Travels With Baby, Part 1: Facilities

The main thing I’ve learned from taking Izzie on holiday to the Isle of Wight is how baby-unfriendly the world can be. And that’s not just the occasional person muttering, ‘F**king babies,’ as you squeeze the pushchair past their rotund frame on the pavement – it’s the facilities, or lack thereof. If you’re a parent in general, or a dad in particular, they sure don’t make it easy.

Arreton Barns, for example. I asked about baby change facilities in the pub. They had them, but only in the lady’s. So can I go in? No. They brought out the changing mat and I was obliged to take it into the men’s loo and change her on the floor of a cubicle. Not the cleanest or most hygienic place to put my knees, or, for that matter, my baby.

Cowes: the baby change was in the public disabled toilet, which was locked with one of those special keys disabled people have, but that parents don’t have. Not overly helpful. So I went to the nearest pub, which didn’t have baby changing facilities but allowed me to change her on a bench out the back. Very good of them.

And Sandown is clearly still stuck in the 1960s since there are no baby changing stations in the men’s loos, forcing me to change her on the passenger seat in the car in the rain – not much of a problem except the seat slopes towards the rear of the car, meaning she keeps face-planting into the upright. But that’s better than Whitecliff Bay, which has no toilet facilities whatsoever, and doesn’t seem to mind you getting sand in your baby’s bits.

I’m starting to sound like a bit of a moaner, but in addition to the above, in the past week I’ve changed my daughter’s nappy in a doorway down an alleyway, in a lady’s toilet, in the boot of the car, on a grass verge beside a car park, and on the floor of a tent – though the latter was admittedly kind of unavoidable since we were camping. It’s not so much that I mind  changing Izzie in random places – after three months you’re a dab hand at changing a nappy – it’s that if people object to something as discrete and inoffensive as breastfeeding in public then how will the crowds of shoppers and tourists react when I pop her down on a bench in the High Street, whip off her clothes and proceed to wipe oodles of smelly green and yellow poo out of her creases? I’m going for ‘unsupportive’ at the very least.

I know there are people out there who’ll say, ‘There weren’t changing stations in my day, we had to make do with broken glass and rusty nails,’ but just because they suffered doesn’t mean everyone has to or the situation can’t be improved. Sometimes you’re quite a distance from the car with the baby in a sling when she drops a bucket of gloop in her nappy that starts to spill out and soak through her clothes and you just can’t wait. And it’s incredibly awkward trying to change a baby when you’re on a slope and it’s blowing a hoolie, with one hand holding her ankles, a second cleaning her up, a third hand trying to keep leaf matter out of her bottom, a fourth preventing her from sliding off the changing mat and rolling down the hill into a ditch where she’ll never be seen again – you get the picture.

So top marks to Osborne House for having an entire room in which to change your baby, and a large one at that, without a toilet in the corner and piss on the floor. Unfortunately, they lose points for their dashedly rubbish bottle-warming arrangements.

For those of you that don’t know, you make a baby’s bottle by mixing cooled boiled water (boiled water that has been cooled, yo) with some scoops of formula (powder) and either heating or cooling the resulting liquid to body temperature, since we’re trying to fool kids into thinking the milk comes from a breast and not an udder with additives.

But here’s the rub – the mixture is apparently only safe to drink for two hours and it’s impossible to keep stuff at the right temperature until you need it. So before heading out for the day you boil the kettle, fill a bunch of bottles with water, pack the powder and leave the house weighed down like a freighter. When little one needs a drink, you take a bottle of water, pour in the powder, shake vigorously and ask a nice waitress or waiter to bring you a small jug of hot water into which you can place the bottle until the formula is the right temperature. Simple.

Except when I asked for a jug of hot water, the man at Osborne House looked at me like I’d asked him for a mug of pure, unfiltered urine. He went away, came back and told me he couldn’t bring me hot water because of ‘health and safety reasons’. But he offered to take the bottle out the back and heat it up for me.

Now, the reason you see us splashing milk on our wrists is not because we like the smell of dairy – it’s to check it’s not too hot and going to scald her, or too cold and going to make her gripe. While there’s no real evidence that cold milk is necessarily bad for a baby, their digestive systems are still developing, and if from an evolutionary viewpoint we’ve evolved to drink milk at body temperature, at least for the first few months, then why mess with nature?

Yes, daddy, why?
Yes, daddy, why?

So how on earth was Mr Waiter Man going to get my baby’s bottle to the right temperature? Splashing it on his wrist? No thank you, sir, she’ll just have to drink it cold.

