Positive Communication

‘All done!’ says my 20 month old as I fasten the last button on her dress. ‘All done?’ she says in a small hopeful voice after the first rinse of her hair in the bath. The speed with which she has grasped concepts like ‘all done’, and the way she daily picks up new words and how to use them in the correct way amazes me. Sometimes she only needs to hear something once and it becomes a new favourite. This absorption of knowledge and words serves as a reminder that the language I use around her and how I talk to her is so important. It can shape so much of her character, who she will become, how she will interact with other people. Communicating with my toddler is a big responsibility indeed!

Often we say things to our children without really thinking about it and with little regard for what message it sends them. We use phrases that we have grown up hearing ourselves, and that we hear other people say to their children on a daily basis. It becomes automatic, an involuntary reflex almost. But these seemingly innocuous expressions can have a deeper impact on our children, who are taking so much more in than we often realise.  I occasionally hear myself say certain things and realise that those aren’t necessarily the messages I want to send my daughter, and resolve to take more care and put more thought into how I speak to her.

I’m thinking of phrases like ‘good girl/boy’, which seem innocent enough, but when consistently said every time your child does something, can reinforce certain unhelpful messages. I’ve occasionally found myself saying ‘good girl’ when she does something that I’ve asked her to do, but when I think about it, I don’t want her thinking that she has to do things just to please me, or that I’ll only think of her as ‘good’ if she always does as I tell her. I try saying things like ‘thank you’ now instead. The same goes for when she completes a puzzle, or correctly identifies animals and colours. Consistently telling her how great she is for doing these little things can lead to her expecting such praise all the time, and doing things for the wrong reason, and maybe even fearing getting something wrong or being unable to do something. I want her to enjoy learning and developing for their own sake, to work through things for herself, not because she thinks I expect it of her or because I have ‘trained’ her to do so. Watching her face light up when she completes her shape sorter, rather than being pleased because I’ve told her what a good girl she is for doing it, is far more rewarding for both of us.

That’s not to say that I’ll never tell her I think she’s done something well and worthy of praise, or that I appreciate what she has done – of course I will, but I’d like to help her develop her own sense of appreciation for her achievements too, and a joy in just playing and learning along the way – I hope this will be a healthy motivation for doing things.

Another important feature of language is manners, specifically the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. We all want polite and well-mannered children, but I think of it as something that has to be learned rather than taught. How many of us have given a child a gift, only for their parents to tarnish their joy by forcing them to say thank you. When forced, it is always said begrudgingly rather than meaningfully. Surely we would much rather our child said it out of genuine appreciation and with understanding of the concept of gratitude rather than because they’ve been made to say it. And how much nicer it is to be on the receiving end of meaningful thanks.

Children learn through observation and experience, through listening to their parents and watching how they interact. I don’t want it to be any different for my daughter when it comes to manners.  I’ve never forced her to say other words, so have decided not to do the same with please and thank you. We make sure to say please and thank you around her, and when interacting with her too, so that she eventually understands the concept for herself and will use the words when she is ready to and comprehends what she is saying. I’m sure that along the way a lot of people will think she is rude, that we’re irresponsible parents, but hopefully after learning from us she will be happy to express these sentiments herself one day.

We’re still early on in our parenting journey, and every day is a learning experience for us as parents as well as for our daughter. Watching how she learns and picks things up has been a real education for me and has made me realise that I need to put thought into things that are so often just automatic. Of course we’ll make plenty of mistakes along the way, but so much of what we do goes into shaping this little human being, and communicating with her in a positive and respectful way is a good place to start.

Toilet Learning

The idea of potty training has always scared me a bit.

Every other issue that has caused me anxiety I have found a sneaky way around it. I avoided the financial strain and endless cardboard boxes cluttering my house by using washable nappies, I avoided the strenuous task of preparing batches of homemade veg purees when I did Baby Led Weaning, I started babywearing and found getting about so much easier than ramming my pram up and down curbs… how was I supposed to avoid scrubbing my floor of baby poo whilst my naked son danced around the living room weeing? That was all I could see.

I had it in my head, pre-parenthood, that children all got to two, then with effort and stubbornness the parent got them using the potty or the toilet. If they didn’t they were probably lazy.

I suppose I knew I was going to take a child led approach to it but it was so unknown. When is a child ‘ready’? Mine turned two and had a vocabulary of about 50 words, and his communication was not at the average level. He didn’t have any idea that he had dirtied or wet his nappy; it was something that had never bothered him.

He had had access to a potty since he was 18 months and had been encouraged to sit on it whilst the bath ran (in the hope of encouraging a coincidence to learn from). It was very new and exciting for a while but it soon became a stress and that was the last thing I wanted it to be. Two coincidence wees and one coincidence poo were the fruits of our labours – and that was far from worth it.

So the potty became a hat and I started to let go of the idea of having a child trained at 2. I was due my second son; it was a bad time. But I knew in my heart of hearts he wasn’t ready and there wasn’t a gentle, loving way of teaching him – and that was a good reason to stop.

