Ten things I wish I had known about breastfeeding.

As my breastfeeding journey reaches its 18th month, I find myself reflecting on my time nursing. From those earlier days of confusion and struggle, to the realisation that I didn’t want to wean, and into the transition of nursing a toddler. So here I share my personal ten things I wish I had known earlier about breastfeeding.

1. It doesn’t come easily.

Breastfeeding is one of the most natural things in the world, and yet it can feel completely overwhelming. A tiny baby crying and so much confusion and opportunity for challenges, those early days can feel disorienting and a million miles away from the Instagram squares of artful breastfeeding photography. It’s hard, demanding, draining. Which is exactly why it should be encouraged, celebrated and applauded at every opportunity. I’m well aware that not everyone has a positive breastfeeding experience, and it’s certainly not all rainbows and roses, but for me breastfeeding has proved to be one of the most poignant and uplifting parts of my motherhood journey and one that I want to promote and share. There is something very special about the moments I hold with my daughter as she nurses, something I had never anticipated when pregnant and thinking about feeding choices. It was hard in the early days, and it is still hard at times. Nursing a newborn left me shattered, nursing a toddler can leave me feeling touched out. As my daughter continues to feed through the night, there are times when I feel totally worn out. But I cherish those moments nonetheless and I know it will come to an end one day. It’s hard, yes, but I love to breastfeed.

2. Breastfeeding is feeding on demand.

There’s a really powerful saying from one of my lactation legends The Milk Meg – ‘Don’t watch your clock, watch your baby’. Babies breastfeed for many reasons, and sometimes it’s not always clear to us. I know my personal experience was that I was expecting to feed my baby at set intervals, every three hours or something like that. When she was crying I would go through that newborn checklist that you get told about and think ‘well she’s just fed so she can’t want milk again’. It took me a wee while to realise that I could whip my boobs out anytime baby cried and 9/10 they would solve the problem for me. Of course this meant a baby on my boob 90% of the day, but actually I understand now that this is exactly what breastfeeding a newborn can look like.

3. Breast milk is magical stuff.

The magicalness (is that a word?) of breast milk is still being discovered today, but what we already do know is pretty amazing.
Breast milk adapts as your baby grows. In the beginning it essentially acts as your baby’s first vaccination and provides them with all their nutritional needs. As baby becomes toddler the volume of milk reduces as solids are eaten more consistently, and your milk becomes higher in fat content and develops more antibodies. And it’s ever changing nature doesn’t stop there, your breast milk is personalised further to meet other needs. When your child is unwell, your breast milk adapts to help fight infections, and mum’s breast can detect if her baby’s body temperature fluctuates even a degree and will warm or cool as needed. Breastfeeding also works to prevent risk of infections as well as treat, and reduces risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), childhood leukaemia, type 2 diabetes and obesity. It also had a positive impact on teeth and reduces the risk of cavities later on in life. Nursing and making breast milk also has health benefits for the mum. Breastfeeding lowers your risk of illnesses such as breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and obesity and the longer you breastfeed, the greater the benefits. This is all scientifically proven and another reason to be in awe of our incredible bodies.

4. It’s not ‘just food’.

Ooooooh no, it’s not. It’s so much more than that.
Yes breast milk is incredibly nutritious but it’s not just about filling the belly up and feeding your baby. Breastfeeding is also comfort, it is a connection, it’s a mothering tool. Toddler having a tantrum? Breastfeeding soothes by touch and calms the tears. Teething? Breastfeeding provides pain relief. Upset tummy? When a toddler won’t eat they will still nurse and therefore stay hydrated and nourished. Tired? Breastfeeding is an easy way to get a tired baby to sleep. It’s not 100% guaranteed and seamless (nothing in life is surely?) but it is always on hand and quick to relieve distress. I experienced this first hand myself when I took my daughter to playgroup at 9 months old. Off she would crawl to play and explore, then back she would come for a little milky cuddle, then back off she went. She used breastfeeding to ’touch base’ and feel secure. If we understand the significance of moments like these then we will understand in greater depth the bigger picture of breastfeeding and it’s connecting qualities.

5. It’s ok if you don’t want to leave your breastfed baby.

With the above in mind, it’s easy to understand why some breastfeeding mothers don’t want to leave their baby. It’s not quite as simple as ‘right well she just fed so I have three hours until I need to feed her again’. Newborns and young babies particularly are unpredictable with nursing. My daughter could go for five hours asleep without milk, and other times when awake she would cluster feed or basically constantly be at my breast. I felt pressure* to leave her with family for even half an hour but I could just never allow it. (*Pressure inflicted on myself by myself, from thinking it’s what I should be able to do.). I also felt a similar pressure to try and get her to nap away from me, rather than on me on my breast in a so called ‘nipple nap’. Needless to say I look back and my only wish is I had been more informed and felt confident to mother how I wanted, which was with my baby close to me and happily napping on me. Now my daughter is a toddler and at 18 months is just beginning to eat solid foods more reliably (yes, just, that’s another blog piece, don’t sweat the solid foods either mama, wish I’d known that too…) I am able to comfortably leave her with family while I work and run errands. And whilst she can now fall asleep nursing and be successfully transferred to a bed, she also still naps on me and I still enjoy it. It’s ok if you don’t want to leave your breastfed baby, that moment will naturally ripen in its own time.

6. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.

Like, a lot.

Myths that breastfeeding is bad for your baby’s teeth, that feeding to sleep is a prop and bad habit, that breast milk has no nutritional value past one year. It’s hard to sift through the fear mongering and old wives tales to find absolute truth, particularly when some of the codswallop comes directly from (some poorly advised, not all) health visitors, doctors and other medical professionals. I have experienced this first hand when a doctor suggested I should now be giving cows milk to my daughter in place of breast milk, to which I replied that milk meant for a baby cow would not meet my toddlers needs as efficiently as milk tailored exactly for her. My advice is to inform yourself wisely, follow your instincts and question any ‘facts’ that do not feel right. I have included two very trustworthy sources at the end of this blog.

7. It doesn’t have to stop by adult led weaning.

Of course some families choose to wean from the breast, and that is very much a personal choice and I am fully supportive of that. And there are also many families who decide to continue until the child self weans. I actually didn’t know this was even an option when I began breastfeeding. In the western world there is much taboo around breastfeeding toddlers and children, but in the wider world it’s common practice and not considered unusual in any way all. In fact the term ‘extended breastfeeding’ that was coined over here in the west is simply misleading, we are not actively extending nursing, you cannot force a child to continue, we are just more used to seeing it cut short. ‘Natural term breastfeeding’ as it is appropriately called, is the continuation of breastfeeding into toddlerhood and beyond. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding to at least 2 years. Worldwide research has shown that the estimated age of a child self weaning is anywhere between 2-7years old, and most commonly around 4 years old. Whilst we westerners may see this as ‘weird’, it is actually as natural as breastfeeding itself. In fact breastfeeding toddlers and children is simply the biological norm.

8. There’s lots of mothers breastfeeding toddlers and children.

So. Many. More. Than. You. Think.

I imagine many mothers who are nursing beyond babyhood did not expect to still be breastfeeding when their child is 2,3,4,5,6 even 7. Once we hit the magical marker of ONE WHOLE YEAR (or even six months) we can feel the tide of support turning. It seems to switch from ‘well done you’re breastfeeding!’ to ‘wait, you’re still breastfeeding?’. It can seem as though people are desperate for you to start, then desperate for you to stop, like we have this allocated time in our minds that is acceptable and anything beyond that is alien. But what many women who breastfeed find (myself included) is that we end up not wanting to stop, because, well, countless reasons. I have listed some of these in a previous point above, yannow, the ‘all problem solving magic boobies’. If I have something that gently gets my baby to sleep, nourishes her when she’s ill, brings comfort when she’s in pain and soothes her when she’s anxious… then why am I going to stop? We are both happy and enjoying our nursing journey, it’s really a matter of personal choices. When I began to talk openly about continuing to nurse my daughter into toddlerhood, I received unprecedented amounts of messages saying ‘me too’, often with mothers too ashamed or afraid to speak of it openly. I think it’s time for that to change.

9. Lots of people will have negative opinions about this.

Whilst there is now more and more support for breastfeeding beyond babyhood, there is still also a whole lot of stigma. Negativity towards continued breastfeeding comes from misinformation and the western culture of sexualising breasts. I am part of a wonderful forum for breastfeeding mothers who uplift and encourage each other every day, and the most common problems from members are from a negative view of natural term breastfeeding from peers or relatives, husbands included. So engrained is the misled notion that breastfeeding is just for babies, it can even cause families to split. We are told we must stop nursing when baby reaches one year / has teeth / can walk / can talk. The question really is, why? None of those development milestones has any bearing whatsoever on breastfeeding. It continues to be nutritious, comforting and a positive connection for the child. Just as we are sold the idea that we can eat a pig but not a cat, we have been sold the idea that nursing is for babies and not beyond that. What we do know, is that natural term breastfeeding is the biological norm and no amount of negative opinion can alter that truth.

10. Talking about breastfeeding is an emotive topic.

Mothering is wild. It is hard work, ongoing, confusing and with a constant tide of decisions and choices. And of course it is a journey where we all love our children and we are all doing our best. Feeding our babies proves to be one of the most emotive motherhood topics out there. As a breastfeeding and motherhood blogger myself, I have had to work hard to find the balance to promote the benefits of breastfeeding without excluding those who are unable or choose not to. Sadly the continued debate of breast vs formula often remains heated and divisive. My stance is this, I am pro breastfeeding but that does not equate to me being anti formula. I don’t agree with ‘breast is best’ because with a ‘best’ there is a polar of ‘worst’ and we all know that formula is absolutely not the worst thing you can do for your baby. There are many mothers who wish to breastfeed but are unable due to lactation struggles, poor support, mental health, financial pressures forcing them to work away or medications that don’t compliment nursing. Implying that they are not doing their ‘best’ is really quite damaging. I also don’t agree with ‘fed is best’ because feeding isn’t a choice, it is a necessity. I personally prefer ‘informed is best’, because making such a huge decision for our babies is easier with knowledge. That is exactly why I have written this blog piece. Breastfeeding is in the minority and sharing information empowers mothers. And regardless of debates, if you are a breastfeeding mother then you are allowed to talk positively of breastfeeding, as you are allowed to talk positively of any of your own motherhood experiences. We share our struggles and so we can also share our successes, we are all on our own journeys.

