A narrow set of rules that just don’t work

I’ve been thinking about my age old stumbling block – my body – since I went to see the Guilty Feminist Live a few weeks ago.

I was lucky enough to hear the amazing music of Grace Petrie who is a singer/activist and also a self-proclaimed butch lesbian who never felt she fitted until she came to peace with who she was and how she looked.

And in hearing how she felt she didn’t belong because she didn’t fit into the ideal of femininity, I realised just how much I only feel I belong if I’m at my thinnest and fit into the female ideal of beauty.

I don’t really understand why I feel this way, but I do.

I don’t hold other people up to the same standard. If someone is overweight it doesn’t make me question their worthiness or think less of them.

I might wonder whether there’s a reason for it – some hurt they’re trying to bury with food, a medical reason, because they love food and don’t feel ashamed of being who they are in their body.

But with me, I believe being a bit soft round the edges shows me as weak, not able to cope, lacking in self-control and so many other things…

But after seeing Grace and marvelling at the idea of fully embracing myself, I’ve been wondering about a few things.

What if I lived by Grace’s words?

Some of her song lyrics – and the title of this post – are ‘a narrow set of rules that just don’t work’.

And that’s, in my ‘logical’ thinking moments something I understand about my thoughts about my size.

Not everyone is made to be a size 6/8/10/12.

And by saying ‘you must control yourself to stay thin and within these narrow views of beauty’ I’m saying to myself that it’s not ok to not be perfect.

But perfection isn’t real and these rules about what is ok to be, food-wise, is too narrow.

It’s not realistic.

It’s not something that works for me.

It’s not ok to not be ok

Food and body image becomes more problematic to me when I’m not doing ok.

When I’m treading on new and tricky ground.

When I’m challenging myself in areas that I’ve not challenged myself before.

And that’s what I’m doing at the moment – I’m out of my comfort zone and so it’s no wonder that the old self-critical voice and comfort-eating behaviour is creeping back.

It’s not a wonder really with the strides I’m taking in my life:

  • I’m shedding the thought that I mustn’t stand out or ask for things for risk of being thought of as a nuisance.
  • I’m getting the self-belief and assurance to take time for myself in my personal life. Seizing time for myself just as my husband does when he goes to park run on a Saturday or football on a Wednesday evening.
  • I’m doing different things at work which are new and uncomfortable – having challenging conversations, staying in ‘adult’ mode when I want to be the rescuing ‘parent’, considering how I might work as more of a team instead of staying safe through being self-sufficient.
  • So I suppose what I’m saying is that I’m not entirely ok at the moment.
  • But that’s ok.
  • When I am going through periods of growth, I tend to turn to food for comfort before I slowly unfurl into new territory.
  • And that’s ok.
  • I don’t quite believe that I could be a size 14/16/18 and still think of myself as fantastic, worthy, brilliant. But I’m recognising this and trying to change my inner dialogue.
  • I’m making headway.
  • What if I loved my body like I love my son’s body? 

    Like with other people, I don’t measure my son by his body. But it’s a part of him that I love. His beautiful, plump arms and legs ripe for the biting, his cheeks so soft to stroke and kiss as he lies next to me, sleeping.

    He could be twice or half the size and I would still look at him as perfection. And, although I love his body, it is a small part of who he is.

    He is his cheeky smile and his ability to spot small details at such a small age.

    He is his obsession with bubbles and his pushing around of Harold the Bear in his little pushchair.

    He is the ‘woof’ he says when he sees the dog and his concentration as I read story after story to him.

    He is his strong legs that allow him to toddle around.

    He is his hands that clap and his fingers that he moves to try to mimic ‘baby shark’.

    He is his body – and I love it for all it is – but he is so much more than that too.

    And to view it in isolation is to do him a grave injustice.

    To view my body in isolation is, likewise, to do myself a grave injustice.

    What if loving my body was a great act of rebellion?

    It does feel rebellious, the thought of accepting, loving and cherishing my body, whatever its size.

