Thursday, February 28, 2008

By popular request

Well, one request at least - so here is my rant about expat wives in HK.

Before I become too judgmental and insulting (be warned, I will be both), I want to make it clear that this is NOT a rant about mums who stay at home. I think anyone who looks after their children full time has the patience of a saint. I say this as someone who could not get her daughter to sleep this afternoon so caved after two hours and gave her to the nanny who got her to sleep in 5 mins (I like to think this is because I smell of milk = food but who knows). This is a rant about a completely different breed.

When I first arrived in Hong Kong I was setting up a business, and so didn't have a very wide range of friends. The Boy had been relocated with his company so when we first arrived we were invited to lots of events. These were great and we met lots of people who continue to be good friends. However, I also met a group I have never encountered before, those of expat wives - or career wives if you will. I will explain these beings by a few examples.

About 6 weeks after we arrived in HK we were invited to a birthday dinner at one of HK's more posh members clubs. Around the table only I, and one other lady, worked. It was here we met K. I never met K's husband, he always seemed to be overseas and she saw him only a couple of days each month. She had no children and had been, prior to Asia, a pretty senior brand manager. She was bright and funny, which makes the following conversation all the more bizarre. For information, the V below is the other working woman at the dinner, a very successful lawyer.

V (to K) - So what do you do?
K - I am very lucky, my husband's company has a very general spousal programme and they pay for any courses I want to do or clubs I want to join
V - So what do you do?
K - Well, I am learning to play tennis, go to yoga and pilates and am thinking of doing an interior design course
Boy - (trying, in vain, to rescue the situation) I would love not to work, I would row all the time (all turn to the Boy in silence, he goes back to his food)
V - But what do you actually DO??

The answer to this question came when my very good friend, H, was out of work for a couple of months in HK and learnt to play mah jong at the local YWCA. Here she met many expat wives and found them as strange as I did. She informed me that the topics of conversations revolved around 3 things: 1 - problems with the helper or driver 2 - holidays they had booked 3 - diamonds and/or how much their husbands earned.

What amazes me is that when we were looking to move to HK and I didn't know if I would have a job I had applied to do a post grad course at the local uni, as well as scouted for NGOs I could volunteer for. However, no expat wife I have met bar one (who is too feisty to really be an expat wife) do anything for anyone other than themselves. They are, of course, perfectly turned out at all times due to the endless spa appointments.

My final story relates to an expat husband who, at another dinner, treated the fact I ran a business as if I had a little hobby (by this point I had an office in HK and Shanghai, 12 staff and a very healthy P&L). He looked at my Gucci handbag and told me his wife had one similar she had got in Shenzhen (just over the border and a horrible place full of fake handbags and DVDs) and I should go there with her some time. I responded in my nicest voice "Why would I want to do that when I can just go shopping in Gucci in Central?". He shut up then.

To this day I can't help feeling that they are just a bit lazy and have no purpose in life. This is also an inherently dangerous strategy for the wife of anyone, let alone in Asia with all the temptations of very available young and nubile girls. It also seems that, if the experiences of myself and my girlfriends are to go by, your average husband of an expat wife is rather keen on us career girls and rather likes chatting to (hitting on?) us. If you make your whole reason to exist based on someone else, what do you have left if they decide to upgrade to a newer model?

Rant over

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The class divide

I went to post natal yoga yesterday. I have dispensed with the mother and baby yoga classes for the time being because not only does Eve seem to hate them, but flinging her around will do no favours for us both in terms of her reflux so I have ditched them.

Thankfully, I can convert the classes I had paid for to the mothers only class so popped along yesterday. It was really good - not only some much needed time to focus on me away from Eve - since she was born I have only spent about 12 hours away from her, less than 2 hours per week - but it also targeted all the bits of my body that are weaker and need help after the pregnancy and I came out calmer and stronger.

The class is a mixed bag, of expats and Chinese, Americans, Brits and Hong Kongers. It did, however, reveal to me that there seem to be two types of mothers in Hong Kong.

The first are those who, and I know I am being uncharitable here, seem to have made being a wife and mother their role in life but don't really do much of the latter. You can tell who they are because their helpers/nannies are always there to meet them after the mother and baby yoga class and whisk the child away, and they are perfectly manicured, pedicured, made up and with great hair (memo to me: I badly need a hair cut). They wear coordinating, branded yoga gear. Their discussions revolve around which classes they are taking their babies to, when they are next going home, and whether to fly economy or business with their baby. (On that last point, don't misunderstand me, I have every intention of taking Eve home posh class and annoying everyone there).

