On the full moon

Flowers

My daughter was born on a full moon. This was not due to some mystical cosmic alignment, but rather to the fact that the hospital had space on that day for an elective caesarean section. Placenta previa had upended my easy pregnancy and plan for a relaxed drug-free birth, and meant that the hospital was reluctant to let the pregnancy go beyond the 38th week due to a significant risk of bleeding should labour commence naturally. I had expected the surgery to be booked around my due date, and I drove away from the hospital after that appointment feeling rather blank.

I was disappointed when I found out I had to have a caesarean birth. Prior to the birth of my son, I had taken hypnobirthing classes and intended to have a drug-free birth. His birth was induced, which meant I had constant and fairly invasive monitoring and took pethidine for the pain. I hoped the birth of my daughter would be closer to my original plan, being free to move around the birthing suite and breathing through the birth. The thought of giving birth in an operating theatre surrounded by people was so far from my original plan that it saddened me, and I felt quite anxious about it. Giving birth was about trusting my body. Having surgery meant placing that trust in other people. I spent the last two weeks of the pregnancy reading positive stories about other women’s elective c-sections, and trying to think about the surgery in a relaxed way, but it still took me until a few days before the surgery date to finally start to look forward to meeting my daughter.

The surgery itself was perfectly straightforward. The morphine included with the anaesthetic made me feel relaxed, and the anaesthetist looked over the drape and talked to me throughout the whole process. “They’re making the first incision now… there’s a few layers to get through… now they’re cutting through the muscles…”. It was quite surreal to listen to this commentary as my body moved and shook occasionally as the surgeons worked. A few minutes after the first incision, they pulled my daughter out and I heard her give a wet gurgling cry, sounding like an angry cat.

The worst part of having a c-section is the recovery afterwards. Getting up for the first time and staggering to the shower while a nurse walks next to you holding your catheter bag, going to the toilet the next day and wondering how you’re going to manage to get back up off the seat again, calling the nurse during the first night to change your baby’s nappy because you can’t face getting out of bed – I found it so much harder than the recovery from my vaginal birth. Healing is certainly fast and I only spent two nights in hospital, but it is frustrating having to gingerly manoeuvre yourself up to breastfeed in the middle of the night without using your abdominal muscles, and to avoid picking up anything slightly heavy.

My full moon baby is almost two months old now. She smiles at me. I am sure the experience of having your first child in comparison to your second differs not only because they’re different children, and because you have some idea of what you’re doing, but also because of your inevitably foggy memories of what it was like to have a newborn. I don’t remember life with a newborn as being terribly pleasant, what with the shattering exhaustion and all that accompanies it. Life with this baby is actually quite enjoyable, aside from her occasional fits of inconsolable crying. I still don’t appear to have mastered the mysterious art of getting a baby to have a nap without putting them in a baby carrier, but am trying to appreciate this as a “well, one day you won’t have a warm sleepy baby strapped to you and then I expect you’ll miss it” experience. And while I suspect this is not actually true, as I type this and bend my head to press her soft hair against my cheek, and smell the sweet scent of her skin, I think to myself that this is actually the most wonderful thing in the world.

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Baby-To-Be

Phasmid

The changes to your body are much less interesting during a second pregnancy. I don’t take enthusiastic bathroom-mirror photos of my expanding girth, and my feelings towards the pregnancy mostly consist of eagerness to reach the end of it. My recollection of the first months of parenthood with my son is that they were grindingly exhausting, and I think this contributes to my general longing to get on with the whole pregnancy business and start work on the brand-new-baby bit. Selecting potential names is an activity I am more wholeheartedly enthusiastic about. I have various draft lists of name combinations and occasionally bombard the husband with series of texts of my more outlandish choices. “Clementine? Beatrice? Wilhelmina?” These are inevitably not met with glowing approval.

My memories of childbirth have blurred in the intervening three and a half years. While I remember thinking at the time that it was the most shatteringly painful thing I had ever experienced, the very definition of unbearable, I can no longer recall what that pain felt like. Last time I had rather lofty ambitions of following the lessons learned in my hypnobirthing classes and breathing my way silently through birth. This time I’m limiting my goals to things like a) take your skirt off before giving birth so it doesn’t get covered in gore; b) don’t try and complete a conveyancing while being induced – little things I feel I can improve on from last time. (The conveyancing thing was just spectacularly poor timing and not because I thought it was somehow a good idea).

