A solid start in life

Amateur Mommies: starting solids baby food

For those who don’t know us and Fletcher personally, let me inform you that we have a very solid little man. He is tall and big and strong, and since he wasn’t sleeping very well, we decided to start the journey onto solid foods just after he was 4 months old. The baby-led-weaning sounds great – to just give them a piece of whatever you’re eating to hold and nibble on and they will fit in with your eating habits and choose what they like and don’t like – if you are brave enough for the mess it creates and aren’t terrified of them choking. Baby-led-weaning also doesn’t really allow you to track how much your little one is taking in as a lot will go all over his face and on the floor. We decided to go a with the old school approach of home-made purees, starting with veggies for a few days, then adding fruit and finally introducing proteins in week 3. It really is much easier to monitor how much they are consuming when you are in control of the spoon and our little man has proved to be a veritable vacuum, eating just about anything we give him and almost always finishing what was put in his bowl. It sounds like we could be giving him more, but not according to his weight gain over the last 6 weeks – he is still putting on 220 or so grams a week, which is the highest weight gain allowance in the newborn scale. From 6 months on, he should only be putting on between 80 and 140 grams a week, so we have to go back for a check-up in a month to make sure our giant baby isn’t putting on too much weight too quickly.

We started with good old butternut and had the camera rolling for the obligatory 21st video clip of “ahh this was your first food”.  He didn’t seem too impressed but didn’t spit it out either and now butternut is a staple that we always have on hand. After the first three weeks of weaning (first week veggies, second week fruit and veggies and third week protein, fruit and veggies) we started getting a bit more adventurous with what we gave him. We wanted to get the allergy tests – which he passed with flying colours – out the way early on, so we have given him peanuts, fish and eggs.

Wanting to give him the healthiest option and introduce him, right from the start, to good food choices, we have made all of is meals at home with fresh ingredients. Barbs and I love cooking and eating together, and being in the kitchen preparing a meal is more of a fun family activity than a chore. We want Fletcher to have this love for preparing good food and choosing healthy but tasty options right from the get go. That way we’ll have a child who makes good food choices and turns into an adult who, in turn, makes good food choices.

Here are some of his favourite meals so far:

  • Apples, pear and yoghurt
  • Paw paw, apple, pear and yoghurt
  • Rolled oats, apple, yoghurt and peanut butter
  • Brown lentils, butternut and sweet potato
  • Carrots and cinnamon
  • Roast chicken, butternut and kiri cheese
  • Cauliflower, broccoli and kiri cheese
  • Baby Bolognese, butternut and sweet potato
  • Hake and veggies

If you’d like the recipes for any of Fletcher’s favorites, we’ve included them here.

Has it been 6 months already?!

Amateur Mommies: 6 months in

It’s hard to believe, but our little man is six months old already. Six months ago on Friday, Fletcher was born. As we went through our busy weekend routine this past weekend, thoughts kept popping to my head, like: six months ago, we were sitting in the NICU counting the hours until Christmas, hoping against hope that our little boy would be home for his first Christmas. And six months ago we were going home, leaving Fletcher in the NICU.

Six months ago today, Fletcher came home, so we have officially been full-time parents for six months today. It’s one of those paradoxes of time – “has it only been six months?” but at the same time, “woah, it’s been six months already?!” In that time, so many things have happened. Our little boy has grown and changed in unimaginable ways. When we look back at the photos of that time in the NICU and those first few days at home, it’s hard to believe it’s the same little guy. He’s grown into this absolute thug of a human – way above average in height and weight and strong and sturdy! A real rugby forward in the making (or ballerina, or scientist, or whatever he wants to be!).

Over the last six months, Becs and I have come along in leaps and bounds too. Six months and five days ago, I’d never changed a poo nappy, and now I’ve changed two just this morning! Six months ago, I thought I’d still be breastfeeding him when he was six months old, and we all know how that worked out. Six months ago, we were floundering along, with little-to-no clue what we were doing, and now we’re bounding along with a moderate clue that maybe we’re doing OK. Motherhood is a tricky thing, you never know at the time if what you’re doing is right – I mean we thought we were doing the right thing in swaddling him, and that worked out dismally. But, when you do get something right (and we must be getting something right, because Fletcher is a rockstar of a human), it is so gratifying, so rewarding, to know that you are (at least in part) responsible for shaping the awesome little being in front of you.

