On Monday of this week, the Chugger struck again. I was walking through the centre of Leeds on my way home from Little Voices, the beautiful musical baby group we attend at Opera North every week, this time with Iris strapped to my front in a baby carrier instead of in the pushchair. I was in a good mood until a cock with a clipboard shouted out
'Hi there Super Mum, can I stop you for a second?'
Super Mum? I don't remember donning a cape and hot pants outside my tights that morning. I didn't have a massive 'M' emblazoned on my chest and I wasn't driving a talking car. I was just a woman with a baby, so in the mind of a spotty boy, that made me a generic Mum, period. I'm guessing that the addition of the prefix 'Super' was a form of flattery. I'm afraid I didn't have time to address the youth with a carefully constructed speech about the folly of thinking all women with children care to be defined by their reproductive capacities. I just called him a Dick and walked off. It set me up for the week from hell, and the scary thing is that it's only Wednesday.
On Tuesday evening, I was alone with Iris, John being at a networking (arse kissing) event for Jobseekers where he partook in pleasantries (pleaded on his knees for work.) I sat down with my daughter to feed her a nutritious tea of home cooked cottage pie, Broccoli spears and banana custard. She didn't have much interest in fine dining as she's recently discovered that anything she holds over the side of the highchair will be snapped up by our giant greedy dog, a source of great merriment to her, and the dog. Not so much to the mummy-slave who cooked her cuisine. Never mind. I continued being a caring Mother as I ran her a beautiful hot bubble bath. On the odd occasion that it's just the two of us at bedtime, I often share a bath with Iris, and it's one of the most wonderful gifts that parenthood has granted me. We slip and slide together in the warm water, giggling, cuddling and playing with her bath toys, the imaginatively named Ducky McDuck and Boaty McBoat aboard his plastic barge. At these times, I marvel in my daughters sweet, pink, chubby body and I stare at my sadly deflated stomach, not in distaste but in wonder that it performed the miraculous task of housing the very vocal, lively life force that's sat astride it, wearing a bubble beard. This Tuesday night however, Iris made the stunning realisation that the bath is actually a giant bucket that one is placed into and therefore must climb out of. My daughter has turned, in the blink of an eye, from a bashful baby to a very determined toddler, an adventurer whose only desire is to travel away from her loving mother at great speed. It was like bathing with a baby oil smeared Baboon. Gone was our innocent bath time bonding. Instead, Iris wanted to climb up the sides, again and again, her wiry little arms heaving her out and over the side while I desperately clung to her ankles. When she wasn't attempting to escape, she took great pleasure in pulling out the plug, or trying to swig from the shampoo bottles on the side. I couldn't believe our soapy sensuality had turned into a giant naked wrestling match. Still, did I mention I love my daughter? I forgave her for ruining bath time, and I even forgave her for the screaming, writhing and wriggling she did during the donning of pyjamas, sleeping bag and blanket, ready for bedtime snuggling. What I still can't forgive her for, is what she did next.
I have breastfed my daughter from 10 minutes after her birth, when she mercifully put aside all my fears by finding my nipple, opening her mouth wide and sucking on it, simple as that. Although the breastfeeding issue is another post entirely, it's safe to say that for a good few months, it wasn't the peaceful and fulfilling method of feeding I thought it would be. Breastfeeding was a battle in the early days, and there have been many times that I've vowed I would give it up, however good it was for Iris' health. The breastfeeding mafia have a lot to answer for. It's a huge commitment, and any woman who isn't able, or doesn't want to continue doing it, has my full sympathy. I've persevered, and now, nearly 10 months down the line, I can't believe I've done it for so long or enjoyed it so much. It's truly lovely. It's a time when my very active and opinionated baby lies perfectly still in my arms. It's a time when I can see that she's content. It's something only I, her Mother, can do. When she's tired or upset, it provides instant comfort and calms us both, like pressing the reset button on my satnav when it's spazzing out. Quite honestly, it's the only time I ever get to read a bloody book. After months of wrangling a squalling infant who came on and off the breast, worrying about her gaining weight, feeling like a Zombie after numerous night feeds and whipping my tit out at every Tom, Dick or Harry who pretended not to be staring , I was finally enjoying breastfeeding, something I never thought I would do. From about 6 months old, Iris has made eyes at me around my nipple. It must be a bonding thing, because seeing her big baby blues staring at me so innocently as she feeds has always melted my heart. It's as if she's asking 'Am I your bestest baby?' and my answer has, of course, been yes yes yes. That gaze of adoration as I'm providing her with sustenance has been the most beautiful thing about Motherhood. Which is why I was so very shocked when it happened. She pursed her sweet pink mouth round my nipple, looked at me lovingly, and bit me as hard as she could. My baby has four very new, very white and very sharp teeth, all at the front. As I snuggled her around the curve of my body in our warm, blanketed bed, preparing for milky minutes before sleep, she inserted all of her tuzzie-pegs into my right nipple and bit down for England. I did what anyone would do when an intimate part of their anatomy was gripped in a vice, I screamed. But then so did Iris. Her little face crumpled in distress at hearing her mother bellow like a wounded Wildebeest. To mine and John's credit, our daughter doesn't hear shouting. When we argue, it's always in hisses rather than hollers. Whenever she's defied us, we've been careful to talk to her in positive tones. It's no wonder that she found it frightening when her Mother shouted like a Sergeant Major, but what would you do? Later on I googled the biting issue, and I learnt that apparently the worst thing you can do is scream. Some babies are so traumatised by it that they go on a feeding strike. I defy anyone to smile serenely as their nipple is attacked so viciously, but as usual, the guilt kept me awake long after Iris had gone to bed.