I remain hopeful that the brand-new-baby-business will somehow be easier the second time around. Less weeping despairingly in the middle of the night longing for sleep, that sort of thing. (From me, not the baby. I figure the odd bout of weeping despairingly is fairly central to babyhood.) Combining this version of brand-new-baby with parenting the already existing toddler will no doubt be an interesting experience. Although he is no longer a toddler, I suppose, given that he is heading rapidly towards age 4 and about to begin kindergarten. A pre-schooler. Albeit a pre-schooler who still needs to be snuggled to sleep and who has an unhealthy attachment to my hair as a soothing aid. I won’t be making that mistake this time around. Baby-to-be can get unhealthily attached to a teddy or blanket or anything that’s not actually physically part of my body.

Reading Round-Up for 2015

DSC_7385

My reading mojo officially returned in 2015, for the first time since having a child in 2012, and I finished 86 books. This comes just in time for me to have a second child during 2016. Hopefully Baby No. 2 is less of a shock to the system and it won’t take me as long to remember how to read again.

Look! Here you can see the covers of all 86 books prettily laid out with links to their pages on Goodreads and so on.

Some very thrilling percentages that are of interest only to me and people genetically related to me who find all my activities fascinating because they are legally required to do so:

  1. I rated 40% of the books I read 4 stars and above.
  2. Romance/erotica (both the historical and contemporary variety)replaced speculative YA as my light and relaxing genre of choice, and made up 19% of my reading for the year.
  3. Fantasy and science fiction still made up a large chunk of my reading – 40% – although I would guess this is slightly less than previous years, as I feel like I read more contemporary fiction this year.
  4. I read a couple of reasonably long series this year:
    1. Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman series (4 novels so far)
    2. Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries (8 novels so far)
    3. Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series (4 novels so far – this is really appallingly written erotica which I don’t recommend, but which was strangely addictive).
    4. Pretty much everything written by Liane Moriarty, which are all stand-alone novels, but it sort of felt like a series because I was reading them one after the other and they’re stylistically similar (6 novels so far).

A few stand-out books from 2015:

Euphoria by Lily King is an excellent short novel, loosely based on events in the life of Margaret Mead, and centres around three anthropologists working in PNG in the 1930s. It is quite a sombre book, but just stunningly written. One of my favourites for the year.

The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein is one I really enjoyed but it does feature a gentle rambly sort of pacing which may not be to everyone’s taste. It works perfectly with the theme of the novels though, and they were such a pleasure to read.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty was one of my favourite contemporary novels, which managed to pull off a narrative that was both funny and light-hearted, as well as darkly serious (dealing with various types of abuse).

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan is a gorgeously surreal fantasy, filled with beautiful imagery. On the opposite side of the fantasy spectrum, An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet feels very earthly and grounded, exploring the lives of its characters with a wonderful depth and seriousness.

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin is a more traditional other-world fantasy, and it is both wonderful and quite horrifying. (If death-of-children is something you avoid in fiction, this is not the book for you.)

The Race by Nina Allan is four interlinked novellas which form a novel-length work, and is really wonderfully done – all four stories are excellent, and the way they link together is fascinating.

As at 5 January 2016, I’m already reading three books at the same time, so I’m well on the way to getting through another 80 or so books this year. Depending on how disruptive Baby No. 2 is, anyway. I am optimistically and no doubt vainly hoping for an excellent sleeper this time around. Please politely smother your derisive laughter and wish me all the best in this endeavour.

Macadamia, apricot & chocolate biscuits

This is another recipe from Annabel Crabb’s Special Delivery cookbook. These are fairly sweet and more of a gift biscuit (in keeping with the theme of the cookbook) than an everyday sort of biscuit. You should be able to substitute any combination of dried fruit, nuts and chocolate you like – the original recipe uses white chocolate chips with the apricot and macadamia nuts, but I am a little disapproving of white chocolate so I used dark, which worked really well. They’re wonderfully chewy and the apricot and macadamia combination is delicious.

Macadamia, apricot & chocolate cookies

ingredients:
290g plain flour
3 tsps baking powder
110g caster sugar
175g unsalted butter
200g brown sugar
1 egg and 1 egg yolk, beaten together
1 tsp vanilla essence
125g dried apricots, chopped
120g macadamias, roughly chopped
200g chocolate chips

Melt the butter and brown sugar together in a small saucepan and let it cool down a little. Preheat the oven to 180C.

