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Happy Summer Solstice!

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I know I'm biased but that was an AMAZING solstice!

It started early as I joined my soul friend Chris at 5am for a swim at Fermain Bay and out to the ledge at the corner of the bay to be able to see the sun rising above Herm.  Here on the ledge Chris and I practised some sun salutations in honour of the sun, what bliss, especially as it was big and red rising in front of us!

We swam across the Bay to the cliff and a waterfall with fledging seagulls and their mothers getting super excited so that we swam back to shore.  We sat in the morning sunlight at the corner of the beach on our own enjoying the sun rise and sharing quotes.  What a way to begin the morning!

That evening we joined together for a fabulous yoga class in my parents' garden surrounded by nature and with the sun dropping behind us.  We were encouraged to offer our practice as a way of saying thank you for all that we are and have achieved during the light part of the year. and all we have yet to achieve.

It was hot, like high twenties, which is hot for Guernsey and I was certainly feeling it, positioned as I was facing the sun.  Still it was a magical class and lovely to share yoga like this on such stunning day,

Following the class the majority of students stayed on to join us around the stone circle, which my sister in law, Star, and I had consecrated the night before,

Here on the Solstice we joined around the fire and I handed out rosemary, which we all threw on the fire as a symbolic way of letting go of those things we no longer want in our lives - "oh my gosh, is there enough rosemary" one lady commented!

After this, we each lit candles to represent the light and all we wished to bring into our lives over the next six months.  I then invited everyone to blindly choose a crystal from the crystal bag, the solstice choice of quartz, Citrine or Rose quartz, 

Together we enjoyed Shamanic drumming courtesy of Stu Ogier and some crudités and home-made humus courtesy of my Mum.  We also got to`enjoy Natasha's handmade head garland, seasonal in her homeland of Russia, thank you! 

We shared angel cards too and there were cuddles for Eben and dancing for Star and I.

Thank you to everyone who made this such a special and memorable solstice, may this be the first of many ahead and let's get into that stone circle more often please

Love xxx

 

Love xx

 

 

 

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Warning! Litter Rant.

It's hot here in Guernsey and my pitta is aggrieved and I can feel a rant coming on...

I've just been for a 20-minute evening walk through the beautiful lanes in the centre of the Island where I live and managed to collect all this litter.  Poor Mother Earth!

I'm just thinking. Now I wonder if there's a correlation between the people who think it's ok to litter Mother Earth with rubbish, being ok with also littering their bodies and minds with rubbish.  or to put it another way, those who have such little respect for Mother Earth, might also, possibly, have little respect for themselves. It's obviously not for me to judge but just a thought.

I guess the important thing is that someone picks up the rubbish. Now this isn't a preach but I know how easy it is to see rubbish and go through a thought process which justifies the many reasons that you might not pick it up (it's dirty, you don't have a bag, someone else will do it etc etc ) and just walk on by ignoring it.  

Well hey, how's about we all just get on down and pick it up. We can;t expect everyone else to be the change we want to see in the world, if we aren't prepared to be that change too.  So here's my thing.  Take a bag out with you when you go walking or to the beach and pick up the rubbish, cleanse Mother Earth, clear her of the (mainly) plastic debris and enable her to breathe more easily.

The magical thing is that she'll thank you. Honestly.  If you don't do it already then give it a try, and encourage your children to do it too.  Let's help Mother Earth with our own hands, and be that change.

Rant over!

xx

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Part 20 - Sleep Deprivation and Adjusting to Motherhood

There is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for the reality of the sleep deprivation that accompanies night time feeding – and I was most certainly no exception.

Towards the end of my pregnancy I lost count of the number of people who told me to get the sleep while I could. It used to really annoy me because it was nigh on impossible to get any decent sleep due to the discomfort of sleeping with a huge bump and the constant need to pee. I considered it nature’s way of preparing me for what lay ahead, but it didn’t really. It just meant I was tired before I’d even had the baby.

The first few nights in hospital challenged my ability to sleep too. Not only are you woken regularly for the obligatory checks, but I was high on the hormones that accompany birth, and I had drunk a lot of black tea to keep me going following the Caesarean section. Plus, I was acutely aware that Elijah could wake at any moment and I was nervous about my ability to comfort him and prevent him crying.

Thus by the time I made it home I was absolutely shattered; not least from the activity on the ward but also from the surgery and the acute blood loss that accompanied it.   All I wanted was some quality sleep to support the healing process and my recovery from the surgery, but of course this isn’t a reality when you’ve got a new baby, especially when you’re breastfeeding.

