The Flop Factor

I know it’s smart to start getting regular mammograms done once you turn 45 but what with getting teenage boys over the finish line to adulthood, getting remarried, getting IVF, getting pregnant then having a baby (what seemed like) permanently attached to the ‘girls’ for 18 months, I found it hard to find the time … until last Friday.

Despite having a close friend who had a brush with breast cancer and knowing all the stats, I didn’t actively seek out a mammogram once all my excuses had dried up (so to speak). However, a simple throat infection and a visit to the doctor about a month ago saw me put firmly on the Breast Screening list and lined up for an appointment.

Now I’d heard a few reviews regarding mammograms, particularly with the words “extreme discomfort” and “mashed boobs” featuring regularly so I was prepared for a bit of pain. Imagine my surprise when it was all over bar the shouting in a few minutes with the only discomfort coming from trying to hold my breath AND my stomach in at the same time.

Which has me wondering … is there a Flop Factor at play here? I can imagine if your fun bags are nice and firm and well adhered to your chest area that it might be a little harder to get them in between the two panels and the pressure may be more easily felt than say if your boobs, once let loose of their wire-reinforced hammocks, kinda oozed onto the bottom panel and obligingly made squishy under the top one so the radiologist could snap a clear shot with ease.

Or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve experienced REAL breast-related pain – those first few weeks of breastfeeding where I truly feared my nipples would just drop off due to struggles with latching then the last few weeks of breastfeeding where I truly feared my nipples would be clean bitten off due to an overzealous, teething toddler.

After that, a little clamping between two plates is more like a walk in the park … just with your shirt off.

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End of an era

For the first time in almost 2 years, I wore a non-maternity bra to work today.

It feels a little sad …

She’s not happy about it but the fact of the matter is the stress of working full time and feeding less during the day has taken its toll and no amount of night time snacking is going to fix that.

Add to that a diet change and voila – what little milk supply was there has pretty much gone.

She’s nearly 17 months. It’s the longest I’ve breastfed a baby for.

We’ve had a good innings but I can see the end in sight and whilst part of me rejoices at having my body back (and part of NIH rejoices at the prospect of having HIS particular area of amusement back), part of me weeps.

It’s truly the end of an era.

And now for something completely different …

I have a thing for circles lately. I don’t know if there’s a hidden message in it. Maybe I’m subconsciously thinking I’m back at square one in the circle of life (possibly a mixed metaphor there but whatever).

Once again,  I have a small baby which means I’ve pretty much lost my independence for a while – at least until she’s weaned.  But it’s not so much the constant demands on my time, sleep and body that troubles me.

It’s money.

Even though I’ve been doing a little bit of work here and there, it hasn’t been regular and has equated to little more coffee money (once upon a time they called it pin money – but who needs that many pins?).

It certainly hasn’t been anything that could cover some expenses while I’m on maternity leave. Fortunately I go back to work in a few months – and I say fortunately because I can’t stand not bringing money into the house.

Money is such a touchy subject for me. In my first marriage, I felt incredibly guilty about not working for the first six years, even though the main reason was that we had three kidlets under the age of five and could not have afforded the childcare costs.  At that stage, I only had the qualifications to be a check-out chick – so I would have basically just handed over my wage each week. Add to that the fact we were in the Army and moved on average once a year and my prospects were really poor.

Even though it seemed the logical choice to wait until they went to school – I ended up getting permanent part-time work when the youngest was 12 months old – I was made to feel that I was a burden because I didn’t earn money. And it wasn’t my imagination either – he said those very words to me years later.  It may have just been the divorce talking but it still stabs me right in the heart to recall it.

Nowadays there are so many articles highlighting the ability of stay-at-home mums to improve the lifestyle of a regular household. After all, they cook, they clean, they mind your child … if dad plays his cards right, he may get some “personal time” …

To pay for all that (and I don’t actually think they included ‘personal time’ in their sums) calculates to some ridiculous six-figure amount.  Even though it seems a terrible shame to put a price on motherhood, at least it gives us a measuring stick in terms that modern society can understand.

So I work hard to enjoy these precious 10 months or so that I have with Little Miss before we all get thrust back into the fast-running stream of work, daycare, home, chores, bed, repeat. I budget whilst making sure we still have a bit of fun. I do what work I can from home to bring in a little extra.

But even though it’s a totally different situation with a totally different partner who I know doesn’t have the same viewpoint, I still can’t seem to shut up those niggling inner demons about being perceived as a burden and not pulling my weight.

Getting back into it

I’ve been feeling restless lately so I challenged myself to get back into drawing again.