    To see rolls around my waist (just the act of writing this feels disgusting!) when I sit down without any sense of disappointment or judgement or disgust.

    To no longer look sidewise to see how narrow my body is because it’s just not a priority for me.

    To look at my body as I did just after giving birth to my son – with wonder, respect and gratitude for what it does for me.

    To not be defined by how I look.

    To not think I’m less deserving because of not being a small size 12 or that my body and my size has anything to do with my worth or my worthiness as a person.

    When I look at myself through this lens, it feels like a deeply rebellious act.

    It’s not an act of self-sabotage – pushing as much food as possible in myself to defy a society which tells me who I should be.

    It’s an act of deep self-love and freedom to nourish myself, give myself food I love and food that provides nutrients without any heed to my size.

    Without any pressure to my anything other than I am.

    Without any rules defining what I should or shouldn’t be.

    So where do I go from here?

    I accept that I still have far to go on my journey.

     I remind myself that it’s ok to not be ok.

    I send gratitude to the divinity of motherhood for the chance to see a love I want for myself mirrored in the love I have for my son.

    I see the small seed of hope for the future me.

    I am reminded to look at myself with love and compassion.

    And I’ll end this blog with some words from Grace’s beautiful song:

    “You will figure out what’s yours and that it’s got nothing to do with fitting neatly in a box that was constructed to make it seem like people come in just two teams and anything that’s in between ain’t good enough”

    Tender

    I shared with you recently about a lot going on in my life. Connecting so strongly with the grief in my heart, feeling the call to more, returning to work after the life changing event of becoming a mum, learning all the lessons in store for me about mothering my beautiful, spirited son.

    I was lying next to him tonight, feeding him and missing Great British Bake Off (thanks, my little joker. You knew I was wanting to watch it, I’m sure!) and once I accepted the reality that I was going to miss it, I stopped fighting the frustration and tapped into what I was feeling.

    And here’s what I felt – a tenderness inside me like a bruise.

    Being bashed around so much with exponential personal growth, changes to everything I know and the uncertainty and unpredictability of being a mother and not knowing what the future holds for me.

    I am tender and a bit battered and a bit bruised.

    There’s no denying how I feel – if just is. And there’s no real changing what’s going on for me – it’s my journey.

    What I do know is that I need to show myself kindness and gentleness. I need everyone around me to show me the same gentleness and kindness too as I live this season of my life.

    I know if won’t always be this way. But it’s this way at the moment.

    There’s no great reveal or revelation about what I can do about where I am. But just expressing it – sharing it with you, dear friend – lightens the load and helps me walk the path that I’m on right now.

    It’s not the easiest of roads but I’m sure it’ll lead to somewhere great.

    Feeling

    I’m feeling so many things at the moment as my life prepares to shift dramatically again.

    I’ve only got 2 weeks left of my maternity leave in Brighton before I go off on an adventure of a lifetime to Asia with my husband and my baby boy. And then after that I’m going to be returning to work full-time and my husband is going to take over the full-time care of my son.

    I know these things are right for me – going abroad in search of new experiences as a family is sure to strengthen my family and it fills me with such excitement.

    And going back to work and giving my husband time to bond with our son – time I’ve already had – is also so important and right for us as a family.

    But I’m still feeling all shook up as the end (or the start of a new beginning) is upon us.

    And it would be so easy to push down all the negative feelings with food in this moment, as I have so many times before. The anxiety, the fear, the feeling of wanting to freeze time, the frustration.

    But I know that this doesn’t serve me at all.

    It just buried the pain deep inside me. A pain I’ll have to feel at one time or another.

    So I’m choosing to feel how I feel at 4am as my son plays next to me.

    Sadness that our precious time together is coming to an end and that I’ll miss so many ‘firsts’ as I’m back in the office.

    Frustration that so much of the next 2 weeks is jam-packed with plans when I just want to be in my baby cocoon and just be with my son.

    Anxiety about the unknown – how we’ll cope with a jet-lagged baby (by taking things easy I suppose), whether my husband will cope with the constant haggling we’ll need to do abroad, how our time in Vietnam will work out.