For support and trusted knowledge, search The Milk Meg and Facebook group page – ‘Breastfeeding Older Babies and Beyond’

With love,

Pea x

The Starting School Book Review

It wasn’t until I saw a post about this book that I realised, with a sudden astonishment, that I had never come across a book designed to help parents and children choose and settle into school. Isn’t that wild? One of the greatest changes to a child’s life and one that will ultimately shape their future forever, and yet parents, it seems, have largely just been left to figure it all out themselves. And what a minefield it is. Which school do you choose? What kind of school? What are the things to look for to guarantee it is the best fit for your child? How do you prepare them? How to you help them settle? And how on earth do you solve all the problems that inevitably come with such a big change? What a welcome relief then, for an informative, research based and practical book, to finally be available to all.

The author of The Starting School Book is Sarah Ockwell Smith, a spearhead of gentle parenting. I first discovered her through a series of Instagram hashtags, landing on someone who, personally for me, felt like a breath of fresh air in the chaotic world of parenting. Her respectful, child led and ‘full of sense’ take on parenting was instantly relatable, and without hesitation I bought her Books, joined her support group and attended a workshop. So yes, I am already a fan, there is no doubt about that… and ultimately I challenge anyone to read any of Sarah’s other books and not come away from them with a profound new understanding of children and the importance of our relationships with them. Whether it is Sarah’s vast knowledge of biologically normal infant sleep, her informative stance on how our adult eating habits have been shaped and how to navigate any challenges with our children’s eating, or her extensive writing outlining ways we can discipline the next generation free from a rewards or punishments mindset and instead truly understanding behaviour and solving problems collaboratively and respectfully with our children.  Not only does Sarah cover all bases with regards to parenting, but she does it backed by in depth scientific research and the angle that children are simply young people with not yet fully developed brains, who require our compassion, connection and guidance.

But do not worry if you are not previously familiar with Sarah or indeed Gentle Parenting. The Starting School Book works as a stand alone, and will no doubt speak direct sense to any parent or carer who is looking to understand the whole process and inform themselves of what happens in modern day schools and how we can support our children through it.

 

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In all honesty, The Starting School book covers a much wider range of schooling information than I expected.

Firstly, there are the chapters that cover what you might expect in such a book, such as how to decide on a school suitable for you and your child, and how to help prepare and settle your child as well as common problems and solutions.  These include essential chunks of info that previously feel a bit like you had to just ‘figure it out yourself as you go along and maybe find out some of it from a chat with a friend who’s done it before’.  Stuff like, what different kinds of schools are there? How do you apply? What do you need to look for in a school to know if its any good?  What questions should we be asking on open days?  What do OFSTED scores really mean?  Alongside all this priceless info is some really sound practical advice.  How to talk to your child about the upcoming onset of school, ideas for bedtime routines and getting prepared for the morning rush, how much sleep children need, how to re-connect after a day apart, how to help prepare them for being separated from you – and a wonderfully thought out segment about preparing you for being separated from them. There is also information covered in these chapters that have the potential to really flip our preconceived ideas of when and where we send our children to school.  I’ve no doubt that many parents out there are not fully aware of their rights with regards to Certified School Age and opportunities to legally homeschool if they wish.

Secondly, this book delves just that little bit deeper (in Sarah’s straight-to-the-point-no-unnecessary-words style) into what influences a child’s learning, how school can impact behaviours outside school hours and how to encourage an intrinsic motivation for learning within our children.  These chapters are not only insightful, but they empower parents with greater understanding of how children grow and develop.

As well as a wealth of information, this school starters manual is beautifully presented and easy to dip in and out out of, with clear chapter and segment headings, and bullet points to sharpen up any hefty topics.

This truly is a book that covers anything and everything… from how to deal with friendship disputes, bulling behaviour and school childcare preparations, to teacher gift ideas and common parasites and illnesses in the classroom. This is it.  This is THE book that we all need to read before our children start school. I’ve absolutely no doubt The Starting School Book will be profound in helping many young children settle into a new environment as well as helping to prepare parents too.

Click Here to see the book for yourself, available from 5th March 2020

With love,

Pea x

 

Why I don’t punish my toddlers tantrums.

 

As a mother who documents the highs and lows of her journey into motherhood, I have recently been asked why I don’t punish or ‘tell my daughter off’ for her tantrums. So here I’m going to answer why and how I came to this conclusion.

first off, I remember Ravens first tantrum. We were leaving swimming class and she loved it so much she didn’t want to go. My husband was with me and we just sort of looked at each other like ‘okkkaaaay which one of us knows what to do here?’ And neither of us did. I vaguely remembered reading that a tantrum was best left ignored, so we sort of heart heartedly tried to ignore her on the pavement. But I couldn’t, it didn’t feel right, she looked so uncomfortable. I ended up picking her up and cuddling her. That felt right, but I wasn’t sure if I was meant to. So I knew I had to figure out what to do next time.

Thats when I discovered Gentle Parenting. I’ve always loved reading articles and learning about child development. Something about GP felt really right. The title of ‘gentle’ sounded a bit faffy and flakey, but the science and values behind it were not only kind and gentle, but also incredibly LOGICAL. Despite it going against what a lot of mainstream parenting had ‘told me’ to do, GP just made a lot of sense. (Lookup  Sarah Ockwell Smith)

I read up about tantrums and began to understand the minds of our children, and from there I became more enlightened about how these little people are really misunderstood so often. Learning about how their brains are forming and their emotions are emerging, I was able to see tantrums from a whole new and profound perspective. And once I had shifted my view of tantrums from the mainstream narrative of  ‘resistance and attention seeking bad behaviour’ to ‘age appropriate and developmentally normal behaviour’ I was able to find greater patience and compassion in that moment.

So this is how I feel and deal with tantrums now. When I see my two year old having a tantrum, I can see how much distress she is in. I can see it is uncomfortable for her. I can think of a time when I have been really cross or upset or jealous or frustrated and I can empathise with how horrible that feeling is. As an adult I have the tools to help calm myself down. I have a mature, rational brain that can make sense of the entire situation and understand all the social expectations and etiquettes required in that moment. My two year old does not, she is not able to calm herself down and rationally understand the situation. She is a child, with an immature brain. She doesn’t need my punishment, she needs my help.

Let’s imagine we are passing a toy shop and Raven wants a toy but I don’t have enough money. Imagine that, a child at a toy shop wanting a toy. I remember it myself, the shelves towering high stacked with treasure. I wanted it. Just like I still want to have all the house decor I see. It’s no different, except my little girl has has bigger emotions and no ability to moderate them. I tell her I’m sorry but I don’t have the money and we can’t get a toy today. She gets frustrated and angry. She has a tantrum.

I bend down next to her and say ‘I hear you.’ (We all want to be heard, we all begin to feel better when our problems are heard) ‘You are angry.’ (Labelling her emotions helps her begin to recognise it) It’s ok. (Because it is ok to be angry, we just need to learn how to calm that and were not developmentally there yet) ‘I love you.’ (Because I do, we all want to be loved at our best and at our ‘worst’) And I wait and I repeat gently and I wait. I see if she would like a cuddle and I wipe her tears. Eventually, as with any tantrum, it ends, and we pass the shop.

On top of the fact her behaviour is developmentally normal, this is why GP is so logical. If the tantrum was going to happen regardless, and she was never going to get the toy, then everything that happens in between is in my own control. Once it begins I have a choice. I can join in her chaos and frustration and escalate an already uncomfortable situation, or I can model patience and empathy and help to calm her down. I haven’t rewarded bad behaviour, I have comforted normal behaviour. I have shown her I love her and I’m there for her unconditionally, and she has had another practice at learning to regulate her emotions, all within the safe space of someone she can trust and count on.

I think we have this deeply engrained idea that we need to constantly teach our children how to behave. It’s as if we must instill in them as toddlers and young children that they cannot ‘get their own way by fussing’ or they will never be able to manage as adults. I’m pretty much yet to meet one adult yet (bar a few Buddhist monks and nuns) that are completely capable of not succumbing to emotions they feel. Maybe it doesn’t need to be ‘taught’, it need to be modelled. Like how children copy everything we say, they also copy everything we do. If they see us calm and empathic in their moments of developmentally appropriate (I can’t say this enough I know) uncontrolled outburst, they will model that too.

My daughter has not ‘won’ an imaginary battle, there was no intense power struggle that I have ‘lost’. She hasn’t ‘learnt to get away with it’. How do I know?  Well, not only can I see how much she hated the tantrum as much as I did, she also didn’t get the toy.

I’m also just sure to explain beforehand or afterwards (depending on age appropriateness and level of understanding) why we couldn’t get it, and talk about what we could do instead, do we have other toys at home we could get out, maybe we could buy a toy another day when I have some spare money, maybe she could put the toy she wanted on a birthday list.

Is it easy? Nope. Have I had to draw strength in that moment? Yes. Have I always got it right? Definitely not. Will I struggle and fuck up at some point in the future? Absolutely. Are there going to be times when I’m panicking inside and dying from the stares of strangers? Comes with mum territory I think. But for me, it’s totally worth it.

 

One Year of Motherhood Musings

One whole year of mothering a living baby. Pretty sure I could write another book about this, but a jam packed blog post will have to suffice for now. It has been such a completely crazy year, in ways that I imagined and ways I never imagined. I know now that it is true, nothing can prepare you for the bedlam of caring for a baby. The idea that my life has changed FOREVER and I can’t even remember the days that weren’t filled with this chaos and love. I have only just come to peacefully accept the ongoing nature of motherhood. For me, I feel like I was prepared for sleepless nights, I had read about teething, I knew that I would be tired. But the biggest changes for me have been more of a mental adjustment. A lot of my newfound motherhood has been spent with thoughts floating in and out my head, feeling judged, confused, proud, alone, emotional, conflicted, brave, scared, failing, winning. Each day brings new challenge, my confidence fluctuates by the hour. And really, I’ve come to realise as this first year has drawn to a close, that most of what I worried and stressed about all turned out ok in the end anyway, like everyone said it would. So here is a quick summary of a year of learning through experience…

First things first, I’ve absolutely just muddled through. Each time I found my feet and discovered a working routine, everything has changed. Ravens sleeping, eating, interests, ability, overall mood… it is changing constantly. It took me a while to realise that I’ll never feel in complete control, and that just rolling with it is how all mothers survive.

