946 Days

946 Days

On Friday we stopped breastfeeding.

946 days.

31 months and 1 day.

2 years and 7 months and 1 day.

One of the longest, most rewarding, and most fulfilling jobs I have ever had. Yes : I said “jobs” – because whilst it was wonderful and tender and wrought with hormones and body doubt and body gratitude and self doubt and self care and self neglect and ideological ambition and realistic set backs and unwaivering perseverance and effortless ease and sublime miraculous grace : it was work. Holy work. I do see it as me having chosen to take on a job to nourish you, my child. A job commissioned by nature to fulfill as long as we both enjoyed the process and relationship of nourishing and nurturing / drinking and receiving. It was nourishment and nurturing of a complex and multifaceted nature. A journey and a relationship shrouded in blissful connection and sometimes underpinned by deep struggle. A journey that has naturally ended at the perfect moment; for both of us.

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One of the only photos I have which shows the nipple shield we used at the beginning.

I still can’t quite believe that it is over; and to be honest it isn’t quite “over” as we are still talking about it between us: still touching Ninnie and feeling together how Ninnie is changing, laughing together at the incredulity of there being no more milk drinking. Ninnie is your name for my milky breasts – you know the word “breasts” but refer to my breasts (still now a few days later) as Ninnie.

If anyone would have told me when I was a few weeks pregnant that I would breastfeed you for this long I would have laughed in their face(!!!) I thought I would breastfeed for 9-12 months until you transitioned into food, and didn’t need the calories anymore….but then there you were, and my natural instincts blossomed and my rational mind was convinced after doing the research….and there you were: relishing the milk. Loving your safe haven from the exciting world, your body growing and flourishing so powerfully, your immunity and your health so strong – your desire to continue so palpable as each and every time you arrived at the breast your body relaxed and your nervous system reset.

We breastfed through a lot. We breastfed through our mutual recovery from a Caesarean birth after a long labour; for a few days we supplemented here and there as my milk supply came through – and despite the gruelling pumping schedule we breastfed through it. We breastfed through your Upper Lip Tie and for 9 weeks we breastfed with a nipple shield. We breastfed through the protracted death of my granny; your great grandmother. We breastfed through your first teeth, and your first mild fever. We breastfed through the arrival of each and every tooth that arrived – and at 12 months you had 14 teeth…each one bringing fresh chafing for my resilient nipples. we breastfed through the second level three day doula training I attended when you were 12 weeks old – your loving aunty bringing you at breaks and lunchtime. We breastfed through the flashbacks I started to have as part of the PTSD that was triggered in those first few months post partum; we breastfed through the ensuing migraines. We breastfed through a move to the UK for a few months; through the emotional rollercoasted that turned out to be. We breastfed through our happy return to Amsterdam. We breastfed through the first student births I attended, we breastfed through the “interuption to service” that the births and the hospital internships brought. You even had the privilege of breastfeeding from a friend whilst I was at the first full overnight birth. We breastfed through your first virus and your salmonella. We breastfed through your learning to walk and your increased sleep talking – thankfully no sleepwalking yet. We breastfed through the uncertain months of the beginning of self employment; me often reassured that whilst I wasn’t able to afford to put organic food and line caught salmon on our table as I had wanted – at least I could still offer you the breast -and that was as close to organic as it gets right?! We breastfed through your start at nursery, we breastfed through your decision to use the potty and the toilet. We breastfed though 2 years and 7 months of single parenting; and whilst a lot of parents in partnerships may not understand that there is a difference…that is no mean feat!

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Ruby the cat getting passively high on the oxytocin!

So how did it all come to an end?

On Friday night as we went about settling down for sleep after stories and tooth brushing; you said “Big Ninnie first” and out of nowhere I heard myself say “It is almost time to stop breastfeeding Jasper. You are a really big boy now, you can do so much for yourself, and Ninnie’s job is done – you don’t need to drink Ninnie anymore.” Your concern was initially mainly if you could drink from Ninnie tonight – naturally – your primary concern at 2y 7m is the present and immediate moment and the moment playing out in such a way that pleases you!!!

I cherished you as much as you would let me whilst you drank. I stroked your toddler head, your long blonde hair – totally different from the dark dark brown head of hair you were born with. I felt the size of your head; the solidity of it. I reminisced back to the first days of our journey when despite weighing 4.448kg at birth; you felt so tiny and fragile in my arms next to my blossoming bouncing balloon like breasts. I felt the full length of your little but solid toddler body next to mine and realised happily that you too will probably remember our breastfeeding journey in the longer term. This makes me so happy.

