Friday, 21 April 2017

My newborn hates being swaddled

Swaddling used to be the 'standard' sleeping aid for a newborn. Then the SIDS research brigade who want to ruin everything that could possibly help new parents get some much-needed shut eye said swaddling was a SIDS risk. So now midwives don't recommend swaddling. Whatever, we got a swaddle sleeping bag as a gift, and Anna's startle reflex wakes her up at unpredictable moments unless she's wrapped up tight at night. She kind of looks like Frodo after he's been stuck with poison by Shelob, I don't like it, but it's the only reason she sleeps more than 40 minutes. 

But god damn, she hates that swaddle. Baby loves swiping with her newly-discovered arms, the swaddle is a prison of parental convenience.

Here's a recreation of how our early morning routine goes. This typically takes place any time between 4am and 7am. 

Baby: I hate swaddle *struggles and tries desperately to get out of swaddle*
Me: Oh, but you love swaddle. Here, I feed you.
Baby: Oh ok, but I really do hate swaddle *some non-committal attempts to get out of swaddle*
Feeding ends, baby goes back asleep with swaddle slightly looser than before, perhaps a little hand is gentle creeping out of the top.

-30 minutes pass-

Baby: I hate swaddle *struggles with greater urgency*
Me: Here, I feed you.
Baby: *Struggles with greatest level of urgency*
Me: Ok, I take it off.

-Baby wriggles, does extreme stretching for several minutes, vomits liberally all over self -

Rinse, repeat.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Week 6: the struggle is real

Week 6 of our life with Anna was really hard. All the work I'd done to get to a state where I was 'managing' unraveled before my eyes, and I was once again crying at 1am, 2.30am, 4am, 5am etc. It's actually scary what just a few nights of little sleep can do to a person.

Some people live in the past. I, however, project my worries into an imagined future. So, when our little baby who was sleeping for 2.5-4 hour stints from about three weeks began waking up every 40 minutes, or not settling at all, I freaked out. I imagined that that was it, I had broken the tenuous balance of 'just enough' sleep, that it was my fault and we were going to spend the next 12 months getting up on the hour. 'But I need to finish my PhD', I sobbed to myself. 

I knew week 6 is a huge developmental milestone for a baby. Anna was going through some serious stuff - all that growing and figuring out is exhausting and scary for such a tiny human. Instead of acknowledging that it was an important phase, and she would grow out of it, I freaked out. I didn't see the good - how we'd successfully taken the train on our own and becoming more relaxed feeding in the wrap. I only saw the scary, uncontrollable things.

A lot of good came out of that week. Anna looks into our eyes with a face lit up with a big smile now. She gurgles and babbles. If you try to hold her on your knee she determinedly straightens her legs and 'stands'. She sits in her bouncer and watches curiously as I do things in the kitchen. Her eyes follow me or Leo around rooms. Can anything possibly beat that?

I'm writing this for the sake of providing a well-balanced account of my experiences of life with a newborn. I sometimes struggle. It's ok to struggle, but it's also important to put those struggles into context, into the catalogue of 'life experiences' and not blow them out of proportion. The most important thing to remember: if you freak out in the middle of the night and throw a huge strop, always remember to say sorry.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

5.5 weeks

Little Anna is nearly 6 weeks old. It's been the longest and the shortest of times I've ever experienced, and I'm sure she'd agree, if she could. 

Last Tuesday we reached a huge turning point. It seemed to happen in the blink of an eye -  my little sleepy-eyed newborn turned into a fully fledged human! I looked down at her, and she was gazing earnestly up at me, with her big eyes shining and alert. She's also started smiling and gurgling. As well as that, she's upped her limb-flailing considerably. Arms up in this 'champion' gesture after eating, legs kicking wildly whenever she's laid on the floor. Leo is particularly impressed by her strong legs.

