All posts by Abi

The Advance of the Darkness

Ah, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

City Time (the time zone calculator on my Palm, which also gives sunrise and sunset times) tells me we got only 10 hours and 22 minutes of daylight today. Sadly, the daylight we did get was pretty dim, dulled down by clouds and drizzle.

I can really feel the lack of light. Keeping going on a day like this is like trying to swim in an undertow. The darkness drags at me, pulling me under, unless I fight to keep my head up. And the depression is insidious, discouraging me from treating it. It would be so much easier just to let go, stop struggling against it, and give in.

This is one of the phases I go through every winter; I am used to it. My mood will track the weather until the time change, when I tend to go through a deep low and have trouble getting up in the morning. Then things will get better for a while thanks to the thrill of the holiday season (helped this year by the extensive travel we’ll be doing in November), then at about New Year’s, I’ll sink again. Usually, it’s just the post-holiday blues, but I suspect going back to work will contribute to a lower low yet. Then it’ll be onto the long upslope as the days get lighter, each one better than the last, until spring comes and I can put my light box away.

What I need to remember, what I always try to remember, is that this is temporary. It’s one of those glass half full/half empty things…is summer just an intermission between winters, or is summer the rule and winter the exception? The best thing I’ve done for my SAD this year has been to reform my thinking, to try to see summer as the default state. Winter is a falling away from that ideal, a hiccup in the essential lightness of life.

No doubt I’ll reread this in January and think it hopelessly naive.

On the food front, I have been making a lot of soups lately. They’re for the whole family, B included. He doesn’t get salty food yet, so I can’t just throw a stock cube or two in and build the flavor from there. Instead, I’ve been making my own salt-free chicken stock, then adding vegetables and pearl barley to turn it into a soup. Oddly, I can’t taste the chicken in it until I add salt; then the flavor comes zinging out.

B has eaten both the soups I’ve made with gusto. We use a little hand-held electric blender to whizz his food into mush, since his gums are probably not up to bits of chicken and pearl barley.

Cooking for the baby is a powerful thing, by the way. M and I have both felt it over the last couple of months. Every step, from browsing for another flavor to try him on (harlequin squash? pumpkin?), to cooking it up, to mushing it and spooning it into his toothless little mouth, is deeply satisfying. It’s even more fulfilling than breastfeeding, probably because the preparation process is conscious and deliberate.

We don’t just cook for immediate consumption, either. We tend to make enough of whatever the new food is to freeze 10 or 15 ice cubes’ worth of mush, plus a meal’s worth to eat fresh. Subsequent meals are easy: pop 4 or 5 cubes in the microwave, heat, thicken with baby rice if needed, and serve. I make a game of it with B, letting him chew on the Tupperware lid while I discuss the flavors he’ll be getting.

He has yet to taste commercial baby food (a point of pride). This will change when we start travelling next month.

A date! A date!

Night out last night, without B for once. We took Scott and Angela up on their standing offer to babysit and went out to AI. Having a night out was pleasant, but the movie itself was disappointing. I suppose it was inevitable. A life-like, live action science fiction film where characters go searching for Pinoccio’s Blue Fairy so she can turn an android into a real boy cannot end with success. As the characters chased the dream further and further, the plot felt like it was too far out in front of itself. There was no possibility of a satisfactory resolution.

Since it was a Spielberg movie, though, AI made up for what it lacked in plot with emotional drama. We were pulled through visions of uncondional love between parent and child, loss, and abandonment. Emotionally, it was powerful. Intellectually, sadly, it was not. Of course, it didn’t help that my mood was already somewhat precarious before we went into the cinema. Martin has a colleague who was 20 weeks pregnant; she just lost the baby. He told me in the takeout Mexican restaurant before the film.

I remember being 20 weeks pregnant. We were in California, and B was already kicking. The 12-week danger zone was past, and I felt much safer. The anticipation was wonderful – I was looking forward to days like today so much. To lose that would have been devastating. Harder even that the miscarriage at 8 weeks last January, and that one nearly broke my heart.

