Monday, 31 January 2011

Knitbone at Imbolc

The cast is off
This snake has shed its skin
And won’t be charmed back in

If a plaster cast could be a metaphor
For the past, I will remember
How rigidly it bound me

I cast a spell banishing
Casting on, knitting
Blasting off

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Feeding Sam - a story about breastfeeding.

This is a slightly edited version of a piece originally written in 2009, when Sam was two, and published in my local NCT branch newsletter. I am posting it here now after a conversation on Twitter about extended breastfeeding, in the hope that it may be of help to anyone who might be in a similar position. And also to highlight the reality of extended breastfeeding.

I breastfed Sam about half an hour after he was born, finally, 15 days late, by emergency caesarean section, weighing in at 8lbs and 2oz. He latched on straight away and had a good feed for about half an hour. Great!
I’d always planned to exclusively breastfeed Sam for the first six months, and then continue to breast feed him whilst introducing solids until he was at least a year old. I read up on breastfeeding and attended a birth preparation course with Sam’s dad, which included an evening devoted to the art of breastfeeding.

The next two days, however, were not so great. He was constantly hungry and I was constantly trying to feed him while I was in the post-natal ward at the hospital. I asked to see a breastfeeding counsellor, explaining to the midwives that I wanted to exclusively breastfeed because I have a history of severe eczema, asthma, hayfever and oral allergy syndrome and wanted to do anything possible to give Sam the best chance of avoiding of all the above. I did not see a breastfeeding counsellor, apparently no one was available for the whole two days and I kept being advised to give my baby formula.

Only one member of staff at the hospital told me very sympathetically to “keep at it... your milk will take a bit longer to come in because of the caesarean and the blood loss but it will. You’ll have a few difficult days but it will come good.” This advice, which seemed like a great kindness at the time, kept me going.
By the time I left I asked them for some bottles of ready-mixed formula to take with me. Sam was screaming hungry and I had had no sleep for two days and very little rest at all.
I gave Sam 40ml late that night and he immediately looked happier and went to sleep. I devised my own strategy with the help of a book. I decided I would keep a record of all the feeds and made a chart. It was exhausting and for a few days excruciatingly painful…sore and bleeding nipples! This made me a bit braver about trying different positions and taking him off the breast and trying to get him to latch on properly.

Sam was colicky and screamed and cried a lot for the first three weeks. On the advice of my sister I introduced a dropper of Infacol before each feed and this seemed to help. At the same time I stopped the tiny bit of top-up of formula he was having each night and took him to see a cranio-sacral practitioner, who made some subtle but vital adjustments - he had got very squashed up in my womb. Sam slept peacefully as soon as he came home from the first appointment, the colic symptoms eased and I noticed a huge difference in him. He was much happier and able to move his head and arms more freely.

After six weeks I had a postnatal check up and the midwife told me I had now successfully established breastfeeding.
I didn’t tell her I could pluck my eyebrows whilst feeding Sam. Now that is multitasking. By this point I was starting to recover from the caesarean and was off walking everywhere, visiting friends and family and trying to get to meet some new mums and a friend I had made at antenatal classes.

I fed Sam wherever I went: outside cafes; by the river; in the park; at friends’ and family’s homes; even outside Tate Modern! I don’t remember ever having to deal with complaints or too much staring but I did wear a big smock for the first few months and was fairly discreet.

At four months Sam was introduced to baby rice, after demanding to be breastfed
every two hours and eyeing up everyone else’s food. It was the right time. I introduced a new pureed fruit or vegetable every few days and then started to combine them and broaden his diet. He has a good appetite and eats well and, even now, as a two year old will eat most of what is offered to him, although he does ask for ice cream and chocolate for breakfast, he settles for fruit and toast.

I gradually dropped one breastfeed at a time until last July, 2008; I dropped his morning feed which meant we were down to one breastfeed a day, at bedtime.
We were both happy with this but other people found the fact that I was still feeding Sam myself rather strange and even distasteful. So I stopped talking about it. I even had friends who were concerned that I might be “psychologically damaging” Sam by continuing to breastfeed him past a year. They thought it was “strange” that I would have a conversation with him about stopping breastfeeding.

Amongst some friends and family I have found the subject of extended breastfeeding to be the biggest taboo I have ever negotiated. This has been somewhat of a shock to me as I found breastfeeding Sam to be one of the best and most brilliant experiences I have ever had- and what could be more natural? I am well aware after my own initial struggle that breastfeeding is very hard to establish for many people and is not automatic- it is a skill, an art. I feel very lucky to have been able to do it for as long as I did. It is great to have choices and everyone must do what they feel is right for them and works well in their own circumstance.