    These feelings are sad ones, hard ones, feelings that are due to projecting into the future and thinking ‘what if’ ‘what if’ ‘what if’. So they’re not feelings I can deal with by being proactive.

    There are some things I can do –

    Reduce the plans in my diary over the next 2 weeks.

    Feel the anxiety, frustration and fear – these feelings sit in my stomach and on my chest like a weight.

    Acknowledge that this is how I feel. Just getting it out there by sharing what’s going on with you, dear friend, is enough to reduce some of the urge to push down my feelings with food.

    So I’ll keep feeling what I’m feeling. It’s the only way of being which doesn’t end with self-destruction.

    Internalising

    I’ve been on a path for a while to find acceptance with who I am. Acceptance of my body, acceptance of those parts of my personality that I often think are ‘too much‘ or ‘not enough’. Too sensitive, too emotional, too bossy, too strong-minded, not funny enough, not extroverted enough, not laid-back enough.

    I have long periods of peace with who I am and have made great strides forward in gaining love and acceptance of myself – I know that my body does not define who I am inside, I’ve learnt to find beauty in my strong body instead of berating it for not being waif-like and I’ve also gained a great respect for my body after being pregnant and giving birth to my beautiful baby boy. It is so much more than flesh that should bend to my will – it is precious.

    Yet I’ve noticed my mean girl voice come back into my head of late. Judging my body that has not and may never return to its pre-pregnancy form. And commenting on all the ways that I’m not enough and too much in each situation. Doubting that I’ll find acceptance from those I hold dear. Fearing they’ll find me lacking in some way.

    I experience this mean girl voice as an uncomfortable niggle, like a bruise I can’t stop touching. Sometimes I can say “thank you for your thoughts but I don’t need to hear them” to my inner mean girl and other times her words stay in my head and make me feel paranoid and self-conscious, wondering if everyone else is bored by me or thinking how much I’ve let myself go.

    Luckily I’m able to do the former a lot more than before but it’s still exhausting to deal with.

    But when I ask myself what my mean girl is truly about, I know it is an internalisation of tiredness, of being overwhelmed by this new experience of being a mother, of things being too much in life, of feeling that I’ve lost myself to then find myself and then feel lost all over again.

    There are people I know who deal with these feelings by externalising them – talking about it, crying or raging. But with me, I’ve always internalised what’s going on for me.

    I don’t know why this is, although I do think a lot of pressure is put on girls to be happy and that being sad or angry or grumpy is seen as unacceptable.

    Perhaps it’s not the ‘why’ that is important though. The key is what I do now that I’m aware of the internalisation. Because I know it’s not healthy for me.

    Thank the mean girl

    I could continue to fight this voice or I could treat her as what she is – a prompt that something is out of kilter in my life and needs addressing. So I could thank her and deal with the underlying issues. It’s exhausting to do this, especially as the mean girl voice raises its ugly self when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable. But if I start to look at what is going on underneath, I think it can only get easier.

    Put myself first

    Over the past few weeks my husband has taken Jenson for a few hours to give me the space and time to do things for myself. And it has been what I’ve needed to reconnect to myself and feel back to my normal self. It’s what I’ve needed to keep my mean girl at bay. So I think I need to keep on having this time to keep my sanity. For me, it’s not a nicety, it’s a necessity.

    I’ve also found myself being ‘rude’ over the past few weeks as I’ve prioritised my needs over other people. I already feel torn in so many ways since Jenson came on the scene and I can’t split myself anymore to accommodate other people. So I’ve turned people down, I’ve asked people to visit at a different time that suits me or said no altogether to seeing them, I’ve not gone along to things I didn’t want to. Because if it’s a choice between being seen as rude or going crazy, I’m going to opt for rudeness.

