Mother’s Milk

davWhen I had my first child I planned on breastfeeding. It wasn’t as easy as I expected. I heard a lot of myths from many people, including health professionals, and as a somewhat naive first time parent I believed them. I stuck with it, I didn’t really enjoy it for a long time and I chalked it up to parenting being a bit of a boring, hard slog most of the time.

Second time around it was easier and harder. My second child refused any attempt at bottle feeding and after a stressful few tries I gave up trying and just fed him myself. I never, ever expected to feed him until he was four and a half and if you’d told me that when he was four weeks old I probably would have thrown something at you and told you to get out of the house.

This time it’s been easy and hard. Easy because I know what I’m doing and because I know what feeding a newborn is like. I’ve surrendered to the hours spent cluster feeding and feeling a bit annoyed that baby is hungry yet again. I know more about how my body works and how babies work. I know everything is a phase and that this stage won’t last forever.

When pregnant I looked into breast pumps and decided to take a chance on a very basic silicon one which wasn’t very expensive. Pumping didn’t work for me the first time or the second time around, but this pump has been a revelation. There’s no bits which can break and it’s very easy to use. I don’t use it every day, just when I feel a bit touched out and that a break would be nice.

I bought one baby bottle because I know better than to buy things which don’t end up being using. One glass bottle with a rubber nipple seems to be doing the job I need it to do.

There’s a lot of politics around breastfeeding. Ireland produces vast quantities of infant formula and there’s no laws on marketing infant formula for babies aged six months, hence the odious follow on milk adverts which never fail to irk me. I’ve never, ever had a bad experience breastfeeding in public, and I’ve feed my children everywhere from a church funeral to a rugby match.

I’m not quite sure what prompted me to write this today, but it’s a good day for me and baby and breastfeeding feels easy right now. I can leave the house with a minimal amount of baby stuff and food which is ready to go at any time.

Mother’s Milk

100 Years

Armistice day isn’t something I remember growing up but I do remember the first time I read about the Great War. It was in the book Rilla of Ingleside and I was quite confused by it the first time around. It wasn’t my favourite of the Green Gables series so I didn’t reread it as much as the others and I’m fairly certain I read it out of sequence to add to the puzzlement.

It’s not a typical book about war because it’s about the home front, even more so becasue it concentrates on the Canadian home front and the women left behind while their sons, brothers, husbands and sweethearts headed off to war in Europe. I’ve reread it a lot as an adult and it has been on my mind in recent days.

On my mind too is a book of war poetry my father gave me. I’m not a huge poetry lover but these are poems I return to, because the older I get the more I get from them.

I watched the memorial services on CNN and the BBC this morning. Two minutes silence isn’t very long really, considering what the silence is meant to stand for.

100 Years

Four Weeks

This time four weeks ago I was trying not to think about how nervous and hungry I was, and that the green surgical stockings I had to wear were just like the socks I had to wear as part of my school uniform. It feels like less and more time has passed. Baby Orchid is blooming and life with three children is generally ok.

I’m coping with less sleep deprivation than I did last time around. Baby Orchid alternates between the co-sleeper we borrowed from a friend and our bed which is thankfully king sized so not as much of a squeeze as might otherwise be the case. I’m an inherently lazy, take the easy route type of parent so breastfeeding (especially lying down) is part of that. Every time he wakes he gets fed and I doze and we both get some rest.

I feel guilty about the number of disposable nappies we’re going through. I need to sort out our cloth nappies and wipes and organise our changing baskets so we use the ones that aren’t as bad for the environment. I feel great that we’re using so many babygros and vests which have already been on at least two other babies.

It’s not all perfect, I’m feeling and looking tired. I’m getting a bit touched out by the time the evening rolls around. I’m wishing I could get in the car and drive somewhere for a change of scenery. But this stage will pass. It’s already been four weeks. Another four weeks and life will be even more normal.

Four Weeks

En Famille

I will have delivered my baby tomorrow. It’s five year since I last delivered a baby. Some things loom large, other things I’ve had to ask about and read up on because, by accident or design, I’ve forgotten them. It’s good and bad that I know what lies ahead. The hellish stage of caring for a newborn looms large. As does the joy of seeing a new person in our family.

I’ve been thinking about all the women in our families who’ve done this before. My husband’s grandmother, who had 17 births to her credit. My grandmother, who delivered eight children, including a set of twins. My mother and mother in law, my sister in law and other relatives who’ve been through this.

I’ve been thinking further back too, to the women who were pregnant and labouring during times which were much more trying than the current state of the nation. I’ve been thinking of the girls and women in Tuam most particularly. I think about them being 39 weeks pregnant, as I am, and knowing they will have to birth babies they won’t be able to keep, and knowing that there’s a chance those babies will die because they’ve probably seen this happen myriad times already.

