Sunday, 29 May 2011

Save the Children Petition

I've been asked by fellow mummy blogger Mummy Dichotomy to join up with a campaign to raise awareness of a petition from Save the Children.  In January Save the Children launched the campaign No Child Born to Die.   Every year 8 million children under five die from illnesses we know how to treat or prevent, such as diarrhoea and pneumonia.  Save The Children is focusing on the provision of vaccinations and healthcare workers. 

On 13th June London is hosting a global vaccination summit where David Cameron and other world leaders will look at the issue of getting vaccines to the poorest children in the world. These will be life changing decisions for millions of children. Save The Children aims to make as much noise as possible to ensure the funding shortfall for vaccinations (4.7 billion) is met by all the donor countries.

If this funding gap is met the vaccines that could then be provided would save the lives of millions of children.
You can read all about the campaign here.   And sign the petition here.

Mummy bloggers are bringing together art work made by their children to help raise awareness of the Save the Children petition, in the blogosphere and beyond.  I had to ask my three year old to make a picture of herself, and although I'm not sure she really cared for the concept of 'self portrait', nevertheless I am, as always, immensely proud of her effort.  Please especially note the sparkly tummy button:

Please sign the petition to support this great cause. Please spread the word via the fabulous internet.  And if you are a blogger, you can enter, if you're quick, as the deadline is today, the 29th May!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Happy Birth Day

There were quite a few things I didn't know about having children, before I had children.  I didn't know you had to relinquish sleep, getting plastered, and using the loo alone for the foreseeable future.  I didn't know that parenting involved such high levels of patience, guilt and housework.  And I didn't know that my children's birthdays, especially their first birthdays, would be a day that was also for me, a day to get misty eyed as I remembered the last hours I held them tight within my body, and a time for turning over and over in my mind the story, from the first stirrings of labour to the moment of their birth. 

Another thing I didn't know before I had children is that giving birth can be one of the most incredible, exciting and empowering experiences of your life.  During my first pregnancy I was filled with fear, absolutely dreading the act of bringing my child into the world, which to me seemed impossible, terrifying, and grotesque.  Despite or perhaps because of this fear, I spent nine months fanatically researching childbirth, reading every book and internet article I could find on the subject.  I had the best intentions to have a natural birth at home, but somehow, I ended up in hospital with my feet in stirrups.  They say if you believe something enough you can make it happen: in my case I believed, deep down, that I really couldn't do it, and that belief was brought starkly to life for me when Cutlery Ken the Obstetrician set to work on my nether regions.

Second time around I had learnt something that none of the books or articles could teach me: the baby was definitely going to come out, and if I didn't do it myself, then somebody else would.  As I waited for my baby, who turned up, like her sister, a long time past her due date, I still felt afraid, and a part of me remained convinced that it wasn't actually possible, even though I had already done it once.  I was greatly helped by the website, which has several films of women giving birth at home, often in water.  I was stunned by the images - women giving birth so calmly, in dimly lit pools, the only sound their low moans and the gentle lapping of water.  These films challenged everything I had ever been led to expect; that birth was an on-your-back-and-helpless, near impossible feat of biology-gone-wrong.  It has occurred to me since - are we all just 'copying' the soap opera image of birth, because we don't know any other way?  In the same way that many women struggle to breastfeed because they have never seen anyone else breastfeeding, perhaps we are struggling to birth gently, powerfully and positively because we have never seen anyone doing it this way.

A year ago today, my second daughter was born at home in a birth pool, completely naturally and without any intervention or drugs.  For a long time I would tell myself, and other people, that it is not that difficult to give birth without pain relief, because pain is the wrong word for the sensations of labour, and that with the power of your mind you can reframe the sensations into 'rushes', 'tightenings' or even pleasurable feelings.  Whilst I think this is partly true, I also think it is ok to say that some of the feelings were the worst and most horrendous pain imaginable. I'm sure that people who perform other feats like running marathons or climbing great peaks would be happy to admit that they have moments of tremendous struggle and physical agony, and that they push forward in spite of them.  When I remember giving birth, I feel an enormous sense of power, achievement and inner strength, that I felt such fear and terrible pain, and that I battled on, with the spirit of the greatest of warriors.

We need to struggle, and sometimes even suffer, in order to change, develop, grow.  Today I will be full of pride, as I watch my dear little daughter try to walk with such concentrated effort, crying at the injustice of the knocks and falls, and grinning and dancing with each small moment of progress.  And at the same time remembering another determined girl, who, this time last year, felt terribly frightened, but somewhere found the courage to push herself to her absolute limits.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Ten Reasons to Keep Breastfeeding Beyond One

My baby girl is one later this week.  We are still nursing, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and two or three times, sometimes more, sometimes less, during the day.  And despite the fact that she was a great sleeper for her first few months, right now she wakes up every few hours in the night and I nurse her back to sleep.