    Share away

    I have written before about how I find it hard to share what’s going on with me face-to-face. There are a few good friends who I feel safe sharing with – those who have earned my trust, are good at asking the right questions that open me up and have been as vulnerable with me as I am with them. And to be honest with you, I think it’s fine to be like this – to have a select few people who are trusted to hear my stories as I’m trusted to hear theirs. But I need to find time to connect with them around the time constraints of motherhood.

    Externalise

    I know that pushing down what I’m feeling is a one-way street to comfort eating and people pleasing. The two things I’m proud to have stepped away from for the most part. So to not push down my feelings, I need to find a way to externalise what’s going on for me in a healthy way. This blog is a huge part of that – sharing my experiences and expressing what I’m going through with you, dear friend. But I also think that there are other places where I can externalise my feelings. And I’m taking some steps to get there by arranging some coaching for myself to deal with the perfectionism which says ‘it’s not ok to not be ok’ and holds up an ideal of what I should be – funnier, easy-breezier, more extroverted.

    I know that this is going to be a journey I take over the rest of my life – that of tuning into my intuition and learning to listen myself and what I need. It feels hard to be here, but it also feels honest and truthful and like things can only get better from this point onwards.

    Perfection

    I’m sat here at 4am next to a sleeping baby who was, until a few moments ago, wide awake and more wriggly than a sack of frogs. Now that he is sleeping I find myself unable to get back to sleep so thought I’d share my thoughts about the coaching that I’m going to invest in for myself over the next few months.

    If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that I’m a coach and will also probably know that I’m really passionate about the power of coaching to help people make the changes they want in their life. And over the last few months I’ve become aware of some changes that I’d like to make for myself.

    • Stopping the negative self-talk and self-berating when I don’t do something ‘perfectly’
    • Getting some support as I go back to work and find myself stretched and pulled between wanting to be the best I can at work and doing my best for my son
    • Finding kindness for myself as I find my way along this new journey of parenthood

    For me the perfectionism is where I really want to make some progress and I can see it in all three statements above. I know that the high standards I hold myself to have meant that I’ve achieved a fair bit in life (cue Ms Perfectionism – “have you really achieved that much?! I mean, it’s not like you’re in a really high flying career or have done something really significant with your life”) and I’m not looking to get rid of my desire to strive. It’s such a big part of me that I don’t think I could change this even if I tried.

    But I do think that I could be kinder to myself when things don’t turn out perfectly. I could learn to change what I measure my perfection against. I could expect myself to try my best in any given moment and knowing that this is enough.

    I was struck by the blame I put on myself when I wrote about how Jenson put on such little weight over a three week period. I felt I should have done more but I know that I didn’t knowingly take actions that negatively impacted his weight gain and I know that I did my best in each and every given moment. I wasn’t perfect, but I did my best.

    And I’m taken back to all the other occasions in my life where I’ve blamed myself for not doing enough – the development programme at work that had some hitches, a reflective session I ran with my previous employer which tanked, the coaching sessions I’ve done which didn’t go as well as I wanted, the Christmas presents I agonised over which weren’t the best.

    I don’t want to live like this any more.

    Yes, I want to strive, do my best, achieve greatness through my efforts. If it wasn’t for my strong drive:

    • I wouldn’t have completed my professional HR qualifications alongside working full-time,
    • I wouldn’t have become a coach in the year that I started a new job, had a hectic social life and was growing a baby,
    • I wouldn’t find the energy or time to build my beautiful website alongside raising a baby,
    • I wouldn’t have such big future plans, goals and dreams for myself

    But there must be a kinder way to be with myself. A way that can bring greater ease into my life. A way that I can also role model for my son so he knows that his best is enough.

    And that’s what I’m hoping to get from my coaching. I can’t wait to get started.

    My supply

    So before I start getting into this properly, I want to put a big caveat on this post – I’m talking about breast milk and all the things I’ve done to increase my supply so if it’s not your thing, please feel free to stop here.