I have whispered into your ears at various points in the days since with tears in my eyes and my throat choked; “Ninnie will always love you – even though there is no more milk for you to drink; you can still put your head on the soft roundness and remember all the lovely milk you have enjoyed.”

The next night as we turned out the light after stories I invited you into my arm for a cuddle and you said; “Can I have Ninnie?” I smile in the half light (expecting the worst) and say “Oh no – we have stopped drinking Ninnie remember?” Tired after a lovely long day you say; “Oh yeah!” and lie back in your sheepskin.

Falling asleep the next afternoon; you are fidgetty and can’t get comfortable. You lie vertically on my body, your head over my heart, your arm outstretched over “Big Ninnie” (my right one) and fall asleep like that. I cherish the closeness; my heart hurting for you a little. Is it my projection or is this you searching for reassurance?

Last night you tried again – with a knowing and cheeky grin as you ask; “Can I have a little drink?” I laugh and say “Noooooo – the milk is gone now….”

“A tiny drink? A really really short drink?” you venture.

I reply with a clear voice defying my mental uncertainty; “Oh that would be so nice wouldn’t it; but Ninnie doesn’t have milk anymore – feel how wobbly they are now! They are very different now….” I’m half wondering if I should actually offer you some but the dread of the feeling of the dwindling milk being drawn up through the already very different feeling ducts persuades me not to(!)

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So many sweet moments like these; here you are 5 weeks old.

I am so PROUD of you that you seem able to navigate this change with such confidence. Seeking out affirmations of our love and attachment, yes, but in what seems to be a secure manner. Our relationship is changing again – again! Oh how the wonderous journey of parenthood embodies the only certainhood we have in life: that nothing is certain – that nothing lasts forever.

In these last days of our breastfeeding journey (is it appropriate to say “The Wrap Up”?!?! Too soon maybe?!?!) I have laughed, I have cried, I have massaged and soothed my breasts in deep loving gratitude, I have reflected a lot on what the breastfeeding journey has meant for me, what I hope it has meant for you, and what it has meant for us as a mother and son. There are so many memories – some fleeting and funny, some raw and intense, some euphoric, some I have shared with others, some that will simply remain between you and I; and some that I hold close in my own heart just for me. It is also incredibly beautiful; that on the day that our journey stopped – the breastfeeding journey of a dear dear friend and her absolutely scrumptious newborn daughter began. The cycle continues!

I want to end with gratitude. Gratitude for you and your unwaivering determination from just minutes old, gratitude for your grunting and sucking and stroking and patting and burping and slurping, gratitude for my breasts and my body, gratitude for the healing nature of our “successful” breastfeeding journey after a birth journey that wasn’t what I had hoped for us, and last but not least – deep gratitude for all the people around us. The women, the dearest friends and family, the birthworkers and teachers, and the supporters who made our journey possible with their glasses of water, the delicious nibbles and snacks, the warming tea, the hand on the shoulder, the gentle reminders about techniques in those early days. Gratitude for their understanding when everything stopped so that I could sit down and nourish you; the knowing loving glances in cafes; the spoken words of tenderness, encouragement and support on the days when I was hollow eyed and “over it”; and everybody and every act of support in little and big ways since: THANK YOU.

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The last photo I have of you breastfeeding – already some months ago. You were stroking Ninnie so softly with the back of your hand.
Yesterday I fell apart

Yesterday I fell apart

Not completely. Let’s say my façade fell apart. My mother and baby group tribe got to see the real messy, emotional, vulnerable, snotty, sweaty and mascara melting side of me which I strive to keep so well hidden….

Yesterday was day two of my back flaring up. No baby wearing – the stroller was out (oh how my self judgements raged about being disconnected from Jasper/how I’m failing at the attatchment parenting model/gremlin grumbling ad infinitum). I lost my tram pass (grrrrrrrrrr) so bought a single ticket (cue bigger GRRRRRRRR) and found some redemption in the pleasure of giving a free pass to the first person waiting at the tram stop I debarked from. Then I remembered I was 35 minutes late…rush in to the building as fast as possible – never mind the back twinges!

I came upon my new mummy friends and their bubbas sat around in an oxytocin filled room, sheepskins, blankets, fleeces, big innocent eyes, new teeth to speak of, bare bouncing bottoms, warm sudden wet fountains(!)….for the first time that day I felt like I could really breathe. I was greeted by a big kiss and “You’re looking hot today!” Indeed I’d highlighted my eyes with a stripe or two of liner, somehow hoping that a little jet black mascara and Mac serpent green would galvanise me and prevent me from losing my marbles.