I'm sure this doesn't sound like a huge deal, baby smiles, world keeps turning, but after weeks and weeks of giving constant care to someone to whom you might as well be a piece of toast or a chair, this is monumental. To have her suddenly engage with you, use her eyes to communicate in one of the very limited ways she can, is huge. It makes your heart swell and you cannot stop smiling, because this little baby finally acknowledges you. 

In other positive news, the possetting is beginning to taper off. Or maybe it hasn't, maybe I've become so used to being coated in a layer or regurgitated milk that my sense of proportion is entirely skewed. (Naw, I'm joking, it definitely has). This is seriously welcome, as cluster feeding (the horror!) has recommenced in the last two days.

For those not in the know, cluster feeding is intense periods of feeding (constant, it's constant) that accompany developmental milestones. You also get extra bonus fussiness, bouts of crying and general unreasonable baby stuff. I'm seeing a lot of reddening of the face, followed by some serious wailing. 

But you know what? It's totally cool. I am hoping and hoping that every passing day of fussiness, constant feeding, and every night of broken sleeps (although relative to some other babies I hear about, it's really nothing, I get at least 6 hours every night, she's really sound like that) means she's closer to being her best self. She's closer to being able to feed efficiently and quickly, closer to having a functioning digestive system, being able to lift her head up, getting fat and being the healthiest she can be. What's a few months of fussy baby, relentless feeding, puking and broken sleep, for a baby that is growing and learning and changing at such tremendous speed? Babies are total champions really. Well done, Anna. Well done.

Leo made this baby gym!
Anna particularly enjoys swiping at the heart shaped bells that make a nice jingling noise.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The one most important lesson I've learned about motherhood so far

I've been a mother for a grand total of 3 weeks and 4 days. So obviously that makes me some sort of expert. Ok, while I'm admittedly very new to this crazy life, I have had to do some major adjusting, as all new parents have to. It's been the fastest learning curve of my adult life. Having a newborn is really tiring, and, honestly, in those first few days, before they have any limb control, can't see or smell you properly, and aren't really reassured by you, it can be less-than-rewarding. All you have is the irrational love you feel, the hormones keeping you awake, and the expectations for the future.

I found myself losing my temper at night when I had to wake up, and my baby is actually really sound. She'll sleep for between 2 and 4 hours at a time at night. That's amazing, based on what I've read on The Google. She's generally really chilled out and accommodating. Right now she's sitting in her bouncer possetting gently all over her bib and making wonderful finding herself noises and chewing her hand. It'll probably be at least five minutes before I need to pick her up and give her cuddles again. That is amazing.

But it was tough, and I lost my temper frequently - at Leo, at the situation, at my own perceived failings. In those first few days I felt like Leo was a much better mother than me. The guy has boundless patience and never harbours resentment. I, on the other hand, was a Progesterone fulled monster, prone to bouts of tears that were not always 'isn't it so great that we did this' (although there were probably more happy tears than sad tears, such was the volume of happy tears I cried). 

I indulged myself and wallowed in the postpartum messiness for a bit longer than was probably fair, about two weeks. I gradually tried to integrate self-calming techniques into my habits so I would stop freaking out every time she puked on my top (about ten times a day, big deal, that's what wipes are for), or if her latch or the let-down was painful (in the early days I would grimaced, before I realised breathing in was a much better tactic than snapping at Leo).

I still lose it every now and then, especially when sleep has been minimal and it's late at night. I think fondly of the limitless naps of my pregnancy, being able to just lie there with nothing pending. But lately I've been reminding myself of one crucial thing, the point that makes all the tiredness and discomfort redundant.

She didn't ask for this.

My baby didn't ask to be brought into the world. And while I'm sure those 9 months in the womb were cushy beyond belief, coming out into all of this - learning to eat, use her lungs and grow her tummy and communicate, that's all hard work. Coupled with that, she can't see properly, tell us how she feels, or dictate anything about her environment. All she can do is cry and suck. So how could I hold her accountable? How could I be resentful of her waking up and wanting to be fed or cuddled? She can't help it if she pukes, her stomach is the size of a walnut. If she cries because she doesn't know what she wants, who I am to judge? 

