Fed is Best

Breasts, bottles, both…

I’m not really ready for this yet but let’s talk about the emotions of feeding.

Before we start, please reread the title, FED is BEST. This has nothing to do with the options available and the choices made when it comes to feeding our children.

This is all about acknowledging that feeding is the most talked about, emotionally loaded, hot topic out there.

It’s the one everyone has an opinion on and can be surprisingly hypocritical about. The most prominent example are those who lecture new mums on the properties of breastmilk but then flip out at mothers breastfeeding in public.

There is a particularly prickly minefield for those who do not direct nurse and express milk to take out and about. This may be because there have been challenges establishing direct nursing or because you don’t want to direct nurse in public. Even before I started exclusively expressing I was planning to pump for feeds beyond my front door because I am so uncoordinated I couldn’t envisage a time when I wouldn’t flash someone by mistake. (Those of you who can seamlessly and confidently lift up tops, pull down bras and simultaneously get a baby to latch on are magicians in my eyes).

Let’s Start Here

Although it is the most talked about and heavily advocated, breastfeeding is hard.

It is painful, hormone-fuelled and difficult to master. Even for those who pursevere with nipple cream in hand and come out the other side successful, it is a long slog of especially sleepless nights, anxiety over the quantity being consumed by your little one and hours of crying.

The crying isn’t just from mum either. My husband found our (eventually unsuccessful) breastfeeding attempts to be heart-wrenching, anxiety-inducing affairs where both baby and I were in tears and he felt utterly helpless. (I actually think it was more intense than the birth from his perspective).

If breastfeeding is not established; latching difficulties, challenges with milk supply, exhaustion, and so on, it can result in a huge amount of negativity.

A lot of this is from mum herself. Feelings of guilt, anger, disappointment, of failure.

If there have been supply challenges then formula feeding is often the next step, and many feel this is the most sustainable option as expressing can be all consuming. Some will still be topping up with formula despite putting in the long hours it takes to express. Some do a combination of breast, expressed and formula.

There are those for whom formula feeding is the most suitable and sustainable choice right from the start. This is perhaps the hardest choice of all because of the continuous pressure, attitude and opinions piled on by society, friends and family. These mums face harsh judgement, constant commenting and the most vicious external obstacles.

Let me know your feeding stories. As mentioned in the main body of the post, I did try to breastfeed so have no experience of choosing to formula feed from birth so I would especially love to hear from you. 

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Return to Work: What’s Good for Baby, What’s Good for Mum?

I have a new emotional expedition I hope you will join me on. 

The time is approaching for me to make a big decision: to go back to work, to extend maternity leave or to stay at home. I have a few weeks before I need to give a final answer and, as ever, this is my exploration space. 

Before We Begin

There are so many factors that go into every individual’s choice that the concept of a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of mothering needs to be exterminated. Unless you are outright neglecting, manipulating or abusing your child, there is not a wrong way to parent. 

I find it’s often women perpetuating these notions of right and wrong, I suspect driven by our own insecurities. We are desperate to be perfect, a desire fuelled by hormones, anxiety, love and the pressures of society (real or abstract). 

As ever, opinions are polarised, and the middle ground, although walked by so many, is obscured almost entirely by the prevailing opposites. In this instance, the two extremes are full time work and staying at home although a range of alternatives exist including working from home, being self employed, part time work and I am sure many more I have just never considered. 

Where I Am Right Now 

As I say, there are many, many things to consider, and I want to begin by acknowledging how fortunate I am to have maternity leave in the first place. I have the good fortune to live in a country that has statutory maternity leave, to be an employee and work for a company that I trust to uphold my rights. I am very blessed as not only is this not the experience of women in many other countries, it is not the security afforded to all in my own. 

Currently, beyond going round in circles about the choice and logistics of each outcome, I am aware of the implications of all options on my mental health and wellbeing. 

There have been great blessings to maternity leave but, as a workaholic, there have also been struggles. 