We got home to find B awake but exhausted. He had behaved beautifully for Scott and Ange, but that didn’t extend to actually going to sleep. He went into hysterics within minutes of us coming home, hysterics so strong that he wouldn’t nurse at first. He sounded overtired and overstimulated. And between his stress-out and ours, we decided that this was a night to share the bed with B.

It was a sweet idea, and it started well. I fed him lying down, and he dropped into a deep and reassured sleep. We positioned ourselves carefully, so our pillows were nowhere near his head and the duvet was safely low, then prepared for a shallow but satisfying night of family sleep.

Alas, it was not to be. M had a nightmare and woke up screaming. B slept on, but I was awake. And then the niggling back muscle that had been paining me all day exploded into agony. I couldn’t move without gasping and whining, couldn’t turn, and certainly wasn’t getting any more sleep straight away.

M was a star, rubbing my back, helping me move to the guest room, then rubbing again so that I could sleep. He put B back in his own crib. Family sleep had lasted about one hour; then we were spread across three beds. I was somewhat better in the morning, but still had to be careful about picking B up (he is over 17 pounds now, after all). M came home early to help, proving once again what a wonderful guy he is.

Developmentally, B continues to charge ahead. He crossed from the living room to the kitchen on Monday, overcoming a psychological barrier that had baulked him for a week or two. I don’t know why it mattered so much to him; perhaps he had not realised the two spaces were truly connected?

He is still not crawling; his tummy stays on the ground as he moves. He uses a swimming motion, like a man breasting his way through molasses, and gets the most amazing amounts of lint on himself in the process. I vacuum and dust mop almost constantly, but he keeps finding more dust to pick up.

He has also discovered peekaboo. I started doing a large “bye bye” production when I left the room about a week ago, in response to his increased fretfulness upon finding himself alone. And the corollary to “bye bye” when you leave is, of course, “hello” when you return. Peekaboo is just a tiny step beyond that. He loves it, even though I am not sure he has really grasped the idea that I still exist when I’m out of sight. Maybe he percieves it as a game of destruction and creation, not hiding and return?

The odd thing about it is, he seems to like controlling the game as well. Twice today, he was the one moving in and out of sight, once with the hem of my skirt and once with the kitchen doorway. Maybe it was unintentional…but if so, the fun he had doing it will probably get him to try it again.

Daylog on Everything2

Daylog on Everything2:

My great-uncle /msged me last night…part of the exercise of contacting all the family (an exercise I know well from my days of living in an earthquake zone). Possibly in reference to my daylog yesterday, he said:

Concentrate on the baby, don’t think of such things.

I can’t.

Everyone in the situation, the airline passengers, the people in the buildings and on the ground, even the terrorists, was some mother’s baby. So are the civillians the warmongers are advocating bombing. Everyone was once as innocent, and as trusting, as the five month old curently creeping across my living room floor. Somewhere deep inside them all, before they died, that core of gentleness remained.

Loving one baby, I cannot help loving them all. Take care, beloved sons and daughters of your mothers.

And a thought strikes me. How much is all of this going to cost, in monetary terms? Billions?

I wish the US had spent those billions before this happened, bringing economic prosperity and justice to more of the world. Writing off third world debt. Feeding the hungry, helping the poor. Thinking beyond its own borders. Being good global citizens.

Would this terrible loss of life have happened then? Maybe, but maybe not. And even if it did, we’d have a much better moral position, even with people who don’t like the US.

Can we start paying the next large sum now, spending the money to create a world with greater justice and honor? Please?

Death and more death.

Death and more death. Destruction. Despair.

When I woke up this morning, I thought, “My mom and dad have been married for 35 years as of today. Today my son is 5 months old.” I looked forward to lunch with my husband, and to maybe hearing from my great-uncle, newly on my web community, E2.

Now it’s all shattered. Looking down at my sleeping baby boy now, I wonder what sort of a world he will inherit, because of today. It makes me want to slap the hawks who are howling for blood on every channel. Revenge won’t bring back the dead, just deepen the hatred that the assailants already clearly feel. Then they’ll strike back, then we will…I don’t want to live like that. I dont want him to live like that.

I bury my nose in his soft, fragrant skin, and wish for this morning again.

