Tuesday, 19 August 2014

White



I wasn't sure whether or not to post this; it's been sitting as a draft for months and months.  My message, at its simplest, is to empower others to trust their instincts and follow their baby's lead.  This includes breastfeeding, unconditional love and attachment, accepting ourselves as human and celebrating the transition of Woman into Mother.

If you're reading this, there is every chance that breastfeeding has a place in your heart.  If you're reading this, there is every chance that you are already 'sold' on attachment theory.  If you're reading this, there is every chance that you believe that childbirth is empowering and beautiful.  Because these beliefs often (although not always) go hand in hand.

Let me be clear; I believe these things too.

I advocate birth empowerment, but I cannot pretend to have experienced it.  And there are many, many mothers out there who are walking this same contradicted path.  The path that understands the significance of birth, values and honours its power and knows that there are few things more beautiful in life.  But this path winds and bends and occasionally, it routes backwards...slowly through our trauma, below our lowest low and quickly past our shattered dreams.

I have a lot to say on birth trauma, but it is particularly heavy on the heart to write about.  I understand that it isn't always joyful reading, but I am clicking that 'Publish' button for the mama sitting alone, walking this all-too common path.  For the mama slowly but surely making her way through her trauma, even when the wider world doesn't recognise or prioritise its existence.  For the mama who dreams of having more babies but is too afraid to try.

I'm publishing this to give you a voice, mama.  To give us all a voice...


****

Sometimes, when it is dark and little bean lies peacefully sleeping beside me, I close my eyes and see smiles.

As my daughter’s breath falls rhythmically against my cheek, I shut my eyes tighter and hear voices.  Loud and dancing, these voices crash together within a messy and tired room.  A comfortable place; a place called home.

The edges of this scene are blurry and the colours are soft, yet my daughter’s eyes shine brightly amid the unclear faces of her imaginary siblings.

You see, sometimes, when it is dark, I dare to imagine.  I dare to imagine a future with a room full of children.  My children.  I dare to imagine a busy and cluttered home filled with people who I grew, birthed and nurtured.  Sometimes, when it is dark, I dare to imagine wrinkled hands stirring a larger-than-life saucepan, while my team of grown and growing offspring banter and chatter at our larger-than-life table.

But there are other times, when I close my eyes, and all I see is white.


White.

White is the colour of the ceiling in the hospital room.

White is the colour that the bed sheets started out.

White is the colour of my husband’s face, as the blood drained from his complexion in synch and in unison with the blood pouring from my body.

White is the colour of surgical masks.

White is the colour that the world became…as voices grew distant and my eyes grew heavy.

White.


When I close my eyes, I am throwing dice.  I am gambling as to which scene I will find myself in; will I re-live my near-miss or will I pre-live my future-miss?

Because in reality, where sounds are steady and faces known, I understand that my team and my larger-than-life saucepan are not actually mine to dream.  Not anymore.

Once upon a time, when childbirth was only TV shows and rose-tinted stories, this dream was mine to craft.  I could look forward with an open mind and a hopeful heart about the exciting possibilities of My Turn.

Not anymore.

This dream poured from me when childbirth became a reality; flushed away with litres of blood…floating upwards, outwards, downwards…towards the all-encompassing white.

But of course, I know that I am lucky.


Lucky.

Lucky to have a healthy and happy toddler who calls me mama.

Lucky to still be alive.

Lucky.


Because yes, I am lucky to be alive, to be a mother and to lie here next to baby-soft cheeks that squidge when I kiss them.  But I am also unlucky to have experienced birth in the way that I did.

Yes, I am lucky to be able to run, laugh and play alongside my daughter, and to watch in wonder as she grows.  But I am unlucky that my hopes of giving little bean a big family are wrapped in fear and in angst.

You see, my smudgy, easy, loud and busy dream is no longer mine to dream.  It is selfish and dangerous and absurd.

Yet there it stays, lodged in my head.  I would have expected their voices to quieten, these faceless un-children of mine; this team of genetics that sits hungrily at the larger-than-life table.  I would have expected their colours to fade into nothingness…into white.

But they do not fade.

Because they hold onto hope; to some kind of strength that lies peacefully sleeping in all of us.

As I look across at my sleeping toddler, I remember glancing sideways at her as the doctors worked on me.  She was my anchor and my hope.  I clung to her in my heart, while the medics hooked IV lines into my arms.  I squeezed her hand, in my mind, while the consultant squeezed, clamped and compressed the bleed.

