What to wear after the bump

You have spent months dressing your bump, showing it off and basking in your pregnancy glow.   Now, I dearly hope you have your baby in your arms and are faced with a new set of sartorial challenges – how to dress your post-pregnancy body and, if breast feeding, how to make the milk bar accessible.

However, I know there will be those reading this that have given birth and are holding their precious child in their hearts rather than their arms.  When we lost Xavier to SIDS two weeks after giving birth, fashion was the last thing on my mind, but I did have to get dressed every morning.   I couldn’t bear to wear any of my maternity clothes, but my stomach had yet to reduce to its normal size.  I bought a couple of very cheap jeans at our local supermarket that also stocks clothes (Mix by Coles).  I couldn’t face clothes shopping, but I could just manage grabbing a few things with the groceries.  I also bought a few things online.  Even though I love shopping, the sight of racks and racks of clothes confused and saddened me.   My love of shopping has returned and I can still spot a bargain from a mile away.  The things you enjoy will come back, but it will take a little while.  In the mean time, do what you need to do to get through.

When pregnant your uterus expands to up to 500 times it’s usual size!  That’s a lot of growth and you do need to allow time for it to contract again.  Usually, this takes six weeks.  That’s just your uterus – it takes longer again of course to lose the baby weight itself.  So, no-one is walking out of the hospital in their pre-pregnancy skinny jeans and your maternity pants aren’t quite finished yet.   Those gorgeous dresses that showed of your burgeoning bump probably aren’t quite as flattering now that your baby is born and you have to learn a whole new way of dressing.

Here are my post-baby fashion tips:

  • Don’t be too hard on yourself or your body.  It has just achieved the most amazing feat of all.  You don’t need to subscribe to the celebrity trend of a concave stomach within three months.  They achieve that through countless hours in the gym.  Countless hours that they aren’t spending with their baby.
  • Particularly if your are a first time mother, you and baby are both learning and that’s not easy.  PJ days are inevitable.  So just invest in some lovely PJs that you feel comfortable answering the door in.   Lounge or light weight track pants with a maternity singlet or top are perfect. Intimo have some beautiful loungewear.  It’s not cheap, but it does last.
  • The tops you wore in early pregnancy that skimmed over your bump, rather than showing it off are perfect for this time.
  • Scarves are wonderful things.  Worn over nursing singlets they hide the post-baby bump.  They add colour to an outfit.  They make nursing singlets look less like underwear. They offer a modesty cover if you want it when breast-feeding.   They can double as spit-up cloths.  Maybe don’t wear your Hermes.
  • Babies spit-up.  Babies do number 3s.  My Baby is a master of the ninja wee.  Somehow I am wet, and he isn’t.  Basically, you are going to get dirty.  Keep your clothes practical and washable.   Darker colours and patterns are great at disguising spit-ups.   You know to keep a few changes of clothes for baby in your bag – keep a change of clothes for yourself also.
  • It is easy to become lost in your baby.  Taking a little time out to make yourself look and feel nice is okay.

And if you are breastfeeding:

  • You will either breastfeed by unbuttoning/unzipping/pulling down your top or lifting it up.   Lifting up your top is probably more modest in terms of revealing your breasts.   Most women probably don’t want to bear their tummy flesh when feeding, so a good option is to wear something light and flowy over the top of a nursing singlet.
  • I am completely un-coordinated with the lift-up method and Elijah normally gets caught up in material.  Ditto when I try to use a breast feeding cover.  I tend to do the pull down method.  This means I either wear low cut tops with a bit of stretch to them, or button/zip down tops.  In order to preserve some modesty, I will often pair a singlet with a jacket or cardigan which covers the boob when feeding.  Again, a scarf can be useful here.
  • I am fortunate to have a lot of milk.  This means a lot of leakage.  This means breast milk getting all over my tops.  One way to circumvent this is to invest in a few newborn bibs that will hopefully absorb the milk.
  • You will find that the first few times you breastfeed in public you are hyper-aware and thinking everyone is looking at you. They most probably aren’t.  The most important people in the breast feeding equation are you and your baby.  As my gorgeous, uninhibited, Brazilian friend once put it “I got enough to worry about – I don’t need to worry about what people around me think.”  However, if nursing in public does stress you out – it will also stress your baby out.  Invest in a light-weight nursing cover.
  • Your boobs are doing a lot of work.  Treat them kindly and ensure you wear supportive bras.   Bonds do a great line.
  • As in pregnancy, don’t change your style completely – you will never get out of the house for lack of things to wear.  I don’t normally wear button-down collared tops and trying to adopt them for breast feeding just doesn’t work for me.
  • Just as I advised during pregnancy, put away the things that don’t fit or work for this time in your life.  It will make getting ready so much easier!
  • You probably feel like you will never get back to your usual wardrobe again.  Keep in mind that the period of time when a baby feeds every 3 – 4 hours is limited.  Even if you intend to breastfeed past 6 months, there comes a time when babies just feed in the morning and evening.  Your wardrobe will open up again then.