Therefore, there are not just the practical influencers such as finances, child care, the dog and our schedule as a couple to consider, but also emotional; family considerations, couple time and my own well being. 

Some might think it is selfish, but this decision is not just about what is best for baby, but also what is best for mum. 

Be More Edison

Last year, I published a post about Thomas Edison. 2nd January 1879 was the day that Edison began work on his first generator, only to see his life’s work go up in flames in 1914. Yet was he deterred? Not at all. Almost 70, he simply began all over again.

For me this is what January, and New Year, is all about. It is a time of year when everyone is reflecting, looking back at the year gone by and making plans for the year to come. It is important to be aware that this reflection makes it a challenging time of year for many, especially if personal tragedies have occurred. I like the Thomas Edison anecdote because it is all about renewal and rejecting regret. Regrets, and the expectations that lead to them, are the biggest foes of mental wellbeing in January.

Be More Edison

This year, I too am starting over. Our little family has grown and new life has brought rejuvenation. The past year was filled with personal reflection and emotional exploration as I attempted to regain some past integrity I felt had been lost through traumatic experience.

The initial ambition when I created this blog was to find solace, and perhaps provide some too, along the way. Now, I feel refreshed, thanks to you dear reader, I have persevered and gained confidence.  Like Edison, I have begun rebuilding, forming a disposition that I recognise from before my mental health broke down and becoming suicidal. Recovery, especially from an emotional injury, is a long journey, but I do believe it to be possible, however long it takes.

Take your time.

Where to Start?

Mental illness can be all consuming and because it is invisible can take longer to recognise, diagnose and understand.

Identifying the triggers for episodes of mental ill-health is an important place to begin. The trigger is the connection between the symptoms you experience and their root cause, most frequently a past experience. It’s working backwards to move forwards.

If you have been following my blog for a while, you will be aware that the trigger for my depression and suicidal thoughts was a series of negative relationships and intense academic anxiety. However, my anxiety is much more ingrained and has a root buried much deeper in the past.

Over the last year, I have begun to mentally excavate around the root. This began by assessing my panic attacks and identifying when the latest one started, working back from the obsessive behaviour to its trigger.

This is a good place to start because it does not require going outside, getting dressed, or even leaving the safety of a duvet cocoon.

Once identified, triggers can be used during grounding to re-centre and gradually gain control over mental illness, instead of feeling that it is control of you. It took me years, but I can now identify activities that are more likely than others to affect my mental wellbeing. As a result, I can be selective in my actions. This does not mean avoiding triggers outright. But it means that I can choose to engage with a stressor and feel in control or disengage from it if I am already feeling overwhelmed.

This isn’t about ‘Saying No’, which so many people find difficult. This is about self-awareness and being able to use that awareness to cope with the things you say yes too. Personally, I think it is generally good to say yes. Yes is positive, it makes you feel capable, because you are capable. If you didn’t know that on some level, you’re subconscious wouldn’t have jumped in and said yes on your behalf before the rest of your brain had thought it all through.

Have faith in yourself and your abilities, even if, like Edison, you have some rebuilding to do.

 

Bumps in the Marital Road

Last Saturday was my first Saturday off in six months. With my husband working 9 to 5 or sometimes longer on his PhD project at the university and the emphasis placed to spend Sundays at church and religious activities, when I work weekends it really limits the quality time we get to spend together.

It has been showing.

We got married when we were both students and our schedules were all over the place for the first year of our life together. We agreed that, as it was Samuel’s Masters year and because he worked seasonally at the supermarket which would have meant missing our first Christmas as a married couple, he would stop working. I continued to work as I had been at my storytelling job for 4 years already, it was relevant to my degree and it gave me continuity and routine which helped the with severe mental illness I was experiencing at the time. Before the harassment started, my place of work was were I went for grounding. The office is underground so there was no signal and it gave me an excuse not to be contactable. To not respond when I was feeling overwhelmed. When I couldn’t cope. My place of work means an unusual amount to me.

