Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015: A Look Back

2015 has been a full year for us. Mostly joy filled, but there was also the devastating news of a close relative's diagnosis with highly advanced cancer.

Those eyes...
I started 2015 still somewhat shell shocked from being thrust into new motherhood - N was then 3 months old - and I'm ending it with "mother" firmly established as something I am, not just something I do. I am who this little one looks to for guidance, love, support, comfort, rest... well, everything really. This, having a person so utterly and completely depending on (fallible) me, it used to scare me. Now it's simply life. I have never had a greater joy than seeing her look up at me with nothing but love and trust in her face. There is no fear, no worry, no hidden agenda; just trust, just love. I'm tasting something of God every day - and even that has become something "normal" to me by now (although I'll admit it does take my breath away at times!).

The little one at 3 months was just about holding her head up and smiling. This 15 month old I have now babbles away in her own language, experiments with walking (insisting on being walked up and down the hall), has her own preferences (Clangers on TV always get a dance and laugh!) and eats like food is going out of fashion! She is truly a joy to us.

On holiday in Madeira
So, what did we get up to this year? My sister was visiting when 2015 arrived (it's really time she came over during the nicer time of year! - let's make 2016 the year for that) and after an amazing holiday to Madeira in March I went back to working for the church; this time from home. I learned that working around a little one's naps was a lot harder work than it sounded - only 8 hours a week, in my previous life that was a single workday! (not even a whole one...) yet it would often take me most of the week to get that time in because naps could be 20 minutes or 2 hours long: no way of knowing in advance.

In the summer we visited my family in Austria and were able to be at my relative's wedding - the one who is battling cancer - a bittersweet experience. To see this horrible disease ravaging a loved one's body; yet a wedding is an event so full of hope, a defiance of the threat of death.

Accessing home for 2 months: via stepladder
We ended the summer with a fun filled camping weekend at Westpoint (with reasonable weather too!) and a short visit by a friend from the US - at that time, our boat was out of the water for maintenance. Originally planned for up to one month we ended up being stuck on land for over two months! The dirt and grime got to me, and the relentless work got to Mr. who could not find anybody to do the laborious yet delicate work required and ended up doing it himself: after a full workday, he'd get home around 6 and then work until about 10. We were beyond happy when that time was finally over and we went back in the water. That day, a cold October day, was also my first (unintentional) swim in the harbour water! Not an experience I'd like to repeat, especially on such a cold day and fully clothed... on the up side however, I had Mr.'s mobile in my pocket and it survived, still going strong today.

Autumn saw the great news of my new pregnancy, as well as a much needed holiday (after the boat was finally done) with the in-laws in Malta. Sunshine, warmth, morning sleep-ins - graciously provided by grandma & grandad - felt like paradise.

We're seeing the year out very relaxed - the situation with my relative is continuing, and getting worse, putting a bitter dampener on the joy we see ahead... but looking ahead to 2016 is for a new post.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Building a life

We're a family.  Have been for a few years now. We're building a shared life: first as a couple... then came a home of our own... a dog... a baby... and another baby on the way now.

Family: the settled everyday adventure
Until I met Mr. and we started building this life together, my highest goal in life was freedom. Flexibility. I loved being able to say I could pack two bags and be off tomorrow, into the sunset - and for years, I could have done that and sometimes I did. Aged 22, I packed my bags and went, one week after telling my family I was going to move to New York.

After a while there, I packed my bags again and moved to Virginia. I would have stayed but it wasn't possible, so I packed again - six weeks before having to leave the country when my visa expired I had no idea at all where I was going to go, then I met a lovely couple from the UK and they said, hey, why don't you move over there. So I did that.

With the exception of leaving Austria, I never moved away from a place because I could no longer stand it there. Funny enough, looking back, I would have stayed longer in each place but circumstances forced my moves... but the point was that in principle, I could leave whenever I wanted. I was never stuck or trapped.

I'm finally free of that need for freedom, which was based in fear! True freedom is not fearing, but loving. I'm building a life and a family that yes, I am stuck with for better or worse. Leaving them would be pretty much impossible: it would tear me apart. Now I know that freedom as I knew it actually meant loneliness.

So many things I used to avoid, I now embrace - in some ways, our life is pretty average (I was always trying not to live an ordinary life...); we are married, with (soon) two kids and a dog, and even an allotment to grow vegetables. Mr has a regular day job and my main work is bringing up baby. We go to church and go on holidays where we stay in hotels or even, gasp, camp.

It looks ordinary from the outside in. But it's the most amazing journey for me.

Monday, 5 October 2015

On not bracing for impact

This post is following a conversation I had with God the other day. I don't want to forget it and move on, I want to dwell on it and change.

There's a reason your young years are called "formative years". They truly are, no matter how much change you go through later... in my formative years, I lost people I loved. I learned that trust is stupid, and that just when I'm having the best of times, the biggest of blows is sure to follow.

So I learned to brace for impact.

Things right now are good, in fact they are wonderful; therefore the blow to come must be devastating. Brace.

