“Watch and pray” – an Advent poem for Lent and lockdown lament

I began a poem late last year that has only recently emerged in its final form. Its roots lay in obsessive listening to the chorale at the heart of BWV 70, an Advent cantata, Wachet! betet! betet! wachet! I’d argue that the chorale itself is one of the most beautiful things ever written, probably because (a) it’s a Bach chorale (b) in a beguiling three-four time, like a waltz. The little German interludes in the poem below are taken from the original text from that chorale (which you can listen to from the 13:28 mark here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGG3ninFM80)

This poem will be read as part of a lament service at Ripon College Cuddesdon, where I am training for priesthood, on Monday night next week to mark the first anniversary of the announcement of a national lockdown in the UK, so I wanted to share it here, too.

Watch and pray

Engulfed by solstice darkness,
I switched off the office light 
And played a Bach chorale 
Full volume in the dark 

Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele

Soon I was on my feet, arms in the air, 
As if my wide, unfilled embrace
Could be enough to draw O Sapientia
Through the ceiling as I wept

und vergiß all Not und Qual

Half-dancing for a verse, I understood
I could not pull him down. 
He was already there: 
We were already waltzing.

New year, new blog (sort of, again)

Happy… New Year? No. Too late.

Happy Lent? Nearly. It’s Ash Wednesday tomorrow, so let’s call the resurrection of this blog a lenten discipline. And it shocks me that nothing’s appeared here since 2017. So I am making amends. HELLO TO YOU, those of you who still remember reading this blog four years ago!

I’ve committed to writing a poem a day during Lent. After the mild shock of being shortlisted for the Bridport Prize last year, I’m still in an endless round of submitting to other competitions, and one of the rules of such things is that you can’t send in anything that’s found its way to “publication”, even on a blog. So, as things get written… we’ll see where they end up. Possibly here.

There is, however, one poem on this blog at the moment, which was the winner of the Cuddesdon Creative Writing Competition last summer — and so, by happy chance, it’s disqualified from being entered anywhere else and can thus be “published”. You can read it here: Palm Sunday, on the new “Poems” page.

The NEWS is that if you wish to join in the fun, I will be giving a talk at 7pm on the 3rd of March at St Barnabas, Jericho — online, so you can come along even if you’re in California! — on “Praying and Reflecting Through Poetry”. Details can be found on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/pray-and-reflect-tickets-140376183945?aff=ebdsoporgprofile


Two articles in Revoice Magazine

Dear and patient reader:

If you’re here for more Beatrice updates, apologies – I really need to do something on months 4-7 (!), but there just hasn’t been time. Part of this is that in February/March/April I was working on articles for Revoice Magazine, a terrific new online publication about music and musicians’ lives.

In March, for International Women’s Day, I wrote a piece called “Sparkly Earrings and Tiny Socks” about taking Beatrice on tour with me. Then there’s an article in this month’s issue, which just came out this morning: I compiled my own experiences and those of quite a large sampling of friends into “Lullay, lullay”, a piece about lullabies. It was incredibly moving to hear other people’s accounts of being sung to as children, and especially their reflections on singing to their own children in turn. Please have a read, if you have time.

Now back to the book, which I really should be working on while B is out with B minor for a walk. In a surprising/unsurprising turn of events, I’m writing from scratch (again) thanks to the advice of a really quite extraordinary mentor who is helping me solve my plotting woes. It’s such a relief to be re-organising the book, which had become cumbersome and draggy. It’ll be a lot of work – but fun.

Witches! Secret libraries! It’s all go. See you anon.

The Great Transition: The Job Search Begins

What a healthy loop I’ve been in since 5.30am:
1. Look for jobs online. As in real jobs with salaries, because this piecemeal occasionally-working singing lark is really not doing it for me at the moment. 
1.a Find a full-time University job that looks good. There is a sidebar that says something about the Oxford University nursery scheme. That sounds good.
1.b Have a look at the OU nursery scheme. Holy crap, there’s a mammoth waiting list.
2. Panic about the availability of nursery places. What if I were really to get a full-time job, one that started immediately? Who’d look after the baby? I’ve just applied for a three-day-a-week position that would be absolutely perfect, since we could probably organise childcare between us if I worked three days a week, but if I don’t get that I’ll have to keep looking for full-time things. And then, if I do get a job with an actual salary, a five-day-a-week thing that isn’t at all flexible, it’ll mean Bojan will feel pressure to take over childcare, which he can’t do, because he works all the time. 
3. Think about the idea of B being a stay-at-home dad.
4. No, that’s ridiculous. He’s a better (and more successful) musician than I’ll ever be. He has to keep working.
5. Consider what might, (4) notwithstanding, induce B to take over childcare. I’d have to earn more than he currently does, for one, and if I get a job now, having been out of the mainstream employment market since 2009, that’s entirely impossible. I’d have to work my way up over several years in order to earn what he does. His earnings currently outstrip mine by about 50% — at least, they did in the 2015-16 tax year. The 2016-17 tax year has been a joke, largely because I quit the Monteverdi Choir in January the moment I got pregnant, thus flushing a year’s income down the toilet (and, even so, making one of the best decisions of my life). I think B might have out-earned me by 200% in the 2016-17 tax year, but I guess we’ll find out when I do my taxes in January 2018. Joy.  
6. Conclude (again) that the best thing is to just get a job. Who cares about professional pride? We’re saving for a house, and if you aren’t earning, you can’t save. Also, if neither of you has a salary, it’s awfully hard to get a mortgage…
7. If I got a full-time job, maybe we could get a nanny, or an au-pair. That would solve the nursery problem. I had a Chinese nanny when I was a child, largely due to the fact that we were living in China at the time, but shouldn’t my daughter have the same advantages?
8. Consider placing an ad in Daily Info for a Chinese-speaking nanny. Decide against it. After all, I haven’t got a job yet. 
9. Go back to jobs. Continue scrolling through listings until my vision begins to blur and my heart rate increases. Could I work as an executive assistant? Should I move collections in the Pitt Rivers, given my slightly problematic right wrist? Would there be collective laughter in the office where they receive the email if I apply for a fancy communications job? Should I answer the “creative writer required for luxury brand” ad in Daily Info? Is it a scam?
10. Eat a Liege waffle (they were on offer yesterday).
More on this later. Since I’m up, and Beatrice is asleep, I should probably be writing fiction.

Months 2 and 3: Public Transport Palooza (and your handy guide to travelling as a performer with a baby)

The following post is pretty long. It is a guide to being in the showbiz trenches (travelling and performing concerts alone) with a baby. A caveat: she’s totally worth it, because THAT FACE.

This morning Beatrice woke up shrieking at 7.45am (I’m saving “screaming” for special occasions now when she does the Code Red version). I’m very lucky; she now sleeps for about six or seven hours a night, although she doesn’t tend to go to sleep until at least midnight.