I didn’t think much more about it until I could see his awareness changing, probably 4 months later. I could see he was absorbing and learning so much: suddenly he grasped puzzles, using a fork, and widened his vocabulary considerably. His final molars broke and I started to wonder about how he learnt, why he picked up some things and not others. What excited him? What interested him and motivated him to learn?

We did. He learnt through watching and then by doing – his language was nowhere near a level where something could be explained. An adult ‘reason’ for doing something couldn’t be grasped. It had to be an instant consequence – he could see us doing something, try it, then establish its usefulness. Our little scientist.

He had entirely learnt to eat this way, play with his toys this way, climb onto the sofa… how could I apply the way he learnt to toilet training?

Maybe I needed to change my perspective on this; rather than toilet training, this was going to be toilet learning.

So we started getting his attention when we used the toilet, and although he wasn’t as good at language we explained it simply. We occasionally asked him if he wanted to go on the toilet and do a weewee; sometimes we got a yes – it was quite a privilege to sit on the toilet (especially on your own special seat!)

So one day I offered him some light motivation: ‘If you do a weewee on the toilet you can push the button’. It just clicked, and to my surprise he did it for the novelty. He knew how to isolate the right muscles to some extent! I was quite excited.

So I would ask him from time to time, and sometimes he said yes, others no. He once asked to go at a friend’s house and surprised us both by actually going. As time went on we offered more frequently, we got less wet nappies, we put him in pants part time (subject to plenty of accidents!) –  he was figuring it all out.

Within 4 weeks I managed to pick up his ‘poo-signs’ effectively enough to take him and I will never forget his delighted little face as he heard and then mimicked loudly ‘A plump!’.

It was all a natural progression; he would go to the toilet when offered and taken. Accidents decreased, I got braver with a few pants outings (not all successful) and he still wore nappies when we went out sometimes.

Our toilet learning adventure is still on-going. I’m amazed as it has all happened so quickly and he has led the way and seems to be quite proud of his achievement. He’s starting to ask frequently now as well as remaining dry overnight – we use less than one nappy a day. He still wouldn’t understand a decent explanation; he doesn’t think using a nappy is ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ and he never had pressure to progress. I haven’t felt stressed and have never had to scrub smeared poo off the floor.

And my child has not done a naked wee dance.

(Yet.)

Being a Babywearing Dad

When you find out that you are expecting your first child there are a number of things you start to think about: cot, car seat, possible names and a pram, amongst various other ‘practical’ things. We spent a long time thinking about which pram to purchase – it needed to be small enough to fit in the car, not pink or blue, and plenty of other things we thought were necessary.

It never really occurred to me that there was another way for a baby to commute – prams are just the ‘done thing’. Claire had bought a sling when pregnant, but I never thought it would actually replace the pram or become a long term thing. It wasn’t until after Matilda was born and when Claire started to use the sling did I see the advantages.

Initially, I guess like most people unfamiliar with them, I feared that Matilda would fall out when the sling was undone, that it would be awkward to use, that it might make her ‘clingy’. Then I tried the sling on for myself and I felt a real closeness with my child – it felt like we were one. Claire already had a special bond with Matilda having carried and birthed her and now through breastfeeding; babywearing enabled me to develop a bond with her too.

One thing I love about babywearing is the interaction Matilda and I have when out and about – I can talk to her and point things out to her – things I couldn’t do with her in a pram. She sees the world from our perspective and is learning so much about everything around her, all from the comfort and security of our arms. And when she is tired she snuggles in and goes to sleep. She walks a lot when we are out now, but when she is tired, or wary of her surroundings, she puts her arms up and we put her in the sling and she gets rest and security.

Babywearing is really practical too. If Matilda is tired or just wants to be close to us, I can put her in the sling and get on with things – mowing the lawn, washing the dishes. We can go for family walks in the forest without worrying about how far we can get with a pram. And we can fit all our shopping in the car because the boot space isn’t taken up with a pram. There are so many benefits!

I feel like such a proud dad walking with her close to my chest. Sometimes people give you funny looks, especially now she is bigger, but I can’t help but feel for those other dads that don’t experience the kind of bond with their child that babywearing can bring. It’s so important to me as a working dad to develop a relationship with my child – babywearing is a perfect way to do that.

We haven’t used that cute green pram that we put so much time and thought into buying for a very long time – it has been folded up and put away, and I have no fond memories of using it, whereas babywearing has given me so many special times and memories, and has had an wonderful impact on our child and our lives together as a family.

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From Midwife to Mummy: How Not Breastfeeding Taught Me To Be A Gentle Parent

Please note that I am not endorsing any of the following practices or philosophies as a professional. The beliefs I have, and the choices I have made are as a mother, not as a midwife.

