Feeding

I had expected the pressure to breastfeed, but the pressure to formula feed took me totally by surprise. I wish that everyone was given enough support to be able to decide how to feed their baby, because that pressure only makes you feel crap, it doesn’t change what you do. Let me say here that I agree that fed is best, that babies need feeding and breastfeeding isn’t for everyone or possible for everyone. When the baby was born I was taken to have emergency surgery. In my absence my partner was strongly encouraged to give the baby formula. They didn’t know for sure that I’d be back. I’m grateful the baby was fed.

Then on the postnatal ward I was expecting the nurses and midwives to badger me about breastfeeding. My friend had warned me about the nurses who had roamed the postnatal ward when she gave birth, guilt-tripping new mothers who were struggling to feed through the pain. To be honest I was keen to breastfeed and I was looking forward to getting a pat on the back from them. But I didn’t know how to help the baby latch on. And the first thing they said to me – before even saying hello – was ‘you should give that baby formula’.

I lost count of the number of people in the six months that followed who told me to give the baby formula. This is even though the baby was gaining weight in line with the NHS and WHO charts, and was significantly larger then average. Nurses, midwives, health visitors, well-meaning relations. I had one elderly relative tell me that formula feeding is ‘so convenient’. Not as convenient as sticking a baby up my top, I thought. Now people have started asking if I’m still breastfeeding, and how long I intend to continue. I don’t answer, I just tell them the recommendation from the WHO is to two years. People look shocked and horrified. I love it.

I wanted to breastfeed and I’m stubborn. And I am not 100% sure how the steriliser works. I can see why only 1% of babies are exclusively breastfed to six months. Guilt-tripping women doesn’t work. To breastfeed you need support, you need confidence, you need to know that your boobs might not feel full but they’ll feed your baby anyway. You need a family and partner who will support you. And you need to drink a lot of water and eat a lot of food.

I’ve been so lucky, there is a fantastic breastfeeding support group less than mile from where I live. The first couple of weeks were so painful – I know they say it’s not meant to hurt if it’s working, but in my experience it worked and it hurt for the first couple of weeks. I went to five support groups, different ones each day, and I still go to my favourite one regularly for advice and support. Some days just having a cup of tea when I couldn’t manage to make one for myself made a big difference to my week. When I first turned up I was exhausted and scared, on the verge of tears with blistered, cracked nipples, anaemia, sore stitches and a five day old baby and it was so encouraging to see the women who had stuck with it and made it work.

We couldn’t have managed without the support of the group, and I wish that everyone had access to support like that. I was so scared that I wouldn’t manage to breastfeed, as it was a big deal to me. It taught me one of my first lessons of parenting, which is that a lot of people have a lot of opinions, I’m going to ignore a bunch of them, and kindness is very important.

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Motherhood kit (and none of it is from mothercare)

I love a kit list and this is mine. These are things (the tangible ones anyway) which I was lucky enough to have and which made a huge difference to the first few months of life with a baby:

Headphones

Once the baby goes to sleep in the pram I can listen to music or podcasts, hooray.

Watch

So useful for keeping track of feeds and naps, and also helped me feel that I looked a bit more together when jewelry seemed like too much effort. My sister bought me this one for my birthday and it’s lovely.

Hat

Because I don’t always wash my hair as often as I would like, a half-decent attempt at a blow dry is even rarer, dry shampoo has its limits and my thinning postpartum hair is a weird look.

Shoes without laces

Sometimes the baby was screaming and I needed to get the pram moving out of the house to soothe him. On those days there was no time for shoelaces of any kind.

Water bottle

Breastfeeding is thirsty work. I wish I’d recorded how much I was drinking because I think it was several litres a day. Bought myself a water bottle, and then every time I took a sip I felt significantly more like I was on Love Island.

Chrome cast

I don’t have a smart TV and this was twenty quid. Meant I could watch a lot of Game of Thrones fan theory videos on the TV.

Access to someone’s Netflix

For when I had already watched three hours of serious young American men explaining who they thought Azor Ahai was.

Smartphone

Lifeline.

Big make up bag

To keep nappies and wipes etc.

Little make up bag

Travel hairbrush, mini deodorant, toothbrush – in the early days this was in case the baby fell asleep on the pram and I got a moment for a bit of a wash while we were out and about.

Backpack

Spare nappies etc, headphones, water bottle, phone power bank. Kept it stocked up so I could get out of the house in no time.

Backlight kindle

So handy for nighttime feeds. Kept an eye on the daily 99p deals and now I have quite a lot of opinions on the state of publishing and literary fiction which no one needs to hear.

