What’s the worst thing about getting caught short on your period?

If you’re anything like me, you probably have spare tampons or towels stuffed in random bags or pockets. Funnily ever, it’s never that bag you have on you when you find yourself mid-flow. You can use all the apps and period trackers you want but our bodies are funny things: sometimes, we’re just plain ol’ unprepared.

Worst case scenario? Either going without until you can find a shop (or get home), or make like a high school bra and stuff it with toilet paper until you find a shop (or get home). It’s annoying, but it does the job in the interim. When you do re-stock, you load up enough supplies to get you through the next 5-7 days and repeat, ad nausaeum, the following month. Whatever your preferred method of management- tampon, towel, moon cup- they’re always convenient.

When I was in school, you never dared admit your period had appeared unannounced. Period positivity has progressed a lot since then. We’re opening up a dialogue now. Hey, if you want a tampon so badly and you’re in a public toilet, you can even ask the person next to you. No one’s going to laugh. The worst they can do is say no.

We have such ready access to sanitary products. Recently, Tesco became the first chain to roll back the tampon tax. It was a nice thought that the 5% levy (for the luxury of having a period) would go to charities but it was revealed in April of this year that £250,000 had been funnelled into anti-abortion charity, Life. Not the charitable giving we first envisioned. Instead of supporting women, the money was now going to organisations intent on taking choices away. Tesco’s renege on the tax brought the conversation about its abolition back into the headlines and- fingers crossed- the rest of UK might just follow suit.

I digress, but it’s to make a point. Periods are becoming a part of our everyday discussions and we’re never likely to really get caught that short. In our cosy bubbles, enveloped in privilege, it becomes a funny anecdote. When you think about it, our access to products, information and apps really are a ‘luxury’.

Sadly it’s one that many women can ill afford. That wad of toilet paper you stuff down there for an hour or so? 61% of homeless women have to make to with toilet paper, newspaper and even rags for the duration of their period. Not just once, but multiple times. Considering the average period lasts five days that’s a long time to go without. Periods are often longer, heavier and more painful in the winter. We have painkillers and hot water bottles. Imagine how traumatic this must be when you barely have a roof over your head.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Simon Community, allow me to brief you. For more than 50 years they’ve been reaching out to people in an attempt to combat causes of homelessness, provide help to service users and make them feel valued. They’re now launching a brand new service to help the 500 homeless women they support across Glasgow (and countless more beyond). Their Period Friendly Points (PFPs) will, initially, be locations catered specifically towards homeless people, with the hope of expanding into other organisations.

PFPs will be specifically tailored to meet users’ needs, supplying sanitary products, wipes, pants, disposable bags and information. For further peace of mind, pregnancy and infection tests will also be available. Lack of nutrition and a healthy diet often lead to irregular periods. With around a quarter of female rough sleepers admitting to being sexually assaulted, they need all the assurance we can offer.

It’s not just about free tampons, though. PFPs will also have staff on hand to whom they can chat to about any issues or queries, or even just open up to a sympathetic ear.

70% of homeless women have never even spoken to anyone about their period. Not a friend, relative, colleague, no one. The Simon Community found that the lack of period conversation among homeless women often stems from traumatic incidences in childhood, and they want PFPs to help fill that gap.

In addition to this, the Simon Community’s street teams will also be handing out Period Friendly Pax which can be refilled by the street team or at a PFP.

I’ll admit that until recently, I was quite ignorant of this. I didn’t realise how many organisations like The Simon Community need sanitary products. When we think of food bank donations, we think of tins and dried food. It was only after my son was born- and subsequently grew so fast that we had a lot of unopened nappies- that I asked my local bank if they needed any baby supplies. To my surprise they said they were desperate for them: nappies, baby milk, wipes, toiletries and, yup, sanitary products. It’s something we take for granted, but could be a lifeline to someone in need.

The Simon Community have made it super easy for people to get involved: a five day period pack costs £15 and you can choose to donate £5, £10 or £15 by texting PFPR28 and your chosen donation to 70070.