I read a lot of online content where people complain about how tired they are, how frustrated they are with their baby's behaviour etc. I had my time to wallow, all 14 days of it, and I am so ready to cut my ties with that sort of thinking. It does no one any favours. Aside from those who have unplanned/unwanted pregnancies, the rest of us choose our path. We have months to mull it over, educate ourselves and prepare for the journey ahead. We go to classes, buy the little baby grows and get excited. We take pictures and savour the prospects. So I just remember that, when I'm feeling tired or low. I wanted this. I actively chose this. She didn't. She had no say in the matter. So my role now is to give her the best possible time I can before she can make choices for herself. Nothing more.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The first three weeks

It’s been a rollercoaster, life with our little woman. Leo goes back to work tomorrow, bringing to an end the first phase of the postpartum period. For three weeks we’ve been living in a bubble – walks during the day, eating chocolate digestives by the packet, endless cups of tea, nighttime feeds, tears (so many tears) and trips to the Rotunda for one reason or another. It’s been, probably, the most transformative three weeks of our lives, at least since we went through this experience as newborns ourselves. It’s really amazing just how much time it takes keeping a tiny person ticking over. Breastfeeding has been one of the hardest things imaginable, I never would have thought it would have been such an overwhelming task. I’ll write more about that later, but all I want to say for now is that the support in Ireland, I feel is inadequate. I am a healthy and smart young woman, and the struggle I felt to establish breastfeeding with my baby almost drove me to quit the whole thing, and made me feel truly incompetent and helpless. But we got there in the end, we’re still getting there to be honest, but it get easier every day. Today we walked to Newbridge House in Donabate and I was able to feed her in the sling as we walked, a milestone for us.

If I could characterise the first week, it would be ‘struggle’. A huge struggle. I slept only a few hours, and Leo didn’t sleep many more. The problems all seemed to centre around breastfeeding, and we even thought we might have to spend a night in hospital on day 3/4. Luckily, Leo is a super human and devised an amazing feeding schedule on the advice of the doctor. He also let me sleep for a chunk of time, which saved me from breaking down altogether. The first days were made harder by two things – recovery itself (although by all means I had an excellent delivery, needing only a few stitches). I lost a bit of blood and was pale and feint for a few days. This made it hard to summon up the energy to do what needed to be done, but the hormones got me where I needed to be. My body was generally exhausted and sore from the whole thing. I went through the entire labour in one day, and that shock to the system was something indeed.  The second thing was the lack of preparedness. We realised Anna was a lot smaller than most of the baby grows we had, and the bibs were totally inadequate. We did a lot of fervent and too-small, uneconomical washes in those first days. I also didn’t realise how important simple things like a comfortable chair and a breastfeeding pillow would be. Eventually we all got the hang of changing nappies and feeding, and Anna began to thrive. For her one week birthday celebration, we had a cake.

Week two was a muddle of more of the same. We had a lot of visitors around, which was exhausting for me and stressful for her. The milk came in, which brought with it a sense of relief but also pain and confusion about what to do, and when. I attended a local breastfeeding support group and am looking forward to getting to know those ladies more. Our public health nurse came and weighed Anna, and gave us a lot of information about her development and immunisations etc. She was amazing and kind, it was a real reassurance. Somehow, in spite of the business, we managed to take our first train journey, have our first meal out (Korean), get some sleep, and keep the house in a reasonable state of cleanliness. I know the advice is to take it easy, let the house get messy and take care of yourself, but I have never been one to…take advice. No, not really, but I love having a clean space, it relaxes me and a relaxed mum is a relaxed baby.