The above was my daylog on Everything2. The only other thing I would say is that we, as Americans, must insist that our officials pursue a course of justice, not revenge. The relatives of the people killed will be howling for everyone who might possibly be involved to be bombed to slag, in chorus with a fair slice of the American political spectrum.

This is a bad idea because:

  • Revenge breeds revenge. The allies and relatives of the people we unjustly avenge ourselves on will be out for our blood. I’ve seen enough of that in the news on the Middle East and Northern Ireland.
  • Most US politicians, and many US voters, identify themselves as Christians. Now is the time to put your beliefs in action, guys. Vote to turn the other cheek. Yes, it’s hard. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a test of our committment, would it?
  • Now is our chance to set an example of civilisation for the world to follow. If the US is to have any credibility but that of the neighborhood bully, we must act responsibly, even in the face of violent provocation.

I don’t hold out much hope that we will pursue such a mature, responsible course.

I got this email from the US Consulate General in Edinburgh:

Dear American:

Following today’s tragedies at the World Trade Center in New York and at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, we encourage all U.S. citizens to maintain a low profile, vary routes and times for all required travel, and treat mail and packages from unfamiliar sources with suspicion. In addition, American citizens are also urged to avoid contact with any suspicious, unfamiliar objects, and to report the presence of the objects to local authorities. Vehicles should not be left unattended, if at all possible, and should be kept locked at all times. U.S. Government personnel overseas have been advised to take the same precautions.

We recommend that Americans continue to monitor the media channels for further information and refer to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the following websites: and respectively or our toll free information line: 0800-0279890. Please understand that very limited information is available at present.

American Consulate General
Edinburgh, Scotland
September 11, 2001

I do not consider myself at much risk.

Breastfeeding thoughts

Breastfeeding thoughts at 6:30am: musing on my mother’s visit…

She’s a really good houseguest. Eats what’s served, even if it’s a “funny food” (we served something which contained eggplant, and she ate it without a murmur). Doesn’t clutter up the common space more than she can avoid it (apart from the banana peel on the sofa – but she quit that when I asked). Helps with whatever needs another pair of hands, from changing the baby to vacuuming the house. Flows with it, enjoys what’s going on. She even came with a present: the most beautiful portrait of me. (click on the picture to see a bigger version)


We talked about being “junior Mom”, a role we have both held as teenaged elder sisters, vs being “senior Mom”. In a curious role reversal, she was being junior Mom to my senior Mom. This is the true Way of the Grandparent, though few practice it.

What does being junior Mom mean? It means pitching in without trying to run the show. Making the no-brainer decisions that keep the scene running (the baby needs changing, let me just get these dishes out of the way, how about the blue overalls?), but keeping out of the controlling ones (when shall we feed him? is this trip going to interrupt his nap?). You have to do this even when you think the senior Mom is getting it wrong. As Mom pointed out, this is a lot easier if the junior Mom thinks the senior Mom is doing a good job.

I am fortunate in all of my son’s grandparents, who are good at the role of junior Mom. I hope they think he is fortunate in having me as the senior Mom.

Post matrem

Written as a daylog in Everything2, my on-line community:


Feeling pretty flat right now. My mother, who has been over for a fortnight, has just left. M, B and I drove her to the airport this morning. M dropped us off – he had to get to work – but B and I lingered with her until the very last minute.

It was a great visit. Our relationship has changed since I got pregnant. At last, after 31 years, I am a real adult in her eyes. She didn’t mean to treat me as less than an equal before B came along; she didn’t even realise that a closer relationship was possible. Since her own mother died shortly after my elder brother’s birth, she had never seen how it could be.

Of course, it was also hard having someone around for two weeks while we do the baby work. She helped out, but as a guest, she had a certain claim on our time and energy. We even took her – and B – on a day trip to Amsterdam (EasyJet flies there cheaply and often). All I want to do now is stay at home and pull the drawbridge up.

Still, it was hard to see her go. We bummed around the airport for the maximum possible time, sitting in the cafe, buying presents for the family back in California, chatting to the shop assistants about B, and finally sitting down on a bench by departures and talking quietly. Then waving her off at the “Passengers Only” sign and the long bus ride back home.

