Speak Truth to Bullshit

This isn’t the post I was intending on writing this morning. I had something more nebulous and reflective in mind, but as often happens, a Facebook post got me thinking.

Those of you in the UK will know that this is the time for flu vaccine being given in primary schools. The vast majority of parents will take this up without discussion. Some are asking questions, and, as always, some will refuse.

Not all the refusers are vaccine refusers across the board. There are some who feel that school is not the place for medicines to be given, others who take issue with the flu vaccine specifically (even if they are up to date with other vaccinations). This post isn’t about the pros or cons of vaccination in general or the flu vaccine in particular, however. What it is about is the dangerous trend of polarising and shutting down discussion.

The post that caught my eye this morning was one criticising parents for asking other parents about the flu vaccine in schools, saying parents need to be asking their GPs not other parents. Fair enough, as far as it goes, right? Other parents may or may not have access to good information, and whatever your parenting question—particularly with regards to health—FB really isn’t the ideal end all and be all for finding solutions. Except, I’m really not at peace with the idea of ‘ask your doctor, do what s/he says, and it will all be okay.’ Or shut up and follow the crowd.

Who likes to be right? Me! Me! I do!  I’m sure I’m not alone in that. But here’s the thing: parenting is tough, and there’s a lot that challenges us, a lot that is specific to our kids, our families, or even our geographical region. In the dizzying array of choices and possibilities, certainty gives comfort. ‘I am right’ may give us a sense of righteous superiority, but the flip side of that is the shame and guilt of where we’ve been ‘wrong’. Is surrounding ourselves with people who feel the same way as we do…or holding our tongues to avoid the quasi-inevitable criticism the best answer to this dilemma? It may be the functional reality for many of us, but I believe we can do better.

As parents, we have primary responsibility for the health and wellbeing of our children. It is a tremendous responsibility with lasting consequences, and one many of us at times feel ill-equipped for. As a parent, I have genuinely experienced the extremes of excellent and poor medical care—my eldest would not be alive today had I deferred to one A&E doctor’s judgment of her illness at age two, when her intussusception was misdiagnosed as excessive maternal anxiety over a tummy bug. She did nearly die. Her life was very fortunately saved by a just in time second opinion, a GP who could admit that he wasn’t sure about what was happening with her but he wasn’t happy about how she looked, and so sent her on for further investigation, and some excellent surgeons at the RVI. After her surgery, I was told my one of the doctors to always listen to my maternal instinct—that it was one of the greatest tools for identifying trouble.

good mother

What has this got to do with the way we talk about flu vaccines in schools (and by extension other issues relating to our children’s health)? Nothing and everything. I don’t believe that deferring responsibility onto an authority figure for any decision we make for our kids will make us feel better if something goes wrong. I do believe in parental engagement, choice, and responsibility for our kids.

In her new book, Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown talks about how polarised we’ve become in our communities, how we are increasingly living in echo chambers and failing to engage in real, civil discussion with people who hold different points of view than we do. She argues that we loose something vital when we don’t engage in these discussions, and when we don’t value civility and the humanity of those who hold opposing views to us. One of the most dangerous positions of all is “You’re either with us or against us.” It reduces what’s real to a rhetorical polarity that shapes how we see what’s real in ways that are overly simplistic and ultimately inaccurate. People who disagree with us on health and parenting issues are not less than we are. They are not ‘with us or against us’. Most are thoughtful individuals who are trying to do the best they can for their children and their families. Dare I say many have thought long and hard, possibly researched and anguished over their decisions before making the choice that seems most right for them and their children in that moment.

Here’s what I believe:

*If you care about children, and the health and well-being of children, you need to care about parents, and that includes creating community spaces where it is safe for parents to ask questions and reflect on their choices without being deflected, shamed, or ostracised because they want to know more.

*If you value the capacity to make your own choices for your children (whether this be about how your child is born, how they are fed, how they are educated or something else), you need to equally respect that capacity for choice in other parents—even when they make choices that you consider to be NOT right (ie they make choices that are different to your own).

*Expert opinion and information gathered can only inform decisions—as parents we have the responsibility to choose based on our own circumstances.

*We all need access to good, unbiased information and support with interpreting that data if it is complicated or specialist. Accessing this info isn’t always easy. It may involve the risky act of asking questions and stepping out of our comfort zone (not to mention possibly disagreeing with what our friends believe or what other people tell us to do). It’s still totally worth it.

*It’s okay to ask questions, always. We lose something when we fail to ask or to question our assumptions.

*It’s not okay to shame or humiliate or dehumanise people for asking questions or making choices that are different from our own.

*It is okay to accept that our own positions may be different to that of our friends or extended family, and we can *still* love and accept each other as human.

*We have an obligation to respect one another even when we disagree.

*When it comes to things like infant formula, vaccinations, birth interventions, schooling, what benefits our children (and our society most) is challenging the status quo—this is how we guard against abuses of power and put things right when they do go wrong.

*Science is not static. Good science involves asking questions, challenging what we think we know, seeking more accurate and more complex understanding.

*Science (ie, what we know according to research) is not always in alignment with what’s put into practice in every day life. We are learning more every day, and we have the capacity to do better for our children. When we discuss and question, we keep everyone accountable.

Why is it so uncomfortable to hear parents asking questions about things we are sure we are right about? I think in part because it lifts the lid on the uncertainty and messiness of choices in the real world. In life, and in parenting, rarely is anything perfect. It also touches that uncomfortable thread of where there’s right, there’s wrong—and the guilt and shame most of us carry for those times when our choices or actions weren’t what we’d consider to be the ‘right’ ones.

I feel we can do so much better than ‘I’m right’ when it comes to talking about difficult parts of parenting. To me, better means that making a concerted effort to listen with respect even where we don’t agree, to share what we know with kindness, and, as Brene says, speak truth—with civility!!—to bullshit.

