Tag Archives: family

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.

Home for Christmas

The unschooling diaries: week forty-nine

For the first time since Arthur was born, we spent Christmas Eve at home this year. And it was wonderful.

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The day began with a treasure hunt, starting with a clue in the last advent calendar pocket and ending with Arthur’s Christmas Eve bag – complete with new pyjamas and bedtime books, a bag of reindeer food, and a little elf for him to share the Christmas secrets with that by this time were almost exploding from his head.

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We settled down after that with a fire and a movie, Arthur building lego and me putting the finishing touches to his birthday Peter Pan costume whilst Leigh power washed the deck ready for his party! There are definitely challenges to having a birthday to consider so soon after Christmas, but having a few hours to chill and get things sorted took the pressure off a bit.

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There were still Christmas jobs to be done too though, and after a lunch of cheese and mince pies Arthur and I went off to deliver the last of our cards to the neighbours. He even treated one of them to his rendition of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – nothing like a bit of impromptu carolling!

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Then it was down to the pool for a cheeky snowball fight…

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I had to pop down anyway just to make sure everything was ok, and it was the perfect opportunity to try out Arthur’s pom pom snowballs.

We had a quick scramble on the rocks first…

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And then ran off our excitement on the green overlooking the sea.

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Finally it was back home for some final Christmas baking followed by a festive family supper of pan fried local gurnard. Yum!

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The next morning we were downstairs before dawn so that a very excited little boy could open his stocking.

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He especially loved the bow and arrow he had requested in his letter to Santa.

We opened some bigger gifts too, including the humungous beanbag we’d bought Arthur for his reading corner, before heading over to my parents’ to enjoy the rest of the festivities with family.

The next couple of days were lovely, hanging out with my folks and my brothers and my new niece. But there was something very special about imbuing our home with a little bit of festive magic – and maybe beginning some festive traditions that will become our very own…

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Adventures in friendship

The unschooling diaries: weeks forty-three and forty-four

As I type, the rain is beating against the windows and the wind is howling its displeasure in every nook it finds. There is something comforting about being inside, with the crackle of the fire and the glow of the computer screen, but still a bigger part of me is yearning for the simplicity of the temperate outdoors – or more specifically, for a yurt in Lanzarote.

We had the most glorious holiday there, last week. I feel almost guilty for having had such a lovely escape at a time when the world was plunging into new depths of disastrousness, but it really was the perfect place to be. Beachfront tapas, good wine, fervent discussion under the stars.

We cooked up this plan as the summer in the UK drew to a close with one of my oldest, bestest friends and her family. They are currently living in a yurt, and I was eager to show them the yurtastic idyll that is Lanzarote Retreats. We’ve been there already once this year, but it has been such a year that Easter feels like forever ago. And besides, to launch into this adventure with friends was a whole new level of awesome.

Especially for Arthur.

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Emily’s oldest daughter is mere weeks younger than him, and over the past few years, during sleepovers and festivals, they have formed a quiet bond. Her youngest is now old enough to be a proper little person, and the three of them, during our week of adventures, became thick as thieves.

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There is something lovely about watching children come together when they are faced with experiences that are new and unusual, watching them make sense of the spectacular windows on the world that travelling affords.

These three embraced the adventures they were offered in parallel, bouncing their interpretations off each other and finding solace from the strange in the familiarity of friendship.

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And that friendship was built in lego bricks, in early mornings and stolen moments back at the camp. Arthur brought with him a little stash, one which he swore on the plane on the way over that he would not share. That didn’t last long, though.

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Holidaying with friends is not something I have done often, but it is something I really hope to do again – soon. Especially with these ones.

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I am always proud of Arthur’s ability to play alone, but it was wonderful to watch him create a world with these girls. In the closing hours of our commune he had begun to refer to them as his sisters. I don’t think that relationship will be lost, somehow. Though I wish our respective homes were not quite so far away.

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The whole experience really made me think about community, and socialisation, and how we are going to create that without the status quo of school. We need to find the people near us who will make us glow like these friends do. But whilst we’re working that out the nourishment this magical break gave our souls should last for a good while yet.

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

We spent last week in Lanzarote.

It was a bit of an unexpected trip. We never normally go away in the autumn, and apart from places where people we love live we never normally go back to the same place twice. But after an amazing visit in the Spring we could not resist a return when the chance arose – and the way this year is panning out I was supremely glad to have the opportunity for a bit of an escape.

I’m still digesting the photos and the memories, but these two moments stood out for me: admiring the expansively beautiful view at Mirador del Rio and studying the otherworldly forms at the Jardin de Cactus.

Arthur was simply in awe of so much that he saw. It really is a very special place.

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

Arthur has been trying to master ‘rock and roll’ since he was first introduced to it at a gig in early summer.

At least once a day, when he is bubbling over with enthusiasm and excitement, he will pause, and concentrate, and try to manipulate his fingers into shape before asking in frustration for help to make the iconic horns sign.

We’ve talked him through the process, which fingers to fold in and which to hold up straight, and then on Friday, as we were sitting down for family sushi at the end of a long week, he finally cracked it for himself: with his right hand first, and then immediately with his left.

He was so immensely proud of himself; sometimes it really is the little things.

