Friday, 23 September 2016

Breastfeeding Advice vs. Breastfeeding Reality: Pregnancy

Well, my reality... and lets get this out the way straight off: everyone's experience of breastfeeding is different, so I'm not making any sweeping generalisations.
Here is a semi-condensed collection of everything I've been taught so far.

Pregnancy


"Your breasts begin to gear up for feeding your baby as soon as you're pregnant. Having tingling nipples and tender, swollen breasts is one of the first signs of pregnancy. It's caused by hormones surging through your body.

The skin around your nipples (areolas) may also appear darker, and have tiny bumps. This is nature's visual way of directing your baby towards her feed.

The tiny bumps around your areolas produce an oily substance that cleanses, lubricates and protects your nipples from infection during breastfeeding. It smells like amniotic fluid, so your baby will instinctively move towards this familiar smell soon after birth.

By the time your baby is born, the glandular tissue in your breasts may have doubled in size. The timing of this change varies from woman to women. It can happen in mid- or late-pregnancy, or even after you've given birth.

Don't worry if your breasts don't seem to grow much in size. There's no link between the amount of breast growth and your ability to produce milk once your baby has arrived. When your milk comes in after your baby is born, your breasts will feel noticeably heavier and fuller."

Taken from:

Before I found out I was pregnant I remember looking in the mirror and thinking to myself 'blimey!' As I've said in a previous blog post (http://kookycannedlaughter.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/i-want-what-shes-got.html) I don't have big boobs, and I'm not saying I woke up one day looking like Jordan, it was a small change but it was enough of a size increase to be noticable to me. And I think that must have been the first little tell-tale sign. Not that I paid any attention to it.

"La la la, nothing's different, everythings juuuuust like normal" (this thinking went on for a while... even after the first positive test if you can believe it!)

When the truth did finally kick in and I started getting used to it, I quite liked the idea of this promised increase in boob-age (so did my fiance). But it never happened. I watched my pregnant friend's already generous cleavage become even more generous with every week that passed, and waited for mine to become... well generous would have been great, but even just fairly obliging would have done for me.

Surely though, after he was born... that's when it would happen! Well, no. Not for me.

See, you can't always read the online info or talk to the health professional and expect your experience to be the same. Yes, for many, maybe even most women, it'll be true. We're not all the same though. In my ante natal group we had seven women. Four of them now have the generous cleavage I was hoping for, and have gallons of milk to feed their chubby babies. One couldn't produce milk at all and is now bottle feeding. One, devastatingly, lost her baby at birth. And then there's me, and I don't really look any different despite breastfeeding from the word go.

I have no idea if the outward physical differences between my experience and what I was taught would happen have anything to do with the internal workings. I have certainly had a very different breastfeeding experience to the four big-boobed woman in my class (meaning, it has been a much more difficult experience for me than them), but it definately hasn't prevented me from breastfeeding my baby.

If you become pregnant you will be offered breastfeeding support left right and centre, and you'll probably think 'how hard can it be, you just put your boob in their mouth' and maybe you'll be right... or maybe, like me and so many women, it will be hard. If it is, you'll probably worry about it. I think it's important to find ways to calm those worries, whatever they are. There will be many things to worry about! The key seems to be to a. keep perspective (whatever it is, it's probably normal), b. focus on what you CAN do, and don't beat yourself up if nothing works, and c. ask for help.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

"When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers"

-Oscar Wilde


I’m writing this at 2.30am. One handed. On the sofa bed in the sitting room.

I have a sleeping baby in my left arm. My sleeping baby.

I have a fiancé too. He’s also asleep… upstairs… in our comfy bed.

If I could travel back in time two years and say to myself ‘In a couple of years you’ll be writing a blog post about your baby and fiance’ I would NOT believe myself. And if I could somehow persuade myself that I WAS telling the truth, I think the two-years-younger-me would probably cry with joy.

