The year’s first snow has fallen in Tallinn.

Here in London it’s mostly sunny and about 15°C. It’s not supposed to be like this – not in late October!

First day on my own with Ingrid. (Eric’s paternity leave ended so he’s back at work.)

Everything went reasonably smoothly, including another trip to the breastfeeding support group, and even a bath for Ingrid.

Knowing that I had no one to hand off Ingrid to if I got tired, made me more focused and patient with her. It also made me pay more attention – or maybe it was just that I was now obliged to notice her behaviour
throughout the whole day.

In any case, I noticed something I should have picked up a lot earlier: I’m feeding her to sleep almost every time. Either she falls asleep during feeding, and we put her to bed. Or when she’s stayed awake for a while after feeding, she hasn’t been able to fall asleep for a long while, and after a while we’ve guessed that maybe it’s because she’s hungry, and then she’s fallen happily asleep. Either way, it’s already difficult to get her to sleep without a feed, so she’s probably already started to associate the two. Not good.

From now on I’ll have to force her awake after feeding, somehow. But she is very good at sleeping when she’s sleepy! I have yet to find a reliable and non-violent way of waking her.

I can…

  • … stand on one leg long enough to pull off a sock, or put a leg through a trouser leg opening.
  • … reach my toes for cutting toenails.
  • … cycle in 3rd gear, and run up the stairs.
  • … sleep in other positions than on my left side.
  • … feel like I’m sharing a bed with Eric again, without a Chinese wall of a pillow between us.
  • … button my jacket all the way.
  • … sit right up to the table when eating.

For the past two weeks, everything in this house has revolved around breastfeeding.

The sofa and armchair have been filled with ever-changing arrangements of pillows and nursing pillows, barely leaving any space for normal use. On the back of the sofa hangs a light blanket for occasional swaddling (when Ingrid gets too violently upset about not getting to the breast fast enough) and a muslin for wiping up dribbles and spills. Half a dozen nursing pads are drying on the windowsill. Any activities are planned based on when Ingrid last fed, and when she will need to get her next feed. The house smells of milk.

Slowly, slowly, we are coming to grips with how this breastfeeding thing works, and starting to feel more in control (marginally).

Breastfeeding (unlike giving birth) does not just happen. It is work, and requires both skill and knowledge – there are more ways of getting it wrong than getting it right. There are positions, and techniques, and terminology. And the 5 or 10 minutes of instruction that I got from the midwive (at 5 in the morning) were woefully insufficient to teach me what was needed.

It took 3 days for my nipples to be chewed to pieces, until they were cracked and bleeding. Then another 3 days to get mastitis. Not a good start.

The mastitis was cured with antibiotics, which got rid of the pain and fever in about half a day (but I’m stuck eating the pills for a week). The chewed nipples got a chance to heal once I found (on the Internet) a different position for Ingrid, which gave me more control over what she was doing and also let her approach the nipples from a different direction. Finally, a breastfeeding consultant / support worker pointed out what I had been doing wrong, and showed me how to work around Ingrid’s unhelpful attempts to get at the breast faster. (All materials about breastfeeding assume that the baby is calm and quiet when being fed – none give advice on what to do when the baby is frantically waving her arms and chomping her jaw because she wants food RIGHT NOW PLEASE. Ingrid, on the other hand, seems to go from too sleepy to open her mouth, to full arm-waving hungry panic, in about 3 seconds.)

I am still not looking forward to feeding her, and I feel my body tensing up in anticipation of the pain. I’m still sore, and the first few seconds, when she’s finding her grip, are never painless. But it’s a lot better, and I finally feel like I have a clue about what I’m doing.

Ingrid is still feeding 8 to 10 times a day, but the feeds are now getting more efficient, and the intervals between them are less random. We can now generally manage a feed in about an hour (of which about 20 minutes are occupied by actual active feeding, and the rest is getting her onto the breast, or getting her to wake up again after she falls asleep halfway through feeding). This still means that I spend somewhere between 8 and 12 hours a day breastfeeding – a full-time job.

Ingrid is also learning. She can now stay awake and feed for over 10 minutes, so we rarely need more than one or two “reboots” during a feed. And she lasts longer between feeds (if we time them right) – last night she went 5 hours between feeds, which meant that I could sleep without being woken for a full 3 hours! (We lost 1 hour because she was having difficulty falling asleep after the feed.)

We ventured outside the apartment with Ingrid today for the first time, to attend a breastfeeding support group meeting. (Breastfeeding really is the only thing occupying my mind right now – so much so that it will require a separate post. When I have time.)

Ingrid spent almost all of the time asleep, except when she woke for food, i.e. same as she does at home. She wasn’t bothered either by the bumpy pavements of East London, or by the noise and bustle.

I on the other hand was very happy to get some fresh air and stretch my legs a bit. Now that the concept has been proven to work, we’ll definitely be taking frequent walks.

PS: The clothes she’s wearing in the photo are the ones I got from my current and previous teams at work as leaving-work presents. Looking very stylish!

For those of you interested in knowing more about my labour and birth (and I imagine only other mothers would be!), you can find the full story here.

There are some gory details here and there; don’t read it unless you really want to know what labour and childbirth can be like. It’s also quite a long story, but as with my blog posts, I’ve written it more for myself than for anyone else.

Thank you all for the cards, flowers and all other forms of congratulation! Much appreciated.

Several of you have asked for more photos. Here are two pictures for you.

It’s not so easy to take pictures of her right now – whenever she does something particularly cute, the person closest to her normally has both arms and hands full of baby (and no camera at hand, anyway). And she doesn’t stay in one position very long – in particular not in quiet, contented, smiling positions; the crying ones last a bit longer.