When I woke up today, I was the proud owner of an infected nipple, oozing with pus from four vampiric little punctures. What's more, I had developed what I believe to be a natural and justifiable fear of inserting said nipple into the jaws of my crocodile daughter. Possibly due to my scary shouting, she had also developed a slight aversion to breastfeeding, but only from the offending breast, the one that I will now call exhibit A. Exhibit B, my still functioning breast, has now been drained dry and is the size and shape of a mouldy marshmallow. Exhibit A, it's bitten sister, is swollen to pineapple sized proportions and is too painful to touch. Whenever Iris has seemed inclined to feed today, I've bitten the bullet and offered her the nibbled nunga. The pain when she has latched onto it has been indescribable, but I'm aware that if I don't feed her from it, I run the risk of my milk drying up, something I'm not ready or prepared for, despite the jaws of death situation. The titty traumas aren't the only terrible parts of a truly awful Wednesday though.
Iris awoke last night at 2am, 3am and 4am. She didn't want to feed, or be rocked or shushed back to sleep. She wanted to stand up and shout and swing from the bedstead. She wanted to pull the dogs tail, and my hair, and (though I didn't mind this so much) she wanted to yank the covers off her Daddy and twist his nipples with great gusto. Though it amused me that her nightly campaign of terror turned on her Father last night, I did feel sorry for John when he eventually awoke and subsequently arose at 5.45am when he couldn't take anymore. It's a shame that I had to get up an hour later when I was awoken by effing and blinding from Iris' nursery, the little room next to our bedroom. John was attempting to put our baby's clothes on for the day ahead, a task that he can normally complete with ease (if little attention to size of clothing or matching colour schemes.) Our darling appeared to have turned into a devil child overnight. Refusing to lie serenely still while she was dressed, Iris had buggered off down the corridor with one leg in her nigh time nappy and one arm in her daytime top. No amount of waving her Sir Prance-a-lot toy in her face or distracting her with a Dig the Dog book could keep her still. I'm now the proud mother of a toddler. It's official. Though she only crawls or stands and doesn't officially yet toddle, her mindset has altered beyond belief. Everything we want, she very vocally vetoes. It's been brewing for a while. With each nappy change, I've had to be more and more imaginative to distract her from flipping like a fish and disappearing out of the door. My most enduring image of the last few weeks has been my daughter's cute little bum crack rounding a corner, proudly caked in poo, whilst I chased after her with a wipe. Iris ignores me a lot of the time these days, so intent is she with discovering newer and naughtier pursuits. Recent escapades have included taking bites out of the loo roll, removing her own soiled nappy and wearing it as a Balaclava, holding the lid of the dustbin up at her father like a riot shield and using the toilet as a finger bowl. But whenever my attention is momentarily turned away from her and toward a task I need to do (whether it's holding a friend's newborn or doing the washing up) she suddenly appears with a face like thunder and a hankering to crawl up my leg like a kitten - a kitten with an iron grip. I've developed a one legged jig to remove my calf from her clutches before she falls, she's not steady enough to stand for too long and if my hands are full, she could easily fall. Unfortunately I did it at a baby group last week and all of its members were treated to the sound of Iris' head clunking on the polished parquet floor. My daughter dislodging dance was just a little too effective. I'm going to have to get used to this Tasmanian Devil that was recently my pleasingly pliable infant. Just when you think you have things sussed eh?