Summer 2017 was a very intense time for our marriage. We’d been married for a year and were in a good place but we were done living in a one bedroom flat in the middle of the city. It was advertised as one bed, but really should have been one person, as we couldn’t both be in the kitchen at the same time if we wanted to have a bin as well. So we started looking at houses. We didn’t imagine that we would actually be able to buy, it’s famed that no one our age can. But we wanted to daydream at the very least.

We got lucky.

But we were £3,000 short of the deposit. So I started working 3 jobs. It was crazy. One of them was my long term storytelling job, one was at a concert hall and the other was in a museum. It was meant to be a straightforward visitor service job, but morphed into tour guiding and helping arrange a summer activities program which provided really great unexpected work experience. So it was a really beneficial, as well as crazy, time. I decided/insisted that as I was working so much (most of it very relevant to what I was hoping to do following graduation) and Samuel was likely to be starting a PhD three months later, that he shouldn’t work. He needed a break, someone needed to keep on top of the housework, and if we throw a fourth schedule into the mix, we just wouldn’t have seen each other. As it was we saw each other first thing in the morning and for about half an hour before we went to sleep.

We made it.

We bought a house. Now the situation is reversed. I am on reduced hours, just ticking over at my storytelling job, which I still love but is no longer my safe place. As a physicist, Samuel’s PhD is funded, so whilst he is technically studying, it is fundamentally a job. He works very hard and is extremely good at what he does. Our subject areas compliment each other very well. I find it highly appropriate that both our birthdays are in January, the month named after the Roman god Janus. Janus was depicted with two heads, because he looked forward and backwards. As an archaeologist I look back to the very beginnings of humans as a species and Samuel, being an experimental physicist working on technology, is looking forward. It also gives me confidence about at least one aspect of us potentially becoming parents – we have homework covered. Our other running joke is that Samuel does the numbers and I deal with words. Sorted.

Our issue is that because of all the studying, the crazy summer jobs and the recent house move, we have never really got into an established routine. We are beginning to get there now but we still haven’t quite found our rhythm. As we are approaching our second anniversary, and with the addition of our dear dog, this is starting to apply a little bit of friction. As far as I am aware this is healthy and usual in all relationships let alone marriage. We are definitely benefiting from no longer being in that one bedroom flat, as we can now be more than 5 meters apart and means I can be less distracting whilst Samuel is working and I can read my book quietly whilst Samuel watches television (Samuel is severely dyslexic so you wont find us reading together).

As a result of not having a stable, consistent rhythm to our daily routines, we have become very snappy. We haven’t fought or had slanging matches but as I say there has been some friction. I think that’s the right term. No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes and get irritated from time to time. One of my biggest flaws is my temper, so I definitely get irritated more than is reasonable. I am very grateful not only for my husband’s patience and ability to forgive when I fly off the handle but for our ability to communicate with each other. As we got married so quickly, I don’t think that we would have managed if we weren’t able to talk about anything and everything. As I always say, we don’t necessarily recommend getting married three months after meeting, but it is working for us. We are truly very happy together. The importance of communication is made evident in every sit-com, film production and in most real life scenarios. Whole plots of plays, books, tragedies and comedies begin with a miscommunication, failure to communicate or a double meaning.

Having last Saturday off was amazing for us. Even though I was unwell with the flu, headlining fever, dizziness and nausea (how have I managed to come down with this twice this year? There have only been two months thus far?!) so we didn’t go anywhere or do very much, yet still it gave us some space to just be us. I was actually supposed to be off volunteering in central Scotland so being ill was perhaps a blessing in disguise? I described our morning in yesterday’s post. It was bliss. What really made the difference was that we didn’t have to be anywhere. We had to take our dog for a walk but other than that we had the day to ourselves. Usually one or other of us is rushing around in the morning and heading out to work. On Saturday, we could just be together and enjoy each others company.