The second group, of which I count myself one, look exhausted and ungroomed. Hair, if brushed at all is scraped back into an untidy bun, nails have seen better days, and our clothes don't really match. Our discussions revolve around sleep, vomit, and what new little trick or giggle our baby has done since we last met.

I was trying to figure out why there is such a big difference between the two groups, and it seems to come down to the mothers who are going back to work (or have twins, which is the same thing in my book) and those who aren't. It's as if those of us who are going back to work are trying to cram in as much hands-on baby time as we can before we leave our little ones to someone else. Of course if you aren't going back to work, or not for the next year or so, then you have much more time to enjoy your child and are therefore happier to leave him or her to the care of someone else.

It also might be something to do with a certain breed of expat wives who make a career out of being perfectly turned out and well rounded at all times. But if I get started on that I will sound like a complete bitch

Monday, February 25, 2008

Reflux, don't do it

(Apologies to Frankie Goes to Hollywood for the title of the post).

The problem with babies (other than copious amounts of poo - see earlier posts) is that they are completely incapable of telling you what it is that they want, or what is wrong. It all gets translated into a scream of varying velocity and, sometimes, even once the problem has been solved they keep screaming because they forget what it was that they were screaming about in the first place. In this respect they are much like an English tourist in a French hypermarket. In the absence of someone understanding what you say in a calm and considered voice, speaking more slowly and loudly, raising to a shout if needs be seems to be the natural progression of matters. In fact, now I think about it, perhaps this behaviour is cemented as babies.

Anyway, after the respite of the jabs and the sleep it brought, we have had two days of sustained screaming. Added to this, Eve started screaming halfway through feeds and vomiting lots. There is nothing quite so depressing as having your own child choke, then scream and then vomit on your nipple. I've had people vomit on my shoes, hair and even bottom before (I had very colourful teenage years), but never on my nipples.

She then was ravenous but couldn't or wouldn't take the breast again, so would scream even louder because she was hungry. Only carrying her around upright for half an hour would calm her, and even then she would only sleep for 45 mins before the whole miserable process (for her and me) would start up again. The more observant of my readers will, at this point, realise that this has two consequences. The first is no sleep at all for me, and the second is very little sleep for Eve. We both got a bit grouchy as a result.

Today, after the third feed of the day when the same thing happened, H and I conferred that Eve needed to go to the doctor.

After an in depth examination, including giving Eve water until she threw up so the doctor could see what it looked like (ick) and a super poo (not strictly required but Eve was on a roll with the bodily fluids by this point), the doctor decided that Eve has reflux.

Unlike colic, reflux is actually known to exist. Eve has excess tummy acid and her immature tummy value (excuse the lay-man terminology here) means that when her tummy gets near full it all comes up and burns her throat - hence the choking, screaming, and refusal to eat even though she was starving hungry.

She will grow out of it in a few months (grrr - all childhood problems seem to resolve themselves with time) but in the meantime I have to change how I feed her and she has been given a powerful acid inhibitor to reduce the tummy acid.

The combination of these should mean she is fine. Until whatever challenge Eve sends my way next.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ladies who lunch

Prior to being pregnant I was always a bit sniffy about breastfeeding in public. When I was about 16 I distinctly recall being in McDonalds with my god daughter (about 3 months at the time) and her mother and sitting rather sheepishly while she was breastfed and people stared. In reality, nobody was staring but my embarrassment was such that I thought the whole world was looking at us.

15 years later and a small baby and I am finding that my opinion on the whole feeding in public issue has changed. I think this is, in part, due to my mother and baby group where we all whip them out in front of each other, so I feel that breastfeeding is perfectly normal. It is also because H, our nanny, sees me topless on a regular basis so I have lost all shame when it comes to the purpose of my chest.

This week I have been out in polite company a couple of times and known that Eve would need feeding. Whereas 4 weeks, and less experience, ago I would have taken a bottle out with me, this time I couldn't be bothered. So I found myself on Tuesday sitting in the cafe in the plush Conrad hotel in Hong Kong with my lovely friend, L, from Singapore. Eve sat in the sling, happy and tired, until we had just started on our post lunch drinks. Having waited for me to finish my lunch, Eve wanted hers. L, mother of one and shortly two, simply turned to the waiter, asked him to take our drinks to the lobby so that "my friend can feed her baby". We retired to the nice comfy chairs, in full view of the entrance and the many besuited businessmen having meetings, where I draped the yellow tent thingy around my neck and fed Eve while L and I chatted. A few people looked at the two pink legs stuck out the bottom of the yellow tent and probably wondered what the slurping noises were - but if they stared or were disgusted then I didn't notice.

