Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Don't you dare say you're proud.

Honestly. Mummy wars drive us up the wall. There is nothing more controversial or more likely to get a very heated debate going than the way you feed your child in those beautiful first six months. 

We breastfeed. Do I make a big deal out of it? I don't know, but I don't think so. We just kinda get on with living our lives and when our son is hungry he latches on to my breast and gulps away at my milk until he's done. Wherever we are and whoever we are with, we just get on and feed when he needs to. I don't make any effort to be particularly discreet but have pretty much got the whole "one top up one top down and in your mouth it goes" down to a fine art. It's natural, necessary and normal, and needs to be seen as such. The uk has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates with 'social pressures' commonly given as a reason.

But despite the fact breastfeeding is a very normal part of any normal day for us, I am damn proud of the fact we are here, we are doing it. And I am sick of people telling me I have no right to be proud, in case it offends other people. 

Breastfeeding, for us, was bloody hard work. In the beginning our son was 3wks early, in hospital and sleepy from antibiotics for about a week and a half, and wouldn't latch at all, so I spent days expressing my milk and feeding him by syringe. Then he would latch, and it was the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced. People told me to stop and to formula feed, I didn't, I continued to nurse him because it was the best thing for him and I had absolute sheer determination to get through it. Then he would only latch with a nipple shield, a flimsy piece of silicone which falls off 20 times whilst you are trying to position a wriggling newborn and get him to open his mouth enough. The amount of times I lost them was ridiculous, cue much screaming from the boy whilst we hunted for it and washed it ready for use! Then there was the tongue tie division, which left my son screaming in pain whilst they held him still and cut his tongue. But I let them do it because I knew it was the best thing for us. And then we had to re-learn how to feed, him with a new moving tongue and me without the protection of the shields. I have cried many tears whilst holding my hungry boy to my chest, I have wanted to formula feed him so many times through hours and hours of cluster feeding sessions, I have thought I might just die of tiredness when he has wanted to nurse night after night every hour on the hour. But we have gotten through it, and for 16 weeks I have provided our son with milk that was made especially for him. And I am so damn proud of that. 

Does any of what I've just written make formula feeders feel inadequate, awkward or like I am trying to shame them? No. Well at least I hope not. Because my journey, with my son, is about me and him and no-one else. I am not telling you that you SHOULD have breastfed, I am not saying you COULD have tried harder, and I am certainly not saying I am better than you because I was successful. It's like my friend saying to me that they are better than me because they wanted to run the London Marathon and so they did. I have no intention of running the London Marathon, but even if I did, her saying she completed it wouldn't make me feel less adequate about the fact I haven't. 

So, although I really hate the term "fed is best", what I do really believe in is maternal choice. Every single person had the right to choice, and to be proud of the way they fed their babies and the journies they took to get there. I will stand up for my sister's right to formula feed her daughter who is slightly older than Oskar and I will also stand up and say I am proud of myself. For getting through what we have, for all of those tears, all of that pain, for all of those awful nights when I just didn't know what to do anymore. I am a successful breastfeeder. But in order to be that I really don't need to tear down anyone else's choice of feeding. Isn't it about time we all built each other up instead of tearing each other down? Or being afraid to say we are proud of ourselves in case someone else takes offence? We are all doing our best to mother our beautiful children, can't we just leave it as that?

Sunday, 25 September 2016

A dozen years together.

My heart is so full. Today my wife and I have been together for twelve magical years. I remember the moment well, we were in my Uni room, I'd just started, we'd seen each other a few times before I moved up to Leeds, but as soon as I moved I missed her terribly, and asked her to visit. So she arrived, and I asked her if she would be my girlfriend. She said yes, and the rest, as they say, is history, 

It is fair to say our lives have had many ups and downs in our 12 years together. We have been through University, first jobs, moving out of home, moving back to our parents homes to save for our own home, buying a house and making it our home, new jobs, promotions, leaving jobs for another, an engagement, a beautiful wedding, an incredible marriage, trying to conceive, a difficult pregnancy and then the wonderful journey of parenthood. We have held each other through difficult days when it felt like the world might end, and cried and laughed together at our very happiest moments. She is my rock, my entire world, and we are utterly perfect for each other. 

We are often greeted with surprise when people (knowing we are 30 and 31) ask how long we've been together and we reply twelve years. We are then asked what our secret it! In all honesty, of course there are things that help. Communication is a huge one - if you aren't happy with something, speak up! There's also being that person's biggest supporter - knowing what their dreams are and making them happen as part of a team. But ultimately, we are soulmates. When we met at 18 and 19, we definitely weren't looking for a relationship. Lauren was about to move away from Birmingham and go to uni, and Sarah was more than happy at a gig or pub with her group of friends! So for someone to make us want a relationship, that person had to perfect! But when you find the one, you just know, and suddenly they are all that's important, because you know if you have them, everything else will be ok. 