Six months down the line, I’d hardly call myself an expert. I still question every decision we make a thousand different ways. I still look to Becs and ask, “do you think I should…” instead of confidently saying, “I’m going to…” almost every time because I want the reassurance that her agreeing with me brings. We both lean on each other through difficult times and we both fall down some times, but at the end of the day, it’s all been such an incredible experience and one I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

The rewards are great!

Amateur Mommies: the rewards of parenthood

So I don’t want you all to think that there is no sunshine and there no roses when it comes to this whole Mommyhood thing, there are. Really. Ya ok so at the moment our theme song is one from the legend Billy Joel and the words are “in the middle of the night… I go walking in my sleep”, because some nights we are up every other hour with our tiny human but the joy he brings to our lives and the little things that he does daily are so rewarding.

The first few months are terrifying that’s for sure. And as cute as they are when they can fit all snuggled up onto your chest, you get very little in the way of interaction from your tiny being in the first few months of their lives. You’re up all night with them, washing and sterilising bottles and breast pump apparatus all day, doing loads of laundry (how something so tiny can produce so much washing is extraordinary), changing nappies, giving bottles, burping, rocking to sleep and repeating every 4 hours, and somewhere in all that you are trying to remember that you are married to that other ship passing by you in the night, and fitting in visits from all the aunties and actually your tiny bundle does nothing more that lie there and be a tiny bundle. A tiny, pooping, crying bundle.

6 months down the line we have a strapping baby boy who smiles and giggles when we do the silliest things. He thinks his mamas are the most amazing people in the world! It’s the grandest feeling when you are rewarded after a long sleepless night with a big gummy smile from inside the cot and out stretched little arms, and the little face almost saying “pick me up mama, I love you and I want to give you a sloppy kiss.” Everyday his little eyes see more and he learns and grows more. He tries new foods and reacts to his favourite toys, giggles when he splashes water on himself from his wild kicking in the bathtub, discovers new noises that he can make and is very happy to show them off to us. We have a little wonder being growing up in our home, and it is a privilege to be able to grow with him on this journey. You feel much more like a mother when your little person starts reacting to you and giving you soul food.

For those who are in the early stages with your bubs, enjoy them being so tiny, don’t wish away a single moment, they really do fly by! But hang in there when you feel a little down, your tiny human will start feeding your soul in the most  nourishing and heart-warming way so soon, and all hard times will be forgotten. Otherwise parents would never move on to baby number 2.

Sleep? Ja, we still don’t know what that is

Amateur Mommies on lack of sleep

About two months ago I started seeing all these posts online from friends with kids around Fletcher’s age about a “four month sleep regression”. I joked that Fletcher had never progressed to sleeping in stretches longer than 4 hours, so how much could he realistically regress? The answer was a lot. After two weeks of him waking every one to two hours, we introduced solids, hoping that would help. It didn’t.

When we felt we couldn’t take it anymore, I reached out to friends who had successfully parented their little ones into (and in some cases, beyond) toddler-hood for advice. The advice was varied. One mom suggested sleep training. Another suggested bringing him back into our room, or even our bed, until he was more settled. Yet another said she didn’t have a clue, her four year old still wasn’t sleeping through. She did however suggest shifts – one night on, one night off – so at least you’re getting a less disturbed sleep every second night, meaning (in most cases) you can continue to function and (in some cases) make a valued contribution to society.

The friend who suggested sleep training shared the book she’d used to sleep train her little boy and I immediately immersed myself in it. Having read the pertinent sections, one Sunday evening after an exhausting weekend of very little sleep we decided to bite the bullet. We’d always been pretty good with Fletcher’s bath time / bed time routine, so that was fairly well established, but the biggest thing we were doing wrong was rocking him to sleep, meaning he was reliant on being rocked to fall asleep. This was a two-fold problem: 1) it meant we had to get up and settle him every time he woke during the night and 2) he was now so big that it was uncomfortable for him (and bloody difficult for us) to rock him.