Weeks like this one can erode the careful stash of confidence you've slowly built up in your mothering abilities, even coming 10 months down the line when you know you're not going to break them if you have a blip. It's been a good few months since I've stared at Iris and thought
'I honestly don't have a sodding clue why you're crying little matey, but I sure as hell wish you'd stop.'
Yesterday though, I'd put aside some time for us to play and was baffled when Iris showed interest only in crawling all over my body making high pitched whingeing noises. She didn't want to be set down with her toys or picked up for a cuddle. She didn't want to be breastfed or to eat solid food either. Teething? Separation anxiety gone wrong? I bet Google could have given me a thousand different suggestions for her being, quite frankly, impossible to deal with and driving me more than a bit mad. What usually works is taking Iris out for a brisk walk in the baby carrier. She gets some fresh air, sees the world go by and giggles as the dog galumphs about with his stick. Yesterday however, we'd walked right to the end of the park when she began to emit ear splitting screams. Anyone who knows my baby knows she's loud. We used to call her 'The Lungs' as a newborn and we've never needed a baby monitor because believe me, you could hear her if she was on the Moon. I had to do the walk of shame home, with passers by looking at me in disgust (it's because I've lined her baby grow with nails, I wanted to explain.) Jesus, this baby's broke, and the only answer can be that I'm a shitty mother when I can do nothing about it at all - my usual tried and tested techniques having fallen flat.
I'm beginning to realise that children alter frighteningly rapidly, far too rapidly for their parents to cope with, we who shy away from change with our mortgages and marriages and same-item weekly shops. She's still the same lovely Iris, and I adore her just as fiercely as I ever did, but I'm beginning to be a bit frightened by how quickly I need to adapt to change to keep up with her, and how I must now stand and face the hurricane that I've created. Seemingly overnight, she's started growing a full head of the kind of hair that can be pulled into pigtails, and pointing at the things she wants with a jutting lower lip and brewing bellow. Her newborn cry tugged at my heartstrings, but when she cries now I know I ignore it at my peril, because it gets louder and more heart wrenching, The biting whilst breastfeeding thing is a worry. It might well be the start of weaning her, I know some babies bite then they're ready to come off the boob but don't know how to put it politely. After 10 months of breastfeeding, I know I have nothing to be ashamed of if this is the end. Still, I look at how much she's changing in every way and want to hold onto the one constant we have, the thing that I do when nothing else works. At the weekend, her Dad took her off for the morning in her furry bear suit to ramble through the woods with Buckley the dog in the bracing cold. I enjoyed a blissful lie in and only woke to John unhooking the baby carrier, a bear eating a Pear dangling over the bed, smiling widely to be reunited with Mummy.
She's been crying a bit
I think she wants you.
Funny how I'd get mad about that when she was a newborn. I'd want John to try everything before handing her over. Having missed her morning, I couldn't wait to be reunited with my baby. Half asleep, I fumbled down my pyjama top to allow Iris access to my breast. As she suckled, I watched my beautiful baby's face, my life in a circle of flesh, milk gathering at the corners of her hungry mouth. The scent of the Pear clutched in her tiny fist filled my nostrils as I drifted back into sleep. Bears and Pears. My daughters warm, heavy body in my arms. How can I stop her growing? How can I stop her changing from the fuzzy suited silent sleeper in my arms to a toddler who uses me as a springboard to a new and exciting life away from my breast?
I love my daughter. It's not a disclaimer that I really need to make. But it's a love that kicks you in the teeth as often as it warms your cockles. Someday soon she's going to walk, and while her first steps will probably be towards me, the ones that follow soon after will be in the opposite direction. I know, if your baby turns away from you now, it's only because you've done such a good job in making them feel secure so far. This turning into a toddler thing comes too hot on the heels of your return to work, and it's easy to think they don't need you anymore. Iris may have bitten my boob last night, but when she fell on her face at a friend's house today, she wanted me, and only me, to hold her while she roared through the pain and shock. Everyone in the room could see that. It's about letting go again, and my empty arms ache just as much as my boob. I've got to start learning that life with a baby is never constant. We're building up to the day, at 18, or these days, at 35, when they leave us for good. It's our job (though I never saw it in the original description.) I'm going to try and wake up tomorrow with positivity for Iris' new developments that day, even though many of them will take her away from me, rather than towards me. She will still need me, just in different ways. I'll have to change as fast as she does. I'm ready. I'll have to be.