He then proceeded to serve us our teapots of boiling water without a trace of irony. Health and safety, my ass!

But then, perhaps he had a point. Two other places gave us boiling water in wine coolers. Great for the heating, but when it comes to getting the bottle out, it bobs up and down like a fishing float and burns your fingertips while red hot steam scalds your hand. But even that was preferable to the place that gave us a cup of hot water – a cup that was smaller than the bottle!

So, restaurateurs and city planners: you have the power to make the world a much easier place for us parents. A plastic changing table that folds down from the toilet wall, and half a jug of hot water – not a cup, not a wine cooler, a jug. That’s not asking too much, is it? Is it?

Venting

I had planned to write a very funny post tonight about being fooled by cynical marketing ploys. Like how Franklin W. Dixon, who wrote the Hardy Boys books, and Caroline Keener, who wrote Nancy Drew, never existed, but were a conglomerate of about thirty authors under two pseudonyms to create brand loyalty among eight-years-olds. And how Panadol is simply Paracetamol, just three times the price; Nurofen is no more than Ibuprofen, but it has a pretty advert so people think it’s worth the extra money; and Nutricia, who make Aptamil, and Cow & Gate, who make Cow & Gate, are actually the same company.

Yes, it’s quite a shocker. Different coloured lids, one a reassuring scientific blue, the other a family friendly red, but they’re two sides of the same coin. Apparently, despite having identical ingredients, the amounts of each are marginally different and they source them from different places – probably meaning Aptamil comes from the left teats and Cow & Gate the right. Whatever the case, I’ll never look at the formula market as a triangle, with SMA as the third corner, ever again. It’s more like a line.

But that’s not what I’m going to write about. Instead I’m going to vent.

Venting is healthy, venting is necessary, and if we didn’t find safe ways to let out the scream that’s been building then we’ll either let it out in damaging ways or else our heads will explode. Which, come to think of it, is probably damaging too, except for carpet cleaning companies, who’d love it. I digress…

I was going to make a joke about Izzie screaming for six hours to celebrate turning six weeks old. The joke would have worked, had she stopped screaming after six hours. It’s eight hours and counting. I love my child, I love being a dad, but right now, nearing midnight, eyes pink, back aching, ears ringing (yes, really) from the window-shaking volume of my daughter’s cries, I just wish she could shut up for five minutes. Just five. I’m not asking for a miracle here, people. 300 seconds of silence. Please God, that’s not too much to ask.

To say that Izzie has been difficult the past couple of days is like saying the Himalayas are a little hilly. Her mother was out all day yesterday, leaving me in charge of puppy and baby both. I was really looking forward to catching up on some sleep, doing my model, reading a book, and just generally relaxing with my daughter. Endless hours of grizzling, crying and feeding later, she was asleep in her cot. At shortly after midnight.

Today was so much worse. After a pleasant morning at the New Forest Show, where she spent most of her time trying to lift her head and gaze at all the people passing by, four o’clock arrived and Izzie turned into a monster. She screamed the entire car journey home. And when I say screamed, I don’t mean simple crying, I’m talking about peel-the-paint-off-the-wall, angry, strength-sapping roars of the deepest portion of hell.

She screamed in the lounge. She screamed through the hallway. She screamed up the stairs. She’s screaming right now in my lap at I jiggle her up and down while writing this with one exasperated hand.

Actually, I tell a lie. She hasn’t been screaming continuously for eight hours. She’s been feeding, screaming, feeding, screaming in a cyclical pattern. Although that’s not accurate either, as she’s making a moany, screechy sound as she’s feeding, and screams every time she pauses to breathe or swallow.

I’m slightly at a loss here. She’s so distressed she won’t latch onto the dummy. Changing her, burping her, rocking her, singing to her, taking her for a drive, a walk, into the garden, baby massage, it has no effect whatsoever. She just wants to feed and scream.

She normally has around 22 ounces of milk each day. She’s already up to 30 ounces, and has had boiled water, and still she wants more. If it’s a growth spurt, as Lizzie suggests, I had better look in the Moses Basket in the morning and find she’s shot up in size like Jack’s beanstalk.

How can a baby even stay awake for eight solid hours? How is her throat not rasping and sore? How can she fit all of that milk inside?

Lizzie has just asked if our baby is superhuman. No. The full moon isn’t till Friday, but it’s been building up a few days. The hunger, the screaming, the copious amounts of body hair, the way she claws at us no matter how neatly we file her fingernails, the fact she’s more alert at night than during the day, the desperate champing at the teat as though nothing will satisfy her bloodlust  – it all makes sense now. She’s a werewolf, isn’t she?