July 2017: ‘You choose’

There’s something about July that is feeling fresher, brighter to me already. Maybe it’s just the return of the sun (finally!!), after a week of grey clouds and incessant rain, or maybe it’s that things feel like they are finally settling into some kind of order that makes sense.

I’ve been wanting to get into a better pattern of writing and blogging here, so I’m going to have a go with weekly sharing, less worry about doing it ‘right’ and simply sharing a bit of what moves me each week, committing to at least a paragraph a week and seeing where that takes me.

This week things feel like they are finally falling into place. For a long time, the pieces have been muddled for me.  So many things I love and would love to be doing, so many changes in personal circumstance that make those things difficult to impossible at present. But patience in shifting through the pieces seems to have paid off and I have a clear vision for my work and life over the next few years, at least! And that’s as much as any of us really can hope for, I’d say.

Rebalancing Woman is growing into a haven for women seeking balance in motherhood. A space for holding that journey, giving time and presence to the challenges we face, and healing physically and emotionally and spiritually for women’s journeys in connection with motherhood – whether we are talking ‘mother wound’, fertility, baby loss, pregancy, birth, breastfeeding, recovery after birth, or holding ‘mother’ as part of our identity over the longer term, for me, that is what Rebalancing Woman is about. It’s a women-only space, and all women seeking to bring balance in connection with that idea (and reality!) of ‘mother’ are welcome.

And it’s a space for sharing my own journey and thoughts and reflections on these things, of course! I hope we will one day come to a time where every mother can feel not alone in her experiences, but until that time sharing stories helps us to connect with what’s real in that journey, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the challenging.

Day to day, our free Facebook community group is holding space for holding centre, witnessing and sharing this journey, and of course I’m loving the deeper journey of those engaged with the Heart Healing for Mothers programme.

I’ve created a new home hub for another piece of my work this week – that piece that focuses on birth education and advocacy. For me, this work is a real soul calling and it is something separate (though connected) with what I and our beautiful community of women are holding here at Rebalancing Woman. The exciting piece of this is that I’ve joined up with the fabulous Indie Birth to offer their community birth workshops ***for free!*** The first one will be happening 29 July 2017 at Miss Tina’s in Sunderland. Things are shifting rapidly in the birth world in the UK and it feels like the right time to step up to re-engage with this work. I’m looking forward to writing, teaching, and blogging regularly on birth and related topics.

My final piece of exciting news is that I’m going back to school this month. I’ve taken up study in a 2-year programme that will no doubt challenge and fulfil me, and take me deeper with my own work and calling. I’m really excited to begin, but am aware that it will take some serious commitment. I’m pretty sure I’ll be sharing some pieces of that journey over on my birth education and advocacy blog over the next months.

I’m often working with oracles in various ways, it’s a simple and sacred way for me of feeling connected. This morning I chose one for July. The message that came through was a simple one: ‘you choose’. I know what I’m choosing now (and wow what a journey it has been to get to this point of clarity and choice).

What are you choosing for you? I’d love to know what the freshness of July is bringing to your life and world. Come share with us in the group.

Good mother welcome

Good Mother, Welcome

I came across this title in one of Leonie Dawson’s workbooks in January.

The title caught my attention, as at the time I was feeling quite at the bottom of my aspirations toward ‘good’ or even ‘adequate’ on the motherhood front.  I thought some wry, sarcastic wit could be just the antidote to my troubled sense of my own imperfection.

When the book came, it was something quite different. It was a book of poetry, tender, heartfelt, real. The first words took my breath away, and brought me to tears. “Good mother, welcome. We are glad you are among us.”

How many of us truly believe we are ‘good’ on the motherhood front? Maybe some of us, some of the time. On a good day. Many more of us struggle to believe we are ‘good’ or even ‘good enough’ in the face of life’s (and our own) imperfections.

“Good mother, welcome.” What makes it so hard? Why do so many of us feel ‘not good enough’?

(And I mean beyond the help of those irritating Facebook memes that assure us, ‘you are enough’. I applaud the sentiment. I’d love for all of us to genuinely feel that all of the time. But if that meme is enough to touch your heart’s sorrow and reverse it, you probably don’t need me or what I have to share here, and I wish you well in your happiness.)

Do you know what it feels like to wake up every day and know that actually things in your life are really not right, that you and your children are suffering from this, and that massive change is going to be needed to bring them closer to right, but feel too exhausted even to begin because the little energy you have is consumed by caring for children? 

I do. I know I’m not alone in this. And it’s not about perfectionism. It’s also not about being inadequate or unskilled or pathologically unwell…and it’s not about being ‘not good enough.’ What I see time and time again is that it is about being in a situation that is hard, and beyond what we feel we can cope with easily or well on our own – and where we nonetheless must carry on.

The details of that situation will vary. It may be abuse or relationship breakdown. It may be a bad birth or breastfeeding experience that leaves us with pain, regret, or on-going trauma. It may be illness or accident. It may be stuff from the past rising up for attention. It may be sheer depletion and exhaustion from the impossible expectations that life (motherhood) can throw at us.

Whatever the cause, so many women, so many mothers are struggling daily with deep heart pain and troubling isolation. And we do our best to keep going, often deflecting and minimising our stories, most of us until we can’t any longer.

Given the experience of motherhood as many of us are living it, I don’t think there is anything abnormal about how we feel. By that I don’t mean that the problems are not real – they are all too real, and all too in need of attention – and change! But what I do mean is this: if you feel crappy in a crap situation, that’s overall a healthy thing – and a good sign that your mind and body are still capable of functioning as they should. And there is a possibility for change.

When there is something out of order in the body or in the mind, there is a natural impulse to keep the body functioning as best as can be. In other words, we compensate. If we have an injured foot, we might walk on the side of it, or hop along, right? 

It’s no different with the emotional stuff. We protect ourselves and our children as best we can. And when we compensate our bodies (and minds) may use convoluted pathways to accomplish what needs to be accomplished so that we can keep going. But over time that stuff builds up. It starts shouting for attention. We are, on a heart and soul level, calling out for what we need most – connection, love, freedom – we want to be whole.