My nursing kit

  • Wrap dresses – perfect for feeding.
  • 5 nursing singlets in black, white and nude.  Bonds do great ones.  Kmart and Target also do and they are a bit cheaper.
  • Jackets, capelets and/or cardigans.
  • Comfy pants (maternity or elasticated).  Elasticated harem pants are great if you don’t mind getting your hippy on.  Try Tree of life.
  • Loose, flow-y tops.
  • Zip-down tops
  • Stretchy, low cut tops

image1xl Love this  top from ASOS  (click to go to)

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Some of my nursing essentials

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What to wear when you are expecting

I don’t want this blog to be completely earnest and lacking in any frivolity, so today I thought I’d write about maternity fashion. I thought I’d also like to wrote a post that didn’t result in tears.

Pregnancy offers up a unique set of sartorial challenges – from the early stages when your belly looks more “big lunch” than “big news” to the last few weeks when nothing fits but buying anything new seems pointless.

I won’t pretend to be the most stylish lady in the room – I leave that honour to my friends and gorgeous sister in laws. But I do love clothes and after being pregnant for the better half of two years, I think I started to get it right. I adored my pregnancy with Elijah. Whilst it was beset with anxiety I also recognised it as my last pregnancy and wanted to enjoy every bit – including dressing bump. This has now evolved into being excited about dressing Elijah each morning and frustration over breast-feeding fashion. But that’s for another post!

Here are my tips:

  • Invest early in maternity pants that will see you through the pregnancy (and beyond). You can get away with non-maternity tops, but you need comfy bottoms. In early pregnancy, you can use a belly band to keep them up if they are on the big side. ASOS maternity offers some great options and seems to be the only place on earth where their maternity wear is actually cheaper than the standard gear. Their sizing in maternity is generous around the belly but weirdly tight around the arms and legs. Maybe UK ladies don’t get water retention!
  • Accessories are your best friend – keep them bright and funky. Wear those statement earrings – their days are numbered!
  • Black is definitely a great and easy option, but if you do wear all black, add a pop of colour with some jewellery, scarf or jacket. This is a joyous time after all and colour will lift your mood.
  • Jersey wrap dresses (they needn’t be maternity) are perfect for the office with a growing bump and will also work for breastfeeding afterwards. Leona Edmiston has some beautiful options and for a less expensive option, Ezibuy generally has a few wrap dresses amongst their collections.
  • Show off what remains slender. Whilst my arms lost tone, my legs remained relatively slim – so I favoured tights and loose tops.
  • In the early weeks when it’s not obvious you are pregnant, opt for tops that skim over your belly rather than show it off. These will also be useful in the months after having baby.
  • Go through your wardrobe every couple of weeks and put away what ever no longer fits. It will make getting ready so much easier. When you do this, keep your buttoned down shirts, looser blouses and other tops you can breast feed in, in a different pile so you can get to it easily after bub is born.
  • Invest in a few long singlets for layering. As your belly grows, tops that used to work over tights will start to ride up. I am a card carrying member of the “tights are not pants” club and believe that bottoms should be covered. Having very long singlets allowed me to wear them underneath my existing long tops and still wear those comfy tights with dignity.  Glassons has singlet options at good prices. Lower cut tops will have the added advantage of showing off your new cleavage and offering some more options if you breastfeed.
  • Use belts under the bust to accentuate your bump. Your normal belts may no longer fit, so raid your partners. You might want to grab one of his white shirts while you are it – also great for a growing belly.
  • Don’t spend too much on “bump” dresses. They are certainly gorgeous, but they are a late pregnancy only item. Don’t fall into thinking you will wear them after baby. You probably won’t.
  • You may get thoroughly, thoroughly sick of the clothes you wear during pregnancy and never want to see them again once baby is born. Don’t break the bank!
  • Don’t change your style completely when pregnant – you will feel uncomfortable. It’s better to adapt your usual look to something that works with pregnancy.
  • To avoid tears and stress in the morning (at least as they relate to what to wear), plan outfits in advance.
  • On those days when you are just over it, take a moment, breath, connect with your baby and think of all the cute outfits you will be dressing them in soon.