Jump to Thursday and after her jabs I took Eve into my office to say hi to a few colleagues. I work for not only a bank, but a very posh private bank, and we have lovely offices. Eve, of course, started to wail and was inconsolable until she was fed. So I settled into my boss' chair in his office (he works mainly in Singapore), turned the chair around and fed her in the office while looking at the nice view across Western Harbour. It was a rather nice view, although Eve was aware only of the lovely, milk providing, view in front of her.

Postscript - Although I am embracing breastfeeding in public, I have not yet gone as far as C from my mother and baby group who took her 3 month old to the cinema and breastfed her there. Apparently it was all rather easy, although the cinema made her pay for a child ticket for her daughter. Really.

Ommmm whaaaaa

Back at baby yoga today and this time I was prepared. Eve, due to her jabs, is nice and sleepy, she fed until 30 mins before the class started, and fell asleep in the taxi on the way there, I took a big fluffy coat and a blanket to pop her to sleep on. We were all set for a nice class.

It was better, a bit. She gurgled sweetly through the Bridge and Warrior poses. But, as before, she started screaming, wanted to feed, so we sat at the back and quietly fed for half an hour.

I am starting to wonder whether the HK$100 I pay for a class, simply to sit on the floor and feed her in a slightly different location to home, is a bit stupid. Still, I watch what the other better behaved babies do and know that in a few more weeks time I will be able to do all of these exercises at home with her.

There was also a lovely moment when she started to scream that the lady in front turned around to me and said "Mine normally does that too, don't worry about it".


Thursday, February 21, 2008

The drugs do work

Yesterday Eve went to have her 6 week jabs. Perhaps it shows me as a rather irresponsible parent but I have no idea what they were for (it says in her baby book if I bothered to read it). I find it laughable that after the fuss of the three-in-one MMR jab in the UK, babies in HK happily have a 6-in-1 jab at 6 weeks and nobody bats an eyelid. Perhaps it is the result of too many hours as a child hanging around hospitals with my parents, or as a teenager dating the odd doctor when I worked at one in my spare time, but I tend to believe that if someone with 7 years training tells me something is OK and millions of other children have had it then it is probably fine.

The doctor told me to expect that Eve would get a fever and be generally a bit under the weather for a couple of days. I forewarned the Boy and expected a horrific night last night.

She went to sleep at 9pm, woke up at 1.30 for a feed and was fast asleep by 2.45, and has just woken up at 6.30am. It is by far the best night we have had with her since she was born.

I am seriously considering asking the doctor what other jabs she can have - surely there must be enough to last through to 3 months when her wind will ease?

I am, perhaps, selling the Boy and I a little short. We drastically changed Eve's routine two days ago in a desperate effort to banish the screaming evening banshee baby from our lives. It actually seemed to work even without the drugs so perhaps we should take some credit for last night too.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Service will be suspended

For those who are wondering why I am unusually quiet, it is because Eve is having a "phase" which goes like this.

8pm feed - Daddy is home so she stays awake to see him
9.30 pm - bathime, all very cute and smiley
10 pm - feed, but she has started screaming at this point for the past 2 nights, and screamed and refused to eat for the following 3 hours
1am - feed a bit
3 am - scream for more food
Then is unsettled with wind (due to the unsettled feeding schedule and screaming) until 8.30 when I feed her again and after a 30 minute struggle, she finally goes to sleep

Hmm, what happened to the baby who had read the books?

Normal service will be resumed once Yummy Mummy manages more than 2 hours sleep a day herself.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hitting the fan/car park

Not to be outdone by the Boy in the power poo stakes, I too had my own little "incident" last night.

I had arranged to meet LottieP at gym, followed by dinner. So the Boy could go to the gym too, and then do the baby relay baton change with me at 7pm (take note of the time, it will be required later in the post), I took Eve for a nice long walk while the sun set. I walked along the harbour front, reminding myself how lovely it is in HK and how lucky we are to live here. At 6.50 I was nearly back at the yacht club and pottering towards the car to get my kit and hand over Eve. Then something unusual happened, Eve woke up.

Eve never wakes up in her buggy, it is like opium for her, so something was amiss. She was hungry, very hungry.

Now, the yacht club has a perfectly servicable feeding area in the ladies changing room, along with a changing table. However, that would have meant lugging Eve, me, the buggy, change bag and assorted other items up a flight of steep steps. I had also arranged to meet the Boy by the car at 7. The car was so close, and Eve by this point was sounding as if someone was trying to murder her, so I chose the car.

