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.