If you are in favour of sifting flour, then sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. If you’re me and unconcerned with such niceties, dump the flour and baking powder into a bowl and give it a stir. Add the caster sugar. Pour in the slightly cooled butter and brown sugar mixture, and stir the mixture well. Stir in the beaten eggs, vanilla, apricots, macadamias and chocolate chips.

Line two trays with baking paper, and then scoop out 3cm-ish balls of the mixture, pressing them onto the trays. I used a coffee scoop which seemed to work well. Bake the biscuits for about 10-12 minutes, depending on how big your biscuits are – when they’re set on top, they should be fine. If you want them more crunchy than chewy, leave them in for a minute or two longer.

Moroccan chickpea & haloumi bake

Mum gave me Annabel Crabb’s cookbook “Special Delivery” for my birthday, and I’ve been happily marking recipes that I want to try – this chickpea and haloumi bake was one of the first, because a) haloumi and b) it’s really quick and easy.

Chickpea & haloumi bake

ingredients:
1 red onion
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 coriander
1/4 allspice
pinch of paprika
400g can of chickpeas
250g cherry tomatoes (or chopped tomatoes)
100g fresh spinach or baby spinach leaves
2 tbsp chopped parsley
250g haloumi (I only used around 180g)
juice of 1/2 lemon
fresh coriander to garnish

Roughly chop up the onion, add a reasonable glug of oil to a large frying pan, and fry the onion for around 4 to 5 minutes. Add the spices and fry for another minute or two, stirring so that it doesn’t stick.

Drain most of the liquid from the can of chickpeas, leaving a couple of tablespoons, and add the chickpeas and liquid in with the onion and spice mixture. Add in the tomatoes, spinach, and parsley, then stir until the spinach is just wilted. Preheat your oven to 180C.

Chickpea & haloumi bake
Chickpea & haloumi bake

Pour the mixture into a shallow baking dish – I used a 20cm square pyrex dish because I didn’t want to overwhelm everything with haloumi. Slice the haloumi and layer it on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the haloumi is golden around the edges.

In Special Delivery Annabel suggests serving this with couscous (which would be great to soak up the tomatoey liquid). I’m planning on eating leftovers reheated because I like haloumi even when it gets a bit squeaky and chewy, but for more discerning palates this might be best served and eaten straight out of the oven.

Noisy friarbird

Withered

Each day when the husband parks his car, a noisy friarbird flutters down and perches on the side-mirror, overfilled with delight to see its beloved reflection again. It sings, swings acrobatically around the mirror, flutters over to the other side of the car to the other mirror and joyfully realises – oh! you’re here as well! It’s probably not the healthiest behaviour for a bird, but it’s rather sweet to watch. It likes to spend some of the day perched companionably on top of one of the mirrors, chirping away to itself, and occasionally defecating on the car (much to the husband’s irritation).

Concert

Gold Coast

We sat on the hill overlooking the stage, near the mixing desk. Intermittent lightning of a storm to the south flashed on the horizon, highlighting the scattered clouds above us. People around us talked about whether it would rain, and what songs they hoped to hear, and in tones of mild dawning horror, how many under-aged kids there were sitting around them.

When Hozier started playing we all stood. The hippy chick next to us started dancing and singing ecstatically in a vague circle around her partner. He was Viking-like with long blonde hair and a beard, and stood stock-still while his partner danced, the immobile rock around which she orbited. Slightly in front of them stood a couple who spent most of the concert rhythmically stroking each other’s arses. “They’re engaged,” said my companion in a tone of mild disdain. “Who the hell is that into each other once they’re engaged.”

Hozier was an excellent live performer supported by a great band; many of his songs are recorded with beautiful background harmonies, and they were reproduced so well in concert. The rain held off while we sang and clapped and then streamed out, walking back into the city. It began to fall as I drove home on the highway, the big spattering drops and the rhythm of the wipers punctuating the memories of music playing around in my head.

3 years

Birthday Cake

Someone foolishly showed Edward the classic Women’s Weekly birthday cake book and he flicked through every single page, eyes gleaming avidly. “I would like… that one! And that one!” he said eagerly, until I informed him that birthdays were a one-cake-only kind of deal. Naturally he eventually settled on the cake that graces the cover of the book, the train with carriages filled with cargo. I had engineering assistance from the husband, and Edward was reasonably delighted with the result (although I think he mostly ate the icing).

