Monday 11 May 2015

When I left you, I was hiding out in my hotel room in San Francisco feeling sad. I did end up having a perfectly nice time, that’s always part of travel too. A highlight was walking through the Mission and running into someone we knew, and then dinner at Bar Tartine. Oh, and chicken and margaritas at Zuni Cafe the following day.

It’s possible that I live to eat rather than eat to live.

It’s also possible that I’d leave the house a lot more if I didn’t have kids. Travel is my visit into a childfree world.

I also saw some sweet toy poodle puppies. I didn’t eat them.

I had fantasies of spending the Saturday driving out of San Francisco, but ended up spending the entire day in my very dark hotel room as well. No surprises there. I’d like to be the sort of person who flies to Canada, works really hard, flies to the US, works really hard, and then on her day off goes driving on unknown roads in search of wine, redwoods, beaches, or something like that. It turns out that after all that work travel I am the kind of person who huddles in a hotel room with a laptop. I regret nothing.

On the Sunday I walked up, I think, Octavia Street, quite quickly, or at least by Val’s measure. That was painful, but it turns out that walking up hills slowly is even more painful. Either that, or I’ve just grown tied of cajoling children up hills after all this time. Just think, I walked up a whole hill without having an argument with anyone and without anyone wanting me to carry them while I was already carrying their bag, nappies, toys, and/or bike. And then I sat up in Lafayette Park having surreal thoughts about what I would need to get done the next day in Sydney. Intercontinental travel is very implausible.

I increasingly find flying odd too. I was in the middle of a group of four on the way back, so I basically had a slumber party with three strange men, all of whom studiously ignored me, albeit one time with difficulty when I dropped a shoe on one man who had been sleeping up until that point. Of all the things you’d think to do imprisoned in a flying metal tube, would sleeping sandwiched between strangers and watching Captain America: The First Avenger while shoes rain down rise to the top of your list?

I arrived back in the pouring rain. The pilots warned us coming in that the wind was approaching 100km/hr, but, fortunately (apparently) right behind the runway. It seemed a smooth enough landing.

I had heard it was raining in Sydney and I should have thought more carefully about the source. When the guy in the electronics shop in San Francisco has heard about rain in Sydney, there’s quite some rain in Sydney. Not as much, and not as tragically, as in the Hunter Valley, but enough that rain blew through the taxi rank at the airport as people wrestled with their luggage to extract any coats they had.

You should know that I am burying the lede in all of this. As I wrote the last entry, Andrew was preparing our side of the contracts to buy a house, and the exchange of contracts took place the following day. At the moment it’s very strange and hard to cope with, as we have to do a lot of work (finance, removalists, getting rid of furniture, figuring out schools and such) without any of the pay-off of hanging pictures or having built-ins at long last or being free of our current rental and its endless mysterious water problems. I have dark memories of the fog we walked around in for weeks after we moved to this suburb. Not to mention decidedly mixed feelings about leaving the first suburb in Sydney where we’ve ever been on chatting terms with other adults as we go about our daily business.

Good things will come of this, in the medium term, and if we work for them. Now to face into the wind.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

So many things about travel are only things I remember when I travel. Which is a shame, because some of those things I forget when not traveling are bad things about travel and I wouldn’t spend so much of the rest of my time puttering around being all “why am I so mysteriously averse to traveling? how strange!” Sure, I never forget the things about airports and aircraft being hostile to all things normal and human, I remember my three continuous days of insomnia after getting home from Romania in 2007, things like that. But that’s physical discomfort. I forget the emotions. I don’t remember the defensiveness of wanting to spend multiple consecutive days in dark hotel rooms (probably culture shock), I don’t remember the constant loneliness that nicely counterbalances that so that I’m unhappy even in the hotel rooms and I don’t remember the homesickness on top of it all.

I don’t remember the punch in the gut of “almost everything I love best in the world is somewhere else entirely”.

These memories obviously brought to you by being in San Francisco rather than Sydney right now. How else would I be accessing them? And you shouldn’t think of this as an unusual trip for me, this is pretty much every damn time. Not non-stop of course, or I probably would remember better why I have mixed feelings about travel. No. It’s an acute problem and I’m right in the target zone for it: more than halfway done with the travel, mostly done with the reason for the travel, why can’t I go home now?

As I’ve been telling people, last Thursday night was my first night away from A, ever. That Friday night through to this coming Monday night were/will be the second through twelfth nights, respectively. So that’s not helping either. Apparently she’s been pretty fine with it, which is in character. She doesn’t mind when we get babysitters, she doesn’t mind being dropped at daycare, it turns out she doesn’t noticeably mind that I vanished a week ago and that a couple of days later, V vanished too. (He’s gone to visit my parents.) C’est la vie?