Sadly the Boy had parked in a particularly dark part of the car park. I tried to get into the only back seat without a car seat attachment on it only to find that the Boy has the driver's seat so far back that I couldn't actually get in. Popping Eve down on the seat (please don't pick now to learn how to roll over...) I then wrestled with the driver's seat and pulled it forwards. Then pick up Eve again, and sat down. Hmmm, there is something of a height difference between Eve and my boob when she is lying on my lap so I bundled up my very lovely Nicole Fahri cashmere coat (please don't throw up Eve) and stuck it under Eve's head.

Did I mention she was screaming a lot?

After a couple of minutes of baby starling impressions, Eve was finally eating. I was having to hold her head up, we were in near complete darkness, and she was dribbling a bit (oh my poor coat). However, things were going OK and I even managed to SMS LottieP to say I would be late.

Then came a slightly ominous gurgling noise from her nappy. My instant response, I am ashamed to say was, "not on the bloody coat". However, I figured that it was probably not too bad and Eve was still guzzling away. Besides, the Boy would be back soon as it was now 7.05. Then came a rapid succession of 3, slightly louder, gurgling noises from her nappy. Eve actually paused from eating at this point, so I knew it was bad. I now had two choices, ignore it and let it seep through her clothes (and my coat) or change her. I tried to call the Boy, no joy. I sent an especially petulant SMS to him and then decided to change her.

Please be reminded that I am in the back of a VW Golf, in near darkness, with a screaming and, now, smelly baby. I grabbed the change mat (putting Eve on the floor of the car so I could lay out the mat on the seat - she gets all the glamour, my daughter) and started to change her. The Boy, for reasons best known to himself, had repacked the change bag using Boy logic so it took me twice as long to find anything, meanwhile Eve is screaming again. I get everything ready, and undo her clothes to survey the scene. No leakage, but a very full nappy. Right, time to change.

And then the light in the car turns off. Even with the door open it only stays on a few minutes. So, I shut the door, Eve still lying half naked on the changing mat inside, then open it again so the light comes back on. She has stopped screaming and is now looking a bit bemused. Flinging the dirty nappy and wipes out of the car onto the floor of the car park, I get her changed and clean finally. Then fling the changing mat onto the car park floor as well and commence with feeding Eve.

Did I mention that throughout all of this I had one boob hanging out - I hadn't put it back into my bra yet.

It was to a scene of relative serenity that the boy returned just as Eve had settled to eat again. Only the various changing items flung around the car door was evidence of the chaos a few moments earlier.

So, I trump the Boy's changing fiasco with my own, and the added variable of feeding Eve at the same time.

One for Mummy

I went rowing at the weekend, for the first time since Eve came into my life, and a whole 8 weeks since I was last in a boat. It felt so good, although I had to remind myself what rowing without a bump is supposed to be and try to keep my legs closed as I no longer need to accommodate a large growth on my front.

Then, last night, I sat on the ergo next to LottieP and rowed, lots. When I looked in the mirror I was grinning like a loon, and was far happier on a rowing machine than anyone should be.

And on Saturday I went to a party, a proper party with beer and wine and people and music. Eve came too and gurgled and looked cute while everyone cuddled her, prior to falling asleep. I had a lot of proper adult conversations.

All of these made me very happy.


I am starting to wonder whether Eve can already read and use the internet. She is, of course, bright as a button being my daughter but at 6 weeks surely she shouldn't be able to do this yet?

The reason for my suspicion is that she is doing exactly what she should in terms of development, at exactly the right time. It is uncannily scary and in my new, low expectations and just ride the wave, approach to parenting it just feels wrong that she should be doing what she is supposed to at the right time.

Eve turned 6 weeks at the weekend, and the night before her 6 week birthday she slept through the night from 11 until 7.30am with only one overnight feed - unheard of. Then, bang on cue, she started her 6 week growth spurt in the evening, and fed every 2 hours overnight and every 90 minutes - 2 hours during the day (and I needn't tell you what a shock that was after the luxury of sleep the night before!). Then, last night, overnight from 11 until 8.30 with just one feed again.

All of the books and internet sites predict this at 6 weeks, but all also say that almost no baby conforms to this and not to expect it. Eve, however, seems to be using the spare time when I am in the shower or at the gym to swot up on what she should be doing

Of course Friday night and last night were probably complete flukes and Eve won't do this again until I am back at work - but it is giving me both hope and a break before the next onslaught of, well, perhaps I should check with Eve what the books say should come next.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


While I am on maternity leave I am trying to do as much as I can with Eve, mindful that too soon I will be back at work full time and not able to join her in her activities. In addition to the lifeline that is the mother and baby group and the friends I have made there, yesterday I decided to take Eve to mother and baby yoga.

