Toddler Pace (and Everything I Noticed)

Today I had to post a letter.  It was a task that should have taken me 15 minutes tops.  Head down, quick march, there and back.

It took me an hour.

Just one decision made that difference.  I decided to let Bee walk.

I could quite easily have bundled her up in the sling (or buggy), not having to worry about the hassle of shoes, and been there and back in a flash.  Maybe I would have chatted to her along the way, maybe I wouldn’t have.   But instead I chose to let Bee walk.

Bee held my hand as we walked to the end of our street.  She paused at the curb, and carefully navigated stepping off and back up again the other side.  We walked past the pelican crossing that usually takes us to the woods.  Bee pointed to the red man, button-pressing finger ready.  We made sure to walk on all the bumpy pink pavement slabs.  But we weren’t going that way today.

A man got into a parked van and started the engine.  Bee stopped to look and listen.  Along the side of the path Bee found a gully for drainage water.  She pulled me towards it and wobbled along, squeezing her feet inside.

An elderly lady and gentleman got off a double decker bus with squeaky brakes and walked arm in arm with their walking sticks towards us.  Bee turned to watch as they passed by, smiling at us.

We reached the postbox and I lifted Bee up so she could post the letters.  She put them in and out of the hole over and over before letting them go.  Then she tried to get them back.
Toddler Postbox

Back on the ground, we started our walk home.  Bee saw two dogs across the road.  She pointed and pointed until they were out of sight.

We happened upon a wonky maintenance slab.  I would have walked over it but Bee pulled me back.  We played for several minutes.  Me on one corner bouncing the slab, Bee on the other, giggling and shrieking.

Eventually a passing ambulance, sirens blaring, distracted Bee and we carried on towards home.  Bee found the step next to our corner shop, so we climbed up it and jumped off.  Five times.

I pushed open the shop door and Bee stepped inside.  She inspected all the magazines and papers on the bottom shelf, before collecting a handful of chocolate bars.  She brought them to me.  I chose Bee a small Freddo bar and lifted her up to the counter.  We paid the shopkeeper and he put the chocolate in a bag and handed it to me.  Bee smiled and waved.  She took the bag and I opened the door.  Bee stepped out and we began the last part of our journey.

Back past the red man and the bumpy pavement, down the hill.  Bee found a small square water cover.  She placed both her feet on it and bounced.  It didn’t move like the wobbly one.

Still swinging her bag we carried on to our street.  Bee paused at the curb and carefully stepped off and on again.  We found the right garden path and walked up to our door.  Knock knock.  Up the step, through the door and home.

One decision.

A choice to go slow.

Turned a boring errand into an adventure.

When I Can’t Write – My 5 Steps Back

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing.  Sometimes the words in my head become too many, and I lose sight of how to get them out.  And other times, the words feel small, insignificant, un-noteworthy.  I’ve struggled to write since we moved house.  I’ve made excuses, both for myself and to other people, but in truth I’ve not been feeling it.

Before Bee, my passions were all-consuming.  I would lose myself within them.  Hours would pass and I would give my whole self over to whatever I was doing.  Now its much more difficult.  There is little space for indulgence.  Time is precious.  Sleep is always in deficit.

I feel the need to write pressing down on me, tickling my fingertips – but that urgency only makes it worse.  I have many things to say, but not always the words.  I know what I need.  I know what will help.

Making Space

Sometimes the journey back to writing is windy.  I need permission to be late.  Permission from myself.  To not write.  To do the things I need to, that put my head in the right space.  Sometimes, fixing something lies far away from where you think.  Sometimes, I go in the opposite direction.  Because, if I stop focussing on writing as my end goal, I start making space for the words.

Step Back From Social Media

Posting on social media tricks me into feeling like I’ve written.  Like eating biscuits for dinner every night.  It’s false satisfaction, with no real substance.  My block is still there, I’ve not really moved past it.  I get drawn in, so very easily.  The speed, and the simplicity.  Not really thinking, not really reading.  Social media sucks away my precious time.  It fills my head with comparisons and follower numbers, self-doubt and envy.  It makes me want things I don’t need.  And while it has its place, its place isn’t in my writing head space.

Self-Care

When I look after myself, my head is clearer.  Things look a little brighter and I can see so much further.  But I’m usually last on my list of things to do.  And it takes a problem to make me realise what I’m missing.  It’s still hard.  Finding the time and putting myself first don’t come naturally.  Especially when it comes to Bee.  I miss her when we are apart, my anxiety rockets, so it has to be a very good reason to leave her.  And ‘me time’ doesn’t usually make the grade.  So, I find other ways.  Small things for me, that nurture my soul.  A relaxing bath.  Drawing, crochet, gardening and photography.  An early night or a luxury lie-in.  When my cup is full and my head is clear, when my mind has room to wander and wonder, I find the words begin to come.

