Friday, 19 December 2014

Are you STILL Breastfeeding?

I’m part of a freaky club full of women who breastfeed their adult children.

Only kidding, she’s 18 months and she can’t even talk yet, but as far as a large segment of the population is concerned, same difference.

Considering my previous records of one feed and three months, I never in my wildest dreams though I would be saying this but EIGHTEEN MONTHS AND GOING STRONG!!!!

Do I feel like I could conquer the world?

Why yes I do.

Miss Olive only nurses in the evening and when she’s cross, which is both understandable and extremely uncomfortable because her razor sharp baby teeth are not wielded with care when her mind is on other things.

The flip side is that now she’s on three squares a day, I can safely say that nursing is something she chooses to do, rather than something she needs to do, and that makes it even more special.

Why did nobody tell me about the special?!

Each evening I pat my chest and ask her if she wants milk. She nods back violently, repeating “YAH! YAH!” until I get up and she can escort me to collect the feeder.

After leading me by the finger on a tour of the lounge to wave goodnight to her minions we head to bed, and she scurries across the mattress before flopping theatrically onto the pillows and pulling the duvet up to her chin.

Then the grin, and more “YAH”s until I climb in beside her to nurse and she begins the slow descent into sleep with her arms tightly wrapped around me.

After our five day nursing strike I take each feed as a blessing, and more so these days where every feed could be our last.

It won’t be the nursing that I miss, it will be all the emotions that come with it and the wordless statements that I make to her: you’re safe, you’re nourished, you’re loved.

And the sound of a baby hedgehog snuffling by my side.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Christmas Down Under

Christmas does not feel like Christmas.

THERE, I've said it, and Miss Olive agrees!

I can't get my head around the sunny weather. My body is telling me it's summer, and we should be gearing up for two weeks on a beach, and the shops are filled with the trappings of a winter festival.

It. Makes. No. Sense.

I don't want to shop for gifts, I don't want to plan for dinner, it all feels like a giant pile of wrong.

We tried to keep a sense of continuity last year by having a roast duck and decorating the house, but it felt absurd. 

This year we have embraced the idea of a BBQ for lunch and have taking the Kitschmas Tree to whole new levels of awesome.

It's fun, and I'm looking forward to spending time with the family ... but Christmas it ain't.  

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Morality of Hiding Behind A Columnist

It’s been a bad week for dinosaurs in the UK: Claridges, the UKIP leader and the license fee black hole that is Jeremy Clarkson all managed to bimble into a conversation they were singularly unqualified to have and then compounded their position by ignoring the Third Rule of Life:

When in a ditch, stop digging

Like many other nursing mothers, I posted nursing pictures on Twitter and wrote to The Sun and it’s about those words that I write this post.

Because I received a reply:
Your complaint: ‘Not the Breast Place’,  by Jeremy Clarkson, Saturday 6th December

Please forgive this general response to your complaint. We have had numerous complaints about Jeremy Clarkson’s column item on Saturday about breast feeding and I wanted you to know The Sun’s position on this.
To be perfectly clear, this was Jeremy Clarkson’s opinion and not the Sun’s opinion, contrary to what many of you believe.  That very same day, in the ‘leader’ column (which is where you can read what the newspaper itself actually thinks about the topics of the day), we wrote the following in response to Nigel Farage’s remarks about the woman who breast-fed her baby in Claridges hotel:-
Headline:  Nigel’s Boobed
Mums who breast-feed in cafes don’t just whip off their tops and clamber on the counter.  They tend to be discreet about it.
Yet Nigel Farage reckons some are ‘openly ostentatious’.  By which he appears to mean by sitting anywhere other than a dark corner.
Old folks, says the UKIP boss, may feel ‘awkward and embarrassed’ about the whole business
Sorry Nigel.  It’s 2014.  They can look away, or just get over it.
Mums should breast-feed where they like.
This is what The Sun believes and states loudly and clearly.  You can find this on page eight under the general headline of ‘The Sun Says’.   The newspaper also carries the opinions of a wide variety of columnists including Tony Parsons, Katie Hopkins, Jane Moore and Jeremy Clarkson whose opinions are often controversial. 
We believe in the fundamental British right of free speech and are happy to publish a wide range of views that many people agree with and others don’t.
I am sorry if you were upset by Jeremy Clarkson’s remarks and I will make sure that your concerns are passed on to him.  But I assure you that, while we believe in free speech and publish a wide range of opinions, we do not share Mr Clarkson’s opinion.
I hope that this reassures you.  Thank you for taking the trouble to write to us to express your concerns.
Yours sincerely
Philippa Kennedy
Sun Ombudsman