Even though she will soon be walking, I don't have any plans to stop breastfeeding.  I know this puts me in a massive statistical minority, and that this choice is not for everyone.  However, for those of you who might be considering continuing to breastfeed your baby past six months, or even longer, here are my top ten reasons to keep your nursing bra when all around you others are losing theirs...
  1. It's Normal - it doesn't always feel this way, as it's unusual to see anyone breastfeeding a newborn in our culture, let alone a toddler.  But start asking around and you'll be surprised how many mothers are quietly nursing their older babies, at home, and often in bed, where nobody else can see.  And even though these mothers are relatively rare in the UK, worldwide there are and have always been plenty of women who choose to nurse a long way past babyhood.  Globally many women breastfeed to three or older, and the World Health Organisation recommends we nurse our babies to the age of two or beyond.
  2. It's Natural - it's likely that your baby doesn't want to stop just because you have turned over a new page of the calendar.  If you are already breastfeeding, chances are you are already a fan of Mother Nature, so you may struggle to find a rational reason to completely wean.  As long as breastfeeding feels a positive experience for both you and your baby, it is perfectly natural to continue.  Studies of primates and other mammals suggest that a natural age of weaning for humans is at least 2.5, and may be much higher.
  3. It's Easy - if you've managed to get breastfeeding started and maintain it for a few months, you've done the hard bit.  The longer you nurse for, the easier it gets.  Once you are really up and running, you are unlikely to suffer from soreness, engorgement, mastitis, and other nasties from the early days.  In fact, after about six months, your breasts settle down so much that some women mistakenly think their supply has dried up.  And, with an older nurser, feeding is usually much less frequent.  The pressure is off, you can have more control over when and where you feed your baby, and even drop down to just a nighttime snuggle up if this feels right for you both.
  4. It's Nutritional - your under one might be chomping happily away on any food you put in front of them right now, but trust me, pretty soon they are going to grow something new and scary - a mind of their own.  Once they develop this - look out - they may well cotton on to your attempts to ply them with vegetation and amaze you by fuelling their limitless energy with a diet consisting only of crackers and snot.  On those days when all you've managed to persuade them to eat is two raisins and a breadstick, you can enjoy giving them a boob packed with protein, vitamins, minerals and proven to boost immunity.
  5. It's Good for Mum - there are a wealth of health benefits to breastfeeding for mothers as well as children, including the reduced risk of several forms of cancer, and also osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.  We can assume, although further research is needed, that these benefits continue for as long as breastfeeding continues.  And, in the unlikely event that your body has not sprung back to its former size ten glory (what have you been doing all year, couldn't you have joined a gym?), then your nursing toddler may well help you shift those last few pounds with their Dyson-like suck.
  6. It's Comforting - comfort is often so very under-rated.  And yet giving comfort, and in doing so helping your child to tolerate their own distress, is probably the single most important thing you can do as a parent.  For the rest of their life this gift will just keep on giving, as your child will be able to cope better when times are hard, and draw on the inner resources that you have helped them to build.   The breast has been a place of comfort for your baby, and can continue to be so, helping your child to find calm and to reduce their stress levels in the chaotic and sometimes scary new world they are exploring.
  7. It's Helpful - for those moments when you need to calm and reconnect with your child after a tantrum, a disappointment, or a falling out, and for the many knocks, bangs and bruises of toddlerhood, the boob is your secret weapon.  You can instantly soothe and quieten your baby, and this can be invaluable, not only simply to ease your child's pain, but also for those situations where a screaming toddler is less than desirable for all concerned!  (I'm thinking of a plane flight, but there are plenty of other examples!)  Nursing is also invaluable if your child is ill; they might stop eating and drinking but they're unlikely to refuse the breast, allowing you to keep them hydrated and also feeling nurtured and reassured.
  8. It's Connecting - if they are not already, your precious baby will be walking soon, and mostly away from you.  You may even be increasing your time apart in the day for work or other reasons.  Sharing a nursing session is a wonderful way of connecting with your little explorer and allowing them to return 'home' to you for comfort and reassurance.  
  9. It's Rewarding - when you breastfeed an older child, you start to see more and more just how important the nursing time is to them.  They may begin to stroke or pat you while they feed, or sometimes look up spontaneously and smile.  They may develop a sound or word for your breast, and use it lovingly in a way that melts your heart.  They may literally thank you, or, as my first daughter did for a while, take to feeding you back while they nurse.  Whatever they do, it is bound to make you feel good when you see how grateful they are for your efforts.
  10. It's Loved - your child is devoted to their time at your breast; you can see it in their eyes, feel it in their snuggly little body, and hear it in their sighs of contentment as they drift off to sleep.  These are blissful moments, and eventually, they will wean, and these days will come to an end.  For now, you can see they love to breastfeed, and, admit it, you love it too, so why stop?

