You know how breastfeeding is ‘the most natural thing in the world’, right? And how it should be as easy as that? And how it often isn’t?
Well, picture every newborn problem (and victory) that you’ve ever had with breastfeeding a newborn. Now picture doing it with that newborn, and a climby, excited, gymnastic toddler too.
It can be pretty rough (and awesome).
The biggest problem I’ve experienced in tandem breastfeeding has been feeling thoroughly touched out. In the 13 weeks since Aviya’s birth, I have felt more ‘touched out’ than any other time in my life before. To the extent that the feel of the sofa cushion irritates my skin sometimes! There is no solution for this, other than making sure you understand why you feel as you do and making an effort to have some you-time, even if it includes going for a short walk, a solo bath or something more extravagant, like a well-timed-between-feeds massage.
Logistics. In the early weeks, while baby is small, it’s easy to lie one child on top of the other. Unfortunately, the baby grows at a much faster rate than the toddler and sooner or later, you might find the toddler begins to protest. While it’s quite nice and easy to get into the habit of tandem nursing with one lying on the other, while baby is small is a good time to practice tandem feeding in other positions too, such as holding one or both in the rugby ball position.
Your toddler may have a huge increase in feeding, and a massive decrease in eating. Ameli was nursing 2 – 3 times a day when Aviya was born, and suddenly she wanted to drink every time Aviya was. While I knew this would happen, and ‘prepared’ myself for it, I really had no idea how frustrating it would be. It’s really important to have strategies in place, when you don’t want to tandem feed at every feed, for things to occupy the toddler. Wearing a sling for feeding the baby can be very useful as it keeps your hands free to do things with the toddler.
Tandem nursing can be very exhausting, thirsty and hungry work. Have a ‘nursing station’ ready. Somewhere with a lot of pillows so you can all be in a good position, and have an easy to use drinks bottle handy – something that won’t have water everywhere if the gymnastic feeder kicks it – as well as some snacks if you feel you need them. Replenish your nursing station daily, so that you can feed without meltdowns while you’re getting everything ready, or upsetting interruptions to your nursing.
Breastfeeding works best in atribe where mothers can look out for each other. Spend as much time as you can with sympathetic friends who can entertain your toddler (simply by having their children around too, while you nurse the baby) or by making sure you have what you need while you’re breastfeeding one or both children. And when they’re done, you support your friend again.
Sensations during tandem nursing. Unfortunately, if you’re ‘feeling’ something when you’re breastfeeding, it’s probably not pleasant. With tandem nursing there’s an increase in hormones and there is a change in breast size which can affect the older child’s latch. These changes can cause either a very painful feeling – with my two year old, it feels like her front teeth are slicing papercut sized slices into my nipples sometimes, simply because the nipple is larger right now. Alternatively, the increased hormones can cause anincredibly unpleasant sexual stimulation. Trust me when I say it is not a good feeling. It is very uncomfortable. I can’t cope with it and have to stop nursing when that happens. There’s no real ‘solution’ to it. Just stop, have a cuddle, a repositioning and start again.
I do think that breastfeeding is without a doubt the most committed thing I’ve ever done. It’s been very much all or nothing, and I’ve gone for all. While there are many challenges and obstacles on the journey, don’t forget to also look at the benefits of tandem breastfeeding.
I’ve been asked a number of times by various people whether it is possible to nurse both babies at the same time, and the simple answer is yes! I know the concept is foreign to many people, so here are nine reasons why tandem breastfeeding is worth considering.
Reasons To Consider Tandem Breastfeeding For The Toddler:
1. Bonding and reduced jealousy This was one of the most beautiful and surprising parts of tandem breastfeeding, for me. The first time I lay my nursling on top of my toddler to allow them to feed together, and my beautiful big girl put her arm around her sister to keep her from ‘falling off’. I think my heart melted in that moment. We’ve had absolutely no jealousy since the birth of our second little girl twelve weeks ago and I am convinced that breastfeeding both children has something to do with it. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any studies on this subject yet, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence, and I’m happy to be adding to that.
Regardless of what you do to prepare a toddler for a new baby, the reality of the new addition is beyond anything they’d have expected, and having something that bonds them together from the beginning is very helpful. It’s also something they can do together. The first question Ameli asked, while Aviya was still in the birthpool, was, “can it walk?” She is very aware of the fact that Aviya can’t talk to us and can’t play with her. In fact, as Ameli’s book says, “it’s basically a lump of clay.” Having something they can do together definitely creates a bond from early on.
2. Valuable lesson in sharing and consideration Sharing breastfeeding is an incredible lesson in sharing in general. This is another area my Ameli has surprised me: she understands that the baby, who cannot eat food yet, needs to have milk more than she does. It’s not always easy for her to have to stop feeding when it’s Aviya’s turn (tandem nursing can mean two simultaneously, or one after the other. We do both.) but she usually does. You can see sometimes that she doesn’t really want to, but she does. I think it’s a great lesson for life.
3. All the benefits of newborn milk Newborn breastmilk is full of so many good things, and the mother’s body adjusts the milk to meet the newborn’s needs. That means the toddler is getting all the benefits of baby milk, all over again.