I had no say in how I delivered my first child. She (I thought she was a he and got an enormous shock) had settled into a comfortable but dangerous position and didn’t budge, so it was a c section and a planned and controlled birth. My second pregnancy also ended in a section, but various factors made me feel a lot more in control and it was an empowering decision and experience. I’ll be back in theatre, with that same feeling of control that you don’t often get to experience during pregnancy, when so much is outside your control, tomorrow.

This is the very first time I have been pregnant in Ireland without the eighth amendment being in place. My hospital consultant was part of the campaign to repeal the eighth. The legislation to give effect to the repeal of the eighth and introduce abortion services here has yet to be passed, but it is fantastic knowing it is on the way and our families won’t have to experience a pregnancy under it ever again.

En Famille

Where It Would Do Most Good

We are homeowners. We know how lucky we are. We have access to finance and we have savings. We have never experienced much, if any, real insecurity in our lives. One of the things which I think made us so compatible from the start of our relationship was our similar backgrounds. We were both raised in stable environments and given every possible opportunity to succeed in life. There were always safety nets.

I sometimes feel enormous guilt at our privilege. We live in a house that was of our choosing. We face no imminent risk of having to leave it out of necessity rather than by choice. One of my children told me one morning that they woke in the middle of the night and it was so cosy in their own bed they went straight back to sleep because it felt so nice.

It’s really hard not to think of the other children sleeping in hotel rooms, hostels and police stations when your child tells you something like that. It is an accident of circumstances that our children are where they are and other children aren’t able to feel as safe as our children do.

The narratives around housing, homelessness and families can be difficult to listen to sometimes. Some parents are feckless. Some make bad decisions (I know I do, at least once a day). Some have made choices thinking only of the short term. Some have made choices with an eye to state benefits. Some make choices that make me angry.

Their children, no matter what the choices of their parents, deserve housing that’s as secure as the housing we have. I’m not an expert on housing but I don’t think it takes much imagination to realise that we’ll all do better, long and short term, if every child has a secure home and can wake in the middle of the night and feel so safe and secure they can enjoy the feeling of cosiness and go right back to sleep.

Social housing is good. It provides security for children and their parents, and how can anyone not be in favour of that? I don’t particularly enjoy paying taxes, who does? But when taxes are collected and spent, they must go where they will do most good. My tiny portion of the tax collected must go where it will do most good. In the long run, it makes social and economic sense.

Where It Would Do Most Good

Thoughts on September

My brain is addled lately and I hadn’t thought about our engagement anniversary (not that it is something we celebrate or even mark or think about these days) until I got a lovely message from my husband reminding me of it yesterday. We got engaged in Sorrento and it will always be a very special place for us.

One can’t escape the fact that this is the 17th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. I don’t need any reminder of where I was and what I was doing on this day 17 years ago. When I was 19, 17 years felt like a very long time. Not so much now its 17 years on and its become really clear that the reverberations of that awful day are only just beginning.

Our son was born in September and our third child will be too. Family life will be bookended by birthdays, and I quite like that because birthdays are a big deal in our home. Another two weeks and we’ll officially have the birth day over and done with.

Like many things, WH Auden says it a lot better than I do about September 2018 and what the world can feel like sometimes.

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. 

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Thoughts on September


I wasn’t shocked or even surprised by the report on child abuse in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. Over two decades of similar reports here in Ireland have resulted in a kind of weary acceptance that this is an organisation which, from the top to the bottom, covers up and facilitates child abuse. It doesn’t care about children, or adults, or anyone really. But the organisation can’t function without people. And I find myself getting angry with the people who not only continue to support the church I left long ago but make excuses, such as saying they want to stay in the church and change it or that there are plenty of ‘good’ priests and nuns and that’s the real church.

I rant in my head and on twitter about this quite a lot. How and why would a ‘good’ priest or nun stay in an organisation like the Catholic Church, knowing what we all now know and knowing that similar reports will yield similar information? What is a ‘good’ priest or nun anyway? Is it one who sticks with an organisation which shows not the slightest disposition towards change and reform? Is it one they can compartmentalise, taking only the nice and positive bits into account and simply ignoring the reports on places like Ferns and Boston? Is it one they’re simply unwilling to leave no matter what because they have decided where their loyalties lie?

I am deeply and profoundly glad me and my husband have been on the same page about religion from the start. I couldn’t imagine being in a relationship where ‘compromising’ on religion meant that the person who wanted to rub a bit of religion into the children was the person who usually ended up getting his or her way. It is very hard to shake off the indoctrination of child and young adulthood, and I am glad every day my children won’t have to deal with that.