Tag Archives: Attachment parenting

The last feed

I remember the first feed like it was yesterday.

That tiny, alien creature, all purple and waxy white, placed upon my exhausted body as I lay on our bed at home, high on gas and air and the enormity of what I had just achieved. Holding my baby close, the baby that for the past nine months had lived inside me and for the past nine hours had pushed me to the limit, feeling the unfamiliar suckling at my breast.

I had hoped, before he was born, to feed him for a year. When I realised, as his weight began to plummet over his first few days on the outside, that things would not be as straightforward as I’d planned, I hoped that maybe we would make it to six months.

But tongue tie sorted, and after several weeks of learning from scratch how to carry out this most natural of functions, we sailed past that first milestone – and just kept on going.

He fed at least three hourly, night and day, for two years.

It was exhausting, but it felt so right. I was proud to have overcome those initial obstacles, to have figured out how to make breastfeeding work for both of us, to have mastered the art of feeding in the sling – to have written two novels with him nursing there.

I did wonder though, after that second year, whether he would ever stop.

That was my adjusted goal, in line with WHO recommendations: to “continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years or beyond”. And then as that new deadline approached I decided to let him lead the way as far as weaning was concerned.

I wasn’t expecting him to go quite so far “beyond”…

We had a few shaky moments, soon after he turned two. However gentle and respectful my parenting aspirations I really, really needed to get some sleep. But then just as I thought I might need to make the decision for us he decided he didn’t need to feed at night any more.

Daytime feeds continued, every three hours.

As we went into the fourth year, that eased off. It would be just twice a day, before his nap and at bedtime. And then just for his nap. And then sometimes not even for that. He would go a day or two or three and I would think perhaps we were done, and then he would ask again for booba and I did not say no.

I often asked him, in those last few months, if there was milk. It was hard to believe that my body could be so adaptable, keeping up a sporadic supply for as and when my boy decided he needed it. But he assured me that there was, and sometimes I still felt the letdown, the rush of oxytocin.

I miss that, a little, now that he has stopped.

I tried to remember to take photographs. It was easy in the early days (once I’d got over the initial insecurities), but my confidence dimmed again as he got older. Our society does not take kindly to the image of a preschooler on the breast, however much a nearly four year old is well within developmental norms to be not quite weaned.

Still, I captured a few. I am glad to have them now: those pictures of the (almost) last feed.

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The actual last feed passed unnoticed. I suspect it was a naptime, one afternoon when I snuggled beside him in his bed as he fought against the tiredness permeating his little body. Perhaps it was an afternoon when I dozed off, too: enjoying having my child close, the whirlwind of energy temporarily stilled.

It is a strange feeling, knowing that I won’t nurse my child again. I can already feel a levelling out in the relationships in our family: my husband has been so incredibly supportive of our sustained breastfeeding journey, and part of me is so happy that there is no longer that imbalance in our parental roles.

There is at the heart of it all, though, a sense of loss.

Something happened last night that brought it to the surface, made me realise that we are in the midst of a powerful transition.

Arthur’s cries startled me from sleep at about two in the morning. He very rarely wakes at night nowadays, and it is even rarer that he calls for me. But he was: shouting “Mama!” with increasing urgency. I leapt out of bed and down to his room, and found him kneeling on his new cabin bed peering into the almost darkness.

I searched out his eyes and held him close, his little body shaking. I asked if it had been a bad dream and he nodded, head still nestled in my neck. I wanted to ask what it had been about but I didn’t: I waited.

Moments later he pulled back and looked at me.

“I dreamt you died, mama. I dreamt you died.”

I lifted him out of the bed and we snuggled on his beanbag. His eyes wide open and breathing shallow as he rested his head against my chest, my hand gently stroking his hair and reassuring him that I was very much still there. Every now and then he would ask, “Why did you die, mama?” I didn’t know what to say, so I held him closer.

I felt my breasts fill with milk, but he did not ask to feed and I did not offer.