This time last year we were in quite a different place. I was struggling with a career I loved and hated in equal measures, and midway through a gruelling frozen embryo transfer cycle. I remember our anniversary clearly, we had so much hope, so much uncertainty and so much desire for this to work. Little did we know, our answer was just around the corner. 

In the past year we have navigated an unpredictable and often difficult pregnancy, I have made a decision not to return to the job that was making me so unhappy, Sarah got an awesome promotion in a job she excels and is incredibly happy in, and then there was our son. The birth of our precious, incredible, beautiful boy. The day that changed our lives forever and gave a whole new meaning to me and her. We became three, and from that moment forward we are not just us, we are a family, our love runs deeper, is more powerful and more magical with each day that passes. 

So, twelve incredible, beautiful years with beautiful you. It has been by far the most amazing journey of my life. Here's to the next dozen! 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Let clothes be clothes.

You may have seen the "Let clothes be clothes" campaigns flying around social media, often hand in hand with "Let toys be toys". It refers to the campaigns to urge retailers and consumers alike to stop stereotyping clothes, and indeed toys, in to genders, and instead to see them for what they are, items of clothing, and toys. As the saying goes "if you don't need your genitals to be able to wear it then it you can wear it regardless of your gender."

Obviously the opposers of this campaign argue that society has certain levels of acceptance and rules, and a little boy wearing a pink frilly dress would not fit in to this, and would be quite frowned upon. I remember seeing the campaign when I was pregnant with Oskar and talking to Sarah about how we felt about it. We both agreed that if our son wanted to wear an Elsa dress to a birthday party for example, because he liked it, or because his two older cousins (who are both girls and only slightly ahead of him in age) were both wearing one, then we would absolutely support that choice, and God forbid anyone say anything to our son about his choice of clothing. However on the other hand we wouldn't purposefully be dressing him in a pink cardigan etc just to make some kind of point. We were happy that our views fell fairly in the middle of the argument, and that like most things, we were able to agree on where we stood. 

It wasn't until Oskar actually came along that I realised just how strongly I feel about the idea behind letting clothes just be clothes. Like most new parents, we were inundated with visitors in the days and weeks following Oskar's arrivals, and as is fairly customary in our country, most people brought gifts. Piles upon piles of beautiful clothing chosen especially for him, and 90% of them were... blue. 

I've never been a particular lover of the colour blue, and I don't particularly like pink either, but it both surprised and then in turn annoyed me that because we had a new little bundle of joy that happened to be a boy, most of the things we received were blue. And this got me thinking, did well meaning visitors buy us blue because he was a boy or is it because when you go shopping for a newborn boy the vast majority of choices are of that colour. And if that's the case, why is it? And does our buying of that colour reinforce to shops that we do indeed want to comply with that stereotype, thus making them manufacture more clothes in the same colours. What we did, in fact, was dress our tiny new son in the fairly unisex colours of white and grey. In the tiny sizes there are plenty of these to find, catering of course for those people who choose not to find out if their bump is "pink or blue".

We easily had enough clothes for Oskar to see him through his newborn days and early weeks from the clothes we had bought in pregnancy, and it is only now at 15 weeks that he is fitting comfortably in to his 0-3 clothing. So last weekend Sarah and I spent some time packing away his tiny vests and sleepsuits and went shopping to find some clothes we liked in his bigger size. And this is when it struck me, again, just how much colour stereotypes are enforced on to genders, even as young as 3 months of age.

Each shop you go in to has a separate area for boys clothes and girls clothes. In the boys section you will find lots of jeans, blue t-shirts and sleepsuits of various shades of blue. You will find slogans referring to how strong your boy is, how cheeky, and how naughty in a "boys will be boys" kind of way. And in the girls section? Row upon row of pink dresses, leggings and t-shirts, slogans such as "as pretty as my mummy" and things about girls being cute and delicate. I couldn't help but feel sad that even at such a tender age we are emposing society's gendered stereotypes on to our children, when they aren't even old enough to understand what gender even is. Boys are strong, cheeky and like blues and sports and diggers, girls are feminine are delicate and like pinks flowers and teddy bears. 