There was a novelty factor to the night time breastfeeding those first few days. I tried the ‘watching TV while drinking tea and eating biscuits’ approach but this just made me feel yucky. I tried the ‘check Facebook in the middle of the night’ tactic too, but this meant I got too engrossed in things that I didn’t need to be getting engrossed in. So I opted instead for the ‘stay in bed and put the side lamp on’ approach so that I didn’t wake E in the process.

In those early days feeding took an extraordinary amount of time, because it wasn’t just the feeding but the winding too.  And then if a nappy and clothing change were required, as they frequently were during those first couple of weeks (until I realised that we needed bigger size Naty nappies - skip size one they don’t work, go straight to size two), then I could be up for forty minutes to an hour by the time I’d also managed to settle Elijah to sleep again.

I quickly gave up with the ‘trying to settle Elijah thing’.  I had his Moses basket right beside the bed but he absolutely loathed going in this initially and I found that the only way to settle him was if he slept on my chest with me sleeping virtually upright propped up on pillows.  I’ve since discovered that this is common in those first few weeks and perhaps not surprising given that the baby has been nestled inside you all those months and wants to stay close to you.

I was a little nervous about this at first, given the fact it had been drilled into me in hospital that you must not have the baby sleep with you in your bed (I got told off for doing this one night), but I absolutely needed sleep and this was the only way I could manage it. It was never enough sleep though, and as E returned to work immediately after I returned home from hospital, and as my breasts were frequently required for feeding, I didn’t get to lie in either.

After six weeks of Elijah lying on my chest I was desperate to lie on my side to sleep. By then my shoulders, neck and upper back were aching from all the breastfeeding and carrying of car seats and my awful posture when it came to the night time feeding.  I was often so tired that it was all I could do not to fall asleep as I was leaning over breastfeeding him.  I was severely anaemic and had such little energy.  All I longed for was a good night’s sleep.

I managed to transfer Elijah into the Moses basket, albeit that the Moses basket was placed in the centre of the bed between E and I.  Fortunately, we had invested in a super king sized bed in preparation for his arrival and already this was proving beneficial as it meant we still had lots of space.  It was lovely to sleep as I chose and he was still close by and amazingly it didn’t take much longer to settle him than it had done when he slept on my chest.

It helped in settling him that he slept on his front. We had little choice as he wouldn’t sleep on his back, and I don’t blame him, its not a position I favour either, but we felt hugely guilty placing him to sleep on his tummy, as this once again went against all the guidelines that you’re given in respect of safe baby sleeping.  Still it felt intuitively okay to take that perceived risk, and my Mum and her friends were very much of the opinion that they’d slept their babies like that so what was the big deal and I tended to agree.

I had been keen to mother Elijah intuitively, but when it came down to it, as a first time Mum I was fearful of unintentionally doing something to harm him and often sought validation that what I was doing was okay.  I was a member of various baby related Facebook groups back in those days and would get regular updates from Baby Centre about what my baby should be doing when.

I quickly became aware that there is a myriad of opinions on how best to raise a baby and often mothers would present their opinion and validate it by including a link to a relevant research paper. Now I certainly have no wish to discredit researchers and the often valuable work they do, but research findings can be decidedly biased depending on who’s funding it, the nature of the research subjects used and the manner in which the research is interpreted.

The research would often ignore the fact that every baby is different, every mother is different and mothers should be given an opportunity to go with the flow.  It is my experience that far too often in life we are not given the opportunity, or encouraged then, to truly check in with our intuition and our gut feelings, and trust in these and have the strength to act on them. 

Many women don’t even know how to access their innate voice, because they’ve spent the best part of their life making decisions based on other people’s opinions be that their parents, partners, siblings, friends or society. This lack of connection with natural insight, and our inability to make decisions based on it merely serves to make motherhood an even trickier and confusing time than it is already. 

People would so readily give their opinion, and this took some getting used to.  Even complete strangers would comment on whether Elijah looked hot, or enquire into his sleeping and feeding patterns and offer unrequested advice. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that the majority end up doing things by the book – whatever the book may say at that particular time – even if it doesn’t resonate with that mother or isn’t right for her baby or her immediate family.

I fell into this trap with Elijah. It was ridiculous really because up until that point, at least since I’d been practicing yoga and Reiki, I had been living my life intuitively.  However, having a baby was new to me and I was so extremely exhausted and ungrounded that even if I did experience some clarity, I always felt that everyone else knew better than I did and initially I felt a pressure to conform to what was expected of me as a responsible mother (whatever that meant).