    I also want to caveat that I don’t think that breastfeeding is the be all and end all. Some mums make their choice to bottle feed and if that’s your choice, good for you! I just knew that I wanted to breastfeed from the moment I got pregnant and have continued to want to do so despite being faced with some challenges. Especially because Jenson will rely on breastfeeding to have immunity from disease when we’re travelling in Cambodia and Vietnam in June. Yes, breastfeeding has some great benefits – supporting your baby to get over sickness quickly, the beauty of relaxing while your baby is slowly feeding, not having to faff with sterilisation, supporting your body to return to its pre-baby state. But it’s a personal choice and I support anyone to do what is best for them whether it’s the bottle or boob.

    I’m hoping to write this to partly come to terms with what has been a really hard journey and also to put my experience out into the ether to hopefully help other new mums who want to persevere and keep on feeding their babies if things get tough.

    And for a lot of people it does get tough. I think I heard that less than 10% of mums are breastfeeding when their babies are 3 months old. It is challenging – a skill you and your baby are having to co-learn when you’re at your most vulnerable and exhausted. And it takes the perfect cocktail of hormones for the milk let-down reflex to be triggered and for your baby to latch on properly.

    I wasn’t told that it could get tough before I had Jenson but I wish I had been.

    Why was it hard?

    Breastfeeding didn’t get off to the best start for me. Jenson was tongue-tied (as I’ve shared before with you, dear friend) and while he was able to latch on, he didn’t feed effectively. This meant he was either feeding, sleeping or crying for the first three weeks and didn’t put on much weight. He didn’t drop into a danger zone but went from being in the top 75% of babies, weight-wise, to being in the bottom 9%.

    And since he wasn’t latched on properly, my milk didn’t come in properly.

    It wasn’t that the tongue-tie was undetected. It was picked up straight away but the protocol at the hospital where I had him was to not treat it unless it proved to be problematic. But the pity is that when it was apparent that this was the problem, the damage had already been done. To my milk supply and to Jenson’s weight which is only just starting to pick up 13 weeks into his life.

    I don’t know for sure this was the problem. But I do know that it might have been the problem and I wish that I had spoken up more to the doctor who brushed off my concern and didn’t give me the option to treat it when I asked about the condition.

    There were other issues at play too which impacted my milk supply – severe blood loss in labour, being treated with lots of IV fluid, anaemia, perhaps not resting enough when he was born…

    So I don’t know why it was hard, all I know is that it was and has continued to be hard.

    What I do

    Since it became apparent that breastfeeding was an issue, I’ve done a number of things to increase my supply including:

    Supplements

    I take brewers yeast, blessed thistle, goat’s rue, fenugreek and marshmallow root supplements three times a day with food. I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot, both in volume and in cost. I probably spend £30 a month in supplements but think I’d spend even more on formula if I was using it so I’ve come to terms with this.

    Medication

    I’ve been prescribed medication by the GP which is used to treat nausea/vomiting but has the side effect of increasing lactation. If you’re struggling, speak to your GP to see what help they can give you.

    Food

    I eat oats every day – porridge for breakfast and a flapjack whenever I can for a snack. I also sprinkle savoury meals with nutritional yeast which is meant to be good for milk supply.

    I don’t drink alcohol (it can decrease milk production by 30% for the few hours following drinking alcohol) and have boosted my water intake as much as I can. I can’t wait to have a G&T but it’s not worth it at the moment for me.

    Peppermint and sage can decrease milk so I also try to avoid these. Instead of peppermint tea, I have a new Mother’s tea that my friend bought me.

    I’m also not trying to get back to my pre-baby body, although I personally feel pretty damn great in myself. The most important thing is to eat well so I’m having plenty of good fats, not skipping meals and have also started to eat locally sourced, free range eggs to get more easily absorbable omega fats. It was a hard choice to make with my veganism but I feel like this choice to re-introduce eggs is not at odds with my principle of being vegan to opt out of the large-scale and (often) damaging meat and dairy industry.

    Skin-to-skin

    I was told how powerful skin-to-skin is in increasing milk supply. Jenson doesn’t like snuggling close to my chest during the day as he’s a nosey little man who likes to look out to see what’s going on in the world. So instead we both sleep topless while co-sleeping to get the skin-to-skin benefit during the night.