I could have a big whinge-fest about my motivations: the highs and lows of motherhood; the wanting to feel like I’m achieving something every day; the desire to maintain and build on skills … but firstly, there’s so many other bloggers out there who can do it better than me and secondly, I couldn’t be arsed.

So instead I’ll just show you the picture I drew yesterday. I want to say “I challenged myself to do one drawing every day for [insert appropriate timeframe here]. Here’s Day One.” but why set myself up for failure?

I might do one every day … I might not. You’ll just have to wait and see.

Taking notes

I can’t really put my finger on why I feel compelled to blog. Just like that option about relationships on Facebook, it’s complicated.

I do like to think of myself as a storyteller and if I can get a few laughs along the way, all the better.

Perhaps Mr Morley, my 6th Grade teacher, is part of it. Even since he kindly but succinctly critiqued my attempt at a retelling of “Goldilocks & The Three Bears” – Michelle, I appreciate your hard work but your writing is verbose – I’ve felt the need to hone my writing skills.

Maybe it’s a way of quieting the voices in my head. I find putting thoughts into words on a page brings clarity and some sense of order.

My love affair with blogging actually started about eight years ago. I was going through (what I hope will be) the most disastrous time in my life. I had the trifecta – career; family; marriage – all in the shitter. There’s no nicer way to put it. Everything was crappy.

I was suffering deep anxiety and depression at the time (of course, had no idea that’s what it was) and I credit taking up writing in a journal for helping me through those really tough days.  I committed to writing one page per day, last thing at night.

At first, it was so very, very trite. My entries read like that nasty classic “What I did in my holidays”. It was just a recount of what I’d done for the day.

At the same time, I discovered you could actually do this on the internet and I started my own blog – The Blah-Blah. Nothing controversial. No deep inner revelations. No dark secrets. It was just like my journal – dull and boring and nothing at all of the real me in there.

Some time later I re-read both the early days of my journal and my blog, knowing full well what was really going on, and I could see how much of a liar I was. There was no hint of any distress at all. They were positively dripping with sweetness and ‘hail-fellow-well-met”.

Lies. Lies. Lies.

Then the shit really hit the fan. My dad died. And all the crap came spilling out as life as I knew it exploded around me.

Finally, my journal did what it was supposed to do. It released all the pent-up angst, all the hurt, all the sorrow. Some nights I struggled to condense it all onto just one page.

Unfortunately, my blog took a turn for the worse as well, diving into diatribe. I took a good look at it one day and deleted the whole thing. It had become nothing more than a moan about things that were either out of my control or of my own doing. I felt embarrassed to have all that out for public display.

I kept my journals (there ended up being 5 of them) buried in the back of my cupboard for a few years. I made NIH promise to find them and burn them if I died. He knew everything about me so I wasn’t worried about him reading them (it’s one of the reasons I love him dearly – he knows it all and loves me anyway) but I worried about anyone else finding them.

About three years ago I did a big spring clean. Life was relatively good – there was still that pesky little issue with infertility but apart from that, I loved who I had become and where I was in life.  I pulled the journals out of the cupboard and flicked through them all.

Oh, that me was so sad and lost. Even now, I get a lump in my throat thinking of her. She was a total mess.

So I ripped them apart and burnt all the pages, even those heart-wrenching entries just before and after my dad passed away. The journals had served their purpose and I didn’t need to hold onto all that pain anymore. It was past time to let it all go.

I started “Creative Midlife” as a way of discussing my journey from librarian to graphic designer. It was meant to be a showcase of my work whilst being an amusing little aside at my life – a token diary without too much angst.

I decided to be real but not offensive. I wanted to write stuff that might leave me vulnerable but at least be my truth. I didn’t want to be a liar anymore.

It’s interesting to see how the blog has evolved around my life – first as a foray into a vastly different career, then as an IVF war veteran, then an immigrant to a different country and now as a second-time-around mother. I’m so glad I have kept a written record of the highlights. Sure, it’s not been all wine and roses but still it’s been good.

I don’t think I’ll be deleting it any time soon.

Oh baby!

Damn!

I believe I’ve previously touted the amazing health system in New Zealand, focusing in particular on maternity and after-birth care. I’ve experienced the most amazing support from the time I realised at 8 weeks that perhaps I should actually go to a doctor and get checked out since I seemed to be ‘still pregnant’ (usually we’d make it to 7 weeks tops before miscarrying).

Australians are uniquely blessed to be considered ‘honorary kiwis’ if they decide to move to NZ and plan on staying more than two years. This includes cheap doctor visits; free antenatal care from a registered midwife up until six weeks after baby is born; free ongoing support from Plunket after baby arrives and being able to get prescription medication for only $5 a pop.