On the bright side, I’ve finally been to Montreal! Which is actually part of this whole sad pattern too: I get this way worse when I travel as far as the US East Coast, or Europe, than I do otherwise. But still, I’ve finally been to Montreal! I didn’t really understand their seasons until I was flying in and I noticed that the waterways were still iced up, which I have never actually seen before anywhere, let alone anywhere in the middle of spring. I didn’t leave the city, but I did go and specifically look right at the river at Vieux Port. The ice was pretty slushy but it was extensive. I went to Notre Dame, which I wouldn’t have chosen for myself but am happy about; I wasn’t aware of the French Catholic history of Montreal and the cathedral is beautiful.

I was very Australian about the temperature, which is to say, it was above freezing, so why wear a coat? I run very hot in any case, even other Australians regularly look at my outfits and say “but aren’t you cold?” However by Monday, it was 22°C anyway (up from about -5 the week before) so I didn’t have to shock everyone for long. There was definitely much less ice visible on the way out.

Australian or not, I will admit that walking in the rain on Friday when it was about 3° and I had left my raincoat, conscientiously lugged all the way from Australia, in Outremont was a bit of a challenge.

I was there for PyCon and AdaCamp. The former confirmed that if I want to go to PyCon, some day I just need to go to PyCon and stop thinking that I can go on a work trip and actually attend the conference too. A number of people I know were very surprised to hear I was there given that they didn’t see me at all, and probably some more will be surprised when they read this. I have a more reasonable approach to AdaCamp: I can attend some of it and I do, and it is much as I picture.

I’m in San Francisco now. I think five hours or so is the worst length of flight. Long enough that I spend about four hours thinking “OK, surely we’re nearly there” and checking out the flight map to find out that nope, we are in no way nearly there, short enough that there’s no institutionalisation to the plane environment. Just non-stop outrage the whole way. Plus no one feels sorry for you afterwards, unlike my Sydney to Vancouver to Montreal itinerary which caused some appreciative intake of breath from Montrealers.

Four more nights.

Mary in San Francisco: come meet me at Double Union on the evening of April 18!

I’m in San Francisco from tomorrow (Wednesday) until Sunday! Most of the trip is a work trip, but I have figured out that I can make use of my Double Union membership when I’m in town and have fun, chill events in the space.

Double Union event: Button-making & crafts with Mary Gardiner

Mary Gardiner, our Australian member and a co-founder of the Ada Initiative, will be visiting San Francisco and wants to use our button-maker! Come make buttons and do assorted crafts (vinyl-cutter, 3D printer, sewing, etc.) and hang out with Mary and Valerie!

When: Sat Apr 18, 2015 6:00pm – 8:00pm

Where: Double Union on Valencia Street between 14th Street and 15th Street. See the visitor information.

This is open to Double Union members. It’s also open to non-Double Union members who are my friends!

For my friends

If you are not a Double Union member, and we’re friends, please email me at my personal address to let me know you’re coming. People of all genders welcome.

Please read the Double Union visitor information and the anti-harassment policy if you are coming along.

Thursday 12 March 2015

A few scenes from the end of our week off work:

After dropping off a load of computer games we were donating on Thursday (OK, it isn’t only Diablo, Civ IV was a huge part of our lives in the late 2000s, so much so that it seemed like we had purchased more copies than strictly necessary), we went to the cafe at Bathers Pavilion, Balmoral. In the process we remembered why it is we never ever go to Balmoral despite it being so ridiculously beautiful, viz, the traffic on Military Road and the parking at Balmoral itself. But we were given the last table in the cafe and had pizza with cheerful napkins in bold beach colours and that made it all worth it.

Friday was our official day off together, and we started by going for an ocean swim at Coogee. This is a sneaky activity, evidently: years ago Alice went for an ocean swim and ended up spending a few years doing Can Too training and life-saving, because it turns out you just can’t say no to ocean swimming. As a SCUBA diver, I was sceptical; how can ocean swimming be anything like as appealing? But we went swimming with Martin once over the summer, and suddenly, here we are, choosing ocean swimming to open our morning off.

On the way there, I made a remark while changing lanes — “bad choice of lane, Mary, no lane biscuit for you” — and Andrew responded that Lane Biscuit sounded like a romance novel hero. We developed the idea fairly rapidly: an entire series of parallel universe romance novels, in which Lane Biscuit can be the hero in every single one. If you’re a literary agent, call me.