Read

I need to read.  Before Bee, you would always find a dogged-eared paperback in my bag.  I devoured books.  Fiction, biography, poetry, textbooks – I would lose myself between the pages.  Now, I struggle.  Sleep steals those precious moments at bedtime, and daytime eyes are fixed on Bee.  But I need to read.  I need the words.  Words more than nursery rhymes and toddler conversations.  I need to get lost, to be lifted, to feel them.  Because, without the words I have nothing to say.  So, I’ve started reading again.  A snatched poem between play dough and lunch or a quick chapter whilst Bee naps.  A mission to read.  Something always in my bag.

Feel, Breathe and Be

To write, I need to be.  I need to experience.  Have that moment.  See the inspiration.  When Bee and I rush around from one thing to the next, when we have no time, I don’t see.  And if I don’t see, and feel, and breathe the world around me, the moment that I’m in, then I have nothing to write about.  A recent writing workshop with the poet and authentic living teacher John Siddique introduced me to two concepts;

The Artist’s Date (The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron)- a planned time for experiencing. An expedition to explore something that sparks whimsy and fires the imagination.  An assignment to play.

Heartfulness – listening to our heart as the guiding principle in our search for a truthful life  Being heartful opens us up, so we’re not just seeing and thinking, we’re seeing with our heart.  If we remove our self, and all our barriers, our hearts will find the words.

And so I write.  Slowly at first, but I can feel the gathering momentum.

Breastfeeding Made Me The Mother I Am

I wanted to be a breastfeeding mother, but when asked, I’d modestly add, “if I can”.

I wanted an unmedicated water birth, but when the doctors suggested induction, I politely agreed.

I wanted delayed cord clamping, but when no one asked me, I didn’t say.

I thought I’d read enough books. I thought I’d been to all the classes. I thought I was prepared.

But not for a 4 hour labour. Not for syntocinon contractions, nor the heady blur of gas and air. Not for a retained placenta, spinal block and surgery. Nor for being separated. Properly meeting my baby all swaddled and sleeping in the hospital crib.

Tired, hazy, unable to move and in shock. Wheeled up to the ward and told to sleep.

No one told me to feed my baby.

She slept and slept. I watched and watched. Too hot, too wired. In shock.

No one told me to feed my baby.

Phone calls happened, friends came and visited, and she slept and slept. I smiled and smiled.

I was told off for removing my bed socks, told off for still being dehydrated. Not allowed to have my catheter and cannula removed until my urine was clearer. Not allowed out of bed. Unceremoniously washed by the healthcare assistant.

No one told me to feed my baby.

Until I asked and was met with surprise, had I not tried to feed her yet?

Breastfeeding began with hand expression. The tiniest drops of colostrum to rub on her lips, over and over.
When finally she made a latch, no one was there to see. In my curtain-walled cubicle, just me and Bee trying to figure it out until morning.

Once at home I fell apart. In shock and overwhelmed, as milk came in and hormones surged, I spiralled out of control. Dehydrated and unable to sleep, fear dragged me through that first week. Terrified of failing this new little person, so long yearned for, so long wanted. Too scared to leave her side, pushing away from her every need.

I’d verse Dan in how to care for Bee – just in case I couldn’t do it, in case I really did shatter into a million pieces. My wholeness held together by spider threads, a ghost from one feed to the next.

Every time she cried my heart would pound. No time to breathe. No room for love.

 

The internet said, “Stopping breastfeeding eased my postnatal depression.”

Friends moved to formula, “It’s so much easier.”

The health visitor said, “Why not try a bottle here and there?”

The doctor said, “Formula isn’t evil, it really won’t hurt.”

But I had to breastfeed.

It was all I had that made me feel like a mother.

My hospital notes lay on the kitchen table, ferried to weigh-ins and postnatal checks.  On one page the scribbled note of a busy midwife, sending a lifeline.

La Leche League.

Driving over the moors at 12 days old, desperate to not be the only one.  Just to see another mother breastfeeding. Someone else choosing to feed this way. Not one, but a room full.  Mama’s breastfeeding their babies, their toddlers, and children.

A room full of fighters, of warrior women and mighty mamas.  All with their breastfeeding journeys, their stories and love to share.  A space held for who ever should need it.  A place to admit, and a place to build up.

A place I returned to month after month, refuelling my confidence, confirming my instincts.

I watched and listened, I grew.
I had this.

Breastfeeding when I hated it.

Breastfeeding all night when I needed to sleep.

Breastfeeding in lay-bys and car parks, on benches and in train stations.

Breastfeeding through “colic”, blocked ducts and thrush.

Breastfeeding alone in a playgroup full of bottles.

Breastfeeding in front of uncomfortable men.

Breastfeeding tiny tears away.

Breastfeeding smiles and milk drunk bliss.

Slowly I noticed my fear less and less.

Until one day, there was enough space for love.

I found it in Bee, where it had always been waiting.

Postnatal Anxiety: The Challenge of Becoming A Mother and How I Coped

I suffer from anxiety.  Sometimes its crippling, but mostly its manageable.

