Wednesday 29 October 2014

Breastfeeding & Birth: Two Separate Stories

To me, breastfeeding and birth are two different chapters of the same book. Each filled with barriers to overcome, personal triumphs, raw emotions and more than a few gory details. They are wonderful stories, and I love being given the chance to tell them. But I tell them separately, because I see them as two very different tales.

My daughter’s birth story ends at the moment I felt I became a mother. I could waffle on about how amazing she was, how terrified I was, and how much it hurt to sit down, but I don’t. When that beautiful baby and I locked eyes, and I spent a few minutes falling in love/trying not to drown her (however terrifying holding your newborn for the first time was, believe me it’s more terrifying when you’re in water), the story comes to a natural conclusion. The child is born. The End.

My birth story ends on a high - the wonder of birth, the fact I felt like a superhero, and the glory of my newborn baby. The next chapter in the book of my daughter is breastfeeding, and I’m happy to tell you about that, but it’s another story. I would never think to end my birth story with a subchapter on breastfeeding, and yet I’ve noticed that mothers who struggle to establish breastfeeding do feel the urge to include this in their birth stories.

For many mothers who wanted to breastfeed, but who struggled and eventually accepted bottle-feeding as their future, birth stories don’t end with the birth. I’ve noticed at groups, from friends and online, that for these women, an explanation of why they aren’t breastfeeding is the epilogue to the tale of their birth. Instead of ending their story on a high, some women immediately transcend into their struggles with breastfeeding, and instead end their stories with the circumstances surrounding that first bottle.

Of course, your birth story is your own, and you should tell it however you want. Feel free to add in swear words, leave out the gruesome details, and gesture wildly throughout, but here’s why I wish women didn’t feel the need to include their breastfeeding struggles in their birth stories:

  • you’re not being judged - all new mothers feel judged, about pretty much everything. The type of nappies you use, how often you hold your baby, where your baby sleeps, and how you feed your baby - everyone feels like they’re being judged. And, truth be told, you probably are being judged sometimes, but not as often as you think. New parents strive to do their best, and I think the paranoia is a part of that. You worry that others will think you are parenting wrong, so you do plenty of research and make sure you are parenting right. I think it’s this defensive - the fear that others are judging you for not breastfeeding - that leaves women feeling that they must explain as soon as possible why they’ll be whipped out a bottle the next time their baby cries. In reality, I doubt that many breastfeeding mothers are judging you. Most breastfeeding mothers have faced struggled, cried about having sore nipples, and driven halfway to the supermarket for formula before calming down. More than anyone, they understand and can emphasise with the breastfeeding barriers you faced.
  • it’s your business - you don’t owe anybody an explanation, about anything. From the moment you found out you were pregnant, you have been making parenting decisions, and you will continue to do so for the rest of your life. Don’t include information simply because you feel you owe people an explanation, you don’t. Tell the story however you want, and include only the information you want people to know.
  • it ends the story on a negative - I’m not saying that bottle-feeding is negative, but the mothers who choose bottle-feeding with open arms are not usually the ones who feel the need to explain their choices in their birth stories.. The mothers who end the tales of their birth with “so I gave up,” are usually the ones who feel, perhaps not guilt, but a slight bit of disappointment about not breastfeeding, at least at first. Perhaps they are the mothers who planned to, and wanted to, but, for whatever reason, didn’t end up breastfeeding. For some of these women, for the first few weeks at least, using formula milk may be seen as a personal failing, and when they end their stories here, they do so with a sigh and a look of disappointment. Not all births go to plan, and not everybody is happy with the way their births turned out, but all mothers should be able to end their birth stories on a proud moment.

I’m not saying that breastfeeding isn’t a part of birth, for many it is. Lots of babies latch on within the first hour of life, in fact, nature pretty much designated the first hour of life to a baby finding and having their first feed. And if breastfeeding is a part of your story, then of course you should be free to tell it. It’s your story after all.

But for the women who associate breastfeeding with failure and disappointment, let’s take breastfeeding out of the birth story. Women should be able to tell their birth stories however they want, but ideally with as much pride as they can muster.

* I just want to state again that I in no way see formula as failure, please don't think that. I just wish women would stop feeling that they need to explain their choices, when they don't. 

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Living Arrows: Another Catch Up

This is my most recent Living Arrows photo (hooray, finally up to date). Our friends gave Ebony this bear the other week, Mr Teddy Bear to give him his full title, and he has been pretty much everywhere with us since. He's been on every piece of equipment at the park, watched the Lion King at the cinema, and visited friends. This photograph is of him doing the rounds at Blackpool Illuminations. 

Ebony: Is there a fly in my hair?
Me: No, there was yesterday but we got him out, didn't we?
Ebony: I want my fly back.
Me: ...
Ebony: That fly was my best friend.

A couple of days after the above conversation, we were taking photographs at our local park when an insect landed on Ebony's head. Not one to repeat mistakes, she immediately asked me to photograph her and her best friend, "Cheeeeese! Cheese, CHEESE!"

My fearless toddler.