Of course this isn't a conscious thought process... but just the other day, I was reflecting on how wonderful life is for me right now and all I've been given and immediately a deep sense of foreboding descended. Of something awful ahead, undefined and vague. The response to that is what I call "bracing for impact" - hardening, not letting people in too close, being as ready as possible for the blow.

And then, as I reflected, I felt God's gentle prompting to stop protecting myself. He reminded me that He is good. He doesn't give good things in order to "soften us up" for the blow ahead. Disasters don't come because we've had it too good for too long.

In fact God himself feels deeply, and He never braces for impact. He feels it all, intensely. He loves fully and completely, and grieves to the depths of grief. Love and grief, devastation and delight - they are divine experiences we get to live. Without God of course it makes sense to brace for impact, because horrible things do happen and without this rock to cling to, we better protect ourselves.

But He reminded me that He's my refuge in times of troubles, if and when they come, but to live to the full today I need to walk tall, love hard, and allow it all. Enter into life. Let my heart be so filled that if it does get broken, it's not just cracked but utterly shattered. That, too, is life.

Maybe one day I can live in the sunshine of today without that sense of foreboding. Maybe the fact I'm even sharing this, despite my sense of unease at "tempting fate" by saying these things out loud, is a step forward.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Why I'm confident in my mothering

So many of my mum friends are anxious about their mothering. They question if they're doing enough, or the right things, or as one mum even put it, whether their babies wouldn't be better off with another mum!

I find this tragic. And I wish there was a way to just give confidence to those that need it, because I think the very fact of your questioning your decisions and thinking through your actions critically means you're already doing more than many. But that's not what I'm here to say today.

I'd like to share a few reasons why I have every confidence in my own mothering abilities. This isn't to boast, but to hopefully help others see that they, too, are doing a fine job.

By the way, I'm the least likely candidate for being a good mother, if a job interview was required for this gig. I never took an interest in children whatsoever; my role models, growing up, were dysfunctional all round; I had a good career going as a marketer. And yet, let me tell you in all humility, I'm doing a perfectly good job right now. What makes me confident of this?

  • I'm not afraid she won't love me back.

My mum & me
My mother loved me, of that I have no doubt, and I loved her too. My world as I knew it ended when she died and it took many years before I loved anyone again.
But, with the benefit of hindsight, she didn't do a great job... she really didn't like being a mother, doing all the menial tasks that came with it, and by the time my sister came along (I was 6) she had pretty much checked out of the housekeeping / mothering gig altogether and retreated to her music. I had to follow her there if I wanted her attention, so I learned to play instruments. From my relationship with my mother I learned that as long as you don't actively mistreat your child, it doesn't really matter how else you mess up: they will still love you fiercely with all their heart.

  • My role models are right here, and they mentor me.

With this start in life, follwed by three years of bullying and psychological abuse at my aunt's, I saw little good in the idea of family. There were no couples in my world who stayed together because of love. Most divorced; some didn't, however much they loated each other but stayed together for their own reasons. I saw no love filled family lives in my growing up years, none.
But those are not the role models I look to now. I've often said that it took me 10 years of being a Christian before I was ready for a relationship - let alone a family! I spent 10 years being rebuilt from the inside out. God knew I needed that time. In that time I've met, and done life with, several love based families and I saw what a glorious, life-giving thing family could be - and those became my role models. There are many of them around me at our church now, people to ask for advice, to lean on when things get hard, to walk this journey together with.
Moral of the story: your start in life does not need to define you. If you're a Christian, then Christ does, and he will shape you towards love if you let him.

  • I trust my instincts.

I believe that at this stage, babyhood, mothering has a lot to do with instinct. Later on I will have a little person with wishes, desires, emotions and ideas to deal with; for much of the first year however, the issue at hand is more about keeping baby alive and happy and not much else. I read some good baby books (highly recommend BabyCalm and any of La Leche League's books, especially Sweet Sleep and the Art of Breastfeeding) but nowhere near as much as I could have done. Perhaps I was lucky, more likely I have God to thank for it, that these are the books I started with rather than some of the more popular books which I have since learned more about and I see how they only serve to make mothers anxious.
Since time began, about half of humanity has given birth and reared children - successfully, or we wouldn't be here. I take great courage from that. There are definitely instincts at play, and they can be trusted. I don't go against them. When my baby cries, I comfort her, whether it's day or night (and guess what, at night my mere presence is enough comfort to her - her crying at night is extremely rare); I keep her in close physical contact; I feed her when she's hungry. It's simple really and we're both quite relaxed in it all.