I have been going to yoga for a few years now, and loved my antenatal yoga classes. When I was excercising lots pre pregnancy, I would find that one session of yoga a week would realign my body and soothe my mind. I want to get back to it, but also want to spend as much time as I can with Eve. Mother and baby yoga seemed like the ideal solution.

Prior to attending I had images of a nice calming environment, babies asleep or smiling happily while their mothers did yoga and integrated their babies into their postures. It sounded perfect.

For 10 out of the 11 people at the class yesterday this was the case.

Eve, however, decided that 5 minutes into the class she was going to scream. She would only be quiet if I fed her, cue naked boob and very loud baby starling impressions from Eve. But she wasn't really hungry so this provided only temporary reprieve until she started screaming again. The instructor kept on saying that it didn't matter if babies cried in class, but when she started having to shout it over Eve's banshee wailing she didn't have quite the same conviction in her voice. After 40 minutes Eve did an enormous poo so I went outside to change her. She was quiet the whole time we were outside in the hustle and bustle of the reception, but the moment I stepped back into the calming environment of the yoga studio she started screaming again.

As further testimony to how far I have come with this motherhood thing, I didn't really care. At the end of the class (Eve stopped screaming 5 minutes before the end and fell, predictably, into a cute and snuffly sleep) I merely went to the instructor and apologised saying "babies just cry" and signed up for the remaining 9 weeks of the course.

Eve, having already been thrown out of a pub, may yet be thrown out of her first yoga classes too!

Political pundit

When I was working for a more worthy cause than one of the world's largest banks, I used to do a fair bit of political consultation. I was once asked to go and speak to a delegation of overseas civil servants, mainly from various African nations, about political polling - techniques, accuracy and uses. Goodness knows why anyone thought a 24 year old, as I was then, could credibly speak to such a distinguished audience, but the conference came off the back of some work I did with my boss for Harriet Harman on women's voting behaviour and reviewed a lot of poll data and as my boss was on holiday at the time she tasked me with speaking.

I don't think it was a particularly good session. I was woefully ill prepared to relate my topic to the audience and talked about the inaccuracy of polling data taken on council estates (too dangerous for interviewers) and in posh areas (the drives are too long and the interviewers don't make their quotas if they have to spend 5 mins getting to each door so they avoid these areas).

Recently, as I am on maternity leave, I have been following the US primaries and have taken particular note of how hopelessly inaccurate the polls have been (Iowa anyone?). However, this morning an alternative approach came to me.

Eve is going through a bit of a screamy phase and taking up to half an hour to settle for her naps. So, I have reverted to what I did when she was just home, and read to her in a gentle and soothing voice while patting her tummy. However, Eve doesn't really care what I read to her and I want to leave the brain numbing children's books until she does. This morning our reading of choice was the latest Economist.

While I was doing this, I noticed an interesting phenomenon, Eve's screaming changed depending on who I was reading about. She was relatively settled while I was reading to her about Barak Obama, but screamed blue murder when I mentioned Hillary Clinton (for the record, her mother differs in this and thinks they are both awful). When we got onto Tony Blair I thought she was going to scream the house down, so much so that 3 lines in the effect was so instantaneous that I stopped reading. I finished off with a short piece about Sarkozy, to find she calmed down and put herself gently to sleep.

Although Eve looks in all respects like her father, I wonder whether the market research and polling genius as well as acute interest in politics has been passed on from me.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hitting the fan

It's The Boy here, Yummy Mummy has handed over the reins of her blog to me for a one-off special guest appearance. So don't expect anything similar to the thoughtful, touching and poignant posts of recent days - this is pure, hard-hitting reality.

We have just had the Chinese New Year holidays, and we spent the 4-day break enjoying a very quiet Hong Kong. The local residents either jet off to warmer climes or visit family and friends, but either way the streets are quiet and most of the shops are shut. On Sunday we got up, organised and out the flat in record time, getting into Central at the crack of 11am, ready to hit the shops for a couple of hours before the next feed was due. Of course Eve had other ideas, so decided that after just one shop - Lane Crawford, where I chanted subliminal messages to a blissfully unaware and sleeping Eve about designer goods being a waste of money, and where we also failed to find the birthday presents we were looking for - that in fact she was going to wake up and demand to be fed there and then. We found a Starbucks - damn, and after that crafty subliminal work we immediately go for overpriced, low-value goods - and settled down with a decaf hazelnut latte skinny grande (I always get confused halfway through my order and am never sure of the right order of the various items I need, grande skinny decaf hazlenut latte?) and a hot chocolate. Eve settled down under some form of magical yellow tent apparatus that allows YM to breastfeed her in privacy in public, and I sat back in a comfy chair to soak up the gentle jazz that was playing and watch the world go by, amused every now and then by one of Eve's legs kicking out contentedly from beneath the yellow tent-structure. Halfway through the feed Eve needs changing, and unfortunately YM had to do the honours as there was no changing station in the gents. Naturally there wasn't in the ladies either, so the operation was accomplished on the floor of the public toilet - classy, our daughter.