You can also become a Period Friendly Pal. By donating a couple of hours a month or week, you can:

  • Visit PFPs to restock supplies
  • Collect donations and sort them into Pax (and refresher packs) at their Glasgow warehouse
  • Raise funds, awareness and products to maintain the PFPs and pax
  • Support and promote issues faced by homeless women, offer a listening ear and be of support for the women to whom the Community reaches out
  • For more information, check out their website here

Whatever you can do to help, it’s worth knowing that even the smallest donation- whether it’s money, time or supplies- can make a huge difference. It might seem like a small step but when it comes to stamping out period inequality, small gestures can mean everything.

This time last year, I was slap bang in the middle of my second trimester. We’d settled into the idea of being parents and life revolved around scans, midwife appointments and shopping for prams. It doesn’t feel like a year, but here we are with an eight month old (I kind of dropped the ball on monthly updates on the blog, huh?). As much fun as it is, I do find myself looking back fondly on the experience of being first-time expectant parents.

Love- or at the very least, lust- is in the air around these parts. It feels like every week brings another pregnancy announcement (seriously people, how much are you having at it?). Every time I see one I get a wee buzz of excitement, even if I don’t know the person. First time parents have so much to look forward to, they don’t even know. Obviously having a baby isn’t the be all and end all. It’s not always immediate cause for celebration. It’s hard bloody work.

If you do choose to have a baby though, for all the hard parts, it’s pretty great. The worst part though? All of the unsolicited advice and intrusive questions. Shortly before my due date, I compiled a list of the most common things I’d been asked during pregnancy. In hindsight, with eight months’ parenting experience under my belt, I’ve put together  a compilation of advice: take it from someone who’s still muddling through, learning on the job. You’re going to be fine.

No one cares about your birth

I mean this in the nicest possible way. If you’ve attended antenatal classes, or discussed a birth plan, you’re probably aware of different birthing options. Whether it’s in a bath, drug-free, hypnobirth, epidural, via caesaerean or getting the ol’ plunger up in there, one thing is the same: whatever gets your baby out safely is what’s natural and normal for you. For me it just feels like another way of heaping pressure on expectant parents. People shoo away the notion of pain relief because they “want to experience as much as possible”. Personally, I opted for diamorphine and had a pretty thorough experience without feeling like I was being punched in the vagina from the inside. If you’re opting for pain relief it’s not wussing out. Giving birth without pain relief doesn’t make you a better parent (although hats off if you did). Giving birth via C-section is still giving birth. Your birth is personal to you, and if people want to judge by their own standards it doesn’t lessen your experience or make theirs any more valid. In the grand scheme of things, as long as parent(s) and baby are happy, no one cares.

Fed is best

Breastfeeding is hard. It takes practise. Considering the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, there’s clearly not enough support out there. If you can make it work, and stick with it, that’s awesome. However if, like me, breastfeeding isn’t an option- or hey, if you just choose not to- that’s cool too. Championing one way of feeding at the derision of another isn’t cool. You don’t know someone’s story or circumstance. As long as your baby is happy, healthy and gaining weight, go with what works for you.

Just say no

This is the one piece of advice that I wish I’d take under advisement when Lucas was born. When we came home from hospital, all I wanted was a nice quiet day or so to adjust to our new life as three. This didn’t happen. For the next few weeks, into Christmas and new year, it felt like a constant procession. We never had time alone just to be ourselves. People mean well but, with the onset of baby blues, it can be a bit overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to say no if you’re not up to visits right away. Take your time, enjoy the first few days at home with your baby. Family and friends will still be there when you’re ready.

Take your time

One of the weirdest realisations about having a baby is that life goes on. I remember standing looking out of the window of the maternity ward, looking at the buses and cars going up and down the motorway, going to and from work as if nothing had changed. For us, our whole world had changed, but the world kept turnin’. Coming home felt like our little bubble had burst.

Since then we’ve bought a house, moved twice, I’m doing a phased return to work and looking at nurseries for the little man. I don’t know that the enormity of this year of change quite hit me until recently, until it hit me all at once. Change can be hard to process, and having a baby changes everything. Your lifestyle, relationship, body- everything. If you need some time to adjust, fine. You’re allowed to feel like change is hard to keep up with. Be kind to yourself- you’re doing the best you can.