Week three, here we are. Anna and I made it to our first meeting together (!), the service user forum at the Rotunda. It was a great experience, I am keen to share my suggestions and feedback on their maternity services, and it was great to initiative Anna into service user engagement at such a young age. We had her two week GP checkup, and she’s gained a good bit of weight, which is a huge relief. Last night we even got about seven hours sleep. Since she’s gaining weight I no longer feel like I need to rigorously get her up every 2-3 hours for a feed. If she can sleep 4, more power to her. The main thing getting me down is the posseting, which is constant. I have to change my top several times a day, and we’ve had quite a few explosions already. I hope she grows out of it soon. I knew babies peed and pooped a lot, the vomiting is something else altogether. Tomorrow will be a challenge – our first day home alone, but luckily after that it’s the weekend, and we get two full days with Leo before it’s back to the grind. I’m really looking forward to getting into our ‘real life’ routine. This is it, it’s her and me at home most of the week, with Leo in the evenings and on the weekends. I’m wondering how realistic it is to hope to get PhD work done so soon, but I’m up for the challenge!

Friday, 17 March 2017


I absolutely love all things Lake Woebeon/Garrison Keillor. 

I get a daily poem from him, but I love them so much my inbox is just full of unread ones I don't want to forget. Here's a great one about cats.
Leave a door open long enough, a cat will enter.
Leave food, it will stay.
Soon, on cold nights,
you’ll be saying “Excuse me”
if you want to get out of your chair.
But one thing you’ll never hear from a cat
is “Excuse me."
Nor Einstein’s famous theorem.
Nor "The quality of mercy is not strained."
In the dictionary of Cat, mercy is missing.
In this world where much is missing,
a cat fills only a cat-sized hole.
Yet your whole body turns toward it
again and again because it is there.
 "A Small-Sized Mystery" by Jane Hirshfield from Come, Thief.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Waiting waiting

Still patiently awaiting the arrival of Bab. It feels like every time I speak to a midwife, or any other human really, they ask me about 'pain' and feeling scared or worried. Since the beginning of human life, women have been birthing babies, without epidurals, pitocin or episiotimies. I'm really glad we have wonderful advances in medicine that mean there are only 10 maternal deaths per 100,000  in our part of the world (source), but I don't for a second believe that the regularity with which interventions are undertaken for routine and low-risk births are helpful for anyone. Nor that the fear, uncertainty and lack of education around what happens during pregnancy, labour and the post-natal period is helpful at all, in the slightest, for any of us. It's incredibly dis-empowering. I'm sure the birth will be fine, in fact I'm looking forward to it a lot. A test of mental and physical strength, with a great present at the end, what could be better?

We've received so many flowers, cards and gifts to welcome us into our new home and for our impending arrival, it's really sweet and a little overwhelming, but in a good way. So many changes this year, it's so lovely to see how much people care. 

Until our arrival...arrives, you'll find me in the kitchen sitting on my exercise ball, editing my PhD, cooking, hoovering, reading Nordic crime fiction, and generally being super chill. 

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Hello February - the final weeks of being two

If I'm being honest, I'm writing this post in a much grumpier frame of mind than when I intended to begin it several days ago. Today, house things are just being too much. But, look, I have a lasagne in the oven and some cookie dough prepared, so it ain't all that bad, folks.

2016 was a dream. Really. Finding out the amazing news that we would become parents, moving back to Ireland, continuing my wonderful PhD that I love, getting to speak at conferences all over the UK, really, I've been beyond lucky. Coming back to Ireland and picking up the roots of an old life has been strange, and living with housemates trying at times, but on the whole everything's working out really well.

Unlike, it seems, the entirety of the left-leaning world, I am choosing to focus on the positives in 2017. In 2016 Brexit and Trump happened, and more than one of our favourite celebrities kicked the bucket. There's been a lot to be devastated about, but I chose to not wallow, or become vitriolic, like too many people in the media or on Twitter, or around academia. 