Bojan, I noticed, was next to me (he wasn’t when I went to bed). I got home last night/this morning at 1am after a concert in London; he got home at 3am after a concert in York. He’s barely had any time off since she was born, and December has been the busiest of the three months she’s been with us. We both woke up; I started feeding her. He said, half-asleep but gleefully, “You know what we can do now? GO BACK TO SLEEP. We can sleep ’til noon.” He sighed with pure happiness and rolled over and was instantly snoring. Poor thing.  He’s got a concert at the Wigmore tonight, but at least he can sleep all morning. I have a glorious day off, and a C minor Mass tomorrow (Saturday), a carol service on Sunday, and a funeral on Monday, but the last two are in Oxford, so my life is much easier than his right now.

So far, since she was born, I’ve done eight gigs, a few rehearsal-only days, and one singing lesson in London. Only two days of work didn’t involve Beatrice coming with me, because  Bojan happened to be free, so he stayed at home with her. I’ve also had two travel-only days, around a concert day near Norwich. That was nice (good gig, nice people, good fee), but also awful (too far to travel alone with a baby on three different forms of public transport in freezing weather). Most of my work has coincided with Bojan’s, so mostly I’ve been on my own, dragging her around from Oxford to various other places. All she’s had as a result is a mild cold, thank goodness.

While we work, one of us has to be with the baby, because she feeds (the use of this word has made me want to say “It’s feeding time at the zoo!” every time I feed her) every hour or so in the evenings, and it’s inevitably me, because, well, it’s my product she’s eating. So getting back at 1am last night/this morning (ok, I exaggerate, it was 12.40) involved coming home on a bus from London to Oxford, with a baby strapped to the front of me.

I’m writing this account for a number of reasons:

  1. To cheer myself up: so I can look back and say, “wow, I was really tough and awesome in those early months. Good for me.” And when I say “look back”, I mean next week when I’m not working because we’re in America for Christmas and I can’t remember why my back hurts. But also years from now. Especially if I have an office job in the future – so I can remember that it wasn’t all glamour.
  2. To brag: yes, to brag. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, in terms of exhaustion and mental energy in the face of an unhappy small person who really just wants to be at home in the bedroom attached to a boob with many, many consecutive seasons of the West Wing (and more recently Gilmore Girls) on in the background, not being moved further than, say, as far as it is to the park in her lovely pram (third-hand from another singer, which is the best way). The journey on the bus last night was easy, but I’ve had other nights when it hasn’t been, when she’s screamed pretty much all the way home, and the only thing that will keep the screaming at a low ebb is to continually bounce her in my arms and sing “Baby’s Boat A Silver Moon”, still the only lullaby I know, for two solid hours. Never mind the back pain. And then you have to be beautiful and groomed and switched on for a concert. I’m pretty pleased that I’ve managed it, but it hasn’t been fun.
  3. The longer-term purpose of this blog is to keep a record of what it’s really like to have a tiny baby as a jobbing singer, for myself (when/if we decide to have another one), but also for anybody who’s thinking about doing it and wants an unromantic look at the reality of parenting a new person while performing. And also, it’s nice to have an account of what Beatrice is like right now. I’ve already forgotten the details of the first few weeks, and I’m quite sad about that. It’s not that I want to re-live it every day, and I certainly don’t want to go back to what I can remember vaguely as a sleep-deprived nightmare. It was punctuated every hour and a half by the reminder, every feed, that my nipples were bleeding, and that I’d forgotten to drink enough water (the stabbing headaches that come with breastfeeding are quite something). But the point is that now Beatrice can do exciting things that she couldn’t do back then, and I want to remember what she was like as a true newborn. I guess the thing is that you have to be able to type with two hands to get a reliable account down.

Anyway: public transport and babies. It’s miserable way of travelling. But it CAN BE DONE.

We don’t have a car, and the train is prohibitively expensive (and the station’s on the wrong side of Oxford for us), but we do live about an eight-minute walk from the bus stop.

The bus, which is a fairly comfy long-haul coach, goes straight to London for the low, low price of £6 per single journey if you spend £72 on twelve journeys at once. Which means, in a beautiful example of cosmic justice, that I have become That Person, the person I used to roll my eyes at, the person with the baby who gets on the bus and you think OH GOD, NO NO NO NO DON’T SIT NEAR ME, and you also think WHY ARE PEOPLE SO £*%#ING INCONSIDERATE, BRINGING THEIR OFFSPRING ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT? THAT BABY IS TOO LITTLE TO BE OUT. TAKE YOUR BABY BACK HOME, YOU MONSTER. WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU CAN BRING THAT INFANT ON THIS BUS WHEN THERE ARE SERIOUS COMMUTERS TRYING TO GET TO WORK?

Here’s the answer. It’s now blindingly obvious to me, like a huge neon sign advertising a West End show. Why did that person bring that baby on a bus?


When I took her in for a full day of rehearsals last week the babysitter had cancelled the night before, for the very good reason of a stomach bug (better no babysitter than a vomiting baby several days later. But it was a rough day). So this is the face I made at 7am that morning, with the prospect of a full day of sitter-less rehearsal ahead, and this is the face that would greet the “why are you on this bus with your baby?” question, if anyone dared ask it. Do you know why I’m here, Mr Commuter, apparently ignoring me but also wordlessly kicking me under the table every five minutes and sighing and grimacing every time you look at my baby? I’m commuting too. I am going to WORK. We are the same, you and I, except I have another human to look after while I commute. Now go back to your laptop, you exceptionally irritating little man. And yes, I’m about to change this baby’s diaper right in front of you. Just concentrate on your emails and you won’t notice a thing.


Contrast with this face, on my way to London yesterday at lunchtime with Beatrice FOR THE LAST TIME THIS YEAR!!


So here’s what you do if you have a baby and you have to get to a rehearsal and/or concert some distance away from your home.

1. Organise a babysitter. Top tip: make sure you have this list of people ready BEFORE you give birth to your baby. In your befuddled, sleep-deprived state a month later (I went back to work at four weeks, but I don’t recommend it), or even two months later (the luxury!), you will need to phone someone (a) reliable, (b) baby-friendly, and (c) at short notice. If you haven’t already made your list (I hadn’t), you will suddenly not be able to remember the names of any of your friends, let alone figure out who fits those criteria.

A note of explanation: you need to hire a babysitter because it is not possible to be fully in charge of a baby and also fully involved in your rehearsal. It makes you look unprofessional, it inevitably annoys your colleagues, even if they claim it doesn’t, it’s disruptive, and you’ll be horribly frustrated both as a musician and a parent. I have now done it twice, and it was awful, even though my colleagues were very nice about it and very complimentary about how lovely and calm Beatrice was. You might need to occasionally feed the baby (because you can hear her hungry screams two floors away), or help the babysitter with something during the rehearsal, but your head needs to be in your score most of the time. Also, holding a baby makes it impossible to also hold a score and pencil, let alone turn your pages at the right time. GET A BABYSITTER. The babysitter can do anything, from just occasionally handing you stuff while you suavely feed the baby and sing at the same time with your music on a stand, to being someone who takes complete charge of the infant in a separate building for three hours while you do a concert. On any point in that spectrum, they are worth the money. If they’re your friend, then even better; they can provide ace moral support. NB: even if they’re your friend, be sure to pay them. Properly.