For years I was a career midwife. I loved my job and liked babies but had no desire to have one of my own. I’d seen just how much they disrupted life and I was quite happy with my uninterrupted sleep and leisurely days off. When I got married, my husband had other ideas! When I got pregnant I started reading up on birth and parenting. You’d think a midwife would know it all, but I wanted to do things a bit differently from conventional parenting. Besides, midwives only work with babies up to four weeks of age, and I wanted to have an idea of what to do AFTER that. A cousin of mine was into baby wearing and had tandem fed her toddler and newborn baby, which had intrigued me. Added to this were years of seeing parents whose instincts told them to lift their unsettled babies and comfort them, but were worried that doing so would “spoil” the baby, or make life difficult for them. I don’t know why in our society we believe that babies have to be independent from the moment they are born, that they will conform to a routine from day one, sleeping through the night and feeding the exact same amount every three hours. As much as I hadn’t wanted a baby, I was prepared to put up with the “inconvenience” rather than expect a baby to conform to my routines. I expected to have a baby that would want constant contact with me, would want to feed frequently and to no set pattern and I didn’t expect to get much sleep at night. I read several books about breastfeeding and attachment parenting during my pregnancy. I decided that I would breastfeed for at least 2 years, and probably let my child stop breastfeeding when he/she wanted to. For the first time, I was exposed to the concept of elimination communication (I debated whether I should try this, but then decided I’d probably use cloth rather than disposable nappies, to at least do something for the environment). I read about baby led weaning, and using sign language to communicate with a baby before they could speak. After all this preparation, I felt I was ready to be a baby wearing, breastfeeding, attachment-parenting mum…

Our struggles started on day 1. When my daughter was born we started skin to skin as soon as possible but she showed no interest in breastfeeding. I wasn’t worried, I was prepared for this. I’d had gestational diabetes during my pregnancy so I had expressed antenatally and had 100 mls (over 3 oz) of colostrum carefully stored in the freezer in little feeding syringes, so that if her blood sugars fell she could get my milk rather than formula. Over the next 24 hours, she showed no signs of wanting to feed and her blood sugars fell. In spite of carefully syringe feeding her colostrum every 2-3 hours, we couldn’t get her blood sugars up. She eventually got some high energy formula via bottle because by this stage she was stuffed to the gills and just spitting out that precious colostrum I had expressed for her. Her blood sugars stabilised and we went home, alternating between syringe feeding and bottle feeding her breastmilk. She became quite sleepy and was jaundiced (due to a blood group incompatibility) and was nearly readmitted to hospital for treatment, so for the next two weeks trying to get her to breastfeed wasn’t a big priority, as we needed to get milk in to her to get rid of the jaundice. I continued to express and we fed her every 2-3 hours. My husband was amazing. We’d set the alarm clock and overnight we woke every three hours. He’d feed her to let me pump for the next feed. On top of this I was spending most of the day doing skin to skin with her to encourage her to breastfeed. I’d sit with her lying on my chest, with her back exposed to daylight to try to reduce the jaundice even further. After days of skin to skin, she finally latched on. She was 9 days old. From then on, she would latch sometimes, other times she would just refuse point blank. I tried biological nurturing, laid back feeding, and did hours and hours (and hours) of skin to skin with her. I was doing everything I was supposed to, to get my baby to breastfeed. Eventually I discovered that she had a sneaky, subtle tongue tie which was making it difficult to latch and to stay attached at the breast. Bottlefeeding was easier for her but she tried SO hard to breastfeed. We had days of euphoria where she latched several times and other days of tears, frustration and anger (for both of us) when she just screamed and arched away when I tried to feed her. My first few weeks of motherhood disintegrated into a cycle of: bottlefeed baby, put baby down on bouncy chair, rock bouncy chair with foot and talk to unsettled baby while pumping milk for next feed, lift and cuddle baby, do skin to skin and try to breastfeed, bottlefeed baby (again), pump (again), maybe get breakfast around 12 pm, maybe get a shower around 2 pm, get the bare minimum done around the house, go to bed at 8 pm and wake every 2-3 hours during the night and spend an hour bottlefeeding and pumping each time. The last time she ever breastfed was when she was 9 weeks old. A week later we got her tongue tie revised but by that stage it was too late, she had given up on breastfeeding. I hadn’t given up though, and so for another 2 months I continued to try. I used nipple shields, I tried finger feeding, bathing with her in a process called “rebirthing”, more biological nurturing, attempting more laid back feeding, and yes… more skin to skin. Finally, when she was four months old I accepted that she probably wasn’t going to breastfeed. I was heartbroken. My ideal of being a babywearing, breastfeeding “perfect” mother seemed to be slipping away.

And then two things happened which helped me put things into perspective. My husband and I got really sick with a horrible flu, and since we were both sick at the same time we couldn’t avoid contact with our daughter. I was so worried she’d get sick too, but she sailed through it unscathed, thanks to the lovely antibodies I was giving her in my milk. A few weeks later, we travelled to India to visit my husband’s family. I pumped and bottlefed her breastmilk for the journey there (a 16 hour journey), the two weeks we were there, and the trip back. Although I took formula with me just in case I ran out of breastmilk, she never needed a drop of it. I realised that I had achieved something pretty amazing. Most women don’t even get to 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding and I had managed to give her breastmilk for six months even though she couldn’t breastfeed. I never thought I’d be able to get to six months of pumping and now I am planning to continue giving her breastmilk till she is at least a year old. I also realised that breastfeeding had become more about what I needed rather than what she needed. For a start, it was a blow to my professional ego (“What? A midwife that couldn’t breastfeed?!”). But there was another reason why I was so desperate to breastfeed. To this day, I do not feel like she is really my daughter. I know she was inside me for 9 months but I do not FEEL like she was inside me, like she was part of me. For the first few weeks she was just a very cute baby that I was looking after for someone else. The desperate need I had to breastfeed had more to do with creating a physical, biological link with her that I didn’t (and still don’t) feel. In spite of this, I have bonded with my daughter, I love her dearly. Many of the activities I did in an effort to get her to breastfeed helped me bond with her; spending hours doing skin to skin with her and bathing with her made me fall in love with her. And it was only when I fell in love with her totally and completely, that I no longer felt a strong compulsion to breastfeed.

