I've heard it's not great for babies' hips. We switched to an Ergobaby Performance carrier when he was about 6 months and it's so, so comfy because the weight is much more evenly distributed and based more around your hips. Clark loves it, so I use it to pop out to the shops with him, or to go on long walks with the dog. 

What are your baby essentials when you go out?

If Clark is fed and changed and we're going for a 20 minute jaunt then I don't take anything, but we always keep his bag packed with nappies, wipes, toys, muslin, a spoon, instant feed - the usuals.


If you could give your pregnant self some advice, what would it be?

I'd like to say 'relax' in an ideal world, but I might actually go for 'try harder' - because the DIY I didn't get around to before having a baby is 500% harder once the baby has arrived! I'd also probably tell myself to get used to doing things on the fly as I spent a lot of time feeling like we/I had to be at home for feeding and napping which was limiting. Getting Clark used to napping in the buggy has been really useful.

Also: do as many stretches and back strengthening exercise as possible before and during pregnancy, because the backache only gets worse once you have a baby to bend over and lift constantly.

What's the best advice or most useful tip that anyone's given you about parenting? 

My friends told me this:

1. Don't take it personally.
2. That's what babies do.

I'd like to add:
3. Don't feel guilty.

Do you have any tips you’d like to share with other mums or expectant mums?

Cut yourself some slack. I think part of the reticence we have about discussing PND and maternal unhappiness is because it can be (not saying 'it is' but that it's a possibility) connected to not being 100% happily adjusted to the demands of motherhood. Society's pressure and constant insistence that we MUST enjoy every moment is quite difficult to put into practice. Don't feel guilty about feeling unhappy or stressed - those feelings are enough to deal with in themselves without guilt on top of them. It's an unrealistic expectation - perpetuated partly because of this culture of earth-mothering that's grown up in the last few years, coupled with concepts like attachment parenting - that you are never going to get annoyed about it all. Being a mum is the hardest job because of the fundamental sea change in your life's focus, and really I feel that it should be more socially acceptable to admit that it's really frickin' difficult to adapt to. In my personal experience I would say it's been a Total Obliteration of Self. It's a massive lifestyle shock and although the swell of love you feel is like nothing else, it's ok to admit that sometimes you aren't happy. If you're truly ecstatic about getting punched in the throat, or getting blorped on from every orifice, fifty times a day then that's awesome for you, but I'd rather be honest that it was/is a tough adjustment for me and there were some things I have found really very taxing. Although I adore Clark, of course I miss my old lifestyle in a lot of ways and I feel like there aren't many women being candid about that aspect. It's hard enough doing all the things you're doing without beating yourself up about x, y and z that you're not doing. Guilt is a really pointless and destructive emotion. Do the best for your baby but don't martyr yourself on the altar of the cult of parenthood. 

When I was really struggling, I also found it really helpful to follow (on Instagram, mainly) mums whose parenting I found aspirational and realistically achievable/similar to my own lifestyle. It really got me through the darker moments to see other people's joy in their children. 

On a superficial note: if you don't want stretch marks then knead and stretch your skin whilst you're moisturising it, two or three times a day. It works - I have none! 

Thank you so much for sharing Vic! 

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Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. It really means a lot! Nicki x