  • I learn on the job, and from the best: the Father himself

In a church I was part of in America, the pastor was an incredible father figure to all the young people. He just had that warmth, that strength, he just drew people to him and he was like a father in the whole church. One day his wife told me his story - that he was his mother's first son, out of wedlock, and when she married he became his stepfather's punching bag. He grew up in a worse place than the family dog: basically everyone's slave, rather than part of the family, he did not eat at the family table but had to hope for scraps; he slept in the garage; and other than for beatings, there was little interaction between him and his stepfather. He knew nothing of what a father was meant to be. When he himself became a father - by then he was a Christian - he knew how out of his depth he was, and whenever he didn't know what to do (for example, when one of his kids misbehaved or wanted something he wasn't sure was a good idea) he would tell them to sit on a step outside his office and he'd go inside to pray and ask God what to do. I met both his kids and they told me of waiting on that step waiting to hear what would happen. That pastor literally learned how to parent from God, and by the time I met him - both his kids were adults then - he was a natural father figure to many people.
It's been at least 8 years since I moved away from that church but this story has stuck with me because I, too, need God's help in my parenting. To be fair, probably everyone does because we're all fallible, but perhaps I'm more conscious of it than most because I have no internal resources (role models) to draw from. I've seen Ken with my own eyes, known him and his family and their lives, and I've seen what God can do - so I trust that he can do the same for me. It's not a vague concept but a real help at the time I need it: I know that at the very moment when I'm overwhelmed, or I don't know what to do, I can stop right there and take a moment and ask my heavenly Dad. He knows. He'll tell me. I truly believe that.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Towards living the dream

On honeymoon
We dream together. My man and I - we dream.

Growing up in a deeply dysfunctional, stifling household I dreamed of escaping to America. That dream kept me alive in my teens, when the bullying at home wore me down and freedom after freedom was being clipped from my life, like prison walls closing in ever further. It was about getting away, but it became a very specific place - America - and I worked towards it. The one freedom I knew they'd never take away was my academic studies, so I targeted everything I did academically to being able to move there. I chose a college where I would be able to get a recognised degree. I worked, I networked, and... I got there eventually.

Was it my salvation? No - by the time I went, the situation had changed and I was already free: but I couldn't stay, either. I couldn't not go after working so hard for such a long stretch of my life. So I went, I lived the dream, and while it was hard most of the time there (NYC is hardly an easy place to "make it") the knowledge that I was living the dream meant I loved it. After some years of struggle I was finally willing to move back to Europe, not because I gave up the dream but because I had fulfilled it.

I'm a practical person. To me, a dream is only worth dreaming if I have a hope of making it come true.

And so, my man and I, we have a dream too. It's not mine alone, or his - I never even thought of doing this before I met him, and I'm pretty sure neither did he. But as we thought about our life together and what we want out of it, this dream was born, and we are actively working on getting to live it.

Like my dream of America, it won't happen overnight. It will mean years of work. But I'm patient like that, I will work on achieving this. I will make sacrifices because they won't feel like sacrifices when they become stepping stones towards the goal.

On honeymoon
We dream of sailing.

We dream of the day that we swap our river boat for a yacht and just leave. We'll explore the world, but mostly the nice warm places - the Caribbean, the Southern Pacific. We'll dive. We'll live on very little money, we'll probably work seasonally, and we'll love it.

Why are we in this rat race? Why is my Mr. working long hours, getting ulcers with the stress, only able to see his daughter in the evenings and weekends? What are we trying to achieve by doing that? Whatever it is, it's not what we want, thanks very much. We want to grow old on the seas. Live on island schedules, not tight deadlines. Our child(ren) will have rich educational experiences, not only aboard, but every time we spend time on land. Maybe when we're working seasonally, they'll attend local schools for a while. They'll certainly not lack learning opportunities, as the Internet's everywhere now - and socialisation? A tightly-knit family provides that, and living aboard does not mean being hermits; it actually means you get to meet many more people than most land dwellers do. Boaters are an incredible community.

There are many things I'm thinking through already, that are years in the future. As I said, I'm a practical person through and through. This dream is one of the reasons we won't send our child(ren) to school here - that would take the flexibility away that we need. And we want them to be self directed learners anyway. The dream is why I'm learning how to sail. It's why we're paying off our mortgage next year. No ties, no debts, nothing to hold us back when we are ready to go.

On honeymoon
But we can't go tomorrow, or next year - and that's OK. Baby's grandparents have just moved to be near us, and we're so grateful that they are here and being supportive and enjoying being part of baby's life. We wouldn't want to walk away from that, not now. Also, there are a few more years Mr. has to work until his earliest possible retirement date, and we may decide to wait that out - but not sure yet.

There's also a possible intermediate step. Mr's company has a site in America at the Mexican Gulf coast; if it was possible for him to be transferred there, we might be able to get the grandparents to move there with us and live there for a few years, live on land and keep a sail boat to use on weekends and holidays - get into it slowly, so to speak. That would be a lovely, gentle stepping stone towards taking the full plunge. I'd like that.

We'll see. But what I know is, dreams are for living, and one day we'll be living ours.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Baby routine: no, thanks

My beautiful friend Kristy-Lee has started a Youtube Channel (link). She's a mum of five and puts up videos with how-to's on various topics, do have a look, she's great. With five kids, she's got lots of experience to draw from! What she does clearly works for her family - and knowing them, I can see it really does! One of her videos, "5 bedtime tips" is what prompted this post... I've been thinking lots about routines in the past few months.

Kristy certainly isn't the only person I've heard singing the praises of bedtime routines: everyone does, it seems! So why do I have an instinctive resistance inside?