with thanks to La Leche League, and kellymom

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Toddler Tourism

"Mum-Mee", comes the voice of the Automatic Question Generator in the back seat of the car, "Who makes water?"  "Well darling", I reply, trying to give myself an air of Professor Brian Cox but probably sounding a bit more like Winnie the Pooh, "Nobody makes water.  Water just IS".  "What?", says the AQG, totally dissatisfied with my flaky answer. "Weeell", I stumble on, "Water just exists, some things just exist, water''' of the Elements".  I feel pretty pleased with myself for imparting this nugget of science, until my partner breaks it to me later that day that my theory has been abandoned for several hundred years and belongs in a dusty vault labelled 'Classical Thought and Medieval Alchemy'.
Living with a three year old, the questions are constant, and I have to say, some of them are already pretty challenging to ethereal brained arty types like myself, who gave up Physics and Chemistry at the first opportunity and opted for the duvet-like comfort of the world of fiction, where there are no wrong answers, and no one ever lets the truth get in the way of a good story.  If she asked me why Hamlet didn't get round to killing his step-dad, or what poetry is, I'd be in my element, but in life as in Trivial Pursuit, the piece of Science cheese always lets me down.  "Mummy why do we have Seasons?", was another one that totally stumped me, and my attempt to explain Radio tied me up in such knots that I was tempted to take my mother's advice and just tell her 'It's Magic'. 

Spending my days with her always reminds me of having a guest to stay who has never been to your neck of the woods, someone from abroad, or from a different culture.  Suddenly you see your familiar world afresh through their eyes, and often, you notice beauty and wonder in places that you had previously driven straight past in a rush on your way to work.  The greengrocers, an antique shop, penny sweets, maps, rowing boats: to her these are not just places and things, they are whole new concepts, and they thrill her to such an extent that you cannot help be totally swept along by her massive enthusiasm. 

Of course, there are some places we would prefer to keep hidden from visiting tourists.  Sometimes in my efforts to explain the world to her I find I start to question it myself.  Obviously there is war, suffering, death - for now we choose to keep mostly tight lipped about these key players.  But the subtler details are harder to disguise.  At our local toddler group car park a huge metal bar has been erected across the entrance, to keep out a local group of 'travellers', who in fact have nowhere to go now that the council have finally succeeded in evicting them from a piece of local land, which they own and have been living peacefully on for fifteen years.  She wanted to know what the bar was for, and I attempted to tell her, but halfway through my explanation I admit I started to feel a bit desperate and hollow inside.  And yesterday, I struggled to explain why it was not OK to climb on the wooden gate of a private garden.  " belongs to somebody else...", I tailed off weakly, and it seemed particularly ironic as I had spent the whole afternoon drumming into her how important it was to share with her visiting cousin.

Still, she takes it all in her stride, and her search for knowledge is never swayed, either by my inaccurate or lacklustre answers, or indeed by the strange logic of what must seem at times a baffling and inaccessible world.  And this is what I admire most about my little tourist - her absolute positivity, the way she never loses interest or heart, and above all, her total lack of judgement or prejudice for the places she explores.  Recently I asked her a question: How do you know when someone is a boy or a girl?  Her answer: Girls have names that end with the sound 'eee' (as in Poll-ee, Mag-ee, etc) No mention of any other gender difference.  She takes as she finds, she is not jaded, and unlike most of us globetrotters, she has no baggage.  I find it inspiring, and being with her not only opens my eyes to the way things are, but also to the way they could be, and indeed the way I could be, if I could just borrow a fraction of her open-hearted curiosity.

Speaking of fractions, I'm off to brush up on a few maths and science basics before the next volley of questions is fired.  I'm determined to crack this Seasons thing, for starters.  Remind me, does the tennis ball go round the biscuit tin, or is it the other way round?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Women's Rites

Us girls love a good ritual.  Go on, be honest, you enjoyed that wedding last week.  In fact, you like weddings in general, and anniversaries, and I've heard it said, and I think they might be right, that without women there would be no Christmas.  We like to create and participate in ceremony, to gather with friends and family to celebrate life, love, and the passage of time together.  Men can happily join in, but essentially, it's a girl thing.

