Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/christianhaugen/

Star was a prolific traveller as a baby. By the time she was two she had been on some nineteen (return) flights. Once she hit two we got her a Frequent Flyer card! Here’s where she went during her first twelve months: (flying out of Melbourne, Australia)
Four months: Cairns for a conference
Five months: Perth staying w family
Eight months: Noosa for a beach holiday
Nine months: Japan for a snowboarding trip (we boarded, she went to a creche) then Korea for a friend’s wedding

Here are some tips for travelling with a baby:

Airplane travel
Babies are surprisingly portable. I love that they’re so small and can’t walk! Of cpurse there is that wee problem of them needing to nap a lot, and as older babies they just. Want. To. Crawl. Everywhere!!

Some of the following suggestions may make airplane travel easier with a baby:

1. Pack a diaper bag. A separate little bag with just the change essentials like wipes, a nappy, changemat and nappy sacs. Fish this out when you need to change. Much easier than bringing the entire nappy bag.

2. Bassinet seats are great and all but really, unless your baby is a good sleeper, the bassinet will only be used to hold your gear while you hold your (awake) baby. (On overnight flights though do try and get a bassinet – little babies get surprisingly heavy if you have to hold them for 8 hours!) but for shorter domestic flights, why be up the front of the plane in a noisy section jam-packed with other children? Ask for a seat at the rear. Not only do you get a higher chance of an empty seat next to you, it’s quieter, more private (away from those eyes, you know, those people who don’t like kids and try not to look at you while you jiggle your noisy baby, but end up glancing daggers at you anyway) and there’s more turbulence. Yes turbulence. Unless you get very airsick, turbulence is a mother’s best friend! Hello sleeping baby! I once read half a novel courtesy of this clever trick.

3. Make sure your baby looks absolutely adorable when you check in. Make an effort, dress them in a (clean!) cute outfit etc. I put pigtails on Star when she was five months old and I was travelling alone. The stewardess checking her in fell in love with her and immediately blocked the seat next to me so I had two seats to myself. Worth a try and if anything your fellow passengers may be a little more tolerant of you and your baby.

4. Travel on a weekday but not during commuting times. It’s probably going to be quieter and there will be fewer business people rattling their newspapers in annoyance and more sympathetic parents giving you a smile of encouragement as you pace the aisles.

5. Two words – baby carrier.

You know all the rest – like feeding the baby on the way up and on the way down, bringing spare outfits for you and baby onboard etc etc.

Other travel tips
Baby hire companies are a parents’ best friend when travelling. There is no need to forgo the comforts of home, or bring everything but the kitchen sink. Even though airlines let you check in a stroller or child seat, they are a bummer to tote around the airport. You can hire strollers, child seats, bassinets, high chairs, even playgyms and buckets and spades for the beach, for a reasonable cost. Some companies will even have your essentials, like nappies, delivered to your accomodation.

Try to get one-bedroom places as much as possible. It avoids the unfortunate situation of spending your nights sitting in the dark, trying not to wake the baby. Yes I know you can drink beer at the same time but really, it’s not that much fun.

Scope out the kid friendly facilities at the airports you’re visiting. Narita Airport had a wonderful (free) play area which allowed Star to get her crawling time before a long flight home.

A place with a laundry can be a lifesaver!

 

So there you go, have baby, will travel. Good luck and happy travels!

A frosty beer at the end of the day – essential when travelling with a baby
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It’s been hot so I’ve been doing treadmill runs, and Owl has been unsettled so I hop on the treadmill for 20 minutes, run like mad and then rush back home. Five 2.5-3km runs in a week and I started getting a bit of back pain and yeah, left buttock pain. Ouch. Something about those ligaments being more stretchy and all (though it doesn’t feel that way – I feel quite stiff).

However, energy and wellbeing are great, and I’m slowly chipping away at those last 2-3 kg of extra love. This week I’ve been finally able to put Owl in my favourite piece of gym equipment, the Baby Bjorn carrier, and go for some long walks. Best way to get those transverse abdominus muscles back into gear. Back is better, and I’m all fired up for a long run in the park tomorrow, Owl willing! Speaking of the devil…!

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I have a confession to make. I didn’t run much in my second pregnancy. The first time around, I prided myself on being able to run right up til 28 weeks. Not so this time! I was heavier and showed much earlier (at nine weeks). I ran about 6 times, perhaps 8. Fatigue followed me right up til 20 weeks. I just didn’t feel right when I ran.

Amazingly, my energy levels are so much higher now even though my sleep is broken. But because I had another Caesarian section, I’ve got to wait until around 12 weeks for my first run.