As we walked round the various shops we spoke again of our belief that our son does not and will not be required to conform to society's stereotypes and expectations, and for us that starts right now. We bought him some jeans from the "boys section" and we bought him some grey cord trousers from the "girls". Then we bought him a mix of sleepsuits, some with crocodiles and rockets on aimed at boys, and some with flowers and ballerinas on aimed at girls.

 And then we bought him some fabulous glittery grey converse-type shoes, which are gorgeous and sparkly and cute. The clothes we bought are a gorgeous mixture of greens, purples, reds, whites, greys and oranges. No blue for us thank you!

We will bring him up to value his own likes and dislikes, to know his opinions matter and should be heard, and that extends to the clothing he wears, the toys he chooses to play with and the colours he likes. And will we be disappointed if after that he still picks out some blue jogging bottoms, a t-shirt with a tractor on and wants to play football in the garden? Absolutely not, because that will be his choosing, not ours, not because we or society says he has to wear those things or do those things. So please, can we all just agree to let clothes be clothes?

Friday, 16 September 2016

Fifteen weeks!

Oskar is now 15 weeks old! 

It sounds so many, but I honestly couldn't tell you where the time has gone at all. That's the thing with having a baby, it's like someone comes along with a time machine and speeds up your life. One minute you are holding a tiny scrunched up newborn and the next you have this kid laughing at you and pulling your hair! 

So, 15 weeks, or three and a half months old, if you will. It is far to say that Oskar is now firmly in the baby camp, with our newborn days long behind us. He weighs 14lb, is 60cm long, wears 0-3 size clothing and seems to learn a new skill every other day! 

Firstly, he learnt to smile and "talk". He is a very chilled out and happy little boy and  smiles pretty much all day long. Then one day these wide mouthed beautiful smiles turned into giggles. Sarah was talking to him and as usual he was smiling back at her, and all of a sudden an enormous giggle erupted out of him. Since then we get full on giggles a lot of the day. He giggles at us, at his toys, at Willow, and at the trees when we are out for a walk. It's adorable. We are now also treated to a full on baby conversation many times a day too - when you are talking to him he will squeal and coo back at the same time, so loudly that he really can't hear what you are saying cos of all the noise coming out of him! Sarah always tells him he is going to be a right little chatterbox. Cue more giggles. 

Physically Oskar is really beginning to learn what he can do with his body. Firstly, he found his hands. He uses them to pull hair, grip toys and grasp on to clothing whilst feeding or to go to sleep. He also likes to chew on them and cover himself in drool, nice one kid. Then he started to get better at tummy time, lifting his head up for longer and longer periods. And then all of a sudden he began to roll! He currently goes from his back to his front, and then looks a bit surprised at how he's ended up on his tummy! 

He is far more interested in the world around him, and will happily sit and stare at things around him, he loves being outdoors and staring at trees, the sky and the birds. He is definitely starting to show his own little personality, and with it his likes and dislikes. He loves the bath, he loves fairy lights and black and white toys. He loves being held and rocked, being worn in his sling and he loves you singing nursery rhymes to him. He absolutely hates getting out of the bath, getting dressed and having his nappy changed! He dislikes being in one place too long and he's not too keen on the car for any length of time. His absolute favourite thing in the world, apart from milk and boobs, is his mummy Sarah. He absolutely adores her, has his best smiles and giggles for her, and is happiest when she is with him. But a choice between mummy or milk...that'd be a hard one.

And that brings us on to the final two things that all parents like to discuss, feeding and sleeping! Well let's just say he's quite good at both! We have been very child led with any kind of routine, and we let him feed and sleep on demand. For Oskar this means sleeping roughly 10pm-8am with around two or three feeds in the night, although he does like to throw in a night here and there when he sleeps all the way through. I am now able to feed him lying down in bed, which is great as I don't have to get up. He starts wriggling and sucking his hands and I latch him on and once he's finished we all fall back to sleep. We mainly co-sleep, which is lovely for all of us and means we all sleep a lot better, but he does sometimes start the night in his bednest, until his first wake up which is usually around 3am. Throughout the day he will feed on demand, but roughly around every two hours, sometimes longer and sometimes more frequently. He sleeps on us, in our arms or in his sling, and will absolutely not be put down. That's ok though, when he's bigger and not needing us to cuddle him while he sleeps in sure we will long for these days once more. 

Being his mummies is challenging, exhausting and magical. It brings us more happiness than we ever thought possible, and more love than we ever thought there could be. Summer evenings spent walking with our son in his sling, sat in the garden with our son asleep on our chests, or just simply doing nothing, just being together, enjoying every precious moment. This summer has been up there with the best, but now that the nights are cooler and the trees are starting to shed their leaves, we really look forward to sharing our favourite season with our tiny bundle of giggles, Autumn is on it's way!