You'd think then, that there would be more woman centred rituals (or call them gatherings, parties, celebrations, rites of passage, whatever you feel comfortable with).  There are, however, many significant moments in a woman's life that are left unremarked upon by our particular culture.  From menstruation to menopause, our bodies do some mysterious and amazing things, and in many other far flung corners of the globe, these accomplishments are brought to light and celebrated in a variety of imaginative, touching and life-enhancing ways.   Not so for we Brits, who tend to feel awkward asking for a second biscuit, let alone a public declaration of anything really big or emotional.

But there are some lesser known celebrations of female rites of passage already quietly taking place.  I recently heard about one such ritual for pregnant women known as a Blessingway.  Now, I know your Tie-Dye and Mung Bean Alarm is already sounding, but stay with me if you will.  When I told my partner about this ritual, and that I liked the idea so much I thought it worth getting pregnant again just so I could have one, he diplomatically reminded me that it might be a 'bit too hippy' for your average folk.  My response, equally diplomatic of course, was to remind him that he had never had to perform the seemingly impossible 'camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle' trick of childbirth, and that if he ever did, he would no doubt soon be happily begging any available wizard to sprinkle him with fairy dust.

So, a takes the place of the more conventional 'Baby Shower', in that a group of close female friends gather together with the pregnant woman shortly before her baby is due.  Each guest brings something positive for the expectant mum - this could be a poem, an empowering birth story, or anything meaningful or helpful.  Every woman also brings a bead with her, and at the party these are strung together into a necklace or bracelet to be worn by the pregnant woman during labour.  Each guest also ties a red thread around her wrist which she wears until the baby is born, to represent her connection to the birthing woman.  And when labour begins, the pregnant woman contacts each of the women who have attended the Blessingway, and they all light a candle for her in their own home to show their affinity with her while she is birthing her child.

But, once the baby is born, there don't seem to be any commonplace rituals for the new mother and child.  We might choose a conventional Christening to welcome the new life and celebrate our birthing achievements.  But if, like many people now, we are not particularly religious, there is nothing to replace this event, and after a few champagne corks have popped and we have had our Six Week Check, we often drift into our new lives as mothers without further ceremony.

Of course, the great thing about ritual is that you can easily create your own.  All you really need are two simple things: an activity that feels meaningful to you, and a declaration - inward or outward - of intent.  When my first daughter was born, we were given a tree as one of the new baby gifts, and as we planted it on a rainy January day it felt quite meaningful.  It is nice to visit the spot, see how the tree has grown and strengthened, and tell our little girl, now three, that this is a special tree planted just for her.  And now, and here your Sandals and Tofu Alarm will no doubt start sounding again, my second daughter's placenta is buried beneath it.

I had wanted to keep the placenta after my first daughter's birth, but sadly in the hiatus of a hospital forceps delivery, my request was forgotten, even by me.  However, when my second daughter was born far more peacefully at home, we did keep it, and stuck it in a bag in the deep freeze while we decided what, if anything, we wanted to do with it.  For a while there was a concern that it would be mistaken for a double helping of Beef Madras and get defrosted and served up for a Saturday night supper.  Eventually we had to do something, and so, feeling a bit silly, we set out to my first daughter's tree with a big spade and a plastic bag containing a human body part.  There was much sniggering.

My heroic partner dug the hole whilst muttering under his breath about women and life and the things you do for love.  I stood in a field with a toddler and a baby feeling like a lunatic and imagining him telling this story in the future with the final sentence being "...and that was when I knew it really was over".  We tipped the half defrosted contents of the bag into the hole, and, feeling almost embarrassed enough to jump in with it, I read this poem, 'Now that I am Forever with Child', by Audre Lorde:

How the days went
while you were blooming within me
I remember each upon each---
the swelling changed planes of my body
and how you first fluttered, then jumped
and I thought it was my heart.

How the days wound down
and the turning of winter
I recall, with you growing heavy
against the wind. I thought
now her hands
are formed, and her hair
has started to curl
now her teeth are done
now she sneezes.
Then the seed opened
I bore you one morning just before spring
My head rang like a fiery piston
my legs were towers between which
A new world was passing

Since then
I can only distinguish
one thread within running hours
You, flowing through selves
toward You.

As I read, my cynicism and feelings of awkwardness melted away.  I held my daughter close and said the words of the poem to her, and it didn't seem silly at all.  Rather it felt like a ritual should; a gathering together of emotions, a nod to the past and a raised glass to the future, a celebration of achievements, and an acknowledgement of shared humanity.