Breastfeeding needs time, loving care and support

Posted by: on Aug 17, 2013 | No Comments

Breasfeeding is an activity which seems to be harder for some women to do these days.

I have been one such mama. After experiencing no problems breastfeeding my older three children, at the time I was having my fourth, I felt really stressed. I didn’t have the right kind of support to help me to breastfeed every day and every night, I was full-time home educating my other kids who needed me, and my husband was working crazy hours. I struggled to get a good latch with my son, and felt a failure for suddenly becoming so faffy and awkward and cack-handed at feeding.  I couldn’t believe that I was in this predicament fourth time round and it really rocked my confidence in myself to be in this position. Exhausted, I counted down the weeks and days till my son was three months old so I could say that at least I lasted three months. Looking back, I pressured myself to much to be a perfect mother, and could have relaxed a little. You live and learn.

The thing with breastfeeding is that you need to slow your life down to be able to do it – something which has hidden gifts and rewards for those who do it, but many women are unwilling or unable to slow down quite so much. Breastfeeding is a peaceful, not frenetic action. Sitting still is required. You can’t be multi-tasking very easily whilst you’re feeding, and if you’re used to go-go-go living, it’s hard for a woman to just.stop. The reason I gave up was because I could never sit still long enough – it felt like I was constantly having to tend to some minor emergency with my other children – the toddler who was hysterical because they spilt juice on the floor – or because the phone rang and I felt I must answer it, or the doorbell went. It’s only now that I realize how unimportant the phone or doorbell were. That they, not my baby, should have to wait, and come second. Had I just slowed down and planned my other children’s activities during feedtimes, I would have been more relaxed – I would have flowed more easily in every sense of the word. It’s easy to be wise after the event though.

In any case, in order to have a good flow – a mother needs rest. She needs nurture. Her milk just won’t flow nicely when she’s feeling rushed, or stressed. She needs to drink plenty of fluids. She needs good wholesome food that truly nurtures her and boosts her milk supply and energy levels, not junky crap. (Incidentally I received this book by La Leche League for review from Pinter and Martin last year and it was awesome – I will be using it a lot.)

She needs time to love and heal her post-birth body and be gentle with it. A feeding mother needs to be mothered herself in some respects – this is perhaps why women in communal or tribal groups simply don’t experience the issues of milk ‘drying up’ – a myth that seems to perpetuate whererever powdered milk is heavily advertised and promoted. Women in extended family/community groups help one another out with cleaning and caring for children and feeding one another’s families. They take things in turns. They nurture and value nursing mothers and venerate them.

With love, they help keep things lighter and more carefree. Western women are generally expected to do it all themselves, to ‘get on with it’ – often struggling alone, and isolated from that kind of daily help. It’s no wonder the milky powder that offers them a route out of exhaustion seems so alluring.

And now I find myself pregnant again, I am in a different place altogether – my hubby is sharing the care and education of our children with me, since he quit his business to do so – seeing how important those first few years are and that they cannot be reclaimed later. I’m enjoying a gentler paced pregnancy. The other children are all older – my youngest will be five and a half by the time this little one arrives – a whole two years older than my third child had been when I gave birth to my fourth. This time, I will feed my baby slowly. I will take the time to look lovingly at them whilst I’m feeding rather than at the clock, or nervously wondering what a curious and accident-prone toddler might be up to. I will have time to eat good food. To drink. To go for a pee in peace. It sounds silly but these things matter.

I’m a different mama this time round.

I really sympathize with mamas who turn to the bottle – but this time, it’s boobies all the way for me. I’m looking forward so much to nurturing my little one, holding him or her close to my skin….. and saying fuck it to the doorbell!!!

What is a natural birth?

Posted by: on Jul 16, 2013 | No Comments

Something struck me today about the term ‘natural birth’ and I had a little ‘aha’ moment to myself. So I thought I’d share my thoughts with you on this.

The term ‘natural birth’ conjures up certain images of tree-hugging mamas with hairy legs and sandals. (Guilty!) Natural birth is seen as something only some women achieve, while the rest, do not.

But what is ‘natural?’ How do we define it?

In its purest sense, to me, behaving naturally means acting from pure primal instinct. The reaction that we don’t even think about. A reflex. Something ancient. Something we cannot control or tame easily. An automatic reaction hardwired into our bones, deep down.

So when a mother goes into labour, her instincts will be entirely natural and primal to her.

If a mother has heard a lifetime of horror stories about birth, her natural reaction will be to fear birth.

