Tag Archives: change

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.

Writing at the end of the world

Let’s just take stock of where we’re at.

The UK is hurtling towards an ungainly Brexit, voted for by just over a third of the adult population and headed up by an unelected Prime Minister who is swiftly making Margaret Thatcher look like some sort of socialist saint.

The US, not to be outdone, has voted in a billionaire who openly gloats about tax avoidance and assaulting women. The percentage of the population who are happy about this is even lower than the ‘overwhelming mandate’ leading our country into disaster, and both of our nations, who can thank for their successes generations of immigration and open-mindedness, are battening down the hatches for an extreme right-wing orgy of which Hitler would be proud.

Alongside this, the world is still facing (if not yet facing up to) the worst humanitarian crisis since World War One, military leaders from Russia to China are seemingly putting things in place for yet more global conflict, and our media is having a field day in this post-truth age which has never been less interested in the facts of the situation where there’s a good story to be had.

And don’t even get me started on the travesties that are quietly being played out on our doorsteps behind this international shitstorm. The health and education services that are being dismantled and sold off to the highest bidder, the fat cats getting fatter whilst the poorest and most vulnerable in our society are living hand to mouth, or dying behind a smokescreen of spin.

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It is hard to know what to do.

It is hard to know what the point is of doing anything.

And yet…

I was reminded the other day about why it is I am a writer: why I love books, and art, and culture. Why it matters even more when everything else is falling apart. It was one of those rare moments when the different parts of my life collide: I was at a Torbay Culture Forum meeting to discuss ideas for the future of Shoalstone Pool, and I found myself surrounded by a table of inspiring, talented people who have an unshakable belief in the ability of culture to affect change.

I do, too: that’s why I was passionate about teaching literature and drama and film as well as the more functional elements of literacy and media studies. It is why I trained as an actor many moons ago, and is why I have spent so very many hours over the last few years carefully crafting three novels whilst learning what it is to be a mum.

It is easy to forget, though, at times like this. It is easy to think that it is only by addressing politics head on that you can really make a difference, and that artistic endeavour is frivolous and self-indulgent. I think I’ve been stuck in that space for a while now.

But it’s time to break out. Something clicked when I was away last week, and I have come back with a renewed sense of what I’m doing and why.

I have an idea for a collection of short stories, inspired by this impending sense of doom but altogether more hopeful than that sounds. I’ve been putting pen to paper, playing around with words, and finding the whole process quite therapeutic. As stories emerge I’m planning to set them free into the world and see if any of them can find a home, but I’m feeling strangely liberated by the fact that I’m envisaging this as a collection too, a cohesive work that I might be able to put out there myself someday soon.

I say soon, but I still have no idea where that bigger picture of submissions is taking me. What I do know, though, is I need to own this writer hat, to separate it out from the new-mother angst that spawned this blog. So I have a separate writing blog in the works, which hopefully will be ready to launch in the new year.

This links in to another realisation I’ve had, about what it is that ties together all the stuff on this blog that isn’t about writing – and that is, surprise surprise, linked closely to that sense of creeping armageddon too.

It’s all about changing the world, basically. About nurturing a new generation – as a parent and a teacher – that will do things differently. Do things better. And I think I want to explore this more explicitly, with a blog dedicated to this idea of child rearing as a quiet and determined revolution.

It fits quite neatly with all my thoughts already about parenting and education, but I think the time has come to own that side of me too – not just to voice my thoughts and apologise afterwards for failing to embrace the status quo.

So.

Change is afoot.

Time to silence that demon who has taken a break from criticising my writing to laugh at me for believing that I can make a difference, however small that difference might be.

Because if not me, who? And if not now, when?

Writing Bubble

All change

At the start of the summer, I thought I knew where my writing life was going. I was certain in fact: I had discovered Mslexia’s brilliant guide to Indie Presses, and I had resolved to find a home for my writing through one of those.

