Thursday, 27 June 2013

You are STILL breastfeeding?????????

***Proud to be a part of the Keep Britain Breastfeeding 2013 Scavenger Hunt***

To be honest, before I had kids I didn’t give my boobs much thought. Apart from some rather undignified episodes within bra fitting rooms, I just accepted that they were there – inconveniently generous for my 5 foot 2 frame yes – but well, just as much a part of me as my arms and legs.
And not much changed once I was pregnant. I bought supportive bras and listened intently (but slightly puzzled) at my ante-natal classes as latching on, cracked nipples and correct feeding posture was discussed. I pretty much expected to breastfeed, because of the health benefits to me and the baby – and because I’m quite a slacker when it comes to washing up and all that extra sterilising seemed a bit of a chore! But equally I knew some people who hated the very idea, and it didn’t much upset or affect me.

Check out the site and win!

Unfortunately the delivery of my first child did not go well. And that is an understatement. However, I was much relieved to finally get her safely up to the surface, happily nursing as I was wheeled into a recovery room, given a blood transfusion and left in peace. She seemed to instinctively know what to do for food and all was well. After a week we were allowed back home and I didn’t have any problems feeding my gorgeous little bundle. Apart from feeling pretty rough myself (which I put down to – you know – giving birth and having a baby) this was all a breeze!
Sadly while my daughter had made it through the birth without any complications – I wasn’t so lucky, and when she was just 3 weeks old I was transported back to the hospital in an ambulance for a spell in Intensive Care. While this was bad enough, the worst part of the situation was that I was separated from my daughter and told breast milk was off her menu while I took some pretty strong drugs. Back in the relative’s room hubby started his crash course on formula.

It was another week before I could be fully reunited with my baby, and another 4 days before we could get out of the hospital I now considered more of a prison. Once my initial course of medicine had stopped I was allowed to start nursing again – although it was quite clear most of the staff felt I was completely loopy. I had sent the other half off to buy a breast pump to keep my milk up immediately after I was told to back away from the baby, and while my supply was hardly overflowing it was there. At this point I was following a kind of self-designed ‘topping up’ method of feeding, offering my milk to my daughter until it seemed to run out – and then offering some formula if she continued to cry. I also pumped when she wasn’t hungry to increase my supply.

Happy days brought to you by Breastvest
Somehow like this we got back on track until I was exclusively breastfeeding. I viewed it as simply getting back to where we started from, although it was made obvious to me by many that I should have simply cut my losses, and carried on using formula so that I could recover more quickly. But hey, being a parent is demanding – sometimes in ways you weren’t expecting – and I can be pretty tough if I need to be.

I fed my first daughter for about a year – and then when it was ‘okay’ to give her full fat cow’s milk I switched her over. Since she had a variety of milk from a variety of sources we didn’t experience any problems switching over – and in a flash, nursing her was just a memory.
When number two came along, the birth was a ‘planned’ C-section because of womb damage sustained the first time around. I can’t say I was thrilled at the thought of returning to the scene of so much carnage, but baby had to come out somehow! Once again I found myself on the maternity ward for a week baby happily guzzling away. It also went rather simply – and off I tottered back home, with just a tad more (and better?) after care than I received the first time around!!

Look at the lovely prizes you can win on the scavenger hunt!

Now I was happy to breastfeed, I didn’t mind the disturbed nights (within reason) and I wasn’t planning to go back to work anytime soon. Yes I had an older sibling to care for, but she was very compliant and very pleased to have become a big sister to a living, breathing doll. At some point I must have tried expressing but baby number two was only interested in the milk direct from source. And that was no problem at all.
After a year, I tried introducing the baby to cow’s milk, in a bottle and in a cup. She was not interested.  Well I don’t actually like or drink cow’s milk myself – maybe it’s a taste thing  I thought. I tried expressed milk in a bottle and in a cup – just to see if that made a difference. And still no. So I carried on breastfeeding at bedtime. After all it was no big deal to me.

About this time I definitely began to notice a change in people’s opinions if I happened to mention I was still breastfeeding. Obviously the situation meant that I was needed in person at bedtime so there were a few places I couldn’t be early in the evening. But some people began to view me suspiciously – as a ‘lactivist’ even. Of course since I was not breastfeeding during the day – and therefore visibly out in the big wide world, I dodged lots of the criticism I might have received. I felt quite cross at times though with my feeding being perceived as ‘out of the ordinary’ – since it is not unusual in other parts of the world, and the use of formula is relatively modern even in England. But to be honest, I never really thought it was anyone else’s business but my own. It was what my daughter needed at that point – and so I did it. I’m a mum – I do what I need to.
Bedtime nursing for my second child continued until she was around two years old, by which time I’m pretty sure people either forgot about my ‘strange’ behaviour or thought I was beyond help. It stopped when I felt that my daughter no longer needed breast milk nutritionally (she still doesn’t drink cow’s milk by the way!) – and when I had begun to wish my husband could put her to bed without me being there. We happened to go to Cornwall for a holiday at that time and needed to put both our girls in one room. With the entire bedtime routine changed and the smaller sister getting to sleep in a big bed and share a room with the elder sister, plus an exciting day on the beach, bedtime with just daddy came and went without any request for milk. That happened for the entire holiday – and the desire to feed was never mentioned again. Another milestone just slipped quietly past.