Obviously every family is dfiferent and Kristy's way works for her family, but for mine, I can't contemplate any real routine apart from what happens naturally and organically anyway. I've thought about it a lot. And I think the vision that's beginning to form certainly isn't for everyone....

Hashing out the arguments

Feeding to sleep:
yeah, we do that.
A routine is something that happens every day, in the same order, and at (more or less) the same time. It's supposed to help babies and kids to get to sleep more easily, and give them a certain security - knowing what's going to happen next. I can see the argument for that, especially having worked with people with learning disabilities - knowing what's expected and what's going to happen next is helpful to many.

My instinctive reaction is based on not wanting to be chained to a routine, though. I see it in some friends' lives. Naptimes are off-limits each day; and come, say, 7pm, every single day, they have no freedom to do anything or go anywhere because the almighty routine demands absolute adherence. No matter what. And God forbid it's disturbed! The kids are seriously out of balance. Meltdowns and tantrums.

I don't want that!

Is it naive to think that having a loose approach can work? From what I hear from my routine-using friends, even with a routine there are daily battles and difficulties, as just because the kids know the routine does not mean they will follow it cheerfully! So a routine isn't going to give us an easy life. So I just fail to see what the advantage is of chaining ourselves to a timetable.

What I do want (all this and maybe a unicorn too)

Brushing her gums
(no teeth as yet)
I want to be able to go places in the evening and do things, with baby - and yes, with kids if and when we have more than one - and have her/them either go to sleep there or stay awake. I want naptimes to be semi-flexible, as they are now: we have a general idea when she'll sleep but she might her first nap at 10am the one day and after 12 noon the next, all depending on what we're doing that day.

Anyhow, where does the notion come from that children need to go to sleep early? Is this because the parents want the evening to themselves, or is there a developmental reason? I don't think there is, and for our family, I'm not worried about having our evenings child free. (In fact I wouldn't mind a lie-in, so if kids are up later, they might sleep in later too, no?)

We are one family, and if kids go to bed too early they'll miss out on dad time, anyway! So kiddo/s are welcome to be up when we are. Perhaps that might actually eliminate some of the bedtime problems, because if I remember correctly from my own childhood, part of the reason I didn't want to go to bed was because I was afraid to miss out on something! I don't want to exclude our kid/s from parts of our lives.

I want to include my kid/s in my life. We belong together. This does mean sacrifices on my part, being selective about activities, and certain things I can't do for the moment. But that is what I signed up to when I got pregnant: perhaps I'm swinging the other way from my own mother, who insisted on living her own life apart from us - I want to do motherhood not as a tacked-on part of what I do, but as very much who I am.

And that's not to say I want my life to revolve around my kid/s. Oh no! I see routine as much more limiting than what I'm proposing. If I had to be at home every day for a certain set of hours, doing the exact same set of things day in and day out, come what may: I would find that limiting. I'd feel trapped.

What I'm proposing is continuing to do what I love, socialising and church activities and friends - doing the things we do, together, as a family. Kid/s fitting into our lives, rather than our lives revolving around their routines.

Am I naive? Yeah, probably - I don't have any experience with kids. But perhaps, just maybe, we can make this work. We'll certainly try.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Simple Hip Cross Carry - Photo Tutorial

Hip Cross Carry
This is, in my opinion, the most underrated hip carry! It's pre-tied and poppable, meaning that you can put the wrap on and keep it on all day if you like, popping baby in and out as needed. It can be done with a woven wrap size 3 or 4.

This makes it great for toddlers, who can't make up their mind if they want to be carried or not; it's great for short walks to the car - basically anywhere that you need to take baby out without having to tie again.

No one ever seems to suggest this carry when people ask, and I think that's because all the videos I've seen so far make it look really complicated to do. But it's not! So I've taken a few photos to walk you through how it's done, I hope you'll agree it's super easy.

I'm using a size 3 here. If you use a 4 you'll have some hanging tails. As you make the knot in advance, you'll get to know after a while how much tail you need.

Let's get started! It's so simple....

Step 1: Make a knot.
So to start with, you just make a double knot towards the end of your wrap, creating a loop.

Step 2: hula hoop.
Put the wrap around your waist, holding it out away from you. The knot should sit at your waist, the same side of your body that you want the shoulder of the wrap to sit.

Step 3: cross over.
Now you're creating a figure 8 by crossing the wrap over itself. The front should cross over the back.

Step 4: Arm & head come through the loop
The loop you've created is where your arm and head go through.

You're done! You can wear your wrap like this all day.

But, I hear you ask, where does the baby go? I'll show you...

Back leg goes through the back pass
Front leg through the front pass
That's baby sitting there! If your baby doesn't like being wrapped, or you just want some relief
for your carrying arm, you can just carry them like this. They'll sit safely, but of course
you'll want to keep your arm on their back supporting them.
Spread the back pass first, all the way up and over their back shoulder.
Then spread the front pass.
Notice - as you can easily see with this wrap - that the rail on top (grey) is the opposite
from the other side (which is orange)! This is important...
Finally, grab the top (grey) rail and pull it down over your shoulder, so the wrap doesn't dig into your neck.
This is very comfortable if you get it to cup your shoulder!
If you've got the rails right, the pass diagonally across your back will be spread wide and without twists!

