Saturday, September 11, 2010


I contributed an essay to a book called First Time Mum last year, and my copy arrived this week. Published in an actual book! It makes me go all aflutter.

I really love books. I am so happy that Ivy and Ted will have this tangible little memento of their earliest lives on a shelf, to touch and look at, and to show my grandchildren.

This is an entirely optimistic scenario of course. Most probably it will be fed to a visiting dog or thrown down the toilet before the summer is out.

The book itself is available via Angus and Robertson for $24.95.

Here's my story:

Educating Mummy

I learned a few things about life from my first child Ivy. For instance: it’s hard to pour water on your own bottom with a spoon. Or this: crying won’t make the baby’s t-shirt into a hat that fits you. And even this: Play-Dough counts as an actual food group; if you eat enough of it.

But none of the important lessons fell into place until I had another baby. I studied hard before my first go at motherhood. Small forests gave their lives to furnish me with a parenting library, my internet connection took a beating and every woman I met who had managed to produce offspring was pumped for information.

But when Ivy arrived wailing, and didn’t stop for three months, I realized I knew nothing. Nothing. It was Teddy’s birth, nearly two years later that gave me a whole new perspective on Ivy’s infancy. She wasn’t just a product of our failures and successes as parents. She was who she was: her own person, on her own timetable, and with a whole plan of her own about this baby-rearing business. We were there as minders, sure. As facilitators of food, and clothing, and Thomas the Tank Engine DVDs, definitely, But we didn’t hold all the cards. Oh, I learned a lot when I had a second baby.

What did I learn? I learned about sleep. Night after night, Keith and I walked the floors with Ivy. We sang, patted, rocked and chanted increasingly psychotic mantras. We begged for mercy. Ivy was vigilant against sleep, fighting every eye-droop, jerking herself awake if she slipped off. She was re-energised by even a catnap of a minute or two; replenished for another jolly round of Break-The-Parents.

By five months or so, we had developed a system whereby we sent her to sleep by rolling her up tightly in a stretchy cot-sheet, trapping her arms against her body, and tucking her under a parental arm while we read Dr. Seuss’ Sleep Book in a monotone until she stopped fighting and gave in to slumber. She’s two now, but we can still recite it by heart.

Do you know who’s asleep

Down in Foona-Lagoona?

Two very nice Foona-Lagoona Baboona.

Surreal times. It all seemed normal to us, though. Books talked about ‘the witching hour’, where it was standard for babies to be unsettled. ‘Colic’ seemed to be a catchall term for normal baby behaviour, and it made sense that if crying was a small person’s only means of communication, then crying was a great idea. Ivy was just an excellent communicator! Right?

So went my thinking until the second baby came along, who cried at birth, and then…stopped. When hungry he squirmed and kicked, when tired he jerked and flailed a bit, and when he had gas he made a terrible grunting noise, but the ‘communicating?’ The inconsolable, mind-melting, sap-Mummy’s-spirit-slowly ‘communicating’? Not at all. In fact, the one time he did cry for ten minutes, Keith and I panicked, woke Ivy and bundled everybody in the car. En route to the hospital Teddy fell asleep, so we turned around and went home. I'm not sure what we would have done, had we made it to the emergency room. ‘My baby is crying! Crying!’ I might have shrieked, ‘Run every test you have, and damn the expense!’

Putting Teddy to bed was a matter of wrap, dummy, cot. Actually, any dumping ground was fine. Teddy would sleep anywhere. Bassinette, lap, corner of the room, on top of the stereo. He slept on a blanket in the middle of Ivy’s music class while twenty toddlers stomped like dinosaurs around him. A pregnant woman in class said to me tearfully ‘I want that one!’ He’s mine, I thought with glee. By six months he was sleeping though the night, and waking with a smile. Same parenting. Different child.

What else did I learn? I learned about breastfeeding, and how to rise above the cult of ‘natural motherhood’ that says learning to feed should be easy. (I think the theory might come from the same school that teaches about ‘discomfort’ during labour. Or better: ‘positive pain.’)