Motherhood makes it tough to process this stuff. Approximately a 1000x harder, in my experience. Because there is nearly no (if any) downtime. How often do you get solitude? A space to process? My guess, if you have small children, is hardly ever. I personally still feel ‘on’ to some degree even when my little one is sleeping. And there is a general devaluing and invisibility to the work that goes on. That work can feel pretty relentless at times.

I had an image of what this feels like to me the other day. I am a bucket, with water flowing in. The rate varies, sometimes more, sometimes less depending on what’s happening in my life. But there are four largish child-shaped holes requiring a constant flow from me. Three of these holes empty into smaller buckets that have some degree of inflow from another parent (in our case this is restricted). One of these is fed almost exclusively by me as he has no other parent. All receive some inflow from social connections, school, other carers – and I’m very grateful for this – but we live far from family, and the bottom line is, most of this comes down to me.

The water (the energy, the intentions, the nourishing of self) that pours into the bucket is always also pouring out to protect and to nurture and to nourish these little people. When the level in the bucket gets so low, and the inflow is weak, or God forbid, the bucket itself becomes damaged, well, I’ll let that image speak for itself. It takes a constant higher level of effort on my part to remain in place than it does for someone who has an undamaged bucket with no holes in it.

We live in a world where most of us have damaged buckets. And even for those of us that stepped onto the path toward motherhood relatively intact, we many of us have had further knocks and blows along that trajectory of ‘motherhood’ in the modern world.

I don’t want to sound too pessimistic here. I do not in anyway believe the situation is hopeless, for any of us. The past years of working with women and working on myself have shown me nothing if not that healing – living really fully, with feeling, with joy and whole self – is possible even when we have experienced some truly terrible things. I believe women (and humans) have incredible capacity for resilience. But for those of us who are mothers, who have ongoing responsibility for little people, the path to that needs to be something that encompasses and includes motherhood, not something that ignores it.

I’ve been working really hard over the past months to raise the level in that personal bucket. I let it get too low, for too long, because I kept expecting help or change to come from the wrong places. I’m getting there, now, with although I will be the first to admit that it’s not a linear process, but one where the levels can fluctuate and where often extra care needs to be taken.

For women like me, the quick fixes will never be enough because we are constantly giving in a way that quite probably is invisible to those who have not experienced it. It is difficult to truly value that. I catch myself minimising it, erasing it, hiding it, as much as the next person. There’s something unseemly about motherhood requiring real effort.

And we end up hiding so much, and denying ourselves the credit of what we are actually accomplishing every day (if you personally are feeling unsure of what this is exactly, I recommend to you Naomi Stadlen’s wonderful book What Mothers Do). In doing so, we also often deny ourselves access to the tools and communities that would nourish and support us.

Motherhood is not a place where we should be left  on our own.

I sometimes wonder if the call to ‘self-care’ for mothers I see on Facebook is a bit like the call to train babies to ‘self-soothe’. Are we (in some cases) looking to cut off and shut down the pathways of communication so we don’t have to see what is happening?

Self-care is essential. But it shouldn’t be about shutting us up or shutting us down.

Human beings are social animals. We are tribal creatures. We need connection and acceptance and love in order to thrive. Mothers who are constantly giving so much need this even more – we need holding (not taking away, or reducing our competence, simply holding) so that we can do what is required of us.

It’s really hard for most of us to open to that truth. Self-sufficiency is valued. Vulnerability can feel like (and be interpreted as) weakness. In the worst cases, that vulnerability can be (and is daily) taken advantage of, leading to greater suffering and trauma. And so many of us carry on suffering in pockets of isolation, feeling like there is something profoundly wrong with us because our hearts are heavy and our bodies are strained, and we do whatever we need to do to suppress it and cope and keep on keeping on…until we really can’t.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Our society – in relation to motherhood and childrearing – is broken. It’s the impact of this brokenness that most of us are feeling when we feel isolated, alienated, traumatised, depressed. These feelings are in essence a healthy response to an unhealthy situation.

We need to address this by acknowledging what parts of this brokenness we are holding within ourselves, allowing ourselves to see and acknowledge what we are actually feeling and experiencing. We need to feel free to access support that doesn’t take our agency and our competence away from us, but that holds a space of safety and resourcefulness where our strength can be restored and our resilience grow. We need to feel loved, valued, held and witnessed – and to be part of things as women as well as mothers.

If what I’m saying here makes sense to you, I’d like to invite you to join me on Thursday, 15 June 2017 at 11am for a free webinar ‘The Wounds of Motherhood’. This isn’t your ordinary webinar! There won’t be lots of slides or teaching. Instead we’ll be holding space for a personal process to reconnect with the (often untold) stories we are holding in a way that makes room for our personal agency in bringing healing, insight, and positive change. This is a process I’ve used many times with my 1:1 clients, and in the “Untold Stories of Motherhood” sessions, but it is the first time I’ll be sharing it live online. At the end, I’ll also be sharing details of the Heart Healing For Mothers programme that’s begining 22 June 2017.

 

Access the free replay The Wounds of Motherhood here.

Actually, people say he’s gorgeous

It’s May 2016. I get a call from the Health Visitor out of the blue, asking to meet us. She’s a new one (to us). She texted me a few months back, but never followed up or came out to see us. The last HV we’ve seen was back in the newborn days, who signed us off once it was clear that breastfeeding was going well.

I’ve had some concerns about B. He rolled over early, but now at 10m+ he’s not able to do many of the things I’d expect him to (he’s not able to sit without support, not able to crawl, needs to be spoon-fed, and the food needs to be puree…I’m a baby-led weaning inclined, so I don’t say ‘need’ without cause, he needs that help), so when the new HV asks if she can come now, today, unusually (for me) I say yes.