2. Get your stuff together. Babies require a lot of gear. When I go to London to work with Beatrice, I get everything ready before I manoeuvre her into the sling, because once she’s in we need to start moving immediately or she’ll get angry. My boots need to be on my feet when I put her in the sling. My phone and keys need to be in my pocket. My concert bag needs to be fully packed, with no uncertainty about whether I’ve remembered my nice earrings. But also – oh, joy – for the bare minimum of away-time, which is 2.5 hours’ travel each way with a three-hour rehearsal and a concert in between, there’s an additional backpack stuffed to the gills with roughly twelve hours’ worth of baby stuff.

Here’s my current, and evolving, list, in no particular order:

  • About ten diapers (because WHO KNOWS WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN)
  • Two tiny bottles of newborn formula
  • A bag of frozen breast milk (she decided yesterday that she hates formula, so it was good that I brought that – things might’ve gotten really ugly otherwise)
  • A bottle
  • A clean baby blanket to lay her on at the venue/on the bus
  • Three extra outfits in case of diaper explosions. This is not a joke. Pack them.
  • A bag of clean wet wipes and a bag for dirty wipes (we use the washable kind)
  • A package of emergency back-up disposable wipes (you can never have enough)
  • A little toy with a bell inside that she’s just started being able to grab, for distraction
  • Three pairs of socks (she kicks them off with great cunning)
  • Two muslins for soaking up spilled milk/baby puke (though she very rarely throws up, you never know when you might get caught out) – I’ve only actually ever used the muslins to soak up water, because…
  • A water bottle. Breastfeeding is desperately thirsty work, and although sometimes a water bottle can leak and soak your concert clothes (unless your muslins were in the same bag and saved your dress! Yeah!), it’s worth taking the risk and shoving one in that baby bag. Be sure it’s firmly closed and upright.
  • A changing mat, preferably one you can whip open with one hand and also fold easily with one hand. Pre-crease it if necessary and practise at home.
  • Three hats: one in the bag, one on the baby’s head, and a spare in your coat pocket
  • A plastic bag in a VERY easily accessible area, for anything that might get apocalyptically dirty. Putting it in your coat pocket is a good idea.
  • Breast pads/shields. Bring about six for one day, just in case. When you feed on one side, the other side will leak/spray (depending on how recently you’ve last fed from that side), and you will also leak uncontrollably during concerts if you haven’t fed for a while. Sometimes the baby decides to sleep for an hour or two, and who wants wet patches on their nice concert dress? Not me.

Optional extra, if you’re going to work without the baby, or if you’ll be separated from the baby on the trip for several hours: a manual breast pump (one that doesn’t require electricity and is compact and can be shoved into the bag of baby things) and pre-sterilized storage bags. You’d better hope the venue has a fridge, or all that liquid gold is going to go to waste. Apparently it can only be left out for an hour at room temperature, but I’ve brought home bags of milk pumped at the Tower of London (the choir room kitchenette is great): I stored them in the fridge during a carol concert, and then brought them home in my rucksack – and they were still cold when I got home, so they went straight into the freezer for later use. Thank goodness it’s winter.

Side note: I never used to understand why women pumped breast milk on tour/at work. I’d never bothered to talk to anyone about it, or to think about it for more than a few seconds. I had a vague idea that it might be uncomfortable to have full breasts for an extended period of time, and that it was good to take home the extra milk for the baby, or something. I now know that after a few hours of not feeding, it becomes agony. The pain is acute and uniquely desperate. I’m struggling to find a comparison to make to explain the sensation to you, but it’s something like having an insect bite, say, on your arm. At first it’s just noticeably there, a slight swelling, but eventually you realise you’ve been bitten by a poisonous spider and the bite is getting bigger and bigger, with dramatic swelling, and all the blood in your body has apparently gone to that spot on your arm. The pain is unbearable, your skin is tight, your flesh is rock-hard, and there’s an evil tingling sensation in the middle, where the bite is, that’s more of a burning than a tingling, really, and it does not bode well. The overwhelming feeling is of pressure.

Top tips: (1) your boobs will leak eventually if you leave them for too long, but the leaking won’t actually relieve the pressure, only take off the top 5% of it. The pain will continue. And (2) if you leave them for too long you can get something called mastitis. I don’t want to get into that here. Just look it up.

Back to the main story, though. Now that you’ve assembled all your gear, congratulations! You’re ready to travel. But before you go:

3. Make sure you’re actually ready. 

  1. Is your baby very, very recently fed?
  2. Is your baby very, very recently changed?

If you have any distance to travel before you can safely feed or change the baby again (say, a ten-minute walk to the bus stop, or a twenty-minute tube ride to a train), it’s worth doing this now. If your baby is asleep, good luck to you – you can do (2), but probably not (1). The reason you should double and triple check that your baby doesn’t want milk right now and couldn’t possibly be topped up any further: babies who are peacefully sleeping in a sling (motion sends them to sleep) can wake up the moment you stop walking at the bus stop. They will shriek inconsolably just as you’re congratulating yourself on how easy this parenting-while-working thing is, and then you’re screwed, because it’s below freezing outside and you can’t take the baby out of the sling to feed her, and WHERE IS THE GODDAMN BUS? OH, IT’S LATE AGAIN. And then everyone at the bus stop hates you and you have to walk away from the queue and bounce around/dance on the spot with the baby still in the sling, pleading with her to please stop because it’ll all be fine in a minute, really, just sixty seconds, shall we count together? One, two, three, four… oh, crap. Um, baby’s boat a silver moon/sailing o’er the sky/I’m going to change the words because/I’m really bored of them/Scan, lyrics, scan/So that I stay sane/Where is that infernal bus?/This is really bad.

Re (2), changing the baby, I don’t think I need to explain that one. Better safe than sorry.

This is why I have to allow an extra hour of prep time to make sure I leave on time. If you have a baby you’ll know how they mess with your timings, but if you’re going to a gig and you’re on a schedule, be sure to allow extra extra time.

So: you’re ready to go. The baby is fed and changed. Now what?

4. Mental check: Phone/keys/wallet/concert dress/shrug/tights/concert shoes/makeup bag/hair stuff/hairbrush/music/folder/jewellery/bus pass/oyster card/oh-wait-I-can-just-use-my-contactless-card-instead/ok-we’re-done.

No time to mentally check the baby bag. You’ve triple checked that already, right? It’ll be fine.