Reasons To Consider Tandem Breastfeeding For The Newborn:
1. Milk on tap Now, this is purely anecdotal, from my own experience, but in our case, my milk came in pretty much immediately after Aviya was born. There was still colostrum, as I could tell from Ameli’s nappies, but she had milk available on tap from the start. This meant that she didn’t have to work very hard to fill her tummy, which meant she fed for shorter periods of time than newborns normally do. It also meant that she slept for longer than newborns normally do. In fact, she fed so little and slept so much that she lost 11% of her body weight in the first week, but more than made up for it subsequently (she’s currently in 4-6 month clothes, and is only 2.5 months!) The fact is that she didn’t have to burn much energy in an attempt to consume.
3. Familiarity with the older sibling It’s easy to very quickly fall into the habit of saying ‘don’t touch the baby’, ‘leave the baby’, ‘be gentle with the baby’ and any one of a million variations on that theme. We’ve tried very consciously not to plant the idea that ‘sister’ isn’t to be engaged with in Ameli, and have instead decided to accept that babies aren’t actually as fragile as we tend to think they are when you have your first born. Tandem nursing is a way of introducing an older sibling into a baby’s space, so that the younger can become accustomed to the sound and smell of his or her older sibling too.
4. Gag-free drinking Sometimes the flow of milk can be so strong and forceful that the new baby can gag and choke. Getting big sister or brother to take the edge off, can be really helpful. It’s worth remembering the difference between foremilk and hindmilk and making sure baby is getting enough of both, especially in hot weather.
Reasons To Consider Tandem Breastfeeding For the Mother:
Believe it or not, tandem breastfeeding has a number of benefits for mama too.
1. Put your feet up If you’ve had a toddler let loose on your house for any length of time, you’ll know what devastation can be wrought in the shortest of times. Nursing both together means you actually get to have a break without having to directively engage, occupy or entertain a toddler. This is where a hands free water bottle with a straw comes in though, because it can be hard to hold a cup while nursing two children!
2. Health benefits of extended breastfeeding All those things that hit the headlines from time to time? Those. Reduced risk of breast cancer being the biggest one. And some people put weight loss in this category. Breastfeeding gives me a sweet tooth, so no, I don’t lose any weight!
3. Relieves engorgement Despite popular belief, when your milk comes in proper, you can still get really engorged, even if you’ve been breastfeeding through pregnancy. I haven’ t had to express once this time round, nor have I had any problems, such as mastitis or clogged ducts, because when I’ve needed to, I’ve been able to call on Ameli – even in the middle of the night, since Aviya sleeps through – to quickly and effortlessly drain an engorged, painful, leaking breast.
So there you have nine reasons to at least consider tandem nursing. It’s not always easy, and there are days where I wish more than anything that Ameli would wean, but looking at the list above, the benefits are fantastic, and this is a phase in our mother and daughter(s) journey that I will always look back on with a distinct sense of pride in all of us.
Here we are, staring down the barrel of your second birthday, and I feel a little bit shocked. A few days ago I looked up at you with your hair in pigtails and twirling around in a fairy dress, and for a moment, I wondered where my baby was. It was just a split second, but it took me by surprise, to see this little girl looking back at me.
I realised that your first almost two years have passed in one almighty blur. I feel somewhat bad, because I haven’t written to you as often as I would have liked to, and I haven’t kept as detailed a record of all the little things that you do and have done, but I want you to know without doubt that I have loved being your mama. I have loved watching you develop and grow. I have loved traversing the journey of mama of one to mama of two with you, and I have loved the lessons being your mama have taught me.
I look back through the pages of our two years together, through the medium of this blog, and I know that it looks like so much time and attention has been focused on Ameli, rather than you, but I hope that you will realise that pictures and journals only show us the bit we’ve recorded and that there are hundreds, thousands of moments between you and I that could never be captured on paper, on film or on screen.
You’re coming up for two now, and you’ll be having surgery in a few weeks because of your teeth – you were born without enamel on the first four, a fun throwback to my Hyperemesis days – and that’s caused you problems in your eating, but on the up side, for you, it’s turned you from indifferent to breastfeeding, to a definite lover of mama-milk. I am grateful that you’ve had that as an option, and that I persevered through the early days with you, where it was quite difficult and we battled thrush for months.
I am grateful that despite the dentists saying it’s breastfeeding that’s done this to your teeth, I had the wherewithall and the brains to find out the real reasons, and to stick to my guns. I’m glad that when they tell me to stop nursing you, but can’t tell me what I’m then supposed to feed you, I’ve been brave and strong enough to stand up for you, and for us. I am proud of me for that, and grateful to you for trusting me.
As we go into this surgery, I know you’re going to have fears. You’ll be asleep, and you’ll wake up in a bit of pain, and you won’ t know why, and you’ll look at me and have questions, and doubts and fears, but I hope you know I’ll be there, every step of the way. I hope you know I’ll be there, holding you and looking after you and caring for you. I hope you’ll trust me that this really is the best option for you.
You show such personality these days. You love singing and dancing and twirling and being a little girl. You love making up your own little songs, and you love copying the things your sister says and does. You love playing with her, and following her around. You love running squealing and hiding in your tent when it’s time to change your nappy. That one is less fun for us.