If a mother feels unloved by her partner, or unsupported, her natural reaction will be to fear the coming of the baby on some level and all that means – perhaps unconsciously holding her baby inside for as long as she can – on a level of primal instinct.

If a mother feels unsafe in her birth environment or unsure about her carers, her natural instinct will be to clam up a little. She will not be relaxed in her body. She will naturally feel a little reserved in her body and personal space.

If a mother has been told her birth is likely to be difficult, or that her body will fail her, she may naturally feel deflated, scared, and disempowered, with a compromised sense of her own personal power, dignity and strength.

If a mother feels she cannot give birth without assistance, without interventions, under her own steam, how much harder for her to do just that? If her partner or mother or sister or friend or neighbour or midwife undermine her by telling her “Ooh you’ll never do it on your own steam, you just wait you’ll be screaming for the drugs like the rest of  them” – isn’t it only natural, when repeatedly told something, that it should become a self-fulfilling thing?

And equally, if a woman is repeatedly told “Your body was made for this. Birth is not as bad as you think. The pure intensity of it is normal and not to be feared. You will cope, like millions of others. This is an ordinary event. I believe in you. I will trust your body and only intervene if absolutely necessary….” then surely it naturally follows, that her body will relax and feel safe. She will open up and feel more in tune with her baby. She will turn her body this way and that and allow the baby to play an active role so they do a birth dance together, not against each other.

When we look at birth in this way, we can be more generous with the term natural. Our primal and natural set of behaviours are determined by whether we  feel safe and loved and properly listened to and cared for – or not.

When a woman understands the mechanics and psychology of the birthing body, she is in a position to truly activate something more powerful in herself than reacting from fear. Perhaps she rises above the expectations she had of herself. Maybe she finds a strength she never knew she had. Perhaps she, for the first time in her life, discovers a power, an autonomy, a determination and grit she never knew before. She recognises her vulnerability for what it is. She looks it in the eye and says “I see you, vulnerabilty and naked fear, I respect you, I honour you, and I understand you.” She lets go of the little girl self that needs to be looked after. And in that moment when she thinks she’ll split open, a natural warrior is born.

Blooming Marvellous

Posted by: on Mar 5, 2013 | One Comment

” How does the meadow flower it’s bloom unfold? Because the lovely little flower is free down to its root, and in that freedom bold “

~ William Wordsworth


Isn’t it amazing how a tiny, tiny bud can contain something so magnificent?

This thought strikes me whenever I look at my favourite flower, the peony. So much potential stored inside ready to burst out of such a tight little ball! And when it opens freely and of its own will – boooom!!! Wow!!!! A miracle was waiting inside. A great glorious ruffle of beautiful petals.

The birth of a flower and the birth of a baby and the birth of a mother are really not all that different.

Our transition from woman to mother involves changes on every level. We grow physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, undergoing no less of a miraculous transformation than that of tight bud to bursting bloom.

As our babies grow inside us, we carry along with them, the seed of the mother that we are to become.

We too, along with our babies, must “break on through to the other side” as Jim Morrison sang – in other words we have to go through a major transition, a risky process, a difficult thing  - just like a seed risks everything by daring to burst through the soil and be exposed to the elements.

As we birth our babies, we give birth to our new selves. We are in fact as much of a baby, as much of a fledgling as our young ones, we too are vulnerable and need tending and nurturing and protecting, just as our babies do.

Just as flowers bloom best in soil and a position that they like, our experience as birthing women and mothers depends very much on type of  ’soil’ we are in and our suitability to it, on the elements to which we are exposed, on our companion plants, and the kind of gardeners who tend to us.

Some of us grow in wild places. Some grow in orchards. Some grow in structured, formal gardens. Some in greenhouses. Some in hot places. Some in unlikely places.

We are all like flowers growing in our own particular place and climate.

Some need little or no support at all and grow organically, some need a little propping up, some need transplanting gently to a better spot. Some are tended by gentle and imaginative gardeners, others by not-so-gentle ones.

No matter what – all flowers reach for the sun and deserve the care of loving, gentle gardeners in tune with the seasons and the rhythms of nature.

The hardships of birth and motherhood are the manure which will help a mama flower to grow stronger, and taller, and more majestic.

May you and your baby grow with love, dear mama-to-be!

May your roots be nourished and your petals have good access to sunshine and rain. May you be sheltered when you need shelter. May you have good companions.

And you too Daddies – you are flowers just the same…..

“Inside every man lives the seed of a flower. When he looks within he finds beauty and power ” –  ’Les Fleurs’ by Minnie Riperton.

May you all blossom and bloom – mamas, daddies and babes