So when it comes to breastfeeding past a year, I guess the moral of my story is to make your own decisions about when you start and stop breastfeeding. Don’t let others put you off – even if they are well-meaning health professionals, family or friends thinking that you might need a break – and especially not if they are the type of people who like to disparage the personal choices of others based on their own prejudices and issues. Once you become a child’s mother you get to make the decisions that best suit you and your baby – and absolutely no one else. Step up to the plate and make sure you are happy with the choices you make. In my mind, babyhood lasts for such a short time – so make sure your memories of it are good ones.
***Competition Time!!!!***

Why didn't they have these when I was nursing!
Are you happy to breastfeed but not keen on flashing your postpartum tum to the world? Breastvest is the solution – an ingenious bit of underwear which makes any top a breastfeeding top and makes feeding in public easier. If you’d like to win one, simply ‘Like’ Breastvest on Facebook and write 'yes please' in comment box at the end of this blog. One person will be chosen at random! Good luck – and feel free to forward on the offer to other nursing and pregnant friends.
If you want to read more about breastfeeding and are looking for some support and information, why not head over to some other blog pages participating in this year’s Keep Britain Breastfeeding campaign? You can find some of them here:

Faded Seaside Mama, The Kermit Movement, Sorry About the Mess, Life Happens So Smile and The Secret Life of Kate.

I should also mention that the campaign would not be possible without the support of sponsors such as: Bravado, Hotmilk, Baba Sling, Baby Beads, Barefoot Books – and my personal favourite – BreastVest.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Just outside the comfort zone

This week I was mostly praying for rain, specifically very heavy rain on Wednesday and Thursday. This is because that was when my most dreaded event in the school calendar was scheduled - Sports Day - and therefore when the 'Mummy race' was due to take place. But of course it was great weather on Wednesday, and so - joy of joys - the event could go on as planned...

Becoming a trophy wife

I have no idea why I hate the thought of running competitively in front of a crowd so very much. Apart from the competitive bit - oh yes, and the crowd bit too. In reality, I think of myself as rather fit - I go to the gym every morning and recently discovered I can fit into the dress I had for my sixth form 'leavers ball' (I'm planning to wear it to an eighties club night - because sadly I was around when Rick Astley first made all those infamous promises). And yet, running, in front of the assembled parents - I feel sick at the very thought of it. Maybe it's a hangover from my own school days, while I was pretty good at hockey and even played for my local town as a teenager, generally speaking, the sports field was not where I excelled. To say nothing of the so-very-thick sports 'knickers' we had to endure wearing during 'games' lessons...

In previous years I have managed to get out of running, as I had a younger sibling attached to my leg. But I was also very disappointed when my elder child refused to participate in her running race - or indeed take part in the relay race that involves running back and forth dressed in an assortment of 'silly' clothes. I had to ask myself, had I subliminally passed on my reservations by not running - or was this just the introvert within our DNA showing through? Either way, last year, when she asked me why I hadn't run in the mummy race, I promised her if she did her race next time - so would I.

And so within the blink of an eye, a year had passed and I now have two self-effacing daughters at that school trying so very hard not to be noticed in life. I was determined to show them that running the race was no big deal. I sort of wanted it to be no big deal for me too - I mean I'm a 43 year old woman - I don't have time to sweat the small stuff right? We talked about it before hand - and I tried to convince all of us (mostly me) that the family has some kind of competitive spirit, that we were going to run those races - and run 'em good. The night before I asked my husband to show me in the garden how you are actually supposed to run - like where do your arms go and what do you do at the start? It made me wonder if I'd actually ever run a race before!!

Worst case scenario - you make a tit of yourself

Come Wednesday morning, I felt like I could hear the clock ticking down towards the event. The girls had gone off to school equipped with hats and water bottles, slathered in sun cream because of the BLOODY LOVELY WEATHER. Mummy went off to the gym as per, and thought about the impending moment of doom, trying hard to remember not to eat too much lunch and get a stitch or something equally embarrassing. I headed off to the school field at the allotted time, wondering if I would actually go through with it. Could I?

And so, the children came out of their classrooms onto the field - and both of mine gave me big smiles and waves. They looked like they might actually be enjoying the day. The team races came and went and the girls took part in everything and didn't even freak out when I popped up close by to snap away with my smartphone. I can't say either of them really got the concept that speed was of the essence in these situations - but just taking part is quite something for Team Introvert! And the children's individual running races started - with both my girls happily 'running' down the track, smiles on their faces, blissfully unaware of winners or losers. It was lovely to watch.