You’ve always been a little book worm, and you’d sit paging through all the books you could find your hands on, but recently you are a little Kindle and Netflix obsessed, so we’re trying to wean you off it – largely by hiding it away or letting the battery run flat. I really miss the days you’d sit looking through books while I worked. Hopefully we can get those back. It would definitely be better for you.
You’re also somewhat more prone to tantrums than I’ve been accustomed to from still one year olds and I’m trying to remember all the positive parenting techniques I learned and pretty rarely needed to use for Ameli. We’ll get through this, I’m sure. I’m trying to view it as you making us more empathetic to other parents. And to standing your ground and not being a trodden-over second child. Good for you.
You seem to have been deeply touched especially by your Oupa’s visit here, and refer to him often. Like saying you want him to help you put your shoes on. Not me, him. And when I point out that he’s not here, you want daddy to do it. Little Miss Independent.
You are deeply sweet, and kind. You are gentle and you are laid back. And then you are angry and shouty and passionate and a minute later you’re chilled out again. I think you may have a bit of my temperament there. Long may it keep us happy.
You are my beloved baby girl. I can’t imagine a life before you, can’t remember a time I didn’t love you.
I hope that as this next phase of our story unfolds, that you will feel my love every day, and that even though I don’t always have the time to write to you, you will know, in your heart, deep in your soul, in the most inner part of you, where foundation is laid that I have loved you, every day, and that I will do so into forever.
As parents we have this unique and rather amazing ability to forget things. From pregnancy, through birth and seemingly into childhood (and possibly further) we forget the bits that admittedly, don’t always add anything positive to the story. I’ve seen my parents do it, and while I was of the firm opinion that I would never forget a weight, a height, a date of a first word, first whatever, the truth is, you do. Then you have a second (or subsequent ) child, and somehow, amazingly, you forget.
So when Aviya recently started shouting Mine! for… almost everything…., I was suddenly concerned. When did my sweet little genteel baby become so possessive? What did I do wrong. Were we missing out on something fundamental to her development? Aren’t second children supposed to be better at sharing than their older siblings… oh, wait…. that’s right – Ameli did go through something like this. In fact, Ameli was 23 months old when we met our current friendship group, and the first few months of our meetings, I thought they must think me a horrible mother because all my child does is grab, and shove and say MINE!
Then, Ameli being six months older than most of the rest of her group, six months later I started noticing the rest of them had entered this phase and I felt such relief! My child wasn’t turning into a psychopathic monster after all! And then… then I forgot all about it. What is that about?
Anyway. Armed with the wisdom of two and a half years later, and faced with a 23-month old there are a few things I’ve learned along the way, and partly to remind myself and partly to help those of you who are facing this for the n-th time [1. that about the sum total of what I remember about mathematics from school days – ‘nth’ term is a formula with ‘n’ in it which enables you to find any term of a sequence] here are a few things to remember about children and sharing and a few gentle ways to help them through this developmental phase:
1) Don’t Force It
Think of children in terms of your best friend. How would s/he feel if you took their Kindle/iPhone/iPad and made them share it with the guy/girl you met in the coffee shop this morning? Your child feels the same about that doll/car/stick/leaf. It’s worse about things they have a real attachment to, but anything that is your child’s sudden favourite is really important to them.
Instead: Offer an alternative. If it’s something your child really doesn’t want to share, ask them if you can keep it safe until they are alone again. If you’re asking, accept that the answer may be no. Remember that you can’t teach ‘don’t snatch’ by snatching it away from them.
2) Don’t guilt them
‘If you don’t want to share, Johnny/Sue won’t want to play with you‘ sounds a whole lot like ‘If you won’t sleep with him, people will say you’re seriously lame and uncool‘ to me. Not the words, obviously, but the sentiment. I don’t want to teach my child that to be socially accepted she has to willing to do whatever is asked of her. (By the way, there’s a difference between that, and saying ‘if you hit your friends, they won’t want to play with you’. That one is simply true, and logical and pretty much applies in adulthood too. Unless you’re in a boxing club.)
And the truth is, it’s often less about the children than our embarrassment about what people must think.
3) Adjust your expectation
Gosh – I’ve uttered those words to my husband so many times. She’s t-w-o. (not even). Don’t expect six year old behaviour from her. Understand that this is a phase and that it will pass. Your goal isn’t actually – shouldn’t be, anyway – to make her share everything. Your goal is to help her understand why we want to share some things with some people.
Cornell University [2. Psychological Science October 2013vol. 24 no. 10 1971-1979 http://pss.sagepub.com/content/24/10/1971] did a very interesting study on preschoolers and sharing, where children were divided into three groups – one group had to share stickers with a puppet, the next were given a choice between keeping stickers and throwing them away, and the third group had to choose between sharing with the puppet or keeping their sticker.
Interestingly, the children who were given the choice of sharing the sticker or keeping it for themselves, when presented with a new puppet and more stickers to share were the ones who shared the most.Read the full study on toddlers and sharing here. It’s really interesting reading.
“Here are your options: we can put the toy away, or your sister can play with xyz for two minutes while you watch, or you can swap toys and play with each other’s special toys, or you can go play with your own toy somewhere else.” The problem with giving options is that you have to be able to follow through – “should we go home and you can play with your toy alone” given as an option, means you have to be willing to go home right away. Don’t offer it if it’s not an option, and an immediate viability – “share or she won’t share her toy with you later” means nothing to a two year old with no real concept of the passage of time.