I had been told that babies often start sleeping better at six weeks so I was hanging out for this.  But the six-week anniversary came and went and there was no positive change, he was still waking every two hours and I was desperate for this to change. The fact I was still terribly anaemic didn’t help, nor that I was often having to check the blackberry and keep abreast of developments at work.  I was running on empty and desperate for sleep.

The twelve-week anniversary was soon upon us and with that my return to work. Still the sleep didn’t improve and if anything it got worse. It was like he needed the night time intimacy to make up for the fact I was now parted from him for up to five hours a day. It didn’t help that this coincided with his teething and he would sometimes wake every hour or even more than this at times. 

I felt permanently jet lagged and existed on black tea and dark chocolate in quantities I had never before consumed or indeed since.  The job was demanding as I was on a three month catch up with a never ending inbox and there were lots going on that was time pressured and urgent. Additionally, I now had to factor in time away from my desk to express milk and I had to be really disciplined in taking the time to do this.

It also didn’t help that I now had baby brain and acute sleep deprivation, which created an inability to retain information for longer than five minutes.  I was okay if I could stay in my zone, but the moment anyone asked me a question I would lose the thread of what I had just been doing and sit there staring at my screen completely baffled and incapable of thinking clearly. 

It was the most frustrating experience, so too the inability to remember words so I was frequently asking my male colleague the most ridiculous questions.  Fortunately, he had a young family himself so he was well aware of what I was going through.  But still I had to check and re-check my work because I would make silly little mistakes, which was infuriating for a type A personality! I began to think that I was going mad.

And then I did go mad. 

Well not mad in the sense that I lost my mind entirely, just mad in the sense that as the weeks went on and the night feeding and waking continued at one to two hourly intervals, I found myself on an edge. The cumulative effects of the sleepless nights began to take their toll. I was incredibly angry about the birth, the resulting anaemia and the manner in which this had affected my health with recurring thrush infections and a compromised immune system.

I had completely lost my grounding and with this, I had also lost my footing. I was surviving each day, obsessed with my tiredness and my inability to think clearly, I felt directionless and unsupported and I was angry at the Universe.  The dark night of the soul was upon me. This was not how I imagined motherhood to be, it was exhausting and relentless and was seriously affecting my relationship with E.

My life became one of constant rushing, I’d get myself and Elijah ready for the day, go to work and try and get on top of things, and then I’d rush away from work to collect Elijah, and inevitably I was always running late and aware that Elijah would be wanting breastmilk. I’d feed him at my parents’ house and then return home mid afternoon to washing that needed hanging up, dinner that needed preparing, a house that needed tidying and a baby who would cry unless I was holding him.

My life felt terribly out of control and it was no surprise perhaps that my OCD for cleanliness went into overdrive. It became imperative back in those days that the kitchen floor was spotless and I wasted a good few cumulative hours of my life cleaning this each day. My yoga practice became even more important to me as it provided a life line, a sanctuary, a quiet space without anyone demanding anything of me.   

Really I should have just adopted a gentle practice with a lot of resting, but I challenged myself with a dynamic practice because I figured that that was what my mind needed. I was trying to cling to anything that felt normal, even if, ironically, it was further unbalancing me. Active and dynamic yoga has its place but certainly not in the post natal period and I’m keen that other women don’t make the same mistake on their mats as I did.

It took me until Elijah was two to appreciate my profound tiredness and the need for a gentle and restorative practice and the benefits that this would offer me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I’ve since discovered the joy of Uma Dinsmore-Tuli and her incredibly feminine and healing approach to the yoga during the post natal period.

I had started teaching yoga again when Elijah was about six weeks old and it was this that kept me sane.  Yes, I was drained and often running on empty and there is a very strong argument that post natal yoga teachers should wait a good few months before giving to others through teaching, but I experience great joy from teaching, it stops me thinking about anything else and keeps me present.

It was the exhaustion that made everything so challenging. I just didn’t have the same energy for life. I certainty didn’t have any energy for E either. This was another shift. All the attention I previously gave to him, I gave to Elijah and I had absolutely no interest in him touching me. Pre-baby I’d been very tactile but now I felt like my body was for Elijah and I couldn’t cope with anyone else touching it. My libido was at an all time low!

It was a particularly challenging year and there were times when I didn’t think that we would make it. Sleep deprivation brings you to your knees. It’s no surprise its used as a form of torture.  I certainly felt like I was being persecuted at times, and it affected my perception of reality. This wasn’t what I’d signed up for. Motherhood was all consuming and I longed for something to shift, for Elijah to sleep, for E and I to have some fun and for life to become brighter again.