Now, before I go on, perhaps I should do a shout-out to my older kids …

Hey guys!  Mummy is about to tell all about something that could be construed as embarrassing so feel free to look away! Look away now!

I’m going to talk about contraception … and in particular, the prescription I picked up from the chemist yesterday. You may have noticed the photo. That’s the ACTUAL BOX … or should I say “boxes” – all 12 of them.

Yep, 144 stolen moments of Confident Pleasure right there. And I say ‘stolen’ because that’s what happens when you have a small child that may wake up at any time and demand attention.

To be honest, when the midwife first brought up the topic of contraception post-baby, I scoffed. Firstly, the baby in question was only two weeks old and I was currently undergoing a stark reminder of the consequences of sex. Secondly, did she not realise how much of a miracle this little bundle was? The idea that we (and by that I mean ME) could actually conceive another child seemed ludicrous. And yet … lightning has been known to strike twice.

I don’t like chemical contraception (and all versions of it certainly doesn’t like me) so to alleviate their concern and show that I was moderately responsible, I opted for the good ol’ Love Glove.

Yep, I got a prescription from the midwife for 144 Frangers. One gross of Frenchies. French letters. Dingers. Rubbers. Sheaths. Raincoats. (Oh yes, I am loving googling all the slang terms for condoms but in the interests of my mum have kept it to the clean ones!).  And I got them all for the bargain price of $5.

Since life has settled down somewhat and the baby is now nine weeks and showing signs of sleeping longer through the night, sex may be a topic of conversation again. Even though I’m not sure we’ll even use them, I decided that perhaps I should get that prescription filled yesterday, if only to see what a years’ worth of condoms looks like.

I don’t know who was more flustered – the chemist handing over the ‘package’ or me trying to stuff the damn thing in the tray underneath the pram.

When I got them home, I took a photo and sent it to NIH at work with the caption “DAMN!”.  He was suitably impressed.

The instructions on the label say “USE when required”. I’ve checked the Use By date and fortunately we have until September 2021.

Thank god for that.

Drinks with the girls

Last Friday night I met up with two girlfriends from work for drinks and a catch-up. Of course (as with most of my expeditions) there was some minor drama beforehand to add to the excitement.  I won’t go into detail but suffice to say that due to circumstances out of my control, I had 20 minutes to get dressed, prettified, say goodbye to the baby (oh … and NIH), drive, find a parking spot and walk the 5 minutes to the bar.

Challenge not only accepted but achieved. What can I say? It’s a gift … and there was the promise of wine and gossip at the finish line!

For two hours we shared a bottle of wine, some hot nibbly food and chatter. It was such a treat for various reasons:

  1. I was out in clothes that I hadn’t fit into for some time – and not to boast but I think I looked pretty fine for someone who, up until 7 weeks ago, looked like Moby Dick’s twin sister
  2. The clothes were not chosen according to how discretely I could pop a boob out (although some may argue that’s precisely how you should dress for a Friday night out on the town)
  3. I got to spend time with two lovely women who make me laugh, keep me grounded and fill me in on happenings outside my temporary but very narrow world
  4. Hot food that I could eat without interruption
  5. Wine. Enough said.

My life at the moment revolves around a small, squinty-eyed dictator who calls the shots … and I’m ok with that. It’s all part of motherhood.

However, for a brief two hours I was just Me. And that’s something we mothers tend to put on the backburner – sometimes for so long we forget where we left it. Having a baby can be a very isolating experience if you let it so as a “Do-Over” mum who’s been through this before, I’d like to say “Don’t”.

Don’t forget who you are.

Don’t put off catching up with the outside world from time to time. It would have been far easier for me to just cancel, considering what was going on that afternoon but I had made plans and by golly I was going out, even if it meant I was late and it was only for a little while. Once you start down the road of opting out if it gets too tricky, it gets harder and harder to turn back. It’s ALWAYS going to be tricky with a baby. Work around it.

Don’t ditch your mates from BB (Before Baby). You need those girlfriends without kids just as much as you need girlfriends in the same boat as you. They not only remind you of who you were before but also give you a chance to talk about something other than sleeping, pooping or feeding. Make the effort. They are totally worth your time.

Take a step out of your routine of feeding, changing nappies and coaxing the little darling to go to sleep and do something for yourself.  It refreshes your batteries and makes you appreciate motherhood all the more.

Terrible confession

Not just for funsies

Way back when I was a girl, one of my jobs was to take the garbage bag out to the wheelie bin that would sit behind the shed until bin day. We lived in Northern NSW, where sugar cane is a big industry. And with sugar cane comes cane toads.