Back to feeding under the yellow-canopy, and cue almost immediate squirting sounds again down below from Eve. As her digestive system is changing at the moment she is actually not creating poo, sorry, pooing, very frequently, but when she does poo, she really does and you have to change her pretty sharpish. But as she is a talented girl she is quite happy feeding, pooing and vomiting all at the same time, so we let her continue slurping away for a bit. I was still enjoying the ambiance, but then YM finally emerged from the yellow sheet/tent-thing with a griamce and handed her to me, "you change her". No problem, and with that the modern Dad grabbed her under one arm and strolled to the gents.

I popped her down on the top next to the sink - Eve might like rolling around on the floor of a public loo but it doesn't grab me - and got the bits and bobs you need for the operation out of the baby bag. I started to get her undressed - she started screaming - and realised that the poo was more than impressive, it was catastrophic. It had soaked through her nappy, her underwear all-in-one suit thing, and her baby rompersuit thing (I admit I need to get up to date with my baby fashion terminology). And of course by implication onto the travel changing mat, but miraculously not onto me. No problem for the modern Dad as we had a change of clothes in the bag. The first issue was that there was nowhere else to put her other than the now-poo-covered changing mat, hmmm. So I partially undressed her and began to clean up the poo, a sort of watery, green/yellow mush, and quickly started to run out of baby wipes. I moved onto the emergency paper towel, then tissues, and was still not making much headway. I mean, there was a lot of poo. I got her out of her clothes and onto the mat, where she slid around in her own faeces for a bit while I struggled to clean her, the mat, pack her soiled clothes into a vacuum-sealed-double-nappy-bag (I decided there and then we would burn them when we got home), and I then ran out of all cleaning material. "Hold this Eve", and she clung resolutely to the soap dispenser while I dashed across the toliets to get more paper towel. I got back before she bounced onto the tiled floor and continued the mopping up operation - I finally got the nappy off - oh my god - and discovered that the poo was halfway up her stomach, all the way up her back and had somehow got into her hair. She then put her feet down in it so was truly covered from top to toe.

Hmmm, the modern Dad didn't sign up to this. Holding Eve under one arm I cleaned the mat, then cleaned her in mid-air, one-handed, rinsed out her hair, cleaned the mat again, cleaned her feet, legs, stomach, bottom, back, hair again. Arms, hands, and me too by this stage, of course. Have I mentioned she was screaming? I put her down on the mat to put a nappy on, and of course she weed everywhere. On me, her, the mat. Right. Pick her up one-handed, clean the mat again, the baby again, me, her hair again - the wee didn't go anywhere near that but only 5 minutes previously it did have lots of poo in it so you can't blame me - put her back down on the mat. Breathe slowly, breathe, calm. Grin crazily at the other users of the gents. Nappy on, yes, we are nearly there! "Eve, you can let go of the soap dispenser now". But she wouldn't, so we had a mini-battle before I could get the rest of her clothes on. Throw away the mound of soiled tissues, wipes, paper towel, pack the baby bag, pop the baby under one arm again, stagger out somewhat traumatised and nowhere near as nonchalent as before, back into the now-surreal Starbucks. Hand Eve back to a manically giggling Mum (overtired, anyone?), and resolve to invent the leakproof nappy. We had been out shopping for about 3 hours and all I had done was clean up sh*t!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Love actually

It is high time that I wrote a post on maternal love, and I worked out at about 4.30am that I have fed Eve 280 times since she was born (that is an average of 60 minutes per feed, so an awful lot of time) so now seems a good time to reflect on what it is that keeps me awake, patient (most of the time) and on this merry go round that is motherhood.

Growing up, with teenage rebellion and leaving home, the unconditional love that exists between families was rather taken for granted. However, there have been a few times in my life when the link I have felt with my family has been so deep, primal even, that it shocked me. My sister and I were not especially close when we were kids, although she may feel differently. With 4 years between us, we weren't quite able to share the same interests at the same time but neither was she the much older and wiser sister.