And then…

I picked up the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook Guide to Getting Published, and my resolve weakened. The approach it advocated was much more traditional. It didn’t reject independent publishers entirely, but it cautioned against them as a way of launching a career.

My personal jury is still out on the pros and cons of the various routes into getting my words in print, but I was forced to acknowledge that there was a third book, waiting on my hard-drive in its unpolished state, that might still hold the key to the prized arrival on the literary scene that resided in the enclave of the bigwigs in the publishing world.

So I read it.

And I really enjoyed what I read.

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From what I could see at first glance, there were none of the obvious roadblocks that my first two novels contained within their pages: the question over cultural integrity in my young adult novel exploring my experiences as a teacher; the doubts over a generic home for my slightly obscure hybrid between psychoactive thriller and mental-health steeped realism. In fact this third novel reflects much more of where I’m at now, of my life by the sea with its echoes of the city. The characters are ones which resonate with my own experience rather than one I’ve observed, and though the path they choose is unconventional it is not unbelievable.

So I decided to give it a chance.

Having read through my words in print – a much more satisfying print, incidentally, having tried to approximate an actual novel in the way I presented the words on the page rather than just the standard sheets of A4 – I returned to Scrivener to tweak the narrative to one that rang true.

And then today I sent it to my agent.

Who knows whether her optimism will match mine, but right now I’m feeling pretty positive about our prospects.

This change of heart has been made all the more possible by a change in my circumstances that I’m just starting to get my head around. Leigh has finished his medical school training, and launched into his career as a junior doctor. This might have spelled the end of any time to myself, but we decided as a family that the next phase of his training would be better carried out part time.

So suddenly I have two whole days a week when he is taking the lead in parenting. Two whole days a week where I can focus on my council and freelance work, and on my writing.

It’s amazing how much you can get done when you don’t have a three year old to entertain at the same time.

Now, having submitted that first draft, I am looking forwards. I haven’t yet written a synopsis of novel number three, so that is top of the list. And then there’s a short story competition which perfectly resonates with my love of outdoor swimming, and a children’s novel competition that I am going to bite the bullet and submit my first manuscript to.

I’m feeling pretty positive about it all, despite the fact that my agenda has undergone such a major u-turn. It’s a writer’s prerogative, right? To follow the thing that feels true?

It’s hard to know for now how that might change again in the future, but finally I have the time to really work out the best way forward for me – and for my writing.

 

Writing Bubble

A change of perspective

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So. Back to the novel.

I’m trying not to think about quite how long it’s been since I’ve done any proper work on it, and am consoling myself instead with the fact that, in the midst of all the not-writing I’ve been doing this summer, I might just have had a teensy bit of a breakthrough.

There’s been something niggling away at me ever since I wrote the first draft – ever since, even, I came up with the concept. It’s the thing that, I think, has led to the inability of my agent to be entirely enthusiastic through all the various rewrites in the months and months that followed, and has led to me clamming up when asked to explain exactly what my novel is about.

Because it turns out that it might not be about what I thought it was at all.

The lightbulb began to flicker into life on a sunny afternoon in my garden when I was sat with a writer friend who had come to visit, discussing what she thought of my manuscript. She was effusively positive, loved the concept, was won over by its uniqueness and its potential for adaptation for the screen. I basked in the glow of her admiration until suddenly it became very apparent that she just hadn’t ‘got’ it. She had totally misinterpreted my main character, and as a result had completely missed the point of the novel I had written.

Or so I thought.

Over the course of the few days we spent together, as I reluctantly let go of the message I’d been trying to communicate and my friend convinced me that actually her reading had way more potential from both a literary and commercial standpoint, I realised that I had inadvertently told a completely different story from the one I thought I had. And actually the one I was left with might just have been what I was looking for all along.

I apologise if this is all coming across as excessively cryptic. I’d love to be able to fill you in on exactly what it is that’s been turned on its head to make me suddenly see the way forward. Unfortunately, though, it would completely spoil the story for you. And I very much hope that you will get to read it, one day.