Keep cup

Very handy for when my partner would make me a cup of tea before leaving for work. And great for when I was scared I’d spill a drink on the baby. Atrocious for commuting and don’t get me started on the cup holder for the buggy.

Thank you cards

Sending these out was a big achievement for me and made me feel like myself again.

Donation to an abortion charity

Because no one should be made to do any of this against their will. (Link)

New year

January is such a phoney new year but sod it, let’s give it a whirl.

It’s a New Year, so let’s set some resolutions out:

Plant some peonies – I’ve always been wary of trying them in the past, but this year I’m going to whack some in and see if I can manage to bring them to bloom. I managed some nice tangible ranunculus last year so it’s worth a shot.

Do some wetsuit swimming – I got a triathlon wetsuit before I found out I was knocked up, so I’ve still not used it! I’m aiming to try out it this year. Hopefully I can fit into it again.

Get published again – I’ve got an article in press at the moment but I want to line up the next one as they take so long.

Find some different extra paid work – Brexit put a stop to my old side-job, and this year of like to earn money by doing something new, whether it’s writing, editing, teaching or something else that I’ve not tried before.

Draw every week – I don’t do enough drawing. I got pretty handy at it when I was at school and I love trying to catch something in a sketch, or getting lost in a study. If I can commit to doing one drawing every week then I think that’ll be a good habit.

Good advice not taken

Don’t worry.

Don’t wear that lipstick it makes your face look weird.

Wash your hair more often.

Work a bit harder.

DRY CLEAN ONLY

Don’t be such a dickhead.

Don’t worry.

Don’t stress about it.

Don’t walk over the footbridge at night.

Practice your downward dog.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

Wash your bedsheets every week.

Don’t get a cat.

Don’t expect too much.

Stop overanalysing.

Don’t worry.

Don’t dwell on it.

Sign up for this 10k.

When talking to a bereaved friend, take very seriously any mention of suicide.

Give specific offers of help, don’t just say ‘I’m here if you need anything’.

Back up your laptop regularly.

Eat less sugar.

Proofread your thesis before you submit it.

Don’t be late.

Don’t beat yourself up. There was nothing you could have done.

Elderflower

I

Last year I made some Elderflower cordial.

I went with my mum to pick the elderflowers. I rode my brother’s bike, it was alright. We went to Catford along the river Pool and picked carrier bags full of elderflower heads.

When I got home I boiled up some water in the biggest pan, poured in a bunch of sugar. As the syrup cooled I rinsed the elderflowers and added them. Stuck in some sliced lemons and left it overnight. In the morning it looked like the brew of a witch.

The next day I strained it and bottled it. Didn’t have any fancy bottles so I just stuck it in some empty fizzy water bottles.

It tasted sweet as fuck so I had to add some citric acid. The Guardian said you could get it in chemists but I got mine off Amazon. Citric acid tastes like Tangfastic. My mum said it’s what you cook heroin up with. I thought yh, that’s probably why it’s so addictive. lols.

Anyway not only did the bottles look pretty manky, and make it look as though I had a fridge full of bottled piss, but I hadn’t rinsed the flowers properly. It turned out it was all full of insects. I felt pretty guilty about those insects.

Also, it doesn’t help it look good.

My friends said it tasted nice but they had to fish all the black bits out.

Some of them said the black bits weren’t insects because they didn’t have any legs on/ but I thought that maybe the legs came off in the heat of the syrup? idk.

The whole experience was less twee than I expected. Bonus.

I didn’t make elderflower cordial this year.

Mum’s clothes

My mum’s out trekking in Nepal today. No offence to mum, but when I was younger I was always surprised when people said their mothers were their style inspiration. There are plenty of things my mum inspired me to do, but it’s taken me a long way around to work out how much she’s influenced my taste in clothes. These are my favourite things I’ve managed to get my mitts on – though if my sister sees this I’m sure we’ll squabble over some of it…

1. A dress. My mum sewed this herself, with fabric she bought from Liberty… She’s a south London girl and not much of a central London thing, so I like to imagine her making the special trip to town to buy the fabric. Dressmaking was far more common back in the day but my mum claims she was a bit rubbish. She’s wrong, this dress is amazing and as she says she didn’t use a pattern it’s a complete one-off. I love it.

2. A bag my mum was given by her brother after his travels around South America. I’ve had to patch up the straps at the top of it as they’ve seen a little too much wear, and there are some old biro blotches on it. But it’s still good.

3. A floral blouse – another mum classic. The fabric has a really nice weight to it, and the gathered strips give it a gorgeous hang. I’ve had to mend the sleeve where the fabric has faded right through, but I rather like the pattern of the stitches – it reminds me of a tree-branch. I don’t know much about how and when she wore it.