The swim was not quite as sublime as the one with Martin in Janaury. The shorebreak was pretty looking (tall thin waves) and dangerous, so it took us a while to pick our moment to get past it and then we swam back and forth between the flags and again needed to pick our moment to come back out of the surf. Plus, I really need new goggles as my current ones flood all the time. But nevertheless walking around afterwards was a happy time.

We went to The Boathouse for lunch afterwards and had our usual experience with Sydney dining, namely that one of the entrees was the best part of the meal and so the mains are great, but not quite as great, and the second half of the meal is thus a puzzle. But that was some lovely sashimi indeed, and where else does “a selection” of oysters?

Overall, I think it’s time to escape from our suburb a little more.

The Sydney Project: Wild Ground

Last year was my sonÂ’s last year before he began full time schooling in 2015. I have spent the last year reviewing child-focussed activities in Sydney as “The Sydney Project”. Because V has begun school, the Sydney Project is concluding here with an activity he went to with Andrew in January. You can view previous entries throughout 2014 and early 2015.

Wild Ground

In mid-January, Andrew took V to a Wild Ground experience morning. Wild Ground is a new Blue Mountains business that conducts “creative nature-play” activities, and V had a morning adventure courtesy of us supporting their crowdfunding campaign to launch the business (see disclosure at the end). The event was at Minnehaha Falls Reserve; they began in the park with some singing and music before walking down the trail to a creek. Wild Ground’s Rick Webb laid out some “treasure” (coloured sticks) on the trail to encourage the kids to look around; they collected both the coloured treasure and anything else of interest.

Wild Ground art

The group walked further down the trail to a small watering-hole and then back up the creek itself; Andrew was taken with the lesson here about micro-geography (I guess you’d say), I’m not sure if that was deliberate. After returning to the top the kids snacked on fruit and had a chance to try slacklining and did some crafts with natural paints. Andrew says that V initially mistook the slackline for a finish line and thus had to enact a spontaneous running race, but that he was also the child who was most into the slacklining proper, which otherwise got a bit of a mixed reception from the children.

V fell asleep in the car on the way home, Andrew summarises as “Outdoor activity that wears kids out. Tick!” He didn’t think that V was enchanted with or overwhelmed by the experience, but that it was a fun day outside for them both.

Cost: an equivalent experience doesn’t seem to be available now that the crowdfunding is over. Wild Ground’s Creative Bush Adventures for older children are $60, and term-long Bush School programs start at $115.

Recommended: a bit hard to say, since I don’t think this precise program is an ongoing part of their activities. But it suggests their programs would generally be a happy and interesting day for children.

More information: Wild Ground website.

Disclosure: Andrew and I have known Danielle Carey, one of the Wild Ground founders, since university. I supported the Wild Ground crowdfunding at the Little Adventurer level, and V’s Wild Ground experience was part of the Little Adventurer reward. No review was requested in return for the experience.

Thursday 5 March 2015

Andrew and I took some time off work this week to declutter our house in a very serious way: we emptied piles of boxes remaining from our last house move (3 years ago), we donated about ⅔ of our books and nearly all our computer games to the Lifeline book fairs, we assembled the Ikea wardrobe that’s been in flat packs for over a year since I impulse purchased it.

It’s an exercise in saying goodbye to some of the dreams and beliefs of the Mary of 15 or so years ago. Or not. For example, I’ve well and truly accepted that I won’t ever play judo again (my right shoulder would need a reconstruction first) and so giving away the gi was fine. I was sort of surprised we still had it. But apparently I am not willing to accept that just because it’s been 15 years since I took a recorder lesson that I will never seriously play again, and couldn’t bear to throw out the instruments or the sheet music. Perhaps next time. Giving away our games was somewhere in the middle: I’ve wanted to be the kind of person who finishes Dragon’s Age (or Baldur’s Gate back in the day) for most of my life, and I just never quite do. I can finish games in the Diablo franchise and that’s it. That said, it’s hard to know long term; the big problem with hobbies is, why would I have them and squeeze the very little time I feel I have with my family even harder? Once the children have hobbies of their own, it may be different.

Right now we’re in a bit of a maelstrom of change as it is. Still getting used to V being in school, which is further away than his daycare was and so the commute is longer. Still getting used to packing lunches, finding uniforms, managing his schedule for after school care, drama lessons, sports day (Tuesday), news day (Thursday). Work is churning a bit, I’ve spent my holiday flipping in and out of work tasks surrounded by seas of books and broken baby equipment on their way out of our house.

