Dads can develop postnatal depression too… Though this is often overlooked as we focus on the mother. I interviewed two fathers about their post-birth mental health for Motherland. Article published here.
Great book, great woman – Laura Dodsworth’s book Bare Reality, featuring 100 topless women and their stories, is out today. I interviewed her for Motherland (read it here). What i’ve loved most is having this book out in my sitting-room, as it recieves an array of reactions, from laddish “yeah, tits!” to a woman saying she’d always wanted to look at loads of pictures of women’s breasts. But it’s the stories accompanying the photos that make it so wonderful: honest, tender, funny, enlightening.
Visit the website here
See the photographs exhibited at The Canvas, 42 Hanbury Street, London E1 5JL from 5-11 June
But first: read this interview.
I have a baby and I’ve taken her to two weddings, which makes me a total expert on how to make it work. So I wrote a guide for The Huffington Post. If you have a wedding coming up and would like some top tips, you can read it here.
Eating disorders during pregnancy are increasingly common. I spoke to a Beat representative, a nutritionist, a mother with an eating disorder and a body image specialist about what this means for both mum and baby and wrote it up for Motherland. Read it here.
Last night I was on Resonance FM talking about the Protein World ad, feminism and online activism. It was for The Subtext – a great show hosted by Louise Simpson and Rosy Rickett. You can listen here.
Waking up on a Saturday feels different to the other six mornings. Monday feels slightly daunting – even if you’re not working, as it’s the start of something new. By Tuesday you’re settling into it but there’s a long way to go until the weekend. Wednesday is a solid day: slap bang in the middle. Thursday is creeping, daringly and delightfully, into the weekend. Friday is the weekend (but not quite) and Saturday is: YES. It’s sunshine, reggae, BBQs, brunch and dunch: mid morning meal, then mid afternoon meal – and a late night. (Sunday, if I imagine it visually, is black. Personified, it’s feeble and drooping at the shoulders; as a sound it’s white noise.)
So today I woke up feeling good. Rich is working so it’s just me and Joni this morning. I fed her a big bowl of porridge with berries and banana then we set off on our morning run (me running, her kicking back in the buggy: cushioned by sheep’s wool, wrapped in blankets, drinking milk). We stopped off at the poshest Spar in the world in Walthamstow village and picked up two loaves of freshly-baked sourdough. The smell reminded me of mornings in the south of France with my family, popping into the boulangerie for croissants and strawberry tarts and hot chocolate and a stick of French bread. I also treated myself to some organic body wash made with orange and cinnamon. It’s more expensive than your average shower gel but smells so delicious and helps me to be mindful in the shower.
We bought a newspaper from the friendly newsagent across the road and I tried to pay with an odd foreign coin that looked curiously similar to a 20p but was of a lesser value: 2 (something). Friendly he may be – stupid he is not, so he didn’t accept it. I rummaged in my bag for more change, while the man behind me patiently waited. I was grateful for his patience; so often people grow fidgety and start tutting if you’re slow. I left the shop and ran about five metres with a now quite heavy buggy across the newly-paved part-pedestrianised strip of Orford Road then swung down a side road, narrowly missing a builder and his scaffolding pole. It was about 8am so the only people on the streets were me, builders, old people with dogs and men (not being sexist – they were all men) changing bin bags in the park.
On another residential road, a house was decorated in the most beautiful climbing wisteria. I ran past it and then stopped and walked back. I decided to enjoy it for longer than a passing moment. I decided that today I should be mindful. I stood there for a few moments, took a photo then ran on. I saw some bluebells on the next street and contemplated the seasons. Spring is full of hope, blossom petals swirling through the streets; like confetti, bluebells blooming everywhere, the sun becoming warmer – teasing us; beckoning us into summer. I wondered if perhaps it’s easier to be mindful in the spring and summer, with so many flowers in bloom and bare skin being warmed by the sun and painted toe nails and sweet fruits to eat. But winter can be lovely when your cheeks are bitten by the cold air and then toasted by a roaring fire and you can drink hot chocolate and toast marshmallows. And autumn leaves are enough to make autumn exceptional.