Have fun!

Thursday, 30 April 2015

"So, will you raise your child to be a vegan?"

The questions have started.

They've always been there occasionally, but now she's 7 months old and we're just beginning to introduce her to food (not that she's particularly interested just yet), this question has become a regular one. My answer can't be given in just a word, though.

Firstly, being vegan is a life choice, not just a food choice. It means to abstain from willfully and unnecessarily causing harm to other sentient beings - and that includes not just eating them, but also wearing their skins or furs, using products that were tested on them, or exploiting them in the many ways humans have invented. But, let's keep things simple here and stick to the food, since that is what most people are thinking of when they ask the question.

A few thoughts on this.

I want her to be healthy.

I will do the best by her that I know how. This includes, but is not limited to, giving her the best nutrition to thrive. Why would I deliberately give her food that will, if not harm her, then at least be a burden on her system? Why not give her only what's good for her? So no, I won't give her animal flesh or secretions.

I want her to learn compassion.

I want her to grow up asking what effects her actions are having on others. Human and non-human. She'll learn that kicking the dog is not kind. She'll learn that hitting another child is not okay. And she'll know from a young age that eating parts of other beings' bodies means that they have to die, and because we don't need to eat those body parts to survive, that is not a compassionate thing to do. When she's old enough to handle the truth, I will show her where meat comes from. We'll go to the city farms and pet the animals, and she'll see what gentle, sweet creatures they are.

I don't want to lie to her.

Like the little boy's mother in this video - I have such respect for her! - I will be honest with my child. I'll be honest about Santa Claus, I'll be honest about the Tooth Fairy, and I'll be honest about her food.

I want her to think for herself.

This applies to everything. Obviously as a small baby, I make choices for her. I make them to the best of my ability in her best interests. But ultimately, I can't raise her to be a vegan any more than I can raise her to be a Christian - I am both, with all my heart, and when she is young I will make choices for her along those lines; she'll grow up in that environment, see my example, learn my reasons... but I cannot make her life choices for her. When she is able to, she will have to make a proactive choice and I can only hope (and pray!) that what I have shown her and taught her will help her make those choices. But I can't and wouldn't force her!

It simply is the right thing.

I could go into so much detail about why living vegan is simply the morally right thing to do (quite apart from health wise...) - now, I'm not going to lie, living vegan sometimes means you miss out on (nonvegan) birthday cake, or (nonvegan) ice cream, or other things we think of as indispensable in a childhood. But is my child's questionable, short-term culinary pleasure worth the suffering behind it? When there is absolutely no nutritional need, and if anything, those things I mentioned are health liabilities anyway - simply for the fleeting gratification of a desire? As I see it, she may want ice cream but she hasn't understood what's behind it - the animal bred to give unnatural amounts of milk, existing its miserable life long in a tiny cage, artificially impregnated every year so that the milk won't stop but her calf, as soon as it's born, taken away (to be killed if male, to be subjected to the same fate if female), discarded after a few years when the milk no longer flows so freely; if my girl knew all this, she would not want the ice cream. But that kind of wider perspective comes with maturity, a little child doesn't have it - which is why I make that choice for her for now.

I will make other choices for her to do the right thing when she doesn't know yet. I will keep her away from harm. I will stop her harming others. It simply is the right thing to do.

Thank goodness for the support I have.

I'm grateful that I not only have a husband who, though not actually (fully) vegan himself, doesn't just "let me" bring up baby along these lines but actively thinks this is what we should do. My in-laws aren't vegans but I am beyond blessed with them: I feel completely respected by them and I trust that they will go along with the way my husband and I wish to raise our child - grandparents like that are the best! They are supportive, not undermining. When our daughter is with them I do believe that, if I make sure they understand what we're looking to instill in her, will respect those boundaries. That is a huge blessing and not one I take for granted... my family is far away but if my parents were still around - particularly my father's side - I have no doubt they would continually undermine us and seek to sneak "treats" behind our backs. It's wonderful to not have to deal with that.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Wanted: good posture

Before & after...
I used to have very good posture.

In fact I remember my parents saying, many times during my childhood, that I'd never have a back ache because I had such good posture.

These days... not so much. Not a day goes by when I don't catch myself - multiple times! - slumping, shoulders drooping, bent over. I correct it and a minute later I'm back to slumping, having totally forgotten. Good posture is no longer my "normal" and it hasn't been for years!

There was a definite point when I went from good to bad posture. It was a choice, can you believe it?? I was probably just under 10 years old, and my family went on holiday with my aunt and uncle's family. I looked up to my cousins who are several years older to me... and they sat like hunchbacks. So that was obviously cooler than sitting up straight! I remember having to practice sitting like that, how it didn't come naturally and how I had to consciously work on it. I just thought they were so cool...