Through blind pain and frenzy, I held onto my girl…she was the one who pulled me back, away from the white.

And in this way, my un-children sit patiently waiting.  Patiently waiting for mama to ladle out their dinner from the larger-than-life saucepan.  Patiently waiting for memories to soften and fear to subside.  Patiently waiting for mama to hold onto hope and to take a leap of faith, if only just one more time…
                                                 

Because in reality, my saucepan may only ever feed one or two, but within my heart lies the strength of an army of un-children, peacefully sleeping and pulling me back, away from the white.


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Sunday, 10 August 2014

A Good Thing



And so World Breastfeeding Week has come to a close.  Its aim was to celebrate and raise awareness of breastfeeding.

It’s fair to say that awareness hasn’t been a problem this year; it seems that plenty of people have had something to say about the heightened number of milk-drunk baby pictures filling up their Facebook news feeds.  It seems that plenty of people have had something to say about the personal breastfeeding stories that so many women have shared.  It seems that plenty of people have had something to say about a whole 7 days being allocated to celebrate breastfeeding.  But of course, not all of these opinions have been quite as positive as we would have liked.

And while I hear the doubters, with their loud and pointed distaste, I must admit that their arguments are getting lost in translation…


Because it’s a picture of a baby.  This is a good thing.

Because it’s a story of a mother’s struggle, perseverance, triumph and pride.  This is a good thing.

Because it’s a week set aside to celebrate something healthy and natural.  This is a good thing.


And what better way to celebrate a good thing than to dance, right?

Introducing the group of mothers and children who danced through the now-famous Cheltenham Brasseri Blanc, as a thank you and a tribute to the café’s supportive attitude towards breastfeeding.




Doesn’t it make you smile?


Just like a picture of a baby.

Just like a story of a mother’s struggle, perseverance, triumph and pride.

Just like a week set aside to celebrate something healthy and natural.


Because these are good things.

I’ve said before, that you don’t need to be lactating to support breastfeeding; my own good thing doesn’t negate anybody else's experiences or stories.

So as we bid farewell to the 7 days allocated to celebrate breastfeeding, I personally pledge to continue my celebrations.  Even when my daughter is grown and my breasts no longer make milk.  Even when I no longer need my unstructured bras, my nursing pads or my breast pump.  Even when our night feeds are wrapped in rose-tinted hindsight and I start to refer to my sleepiness as 'tiredness'  instead of 'exhaustion'.


Yes, my breastfeeding celebrations will continue.  So keep on nursing, mamas, even if nobody seems to be cheering you on.  Keep on celebrating, even if it feels like you're dancing to the beat of your own drum.  Because you're not alone; I'll be right there, with millions of others, dancing beside you.


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Photo credit: www.mouseabouttown.co.uk
Video credit: http://vimeo.com/102953385
Dancing brought to you by Gloucestershire Breastfeeding Supporters' Network, Gloucestershire Welcomes Breastfeeding and Sling Beat!

Friday, 1 August 2014

10 Truths For Breastfeeding Mothers

1st August marks the start of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week and Breastfeeding Awareness Month; a chance to celebrate and raise awareness of breastfeeding.  I could have shared heart-meltingly cute nursing pictures, or inspirational personal accounts of breastfeeding marathons to date, but I figured that my Facebook page has that covered.

So instead, here is a list of 10 truths that most breastfeeding mothers are all-too aware of…

1.  Breastfeeding can be a joy:  I think this picture pretty much sums it up…


2.  There is a direct link between our breasts and our sense of self-worth:  I’m not talking about the way our breasts look, whether they are big, small, up high or way down low, I’m talking about the way our breasts make us feel.  We make milk.  We have a freakin’ Superpower…

3. Breastfeeding is hard work:  Seriously.  Draining, exhausting, confusing, misunderstood and stigmatized.  Oh, and then there’s the bleeding nipples to contend with if mama and baby don’t figure out the magical nursing waltz before the third feed…

4.  When faced with bleeding nipples (see point 3),  social reserve is thrown out of the window:  In no other situation would it be ok to walk into a room full of strangers and say, “Hi, I’m Louise, the one with the bleeding nipples.”  Granted, these strangers were a group of fellow mothers and breastfeeding consultants (aka Nipple Saviours), but still...never before would I have imagined that that particular sentence would have left my mouth (at all, let alone in public.)