I also believe that the physical contact we have had throughout the process of trying to breastfeed has had a positive impact on her physical and neurological development. When she was born, she was an unsettled, irritable, unhappy baby. I have photos of her in the first few days and when I see her little anxious, worried face it breaks my heart. Others have written more eloquently about this than I can, but basically sucking is one of the first ways in which a baby calms and sooths himself. Because my daughter had a tongue tie, sucking was uncomfortable and even bottlefeeding was difficult (although not as hard as breastfeeding). She gulped, choked, spluttered and every feed was a struggle. While having her tongue tie revised helped make bottlefeeding easier for her, it was the other things I did – the constant contact and reassurance – that helped soothe and settle her. I genuinely believe that she wouldn’t be the happy, contented relaxed baby that she is today if I had left her in a cot and only lifted her every 3 hours for feeding. So… not being able to breastfeed made me carry out activities that would both help me bond with my daughter AND helped calm her and turn her into a happy baby.

But not being able to breastfeed also taught me important lessons about gentle parenting. I had choices to make when she wouldn’t breastfeed. I occasionally did try to “force” her to the breast, I am not proud of that and I regret it bitterly, but I learned that gentle persuasion is a much better way to work with babies. So even now, six months down the line I still try from time to time to breastfeed, but we keep it casual and light-hearted, with lots of hugs and cuddles. If she roots or tries to latch, I say “Yay!” and give her a kiss and a cuddle and if she doesn’t want to try, she still gets a kiss and a cuddle. My love for her is not a reward for “good” behaviour, it is unconditional. I could have taken her refusal to breastfeed personally (and at times it did feel SO personal) but I learned that she COULDN’T breastfeed properly. It wasn’t her fault, she wasn’t being bad, or manipulative, or stubborn, as some “baby training” books would have us believe. Gentle parenting is about recognising that babies have needs that must be met, and they communicate these needs to us, it is our job and responsibility to respond sensitively to them, NOT to try to train babies to accommodate to our needs. Crucially, I believe that the way I responded to her refusal to breastfeed is an important lesson for me as a parent. At some point I was going to have to ask the question (as we all do as parents): What am I going to do when she does something I don’t agree with, or she does something I don’t want her to do? Am I going to carry on regardless and insist she does it my way, or am I going to sit down, listen to her and try to understand what it is she wants to do, why she wants to do it, and learn to respect her as an individual? OBVIOUSLY, sometimes as a parent I have to go against her wishes if she wants to do something harmful or dangerous, and sometimes gentle persuasion is necessary to get a child to do something they don’t want to do, for their own good. However, central to gentle parenting is the concept of respect. If we show our children respect and attempt to understand them, then we end up working with them, not against them.

I learned a few other important lessons as well. An important one was compromise (also known as: Doing The Best I Can). I had this ideal picture of motherhood: I was going to carry my baby in a sling constantly, I was going to breastfeed, use cloth nappies, take her to baby yoga and baby massage, read her books when she was few weeks old, teach her sign language so she could communicate her needs easily with me, and generally just be the best damn mother around. I felt I had a choice: keep giving her breastmilk and give up all those extra activities I wanted to do, or feed her formula and have a bit of a life. I don’t regret pumping, as it definitely does get easier as time goes on, and it was something I needed to do for me as well as for her, but I learned you can be a gentle parent without all the “extra” stuff. It felt counter-intuitive to put my baby down in a bouncy chair to make her milk, but I made up for it in other ways. I DID wear her in a sling. I talked to her, cuddled her and we pretty much were inseperable 24 hours a day. While I think we would have bonded quicker if I had breastfed, I love my daughter deeply and anybody who sees us says that we are most definitely attached to each other. One of the hardest things for me was bottlefeeding in public because I felt people would immediately judge me and assume I hadn’t tried to breastfeed, that I didn’t want what was best for my daughter. But I’ve learned to put things in to perspective. I’ve learned to not care so much what people think, because I KNOW I’ve done the best I can for my daughter. And since we can’t be gentle parents without being gentle with those around us, let me put this out as a challenge. Let’s not try to outdo each other in the “attachment parenting” stakes. The mother who breastfeeds her child till the age of 5 is not better than the mother who breastfeeds to 6 months or doesn’t breastfeed at all. The same goes for discipline methods, using a push chair instead of a sling, baby led weaning versus traditional weaning… You don’t know the resources that that mother has, or the struggles she has had, to make those choices. I have seen some horribly judgemental and negative comments on some so called “gentle parenting” websites. How can we possibly be gentle parents if we are not gentle with those around us? What lesson does that teach our children? We all want what is best for our children but we all have different resources to hand, and we ALL need to find that balance that works for us.