She comes in a bit breathless. In retrospect, I suspect she’s trying to catch up from mistakenly *not* coming to see us previously. He’s sleeping, but her coming in wakes him. I pick him up to introduce them, and the first words from her are: “Do people often tell you he looks like he has Down’s Syndrome?”

I just look at her, because the answer, of course, is no, no one has ever said any such thing to me. Not the midwife who saw him postnatally. Not our previous Health Visitor. Not the GP who saw him for his 8 week check. Certainly not random people off the street, or people we know.

Mostly what they say to me is, “Isn’t he gorgeous?”

And it’s true. This child is called ‘gorgeous’ so often it’s like another name for him. None of my other children have had this.  There’s a light in him, and such beauty in his eyes. In the days that follow, as I start to process this encounter, it’s something I’ll watch for and hold to – the people who keep coming up to us and calling him ‘gorgeous’.

I can’t say, however, that some wondering hasn’t crossed my mind, with the developmental delays and sometimes a particular look about him. He was quite floppy as a newborn, for longer than I might have expected, but he breastfed successfully, even with a noticeable tongue-tie. He rolled over early. It’s only been after that things started to not match up with expectation.  But life is hectic here, nursery isn’t concerned, and I’m aware that every child is different.

I’m not sure how I reply. I think I mention the developmental delays.  She then takes an opposite tack, minimising. She tells me that maybe my child will suddenly ‘catch up’ developmentally, and that we’ll meet again in a few weeks, and maybe there’s nothing to be concerned about. I’m not sure why this seems an adequate way forward to her; later she tells me it had to do with ‘gaining my trust’. (Not the right approach with me, that’s for certain. I’d far more appreciate a referral for a blood test and some support for my child’s apparent developmental delay.)

She leaves, and it’s only then that I really start processing what’s she’s said, and that B and I can’t wait a few weeks, we need help now. I start browsing the internet. I finally see what babies with DS look like. They look like my baby. I try calling her a few times, but no answer, no call back.

So I end up having to book a regular appointment with the GP. We wait a week before we can get an appointment to see someone. I’m not sure why this is, as usually they are much quicker. When we do get to see someone, he’s quite sympathetic and matter-of-fact, stating that you can’t really tell by looking, but yes, given the developmental delays B should be referred on to the paediatrician.

We end up getting an appointment for mid-July. That’s about 5 weeks in the future, but what can we do? I don’t know if there’s anyway to get genetic testing privately, but what difference would it make? There’s not a whole lot to do but wait. (In the end, the timing is perfect as I’m fortunate enough to pull off getting to Orlando for the first MuTu Pro training (thanks, Mom!), and sadly as soon as I’m back, I’m off again to California following my father’s death.)

In the time when we’re at home, the Health Visitor does pop round and refer us for a visit with a physiotherapist. Unfortunately, the physio who visits us prior to diagnosis is simply insulting. She looks at my little one and manipulates him a bit – including making him stand without adequate support in a way that clearly alarms him, but too quick for me to intervene –  then declares that while he may have some ‘mild’ issues, possibly a touch of hypermobility (he’s actually massively hypermobile), the children that she deals with are far worse and there’s nothing really she can do for him. I mention the suspicion of DS and she says she doesn’t think he has it. “Well maybe mosaic DS?” Her face twists and she tells me ‘Absolutely not. That’s the one where they have exaggerated mongloid features and real problems.’ I’m so shocked by this that I don’t say anything, even to correct her. I just feel sick at her response and see her out quickly. I am thankful we’re not likely to see her again.

In the run up to the appointment with the paediatrician, we see the HV again. I try to stay friendly as I know she intends to be an advocate for us. She asks me to come to clinic to have him weighed. It turns out he’s off the bottom of the charts for a ‘normal’ baby. She’s clearly panicking a bit at this, and tries to pin it on me not feeding my child adequately.

I’m not so happy myself (though I know he’s eating well and it’s not that), but I have a niggling suspicion that Down’s Syndrome growth patterns may be different.

When I get home and Google I see that there is indeed a separate chart for babies with DS. My little one is just under the 50th centile on it (pretty much where he is today). I leave her a phone message about this. I’m not sure it makes any difference. We don’t see or hear from her again after this point, but I’m not particularly bothered as it’s clear we are a bit beyond her normal scope of practice.

We (B, my 13yo daughter and I) go into the appointment with the paediatrician unsure what to expect. Thankfully, we need not have worried. He’s incredibly courteous, well-informed, and takes the time to talk through the situation with us. He explains that you really can’t tell about DS just by looking, the tests that will be done, and how long it will take to get the results (several weeks). Bloods are taken and sent off. Again we wait.

I manage to catch up with him by phone in August. He confirms B has DS, not mosaic DS but the full version. We make an appointment for September to discuss further. We’re referred for a heart check, but are pretty certain there won’t be any problems.

It turns out we’re wrong about that, (he has Atrial Septal Defect), but by this point I can say that every professional we deal with going forward is kind, reassuring, and genuinely helpful. It takes a little time for referrals to come through, and November to January in particular were intense averaging 3 appointments weekly as we caught up.

Now, in March 2017, things are settling into a new normal. He’s got great support from Portage, as well as from the NHS (including a physio who sees him weekly, not the one from before!).  The Down’s Syndrome Association and Down’s Syndrome Northeast have been great points of reference for us.

I’m not sure I’ve fully processed what it means yet to have a child with Down’s Syndrome – quite frankly I’m too busy looking after ordinary life to give space to letting this settle fully in the way that I’d like to – but what I do know is that we all of us here love him so incredibly deeply, and we would be lost without him. He’s not ‘less’ to me than my other children in any respect. He is beautiful and whole, and exactly who he is meant to be. He enriches our lives, and has transformed me and helped me to grow as a parent in ways I never could have predicted. I am definitely a much better person and a much better mother thanks to him.