Friday, 2 September 2016

Making sense of me.

They say that when a birth occurs it is not just a child that is born, it is a new mother too. On 4th June 2016 I became a mother. The moment had been dreamt of since I was a little girl myself, a toddler playing with her dolly. It was a long and arduous process, with many highs and lows along the way. I had always imagined how it'd be to give birth, how I'd feel, I dreamt of the warmth of that little body plonked upon my skin, dreamt of breastfeeding, nurturing, loving with my every being. When Oskar was born, the most incredible and magical moment of my life happened, it was honestly more perfect than any dream had ever been. 

In that moment, lying frozen from the spinal epidural, with a huge dressing over my tummy where he had entered the world, with a warm, soft little miracle nuzzling my breast looking for milk, milk that my body had made especially for him, I was so very proud of everything my body had achieved. I had endured the gruelling IVF process, been lucky enough to get pregnant first time,  survived a rather hellish pregnancy with big bleeds, horrendous sickness (especially at 4am on a night shift), battled through pre-eclampsia, experienced the harsh contractions of induced labour and then calmly and confidently walked in to that operating theatre knowing my abdomen was about to undergo major surgery to ensure the safe arrival of my precious cargo. I had done all that and in that moment after his birth, I felt like a warrior. 

It's so sad then that now, three months down the line, I am struggling so much to accept my postpartum body. Now my tummy has a droop to it that once housed my beloved boy, my skin is splattered with pink stretch marks that tell of a bump, grown with so much love and care, my csection wound is purple, a little uneven and still so raw, my breasts are swollen with milk and have gone up at least two cup sizes. And then there's my hair, and my skin, both now lacking that beautiful pregnancy glow I loved so much. Instead they both appear a bit dull, and a little greasy, probably from the severe sleep deprivation only a baby can bring, coupled with a huge change in hormones that only a birth can.  I look at myself and I feel lost. Will I ever get back to feeling like me? Will I ever look in the mirror and see beauty in myself once more?

Bank holiday Monday is just another day in this household, with our jobs life just goes on as normal. So as Sarah left for work as usual and I sat feeding our hungry, gorgeous, chubby little boy, who likes his milk hourly from 5am, I reflected on myself, the sadness, the longing to find beauty in myself, and decided I need to try and make sense of me. The stretch marks will fade with time, I can lose weight when I'm ready (and once the breastfeeding hunger subsides!), my scar will lessen and heal, but I will never be the person I was before I had him. 

Mentally, emotionally and spiritually I have fully embraced that he has changed me. I am not the person I was before I became his mother, I am calmer, gentler, I have more patience and so much more love. I dream of things differently now; places I want to go, the things I want to achieve, are all about him, us, our family. He has made our relationship stronger, happier and more complete than it already was, which I never thought possible, and he has made me a better version of myself. 

So I decided, in that moment, that that needs to extend to my physical being too. I need to be gentler, calmer and more patient with myself. That tummy right there, that is covered in deep pink marks? That's the ones that grew our son, the one that gave him life. Those boobs right there that leak milk at the most inconvenient of times? They have allowed our son to double his birth weight in just 3 months. They food provide his sole food source, but so much more, they cool him down when it's too hot, they provide him comfort when he is sad, they reassure him his mother is still there, when it's dark, in the middle of the night and he searches, eyes closed, for the comfort of knowing I'm here. I'm never going anywhere my baby boy. 

It may take me a while to be proud once more of this wonky, awkward body, but I made a promise to myself in that moment. I will take steps to give myself a body that I can once more find beauty in. I will take steps to lose some weight. I will stop having tea and biscuits for my lunch! Because I'm too tired and too busy caring for him that I forget to properly nurture myself. I will get out every day for a walk with him in the sling or the pram, he will benefit from it, but so will I. But most of all I will give myself the gift of patience, of appreciation that this will take time. I will slowly return to someone who vaguely resembles the person I was before Oskar, but until then I will try and take more pride in my stripes, in my scar, in the way I look. Maybe I am a warrior after all. 

Sunday, 28 August 2016

A new era

We aimed to post this before Oskar was born, but as he was three weeks early, we kind of ran out of post time! But it seems maybe even more relevant now he is here.

A few weeks before his arrival, we had the task of changing and redecorating a couple of rooms in our house. Beforehand, we had a 'dressing room', which came about as obviously before having children we didn't have much use for extra bedrooms. We put a dressing table in there, and it became the room we got ready in, and a big girly product storage room! It was very pink, very girly, and the kind of room you can only really get away with in your twenties! But we loved it.