As someone who has always been ‘a do-er’ I’ve struggled with the frustration of trying to get things done or trying to just ‘nip out’. I’ve wanted to reorganise the spare room and dash off to tick some jobs off. But everything takes longer with a baby in tow, and a smooth trip out is not guaranteed. I’ve had to remind myself often that there will always be jobs to do and sometimes sacking off the ‘jobs’ in place of crawling through a tunnel with a giggling baby is actually the way forward.

I have been subconsciously dragged into the Instagram idea of perfection. Fashionable mothers, catalogue homes, beautifully set up play ideas for babies. I have tried to maintain that and I have felt a failure when I realised I could not. Then I remembered that people CHOOSE what they post and no one is going to choose to post a picture of the pile of laundry on the stairs or their hair that’s been unwashed for three days. It doesn’t matter if I’m not looking like a yummy mummy or if my house is messy (and trust me, Instagram may say otherwise, but both my face and house can be hella messy.) What matters is a loved baby.

I have spent many hours wondering how I co created such a funny, cheery, bright little babe.

I have rowed more than ever with my husband. Our familiar life has been so monumentally disrupted that at times it feels like we have started all over again. We’ve both had to figure out our new roles and learn to respect the efforts and needs of the other. We had to take time to restore balance, figure out who is now responsible for what and see the worth in both sides.

Within that disruption I’ve come to realise that ‘mum life’ and ‘dad life’ are very different, but both are of great value. The mental workload that I carry as I try to organise clothes and food and naps and teething and tidying is not mirrored by my husband. No, Dean will never remember where the Calpol lives or what to pack for a day out. But he has taught Raven laughter and he has taught me to chill a bit – because if I’ve forgotten her raincoat or she’s nodded off before she’s eaten, it’s never THE END OF THE WORLD like I think it is. And her face when he chases her around the nursery is just priceless. His lack of mental workload makes him F U N and she adores him, she needs him just as much as she needs me.

I have been thankful for sought after guidance, and frustrated by uninvited ‘advice’. I’ve come to realise that lots of people have opinions.  I’ve mentally rolled my eyes as the same parenting phrases are spoken to me time and time again. And I’ve realised that the best parenting advice comes from those without children. (I’m kidding of course… instinct is the best mothering tool we own, trusting our gut, finding strength and confidence to say what we are doing is right for you and your baby.)

I have discovered that £1 church playgroups are for the win. Simply turn up, plop your baby down amongst a sea of toys and other tiny humans, and enjoy a hot cuppa and a biscuit. I’ve made some new friends, Raven thrives with the other babies, we both learnt new songs… winner winner curry dinner.

I have felt lonely at times, despite a healthy group of friends and family. It is not consuming, rather just a little background feeling, coming to the surface in the dark evenings and the days when the house was quiet except for my own voice. As Raven becomes less potato and more person, and her voice has grown with her, those lonelier feelings seem to have subsided. But still I expect them to continue, and I think largely that is because we live in such a separated society, so vastly different from our original biological needs.

I have filled my home with primary coloured musical flashing plastic and thanked Iggle Piggle for keeping my baby busy whilst I fold the washing or finish off some writing. And I have laughed at my pre baby self for saying I would not do those things and for promising to keep the lounge carpet looking brand new. (Mushed up biscuit daily.).

I have woken up in the morning with my baby, and been excited for what the day holds with my mini partner in crime, thinking excitedly ‘what can we do today?’ And I have also woken up and sighed at the endless stretch of days laid out before me and thought, ‘what do we do today?’.

I have filled those days with play dates and loved the interaction and watching my baby play and socialise. And I have wanted empty days where I don’t have to pack a bag and lug the pushchair into the car boot and hope baby squeezes a perfectly timed nap in before the fun begins.

I have realised that at some point the novelty of new baby wears thin for some people, but those who love her are ever present.

Some days I have absolutely thrived one on one with my daughter, a sweet shared lunch, a garden bath and milky cuddles. And some days I have found myself waiting for my husband to get home, clock watching, lethargic, branding myself boring for my baby and then being mad at myself for not cherishing each and every moment. But you can’t can you, you can’t enjoy EVERY moment? But you can, and will, look back and enjoy ALL the memories.

I have learnt to never give baby the car key to hold – she will throw it over a fence with impressive distance and you will have to fish it out the other side with a stick.

I have looked for ‘my crew’ and wondered which gang I sit with when it comes to discussing motherhood. I have looked around at the crowds of mothers and confidently positioned myself at the ‘bed sharing – breastfeeding – baby led weaning – baby wearing’ table. I felt like I found some like minded mothers, which is always encouraging as a new mum. But I have also come to realise that this leaves me pigeon holed and closed minded. The discovery that even mothers that tick all those boxes still do some things differently to me. It took me a long time to realise that there are never two women who mother exactly the same. Some of the greatest advice or kind words I have received have been from mothers I would have once positioned outside of ‘my camp’. I have realised that we are all just doing our best, in different ways, and the richness is in less strict grouping and more relaxed sharing.

I have breastfed in the picture frame department of my local Ikea, after a thirsty baby relentlessly tapped and pulled at my top and I shuffled into a corner and tried to release a boob without making a scene. It turns out I’m not so shy at feeding in public, mainly because I just I don’t have the patience to forever seek cover.

I have faffed and worried far too much about my baby’s sleep. I read into the narrative we are sold ‘sleeping through the night is the goal, in their own room at 6 months, 2 naps at 10 months, don’t let baby nap too late, bed by seven’. I have seriously wasted too much time and energy worrying about routine and creating bad habits. You know what I learnt? That not sleeping through by one year is as normal as a baby that does, and a baby that will only nap on me is not needy or fussy, just a baby seeking comfort. And I learnt that babies don’t have to be in bed at seven, they just have to be in bed when they are tired and ready, and sometimes in our house that is 9.30. Bedtimes with Raven are my favourite.

I have felt exhausted, overwhelmed, confused and emotional. And I have wondered in those moments if any other mums feel the same way.

I have done ridiculous things to keep my baby happy and meet all her needs. Raven used to hate the car seat, she would scream on any car trip and my heart would break as I drove unable to console a baby with wide pleading eyes. After a Christmas shopping trip out with my mum I couldn’t take the tears as we headed home, so I parked up halfway back and left my mum to drive as I walked the rest of the journey with a tiny smiling baby bundled up in my coat. Then there was the night Raven was fast asleep but felt warm. I didn’t want to wake her so I cut the legs from her sleep suit into shorts. Then I sat there with the empty feet and legs and felt like a total plonker.

There are the miles of walking in the pushchair, the times I wondered what I needed from the shop just to take baby for a sleepy walk. And now Ray actually nods off everywhere I drive, there are the countless times I have sat in the car so as not to risk disturbing a nap. It’s how I finished writing that book.

I have judged others and felt judged. I have felt like the way I was doing something was the best way, and wanted to share this with everyone. And I have felt like everything I was doing was wrong and I’m a flapping failure.

I have made friends and lost friends. Having a baby has changed me, it has changed my priorities and life outlook. Alongside the many ways it has limited me, it has also vastly encouraged me.

I have loved so deeply, to a whole new level. Having a living baby has brightened my life. My gravitational pull has shifted away from ‘me’ and positioned itself instead around ‘her’. She is my world and I am her moon. I build everything around her, around her nap times, her meal times, her bed times, around her happiness and her development. She is an extension of me, a vibrant, energetic, priceless little extension of me. Before she was born I couldn’t imagine a world with her in it, now I can’t imagine a world without her in it. She is my everything. I have rediscovered purpose and pure love. Being a mother to my little girl has been both easier and harder than I thought it would be. Now let’s see what year 2 brings…

Grief, continued.

These last few days I have felt quite low. It’s frightening to say that sometimes, because whilst I’m now familiar with the rise and fall of grief, this can sometimes translate to others as ‘I can’t cope’ or ‘I’m depressed’. Maybe some well intending but misled friends read it as ‘I’m spiralling into despair’ and at the worst ‘I’m feeling suicidal’. But I am, thankfully, neither of these things. Just a mother without her baby, is what I am. A human continuing to live through a great loss. Sane, sturdy, but hurting and grieving. Normal. And just like I can recognise I’m in the thick of it right now, I can also recognise that I won’t feel like this always. Because sometimes I feel okay, and sometimes I don’t. Grief lasts forever, but it’s not the same every day.

There’s no real reason for my current flatness, and a thousand reasons why at the same time. There’s the obvious reasons; my baby died and that hurts, watching his sister grow is forever bittersweet, the passing of his anniversaries and special dates still burns. And there are the less obvious, more complicated reasons. It’s hard for others to understand our world. The trivial things that trigger a rising tide of grief, the less openly talked about sides of loss and grief. This is why we must open the conversation up around grief and allow ourselves to speak freely about how losing a loved one touches us in the most extensive ways. It’s why I’m sharing some of my most personal thoughts and feelings, the darker and harder to grasp ‘behind the scenes’ grief that can be too ugly for others to indulge in.

My latest influx of pain is caused by wallpaper. When we moved house just over a year ago now, we had to leave behind the nursery we had so lovingly prepared for our son. We drenched that room in pure excited love. When I was pregnant I would sit in it and imagine me nursing my baby on the rocking chair or patting a soft padded nappy bum as I shushed them to sleep. I have written about this room in past posts;

~ I remember Dean taking the week off work to help prepare the nursery and I was thrilled. He said things like ‘We’re making special memories right now!’ And I said things like ‘I can’t wait to be in this room with our baby’. Heavily pregnant I would wander in and smile, folding and refolding the clothes, arranging the books on the shelf. In the weeks that lead up to Winters birth, this room was filled with dreams and plans. In the weeks that followed Winters death this room was filled with flowers and tears. I cried so much in this room that there were times I fell asleep in here, sitting in the rocking chair or even curled up on the floor. Each time I fell pregnant and miscarried the room became more hollow and redundant. Even the furniture seemed to grieve. I was tired of seeing it’s emptiness, so I took the Moses basket to the charity shop and I filled the cot with soft toys. The door was always open, light on in the evening. We would walk in and say ‘Goodnight Winter’ as we went to bed. I loved tidying it and dusting the shelves. The cats slept in here a lot. ~

7971969B-2135-4780-A4AF-94E2883F7EE4Leaving that nursery behind proved very painful to me, but I found solace in the fact we had left the wallpaper up. It represented to much more to me than just paper. It was a moment in time when my baby was alive, it was something connected to him. When an adult dies there is so much they are connected to, but with a baby it is few and far between, their lives so short that we claw at anything and everything that is traceable to them. The new occupants of the house have pulled the paper down and a neighbour kindly pulled some out of the bin for me after spotting it and recognising its sentimental worth to me. I don’t begrudge the new owners, not one bit, life continues and what is old wallpaper to them anyway? It’s value is not transferable. But my heart, it discovered yet another fresh pain. Grief is a continuum, some things just hurt more than others. And yes, this time I was crushed over paper.