At 30, I lived alone, I was single and had been single officially (putting aside that ongoing on-off-friendship-relationship) for six years. I worked from home and rarely met new people outside of my own group of friends. I’d finally gone to the doctors for a medical opinion on my weird periods and chronic illnesses, and had been diagnosed with ovarian cysts and a hormonal imbalance. I even had a spirit reading done (a letter from the spirits, channelled via automatic writing) which gave me the undeniably stark message of ‘your purpose in this lifetime is to learn about your true self. It is a very difficult lesson to learn. Can you be happy without the partner, family and career you desire?’

I decided, at that point, to learn to let go of my dreams which were, deep down, to fall in love and have a family. And it was a really REALLY difficult thing to do. I worked through it with my therapist. I did artwork. I wrote about it. I cried… a lot. I mourned the loss of what I had expected my life to be since I was a little girl. I tried to picture the rest of my life as a single woman: what I would do with my time. I tried to visualise a life of freedom, travel, food and fun. I never quite convinced myself it would be better to be alone… but it was a start.

In my head, at that point, reality was pointing me in one direction: my fertility was questionable, my love life was a mess, my life was solitary and the years I had left to have children were decreasing like grains of sand in the metaphorical hourglass of my existence. Ok, alone it was then.

At some point during this process, I had a fairly profound experience. Magic or coincidence; I’ll let you judge for yourself. For me, it was a blessing.

I had a vivid dream one night. I can still picture it now and almost feel how it felt. I was called outside to look at the night sky, and looked up to see golden stars showering down like glimmering raindrops. It was such an overwhelmingly beautiful sight, I cried in my dream.

When, a few days later, I found out there was going to be a meteor shower, I got the lovely tingly feeling I always get when something falls into place in my head like cogs aligning. I knew I had to get outside and see it happening.
So when the time came I wrapped myself in a blanket, made a hot drink and sat outside the front of my cottage, and I watched the sky. It wasn’t quite like my dream, but I did manage to catch sight of 4 falling stars that night.

The last one was the most poignant. I suddenly remembered that when I was little, I was always told to make a wish if I ever saw a shooting star. But I’d had enough of wishes that didn’t come true, so this time I didn’t wish. I made a statement to the sky. An affirmation. I said ‘Some day soon I will meet a man, and he will fall in love with me, and I will fall in love with him, and when the time is right, we will have a family.’ As I finished my monologue, I was given an answer: a star shot across the exact patch of sky I was looking at. The universe had said ‘I hear you’

I didn’t get hung up on this experience or the announcement I had made that night. I dropped it when I made my mind up to let go of my dreams and replace them with other ideas for a fulfilling life. But deep down, the hope was still there.

I could write (and may still write) whole entries on what happened between then and now, but to keep things simple, I’ll just fast forward.

I met a man. He fell in love with me. I fell in love with him.

In a weird way I felt it coming. I just had a feeling someone special was around the corner. It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but I still fell in love with him in about a week… something I was fairly conflicted about at the time; the logical part of me refused to believe it was possible. I remember saying to a mutual friend ‘I’m so happy… but I’m trying not to get too excited’ and she replied ‘why not? Just be excited!’

She was right, of course. I had every reason to be excited. I’d been hoping and praying for this exact relationship: someone who loved me for every part of me- not just me at my best. Someone who I knew would help me grow as a person rather than expecting me to be perfect. Someone who was willing to talk issues through and compromise for the sake of both of our happiness. Not to mention, I totally fancied him!

Six months later we accidentally made a baby. Two months after that we got engaged.

A month ago, our baby was born during the height of a meteor shower. He kept me waiting 16 days after my due date, and 3 days after my waters broke, just so he could be born at that exact time; just to round the story off and prove that my prayers had been answered.
My life was now complete and we all lived happily ever after. The end.

Except (dammit) Oscar Wilde, as usual, has a point.

A couple of weeks ago, the realisation hit me that this new person in my life: this dream-come-true; was actually the culmination of every difficult lesson I had attempted to learn in the last five-or-so-years (as I fought to eliminate depression from my life).

I have never been through anything as testing as the last month of my life.

It began with the birth. 3 days of contractions and sickness, until I couldn’t cope any more and needed to be put on a drip. And when your baby’s born  you think ‘thank god that’s over, now for the fun part.’ And that’s REALLY when the difficult bit starts!