When it came to redecorating in preparation for our baby, we decided to focus on what the room was used for. Although we mainly used it for getting ready, we also used it for drying clothes when we didn't want to use the tumble dryer, ironing, reading, and a very occasional spare bedroom (most of our family/friends live nearby). It would also need to be used if Lauren needed to feed Oskar but didn't want to wake me if I had work the next morning. We also wanted something that represented our style a bit more!

So we set about decluttering and emptying the room, and then we painted the entire room white, and put up a light fabric blind - the room felt so big and bright! We kept the pink and grey rose chandelier as we didn't want the room to be too stark, so thought touches of pink and grey (also our favourite colours and our wedding colours!) would soften it.
We also had the grey print of our first baby scan that I gave Lauren for her 30th, taking pride of place on the wall. 

We bought a small grey sofa bed, that we have used so much more than we thought we would! Although guests have used it for a bed a couple of times, we use the sofa to watch Netflix, read, and regularly to feed Oskar. 

The room isn't really finished at the moment, but will have some pink and grey cushions at some point!

We still needed a dressing area of sorts, so bought a small dressing table that has built in storage and a mirror,  and chair, and kept our full length mirror.

We hate clutter, so have just got the mirror Lauren bought me on our wedding day, and a silver ring/earring box engraved with our engagement date/place, and some hair straighteners as it saves time in the morning! 

For another touch of pink, we have a gorgeous print of our beloved Brighton, that Lauren got for her 30th. 

We also have a lot more storage! 

We are really pleased with how the room turned out, although it isn't quite finished, it has turned out to be such a functional, well used  room as well as being really pretty - we love how the white room makes the beautiful views stand out. 

The second room was a spare bedroom, which was decorated in white with rainbow colours, and housed a large single bed and chest of drawers. 
This room wasn't used often, and it definitely became a bit of a storage room for things we never used. And we needed a nursery! As our boy's arrival got closer, it became a dumping ground for baby things too! 

One weekend we gave ourselves the task of clearing out this room. We thought it would be time consuming, tiring, dusty...what we hadn't planned on it being was so emotional! 

Memories of the last 11.5 years of our relationship were unearthed - keepsakes from our first holidays, cards from birthdays, Christmas, Valentine's, anniversaries, notes from when we lived apart, champagne corks - even a painting we did together about nine years ago, and the bear I got Lauren as one of her 21st birthday presents.

After lots of laughs, lots of 'remember this?!' and lots of emotional tears, the room was cleared out. It really did feel like the end of an era, and back then, before our baby arrived, we didn't know just how much having a baby takes your old life and replaces it with a much different one!

And now of course, the room is our little ones nursery. We went with a grey and white colour scheme (no surprises there!) with a theme of stars and clouds. 

His cot won't be used for a while as we will be using our Bed Nest/co sleeping until around 6 months at least.

We always wanted a rocking chair in the nursery - Lauren often sits and breastfeeds him in there, but it's also a nice place to sit and soothe our boy to sleep. We added a blanket and cushion to make it extra comfy. We also got black out curtains, we love the star print on them.

The cushion has elephants, which are also on his banner, cot bedding and as a stuffed animal in his cot, so this ended up being an extra theme too!

We love his changing table- we got a plain white one from Mamas & Papas and added our own cloud print baskets and star print changing mat. We have a basket for cloth nappy inserts, one for clean cloth wipes, and one for oils/lotions/nappy cream etc.

His favourite view at the moment is a close call between us and his cloud mobile! The shrieks and giggles that come out of him when he is lying on his changing table looking up at his clouds are so adorable.  But when he's a bit older, he has a lovely view from his window too. 

And just like that, our house was baby ready. As we sorted out, reorganised and decluttered, it felt like we were clearing out the old to make way for the new. 
The full nights sleep have been replaced with 3hourly feeds and a baby either next to our bed or in it. Shopping trips involve feed stops and nappy changes, and pretty much everything revolves around this new tiny person. It's as though their arrival reconditions your brain to think only of them for now, and everything you did as part of normal life pre baby, has to be reconsidered to include them. Sounds exhausting? It is. But it's also the most magical thing to experience - we can't imagine there being a time when this tiny person wasn't in our world. In time, we will get back our full nights sleep, time just us when he is at nursery/school, and a few date nights too. But time flies by so fast with a newborn, and we want to treasure every single moment of him being so new. 
Tiny boy, you have changed not only our home, but also our world -  and made it even more beautiful.