That night we gave him his bath, his massage and his nighttime bottle as normal, but this time instead of rocking him to sleep, we put him into his cot, swaddled him (yes, we were still doing that), switched off the light and left. He was not happy. He cried with varying degrees of fervor for what seem like an age. We regularly went back into his room, as the book said to do, to reassure him that everything was fine, to soothe him a bit and repeat the catch-phrase, “it’s night-night time.” Eventually he did fall asleep and we rejoiced! It was, however, short-lived. When he woke a few hours later, we made sure he was comfortable, swaddled with his dummy in and duly repeated the process of letting him “learn to settle himself”.

It’s now about a month-to-six-weeks later and things are (mostly) going better. We’ve finally managed to ditch the swaddle, and that happened entirely organically and literally over night. One night he was fine being swaddled, the next night when we tried to swaddle him, he resisted, vehemently. So we left him unswaddled and he slept. Some nights are better than others. On Monday night he slept from 6pm until 3am and only really niggled once, early in the evening. Last night he woke at 10pm, 11pm, 1am, 4am and 5am, and at 5:45 he was awake for real.

Every night is different and I suppose that’s the challenge. As soon as you think you’ve got it waxed, life throws you a curve ball and you have to reset your entire process. I can however tell you that the addition of solids did sweet FA for his sleeping, so anyone who tells you that giving them solids will help them sleep better is filling you with false hope. Fletcher eats his body weight every day in vegetables, fruits, yoghurt, Kiri Cheese and lentils and still does whatever he feels like at night. The only thing solids has done is increased our nappy requirements because he’s gone from being a one-a-day poo’er to three, and sometimes even four times a day.

Honestly, the best advice I can you is this: when you’re bouncing through parenthood’s uncertainties, rely on your support network – whether it’s your partner, your parents or siblings, your friends or a bunch of strangers on a Facebook group. Use those people for advice, tap into their knowledge, vent your frustrations to them and lean on them when you need it, because – trust me – you’ll need it.

Sleep, what’s that?

amateur mommies: to swaddle or not to swaddle

To the person who told us to swaddle our baby: please high-five yourself. In the face. Now I know what you’re thinking, everyone swaddles their babies, it’s totally normal so why are you ticked off at the person who advised you to swaddle your baby? The answer is simple: because now we’re screwed.

Fletcher is at the age when it’s advised that you stop swaddling, but we can’t stop swaddling him, because he doesn’t know how to self-soothe. It also doesn’t help that I gave birth to a miniature Houdini! What this means in the real world is that, if he manages to wriggle one or (gods help us) both arms free, he will wake up at least every 45 minutes to an hour wearing his swaddle blankie like a scarf and need to be helped back to lala land. This comes in a range of forms from giving him back his dummy (which he inevitably spits out ±30 seconds after falling asleep) to giving him a bottle, or taking him out of the cot and rocking him back to sleep. Ok, so we keep swaddling him a bit longer and try to slowly ween him off the swaddle. Cool.

Enter the second part of this compound problem. Lately, he wakes up pretty much every hour, at best every two hours whether he’s swaddled or not. Initially, we thought he was waking because he was hungry. So this weekend we took the decision to introduce solids to his daily meal plan. At his last check-up Sr Liesel gave us the talk about introducing solids, explaining that rice cereal is now taboo – empty calories and all – and that one should start with veggies. Cool, no problem.

On Friday night I steamed about half a metric ton of butternut, mashed it up, divvied it into an empty ice tray, ready to be thawed in perfect little portion-sized batches. On Saturday morning we excitedly heated a teaspoon of butternut, put Fletcher into the appropriate protective clothing and began introducing him to the wonders of tepid, unseasoned butternut. He loved it. I mean he didn’t have a clue how to eat it – pushing most of it out of his mouth with his tongue – but he seemed to enjoy the bits that stayed in his mouth. That evening we repeated the process, hoping this would solve our sleep problems. Boy were we wrong.

Saturday night saw us rising every one to two hours throughout the night with the ritual culminating in a 30 minute screaming match at 5am. Becs eventually managed to settle him again, but his new-found allergy to sleeping meant that by 07:00 he was now ready to face the day. Bleary-eyed, we stumbled from bed to heat round two of the butternut extravaganza. Part of me – ok, all of me – hoped that the second day would reinforce everything and that Sunday night he’d really sleep well. Negative Ghost Rider.