This wonderful little dream-come-true has taken every inch of the life I had made for myself, and turned it upside down.

I’ve left my little cottage in the countryside and am now living at my fiance’s Mum’s house, the other side of the country to my family, and to the friends I had become close to in recent years. I have virtually no time for the business I was trying so hard to get going.

Our baby cries most of the time. He wakes up crying. He cries after I’ve fed him. Sometimes he cries while I’m feeding him. He often refuses to fall asleep, as if he has something very important he has to be awake for. This will eventually lead to him being SO tired and SO grumpy, he just cries more, because he no longer knows what he wants.

The only way I’ve found to stop him crying, or to help him fall asleep, is to cuddle and breastfeed him. If it wasn’t for my finance stepping in and taking the baby from me, he would literally breastfeed 24 hours a day. I’m lucky if I have time to go for a wee.

3 weeks after our baby was born, my fiancé desperately needed to get back to work, which is when he started sleeping separately. I now sleep whenever I can, mostly in 30min/1hour snatches between night-time feeds, and the odd 2 or 3 hours when my fiancé is able to take the baby.

 I do NOT function well on no sleep.

I’ve battled loneliness, I’ve battled self doubt . I’ve battled regret. I’ve thought ‘I wish things could just be like they used to be’ and hated myself for thinking it. I’ve battled anger at my fiance for sleeping soundly at night while I stay awake feeding our child. I’ve battled my fiance’s anger at me for giving in to melancholy rather than finding solutions to the various problems caring for a newborn has thrown up.

And I’ve found myself contemplating Oscar Wilde’s admittedly pessimistic statement: ‘When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers’

Because the thing is, it’s often true. We can create a world in our minds, the way we wish things to be. But there’s nothing in life that simply makes everything better. There’s no alternative happy carefree life out there waiting to be found. Life will always throw up sadness and difficulty, because they are just part of the experience! So when our dreams come true we expect so much from them. We’ve put them on a pedistool, yearning after them, praying for them! And then they’re just as complicated, just as hard work, just as full of sadness, anger and regret as anything else.

That’s not to say they’re not wonderful too! My son is the most incredible gift I’ve ever been given. I am so overcome with love for him I sometimes find myself with tears in my eyes just at the thought of it. I feel the same about my fiancé and I’m grateful every day that I have them in my life.

But it is not easy.


Sunday, 15 February 2015

Spiced Wholegrain Seeded Fruit Loaf

INGREDIENTS

125g extra strong wholemeal flour
200g malted wheat flour with wheat bran
50g oat bran
3/4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground alspice
1 sachet fast action yeast
40g soft dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1tblsp olive oil
300ml hand-hot water
25g ground linseeds
25g mixed seeds
25g candied peel
25g chopped glace cherries
25g sultanas

METHOD

This is easy to do in a bread machine. Choose the 'dough' setting and add everything but the seeds and nuts, as your machine's instructions suggest. Once the machine has finished, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and follow the steps below from step 7.

1. In a large bowl, sieve together the flour, salt and spices. Any bran caught in the sieve can be thrown on top of the flour.

2. Add the oat bran, yeast and sugar, mix well

3. Make a well in the centre and gradually pour in the water, stirring the flour into it as you pour. Add the oil and bring together. You should have a sticky dough. Add more water or more flour if you need it.

4. Knead for about 10mins until the dough is smooth and elastic

5. Oil a large bowl, put the dough in the centre, cover loosely with oiled cling film and put in a warm place for an hour till doubled in size.

6. Turn out onto a floured surface

7. Mix the seeds and fruits in a bowl. Spread the dough out so it's a large rectangle, and pour the
seeds and fruit evenly over it. Then fold the edges of the dough over, roll is up, and knead until the fruits are evenly distributed.

8. Oil a loaf tin, pour some flour into it and tap it on each side until the flour coats the bottom and sides. Tip out any excess flour. Then press the dough into the tin and put it back into a warm place to rise. No need to cover it this time. Preheat the oven at 200 C.

9. After about 30mins, it should have doubled in size. Place it gently into the oven, being very careful not to knock it or it'll sink! I actually put the oven on at about 40 C and let the dough rise in the oven, then just turn the temperature up to 200 C and leave the loaf where it is so I don't risk loosing the air in the dough by moving it.