A further disappointment awaited me, like a sting in the tail. I’ve been in touch with H, a woman living nearby, first to reassure her about getting a C-section, then trying to support her in breastfeeding. Scottish culture is profoundly ambivalent about breastfeeding babies – the health service promotes it, but very few new mothers make it work. H is a case in point – she was determined to breastfeed her baby. Then, deep in the baby blues, she started doubting that the baby was getting enough milk. So when I called her today to ask how things were going, she admitted she’d changed to formula feeding. I was nice – she’s made her decision, and there’s no point kicking her about it.

Even as a Californian, from a culture where breastfeeding is ingrained, I was vaguely worried in the first weeks. Bottle-feeding mothers can see how much their babies are eating. And since a newborn’s stomach is the size of a walnut, there’s very little perceptible difference between the breast before and after feeding. The contrast between even a full breast and an empty one pales in comparison to the huge engorgement that happens when the milk comes in. I got through that time on faith in the natural system, based on having seen it work. H had no such basis for confidence. She didn’t want to starve her baby out of a stubborn desire to breastfeed.

Now I’m sitting here, B fussing on my lap (he has mild colic), my mother’s forgotten hat visible on the coat rack by the door.


For the last day of

For the last day of the visit, we went to Craigmillar Castle, one of Edinburgh’s undiscovered treasures. And a good site for portraiture. (click on the picture to see a bigger version)


Are we crazy, or what?

Are we crazy, or what?

A day trip to Amsterdam with a baby
Click on the pictures below for larger versions.

One dad, one son, one airport – arriving in Holland.

Mom, Martin and B crossing a canal.

Look! a tourist!

Quick, take a photo.

Mom, Abi and B at the end of a long and Dutch day.

Thank you, Mick and Sarah, for the loan of the baby pack. I can’t picture doing this any other way…

New parenting…hmmm…

New parenting…hmmm. Half the days I’m on top of the world. The other half, I feel like I’ve been run over by a steamroller.

Yesterday was a top of the world day. M kicked me out of the house in the afternoon. With 120 ml (1 1/2 feedings worth) of expressed milk in the fridge, we felt it was time to try B on the bottle. The standard condition for introducing a bottle is that “breastfeeding is well established”, to avoid nipple confusion. With B, breastfeeding has been established since Day 1.

So I went out shopping. We’re going to a wedding in 3 weeks or so, and I haven’t a thing to wear at this size (I’ve lost about 15 pounds since the birth, but there’s at least twice that to go). I didn’t want to spend too much, since I do not intend the clothing to fit for long. The additional complication, of course, is that whatever I wear has to be suitable for breastfeeding. So it either needs to be a 2-piece garment so the shirt can be raised, or it must button up the front.

Didn’t find anything. Some of it is that I don’t like my current size, so everything I tried on looked awful. But I went to the tanning salon, which gave me the sort of lift that only bright light can.

Came home to find B doing just fine. I knew M would have called if the Source of All Milk was needed at home, but it was good to see the baby sleepy and well-fed. When he woke up and nursed without any objection, I was even more delighted. Now if I can persuade M to do the late night feeding, I can sleep through the night sometime! Wow.

Today was a steamroller day. Not enough sleep last night, plus the exertions of shopping to recover from. When B didn’t settle again after food at 6am, I apparently got really grumpy (I have no memory of this – I was talking in my sleep). M took him into the guest room to fuss, and I got a few more hours’ rest.

Still felt shattered today. But the weather was so nice that we went out for a walk. There were errands to run – posting the Child Benefit claim form, registering B with the local doctor’s surgery, getting some food. In addition, we went by the two nurseries nearest the house, to scout them out for when I go back to work.

The first one, Mother Goose, is in a fairly small house right next to the surgery. There are 3 rooms, one for babies, one for toddlers, and one for pre-school age kids, plus a back garden for good days. We were by right at midday, when the half day kids are coming and going, so there was lots of tiny traffic (plus parents). The place felt…happy. All of the kids were bright and active, the carers were friendly and cheerful…we just liked it. In some ways, it reminded me of Louise’s, the place we used to take my younger brother and sister, though (unlike Louise), all the carers were sighted.