Boxing Day when the Boy and I were in Sri Lanka and all hell let lose in the tsunami was one of the toughest and most traumatic experiences of my life. I was truly scared, for me, for the Boy, for the people around us and we also saw and did some things I wouldn't wish on anyone. When we finally got to safety to a house in the hills, the first person I called was Mum - but to tell her we were safe, how to contact us, and our plans to try to get home. Then I called my sister, and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed - all the trauma came out. There was simply no other person who I wanted at that moment to perform that role - my family, and my sister in particular, was the only person who was able to give me sufficient comfort of the type I needed at that moment.

Similarly, when my niece was born after a particularly traumatic labour, my sister called me a few hours afterwards. I have never heard my normally stable and sensible sister so upset. My reaction was surprising, I had to get to my sister. Screw work, screw cost and practicality, I had to get on a plane home because my sister needed comfort. I ended up talking to Mum who, sensibly, told me to wait a day or two and see how my sister was then.

The same thing happens with Eve now. When she cries, it cuts to my very core and all I want to do is take away the pain, to comfort her, to make her happy. The worst thing for maternal, or familial, love is to be unable to comfort - it is an instinct so deep that it continues to surprise me.

Although I am sleep deprived, and upset that she is screaming, and the sound is only 5 decibels below the pain threshold, I don't get angry with Eve, I get angry at not being able to take away whatever it is that is upsetting her, to make it better. When Eve is screaming because she has wind and is in pain, or is just being a baby and life is getting too much for her, I need to hold her, stroke her, comfort her. Despite all the books saying this sets bad habits for the future, I think that to go against such a strong instinct can't be right. We are pre-programmed like this for a good reason, and one I am happy and proud that I still have.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

With a little help from my friends

I am in an unusual position in that most of my good friends in HK don't have children yet, or have children that are a fair bit older than Eve. Most of those I consider to be my close girlfriends don't have children. I must admit this worried me when I was pregnant, as lots of people - not to mention those dreaded baby books - say that your friendship circles change as people with no babies make way for those with new shared interests (colic, screaming nappies, nursery schools). I rather like my friends and hope to make new ones through Eve rather than jettison the old ones.

I have become a lot harder to be friends with as a result of Eve, so I can see why friendships may falter after a formerly childless group of friends changes. My life at the moment revolves around where I can feed every 3 hours. As I am breastfeeding and don't like Eve to have more than one bottle of expressed a day, she usually comes wherever I do. This rules out lots of restaurants, nightclubs and most bars (Eve was actually thrown out of a bar at the weekend - impressive at 5 weeks old). It also means that until the morning when we know what time Eve wakes up because we are encouraging her to sleep as long as she wants to at night, we don't really know whether she will be on a 7 - 10 - 1 - 4 routine or 9 - 12 - 3 - 6. This ensures that any arrangements are made late and because Eve inevitably takes longer to feed just before we are due to leave the house I am usually late for everything. I used to pride myself in my punctuality, my daughter is not the same.

We are also having variable nights at the moment, so some days all I want to do is sleep as much as I can, meaning late cancellations.

Although I take Eve out a lot, working out timings and places to feed mean that I find it is easier to spend time with my couple of friends with small babies too because they are happy to sit around the house, chat and feed all day whereas, quite understandably, childless friends tend to want to go out and do things.

All of this would test the patience of even the strongest friendships.

Which is why I am so happy at what has actually happened. Perhaps it is something about Hong Kong, where most people are away from their families so our friends become our proxy families and are much more supportive and tolerant as a result. Perhaps it is testimony to my friends, who are a bunch of very lovely people. Perhaps it is because I have made an effort to get out and see people. Whatever the reason, the girls and guys have rallied around and my friendships are as strong, if somewhat changed, as before.

Last week, when C had a day off, she invited me around to chat and watch videos - a truly generous offer considering how precious days off are. When Eve did a good impression of the child from the Exorcist mid-afternoon (green goo and screaming), C insisted on accompanying me to the doctor to check Eve out. This did lead to a very amusing incident at the reception when the nurse addressed all the instructions to C, as if we were some sort of glamourous lesbian couple.

I have fixed a time to row or catch up with, and bailed, on LottieP three times this weekend. But still she is happy to be flexible and understanding and drag me out in a boat later today.

I have probably had 10 messages from A since Eve was born asking to meet up. When I accidentally saw him at the supermarket at the weekend, he was fine about the unreturned calls, very understanding, and offered to bring round a bottle of red whenever I called.

And R not only bought be support pants back from the UK but is happy to come all the way from her Central pad to the suburbs to do nothing more than sit and chat - and she has offered me her flat to feed in whenever I am stuck in Central with nowhere to feed.

A even offered to come and sit with Eve while I slept.