And there is still so much more happening. It may have been 33 months and counting since I lost my baby, but I live every day with that loss. The single day we had together is constantly revisited, because it is the only day we had. There is the ongoing dissecting of what will always remain concreted in the past. Two and a half years in, I still find myself analysing the day we had with my son, playing it over in my mind, wondering why I didn’t do or say things differently, wishing I had made better choices. So much regret. Our son was transferred to another hospital when he was being cared for, and I did not join him until six hours later, arriving just in time to say our goodbyes and hold him as he died. I can’t really forgive myself for not joining him sooner. Of course there were reasons I held back. I was unwell myself and waiting to be discharged and it all happened so quickly that I was in shock and certainly couldn’t grasp the enormity of the situation. And I think deep down I was so terrified I just wanted to remove myself from the situation completely, play pretend, convince myself we were all fine. There’s really no way of knowing how you will react to such a sudden tragedy, trust me. And it doesn’t matter what anyone says, I feel I abandoned him when he needed me there. You can’t reason with that level of trauma, it is cut throat. He was dying and I was not there, his life was so short and for a big chunk I was absent. And there are the continued ‘what ifs and why nots’. We didn’t know about cuddle cots or that some parents spent days with their baby after they had gone. I felt rushed to leave, I needed more time with my baby. I didn’t know where he was when we left and I refused to think about it, I couldn’t bare it. But now I know, of course, he was in a body bag, in a fridge, cold and alone. I’m only just beginning to really allow myself to think of that reality. Time passes, but fresh thoughts and understandings are still arising, and they are devastatingly painful. I didn’t know I could visit him more than once at the funeral home, so we went only one time. I wanted to scoop him up and hold him but I didn’t know if I was allowed (allowed to hold my own baby, it sounds odd doesn’t it?). Revisiting and regretting, it’s part and parcel of baby loss. In a world where EVERYTHING is snatched from you so very swiftly and you are left making decisions so blindly in the midst of trauma and disbelief. Today, and forever, I will wish I could change those days and weeks. It’s part of grief that we carry with us through our whole life.

Then there are the ‘weird’ things we do in grief. In the early days I held my baby’s onesie close to my chest and tried to imagine it filled. I lay it in his Moses basket and ‘tucked him in’. I wanted so desperately for it to contain his little body with a little beating heart. The deeply engrained calling of a mother to her baby, my heart absolutely not able to catch up with the stark truth that my baby was taken away after they were just born. It was too cruel to be real. I have ran my fingers through my sons ashes. I wanted to know what he looked like now. It’s grittier than I imagined, and mixed with splint from his coffin. Call it morbid curiosity or know that it is a mother searching to find a connection any connection possible to her child. I wondered how on Earth a whole little weighty being can be turned to dust and poured into a pot. What about his thoughts and feelings? Where did his memories go? Were they transformed into ash with his fingers and toes, or do they float around in the breeze? Did he take those moments we had together with him or has he forgotten me altogether? Just some of the weird questions that you wouldn’t even consider until your baby has died. I often wonder if the person he would have grown up to marry will marry someone else, or be destined to be single since Winters being is no longer up for Cupid’s match. I have searched the internet to find a picture of a newborn baby who looks like my son. Denied the opportunity of a happy family snap before he became unwell, I typed his description into google and scrolled the results with heartbroken excitement. I found one, quite similar to my memory, and I saved the screenshot. I have a strangers fresh born baby saved on my phone and when I want to remember our moment together, I look at it, desperate to keep that fading memory as fresh as possible.

It is so hard to vocalise the depths that grief reaches. When my baby died I was, obviously, heartbroken. But what is hard to convey is that I still am, there are new challenges today and every day. I fully expect to struggle when Winter turns three, when he should be starting nursery and when he should be starting school. He will always be my ghost baby, invisible to everyone else, but growing up within a world of ‘should have beens’. Grief is now and it is forever, and it is complicated and simple and hard and easy and weird and normal. If you know someone who has lost a baby, continue to reach out to them long past the initial loss. We are living in this pain riddled world forever, and trying to understand all the complexities and oddities is what will really make you a special friend. Sometimes we have low days and sometimes we don’t, but we are always living with grief in place of our baby.

Our Baby Led Weaning Journey

Ok so I’m going to begin with a self inflicted disclaimer. I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not a baby professional, I’m certainly not a chef, and my certificate in basic food hygiene (that is required for my job) is the nearest qualification I have to anything marginally food related. If you are concerned your baby isn’t eating correctly then it’s your call about speaking to a health visitor. I am simply a mum, who is now 3 months deep in this baby led weaning business, and is sharing her experiences so far and any tips and tricks she has picked up on the way.

So to begin, I’m going to recommend the book that kick started our own solids journey, Baby Led Weaning by Gill Rapley. It is basically like the BLW bible, a short book, easy to read with no waffle and a really great place to begin.

BLW is a way of teaching your baby to eat solids, allowing them to feed themselves from the very beginning with whole finger foods. Whilst the method of spoon feeding with puréed and mashed foods works well for some families, BLW is simply an alternative route available. My intention here is not to dismiss spoon feeding, and I know many people who prefer this way of feeding or quite successfully combine the two and do a bit of both, and as any mother knows, what works for some may not work for others. However as this blog is bout BLW I would like to explain some of the facts and benefits of weaning this way.

Firstly, BLW should only begin at 6 months old. Although many baby food jars begin as early as 4 months, there is much evidence to say that a baby’s gut is not matured enough and this can lead to increased risk of allergies. Both the government and World Health Organisation recommendations weaning from 6 months. By waiting until around this time there is also no need to spoon feed with baby rice, which offers no nutritional value to your baby’s diet and may actually only serve to replace a healthy breast or formula feed. Often people think their baby is ready for food because they watch their parents eat, but babies watch a lot of what their parents do, so it’s not always a reliable marker.

BLW is all about self feeding, and it not only improves hand-eye-coordination and speech and language skills, but it also teaches babies to recognise for themselves when they are full and therefore reduces risk of obesity later in life. BLW is about baby making choices to try new flavours and textures, they are in control of what is going into their mouth, and in this way it has also been shown to reduce aversion and fussiness with food in later years.

With Ray the first food we introduced was soft boiled broccoli and carrot stick. She tasted a tiny bit but mostly it was played with and thrown on the floor. Over the following weeks we offered various fruit and veg finger foods, sometimes with nibbles and sucking and sometimes with nothing. But each time it was a success, because each time was an opportunity for Raven to see new foods and become familiar with the concept of little meals. I soon realised this would be an up and down experience. To begin with I only offered finger foods at lunchtime, I stepped back and let do her thing. She started out very enthusiastic to explore these new objects, but ultimately her interest fluctuated greatly. I introduced breakfast around 7 months, and tea around 8 months. I’m not aware of a ‘rule’ per se for this, it was simply when it felt right to begin naturally expanding our horizons. We are still breastfeeding on demand and there are times when Ray seems more keen on sticking just to the liquid love of boobie rather than trying anything else, and other times she’s very keen, each day brings a new attitude so we roll with it.

Ok, so the book has all the real nitty gritty info, but here my list of things to consider when you are taking the BLW approach to feeding, from my personal experience.

Don’t expect a cleared plate.

First rule! I think I had this vision of a baby beginning with small bites and moving quite quickly onto heartier meals, but my experience hasn’t been that way at all. Whilst I post videos and pictures of Raven ‘eating’, the reality is there is always lots of food leftover and the pieces she munches on are often discarded after a few nibbles. She inspects the food, she holds it, squeezes it, passes it from hand to hand, sucks it and tastes it. Sometimes a blueberry will get a lick and then be thrown off the mat, and maybe it will be revisited later or maybe not. It can feel like a lot of waste, particularly when I was ensuring I had extra on hand in case it was all thrown on the floor when she wasn’t ready for the experience to end. But at 9 months Raven is now eating so well (still small amounts, but enthusiastically and with increased skill) that I look back on the beginning and realise it was not wasted at all. What I have realised is we have this inner desperation for our baby to eat and I know I was sometimes panicking when I felt as though not enough food had gone in. But over time I have witnessed a real evolution in Rays approach to eating, and as up and down as it can be, she has come such a long way. Would she manage to eat the equivalent of a whole jar of baby food? Not a chance. But she is still receiving all her nutrient needs from breastmilk and gaining weight appropriately. The motto ‘food before one is just for fun’ has reminded me many times than any food going in is a bonus, and my patience has really paid off. And oftentimes when I had thought she had eaten nothing, a nappy change quickly proved me wrong. These days she is closer to clearing a plate, but only a small plate, and whilst there is more and more going in her mouth, there is still a lot that ends up on the floor. *EDIT Last night her whole dinner went on the floor, today she wasn’t too interested in lunch and is instead a total boobie monster… teething? A bit of a cold? Who knows, we will ride it out. But I know that she can eat if she wants to, so I’m not stressed over here.

Try different approaches, and find what works for you.

If you really do start to feel like your baby isn’t eating enough, just try some different approaches. This was me as Raven hit 8 months and I saw other babies eating more than her. I suddenly faced some self doubt so I decided to up my game a bit. I made more effort to actively ‘teach’ eating without spoon feeding. I started to eat on the floor (on a mat) with Ray sat in my lap, and we physically shared a meal. Sometimes I had eaten beforehand and so I just chopped up some extra bits for me to nibble on and encourage Ray to copy. It wasn’t a huge pressured situation, just relaxed, me and my baby sat snacking together. This really worked for us, Ray wanted to take things out my hand as I was about to eat it and she smiled as she did it. Sure, some raspberries got squashed under wriggling feet and it got messy at times with crumbled muffin, but Ray really responded to it and it felt like a shared experience. After a while we reverted back to high chair again – aside from breakfast which is typically chopped fruit and a banana rice cake on my lap in front of In The Night Garden, as I found otherwise she wasn’t very interested in breakfast at all. I think it’s just what works individually.

Share meals.