I started doing Kegels and abdominal exercises a few days after Owl was born. On day 6 I took my daughter to her daycare centre – about 400m away. It was a somewhat ginger and slow experience, but since then, short walks around the block have been easy, and today (3 weeks) I went for a longer walk.

I was delighted to find that I’m doing exactly what’s recommended in this Runner’s World Guide to getting back to running after pregnancy. This week, I’m to keep walking and add some strength training (planks). Next week, cross-training and more strength training. Hopefully Owl will keep sleeping at night and allow me to focus on getting back to running. My goal: a Half marathon by July 2014.

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Well if I didn’t do pregnancy very well the second time, I certainly did motherhood well – the first two weeks anyway. Owl (number 2) slept all day and mostly all night for the first week and a half. I don’t remember Star (number 1) doing that. Either my memory is shot, or she was very wakeful (the latter is most likely). While we had to work hard at establishing breastfeeding, we managed to avoid any major damage and hence avoid mastitis. I didn’t experience the day 3 blues, which hit me with a vengeance with Star. I had hot cups of tea. I napped every day.

Now Owl is a bit more awake, but still easier to settle than Star was. Is this because I now have a dizzying array of baby settling skills from all the practice? Who knows. My husband says there will always be a comparison, and the second baby will by default be easier or harder than the previous. Going by the theory of “retribution”, we expect Owl to be easier. And he is. A little bit.

But here it is. I no longer panic when my baby cries. I know everything is “just a phase”. I am more flexible with routines (and have none at this early stage). I know that self-care is vital. I know that babies are unsettled at times, and it comes to an end (eventually). I know that “bad habits” often don’t last, and they can also be broken. I know that there are no magic bullets, and no “baby whisperer” that solves all problems.

But perhaps we just lucked out this time. I am hoping so :)

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I am thankfully writing this in retrospect. I didn’t realise how difficult the second pregnancy would be. Looking after a toddler, juggling home and work, and generally being a few years older took its toll. I had few symptoms in my first pregnancy (apart from the first trimester fatigue and nausea) but seemed to cop the lot this time – especially crippling back and pelvic pain. Fatigue dogged me every day, and my fitness level plummeted as I could barely manage to walk once a week. I ran a few times but gave this up at 23 weeks. I had nosebleeds and haemorrhoids. I couldn’t sleep at night.

I also started to grieve the loss of our cosy threesome, especially my one-on-one relationship with Star. My “last day” alone with her was bittersweet. I didn’t anticipate how much this would affect me.

Looking back, I regret not making an effort to have more time to myself. I worked extremely hard, trying to get everything wrapped up for maternity leave. I even took on an extra shift at the clinic. I should have taken a day to myself, once a week, to go for a walk or swim, go to yoga, have a nap.

Happily, at 38 and a half weeks, pregnancy came to an end with a relaxed elective Caesarian section, and our son (I’ll call him Owl) was born. More on that to come.

 

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We don’t have any babysitters unless Mum comes to stay with us. So if we want to have a meal outside, Star needs to come with! We’ve developed a kind of radar for the places that are kid-friendly, but, you know, the ones that aren’t overrun by prams. Chinese restaurants aren’t bad because the noise drowns out the sound of your toddler banging on the table with the chopsticks. I’ve started a list of my favourite places, check it out at Thatwelike.com

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While idly surfing the web on my iPhone during a Graduate Research orientation day I came across some great blogs including this wonderful blog by a fellow PhD Mum. In it she talks about blogging while her child sleeps in the car, doing the “baby dance” with her child in the baby carrier… how familiar this sounds! And I decided to finally publish this post, written five months ago while I was in the car with a sleeping baby. Here it is…

I’m a working, studying mum. This calls for what i call extreme multitasking. as i write this i am holding my 16 mth old, who is fast asleep, with my left arm. we are in the car and have been here for the last hour. When she fell asleep on the way home from a meeting at the university (my work/study place) I pulled into our garage, parked the car, left the radio on and climbed into the back seat with my laptop. I’ve read two papers. When she stirred after half an hr, which i was anticipating, i unclipped her from the car seat, popped her over my shoulder and patted her bottom, a surefire way to get her back to sleep. She’s a poor sleeper and needs all the help she can get.

I worked from home for six months before I officially started my PhD. In reality this meant i spent all her waking hours with the laptop open, grabbing the opportunity to do a tiny packet of work whenever she was distracted by a cardboard box, the tv, or lunch. Each day as i crept out of her room after she finally went down for a nap, I’d make a cup of tea and work frantically for 29 minutes before she woke up. (One day though i just decided to lie on the couch. I felt guilty but I didn’t care). Each night, at 8:30pm, my workday really started. As can be expected i found this absolutely exhausting and threw in the towel after 6 months.