5. Walk to the bus stop. 

6. Wait for the bus. 

Baby still asleep, or quietly alert? Congratulations! Accept compliments from strangers, smile, and tell them that really, she’s an easy baby. Yes, she’s your first. You’re very blessed, etc., etc.

7. Get on the bus. Request the nice downstairs priority seat because, well, just look at you. You’re laden like a camel on the way to a Bedouin market. She might even sleep for the whole journey. My daughter usually does on the way to London, and then refuses to on the way back, but every baby is different. These are the two eventualities, equally cute. You’ll notice that I put her on the seat next to me; this is because she gets overheated for two hours in the sling, and also because if she’s awake she gets very cross. The safety implications bother me, but I haven’t figured out a better way yet.

8. Changing priorities. (Enjoy that pun? I did.) Now, make sure you check that baby’s diaper at least once on the bus journey, preferably in the middle and again towards the end. But do not make the mistake I made last weekend and change the baby in a leisurely way even though she’s kind of grunting and bearing down and making strange, concentrated faces at you – just as the bus is pulling into its first stop in London, where you’re supposed to be getting off. That means she’s about to spray you with acid-yellow poo the moment the diaper is off, and it will fill the changing mat like an infernal lake and also spray onto your nice white-and-blue dress and the really nice scarf your husband gave you for Valentine’s Day four years ago. And guess what? YOU didn’t bring a change of clothes, did you? You only brought several extra outfits for the baby. You’re going to have a yellow stain on that dress forever.

So let’s say you’ve reached your destination without incident. The hard part is now over, assuming you have a babysitter ready and waiting.

9. Arrive early for your rehearsal, for easy handover.

Remember that the handover takes time – you have to explain where all the stuff is and set them up somewhere unobtrusive, near the rehearsal space but not too near, with the bag ready and everything accessible for them; they didn’t pack that bag, you did, and if they need to find diapers/wipes/a bottle in a hurry they won’t want to dig through three emergency outfits and a blanket and all the other paraphernalia with rising panic as the baby yells or poo leaks onto their lap. Or both. They need to know where everything is BEFORE you go away and start rehearsing.

So you do your rehearsal, you have a break in the middle (feed during that break, and do not refuse offers from colleagues of a cup of tea and a piece of cake), you do a bit more rehearsing, and then you have an hour or two between the rehearsal and the concert to eat and get ready.

10. Somebody will offer to bring you dinner. Accept this offer. Do not go out for dinner with the baby, even if you are in the West End and it seems cool to try. Stay put in that dressing room! You won’t regret it. Babies and restaurants are bad enough at the best of times, but tonight you have to get your head in the game for a concert as well, and trying to breastfeed in a straight-backed chair at a Chinese restaurant before a gig while you try to eat with one hand AND talk about the birth to your colleagues is not the ideal preparation. I tried this at 8 weeks or so and it was pure, unalloyed misery.

11. Get ready early. Stupidly early. During the break dinner break, put your makeup and dress on long before you think you have to, and ONLY then are you allowed to eat (you can also eat during the interval, assuming there is one, if a nice person has brought you some food before the concert or, if you’re superwoman, if you’ve brought food yourself). Soon everybody will come back to get ready for the gig, and the room will be crowded, and you’d better be ready to go before that, especially if your baby is in the room with you. Time has a funny way of bending and then snapping back and spanking you while shouting “Surprise! It’s concert time and you’re not dressed! Ahahaha!” Let the babysitter hold the baby while you do your dress/hair/makeup. Don’t feel you’re suddenly on primary baby duty just because you’re done rehearsing, or you’ll find it’s five minutes before the concert and all you’ve done is feed the little one for an hour, chatting happily about the horrors of birth (again) with childless colleagues, and you now have no time to get ready, and the baby doesn’t want to be taken off the breast, and you’ve forgotten to drink any water or eat anything, and OH GOD NO.

12. Try to sneak in a last-minute feed before you go on stage. This only applies if you’re ready to go (dressed, fed, makeup done, hair pinned, etc.). Place a muslin strategically under the baby’s chin so that if she’s in an unfocused mood or only moderately hungry (i.e. not latched on furiously, efficiently draining every drop), she won’t dribble half of the milk back out onto your dress. She might also do this because she’s in a different environment and new things are fun to look at. Like mirrors. Who IS that baby in the mirror who seems to follow her everywhere she goes?

13. This is important: choose a concert dress that allows easy access to your boobs. I should’ve mentioned this before, but having a concert dress with a deeply plunging décolletage and/or quite stretchy fabric is a great idea. If you come offstage in the interval, or after the whole thing is finished, and the babysitter is at her wits’ end because the child is screaming, you’ll have to get that boob out at lightning speed, and if it’s not a flexible dress, you will rip a seam. If you somehow manage not to rip a seam, another pitfall of the inflexible dress is that you won’t be able to get the boob all the way out, or pull the fabric sufficiently far away from the baby’s mouth to prevent huge milk stains. And the concert will be over, so you won’t really care in the moment, but you’ll be annoyed the next day when you unpack that concert bag and remember that the dress is dry clean only.

The concert is over – hurrah! Congratulate the babysitter on a fabulous job, but don’t let her leave yet. Sit down and feed the baby (see above for tips), and then give the baby to the babysitter so that you can pack your stuff up. DO NOT CHAT ENDLESSLY. Everyone will want to praise the baby and talk to you about her and say merry Christmas and whatnot, but you have to get all your ducks in a row because there’s a long journey ahead, and you don’t want to get locked inside St Martin in the Fields with a suitcase, a backpack, and a baby strapped to your chest just because you dilly-dallied. I speak from experience.

14. Before you leave, refill that water bottle. You’ll need it on the journey back, and you won’t have access to a tap or a shop that sells water for another few hours.

15. Head home. The earlier rules for getting to London/your destination apply here again, but be aware that you might want to strategically take a cab, or accept a lift from a colleague (if you’re lucky) for part of the journey, depending on whether or not it’s Saturday night and there are likely to be lots of drunk/rowdy people on the tube and/or bus you were planning on taking. Just get home as swiftly as possible. Also, remember that you have the right to take up two seats on that bus. You need to be able to put the baby down somewhere to change her, don’t you?

16. Arrive at home. YOU’VE DONE IT – GOOD JOB. Put your concert bag and the baby bag in a corner – you can unpack tomorrow – and concentrate on getting your (I hope) sleeping baby into bed. She’ll probably wake up when you take her out of that sling, and you’ll probably need to feed her again. Keep the water bottle close by. Tuck her in when she’s done; brush your teeth; take off your concert makeup if you’re feeling really energetic. Enjoy the sleep while you can – she’ll be up in a few hours.


So that’s it for now – in Beatrice development news, she’s just found her left hand (does that mean she’ll be left-handed?) and has been turning it over and staring at it, mostly in a fist, for the last three days. She used her fist to whack a dangling Christmas ornament of The Skater two days ago and I nearly died of happiness.