Cane toads were prolific in our area, even in suburban back yards such as ours. Invariably, I would have to take the garbage bag out at night, walking across the grassy yard using the lights from the house as my guide in the darkness.

I did this in a sort of hop-skip-try-to-float-above-the-ground way as the worst feeling in the world was accidentally stepping on a cane toad. Or so I thought.

I was wrong.

Not long ago … I stepped on my baby.

That right there was definitely the worst feeling in the world.

“How on earth could you step on your baby?” I hear you cry.  As simply as this:

I had her on the floor on a blanket, having a stretch out and enjoying time NOT in my arms (or maybe that was me enjoying the time).  I got up to get a drink and came back and stepped over her … almost.

I was wearing some seriously comfy floppy pants. Unfortunately they’re a little long for my stubby soccer-player legs. The end of one pant leg slipped under my left foot and tripped me in such a way as to interfere with the planned trajectory of my right foot, shortening the arc considerably and re-configuring the landing site to close proximity to darling Little Miss’s left ankle.  In other words, I tripped on the stupid-arse pants and planted some of my foot on hers.

The yell she let out was magnificent.

I scooped up the poor little monkey and hugged her close, sobbing “sorrysorrysorry”.  She settled much faster than I did  and I spent at least an hour afterwards hugging her and repeatedly checking her little foot to make sure I hadn’t completely squished it.

Happy to say she’s fine – although if there’s any issues with it as a soccer player in later life,  you are all sworn to secrecy.

It’s only now I realise the dual purpose of those mats with the mobiles built over the top. Those foam pipes are not just for her amusement but also for protection against clumsy oaf mothers.

Massively Multiplayer Real-life Role-Playing Game

I’m struggling to align my mental image of myself with my new role as SAHM in this Massively Multiplayer Real-life Role-Playing Game called ‘Life’.  You may have heard of it – like World of Warcraft only without the healers to come and get you back in the game after you’ve accidentally set yourself on fire.

It’s nothing new. I’ve been here before and asked the same hard-hitting question:

“What the Sam Hill will I do with myself while the baby is sleeping that will make me feel clever and worthwhile and maintain the shreds of sanity I’m barely hanging onto … but doesn’t involve cooking, cleaning or craft?”

In the olden days of my first time around as SAHM,  I discovered study and I really do attribute it to keeping me from going completely ga-ga.  I started my Bachelor of Science (Library Technology) via Virtual Campus and of course, fell pregnant midway through my first semester. Never one to let a mere trifle as children stop me, I carried on for the next 10 years, cutting back to one unit a semester when life got complicated (i.e. had another baby) until I finished.

Once I’d completed that sucker, I was hooked and went on to do a few other courses and diplomas related to teaching, editing, proofreading and graphic design.

The only one I didn’t see through to the end was the teaching grad dip. One round of prac finished me. I had three kids at home already – did I really want a class full of them as well?

Looking back, I note that I started them all at a time where I was struggling with my identity and self-esteem. Some people drink and take drugs. I get my jollies from assignments. Drugs would probably be cheaper (just ask my accountant about my HECS debt)  but hey, my addiction fills out a CV really well and makes me look smart.

This SAHM do-over, I vowed to take a different path from the norm. I would get involved with mum’s groups and baby play-based education sessions. I would take the baby for long walks in the pram. Leave baby home with Dad occasionally and go out for Friday afternoon drinks with the girls.

I would not sign myself up for more study and would definitely not spend countless hours at the computer with the baby asleep (or waving its arms frantically in hopes of gaining my attention) in a bouncer at my feet.

If I were grading myself on how I’m doing so far, it would look like this:

“Welcome to Stay At Home Motherhood … again.

So far your efforts to get out and socialise are to be commended and you seem to be tracking well for achieving some semblance of regular adult conversation and interaction – even if it is baby-centric. Excellent work. Keep it up.

I see you’ve arranged to get together with former work mates this week. Please remember that whilst your world revolves around your baby’s bowel motions and cute smile that may or may not be related to said bowel motions, not everyone will want to hear about it.

A simple “Baby is still alive. Husband and I still talk to each other with words of more than one syllable. I am a little tired but all is good” will suffice.  Try engaging interest with topics other than your baby such as world politics, the state of Kim and Kanye’s marriage woes or, if desperate, the weather.

However … I see you’re getting into the blogging again and I wonder if this is a wise choice?  That baby is only going to take vigorous bouncing at your feet for so long before she really jacks up. Please arrange an appointment to see me about this before it goes much further.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, someone is waving their arms at me frantically …