    Expressing

    I have tried to express milk to increase my supply but find it a difficult experience. Having to make sure everything is sterile, finding time to sit alone to express and timing it with Jenson’s frequent feeds has proved difficult and I’ve not done this as much as I should. But I have done this where possible.

    Seeking help

    The best thing I’ve done is sought help from people. I’ve called the La Leche League hotline to get their invaluable help and advice. I’ve been to breastfeeding drop-in clinics. I’ve gone to my parents house to get some rest and a chance to express while they look after Jenson. I’ve spoken to my GP who has referred Jenson for further tests to make sure his slow weight gain isn’t the cause of an underlying health issue. I’ve stayed under the care of my health visitor to get support. I’ve asked friends for help and advice to support me.

    I’m getting there

    I’m happy to report that Jenson has started to put on weight at a more rapid pace. And I’ve taken steps to help myself feel more in control – I’ve written to the NHS trust to ask them to improve how they treat tongue-tie and have implemented the things above that fit into my life. So I’m not expressing as much as I could, but I’m keeping my sanity and hopefully making gains with lots of skin-to-skin and supplements.

    It feels good to write all this to you and share my story a bit. It’s been a long road to get to where we are, but I’m glad I persevered and hope I can help people in the future.

    I suppose the biggest advice is give you is that if you’re going through difficulty with breastfeeding, reach out. Get help. And know that things can get better.

    Allowed to be me

    I stood in the kitchen 3 nights ago and, half-crying, said to my husband “it’s not that I don’t love Jenson – I love him so strongly – but I’d just like a few hours to be me again. To not have my constant companion by my side or be called away from the passions I have to feed or cuddle or hold him. I miss being me.”

    Motherhood has been the best thing to happen to me. I can’t express how much I love this little, wonderful being. My love is a force that keeps me smiling when I’ve been up half the night with him or had to sing songs to him for hours to calm him down.

    But I miss being me.

    I miss just going to a coffee shop and reading or blogging for hours. I miss spending untethered time in the kitchen whipping up cakes and cooking batches of food for the week. I miss going out without being tied down with a backpack full of baby stuff.

    The freedom, the focus on me, the ability to do exactly what I want to do.

    And here’s where I hear Jenson’s voice of the future – saying “but you chose to have me”. A sentiment I had as a child when I didn’t get my way or the few times my wishes didn’t come first for my parents. And now I get it.

    Yes, I did choose to have him. With all my heart and much time spent thinking about whether I did want to become a mother. It was an active choice. But this choice doesn’t take away who I am. My passions. My dreams. Things I just like doing because I just like doing them.

    And I’m ok 80% of the time that I’m not where I was anymore. I’m a mum and that means that I am no longer my own. I’m his as much as he is mine. But it doesn’t stop the fact that I’m allowed to be me. I’m allowed to still have my desires and wishes and dreams. I’m allowed to take time for myself.

    I’m also incredibly lucky to have a husband who is in this with me 100% and is able to hear me and my needs. He gives me the space to be me, just as I give him the space to be him.

    What does this look like?

    Gregg gets Wednesday evenings to play football with colleagues at work. I support him to have this time, even if it means that I have to take care of Jenson well into the evening by myself. I’ve also been up for him having nights out with friends and other evenings out to do things he enjoys even if it leaves me alone with a baby who can, as much as he’s adorable, be a challenging little so-and-so.

    And Gregg allows me to follow my passion for coaching people who struggle with comfort eating, binge drinking and people pleasing. He takes Jenson out of the house when I have my sessions scheduled with the people I love to work with so I can focus 100% on this work that I feel called to do.

    But I know I need more time to just be me without relying on the squeezed little chunks of time I grab for myself. Yes, I get time to coach, but I need time for me. It’s not selfish to take this time. And even if it is selfish, it’s time I need so that I can be a good, patient, loving, kind and generous parent to my son and a good, patient, loving, kind and generous wife to my husband.