Sunday night was even worse. During the day on Sunday, Fletcher had been a terrorist, getting in about three or four 30-minute cat-naps but otherwise not sleeping. Consequently, he was exhausted by 5pm. While I prepared supper, Becs gave Fletcher a bath and put him down nice and early. He settled pretty well, so we were cautiously optimistic. He niggled a few times over the next two hours and we settled him with bottles, meaning that by 7pm he’d smashed another 180ml and would (theoretically) be down for anywhere between four and six hours. Exhausted from our sleepless weekend and two weeks of having a sick baby (that’s a story for another day), we crashed at 9pm. One hour later, the monitor crackled. Drat.

I got up, gave him a bottle and he settled pretty quickly. One hour later, the monitor crackled. Ugh. I got up, put his dummy back in and he settled again. One hour later, the monitor crackled… and so it went, every hour from 10pm until 3am, when I eventually pulled him into our bed and we managed to sleep from 03:20 to 05:25 – five minutes before my alarm was due to go off.

I don’t know if it’s this “four month sleep regression” thing everyone keeps talking about or if he’s just being otherwise, but I really hope he gets over his sudden aversion to sleep soon, because damn son, we are tired! Just a side note on this four month sleep regression thing: I didn’t even know that such a thing existed until a few of our friends who have kids around Fletcher’s age started commenting that their little whipper-snappers were regressing. I joked, saying that Fletcher had never progressed beyond four-hour stretches so there was no progress to regress on. Incorrect. Just because he hadn’t progressed, didn’t mean he couldn’t go backwards. You know how they say there’s rock bottom? Well we weren’t there yet it seems.

Pray for us. That is all.

Like a good old cross-your-heart bra.

Amateur Mommies: like a good old fashioned cross your heart bra

Something you need to give your partner when it’s the middle of the night and you have a crying baby and no-one else is there to relieve you is support. Even if you have no idea what you’re doing, no idea why the baby is crying and no idea if you will make it to the end of the night to see the glorious sunrise, believe in one another. Support one another and the decisions you make in those wee hours. Like mad support – like a good old beige, three clip, cross-your-heart bra. That teeny, tiny, gorgeous bundle of screaming baby will break you otherwise.

When you first have your baby and you’re safe in the hospital, it all seems totally doable. There’s a nurse checking on you every now and then, a doctor to come say some encouraging words and loads of people wanting to visit and bring flowers and tell you all kinds of wonderful things about your life ahead with your beautiful baby. What a wonderful time! Then a few days later you pack everything up and go home, wow. What an exciting thought! Taking your baby across the threshold of your home for the first time, to lay him in his cot, in his nursery you carefully made into a nurturing and comforting environment. Having washed all his little clothes and lovingly folded them, chosen a coming home outfit, and which onesie will be his first pair of pyjamas, which teddy will sleep next to him, and which lullaby you will gently sing to him tonight to send him off to the land of nod. But then he starts to cry. And you think it must be time to feed, so you either sit down comfortably to breastfeed or go to warm up a bottle. All the while your baby getting more and more hungry. Ok quickly now get the bottle in. Nope that’s not working, now the milk is just running all over his chin, all over the cute little onesie you chose and he’s still screaming. Ok let’s try a dummy?! Flip where did we put that gripe water? Your mild panic starts to worsen and the screaming continues and neither you nor your partner can remember when you packed the gripe water, the baby won’t take the dummy or the bottle and the breast milk is not coming our fast enough so it’s not even worth trying when he’s this mad. Ok let’s do some swaddling, rocking and singing. Hmmm, my singing is not loud enough – come sing with me! And so it goes… sometimes all night.

And that’s when the night becomes dark and full of terrors… Barbs and I would actually want to cry when we saw the sun going down because we knew what was coming…

In those hours when you can’t settle your little one, or he has tummy cramps, or has weed all over the changing mat and his pyjamas and the teddy and you, and you can’t remember what time you last ate or if you have managed to drift off into some kind of fitful sleep whilst propped up in the nursery chair with you baby on your chest and drool running down into your cleavage, use your partner. Ask for help. It took two people to make this baby and it will take those two people, and all the effort and patience in the world to raise it. Take turns if you’re bottle feeding. If you’re breastfeeding, Dad’s take some tea and a rusk through to the nursery or do the nappy change and rocking back to sleep after the feed so that Mom can get a head start on getting herself back to sleep. Everyone will be tired. Whether one of you is back at work and the other is home with baby all day or not. The degrees of tired might differ slightly but you will both take strain in those first few weeks when baby feeds every two hours and poos every other. But hang in there. It’s short-lived. Soon you will have a smiley gorgeous little thing who only feeds every four or six hours and lets you sleep in between. Eventually he will be in his own room and you will have your bed back. And when you stop breastfeeding you will get your body back slowly. And you will look at your fat little giggling baby and reminisce about when he was so small that he could curl up on your chest to sleep. You will miss him being so tiny, even if that was only 3 months ago.