My little man was excited to be in the building, which he already associates with joy, connection, laughter, song and development. He greeted everyone with big flirty Gemini smiles, more than happy for that moment to be centre of attention in a room full of love. He was a useful distraction for me; an extension of my facade. I brushed off my wince of pain as I sat down with a brief comment acknowledging it wasn’t anything physical, just some emotional turbulence manifesting physically. And our mother and baby Shiatsu massage session started. Monika was magnificent – connecting with everyone in our group individually and collectively. We all learnt a lot. We breathed deeply. We let go. We watched our bubbas let go and love us even more in our spacious open selves.

And the session ended. Monika graciously, generously went to one of our mums – a true warrior goddess recovering from major surgery on her intestines but eager to see us at her earliest opportunity. We busied ourselves chatting and beginning to clothe our naked mini beings.

I felt Monika’s hand before she said “And you Mama….lets work out whats happening with your back”.

The touch of a human. The touch of a mother. The touch of a balanced centred and well intentioned woman, a nurturer. Wow; always a pleasure – but as a solo parent and a single person one of the things we can miss the most is the loving touch of another. Already I felt relief. What ensued was Monika inviting me to lay face down on a yoga mat – my little man was quickly tended to by a loving mother with spare hands(!) – and Monika set to work on my spine…. Pretty quickly there was a big build up and release of heat, the tension seemed to vibrate underneath my skin, my spine tingling with the targeted manipulations. The tears fell, fortunately my hair covered the side of my face, but then the heat and the sweat took over, the thoughts tumbling –

“Oh jeeeeez….how will I manage to spring up and surreptiously wipe up this pool of tears, snot and sweat as I head off to the bathroom once she’s done?”

“What is wrong with me that a massage does this to me time after time?”

“Breathe…ouch that hurts….breathe….ouch that hurts….breathe”

“Oh my god I’m supposed to be leading a session with these ladies next week – who the hell will respect me enough to participate NOW?”

…..you get the picture!

Monika’s magic hands sensed it was time to stop kneading. She advised me to stay still for a few moments, reassuring me that Jaspie was just fine. I thought “Jump up, drag your sleeve over the wet patch, look at the floor and make a dart for the door – no one will see your mascara streaked panda face- go go go!”

My body had other plans. It threatened to spasm. The fear came. I froze. I eased myself back on the floor.

Darling Esther arrived at my side with loving arms and gentle cooing tender words. Reassuring and distracting, encouraging me to take some time. The rest of the thoughtful, considerate group of women held the space, gave me space, took their space and led by example: they allowed the experience to just be what it was, in that space, on that day, and loved me anyway. No sideways glances. No whispering. No knowing looks. No false comments about “everyone falling apart sometimes” or “hormones eh?!” No single mother pitied projections, no meaningless “I don’t know HOW you DO this on your OWN”.

Once I’d manoeuvred my sobbing damp self off the floor, I was held. They mothered me. They continued to hold the space around me. Judgement free, hurry free, question free.

So I had fallen apart. Not completely but not far from. My façade had fallen completely away. My sisters got to see the real messy, emotional, vulnerable, snotty, sweaty and mascara melting side of me which I strive to keep so well hidden.

My aching back still grating. The fear of a spasm lock down still playing out in my head. My mascara still tracing an interesting angle vertically on my cheek. But feeling seen. Feeling valid. Feeling cherished.

And the falling apart; it was OK. Really. It was more than ok – it was a huge relief. It was an opening. It was authentic. And we connected even more deeply than before. We bonded; our hearts wide open and non-judging. We “saw” each other. Me through my lens of tears; they through lenses of empathy and compassion. My falling apart represents progress for me. Letting go and letting people in. And through letting it all hang out and being totally accepted even in that snotty messy version of me, I get the added bonus of feeling SO much healing gratitude that my life is blessed with 150 minutes, once a week, with a sisterhood that does what our ancestors and our tribal counterparts know heals the spirit of a woman more than any drug or any therapy session could ever do.

With heartfelt gratitude to my sisters and their beautiful bouncing gurus from ‘Tiny & Mighty’, and wishing all who read this post a bare minimum of 150 minutes of utter and complete acceptance and authentic connection, this week and every week.

In Loving Memory of Margaret Standring 14.03.1931 – 19.08.2014

In Loving Memory of Margaret Standring 14.03.1931 – 19.08.2014

It seems befitting that my first post be my goodbye to this woman who meant to much to me, and inspired so much in me, particularly through her death this year.