This weekend was a big lesson for me in the importance of making time for each other. Compromise and communication are as important as everyone says they are in marriage or any other relationship. Let’s face it they are important principles in friendship as well. But the concept of date night is something that I will certainly be paying more attention to from here on.

And So It Begins…

Today, I had a breakthrough. The best thing was that I really wasn’t expecting it and that made me appreciate it more.

I might have been a little overzealous in my post New Year – New Month. At the end of that post I said that my husband and I had transitioned to a vegan diet and were trying to conceive. This is true, but I may have been a little hasty. As I mentioned yesterday, my husband and I had talked and talked about it and finally made a decision (about veganism and babies) and then seemed to get caught up and going sideways rather than forwards.

Just before Christmas, which seems a lot longer than just two months ago (it’s hard to believe it was before I had started blogging!) I became a vegetarian. I’m not sure exactly what prompted the change, or why I hadn’t made it earlier! I think it must have been adopting our dog Lassie that triggered the transition which really had been a long time coming. I knew how unpleasant the meat industry is, even on free range farms, and at the end of the day eating meat means death for the animals we eat.  But I had just been accepting this as inevitable and I am not sure why. I guess I simply hadn’t given it any serious thought.

I really have no excuses. Whilst I knew very little of veganism until I met my brother and sister-in-law, I was raised by vegetarian parents. I myself however did not grow up strictly vegetarian. My mother was (and still is) quite anaemic and as I was a child who hated green vegetables, she thought that a monthly intake of red meat was the way to go. I never actually enjoyed eating it, but it became habit and then convenience. As a student cooking mince was simple and the majority of to-go pasta, salad and sandwich options were either chicken or cheese (which I disliked and was quite violently allergic to growing up). But it was just habit as I prefer vegetarian meals, finding them a lot more colourful and flavoursome than the alternatives containing meat and since becoming vegan I haven’t missed them at all. In fact, I found no longer eating meat and dairy products easier than ceasing to consume alcohol when I became a Mormon.

There’s one other reason I think it took me a while to embrace being vegetarian and that was the false association I made with the diet and one particular story my mother shared of when she was expecting me. One day during her pregnancy, two of her teeth disintegrated. My mother has always hated milk and therefore doesn’t drink it, however she eats a fair bit of cheese so it was not, as I had assumed, that she had cut herself off from calcium. That being said, it is a useful reminder of what can happen if you adopt a diet (of any kind) and fail to keep an eye on nutrition.

As soon as I had made the decision to become vegetarian, veganism seemed a forgone conclusion. Especially as one of the principle reasons for making the transition was the information which I had recently learnt about the environmental impact of pastoral agriculture. Perhaps it should have been obvious but it wasn’t until recently that I realised the huge amount of greenhouse gasses, land exploitation and food waste that this kind of farming produces (Jenna Bardroff, One Green Planet, 2014).

My immediate thought once I had made my decision was to research, research, research. I knew that in the near future (we are still pre-New Year and blog at this time) my husband and I would be trying to have children and I wanted to ensure that I had made the transition to vegan before that happened, because whilst a vegan diet contains all the nutrition for a very healthy pregnancy, I did expect there to be bumps and pitfalls along the way. I didn’t want to add the strain of growing a person to my body as it adjusted (for the better) to this new diet and I didn’t want any slips to have an impact on that growing person.

I also anticipated that my husband’s commitment to eating meat would pose a huge challenge, especially as he does the majority of the cooking in our household. When we got married this seemed to be a very practical arrangement. At the time of our marriage I worked more and was studying at the same time and he was more passionate about food. I can cook but I don’t get excited about it and it shows in my food. Samuel’s food on the other hand is fantastic. But now I was hoping that he would cut out a lot of his key ingredients when he was cooking at home. I very much consider that what he eats elsewhere is entirely up to him. To try and ease us both into the changes I was suddenly so enthusiastic about, I signed us up to Veganuary.