3) Highlight the benefit of positive behaviour, without being punitive
There’s a definite difference between “look how sad your friend is because you wont share” and “you shared and your friend is really happy”. The one is guilty manipulation and the other is pointing out the consequence of a behaviour.
If they choose not to share, divert attention to the other child for a minute. “Aviya really doesn’t want to share her special toy at the moment. Why don’t we let her play with it for now and you can show me your special toy?” Chances are the introduction of something else that someone else wants might just provide the motivation for the first child to share their toy after all.
Does this take longer than just snatching the toy from your child and giving it to the other child – something I’ve sadly been guilty of! Of course it does. Are the long term effects worth it? Of course.
There’s nothing wrong with a child having a sense of ownership over their items, and I find especially with second child, so many of their things once belonged to an older sibling, that having things specifically ear marked as theirs is very valuable. And after all, if they care about something, they’ll care for it, and we really do want them to have that sense of ownership so that they will learn to care for their things too.
Remember that modelling is really important to children. They will do as they see us do. (And if you want to read them a story about sharing, Mine! is a great place to start.)
And most importantly, it is a phase. It will pass. What matters isn’t what is and isn’t shared, but how their relationship with the other person – especially in the case of a sibling – is affected going forward.
When I think about breastfeeding a toddler, at the moment, the word ‘challenging’ comes to mind. My circumstances are different to yours, perhaps, and I know that breastfeeding through pregnancy was tough, but not challenging. I know that breastfeeding her up to the point of pregnancy was not hard either. But suddenly with a newborn attached to my nipple all the time – and not as much as many other newborns – my feelings towardsextended nursing have changed. I find it challenging. Not impossible, not hard enough to force wean my beautiful girl, but challenging.
See, for me, right now, the big thing is feeling utterly and entirely ‘touched out’. And having a toddler who has decided to nurse four to six times a night again, when even my baby doesn’t nurse as much, is… you guessed it… challenging. But those are my cirumstances, now, and we’re working back to a place of sleepy-time breastfeeding, or waking up breastfeeding. I am happy with nursing my almost three year old three times a day. That’s my personal level of comfort
There are a few things to prepare yourself for the day you realise you’re officially an extended breastfeeder:
People will criticise you. They will say you’re doing it for your own gratification. They clearly have not breastfed a gymnastic toddler.
People will say you’re being too soft on your child, holding on to tight, or making them too dependent on you. There are plenty reasons to breastfeed into toddlerhood, so I’d say don’t worry about it. If you feel you need to, know the facts about breastmilk through the ages. It makes for a better argument.
You will have days or nights where you are so ‘over it’ and ready to give up. Your child may not be, however, and even if it is purely for comfort, who doesn’t want to comfort their baby?
There will be times when you want to end a nursing session and your nursling refuses and wants you to carry on. There will be times when your body feels imposed on or intruded on or overwhelmed by the constant need. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to draw boundaries. If you want to nurse in public, and your toddler insists on lifting your shirt and you’re not comfortable, it’s okay to set limits, to refuse them and to insist that you, your body and your boundaries are respected. How can you teach them that they have a right to say no and that no is to be respected if you can’t say it yourself?
It’s okay to have a night out and leave daddy or someone else to deal with the bed time routine. My daughter will get very distraught if I’m home and say she can’t have sleepy time milkies. If I’m not home and my husband puts her to bed, she rarely even asks for it.
And the most important thing to know about feeding a walking, talking, eating child is that it removes a whole big burden of stress of your shoulders:
A fussy eater still gets vital nutrients and nourishment, especially when you’re tandem feeding with a baby.
A fever, a sickness, or anything else that prevents your child from eating or drinking normally can be fixed by a helping of the good stuff.
A scrape, a fall, a finger caught – all can be healed by a sip of magic milk. Generally it’s probably more about the closeness, but still, the milk does no harm.
Time apart just melts away as you sink into a reconnecting nursing session.
Some days are hard. I won’t lie to you. But when I was a project manager for a living, there were hard days, despite how much I loved it. While I love teaching baby massage, there are days I don’t want to do it. Some days, doing what we set out to do is simply… challenging. Parenting, motherhood and breastfeeding are no exceptions.
The rewards, however, are worth every moment of determined perseverance.
(This post was originally published at Diary of a First Child on January 8, 2012)
Parenting is a cacophony of emotions. When you’re not thoroughly worn out from sleepless nights, exhausted from good parenting days, or simply just trying to make it through, there’s always something to worry about. Someone you know lost a child, someone in your area had a child go missing, someone who knows someone who was a really good parent ended up with a junkie-teen. Just like people love to share a terrible birth story, and tend to shun those who had wonderful birth stories, everyone loves to share the bad stories about what happened to someone else, or how another child turned out, and it doesn’t really matter – to some extent – how they were parented, it’s normally the mother’s fault.
Welcome to the February 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Fears
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and wisdom about parenting fears.
It’s the fear of these things that make parents so susceptible to marketing, spending (often wasting) money on the latest gadgets and basically living our lives doing everything we can to prevent something bad, and encourage something good happening to the little people entrusted to us.