And then, gulp, the mummies were up. We were herded over to the start by the head teacher and, safe in the knowledge I had prepared by wearing a sports bra and my lovely Vivo Barefoot trainers, I stood at that white line and stared at the ribbon way down at the other end. And suddenly we were off - and I ran for it. I didn't need to worry about where my arms and legs were - apparently they do know how to run. And I ran fairly fast too, all that gym work has paid off, not only is there less of me to propel these days but my legs felt pretty strong. I didn't win of course - mainly 'cos this isn't the movies (although it would have made for a far better blog) - but I felt pretty proud that I'd taken part - and shown that mummy can move it.

Winning feels good...apparently

But perhaps the best feeling of all that day was when I went to pick up my youngest from her classroom, to find she had made me a gold medal. 'Well I didn't actually win' I told her. Her reply? 'But mummy you took part and you were really brave'. Sometimes stepping out of that comfort zone brings rewards - maybe not the ones you were expecting - but ones that taste so much sweeter.
Vintage Vanessa - my enthusiasm for Sports Day started back at primary school
How do you feel about sports day and the parent races? Have past experiences put you off  for life - or do you actually like to get your fit on? Let me know in the comment box below.

[And just a heads up that next week, I'll be taking part in the Keep Britain Breastfeeding campaign and will have a rather lovely Breastvest to give away.]

Friday, 14 June 2013

Banknotes aren't just for the boys

Possibly one of the most frustrating parts of being a mother is that a lot of the things you do go unnoticed. You could have spent all day washing clothes, drying clothes, putting clothes back in wardrobes, changing beds, cleaning the bathrooms, scraping cornflakes off the floor, shopping for food, preparing that food and tidying away what was left after small people ‘ate’ the food – and still not get a word of thanks. In fact you are far more likely to be asked why you tidied away a favourite toy and chastised for not having ensured the preferred pair of socks have not miraculously reappeared in the sock drawer at the precise moment they were wanted (it doesn’t matter that there are 20 other clean pairs to choose from okay?). You may feel taken for granted.

Is The Bank of England short-changing women?
But it seems that it’s not just at home that women can go unrecognised for their contributions. Recently Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, announced Winston Churchill will replace social reformer Elizabeth Fry as the face of £5 notes. This effectively means that our currency will now only honour men (apart from the Queen of course, but she got there because of who she is, and not what she has done). Through this move, The Bank of England is sending out the message that the achievements of British females are not as significant as those made by our men. It is effectively a way of ignoring the contribution women have made to our society – be that through politics, science, the arts or good old fashioned hard work. By removing the only woman that was on a bank note and replacing that image with one of a man, the whole gender is made invisible. You may feel taken for granted, again.
But fear not, like many women before her, journalist and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez is not prepared to sit back and let injustices go unchecked. Initially she set up a petition that asked the Bank of England to review the decision – which garnered 27,000 signatures and widespread press coverage. Sadly, the Bank of England dismissed the petition, and so she has now also embarked on a fundraising project to finance a legal challenge under the 2010 Equality Act. Be afraid Bank of England, be very afraid!
And it doesn’t stop there, bloggers – some might say ‘social influencers’ by the way ;-) – have also started to promote the campaign and fundraising by sharing ideas on exactly who could be the next female ‘face’ on a fiver (just in case The Bank is having problems, you know). It’s not hard to come up with internationally known British women that excelled and continue to excel in their fields and brought and still bring positive changes to the lives of others. From Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti to writer Agatha Christie, from Unicef ambassador Audrey Hepburn to athlete Kelly Holmes, the past, present and future is littered with them.

Cut out picture of lady and affix here...

My personal choice for the banknote would be Dame Caroline Harriet Haslett (1895-1957), a British electrical engineer and electricity industry administrator. Born in West Sussex, she started her professional life as a junior clerk at a boiler company. Within four years she was managing the London office and went on to receive formal training in practical engineering for boiler design. In 1919 she became first secretary of the
Women's Engineering Society and later became the group’s President. She also co-founded and became the first director of the Electrical Association for Women and sat on the Council of Scientific Management in the Home, the Council of the British Institute of Management and the British Electrical Development Association. She edited both the Electrical Handbook for Women and Household Electricity.