After a while of lying there I asked if he would like to come and sleep with us or whether he would prefer to go back into his own bed. He stood up and walked across the room, climbing the ladder up to his bed as I hovered close behind. He pulled the covers up to his chin and looked at me, smiling when I said he could come to us at any point if he felt scared.

He closed his eyes and went to sleep and I went back to my own bed and lay there in the almost dark, thinking.

In his world, one where he has been nourished physically and emotionally at the breast for as long as he has been alive, I suppose a piece of his mama has died. I am still here, though, and I can still comfort him.

Things will just always be a little different from here on in.

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

I was up in London again this weekend, this time with Leigh to catch up with old friends.

It wasn’t really an occasion that Arthur could join us for, so he went to stay with Grampa and Mimi. He was so excited in the couple of days leading up to it. It took us ages to be comfortable with leaving him overnight, and all the while we were warned that our reticence would make him way too clingy. It is really lovely now to see him so self-assured that he relishes his opportunities for independence.

Mind you, when a sleepover with his grandparents involves picking apples and blackberries to make pie, collecting sticks on evening walks in the woods and playing ball games with his doggy friends, it isn’t really surprising.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

Leigh and I had a very rare trip up to London this weekend, just the two of us.

Arthur stayed with my mum, and though we were only away for a night it was remarkable to see how much he seemed to grow up in just those twenty four little hours. This picture is hers, from a walk in the woods that they took before bedtime. I love the look of wonder on his face, the way he is poised for exploration and adventure.

It took us a long while to leave Arthur overnight. I could not imagine anything I less wanted to do in the first few weeks and months, and as time went on people were full of cautionary tales about how he would never be able to cope without us if we didn’t start to reduce the attachment that felt so natural for us to nurture.

In fact the opposite has proved to be true. We still hang out together an awful lot, but when Arthur is given the chance to be more independent he rises to it – confident that we will return, and full of excited stories to share with us when we do.

And cuddles, of course. There were lots of cuddles too.

 

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

Looking back over my photos from this week, it is the ones of me and Arthur together that stand out the most. I know it’s cheating a little bit to call this a portrait of him, but in my defence he still, even as a confident and independent three year old, feels in many ways like an extension of my self.

I wonder if it always feels like that, being a mother? There’s a quote it brings to mind:

“Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body” Elizabeth Stone

For me these toddler years, with all of their wonder and challenge, are a critical moment in this. Perhaps it is because I have chosen a route through parenting where we are very much attached, but it is only now that I am really starting to feel us begin to articulate our separateness. Him as an incredible bundle of energy and potential, me as a whole new creature to the one I was before I bore him.

It’s exciting, but it brings with it too a sense of loss.

The cuddles help with that though. And this week we have loved exploring our together-yet-apart bodies through yoga. By which I mean mainly me attempting to rediscover well-worn poses whilst he clambers delightedly all over me.

I pretend to be annoyed that it makes it near impossible to practice how I used to, but secretly I love it.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

In pursuit of sleep

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‘One step, two steps, three steps forward; one step, two steps, three steps back’

These familiar words from one of Arthur’s current favourite songs are fast becoming the refrain for our ongoing adventures in the world of sleep.

I could go on…

‘Stop! Listen! What’s that?’

Ah yes, the dulcet tones of a waking toddler deep in the middle of the night. Always, of course, at just that precise moment when you have managed to find a little corner of bliss in your own slumbers.

We haven’t had things easy over the past couple of years as far as sleep’s concerned. Not that we’ve exactly made it easy on ourselves… Embracing extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping whilst shying away from any form of sleep training was always going to elongate the process. At least that’s how it felt every time I spoke to someone who’d chosen a more conventional path.

But actually, over the past month or so, things have definitely begun to change. Once he got over the pure excitement of having the sides off his cot Arthur really began to embrace his new sleeping quarters. We even had (whisper it) a couple of nights where he slept through and woke happily of his own accord around 8am, chatting away to his toys until we went down to greet him.

And then of course he got sick. And the fever woke him every hour and all that would make him feel better was booba. And when that had passed the lingering cough punctuated all our night times and it was just easier to bring him in with us.