Silly, but there it is. The moment I threw away my always-straight posture. If only getting it back was that easy! Because my muscles are no longer used to it, sitting or standing up straight takes not only conscious thought, but becomes difficult after a while. What used to come naturally is now an effort.

I still don't have a back ache, but I do think it's only a matter of time and besides, I don't like how I look with bad posture - I see it in photos - head forward, shoulders hunched, belly stuck out. Not a good look! So here I am, putting it out into the public domain, friends: I'm working on better posture. Please tell me if you see me hunched over.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Six months making milk

There's something of a beautiful continuity in this mothering journey - in the space of nine months, my body grew a living, breathing baby of 6 lbs. 5 oz. from just a few cells....

So tiny, skinny and floppy

... and in the six months after that, my body continued to nourish and grow her from that to almost 20 lbs.

Added some healthy baby fat rolls!

I stand amazed at the fact that my body alone grew, and sustained, this human being all the way to today - and beyond, I can reasonably expect. She has gone from cells, to bean, to plum, apple, and various other fruit sizes, to a tiny skinny squish out in the world... all the way to a chunky, alert and communicative baby. I think that is humbling.

The journey didn't begin smoothly: while she was able to feed very soon after her birth, I just could not get her latched on without help for the 24 hours I spent in hospital after her birth. When I left, the discharging midwife said I was free to stay longer if I wanted (hah! - all I could think was LET ME OUT!) and when I declined, left me with the helpful thought that I'd be back soon anyway when baby lost over 10% of her birth weight and was hospitalised again. Thanks, lady.

She didn't lose 10%. Not even close. When we got home, in our own environment, we figured it out together, and she loved her food from the start.
It's a superpower, alright

But then the pain came.

In the first few weeks, the pain caused by her feeding grew, but it increased gradually so that - like the frog in boiling water - I kept going and didn't seek help until I finally broke down one day and said to Mr. that I may need to take paracetamol before each feed just to get through it. By then, my nipples were in serious and near-constant pain. Any touch was agony. Showering hurt; towelling off after a shower had to happen with a very small towel so that I could control exactly where it went, because anything like that touching my nipple would have sent me through the roof!

Baby was latching as well as I knew how, and health visitors said they could see nothing wrong there. But the pain, the pain! The day I decided I needed painkillers to survive each feed was when I finally realised I needed to do something. I could not wait this out. I was not tougher than this. I needed help.

I first went to a breastfeeding support group, the leader watched me feed and said she could see nothing wrong. But she referred me to a lactation consultant. She watched me too, and saw very little wrong; a small adjustment here, a little differently there. Nothing to truly change things. But she gave me one helpful piece of advice - I could cut down the time each feed took by squeezing milk into her mouth (breast compressions) which would limit the amount of time I had to deal with the pain.

Did I consider formula, you ask? No, I didn't. Unless it was for baby's sheer survival, if it came to that, I was not going to go down that route. I was going to feed my baby. So I hung in there, pain and all... and mere days after I finally saw that consultant, things did begin to look up. Today I know that the problem was simply that my daughter was very small when she was born, hence she had a very small mouth, which meant she could not get as much tissue into her mouth as was necessary to make it pain free for me. As she grew, the pain went, and I've been pain free since.

So I've exclusively breastfed my baby from birth to now, six months, and I will continue to breastfeed her until further notice - we'll start introducing her to food when she sits unaided, which isn't yet the case.

So the above is my journey, the facts of it. I'd like to talk about attitudes a little now.

There's a phrase I've seen used, again and again, that kind of bugs me: "Mothering through breastfeeding."

I don't "mother through breastfeeding".

Feeding to sleep?
Yeah, we do that too.
I mother through loving, cuddling, holding, babywearing, bedsharing, cooing, singing, chatting, caring, and a million other things... and breastfeeding. How can a thing as big, as all-encompassing, as motherhood be reduced to this one thing?

I'm as passionate as anyone about giving my daughter the best, and most natural, food for her - breastmilk. I have never given her formula; I have never given her a bottle of any kind, she's only ever had fresh milk direct from me. No expressing. No dummies. Just me and my milk when she wanted it. So it's safe to say I'm committed to breastfeeding. But that phrase still gets me on the wrong foot. How can all I do be reduced to breastfeeding?

Yes, breastfeeding is much more than a nutritional choice; it's comforting, bonding, tangible love. But I comfort, bond with, and tangibly love my daughter in a million other ways. My husband obviously doesn't father through breastfeeding: yet his parenting as a father is still equally valuable to my mothering, even without that one thing. (For example he's much better than me at comforting her through rocking, which is sometimes far more effective than shoving a boob in her face again). We could not do without one another in this.

So I'm not proud. I'm not proud to be a breastfeeder; I'm not particularly proud to have made it through the tough start either. It's just what was necessary to do the normal thing. I was, if anything, a bit disappointed that something so natural should prove so painful and difficult, but then again, birth is perfectly natural and still is painful for most women! And yet most of us choose to feel the pain to gain the reward, and for the sake of our children.

So I feel that I just did what I needed to do.