I chose to be proactive in my own way. To organise collections of sanitary products for refugees in the local area (, to be kinder to everyone around me, to organise anti-austerity events, to continue to improve myself and my environment. I don't want be sad and angricey because a bunch of people don't like the EU. Hell, I don't even like the EU. And we could all use this opportunity to learn a little bit about those who are socially, politically and economically very far away from us. In the meantime, there's too much in the world to be joyful about.

Rant over, back to my very small little world, and the great things in it. Leo and I have moved into a home that is all our own, and are getting ready to share it with a small human in a couple of weeks. Life is about to change, forever, in ways I can't begin to imagine. We're both so full of expectation and excited.

Here's to 2017, to a new bab, to maybe getting this PhD finished or nearly finished, to living in a shiny new place, learning new things, and cooking in a kitchen belonging all to oneself. 


Friday, 30 December 2016

My smartphone is making me sad

In the past year or so I've tried to embrace better habits. A huge part of that has been learning what makes me happier, what makes me not-happy (sad, stressed out, anxious), what motivates me, and how I best interact with others. Central to this is understanding that fostering good habits leads to a happier self. One of my bad habits is definitely my over-reliance on my smartphone.

[My Christmas didn't look like this, it was really nice, but here's a helpful article:]

Ironically, my PhD is involved in directly challenging the individualised and individual-centric nature of our society. I argue on a regular basis that it is the political and economic determinants of the social structures we operate within that really have a lasting and often damaging impact upon our health, and not our individual practices. At the time same time I've found myself being drawn to strands of medicine, healing, health practices and philosophy that place our habits and practices at the centre of their modus operandi. I've found them incredibly useful, life-changing even. 

To be honest, I've found that these modes of thinking don't really contradict my political and intellectual beliefs, but reinforce them. For example, there is no doubt that for most individuals, late-(or post- or whatever we're calling it these days) capitalism is an overwhelmingly negative thing, feeding us the idea that consumer culture and cheap airfare can compensate for insecure work, fragmented family lives and disrupted lifecourses. Having an ideological standpoint about how to oppose this process helps in some way, particularly if we surround ourselves with a confirmation-bias bubble of those who believe the same as we do. 

But at the same time, I've actually found this has made me more unhappy rather than more able to challenge the system I find myself wrapped up in. 'The left' is an angry and disillusioned place in many ways, and I've found more often than not I agree on certain issues but disagree on even more (there's more than one way to skin a cat, and I probably have less in common with conventional male 'Marxists' than I would ever have imagined a few years ago) and that leads to further feelings of isolation, when the people you're supposed to be on-side with are actually coming from a very different set of experiences, and seem unreflexive about this.

So, I've found that being introspective is one way of dealing with this and with all the negative feelings that can stem from it. That's very much in keeping with the idea of 'insulating' the self, of doing what you can to mediate your relationship with external factors you have very little control over to ensure the extent to which they can pollute your health and wellbeing is limited. In a lot of ways, that's a very neoliberal thought.

Unfortunately, there's one element of my life that feels like it is often outside of my control. That is, the little terror in my pocket-the smartphone. It got especially stressful in the run-up to Christmas, trying to negotiate who wanted to bring what to Christmas lunch, and planning the timing of lots of different lives coming together from a smartphone screen.

I'd love to open up a dialogue where we can honestly talk about how technology makes us feel, and by that I mean the bad as well as the good. So here you go, I've made a short list of why my smartphone is bad for me.

Being always on is terrifying 

When I was younger, the dial-up internet connection opened up a world of forums, of MSN, of all these different people and concepts I'd had zero exposure to before. It was life-changing. But if someone had to use the phone, and intermittently for absolutely no reason, I got disconnected. If someone else wanted to use the computer, that was it. My connection to the internet existed solely on this desktop computer, mediated by an impossibly slow dial-up modem. Now, the internet lives in my pocket. I used to find this totally overwhelming when I had apps like Facebook and Gmail send me notifications. I've since turned off every single push notification on my phone, but that doesn't stop me from sometimes having to turn off my phone or put it in flight mode so I can just listen to music without the compulsive need to check Instagram or Whatsapp. And I am convinced Facebook Messenger is the single worst thing to happen to our mental health in the past few years. That, and the double-tick on Whatsapp that lets you know when someone has read your message.