My essential kit (I was pregnant during winter)

  • Jersey dresses (particularly if you are working)
  • 2 pairs maternity jeans
  • 2 – 3 pair tights (leggings)
  • 1 pair black trousers
  • 3 long singlets
  • Tight dresses to show off your bump
  • Belly band
  • Long tops with space for belly
  • Jackets and vests
  • 2 pairs of go with anything flats. Weirdly, very neutral and very out-there tones seem to work back with most things. I absolutely flogged a pair of gold glittery ballet flats.
  • I think it’s nice to buy a new pair of PJs for going into hospital

Here are a few of my favourite looks from pregnancy (I was a bit obsessive about recording the bump for posterity and I apologise for the bedroom mess)

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Right now I am struggling with a new sartorial challenge – what to wear breast feeding. More on that later!

The Inside and the Outside

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Every Saturday my little family heads down to the local coffee shop and I wonder what we look like to other people. Beautiful four year old running at the front of the pram, cute little Hugo, our cavalier puppy, on his heels. N or I pushing the pram, lightly touching each other around the waist. It must look idyllic. It must look like the perfect family. What it looks like and what it is are so very different.

I felt similarly when pregnant. I wondered if people who had recently suffered loss or infertility looked jealously at my growing bump.

I know in the weeks after Xavier died I wanted to rush up to mothers of newborns and say “Do you know? Do you know how utterly privileged you are?” I wanted to talk to those heavily pregnant and ask “Do you know? Do you know the precious weight of what you carry?” I didn’t of course. But what if I had and she had returned the pain in my own eyes. If she would have said, with a heaviness another loss mother would recognise, “Yes”.

We go about our daily battles and it seems like everyone else’s battles are being easily won. But we don’t know. We don’t know how much pain lies before apparent happiness. Each of us are icebergs, only revealing the tip of our lives. Carefully constructing the image we allow the world to see. We know this of ourselves – why do we presume that everyone around us does any differently?

My personal Facebook feed is filled with photos of Elijah on different outings – parks, various beaches, numerous cafes. As my parents are currently overseas, I am posting daily pictures so they can watch him grow. This no doubt gives the impression of a terribly confident mother – happily out and about with a perfectly behaved newborn. This would be a generous assumption. In truth, I am not a homebody and will always prefer out to in. When I am at home alone with Elijah, the darker thoughts creep in. It’s when I hold him close and beg him not to die. Do I prefer the facade of a mother breezing through parenthood? Of course, but it masks a darker truth.

I never want to be defined by my loss – although I am happy to be shaped by it. But sometimes, I want to scream “Getting here wasn’t easy – the road to this seeming perfection was paved with tears and still, always, there is someone missing”.

But that’s not the image I have chosen to present to the world. There is a large element of choice here. Could I fall apart? Of course I could, in a heartbeat, in an instant. But I hold myself and my family together. Is this a form of lying? Would it be truer to myself to let more of the pain show? Would it ease the pressure on those around me if I was to be more “real”? I am not sure. So much of how I coped with Xavier’s death was “fake it until you feel it”. When faced with something that cleaves your heart in two, people really don’t want to see the full ugliness of it. I didn’t want to be the full ugliness of it. For all our talk of being real, there comes a point of too real. And so I have been play-acting for some time now. Not just for those around me, but for me. I have been play-acting for so long that it might be difficult to tell where the reality and where the acting meet. And perhaps this simply is my new reality.

Being grateful for each and every moment, striving to live in the now and taking advantage of every possibility can seem unbearably Pollyanna-ish. It can seem fake and impossible. But my alternative is impossible and so I take this path and I will smile through the pain.

Dear Mummy

I have had a rough week. Plagued by doubts about my ability as a mother. Many episodes of being convinced that Elijah will die. Watching each breath as though its his last. Missing Xavier more acutely as I am reminded exactly of what I missed and time takes Elijah further away from Xavier’s little life.

When it all gets too much, I imagine what Xavier might tell me if he could.