I think I may have started on a nostalgia kick going to see The Grand Budapest Hotel with Andrew at the Moonlight Cinema. Not because of the movie, but the venue. It’s an open air cinema in Centennial Park; I first went there in 2001 to see Lantana with Sandra. Andrew and I saw Secretary there, Yo Mama Tambien, Casablanca, Gosford Park, Priscilla Queen of the Desert… But all many years ago, mostly lugging one of my ludicrously over-catered picnics there from a Bondi Junction supermarket. (It’s not a picnic unless there’s cheese and dips and a few varieties of fruit and some cold meats and at least two breads, am I right?) It was always a good reunion for the university crowd who weren’t as naturally in touch over summer.

But when we moved to Hornsby we were about two hours on public transport away from it, and by the time we moved closer again, we had kids. Our kids are not the out-after-dark type: A in particular sleeps extremely well, but if and only if she’s in her own bed. And the last thing I want to do with my supposed free time is spending it interviewing babysitters and negotiating their availability with them so we haven’t gone out at night much at all in the last five years. But, I was under the gun over summer with V’s daycare shutting down for a break, and finally connected with a babysitter agency, and so now, as a side-effect, we can go out at night and the agency worries about finding a sitter.

And so, back to the Moonlight Cinema. It was a bit spooky, not least because the park has now been altered to suit the cinema rather than the other way round. I’m pretty sure they’ve removed an awkwardly placed tree, and very sure they’ve flattened the ground and laid new turf so that it’s not a game of claim-your-own-dusty-rut before the movie begins. It was already true the last time I was there that there was catering and so there was no burden of cheese-and-dips-and-fruit-and-all to lug in and to feel around for awkwardly in the dark. But it was still odd.

I’m still a young enough adult to be continually surprised how long ago some of my adulthood was.

Tomorrow we are having a post-clutter day, and going to the beach together in the morning followed by lunch at The Boathuse. Andrew and I have almost never gone to the beach alone together. Less nostalgia and more creation.

Importing a large blog to WordPress.com: WXR splitting tools

I am about to import a very large WordPress blog (not this one) to WordPress.com.

There’s two issues:

1. The WXR (WordPress eXtended RSS) export from the site is 105MB uncompressed and 22MB compressed (with gzip -9). This is too large to upload to WordPress.com, which only accepts uploads of 15MB at most.

2. This site has 4000 media file uploads (and 6000 posts). The original host is going away: those 4000 media files (mostly images) must also be imported into WordPress.com.

The obvious solution to #1 is to split the upload into multiple files, but I have just tested on WordPress.com, and in order to get it to change the post contents to refer to the imported copy of the media files, rather than the original externally hosted copy which is about to go away, the media file and the post must be uploaded in the same XML file. The scripts that I’ve found that will split WXR files into multiple XML files do not attempt to put media files and the posts that refer to them in the same XML file (eg mainSplit.py doesn’t do this), they just split the contents of the export file up in the order they appear.

Anyone got leads on this one?

Valentine fandoms

Boycotting Valentine’s Day has never been a huge thing for me, because my family also never made a big deal about it. It’s hard to feel truly society-defying about being more or less indifferent to Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. and actively hostile to the Melbourne Cup, when you could wind back time twenty seven years and get my mother to say essentially the same things about them for pretty similar reasons.

There’s also circumstance and privilege. Circumstance: as with my mother and her mother, in our turn my mother and I don’t live in the same city, so it was a long time before I even noticed that there’s a Sunday in May on which it is considered rude and presumptuous to try and make non-maternal plans. Privilege: I’ve been partnered with a man since I was eighteen years old. He doesn’t come with the extravagant romantic gestures add-on, but if I wanted to make plans for Valentine’s Day I have an obvious candidate and a set of scripts.

And so it was that as far as I can recall, Andrew and I went out to dinner for Valentine’s Day for the first time ever and I don’t have to explain my change of heart. As you’d expect, the timing was semi-coincidence; it was as much that it was the Saturday closest to his birthday today as it was Valentine’s Day, but I was at least curious about the level of enforced Valentining that would go on. (Andrew and I once completely accidentally made a lunch booking for the day of the Melbourne Cup, and discovered very considerable mandatory Cupping.) To my surprise, the answer was none at all. We went to Lolli Redini in Orange, a treat my parents originally planned for us in Christmas 2013, and they didn’t have a set menu, any kind of flowers or heart-shaped things, or, in fact, the restaurant made up only to seat couples. There was a group having dinner for eight in the centre. This is probably what one wants in the actual night but not for writing about it afterwards; no stories. The cheese soufflé is very good though!