Then nights become less dark and the terror slowly disappears. If you support, encourage and love each other. Even when both Mom and baby come crying to you at 3:00am, Mom saying “please take him I can’t do this anymore!” Take the baby, kiss your partner and tell her to go to bed saying “don’t worry love, I’ve got it this time”. Even if you are terrified and overtired yourself.

The tipping point

Weight gain during pregnancy is totally normal and expected. If you’re one of the really lucky ones, you might only gain a few extra kilos. If you’re one of the normal ones, you’ll likely gain somewhere between 5 and 7 extra kilos (that’s over and above baby, etc.). But if you’re anything like me, you’ll pack those extra pounds on.

I was really good in the beginning, through my first and second trimester I was pretty much bang-on with how much weight I should’ve gained, but something went terribly wrong between month six and month nine. All of a sudden I was gaining way too much weight (in my opinion) each week. My midwife was pretty unconcerned, citing the fact that every mom and each pregnancy is different, which of course it is, but that didn’t comfort me.

All in all, I gained around 19 or 20kgs (it’s all a bit of a rough guess because I don’t actually know what I weighed when I fell pregnant). Three days before Fletcher was born I tipped the scales at 88.8kgs. I was moderately comforted by the fact that ±3kgs were Fletcher, another 1kg for the placenta, ±1kg for the extra blood and at least another one for the amniotic fluid, a few hundred grams at least in water weight… So I expected that, after all those things were out of my body (i.e. moments after giving birth) I could expect to be about 7 or 8kgs down, right? Wrong!

Doctors and midwives counsel against expecting weight loss to happen too quickly, reminding us that “it took nine months to gain the weight, give yourself nine months to lose it.” But I – like so many other women – thought that at least some of the weight would magically disappear after the birth. You hear stories of women leaving the hospital in their pre-pregnancy jeans and you think that’s the norm, well I’m here to tell you, it isn’t.

Look, don’t get me wrong, every mom and each pregnancy is different and I’m absolutely not telling you to diet during pregnancy if you feel you’re gaining too quickly. Most people say they’ll worry about the extra weight when baby is out and that really is the best approach. You can’t put your child’s life at risk because you’re worried about how your body will look when you leave the hospital. All I’m saying is that it takes time, it’s not as instant as you might think. Just because a good percentage of those kilos were removed from your body with baby, doesn’t mean they’re gone when you step on the scale (don’t ask me how – water weight maybe – but through some evil sorcery they’re still there).

For about the first two months of Fletcher’s life, the only pants that fitted me, fitted when I was nine months pregnant. I’d look longingly at my other (neglected) clothes, desperately willing the weight to leave me so I could wear something other than maternity pants! Slowly but surely the pile of things that I can squeeze into (with varying degrees of wriggling and squirming) is growing, but it’s a long, slow road and I’m still miles from my destination.

The big thing to remember is that it takes time, but discipline and dedication will get you there. When Fletcher was about a month old, I signed up at the gym. I started out nice and slow, knowing that my fitness was somewhere left of the u-bend in the toilet. Cycling for 20 minutes damn near killed me, my muscles were weak and my lungs felt like they’d been swapped with a 90+ year-old chain smoker’s. But by week two, that 20 minute cycle wasn’t as taxing as it had been and so I started running on the treadmill. That first day I ran 4kms and was beyond dead when I stumbled off the treadmill 31 minutes later. The next day, in the same amount of time, I ran 4.5kms and already I could feel the difference – my muscles were remembering. The following week I ran 4.7kms, then 4.9kms and by the end of the month 7,7kms. Slowly I was building up my fitness again.