And the last lesson I learned is this: the value of support. I have always been independent and self-reliant but I discovered that I am a much better mother when I accept a bit of help! Through the last six months, my husband has been the strong one, always sensible and rational, encouraging me to keep trying to breastfeed, and telling me all the right things about how healthy she is because she has had breastmilk. He has also been great at helping around the house and is a pretty fantastic cook. I honestly would not be coping so well with motherhood without him. I will also be eternally grateful to some really wonderful individuals who helped me through a difficult time. I joined a forum called MOBI (Mothers Overcoming Breastfeeding Issues) and the advice, support and kindness I got from other mums helped me through my darkest days. Talking to other mums whose babies have tongue ties has led me to make some really good friends from around the world. Closer to home I became friends with Anne Harper, a mum of two who went through a similar situation, and who patiently and kindly listened to me as I vented my self-pity, despair and longing to breastfeed, and offered me practical and non-judgemental advice. I will humbly admit that I have learned MORE about breastfeeding and dealing with breastfeeding problems from non-professionals, like Anne, in the last six months, than I have EVER learned as a midwife. Joining “gentle parenting” groups has also helped tremendously. It is when I chat to other mothers who want to be gentle parents that I am encouraged and reassured that these choices are the ones that feel right for my family, and the ones that will make my daughter happy, content and secure.

And so, I am a mummy to a beautiful, happy, healthy little girl. Once upon a time I was a midwife and thought I knew everything there was to know about babies and breastfeeding. I have discovered that being a mother requires much more than knowledge or the ability to physically care for a baby. Being a mother requires persistence, an ability to accept difficult situations, an ability to forgive yourself for not being perfect, and above all, a lot of patience, love, and time spent with an amazing little person.

A VBAC STORY

Hello, my name is Karen and I am wife to George, who is from Scotland (I try to tell people this when they meet me so that they understand how crazy I am. No-one over here was mad enough to take me on!). We have two beautiful kidneys – Alistair is 3 and Elliot is 10 months. Oh and I should also say, I talk. A lot!

When pregnant with Alistair I suffered with high blood pressure from around 34 weeks. I really shouldn’t say suffer because it didn’t affect me or make me feel any different! At many routine appointments, I would be sent to the hospital for further monitoring. One Saturday morning I had gone in for a check and they ended up admitting me! I was now 37 weeks and joked with the midwives, I’m not doing anything on Friday it will come then! Little did I know…

I got home on the Sunday (I was already dressed and packed and was leaving whether they allowed me to or not!) and returned as promised on the Tuesday morning. In my very sensible pregnant state I decided to walk to the hospital. A quick 15 minutes down the road. My thinking was I would avoid increasing the bp by having to find a carpark! After 30 minutes of waddling I arrived to be asked if I lived locally and could I come back later as they were busy? Of course I said, no problem. As soon as one foot was outside the building I found myself bursting into tears and phoning George. I cried the whole way home, taking a breather to stop off for a pineapple and some milk! (I never did get to eat the pineapple!).

So that afternoon I returned with the car. Another couple of hours and more deliberation as to whether I was getting admitted but I was let loose. At home I sat down and as it was starting to get dark thought to myself I should really close the blinds. As I stood up my waters broke! Not like it does in the movies but instantly I thought, thats not wee wee!

So the third visit of the day to the hospital but this time they weren’t letting me go. Here my journey begins. I didnt sleep that night with pains. Was this labour? By morning things had settled so later that evening I got a pessary. By Thursday I was put on the drip and in the labour ward. I phoned George to see where he was. “I’m at your mums waiting for the pram and cot” he replied, he soon got the message to come to the hospital!

By 10.30 that night I was set for theatre. Never again will I forget Georges face at the mention of the word caesarean. All I remember thinking was, this is the Lagan Valley they don’t do sections unless you really need them. 9.5 cms I got to and “Failure to Progress” is the term. There’s a sure fire recipe for PND if ever I heard one!

On the way to theatre I saw my mum and dad and waved at them like I was going on holiday and I told my mum she looked tired! I look tired she thought! In theatre I asked will the baby be born today? Yes i was told, but no Alistair came on the Friday not the Thursday as everyone had thought. Premonition?!

At 00:23am and 37+5 our baby was born. Alistair George Brand. The rest they say is history…

As soon as I got pregnant with Elliot, I knew I didn’t want another section. I didnt want to be in pain again, I wanted to be able to drive, I wanted to be able to pick Alistair up. I knew the recovery would be faster with a vaginal birth but I had never done it before so all the anxieties that were there the first time were still there. The how much would it hurt questions buzzing around in my head and all the unanswered questions lying dormant.

Due to the high bp I was under consultant care. She told me that if you have baby number two with the same daddy chances are the bp behaves. I responded by saying well, Daniel Craig married that Rachel whatsherface so I had no option! I came away feeling scared but positive that the vaginal birth was possible and my chances were high and I had the statistics to prove it.