So, do many people tell me he looks like he’s got Down’s Syndrome? No. Not one person has ever said this to me, apart from that Health Visitor. Often I wonder if they have any idea, or if I should mention it, when people remark on how tiny he is (he’s only 20lbs now and sometimes the DS is obvious, sometimes it’s not), but mostly what I still hear is just the same as before.

People look at him, they see his smile, and they say, “He’s gorgeous!”

In search of: a new map of motherhood

There are not many (any?) maps of motherhood that trace out the way I want to be living it.

It’s just after 9pm on a Sunday. It’s been a good night. My kitchen is clean and well-stocked for the week to come (a loaf of spelt bread made for my daughter who can’t tolerate wheat, porridge oats soaking overnight for the baby, a grocery delivery has left us with full cupboards and fridge, and overflowing fruit bowl). The children’s clothes are washed and ready for morning. Toys are tidied away. I *think* homework has been done. And most importantly all four are asleep in bed.

On a bad or even average night, none of this would happen…and just so you know there’s no superiority here and I’m savouring every moment of this and feeling infinitely blessed. (AND my baby woke up about ten minutes after I wrote this bit so I’ve been comforting him back to sleep…but he nursed down again quickly, so it’s still a good night sleep-wise thus far).

When people talk about hitting rock bottom and rising, it’s a narrative that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  It’s too simple, too linear, too unreal for me in terms of lived experience. My experience of the bottom, and yes, bottom it is, is that I’ve been skating along it for a number of years now…that bottom for me could be summed up as the underside of motherhood in so many ways. The shape of the landscape changes. My head is mostly facing up. But how do you know, really know, it’s ‘rock bottom’ when there are blind drops and hidden edges waiting.

It’s taken me about a year and more, of betrayals, disappointments, and failures, to accept and really deeply understand that in this most recent manifestation I’m not just a separated or single mother, (after many years on the cusp of legal divorce), but a sole parent which is an entirely different thing.  (I do have some shared support from my older children’s father, my soon to be ex-husband, but with the father of my youngest we have at present no contact, through his choice and action.)

I’ve had to accept that the shape of what *is* is not and never will be one of equal partnership in parenting. That’s okay, in the sense that the current arrangements are what is healthiest and happiest for the children under the circumstances – but it has also meant the very real re-writing of my understanding and expectations about what it means to be a mother outside of this model.

And it means that the past months and year really have been hitting up against every cliche of divorced / single motherhood:

*changes in visitation that have left me stranded for work (and ultimately requiring me to change my work patterns entirely)

*late and then unpaid child maintenance, that leaves us in real danger of not eating (thankfully resolved a few times over with help in various ways)

*the irony of being told condescendingly by my husband’s solicitor that ‘now I can learn to stand on my own two feet’ financially, even as previous arrangements for sharing responsibilities for our children were eroded

*the sheer exhaustion of what’s required in terms of looking after a home and four children, one still a breastfeeding baby, the stress of not being physically able to meet their needs and my own.

What this means for me now is that there are pieces of my life which will not make sense to many – and that places which once would have provided me solace simply don’t as my experience is too different now from what it once was. It probably also means that my mere existance is hard for some who don’t want to see this side of motherhood. I never expected to be here either.

I could easily eat up every moment of every day ‘just’ being a mother, that I could drive myself mad trying to ‘earn a living’ in the old school way alongside that, it means that in recent months I’ve spent a fair number of days of utter despair at the impossibility of what is needed from me and the lack of freedom inherent in my current existence.

It also means for me right now that I’m feeling a call to reinvent what motherhood looks like for me and how I live it. I know what I want it to feel like, at least the rough sketch of what I’d like to to feel like – free, powerful, sacred, loving, creative, nurturing, protective, honest, restful, kind. Something that makes me more, not less. I know the old maps for my situation won’t give me that (though I am certain many women have quietly walked that way and successfully before me, some visibly so). I’m willing to wait in the space of visioning until I can start to trace the path that will.

I know my allies as I begin are in the presence I bring to my own life, in the things that strengthen that presence, physically, emotionally, spiritually. I know they are in the connection with others – other women, other mothers, other men and families – but only where these connections are grounded in respect and kindness.

I have no tolerance left for meanness, hypocrisy, gossip, dishonesty. I don’t take those things personally anymore because I know now so clearly that when people approach relationship in these ways that a) they are not for me and b) it’s not about me. I also will not hesitate to protect myself from these things in whatever ways I must because these things are pernicious and cause harm far beyond what is commonly acknowledged.

I have every space in my heart and my life for the connections that are vital, full of integrity and shared purpose, and most of all truth, compassion, respect, and genuine love and kindness. These things too have the capacity to ripple outwards and deserve to be nurtured in every way.

There are a lot of things I haven’t figured out yet, like how the time for looking after all the things that require looking after will happen. I trust that there are ways that will start to open when I take time to sit in stillness and listen. I trust that following the heart of my own work and renewal and the pace it comes at will in all cases bring me to a better place of resolution than denying the very real work and responsibilities I carry day to day would do – and by that I mean, I hold responsibility to my children, myself and my home, as much as I do to ‘earning a living’ or fulfilling a calling.

These last two are not separate for me, and the calling is as essential to me as eating and breathing…but what I’m coming to in a round about manner is that I’m looking to live these things in ways that are no longer at odds with my self-sustaining, child-nurturing, home-creating which are equally and even more important, and which take REAL WORK, real time, real energy to keep going.

I don’t know how to get there yet. But I’m burning the old maps, the ones that won’t work. I’m giving myself permission to take the time I need to vision and to heal. I want this to come with ease, with joy, with freedom. I feel it can be done, though I don’t yet know how. But that feeling, that conviction, and sitting down to write it, is my starting point.

 

MuTu Monday! Week One: I am determined

Hello everyone! I went back and forth about sharing this journey but in the end, here I am. This week, and the next 12 weeks, I’ll be mapping my progress as I re-start the MuTu Intensive programme.

