Waiting for Agnes

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Fun parent has left the building February 9, 2011

Grab your cup of tea and a large snack. This will not be brief.

Here I was almost six months ago, mother of a one year old who had zero interest in expanding his diet, and wrestling with the questions of follow versus lead, surrender versus control. My enthusiasm to embrace small’s transition to toddlerhood and our family’s transition out of the hazy circus of babyhood meant that the pendulum tipped to lead and control. And for a time all was well. Somewhat smugly, I felt I had achieved quite a coup: the small one ate a small amount of food and continued to breastfeed a large amount of the time. Huzzah  for extended breastfeeding thought I. Time whooshed by. My work hours stretched into two days a week, the beloved’s compressed to three or four. At some point, small let go of his hatred of bottles and cups. Freedom! The beloved could give him expressed milk and no longer had to plan their day strategically around small being brought in to work for a breastfeed. We could even (gasp!) go out without him, just the two of us.  Just look at us go! Embracing change left and right! Ah, the maturity.

Summer arrived, rainy, humid. Ate a lot of ice cream, lurched onto the mad pre-Christmas treadmill of catching up with friends, worked a bit, got chiropracted a lot (yes, well, if other people can make up words, I don’t see why I can’t join in), got sucked into the shopping frenzy, and expended a lot of energy secretively hiding and wrapping presents. And some time in there the small one just kind of stopped eating again. One day I realised I was still carrying around food for him every day, still offering him three meals plus snacks, but that it was all going uneaten. He was toying with his cereal, having the odd rice bubble or bran flake, crumbling his previously beloved fruit bars and mooshing them into the furniture, turning his nose up at toast, hiding his dinner under an upturned bowl, not really ever eating. He was breastfeeding as much as ever, maybe more, with night feeds escalating wildly to the point where once he grabbed on he wouldn’t let go until dawn. Bloody hell it was exhausting. What to do? I stopped expressing at work, reasoning that a drop in supply might increase his appetite for the alternative. I tried to reinject a little stability in his day, making sure we were at home for mealtimes and sleeps, not varying the food too much.  In the new year I made just one resolution: to night wean.


Oy, the trepidation. I had toyed with the idea of night weaning for a while, longing for sleep like a strung out addict. I talked at all and sundry about it. Predictions were dire and unanimous…night weaning and bed-sharing would not be compatible, small would not be off the boob until he was out of our bed and he wouldn’t get out of our bed until he was out of our room and presumably wouldn’t be out of our room until he bought his own house some time in 2039. What the hell, I thought. Can only give it a go. I struck a deal with the small one – you can have all the cuddles you want, all night, but it’s last drinks at 10pm then the bar will reopen when it is light outside. Miraculously, with just one night of outraged shrieking, we succeeded. Yes, he may sleep on my head, or at least on 70% of my pillow, and do a bit of break dancing and occasional squawking through the night, but it’s surprisingly easy to sleep with a toddler on your head and not on your breast. He even stopped the hopeful groping after a few nights. Smug parenting moment. Sleep. Bliss. But mysteriously no increase in appetite. Still no eating. And still attached to the breast at any opportunity through the day. It dawned on me one day that whenever I was stationary, he’d come for me like a homing missile. My latest theory is that the breastfeeding weight loss starts when you start running away from your toddler.

And then it was January. Lazy, sandy, lolling January. Still no eating. No talking. And not really growing much either. And then he got a virus, not a bad virus, just persistent enough for us to go to the GP. Unsurprisingly the GP said ‘small is too small, take him to a paediatrician…really, it won’t be that bad, he won’t bite you’. Coming not long after the new and disliked maternal child health nurse snippily said ‘well, I have to tell you to see a paediatrician, even if you won’t go’ and right on the back of a close friend having the courage to tell us that she didn’t think all was well with small and his food strike, it was the straw that broke this mama’s resolve. I’d grown hardened to the insensitive, offhand and sometimes plain ridiculous comments coming from any old schmo in the street. It’s hard to hear but even harder to ignore it when it comes from someone who loves you and your baby dearly.

So to the paediatrician we went. Grimly prepared, list of questions in hand, contents of Blue Book virtually memorised, I felt like I was going to sit a test for which I couldn’t possibly study well enough. Yes, this could be taking a healthy wariness a little too far, but the clawing anxiety was hard to suppress. What was my worst fear? Being told ‘you must wean and give your baby formula’. And what happened? I was told ‘you must wean and give your baby formula’. It played out like so:

Me – So, I have x, y and z concerns. I’m not really concerned about his size. Genetically, he’s going to be small.

