So we’re sleep training now.

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September has been a rough month: the girls went from being pretty solid sleepers to, well, the opposite. I felt like they were trying to break me (and a couple times, I think my husband would say they succeeded).

I don’t remember being this tired the first time around, although I’m sure I was – in fact, I had undiagnosed Graves’ Disease, so from months 4-6 I had brutal insomnia most nights and ended up taking long naps in the morning to try to get to a point where I could function. This time, though, the morning naps haven’t happened; the girls’ daytime sleep hasn’t aligned well enough.

Sleep deprivation isn’t a good look on anyone, but I’ve had a couple of weirdly unhinged moments – like once when I got so frustrated I threw my giant feeding cushion across the room, or another time when I ended up lying on my stomach on my bed and kicking my feet like a tantruming toddler. Most of my symptoms have been more prosaic, though – incidents when I’m so tired that I can’t remember a word, or I start a sentence, forget where I’m going, and then think ‘oh eff it, nevermind, I can’t be bothered to formulate that thought after all.’

So we decided to start sleep training. We used Ferber with Theo and it worked so well that we are trying it, with some trepidation, on the girls. They feel too young. It seems too soon. But I am damn near catatonic, so last night I gave Daphne extra squeezes and lots of apologies, put her in bed, and walked away.

And….she just stayed asleep. I’d let her fall asleep on the boob, like an amateur. Fiona, on the other hand, started squawking almost immediately. With Ferber, which is a method of controlled cry-it-out, you go in every few minutes to reassure the baby. But it doesn’t calm them down at all; I just felt crummy for failing to comfort my child, and in the end I ceded as much of it to Ian as I could.

With both girls, their first experience of being left to self-soothe lasted about 25 minutes. The second took about ten. And then I fell asleep feeding Daphne and screwed it up AGAIN. But still. We have begun. We are on our way.

I am a sleep-training evangelist. I know the internet (and the world) is full of people who say ‘oh but I just couldn’t.’ And that makes me angry. I appreciate that sleep training is not for everyone, but it is not something I take lightly. When we did it with Theo, it was by far the hardest thing I had done as a parent, and it was 100% the right thing for all of us. When people say ‘oh, I can’t,’ what they are implying is that they are more sensitive or empathetic or more devoted to their children’s wellbeing than I am. And maybe they are, but if so, it has nothing to do with their willingness to engage in sleep training. I believe in sleep training as one of my core parenting values, because I will parent better if I can formulate complete sentences and deal with frustration without throwing things (even cushions) across the room.

So we’re sleep training now. It was a little sooner than we meant to, but it turns out its time. Wish us luck.

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Fertility & Social Media

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I look cute, but also, this pic makes me feel like kind of a jerk.

During my second pregnancy, I trawled Etsy for the perfect ‘Big Brother’ shirt and spent a while composing the pregnancy announcement in my mind. I had it ready to go. And then I lost the pregnancy.

When I started writing about my experiences as a parent, I fully expected to write about my miscarriage, which happened in December 2015. But it turns out I don’t have that much to say about it. It happened. It was awful. I do still occasionally think about what life would be like if we’d had that one baby, though I think about it less and less as I get to know the two I ended up with.

Anyway. The ‘big brother’ tee shirt never got its day, and I began a year of uncharitable crankiness about other peoples’ pregnancy announcements. Like many people my age, I’ve been on social media for over a decade, and have hundreds of contacts with whom I have minimal actual contact in real life. That woman I met at a wedding? Or the  conference? Or the person I hung out with for four days straight at Bonnaroo and then never again? Check, check, and check. And in the time between miscarrying and receiving the green light to try again, I think all of them got pregnant.

Announcements obviously run the gamut: some people post ‘btw internet, we had a baby’ while other people go full-on Beyonce. But when you want to be pregnant and haven’t had any luck, it is hard not to interpret all of them as preening: ‘#april2017! #soblessed!’

So when I got pregnant again, this time with twins, I put a lot of thought into how to tell the world. Because TWINS! Right? But on the other hand, I knew of a few friends who have had trouble conceiving. Perhaps more importantly, I knew there were even more people I didn’t know had trouble conceiving. I didn’t want to be THAT girl.