And then he got better. And this week we’ve had some of those magical full night’s sleep experiences again.

(I should add at this point that whilst my two year old seems to be mastering sleeping through the night I have yet to get the hang of it again myself. I’m pretty sure I used to be an excellent sleeper, but the lack of interruption is currently a little unsettling…)

But, looking at all of this on balance, I would say we are most definitely making progress. And I’m happy that we’ve done it without ever having to leave our son crying in the dark, alone.

He really loves bedtime at the moment. His face lights up when it’s time to go upstairs, and he enjoys every second of his little routine with daddy.

Teeth, the ritual washing of selected bath toys, nappy, pyjamas, stories. He has acquired a sleep sheep – at first this was a purple plastic number which conceptually seemed to soothe him, but we’ve since progressed to a silky squidgy Welsh creature which is far more comfy to cwtch up with.

I still step in for the closing moments, cuddling up with Arthur in the dark for some bedtime booba. But often now he’ll happily lie down awake, and be asleep within seconds.

Most of the time when he wakes in the night he’s happy to settle himself. The times when he cries out for us and needs our comfort are getting less frequent. Though we still always go to him then, and we still have a bedside cot in our room for when he just needs to have us close.

As I write this I can hear him fidgeting over the monitor, and no doubt after a few steps forward we’re now due a step back.

But we are getting there, and the holy grail of an uninterrupted night’s sleep might just be in sight.

In fact we’re leaving him overnight for the first time ever this Saturday whilst we enjoy a bit of well overdue romance.

And do you know what? I think he’s going to be alright.

 

My word of the week this week is sleep.

The Reading Residence

 

Testing the boundaries

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It seems our easy-going, gentle, kind, baby boy is morphing into someone different. Terrible twos, I guess: though being only one month into that third year I’m reluctant to just resign myself to that.

It’s been building for a while. His independent streak is getting ever stronger, and though he doesn’t ask the questions I can feel them buzzing around his head.

Why is it ok to hit a drum with sticks but not a person? Why do you praise me when I throw a ball at you, but flinch when I throw a train? Or food for that matter. Or even, as we had this week, a glass bottle – which by some physics-defying miracle didn’t break when it hit the slate floor. 

Why is it funny when I splash water in the bath, but not when I soak myself at dinner time? Why do you encourage me to draw on paper, but take the crayons away when I draw on the wall?  Why do you clap when I jump on to the mats at gym but gasp when I throw myself from the sofa to the wooden floor?

For myself, I’m trying to find ways to explain. To teach him which behaviour is acceptable and which is not. I am not afraid to tell him no, but I want to do it quietly and calmly rather than being the one who shouts. I want to set boundaries, but I don’t want to hammer them into him through naughty steps and time outs. We’ve come so far with our attached and baby-led approach, and I am loathe to throw that all away for quick fixes and easy wins.

But we’ve had a couple of horrid incidents recently, where he has hit and bit and hurt his friends. He hasn’t meant to I don’t think: he hasn’t seemed angry or malicious. When faced with the tears and indignation of his victims he has crumbled himself, afraid and confused. But that doesn’t change the fact it’s happened, that he’s behaved badly and someone else has got hurt.

Right now I’m pretty clear on what I don’t want to do to tackle this, but I’m still scrabbling around for the alternatives.

How do I show my son I respect him, whilst letting him know that some of his behaviours are simply not acceptable? How do I help him develop his curiosity whilst making sure he doesn’t hurt himself or others in the process? How do I hold my nerve and follow the path I believe is right when I can feel myself being judged by my friends and family for not doing what they think I should?

I realise there are a lot of questions here. And it’s not like I’m an amateur in dealing with challenging behaviour: ten years working with teenagers has taught me a lot. But suddenly, now, I feel like I know nothing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts: on what has worked for you, and what has not. On how to gently ease a toddler into a social world without destroying his confidence or individuality.