I have been desperate to get on with editing since this little revelation, but things have been way too hectic. Even now I have a couple more weeks of adventuring before I can properly hunker down and set my story straight – but I do have a plan about what I’m going to do in the meantime.

Firstly, I am writing a synopsis. I started yesterday, and I am really, really hating the process, but it’s pretty essential that I get it done. I need to be able to express, confidently, what the novel I’m working on is all about – to myself, and anyone else who might be interested.

Secondly, I have a pile of inspirational reading that I need to make a bit of a dent in. The final phase of this summer’s adventures involves pootling around in a campervan, and I’m hoping that might go rather well with making my way through a book or five.

Then when we’re back I am diving straight on in to (yet) another edit. This time, though, I’m feeling much more confident about where it’s all going.

Just remember to remind me of that in a month or so!

 

Writing Bubble

Twenty months

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Dear Arthur,

Twenty months ago today, you came into the world. That might not seem like a particularly important milestone. I meant to make more of your half birthday – that day in midsummer when you turned eighteen months – but there was just too much going on to stop and reflect.

It’s generally been a summer like that to be honest. We’ve had so many adventures – boating and swimming and camping and exploring. I’ve written about lots of them here, snatching minutes to upload photos and try to capture the things that you’ve been up to. But in focusing on what we’ve been doing I fear I’ve missed some of the most significant things that have happened this summer: the changes that I’ve seen in you, all the ways you’ve grown and developed.

Language has been a really big one. You have so many words! We stopped counting back in June some time, and it was seventy seven then. I reckon it might be double that by now – you’re a brilliant mimic, not only of the words themselves but of the intonation too. It’s not just that though – you can use your words independently as well, naming things and making your requests. You’re so thrilled when we understand you, the glee literally lights up your face.

I think you still understand way more than you can vocalise, and that might be why we’re starting to get some tantrums. That frustration we caught glimpses of when you were younger is showing itself more clearly now. It comes from not being able to get your point across I think, from the world going from making perfect sense to suddenly slipping through your fingers. You are still such wonderful company, but there are times when you seem so unhappy in your skin that I wonder if anything I can say or do will make it better.

It’s times like those I’m really glad I’m still wearing you regularly, still nursing you several times a day. If I hold you close, if we focus back in on that special bond we share, then the angst soon passes. The world is a pretty confusing place after all – it’s totally understandable that there are things that won’t make sense to you.

And despite that closeness being so important sometimes, there’s no doubt that you’re becoming more independent too. You love to sit on your own little chair at your own little table in the kitchen, to shake off my hand whenever you can and wander off by yourself, following your own path.

Sometimes you’ll then decide you want company, but on your terms. You’ll reach up expectantly and say ‘hand?’, mainly to Daddy as you lead him into your world. I know he’s treasured every moment he’s been able to spend with you this summer and he’s going to miss you dreadfully when he goes back to school.

You’ve had lots of different playmates over the summer, and you’ve so enjoyed all the different interactions, particularly with children a few years older than you. It almost makes me sad to watch you mistake strangers for your new friends who we’ve had to say goodbye to for now, to hear you call for Abbie or Fifi in the street, but I know we’ll see them again soon and you’re learning something important about friendship and memory. You’ve had the chance to nurture relationships with family too – with Grampa and Mimi, with your uncles and aunts and cousins. Again you’ll sit and run through their names when they’re not here. I hope you won’t be too lonely when you’re stuck with only me most of the time come September. We have lots of fun things planned though, lots of local friends to catch up with. It’ll be good for you to hang out with children your own age, to start to learn those big skills like sharing and kindness and taking turns.

It’s fascinating to watch your interests and preferences develop. You still love music, your little ukulele guitar but also the piano and the drum. You love to move too – dancing, running, climbing, jumping. You’re still working on that last one – it makes me smile to watch you squat down with such focus in your face and thrust yourself upwards only to find your toes are still in contact with the ground. You will get there soon, I promise.

