Good boy

I’m just on my way back home from a gorgeous wedding of close friends, Jake and Ash.

It was lovely to have a few hours away from parenthood as my husband and I danced up a storm and didn’t have any parental responsibility for an afternoon.

But despite being away from my little poppet, I was still thinking about him.

More specifically about the phrase ‘good boy’.

I’ve heard Jenson’s nursery workers use that phrase when praising him for something he’s done and I’ve heard others tell him that he’s a ‘good boy’ for similar circumstances.

But it sticks in my throat when I hear someone say ‘good boy’ to him and it’s not something I say to him when he’s shown skill or kindness or compliance.

Because I want to know that he is intrinsically good.

Regardless of his skill, kindness or compliance with my desires.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I’ll give him a free pass to do whatever he likes or that I don’t acknowledge what he’s done well.

If he does something out of line, I’ll say ‘that wasn’t nice’ or ‘be gentle please’.

And I say ‘bravo’ (I speak to him in French, this isn’t a reflection of my gentleman’s english!) or ‘bien fait’ – well done when he’s done something well.

I say the behaviour is out of line instead of saying he is out of line for doing something I disapprove of.

And I say the behaviour good instead of telling him he is good for doing something I approve of.

It’s semantics, but I think it’s important nevertheless.

Because I want him to grow up knowing that he is good.

Regardless of what he has done or not done.

Words do not do justice to the strength I feel for these words and the intensity of desire I have for him to know that he is good.

Because I believe this is a foundation – the belief that he is good – which is key for him to stand strong in life.

To feel able to follow his heart instead of hustling for the approval of others.

To not overly question his decisions but to trust his instincts.

To be happy in his own skin knowing that he is ok just as he is.

Part of me thinks ‘is this really important enough for me to raise this with his nursery?’

It’s just semantics.

And it’s not the only thing that will decide whether he has good self-esteem or a knowledge that he is fine as he is.

It’ll be Gregg and I showing him that we love ourselves, trust ourselves, believe we’re intrinsically ok.

It’ll be us respecting him and giving him enough freedom as he makes decisions for himself.

It’ll depend on us engaging in dialogue when he questions our boundaries.

Not to bend to his will, but to show him that he has a voice, is important, is intrinsically worthy of love and respect.

But stopping the ‘good boy’ comments seem like a good start.

And my gut tells me to raise it with his nursery.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, dear friend.

I showed up

I arranged a meet-up for likeminded mamas who wanted to gain more balance in their lives this Saturday just passed. (I wrote about what it’s for here).

As I was waiting for strangers I didn’t know would show up or not, wondering if this was the biggest mistake for how I was choosing to spend some precious alone time on a Saturday afternoon, I spoke these words to myself:

Whatever happens today, I’m showing up.

I’m choosing to gain more balance in my life.

I’m deciding to take action so that my life is not just work, Jenson and mindless zombie staring at a TV screen in the evening.

And so I showed up and, with the three other mothers who came along, I got real value from our time together.

I heard stories of different couples and realised that I am not my best self with Gregg a lot of the time –

  • Grumpy if I have too little sleep
  • Unbearable if I’m hungry
  • So bent up on ‘alone time’ that I can argue over Jenson like he’s a commodity (“you had 2 hours of alone time yesterday, I want exactly that time to myself today”)
  • So that was a great realisation, something I can be aware of and perhaps try to change.
  • During our time together, I also explored where I wanted to get more balance in my life and here’s what I decided:
  • I committed to planning a date night with Gregg over the next month and promised to spend a few hours each Wednesday evening doing something I enjoy which isn’t sitting in front of the TV like a zombie. It most probably will be blogging, cooking, painting my nails, learning something new, exercising, having a bath, calling a friend for a chat…something that nourishes me.
  • I also got a glimpse of what I could work on over the coming weeks and months – regaining more intimacy with my husband (sorry family, if you’re reading this!), committing to spending less on coffee, having slightly less sugar in my diet, reconnecting with my emotions…
  • In those two hours, I understood the power of meeting as a group of women instead of as a group of mums – supporting each other, challenging each other, gaining new perspectives on things.
  • And although we shared our struggles and threw in some funny stories of our lives, I felt the same thing that one of the participants shared – how it felt different to a usual mum meet-up because we were focused on outcomes.
  • We weren’t merely saying what was tough in our life and getting emotional support, we were each challenged to say ‘so what next?! What am I going to do about this?!’ in whatever big or small way.
  • It felt so good to meet up with other mums and I can’t wait for our next meet-up in four weeks time.
  • Taking my own advice

    I’m sat here, quickly typing away at this post before I go to London for my birthday weekend. I thought to myself this morning, as I was looking after Jenson at 5:15am, “what a different place I am this year compared to last year”.