4.  Oats have The Power:  Can anybody spell galactagogue?

5.  Other people’s discomfort:  Let’s face it, people can be real A-holes.  I’m hoping to come across less A-holes and more breastfeeding supporters in the future, because you don’t have to be lactating to support breastfeeding.

6.  Breastfeeding is beautiful:  (Excluding the bleeding nipples…)

7.  The term ‘Bosom Buddies’ becomes very literal:  It’s that moment when you see a fellow breastfeeder and you instantly assume that you're long-lost sisters and potential BFFs…but in truth, friendships aren’t built on our feeding choices; they are built on respect for one another.  The Us Versus Them game-playing has to stop.

8.  There is such a thing as a Sixth Sense:  It’s located firmly in your bosom, because your breasts just know when your baby needs milk.  I think this picture covers it…



9.  A let-down is far from a disappointment:  For the mama struggling with supply, endlessly pumping and eating nothing but flapjacks, any reminder that she is enough is a reminder well-received.

10.  There is something quite magical about this biological norm:  I’ll say it again, we make milk…we have a freakin’ superpower.


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(Photo credit: Mama Bean – Unconditional Attachment/Facebook)

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Breast Versus Formula: Whose Fight Is It Anyway?



Not for the first time, I‘ve found myself at the centre of a media breastfeeding storm.  The catalyst this time?  The following sign…



After this picture and my corresponding post went viral earlier this week, with over 335 thousand likes at The Huffington Post alone, there has inevitably been quite a reaction.

There’s been a lot of this:

Amazing!”
So refreshing!”
What a step forward!”

And of course, there’s also been a fair amount of this:

But what about formula feeders?”

And so it begins.  Or should I say continues?  The all-out Breast versus Formula war.  The ‘Pick A Side And Slam The Other’ debate.  The ‘Us versus Them’ mentality.

Enough.  Enough, already!

A café opening its arms to a breastfeeding mother is not by default closing its doors to formula feeders.  Or anybody else outside of this specific group for that matter; like fathers, or grandmothers, or nurses just finishing a night shift…or even young couples high on Honeymooning and totally unaware of the minefield of political correctness that embeds itself into the world of parenting…

Because supporting breastfeeding does not go hand-in-hand with hating formula feeding.  It is in itself, a perfectly legitimate position to take; an independent cause to fight.

And by fight, I do not mean against you, kind formula feeding mama; you who sings lullabies to delicate and tiny ears, who kisses squidgy baby cheeks and who also, just like me, has broken up with Sleep.

By fight, I mean fight with you, sweet sister.

Because formula feeding mothers can also fight the fight to normalise breastfeeding.  The fight against shaming, against discrimination and against the over-sexualisation of our maternal bodies.

And believe it or not, breastfeeding-supporting formula feeders do actually exist.  In real life.  The proof?  The picture that sparked these comments was taken by a formula feeding mother.  Yes, you read that right.  She took it not to share on a hate site or to agonise over the unfairness and selectivity of free cups of tea.  Instead, she took it to share the joy, the acceptance and the progress of the drive to normalise nursing in public.

Unfortunately, this drive is still needed.  Every day I see stories online of mothers asked to cover up when their little ones start to root.  I can still see the disgust in strangers eyes from my own early nursing in public adventures…but gone are the days where I would hide away to nurse my daughter…I found my confidence and somehow, quite unexpectedly, I’ve turned it into a voice.

And so it seems that this voice is getting louder.  But just because I’m shouting ‘boob’ from my virtual platform and have the ‘equipment’ to cash in on free hot drinks from one enlightened British café, doesn’t mean that I’m cursing formula feeding in the same breath.

And so I’m not going to get into the ‘I bet they have bottle-warming facilities’ argument, or the ‘but you don’t begrudge students their discounts’ mindset.  I’m only going to say one thing: thank you.

To every supporter of breastfeeding – whether you are lactating or not - I say thank you.  Thank you for seeing this café’s sign as the positive step forwards that it is.  Thank you for seeing it as a simple gesture of support for nursing in public and not a low-blow at tired and thirsty formula feeding mothers.  Thank you for seeing it as a small but important step towards normalising the normal; towards normalising breastfeeding.

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Photo credit: RefreshMe/Facebook