I do not have an opinion on this except that if you want to do it then give it a go! Get as much information and support as you can.
Eat loads, drink loads of water and talk to people who’ve done it. Phone the NCT breastfeeding counselling line- I did and the woman I spoke to was fantastic. If you don’t like it, can’t get the hang of it, can’t do it for some reason or you decide it just isn’t right for you - then stop. Formula is not evil. That tiny top up worked wonders for me and Sam when I was recovering from the caesarean and establishing my milk supply. He wouldn’t look at a bottle later on even though I was expressing milk and freezing it in the hope that someone else could feed him for once!

Sam was two on the 13th May this year, and I decided we were ready to stop. I went to a local La Leche League meeting to get some advice and support on the best way to do it. They were lovely. I recommend getting in touch with them if you are breastfeeding and need support. I only wish I had known there was a local group before I was about to stop. I got home from the meeting and that evening began to feed Sam as usual, thinking we would stop in the following weeks after I had handed in all my university assignments.

Sam had other ideas. After two minutes of feeding he stopped and said “Finished Mummy. Want dummy.” I couldn’t quite take it in but gradually worked out that he
didn’t want me to feed him anymore and wanted a dummy like another boy at nursery. He’s never had a dummy and it seemed a bit silly to start with one then so I said “No. You’re a big boy now. You don’t need a dummy.” He had always been breastfed to sleep (yes, I know everyone says this is a bad idea but it worked for me…) so it took him a little while to settle. But the next night he went to sleep without a feed, no problems. He’s never asked for “Na na” and that’s it. All done- and, so far, no allergies, asthma and just a tiny smidge of eczema when tired and teething. Now I just have to stop him from frisbeeing his dinner off the table and on to the floor – but that’s another story.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Manipura One

The art of stopping
Choosing a response
To this moment exactly
Harnessing energy
To create a city
Of repose
In my soul

For One Shot Wednesday at the One Stop Poetry site

Mea Culpa In A Hair Shirt

I've been hesitant to say it in case I crash again but I've been feeling better for two whole weeks now. And I haven't felt this consistently well since the end of August last year.

A trip back to the doctors last week saw him pleased with my progress and he doesn't want to see me unless I get poorly again. He has advised me to 'grade my activity' i.e. slowly build back up to my normal level of activity.

Ha ha- Dad goes to India at the weekend, my cast comes off on Monday, the same day I start back at university, and I have nothing else in place to give me any extra help with it looks like I will be hurling myself back in the deep end...or will I?

The silver lining of this extreme fatigue and constant bouts of flu-type illness-yes, really, there is a silver lining- is that I have had a chance to stop and consider my priorities and also realise that I am very lucky to have all the support and opportunities that I do.

I lifted the lid on some more baggage that I have been hefting around and regularly bashing myself over the head with (think smashing your brain in regularly with a bag containing a bowling ball). I have now started to forgive myself for some stuff which I have not been able to even really think about until now. But it's taken years to understand that what left my world in tatters and my heart completely broken was not all my fault, and I am not a failure because of it.

The past is always a bad bet for dwelling in and leads to a brick wall...I have blamed myself entirely. I've lived "Mea Culpa" in a hair shirt and it's time to give myself a break.

So I have and I am. And life is much better and moving on as a result.

Now I am in a strange limbo where I am hoping that I am one of the lucky people that are diagnosed with post viral fatigue syndrome and get well quickly. Only time will tell.

I have been writing my own personal "New rules for living manual" and making some changes. Less than a week til the plaster cast comes off and I can get going again but slow and steady wins the race...

Love, Love, Love xxx

Sunday, 23 January 2011

In The International Year Of The Forest - Help Save OURS

In the International Year of The Forest -tagline: "Celebrating Forests For People", the coalition government wants to sell off ALL of our publicly owned forest to the highest bidder.

In October last year I pledged to join the campaign against this proposed wholesale sell-off of OUR forests in England, currently run by The Forestry Commission.

Until now I have been unable to make good on my pledge due to being poorly. Unlike the Liberal Democrats and their travesty over university fees, I don't intend to break it, so now I am feeling better I have spent a couple of hours this morning getting up to speed with what has been happening.