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

On pulling together and pulling through

I remember the day at the start of last summer when the nightmare began – for me anyway.

I was at a blogging conference in London, and had just stepped out to get some fresh air when I picked up the call from my mum. My Aunty Jan was sick – nothing too serious, but she had a jaundice that she couldn’t shake and they were starting to worry there might be something wrong with her liver. She wanted to pick Leigh’s brains who, fresh out of his fourth year med school exams, was looking after Arthur at the time.

We discussed it over the next few days, confused but not overly concerned. Jan was healthy, strong and active – it would just be a weird infection, surely, that would go away on its own.

Except it didn’t.

Over the next couple of weeks her condition worsened daily. She was admitted to hospital, the doctors still none the wiser of the cause but increasingly concerned about the impact it was having on her body. Both Jan and my Uncle Tony were subjected to repeated questions about their lifestyle – had she been an alcoholic the cause, and the treatment, would have been somewhat easier to discern.

But she wasn’t, and she kept getting worse.

At hospital in Truro, Jan’s other organs began to suffer, and the doctors had no choice but to put her into a coma to try to conserve what strength she had left. Now on the super-critical list for a transplant she was transferred by helicopter to King’s College Hospital in London at the earliest opportunity.

She went straight to the top of the list for a suitable organ, leaving us all in disbelief: how was it possible that this strong, youthful woman, who we had partied with at my brother’s wedding six short weeks before, was now battling for her life – the cause of her illness still evading the highly qualified team who was looking after her.

Tony kept vigil at her bedside, updating us all with an incredibly erudite commentary of the surreal and heart-stopping experiences that were befalling them daily, always careful to praise the exceptional care they were receiving.

None of us wanted to give up hope, but it became increasingly hard to believe that this nightmare could possibly have a positive outcome.

And then, one day, the tide turned.

A viable match was found – a liver that was healthy enough, in theory at least, to cope with the damage that had already been done to Jan’s other organs. The risks of surgery were huge, but as Tony put it ‘without the transplant there are no options’; and so they took it.

The operation was a success, though in its immediate aftermath there were still fears of infection, rejection and thrombosis. We were all on tenterhooks waiting for Tony’s updates, and there was a shared sharp intake of breath when two days after the transplant Jan was returned to theatre to fix a bleed. She made it through that, and began the journey towards breathing independently as her body slowly began to heal itself.

Throughout this journey, Tony continued to stress the ‘fantastic’ level of care that Jan received. In his words, ‘Jeremy Hunt should spend a weekend up here and then hang his head in shame!’

And he should know – they spent six long weeks in Liver Intensive Care, and witnessed at first hand the miracles that can be achieved within our NHS. Having learnt to breathe again, Jan went through the gruelling process of learning to speak and then to walk, assisted by rigorous and determined physiotherapists. In the middle of August, she was transferred from London to Derriford in Plymouth, and two weeks later – a year ago this Sunday – she was discharged, and finally able to go home.

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The recovery journey didn’t quite stop there of course. In fact it never really will. But the degree of progress that has been made in that year is quite astounding.

It is all really quite astounding.

Tony shared with me the comments of Jan’s consultant at her most recent check-up, who admitted ‘If I was a betting man I wouldn’t have put money on you pulling through’. Tony said ‘he went on to qualify that statement explaining that so many things had to line up to ensure her survival – management of her transfer to King’s, maintenance of her condition in the induced coma, monitoring and treatment of the various stages of multi organ failure, avoidance of infection, identification of a suitable donor. Whilst knowing that up front would have terrified us, looking back we see nothing but positivity.’

Next Saturday, Tony is rowing in the Thames Great River Race to raise money for the Kings College Hospital Charity: 21.5 miles down the Thames in a Cornish Pilot Gig. I would love it if you could sponsor him – whatever amount you can spare would be hugely gratefully received.

At a time when NHS budgets are being slashed, it is more important than ever that the funds that support vital research are replenished whenever they can be. The resident professors at King’s, as Tony and Jan discovered when they recently went back to the hospital that saved her life for a behind the scenes tour, have a clear development plan for how they can optimise care from paediatrics right through to geriatric patients. But they need the money to do this.

As well as your sponsorship (thank you) there are two more things I ask of you as I reflect on this incredible journey my lovely Aunty has been on.

If you are not already signed up, please consider adding your name to the organ donation register. And if you ever find yourself in the heartbreaking position that the family who gave Jan another chance at life were in, please try to remember the incredible gift your own loss and sorrow can bring.

And finally, support our NHS.

It is more fragile now than it has ever been in its seventy year history, and we need to pull together to ensure that the exceptional care that saved Jan’s life is not undermined by political and economic game playing. It is our NHS, and you never know when you might need it. Make sure you are there for it when it needs you.

 

 

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

Campfires, wild swimming, messing about with guitars: we never meant to have Arthur with us on our romantic anniversary escape to a safari tent on Dartmoor, but when the the universe conspired against us we decided to go with it.

As it turned out, it was a magical weekend nonetheless. So many special moments for our little family, made especially so by the fact that they were never really supposed to happen.

We will go back one day, as a couple, to this little corner of paradise. But we would not have spent this weekend any other way.

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