So after 8 whole months of morning sickness (another story) I was approaching 39 weeks. I had never been that pregnant before! I had some pains and was bouncing on my excercise ball as was Alistair on his bouncy ball! Was this it? No, afraid not. They soon disappeared but the following evening I felt another trickle. It was different from before and decided that I would phone the hospital in the monring to see what they said, rather than phoning them so late at night. My thinking was I would get a better nights sleep at home.

The following morning I went to the Lagan Valley for a check. Yes, your waters have broke and yes, you are 2 cms. Great I thought. We went home got the car packed up, made arrangements for Alistair and made our way to the Ulster hospital. Pains had started again and by the time I was seen I was told no, your waters havent broken and no, you are 1 cm and no, you are not in labour.

I wanted to cry. In fact I told George that I was going home to have a home birth because I didnt want to have the baby in the Ulster! They were not telling me things I wanted to hear and I took exception! After another check!! I was finally admitted. Not to the labour ward but the antenatal ward. My hind waters had broken. What were they? I had done this before but yet everything was new.

That evening I was given a pessary and the next morning after half a bowl of fruit and fibre, which I threw back up I made my way to the labour ward. This was the last time I felt sick or was sick apart from the first 3 days of my pregnancy! Same story… I was put on the drip. But this time it was different. This time my baby was born vaginally and only a few hours later. I couldnt believe it! At 14:36 Elliot came into the world and I felt utterly fantastic. Utterly fantastic. I could not fathom that I had managed to do it. I had given birth to a beautiful baby the “proper” way. The only words I’ve ever used to describe how I felt was that I felt that I was the Queen of Sheba and I was.

After some stitches which were taken out and put back in again four times, we made our way back to the ward. Now here is where things go slightly foggy. I actually do remember waving to the midwives and shouting over to them a boy!  Whether or not I was waving the royal wave and whether I told them by VBAC is questionable!

I truely felt like the Queen of Sheba was here and she had had a boy and she had that boy by VBAC and I was more than ready to show him off!  But that she was me, and that baby was Elliot James Brand.

I remember when people asked afterwards which way was easiest? The sunroof or the chuff? The answer. Neither! But do you know what? I did recover sooner and I had achieved such a wonderful thing. I had done it. Me.

I really can not put into words how happy and how proud I was of myself.

K x

Gentle Parenting & Pregnancy

I’m Claire (another one!), married to Mark with one lovely boy, James, who just turned two at the end of May. Baby no2 is in the oven & due to be ready around the end of August.
When pregnant with James, I fully intended to breastfeed but, beyond that, I expected to be a cry it out, no ‘pandering’, naughty step using mummy.

Hmmm…..
James was not the only new person born that day in May. I’ll not compare myself to a butterfly, how about a snake shedding its old skin? That day a change began- I slowly discarded who I thought I was (or should be) and discovered me. Turns out, me is quite the hippy – breastfeed for 18 months, co-sleep most of the time. I consider myself a baby-led parent (although didn’t BLW as it scared me. Like I say, gradual work in progress!)

I did try crying it out one night. It was actually husband who came running up the stairs & lifted a hysterical, sweaty James from his cot. That was an epiphany moment- screw what the mass media would have me believe I ‘should’ be doing, I was going with my instinct. I always believed if a baby cried, it was for a reason. Maybe not one of the ‘valid’ reasons we’re told- hunger, wet nappy or pain- but still a reason. Who doesn’t just sometimes need a cuddle?!

So, that explains how I try to parent. Being sensitive to my child’s needs. That his behaviour is always for a reason.

However… Being 29 weeks pregnant, with quite bad pelvic girdle pain & an increasingly energetic two year old, I find my ‘instinctive’, hopefully gentle, parenting requires much more of a conscious effort. I’m doing my best but I am not a robot. When exhausted, I have been known to get snappy. I know that it is not a coincidence that since I have started struggling that James’ behaviour has also changed and this makes me feel terrible.

I think parenting is fluid. To date, my ‘me’ time of choice has always been family time or just James & I. So now it’s accepting that actually what will help me be the best parent I can, & to parent in the way that I want, is to take time to REST. It’s a struggle- that old parenting constant: GUILT.

But the journey that started in Craigavon MLU in May 2011 is an ongoing one. The lessons I am learning now will make me a better parent. A gentle parent.

Work/Life Balance

Hi, I guess I should start by introducing myself, I’m Jamie. I have a beautiful wife, Chrisy and three wonderful children, Noah (6), Matilda (5) and the baby of the family is Alexis (1).

My family define me, they make me who I am and fatherhood is the most rewarding journey I’ve ever been on, but I’m not going to blog about how parenting has come easy to me or about how fatherhood seems to suit me, I’m not going to kid anyone. BEING A PARENT IS HARD WORK. It requires commitment above any job, its 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  And therein lies the subject of my 1st blog.