Right now, she’s a werewolf that can’t act on her desires. So God help us all when she learns to walk.

The following morning:

She slept for a solid six hours last night. I don’t remember the last time I had six straight hours of sleep. I feel a little woozy – I’m too well rested.

Reflecting on last night, I think all parents need to find a way to safely vent. You can be as patient as a saint, but nobody can indefinitely endure such an assault on the senses. It’s not just the noise, either: seeing the despair on the baby’s face and being unable to do a thing about it cuts to the heart, messing with your emotions and leaving you just as desperate and willing to try anything. It’s so easy to lose control in that state, and you can’t afford to ever lose control around your baby.

If you can’t cope anymore, you just don’t know what to do, make sure the baby’s safe, make sure she’s in a clean nappy, put her in her cot or pram or basket, and leave the room. Get out of there. Go back a few minutes later when you’ve calmed down. You can’t help the baby if you can’t help yourself.

And remember, things always seem worse at night. Especially when there’s a full moon.

On Bodily Functions

The procedure for looking after a baby is nowhere near as difficult as you imagine. So long as you’re putting stuff in one end and clearing it up as it comes out the other, the rest mostly takes care of itself. I’ve stopped feeling for Izzie’s pulse every thirty seconds, and I sometimes go a whole hour without checking she’s still breathing. Providing she’s fed, winded and in a clean nappy, there’s not a lot that can go wrong.

So far, so simple. You’d think.

But putting stuff in one end and clearing it up as it comes out the other can be a friggin’ minefield. And when stuff comes out the end it’s meant to be going in, and stops coming out the other, it throws everything out of sync.

We were following a wonderfully modern, touchy-feely thing called ‘demand feeding’. It is exactly as it sounds: you feed the baby when she demands to be fed. Because babies aren’t machines. Sometimes they want a light snack, sometimes a five course dinner followed by an all-you-can-eat buffet. And sometimes they want to take it in their mouth just so they can spit it back out.

I think it’s a fundamentally decent principle. On my travels I met a dreadlocked German girl in a hostel/hippy commune above the ocean who lived by the rhythms of her body. She ate when she was hungry, slept when she was tired, and spent the rest of the time knitting beanie hats, as far as I could tell. She told me to get rid of my watch, listen to my body, because my body knew best and would never steer me wrong. She seemed so in tune with the vibrations of the world I thought I’d give it a try.

I lasted around three hours. Despite what Lizzie might tell you, my body doesn’t talk much, or perhaps I’ve lost that connection with my instinctive animal nature. So I’m all for Izzie keeping in touch with her body’s desires.

Her natural inclination is to cluster feed. That’s where, instead of leaving a few hours between feeds, she wants to feed, feed, feed, with only fifteen or twenty minutes between, and then sleep for five hours, before waking to feed again. Left to her own devices she’d cluster feed all morning, sleep all afternoon, cluster feed again from tea time to early evening, then settle into more regular feeds overnight. It might not be ideal for everyone, but it worked, and other than some griping in the evening, we had a very contented baby.

Except for the constipation. We give her laxatives morning and evening, but still her belly goes rock solid, she lifts her legs, sticks out her tongue and turns purple as she strains to squeeze out a thumb-sized nugget. It’s horrendous to watch, actually, and no matter how many times I put her on her back and do bicycle movements with her legs, it doesn’t seem to help.

The Health Visitor came a few days ago and told us that as we’re no longer breastfeeding, we shouldn’t be demand feeding anymore. Instead, we need to get her into more of a routine, feeding her three or four ounces of formula every three hours. She’ll feel more secure and it’ll help with the constipation too.

Pardon my French, but what utter, total bull-plop!

The last couple of days Izzie’s morphed into a wild beast that claws at our necks, rips glasses from faces, breaks necklaces and grabs collars while screaming at the top of her lungs, and she hasn’t pooped once. Because she doesn’t want to feed every three hours. Between each feed she’s unsettled and agitated. And at night she’s inconsolable.

Friday I fed her at ten and it took until one in the morning to settle her. She woke up three minutes later as it was time for her next feed. Afterwards, she was so unhappy it took till half-two and skin-to-skin for her to stop screaming, whereupon she burped and threw up the whole of the last feed over my bare chest. And because she’d vomited, she was now insatiably hungry again. Showering sticky milk vomit out of your armpits at three in the morning is sure to put you in a bad mood, especially when she’s up at five screaming again!