It was pretty obvious from the outset that Raven always wanted to eat what I had. I have to say that I found it fairly easy to incorporate her foods into my meals. I would have stir fry when she was having peppers and beans, I would make an omelette and share with her or have steamed broccoli and pasta and let her eat the same. But if I didn’t want to eat what she was having, I would eat separately (discreetly) then sit and eat ‘with’ her, nibbling on whatever she had prepared. Just as my baby copied me to learn how to blow a raspberry or wave, she watched me and copied my eating. I also noticed pretty quickly which foods Ray liked best, and tried to include one of them in each ‘meal’. She likes food that has flavour and is easy to eat (I imagine most babies follow this pattern?) so liquidy fruits such as oranges, raspberries, blueberries, grapes etc, easy to eat veggies such as tomato, soft broccoli and baked beetroot. She also likes things that are easy to pick up and chew, such as twisted pasta, thin crumpets and any of the Organix baby crisps. All winners and so I mixed and matched these with new foods to give her a little eating boost.

Keep it simple.

So much information, it can seem a bit daunting to say the least. But it isn’t. You are simply offering food to your baby, they will play with it, they will throw it, and if your lucky they will take a bite or a suck. That is it.

Whilst I follow many really informative and inspiring BLW accounts on Instagram for meal ideas, it has at times left me feeling as though I’m not really offering enough variety or making enough effort. But these accounts are focused on building followers around BLW, and just as there are interior accounts that make us feel like our house is too messy, the BLW accounts are bound to be extra fancy. As lovely as they are, look past the posh plate and remember you don’t need to conjure up a completely different wholesome dinner at every meal. You don’t need to arrange your fruit into a dinosaur or spend hours cooking various meals, just take ideas from the accounts. Oftentimes you will discover that the food is quite simple but presented in a way that it looks exceptionally fancy.

Allow lots of time.

Raven can take half an hour or more to complete the process of discovering and eating her food. I know I know, how do you squeeze it all into the day? Well this was my first thought at least. But then I realised that teaching your child the art of eating and enjoying food is so incredibly important and absolutely one of the most virtuous tasks we undertake in our lives, and so it deserves great attention. A healthy attitude to food is priceless, and here we are raising children to enjoy a wide ranging palette, the ability to understand when they are full and teaching them that eating is a sociable activity. If we can find the time then it’s time well spent. I’ve been thinking of it as an activity rather than a chore. Especially on those days where we have free time and wonder how to entertain the baby, this ticks off a sensory learning activity for the day, and it is precious one on one face time that means you can feel less guilty bout leaving them to play on the floor for a bit whilst you hoover / empty the dishwasher / fold up the washing..

Have quick meals ready to go.

Eugh, the phrase ‘batch cooking’ hurts my face. I imagine myself with an apron covered in food, several giant pots steaming away on the stove and a sea of Tupperware ready to be filled. But it’s not at all that awful. Once you begin to move on from a few finger foods, there are literally hundreds of recipes on Pinterest and Instagram BLW accounts that require only a few ingredients, take minutes to prepare and cook, and can be easily thrown in the fridge or freezer for quick meals. I’ve included some links at the end of this blog. I am not a keen chef, these days I live off toast and weetabix, trust me when I say these are fast and simple. And if they make too much and can’t be frozen you can share it with your other children or eat the extra with your baby, there’s no age limit on them. I have another friend who is BLW with a baby a similar age, and any spare batch cooked bits we pass to each other, so we get double the recipes! It’s a great way of increasing meal options. Of course not every meal needs to be batch cooked, it can all be mixed up with other offerings.

Get your basics in the weekly shop, roughly map out meals in your mind.

Ok, it took me a while to get my head around this, and it may not be right for you, but I’ve included my basic food shop and loose meal plan.

So I found that small separate fruits were easier to have on hand as a staple rather than large ones, if that makes sense? So grapes, blueberries, strawberries, satsumas, raspberries etc, as apposed to ‘bigger’ full fruits like apples, pears, pineapple, melon etc – although I would include one or two of these each week for variation and bananas are handy for some batch cooking and easy spreads. They tend to keep longer than the date in the crispy bit of the fridge so I can make them stretch the week and do a fruit salad for me and Dean if their time’s up (he’s a lucky man).

Then I get in some veg too, half a cucumber, avocado (or is that a fruit who knows) broccoli, cherry tomatoes and I’m a big fan of pre chopped frozen veg too like beetroot, peppers, parsnip etc that is easy to put in the oven.

Talking of frozen, I pick up some veggie burgers and falafels and some small potato waffles too. I check salt and sugar content aren’t high, and I don’t offer at every meal, just good for sharing days.

Then I raid the Ella’s Kitchen / Organix / Kiddylicious ranges. Get in some of the rice cakes and crisps, and I also get the pouches to use as sauce on pasta or quorn.

I also pick up thin crumpets and a small brown bread for options such as hummus / cream cheese / avocado on toast.

Then I feel pretty prepared! Lots in to use in lots of ways and quick to offer. I don’t plan each meal precisely but when it comes to dinners I use up whats needed first (sorry I’m being so obvious) and I have plenty of choice to hand to build a mini meal. Obviously it can differ, sometimes I’ll fancy trying Ray with kiwi fruit, or offering sweet corn or an idea I found online, or we’re having another go with self feeding yogurt, (uki.be have great little rubber spoons for self feeding) but the above are my staple have ins that keep me ticking over. We recently picked up chia seeds and flax seeds too, I can mix them into a spread or a sauce, or mashed up potato etc. Sounds super fancy pants but it’s literally just a sprinkle here and there and a bag lasts forever.

So this is how I mentally organise the food;

I try to go for one bit of ‘stodge’ – so pasta, quorn, waffle, veggie burger, smashed up potato, beetroot, mashed butternut (oven cooked from frozen)na batch cook option or bread with spread.
Then I can add an option of either some cooked from frozen veg or fresh steamed veg, either some chopped tomatoes, cucumber, carrots or pepper etc. Or I will offer a fruit option, whichever goes best with the meal or needs to be used up first.
Ray goes mad for any of the Organix / Kiddylicious crisps so I include some of those, one or two is enough.
Then I finish with a drink. So water (guilty of adding a tiny tiny bit of squash…) quartered grapes and smashed blueberries or maybe 4 or 5 raspberries, satsuma pieces etc etc you get the idea.

Again, it’s not always set out like this, but I just find this approach had made it simple for us to grab bits and create lots of mix and match meals easily.

And finally… Enjoy it!

The fun is in the watching. You are witnessing your baby learn a very important skill, not just to ‘eat’ but to ‘enjoy eating’. Relax, remove the pressure, let them explore, smile with them, encourage without any force, make it a positive experience for them. When I look back over the last 3 months I can see that Raven has been on a remarkable little journey with her eating, and it is only now, at almost 9 months that she has really begun to ‘eat eat eat’. And what she is eating is healthy, her own choice and at her own pace. We don’t have food tantrums or crying (yet!), if she’s clearly beginning to get fed up then we just stop and the next meal is a fresh opportunity. It should be an enjoyable experience for you both, building up positive food associations and spending quality time together. So don’t stress about the mess, don’t panic about the quantity, just enjoy the moment and in time you will watch your baby learn to feed themselves happily.

 

Some links below for simple batch meals…

https://www.myfussyeater.com/broccoli-cheese-frittata-fingers/

https://www.healthylittlefoodies.com/banana-blueberry-fritters/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes

http://onehandedcooks.com.au/recipe/toddler-finger-food-pick-n-mix-vegetable-shreddies/#F076LCZ4QLQCf200.97

http://feedingmykid.com/article/toddler-finger-foods/?uaid=pinterest

https://www.craftsonsea.co.uk/family-recipes-for-baby-led-weaning-2/

https://pin.it/shh7io4j7y4r7t

Sleeping Soundly

S L E E P

It is an obsession and hot topic that arrives part and parcel with a freshly born human. From both ourselves, and from those around us. It begins the very moment they are born, when we take home our fruitful bundle with absolutely no idea what we are actually doing, when the nights are full of wakings and fumblings and soothings, and we are introduced to a new perspective of sleep. Suddenly we realise its true value and the impact it has on ours and our baby’s well being.

In the beginning, in my completely naïve and miseducated view of motherhood, I had this idea that newborns woke often, but over time they learnt the rhythms of day and night and around a few months old they would naturally begin to sleep through the night. Why did I think this? Well I guess it was because I had seen people celebrating when their own baby allowed them unbroken sleep, and I had heard people asking that age old question “Does she sleep through yet?” And from that I had come to my own conclusion that this was a goal for a baby to meet, and it would do so sometime within the first few months.

When preparing for Ravens arrival, I read all the suggestions and advice on leaflets and websites, of course I would carefully follow the instructions and keep baby with me in our room for 6 months and then transition them into their own room. And so we bought a Snuzpod for the early days and a cot for the nursery. I imagined me placing my sleeping baby down into the cot, not only at night but also at nap time, drawing the curtains and whispering ‘I love you’ as I left them to sleep for an hour or two whilst I cleaned / wrote / relaxed. I knew there would be moments of difficulty, teething, maybe an overtired baby from time to time that took longer to settle. But I was sold on the idea that ‘this is how it works’. What I hadn’t counted on was that it doesn’t actually always work like that.

Naturally when Ray was born and brought home, the nights were challenging. As a ‘new mother’ – at least to a bring home baby – I followed the popular parenting method of ‘making it up as you go along’. There were both moments of great beauty and great struggle. The intimate closeness of night cuddles when it is as though you are the only souls awake in the whole world, and times when the exhaustion set in and the nights felt lonely and long and I wondered if if I was doing anything at all right. As Raven is exclusively breastfed I didn’t see the need to wake dean, and so the night feeds were my domain and I thrived on the knowledge I was needed and held onto the fact that it was only for a short while, soon she will sleep through…

And as a tiny newborn it was accepted by visitors that she napped on me or her dad, and occasionally she would sleep a little while in her Moses basket. Everyone around me agreed that new babies like to held and cuddled. In those early days no one really questioned me holding my tiny daughter as she slept. I had just had a baby and we were bonding and relaxing together, isn’t that what maternity leave is for? When she was tired I let her snooze, when she was lively I let her be awake. It was really very simple.

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But time rolled on, and I was about to realise just how over complicated sleep can become with a little one. Looking back I can see that I got severely caught up in self doubt and hype, contending with all kinds of ideas and methods that really just stemmed from me not only wanting the best for my baby, but also from me wanting to be the best mother I could be.