During one of our afternoon strolls, we discovered a tree swing in the woods at the top of our street. Two and a half hours later, we returned home, muddy and exhausted after a fun afternoon. A few days later, Ebony wanted to go back to the woods. Dressed as The Gruffalo, of course. We were pleased to discover the swing was still there, and lost another hour to it as Ebony hurled through the air, stopping only to demand 'higher'. 

I took Ebony on the Climate March in Manchester. I really wanted to go down to London, but I had too much work on so we had to settle for the smaller rally up here instead. 

Our first go at baking in the new kitchen. Baking. With a toddler. In my new kitchen. What was I thinking?!
living arrows

Monday 27 October 2014

Living Arrows: A Catch Up

I have fallen outrageously behind with these Living Arrows posts, because I am clearly terrible at sticking to a schedule. Also, because, you know, work and life and things. Some weeks I managed to remember to dig out my camera and take a photograph, but just never got round to posting it. Other times I totally forgot, so I have only crappy phone shots to show for those weeks (and weeks). I've split the catch up into two posts because that is how behind I am. 

Whilst our beautiful (but still totally unfinished) new kitchen was being put in, I took Ebony to stay at my parents for a few days so we could get used to the cold before winter arrived. I jest, but it is actually really cold there. My parents were away, so it was just me and Ebony keeping each other company. We spent our days exploring the parks I used to play in as a child. Here she is in the helicopter I climbed many a time as a toddler. 

This photo was taken on a trip to the park. There's a small clearing in the bushes at the side of the play area, and all the toddlers seem to spend most of their time hanging out there. Ebony had disappeared from view, but I spotted her shoes hanging from the branch so walked over to see if she needed help getting down. She didn't, of course, so I left her to it. I think she spent most of the trip attached to this branch, arguing with any children who asked her to move. 

For Laurie's birthday, I bought him a toddler seat for his bike. This was their first go trying it out. We decided to go to the field at the top of our street so that there was a soft surface should anyone fall off. I think we were both a bit worried that Ebony might not like being on the back of the bike, but as it turned out she loved it. Since this photo, they have been on many adventures cycling off into the distance together. 

Remember how Ebony threw up all over the table at my friend's wedding? Yeah, this photograph was taken a couple of hours earlier. After insisting she wanted to wear a headband to the wedding, Ebony managed to keep it on her head for about three minutes before tiring of it. This photo was taken outside the reception venue, when we took Ebony for a run around to burn off some energy. Obviously she just sat down quietly, which she had been refusing to do inside. 

I walked out of my bedroom to find Ebony and the cat, side by side at the top of the stairs. They were silhouetted against the light from my office, and it looked beautiful. I grabbed my camera and returned to discover the cat had disappeared, so instead I just took a few photos of Ebony. 

During the summer holidays, we took a trip to a play day at a local(ish) park. There was lots of fun to be had - painting, climbing, bouncing, planting and making, to name a few. One of the best things was a huge area filled with hay, Ebony ran in and was throwing hay around with her best friend. It was really lovely, this photograph is of just after the hay fight. Exhausted, but happy. 

Post-bath, pre-bed difficult decisions about which books to have as bedtime stories. We've had to implement a limit of three now, it was getting out of hand...

Tada, I'm half caught up. Next stupidly long installment of photos coming soon. 
living arrows

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Things I Love: 1

1. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is amazing, I couldn't put it down. It is so beautifully written, and a really intriguing story. I don't read as much as I used to in my pre-motherhood days, but this book has really inspired me to make an effort to read more often.
2. I am well and truly hooked on fruit teas at the moment, and this is my current flavour of choice - not because it's better than all other brands, but simply because it's the one they sell at my local shop.
3. After hearing about how amazing Daiya cheese is, I finally got to try some thanks to my lovely family who brought me some back from Canada. It totally lived up to the hype. I still can't understand how the cheese melts so well. I'm not sure it tasted like cheese, does it? I think I've totally forgotten what cheese tastes like now, but it was so lovely to have that stringy cheese effect on a pizza.
4. My first book of Sounds by Alain Gree. I stumbled across Alain Gree's board books when Ebony was a little too old for them, but I finally find an excuse to buy one as present for my friend's beautiful new baby. I love the illustrations, they're such beautiful books.
5. Ebony loves witches, and pretends pretty much every stick we pass is a broomstick, so I wanted to find her a witch costume for Halloween. Much to my frustration, all of the toddler witch costumes seem to be based on the slutty adult witch costumes. They all feature short tutus and corset style tops, which really isn't what I was looking for. After a lengthy search, I managed to find this witches costume. It's exactly what I was looking for, and comes with a wig so I have the added bonus of pretending Ebony has hair for a day.
6. Cereal is an easy breakfast, and a great way of making sure Ebony has had a helping of fortified soya milk to set her up for the day. I was really excited to discover these Alpha Bites by Bear, they don't contain any sugar, and are full of fibre and nutrients. I ordered them with our weekly shop, and was a little apprehensive about whether they would be able to compete with the unhealthy, sugar-filled cereal Ebony had been eating. I needn't have worried, because they are delicious. So tasty, and Ebony loves them.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Our Last October

It seems like a lifetime ago that I first made the decision to stay home with Ebony during the day. I gave up my much-loved day job, and instead decided that, for a few months at least, I would be home looking after Ebony. This was, at least in part, due to an inflated sense of self on my part, I just didn’t believe anyone else could look after Ebony as well as I could.