Can’t see the video? You can access it here: https://youtu.be/jrtz9w9zwfo

I absolutely love MuTu. I discovered MuTu and its founder Wendy Powell just after I’d given birth to my fourth baby and was suffering from what felt like pretty severe diastasis recti. I was a little hesitant about it as I am wary of overly aggressive fitness regimes for newly postpartum women. I am a firm believer that new mamas need nurturing and rest!! But I was in pain and I needed a real solution, so I took the plunge. I was pleasantly surprised as I sat watching the introductory videos.

You know what I love most about it?

*One, it approaches body care through the lens of NURTURE and LOVE (and hey, ‘Love’ is my word for 2017! if you haven’t found yours yet, here’s a little something for you <3).

*Two, Wendy Powell has a real understanding and respect for mothers and the pace of motherhood (I share more about this in the intro video above).

*Three, Wendy knows what she’s talking about – her programme is mama-friendly, holistic, effective and do-able.

With some determination, of course.

The fact is, when you are a mother, everything is different.

Before motherhood, the main obstacle to me setting and accomplishing a goal was me just doing it (or not). Effort, yes. But pretty much human effort.

With motherhood, It’s not the same kind of life at all. I’m on my own with 4 children and I can vouch for the fact that the pace, the rhythms of motherhood are simply other. When evening rolls around and the house becomes quiet, I can sigh with relief and finally finally finally stretch my arms and body so simply in the way that’s been calling to me since morning, whilst the kettle boils, and as my body just begins to relax and release it comes – the wail of my baby waking up, looking for milk and companionship.

Or the other night, I think ‘just do it’. My children are awake, but you know, we can do it anyway, right? Same intention for stretching, and the baby grabs my hair to lift my head and lunges at me for milk.

As a mama, I know you’ve got to pick your moments….and these moments vary day to day, sometimes even hour to hour. And it very likely takes about 20x longer for you to accomplish anything (it does me! and sometimes that is a good day).

“I am determined.” Those are the words that came to me Saturday afternoon as it took me about 45 minutes to get out the door for a 30 minute walk. I am determined.

I have solid reasons for wanting to do this work – being fully present and healthy for my children now and in years to come (this has become even more urgent for me when my littlest was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome – I am a sole parent to him, and it’s put me in a position of much greater responsibility than before as I know he needs me for the longer term), and also just coping with the day to day responsibilities of being a single, working mother to four. I find that just plain tiring, even without any extras (illness, appointments, therapy for the little one).

I know that building my core strength and fitness is one of the key parts to thriving for me as a mama and as a woman. When my core and root are strong and my body aligned, I am strong and able to nurture and care for myself, my children, my home, my clients, my life.

Each week, I’m also going to share a tip or two or three for success for busy mamas – because I know it is really not the same embarking on a health or exercise programme with little ones about. Here they are for this week:

If you can’t see the video above, you can access it here: https://youtu.be/yvb5Qr2ADgI

Here are this week’s tips summed up –

*Know your why – more than know it, write it down, post it up, look at it, remember it, everyday.
*Track it! I’ve got a FitBit which really helps with the ease of this. Inside the MuTu programme there are some fab tracking tools as well.
*It’s okay to be where you are (now and always)

The path is never really a line, and for me, I’m circling back to MuTu after taking a few months off. But those times off (of ‘failure’ in a sense!) are also useful for reminding us why we are here doing this thing – it’s helped me to get clear and realign with my motivation and values. This is necessity for me, and I know it.

So today I begin! I’m going to get my start pictures sorted, download my checklists and exercise cheat-sheet. If you’d like to join me, I’d absolutely love that.  You can get access to MuTu instantly through this link – it (and the other links to the programme) is my affiliate link that also gives you a 20% discount on the digital programmes.

Local mamas! I‘m planning to run some local MuTu inspired classes starting from March – if you thrive with in person contact and accountability (I know I do!), this is just a heads up. But don’t let this put you off purchasing the digital programme and getting started now if you’re feeling drawn. I’ll be offering discounts to mamas who have enrolled through my link when the first round of the in person programme starts up in Spring.

And for anyone who really wants to see, here’s my unfiltered, unedited ‘before’ pictures. I definitely have the ‘mummy tummy’!

7 Ways to Cultivate Resilience When Life is Tough

7 Ways to Cultivate Resilience When Life is Tough

On the heels of four weeks of illness in my house, there’s not a lot left of me.

I won’t lie: it hasn’t been a pretty time here.

Last week when my littlest went off to nursery on Wednesday morning, and I stepped back into the house after dropping him off, I nearly collapsed. The joy with which I went to FINALLY have a bath and not be worried about children was HOLY.

And then it came – the call to come collect him as he was feverish. Of course I went – giving great thanks that I’d had that bath versus did anything else, because, you know, occasional hygiene is nice when you’re a mama!!

I’ve been mothering for thirteen and a half years now, most of that on my own, so I’m really really good at cutting away non-essentials. But I know I’ve exceeded my limits when I start reaching for the coffee, wine, chocolate and treats, constantly browsing FB on my phone, browsing the sling boards and generally feeling crappy about myself because everyone else looks like they’ve totally got it together and are progressing with life while I’m caught in a loop and descent, bank accounts overdrawn, bills coming in. And I physically cannot do more right now so there’s a healthy portion of guilt attached as well…essentially I caught myself giving up all my good habits just to cope, even when I *know* it’s not helpful.

I had to catch myself because as a sole parent there’s not a lot of room for backsliding. Or there is,  I suppose, on some level, but I *really* don’t want to go there. I have a lot of hopes that we can live better and more happily in this coming year, and I want to be able to show up for myself and my kids. Plus I love my work and I want to get back to it – but I need to be healthy and present for that to happen.

Life, and particularly motherhood, isn’t about that linear path to the prize and it’s done. It’s a much deeper journey, one that requires us to circle round and round again, facing old demons until we can make a friend of them. So for me, this month is about cultivating RESILIENCE. 