I struggled to establish breastfeeding with both my babies, but in very different ways. Ivy needed a nipple shield to learn how to latch on and the painstaking notebook recording my early feeding schedules reads, in part: ‘3.20 am. LB, 20 minutes with hat; 5.45am RB 40 minutes, hatless.’ It goes for weeks - you can use your imagination to add the tears. Tiny Ivy took a month to regain her birth weight and her scrawny chicken legs worried me constantly. She still barely makes it onto the bottom of the growth charts, despite her chubby thighs and edibly fat bottom. She’s never been very interested in food, and at two, would happily exist solely on frozen blueberries.

Teddy, on the other hand, took to breastfeeding straight away, but with such gusto that within a week both nipples were blistered and bleeding. Memories of my first three weeks with him are scored with pain from my caesarean and from my poor, tortured nipples. Every three hours, or less, he fed, 24/7, until I put him onto solids at five months and closed for business at night. By six months, he had jumped from the 20th to the 85th percentile on the growth charts. Whatever is in front of him, he eats, and he already shares clothes and nappy sizes with his (little) big sister.

What else did I learn? I learned about personality, and its powerful force. ‘I made you,’ it’s hard not to think. ‘I created you. I can mould you into whatever I want you to be.’ Oh, no, no, says Nature. I’m sending you these children with a personality I prepared earlier. Temperament buttons switched on at birth, they arrive ready to be sent through the idiosyncratic filter of family: how we manage conflict, what we laugh about, how we peg out the washing.

Ivy, from the moment she arrived, was a firecracker. She yelled at us fairly consistently for the first three months. If she had language I think it would have gone something like this: ‘Not that outfit not that car seat not those cot sheets not that book not that animal don’t sing that song Mummy Daddy YOU”RE GETTING IT ALL WRONG!!!’

At two, she is fiercely affectionate, super-bright and full of fun.

Teddy, from the first, could never compete with his sister in the theatrics department. He chose instead, in time-honoured sibling style, to forge his own identity by being calm and watchful, unruffled and unflappable. The Mellowest Baby in the Universe, whose very favourite thing in the world is to chew on his mothers face. The Not-Ivy.

What else have I learned? I’ve learned to chill out.I was obsessed with milestones during Ivy’s first year of life. Was she behind? Ahead? Normal? A bit funny? I pored over books, secretly examined other kids and read ungrammatical, poorly-spelled chat-posts from other mothers. I don’t know why I took so seriously the parenting advice of women who signed themselves SxyMommy69 and used the phrase LMAO!!! But I did. I weighed up her ‘successes’ and ‘failures’. Oh God! Not walking at fifteen months! Oh joy! A phenomenally early pointer! I worried that she wasn’t speaking early, and her penchant for frustrated head-banging at twelve months had me consulting the autism checklists. (More than once.)

Meanwhile, Ivy busily got on with the job of growing up, and of course, at two she is walking and talking…and dancing, somersaulting and performing tricks on the trampoline. All the time I spent worrying about whether or not I was stunting her motor coordination by continuing to swaddle her past six months – they would have been better spent playing on the floor. Or let’s face it, cleaning the floor.

Child number 2, on the other hand… I’m not even sure what his milestones should be at this stage. His babyhood is slipping past at a much greater pace than his sisters did. He is strong, happy, and sturdy as I could wish.

What else have I learned? I’ve learned that our babies were born in the right order. Imagine having a Teddy first. Keith and I, in the privacy of our bedroom, would have been unbearably smug. Sure, in the outside world we would have made all the right noises. ‘We’re just blessed with a very good baby,’ we would have said. “It’s nothing to do with us.’ But in private, the back-patting! The affirmation of each others superior patience, instinct and natural aptitude for the job!

And then, the terrible shock when the fabulous, theatrical Ivy came along. Goodbye, self-satisfied smirk. Hello, anti-depressant medication. Fight the urge to judge, I’ve learned. Most parents are just trying to do the best to tame the curious beast they’ve been sent by the universe, and not turn to alcohol before 10am.

What have I learned? I’ve learned what adorable kids the universe sent me, and what incredible joy motherhood brings.