I can honestly say I haven’t regretted the decision for longer than a millisecond (which is about how long it takes to detangle my hair out from Ebony’s claws). I haven’t grown tired of my days with her, or wished away her childhood. Of course, some days were longer than others, and some bedtimes seemingly never ending,

Under my watchful eye, Ebony took her first few steps. She mastered walking, then running, and finally jumping. She learnt a few words, then managed to string together short sentences, then picked up a few choice words that were quickly discouraged, then started asking why. Her hair grew, she developed friendships, and she became an avid bookworm (who will happily spend hours looking through books, despite not being able to read).

School always seemed so far away. It was visible on the horizon, sure, but it wasn’t going to arrive anytime soon. And now, suddenly, it is. Ebony will be starting nursery in September, and I know that may seem like a long time away, but believe me, the years have flown by so far, and I’m not expecting any different over the next 11 months.

The thought of leaving Ebony at a nursery, even for just 15 hours a week, is quite terrifying. There’s a lot about nursery and school that I don’t feel comfortable with. The hierarchy, the authority figures, the obsession with three year olds being able to spell, and that fact that someone else will be eating into my Ebony time. And the fact that I won’t be there, to gently guide her past the gender stereotypes, or support her when she doesn’t want to abide by the arbitrarial class rules. The fact that all of the research I’ve done, the instincts I’ve followed, and the decisions I’ve made about parenting, will suddenly apply to only half of the week. And for the other half, mainstream child-adult relationships will win out, which I find to be a thoroughly depressing thought.

But, those are thoughts for another time. This post, today, is about these last fleeting months together before Ebony departs the nest (for five, three hour sessions a week). I seem to be asked on a weekly basis when Ebony will be starting nursery, and after months of saying ‘next September’, finally the days of saying ‘September’ are upon me. When it first dawned on me that Ebony would be starting at nursery next September, my first thought that this was our very last October together.

Melodramatic, perhaps, but it’s also true. Next year we won’t be able to go on day-long adventures, we’ll be stuck in the humdrum routine of pickups, drops offs and (the thing I most dread) trying to get uniforms washed and dried on time (why, why do three year olds need uniforms?! Gah).

Since realising that this is, in fact, our very last October, I have been trying to make the most of it. We’ve been charging about the woods, jumping through puddles, running through leaves, and playing witches. A lot. I know we’ll be able to do all of those things next year, of course, but I’m concentrating on making memories this year. I want her to be able to look back on this time together, and remember that it was magical. I want her to remember the fairy hunts in the woods (hunts is a bad word, we certainly weren’t intending to do anything violent should we encounter any fairies), the afternoons in the park, the hours spent cuddled up on the sofa reading stories, and the things we made together.
Other things can wait, because this is the last year I will have my little girl all to myself.

Monday 20 October 2014

The Perfect Autumn Day

I can pretty much argue that any season is my absolute favourite, given the right circumstances. And I decidedly chose not to write this post last night when the rain was pelting down, and my poor bedraggled cat appeared at the back door, but, I love autumn. When it’s dry. 

I love that crisp feeling in the evening air, and the feel of leaves scrunching under my step. I love the beautiful warm colours that fill the trees, and scatter across the fields and streets. I love digging winter clothes out of from under the stairs, and desperately trying to find my thermals. I love drinking warm tea first thing on a cool morning as I sit outside in the garden with Ebony. I love the adventures that autumn promises, and that overwhelming desire to make the most of nature before the winter chill creeps in.

This weekend, we decided to immerse ourselves in autumn, and find some fallen leaves to explore. I was visiting my university friend and her adorable new baby in Liverpool, so we decided to pay a visit to Sefton Park. I love Sefton Park, I went to uni in Liverpool and lived near to Sefton Park for a while. The ground becomes a beautiful sea of yellow daffodils in the spring, and by summer the grassy lawns make the perfect spot for some sunny revision, but it’s even better in autumn. The towering trees are lit up with colour, and fallen leaves fill the park, as squirrels rush by gathering nuts for the winter. It’s perfect, and, for once, I had a full camera battery so was able to take some photographs of Ebony playing in the leaves.

After the long car journey over to Liverpool (thanks, traffic), she couldn’t wait to stretch her legs and shot off almost as soon as she reached the ground. After a few unsuccessful attempts at befriending a squirrel, she settled for a game of hide and seek with Laurie. She searched for conkers amongst the leaves, collected acorns, threw leaves in the air and climbed every tree stump she could find. Laurie gathered together a huge pile of leaves, and Ebony had great fun running and stomping through them, kicking them high into the air as she went. She climbed rocks, leapt across stepping stones, and ran as fast as she could through the park. And, much to her delight, she discovered helicopter seeds. 

Her beautiful red coat and autumnal skirt were very kindly sent to us by House of Fraser. Isn't it the most perfect coat?

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