The scary thing though? Like most of us, I know this, but I still have three particular fears where my two little girls are concerned:
In no particular order, there’s the fear of death, kidnapping and failure.
Most of us know someone who has lost a baby – born or unborn – or a child. I never knew how ‘common’ infant loss was till I became a mother myself. And then, because Ameli’s birth was such an amazing, enriching and empowering experience, I wasterrified when Aviya’s turn came. For months I really worried, almost believed that I would never get to hold her alive. I was so worried something was going to go wrong in her birth. I mean, what are the chances that I could be so blessed, twice.
And now, even though I am a confident second time mother, and even though I am confident and relatively experienced in my use of homoeopathic and herbal remedies over conventional medicines for most of the girls’ minor ailments, when Aviya, specifically, gets ill, this niggely, horrible voice in the back of my head forces me to question myself, reminding me of that ‘feeling’. It takes a lot of pulling myself together to trust my intuition as much with this lovely second child of mine.
While many of us know someone who has been touched by the loss of a child, very few of us – me included – knows personally someone who has had a child kidnapped. And yet, it’s probably one of the biggest fears a parent faces. I can’t imagine how parents who have lost a child this way go on. I can’t imagine the horror. And yet, the statistics on ‘stranger danger‘ and someone doing something to our children are so different to what our fears justify.
If you’re a parent who lives in the shadow of this fear, I highly recommend Sue Palmer’s book, Toxic Childhood (US Link). It highlights how rare something like a stranger kidnapping really is, but how, because we see the lost and forlorn little face, and the obviously heartbroken parents in our living room, on repeat, day after day after day, it imprints on our brains to the point that we start almost identifying each replay as a new occurrence. (I actually recommend this book for a ton of other reasons too, it doesn’t make you feel guilty, but does encourage you to see a lot of reality in parenting and child raising. It’s one of my top three parenting book recommendations!)
Failure. Failure is a big one, and we all get it from the day our babies are conceived. Didn’t have a natural birth? Will I be able to bond with my child? Didn’t breastfeed? You and your child will probably both die of cancer. Didn’t babywear? Your poor child will lag behind in literacy for, like, ever. Didn’t co-sleep? Poor kid will have intimacy issues for the rest of their lives. You sent them to nursery school for four hours a week? Oh, the drama. Didn’t send them to a Montessori/Steiner/Waldorf/Forest school? What kind of parent are you!?
Pretty much everything we do is wrong to someone. Praise your kids? Wrong. Don’t praise your kids? Wrong. Send them to school? Wrong. Keep them at home? Wrong . Feed them grass-fed meat? Wrong. Feed them no meat? Wrong. Make everything from scratch? Did you sprout the grains first? Well… did you?
I think a lot of parenting and enjoying parenting comes down to three things:
Let go – of the things you can’t control.
Be realistic – in accordance to what’s real, your circumstances and what you can really do
Trust your instinct – listen to your child, listen to the voice inside you, and when you’re confident in your choices, no one can make you feel judged. And when you’re not confident, do your own research.
If you can – if I can – let go of things I don’t control, be realistic about my limitations and abilities, circumstances and finances, and trust that everything I do is for the best of my children and our family, the fears are a lot easier to quell, and motherhood is a much more fulfilling, enjoyable ride.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (list will be final around 5pm PST February 11):
When Parents’ Fears Escalate — If we didn’t self-doubt, we probably wouldn’t care enough about our children to struggle with understanding them. But how do we overcome self-doubt? Read advice from Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., guest posting today at Natural Parents Network.
What ifs of addiction — After seeing how addictions of adult children is badly hurting a family close to her heart, Hannah at HannahandHorn shares her fears for her own child.
Sharing My Joy — Kellie at Our Mindful Life shares her fear that others think she is judgmental because she makes alternative choices for her own family.
Building My Tribe Fearlessly — A meteorite hit Jaye Anne at Tribal Mama’s family when she was seven years old. Read the story, how she feels about that now, and how she is building her tribe fearlessly.
Fear: Realized — Laura from Pug in the Kitchen shares how her fear of car accidents was realized and how she hopes to be able to use her efforts to overcome the remaining fears to help her children overcome their own.
My Greatest Fear For My Child — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama admits that she has struggled with not allowing her fears to control her and how the reality of this was blown wide open when she became a mother.
Out of Mind, Out of Fear — How does Jorje of Momma Jorje deal with her pretty steep, long-term fears regarding her son’s future?
I Don’t Homeschool to Manage My Kids’ Transcripts — One of Dionna at Code Name: Mama’s fears of parenting is that she will get so caught up in the monotony, the details of homeschooling, the minutiae of everyday life, the routine of taking care of a household – that she will forget to actually be present in the moment with her children.
Beware! Single Mom Camping — Erica at ChildOrganics shares her first adventures as a single mom. She laughed, she cried, she faced her fears.
Parenting Fears And Reality Checks — Luschka from Diary of a First Child shares her three biggest fears as a parent – that most parents share – looks at the reality behind these fears, and offers a few suggestions for enjoying parenting.
Roaming — sustainablemum considers whether allowing your children freedom to explore the world safely is harder now than in the past.
Meeting my parenting fears head-on — Lauren at Hobo Mama had many fears before she became a parent. Learn how they all came true — and weren’t anywhere near as scary as she’d thought.