In my period of infertility, there were a few friends – not Facebook friends but real-life friends – who got pregnant. Hurray! I did not begrudge them their reproductive success. Even so, it meant the world to me (it still does, more than a year later) that they spoke to me or emailed me and said ‘this probably sucks for you to hear, and I’m sorry to cause you emotional turmoil, but I’m pregnant.’  It didn’t actually cause me much turmoil; it was easy to just be happy for them, and grateful to have such thoughtful people in my life.

And then – finallyyyyyy – it was my turn. A friend took a picture of me with my beloved Peugeot bicycle in her front garden. My pregnancy hair looked amazing. My bump (about 18 weeks at that point) looked sweet and compact. My thighs looked enormous, but can’t win’em all. And so almost without thinking, I posted it. #Frannyhavingtwins #goodhairday

And that is how, in a minute, I became the thoughtless jerk whose posts had made me glower for the better part of 2016.

Its hard to know what the right balance is. Its not like people should keep their children secret. The world is full of babies. That’s a good thing. Babies bring joy and light and hope into the world.  But I think maybe we should all agree, collectively, to put a moratorium on the following: #soblessed, #blessed (those two don’t need to be used by anyone, for any reason, ever again. Google it. I am hardly the only person who feels this way), #fitpregnancy, heart-on-uterus pics, and ultrasound images. I don’t need to see inside your body, Girl from Middle School.

I know how hard it is to resist. As soon as I got pregnant, I thought: tee shirts! Chalkboards! Balloons! Glitter! Tiny baby shoes! ALL THE PINTEREST! But thank goodness my laziness was stronger than my hormones, because I know how hard it is when you want to be pregnant but are not.

Prematurity on TV: Black-ish Season Finale

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I’ve seen a few episodes of the American sitcom Black-ish, which will be returning for season4 on 3 October (in the US. in the UK, who knows? I saw the finale at 10 am in the morning on ITV. I think.).

Season 3 had centred on the late-in-life pregnancy of the female lead, Rainbow, and the finale gave a mostly-accurate depiction of a sudden, scary turn: she developed pre-eclampsia and delivered the baby two months early (so about 32 weeks gestation).

I wrote about prematurity as depicted by Pampers  a couple months ago – in general, I would say, pop culture doesn’t have much of a track record addressing prematurity. Which makes sense: prematurity is not telegenic. Preemies can be ugly or scary or just a bit too….fetal…to be comfortable to look at. They are tiny and fragile and hooked up to all sorts of crap.

Black-ish did a pretty great job with the maternity stuff; everything they said about pre-eclampsia was correct, and the parents’ fear and panic was pretty on point too. But then the show was stuck with a premature baby that they had to deal with, and that’s where I thought the show went off the rails a bit.

First of all, that baby was gorgeous. Small, but chubby. Not hooked up to any breathing apparatus. No long lines, or lines of any description. No incubator. Just a few monitoring devices so we knew this was Not a Normal Baby.

I mean, I understand. I thought Daphne was gorgeous straight out of the womb. In the first picture ever taken of her, she has one eye just cracked with Not Impressed expression that remains her trademark seven months later. Watching from the operating table, I saw the nurse hold up my tiny 2 lb baby and I knew that things couldn’t be that dire or they wouldn’t be hoisting her up like Simba for photo ops. But really, to the untrained eye, she looked pretty raw. I had that picture printed but my mother suggested I not send it to my grandmother. I look at it and think, ‘damn, my baby is a fighter’ but in retrospect I can see how other people would just react with alarm.

Preemies are alarming. But the show could easily have circumvented the need for a close-up by showing an incubator (also called an isolette), or by simply reporting on his condition. Instead, they made it look like the scary part was over. Anyone watching would see that baby and think ‘oh, that’s not so bad, he looks fine.’

I realise I am complaining about a sitcom, and I shouldn’t hold them to documentary standards, but the experience of having a premature baby doesn’t end a couple days postpartum. The fact that the girls were early is still very much with us seven months later (five months adjusted), and will likely stay with us forever, in the form of soft teeth of poor vision or attention or behavioural disorders. We are very lucky that the biggest thing they faced in the NICU was ‘smallness’ – they were just really, really tiny. Daphne was so small that, for a long time, she kept cutting off her own airway when she moved her head. She just didn’t have the strength/maturity not to.