    In some ways it’s the best different in the world but in other ways, I desperately miss my old life. Miss being able to lie-in. Miss hours at cafes to blog. Miss having time as my own when I get home from work. Miss having more energy for things. Miss not having to feel pushy to have some time to myself.

    Motherhood is beautiful but I’m also finding it brutal.

    I want to do the best thing by Jenson – want him to have the best start in life – but I also know that this comes with a price for me as his needs stand firmly above my own.

    For now at least. 

    And so I just quickly looked back at my birthday post from last year and couldn’t believe that what I had written there spoke so clearly to me. 

    I had written about how great my life was – job I loved, happy place with relationships, feeling I was starting to let go of people pleasing and start prioritising my own wellbeing – and shared my wisdom from when I had been in a darker place:

    • Reach out to someone
    • Take steps for the better but accept the present
    • Find gratitude
    • Know that this will pass

    I couldn’t have known that I, a year later, would so desperately need these words of encouragement and support.

    But my advice was spot on.

    So I’m going to reach out and share that I’m struggling a bit – I suppose even writing this is me doing that.

    I’ll think about what ‘steps for the better’ look like  – I think it means taking more time at the weekend to take care of myself, continuing to work from home as much as I can to have longer in bed and a gentler day, perhaps having one evening a week where I don’t snuggle down to watch a TV programme with Gregg but do something that is extra specially nourishing for me.

    I’ll spend some time on my trip to London with Gregg reflecting on the gratitude I have for being a mum and for the lives that we’ve got. We’re pretty damn lucky. 

    And I will take heart that this will pass. Jenson won’t always be so reliant on me and I’ll be able to be a bit more independent. Breastfeeding will end one day, and while I love nourishing him, it will lead to more independence for me. Just this moment too will pass. I’ll feel less loss for my past life and will be swept up in joy of my son’s laughter, love for my family as we cuddle and play together, pride as people remark what a sweetie he is. 

    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.

    What he’s teaching me…

    My little peanut is almost eight months old. I can’t believe it! He’s nearly been out in the world for longer than he was inside me growing. At times these eight months have seemed like a life sentence (sorry Jenson, but it’s true!) with sleep deprivation, inexplicable crying and endless rounds of nursery rhymes and distraction techniques to soothe him. But at times I look back and think “how can he already be two thirds of his way through his first year?!”.

    One thing is for sure – he’s my biggest teacher. One I didn’t know I needed and couldn’t have planned for when he made his appearance known to me.

    I was lying in bed yesterday morning, looking at my sweet boy as he slept next to me and I thought of all the things he’s teaching me…and here are the three things that spring to mind most keenly.

    Patience

    Oh I’ve had to be patient so often with my little one in these first eight months. When he’s up at 5:30 on most days and I want to shout to the heavens “why will my baby not sleep past daybreak?!?”. When he’s crying and I can do nothing to settle him. When I’m feeling a bit under the weather but have to bring it for him. When I cook a lovely meal for him only to have it rejected. When he wanted to be held in my arms to sleep for the first six months of his life.

    Patience, he’s teaching me to have a bucketful of patience.

    I’m sure there will come a day when I snap at him, yell with frustration and scream to who-knows-what about what a difficult life it is to be a parent, but for now I feel like my little guy is teaching me slowly what it means to have patience. The importance of taking a deep breath, the ability to look at the bright side of things I’m finding challenging (never have my days been so long with the early starts!), the joy of having him which makes up for all the inconveniences of parenthood.

    He’s teaching me to go with the flow and let go of every notion of control I had before.

    Presence

    I’ve always been a planner. I’m first in line (or maybe a high second place) to plan my sister’s wedding when she meets Mr Right. I know where I’d like to be in 3 years time. I’m always looking ahead.

    Too much sometimes.

    And I quickly discovered that my little boy is the medicinal tonic to my future focus. He calls me to stay firmly in the present with him. Especially when I’m on my phone – how he hates it when I’m glued to the screen!

    He drags me firmly into the land of now as we explore the world around us. Time speeds past as we examine our reflections in a doorknob, splash around in the bath, laugh at games we play together. When we’re together, there’s no thoughts of work or relationships or anything other than being with him.