Weeks 10 and 11. I’ll never forget them! Raven slept through the night for two whole solid weeks. I celebrated, naturally. I was so ready to get more rest and I believed we had ‘nailed it’, a milestone ticked off. I wasn’t smug, but I did feel proud. Which looking back is kind of odd, to think that I felt accomplished for my baby’s ability to simply sleep, as though it was a personal success. And ‘success’ really is a key word here, because without success, there is failure.

Needless to say, Raven slept through for two weeks only. Once the night wakings began again I fretted, we’re going backwards, and the thought of a fresh round of sleepless nights felt completely overwhelming. I had been so thoroughly exhausted by the end of her newborn wakings that I wondered if I could physically do it all again. Around the same time, someone questioned Ray sleeping only on me. It was a loving comment I’m sure, and I am certainly one to overthink and reach ridiculous conclusions, so absolutely no daggers thrown here, but it planted a seed of doubt. Yes, why would my baby only nap on me? “You can’t do that forever!” The newborn baby bubble was bursting, real life was beginning. There was a silent expectation that I couldn’t relax on the sofa any longer, I couldn’t let a little baby rule my movements, how was I going to get the housework done? And so many online photographs of sleeping babies in their Moses baskets or cot, what was I doing wrong?

Suddenly my baby’s sleep felt very complicated and I found myself questioning so much about when she slept, where she slept and how she slept. As her night wakings continued and the ‘success’ revealed itself to be short lived, a sinking sense of ‘failure’ set in. I had lost my boasting rights. And nap times too became full of anxiety. Instead of enjoying the lovely snuggly mother daughter cuddles, I would sit there thinking ‘I need to teach her to sleep off of me, I need to put her down’. I felt – wrongly so – that I was creating a bad habit, that I was being lazy, that my baby would never learn to sleep away from me.

And so it began. The countless adverts on Facebook about sleep training (I’m sure they hear your private conversations…?). Talking to other mothers about their nap routines and sleep schedules. Scrolling Pinterest and seeing a tide of posts ‘how to get your baby to sleep through the night in 48 hours!’. Conflicting advice, “don’t let them nap past 4pm” alongside “never wake a sleeping baby!”. If I implemented a routine of set times then I was bound by them regardless of if my baby was actually tired, and if I didn’t then I risked a tired baby napping too close to bedtime. It was all so confusing. What if she fell asleep in the car outside of her set times? Does it throw the whole day off? If she has a set bed time but isn’t showing any signs of being tired, do I soldier on and try to desperately induce sleepiness? Has she met her required awake/sleep times for the day? I read that babies need two short naps, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, but what if her first nap arrived naturally over midday? I found myself waiting for Rays sleepy cues later in the afternoon, but what if they never came? As Raven began to sleep increasingly well in the pushchair it invited some newfound freedom for me during her naps, but whilst I could celebrate the ‘success’ of a nap out of arms that too came with inner questioning. Walking with my baby in a pushchair to get her sleepy sometimes ends in a two hour sleep parked up in the hallway and sometimes ends in no sleep, but even good pushchair naps left me feeling like I was doing it wrong. “It’s time for her to sleep in her cot!” And night wakings were frequently seen as a problem to be solved. I lost count of how many times I was asked the dreaded sleep through question, each time answering no and feeling the empathetic looks as though I had failed a driving test or won second place. And it doesn’t end there, as a breastfeeding mother I found even feeding comes with complications. “You shouldn’t encourage the feed to sleep association, no one else will ever be able to put her down at night!” “She can smell your milk that’s why she wakes up, put her in her own room and you will all sleep better!” “You should be putting her down to sleep on her own at night by now”…

I began to feel like a fish out of water.

But you see, I was yet to realise three defining things;

1. The strength of motherly instinct.
2. No two women mother exactly the same.
3. The fact that you can do whatever the hell you want.

And it was here that my journey of realisation and self confidence really began. After a lot of wasted fretting and mental self punishment, it suddenly occurred to me that whatever I wanted to do, is what I could do. It was like a lightbulb moment. Perhaps Sandra down the road is timing her baby’s naps in her cot and that works for her, but that doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe Barbara on Facebook has sleep trained and now gets 8 hours of unbroken sleep and that works for her, but I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t have to do it that way. Some babies naturally sleep through, some families have more than one child’s needs to meet, or work schedules to consider. And I think I just realised one day that everyone is doing it differently and that’s ok! I will do my own ‘differently’ version. Back to basics, swipe away the countless pieces of well meaning advice, and simply follow my instincts.

A big turning point for me was when I discovered breastfeeding legend ‘The Milk Meg’. Reading her book and blogs, I could have cried with relief. There it was in plain black and white; a lot of babies like to only nap on mum, night wakings for feeds and cuddles is natural, breastfeeding through the night is normal, feeding to sleep is peaceful and perfectly healthy. The endless comments on her posts of mothers saying ‘18 months in and still feeding through the night!’ didn’t fill me with nighttime dread, instead it confirmed to me that Raven wasn’t broken and I wasn’t failing. It removed my expectations for a full nights rest and I could simply relax in the knowledge that all was as it should be, my baby was getting nighttime nutrients and cuddles. Night waking wouldn’t last forever and it also wouldn’t end anytime soon, but I was prepared to make the sacrifices necessary with motherhood and I could feel confident whilst doing it, after all Ray wasn’t crying in the night, she was simply stirring and needed a little extra comfort. Sometimes lots of feeds, sometimes few. Go to bed early, celebrate the nights filled with sleep and prepare for the ones that aren’t. Someone said to me – when we feel it’s been a bad nights sleep for us, it’s been a good night for your baby, because you have continued to meet their needs whenever they have needed you.

And so armed with this newfound knowledge, I felt brave enough to commit in other ways too. When it came to Raven outgrowing her Snuzpod I knew I wasn’t ready to place her to sleep away from me, she was still dream feeding and I actually just loved having her so close at night. I realised the milestone of my baby sleeping in her own cot wasn’t a ‘real’ deadline. So we bought another cot, medium sized, took the side off, adjusted it to bed height and continued to co sleep. These days night feeds simply require me to sleep with a loose bra top so Ray can turn to me to feed without much stirring at all. I began to relax and enjoy her napping in my arms. I didn’t feel trapped, I liked it. My baby needed it and with no other living dependants I was able to give it to her. I didn’t feel lazy, I was recharging my own batteries and giving my baby a safe and peaceful bonding feeling. And that was as important and as much a part of my motherhood and maternity leave as awake time interaction, activities and daily chores. I utilised the wrap and was able to move around as she snoozed if necessary. I relaxed the expectation of a nap routine, Raven doesn’t appear to follow set schedules so I reverted to a looser outlook; she sleeps when tired. Oftentimes a morning nap at 10ish, Then sometimes she naps at 3pm and goes to bed at 7pm, other times she has a snooze at 5pm and is in bed for 8.30pm. We still have routine but it flexes to meet the needs of the day and that works for us.

Of course, the way we work in our house isn’t for everyone and that’s a big point here. You don’t have to breastfeed or co sleep, your baby is also perfectly fine if they nap away from you, nod off midway through playing or drift off happily on the sofa. It’s cool if they are sleeping in their own cot or sleeping through the night from early on, you can have a nap schedule if that works for you. I’m free from judgment and I hope that’s clear, this was simply my personal journey to sleep confidence.

As Ray grows I see changes in her every day, and it’s sometimes hard to keep up. But some things never change. Just today in the supermarket I was asked by a kind hearted and well meaning stranger ‘is she a good sleeper?’ And I simply smiled and said ‘yes.’ Because I’m there now, I don’t need to scramble for a reply, feel like a fraud or speak through self doubt. I’m happy with my choices.

My daughter, who feeds through the night, who sleeps practically in our bed and will do for a long time yet, who I cuddle as she naps, who is one hell of a happy baby.

The Beginnings of Motherhood

Motherhood.  The experience that nothing can ever truly prepare you for, the most unprecedented upheavel a of a life beforehand and the most wonderful interruption of an easy life.

Before we had Raven I was, of course, already a mother, but there is no doubting that my mothering experience with a living baby is far different from that of mothering a memory.  From the very moment I first discovered I was pregnant with Winter, 33 long months ago, I had been imagining what being a parent would be like.  I did the prenatal yoga, listened to the hypnobirthing CDs and planned endlessly for my confident and serene transition into motherhood.  When I was close to my due date with Raven, I told Dean that I would have beautiful dinners ready each night and an empty laundry basket, I said that his days off would be set aside purely for big fun family days out.  I’d spent a lot of time on Instagram you see, and it seemed like that was the standard, well dressed babies, catalogue homes, smiling mother.

When Ray first arrived my confidence was sky high.  I had been waiting SO LONG for her and I was full of energy and bursting with excitement.  She took to breastfeeding immediately and the sleepy newborn phase meant she was content snuggled up in a blanket in the moses basket whilst I ate / washed the pots / stared at her.  Dean had 2 weeks with us and we fumbled nonchalantly through the days, happily making it up as we went along. The 2 hourly night feeds didn’t phase me, I had spirit and energy and spent the nights gazing at my creation.  ‘We are nailing this!’ we chirped, as I simultaneously nursed Ray and hung out the washing.  I felt like supermum, riding on oxytocin and being fed and passed things by an equally chuffed team mate.  I was brave, we went out for strolls around the park, the summer sun was beaming and isn’t everything just so much easier with soft weather? If Ray was crying it was for a feed or because I had cruelly pulled a vest over her head to dress her or dared to wash her with wet cotton wool, either way she was easily soothed and most likely asleep again in a matter of minutes.  Motherhood felt nothing but easy and ethereal.

Week 3 saw Dean return to work.  I imagined myself at a loss of what to do, but the continued roll call of visitors broke up my days and I began to drift into a simple daily routine.  Sometimes Ray cried and I didn’t know why, but I loved the idea that we were getting to know each other and I played detective.  I spent a lot of time staring at her, lost in her little creation.  The nights were long and littered with two hourly feeds, but I enjoyed our special secret time together on the nursery rocking chair when it felt like the whole world was asleep except for us. 

By week 4, however, the exhaustion began to set in.  Whilst I still was – and still am – ripe with devotion, my body was beginning to feel flushed with aches and I struggled more and more with resettling Ray after feeds.  Her arms and legs seemed to get even wigglier than before and she often startled herself awake.  I would spend hours in the dark nursing, burping, swaddling, soothing, only to lay her down and watch devastated as her arms flung up and her eyes pinged open.  I told Dean it was like writing a whole novel only to set it on fire.  Never did she particularly wail in the night, but the sad murmurs marked another round of settling, and I adhered with eyes half open.  Dean was always adamant I wake him if I struggled, and he absolutely supported me if ever I did, but as I was breastfeeding there seemed no real need, and I am aware that he is working long days to keep us clothed, fed and housed and so I chose to troop on alone and keep little Winter in my heart for extra patience and energy.  But now the nights were shifting from harmonious mother and daughter moments to lonely, exhausted slogs.  The days were still filled with precious moments, and don’t get me wrong I was happy and thriving in many other ways, but I found myself desperate for sleep and dreading nighttime.