September is NICU Awareness Month. The show originally aired this spring, but it seems fitting to me to talk about it now, after it ran in the UK. Most NICU babies are, in the grand scheme of things, Just Fine. But they are fine because they have the benefit of an incredible amount of care and support and science: they NEED incubators and long lines and various unpleasant, humming machines, and for a television show to skip that part of it – while demonstrating the very accurate fear and anxiety of the parents – is to do NICU babies, and neonatology in general, a disservice.

Festivals: not what they used to be.

Last year, when I was the parent of one child, I got tickets to the Cambridge Folk Festival. The plan had been to go en famille, but my husband was out of town. I considered throwing in the towel on the whole damn weekend. I booked a babysitter, then cancelled the babysitter, then considered ringing the babysitter and begging her to come after all, then finally took a deep breath, packed my picnic blanket, hauled my kid to the festival and hoped for the best.

I was so amped up when I got home that I sent the following email to a friend:

HE WAS SUCH A CHAMP I AM SO PROUD OF HIM IT WAS AMAZING.
I saw KT Tunstall and Glen Hansard, who I wanted to see the most in the whole festival, and in between sets he said ‘more music! Music, mummy!’
You know how when you first fall in love, and it just seems like an utter miracle? That this person exists, and they’ve consented to hang out with you? Having kids is, at its best, 1000x better than that. Theo was sitting on my lap, clapping at the end of every song and saying ‘another song?’ and I felt like my heart was going to burst.
We didn’t get home until after 10, which we’ve never even attempted before. He negotiated a couple extra stories, which seemed ridiculous because it was 10:20 by that point (inhaler, tooth brushing, offering him the potty, etc.) but then he jumped off my lap and marched to bed as agreed and I haven’t heard a peep. I am just so proud of him. He held it together the entire time we were there, the entire way out (it was a little walk) and the journey home, and then he was almost exclusively perfectly behaved once we got home.

We went to the festival Friday-Sunday last year, and while nothing was quite as magical as that first day, I booked our family tickets as soon as they became available this year, ready for Round 2.

So naturally Theo didn’t give a shit about the festival this year. He loved the ice cream van, and he loved the trampoline in the children’s area, but the actual music he could take or leave.

This year, though, the festival was very good for me. Ian took Friday off work, and so I was able to cycle over to see the She Shanties on Friday – an all-female sea shanty group. I love sea shanties (really. I love them.) so I made a special trip and stood surrounded by old people and teenagers, yet all by myself. The music was lovely. Later that night, I went back and met up with friends for the Indigo Girls. I sang Galileo and Closer to Fine and the Wood Song. I felt like a person with a life.

We hauled our kids to the festival all four days, too; it wasn’t just me sneaking out for an hour at a time. Theo was indifferent to the music but I loved being there. More than that, it was significant that there was an ambitious thing we wanted to do – go to a music festival – and we had done it, with minimal drama. The girls were great, the weather was marginal, Theo was disinterested, but I had a great time, and I felt like I’d taken a significant step forward as a parent of three children.

The 90s was a golden age of music.

I went to see the Indigo Girls a week ago, on my first evening out since the girls came home. The whole thing particularly delighted me because my first arena-rock concert, in 1997, was Lilith Fair – Jewel, Indigo Girls and Sarah McLachlan at the Marcus Amphitheatre in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Almost exactly twenty years later, I went to see the Indigo Girls again. The experience sparked a major 90s lady music kick: I have been listening to Lisa Loeb, Four Non Blondes, and a whole bunch of other gems in the week since (sidenote: I am shocked/appalled at how many lyrics I remember. When I told my husband, he said ‘have you met you? of course you remember that shit’).