Don’t fear the tears — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger worried that letting her children cry when going to sleep was tantamount to the dreaded parenting moniker, CIO. She discusses what actually happened after those teary nights, and how she hopes these lessons can carry forward to future parenting opportunities.
Will I Still be a Good Mom? — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot worries about her mothering skills now that breastfeeding is no longer the top priority.
I’m a mother to two little girls. I’ve had two home water births, and attended the birth of one baby at home, and paced the halls of the hospital outside the theatre of a c-section like an expectant father. That is my hands on experience with childbirth. I am not trained as a midwife, not a registered Doula. I am just a mother. I do not get paid to make decisions over someone else’s birth or child. No, I’m just a mother, who has to live with the consequences of every decision I make for the birth of my babies, and for the rest of their lives. And that is a powerful motivator. I can’t think of a stronger reason to be confident in my decisions for the birthing and the raising of my babies.
So is this a disclaimer? No. It’s a challenge. It’s me saying don’t just take anyone’s word for anything. Do your own research, make your own decisions. Where, how, with whom and when you birth your babies may be the biggest life changing decision you’ll ever make.
So why should you listen to me? Well, you shouldn’t. My wish for you is that as you read more and learn more, you’ll find questions you didn’t know you needed to ask, and then you’ll find the answers that work for you in your situation.
A midwife once told me that the most beautiful births she’d attended were those of mothers who were informed about birth. Take responsibility for the birth of your child. No one else in the whole world will be as affected by that day as you will, whether you’re immediately aware of it or not.
We conceived Ameli in December 2008 and I knew I was pregnant before the first test showed a positive result. I tested, because I suspected. I just didn’t feel well. At 5 weeks pregnant, after a scan for spotting, I was sent home to miscarry in peace. For 18 weeks, I spotted, waiting to lose my child, and debilitated by a horrible condition: Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I threw up 20 times a day, and lost a ton of weight. My whole life was turned upside down by this sickness. I visited my doctor a number of times, and each time he told me ‘pregnant women get sick’ and ‘deal with it’.
It was my sincere doubt that this could be ‘normal’ that led me to investigating pregnancy and child birth. A colleague asked me if I was planning a home birth, and it was the first time I’d even heard that was possible. I began investigating Hyperemesis Gravidarum, and during the hours of not wanting to move for sickness, I began reading, reading, reading. I read about homebirth, about freebirth, and about waterbirth, and knew it was what I wanted.
I had an amazing, inspiring, incredible, peaceful, beautiful home water birth on the 4th of October 2009. I had my first real contraction a full 48 hours before my daughter was born into my waiting hands, but it was the most transformative experience of my life. Not just having the baby, but how I had the baby change everything about me. It gave me a faith, belief and confidence in myself and my ability, and a passionate admiration for she that is woman.
Two and a half years later, after another horrendous pregnancy, much worse than the first, I gave birth to Aviya, my second little girl. Her birth was very different. It was fast, powerful, when I think of it, I think of a thunderstorm crashing waves onto the shore. She was ‘late’ by the medical profession’s definition, arriving in a hurry at 42 weeks and 5 days.
Both of these births have led me to a deeper understanding of myself, yes, but of women in general, and of the gift of womanhood. If the information I share with you today – none of which you couldn’t have found for yourself, had you been looking – can take you just one step in the direction of experiencing the power of bringing life into the world in a way that empowers you, whatever your method, place or time of giving birth, then I will be happy.
Giving birth is not just about having a healthy, happy baby. Ask a mother who had a traumatic experience, or a painful experience, or endured humiliation, or felt vulnerable or even neglected, ignored or abused, and ask a mother who has suffered depression, shock or grief over her birth experience, and she will not tell you that nothing else matters. Yes, her beautiful baby will be the highlight, and the prize, but if that can be achieved through beauty and power, then all the better. And like with anything else in life, your chances of success are hugely increased by preparation.
As an athlete prepares for a race, so you need to prepare yourself mentally for giving birth. I’m Not Trying For A Homebirth, I’m Having One is about just that. While I was planning for a homebirth and wrote it so, you can apply the principles to any birth plan.
Having a baby may be the most natural thing in the world, but we’re not the natural people we once were. We don’t do much manual labour anymore, so our babies move into the ‘wrong’ position for birth, we don’t have the physical stamina we used to, so birth takes more out of us. It may be something we’ve done for generations, but we’ve not done it the way we do it nowadays for very long, so don’t miss out on Preparing for a natural childbirth.
The first thing people think of when they think of birth is pain. This is so unfortunate and is a gift handed down to us by generally male interference in the birth process, and media. Birth does not have to equate pain. And where there is pain, there are also Pain Relief Methods In Childbirth.
People also have a mental image of a woman lying on her back in bed. I’ve had two sitting up in a pool births, and when I think of birth, I still think of the Hollywood version of sweaty screaming with your legs in the air. But that’s not real life. There are many different Positions For Labour And Childbirth and becoming familiar with them will make a huge difference to your labour particularly, but also the birth – work with gravity, rather than against it.