I guess as much as Arthur’s testing his boundaries I’m discovering my own as well. I hope it won’t be too long before we get this next phase of things figured out.

Our word of the week this week is boundaries.

The Reading Residence

Now you are two

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Dear Arthur,

A year ago today I wrote my very first post on this blog: a letter to you, a week and a day after your first birthday.

Reading back over those words now it is hard to believe that only twelve months have passed – and at the same time I wonder where that time has gone, where my little baby has disappeared to.

You are still my baby of course. I suspect that will be the case for many, many years to come. But there is no denying that you are growing up.

A month or so after that first post you started walking. Unsteady on your feet at first, you soon leapt in confidence. You are so strong and fast now – running around on your tiptoes, a look of glee on your face. You have finally learnt to jump: you worked on that for ages, such determination as you squatted down and pushed upwards, not quite understanding why your feet wouldn’t leave the ground. Gymnastics has taught you to be increasingly comfortable in your body in many ways – walking backwards and sideways, rolling and balancing and climbing. I reckon it’s going to be a pretty active year ahead!

There’s swimming too. You’ve loved the water since you were little, but in your second summer, with the help of your float suit, you began to move yourself around in the pool and the sea. It made me very glad to live where we do, that there were so many opportunities for swimming in the open air feeling the breeze on your skin and the sun on your hair, looking out over our beautiful bay.

But the biggest steps you’ve taken this year have to be in your language and communication. You had a handful of words by your first birthday, and as you learnt to use them and discovered where they could get you your vocabulary snowballed. I stopped counting back in April as your list of words neared one hundred. Since then you’ve picked up many more from your books and films and conversation and just listening. You can put them together in simple sentences now, ask questions and express your preferences. Your definitely starting to do that rather a lot: I love the clear-minded and strong-willed personality that is emerging.

Your independence takes me by surprise sometimes. You still like your booba, and cuddles in the sling, and the moment in the night when you come and join mummy and daddy in the big bed. But none of these things are stopping you from developing your own sense of self.

You like to sit on your own table at mealtimes now – the blue table with the blue chair. You feed yourself with a fork or spoon, still wolfing down porridge and pasta. You love fruit too, especially bananas and satsumas and pears. And salmon – well, all fish really. Especially if it comes with chips. Though potatoes in general are pretty popular.

We took the side off your cot this week, and you’re very excited about your ‘new bed’. You like to be able to climb in and out. That was the problem with the high cot side in the end – it was a good thing daddy was there to catch you! You haven’t quite mastered staying in your bed when you’re asleep either, but you’re very close to the floor. The last couple of nights, when I’ve come in to check on you, you’ve been fast asleep on the mat we laid out to cushion your fall. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it, and for now I can’t help but find it super cute, especially since rolling out of bed doesn’t seem to wake you.

If you do wake in the night then more often than not daddy’s songs will soothe you back to sleep. You definitely still love your music – dancing and singing, playing piano and drums and your little ukulele. We actually had to replace that finally last month – it’s taken a bit of a battering with all your enthusiasm. Definitely worth it though.

The other thing you love, more than anything at the moment, is trains. You have a wooden train set which was added to this Christmas and birthday with all sorts of new and exciting bits of track. You could happily sit and play with it for hours. We’re lucky to have the steam train so close – we went on it for your birthday again this year, remembering that life-changing trip two years before when my waters broke at Paignton station. You love to watch trains too – Thomas is becoming a firm favourite, but you’re just as happy with the hours of footage on YouTube of steam trains all over the world, chugging and choo-chooing along with them as you sit on daddy’s knee.

There is so much more than this. Sitting here now trying to capture you at two years old is really quite overwhelming. I know that as this year unfolds you will blossom more and more – finding the words to express all the increasingly complex concepts swimming around your head, growing in strength and dexterity, playing with more and more purpose and absorption as your imagination opens up a whole new world.

And so, just for a moment, I will hold you close and breathe you in, savour the magic and wonder of your existence. And then I will take your hand and let you lead me into the next year of our adventure.

All my love for always, Mummy xxx

 

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