10. Bake for approx 20mins, till just turning brown on top. If you tip the loaf out and tap the bottom, it should sound hollow, and when you cut into it you should be able to press a finger softly into the dough and it should spring back rather than sticking together.

11. Great with lots of butter!

Sunday Evening Butternut Squash and Roasted Garlic Risotto

Serves 4, or 3 very hungry diners!

INGREDIENTS
For the risotto:

1 pint veg stock
1 tblsp olive oil
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
3 celery sticks, finely chopped
200g arborio risotto rice
1 large glass dry white wine
50g butter
small handful grated gruyere cheese
lots of salt and pepper

For the toppings:
1/2 medium butternut squash
1tblsp olive oil
1tblsp fresh thyme leaves
1tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
salt and pepper

small handful almonds, chopped
small handful pumpkin seeds
small handful wholemeal breadcrumbs
large knob of butter

crumbled feta cheese to taste

METHOD

1.      Preheat the oven at 200 C. Peel and de-seed the butternut squash and chop into 1cm cubes. Put on a baking tray with the olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper. Mix well then pop in the oven for 30mins, along with the un-touched whole garlic bulb. Put them both to one side once they’re cooked. The garlic bulbs will be squishy not crispy, the squash should be soft and slightly brown at the edges.

2.      In a medium saucepan, keep the stock on a low heat so it stays hot.

3.      In a second heavy based saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the onion and celery. Cook over a low heat for about 5 mins till it starts to go translucent.

4.      Add the glass of wine to the onion and turn up the heat so it cooks quickly, stirring constantly. 

5.      When the wine is absorbed, turn the heat back down, add a ladle full of stock and keep stirring until the liquid is absorbed.

6.      Add more stock, a ladle at a time, till it’s all been absorbed. Take your time over this. It should take about 30mins. You might need to add more hot water if the rice isn’t cooked after all the stock is gone.

7.      Take the risotto off the heat and stir in the butter and gruyere cheese. Add a decent amount of salt and pepper, tasting to make sure you’re putting the right amount in.

8.      Squeeze the soft garlic out of the roasted bulbs and stir into the risotto.

9.      Next heat a heavy-based frying pan on a medium heat (don’t use any oil) and add the chopped almonds. Keep tossing them so they turn brown evenly. Add the pumpkin seeds after a couple of minutes to toast these too. Then throw in a knob of butter, allow it to melt, then add the breadcrumbs. Mix well and take off the heat.

10.  Stir the squash into the risotto and scoop dollops out into large warmed bowls. Sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese and top with the nut/crumb mix.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Feeling Bad for Feeling Bad














I lost faith a little bit in my writings lately…

I realised I’ve been wrong about a lot of things and have written some blogs in the past making assumptions and giving advice that I don’t agree with myself any more.  I’ve talked to people who have changed my mind about things, straightened things out in my head and allowed me to see my own points of view from a different perspective. 

So I thought… who am I to preach ways of doing things if I haven’t learned the lessons properly myself? How embarrassing to write so confidently about life when I don’t know any more about it than anyone else and constantly get things wrong?

But you know what, screw it, I like writing. And musing. And getting it wrong. I suppose when it comes down to it, most advice is only stories told by people who are living their own lives as well as they can, just like everyone else. We take on board what we need to hear.

So here I go again. Who knows maybe in a year’s time I’ll re-write this with a year’s extra life experience under my belt.

Feeling Bad for Feeling Bad

 
 







This blog is for anyone who, from time to time, feels bad about feeling bad.

Ok, so this is what happens: 

* Your best friend has a baby. You’re so incredibly happy for her, she’s beaming with love and excitement… but you can’t shake the realisation that the days of hanging out, giggling at nothing, painting your nails with glitter and feeling like there was nothing in the world more important than your friendship are a thing of the past.

* Your little brother moves to Australia because he’s been offered his perfect job. You’ve never been so proud of him but you didn’t realise until it happened how much you were going to miss him, or how jealous you would feel.