The campaign is to save our forests is hotting up now as the consutation process begins in February. The 38degrees petition is now at a whopping 172,000 signatures and on Twitter people are trying to see how fast they can get it to 180,000 signatures. If you have yet to sign it you can do so here.

There are now a few excellent campaign web sites where you can see where your nearest forest is up for sale, not IF as they are ALL going to be sold. You can also see which MP to write to, and you can do that here.

The Sunday Telegraph's front page leads with a letter from leading figures and celebrities backing the campaign to save our forests.

You can also write to your MP and ask them to support Caroline Lucas’ Early Day Motion to amend the Public Bodies Bill removing the threat of sale to forests.

The nearest forest to me is about an hour's drive away, Alice Holt Forest in Hampshire. I went there on a rainy sunday, way back in November last year, when I knew the forests were under threat.

I took my 18-year-old niece and my 3-year-old son and despite the cold, wet day we had a great time, tramping through the woods. It is not completely free now because unless you were to cycle, impossible in my case, you have to use the pay and display car park. However it was worth it- great play areas, a cycle-hire and lots of activity packs and information. The forest is used for all kinds of activities from mums and babies groups to education for kids and is a great asset to the local and wider community for theses reasons as well as the obvious.

I will be going back in the spring with Sam, who ran around shouting "this is a magic place" and before if campaigning for its survival deems it necessary which I am sure it will.

I have found myself tweeting and retweeting and sharing endless links about the cutbacks on Facebook, feeling politically impotent. But we are not- now is the time to get active- and fight back constructively and creatively.

From Roger Deakin's book Wildwood:

" When Auden wrote, 'A culture is no better than its woods', he knew that, having carelessly lost more of their woods than any other country in Europe, the British generally take a correspondingly greater interest in what trees and woods they still have left."

Damned right we do....

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

18th Birthday Present

I’m past trying to remember where
In Petticoat Lane I found you
I wonder if people go there still
To buy leather jackets as we did
When it was a rite of passage
Like buying your first pair of DMs
Back then I rode pillion
And needed protective clothing
Not just for posing at gigs in
Although I painted your back
With arcane symbols
So cool and mysterious in 1988
And forgot about that fact
Even when I wore you recently
After breaking my wrist and required
Something waterproof that would fit
Over the green cast on my right arm
For a mystical tour of South London
Where the forgotten chaosphere
Was noted and commented upon

This is my first poem for One Shot Wednesday at the One Stop Poetry site

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Past Bye



Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Stephen Fry's Moab Is My Washpot

Moab is My Washpot lives up to the many superlative review quotes that grace its cover because it is scintillatingly written, grips you by the lapels in its need to be read, and charms and confounds- in other words it is an honest reflection of its polymath and quintessentially English author.

I’ve been meaning to read this book since it came out in 1997 and thought of it again recently, whilst studying a module at university on forms of biography and autobiography.

If you don’t know who Stephen Fry is which cliché have you been living on? Go here and find out more. I was going to attempt to briefly sum up his career but have now thought better of it. When it comes to Fry’s writing how can a review possibly begin to do justice to the way he writes?

The book is warm, witty, entertaining, honest, playful etc ad infinitum- you simply have to go and read it. Fry tosses off more clever and breathtakingly beautiful metaphors, analogies, and generally wondrous, lyrical writing in the course of 400-odd pages than, I am sure, some successful writers manage to squeeze out in an entire career:
“Sex without smiling is as sickly and base as vodka and tonic without ice.”

A few pages in I put the book down and took a moment over one such fine device and thought: “It’s not fair”, but as the story he so brutally and honestly tells of his early years, even when you seemingly have it all, it does not necessarily make for a happy existence:
“After one of those squealing, juddering, stomach-dropping false starts with which trains so tactlessly articulate human emotion...”

There were passages, where he resorts to quoting greek or some greek tragedy or other arcane intellectual thinking where he lost me but never for long and never completely. I feel slightly more knowedgable, healthily challenged and therefore was able to indulge such opaqueness- after all, who can know everything- apart from seemingly Mr Fry himself?

It’s a lovely, shocking, touching and at times heartrending, as well as laugh-out-loud funny book. And at the end of it I ordered Fry’s new autobiography, The Fry Chronicles.

Read it and weep with joy, sadness, laughter and wonder.


Finally with a sigh of relief
Body connects with the earth
Roots shoot into the soil
Looking for sustenance
And providing stability
Limitation necessary
For growth and creation
Bearing fruit is only possible
When you stand still
“Grow where you are planted”
Someone said
I remember my feet
And hold on to my head