Being contactable at all times has removed the sanctity of 'hometime', 'the weekend' and taken away some of our agency

My supervisor is an absolute legend at work-life balance, and she taught me early on to take my weekends off and to not work in the evening. But there have been instances, for example when doing the admin role I had in addition to my PhD in 1st and 2nd year, when tutoring, and when planning fieldwork, conference papers etc. that its impossible to shut off, either because of the people you're working in conjunction with are slaves to their emails, or because of looming deadlines. I've found that trying to switch off at reasonable junctures is the only way to keep sane, but I can only imagine this will get harder when I am no longer only answerable to myself (i.e. employed by somebody) and when I have to juggle baby and work. Setting good habits now is how I'm saving my sanity for later. Furthermore, communicating primarily by text or instant message is incredibly stressful for me. It leads to an eternal lack of clarity, and it's so easy to spout off negative nonsense. If we could just pick up the phone and talk to the people we want to make plans with instead of the drip-drip of texts, wouldn't we all be happier?

It's bad for our sleep cycles and our eyes

I can be pretty compulsive (sure, aren't we all), so I am quite bad at checking something on my phone in the middle of the night. Although, to be honest, I've pretty much stopped doing this now. Especially when I lived between two countries, the urge to stay up late in the dark staring at a tiny screen, or replying to a message in the middle of the night, was intense. You know what's bad for our natural circadian pattern? The light from smartphones. Do you know what's bad for getting into a deep sleep? Thinking about a message, waiting for someone to reply to a message, mindlessly refreshing the Guardian website (pathetic, I know), or reading passive-aggressive forums. Just go to sleep. Sleep is good for you, makes you healthy, get enough sleep.

By way of conclusion

I actually started writing this post about two weeks ago when I was getting majorly stressed out about organising Christmas (there were 9 people for dinner in total, it was very stressful, and now I am sick). I've since then calmed down a little bit, although my basic gripes with smartphones remain. They are a great resource for travelling, living in a new place, and being flexible. Google Maps, internet banking, email and video chat can be amazing resources, when you're in control of them. But the internet has shifted a gear in the past few years, and we need to be honest with ourselves about that. It now feels, to me anyway, that social media and other online tools for enhancing our lives are actually more about shilling products, selling services, making us narcissistic and insecure, and developing and encouraging addictive tendencies. That's a topic I could talk about all day, so I'll leave it for now. I'm not sure where I'm going with this post, other than we need to start being honest with ourselves about smartphone use and how it makes us feel.

***I've been listening to this podcast called Note to Self ( lately and they have some really good episodes on these topics. The recent episodes 'Go Ahead, Miss Out' and 'Distracted is the New Drunk' were excellent. 

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Birthday celebrations in Budapest and Vienna

For my birthday, Leo and I took a trip to Budapest and Vienna. It was a really memorable week, very relaxing, and we experienced a lot of new things.


Budapest was reasonably priced, historical, had good food and great cake, lovely people, fantastic thermal baths, and felt like going back in time a few years. We had a relaxing few days, celebrated my birthday and other nice things happening in our lives, ate lovely food, visited the Christmas market, and were enchanted at a street where a book binder, a cobbler and an old book seller were plying their trades. It's not often you see such authenticity anymore. 


Vienna was cosy, affluent, comfortable. We bought Christmas presents, visited Karl Marx Hof, met friends for dinner, ate in an overpriced but luxurious cafe every morning, and visited a gorgeous healthfood store. Oh, we also visited a couple of their amazing Christmas markets and had mulled wine, hot chocolate and other good things.