24 May

Date Night

Ten years ago, heavily pregnant, I said goodbye to a regular monthly social group that I knew I wouldn’t be coming back to for a little while. ‘Make sure you get out as a couple as soon as you can,’ was their parting advice. Looking forward to meeting my baby, and anticipating the tired and intense times to come, the advice fell on stony ground.

A few weeks later, my partner’s sister arrived to ‘take me out and make me feel like a girl again.’ I still have no idea what this means, but I let her come with me to the Bumps & Babies group. My first real Date Night with my partner came about when our baby was nearly six months old, and a kind friend from our NCT group babysat while we went out for a meal. We were home by 9.30pm. So out of the habit of lingering over food, and with nothing much to talk about that we couldn’t discuss at home, the whole thing felt like a waste of planning.

We were a tired team of two, rewriting ourselves as a family, moving on from the responsibility-free zone that was our life as a couple. The focus of our relationship was no longer exclusively each other. There were many, many challenges; not least the pressure to go out and ‘be ourselves.’ Our selves were growing into something new, not constantly seeking something lost. When Date Nights were more of a chore to arrange than a treat to enjoy, they added to the challenges.

Having a child undoubtedly changes a relationship, and pressure to get back to ‘normal’ can make it harder to adjust. Time spent together does not have to exclude the baby, especially in those early weeks when newborns will sleep quietly in someone’s arms. Meals out can happen at lunchtime. Couple time may be snatched and precious, but it is the support and consideration that builds a relationship and maintains it through these dramatic changes.

Date Nights still aren’t a very frequent occurrence, and they can still take a reasonable amount of planning (grandparent visits, sleepovers with friends, and so on). But now we can enjoy them on our own terms, the experience is finally worth the effort.

Sprogcast 14 is all about sex and relationships, and we interview agony aunt Dr Petra Boynton about how to maintain and nurture a loving partnership after the birth of a child.

[Cross-posted on Huffington Post]

15 May

Reading Half Marathon

A few years ago, I took it upon myself to start running. This seemed a bit bonkers at the time; I’m not unfit but I’m not young either, and it took a year (including time off for a sprained ankle) to comfortably run 5k. Fast forward to January this year when our local NCT Committee started to talk about fundraising to train Breastfeeding Peer Supporters. We need about £5000 to train a group of 12 women to support local mothers, and when someone suggested running Reading Half Marathon in March, for some reason I thought it seemed like a good idea.

I lost no time in booking my place, otherwise I would certainly have changed my mind. I don’t really enjoy running, I just do it so that I can eat cake. Luckily my son is now in school, and my work is quite flexible, so I was able to fit most of the training into the working week. I looked at various training plans but since I don’t understand words like “fartlek” I just decided to increase my mileage week by week. This turned out to be moderately successful, and three weeks before the race, I ran ten miles on Saturday morning, and actually enjoyed the whole thing (as well as the enormous lunch I ate afterwards).

A few days later, I enjoyed another 5 miles, but then the twinges started in my left leg. I now know I had torn my plantaris – the muscle running down the side of my leg and joining to my foot. This is likely to be because I increased my mileage too rapidly. At the time, I took the decision to stop running, and swim regularly until race day, and accept that I would probably walk some of it.

On the day of the race, I met up with some friends who were there to give support; they went off to wait at the bottom of the first big hill, and I joined the queue for the start. As a slow runner, I was starting near the back, and it took about half an hour for me even to reach the start line. I managed to pace myself well at the beginning, and was so distracted by the crowds and the costumes and all the charity t-shirts around me, that I barely noticed the first couple of miles. Then I came to the hill, and my friends waved and offered me jelly babies (which I refused; I hate jelly babies). Having run up the hill twice already in training, I knew exactly what to expect, and proudly powered up it. By the top I was very glad to know the first drink station was soon approaching.

I continued steadily on through the university, down Kendrick Road, and into town where my boyfriend and son were waiting to cheer me through at 6.5 miles. They then cut across while I ran round Forbury Gardens, and waved again at 7.5 miles. As I ran away from them, I started to feel despondent: I was only half way, and running all that again felt like such a big ask. And then it turned out that there was another huge hill connecting Oxford Road and Tilehurst Road, which came as a horrible shock. The only thing that got me up that hill was knowing I had another friend who had come all the way from Milton Keynes just to cheer me on, waiting at the top of it.

After that it was run-walk all the rest of the way; my head lost the battle before my legs did. Even though I knew there was going to be some walking, I was still disappointed by it. Yesterday I booked my place in next year’s Half, and there are two things I will do differently: train more gradually, and arrange for targeted support from mile 8 onwards. Like a new mother breastfeeding her baby, I know now that the more support I have, the more likely I am to have a positive experience and a satisfying end to my journey.

09 May

Book Review: You’ve Got It In You, by Emma Pickett

You’ve got it in you is a chatty, positive little book packed with very useful information for breastfeeding mothers. In fact it begins with the decision to breastfeed, explaining the importance of gathering your support and doing your research well before the birth of your baby. It then takes a roughly chronological journey through the experience of breastfeeding, starting with the importance of skin to skin and a gentle transition into the world. The contents of the book are so closely aligned to what I would say myself that it’s impossible not to read without nodding constantly, going ‘yes, yes, yes.’ It’s all so very sensible.

Emma Pickett’s friendly (sometimes a little brisk) narrative voice can be heard clearly throughout the book; it might feel like having a kind and experienced breastfeeding counsellor sitting alongside you, giving you both reassurance and information at critical times. I found the switch between “we” and “you” and “they” slightly confusing, and sometimes this gave it a slightly nanny-like tone; but in general the language used is clear and accessible, and this is definitely a book I would offer to a new mother, whether she needed help, or just as a companion.

The detailed signposting in the book could be extremely useful, however the weblink formatting doesn’t really work in print, and of course there is the danger of going out of date. This is where a QR code or some other way of accessing online references would be useful. Reading this academically, I wanted to see more references to support some of the information given, partly so that I could share it myself with confidence. Some pictures might also be helpful, in the section on positioning and attachment.

In addition to good quality information for breastfeeding mothers, the book also includes a handy little chapter for grandparents, information about safer bedsharing, and even details of how to train as a breastfeeding counsellor yourself. This would have been a great book for me as a new mother, but I also recommend it to anyone supporting new families. It’s one of the best books on breastfeeding that I have read.

[Disclosure: Emma sent me a review copy of this book]