“I confess I’d started to jot down some memories of Granny before she passed away. Partly because it was clear from the first doctor’s call in July that we were approaching the end, and mostly because in spending these beautiful last weeks with her and recalling happy times together, one memory sparked another, that in turn another, and I became anxious to make sure I got all these precious gems down on paper.

It was difficult however to know where to start in writing these words to say to you today, as knowing where to start; what best depicts the very best of our magnificent Granny is a tough job as there is such a wealth of memories to choose from. Such profound love, such generosity of spirit, so many valuable lessons taught, so much laughter, such delicious recipes, so many skills, so many gifts (and I mean both gifts of character as well as material, and we all know she loved to shop!); she brought so much to our family and no doubt to you her many friends.

I decided to share one of my first memories of Granny by way of a beginning. Being sat alone as a little girl of three on the stairs at Windsor Road watching a terrific storm brewing. The sky darkened and I ventured out in my thick Yorkshire accent which tickled Granny no end, “Granny?” No reply. No doubt she was busying about the garden or garage in her usual whirlwind way. The lightning struck, the thunder growled. I burst into tears. Seconds later Granny swooped in, her lovely face soft with concern, her wide open arms my very own port in a storm. She encompassed me in a tight cuddle, reassuring me that she would never be far away, and certainly would never leave me alone. My heroine. Unbeknownst to me at that moment she continued to be my unwavering port throughout various childhood and adolescent storms.

During one of these evenings we spent supporting eachother as a family recently, we laughed at the memory of an eight year old me flinging myself on my bed wailing “Granny! I want my Granny – she’s the only one who understands me….” Only two years before I had been the only one who could understand her in her hospital bed following her stroke. Perhaps the lack of fear and projection and the curiosity of a six year old meant that I was simply able to focus on the sounds she was making and was able to work it out, but it felt like, and I still believe it was mostly to do with our strong connection and bond we shared.

She made an incredible recovery from her stroke. Relearning almost all of that which had been lost or impaired in order to continue to pass it on; a teacher through and through. She taught me SO much. I remember getting to reception class and being confused why not everyone could recite the alphabet and write their name already. She taught me how to draw, how to paint, how to formulate perspective in a piece of artwork. She taught me the pleasure of playing a musical instrument, fondly encouraging my sometimes rather tortuous practicing of the violin, the piano and the flute. She taught me how to press tongue(!!!), how to make lemon cheese as soft as butter. She taught me that as women we must nurture ourselves, with good food on the inside and with luxurious products on the outside! She taught me the pleasure of having beautiful things in my home environment, the pleasure in buying, wrapping and giving gifts – she always so kindly poured over our gifts and their wrapping as we gave them to her; she was beyond question my favourite person to buy a present for. Thoughtfully she always wore one of the presents we’d bought her whenever we visited – some I even forgot I’d bought once or twice, she obviously never did.

In recent years her brain was affected by dementia. Sometimes this was difficult to see, and painfully was very difficult for her in her more lucid moments as she knew she wasn’t “quite right”. To be honest though we had some terrific laughs at the expense of dementia, like the Christmas day when I went in to give her a good morning cuddle and a cup of tea and sang “Happy Christmas Granny!!!” to which she replied not skipping a beat “Happy New Year!!!” Another beautiful gift of dementia was that it slowed her down. On my fridge I have a few cheerful pastel coloured photos from a couple of years ago when my sister and I enjoyed some warm sunny summer afternoons with her in Carwood Nursing Home’s garden. There we were – not “doing” much, not saying anything of any real consequence – just basking in our reflected pleasure in eachother’s company. Despite the illness; the twinkle in her eyes, the interest in her eyes, the kindness and the sheer love in her eyes all almost palpable, never lost.

Her last weeks, intense weeks of both incredible light and terrifying darkness as she progressed toward her transition, feel too fresh and too intimate to share today, so I’ll finish by sharing the words a close friend and confidante shared with me. “We live as we live, and then we die in just the same way we have lived.” In being beside Granny this last month I can confirm this is true. She died with tremendous strength, determination, courage and grace.

I believe that she also learnt an important lesson in the final steps of her journey however; how to really let go. And so it is with a mixture of strength, determination, courage, grace, and the vulnerability and the surrender required to really let go sometimes, that I will continue along my journey as a woman, a daughter, a sister and a mother. Grateful to the core for all she was, all she brought and taught me, grateful for the privilege of being at her side in her last weeks on earth and for this illuminating experience of death. Promising to share what I can of her legacy with my own family and friends.

Thankyou Granny.”