    So tomorrow (well, today – I’m writing this at 4am now that Jenson has gone to sleep after being up for an hour), I’ve been given a pass by Gregg. The promise that he’ll take Jenson for a good two or three hours so I can just be me. I can get my hair cut, sit in a cafe and read a book or write another blog, post or wander the streets of Brighton without a nappy bag and papoose.

    And I think we need to make a regular event of this. Giving each other time so we can be ourselves and have a bit of space to claim back who we are.

    I’m allowed to be me. It doesn’t mean that I love my son any less. It means that I’m human with needs of my own. And that’s ok.

    Help

    I was at a friend’s house yesterday. She’s got a little boy the same age as Jenson and has really hurt her back. She’s in agony and I’ve come over to help her during the day.

    I’m not saying this to get brownie points for how awesome I am, I’m sharing this because it’s given me a lovely glimpse into what a gift it is to accept the help of other people.

    When she was in the most early agonising moments of her injury, I offered to come over to do what I could do help her and she was reluctant to accept the help. She said she couldn’t accept my help. Like me, she’s a strong, independent and giving person who is more used to being the helper and is uncomfortable needing to lean on other people.

    She’s probably even more strong, independent and giving than I am. I’ve practically lived at her house since our boys were born and she has invited Gregg and I over for dinner so often. Honestly, she’s cooked for us more than I have cooked at all since giving birth to Jenson! She’s been super thoughtful in sourcing special breastfeeding remedies for me to help with the troubles I’ve been having and is one of my biggest cheerleaders on my journey as a Mum.

    So when she injured her back, I wanted to support her as best I could. And it was, to be honest, really frustrating to have her reject my offers of help due to her discomfort at needing to lean on other people.

    My help was a gift I could give back to her in the face of all the kindness she has shown me and I was delighted when she messaged me to take me up on my offer of help.

    It was a lovely day. Catching up, talking about our hopes for the boys, dreaming of travels and helping her, here and there, to lift her son or soothe him when he needed a jig around the room.

    Helping someone I want to help is a pleasure.

    So if I turn this around and think about how I often turn down help because of the discomfort I feel being ‘needy’, I see that I’m depriving people of a chance to feel special, to give back in and to get closer to me as they see me vulnerable and in need of a helping hand.

    I’m sure this experience isn’t going to bring about a massive shift in me overnight and I doubt I’ll feel absolutely at ease accepting help going forward. But at least I’ll have a very good example to draw from about how good it feels when someone allows you to help them and I hope it will allow me to say ‘thank you so much, I’d love to accept your help’ more often.

    The end of the fourth trimester

    Tomorrow my son turns 12 weeks old – I can’t quite believe it. He’s been with us for such a short amount of time but it also seems like he has always existed.

    I’ve loved these first twelve weeks because I’ve been following the school of thought that the first three months are the fourth trimester. A continuation of the baby’s time in the womb where the most important thing is bonding with Jenson and helping his transition into the world to be as gentle and smooth as possible.

    To do this, I’ve found myself wearing him in a sling for the majority of our trips out of the house, spending restful hours in the bath with him on my chest, co-sleeping and have focused on what makes him seem happy and content. Lots of walking so he can be rocked to sleep close to me in the sling, lots of singing and dancing around the house and lots of feeding at his pace and at his demand.

    This style of parenting wasn’t one that I thought I would take. And, for sure, it’s one that focuses more on Jenson and less on my marriage. Even though my husband sleeps in the same bed as us and is 100% present with us when he’s not at work, I miss the closeness we had pre-becoming parents. I’m sure our relationship will get back to where it was over time but I didn’t expect to have less resources, less patience and less energy to show my love to Gregg.

    But let’s get back to talking about the fourth trimester! These thoughts about relationships with a baby are probably for another time and another blog post!

    As I sit here writing my thoughts about the fourth trimester you, dear friend, I find myself slightly sad that it is coming to an end. I know that this gentle way of being doesn’t have to end but somehow I feel the permission to take things extra slowly and gently diminish as his 12 week anniversary arrives.