Dr Notsochatty –  (after about twenty minutes of silently examining, weighing, measuring, charting and noting developmental milestones) None of x, y or z are concerning to me at all. These things will be fine. He is too small. It’s a very simple issue – not enough calories.

Me – Why doesn’t he seem hungry? Why doesn’t he take the abundant food or drink offered to him? I assumed he would instinctively take what he needs.

Dr Tactless – He is like a baby in the 3rd world. He’s just used to not getting enough so he doesn’t ask for more.

Me – Wow. That makes me feel great. So, I have been effectively starving him for months. But he seemed so happy.

Dr Slightlyobtuse – Lethargy can look a lot like contentment. The solution is to wean and put him on toddler formula. He needs to be having (tappity tappity of calculator) one litre a day.

Me – I’m quite devastated. (trying not to embarassingly cry) I don’t want to wean him completely. I still feel there is value in breastmilk for him.

Dr Sceptical – What’s your problem with formula?

Me – Urhh. That’s not really what I have the problem with. I have a problem with weaning completely.

Dr I’mdonenow – Well don’t then. Just make sure you give the formula first. We’ll see you in 3-4 weeks. If he’s not improving we’ll look at admission to a hospital or a mother-baby unit.

Me – ……………

That was that.

I thought ‘I could fight this, I could ignore this advice and carry on waiting for small. But why did I come here? Wasn’t I ready for something to change? Yes. We have tried it small’s way and that hasn’t worked. So we’ll try this other way’. And before I could get distracted by the competing voices in my head, I stamped over to the supermarket and bought a tin of toddler formula. On the up side, it is organic.

Then we went home and I was introduced to a new side of the small person – the you-thought-I-was-stubborn-before-ha-you-aint-seen-nothing-yet side. Again I say – goddamn genetics. Since before I was pregnant I was repelled by the advice given to always dominate your child, to show them who’s in control, to wield all the power, to not give the inch for fear of losing the mile. I so dearly wanted to respect my child’s individuality, to recognise the limited ways he has to voice his own wants, to honour his right to exercise his own willpower. I didn’t want to get into power struggles with him. I wanted to negotiate peacefully…….. It’s fine. You can get up off the floor now. Wipe away the tears of laughter. Oh ho ho ho. And yes, I have met toddlers before, but obviously mine was going to be special and different. Be careful what you wish for indeed. Small obviously feels that his right to exercise his own willpower is indeed honoured.



So, the formula. The first day I managed to cram 100mls into him. It took four hours. Mainly he did angry backbends over my lap, his face contorting in his efforts to escape what was effectively waterboarding with powdered milk. God it was dreadful. Not only was I the worst mother ever, with my third world toddler, but now I was torturing him. But as the week has unfolded, things have improved. Cooperation up, bodily restraint down. And despite my scepticism, and being completely aware of my ability to rationalise any decision I’ve made, the regime is working. This week has been like watching the small one come out of hibernation. He’s more vibrant, social, curious, vocal. His concentration span has soared. His sleeping has improved out of sight. He’s incredibly affectionate. It’s amazing to watch.

Yet painful. While I’m grateful that there’s nothing wrong with him that food cannot fix, it kills me that he’s been doing without for months. It challenges my faith in extended breastfeeding. It really challenges my faith in baby-led weaning/solids. It scares me that this could have gone on for longer. It makes me feel foolish for being so, so sure of my convictions.


When mamas are bored with dubiously accented sock puppets… November 9, 2010

Filed under: Parenting — titchandboofer @ 9:04 am
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At least it’s not Nutella.


Moo October 11, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful baking,Parenting — titchandboofer @ 10:32 am
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A month ago, I wrote about the end of the small person’s exclusive breastfeeding career and his hesitant steps into the world of solid food. Aside from his untimely introduction to Nutella, I had big, wholesome plans for small’s diet. Obviously he would only be eating organic, GM free, fair-traded, ethically sound, teensy carbon-footprint-leaving, nourishing things, which have been hand picked by free-ranging vegetarians and travelled only 1% of a food mile. And that would be just dandy, if he could live on sugar snap peas and eggs. Sadly, he won’t eat either of those, or anything else homegrown, unless you count chook poo. Mainly he likes things that come in the shape of rice grains…like rice and the little bran sticks that come in muesli. Oh, and croissants, macaroons, crispy potatoes, spicy eggplant, fruit toast, wholegrain ‘fruit’ bars, All-Bran (which, incidentally, is most decidedly not ALL bran, but anyhoo), grissini, thai spring rolls, puff pastry and this cake: 

Luscious Chocolate Mousse Cake

Cake –

180 grams of dark eating chocolate, chopped

180 grams of chilled unsalted butter, chopped

6 eggs, separated

180 grams of caster sugar

Mousse –

200 grams of dark eating chocolate, chopped

30 grams of unsalted butter

3 eggs, separated

300 mls of pure (not thickened) cream

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 fan forced).