There is one thing that has made the Nostalgia Tour 100% better: my daughters seem to love it. They burbled their way through Donna Lewis’ ‘I Love You Always Forever’ (not a good song, by the way, but very good for singing to babies). We did three rousing rounds of Dixie Chicks’ ‘Wide Open Spaces,’ which will give any parent of daughters some Feels. I sat on the floor in front of their bouncy seats and sag the chorus with gusto. And also with jazz hands.

But the song that sealed the deal for me was ‘Wonder,’ by Natalie Merchant. The song was released in 1995, when I was 12 years old, on Tigerlily – one of the first CDs I owned (I didn’t remember that until I looked at the Wikipedia page, and the green and orange CD case brought it back to me immediately).

I’ve had a lot of anxiety about my daughters’ development, because preemies are at an elevated risk for behavioral and developmental disorders (the most likely are autism spectrum disorder and ADHD). Now, with the girls having hit all their milestones at nearly-four-months adjusted, I have relaxed substantially. But (as with any baby), there are no guarantees, and we will know when we know. To say that I have relaxed is more a comment on how tightly wound I was in their early days than how easy-breezy I am now. No one wants their kids to face a struggle.

And so in my heightened emotional state, Natalie Merchant gave me enormous comfort. The lyric ‘know this child will be gifted/with love, with patience and with faith,’ sung to a smiling Daphne on a Saturday morning as we danced around the kitchen, was more reassuring to me than any blog post or statistic I’ve read yet. She’s doing great, you guys. She rolled over today. And love, patience and faith – well, we aren’t the most patient household, but we have love and faith down. It feels like its going to be ok.

 

Welcome to the (Crummy) Club

Not premature babies – just babies.


A couple days ago I was walking over the cycle bridge near the Cambridge Rail Station with both girls when I passed a lanky, heavily tattooed man in his early twenties talking on his mobile phone. As I went by I heard the words ‘they’ve got her on a ventilator, so she won’t have breathing problems when she’s older.’

A few meters past the man, I stopped and did an awkward two step, then turned around and interrupted him.

‘I’m so sorry to interrupt,’ I said. ‘Do you have premature babies?’

‘I do,’ he said, undoubtedly alarmed that he was now being accosted by suburban looking mummies.

‘These guys were 31 weekers,’ I said, eager to be helpful.

‘Mine are 24.’

And this was the moment where I screwed up. I have the world’s worst poker face, and I knew my alarm and concern was washing over my face. ‘They’re doing well,’ he assured me, and I felt more like an asshole with each passing moment.

‘That’s so good.’ I said. ‘Good luck.’ And I moved on, leaving him to his phone call.

I’ve thought about that conversation a lot in the last couple days, for a couple reasons: first, I hope those babies are ok. I have thought about that guy, and his partner, sitting next to those babies’ incubators and watching the monitors the way I did. I have also thought about the ways in which I could have done better. Most of all, I wish I hadn’t put him in the position of having to reassure a stranger. That’s the thing I had dwelt on: I wanted to be helpful but I’m pretty sure I failed. But here is what I would have told him, had I done it right:

From the moment I found out, at about 16 weeks pregnant, that we were facing a particularly difficult pregnancy (even by twin standards) and that the girls would have a tough start, I hunted down success stories on th internet – and there are a surprising number, because the internet is a big place and people like to share happy stories. I joined Facebook groups, read memoirs and blogs, and even managed to talk to an incredibly kind mum of triplets, one of whom was born at 530 grams at 31 weeks and now, age 4, is cognitively just fine: bilingual and counting to 100. Someone told me yesterday about 22 weekers, now 3.5, who show no trace of prematurity.

I know, of course, that my case-study approach has limits. And I also know that my girls are still very much at risk, relative to the general population, of developmental and attention disorders. I relax a little with every passing development: Daphne started blowing raspberries a couple days ago, which hardly makes her a genius, but does seem to indicate that she’s learning and processing as she should. It’s a linguistic development.

Despite my own emotional post-NICU progress, I am still occasionally dismissive of people who had a more straightforward experience – when I encounter people who say ‘baby boy was FINALLY able to come home after two weeks in the NICU, ten days after his sister,’ my first visceral reaction is to blow a raspberry of my own. ‘You have no idea,’ I think – but of course, what do I know? A lot can happen in two weeks in the NICU.