Dearest Mummy,
I have seen you struggle these last few days. Seen the tears fall and wished I could wipe them away.

When you watch over Elijah, so convinced this breath will be his last, I am watching over him too. I promised to keep him safe. Trust.

Why do you think yourself a poor mother? You have been told so many times you could not save me. You have been told so many times you are a good mother. Those that you know that have suffered loss, those you have cried with, do you judge them poor parents? Do you think them anything but beautiful and wonderful parents? Turn some of that kindness to yourself. You are a good mother. Believe.

I know you hold him in your arms and ache for me. I know that having a newborn has made what we missed so much more real. I know that connecting on a spiritual level comes a poor second to touching, kissing, breathing in sweet baby scent. I wish things could have been different too. But this is what we have. And I need you to still nurture it. I still need you. Love.

These days shall pass. Too quickly. Enjoy them. Enjoy the moments that will eventually draw us together again. Cherish.

I love you mummy.

The New Me

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The baby loss community is an especially beautiful and supportive one.  When a new member joins this terrible little club, they are extended love and understanding.  When I joined this group that no-one would ever want to be a part of,  that support was invaluable.

In the wake of Xavier’s death, I found comfort online but I needed to see someone who had lost their child and was still living and breathing.  I met with a gorgeous lady who had lost her baby son many years ago.    At the time,  I was in a strange robotic stage of grief.  Not entirely sure what I should be doing or feeling but fearing the future.  I was acting from a script I had to re-write myself from day to day.  In so many ways feeling liking a passive observer – watching myself from a distance and fascinated that this was the way I was handling things.   I felt like I was edging along the huge abyss of time that separated me from Xavier and any mis-step would see me fall right in.  Was this my life from now on?  Was it even possible to sustain?  How would my life look in the months and years to come?  So, I looked to this lovely stranger who shared my devastation and she told me how her son had changed her – how her grief had reshaped her into a very different person. A better person.

I didn’t want to hear it.  I didn’t want Xavier’s loss to make me into a better person. I was entirely fine with the person I was before he left.  I needed no extreme makeover administered by the hand of fate.    And this empty vessel, clinging to life, battered on the shores of grief?  I didn’t want to be her.   I looked in the mirror and I couldn’t recognise myself.  I had become a stranger.    This was not some better version of myself.  This was a shadow, an echo.  A leaf on the wind, without substance or purpose.   I didn’t want to get out of bed and be strong each day.  I didn’t want to be looked at with pitying admiration.   I had no interest in being an inspirational story.   All I ached for was my son.  I would think “this grief thing has been interesting, I have learned a lot but I will have my son back now please”.   Hoping against hope that someone would come to the door, Xavier in their arms, and apologise for a dreadful mix up.

In that early time, I  was convinced that Xavier had been taken from me to teach me a lesson.  To show me that life couldn’t be perfect.  Until that point, my life had remained untouched by tragedy and was rich with blessings.   I thought I had been spared fate’s cruelty.   And then it was as though fate noticed me, said “Ah yes, she’s had it easy for far too long, now, what’s the worst thing I could do to her?”  And this conspiracy by fate to teach me a lesson – I wanted no part in it.  I would not be taught – I would not allow a reason for Xavier’s death.   If grief had gifts to give, I didn’t want them.  Accepting them felt too close to accepting Xavier’s death.

Could I not simply go back to who I was after a period of grieving?  Did I have to lose who I was as well as my son?  Where did the losses end?

But grief becomes a gentler companion with time and it was inevitable I would change.   Perspectives alter when your world shifts.  What is important becomes crystal clear and you begin to see that it is possible to gain in the midst of loss.  I began to realise that the person I was becoming was a way of honouring Xavier’s life rather than giving some sort of credence to his death.   Began to appreciate that treasuring every moment was a gift he had given me.    In the early months after Xavier died I struggled with the idea that the happiest moments of my life were behind me.  That no beautiful moment could ever be perfect.  Whereas I may have had plenty of those perfect moments prior to Xavier’s death – did I realise them? Did I treasure them?  Did I truly realise the full precious weight of those moments?  And so now, even though the moments are dulled by sadness, I appreciate them in way I never could before.  There is more beauty in my life because I pause to notice it.  I invest more in friendships because I know how valuable they are.  I love more because I have seen just how much I am loved.  I take each moment as a gift.   Each of those moments, strung together and stitched into time.  Those moments that rather than separate me further from Xavier,  will eventually bring me back to my son.  And that is something to treasure.