Butter and line a 23cm springform tin.

Begin with the cake:

Melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over just simmering water. Stir until smooth, remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

In the meantime, whisk the eggwhites and a pinch of salt in a large glass (or metal) bowl until soft peaks form. Add half the caster sugar, one tablespoon at a time, whisking until the mixture is thick and glossy.

In another large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until thick and pale. Slowly pour in the chocolate mixture, whisking constantly.

Using a large metal spoon, gently fold in the eggwhites, one third at a time.

Pour gently into your prepared tin and bake for 35-45 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin – it will sink as it cools.

Carefully transfer to a plate. Don’t be deceived by it’s crisp outer shell – this cake is a tender, delicate creature. You need to pop the outer part of the tin off and then ever so gently shimmy the cake across to a plate on the baking paper. And don’t be tempted to invert it for transfer as it will fall apart in your hands and you will cry.

Now for the mousse –

Melt the chocolate and butter in a  heatproof bowl set over just simmering water (yes, I know, sounds familiar). Stir until smooth, then allow to cool to room temperature.

Whisk the eggwhites in a medium size glass bowl until soft peaks form.

Whip the cream into soft peaks in another bowl.

Whisk the egg yolks, one at a time, into the cooled chocolate mixture.

With a large metal spoon, gently fold the eggwhites and cream into the chocolate mixture.

Spread the mousse over the cooled cake, scatter with grated chocolate and refrigerate for about 2 hours until set.

This is not a pretty cake. Frankly, it looks like a cow pat. But damn it tastes good and at least the eggs are free range. Jeez we’re great parents.


Like a cheap fiddle September 10, 2010

Filed under: Breastfeeding,Parenting — titchandboofer @ 3:08 am
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On Monday, an encounter with my GP led to some serious pondering on my behalf. Not just on the question of whether to seriously attempt to make the small one eat, but more interestingly on the realisation that, as a family, we’re leaving one part of our lives behind and moving on again. Sometimes in life the transitions are blindingly obvious – big landmark occasions like giving birth or moving out of home, that you see coming a long way off – but sometimes they are so gently, subtly played out that it’s not until you’re on the other side that you notice – like looking at your baby and seeing that their awareness, their very ‘personhood’ has become so clear, they don’t look like a baby anymore. Undoubtedly, inevitably, we are leaving small’s babyhood behind. And it’s not all about the food. I realised we’re not trying to drag him prematurely out of babyhood, but that this is just one in a series of little changes that have snuck up on all three of us:

Small is getting very social and although he may not have the words yet, his intentions could not be clearer – if he sees someone that he wants to be with, his face becomes a big question mark, his arms stretch out, he ‘hhurrrs’ insistently, and if this goes unnoticed he gets quite irate. In fact he has definite preferences about many things – if we’re reading he wants to turn the pages himself, if the beloved or I are cooking he wants to inspect every bowl and pot, and if there are other kids around he trails them enthusiastically wherever they go, whereas once he would have lost interest if they moved out of sight. Things are changing for the beloved and I, too. Over the past two months I have been easing back into working, and I am so excited by this. I go to work, leaving small with the beloved or The Nanna, and I don’t miss him. I thought I would, but I get so immersed in the work and I know he’s totally fine without me, so I don’t miss him. But I am thrilled to see him again at the end of a shift as he comes galumphing down the hall ‘hhurrring’ at me. As I have picked up work hours, the beloved has been able to cut down hers. And as all of this has happened we both realised we’ve been so wrapped up in the intensity of being parents to a new baby, that we are missing being a couple. Little by little by little (as Dusty would say) our family dynamics shift.