* You’re going to a party where everyone is wearing elegant classy clothing, but you just don’t feel comfortable in any of the dresses you try on, so you wear a dress you already have. It isn’t so elegant or classy, but it’s YOU. Everyone at the party compliments you on your individual look and says they wish they had the confidence to do it. The party’s great, and you feel a sense of pride, but a little bit of you really just wishes you could be elegant and classy too, and all night you can’t shake that feeling of discontent in your own skin. 

I’d like to frame this from a context of positivity to start with. I very much believe that thoughts are at the root of almost everything that happens to us in our lives. I genuinely believe that if you nurture positive thoughts you will live a happier life. It’s not just flowery-pastel-coloured-unicorns-and-rainbows talk. This quote from an author called Katherine Woodward-Thomas illustrates what I mean quite well:

“Life is a creative process and our thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, choices, actions and words are the tools we use to invent our experiences and circumstances.”

But what do you end up with on combining these two elements of life; a tricky contradiction. You want to feel only good things because you want only good things to come to you and others you love, but the truth is, you don’t feel only good things. What do you DO with that?

Well, to be honest, I don’t know. But there is this: congratulations. You can feel. You’re really good at it. You’re so good at it in fact, you can be overwhelmed with feelings of joy and sadness at the same time. That is something quite special and something you can be proud of.

There is a level of sensitivity where we are able to appreciate every feeling and emotion our bodies provide us with. Where’s the fun in denying that ability? Just do it! Cry at a sunrise! Laugh out loud at a group of frolicking lambs! Dance because you’re so happy! Scream because you’re so angry (maybe not in someone’s face, though that might be tempting)! 

But of course, when your body knows how to feel these things, you WILL feel them, even when you don’t want to. It’s OK though- that’s the point I really want to make here. You don’t need to be angry at yourself that you feel bad when you should feel good. 

I’ve spent much of my life avoiding the word ‘sensitive’ and feeling embarrassment at the fact that I have emotional responses to pretty much everything. But then when I stop to think about it, it’s those very responses that have allowed me to have the most poignant moments in my life. Emotions, I suppose, are a physical response to the information going into your body. Do you know what, I’m glad I have them. Sadness and pain are as much a part of that experience as happiness and pleasure. And they are not in any way mutually exclusive! 

Ok, so you may not be able to control your body’s physical response to things. What you can do however is nourish the good thoughts and give less energy to the bad ones. In practical language:
don’t spend too much time contemplating the bad. Feelings you can’t do anything about, thoughts you can. If you’re caught in a loop of negative thinking then maybe you could try reminding yourself you feel bad because you’re sensitive to emotions and this is one of those experiences in life that makes you feel bad. Experience it. Think about how it makes you feel. And then let that be. Let yourself feel bad, then remind yourself of the good, and try to be grateful for it and to hold on to those thoughts of gratitude and happiness. I don’t think you need to do anything more than that.

And remember that everyone else on this planet who feels things as explicitly as you do….? We understand.

Massive love x

On a serious note, if anyone is reading this and thinking they only ever have bad thoughts, and can’t hold on to the good ones… firstly I’ve been there and I know how that feels, secondly, you can bring yourself out of it with work and with HELP. Seriously, find someone to talk to about it. It’ll change your life.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Black Dog

I haven't posted anything about depression in a long time, mostly because when you're recovering from it you don't feel the need to talk about it quite as much!

Isn't that a wonderful, beautiful thing though...

You can carry this darkness around you for years without even knowing, letting it grow and grow until it overshadows everything you do. You can't even escape it at night because of insomnia and nightmares. It's constantly there, tapping at the inside of your head. It's the thing you come back to every time you stop for a moment, every time you try to relax, every time you think a negative thought about anything.

And then, later, if you work with it and through it, you get to that point where you know that if it is there, it's so small and so quiet and so manageable that you don't need to think about it any more. There's room in your head, in you heart and in your life; for MORE. You don't just have the space in your head to contemplate these new things in your life, you magically have the energy and motivation to follow through with them!