No, Mummy!’ Ivy says fiercely. ‘I don’t like that!’ (Exactly what I hope she says to grabby teenage boys.) ‘Flying tuggle, Mummy!’ she cries with equal passion, as she leaps onto my lap for a hug. ‘My daddy!’ she wails, broken-hearted, as he leaves for work, and, just as devastated: ‘My Thomas is dirty!’, when she spills milk on her favourite shirt, or ‘But my eyes are open!’ when she doesn’t want to go to bed. Such a depth of emotion in this tiny frame! Is she easy to look after? Not usually. But what an amazing child she is, and how much I look forward to debates and laughter and drama over the dinner table.

And sweet, serene, smiling Teddy? He looks to each person he encounters with an expectation that they will please and delight him. And faced with those guileless blue eyes, they do. They always do. I think he will lead a charmed life, this one. And he’ll have his sister in his corner to take on anybody that does him wrong.

While I studied and read and searched for parenting advice, these two miraculous creatures watched the world and learned, knitting themselves into wondrous and unique individuals. To my third child, whoever you may be: I can’t wait to see who you are too. Your siblings have taught your mum everything she knows about her job. And this is the sum total: Protect. Watch over. Let happen. Marvel. And enjoy.


  1. Shhhh tears in my eyes! What a love story for them.

    I was reading parts of it in bed to Adam (trying to sleep), as we currently contemplate number two (note: contemplation only), while still trying to get used to our super crazy-emotional-naughty-creative-smart number one who kicks my ass every day, but we wouldn't change a hair of. Hope! For us!

  2. I am seeing some friends tomorrow with their 2 week old first baby, I am going to steal these words...

    Protect. Watch over. Let happen. Marvel. And enjoy.

    They are beside themselves already with lack of sleep, we had 18 months of bansheeness with Popps, but I wont share that with them!

  3. So lovely to read, it made me think about my children.
    I had the sleepy baby first and thought parenting was a breeze.... boy was it a shock when number 2 arrived screaming. She is now 6 and still a fire cracker. Crazily enough, we went back for a third!!! He is a combination of the 2.

  4. I'm all gushy & teary (a combination of just having watched an episode of 'One Born Every Minute' & this post)

    Yikes, you do write so beautifully.

    We got our order all wrong & like Bob & Mabel our banshee (is it a girl thing?) arrived 2nd. Third time around it is all very relaxed because we are in the know that it all passes, the good, the bad & the ugly . We're just here to enjoy the ride now (all parenting books recently donated to our child health clinic for some other newbie to devour!)

    Is this the third time you have mentioned a third babe? (Too late in the evening to go back & count them) Despite the occasional environment-related-guilt-pangs 3 rocks.

  5. Ooh I love that! Congratulations on the book, a beautiful story!

  6. You're amazingly good. at mothering. and writing. I'll be buying this. congratulations x

  7. Burn every parenting book I say.

    But yours. Your story is so individual, but everyone experiences what you did ... and if they don't I think they're lying.

    What a wonderful writer you are! You remind me to love my children for who they are, not what they can do.

    I have four pairs of little legs, and I still don't know what I'm doing. I get it wrong every day ... and I think, "At least there's tomorrow, because that gives me a chance to do it better".

  8. oh gorgeous. So much to say about this essay (many similarities to my experience of mothering)- but just WOW for now. You said it so well. Nailed it. Would love to read the book (off to stock up on tissues pre read). Oh and YES how awesome is the One Born a Minute series. Compulsory viewing

  9. oh and WELL DONE. Published. Wooooo Hooooooo

  10. PPS I burned my diaries/list of dates and times of feeds (your notes so similar) - couldnt bear to look at and relive all the tears and torture. Persisted in the end with both and both fed to 8-9mths and self weaned (earlier than I had hoped) but OH BOY...the torture. Natural/easy MY ARSE! (well not for me and my two chickens anyway)

  11. congrats for publishment! maybe you should start a special shelf for your accomplishments. make sure it's spacious, i reckon there's plenty to come..

  12. Congratulations. So perfectly written, so true. I could not have read this at a better time. Thank you. xx

    PS. I think Rosie is an Ivy. Well no, she is a Rosie. But so, so determined right now. You know what I mean.