We carried on roaming the streets, flying past irises and tulips, and stopped to peer into a sweet ‘free books’ box that lots of people around London are putting on their front garden walls. You can take a book to read but you’re asked to return it or replace it, if you can. I just took a photo:
We got home and I realised how cold our fingers were from the early morning chill, so we rubbed them together to warm up then sat on the rug in the sitting room and I put on some music for Joni. She loves to bop her head when there’s a good beat so i’m compiling a Spotify playlist for her. Bedouin Soundclash ‘When the night feels my song’ is a firm favourite, as are ‘Roxanne’ by The Police and ‘Bamboleo’ by the Gypsy Kings. I slipped in Blackstreet’s No Diggidy as an experiment but she’s not sure about R&B yet. No worry, she’ll grow into it.
After some deep breathing and pilates (with Joni using me as a climbing frame and trying to put her very small socks onto my comparatively very large feet), I put Joni down for a nap, showered (using my lovely new shower gel) and drank a decaf coffee with almond milk, ate a slice of the delicious fresh sourdough bread, toasted, with almond and vanilla butter and sliced banana, and begin writing this. Now Joni is cooing for me to collect her from her cot. The end of my mindful morning alone with my daughter, as soon we’ll be off to meet a friend for lunch. So good to enjoy the simple things sometimes: flowers in bloom, upbeat music, smells, spring time, fresh bread – and to just enjoy being alive.
Sex after a baby can be tricky: less time, less energy, less inclination. I spoke to the experts about the physical and emotional changes that affect women – and men – post birth and wrote it up for Motherland. Read it here.
My ten-month-old (as of tomorrow) baby is officially mobile. She’s learned to crawl and although she tends to give up quite quickly, becoming distracted by a piece of fluff rather than exerting herself and retrieving the fun toys that i’ve grabbed to lure her, she occasionly moves quite fast. Like in the bathroom earlier, when she spotted a toilet roll and lurched across the (albeit one-metre-squared) floorspace to unravel it before I could stop her. And so another chapter begins. No more axes (for wood-chopping) on the sitting room floor, the wood burner needs a guard, the Nurofen on my bedside table will be promoted to the ‘medical box’. (This is the first medical box i’ve ever had. Becoming a mum made me feel as if I should up my game in this department.)
I knew that Joni would crawl – a friend brought round his ‘cage’ a few months ago for this eventuality – but I didn’t realise how exciting it would be to watch her becoming increasingly independent. People photograph the first smile, film the first steps and record first words but there are other little milestones that I hadn’t – pre-Joni – given any thought to. And they matter too. Well, to immediate family and very generous friends they do, anyway. These are them…
This is a big deal in the baby world. Newborns spend their days being cradled or lying on their backs but then suddenly they learn to flip their little bodies over, ending up in a yogic seal pose: arched back; big eyes beaming up at you. It’s something of a triumph. For you both.
First words are wonderful but long before that happens the baby goes from a nearly non-verbal being to one who makes sweet cooing sounds, as if she’s singing. Until now, crying has been the only sound they’ve made so this is literally music to your ears.
First time they reach for an object
We naively attached a brightly-coloured mobile to Joni’s car seat when she was a few days old. We thought she might like to play with it while we drove – alas, she wasn’t in the slightest bit interested, as all she wanted was to do was cry as loudly as possible until she was no longer in the car. But one day, she reached for the dragonfly dangling above her and started to find it fun. Watching her interact with a toy was very sweet. And an end to the constant crying was pretty sweet too.
Holding a bottle
Another distraction for car journeys was bottles of water or milk. But it meant me doing my ninja dive onto the back seat to feed her. So when she took it off me and began feeding herself I was both amazed and relieved. Another step towards independence.
After learning to roll over, babies learn to sit up. This changes your life immeasurably as they can now be dumped in the highchair, or popped on the floor anywhere; giving your arms and back a break. Joni seemed very pleased with herself when she learned this skill around Christmas.
So I guess the next recognised milestone is walking. But i’m looking forward to the little, less-acknowledged accomplishment that will precede it. Now excuse me while I grab Joni’s ankles to stop her from crawling out the front door.
During pregnancy I relished the weekly emails I received from the NHS about the development of my baby. They were always spot-on; offering perfectly-timed information about both the baby and me. I also dipped into online forums for quick answers to any questions I had. But I avoided ‘how to’ books on pregnancy and parenting because I wanted to work it out for myself, at my own pace.
Whenever i’ve had a practical question and haven’t wanted to go to the doctor or health visitor (which is always because I never want to go to either) i’ve gone to my mum. That’s probably why we started off feeding Joni puréed food rather than opting for the popular baby-led weaning. Basically, all the things I think my mum did really well for me when I was growing up, I want to repeat.