Andrew and I pondered what to discuss. Unlike the parent cliche, we don’t tend to discuss the children much when we’re having date-like activities but I warned that we were at risk of falling into our current conversational sinkhole, which is talking about our career trajectories. Andrew correctly steered the ship to what he said was our other mainstay: fandoms. And so we had a very satisfying dinner talking about Sherlock/Firefly crossovers and thinking about all the fandoms we’ve created/inhabited together.

Diablo Our original fandom, off to a promising start when I spent an evening at Wesley College with new friends, including Andrew, and didn’t get to play Diablo multiplayer because of capacity and/or skill. A year later, we lost a decent chunk of 2000 to Diablo II, and it was one of the fandoms we managed to infect our friends with. Hours of waiting impatiently at the edge of town while Andrew and Daniel compared the stats on different weapons before we could set forth. We went back and dived in again a few times since. We played III late last year, having moved on somewhat in our gaming preferences (I now tank, Andrew went for a magic user rather than a ranged attack). It didn’t eat our lives quite as much, but only because of the kids.

JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth. This was a fairly inevitable consequence of him having met me as a teenager. There would be Tolkien. Funnily enough though, I didn’t think of this one, Andrew did. Probably because we’ve read the books more in parallel than together; they’re not something we’ve spent a lot of time digging into together.

Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn chronicles I’ve been reading them since I was perhaps 15. Andrew and I ship Rushton/Elspeth and are hoping Carmody cuts Ruston a break some book or other and can find it within herself to finish the series.

Firefly For the reasons most people like it, I would think, except that to us it only having fourteen episodes is a considerable bonus rather than a source of pain. Who wants the commitment of multiple seasons? Not us.

The Dandy Warhols Andrew introduces me to almost all the music I encounter (barring 90s women-in-rock), this is just the one that’s stuck the best. Particularly You Were the Last High, which plays right into my love for songs that are all about messed up relationships almost entirely unlike anything I’ve been involved in. (See also Placebo’s Special K and Radiohead’s Talk Show Host.) A Dandies concert was the first night out we had after V was born.

The novels of Ursula Le Guin Circuitously, I think, via a recommendation from the Twisted folks.

Sherlock Was always likely to be Mary and Andrew catnip, because is comparatively low time commitment when measured in evenings, it has banter, a really consistent aesthetic, a fascinating villain and is profoundly frustrating. If we can discuss it and its flaws for an entire course at dinner, then we’re pretty much done for.

We also found a whole set of things that are “only because of this marriage”, that is, we’d drop them if it wasn’t for that. For me: Doctor Who, cricket, the Civilization games, the vast bulk of our music collection. For him: The Sims games, pretty much any podcast. You have to make some compromises, after all.

Commentary on ‘How did you find your co-founder(s)?’

Valerie Aurora wrote How did you find your co-founder(s)?, about the very early days of the Ada Initiative containing the “moonshot email” we also referred to in our article Funding activism for women in open source last April.

It contains the following unpromising description of me (at that time):

The very first person to reply was Mary, a PhD student and primary carer for an 11-month-old baby who lived across the Pacific Ocean from me and whom I’d met in person only twice before. Our only previous joint venture had failed miserably (the great Attempted LinuxChix Coup of 2007). Less than two months later, we were sitting on her parents’ porch in Orange, writing up budgets and discussing how to keep her PhD supervisor from having a fit when he found out she’d started a business. 4 years later, we are running a growing, healthy non-profit that’s changing the world. (Mary also has a PhD and a second child.)

So how did that all work out? Other than healthy and growing and changing the world?

Why did I do it? That email was sent in December 2010. Negative/less promising reasons first: by then I had fairly firmly decided that I wouldn’t pursue an academic career. I didn’t publish enough, and particularly not prestigously enough, during my PhD to make an academic career likely without a big turnaround, and I had a child and husband whom I didn’t want to drag around the world for postdocs. My husband also had a salaried job (at the time, he worked at Canonical, in 2011 he moved to Google) and is generally uninterested in risky career choices; and in addition, at the time I earned very little income: my PhD scholarship had run out years before, and I had a few very low-hours academic support jobs only. Unless I went into debt, we had lots of room for me to make risky career choices: I didn’t even have a career to risk, and further, we were already living on one income.