Colic arrived around weeks 5 and 6.  For anyone wondering how this experience plays out… it is essentially hours of continuous screaming baby every evening.  Raven was simply inconsolable.  Aside from Winters death, I can honestly say it was the most emotionally challenging thing I have ever been through.  I was heartbroken as I found myself incapable of soothing my baby with her wide pleading eyes.  Her endless cries translated to me as HELP ME HELP ME, and I could not help.  The evenings were slowly getting dark earlier, on more than one occasion I stood at the window in my lounge with a thrashing baby in my arms just waiting for Dean to walk around the corner on his way home.  Ray cried, I cried.  A sense of failure, it wasn’t the fairytale I had been imagining, I wasn’t the mother who could solve all the problems.  Help was on hand, I’m lucky to have friends and family ready available to help.  My sister in law took some washing home for me,  I text my mum and asked for help and her presence was like a weight from my shoulders, my brother came over one evening in the midst of Rays meltdown and washed the pots.  After 2 weeks of trying Infacol and various google tactics, we went to the doctors and I came out wondering why we hadn’t been sooner.  Colief, an improved feeding latch and no spicy foods pretty much solved our problem and the change in Raven was dreamy.

The colic and exhaustion impacted on my confidence.  Winters second birthday was fast approaching and my grief drowned me.  I suddenly felt very incapable and worried that I wasn’t ever going to find my groove again.  What had begun as a smooth slip into motherhood, suddenly felt very fumbly.  I could barely juggle feeding myself let alone preparing a nice evening dinner. A rather ambitious full family day out ended rather abruptly as an already frazzled and unhappy Raven was moved from wrap to car seat to arms to car seat to arms to post poonami full body change and back to carseat… I abandoned the day and took myself and baby back home to the sofa.  It was a far cry from my early days of exploration and I wondered why I was going backwards. I realised that I wasn’t able to settle her with ease at times, and I began to worry about being out in public, flustered with a screaming baby.  Hungry?  Windy?  Tired?  Bored? I felt as though I didn’t have the answers and I couldn’t manage if she blew out whilst I strolled around Sainsbury’s. In hindsight, weeks 5 and 6 were our hardest yet and it came at a time when Ray was transitioning from sleepy newborn to more awake and aware newborn, and I was just learning how to transition with her.  A few weeks later and we had emerged so vividly from the fog of colic and sleepless nights that we had adventurously taken on a trip to London, an effort I would have never imagined possible when I was stood by that window waiting for Dean.

By week 7 we were co-sleeping.  Given the long nights previous it was only a matter of time before I gave in to biology.  It’s a controversial subject, but all I will say is that I followed safe practices – no pillows or blankets nearby, baby cupped under my arm laying flat on her back etc – it was a beautiful experience and we all slept exceptionally well.  After a few successful nights together, I began to place Ray into her Snuzpod with me lay right up close as if we were still in bed together, and over time I was able to move further back into my bed.  By week 9 Raven is now happily asleep in her Snuzpod for 8 hours at a time through the night.  Of course that could all change again, but it’s a far cry from the nights where I panicked that my baby would never sleep for longer than two hours at a time.  Here we are refreshed and colic free.  I rediscovered my groove.

As we step into week 10, I can reflect candidly on the early weeks.  The brave naivety of the beginning days, the confusing changes, the emotional trauma of colic and the slog of sleep deprivation.  I can say that I’m proud to have taken it all in my stride, and reasonably stress free.  Motherhood for me is so far both harder and easier than I had expected.  I’ve learnt to juggle a baby on my boob and signing for a delivery, I’m really good at picking things up with my toes, and my diet is mainly soup and cereal based.  As Ray learns to play and nap elsewhere than my arms, I find I am able to prepare a half decent dinner, half empty that laundry basket or type up half a blog post.  But really, I love the naptimes in my arms and I’m not in a rush to tidy the house rather than soak up my baby.  We’ve survived post immunisation fever, colic, sleep deprivation and nappy rash.  These days Raven is smiling more than ever and over time I have learnt to distinguish between her cries and cues and so I’m able to settle her faster and with greater confidence.  I feel braver again, I understand her little routines – she poops right after a feed, she’s hungry as soon as she wakes, she wants ‘comfort boob’ in the evening, she like to be held in a certain position, she sleeps well in the baby carrier in the morning, try and get her sleepy before she’s put in the carseat – simple understandings that have gifted us a softer flow in the day.  She’s on the cusp of giggles now and last night she shrieked in delight as she kicked around in the bath.  We celebrated Winters birthday together and I held her especially close as I felt his loss so monumentaly.  Her presence reminded me to enjoy the journey, even the fumbly parts.

The biggest lesson for me is that motherhood is what we make of it.  I’ve realised I don’t need a huge bag of supplies to go out – a few nappies, wipes and a change of clothes is all I need for a tiny baby – and a train down to London and back IS possible… why not?  Just with foreplanning and working around baby’s needs.  And yes, some days baby’s needs are a sofa and play mat day with no humping around.  No doubt when I (hopefully) have future babies I will have to bend around more than one need and life will be a little more complicated, but for now I’ve realised that whether we get out of bed and dressed at 10am or manage an early morning baby wearing stroll, we can do whatever the hell we want.  Isn’t that what life is about after all, ever changing, going with the flow.  Even as adults our moods and wants shift daily.  I’m letting go of Instagram perfection and ideal parenting and instead I’m embracing my own personal journey of motherhood, one where I realise that every day is different and I’ll never stop learning how to care for my child.  My baby is happy and loved and I’m peaceful with that, through the easy breezy times and those trickier times, I’m holding onto that truth.

The Wolfe & The Raven: Our Little Bird Is Born

Ok so it turns out that having a tiny wriggly little velcro newborn makes it difficult to sit down and write up a piece that has reasonable depth and grammar… so in the words of Miranda, bear with…

Our labour story begins on Tuesday 15th August, a whole two days before Raven made her entrance.  I went to bed feeling light sporadic contractions, but having had several other false alarms previously, I downplayed it to Dean and we just went to sleep like usual.  Throughout the night I woke several times to tightenings and labourish feelings, but each time I felt certain that nothing would come of it.  When you have already had one labour you imagine that the next time you will know exactly what to expect, but in reality I had already googled and called my local Pregnancy Assessment Unit several times over the previous week asking ‘Am I in labour?!’.  With Winter my waters broke and my contractions began a few hours later, there was no denying labour had arrived.  This time felt like a constant guessing game.

On the morning of Wednesday 16th August, I told Dean that throughout the night the contraction feelings had continued.  By now I was feeling more confident that labour was not far away but still not certain if it was real. It was Deans day off, he was asking me all day ‘How do you feel, do you think it could be labour?’ and each time I would reply ‘Well I think so, but I don’t really know…’. I rolled and bounced on the ball, we took a stompy walk over the road around the retail park.  By this point the contractions, although still very faint, were arriving every 45 minutes to half an hour apart. I made a little instastory of my feet walking with the caption ‘walking the baby out’ and it wasn’t until I posted it that I realised Dean was on the phone to his work in the background saying ‘Pea’s in slow labour’.  I deleted the video, initially keen to keep my labour a surprise, but of course it was too late and I decided it just didn’t matter anyway, I was just pleased that something seemed to be finally happening.

Once we got back home Dean ran me a bath.  It was around 7.30pm.  The warm water must have worked some magic… BAM… in that moment my contractions jumped from every half an hour to every 4/5 minutes, and they quickly intensified.  I shouted to Dean and he started to time them.  Even at this point I wasn’t keen to go into hospital in case it was another false alarm, but they continued and I got out of the bath to lay on the sofa.  Eventually we called the PAU and they agreed we should head in to at least be checked over.  Dean called my Dad to pick us up and we arrived at hospital at around 10.20pm.  Just as I got out of the car I felt my waters go, the timing could not have been better!  And so off to Labour Ward we went instead of PAU.

When I went into hospital during my labour with Winter, I was only 2cm dilated after a full day labouring at home, so I wasn’t too hopeful during my first examination with Raven, and when the midwife said I was already 5cm dilated I nearly leapt off the bed in joy!  For those not down with the labouring terms… your cervix has to be 10cm dilated before you can push out your baby, and so I felt as though I was already half way.  I took the photograph of my belly and posted on Instagram ‘IN labour… see you on the other side!’.

Considering the tragedy that unfolded shortly after my first labour – my son Winter stopped breathing in the delivery room shortly after he arrived and subsequently died the next day – I had been feeling understandably anxious about the birth of our rainbow.  Hours had been spent fretting, worrying, planning, preparing, I was certain I would lose control and panic and my baby would die so cruelly at the final hurdle.  It’s pretty incredible though, this human body.  The moment that labour arrived at my door, my natural senses kicked in and I realised, as everything continued smoothly, that I felt very in control and empowered.  This time I was more determined than ever to get baby out quickly and have them safely in my arms.

I laboured mostly in the same 2 positions that I took with Winter, first kneeling and resting over the upright bed frame, then lay down to push in the later stages.  I was continuously monitored and my midwife Siobhan was exactly the right balance of calm and on the ball.  I had a little gas and air, but my experience of it with Winters labour – where I struggled to breathe in through a contraction and it made me feel quite sickly – meant I went for 2 deep breaths just before the contraction and then rode it out.  Luckily for me, this labour felt much easier, the contractions were faster and more intense but it moved along with greater pace and therefore I managed to keep energy and spirits up.  Throughout the labour I had a photograph of Winter in my eye line.  Every time the pain washed over me and I felt myself struggle, I looked at his photograph and I was reminded of his strength and bravery and the reason why my body was working so hard in that moment – to meet the rainbow he had chosen for us.  Thinking about my son really was the best mind over matter medicine.  Dean was amazing as usual, he held my hand, he cheerleaded me and told me how proud he was.  He already knew from my previous labour that I didn’t like being touched during contractions, so we had an understanding of how to support each other in those moments.