I’ve always been a worrier.  Even as a child, I’d fret about homework and house points and even Santa.  I worried about my friends, my brothers friends, and whether my teachers liked me.  I was the child at a sleepover who cried because they wanted to go home.  The perfection I strived for in my art coursework had my parents despairing, as I tore page after page of my work to pieces, and started again.  I wasn’t necessarily shy.  I enjoyed performing in assemblies, reading in church and even appeared on stage at my local theatre.  But that was all practiced and perfected.  I struggled with the unknown and the uncontrollable.

Throughout adulthood my anxiety has waxed and waned.  Mostly it is an undercurrent, managed with the tools I’ve gathered along the way.  Occasionally, it’s caused me real problems – time off work, unable to go out alone, medicated and in therapy.  Thankfully, I can count those episodes on one hand.

After giving birth to Baby Bee my anxiety reared its ugly head.  She was 3 days old, it was the middle of the night and I had a panic attack.  My mind told me I was having a break down, that I’d be taken away, and little Bee would be all alone.  I couldn’t see how she could possibly survive without me and the pressure of that was overwhelming.  I could barely sleep or eat for the next four days, as I forced down mouthfuls that my instinct told me I needed, to nourish my post-birth, breastfeeding body.  Visitors came and went and I smiled through it all.  This was supposed to be the most amazing couple of weeks of my life after all.

I saw the doctor, anxious about my anxiety, but she told me it was just the baby blues.  That it would pass in a few weeks.  Well, it did ease off eventually, but it didn’t disappear with the hormones.

Slowly, as the weeks morphed into months, I was able to reach into my bag of tools again and manage the anxiety I was feeling.  The post-birth shock, dehydration, lack of sleep and baby blues had made it impossible before.

The anxiety I experience since becoming a mother has changed.  Its focus has shifted.  It’s still about the unknown and the uncontrollable.  But now, everything I worry about is compounded with the thought of Bee.

My fear of being separated from her.

My fear of dying and leaving her.  No longer being there for her.  Not being able to comfort her.  Missing out on the rest of her life.

It’s even hard writing about it now, as I usually go to great lengths to avoid my triggers.  For many months I couldn’t watch or read anything that had someone dying in it.  I even struggled spending time with Bee’s grandparents, and avoiding them wasn’t really an option.  Thankfully, I’ve learned to find a way through, and I even (albeit by accident) watched a film this week in which a mother died of cancer – and I coped with it.

I practise mindfulness, to live in the present.  It doesn’t always work, but nine times out of ten I head my anxiety off before it can take hold.

Self-Care

Be kind to yourself.  Don’t add to your anxiety by throwing in negative thoughts about yourself.  You are beautiful, you are enough, and you are worth it.  Find time to treat yourself.  Create space to just be you.  Practice relaxation.  Or, if like me, you actually find relaxation/meditation anxiety-inducing, then do whatever helps you calm down and slow down.  I like to listen to music, take a candle-lit bath or snuggle up on the sofa with a fluffy blanket and a cup of tea.  If you practise at being relaxed, it should be easier to call upon the same tools when anxiety strikes.

Company

Sometimes we all need to be looked after.  And when the world gets scary, finding sanctuary in the arms of someone who cares is a brilliant medicine.  Touch releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin.  It makes us feel safe.  Anxious thoughts are so often fuelled by feeling alone.  Sometimes, being in the company of people who care is enough to get you through.

Reason

Anxiety is a physiological response to an imagined threat.  It’s our fight or flight response.  Sometimes a particular thought, object (think phobias) or situation mistakenly triggers our fight or flight response, making us feel anxious.  The next time we encounter that thought, object or situation, our body remembers, and prepares us for action.  In anticipation of fight or flight, the body releases cortisol and adrenaline into our system.  In turn, they raise blood pressure, increase the heart rate and breathing, slow digestion, and can induce shaking and tunnel vision.  The body is getting ready to fight or to run.  Breaking the false connection, and teaching the body that your trigger does not warrant the fight or flight response, is a major step in overcoming anxiety.

Distraction

If anxiety wins out and you find yourself ruminating on worrying thoughts and scenarios, then I find distraction is often I good strategy.  Sometimes I can’t reason my way out of a thought, or I’m too wired to calm myself using relaxation.  Find what distraction works for you.  It depends how your mind works.  Watch TV, read a book, exercise.  For middle of the night distraction I keep a puzzle book by the side of the bed.  It keeps my mind engaged enough that there’s no room for the thoughts I’m trying to avoid.

Nature

One of the best ways to combat anxiety is to reconnect with nature.  Research has found that being in nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, but reduces heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure and the production of stress hormones.  Nature soothes us, it absorbs us and distracts us.  It connects us to the bigger picture and grounds us to the here and now.  Spend time outside on a regular basis.  Walk on the beach, take up gardening, hike on the moors.  And in times of high anxiety don’t forget it as a useful tool.  I spent many an evening during Bee’s early months, deep breathing at the bottom of the garden.

For support with anxiety, talk to your doctor, friends and family.  There are also many organisations that can help, including:

Mind

PANDAS