The other one, The Little Drummer, was larger but more…austere. I didn’t feel comfortable talking to the staff (though they were as attentive to B as I could wish). The kids were more solemn. The vibe wasn’t bad – it just wasn’t as warm and delightful as Mother Goose. I think our choice is made.

Then an added bonus – at the supermarket, we ran into a woman I wanted to look up. She came to the breastfeeding workshop in my antenatal class, and lives around the corner from us. Her son is 4 months old. Useful to know another new parent nearby (but amazing how much babies grow in 4 months!).

Tomorrow…who knows?

It’s been one week since you looked at me…

9:30 am, Wednesday April 18, 2001

What a week. I’m just waiting for 10:11 today to give B a happy one week birthday kiss. He’s sitting on my lap right now, replete with milk and kicking idly about. He has is own distinctive personal smell, like nuts and roasted grain, which drifts up at me from time to time.

A week ago now, I was being prepped for surgery. I was very nervous – they were going to cut into me! – but the anaesthetists, theatre assistants, and midwife in the pre-surgery preparation were so matter of fact, so humourous, and so calm that by the time I was numb enough to be taken in to theatre I was no longer frightened at all. This despite the fact that I needed 2 doses of spinal anaesthetic to go numb, had a dramatic drop in blood pressure, and could still wiggle my toes when it was time for the C-section. (The anaesthetist, an Glaswegian Indian named Bob, was agog at this last. The spinal was supposed to give me complete numbness and immobility from mid-chest downward. He sat around theorising about physiological differences and wishing he had an excuse to do an MRI scan.)

The birth…how can one describe the birth? So strange to see the source of all those prenatal kicks, to meet the heart of all our hopes and the goal of all our efforts for nearly two years. It was too much to assimilate. I went into the emotional version of shock, I think, and am only now coming out of it.

I am astonished to discover how quickly one recovers from abdominal surgery. By Thursday, I was on my feet and able to go for a shower. By Saturday, I was ready to leave the hospital. My stitches got taken out Monday. I am still weak, and in occasional pain, but over the counter painkillers are adequate to control it.

B is being breastfed, which is apparently a slightly wild and crazy idea here. Only half of Scottish mothers choose to breastfeed at the start, and many give up on it within the first few weeks. This is alien to me, coming from the Californian culture, where bottle feeding is rare. The NHS is desperate to improve breastfeeding rates, for all kinds of health reasons. I’m fully in favour of this, but I found the midwives a bit…overbearing on the issue. B turns out to be a strong feeder, with really good instincts. No tuition was required. Still, the midwives all insist on giving me the same lecture on how to get him to “latch on”, even seizing breast and baby to show me the “orthodox” position if I am foolish enough to nurse in front of them. I just ignore them – we’re doing fine, and it’s good practice for them, so that they have their lines down pat for mothers that need help.

It is impossible to describe the impact B has had on our lives. It’s not just the late nights (for Martin) and early mornings (for me), nor the actual work involved in keeping him going (soothing, diaper changes, endless laundry, and – for me – a round the clock feeding schedule). There’s the same vertigo, the same exhaustion, the same lack of confidence that we’ll cope that accompanies every dramatic stage in personal growth.

And B? Well, he is the ultimately selfish creature – he literally has no idea of the existence of other people. On the other hand, he isn’t that clear on his own existence either. He’s got the hang of “I need”, but is very far from any concept of “I want.” When he gets difficult (crying in the middle of the night, for instance), it’s hard not to think it’s deliberate. But ascribing volition to a kid that small is a serious mistake, one we have avoided making. Irrationally enough, however, we tend to give him credit for his seriously cute and charming moments.

And the name? Alexander, from his great-grandfather in the paternal line. Still not sure which variation of the name we’ll use – Alex, Alec, Xander, Sandy, Lex, Leck…His aunt and uncle Sutherland have tended to use Alex. Beowulf from the great epic poem, which we have read in the Heaney translation. Based on this, my mother refers to him as the Monster Slayer.

We still call him B.