Today I enjoy the closeness, the connection, that feeding on demand - without schedules, bottles, or expectations - brings, and I look forward to the next six months when my little girl learns about all the tastes and textures the world's foods have to offer... but my milk will still be there for her, a safe choice whenever she wants it, a known quantity, nourishment for body and soul.

Monday, 16 March 2015

The strangeness of baby friendly strangers

Adorable, if I do say so myself...
They're everywhere - airports, supermarkets, cafes. They're everyone - men, women, old, young. And they catch me by surprise every time.

Baby lovers all over the place! Some talk to me... some talk to her... some just coo, aww, smile or make silly faces. Others elbow their friend / partner / neighbour in the ribs as we walk past!

Now I don't mind any of those things. I'm just surprised!

Not because I don't think my baby is impossibly cute and stunningly squishy. But in my head I usually think that's what I think because I'm her mother, and other people noticing her chubby cuteness catch me by surprise!

Obviously it's because I've never been a baby person. Babies were kind of cute, okay, as long as they remained quiet and preferably at some distance so that I'd be out of the way of any bodily fluid emissions. But all babies looked the same to me. And I would go up to a dog to fuss over it a million times sooner than a baby.

So because I'm not that kind of person, I just don't expect people to be that nice. Comments of how sweet she is, how cute, how quiet (ha!), how smiley... I love them and I treasure them but never, ever do I expect them.

Friday, 13 March 2015

On mental discipline

This has been on my mind for a little while after comments from friends who are, let's say surprised, at the way I have embraced motherhood given how it was never something I sought after. (Okay, let's call a spade a spade: I never wanted children.)

At some point in my life, I've learned a few valuable lessons on mental discipline, and I thought I'd share a little about what I've learned.

Choosing to be where I am

Me, age 24, living in VA
on a camping trip (!)
Mental discipline to me is not working hard to try to think differently. It's about finding the love for the situation.

For example, I was single for a long time. All my 20's long. I never had a relationship in my 20's. And most of my friends would say things like, "you don't want to be married, do you." (my standard answer to that one was, I just haven't met anyone I want to marry!) 

In other words, when I was single I poured all my energy into the work I did and lived the single life to the full, rather than looking to change the situation. I embraced it: moving continents, seeing the world. I've never been one of those women who plan their wedding long before they meet the groom. To me, that would have been not only a waste of mental energy but, worse, it would feed a longing I didn't find it helpful to feed at that time. 

And that's the rub. I know that where my mental energy goes, that will be what I long for. So why not want what I have?

People seem to think I'm not open to change, though. In one sense, the oh-she-does-career-not-marriage line was a compliment to me, because it was true at the time; I truly didn't long for what I didn't have, because I had a full life to enjoy. But it wasn't true. I was open to change. And now things have changed, I have fully embraced life as it is now.

No pining

Trying rowing for the first time...
My mother always longed for freedom (from her marriage, from us children...) and all it did was make her miserable. I'm not in her situation, of course - my marriage is wonderful, not a prison - but nevertheless I don't choose to dwell on things I can't do any more, or that aren't helpful.

I am committed to what I do now. I no longer pursue a career outside my home - and I don't pine after one, instead my aspiration now is to be the best mother and wife I can be. I pour my energy into those pursuits. I spend time learning, improving, and working to get better at it just as I used to do at work. Pursuing excellence.

Comparison kills

From the outside looking in, my life looks idyllic. Living on a boat; married to the love of my life; given a baby who is bringing a whole new level of joy to my life. And that is true, and that is what I dwell on

What don't I have? We don't have lots of money - in fact, it's very tight. I don't have a "stimulating" work and career any more. We don't have lots of living space, no outside space obviously. Our lifestyle is simple. 

I consciously don't compare our lives to those of others, though. As the AA slogan puts it, comparing my inside to another's outside is unhelpful; others may have more of the things I want but they also likely struggle with other issues I don't know about.

No peer pressure

Since kindergarten I have refused peer pressure. When I started smoking, I was one of the first - it wasn't peer pressure that got me to do it. Whenever I noticed it, I almost always chose to do the exact opposite - just because! 

May not have much
but we set our priorities
And then I learned that doing the opposite of what peer pressure dictates is still being under it; so these days I just make my own decisions and try, to the best of my ability, to keep any peer pressure out of my decision making altogether. So I might do what everyone does, or I might not, but the point is I'm making my decisions freely.

I'm currently feeling some peer pressure both ways in terms of mothering and work. One group of mums I'm friends with is mostly professionals who expect to go back to work, and who consider the idea of staying home an antiquated and somewhat demeaning concept. Another group of my mother friends thinks staying home and fully embracing motherhood is the highest possible calling. 

My choice is my choice, though. I don't react to peer pressure - I act in my, and my family's, best interests. That is freedom, and that is the kind of mental discipline I work on establishing in my life.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The end of my body image issues

It's the year I turn 35 and I can finally and definitely say that my body image issues - which have been with me since my early teens - are a thing of the past.

I wish it was only one thing, the magic wand I could offer to all those who are still struggling. I see the magazines at the checkout that are selling the very same stories of fat shaming celebrities, fad diet successes, and fourteen-day detoxes with new faces every month. Someone's buying them, so I know there are still those who are struggling.