  13. A lovely story and a great accomplishment - congratulations. I don't have any children, but I look at my partner's cousin with her children and wonder if I could ever be as cool and relaxed and wonderful as I see her being. I see my sister being super-mum and wonder if I have it in me to be that diligent and give up so much to be what the child needs.
    Maybe one day I will find out, in the mean time, thanks for sharing your story and helping me appreciate the young mothers in my life even more!

  14. totally amazing!!! well done rachie. xxoo L

  15. As usual, you rock my socks. This is just so right, Rach. Well done!

  16. YaaaY! You so deserve to be published. I love how you write...

    Yes...number 2..... we had an easy one for the first one so my fear is / screamers as a second and having to deal with Busy as well.... I am still not sure.... maybe...( but tick tick tick I know)

  17. *sniff*

    Oh, that's beautiful. You make me feel better about our little Pup, 11 weeks now and we haven't even had an ultrasound yet, so it doesn't quite feel like a person. I wonder if it will be fierce and bright and terrify its bookish parents?

    As an aside, it's good to know that my deep suspicion of patronising pregnancy books is well founded and applies to the parenting books too. I have been trying to read them but they all seem so ghastly.

    I much prefer to read the wise, funny words of real mamas like you. Thank you for your fab blog, Mama Mogantosh!

  18. so wonderful rach. congrats on the book. what a great achievement. love love love this piece of writing. xx

  19. Thanks so much, you guys. What a supportive crew you are. xx

  20. Oh my goodness gracious me - published! Fan-bloody-tastic!! Well done you. Such a hug-yourself achievement.

    And the writing? Brilliant. Funny, warm, touching, tickles and hugs at the same time. Nothing better :)

    Onwards . . . x

  21. I stumbled across your blog a few months ago and I want you to know that I think your stories are wonderful and so beautifully encapsulate all that I love about being a mum (first time mum with a 9 month old pumpkin bum who I ADORE!) My little man sounds much like your cool, relaxed little man. Just an absolute joy! I'm prepared (I think!) that #2 may not be as cruisy but reading your story about being a mum of two just makes me feel so excited and perhaps maybe we should just breed and breed forever!!! haha! Can't wait for the day when all the little ones come running in and jump in bed with us - so many great times to look forward to and your blog filled with your joyous parenting stories just gets me oh so excited about the future! Thank you

  22. Well, I'm glad I clicked on that little "If you liked this..." icon, that was well worth reading. Thank you for sharing it.

  23. Wow, what an absolutely incredible piece of writing. I'm so glad I read this today, with a 12 month old who's a crap sleeper (last night I had to resettle her 4 times), I've been starting to ponder if it's her ... or my mothering. You've sent a little reassurance my way. It's nice to know you can get an unreal sleeper the second time round! (I know, its not ALL about the sleep ... it's just that I'm really really really tired.) Kellie xx

  24. Even though you've been commenting over at Apron Strings for some time, and I know I have looked at your blog before, I never remembered to bookmark it, and so it kinda fell between the cracks. This last updating of my readers list has been great for that, and I've found a few new wonderful blogs, yours being one, which I'm going to go subscribe to in my reader right now, I swear.
    This is a fabulous article. I too had a firecracker first, and honestly had hoped for one of these miracle easy seconds. No such luck, if you can call it that. Firecracker number two, meet the world. A carbon copy, in boy form.
    The challenge for us is to beat back that cultural voice that says loud, opinionated, dramatic, passionate are all code words for "bad." or somehow to honestly portray to our kiddos that those are hard qualities for a parent, yes, we can't really hide that we struggle, but that we appreciate the outcome. Truly and absolutely. Which come to think of it, shouldn't be too hard, since my kiddos will doubtlessly see how most of the adult friends I've chosen fit the bill!
    I look forward to discovering more of your blog. Be warned that its stupidly hard for me to comment from my reader, so I might not much....

  25. I have just stumbled upon your blog from Mamabake! We are waiting on our 2nd baby as I write, she should arrive in the next few weeks and your exert from your 'published' work is just heart melting. Although, it does make me a little nervous as I am not sure how to characterise my first daughters nuances and how the second will be different. I just can't wait to see them together and have my little family in my arms. What a lovely blog you have. You are incredibly expressive and gifted.


Thanks for talking to me. I don't got cooties. Oh, except for when I got cooties.