    And it’s beautiful.

    Sometimes it’s frustrating too (see above for the patience he’s building in me!) as I want to gallop away to plan future stuff. But for the most part, being called to be present with him is a reprieve from how I’ve learnt to (dis)function and it’s brought so much peace to my life.

    Some people pay hundreds of pounds on a retreat and in yoga or meditation classes to learn how to stay present…but I’m learning it from my baby who seems to be a natural, my own little mindfulness guru.

    A different path

    Becoming a mum has shown me what is truly important in life – my family, having a job that stretches me, being able to travel and explore this world. But it has also thrown so much up in the air for me as I question how I can contribute more, how I can leave this world in a better state for my boy and those who are growing up with him.

    I can’t just go to work and return to be with him. It’s not my path to just do my job and return home to pour everything into my son. I feel the call to contribute more.

    The weight of responsibility of being his mum has made me discover the responsibility of being a citizen of the world and has started me questioning what this means to me. Whether it’s playing a part in reforming local government and politics, the medical system, the environment or the education system, I feel something developing. A path just out of sight beyond my vision that I know I’m going to tread at some point in the future.

    He has shifted my priorities and shown me a new path I never thought possible.


    So here’s to my boy as he’s on the cusp of eight months old. I can’t imagine my life without him.

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    Six months

    I’ve been a parent for six months…bloody hell! How did that happen and how did this time pass both at a snails pace and in the blink of an eye?!

    From a sleeping, crying, mewling little baby to a little being looking more and more like a toddler with each passing day. It’s incredible to see how much he has changed and how much I’ve changed during this time.

    He now stands (sometimes unaided when he’s holding onto something), sits with such core strength, grabs anything in his reach, beams for us, strangers and for the camera…and yet some things don’t change. He’s still as determined as ever to sleep curled next to me, to feed or be rocked to sleep.

    And he’s still as spirited as the very first day when he screamed the hospital down. The loudest, most determined baby on the block.

    What about me? My changes are less perceptible, more internal but life changing nevertheless. My ability to be patient has increased, I now know I am stronger than I could have ever believed (from pushing his 4 kilo heft out of me to surviving on little sleep and getting twice done what I would have before), I have less tolerance for bullshit and for getting involved in those silly games that people play in life (psychological ones, not things like buckaroo or uno 😜).

    And I feel a new steeliness inside me. If I’m going to leave my little person in someone else’s care, it better be for a job I am passionate about – something that lights me up. Otherwise why would I leave my little one?

    And my decisions have more weight than before. Staying binge free and dealing with what’s going on underneath the surface is not just for my own good but for him too. So he doesn’t take on the practices that have been so harmful to me in the past. Sure, he’ll have his own struggles, but as much as I’m able to, they won’t be passed on from me.

    And I’ve found joy in the small things. Seeing him smile, making him laugh by singing silly songs, watching Gregg being a better father than I could have ever dreamt him becoming, seeing the love of our families for Jenson.

    I’ve also learnt to reach out and ask for help, to maintain boundaries and say no. To ask for what I really want instead of just wishing people could read my mind.

    All in six short months.

    And I find myself asking what the next six months will bring for both myself and my little half-Birthday boy. Adding in work to the mix for me, him spending most of the time with his father who will be on shared parental leave…

    What I do know is that it will go by in the blink of an eye and that I will share what is happening with you, dear friend.

    Just one day

    I promised myself that I would be honest on this website and so I’m going to write something that most parents will think (and many will say to their friends) but is not something I feel very comfortable sharing and putting out there on the Internet. But here we go…

    I wish I could not be a parent for a day. No, that’s wrong. I wish someone would take care of Jenson and I could let go of all the responsibility of being a parent for just one day.

    This wish comes from having spent 4+ hours on a coach ride with him from Da Lat to Nha Trang and, arriving at a paradise-like beach with plenty of bars and sun loungers but having my little man to jiggle around and keep happy. It also comes after a few days of him being extra clingy to me – perhaps due to a wonder week development (a wonder week is scientifically verified a period of time where a baby is leaping forward in their development – check it out!) or perhaps due to the upheaval of travelling that I’ve put him through. If Jenson isn’t attached to my breast, he’s been keen to be on me for most of the day and when he has been distracted by someone else and then sees me, he starts crying. Reminded that he wants to be with me.

