…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.

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

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As of last week, I am officially in my third trimester. That means the final hurdle. In less than three months, we will have a real live little baby boy child to take care of FOREVER. Do you know how long three months is? IT’S NOTHING. NOTHING. Impending babydom is approaching fast and me/us time is definitely numbered. Subconsciously I think I’ve been trying to cram in as much as I can, and unfortunately my poor blog’s taken the hit. View Post

Last Thursday was the 1st of September, which heralded the start of autumn. Well, the meteorological start of autumn anyway. It might still be warm outside but the signs are telling me that my favourite season is upon us.

So why then has it felt like such a slog?

As much as I love autumn there’s always a strange tinge of sadness in the air. Maybe sadness isn’t the word, but there’s a weird melancholy that sweeps in and makes me feel a li’l more reflective than usual.

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