But I'm afraid I haven't found a magic pill - what seems to have happened is the last jigsaw piece of many has clicked into place, and suddenly the jumble has come together and forms a coherent picture: the picture of the strong, healthy woman I see in the mirror these days. I can share what the puzzle pieces were for me, but what I can't do is connect them for you. A piece or two might be different in someone else's life. But most of them, I believe, are the same for all of us.

Here's a few of them.
  • I'm older and wiser. The insecurities of my teens, the awkwardness, the need to be accepted by everyone - good riddance!
    Of course, on the other hand, I well remember my mother's continuous yo-yoing of the same 20kgs, up and down and up and down for as long as I can remember. She was older than me the entire time I was alive. So age doesn't necessarily take those issues away.
  • I'm a Christian and I know I'm accepted as I am. Sins, of course, are forgiven; but there's also the truth that God made me the way he wanted me to be. I know and have known this for a decade, but there's a definite difference between head and heart knowledge; and this acceptance hadn't taken the journey from head to heart in the decade I've been following Christ. It has now.
  • I'm loved. My mother's feminist voice in the back of my mind shouting protests notwithstanding, the committed, stable love of my husband makes me feel secure. I don't have to question my attractiveness; his opinion on that is the only one that counts. He's not very verbal about it - at times I wish he told me what he sees in me, and sometimes I end up 'fishing' just to hear him say reassuring things. But words aren't everything. In his actions he shows me his love, appreciation and care every day.
  • Being a mother. Again, I'm hearing grumbles from my feminist mum. But the truth is, my body functioned perfectly in pregnancy, labour, birth, and it's now sustaining and growing my daughter who is thriving on the milk my body makes. She doesn't care what my body looks like, but about its function - and it's been flawless. Healthy. Strong.
  • I've stopped fighting. My concerns these days are about being healthy, not about being thin. I've beaten and abused my body, fighting against instead of with it. Despite all my best efforts - extreme low calorie diets, fad diets, extreme exercise - my body never was (and never will be) of model proportions. I'm short and muscular by nature, not lithe and long-limbed. Nothing I do will ever change that, and I've come to not only accept that fact but embrace it. Yay for strong!
The fact is, these days I look in the mirror and am often positively surprised! I often find my reflection to be thinner and more attractive than I expected. That perhaps says something about a lingering negativity - in that I look worse in my head than I actually do in the mirror - but that's not a fight, just a journey. 

It also doesn't mean I have stopped caring. I still need reassurance from my Mr. and I still need to choose not to look at certain magazines. I still need to choose not to compare myself to others. I still choose my foods carefully - although these days it's not to attain the unattainable figure, but to maintain and build on the health I've been given. And I'm grateful for it all.

Good riddance to the struggle.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Why I went vegan in 2000

Source: BBC
It was the burning cows.

It was the pictures on TV that stopped me in my tracks. Burning cows and the explanations, together with the images, of how a virus had made its way through Europe on live cattle transports throughout the continent - transports on which the cows suffered unspeakable misery, for the simple reason that by being slaughtered in a different country their meat could be labelled as produce of that country.

Another picture is forever etched in my mind, thought I can't find it online - footage of those live cattle transports, a cow was being transferred from train to lorry I think, via crane. The crane just attaches where it can, it had the cow dangling in the air by a front leg, which was being broken and dislocated. Didn't matter. The cow, leg broken but alive, was dropped into the new container for further transport. As long as it was breathing on arrival, that's all that mattered.

I cried for them. I'm crying right now as I think of that image. And I decided eating animals was no longer an option if I wanted to live with integrity - I have always loved animals, how did I until then manage to close my eyes to the hypocrisy of loving some animals and eating others? And, worse than merely eating them - by buying their meat, supporting an industry that caused such suffering?

I could no longer bury my head in the sand after those pictures.

It wasn't so much the fact that animals had to die for meat - I had known that, of course - it was the suffering. The suffering is why I never stopped at vegetarianism. It was the early days of the Internet and I looked and found out what miserable existences dairy cows, egg laying hens, and other animals we "use" like industrial materials had... and once seen, I could not un-see those things.

I began to look at meat and see the creature who died so I could choose to eat this (a purely optional part of my diet) - a sentient animal with capacity to feel pain - who had known nothing but suffering its entire life.

Milk from another species...
we don't need it
I began to look at milk and see the cow who would have doted on its calf, had it not been taken away and killed so I could drink the milk intended for it.

I began to look at eggs and see the hens in cramped conditions, with beaks cut off so they couldn't hurt each other, laying egg after egg at an unnaturally high rate until they were no longer productive enough, and discarded.

I didn't decide not to eat these things again, so much as I simply couldn't, having come across the information. I could not block out what I knew.

So that, friends, is why I became a vegan - it's not all of why I am a vegan now: my reasons have expanded, and the suffering was merely a doorway into a room full of reasons to be vegan. I'll write a few more posts about the reasons that keep me doing this.