    I love my little baby to pieces. So much so that I feel I’m going to squish him to death sometimes with all the cuddles and kisses I give him. And I don’t regret choosing to have him one bit. As I sing to him, he is my sunshine, my greatest sunshine. But I sometimes miss being just a team of two with my husband. I miss having uninterrupted lie-ins, going for late night drinks with friends, being able to read a book on a journey, spending my time with no one to answer to but myself.

    I wouldn’t change being a mother to Jenson for anything in the world. I know there will be a time where I can leave him with family or a babysitter. Heck, I know there will be a time where I’ll wish for him to want to spend time with me.

    But just in this moment I wish I could pause time and have a bit of a break. And that’s ok.

    I am his. But I am also mine

    If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll have noticed that the subject of my posts has changed since I’ve had my baby boy. And that’s to be expected because, as a new mother, he is my world.

    Since I’ve had him, I’ve realised that I am no longer my own. In fact, I’m coming around to the realisation that I will no longer come first. He comes first regarding how I spend my time, my money, my love and my energy and I know this will continue to be the case even as he grows and relies less on me. He’ll still come first.

    I well and truly belong to Jenson. I am his.

    But it doesn’t change the truth that I am also mine.

    In fact, I have a tattoo on my right foot which says “I am mine”. A tattoo I had done after a bad relationship break-up where I realised that all too many decisions in my life were being made to please other people (in this case a boyfriend who told me I was too fat, my hair wasn’t pretty enough, my taste in clothes wasn’t right…) instead of following my internal compass and my own desires.

    And while I love Jenson with a selfless love that I have never experienced in my life, it doesn’t change that I am still mine.

    I still have needs, desires, hopes and a personality that is at its best when I have regular time alone to process, to think, to breathe, to exercise. And that’s ok.

    So I’ve started to take a few hours for myself in the weekday evenings and to have a period of time by myself while my husband hangs out with our little monkey at the weekend.

    And this time alone is so sweet. I can’t express just how marvellous and precious it is to me. It’s like oxygen to my soul.

    A time to go for a run in the spring sunshine, a time to geek out revising my coaching training notes, a time to put music on and write this post to you in uninterrupted bliss.

    And I’m reminded that it’s ok to be mine. It’s ok to need this space. It doesn’t make me less than a mother – it gives me the capacity to be a better mum. And I feel lucky that I’ve got a partner in life who supports me to have this space and time just as I support him to have his own space and time doing things that he loves.

    But I want to look at my tattoo more often and remind myself of it’s new meaning – that I’m allowed to my own person and take time for myself, even as a mum to a new baby.

    I belong 100% to Jenson but I also belong to myself. I am mine.

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    The witching hour

    I have to say, I was a bit smug about my son. Sure, he’s a baby who expresses what he wants and is fairly quick to protest if we don’t respond to him. But if we made sure he was fed, clean and loved, he was fine.

    Until yesterday. When I got to experience what the witching hour really means. A time where, no matter what I did, Jenson was inconsolable. Crying louder and louder and unable to be comforted by song, feeding, rocking or any sort of soothing activity Gregg or I could think of.

    It went on for about 30 minutes until he fell, exhausted, to sleep but it felt like 2 hours of endless crying. And tonight has brought about the same witchy madness, sending him over the edge and causing him to scream louder and louder with each passing minute.

    Gregg took him for a walk, something that always manages to send him to sleep but I’m left a bit shellshocked at my inability to calm my son. I know it’s not my fault but it sort of feels that way.

    I think it must be overstimulation, but what triggered the transformation from peaceful sleeping babe one moment to screaming wild-thing the next? Responding to him a second too late perhaps – he wanted to feed and I took a moment to try to attach a pump to express from the other breast? Or would he have just screamed, regardless?

    I suppose I’m writing this for no real reason really. To get out my feeling of hopelessness. To not stew in my feelings of inadequacy and to remind myself that it’s not my fault.

    Babies sometimes cry and it’s ok for me to find it tough.

    It’s also ok for Gregg take Jenson for a walk to soothe him (although sat here I feel helpless and like I’ve done something wrong by not being the one to calm my son down).

    Geez, parenthood.

    The most beautiful, complicated, challenging, dizzying, joyful, destroying, uplifting experience I’ve ever known. Where I have to let go of control and go with just what is in this moment. Where I’m unable to steer the journey much of the time. Where I have to rely on the help and support of others more than I ever have done in my life.

    It helps having this safe space to write down my thoughts and express what’s going on for me. To not keep all this stress, anxiety and worry inside myself. So thanks for being here for me, dear friend.

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    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.