Where you give birth is really important. If you go to a hospital with a very high surgical birth rate, you are very unlikely to find the support that you need for a vaginal birth. If you want a homebirth, you sometimes have to fight for it. This is important stuff. You don’t buy a camera off the cheapest bloke on the internet. You don’t buy high value items off an eBay seller with no feedback rating. Why have a baby with no research into the ‘seller’? Natural homebirth vs. Natural hospital birth
Who you have with you is equally important. I strongly recommend a Doula, if you are able as she is there to look after you, not your baby. The word ‘doula’ means ‘servant girl’. While a trained Doula is amazing, a friend who has been there and if possible has had the kind of birth you want to have is perfectly sufficient. Just as you wouldn’t take financial advice from a bankrupt friend, don’t take birth advice from someone whose ideals are different to yours, especially not at the time you are most vulnerable! The Doula Path
Fear is a big problem in birth, because your Adrenaline ‘over rides’ your feel good hormones, causing labour to stall and problems to arise. For me, I Had A Perfect Birth – Now I’m Scared Of Trying Again is about how I had a perfect birth the first time round, and I was really scared of it all going wrong the second time. Some women fear how having something ‘the size of a watermelon coming out something so small’ will affect their sex lives later. Here’s an honest look atNatural Childbirth: Changes In Sex Life.
No two births are ever the same, and one of the biggest surprises babout birth and children is how different and unpredictable both can be, but even if nothing goes to plan, planning for the birth that suits you can only ever stand you in good stead.
The dreaded week has come and gone. These are truly sad and sore times.
9. To See You Again. We went to the undertakers to view my moms body. My dad wanted to be sure it was her in the coffin. I wanted to have a chance to cry without a room full of people. We opted against embalming and two weeks had already passed, so we weren’t sure what to expect. She looked so thin, but healthy. Her hair was soft and brushed. She looked lovely. In life she often abstained and followed certain habits because she wanted to be a beautiful corpse. She sure got her wish.
10. Funeral day. Informal, no priest or stranger leading the ceremony, just me. Leading the family in words, in song, in placing lilies on the coffin. A lot of tears. And after, lunch with every person she knew in the country there.
11. Driving day, all the way to Wales at the foothills of Snowdonia. And a big thank you to everyone who has supported me over the last few weeks.
12. Bittersweet. Knowing she was meant to be on this holiday with us, was bittersweet. Knowing how much she would have loved the mountains, equally so.
13. Bed Hogs. A king size bed, and there’s still no room for me. Sigh.
14. Garden Decor. Some weird garden decor in the town of Machynlleth. Certainly a talking point!
15. Mountains, Gandalf! Mountains! I could take a picture of this mountain every single morning and it would never look the same two days in a row. If I lived there, I’d totally do that. With a timer to go off every day at the same time. It was an exquisite view.
If there was a soundtrack to my life, the last week or so would have a ghostly echo pounding through a driving bass line. The ghostly echo would say one word, over and over again: “Mindful, Mindful, Mindful”
My mother will tell you I’ve always believed that we have the ability in ourselves to change our thoughts, and from there, to change our actions. When I was a child she went through a phase of calling herself stupid a lot. I believe in the power of words, so whenever she called herself stupid, or said she’d done something stupid, I’d hit her really hard with my fist on her shoulder. It became Pavlovian. She’d say stupid, I’d hit her. She soon stopped calling herself stupid, at least in my presence.
While I don’t advocate for violence, and would choose a different approach tthan physical assault these days, I still believe that our thoughts control our actions and with it the outcomes in our lives, and our minds can be trained to control our thoughts. I’m sure there’s a whole movement behind this, but I’m not familiar with it. I simply think that we can train our minds by conscious, mindful, choice.
If Ameli is acting up, the soundtrack in my head says, ‘Be mindful’. My husband and I aren’t communicating well? ‘Be mindful’. My diet is entirely desire led and not at all healthy? ‘Be mindful’. And so the ghostly echo in my head repeats, repeats, repeats.
But what does it mean, in my day to day reality?
Why do I feel like I’m drowning in things to do, yet when I have a spare moment and want to tackle one of those things, I can’t seem to figure out where to start? Why does it seem that my interactions with the people in my life are stressed out, highly strung, and impatient?
Because I am not being mindful. I am not making conscious choices. I’m being led by pregnancy induced insomnia. I’m being led by financial stress. I’m being led by the sadness I’m desperately trying to avoid: we’re coming up for Christmas and I have none of my family to share it with. I’m like a bull with a ring in its nose, being pulled from side to side by all these ‘things’ in my life.
I have lost sight of my mindful, conscious self.
I know what to do when my child is seemingly being ‘disobedient’. I need to focus in on her, rather than shout for control I give away by shouting. I know what to do when my husband is being husbandish. I need to focus in on his needs to see where he is being unfulfilled. I know that when my house looks like a hurricane passed through, it’s time to focus in on short bursts of major action.
I know these things, but while my head is screaming ‘what’s going on?!’, I’m unable to be useful to myself or my family, and over a period of days and weeks, I wake up more tired than I went to sleep and find myself in a rut. A dangerous, frustrated, unhappy place.
You may say, yes, but your child is being a ‘terrible two’, your husband is being ‘husbandish’, and you’re carrying all the responsibility of running a home while being pregnant you need to be selfish and think of YOU, shut the door and leave them to self-destruct.