So, back to the food issue. The following are some scenes from this week, the week in which the fun parent takes a back seat, and begins to think she may have been played:

Scene 1, Monday, a few hours after coming home from the GP –

The seed of doubt, sown by the GP, niggles at me. I wonder what would happen if I try and feed small some lunch. With great determination, I sit down opposite small in his highchair, squeeze some organic-baby-goop-in-a-sachet onto a spoon and aim it in the direction of small’s mouth. He sees this coming a mile off and starts windmilling his arms furiously, at the same time pursing his lips and trying to swivel his head backwards. I put down the spoon, secure both of small’s hands, pick up the spoon and try again. Lips still pursed tight shut. I wedge the spoon between his lips and he begrudgingly lets in a drop. Then he cries miserably until I squeeze his foot and say ‘honk’. Then he laughs. Hmmm, maybe not so sad. We repeat six times.

Over the course of the next few hours, I talk with the beloved and with some friends and I swap emails with family and friends. A wise woman, who has known me since we were both eleven years old, cut straight to the heart of the matter. She reminded me that even if I do something that may seem unpleasant, I am not going to become my step-father, her father or any of the other uninspiring parents in our shared lives. Gradually, I come to the conclusion that while it may not hurt small to just keep breastfeeding, it won’t hurt him to eat something either.

Scene 2, Tuesday, breakfast –

Once again, I sit opposite small, this time armed with weetbix and milk. Preemptively securing the windmilling arms, I offer a spoonful of weetbix. Small opens his mouth and takes it! Then he seems to realise what he’s done and squeezes out a tear. Just as quickly, he spots his toy car and is smiling again. A few reluctant spoonfuls and about forty minutes later, we call it a day. Well, until lunch.

Scene 3, Wednesday, afternoon –

I walk into the dining room. Small is in his highchair, looking up at the beloved who is wielding a spoon. He is opening his mouth like a little birdy and looking quite, well, happy. Then I see what she is feeding him…nutella. Hmmm. Little scammer.

Scene 4, Thursday, at work in the afternoon –

I am describing Scene 3 to my work colleagues. The in-charge for the shift, who adores children, advises me to just let him eat nutella all the time if that’s what he likes. One of the LMFs suggests mixing vegetables into nutella. One of the other LMFs thinks I should make my own nutella out of organic hazelnuts, pure cocoa and expressed breast milk. Another describes the times she discovered that her children could play her. Am loving that although I have had advice that ranges from the totally permissive to the absolutely authoritarian, I don’t feel confused or indecisive, but held up and buoyed by everyone’s support and encouragement.

Scene 5, Friday, breakfast –

Compromise. Small eats about three teaspoons of weetbix and a quarter of a slice of toast, with nutella. Then he smears weetbix happily all over me, the table, the floor and his own head. I suddenly realise that with a small bit of enforced feeding, his voluntary eating has seemingly doubled in the space of five days. He’s eating wholemeal apple bars for a morning snack, peanut butter on crackers for lunch and even a bit of rice and eggplant last night for dinner.

So, being the parent, taking the lead. Not so dreadful after all. Thanks everyone.


Don’t we all want to be the fun parent? September 6, 2010

Filed under: Breastfeeding,Parenting — titchandboofer @ 5:32 am
Tags: , ,

Our GP made me cry today. He’s the most gentle, considered and reasonable doctor I have met, and in my quest to find a GP who doesn’t make me want to punch them or stab myself in the eye with their otoscope I have met many. This one is holistic in his approach to care, embraces other modalities wholeheartedly, values individualised treatment and never rushes you out the door. Oh and he bulk bills children. Then today he forced me to look in the ‘parenting’ mirror and I didn’t like what I saw. Hence – crying (as if having a cold isn’t grim enough, crying sends the snuffliness to a whole new level of ick). I don’t usually go in for crying. Mainly I reserve that for irrational, relationship-related paranoia and overtired self-pity. Cushioned as I am by my cosy world of lovely midwife friends who are 99% affirming of my parenting choices and family who are 99% keeping-their-mouths-shut, I am not often forced to feel the vulnerability of uncertainty. Sure, there have been a hundred and one things about parenting and babies about which I have been proven wrong, but I have never really questioned the fundamental decisions – breastfeeding on demand, co-sleeping, babywearing, non/selective vaccination and baby-led weaning. People have queried them, but mainly through absolute ignorance or simple curiosity and my certainty has been unwavering.