We leave for the US on the 20th and will spend Christmas with my mom in Illinois. I can’t wait. I hope that you, dear reader, have a very happy holiday season with the ones you love.


Seven weeks and four days: sleep deprivation/Dorothy Parker reincarnation

A short(er) post to make up for the excessively long one last time. With pictures as a bonus at the end.

Ten things to be grateful for when I’m too tired to think, typed with a (mercifully!) sleeping baby on my chest, and my God does she smell good when she’s been tucked under my husband’s chin for a while and has residual aftershave smell on her:
1. I have a nice husband who cleans. But also, if I’m holding the baby and we’re both at home and hungry (this doesn’t happen often), he cooks, even though he’s not especially comfortable with cooking. We’ve shuffled ourselves into pretty clearly delineated roles in our marriage: I cook, he cleans – I love doing laundry; he loves putting sheets on beds (or at least he hates it less than I do). A wonderful friend sent us one of those boxes with pre-sorted ingredients and recipes, so even though we ate lunch at 5pm today, it was an overall win, because it was easy and healthy and delicious. We’re about to have dinner now, at 7.45pm, from the same glorious box. Two dinners close together is no bad thing. 
2. Bojan (see above) found a dead bird on Sunday, just before Beatrice’s godparents came over for lunch. It was under the dining room table; he dealt with it before I noticed it was there. The crucial part is that he found it before I did, thus averting a wifely nervous breakdown. I’d rather deal with something that’s alive, no matter how disgusting or large or dangerous, than pick up a tiny dead bird – or anything dead. Their sad little folded wings!
3. On Saturday I took Beatrice to London on my own, where she was valiantly babysat during the rehearsal and concert by the other of her godmothers (Eleanor), and then we had dinner together for a whole twenty, maybe thirty minutes before she started screaming. I got her back to Oxford by myself because B was also doing a concert that night. I got home at 11.30pm. He got home at 1am. She cried for an hour and a half on the Oxford Tube, and I thought I was going to die of exhaustion and backache and embarrassment, but I didn’t. Going to the shops with her now seems like child’s play by comparison. Things get easier (she’s more interactive; we begin to get something back) and harder (she gets heavier; she’s more vigilant about being put down; she’s stronger and can scream louder than ever; the sleep deprivation is building and building). But we cope. 
4. The Blenheim Singers had a photoshoot today. It was outdoors at Blenheim Palace in freezing rain, but everybody was in tails and ballgowns and nobody was screaming, so it felt like a holiday. I was shocked to discover that I do still fit into my red dress. This is because Beatrice eats like a starved lion, and I lost all the baby weight about two weeks postpartum (which is probably too fast), putting me back at a pleasantly plump happy place in which most of my clothes fit again, creating a reassuring sense of normalcy. I’m eating pretty well in the brief gaps when she’s not screaming, but (don’t be too worried) sometimes I’m too upset or tired to eat. I usually make up for it the next day. Speaking of which:
5. Is there anybody else out there who was ambivalent about chocolate, even maybe had a mild dislike of it, and then had a baby and suddenly wanted to eat it all the time? It’s a whole new world of chocolatey fun.
6. Although babies exhaust you in new and gruelling ways, and possibly turn you into someone who snaps and is impatient during conversations about THE FUTURE (because THE PRESENT is so all-consuming), it’s possible to get a few hours’ sleep and feel better even if you genuinely thought your life was over the night before. What remains, for us at least, even during the worst moments, is that we love each other (and the baby, even when she shrieks). I can hold fast to that in the dark moments, thank God.
7. Breastfeeding is now easy. It has been for a few weeks, but the transition from “excruciating” to “enjoyable” happened so slowly that I’ve only just noticed.
8. The book The Wonder Weeks has helped a lot. I now understand that neurological and developmental leaps make babies miserable. They have a growth spurt, during which the circumference of their heads suddenly increases, and they wail and grizzle and behave appallingly for a few days; then their brain catches up and they start showing off their new skills.
And this is delightful. They look at you instead of just seeing you; they make new sounds, little chirps and chirrups and coos that are fascinating and fill you with hope (and extravagant, unwarranted pride). They suddenly learn to cry in five different ways instead of one, and you learn to read their cues and give them what they need – food, a hug, a change, a walk around the house, a chat. It’s weird and fascinating and reassuring. I met an eleven-week-old baby at Blenheim today, and his dad told me that he’s just started being able to grab things – he now knows he has hands, whereas last week he didn’t. Beatrice doesn’t know that she has hands yet. It’s amazing to think that watching her figure that out will be a major memory for me, and I have it to look forward to.
9. FRIENDS, NEIGHBOURS, RELATIVES. They visit you, they bring you food and make you beautiful quilts, they admire your progeny, they listen to your completely horrifying/boring stories about birth, baby poo, and brain development and smile indulgently and tell you you’re doing a great job. I’m very lucky.
10. Beatrice laughs in her sleep. When she’s awake, and delighted, she just smiles and makes funny little squeaks and coos, but when she’s asleep she does this sophisticated, smug little chuckle – smiling with one side of her mouth and going “heh, heh, heh, heh” like someone hearing a vicious bit of gossip. It makes me think she might be the reincarnation of Dorothy Parker. Where did she learn to do this? Why does she only do it in her sleep? Is it some half-buried memory that she’ll lose as she gets older and forgets the things she learned in the Vault of Souls? The Vault of Souls, I should explain, is a place I’ve invented to account for her vivid personality, which at seven and a half weeks is so distinct that I can only conclude she was someone else in a previous life; and then, obviously, she hung out at a very colourful cocktail party in the sky, a velvet-upholstered waiting room with Aviations and 1930s jazz being played a little too loudly in the background, before being reassigned to me. It’s ridiculous (and completely blasphemous), but for now I’m going with it.
Goodnight, everyone.

Beatrice: the first month

With apologies to those of you who are here to read book reviews, of which there have been precious few over the last few months…

I had a baby on the 22nd of September. She’s called Beatrice Illyria, and she’s wonderful. Here are some photos (because it would be rude not to share):

Twelve hours old:


One and a half days old (with new Dad and new Grandma):

One week old:

Two weeks old:

Three weeks old:

Four weeks old (her first trip to London; my first gig after giving birth):

And most recently, on Monday, at four and a half weeks old, she urges you to vote if you haven’t already:


Beatrice will be five weeks old tomorrow. Things I have learned so far:

1. Newborns think they’re still in the womb. This is why they often freak out when they’re left by themselves or left to kick and move when they’re not being tightly surrounded by something, be it a wrap, sling, or someone’s arms, and consequently:

2. Newborns really like to be held. All day. My daughter likes this especially at the moment because she’s apparently going through a cognitive leap at four and a half weeks, which means that she’s more overwhelmed than before by sounds and smells and things that she sees because her senses are sharper, and this means that she can only really fall asleep while (1) nursing or (2) being held after nursing, in a sort of yoga “child” position (I never understood the name of that position until now) with her legs folded under her, her arms under her head, and her head tucked under mine on my chest. If I don’t hold her like this for at least ten minutes after feeding while she drops into deeper and deeper sleep, she will instantly wake up when she’s put down in a cot or basket, away from the sound of my heartbeat and the smell of my skin. And she will be very displeased. This is probably because:

3. Newborns don’t know they’re separate from their mothers yet. This one boggles my mind, but it makes sense – they have no sense of personal identity yet. Being separated from their mothers causes them huge distress, because it just doesn’t feel right to be alone. When they’re upset, they scream. Because the sound of a screaming baby is hugely distressing to its caregiver, we spend most of our time trying to prevent or stop the screaming by holding, feeding, changing, talking to, and stroking the baby. Consequently:

4. Newborns are all-consuming. Which means that the caregiver can go all day “without getting anything done”.

I know I’m accomplishing something by keeping her alive and [relatively] happy all day, but the weeks have slipped by in a blurred stream of feeding, sleeping, feeding, napping, changing, rocking, feeding again (and again) and trying to cook and eat one-handed, and I’ve only written half a chapter of my second draft in the last month. I haven’t written any thank-you cards for the incredible and generous gifts of food and baby things we’ve been given, or answered more than a handful of emails, or made it to the grocery store alone more than a couple of times. I wanted to figure out why, and disabuse myself of the frustrating notion that I SHOULD be able to be as productive as I was before, so I kept a log yesterday of what I’d done over the course of about seventeen hours, from Monday evening to lunchtime on Tuesday. Here’s what happened.

Warning: this is much longer than I thought it would be. It turns out I can type quite a lot, one-handed. Also, when there’s nothing to do but type one-handed, it’s possible to be really productive. I’ve edited it in bed this morning, while she feeds, with both hands, but most of it was written yesterday.

Monday, 24 October

7.15pm onwards: All evening, my daughter engages in an activity called cluster feeding, which means she nurses for five to twenty minutes until she seems to fall asleep, but then can only be put down for about a minute each time before screaming and demanding to be fed again. Tonight this goes on for over five hours. She doesn’t feed efficiently when she cluster-feeds: she chews and sucks and pulls herself off every few seconds, then screams and then attaches herself again, latching on poorly (which means that it stings). The word that comes to mind is “vampiric”, though I’m grateful to be able to do this cluster-feeding thing more easily now that we’re both much better at breastfeeding, four weeks in, and I don’t find it screamingly painful any more. In the first two weeks I would cry almost every time, or at least have to stifle a shriek when she latched onto my chapped, bleeding nipples. In the first two weeks I also had contractions every time she fed; breastfeeding stimulates the production of oxytocin, which causes contractions, which makes the uterus shrink back to its normal size little by little after the birth. All good and necessary, but unbearable. Now I don’t feel as much, and she’s better at feeding (during the day, anyway) – it’s a skill both of us have had to learn.

Often, in the evenings, and this evening is typical, she screams while eating and then pulls herself off, then tries to find my nipple again even though it’s still in her mouth, frantically shaking her head back and forth, bobbing and swinging away and then back, her mouth wide open, making a desperate growly “raaa-aaa-aaa” noise. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating and I have to resist the urge to drop her on the floor, because this goes on until well after midnight. I try to talk to her calmly, to stroke her back and her head, to will her to just calm down and feed normally, the way she does during the day. I alternate sides, but I feel as though I’m being torn to pieces, and I’ve developed a pounding headache that stabs with each suck. Dehydration? Probably, but I can’t reach that water bottle. This is why we need at least two caregivers at all times – so that one of them can fetch beverages.

Is there even anything left in there? I test it – apparently there is. As the evening wears on, I keep thinking I’ll make coq au vin. I’ve told my husband I will, that there’ll be something for him to graze on when he’s home at 1am from a concert in Cambridge, but I can’t seem to make it to the kitchen, and I’m becoming increasingly exhausted. The ingredients are on the kitchen counter, waiting; we even went to the store and bought bacon!

I do not manage to make coq au vin. For some reason this surprises me.

At about 10pm I give up and, during a few minutes of calm, manage to eat some pre-cooked chicken breast and some apple crumble from the fridge. I finally put away the stew ingredients so that they don’t go bad. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Tuesday, 25 October  

1.30am: Bojan gets home at some point around now, and Beatrice and I are finally asleep in bed with all the lights on in the bedroom. I manage to wake up and say hello; he puts her in her cot and crawls into bed. “Thank you,” he says, holding my hand, “thank you for being brilliant and doing this, and being you,” and I think he might be crying. I try not to cry too; I’m too tired to speak for the first time since she was born – the lack of sleep is finally starting to wear me down. I squeeze his hand and fall asleep again. It’s worth noting here that he has been utterly heroic since she was born, working through his exhaustion and looking after me exquisitely. It’s hard to understand how I got so lucky.

6.45am: Beatrice wakes up. How has she slept for so long? Is there something wrong with her? Newborns are supposed to eat every two hours – at first she woke up every hour and a half, but lately she’s been sleeping from midnight-ish until at least 4am, and, for the last two nights, until 6.30 or so. Alarming or impressive? A fluke? I can’t decide. I feed her – she’s calm now and eats with long deep sucks and doesn’t come off once until she’s done. Then she seems to fall asleep, but as soon as she goes in the cot she stars fussing, and then she’s crying and straining again – more tummy pain (breastfed babies poo less frequently, and when they do it’s explosive. The rest of the time it’s typical to strain and grunt like constipated ogres until they’re held. When she’s held, she can fall asleep). B suggests putting her in bed with us to calm her down. Everyone gets an hour’s sleep and nobody gets smothered.

We don’t want to do this too often because we sleep under a fluffy duvet and she could suffocate if she ends up under it, but she seems to love being in bed with us. I want to safely bed-share; most of the time she sleeps in a beautiful side-car cot borrowed from generous friends, but often she won’t settle unless she’s in with us. Figuring out how to do this safely – I know how to do it in theory, but I’m terrified to try doing it all the time –  is on my list, along with “write thank-you cards”. I haven’t done much on my list in the last few weeks.

7.45am: She wakes up again. I feed her in the “I’ve given up” position, lying on my side.

7.59am: B’s alarm goes off. I sit up and keep nursing Beatrice; he goes downstairs and has breakfast. I can smell toast, which is almost painfully tantalising. When he comes back upstairs to get dressed I ask him if there’s any left, trying to sound light-hearted (I fail). He goes back down and makes me some and brings it upstairs while I feed Beatrice. He also brings tea, which goes on the stack of books on the bedside table. I discover after he’s left that I can’t reach it.