You’ve had your fair share of scrapes as you’ve found your feet this summer. A succession of firsts that would never have come at all if I’d have had my way: first stubbed toe, first nose bleed, first scraped knee. I guess the bumps and bruises are all part of it though. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.

And I think I can safely say that for the most part your world is a happy one. That word itself has become increasingly important to you, it’s become our little ‘I love you’: ‘Happy Arthur, happy daddy, happy mummy’ you’ll say, with a look of pure contentment on your face. You get such joy from the joy of others too: sitting around the table joining in with the laughter of adults at some grown up joke, waiting for a lull before you proclaim it ‘funny’. I don’t know whether you know that will provoke even more laughter, but it invariably does.

There’s so much I haven’t found a way to fit in here. Your love of trains and tractors and anything with wheels. The way you can almost count to ten when the mood takes you but somewhere along the way have got six and seven mixed up with chicken and motorbike. How your perception of crayons is slowly shifting from tasty snack to something to create pictures with, and how I want to frame every one even though I know we’d soon need another house to keep them all. 

I have big plans for the autumn, but I’m really looking forward to hanging out with you too. To savouring everything you learn and say and do, and helping you make sense of this crazy world. The memories of summer will carry us through the cooler days and darker nights, and I know you will continue to astound me.

All my love for always,

Mummy xxx

 

Thank you to Sara at Mum Turned Mom for inspiring this post with her prompt ‘Memories of summer’. 

mumturnedmom

The sweet smells of motherhood

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Now that I stop to think about it, it was my enhanced sense of smell that first gave me a hint of the superpowers that were to come as I made my journey into motherhood. Right from those very early days of pregnancy, before my body had visibly begun to reveal the new life growing inside it, I could feel myself changing. Some days the superpower was decidedly unwanted: the nausea rising up from dog poo on the pavement at twenty paces, my stomach churning as meat began to brown in the oven, closing doors and opening windows to get as far as possible from the source of the discomfort. Mainly though it made me feel strong, powerful. As if I was more in tune with the world as my body underwent this most primal of transformations before unleashing its creation on the world.

Once my baby was born, smell as superpower began to abate. In its place came new strengths, all rooted in the overwhelming desire to protect this little creature against all odds, to nurture him and help him flourish.

Perhaps as part of this, though, my sense of smell has never quite been the same as it was before I began this journey. There are the smells that I would never have believed that I would find so sweet: the scent of my sleeping companion’s milk-tinged breath as he snuggles up to me in the morning; the cheesy whiff of his toes released from tiny shoes after a day spent toddling; even the nappies, the smell of which I will pretend to merely tolerate as I inhale deeply to check if he needs a change, secretly hoping for that silage aroma that shows that everything is working as it should.

There are smells too that once I might not have noticed, or found inoffensive if I did, that now set alarm bells ringing and change my demeanour to one of defence. The curling odour of cigarette smoke that I am ashamed to admit I might have sought out in the past, a faint memory of an old addiction still wanting to be sated: its poisonous charms no longer lure me in but rather repel me as I cross the road in search of cleaner air. Those roads, too: years lived in London had inoculated me against their toxic fumes, or so I thought. Now though I am painfully aware of the fog the traffic emits. I would rather not tread pavements next to busy roads at all if I can help it, and if I do console myself that at least my baby’s sling lifts him up above the line of the exhausts.

Finally there are the smells that I have always loved that I am lucky enough to enjoy more frequently through this new way of life that motherhood has ushered in. The salty spray of the sea that seeps through the air into my nostrils on our walks around the neighbourhood, the delicious freshness of grass after the rain as I crouch down to his level to search for daisies, the heady perfume of the organic coconut oil I use to soothe his skin.

There are many changes I have undergone as I’ve become this creature called a mum, but there’s one thing that’s for sure: never in my life has life smelt quite as sweet.

Thanks to Sara at Mum Turned Mom for inspiring this post with her prompt: ‘My favourite smell’.

mumturnedmom

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