I went there…

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I always vowed that I would never write about breastfeeding – it has become a far too contentious issue. Today though Facebook decided (for reasons known to its algorithm and marketing strategy) that I may like to read this article from 2013 commenting on the Save the Children campaign calling for large cigarette-packet style warnings on all boxes of formula milk – warnings which would state that formula is inferior to breast milk.

The rationale behind the campaign is that a reported 830,000 babies a year (in developing countries) could be saved by breastfeeding, in particular if colostrum – mother’s first milk – is given within the first hour of life, kickstarting the child’s immune system.

Sadly, formula milk is often inappropriately and aggressively marketed in poor countries which, coupled with a lack of midwife support, can lead mothers to believe it to be a better choice for their babies than breastmilk, even if they do not have regular access to clean water with which to mix the formula. Prominent messaging on all boxes of formula would aim to educate women around the world on the benefits of breastfeeding allowing informed decision making by the mother.

This is a situation that I had not been particularly aware of – so thank you facebook, three years too late, but I am a little more educated.

The irony for me is that had I been directed to this article in 2013, when it was first published, I would not have been able to read it, at least not all the way through and not without dissolving into tears.

It was published a few months after Miss Lizzie was born and I would have been overcome with guilt at my own breastfeeding issues. This article actually places no judgement upon mothers who formula-feed, but I would have felt it. The notion of inferiority in relation to formula milk would have stung so deeply; the words “cigarette” and “warning” would have swum before my eyes and fresh feelings of upset at my inability to breastfeed my child would have floored me. The bigger picture of the lives of hundreds of thousands of babies in developing countries would have sadly been lost on me – I was in the blinkered stages of early motherhood and my single focus was my child. For the hundredth time that day I would have hated myself for failing my child – because as a mother who could not breastfeed her baby that is how I felt, or more correctly, that is how I was made to feel. At the time I did a fairly good job of disguising how devastated I was to anyone save my immediate family, but it was there and it very much affected how confident and how happy I felt as a new mother.

Today we are judged on almost all aspects of parenthood but none more harshly and none more openly than when it comes to feeding. Breastfeeding is the “beautiful” and “natural” choice but where does this leave formula-feeders – unnatural mothers? Ugly? Mothers who formula-feed their babies have become fair game for critics and comment. While I wholeheartedly support the need to educate mothers around the world on the benefit of breastfeeding, we need to address the antagonism shown to mothers who formula-feed. At its very worse I have seen social media threads where formula-feeding has been likened to abuse of your baby. The message is no longer “breast is best” but “breast is best and formula is dreadful”.

This is my plea – do you live in a country where access to information regarding breastfeeding is significantly limited? Are you a healthcare professional working with new mothers? If the answer to these questions is ‘no’ then you do not need to question or comment on a mother’s choice of how she feeds her baby. You do not know the reasons that a mother chooses to formula-feed her child. You do not need to know. You do not need to understand. You do not need to judge. You need to respect that that mother is probably doing the very best job that she can.

Making a mother feel guilty for her feeding choices does not make her a better mother. Guilt makes us angry and it makes us sad. Guilt makes us resentful and makes us turn on each other. Guilt cannot change the impossible into the possible.

Take a stand

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Last week when I picked Miss Lizzy up from pre-school, one of her teachers relayed to me that there had been an ‘incident’. In the two minutes it took me to get upstairs to her my mind raced with images of injuries, fights and a million improbable scenarios. (I wish my brain functioned as quickly in all situations.)

As it turns out Miss Lizzy had been reading a book when all the children were asked to put away their activities and transition to lunch. Miss Lizzy is usually one of the first to do what her teachers ask her to do, but that day, instead of complying, she told her teacher that she wanted to continue reading her book. When her teacher had insisted, Miss Lizzy had thrown the book to the floor in anger. She was kept behind and made to tidy away her book – something that she reluctantly, and after some persuasion, eventually did.

I wasn’t sure what was expected of me in terms of my response to this, but I appreciated the insight into my daughter’s day. I reiterated to Miss Lizzy, in front of her teacher, that she must do what she was told and Miss Lizzy apologised.