Positively: at that point, I believed I had two career options that I had some background for. The one that wasn’t academia was open source software. In addition to volunteering for LinuxChix for years (although I was only coordinator for a few months in 2007), I had done a lot of volunteer work for the Sydney Linux Users Group and linux.conf.au, and I am a programmer, so the open source/open source associated end of software development seemed like the other. While “advocacy for women in open source” (we quickly widened to “open technology and culture”) wasn’t exactly that, it wasn’t completely out of left field either. The unproven aspect was whether there was liveable money in it, and my family had a cushion to find that out.

The unknown co-founder. I think Val is underselling that a touch. It’s true that we’d only met a couple of times, and not recently. (We’d met in California in 2004 and Sydney in 2007.) In addition, we’d not been in contact between 2007 and 2009. But we had done a lot of online collaboration prior to 2007, and after the formation of the Geek Feminism project in 2009. The big risk was, probably, that we wouldn’t like each other personally for extended periods, but we actually had a fair amount of practice doing work together.

How did my PhD supervisor react? First, it’s probably worth noting that I was enrolled part-time at that point (a change I sought after my baby’s birth on the grounds of caring responsibilities, the university wouldn’t have allowed it for employment purposes), so I had considerable time in the week that notionally didn’t belong to the university. The main conflict between the company and the PhD was in early 2011, before the Ada Initiative paid me, when I only had a few days of childcare each week and used them for both purposes. Once I was being paid, I bought additional childcare days and had a better firewall between them.

My former supervisor knows where I work and what I do now — we still have lunch every month or two — but to this day I don’t know how aware he is of the timeline of when it started. But lots of stuff was going on there: we were both part-time, and both had caring responsibilities for young children. It wasn’t the stereotypical situation of the single-mindedly driven late middle-aged professor and the conflicted young woman student with work-life balance issues. (People don’t really look to me as a model of work-life balance.)

The baby thing. Yeah, well. I think starting a business, having a PhD in progress and a little kid is somewhere between one and two too many things. I think my husband would say “between two and three”; there is a reason my children have a four year age gap between them, one of them had to wait on the PhD. (I was pregnant again at my graduation.) But probably my most questionable decision was…

The finishing the PhD thing. I recently spoke to someone who had lost contact with me in 2009 and we spoke for half an hour about my business before I mentioned in passing that I’ve finished the PhD. They couldn’t hide their shock.

I don’t know that I can bring myself to say I should have made a different decision about whether to continue it, but I might advise other people to do so. To be fair, in early 2012 when I did the bulk of the work finishing it, the Ada Initiative was still a fledgling with a longer life by no means assured, and me taking unpaid study leave was helpful in a really narrow sense for its finances. Broadly though, as I said, between one and two too many things.

Conclusion. I think identifying a workable co-founder relationship is non-trivial, but then, I don’t even know how one chooses a career. Co-found your next company with me today!

What it was like to have a newborn

I promised a friend I would answer this question: What do you spend all that time on, when you have a newborn?

Let me start with my general philosophy of learning to baby parent, which is to read people’s baby parenting blogs. Especially really funny, wise or kind people. For example, you could do worse than read… basically Julia’s entire blog, or Rivka’s blog from the start of her first, second or third pregnancies (warning: the second one miscarried). Or Yatima’s birth story.

Something I was told a lot before I had babies was that nothing prepares you for what it is like, and actually, I didn’t find that to be so. Mothers’ stories prepared me for what it is like. Plus, great writing.

The other very useful thing I did was to attend a private birth and early parenting course taught by Renee Adair of the Australian Doula College and specifically for the purposes of this entry she drew a clock face covering 24 hours, marked out (provisionally) the time between 1am and 5am as “hopefully baby’s long sleep if you’re lucky”, and divided the rest up into three hour chunks: nursing and baby care, baby sleeps. Three hours is up, start again. And that’s the first six to twelve weeks of a baby’s life.

Spending a couple of days or more in a birth/baby care class can be worth it, I think.

The major mistake I made was knowing so much about the early weeks of a baby’s life that I didn’t realise that this phase is temporary and so instead of checking out of life to the extent that I would have been allowed, I forced myself to be out of the house walking around and doing errands and such because this is the new normal, princess. (Spoiler: no it isn’t, older babies are really different.)

Note that I am only covering things that happened to me in this entry. So there’s, eg, no pumping or otherwise trying to bring up a low milk supply, because my problem was oversupply rather than under. There’s no prematurity care, or post-Caesarean recovery. Do read more than one story.

Nursing

Damn, this took up some time. It is worth noting that my feeding sessions were a lot faster than many mothers. A newborn can feed for an hour in many mother-baby relationships, rather than my babies’ five to fifteen minutes of hovering by the milk jetstream.