Comparison is the thief of joy

Once your baby’s born you’re thrust into a myriad of milestones. First time smiling, laughing, rolling over, sleeping through the night, eating solids, cutting a tooth. Some babies roll over within a matter of months. Lucas was about six months before he nailed the ol’ back to front roll. Was I worried? No. It meant I could pop through to the next room without worrying. He still doesn’t have a tooth, but nothing I do is going to make that happen faster. Babies do everything in their own time. Looking at what other babies do- or don’t do- can send you spiralling into a tailspin of parental guilt (if you’re anything like me). Likewise, if another mum snapped back to pre-pregnancy weight, or if their baby latched on to the boob while you had to opt for the bottle. Ask yourself “does this in any way impact me or my child?”. If the answer is no, let it go. Parenting is a minefield of worry and the hardest thing to do is learn to pick your battles.

Enjoy the little things

It’s an old adage but it’s true. Babies are only babies for a short while. Before you know it, they’re actual real, independent, little people. I was guilty of getting caught up in thinking of the next Big Thing and trying to do as much as possible. As soon as I went back to work for a KIT day, it felt as though the last eight months hadn’t happened. Trying to overreach was just stressful. While I still like finding new things to do, it makes me appreciate chilled days more. I went along to a CBT course run by the NHS wellbeing services, which helped massively. If you don’t have the time or inclination to sign up, there are plenty of resources out there. Spending the afternoon in a library, getting some fresh air, not getting dressed til 11am, , writing down one thing I’m grateful for every day, even- gasp- putting my phone down helped massively. As did putting Lucas down for a nap, patching the cleaning and actually having a hot cup of coffee.

Take it in your stride

Like I said, people are only too happy to throw advice at you. Some of it’s helpful and well meaning, some of it isn’t. Most of it will be unsolicited. When it comes to parenting, everyone has an opinion, but only you know what’s best for you. Smile and nod. Very few of us know what we’re doing, but we crack on. You got this.

…what would I tell you?

There are so many ‘get to know me’ posts out there. Ten random facts, seasonal tags, my favourite […] and, of course, the ubiquitous A-Z of me. I’ve tried to write some before but they always felt a little forced to me. I love reading them though. They appeal to my inner nosey bugger. My problem is that I just never felt like I could drum up enough interesting facts, certainly nothing that I’d want broadcast on the internet. A recent discovery courtesy of Eleanor and Lucie totally resonated with me though. Mostly because it involves my favourite beverage.

How many times have you met up with someone ‘for a coffee’ and ended up sitting for hours putting the world to right? Some of the biggest decisions and realest conversations of my life have been made over a cup a’ joe. There’s something about the smell of a fresh coffee that stirs my senses like nothing else, and makes me so inclined to sit down for a chat. On that note, put the kettle on (or get me an Americano and I’ll square you up) and I’ll tell you all about it.

If we were having coffee I’d ask for it black, two spoons, no sugar, no milk. I’d tell you that I started drinking it when I was a poor student, and milk and sugar were luxuries (but roll-ups and four packs of Strongbow were necessities). At first I studied film studies, which I left after a year and a half, before going back to study film production and finally a Master’s in Creative and Cultural Business. I’d lament on how coffee got me through student film shoots, and fuelled my Master’s assignments and finally dissertation. During deadline season we’d hole up in an empty classroom, sit in a circle and pass books across the tables, stopping only for a coffee and cigarette break. I’d sit there for hours, then go home and retreat my room with a coffee to power through another thousand words. I’d no doubt sigh as I thought about how hard I worked only to wind up in a vicious cycle of customer service jobs.

If we were having coffee I’d tell you that I studied events, branding and public relations, and that it was my dream (or rather is my dream) to work in that creative capacity. However, timing was not on my side and I never quite caught that fish. Instead, I poured my energy into volunteering, kicking up my blog again and preparing for parenthood. That I made creative outlets for myself when I couldn’t find it through work, that I’ve gone down a different path to what I thought- one that will, I hope, bring more opportunities my way (although I’m not sure what they might be).