Later that evening, over a telephone catch up with my mum, I mentioned how Miss Lizzy had acted at school. My mum’s response was “good”.

Good? I was at least expecting “oh dear”

Mum explained – Miss Lizzy is always such a good girl, always doing what she is told, she felt it showed great spirit that Miss Lizzy had stood up for something that she wanted; that when she really believed in something that she would take a stand.

How true.

I tell my daughters every night, before they go to sleep, that I love them and that I am proud of them. That night I was proud of Miss Lizzy for taking her stand.

Today is International Women’s Day. A day of recognition and celebration of the achievements of women around the world. A day when we, as women, join together to fight for women’s rights. A day when we try to initiate positive change in women’s lives.

I do not know what my daughters will achieve in their lifetimes. I do not yet know what challenges they will face, nor what obstacles they will have to overcome. I do not know what equality will look like by the time they reach adulthood.

I have no expectations of my daughters, but I have hopes for them and hopes for me as their mother.

I hope that I will be able to inspire my daughters to realise their potential, to help them find a place of confidence in the world, wherever that be. I hope they understand that education is a privilege not a chore. I hope that ‘happy’ and ‘fulfilled’ have more meaning to them than ‘popular’ and ‘pretty’. I hope that they will always stand by each other.

And lastly, I hope that I can allow my daughters the freedom to take a stand when they really believe in something.

Staying Whole

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Lots is written about being a mum.  Not so much is written about being a person after having children.  When you have a baby you become a mum, but what becomes of you?

A few months  ago, my (rather brilliant) sister said to me that the most important thing she felt a mum could be was to be a whole person – my first thought was “what the bloody hell are you talking about?!” but then I began to think.

I put a lot of thought, time and energy into how I parent my daughters – into being a mum – what they eat, what they play, where we go, where they will go to school, what groups they attend, what experiences I provide for them, what they wear, how I discipline them, how I talk to them, our daily routine etc, etc, etc…

But that conversation with my sister left me wondering how much time and energy I invest in being me. Of course I am a mum, that is me, but is it the whole me, and more importantly, should it be?

How often do we read and hear quotes such as “my children are my whole life”, “my children are everything” and how often do we question this?

That conversation made me realise how I was beginning to lead my life.  Was I in danger of losing me entirely to being a mum?  In my life before children I had a career, I loved to travel, I loved fashion, I loved to eat out and I loved art.  I chose to give up my career so that I can stay at home with my girls, and in the haze of being a mum to two little ones I realised that I gave up on all of the other parts of me as well.  I had so little energy due to lack of sleep and so much less time that it was just easier to devote all of my energy into my girls.  It wasn’t even a conscious thought, it just happened.  Motherhood took over.

That said, even in conscious thought, I would willingly sacrifice pretty much anything for my girls.  But, I am attempting to raise them to have drive, to have ambition, to be brave, to lead a passionate and exciting life filled with laughter and adventure (and more).  So, I must lead by example.  I must be a role model.  It would be so easy to allow it, but I cannot make my girls my everything.  I cannot burden my daughters with being my only passion.  That is an unfair weight for them to carry.

I am thankful every day for my girls, to experience being a mum and everything that comes with it (even the crap bits).  I know I am blessed beyond measure.  My daughters’ lives are ridiculously important to me – but they are their lives, not mine.  I cannot live through them.

I love being a mum. But I am more than that.

I am not who I was before I had children. I never will be.  Motherhood has fundamentally changed me and changed my view of the world.  But, for my sake and for the sake of my girls I know that I need to make the time and find the energy to be a new and whole me.  To be a person who is multifaceted and complete with interests, likes and dislikes so that I can inspire them and offer a rounded view of the world.

I am not (unfortunately) Wonder Woman.  I am still tired.  I still have less energy.  I still find balance hard.  I am just now learning to live a life where being a mum and being me can co-exist, to let go of the guilt and live some parts of my life just for me. But instead of “my children are my everything” my slogan reads “my children are incredibly important to me, I love them to bits, but I do also have other things in my life that I am passionate about which might sound a bit selfish but it is important for me and my children”. Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue but still….