This morning I was sitting on my bed, naked, after having a shower. The Gypsy Kings were playing through the Spotify app on my phone and Joni was holding it up to her ear saying “ello” repeatedly, while running around the room – occasionally stopping to twerk.
The song came to an end and she looked me in the eyes. She came over and started to point to various parts of my face and body: “eyda” (eyes), “non” (nose), “air” (hair), “booboo” (boobies). She got to my stomach and stopped. She looked a bit confused. Then using both hands, she lifted a piece of flab and found the “tata” (tattoo) she was looking for on my hip bone.
I laughed. And then I thought: shit, we’re a year and a half post-birth – should that flab still be there? And then I thought: yes, it should, because it’s winter and I although I run every morning, I also like (in fact LOVE) drinking white hot chocolate every day, and eating flapjacks and thick slices of sourdough bread with chocolate and almond butter.
In a recent interview (coming soon to The Early Hour), a mum told me that she feels we are all in awe of a pregnant body but disgusted by it post-birth. And I agree with her – pregnancy is buoyant and blooming and rosy, while our postnatal bodies are flabby and sagging and feel as if they’ve been used and are now just getting in the way.
Funnily enough, in the photo above – taken three days after I gave birth – I remember looking down at my stomach with its stretch marks, linea nigra, flaps and indents and bobbles and loose skin and feeling amazed and so in love with my body. Rich caught me taking a photo and asked why I wanted to photograph “that”. He didn’t see the beauty in it, like I did.
But my amazement at what my body had achieved in growing and birthing and feeding Joni ceased after a few months, when I started to feel frustrated that I couldn’t run without getting mastitis, that my back ached and that those rolls of loose skin/fat weren’t shifting from my belly.
So this morning I was imagining a world where a female’s body is considered beautiful throughout childhood, teenagehood, adulthood – through pregnancy, birth, post-birth – into the menopause, out the other side and all the way into old age… Wouldn’t that be so lovely? If us women didn’t have to feel guilty about what we eat, how much we exercise (or don’t), and the state of our frame after growing and pushing out a baby…
And then, after my initial moment of horror/hilarity as Joni shifted my belly fat around while hunting for my tattoo, it dawned on me that there is a world where women’s bodies are revered whatever their size, shape, texture, age. It’s the world through children’s eyes. Joni is fascinated by my body – crevices, rolls of skin and fat, hair (wherever it may be. She excitedly referred to my pubic hair as ‘dogon’ – yes, DOG – in the bath recently).
And her love and fascination of bodies extends beyond just me, her mum. She loves her grandma’s “booboos”, her auntie’s “booboo” (as well as breasts, this means belly – her auntie has a lovely big round one, as she’s six months pregnant). And any other woman she is fond of will undoubtedly have a body Joni thinks is just wonderful.
So for anyone feeling down about their body today, try to shift your perspective. Take yourself back to childhood – when beauty was about kindness and warmth and smiles and playfulness; not skinniness, flawless skin, youth, cool clothes – and keep that outlook firmly in place as you look at your sisters. If we all start loving our own and other women’s bodies just as they are, as children do, the world will be a better place.
Parenthood is riddled with guilt. In fact, it should be renamed guilt-trip-hood, because there seems to be an inordinate amount of it weaved into the journey from conception to birth to childhood. It even continues when your children have grown up into adults, moved out and have their own kids.
It’s rare that I step back and applaud myself for the job i’m doing with Joni. Like most parents, i’m highly self-critical, anxious that i’m doing the wrong thing and am constantly making adjustments in an attempt to provide the safest, happiest, most stimulating environment I can.
However… there’s this little thing that keeps popping up and I thought it was time I addressed it. Since launching The Early Hour (a culture and lifestyle magazine for parents), I’ve spent a large part of my time interviewing mums and dads. One piece of advice I hear time and time again is: when you’re with your children, put your phone away and give them 100% of your attention.
I can’t argue with this: of course you should interact with your kids rather than scrolling through photos on Facebook, but I’m beginning to wonder (read: am desperate to prove) that ignoring your kids, just a little bit, might actually be quite healthy.
When I was young, I distinctly remember my mum, probably aged about 34, hopping onto the kitchen counter and calling her friends from the phone attached to the wall. It was so long ago that you actually had to pull the circular dial around to each number with your index finger. She’d then spend what felt like HOURS chatting away to her pals. We’d have to write notes to get her attention. (Sorry mum).
At the time, I didn’t understand why it was so important for her to communicate with her friends, surely we were SO MUCH MORE FUN AND INTERESTING??? But I now completely understand. When you spend all day with your children, you need a break; you need adult company – and whether that’s in real life, on the phone, or on Facebook messenger doesn’t really matter.
But not just that. When you ignore your children, as long as you know they’re safe, you’re giving them the opportunity to use their imagination – to make up their own games and stories, to play with toys in new ways that they’ve discovered, to get bored and have to creatively find a way to fill the time. (Like writing notes begging their mum – who’s on the phone – to let them have a biscuit).
At the moment, i’m caring for 17-month-old Joni full time while working nearly full time hours during her naps, in the evenings and on the weekend. Perhaps if I went out to work during the day, I’d be more inclined to dedicate the smaller amount of time we had together to fully-focused play. But as it stands, we have eight waking hours together – so if a proportion of that time is spent with me on my phone or computer: replying to emails, editing an article or liaising with advertisers – it shouldn’t be too great a loss.
Writing this article has been somewhat cathartic. I now feel a lot more at ease with the fact that Joni is playing, alone, with her Play-Doh balls in front of me as I tap my thoughts into my iPhone. YEAH RIGHT. I think there’s no escaping the guilt-trap you fall into as soon as you realise you’re pregnant (can I have a ‘drink’? Is a tiny slice of brie ok…), which gets worse after the birth (is she too hot/cold/hungry, should I cuddle her more/less, is she napping enough, should she still be breastfeeding…).
All we can do is make sure the child is happy and loved – and that we feel happy in ourselves too. If that means averting your attention every now and again to check-in with a mum friend or to get a bit of work done, it’s not going to ruin your child’s upbringing. It will help them to become really good at entertaining themselves – honestly, I love my own company. (Thanks mum).
This week saw the launch of my new online magazine The Early Hour – culture, lifestyle and parenting. Articles are published at 5am (‘The Early Hour’) so that parents don’t miss out.
So far, there are interviews with Gorgon City, poet Hollie McNish (Hollie Poetry), Benjamin Zephaniah, Rudimental’s DJ Locksmith, the actor Barry Ward, Working Mums, Working Dads, a Full Time Dad, film reviews and more…
Come and check it out!
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.
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.