Currently, I alternate my running with either cycling, swimming, indoor rowing, or circuit or strength training and I’m getting there. I still weigh a lot more than I did when I fell pregnant and more still than I want to, but through a combination of good eating and balanced cardio and strength training, I’m starting to see results. Because I’ve never been one to listen to medical professionals, I’ve given myself six months to lose the baby weight – half way in and I’m half way there, so I think I’m well-placed.

The biggest lesson for me was that gaining the weight was a hell of a lot easier than losing it has been, but don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t get your body back, or that “only young moms get their bodies back”. It’s total BS – anyone can do it, you just have to give it time, and you have to want it badly enough.

Who’s your daddy?

Since Fletcher was born, many of our friends and family have asked us questions like “was the dad tall?” or “what colour were the dad’s eyes?” Harmless questions asked with nothing but good intentions. Cognisant of the fact that no-one has ever meant any harm by any of these questions, we’ve always responded as diplomatically as possible – “the donor had blue eyes” or “the donor was over 6 foot,” but the fact remains that Fletcher doesn’t have a dad. For better or worse, he has two mommies.

Some people might think that statement is completely ludicrous – how can he not have a dad? Surely, it takes a mom and a dad to make a baby? Yes and no. Yes, it takes genetic material from both a man and a woman to make a baby. But no, you don’t need a “mom” and a “dad”. “Moms” and “dads” raise children. They kiss boo-boos and patch up skinned knees. They do school runs and plan pirate-princess themed birthday parties. They lie awake at night agonising over which school to enrol their kids at, or how they’re going to pay for college. They beam like Cheshire cats at graduation day and snap a thousand photos a minute. Moms and dads raise children.

It may sound trivial, but if I have learned from my time at my current employer, it’s that language matters. Words define meaning and meaning defines experience. If someone describes a delicious meal to you using only bland and benign descriptors, your experience of that meal is tainted. You might go to a “hairdresser” for a boring old cut, but you’d go to “stylist” for something funky and cutting edge. You’d go to a “clothing retailer” for your everyday wear, but you’d go to a “boutique” for that drop-dead-gorgeous, one-of-a-kind, stop-you-in-your-tracks, knockout dress.

So no, Fletcher doesn’t have a “dad”, but he has two moms who love him more with each day, who will dote on him throughout his life.

To feed or not to feed

For many expectant mothers breastfeeding is a daunting prospect – will I produce enough milk to keep him satisfied? Will he be able to latch? Will he be – heaven forbid – allergic to my milk? What if I absolutely hate it? These are real fears for new moms and ones that can, ultimately, make or break your breastfeeding experience.

All through my pregnancy I was adamant that I wanted to do things as close to naturally as possible. My birth “plan” had a heavy focus on the natural – a midwife over a gynae, a vaginal over Caesarean delivery, no pain management over an epidural, etc. – but we don’t always get what we want in life, and especially in childbirth.

Similarly, I wanted to exclusively breastfeed as far as possible. Although, knowing the physical and emotional burden breastfeeding places on a new mom, we had agreed I would express as well so that Becs could help out with night feeds. But when Fletcher went straight to the NICU after birth instead of straight onto my breast, things changed and we had to roll with it.

When the NICU nurse came into our room on that first morning and told me my child was starving panic set in. One of the nurses helped me to express a whopping 1ml, at which point Becs signed the consent to give Fletcher formula. Although the nurses continued to stress the importance of breast milk, if I could get any, and praised the delivery of those “drops of gold”, it had taken something meant to be a beautiful and intimate bonding moment between me and my baby and made it something clinical.

When Fletcher came off the CPAP and I was able to try and latch him to feed, it was still a beautiful moment for me – despite the wires and tubes still attached to my two-day-old baby. But it quickly became clear it wasn’t happening fast enough for him. Having become accustomed to the delivery speed of, first the feeding tube and then the bottle, the breast simply took too long and required too much effort. Still, we persevered.

I expressed three or four times a day while he was in the NICU and when he came home we tried relentlessly to get him to feed. But as time went on, and his daily need increased, he ended up getting more bottle than breast. I simply wasn’t producing enough milk to satisfy his hunger – despite the Eglonyl.