There was a considerable amount of groaning. Mainly because Samuel really struggles with change. The whole way through he has actually been very enthusiastic, but every time a new ingredient got used up and removed, he would almost panic. This is how anxiety manifests in my husband. It is very different to me. I enjoy change, experimenting and mixing things up, but Samuel can get very concerned even if I suggest changing the orientation of the furniture.

Flash-forward to the end of January. I had just got Samuel on board with plant-based milks (we like coconut and soya, almond is still something we are working on) but was struggling to get him to consider plant-based butter alternatives or cutting out meat long-term. I had joined a couple of vegan pregnancy forums to learn as much as possible about diet and the additional nutritional cares of expectant vegans. One day a number of films such as Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives and What The Health were being discussed in these groups. I fancied watching them and my husband and I quite often watch something in the evening to relax so I suggested one of these. I really didn’t expect much.

I was in for a huge surprise. I was watching his face throughout the film and saw him react when it referenced the accumulation and concentration of dioxins throughout a diet that is based on meat and dairy and the negative health effects they can have, especially for unborn children. I found his reaction particularly touching and it was clear that he had suddenly made the connection between food and family. When the documentary had finished, he turned to me and said OK.

I was aware that there was a possibility that it might just have been a shock effect. He was bombarded with facts and images and he reacted the way a lot of people do. After writing The Jungle to try and highlight the plight of workers in the United States meat industry in the early Twentieth Century, Upton Sinclair said: ‘I aimed for the Public’s heart, And… hit it in the stomach’. I was wondering which of these What The Health had hit.

It not only hit, but it stuck. So feeling very optimistic at the start of February I struck out and said we were going vegan. But we are both very anti-waste so it was never going to be an overnight transition. We had a pat of butter, ice cream, egg noodles, egg pasta, gravy cubes and jars of sauce to use up. We gave the meat we had in the freezer to friends and relatives but Samuel did seem to be dragging his heels a bit. I wanted to give away as much as possible and start over. Samuel needed time to transition. I had been committed to becoming vegan for almost two months, he had only just made the decision.

Today though, I went through the cupboards to see what we had left to use up and found a few lasagne sheets and one final jar of sauce. So, finally, our transition is complete and so is one of the circular thoughts that I was getting so concerned about yesterday. There are others, but the process of preparing to be expectant parents has definitely begun.

Debates within Poetry

Poems that speak directly to each other, or address a specific individual are amongst my favourites. I find them to be the most powerful, probably because the writer was so driven when they were written. I took English Literature for A Level and one of the texts was The New Oxford Book of War Poetry. Our course focused on the First World War. Not only is the poetry of that time incredibly moving, direct and blunt, the majority was written with a distinct purpose: revealing the brutality and futility of conflict. It is therefore necessarily graphic and emotionally charged.

Rupert Brooke and Charles Sorley

Edited by Jon Stallworthy, War Poetry begins with Biblical narratives and the epic war poems of Ancient Greece, and continues through time to poems penned during the Cold War. The anthology marks changes in warfare and attitudes to it. Before the outbreak of the First World War warfare was predominantly celebrated, romanced and glorified. By 1915 the poetry from the trenches was making sure that attitudes changed. The graphic imagery made it impossible to romanticise. Two poems that mark this change are The Dead by Rupert Brooke and Millions of the Mouthless Dead by Charles Hamilton Sorley. Both of these poems are sonnets, Brooke wrote several sonnets, taking the traditional form of love poetry and using it to demonstrate love or romance of war. Sorley’s sonnet is a response to the style of Brooke’s poetry. In The Dead, Brooke speaks of death making ‘us rarer gifts than gold’ whereas Sorley’s opening word is ‘Millions’ emphasising that there is no glory and that ‘is [it] not curses heaped on each gashed head?’ Brooke says: ‘Honour has come back’, whilst Sorley writes: ‘Nor Honour. It is easy to be dead’. Sorley’s rebuttal of Brooke’s poem is evident.