I’ve run meetings while she slept in the baby carrier. I’ve typed emails while singing nursery rhymes. I’ve used children’s tv a whole lot more than I ever thought I would. and there have been many occasions like this where the car has turned into a makeshift office while I wait for her to finish soaking up her precious sleep. Life might have been a little easier if she had been a better sleeper. L imagine other mums carrying their toddlers, still asleep, into the house after falling asleep in the car. Mine would have just woken up and been ready to play. but gosh dang it, life would have been so boring and I wouldnt have been able to recall such priceless hours of my favourite sport – extreme multitasking.

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I am in a position where I can compare the experience of being a graduate research student pre and post children. Star was born three weeks after I submitted my Masters thesis. She was eight months when I returned to research. Undoubtedly, the experience is different this time around. Here’s how I spent my time before becoming a mummy:

  • Sleeping in on research days, and having a hot beverage as I leisurely checked my emails
  • Then onto it – a good six hours of solid uninterrupted work
  • Followed by a relaxing run in the park, and a civilised dinner at 7pm

Here’s how I spend it now:

  • Wake up at 7:30am to the cries of “Mummy! Mummy!” (I know, 7:30am is a sleep-in for parents! We’re lucky!)
  • Feed toddler, remember to feed self, chase toddler around, find clean clothes for toddler (everything has food or crayon stains on it…) Clean up the mess after breakfast, remember to pack the comfort toys for naptime, walk toddler to childcare centre, try not to hurry toddler as she investigates the leaves on the bushes, the gumnuts on the ground, the rocks and the gravel as we walk there – I should be smelling the roses too but I have an appointment to get to so hurry up darling…
  • Travel to Uni, work like a maniac for 7 hrs, no Facebook time – time is so precious
  • Pick up toddler from childcare, dinner at 5:30pm during which she refuses everything except steamed carrots, throws food on the floor (often deliberately). Bathe toddler, read “Goodnight Moon”, into bed at 7:30pm.
  • Work from 7:30-10pm

I must add, things are really quite cruisy with Star’s sleep now, but most of last year was also spent managing her multiple wakings at night.

Different, much? Having a child has introduced new pressures – and she isn’t even in school yet. Childcare, mother guilt, keeping to a routine, not attending overseas conferences, crayon scrawls on my laptop. And yet it’s made coming home all the more rewarding. It’s made me want to work hard to be a role model. And it’s presented me with the greatest challenge of all – the enigma, the Holy grail, the thing we call “work/life balance”. And I formally accept the challenge. Bring it on.

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I’m starting to really enjoy maternity leave. Three-month-old babies are sociable, cuddly, delightful, and mostly over the crying stage. I’ve gained some confidence and experience and am now able to go with the flow a lot more. My baby brings me so much pleasure every day and even though being a mum can be very hard work and the nights are still challenging, I’m beginning to enjoy so much more of it.

I finished working on a thesis just before I went on maternity leave. I was thirty-four weeks pregnant when I submitted it for examination. The examiner’s comments have come back and as expected I will have to trawl through my thesis and make the changes that they want done. As I contemplated this daunting task, a huge part of me just didn’t want to give up my time with my baby. Am I getting into the mummy groove finally, or am I stuck in a mummy rut? What do you think?

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Before I had a baby, I had things under control. I went to work at a certain time and returned home (mostly) within a certain time. I cooked dinner several nights a week. I paid my bills, did my taxes, caught up with friends, wrote a thesis, travelled. I knew that if I did A then B would be the effect.

I read baby books before my baby was born. I thought I had it all worked out. Yep, I was confident about this parenting thing. How hard could it be?

I didn’t realise that babies literally didn’t come with an instruction manual. Surprise surprise – they are all individuals just like we are! Or perhaps the manuals I was reading were for some other model of baby. Suddenly A might lead to C or Z or even F! and never consistently! I tried to make it better by reading more, getting more advice, only to become totally confused and riddled with self doubt.

Some of the hardest things that were beyond my control were sleeping and crying patterns. It got to the point where every evening I kept waiting for the bomb to drop. For weeks I couldn’t sleep, cursed by insomnia as well as sleep deprivation, my heart pounding as I lay there desperately trying to get some precious shuteye before my “shift” started.

I’ve realised now that my illusion of being in control before children was false, of course. We just think we’re in control and most of the time life plays along with this (just like easy babies play along with some parents’ thinking that they managed to train their babies into a nice sleeping routine).

Most importantly, I’ve remembered a saying from the very wise Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived a Nazi concentration camp. He said “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” In other words, what I do have control over is how I approach the journey of parenthood. And that makes me somehow feel even more in control than I did before.

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