Oh Philippa, I sympathise with you. It must have been a long hard week in your office and I wouldn't blame you for wondering whether it was time to dust off your CV.

If you didn't before you sent out this excuse for a response, you certainly should now.

Rejecting responsibility for the words of your columnist has as much merit as a drug dealer making the point that they don’t force anyone to take the drugs they supply: While it might be technically true, the fact that you are supplying him with the platform and publicity his ego craves makes you morally complicit.

And while I’m here, there are a few other things about which we need to talk:

I’m very glad that your employers “believe in the fundamental British right of free speech” although just to be clear, I’m fairly sure it’s not purely a British right. But if we’re going to talk about the right of free speech, let’s just back up for a moment and look at the Human Rights Act 1998 which is where Freedom of expression is defined.

Just for shits and giggles, let’s pick out an article, ooooh let’s say Article 10, and have a look to see if there’s anything that might apply here:
1 Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers ...

2 The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Emphasis is mine, and included because I want you to keep up with me here as I make a cavalier leap from Human Rights to article 13 of The Equality Act 2010 which defines discrimination, and includes
(6)… (a) less favourable treatment of a woman includes less favourable treatment of her because she is breast-feeding;
So really it’s very nice of you that you to say that “Mums should breast-feed where they like” but the reality is that mums are legally entitled to breast feed where they like.

Moving on from our fundamental British rights, I should probably also mention the NUJ code of conduct which says that journalists should:
9 Produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation.
Again emphasis mine.

I’m glad you personally don’t “share Mr Clarkson’s opinion” and while I agree that he has the right to his hold his view there is a critical difference between critiquing the act of breastfeeding and comparing it to urinating.

The right of free expression stops being a defense at the point where Mr Clarkson engages in hateful expression and discrimination. Women are protected from the kind of language that compares breastfeeding to urinating in public. The latter, to the best of knowledge, is not a protected right under UK law, has no clear health benefits and is morally dubious at best.

I have to say Philippa, I think your columnist characterization of breastfeeding mothers exhibits the hallmarks of hateful expression in that it is demeaning, and incites prejudicial behaviour against a legally protected group.

I'm fully aware of the old phrase that “there is no such things as bad publicity” so I can’t imagine that anything I write will cause you undue stress, but yes, please do make sure that my “concerns are passed on to him”.

You might also pass on those concerns to the mothers who now feel more isolated and judged by their choice to breastfeed. 

You might pass them on to the breastfeeding supporters who are sitting head in hands that after months (and in some cases years) of training) their hard work in supporting mothers has been written off by a few crass words that you allowed to be voiced from the platform of your newspaper.

And yes, we do understand that it’s “not the Sun’s opinion”, but right now, that doesn't amount to a whole hill of beans.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Three Ways to Plan An Empowering Birth

A few weekends ago I was having coffee with a friend. We have a lot in common, not least of which is that we are both caesarean section mamas grieving the loss of the birth we deserved.
“I'm thinking about siblings” she said, “do you think it’s worth trying for a VBAC?”
It was a simple question; but the weight of it hung between us, sodden with emotion.

Conversations about VBACs so often centre around the facts, fewer will talk about the emotional journey involved.