But that is counter productive, isn’t it, because an hour later, when I open the door, the problems are still there.
Yes. Perhaps the best course of action is to find yourself a corner for’quiet time’. For some this will be reading your Bible. For some, time in prayer. For others, meditation, introspection, yoga. Whatever it is, but finding your ‘peaceful place’ gives you – or at least gives me – the power to then confront in a peaceful way, my family and my home. And you can find that peaceful place in the two minutes it takes to walk to the car, screaming toddler in tow. Your peace doesn’t depend on circumstances, or other people. It is yours. It is mine. I just have to claim it.
I am then able to implement ‘time-in’ instead of ‘time-out’. I’m able to connect with my husband. I’m able to focus on my to do list and find it less overwhelming. I am able to enjoy Christmas lights and hear carols and see men in red suits and feel the tinge of pain and of longing, without letting it own me and decide my emotions, and with it my interactions with the people I do have in my life.
My mother always used to say a tidy head loves a tidy home. I hated that saying, because my room was never tidy and in retrospect, neither was my head, but now I see it in a greater sense.
Being mindful of our own human condition helps us ‘make it through’ with much more peace and calm. When I am calm, I exude calm. When I am calm, I create calm. When I am at peace within myself, I have more patience to deal with my family.
When I am conscious of my own self, I am able to be conscious for those around me without being a martyr to their needs.
Mindful… Mindful… Mindful…
This doesn’t mean it will all always go well, or always be easy, but it means that you – that I – will have a better grasp on life, and with it, a better experience of that life.
(This post first appeared on Diary of a First Child on December 13, 2011)
We – I – made the decision to keep my mother at home and out of a hospice as long as possible, so that during her ever more fleeting lucid moments she could have her children and family around her. With this decision came the responsibility of caring for her. While we had amazing NHS nurses come in daily to administer a cocktail of medications for the pain, we bore the brunt of the responsibility for making sure she had food when she could, something to drink when she could – or just wetting her lips – and then holding her hair, pressing her back, and cleaning out the sick buckets after every.single.sip she took was brought up again.
When we weren’t massaging her back (where the tumour was causing organs to become displaced), or holding her hair, or towards the end holding her up, we were sitting with her, making sure she didn’t choke on her vomit, stop breathing, or have any other needs that would not be met if we left her side. It was constant, and whoever was ‘on duty’ was constantly on the go.
During this time I remembered reading once, in an article I can’t even begin to think where to find, about the ‘circles of trauma’.
Circles of Trauma
The idea of circles of trauma is simple (and I could be totally butchering the original idea here, but this is how I remember and essentially then adapted and applied it in our situation – where I must add that because our family is scattered over three continents, our circle differs slightly to most. Also, my maternal grandmother would have been in the circle with my dad, but she is on another continent, so while supporting her is as important, I have focused support on those in the room, so to speak):
There is a person at the centre of the trauma. In this case, my mom.
The next person, the person closest to the person at the centre is my dad. My dad’s biggest role, the one he fulfilled amazingly well, was being there to support my mom. You can add parents to this circle too.
Next closest person – people, in this case – were my sister, my brother and my self. I suspect normally you could add the brothers and sisters of the person at the centre in this circle.
And so the circles get bigger and bigger and bigger. My husband and the girls, then distant family, then friends and so it goes.
The Value of the Circle of Trauma
The way the circle should work to work well is that you ‘support in, offload out’. So, by identifying your place in the circle, you can figure out who you can rely on versus who you need to support. In my case, my dad and my mom needed my support (and to an extent my brother and sister – I put them towards the inner edges of our private circle, since I’m the oldest). If I needed to cry, vent, be angry or moan about anything, I did it outwards. Talking to my dad about my grief, when his was going to be so much greater, seemed almost selfish. Speaking to my husband or friends didn’t feel like I was burdening them. Support inwards, offload outwards.
It’s so easy in our grief to place ourselves in the centre of the trauma – and in each individual case, we are the centre of our trauma and for that we need our own circles of support within a greater circle, but the fact remains that the true centre of the trauma is the person the bad thing is happening to. We can be the centre of our own trauma heart ache in our own time.
I’m sure we’ve all seen it happen. Person A has an incident. Person B is there for support. Person W somehow makes it all about them. Well, Person W doesn’t know their place in the circle of trauma, and is really just causing more stress and grief for Persons B, C and D.
It’s a funny thing. I don’t remember where I read about the circles but it came to me, clear as day, while sitting talking to my dad one day. I needed to be the support for him, and find my support elsewhere in the circle.
While as a family we all support each other, some friends are closer than family. They moved into the inner circles. Colleagues might be devastated, but they are not as devastated as family, they move outwards. You can’t be all things to all people. I found so much value and focus in finding my ‘place’ so I knew who needed me, and who I could prioritise further down the list.
The circles also give you a hint on who to look after. If the person closest to the centre is being the support system for everyone else, it’s safe to assume they are not meeting their own needs (in most cases) and will need additional support when the reality hits them.
As a wife and a mother, the circle can only be exclusive for a short time, then I needed to open up to and include and prioritise my own family again, but in the grief, in the trauma, and in the days that followed, I am so grateful for this idea of the circles that really helped me narrow down my centres of attention while dealing with terminal illness, palliative care, and death.