I sat down and re-committed to these seven steps:

(1) Declutter: I’m decluttering the crap out of everything to the extent that I am able at present. It’s an ongoing project, really, but we’re getting there! This also helps with any temptation to bring in excess over the holidays…we are keeping it simple and holding to our clutter-free dream. Energy flows totally differently through a decluttered space. It means there’s room to cook, create, move and just be in ways that feel good.

(2) Get off the phone/FB! This is a hard one for me. When I’m lying down in the dark nursing a poorly baby, scrolling through FB is so so tempting. But it isn’t good for me, energetically it’s an addiction and a power loss that drains me, so I am committing to putting that phone down and using that time to think or meditate or rest instead…and to accessing social media more mindfully.

(3) Drinking enough water. Confession – I love coffee, I love wine, I don’t really love water or herbal teas in the same way, however good for me they are. Lately I’ve been reaching for the coffee and the wine…but water is making a return and I notice a huge difference in how I feel. I was tracking it for a while, and I will again, but for now easing in is what feels possible and right.

(4) Sleep and rest, getting enough of it is hard to impossible with poorly little ones, especially if I’ve got that phone in my hand in the middle of the night (I have a baby pretty nearly attached to the boob all night long, which is good for him as he’s only just coming back to food again, but it’s not exactly quality sleep for me). I’m recommitting to tracking sleep, making it a priority over screen time, and to clearing the bedroom to make it more amenable to rest and sleep.

(5) Walk, run, dance, move, exercise. I let my non-negotiable practice slide. Easing back into it, with forgiveness for myself, making the changes I need to make around what this looks like and the timings (colder weather, poorly little one impacts what’s possible for me). Just being kind to my body, walking, stretching, basic strengthening is a start.

(6) Forgiveness. Oh my goodness, this one is huge. How many stories are locked up – old, old stories – power loss and resistance to change in them. Forgiveness is a process and a practice. I’m working with it all the time now, multiple times a day. Forgiving myself is the hardest and biggest part of that.

(7) Gratitude. This is another one that’s helping me shift my unhelpful patterns and thoughts and beliefs, seeing the richness and kindness and beauty that already exists in my everyday life. That there are so many things that are already okay now, and that I want more of those things, for myself and for the planet. I don’t have a gratitude journal, (maybe I’ll get there one day!), I just do it in my head in opportune moments.

7-ways-to

It’s way too easy to fall into worry and anxiety about money and the future (small and large scale) and the planet. These things are real and need to acted on as they are seen! But the point of power for change doesn’t lie in that worry or fear. It lies in our own strength, our own building of resources, our resilience in times of challenge and change. Until we’ve go that in place, we can’t really sustain our action for others.

My baby is back at nursery today, yay! (No judgement, mamas, he loves it there and I love him having another safe place to be besides home with me. I admit with my first I did not feel this way about paid group childcare for babies, but that’s a story for another time.) I’m not sure if he’s really fully well enough or will make it through the full week, but we’re getting there, and regardless he and I are spending this time feeding that resilience.

While I’m taking December slowly, I’m going to be running the LIVE 9-day rebalance again in early January 2017 – our theme will be ‘New Beginnings / Fresh Start’. If you’d like to join us, you can add your email here and/or you can request to join our FB group here.

Non-negotiable practice

It’s summer now, and being at home with 4 children, including a 13 month old who’s breastfeeding in that way only a 13 month old can, my days could easily be (and often are) consumed by the needs of others. There’s been a lot of upheaval lately that results in an intensifying of their need-level, and an unfortunate corresponding reduction in my capacity to meet those needs as my own space and time is so easily eroded.

There’s always a reason for not having the time – the floors need cleaning, the dishes need washing, the baby needs feeding or changing…even when we skip the floors as much as possible, the rest really needs addressing fairly regularly.

I’ve really noticed the impact of the erosion of the small spaces and routines I’d carved out for myself, kind of like the avalanche of small but utterly necessary tasks has gotten to a tipping point. There’s no room for mama, and that’s not healthy or good. (If you are some awesome super-organised and super-fit mama, please don’t judge us ordinary mortals! But I’m pretty sure I’m not totally alone on this one.)

Walking – real walking (sometimes interspersed with a bit of running) that makes me sweat – is a key non-negotiable practice for me and I’ve let that slide more than I’d like.

I walk every day anyway, but I walk with children, with a dog, with a baby tied to my back or my front. That means I’m outside (yay!), but I’m not sweating (boo!).

This week I’ve taken time to notice what that does to me:

*My stress and anxiety levels increase.
*My patience levels decrease.
*I end up angry and frustrated more often.
*I feel my body chemistry is off.
*I don’t sleep as well.
*I spend more time hiding out on the world of social media.
*I eat more crap to compensate for the crappy feelings in my body.

I’ve been in this space before, many times. I know, however much I’d love it, no ‘giving mama time’ fairy is going to swoop in and make things easier for me. I know that the more my energy erodes, the harder it gets, the more things fall apart. So I’m returning to non-negotiable practice.

What this looks like for me, to start, is that I get out there with the baby in the buggy, on my own so I can walk fast, no matter what. Even if I don’t have enough time. Even if my house is dirty or the bigger kids have to wait.  Luckily for me my baby loves getting out there too. Luckily my baby generally loves my non-negotiable practice too

These are my anchor points, the foundation for the kind of life I want to be living, the choice to be living now as the kind of woman and mother I want to be. And I know from experience what feeds me, will feeds the rest as I become more patient, more present, more in control of the choices I’m making (vs. making reactive ones).

There’s so much that doesn’t get done on a daily basis. Even more the case when there are children about. What’s important to me is living each day as I want to be living, even in the midst of chaos around me.  At the end of the day, whether I’ve been out for my walk or not, those things will still be there…or not.