So, to the Dad of Twenty Four Weekers: it is so hard, but you and your partner are not alone. You and I are reluctant members of a special tribe, the NICU Long-Termers. It is a larger group than I ever imagined before I became a part of it, and that is a good thing: we live in a world with many people born prematurely, who weighed less than a bag of sugar at birth but now lead rich, healthy lives: they are bike mechanics or cab drivers or Stevie Wonder, to name a few examples I came across shuttling back and forth to the hospital (I read about Stevie Wonder but I met the first two).

Someday soon, your premature baby will just be a baby, but in the meantime, I know something about what you’re going through, and it sucks, and I’m sorry. I hope your babies are okay, and I hope you are too.

Tandem Feeding is Weird

After a rocky start, I breastfed my first kid for way longer than I ever intended. I thought I might make it to six months; then I thought, I will definitely be done at a year.

In the end, it was Theo who decided he was done: at 16 months, I went away for a few days. When I came back, I lifted up my shirt and Theo reached up and put it back down, like he was pulling down a blind. I tried a few more times, and the same thing happened. And that was it – that was the end of breastfeeding.

I’m lucky it happened that way, because breastfeeding was wonderful for me, but I definitely didn’t want to be the person still boobing her pre-schooler, and I goggled when women in my acquaintance said they hoped to cut their kids off by age three (because, I mean, to each their own. But that’s a whole lot of breastfeeding. No thank you).

This time around, both girls came out ready to go – some of my first interactions with each girl involved them smacking their mouths against my collarbone, desperate to get going. Babies don’t develop a coordinated suck-swallow-breathe reflex until about 34 weeks, and then our hospital has thresholds for how self-sufficient they have to be (high flow level 4 or below, to be specific). So I didn’t start the girls until a few weeks later, and then, the hospital deliberately staggered their feeds so I could do them sequentially.

I vividly remember my first time tandem feeding (I mean, it was only a few months ago). I had a Boppy pillow, which allowed me to hold both girls, each of whom still only weighed about 4 lbs (Fiona more, Daphne less). Once I got Fiona started, a nurse with a trendy brown bob plopped Daphne down and kind of shoved her into me while I adjusted the nipple shield (damn nipple shields) and got her latched. And then we were off.

In the hospital, I usually used the Boppy across my stomach but didn’t worry about any type of nursing cover or modesty shield – in part because tandem feeding was enough of a challenge, and in part because our corner cubicle gave me enough privacy (and anyway, everyone there had seen plenty of breastfeeding). The NICU had folding screens that they could set up for shyer parents; one woman (well, girl, really) set up a breastfeeding fortress every time she nursed her daughter. I just went for it.

Since coming home, though, I have struggled a bit more. My Peanut & Piglet nursing pillow – a formidable piece of infrastructure I have taken to calling ‘the baby shelf’ – has been a lifesaver. But feeding twins is both time- and space-consuming, which makes leaving the house a different proposition altogether.. The parents’ room at John Lewis – which is a lifesaver for many other new parents – has small vinyl chairs that do not accommodate two hungry babies (it is also windowless and smells like poo, so there’s that). I have not figured out a way to feed the girls that does not involve a substantial amount of boob exposure, a couch, and at least 45 minutes of sitting.

The other day, hunched over to feed the girls in bed, one baby head balanced precariously on my thigh, I googled ‘Tandem Breastfeeding’ to see if I was missing a trick. Surely there is a better way – a way that would allow me to leave the house for more than three hours at a time. Right?

There is not a better way.

What I found is that there is a vibrant subculture of women who breastfeed their babies and their kindergarteners simultaneously, and occasionally take professional photos of themselves and their children dressed as wood nymphs with heavy mood lighting. There was not a lot of practical advice for women who want to breastfeed twins without flashing the barista or looking like an image National Geographic rejected for being too sloppy and pathetic.

My google search was ultimately a little frustrating. I am pro-breastfeeding – its been great for my family – but I don’t really feel like a FUCK YEAH BREASTFEEDING type (also, hopefully it goes without saying, Fed is Best). I’m FYB-adjacent. And as such, looking through the images, I felt a little discouraged. I want to breastfeed, but I don’t want it to be a Whole Big Thing every time I try to feed my kids outside the house.