If we were having coffee I would say that I’m actually quite proud of some of my blogging output. That writing is the one constant in my life, regardless of how long I go between doing it. It’s the one thing I’ve always done without too much difficulty. Once I’m in the process, it’s great, but writer’s block strikes more than I’d care to admit. My confidence in my own blog is picking up, and in growing it (albeit at a snail’s pace) I’ve come in contact with some pretty great people, writers who continually inspire me and push me to do better, even if they don’t know it. I’d say that I’m comfortable writing for myself, but that writing for other people is a different matter. I devour magazines and websites with a good long read to get stuck into, but rarely think that could be me. Sometimes I see writers’ communities like The Olive Fox and wish I could pitch something that people would want to read. Maybe someday I will.

If we were having coffee I’d tell you that I want to write more, to draw more and create more, but that my time management sucks. It’s always been pretty lax but in recent years- nay, months- it’s gotten considerably worse. So bad that when a time is suggested, I automatically add an hour on to when I’ll get there. When I think about all the stuff I want to sit down and do, it’s kind of scary. I wish I had the drive to match my ambition. For now, some caffeine will do the trick.

If we were having coffee, the time management chat would lead me into my CBT class that I’ve been doing for the last few weeks. I thought it was a postnatal group for new mums to meet up, but turns out it’s a mood management group for people living with depression. I don’t know if that’s me exactly (I’ve never been to a doctor about it, anyway). However it’s taught me to think about my thoughts, be mindful of when certain thoughts occur, to take stock of my surroundings and break out of the cycle that I’ve found myself in. Part of that is managing my week around new or alternative behaviours- doing something new, or even doing old things that I’d forgotten I loved. Things that seem trivial when work and parenting and mortgages are also in the ether, but things that keep me more grounded than any of those things.

On a lighter note, if we were having coffee, I’d talk about my love of travel. Before our son was born, Ally and I went to Berlin and planned a whole host of other trips. I’ve never been the type to want to find myself travelling across Asia for weeks at a time. What I do love is seeing Europe, its cities and cultures, packing in as much as we can for the short bursts that we’re there. I’d love to do the great American road trip, travel from one coast to another and end up in Hollywood, explore the hypnotic richness of South America or head up north to Canada. It was our plan for the next year or so. In hindsight, perhaps a baby was a blessing in disguise since America’s coat is on a shaky nail. Maybe in four years…

If we were having coffee I’d say that my Californian ambition comes from a love of movies, a nostalgia for an old Hollywood that I’ll never know. I’d ask your top five favourite films, because no one has just one. I’d ask your favourite genre, actor, director, moment in cinema. Apart from writing, it’s my other big passion and, like writing, my cinema attendance fluctuates dramatically. I’d say that, in spite of my fairly expansive home collection, I’ve missed out on a lot of the classics. From then on I’d talk about documentaries, real life, true crime, a fascination with serial killers and conspiracies and how it all grew from staying up late as a ten year old, secretly watching The X Files with the sound turned down.

If we were having coffee I’d comment on how nice it was to be in adult company, after spending most of my days with a baby whose conversational skills are limited to gurgling and crying. I’d tell you that it’s a treat to chat to someone who can not only listen but respond, too. He’d probably be there, depending on the time of day. I’d tell you that finding out about him was a huge surprise, but one that I ultimately feel will be the making of me. He’s made me reassess what’s important to me, to realise the joy of slowing down, appreciating the little things and not letting any moment pass unnoticed. He’s grumpy and drooly thanks to hitting the teething stage, but when he smiles at me he makes me feel like the most important person in the world.

 

Confession time.

One time, I left a mum and baby class without staying to feed my son even though I knew he was about due one.

He woke up when we left, as he normally does if he hasn’t taken a feed in a few hours. I hurriedly said my goodbyes and made haste for the door. We trundled through the park to the post office, that I had to get to before 5. It was half 4. I could see him gurning, prayed that it wouldn’t escalate before we got home. Of course it did though. He started screaming right at that point where I was closer to my destination than to home.

“Aw, someone’s hungry”, commented the woman who served me in the post office, as he spat out his dummy and screamed.