I also have a day job, I work 5 days a weeks, and the odd weekend, I get 6 days off a month so my work/life balance sucks. I leave the house every morning at 0820 and I’m home at 1715. I never get to take my kids to school or pick them up after school, I don’t get to take our youngest to swim class or baby sign class or even the doctors when she’s ill or needs her injections. Don’t get me wrong I know I’m lucky to be in work in these times of austerity but that doesn’t make it any easier when I see my main role in life as a parent and a husband. I often worry that my kids will notice as they grow up that daddy didn’t pick them up from school as often as the other daddies or didn’t take them to swim class or ballet which is why when I get home, I try my hardest to be the best parent and husband I can be. Ok, sometimes I’m grumpy and sometimes I’m tired but my kids won’t be kids forever so I try not to moan and I try not to let them see that sometimes I’m dead on my feet (excuse the pun for those that know me). All they want when I come home is my friendship, they want to play and they want me to join in, sometimes I’m not very good depending on what the game is, but sometimes even just being silly and dancing in the kitchen is enough. When my kids are older, ok they might say ‘daddy worked hard for us when we were younger’ but I also hope they’ll say ‘our childhood was a happy one, mum and dad were always good to us and we are who we are today because they gave us that happy start in life’. And here’s why I hope they’ll say that;

When Chrisy and I started our family in 2006, we did everything by the book, I worked, Chrisy stayed at home, Noah slept in a moses basket until about 5 months, then a cot in his own room, he was breast fed until 6 months then bottle fed, we used disposable nappies, he ate pureed food. We did everything that the main stream media would have us believe was right. With Tilly things were pretty much the same, maybe we were slightly more relaxed because it was 2nd time round but all in all it was the same schedule. When Alexis came along in 2012, I thought it would be the same formula but then chrisy discovered ‘sling meets’. I have to say I thought it was just a way of carrying your baby like the ‘baby Bjorn’ we used to have. Little did I know that it would become a way of life for us. I could see that chrisy really loved the fact that she had not only found a new way of parenting but also she had discovered a support network for mums and dads. Now this isn’t a support network where they read the answer from a text book, this is a network where they give you advice based on experience of what will make your child happiest. ‘Gentle Parenting’ was not a term I had heard before but it now defines the way we parent, when our baby cries we lift her, when she’s hungry she eats the same food as the rest of the family, Alexis is still breast fed at 13 months and will continue to be until Alexis is ready to stop, when she sleeps she stills sleeps with us, when we go out as a family, Alexis is carried in a sling (or a Tula if I’m doing the carrying, as I still haven’t got the hang of all the carries), Alexis wears cloth nappies (and hardly ever suffers from nappy rash) and any discipline is dealt out in the kindest and softest manner possible and with all this I have to admit while I maybe had reservations at the beginning, our beautiful baby Alexis is the happiest little girl in the world. We also adapted this way of parenting to our older two, and while they can still be right little terrors, I think the family as a unit is moving in the right direction, the children are happy and as a consequence so am I. If I could just sort this work/life balance thing in my favour then life for our house would be much closer to perfect than even I expected.

I guess the advice I’m trying to dispense today is ‘your kids will always be your kids but they won’t always be children, if you have a job that takes you away from them, then work harder when you come home, be their friend, their teacher, their mentor, their chef, their referee, their dance partner, their disciplinarian, but above all be that gentle parent that we all aspire to be and while you’re being all these things, have fun cause before you know it they won’t be children anymore’

Thanks for reading! J x

 

 

Nighttime Parenting

Dear daughter

You are now 18 months old and still like to nurse frequently at night. Sometimes I wonder if we will ever reach that holy grail of parenting – ‘sleeping through the night’, but it seems a long way off, and when I really think about it, I don’t think I’m ready to lose that nighttime contact with you anyway. Sure, I am tired, and some nights when I hear you stir all I want to do is roll over and go back to sleep. But I never do, despite being told that night weaning is the solution to your relative lack of sleep. Breastfeeding has been the one constant in your life since the day you were born – you have always been fed on demand, and derive great comfort from it, and it’s not up to me to pick and choose the times of day you get that comfort, or to suddenly and confusingly take it away from you. You have no concept of what time it is, or of the fact that mummy is asleep – all you know is that you need me.

It won’t always be this way. Every day is a reminder that you’re growing up fast, and will gradually become less dependent on me. You’re very much a toddler now and spend your days running about exploring your surroundings and learning. Oh! the learning – new words and increased understanding every day that always amazes me and makes me so proud. It’s bittersweet too though, like so much in being a parent – each new word is like a small step in your journey through life. (Unsurprisingly, your current favourite word is ‘milk’!) Nighttime is the last hint of baby in you now – I watch you in the dark rooting with your eyes closed and your mouth open, and unlike so much else in our lives together now, it’s no different to the day you were born. Instant calm washes over you, and your body gradually relaxes as you drift back off to sleep. For a little while at least.

Though I often wish they weren’t as numerous every night, and sometimes wish cuddles from daddy did the job just as well, I do treasure these moments with you now, as they have become our oasis of calm in a life now filled with energy and activity. They are the only moments I really feel I can fully concentrate on you, and on us – I’m not worrying about the washing yet to be done, the dinner yet to be prepared, or any other number of daily chores that take me away from you or are always at the back of my mind as we read the same book for the tenth time, or take half an hour to climb the stairs. The challenges of parenting a determined toddler are forgotten and left behind during our nighttime sanctuary.

One day you will sleep better, but for now I will try not to wish these precious early years away too quickly.