Wilfred Owen and Jessie Pope

One of the most famous poets of the First World War is Wilfred Owen. In one of his best remembered works Dulce Et Decorum Est Owen addresses a now obscure contemporary female writer, Jessie Pope. It should be noted that her war poems are not included in the anthology, although they would have provided contrast to the (12) female voices who give a less romantic portrayal of war. In her poem Who’s For A Game?, Pope pens: ‘Your country is up to her neck in a fight, And she’s looking and calling for you’. This echoes the sentiment of the Odes of the Roman poet Horace from whence the title of Owen’s poem is taken. Translated from Latin to English, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori means: ‘it is sweet and right (proper) to die for one’s country’. Owen accuses Pope of lying to children, ‘If you could hear [the effects of gas]… My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children… The old lie…’. The motif of a game is a common device in patriotic poems to encourage young men to sign up for war, for instance in Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem, Play up! Play up! And play the game!

A Poem of My Own

As I am posting on a Sunday, something that I wasn’t sure about doing having joined a church that advocates strict observance of the Sabbath, I thought I should post something relevant to scripture. (In an effort to put any concerned minds at rest, I wrote the majority of this post yesterday). This poem presents two sides of a debate, representing a teenager’s struggle with the law of chastity (premarital sex).

Be with me, my darling love, until the waters cover the sea

I

Aren’t devout servants wished by our Sovereign Lord?
How obedient is marked rebellion?
Then why this reluctant chastity, so fraud?
I wish to admire but one Creation
And in so doing – worship its Creator.
Too young for marriage are we, by elders, deemed
Intent to be a dusty room’s curators.
Now it is less important than it seemed
This white band of metal is freely given.
If this law’s to prevent promiscuity,
Then know that my desire is by love, driven.
Be assured that I shall love you faithfully
I have vowed that I will know no other thus,
And by this act with you – I display my trust.

II

It’s considered an outdated tradition,
Yet still one that resonates in my heart
It’s part of my faith – making it part of me.
By understanding, my doubts, your worth is proved:
Respecting, conserving and even loving
My decision – despite your own frustration.
My heart is set, I’m yours ‘til death us do part
Even if yours changes, mine will constant be.
None can take your place, nor make my heart so moved
By a single touch, word or by saying nothing.
Dead would my heart be without you, my sun, my star;
Our parting, my heart, would permanently scar.
So Love, don’t leave me but come away tonight
Forget the world – for together, we are right.

This is one of the poems that I am the most unsure about. As I have mentioned in previous posts I don’t usually construct poems or consciously use literary techniques as I have here and I would really welcome any comments about how the poem presents.

 

Breakthrough

I’ve finally done it!

I have finally sent off my application for postgraduate study.

It probably shouldn’t have been a big deal but a lot of indecision was involved. I wasn’t sure whether I could handle going back to university. I wasn’t sure what pressures it would put on my mental health, and by extension my marriage. I wasn’t sure about the financial pressures, whether I could keep up with my job whilst studying and the impact that would have on paying off the mortgage and starting a family. I wasn’t sure what would happen when that hoped for family got started. What benefit would the extra degree be if I didn’t pursue a career in academia? What if I was a stay-at-home-mum or remained in my current job (which I greatly enjoy)? Would it be a waste of time and money? Would it be ‘worth it’?

I couldn’t even make up my mind what ‘worth it’ boiled down to. I have a very specific reason for applying for the degree course, to continue researching the building I studied for my undergraduate dissertation. I needed to choose an extract of that dissertation to include in the application, another thing that made it difficult. My depression started during the final year of my undergraduate degree and my dissertation is one of the main triggers for it.

In the end what helped me push through all the doubting and anxiety was a book entitled Women Food and God by Geneen Roth. The book focuses on eating disorders but at its core is an examination of compulsive behaviour and personal values. My initial inclination for reading it was because it offered a different perspective on exploring spirituality. But it has prompted some musings which I hope to write about. I think that writing the blog helped me complete the application. The exercise in writing that this project originated as seems to have paid off. I haven’t worked on my book at all but it seems to have assisted me in articulating my thoughts.