I began to dread feeding time. He’d be what we call screaming sad mad (which is exactly what it sounds like), and I’d be desperately trying to aim his wailing mouth at my breast, hoping he’d get a good latch. He’d latch briefly, suck a few times before realizing it was going to require maximum effort on his part. Then he’d start screaming again. And this cycle would continue for up to an hour before I’d give in and ask Becs to prepare a bottle. Some days were better than others, mind you. Sometimes I’d get him onto the breast before he realized how hungry he was and so he’d be sucking before he got “screaming sad mad”, so he’d be OK with putting the extra effort in. But even on those days, he’d need a bottle afterward.

After a month of trying I decided the emotional tug-of-war I experienced every time I tried to breastfeed was just too much. He was gaining weight nicely on the formula and was anything but malnourished, so why was I torturing myself? Guilt. I felt guilty at the thought of giving up because “breast is best” and “they don’t get antibodies from formula” but I just couldn’t do it anymore. My distress at seeing him so frustrated and upset every time I tried to feed him began to outweigh my guilt.

I discussed my feelings with Becs, who was wonderfully supportive and told me all the things I needed to hear – “he gets so frustrated” and “you did your best babe” – but despite all that, it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made as a mother and I do still feel guilty about it. But every time I see him calmly have a bottle before drifting into that contented sleep that only comes from having a full belly, my guilt is somewhat assuaged.

Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it. I’ve spoken to moms who diligently breastfed and they all agree, it was the hardest, most physically and emotionally draining thing they’ve ever done. If you get it right, power to you, but if you don’t do not feel guilty. No one has ever been asked at a job interview if they were breast or bottle fed. As long as they’re getting the nutrients they need and they are loved, what more could you want?

The first four weeks

Nothing really prepares you for motherhood. No amount of books or blog posts, no-one’s advice or help can ever really prepare you for what lies ahead. There’s something to be said for the unknown – it’ll either bring out the best or the worst in you (usually in equal measures) and we have seen some of the best and worst of each other over the past four weeks.

Our first few days as parents were entirely surreal. Fletcher was in the NICU hooked up to all kinds of machines, so we weren’t able to hold him, I wasn’t able to breastfeed him and we weren’t able to establish any sort of routine or rhythm with him. By the time he was discharged, it had been two days since I had been discharged – so we’d spent the last 48 hours back and forth between home and the hospital (and over Christmas, no less).

Our first night home was an interesting one. Fletcher was bombarded with hundreds of new sounds and smells, totally overwhelming him. He fussed and cried for hours on that first night, eventually settling around midnight. But after that, he slept well (albeit in 3 hour stints).

The next day he had the first of his peeing episodes, during which he peed all over himself and me. During his first bath, he peed on the towel. A few days after that he peed all over himself, his onesie and the wall behind him (all while I was trying to change his nappy and dispose of one of the biggest, nastiest poos I’ve ever seen). Subsequently, he’s peed on the wall, himself and us a few more times, but on the whole he’s not a serial pee’er. Thank the gods.

During some of his finer nighttime antics he’s had both Becs and me in tears, thinking we’ll never get him to settle. On one particularly bad night, Becs had been trying to settle him for a good while and came back into the room sobbing, asking me to “please just take him,” which I duly did. Eventually I managed to settle him, but nearly had a panic attack when I realised we’d have to go through the whole process again in a matter of a few short hours. But, then the sun came up, and everything seemed less daunting than it had the night before.

As dusk began to fall that evening, fear settled over me like a thick fog and I turned to Becs, voice shaking, and said, “It’s nearly nighttime.” She immediately knew the source of my fear and the two of us huddled together on the couch – absolutely dreading the dark hours that lay ahead. But, then the sun came up again, and everything was fine. And so we settled into something of a pattern – night would fall and so would our spirits, but as the sun began to rise, so our fears lifted. It was like being stuck in some kind of bad horror movie loop.

Until it wasn’t anymore. After three weeks, Becs turned to me and said that she suddenly felt like he was an old hand at this parenting thing, like she’d been doing it for years. It seemed that in 21 short days, we’d formed a habit – the habit of motherhood. We still have crappy nights with Fletcher – last night was another night when he only settled after midnight, but then slept until 04:00 and again from 04:30 until 08:00 – but on the whole, we’re much better at parenting than we were four weeks ago. OK, maybe we’re not better, but we certainly feel less panicked about it and that’s the main thing.

Oh, and as I type this I have a trail of milk vomit down my back. Yup, motherhood is awesome.