Learning to breastfeed. My babies had the rooting and suckling instincts at birth, but that’s not the same as being able to pop them on and wander around freely first thing. There’s a lot of looking and fiddling and puzzling over positions.

Dealing with the pain of breastfeeding. The first two weeks of nursing my first baby were painful. Me nursing involved getting my husband to be nearby and applying pain to some other part of my body to distract me, and hissing as I felt my nipple go stretch-stretch-stretch until it was sucked into place.

Second baby didn’t hurt, but I spent some time anticipating that it would!

Breastfeeding in low light. Newborns can’t hold their heads up. So breastfeeding them at all involved holding their head in the vicinity of a nipple, and doing so in low light meant squinting or feeling for their mouths and my nipple and trying to line them up in the dark.

My babies have both slept in my bedroom and I learned to nurse them lying down after a few nights with the elder. That skill is WIN.

Cluster feeding. Days when suddenly, the feeds have five minute breaks in between because the baby is trying to gain 300g or more in a week.

Stupid oversupply routines. The undersupply ones are worse, but the oversupply one ended up at: apply warm press to aid let down, express a small amount so that the nipple is soft for the baby, nurse (complete with the pain management rituals), apply cold press to reduce inflammation. Only for a day or two, but that’s a big routine.

Having mastitis. I had mastitis when my elder baby was five days old, probably because I had the milk supply of a quadruplet mother. It was 40°C or so, my thighs hurt in the morning (this is a really reliable sign in me that I’m about to develop a 40°C fever), I woke my husband in the middle of the night to say that I had gone through a 24 hour allowance of both paracetemol and ibuprofen in 18 hours and I didn’t know if I could make it until morning. Neither did the health hotline; they were worried about infection in my stitches. We called one of the night GP services and they diagnosed mastitis and I spent a fortnight on antibiotics without further incident, but gosh that was a terrible 48 hours. If you’ve ever had influenza, well, like that.

Being puked on. One problem with oversupply was that my newborns would sometimes belch slightly and then start helplessly overflowing like boiling-over saucepans. So in addition to carrying floppy babies around awkwardly, we would always have towels draped on ourselves for hurried protection. It didn’t seem painful for them though. It was annoying with my elder, as he’d completely empty his stomach by doing it and then cry urgently for more milk, which demand had the effect of increasing my supply even further. No love.

Baby care

Cuddling. My newborns liked to be held, and newborns are really floppy and fragile. So there was a lot of gingerly moving around discovering that I am used to having two hands to do things. (I didn’t find baby carriers super helpful for my hands until the baby had some muscle tone, which is the same point at which they are easier to carry anyway. What was useful with baby carriers was just getting used to carrying the baby’s weight before the baby gained its first 2kg, that first 2kg taking my first baby a whole six weeks.)

Cuddling for hours before sleep. Only one of my babies needed this, but he peaked one night at needing five hours lying down with me in a completely dark room while screaming, in order to sleep. That is some cuddling!

The other baby used to be put down on a flat surface and just go to sleep. We spent the entire newborn period just waiting for her to stop doing that and being prepared. (She has had periods of having trouble with sleep, but not at the age I’m talking about here.)

Changing nappies. Something I wasn’t warned about: nappy changes. For several weeks after birth, both my babies pooped after every single breastfeed, so, maybe 12 times a day. Pick up the baby. Walk to the change area. Get a nappy. Take off the existing nappy. Put a new one on. Take the baby back to whereever I wanted to be. Around about twice a day, I also needed to wipe down and change the outfit on a baby that had pooped through the nappy onto its clothes.

Gosh it’s nice to go down to every three or four hours and an all-night nappy. (On the flipside, newborns don’t move around…)

Keeping the baby cool. This was a whole project with my first, who was born in a heat wave. Newborns have shitty temperature regulation, don’t really sweat, and on top of it all, get kinda sleepy when they’re hot and don’t necessarily feed well. We were wiping him down and spraying him here and there.

Self-care

Birth recovery. I felt amaaaazing after my second birth (allowing for an hour’s lie-down and a shower), because the active labour and birth were very fast (90 minutes all up), and wheeee not pregnant now I can breathe again. (Until later in the day when I remembered that I’d been in early labour for most of the night instead of sleeping, and I slept so hard that night I kept forgetting to put the wee baby back in her bed and leaving her asleep between me and the toddler.)