Last night was just as bad. I’m averaging three hours of broken sleep a night, and perhaps an hour during the day. They say you reach a point where if someone offered you £1000 or a full night’s sleep you’d take the sleep. There’s no contest: I’d take the money and use it to hire a nanny for a whole week of nights.

Since making this change to feeding, Izzie is miserable, Lizzie’s confidence has taken a massive leap backwards, and I’m on the verge of hallucinating about fluffy white pillows and bed linen. Perhaps, in the long term, getting Izzie into a routine is a good thing, but from where I’m sitting, the ‘chaos’ of her natural bodily rhythms was far easier than the vomit and tears of this artificial routine.

The best-laid plans…

After three years of trying for a baby and finding out the odds were stacked firmly against us, we gave up and decided to get a puppy instead. We still wanted a baby, and if it happened one day, it would happen, but in the meantime we would move on with our lives.

The meantime didn’t last very long. Two months, in fact. Then Lizzie was pregnant.

I hadn’t planned to have a one-year-old puppy and four-week-old baby at the same time, but these are the cards we’ve been dealt and the hand we have to play. It’s hard, stressful, and exhausting, but Izzie will grow up with a devoted companion and within a couple of years our spaniel Ozzie will have a friend to play with who has roughly the same ball control skills and ability at maths. Who is to say that the way things have worked out aren’t better than the plans we made?

When you’re having a baby it’s normal to make plans. What I’m discovering, however, is that plans don’t survive contact with babies. The tranquil water birth turned into an operating theatre, the baby harnesses that worked so well with a teddy bear are rubbish for real babies, and ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ is only good advice for people who can afford cleaners and endless takeout.

The biggest change we’ve had to face is over breastfeeding. Everywhere you look you see posters exhorting that ‘breast is best’. There are countless books, support groups and websites providing practical advice and encouragement; midwives congratulate you for choosing to breastfeed as though you’ve decided to donate all your money to help build a new birthing unit; and random strangers slap you on the back and tell you, ‘Well done.’ Well, not strangers so much as acquaintances – if strangers came up to a breastfeeding woman and slapped her on the back, it would probably end in handcuffs and a public apology.

Though it isn’t explicitly stated, the flipside of all this focus on breastfeeding is that women who formula feed are looked down on as lesser individuals, unworthy of praise. Worse, they are failing their children by giving them an inferior product. Before the birth, we were warned that not all women could breastfeed, and with typical arrogance we pitied these unmotherly wenches who couldn’t feed their own children because, of course, we would be breastfeeding ours. Problems happen to other people.

We have stopped breastfeeding. It was a long, arduous journey to come to the decision, but it is what’s best for all of us. There were many reasons that it wasn’t working, not least that, after losing so much blood during the birth and having two transfusions, Lizzie’s milk doesn’t have the fat content to give Izzie the calories she needs. We had to top up with formula after every feed, and once Izzie realised she could get more milk with less effort from the bottle, she treated the breast as the appetiser before her main meal. Less stimulation meant less milk being produced. So that was that.

From an objective point of view, it is the right decision. Mother and baby were becoming increasingly stressed by the whole thing; Izzie is now putting on weight; I can feed her any time of the day or night and give Lizzie a rest; it’s easier to feed her in public; and she got the colostrum, the important stuff, in the early days so Lizzie did her job.

But you cannot look at breastfeeding objectively. It’s an emotive issue, and regardless of how much you know it’s for the best, it’s impossible not to feel that you have failed.

Lizzie is taking it particularly hard. We had always planned to breastfeed, and the fact we are using formula makes us feel like poor parents. As I keep trying to explain to Lizzie, and myself, the odds were always stacked against us: her mother didn’t create much milk so there might be a genetic basis; Izzie had a traumatic birth and forceps babies don’t feed as well; she spent four days being fed formula through a naso-gastric tube so was used to a full belly with no effort; Lizzie has to use nipple shields, which make it more difficult for Izzie and provides less stimulation to the breasts; mother and baby were on different wards for four days after the birth so everything was delayed; and this is before we mention all the trauma Lizzie suffered. Under the circumstances, that she managed to breastfeed at all is commendable, let alone for over three weeks. There really is nothing to feel bad about.

I think the key to surviving a baby is realising that ‘plans’ are actually ‘preferences’. Then, if things don’t go as expected, you haven’t failed: you’ve simply had to adapt to reality. And that is the best that any man, or mouse, can hope for.