8.30am: B leaves. I offer a cheery goodbye. I feel like I haven’t seen him for days. At least tonight he’ll be home at dinner time, or late-ish dinnertime, around nine, rather than the after-midnight post-concert situation of the last few days. We’re both freelancers; he can’t take time off, so he’s worked most days since she was born, except for a coincidental week off from when she was one week old to when she was two weeks old, after my mother left (she was here for the first week and essentially saved our lives).

8.51am: I’m doing really well, feeling in control, with Beatrice propped up on me, feeding again, until a lovely musician friend calls from Edinburgh to see how I’m doing, because I complained on Facebook last night. People being kind always makes me cry, and when she asks how I’m doing I say “Good!” but then she says, “Are you ok? I saw your Facebook post,” and I say, “It’s crap. I’m so lonely,” and sob down the phone, and she tells me I’m doing a great job and that I’m brave and amazing. I’m not convinced.

Beatrice does some explosive poos while I’m on the phone, which lightens my mood, not least because looks as though she feels much better. I get off the phone in a much brighter frame of mind, then lift her up to give her a hug and see a patch of bright yellow poo on the duvet: it’s soaked through her diaper and her clothes because I stayed on the phone and didn’t change her fast enough. I finally exit the bed for the first time this morning and lay her down to clean her up. She’s very serene – she likes being on the changing mat because it means she can stare at the closet, which fascinates her), and then leave her for a minute to put the sheets in the laundry. She screams as though she’s being attacked by wild beasts, which, on reflection, IS probably what she thinks is about to happen. Then she nurses again for an hour – I try to put her to sleep but she screams again as soon as she’s put down, so I just keep nursing her. I read the Grantchester Chronicles and look at election coverage on my phone. I wish the New York Times would make their big crossword free – doing the mini one at 6am is never enough.

10.30am: She appears to be asleep. I put her down and SHE STAYS ASLEEP – thank you, Holy Mother of God. I run downstairs to tidy the kitchen and briefly consider a shower.

10.31am Throwing caution to the wind, I decide to make coq au vin instead. I doubt there’ll be another opportunity today (and I’m right).

10.56am: I become guiltily aware that the combined noise from the washing machine and the frying onions and NPR’s All Things Considered are probably preventing me from hearing Beatrice scream. Oh God, is she even still alive? I run upstairs to check. She’s asleep. All is well. I am a great parent.

11.01am: Was that a squawk? A scream? I go to the foot of the stairs to check. No – silence. I carry on cooking. This isn’t so hard.

11.22am: The post arrives. Several cards, and a Halloween-themed onesie for Beatrice from my mother in Illinois! She’s put the return address as “Grandma Sherri”, which momentarily confuses me. It’s the first time I’ve seen my mother’s name and the word “grandma” written down together.

11.30am: My retired neighbour Anne comes to visit. I knocked on her door yesterday at about 6pm in desperation because I hadn’t spoken to another adult all day, and the upshot was that I had a cup of tea (and Beatrice was hugely charming and attentive), and I said that she’d better come round today and help me finish the cheesecake brought by another friend (so I wouldn’t eat the whole thing myself). We sit in the kitchen and talk about adult things, I think – actuality, I’m pretty sure we talk mostly about Beatrice, but it feels like an adult conversation because she’s a cogent person who uses words. She’s brought her own coffee so I don’t have to make it. I finish making the coq au vin and manage to set a timer. Beatrice squawks just as I’m finishing my cheesecake, which is pretty good timing. Anne remarks that I seem to have it all under control, and I give a hollow laugh but try to accept the compliment. Beatrice goes to sleep on my chest, grizzling quietly. It’s worth noting that I still haven’t dressed or showered, but Anne is kind enough to say that my pyjamas are passable as real clothes.

11.54am: Anne leaves and I put Beatrice gingerly down in a basket in the darkened living room – I haven’t put the blind up yet today. I decide not to make it any lighter – she’s still making little grunting noises, but she seems to be 80% asleep. Could it be time to finish my cup of tea AND have a shower? I decide to do both, at the same time.

12.02pm: the silence is magical. I’ve been distracted by the remaining two pieces of cheesecake, and have eaten them. I really must have a shower now.

12.05pm: I turn the shower on. Beatrice squalls from the living room, so I run back in, pick her up, and go back into the bathroom as an afterthought to turn off the shower. Then I realise that it’s really hard not to drop a baby into the tub while you hold her with one hand and lean over the tub to turn off a tap with your other hand. I manage it and take her to the sofa to nurse, but in putting her down on my lap to undo my bra, I drop her head a little too quickly onto my thigh. Her face contorts and goes crimson; she screams – from surprise or pain, I can’t tell. I bring her up to my chest and hug her and stroke the back of her head, hating myself. She immediately stops crying. Oh God, maybe she’s just really stoic and I’m a bad parent. She seems to have forgotten already – maybe I’m a good parent after all.

12.10pm: She’s eating frantically, as though she’s been starved for days. My mind wanders to that Roald Dahl short story, Royal Jelly, about a baby who won’t gain weight until its beekeeper father starts sneaking royal jelly from the hives into its formula. No such problem here, but her name IS Bea, and there’s lots of punning potential there, which makes me happy. I like calling her Bumble Bea. I am getting quietly hysterical. I just want to put her down and take a nap. My left arm is holding her up and my thumb is against her waist; I can feel her insides gurgling. How marvellous is man! What a wondrous thing I’ve made! Then I feel how warm her diaper is against my other fingers. Warm and wet? Or just warm? Please let it just be warm. I think it is – I think that dampness is just my fingers sweating. She doesn’t need to be changed right this second.

12.22pm: She pulls herself off dramatically, launching her body away from me and flinging her little arms into the air above her head, fists clenched. They drift back to her sides incrementally.

12.23pm: Asleep on my lap, she does the most exquisite grin, the first really symmetrical one I’ve seen. She looks like someone from her dream has told her an incredible joke. It doesn’t count as a “social smile” yet, but by golly, it’s charming. For a second her face is vastly characterful, like that of a much older child, and I get a fleeting glimpse of my youngest brother Elliot (now a rakish 24-year-old): the way his face looked the time he put a dead frog under my pillow and was really pleased with himself, probably around the age of 12. She’s going to be so cute. We’ve done well.

12.26pm: I’m too scared to move her into her cot in case she wakes up and cries again, so I sit there gazing, getting a crick in my neck. She’s grinning quite a lot in her sleep, moving her tiny hands and feet, and switching every couple of seconds between frowning and grimacing and raising her eyebrows. I could watch this forever: she reminds me of Rowan Atkinson or some other stretchy-faced comic, such is the infinite variety of the faces she can make. She grunts and chirps and chuckles. Then there’s another stomach gurgle. Oh yes, the warm nappy – I’d forgotten. Better change that, lest another outfit be sacrificed to the gods of poo. Sorry, sleeping baby…

12.32pm: I move to change her, but then the stew timer goes off. I put her down and – a miracle! – she doesn’t wake up. I tiptoe off and turn off the stew.