4. A high-waisted green courdroy skirt doesn’t sound like it has the makings of an heirloom. My mum used to wear it with a matching jacket. It must have been trendier than it sounds because once we were out shopping when I was tiny and I tugged the back of the skirt and the lady who turned round WAS NOT MY MOTHER. Anyway, usually it’s too small for me, but every now and again I get the chance to wear it… Hopefully one day I’ll wear it and see someone else in something very similar, it will confuse a child and the cycle will be complete.

5. My mum’s satchel. Ok, it isn’t my mum’s satchel. I wish it was, but my sister’s got that one now. My dad got my mum her satchel as a gift when they were at uni in the 70s. Everyone thinks my satchel is the topshop rip-off the the Mulberry Alexa, but deep down I know that it’s really the topshop rip-off of the satchel my mum had. When I told my dad mine was a birthday present from my boyfriend he kind of nodded slowly, raised his eyebrows slightly and said ‘hmm’. I don’t quite understand what he meant.

I went with my mum once to Spitalfields market, before it was done up. I was in my early teens and we trundled around the stalls, which at that time were just jumbled mounds of wonderful clothes. (I was looking for a leather blazer like the one Sheryl Crow had). My mum kind of sighed and said if she was young now, she’d wear so much second hand. It was a tiny throwaway comment but it stayed with me. Nice one mum.

LOVE YOU MUM

About love and Lewisham, on World Mental Health day

“If there is a Heaven, fine; I’d like to go there. But, if Jeffrey Archer is there, I want to go to Lewisham.” – Spike Milligan

The first time **** had an acute psychotic episode, it was bonfire night. Our GP was closed, and phone conversations with the out of hours doctor were farcical – ****’s disordered speech and thought meant he was unable to confirm his name without veering off into a rapid soliloquy about the nature of identity. In the end he went to A&E at Lewisham Hospital, where he waited up deep into the night, until the other Guy Fawkes patients were seen.

**** has seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. They put him on a triage ward in the mental health unit. No-one gets better on a triage ward. It was a Saturday. He stayed until Monday before a doctor saw him. We went to visit him on the ward. It did not feel safe. The staff were sealed in an office behind reinforced glass, working on computers, avoiding eye contact. The windows opened an inch. There were plenty of other patients. A man lay masturbating on the common room floor. The smokers were allowed outdoors to the courtyard, but no-one else could go outside for fresh air.

**** loves the book Catch 22. **** agreed that he needed treatment, and was there as a voluntary patient. When we left, he wanted to leave too. It was the only sane response. When he tried to leave they pinned him down, injected him with sedatives and sectioned him.

**** sang Monty Python songs to himself to keep calm. The nurses had never heard ‘Every Sperm is Sacred‘ before. They thought it very strange. He was moved to a men’s mental health ward. I went to visit. It still did not feel safe. We sat in the art therapy room. There were lots of paintings on the walls. Other patients pressed their faces to the glass of the window to peer in at us. Some were distressed and shouting, some were calm and withdrawn into themselves. Some had visitors, some never did. When the visiting hours ended I was so frightened for him. I felt guilty I could leave whilst he was being kept there, I was shocked at the conditions, I was fearful for what would happen to him after visiting hours.

**** loves the writing of Spike Milligan. The quote about how Milligan would ‘rather go to Lewisham’ had been running through my mind as I caught the train there to visit. ‘No-one’ **** told me, in a lucid moment during one visit, ‘no-one understands Spike Milligan here’. After some time had passed they began to give him anti-psychotic medication. As it began to work he started to understand more about his situation. The better he got the more scared he became. It was not a good place to get well.

I love the NHS, but when its lack of funding and its vast, complicated bureaucracy comes up against mental illness everything seems as strange as the first farcical phone conversation with the out-of-hours doctor. It is an absurd world, and a frightening one. **** is doing better now; the treatment helped, and the episode ended. There have been promises for improvements to the NHS too. These need to come, and then more improvements need to be made, until treatment stops making these awful headlines. Until people stop having stories like these. Until it’s not something people feel ashamed to have suffered. Until treatment stops being something absurd and frightening. Until I don’t have to asterisk out the name of the person this is about. Until employers stop discriminating. Until people with serious mental health conditions can trust doctors to respond when they report heart attacks. Until people with a diagnosis of schizophrenic illness do not suffer a 20-year reduction to their life expectancy. It’s not enough for the people that we love.

If I could write words
Like leaves on an autumn forest floor,
What a bonfire my letters would make.
If I could speak words of water,
You would drown when I said
“I love you.”

— Spike Milligan