Since I started this (long) process myself I have wished I could pass the magic on to other people, but I've never felt able or even believed I had the right to try, because it's presumptuous to assume what works for you will work for everyone, and I'd hate to sound like I was being self righteous or gloating when that's not my intention.

And then today someone posted this video on Facebook and it made me cry because it sums up in just a few seconds what I have been trying to blog about for two years! In fact, the answer is so simple, though doing it is far from easy. But it gets easier with every step forwards and I'm here to say that it's totally true. You can get rid of the darkness. You won't believe me now if you're in the middle of it- I didn't believe it, I just lost hope in everything, and getting help was a last resort. I suppose I just couldn't do it on my own any more so I chose to see a professional and give them the power to change me. That takes some trust in the person you choose to talk to, and also a strange mixture of self abandon and willpower!

But then, if you find the right person, you will discover that they don't want to change you. They will (they should... and if they don't then you're not talking to the right person) only ask you what you want, and keep on asking until you can see a way to get it. They'll never push you, only guide you. And what you want is to be happy, right?

And you can be.

Anyway, watch the video...

The Black Dog

Friday, 22 November 2013

It's OK to be ill (in reaction to being called a hypercondriac)


I’m a bit scared of this post. I imagine some people will read what I’m about to write and think ‘yes I know how that feels’. But I think others will say ‘we all get ill, get over it’. As always, I am writing an honest account of my experience. What is the point of everybody pretending everything is OK when sometimes it isn't? Maybe what we really need is someone just to tell us it’s fine and we’ve done nothing wrong.

So, I am not trying to compete with anyone. I am not trying to get sympathy. I am simply writing this to say to the world: this is what it’s like for me and if you feel the same then I for one don’t have a problem with that.

So far in my life, touching wood as I write, I have been very lucky: I’ve never had any serious health issues- nothing that could threaten my life. I’ve never broken a bone, never even had to go to A&E!

Having said this, like many people I suffer from hereditary back and skin problems, and have a hormonal imbalance that is managable but sometimes causes a wave of issues ranging from lethargy to severe cramps and migranes.

Like I said, no sympathy needed, this is just how it is and I deal with it as we all do. But the thing is, when your baseline level of health is not exactly tip top, and you fall ill, it can seem like your body is fighting you and you are loosing the battle! I imagine most people understand what this feels like. However, what’s not easy is explaining this to others when you’re in the middle of it.

I’ve written previously about my long-term illness recently. I’ve never experienced anything like that before- being so ill for so long. I’ve had colds and flu and stomach upsets, but nothing that’s lasted more than a week or two. Anyone else who has also been ill for a long time will understand how frustrating and frightening it can be, particularly when it’s not obvious what’s actually causing it.

The worst thing about it is that you start to doubt yourself. When I first got ill I spent a week trying to work and ending up in tears because I couldn’t understand why I didn’t have the energy to do
anything, being so angry at  myself for letting everybody down, and hating myself for letting people see me in that state. I frequently told myself I needed to sort myself out and just get on with it… I do wonder now that if I’d just accepted I was ill and rested right at the start, maybe I wouldn’t have been ill for as long as I was.

The tricky thing is, how do you approach this with others? Having to admit illness (to yourself as well as to others) can become demoralising, especially if it's long term, or on a regular basis, because it makes you feel weak.

Like anything in life, there is a spectrum here. There are people who are generally very healthy. Some of these people work hard to stay healthy and good on them! I’ll happily admit I could do more to stay healthy- get more exercise and drink less wine- but there are people in the world who just had the luck to have a family history of good health, who don’t have to try too hard to stay slim and fit. Then there are people further down the spectrum, people more like me who are sometimes ill and sometimes well. And then there are people who suffer from a list of illnesses as long as you arm. And further down- the really upsetting stories- the children who die so young of killer illnesses, people taken before their time, people who suffer- truly suffer not just like my chronic back pain- for years until it takes them. Like I said at the start- I am not competing. When I use the word ‘suffer’ to describe the pains in my back, the problems I have because of my hormonal issues, and the cracked skin on my hands, I using it in a different sense to how you would describe the suffering of someone with crippling arthritis or cancer. But at the end of the day, suffering is suffering and when I say I’m in pain it is because I am.