So this is the reality I’ve reluctantly come to accept: there ain’t no way to feed two kids in public without a degree of public spectacle.

Tandem breastfeeding is weird. That is a fact.

 

The Fetal Halfway House

Basically newborns on 20 April


My girls were born in February but were due in April. We spent a total of 9 weeks and 6 days in the NICU (Daphne came home a week after Fiona) and since then I have been trying to figure out the best response when people ask how old they are. If there was only one of them, just giving the adjusted age would do (i.e. they’re 11 weeks). But people generally ask ‘oh, they were on time?’ and then I have to awkwardly walk it back for the stranger in the checkout line/shoe salesperson/other parent at the playground.

When we went to the girls’ development checkups (all good!) the doctor we saw stressed that we needed to think of the girls by their adjusted age rather than their actual age. And I said ‘oh, we know – we have a hard time thinking of them by their actual age.’

The need to go by adjusted age is pretty obvious to anyone who has given birth to babies that looked as undercooked as mine did. They were pinkish and had ears that looked like ears and eyes that opened occasionally (none of which is a given with preemies) but it was clear that they were not normal newborns. And as they were not in my uterus, they also were no longer fetuses. They were somewhere in between. It has felt natural to treat the NICU as a sort of developmental halfway house because the girls came home right around their due date and we almost immediately started acting like normal parents. Within days, we were dropping f bombs when the girls woke up at night while fumbling around to try and shove their pacifiers back in their mouths. They came home with feeding tubes and breastmilk fortifier, but they came home mostly as normal babies: no oxygen, for example.

Preemie babies can be expected to catch up somewhere between the first and (at the extreme end) third year of their life – that is the point at which medical professionals stop correcting their age. In the meantime, I have been working to perfect my response when strangers ask how old they are, and the girls are acting like perfect three month old babies: Fiona discovered her toes this morning and Daphne’s eyes light up when you blow raspberries for her. She flirted outrageously when she met er first non-familial baby this morning.

As the girls get older, its easier to avoid the question of when they were born relative to their due date (already! At three months, it happens so much less than when they were three weeks). And hopefully, by 2019, no one will even think to ask whether they were early or not.

Why I Need New Mum Friends

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A few weeks ago, I met up with some friends who have pre-schoolers and younger children for a Friday afternoon out. I pulled Theo out of nursery early, certain it would be a Grand Adventure, and schlepped one three-year-old and two twinfants to the Botanic Gardens.

Things immediately began to go awry. Moments inside the Gardens, Theo began nagging me to play video games on my phone. Then he asked to go to a different park. Then he licked the snacks the other parents had brought and put them back, declaring them ‘disGUZting!’ (but he ate all the raspberries, because of course he did). Then both girls started screaming and I had to tandem-feed them while yelling at my child not to trample all the rosemary varietals.

The whole event came to a head when the other two boys fell/jumped in the fountain. We ended up with two naked three-year-olds running laps around the centre of the gardens, with one ripping off his Pull-Up and waving it around his head like a helicopter and wiggling his hips at the spectators in the Victorian greenhouse. At that moment, with two sleeping babies and one fully clothed, dry child, I said ‘So I’m gonna go.’ I swooped up my spawn and headed for the door, feeling smug about the fact that I had somehow come out ahead despite the inauspicious beginning and – oh yeah – that whole two babies thing. But I was exhausted, and we had been there barely 90 minutes.

At that point, I realised I needed to make some new friends. I had an incredible baby group the first time around (which is how I have a posse of pre-school parents to hang out with now), but I don’t actually feel the need to take three kids on superfluous excursions far away from home, even if I get to hang out with the women who were so critical to my maternal homeostasis last time.

Thankfully there are tools available to me that didn’t exist three years ago. I downloaded two apps, Mush and Peanut, intended to help new mums connect (either for adult or child friendship — the apps are pretty agnostic as to their purpose). I never used dating apps, but Mush has what I imagine is a pretty standard format for traditional sites. Women (its all women) enter their age, location, age, basic info on their children, and a small bio. They choose from a selection of really cringey hashtags about you as a human and you as a parent, and you’re matched up with other people who live near you, have kids your age or, presumably (based on your hashtags) share your values as a parent. It is mesmerising.