But I haemorrhaged after my first birth and my iron levels fell by about a third. Walking at all was a bit of a challenge, and it didn’t help getting mastitis within the week. I did this super-hard thing — late pregnancy and birth — and as a reward, I got to be sick, tired and weak while parenting a newborn.

The actual process of recovery was resting and iron tablets, but unfortunately not enough…

Sleep. My second baby was a sort of miracle and slept to the point where we haven’t had serious sleep deprivation issues. The first though was more typical after his jaundice disappeared: no more than three to four hours of continuous sleep, sometimes hour long wakings in the night. So there was time spent asleep, there was time spent planning sleep, there was time spent missing sleep. There was that time the baby was crying in the night and I dreamed that he was telling me telepathically that he was actually OK and in was no way hungry or otherwise needing me. And of course, eventually waking up and realising I was wrong.

Dressing. I didn’t really properly dress after the first baby for¸ uh, a couple of weeks. I feel kinder to myself now that I remember the mastitis and the haemorrhage and the heat-wave though.

Recording TV and reading stuff on devices. Digital video recording, e-book readers and smartphones saved me. You know how many interesting books are kinda heavy and hard to hold one handed? Well, they were also very painful for the baby when I dropped them.

Cleaning

Laundry. This was the big one. Stuff we needed to wash:

  1. nappies (we use cloth), 3–4 loads a week with a newborn
  2. baby outfits that had been wee-ed or pooped or vomited on, actually not many loads as babies and their clothes are both small!
  3. our outfits that had been wee-ed or pooped or vomited on, I guess about 2 loads a week
  4. bedding. One million trillion loads a week, because I leaked milk like no one’s business, especially with the second baby who always had a long night sleep. I would wake up on top of three soaked towels and soaked sheets, so I was washing a king sized bed worth of linen most days for weeks and weeks with this second baby. (Pro-tip: waterproof mattress protector. My first newborn parenting experience ruined a mattress with leaked milk. Note though: you get to wash the protector too!)

Other cleaning I have had a house cleaner since my first pregnancy, so not as much of this as one might fear, but, lucky me.

Cooking My husband took over the bulk of our meal prep. (He did a lot of the laundry too.)

Leaving the house

Suddenly, we needed to leave a full hour between deciding to leave the house and actually leaving it, what with packing a bag, and changing a nappy, and then probably changing it again, and a feed, and someone getting puked on and needing to be changed.

And, unlike most other things in this entry, this hasn’t really gone away. 5 year olds are still a pain to get out of the house, it’s just different reasons why.

Medical followup

Newborns are medically fragile in a way that I’m glad I didn’t really appreciate at the time: they can’t regulate their body temperature for a few days, and their immune systems don’t work well for weeks. Luckily my babies were good nursers, but there was still:

Counting nursing sessions and urine and poop. The first time, I didn’t actually know I was supposed to do this until I had annoyed midwives around me in hospital wanting to fill in the chart, and it only lasted for a few days, but still. What time did the baby start nursing? How long for? Were the nappies wet? Any meconium? Any later stage poops? (There’s a pictorial chart that anyone who has anything to do with the Australian Breastfeeding Association has seen.)

The second time I was super organised and had a whole notetaking system set up, and then my milk again came in within 24 hours and we graduated from poop counting at two days old.

Three days in hospital after my first. He had jaundice they wanted to monitor.

Daily home visits after my second. Standard practice for my private midwife to do this for a week. It was nice, really, and she ended up skipping a few, but it was still something I had to set aside time for.

Longer term followup/cleanup for me. After my first, I had two and six week appointments, and also a renal physician followup. After my second, I had midwife followup at two, three and six weeks, and then a GP and gynaecologist (for an IUD).

The pregnancy treadmill of endless appointments continued for a little while, except I had to take a giant bag of nappies and outfit changes and feeding supplies and miscellaneous cleaning products with me. The first time it was inevitably at the one time of day I and my newborn both wanted to sleep. The second time I had a nearly 4yo child, so we were more on a day-night schedule straight away, and so it was actually less hassle.

Longer term followup for babies. Both had a two and six week weigh-in and developmental exam (I remember my elder howling as he “walked” along a table). There was also a vaccination at six to eight weeks. (Not to mention the ones at four and six months — basically, vaccinate early and often.)

In summary

Newborn care — even in my case of healthy late/post term high birthweight and milk-stuffed babies — is a full time job, ideally for more than one person if you have arrangements or can make them… Andrew took two weeks off after the was born and then worked part-time for another twelve or so weeks after, and took six weeks off full-time after the second was born. Epically great.