Most importantly, one of Caroline Harriet Haslett’s primary concerns was to encourage the use of electricity in the home – so that women could be released from the drudgery of housework and have the time (and energy I would imagine) to pursue other interests. This is the reason I think her work and contribution to public life fits so well with this campaign. She wanted women to be free of what were then truly hard physical tasks such as washing (think scrubbing board and mangle) so that they could join in public life and be visible outside the home. She also studied and lectured about the difficulties faced by women within engineering, including examining typical payment and incentive schemes. At just 36, Haslett was awarded a
CBE for her services to women and later a DBE giving her the title Dame Caroline Harriet Haslett. Thank you Dame Haslett, I could not survive without my washing machine, tumble dryer, dishwasher, food mixer, toaster, kettle….

Dame Caroline Haslett (with thanks to the Institution of Engineering and Technology)
So what can you do to stop the contribution women make to society being ignored? Boycott money and burn bank notes? Hardly! Instead – make sure you sign the petition, and if you can, add something to the pot to fund the legal challenge. If you are a blogger why not write a post with your suggestion for a new female face and share it using the linkys at NIXDMINX? If you’re not a blogger, feel free to make suggestions for other worthy women in the box below and share this post to let others know about the petition. After all, no one wants to be taken for granted!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

On piñatas and pass-the-parcel...

This week I face the ultimate Mummy test – the birthday party. I admit I have not made it easy for myself, by choosing my house as the venue and inadvertently inviting 26 five-year olds to delight (wrangle?). Added to that the fact that smaller madam wanted to go old-style, I will, on so many levels, be the only ‘entertainment’ as I steer the kids through musical statues and pass-the-parcel. I must now pray for good weather, patience and well-behaved guests. Ear defenders might also be useful, although a misspent youth standing too close to club speakers is dealing with that problem quite nicely.

Your days are numbered...
My first challenge was to decide on a theme – and just the one theme. I had to persuade the guest of honour to abandon ideas of partygoers in their pyjamas (for no apparent reason), repeatedly ripping open packets of gummy bears, gorging on a Hello Kitty cake served on Tinkerbell tableware with Disney Princesses, farm animals, mermaids and unicorns flitting among us. Ideally, all set beside a swimming pool. The Great Gatsby himself could not have imagined such an event (let alone pulled it off with his dubious income).
Once we had decided on just party games (phew!) with a bit of Tinkerbell thrown in for good measure, everything seemed far more straightforward, and invites could go out. But it also seemed downright boring, so I thought I’d seek out some more exciting games – ones that could be talked about for years after and emulated at parties across the entire village…!! As ever the Internet proved to be a wonderful resource as I set about curating a Pinterest board to store the Alpha Mummy ideas I’d happened across. But it turns out my child was more trad than rad (the shame) and had no intention of trying out these new-fangled fancies. So, I apologise in advance to her guests, because plain old pass-the-parcel and pin the wings on Tinkerbell it is.
After planning, came the shopping, with an assortment of Amazon parcels arriving on a day-to-day basis. Mindful of a recent blog I read, I tried to avoid plastics where I could – and I’m rather in love with my (ahem, the) retro paper party bags. Since bashing the fairy dust out of Tinkerbell was not possible, I ordered a unicorn piñata to stuff with sweeties instead. Hopefully this should tire out the most Haribo-hyped party goer before home time, although I fear it might just be me and hubby finishing the beatings off, as past experience tells me, those papier mache fiends can be pretty tough to crack. Note to self: remember to ask the party goers to stand well back…
Let the good times roll
Then I had to think about the grub. I can’t bear the food waste at kids parties – or the snatching that goes on as the crisps and party rings make their way to the table. I’ve plumped for (cardboard) food boxes instead – and have dodged the inevitable ‘I don’t like ham, I want jam’ sandwich dilemma by opting for mini sausages and cheese strings (barf) within. Ever hopeful, I will pop in some vegetable sticks and fruit too. My older daughter (and maybe her bestie) will assist in delivering the food boxes to the marauding masses repeating the mantra ‘if you don’t like it, just leave it in the box’. If the weather is nice we’ll put out picnic rugs and bypass the need for 26 seats. If it rains, ummmmmm, ask me about that later.
And for the finale? Well, there will be no cake and candle that’s for sure, since my youngest has been put off that idea by witnessing her elder sister’s firework candle that was far more sparkly than we could ever have imagined (fire blanket anyone?). For a while I toyed with the idea of a jelly, but the thought of it all collapsing as I eased it out of its mould moments before presenting it to the assembled crowd was too much for me. Instead I’m planning an ice-cream cake (something else I had to look up on the Internet, how did Gatsby cope without it?). There can still be sauce and sprinkles, singing and a numbered candle, but it probably won’t be lit and – as my offspring so cleverly pointed out – the ice-cream cake won’t be going in those cute party bags…

Handmade birthday bunny by Spinning Top Boutique
So, wish me luck – and keep your fingers and toes crossed for good weather. If you have any last minute advice, tips or anecdotes to help me out and cheer me up – I’d love to hear them in the comment box below. If I’m back next week I’ll be a stronger person for it. And there’s eight months to recover before the next extravaganza…