I’m committing now to 40 days to start. I’m keeping it simple. It’s part of my personal MuTu® System reboot (I’ll share more about that very soon) – but it is regardless my commitment to my family and myself, my non-negotiable practice.

What’s your non-negotiable practice? Please share in the comments below so we can inspire each other to keep going…and if you’d like to join me for the next 40 days, please do!

You can find me and others doing this over on Facebook – not a big formal thing, just a bunch of women supporting each other in carving out space – just pop on and let us know your personal non-negotiable practice, and you can use the hashtags #rebalancingwoman #40days and to keep us posted out you’re getting on.

Breastfeeding in a bottle-feeding culture – 8 reasons why I’ll be at the Global Big Latch On 2016

It’s World Breastfeeding Week this week, and the Global Big Latch On 2016 will be taking place on Friday and Saturday.

I’ve been breastfeeding for over 10 years now – 4 children, and I’m currently  13 months into feeding my fourth. I’ve breastfed as a single mother, and as a mother in relationship. I’ve breastfed a severely ill, hospitalised toddler – while also breastfeeding her newborn brother. I’ve traveled internationally many times while breastfeeding, in the USA, UK, and Europe.

You know what?

Breastfeeding still doesn’t feel ‘normal’ to me. We live in a bottle-feeding culture. Everywhere I go, in every conversation I have with people outside of a very closed and select group (of breastfeeding mothers and supporters), breastfeeding is the strange thing. It’s often laudable, yes – we all know that ‘Breast is best’, right?! Except it’s not.

Breastmilk and breastfeeding isn’t ‘best’, it’s normal – biologically normal, historically normal. But when it comes down to it, I’ve found myself more often needing to explain, to argue, to defend my baby’s right and need to be normally fed. Because what is biologically normal still isn’t culturally normal…or in many cases and spaces, even truly socially acceptable.

Top eight reasons why I’ll be at the Global Big Latch On 2016 this Friday:

8 The delighted surprise from my first health visitor when my exclusively breastfed newborn had gained enough weight to be signed off by her second visit. (I’m pretty sure that was a rare occurrence for her, she wasn’t expecting it.) This to me doesn’t look or feel like breastfeeding is normal.

7 Women are still not being offered breastfeeding solutions to breastfeeding problems – and are not being given access to knowledgeable, skilled help when they want it and need it. Pressure to feed, pressure to quit. You can’t win as a mother in this game.

6 How difficult and uncomfortable it is to latch that baby on in public. I’ve been doing it for over 10 years. I still have an awareness of what people can see, am wary about how they might react. Yes, I do it, openly, frequently. It’s still not ‘normal’ or comfortable in the sense of widely accepted or unnoticeable because it is so common.

5 ’But how do you know if he’s really getting anything?’ The obsession with measuring what’s going in, the assumption that it’s a simple matter of extracting a uniform substance to fill the baby’s stomach, and most of all that the BOTTLE is the best unit of measurement. This is NOT the reality of breastfeeding. Milk composition changes throughout the day, and over weeks and months, according to meet the baby’s specific, individual needs. And the BABY, when allowed free access to the breast, is the one who puts in the order. How can we reduce that to the number of ounces in a bottle? We can’t.

4 ’Your baby is low weight (or overweight), you should breastfeed less.’ I’ve had both of these, with two children two times over falling into each camp, in my time. (Obviously with the lower weight children, I was being advised to up intake of other foods – ironically mostly things based on cow’s milk that would have been hugely problematic due to their food intolerances.)

3 Traveling to the US Embassy in London to have my then month old baby’s birth registered – seeing lots and lots of babies under 3 months on the train and in the waiting area – my baby was one of two I saw breastfed, the other one was heavily covered by cloths so no one would see or comment on the feeding.

2 “You’re not really feeding, you’re only using your mummy as a dummy” – words from a health care provider to my 12 month, special needs baby who latched on during her visit. (Because you know, human breasts are just a substitute for those factory manufactured things that you buy at the shop!)

1 The other day on FB, this story crossed my newsfeed (trigger warning – infant death). A formula fed newborn, a healthy baby, suffering horribly and dying, utterly preventably, because the family didn’t know that powdered formula wasn’t the safe and normal way to feed a baby. They hadn’t been warned that formula could be contaminated. They probably didn’t know there was any real alternative because let’s face it, breastfeeding doesn’t feel normal, acceptable, or even possible to many people.

Babies every day, in countries all over the world, are affected similarly. And it’s totally, totally unnecessary.

To me, this isn’t about eliminating formula feeding, or in any way judging families who feed their babies breast milk substitutes. There will always be some need in some cases for babies to be fed in ways other than directly from the mother’s breast. I absolutely respect a mother’s right to choose what is right for her baby and her family.

To me, it is about knowing what we are choosing – and having a REAL, genuine choice. We don’t have that at present.

When breastfeeding is the norm, a whole host of obstacles to women’s breastfeeding success are lessened or removed altogether. Healthcare providers become better versed in supporting women through the common (and uncommon) challenges. The social stigma of feeding one’s baby is public disappears. Women have access to better alternatives when substitutes are needed.  Formula manufacturers can only be held *more* accountable for the products they are putting out into the marketplace. No baby should be suffering and dying in this way. No parent feeding their baby formula should be unaware of the risks, the need for proper preparation, and warning signs to look out for.

Normalising breastfeeding is at its heart about normalising and ensuring safe feeding for all babies.   All mothers need to be informed of what safe infant feeding means. All mothers should receive as a matter of course clear and accurate information about infant feeding. All mothers deserve access to safe, sustainable, nourishing food for their babies. We don’t currently have that. That’s why I’ll be at the Global Big Latch On 2016, and very likely in years to come.

Come join us at Wharton Park, Durham (or at a location near you) this Friday, 5 August 2016, for the count. If you’re not currently breastfeeding or pumping, you can still be counted as a supporter – and breastfeeding women and women preparing to breastfeed need to see that they are supported.

Find out more or book in online at The Global Big Latch On.