“Everything is proceeding exactly as planned”

Our daughter Ingrid Johanna Toomik Bergheden was born Sunday morning at 3.17, weighing a healthy 3.9 kg.

Everything went well. The worst of the exhaustion has now passed, but we’re all still quite tired and haven’t quite found our footing yet, so further details will have to wait a while.

Ingrid Johanna, age 90 minutes

(Another one from the backlog.)

A science fiction book, but the science fiction element is limited to one new technology: the ability to send people to the past (and later pick them up and bring them back again). We understand that this procedure is now relatively stable and is widely used by historians to study their favourite epochs. There is not much focus on this time travel thing otherwise, and no time is wasted on explaining how it works, which is good.

For the purpose of this book, though, only one trip is relevant: one person is sent back to medieval England. Things go wrong on both ends of the time machine. On the medieval side, Kivrin falls ill, loses track of the pickup spot, and then misses the pickup. On the modern side, the time machine technician notices that something looks odd about the “drop”, but falls ill before he can tell anybody what exactly looks wrong – and then his disease turns out to be part of an epidemic that makes it hard to get anything done in Oxford, least of all get a time machine fixed.

These two strands of the story continue side by side, quite independently, until they’re brought together again at the end. Meanwhile, both are filled with disease, confusion and a struggle to bring Kivrin back again.

In the medieval story Kivrin finds out that her preparations (language, manners, etc) weren’t sufficient to prepare her for the medieval times, and she struggles to survive in a world that’s harsher and more primitive than she imagined. She naturally feels dislocated and lost in an alien place. But she goes from observer to participant, comes to care about the people around her, and by the time the (inevitable and rather predictable) crisis arrives, she is right in the middle of it, together with the “locals”.

I cannot judge how accurate the historical detail is, but it was realistic enough for me, and quite interesting. One interesting angle was the closeness of death: crises (diseases or otherwise) are not fought but suffered through, with help from faith.

On the whole, this half of the story was not bad at all – perhaps because of the close focus on one character, and seeing an unknown world through her eyes. Because of this viewpoint, the medieval world we see is frustratingly limited (to one household and a small village around it) but then again that’s what it probably was like.

The modern story could almost have been written by a different writer. Instead of believable characters it is populated by cliched figures who are very obviously supposed to be funny, but are actually annoying from the first moment you meet them. Despite the epidemic their lives are filled with trivial worries which become really tedious. (Hearing an underling complain about the shortage of loo paper is only funny once or maybe twice.)

The characters also show a remarkable lack of emotion – even when a good friend dies, they barely seem to notice.

The plot here is simple, to the point of being simplistic – “will they get Kivrin back home?” – and hangs on a few ridiculous details which are repeated ad nauseam. Phone lines are overloaded because of the epidemic and a lot of time is spent trying to get hold of other people. Have these people forgotten answering machines (which surely existed in 1992 when the book was written)? Some high-level university admin has gone away and no one can get hold of him – and that holds up the action for days on end. Yet in the end this “mystery” is simply dropped with no explanation.

If the modern half of the book was removed or kept to a minimum, this book could have been a lot better. As it is, I am very puzzled about why it was awarded both the Hugo and Nebula awards. It’s not innovative in any way, and the storytelling doesn’t even do its routine premises justice, really. Still, the medieval half made a strong enough impression on me that I found the book worth reading.

Eric’s latest project finally finished, after several weeks of absurdly long hours (on the worst days he left before I got up, and came home when I was already asleep) so he took today off and we went to see the Rodin exhibition at the Royal Academy.

I’m not an art critic and not even particularly knowledgeable about art, so I don’t have much intelligent commentary to offer (and Rodin has probably been commented-on more than enough, anyway) – only a handful of disjointed personal observations. If you want a proper review, try The Guardian’s.

Bronze suited Rodin a lot better than marble. His marble sculptures tended towards a tame smoothness, whereas the bronzes had vigour and character – there was a lot more strength in their movement, and more life in their surfaces.

All of his portrait busts of men were in bronze. Almost all of his portrait busts of women were in marble. His choice, or the subjects’? Quite possibly the latter: one of the women apparently complained about the first proposed version of her portrait that it made her look fat, so the final version was a dreamy soft portrait, with only her face emerging from a large block of marble. Pretty pathetic in a way (easy for me to say!) although I’m sure it was popular. His portraits of men on the other hand sit straight up, so to say, facing forward, eyes open.

Composition is not his strong side. Each figure on its own made a stronger impression on me than the larger groups. Take the Burghers of Calais for example: they don’t really look like a coherent group to me. One seems to be talking to someone outside the group; one seems to be arguing with the others; one has a headache. What’s going on? I’m sure it’s possible to come up with explanations, but a well-composed sculpture shouldn’t need that. I found the composition of The Gates of Hell equally awkward and confusing.

He spent decades on The Gates of Hell even though the commission was cancelled after a while, and still he never finished them. One has to be really obsessed with something to keep going for that long.

Even though the Gates were never finished, a lot of his other sculptures started out as elements in the Gates but evolved into full-scale standalone pieces. So it wasn’t wasted work. More interestingly, he reused several of those elements in a cut-and-paste manner: take the body of this figure, replace its head with that one, oh, and let’s add one of these women as well. “Object-oriented sculpture”, Eric named it; The Guardian draws parallels to Frankenstein.

He often changed the orientation of the figures when reusing them, so a pose that appeared to have been modelled on a more-or-less upright woman might end up being used lying down, or even upside down. Not really noticeable except on a large scale, but then it had a curiously distorting / twisted effect.

PS: I really like the little folding stools that you can borrow at museums.