It seems that, Hong Kong being a village, the village is rallying around me and Eve to ensure that she and I are fully supported by our HK family. She is very much a baby for us all and it is testimony to my friends that this has happened so naturally.

Friday, February 8, 2008


After the 7 hours of screaming banshee (see previous post) last night Eve confounded all expectations. The following unfolded:

9pm - feed & a bit of crying. Cue general rolling of the eyes and expectation of banshee reappearance from us both.
11.30pm - feed and straight to sleep
3.30am - feed, yes, that is a whole 4 hours between feeds, which is unheard of
7.30am - Eve wakes up a little sleepy a whole 4 hours after her last feed

So, in summary, the best night we have had since she was born.

It is now 9.30pm and the Boy and I are looking at each other nervously about what tonight might hold...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Opinion is divided as to whether "colic" exists. For the un-childed, it tends to be the explanation for a baby crying uncontrollably with no apparent cause. It is supposed to be due to an immature digestive system, and cause babies lots of wind and pain.

Others think that it doesn't really exist and it is an overused explanation to pacify parents whose babies just cry a lot.

Until last night Eve had wind, it woke her up occasionally but lasted for a few minutes and then she would put herself back to sleep.

Last night Eve screamed, and screamed, and screamed - most of the night. You could hear her digestive system creak and gurgle with the wind and there would be the occasional respite from the screaming when she farted.

Apparently there is not much you can do about colic, they grow out of it at around 3 months. That will be another 8 weeks of screaming then...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A very modern meal

Eve and I are finally getting the hang of this breastfeeding thing. I am producing enough, in fact too much, milk for her and other than the odd painful tit or nipple, which is nasty but easily solved, everything is going quite well.

It is getting pretty easy to know when Eve is hungry because she wails a bit, thrashes her head with her mouth wide open and makes a funny grunting noise. A friend of mine described the action as looking like a hungry starling begging for food. This makes knowing when she is hungry pretty easy. H has rightly pointed out that, given the chance, Eve would eat whenever she is awake and as a result is putting on stupid amounts of weight, which is brilliant, and eating like the pig she is (I am not being horrible about my daughter, she was born in the year of the pig).

This, however, leads to another problem. Breastfeeding boredom. Breastfeeding conjures up lovely images of child gently suckling while mother looks down adoringly at her offspring. That is great, for about 3 minutes, and then the realisation hits that you are going to be here for another 27 minutes or, seeing as Eve is gobbling at the moment, another 45. There is only so much adoring looking one can do before it gets very dull. This happens 7-8 times a day. Yes, that is around 6-7 hours each day of having my child stuck to my chest and when I am not able to do anything else.

Initially I felt I should give Eve all my attention, and while we were both learning this feeding thing that was required. However, we are over that now and nothing will separate Eve from my nipple during feeding, leaving me with a free hand. I refuse to feed in front of the TV. I believe that Eve should not watch TV when she is little (although the more observant would point out that with face turned to my chest and no interest in anything other than eating, Eve wouldn't really be "watching"). I do feel, however, that it is entirely acceptable for me to listen to the BBC World Service while I feed, and when the Boy is home we listen to BBC Radio Five sports podcasts. It is too difficult to read a book with only one hand free, but I have found magazines to be quite manageable so today I have read half of last weeks Economist, including a very interesting article on Iran's nuclear programme and the IAEA.

I am getting better at using the computer one handed too and check Facebook and a couple of blogs each morning, although have yet to master typing more than a few words. I will let you know when I finally manage to type this blog while feeding.

Monday, February 4, 2008

One month in

Exactly one month ago I was lying on a hospital bed waiting to be wheeled into an operating theatre for a c-section. Then I had no concept of how much my life would change, how rewarding, worrying, challenging and wonderful the following month was going to turn out to be.

Nothing - no books, no amount of talking to friends, no antenatal classes - can prepare you for experience of motherhood. I don't know quite what I expected but the reality is nothing I had previously conceived of. Imagine having someone constantly demanding you do things, but in a language you can't understand and so end up guessing all the time and maybe half the time get it right and the other half end up feeling hopeless. Add to that never getting more than 90 minutes of sleep at a time, and a bit of high decibel screeching and you are getting close. Then add to that the sheer joy and happiness of when your own child looks at you, or when at 3am you lie listening to her breathing and marveling at the wonder of how lovely and gorgeous that noise is.

Finally, imagine, as I experienced last night, looking over at this small bundle of sweet smelling snuffle in pink and realise that you won't be giving her back at the end of the day, that you will not be able to hand in your notice on this particular career, and that she is your future.

Then you are getting close to motherhood.