The woman who held the door for me gave me a sympathising glance as I hustled him into the cold, hoping that might calm him down. But no. He continued screaming.

He screamed as I pushed the pram in the wrong direction and had to stand in the street with my phone out trying to figure out how to get home. He kept screaming as I hit upon the brainwave of feeding him in the safe, neon foyer of the New Victoria Hospital, a safe space, where I’d attended my midwife appointments and antenatal classes. I knew I could sit and feed him comfortably and without judgement. It was one of those piercing, sore-sounding, slightly pathetic screams that only newborn babies have. People tutted, gave us the side eye, dodged the pram to get by us without making eye contact. We made it to the hospital, he had his feed and we could make our way home.

The reason I didn’t want to feed him in the mum and baby class left me feeling ashamed. I didn’t want to feed him because he takes a bottle, the mum and baby class was a breastfeeding workshop and I was embarrassed. Lucas slept all the way through it while I tried to explain how hard and frustrating and tiring feeding had been. The other mums nodded and said yes, they were exhausted too, their precious darlings breastfed too much. One mum dominated the conversation humble-bragging about how tiring it was feeding a newborn and a twenty month old at once. I had to stop myself from telling her it clearly hadn’t had any positive effects on her twenty month old’s behaviour, as the little shit wrenched a succession of toys from the hands of an eight month old baby.

Some mums were nice, but they still had their own judgements. I said that our midwife had advised me to give Lucas pre-mixed formula as a top up. They tutted, turned up their noses, they shouldn’t be telling you that. They overlooked the fact that we’d been told this because Lucas had lost 13% of his body weight and had to be readmitted to hospital. It didn’t take into account his as-then-undetected tongue tie which meant he couldn’t latch on to breastfeed and was pretty much starving. This group felt like a last lifeline, though. All of the mum and baby workshops, baby cafés and support groups were for breastfeeding. There was no bottle-feeding support. If I couldn’t breastfeed him, where was I going to go? How would I meet other mums?

It turns out there are plenty of other options- it just didn’t feel like it at the time.

My post about Lucas’s first month, and a post on Instagram, detailed our experience with feeding and the tongue tie clinic and I got a lot of feedback from mums who’d been through similar. I still couldn’t find a lot of support for bottle feeding, though. Even buying formula online had a “breastfeeding is best!!!!” disclaimer slapped on it. Sure, the NHS website had a step-by-step guide to covering the basics, but the support is notable by its absence. The difference in menu options says a lot…

There’s bottle-feeding information, yeah, but look how- pardon the pun- formulaic it is. How to sterilise bottles, how to make up formula, what types are available. On the topic of breastfeeding, there’s a wealth of information about how to feed, what positions are best, feeding your baby in public, trouble-shooting, even testimonies from other mums. There are no testimonies from bottle-feeding mums.

I know, I know. I’ve seen the posters, read the literature, spoken with health professionals. I know “breast is best”. Bottle-feeding was never my first choice. For one thing, well, the health benefits. For another, the convenience. Like I could take my baby out for hours and not have to worry about making up feeds because they were right there. And yeah, the crucial factor for me, it’s free. Formula is EXPENSIVE and you only go through more of it because, let’s face it, your baby’s only going to get bigger.

What message does it send, though, that bottle-feeding is treated like such an afterthought even by our health service? I don’t mean this to descend into a breast vs. bottle debate, and it shouldn’t be. However, the drop in mums who breastfeed goes from 81% in hospital to 55% after six weeks. Surely they can’t all be ‘just lazy’? A study on baby café services in the UK concluded that unrealistic expectations from antenatal services left mums unprepared for the reality of feeding.

In my experience this was absolutely true. I wanted to breastfeed, so I never felt pushed into it by antenatal services. However, at no point did they say just how hard it’d be. I seem to remember there being talk of it being a new skill that you had to learn, but it revolved around the first couple of days in hospital. Lucas’s first feed, in the hour after he was born, went without a hitch. I mistakenly thought that was it. It was a different story at home. He couldn’t feed or get the energy to feed and so he cried. The more he cried, I cried, and the whole process just felt torturous.