When the time came to push, I lay down.  I know that textbooks suggest that isn’t the greatest position for pushing, but you really are at the mercy of your body during labour and that is the position mine requested.  Then the most extraordinary thing happened… my waters burst!  I hadn’t realised earlier that whilst my back waters had broken, my front had remained intact.  It was quite something, like a little water balloon had popped!  As I had pushed for 2 long hours with Winter and ended up with a ventous delivery, I was surprised when after a few pushes the midwife said she could see baby’s head.  I remember I made a lot of noise this time… I was pretty much silent throughout with Winter, bar the odd grunt here and there, but this time as I pushed I know I was loud and I apologised inbetween contractions!  I was working SO hard, pushing with all my strength to finally deliver our rainbow.  The whole event was nowhere near as chaotic and medicalised as I had imagined, it remained intimate with just myself and Dean and one midwife predominatly, and two as I delivered.

And so, she was born. 1.57am Thursday 17th August 2017, 6lb 14oz.

She was pink and crying, Dean cut the cord.  I rested her right onto my breast and she fed during those first minutes of life.  I was an absolute crying pile of human, yesterdays mascara all down my face, eyebrows sliding off.  Nothing can ever prepare you for that moment, when your womb baby is brought Earthside, and when the last time you held your newborn son was 22 months ago as he took his last breaths, that moment becomes even more intensified.  I was sure I would explode, nothing about the moment seemed real, I was in disbelief and awe.  A miracle on my chest.  Literally, heaven sent.

We named her Raven Rain with a nod to her angel brother Winter Wolfe and her status as a rainbow baby.

Ravens have a special relationship with wolves both in folklore and real life.  They are often called wolf-birds as they form social attachments with wolves and depend upon each other for hunting food.  Wolf cubs often chase after playful Ravens, and there are many beautiful images of the animals together.  We liked that it could be shortened to Ray, our very own little Ray of sunshine.

Rain is a popular rainbow baby name, and quite rightly so.  It is not only ethereal but also poignant.  I knew I wanted the name Rain for my rainbow not long after Winter had died when Coldplay released Hymn For The Weekend and the lyrics struck a magical cord.

‘Oh angel sent from up above, I feel you coursing through my blood, when I was a river dried up, you came to RAIN a flood.’.

Rain is the bringer of life, it waters the crops and fruit trees, it feeds the streams and oceans, it drenches those in drought and blooms the flowers.  Without rain, we wouldn’t have rainbows.

We were able to call parents, this time with the news that our daughter had been born and she was healthy.  Raven was checked over and given the immediate all clear.  A detailed heart scan later showed that one of the valves in her heart had not yet closed – this usually happens upon birth or in some instances the next day – and so we stayed in overnight for another scan.  The valve was still not closed upon her further scan, but our consultant reassured us it was not a life threatening occurrence and was confident to send us home with a further scan booked for November.

We had visitors arrive, I was exhausted but running on adrenaline.  Dean had to leave the hospital to go home and I was tearful to see him go.  It can feel suddenly very lonely when your partner leaves and you are left with your baby.  Dean asked the midwives to check on me more than usual as I was nervous of something happening to Ray whilst I slept.  I need not have worried, I barely managed any sleep on the ward, lots of other crying babies, mine included.  Raven did not like being in her crib next to my bedside and eventually we fell asleep cuddling on the bed, which both terrified me with the risk of SIDs, but also felt like the only natural way to soothe and hold my baby that night.  It was just the two of us, the beginning of many night times where we shared moments just us.  I could feel myself relaxing and trusting that this baby was here to stay.

By the next morning Raven had already lived longer than her brother.  It hurt then and it still does now.  I felt her weight in my arms, the feeling I had been pining for ever since I last held her brother.  I held her close and breathed her in, and I said out loud ‘Thankyou Winter for giving us your sister.’.

 

 

A Matter of Perspective

Since Winter died I have trudged daily through grief, I miss him endlessly and it hurts.  To help me survive the mass of emotions and pain, I have taken many rich elements of Buddhist teachings and put them into practice.  One of these practices has been acknowledging my perspective and looking at ways I can alter it to bring relief and joy amongst the heartbreak.  Shifting perspective is not about painting on a happy face and pretending that I only ever feel thankful for his existence.  No, I have many moments where I feel cheated and angry at this world and the life and death divides we are ruled by.  Grief is essential, it a normal emotion.  But holding onto a mind that promotes gratitude and seeks to find the roses amongst the thorns is also helpful and a simple choice to make.  After all, he taught me that life is here and then gone, and whilst I have my moments of heartbreak and raw emotions, there is no time to fester in bitterness.

Buddha taught that the world we live in is a reflection of our own mind.  That might sound a bit hippie hocus pocus but studying Buddhism has taught me that this is entirely true and really quite simple to put into daily practise.  If we are looking to improve our daily state of mind then shifting our perspective is a virtuous and meaningful act that only requires ourself and our mind.  I feel the need to add with every one of these Buddhist blog posts that these are small practices that we can implement in our day to day lives with great positive effect, but also of course that I am a human being and riddled with faults.  I’m not preaching as a pure enlightened being, I am simply sharing teachings that have been shared with me, many of which have helped me continue when I found myself in the depths of grief as my baby son died.  I’ll never forget very shortly after his death, flipping his meagre lifespan on it’s head:  Winter died after one day – no, Winter LIVED for one day.  A small adjustment to detail that has forever stayed with me.  I can dwell on the fact that he was born alive and therefore suffered greatly until his death, or I can feel gratitude for the gift of being able to see his eyes open and know he had deep brown eyes, and the privilege we had to hold him close to us in our arms as he peacefully died. Whether we are grieving a loved one or just feeling a bit flat on the treadmill of life, it is small thoughts like this that can entirely transform our lives from heavy, chore ridden and monotonous days into an ongoing positive spiritual practice.

We can begin our day with a virtuous perspective the very moment we wake up.  One of Buddha’s greatest teachings is ‘Everywhere we look we find only the kindness of others’.  Now, I know what you’re thinking… what about ‘nasty’ people?  Naturally as sceptics we instantly look for the loophole, I would do the very same and Buddha always encouraged his students to question and look to prove him wrong.  Of course they never could and the questioning and analysing only ever improved their spiritual practice.  To begin with, we will consider our day to day.  We wake up in the morning, in our bed.  Where did that bed come from?  Somebody designed it, somebody gathered the materials required, somebody cut the pieces or operated the machinery, somebody loaded it onto a lorry, somebody drove the lorry, somebody placed it in a warehouse, somebody served you in a shop or handled your online order.  The mattress, somebody made it.  The bed sheets, somebody printed the pattern.  The pillows, somebody stuffed.  Without these ‘somebody’s’ you would have no bed.  And so we can see that even in the morning as we lie in bed, we are already basking in the kindness of so many people.  Even if the people who created your bed were grumpy and ill mannered, you lay there comfortable and benefitting from their work, and so it remains a kind act.  Even within our first hour of waking, we have benefited from the kindness of so many strangers it is impossible to list each one.  The cup of tea, with hand picked tea leaves, hot water from the kettle, the mug designed and manufactured, the shower with warm running water fitted by a plumber, our breakfast of cereal and fruit, picked, packed, transported, displayed, beeped though the till.  Everything that we come into contact with that has benefitted our life has all come from a web of kindness that extends beyond cities, continents, language and religion.  Without the kindness of others, where would be?  Homeless, starving, naked, in fact not even born without the kindness of our mothers.  We can use this perspective when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, such as a long traffic jam delayed by roadworks.  Rather than sitting in our car and cursing the road and other drivers, we can mentally thank the workmen for improving our roads, keeping them safe, providing for their families and loved ones whilst kindly improving our driving network.  Of course this is often easier said than done when we find ourselves late and stressed, but really when we consider that feeling neither angry and frustrated or thankful and calm will have any real effect on the actual situation, we can realise that we may as well sit in that traffic reflecting on kindness and how lucky we are, rather than with a disturbed and restless mind.  Either way, we are stuck in traffic and that is out of our control, but our mind is always ours to control (with practise…).

Ok, so now the question of people who are ‘mean’ to us or say and do things that are outside of our own personal wishes.  How is that kind?  Perhaps this requires a little more contemplation and an open mind, maybe a little more understanding of Buddhist practices and beliefs of karma and rebirth… but to keep it simple and light we can realise that anything and everything can be used as a tool to improve our own spiritual practice.  To give an example, since my son died I have had some negative reactions online to sharing his story and photographs (pictures of a ‘dead baby’ aren’t going to suit everyone. Read here about why I choose to share his story regardless) but it is the perspective with which we respond to these situations that matter.  I could retaliate, send an aggressive reply and see no virtuous outcome whatsoever.  Or I could mentally thank the person for offering an opportunity to gently educate, helping me to realise that there is still work to be done in the infant loss taboo, putting a little fire in my belly to continue spreading awareness and shouting about baby loss with an even bigger voice, and of course, thank them for reminding me about how to not behave and the importance of being kind even anonymously behind a computer screen.  They have provided me an opportunity to practice patience and to develop a peaceful mind even when potentially disturbed by anger. And so, in finding ways that this person has helped me and benefitted my spiritual practice, I can see that even though unintentional, they have been kind to me.

Keeping a virtuous perspective during our daily lives can also extend to our actions as well as our surroundings and interactions.  Chores… housework… cleaning…  Even something as simple as cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming can transform into beneficial spiritual practice simply by changing our view.  When we are hot and tired and changing the bedsheets, we can think ‘I am providing my loved ones with a safe and comfortable place to rest’ and when we are washing the dishes we can think ‘I am providing my family with clean plates so they are able to eat and grow healthily’.  I get it, it sounds a bit airy fairy, and do I walk around dusting and singing Disney songs everyday?  Nope.  But really it is just our thoughts and it can make even simple chores feel more meaningful.

Finally, we all need to stop the constant comparison of our lives.  Easier said than done especially in the world of Instagram where everyone else’s little squares always seem brighter than our own, but it is really a meaningless wasted act to spend time deciding who is winning at life and who is not.  I could write endlessly about this, but I won’t.  We are all here, in life, that has got to be enough.  We all know people that have everything and are miserable (just check the celebrity section in the tabloids), and others with less than us that are happy.  So more or less, neither matters, it is only our mind that we can rely on to keep us happy.  As the saying goes ‘The only time you should look in your neighbours bowl is to check they have enough’.

If anyone is interested in learning anymore about Modern Buddhism then visit Tharpa.com to find a Buddhist centre near to you and a wealth of books and Cd’s etc.