So, baby-led weaning, a bit of a back story: Like most new mothers, our health centre mother’s group was given the class on ‘Introducing Solids’. Some time before the forty-thousandth plug for infant-formula branded rice cereal and the handing out of all the infant-formula branded baby spoons and infant-formula sponsored recipe books I had well and truly tuned out. I know babies need to eat, but you cannot convince me that if they don’t eat the dietary equivalent of clag they’ll just wither and die. At this point the small one was about three months old and it all seemed a kind of vague and far-off concept anyway. I hadn’t yet read anything about baby-led weaning, but I figured he’d get interested in food at some point a few months down the track and we could just give him a modified version of what we were eating (you also cannot convince me that there has been a worldwide embrace of the clag-cereal, there must be a lot of families in the world that just cannot afford to spend money on an absurdly specific food item that will mainly be thrown on the floor). The months passed and small never got interested in anything but more of the breast. He’d tease us occasionally by allowing a morsel of something peculiar to pass his lips (asparagus, goat’s cheese) but he has never enthusiastically tracked the progress of food-to-mouth or tried to grab at food or opened his mouth, birdy-style, for an offered spoon. Never, not to this day when he is now one year, three weeks and two days old. Nor has he ever accepted expressed breast milk in any vessel, at any time of day, from any person. While this can be the teeniest hardship (in a privileged, middle-class kind of way) I have never been genuinely upset about it. On the whole it’s been a relief and a blessing for breastfeeding to be so easy and ongoing. Not to mention the source of a smidge of smugness – See that baby person? I grew that. He’s powered by breastmilk.

If anything, small’s disinterest in solid food has become an ongoing source of amusement. He declines anything on a spoon, dramatically lurching away from it with pursed lips and pushing you away with his arm. If you give him a loaded spoon he’ll bash it on the table to dislodge any food and then chew on the handle. Won’t eat mashed pumpkin, will have three, dry, individual cornflakes thanks. Won’t eat banana, will eat ten peas but then refuse to swallow them, meaning someone has to fish them out later. He will hold food in his mouth for hours and hours – once we inadvertently put him to sleep with a stick of cooked carrot in there, only to have to extract it three hours later so he could open his mouth again (I know, we are terrible parents and it’s a miracle the kid hasn’t choked). While I’ve been bemused by this, I haven’t been especially concerned and I’ve just kept trusting that one day something will change. He can sit up at the table with us for meals, we’ll keep offering food and one day he’ll say ‘why thank you mother, this tender piece of broccoli is exactly what I have been holding out for – can you pass the pepper?’. All the beloved and I have wished for is that he learns that meals are for us to be present with one another, to eat and to share stories of our day. We’ve never wanted to force feed him, fearful that all he’ll learn is to associate meals with the tension and horror of someone trying to shove pureed peas on a spoon down his throat.

Now, back to the GP: today I went to see him to discuss vaccination options, we veered into talking about small’s feeding habits and he said several things to me. Small needs more than breastmilk now. The composition of your breastmilk won’t have enough bioavailable iron to meet his needs. Your breastmilk will decline in quantity and quality. You shouldn’t have small brought in to work to breastfeed. If he doesn’t eat or drink for eight hours it’s his decision. You need to make small eat solids. It’s okay to fight him to do this. Small might be stubborn but you are the parent and you need to lead. Forcing the issue will not ruin mealtimes for him for life. He needs to take the next step. On the topic of vaccination: Now small is one there are fewer risks and likely side effects when vaccinating. I think you should delay vaccination until he is eating and his weight has reached at least the 20th centile (currently on the 3rd, but head and length 75th, so go figure). I will make you an appointment with our homeopath to add her perspective. When possible I will access non-combined vaccines for you.

Without going on at great great length I can say that some of these statements I don’t agree with, some I don’t want to agree with and some I can accept. My instant reaction was ‘You’re telling me I have inferior breastmilk, small will be anaemic and I’m a crappy, negligent parent’. Hence – crying. When I thought about it some more – as I sat sniffling, with our kindly GP handing over the tissues, patting my hand and reassuring me that I’m not crappy or neglectful – I realised it’s not that I really believe I’m neglectful, it’s more that I worry that I’ve made particular choices that mean I never have to play ‘bad cop’. It’s easy to be the fun parent when you keep saying yes. Yes, sleep by my side. Yes, breastfeed when you fancy. Yes, I will follow you. Rationally, I know that parenting means sometimes making the hard decisions, being the strict one, not being fun. I’ve just never really had to do it. So now I am torn. I don’t believe my breastmilk is inferior nor that I am subconsciously stopping him from growing out of babyhood, but now I do question whether I’m avoiding pushing the issue of solid food for the wrong reason. Do I trust my original instinct to follow small? Trusting that one day he will voluntarily eat and that by waiting for that day indefinitely I don’t disadvantage him. Or do I take the advice of my GP to ‘be the parent and lead’?