12.34pm: SHOWER TIME AT LAST! Oh look, my tea from before is still on the shower windowsill. STILL DELICIOUS, THOUGH. I am in heaven.

12.51pm: I’ve never timed a shower before, but in the interests of this mini documentary, I find that it was seventeen minutes long. Considering I didn’t wash my hair, that seems inexcusable. But she’s still asleep, and I got to listen to half of the NPR Politics podcast. Ahhhhhh.

1.05pm: Another kind friend sends an email, offering to make dinner next week and bring extras for freezing. She saw my miserable Facebook post last night. I feel guilty, a pathetic whiny person who shouldn’t have complained, because now the sun is (sort of) shining and Beatrice is asleep, and it doesn’t feel as impossible to cope right now as it did last night. Then I remember the refrain of everyone who already has children: “Accept all offers of help!” I decide that this is sensible. I will answer that email as soon as I can. I suspect it’ll take me two days to do so.

1.08pm: putting away clothes, I find all my pre-pregnancy leggings in a box. This is exciting: they’re long enough to wear boots with, which is a major step towards getting out of the house now that it’s cold. But we don’t need any groceries except for bread, and I could just make rice for lunch. And if I go to a cafe with her in a sling and try to write, she’ll get overheated and cross, and there won’t be anywhere to put her down. But if I take a buggy she might get too cold. And she’ll hate being left in the buggy if she’s awake. It all seems like too much. We’ll stay at home.

1.20pm: she squawks just as I’m halfway through folding laundry and thinking about bringing my laptop downstairs to do some writing. By the time I make it to the living room she’s nearly in full swing, but she calms down when she sees me. I remember I should’ve changed her half an hour ago, and sure enough, the poo is cruelly dry, stuck to her bottom. (It’s worth mentioning here that milk-poo is almost completely odourless, so don’t be alarmed, dear reader.) Therein lie the seeds of nappy rash; I’m a bad mother to have left her so long. I press a cold, very wet wipe to the suffering area for several seconds, and it works: we have a clean Beatrice without having rubbed her bottom raw. She gazes at me placidly, and I flatter myself that she’s looking right at me rather than over my shoulder. She’s calmed down, at least, so I don’t rush. I feel like a good mother (it’s the small victories) until I see a cat hair lodged in her bottom (HOW?), so I get a second wipe and try to grab it. And then, calm and happy, she makes a face as though she’s silently saying “ooh!” and emits an abrupt little fart, and then pees all over the changing mat. I yelp. It pools out around her and begins to soak into the back of her stylish mint-green-and-white striped onesie, which she’s worn for exactly – what, three hours at most? I run to get paper towels, dry everything off, wipe her down again, and look around for an emergency outfit. There’s a little purple onesie in the changing bag, which is now my handbag. (This is not a tragedy; I have never been a handbag person.) She looks cute in it, and kicks her little legs happily, punching the air with her fists, and looks as though she wants to smile at me, but doesn’t quite do it. Her thighs are getting wonderfully fat. Her toes are tiny miniature versions of mine. She’s clean and dry, and everything is under control. I’m a good mom.

1.29pm: Nursing on the couch again, she swallows furiously for half a minute, then pulls herself off me, coughing delicately, and gets sprayed in the face with three separate streams of milk. It reminds me of the fountains at Versailles, and I feel obscurely proud. After a couple more minutes someone knocks on the door, and I silently curse them and their entire family as I stick a little finger in the corner of her mouth to unlatch her, put her down in a safe position on the couch, clap the breast pad back over my boob, reassemble my bra and then my dress, and answer the door – by which time they’ve gone. “Hello?” I say to the empty street, not wanting to have done all that for nothing. “Oh, hi,” says a man, appearing from behind a truck in a high-vis uniform. It looks like he’s with Thames Water or something. He points to a silver vehicle I’ve never seen before. “Could you tell me whose car that is?” I wonder if it’s blocking a drain cover, but I don’t want to get into a discussion about it; I can hear Beatrice protesting again. “Sorry, no,” I say, adding lamely, “I don’t have a car, so I don’t really, you know, notice other people’s cars…” I dash back inside; she’s rolled over and is half face down in a muslin, screaming. I am a bad mom. They’re breathable, but still. Clearly everyone who said the couch is the most dangerous place for a baby was right. I apologise to her and latch her back on. Interrupting a feeding baby is a dangerous business.

1.49pm: Sleepy and full of milk, Beatrice falls off, flinging her hands up again and rolling onto her back on my lap, and does a little smile in her sleep. Her hair is getting blonder by the day as she loses her dark newborn hair and grows a new head of it; her eyelids are delicately veined, like the thinnest painted porcelain, and she’s growing golden eyelashes; her expressive mouth, with its perfect Cupid’s bow, is cherry-pink. She’s the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen, which I realise is an enormous cliche, but she really is. I need to get so much done today, but I don’t care. I think I’ll just watch her for a little while.

I was going to end it there, but I had to add one more thing:

Wednesday, 26 October

10.35am: Nursing, she pulls herself off and gets sprayed in the face with milk, in the usual way. “You got sprayed right in the face!” I say, and giggle at her. She looks straight at me and gets the most wonderful look in her eyes, as though she’s just figured something out. Then she smiles. And smiles again, and again. It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life, a smile that reaches her eyes, full of delight and newness, the first real smile in response to someone – the long-awaited “social smile”. I call Bojan even though I know he’s teaching. “Guess what?” I say. “She just smiled.” And I start to cry.

Pregnancy is (literally) undoing me.

My Sunday so far, with apologies to people who are already parents and will have no truck with self-indulgence at this stage:
1. Wake up. Move slightly, and experience violent, searing sensation of muscles just below sternum ripping apart, as I have every morning (and twice every night) for the last two or three weeks. Immediately begin to scream quietly for a few minutes, alarming my husband. Explain as he says “should I call someone?” that diastasis recti is normal, and I’ll be fine in a minute, but for now I literally CANNOT MOVE OR I WILL BREAK.
2. Get up sideways in spite of blind panic. Immediately feel better. Husband goes back to sleep.
3. Breakfast alone while listening to “The Longest Shortest Time”, and cry because parenting sounds so hard. Pull self together. Brush teeth. 
3a. Decide to stay at home instead of going to mass, because of tiredness/missing the latest submission deadline for the book/general dishevelledness.
4. Do some writing, achieving more this morning than I have in the last week. Rejoice at apparent return of attention span. Worry that it is temporary.
4a. Second breakfast.
5. Put away presents from yesterday’s baby shower. Become overwhelmed at the generosity and thoughtfulness of friends, especially Roya’s handwritten notes attached to small baby items saying why they might be useful. The tiny Peter Rabbit stickers are strangely moving. Cry again.
6. Imminent plan: go back to bed, because everyone keeps telling me to catch up on sleep while I can.
Soon I’ll write something really thoughtful about pregnancy. Maybe even today! But not right now.