Love,
Your mama, any time of day or night x

Doing Their Best

Gentle parenting isn’t easy.

I find it takes me phenomenal amounts of patience and understanding, and I find that I need to be constantly vigilant with regards responding to daily situations and happenings in a positive and calm way.

But of course there are other factors that impact upon the amount of patience I may have at any given time in the day, and this, without my meaning it to, affects how I deal with those everyday little situations that crop up when you have 3 little kids tearing about.

The factors I’m talking about are everyday life things, but that are external to both the situation at hand and to the concerns of the children involved. Perhaps I ate too much at lunch, and I don’t feel so good; perhaps I haven’t eaten; perhaps I’m thinking about work, or money, or my relationship, or frustrated at a little piece of code I can’t get to work.

Whatever it may be, such distractions can mean I don’t deal with a situation as positively and calmly as I could have. It ends up with me being frustrated at the children, they’re frustrated with me because of course they have no concept of the code I can’t get to work and why I might be frustrated by it, and ultimately with me being frustrated with myself.

But then think about it the other way around. What created the situation that required intervention in the first place? Perhaps the child involved has an upset tummy, perhaps they are hungry, or thirsty, or tired, or they have a bug working on them, or they simply just need some downtime.

One thing that helps me is something Jan Hunt wrote in her book The Natural Child, and it is something that I have found to be profoundly invaluable in trying to parent in a gentle and respectful way. It is that children are always doing their best. They are doing their best in any given situation, based on their level of knowledge, their experience, and how they are feeling at that precise moment in time.

They don’t have our level of experience, they don’t see situations the way we do, they’re not trying to be deliberately annoying, or obtuse. You’re their hero, and they can’t help but want to please you.

It’s also worth remembering that kids live in the moment. We, as adults don’t – we’re always thinking about something else, whether it’s what to make for dinner, or that we need to tidy the house. Children have none of these preoccupations; when they’re sitting in the mud, they’re thinking about mud, not the fact that they’re getting their clothes dirty and it’s going to mean extra washing.

Of course it’s not easy, and I for one find it very difficult. Walking into a situation, it’s hard to first stand back and think of how best to deal with it. But remembering, or at least trying to remember, these two things – that children are always doing their best, and that they live in the moment – I have found invaluable in helping to parent in a respectful, calm and considerate way.

For further reading, I highly recommend The Natural Child by Jan Hunt.

An Introduction To My Parenting Journey……

Hi! My name is Christine and I am mum to 3 beautiful (even if I do say so myself!) children. The eldest, Noah is almost 7, the middle, Tilly has just turned 5 and the baby of the family, Lexi has just turned 1.

I had Noah when I was 23 and Tilly 21 months later and thought I knew everything! I was obsessed with maternity programmes, parenting programmes and I worked in a school and a nursery so therefore felt equipped for every eventuality in parenthood!

No matter how ‘well prepared’ you think you are though, parenthood just cannot be planned. Every child and family situation is different.

We were young parents and like most, we parented like we thought we should…. we bought an expensive pram, breastfed for 5/6 months weaning onto formula, baby slept in a moses basket transferring to cot in own room at around the 6 month mark and pureeing vegetables and fruit for weaning time. We used disposable nappies and for handiness we borrowed my cousins high street carrier (when I wore this I thought I was being really ‘out there’ and cool, I did however discover a Kari-Me stretchy wrap with Tilly and then I thought I was a raving hippy but we both adored it!!!) Moving onto toddler years, we used time out, let them cry in their cots (always reassuring every few minutes, never left to cry on their own for long periods of time!!!) and fought with a pram everywhere!

I cannot say I didn’t enjoy those years and I can safely say we have raised 2 wonderful children whom we are both very proud of….HOWEVER…..

Third time round we have gone about things a completely different way.

When pregnant with Lexi, I researched another bit on baby carriers etc and found the beautiful art of babywearing online. I became obsessed, looking up different styles of wraps and companies and cost etc… I was determined to buy one for our new baby. I had experienced babycarrying with Tilly and knew how wonderful it was and this was taking it to a whole new level. I happened to mention to a friend and she said there was a ‘sling meet’ in our local town. I laughed at the thought!! Surely it was a bunch of hippies right?!

WRONG!!! I asked a friend to come with me for moral support and with no baby, heavily pregnant, I headed down to see what it was all about! That was quite honestly the best move I could have ever made!

I have never looked back! I met the nicest and most welcoming group of women in a long time and was introduced to a whole new way of parenting. One which I can honestly say has changed me as a person and most importantly as a mummy to my 3 children.

It’s been challenging and is still a daily struggle to change how I parent the older 2 but I am trying so so hard and WANT to change which makes things a little easier.

Lexi has been worn in a sling since she was 3 days old, I am still breastfeeding at over 1 year, we cosleep, we cloth nappy and she has NEVER been left to cry.

I don’t think for one second that I have treated her any better than the older 2 but I do think I will look back in years to come and be so thankful that I discovered gentle parenting.

I look forward to keeping you up to date with how I am managing the difficulty of tantrums, sibling rivalry and toddlerhood all over again!

Chrisy xxx