    I know that 12 weeks is an arbitrary number and am aware that I can continue doing the same thing over the next few months but somehow it doesn’t feel the same.

    Because Jenson is going to change. He’s already coming out of his womb-like haze and is interacting more with the world around him. He’s smiling so much, recognises songs I regularly sing to him and can now be distracted by the world around him or even can be stopped crying with a book or something new that I show him.

    He’s not going to need as much of the slow and gentle pace that I’ve grown to love.

    And I’m aware that I need to prepare him for my return to work in July when his dad will take over as the main carer. I feel an anxiety about having to push Jenson to do things before he’s ready to fit in with my desire to get back to work and his dad’s desire to spend quality time with him.

    Making him sleep out of my arms, feed just for nourishment instead of a way of dozing off, get used to me not being around.

    So I’m allowing myself to take a moment to feel sad about him growing up and all that this means. But I also remind myself that I can’t control the future and that the best thing I can do to reduce my anxiety is to be present with my son in the moments I have with him now.

    And I think of all the moments to look forward to in the future – where I’ll get to hear him giggling for the first time, witness him playing with toys and interacting even more with the world around him.

    He’ll soon be sitting up, tasting his first foods, clapping his hands and chances are that he’ll be less reliant on me when July comes around. And if he is still reliant on me when July comes around, I know that we’ll manage.

    Double standards

    I’ve been having a bit of an issue with breastfeeding. Sorry if this is TMI but it’s true.

    I’ve loved the experience of providing sustenance for Jenson and have no problem whipping my breasts out in public to do so. That’s not the issue. It’s that I’m not producing quite enough milk for him and so he’s been slow to put on weight.

    I don’t know where the issue stems from, although there are a number of potential reasons why my supply isn’t quite enough for him. The blood loss I experienced just after giving birth that left me anaemic, that Jenson was tongue-tied for the first 3 weeks and perhaps didn’t feed strongly enough to bring my milk in fully, my genetics, my diet (although I don’t think that being vegan has any impact on milk production)…

    Regardless of where the issue stems from, I’m potentially not providing enough milk or Jenson isn’t getting quite enough and, although my health visitor isn’t overly worried, there’s a chance that we may need to top him up with formula.

    I’m not the only person I know who has been having feeding issues. A few people in my anti-natal class have had to move fully onto formula and others are doing a mix of bottle and breastfeeding. And when they shared their sadness at not being able to fully breastfeed their baby, I was understanding about how they were feeling, but also had a real conviction that as long as the baby was getting sustenance (through formula or breastmilk) and was loved, there was no shame in switching to formula.

    That is, I felt this strong conviction until I was faced with potentially having to use some formula myself.

    What double standards!

    That other people can be human but I need to be perfect, that good enough is enough for others on this journey of motherhood but that I need to get everything ‘right’.

    I started writing this post feeling sad and a bit ashamed but now I just feel pissed off at the bar of perfection I find myself yet again trying to vault over – a bar that is never achievable because it’s too high.

    Because if I was perfect with my ability to produce milk, I would fall short in how I’m playing with him. Or if I did both those things perfectly, I’d worry about how he’s sleeping compared to others. Or how he’s developing or interacting or what clothes I’m dressing him in…and the list of self-judgement could go on and on.

    I’m so glad I started to write this post because I see how far I’ve progressed. Yes, that bar of perfection may still be in my life and I may still start to measure myself against it, but I’m able to step back and see it for the unrealistic, cold, unhelpful measure it is.

    It doesn’t take into account how I rock my son when he is crying for the 100th time in the day, or how my days are planned around what will bring him peace, or how I cradle myself around him at night so he can sleep soundly. It doesn’t measure the depth of my love for him or the effort I put in to be the best Mum I can be. Not a perfect Mum, but as good a Mum as I can be.

    So what if I can’t produce exactly the right amount of milk. I’m doing my best – my body is doing its best – and that is good enough.