I’ll be up front about this, my VBAC story ended up being a CBAC, but my journey was no less rich for that. At the time that didn't make much sense to me, but eventually a thought began to take shape.

And it was a simple one: When it comes to birth, are we looking at the wrong bogeyman?

The way in which we deliver our babies is not the same as how we feel doing it, and yet the two have become inextricably linked. I've spent several years listening to the stories of mamas who have had beautiful births, difficult births and highly traumatic births and in none of these cases has the method of delivery guaranteed how the woman felt about her birth.

I can't help but wonder whether we, as women, are fighting the mechanics of birth, when the real struggle should be the right to be respected and own the way in which we bring new life into the world. In other words, I wonder if the bogeyman is not the surgeon’s knife, but the complete loss of control that comes with it.

So while these tips were originally aimed at answering the question my friend asked of me, maybe a better title would be the one I eventually used.

Catchy isn't it? And let’s face it, something I'm infinitely more qualified to talk about.

So what are these mysterious "ways"? 

Well they're about as easy to quantify as Scotch Mist, but I was always game for the impossible:

1. Make Your Peace

Maggie Howell of Natal Hypnotherapy nails it with her advice: 
“Always remember EVERY birth is unique so no two experiences are ever the same.”
Every birth is its own perfect storm, and it will never be repeated. The decisions we made, the advice we took, it was all given at that moment and we made choices to the best of our ability at that time.

But the human heart doesn't work like that, and long after the medical professionals have forgotten all about us, we still replay conversations and moments and wonder what would have happened if we had just been a bit braver, or stronger, or patient.

That way madness lies.

I can’t say whether the answer is to listen to hypnotherapy scripts or have a debrief with a midwife or even to write a letter that will never be posted, but I do know that we have to make room in our hearts for the possibility of a successful birth by clearing out the pain of the past. 

2. Find Your Tribe

During my first pregnancy I went to my appointments armed with evidence, expecting to reason my way into agreement. What I learned was that doctors, midwives and sonographers, all had the same information that I did, and what shocked me was that some of them were governed less by my needs than by the direction they were given by their employers.

By my second pregnancy, I had taken the stance that if I met people who don't agree with what I was trying to achieve, there was no shame in walking away and finding someone who would.

For me, that person was a midwife from the other side of the country:  
“I support women by trying as best as I can to be honest, giving best and up to date evidence and not putting the emphasis on the mode of delivery. It is about the journey, we know that even with all the support, all the will in the world, sometimes vaginal birth does not happen, but if you are supported in your journey, supported in your decisions, supported in your choices ...”
I’ll finish that sentence off for her 

... you feel like you can fly.

It’s not easy to find professionals who are happy to put that trust in you, and it’s equally hard to surround yourself with friends and family who will make your birth a good one. 

Sometimes it means making hard decisions about who should be in the room with you.

Welcoming Baby Ada -
(C) Amy Amos, 2010,
Sometimes it means taking time away from a friend who can’t stop trying to make her journey your own.

3. Believe

Our egos are fragile things when we decide to take back our births, and we need support just as surely as we did when we took our first steps.

Just like that emerging shoot of confidence, our faith in our bodies can be nurtured and grow throughout our pregnancies. We can feel empowered to make the decisions that feel best for us, and slowly to believe that we are capable and worthy of a good birth.

Easy to say, perhaps, but as my friend will tell you, it can also be done:
"I did have some major wobbles, I'll freely admit. Fear of the unknown was a big factor and, although I hated my section, I knew what would happen. All I did was just stamp on those thoughts and push them to the back of my mind. I was so focussed on the end result that I would telling myself ... there's no place for worrying about failure."
The truth is that there is no way to guarantee a good birth, nor to know whether it was worth trying for a VBAC any more than there is one answer to the question of what makes the perfect song.

Sometimes we have to find that song within ourselves and trust that when the time comes, we'll know the words.

Do you have any suggestions on what it takes to plan an empowering birth? My friend would love to hear your experiences as she starts her journey. 
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