You can filter for people near you, people with kids your age, etc., and then you can add friends and chat (or group chat) within the app. I live in a very fertile neighbourhood, but after about an hour, I had exhausted the possibilities. I added about 8 women as friends and called it a night.

That was about two weeks ago. Since then, I have gone on two friend dates through Mush. One women is an American expat (like I am) and lives just down the street from me. Her son is about a week older than my daughters, and they were in the same room of the NICU at the same time (though he was a NICU tourist – only there for a day). Its not clear to me that we will be besties, but she seemed cool, and we have a follow-up outing planned for later this week. The other date was similar – I liked her; we might hang out again; it wasn’t a total love connection. In both cases, the women lived in my neighbourhood and are people on whome I could presumably, at some point down the line, have a more casual relationship with – someone who could watch the girls in an emergency, or who might be available for spur-of-the-moment coffee.

Peanut, unfortunately, was a total bust. It is like Tinder in that it involves swiping, but I got way less visceral pleasure from it than I expected. I’ve barely opened it since my first foray.

As a friend said, one of the hard parts about mum-friending is that its like an awkward, alcohol-free cocktail party – at which you’re trying to figure out who you’d want to drink with if you had the opportunity. Mush doesn’t make the initial conversations any less awkward but, when I’m meeting up with other parents of infants, we are both clear on what we’re looking for: we want a village. I don’t think anyone is looking for their new bestie, but they want to feel like they’re part of a community, and a village that originates online is still a village.

The That Stupid Pampers Ad

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pampers

Still from the exploitative Pampers ad

Maybe you’ve seen it – a Pampers nappies ad full of premature babies looking impossibly tiny and fragile (one looks a lot like Daphne did when she was a few weeks old) with swelling music and captions like ‘when you arrive early, every day is a battle.’ There are packs of Pampers nappies interspersed throughout the ad and a close up of adults hands holding a doll-sized nappy, for scale.

Pampers has unveiled their micro-preemie nappy – until recently, the smallest available (for commercial or hospital use) were for 2-5 lbs (1-2.5 kilos). They have donated three million tiny nappies to hospitals around the UK and have also sponsored a social media campaign, #powerofbabies, where parents are invited to tag pictures of infants with a raised fist. For every hashtag, Pampers will donate £1 to Bliss, a charity that supports families of NICU babies (‘For babies born premature or sick’ is their tagline).

I have a lot of feels about this ad campaign, which was launched on 26 April 2017 (or at least that’s when the HuffPost published an article about it). They are mostly negative feels.

On the one hand, it is amazing that Pampers has found a way to support micro-preemies, who are classified as babies weighing less than 800 g (1.8 lbs). Daphne was 820 g when she was born, so I have a firsthand understanding of just how tiny that is. The partnership with Bliss is great – they were amazing when we were in hospital. And three million nappies is a lot of nappies.

On the other hand, the ad feels exploitative and gross. It has a triumphant narrative – as, thankfully, most NICU journeys do – but it shows actual footage of preemies and parents in the hospital. Its using people’s personal tragedies for commercial gain. Furthermore, those nappies are not commercially available: they don’t need to be. There is no world in which a 1 kilo baby is anywhere but the NICU. And while Pampers may have made a cracking nappy, we used generic micro-preemie nappies for Daphne with no visible advertising before she graduated to Libero premature newborn nappies, so I can confirm that their claim to have revolutionised micro-preemie diapering with their new nappy does not hold up. And the #powerofbabies tag, which as of today has 1,517 posts on Instagram, is another opportunity for Pampers to leverage premature babes’ tragedy for commercial reasons. The one-minute advertisement has 90k views on YouTube.

In the end, it feels exploitative: the advertisement is leveraging people’s tragedies to hawk a product you can’t even buy. The donations with which it is coupled feel mercantile rather than altruistic. And while I am very much a believer in the #powerofbabies, I can’t quite bring myself to start tagging my Instagram posts accordingly.