We took him to the tongue tie clinic at the Royal Hospital for Children, in the hopes that it’d help him latch on. It didn’t, and we went back to the same routine. In between this he was happily taking formula. He was steadily putting on weight and the health visitor commented on how alert he was. I tried to express but got less and less each time. It came to a head when he screamed even before he tried to latch on. “What the fuck DO YOU WANT?” I yelled. Then it hit me. I was shouting at a baby for something that he couldn’t help or understand. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

This post by the brilliant Not So Smug Now was really eye-opening. I didn’t know that it was illegal to advertise formula. The government, it seems, views formula in the same regard as tobacco. The World Health Organisation isn’t too keen on it either, believing that its use should only be considered following an informed and impartial decision.

It’s a good thing that breastfeeding is being encouraged, as is the push to normalise it in public. Studies have shown that a woman’s decision to feed can be based on environmental factors, and that young mums are more likely to bottle-feed as it’s deemed as socially acceptable (although a big part of me thinks this is due to a confidence issue as much as societal). Expectant mums should absolutely encouraged to breastfeed, or at least be made aware of its benefits. However, if mums do choose (or have) to bottle feed, similar information and support should be offered.

MP Alison Thewliss published a bill last week on the marketing of formula feeding. She’s done a lot of work in promoting breastfeeding, and I agree with many of the points, but I do have some concerns. I definitely think it should be tested independently under scrutiny, and companies should be held accountable for misleading promotion. Independent findings should also take precedence over formula-sponsored ‘research’. It’ll allow mums to make a more informed decision regarding feeding choices, which can only be a good thing. I think follow-on and ‘hungry baby’ milks are a complete con, and shouldn’t be marketed as a supplement to weaning (we bought Lucas ‘hungry baby’ milk only to be told that it’s not more dense in nutrients. It just bulks up more).

Plain packaging feels like an easy target, like formula should be something that’s hidden away out of sight- much like tobacco products. Same goes for not allowing it to be discussed in mum and baby clubs. Excluding support for mums because of their feeding choices isn’t going to help them feel included and supported. I doubt that’s the intent, but who knows. You can read the bill here and make up your own mind. These measures aren’t going to increase breastfeeding awareness. That can only happen through education, continued research into feeding choices and better access to feeding consultants and postnatal care.

What I do know is that we need to refocus our own scrutiny. 50% of new mums in England and Wales feel that their mental and emotional wellbeing was overlooked due to a lack of access to midwifery care. In 2016, Citizens’ Advice reported a 58% increase in expectant mums raising concerns over employee rights. There is still a gulf between maternity pay and maternity allowance that can cause anguish for mums on zero hour contracts or who are self-employed.

Instead of shaming mums for their feeding choices, let’s direct that energy elsewhere. It’s a crazy notion, but let’s support them instead. Being a new mum can be an extremely lonely, vulnerable and emotional time. Lucas was referred to the tongue tie clinic a second time, but they said there wasn’t really much to be done. “If the bottle works for you, keep doing that- just enjoy him”. That’s exactly what we’ve done. As long as a baby is fed, clothed and loved, it’s no one else’s business what teat it prefers.

Useful Links

The NCT’s advice on bottle feeding includes how to prepare feeds and deal with common feeding problems.

The fantastically funny (and honest) ladies over at Frank About Feeding talk about all things breast and bottle- no prejudice here.

Fearless Formula Feeder, aka author Suzanne Barston, offers a refreshing look at formula feeding, with enough support and information to help you make an informed decision.

You can keep up with official developments from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding.

NHS Scotland has a with lots of resources.

 

November is a pretty significant one for me this year. Permit me, for a second, to discount the horrific shit-abyss into which this year has descended and focus on some positives. Firstly it was my mum’s 60th birthday. Secondly, my girl Bee celebrated her one year anniversary and a year since I got to stand up with her while she became a Mrs. It’s my last full month at work until halfway into next year and the last full month before I become a mum.

It’s also *gulp* the last month of my twenties.

19-lambrini-goth

Which started, like so many eras, with too much make up and too much cheap alcohol.

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