Things I’m enjoying at 3 years:

1. It’s genuinely fascinating having those kind of conversations with your child where you see them connecting two concepts and coming up with original thoughts. It’s not so delightful when that original thought is “womans don’t know about taps”, due to my failure to answer a plumbing related question with sufficient specificity, but I was interested to see his first extrapolation from “things Mummy does” to “things all women therefore do”.

2. Invented semi-monotone songs that are half nonsense, half random phrases like “the open road”. They always end on a long drawn-out note, possibly accompanied by twirling, and then a glance at the audience for a suitably enthusiastic response.

3. We bought Edward a little junior drum kit for his birthday because drums has always been the instrument he’s been most enthusiastic about, and we’re keen on giving him decent instruments to play on when he’s young. I did regret this decision a little bit when I heard how loud they were, and I had to buy him a set of children’s drumming headphones to limit the noise levels he’s exposed to, but watching him hammer away at them and do a full run across the kit ending with a triumphant cymbal crash is so much fun.

4. No more nappies. Well, mostly. He’s still in nappies at night, but they’re frequently dry in the morning.

5. Edward is rather reticent in returning my declarations that I love him, which makes the infrequent occasions that he very seriously tells me that he loves me even more endearing.

Things I’m not enjoying at 3 years:

1. The Why Stage. Oh god, the Why Stage. I know I’m probably supposed to delight in it, and I do enjoy the insight it gives me into the way Edward processes information and the things that interest him (which at the moment is very much focussed on How Things Work). But he is RELENTLESS. The stream of constant chatter, the repeated questions if I don’t respond; it’s exhausting. I resort to “I don’t know” and “just because” far too often, just to make it stop.

2. At age 2 and a half, I was triumphantly declaring that Edward slept through the night. At age 3 he is only doing that sporadically – he wakes up because he needs to go the toilet, he wakes up because he wants me to sleep in his bed (“Mummy come iiiiiiiiin”), he wakes up because he wants to come into our bed (“I don’t want to be in heeeeere”), or for several other unknown reasons. This is probably a lesson never to triumphantly declare anything when it comes to parenting. Nothing is certain; nothing remains the same.

Up north

Some scattered memories from our recent holiday:

Green Ants

Edward and I left a chilly winter morning in Brisbane, and arrived to warm sunny weather in Cairns. Mum picked us up from Cairns airport in a borrowed car. “The air conditioning doesn’t work,” she said. “I mean, you can test it, but I turned it on and it just made the car hotter.” The sun burned my legs through the windscreen on the drive to Daintree as Edward obliging fell asleep in his car seat.

Mossman smelled of the distinctive heavy molasses of cane harvesting, and a thick column of smoke was rising from the working mill. Closer to Daintree, a couple of kids perched on the back of a truck on the side of the road next to a hand-painted sign advertising “$10 ugg boots”, which presumably fell off the back of a truck themselves.

Sacred Kingfisher

We spent a lot of time at a local beach, tropical winter being the perfect time for a toddler to waddle around in the sand digging holes and joyously crushing the sandcastles painstakingly made and decorated for him by his grandmother. I spent a lot of time wandering around with my camera, taking photos of hermit crabs and snails squiggling around in the shallow water of low tide, and a hopeful kingfisher perched on a log, waiting for something to catch.

Crocodile

Edward wasn’t as captivated as I thought he would be by floating past basking crocodiles and he lost interest in our surroundings about halfway through the morning cruise. I suppose it isn’t entirely clear to a three year old that crocodiles are really real, particularly as the most attention they tend to pay to the boats is to follow us with their eyes.

Bamboo

The bamboo garden now looms metres high above our heads, and the wind blowing through the trunks made a complex background creaking soundscape as we walked down to one of the wetland ponds. After Mum paddled Edward around for a while in a little canoe I took a turn and promptly got tangled up in weeds, causing Edward to shriek with gales of laughter as I pulled wet bladderwort into the canoe. “What?! Are you doing?!” he gasped in between giggles when I got us lodged on some fallen bamboo. Mum laughed along unhelpfully from the bank and took a number of unflattering photos of my concentrating expression, as a mother should.

Spikes

I’m not sure what these weeds are that are filling our garden, but those little v-shaped spikes lodge themselves in firmly at the slightest brush of fabric, pulling their tiny spine free of the seed. I then crossly pull them out of my pants or shirt and scatter them wherever I happen to be, helpfully assisting them in fulfilling their biological imperative and contributing to their spread through the garden. They’re quite beautiful up close though, with the miniature intricacy of the spikes. I admire their tenacity.