For people who don’t have a network of mothers around them to answer their questions, ‘how to’ books (ie. how to breastfeed, sleep train – or not – co-sleep, feed your baby etc) may offer some reassurance. But I can’t help but wonder if – on the whole – they actually confuse, rather than help, new parents.
When using forums, mum-friends, our own mothers/ aunts/ sisters for advice, there will be a variety of ideas about everything but then you can pick and choose. In contrast, a ‘how to’ book suggests that there is only one way. It acts as a bible and the fact that it has been scribed by a ‘professional’ makes it seem more legitimate, so people are being led to believe that these pages can actually transform them from a tired, emotional, confused, scared parent into a sleeping, head-strong, fearless parent with a clear vision.
I may only be nine months into this parenting game but one thing I know for sure is that no parent feels that way all the time. What’s more, how can the author of a book offer you sage advice for rearing a baby s/he has likely never met? Your mum’s met your baby. And your friends have too. So when Joni, aged five and a half months, was up feeding for two hours during the night and my parents wondered if she was hungry for something more filling than breastmilk, they were looking at me and Joni and making a sensible suggestion. They waited for me to ask, which is important – ‘cos I don’t know any new mum who wants unsolicited advice – and then jumped at the chance to tell me that she was probably ready for proppa grub.
We mashed up some veg, gave it to her, she spat it out, we tried again the next day and eventually she started gobbling it down. She also stopped waking for those epic night feeds. Then we started to introduce lumps and to give her pieces of banana to feed herself. She loves it. So feeding = tick. With no book consulted.
Next came sleeping. We wanted to be able to get Joni off without me nursing her to sleep (ie. feeding her from my breast until she dropped off into a milk-induced-coma) and to sleep through. This is where the books really fuck with your head. I know this because at 4am one morning, I ordered one from Amazon. I was desperate for sleep. Sleep book sales must peak at ungodly hours as blurry-eyed, sleep-deprived parents decide they can no longer cope and will pay for any help they can get. Only, it’s not help. Because it’s talking about a baby that doesn’t exist, or belongs to the author, or a sleep clinic trial – and how that baby learned to sleep.
So I read a few pages of this book, freaked out that Joni’s naps were all at the wrong time, decided that I was terribly disorganised and failing at motherhood and stopped reading. Then I realised that the book was the failure, not me. I talked to Rich and we decided to try our own techniques – after all, we know Joni better than anyone else. We soon found our own solution. She now gets herself to sleep and stays in her cot from 7pm until 7am. This might change, but we’ve had about four delightful months of it and can now cope with unsettled periods, as and when they arise, with the knowledge that all babies eventually get themselves to sleep and sleep through. Joni has done it before, she can do it again. You don’t need a book to tell you that.
The ‘how to’ books instil fear and then offer solace. So the author might (as was the case with the one I read) say that your baby will never sleep through the night if they aren’t napping properly. That means three naps, at the same time each day, in the cot. Not in the buggy, or your arms, or the car. So if you stay in all day, everyday – and DO NOT nurse your baby to sleep, or leave them to cry – they’ll nap perfectly and then sleep through the night. Except that’s not telling me how to get my baby to sleep. The author can’t tell me that because there’s no one secret solution. It’s all trial and error. I walked for miles to get Joni off in the buggy, delighted when she snoozed in the car and used my breast to send her off every night. Until one night when I put her down awake and she went off in her own so I knew she could do it. Since then, she’s had her boob/ bath/ book routine and gone to bed awake, had a moan then dropped off. It comes with age (of baby), patience and not listening to the ‘experts’. But mostly, it comes from using your intuition and instinct – those invaluable things all parents have but that we’re taught, by the ‘gurus’, to ignore.
I recently had a weaning conundrum. I have no idea how much milk Joni drinks each day so couldn’t work out how much formula she’ll need when I ease off breastfeeding. Google couldn’t give me a satisfactory answer to my simple – but important – question so I emailed a wise mother of two little ones whose advice I know I can trust. She instantly replied with the exact info I was after: follow-on milk, three small bottles a day – and with no ambiguity or judgement. Other mothers are a most valuable resource.
And lastly, my latest problem: Joni biting me when she breastfeeds. I read that your baby might bite you once but your reaction will be so strong that they’ll never do it again. Only, that’s not true. Joni bites me all the time when she’s teething. It isn’t excruciating but i’d prefer if it wasn’t happening. As this dilemma is relatively new, i’m yet to find a solution so answers on a postcard, please. But just don’t point me toward a bloody book.