Reclaiming Motherhood

The other day I was enjoying a beautiful brunch outing with some other mothers.   They had their first children in their laps – from newborn to 18 months.    We talked about the things mothers talk about.  Sleeping, eating, toilet training, breast feeding, weaning, husbands, careers, having more children, facing bikini season.   As the only one with more than one child, I fell into advice giving.   It’s not something I am very comfortable with.  No-one likes a mummy-know-it-all.  Besides, I have always, always believed that mothers who trust their own instincts never go too far wrong.

Until one does.  I trusted every instinct with Xavier and he didn’t survive.   You know those Facebook memes where the mother hails her day a success because she’s kept all the children alive?   You can’t imagine how much they hurt.  The old adage that you don’t need to be a perfect mum, you just need to be enough, that stings as well.

And so sitting and dispensing advice makes me feel fraudulent.  I can’t help but wonder, why would these women want advice from me?  They have their beautiful children surrounding them, loving them, touching them.  Do they nod politely and inside think “at least I can keep my child alive.”  I know my friends, and I am sure that this thought wouldn’t pass into their heads, but it could and I would understand if it did.

When I expressed these feelings to N, he hugged me gently and said “What happened to Xavier and your abilities as a mother have absolutely nothing to do with one another.  You are the best mother I know.”  Coming from the best father I know – that did restore my faith somewhat.

Isaac is a beautiful boy of nearly five.  Boisterous but as well-behaved as you can expect any five year old boy to be.  He is full of life and colour and imagination.  He is fun to be around.  He cares for those around him.    He is a credit to his father and I.  He is proof that I can mother.

Elijah is adorable and wonderful.  Every moment I spend with him is precious.  I love everything about taking care of him.  Even at 4am in the morning, I cannot help but be filled with excitement that this precious little baby is mine!  He is proof that I can mother.

Xavier remains an integral part of our family.  I talk about him fearlessly.  I love him through space and time.  I try to make his memory accessible to other people in a positive way.  He is proof that I can mother in the most extraordinarily difficult of circumstances.

I lost my baby to SIDS and  I am still a good mother.

 

Are You OK?

Today is Are You OK? day.  A day that reminds us of the importance of reaching out to those around us.  A day where we should go beyond a casual, throw-away  “How are you?”    

That question has become an empty courtesy – like “Hello” and “Good-bye” but how often do we expect or want a real answer?  We are taught to reply “well” or “fine” when we may be anything but.   When we first lost Xavier I learned to distinguish between the sincere “How are you?” and the concessions to politeness.   Indeed, there were many who avoided asking all together, I can only imagine for fear of the answer.  It’s a brave thing – to ask “Are you okay?” or “How are you?” and be willing to truly accept the responsibility of a honest answer.  In our time poor, meme rich lives, how often do we engage in real conversation that reveals the heart?  We have become used to a few words on a Facebook status to describe “How are you feeling?”  But our hearts and souls need more than that.  We need time and conversation and nourishment.  How often are we willing to invest that time in one another?  

In the first few weeks after Xavier died, when strangers asked “How are you?”, there were times I responded with a completely honest answer.  The poor clerks at the check out saddled with an answer that they did not expect.  But I needed to tell someone.   I needed to say “Not so well – I am hurting today”.  And sometimes, the only person that asked was a stranger who was paid to be polite.  Most times, however, my beautiful family and friends asked that question in a genuine way.  I have two very close girlfriends who are lights in my life.   When I would reply “okay” they would respond “no, really – I want to know how you are going today.”  And it gave me permission to go beyond our societally regulated responses to the question “How are you?”  We need to give people around us that permission – we need to let them know that we genuinely care.  When my lovely boss asked me how I was a few weeks after Xavier died, I replied with my standard “okay”.  She shook her head and said “You aren’t – you’re not okay, but you will be and right now it’s okay that you’re not okay”.   Sometimes we just need to hear that too – sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.   I value every time someone genuinely gave me the opportunity to talk about my feelings, particularly in the days, weeks and months following Xavier’s death.   

I think that’s what “Are you OK?” day is about – it’s about creating the time and space and love around someone to allow them to talk about what they need to talk about.  It’s being completely unselfish and completely genuine when asking the question “Are you OK?” or “How are you?”

So today, ask someone “Are you okay?” and be truly engaged in the answer. You never know the impact it will have on someone’s life.