E didn’t seem to understand and was constantly frustrated at my low mood and obsession with how much sleep I wasn’t getting. The fact he didn’t understand just compounded matters and with that the resentment set in and I had no idea how to change things.  Resentment is a horrible energy, all woody and edgy so that it splits things apart, and certainly there were moments where it was doing that to us.

I now know that this is perfectly normal, in that many couples go through a significant period of adjustment during the first year of parenthood. The dynamics of the relationship change and the mother is often exhausted and trying hold it all together with the home, the baby and work, while the father’s life appears to continue as usual albeit he now has to adjust to someone else demanding his partner’s attention. It didn’t help that we came to parenthood late, when we were both so used to doing what we wanted, when we wanted.

The father doesn’t always appreciate the significant change that the mother’s body has had to go through, not least to accommodate the pregnancy but post natal too.  There’s often weight gain and you don’t feel so good about yourself and you might be breastfeeding and have full and leaky breasts.  Factor in sore bits from the birth and all the hormonal shifts happening and its hardly surprising women just want to be left alone at this time.

I found the changes to my body one of the most difficult aspects of the initial post natal period.  That and the sleep deprivation. Not only was I giving mentally and emotionally, but now I was giving physically as well and I certainly didn’t have any energy to give to E too. Because I was so sick this just compounded matters and occasionally I just wanted someone else to manage everything so I could have some time off from all the responsibility!

This was not how I expected motherhood to be. I’d desperately wanted to have a baby and now I was questioning whether I had been wrong to encourage E to have that baby with me. I’d had this terribly romantic idea of how things should be, breastfeeding and floating around with a baby attached to me, whereas the reality was completely different. I was super sensitive to everything and would cry easily. The tiredness was all consuming and I didn’t know how to change things.

Fortunately, I had befriended a lovely Mum with a little boy just a month older than Elijah, who helped to keen me sane.  She too was going through the same experience so we were able to moan and share together. We were also keen to find a solution that meant we got more sleep. We were both keen to gentle parent so the ‘crying it out’ approach was never an option for either of us.

The only time I read a baby-related book was in my quest for more sleep.  I tried the ‘No Cry Sleep Solution’, which was all very well and good, but to be honest I was just too tired to put any of it into practice! I just simply didn’t have the energy to make a change; breastfeeding when Elijah awoke seemed the quickest and easiest way for us to get back to sleep, even if everyone told us that this was creating the sleeping issue.

I tried all sorts of other things.  We went to baby yoga and while we both enjoyed the classes, they didn’t make him sleep any better that night.  I took him for cranial-osteopathy and to see a healer too and while both ladies told me he would sleep better after the sessions, he never did. I burned lavender oil in his room and wafted pine essential oil into his aura to ground him. I gave him Bach floral remedies and homeopathic remedies.

We bathed in dead sea salts to cleanse our auras and I put crystals under his pillow. We spent a lot of the day outside in nature, running around and getting lots of fresh air. I tried to do Reiki on him but while others are calmed and sleep amazingly well after receiving Reiki, typically it seemed to make no difference to him at all. I used the soothing sounds of Tranquil Turtle too, but this seemed to soothe me more than it did him.

Of course there was always hope that the sleep would improve, and it was this hope that my friend and I lived off.  It got to the point where we’d laugh because someone was always telling us that when we reached certain milestone things would change, for example when they started on solids, when they started crawling etc. But those milestones came and went and made no difference to our sons’ respective sleeping patterns, if anything they merely got worse.

E and I did what was encouraged and moved Elijah into a cot when he outgrew the Moses basket.  Intuitively I had intended to co-sleep but I was told that I would be making a rod for my own back and that he would smell my milk and want to feed even more than he did already. In hindsight, it was silly because now I just spent half my night traipsing backwards and forwards across the bedroom to feed him and try and settle him in the cot that he didn’t like to sleep in. 

Sometimes I was up and down every 45 minutes to an hour, which was incredibly tough. It was at times like this that I felt wholly resentful of E sleeping soundly beside me.  There was little he could do however as Elijah was very attached to me and would want the comfort of my cuddle and my breast, but nonetheless I was annoyed E didn’t appreciate the extent of my tiredness.

Mind you it’s difficult to truly explain how detrimental lack of sleep can be to one’s wellbeing, or indeed how you manage to keep on going.  But you do, because each night you hope it will be better.  I lived and breathed sleep deprivation and I made sure everyone knew about it. It became my thing. It was hard for it not to be though as it impacted so hugely on my quality of life and my health.

Essentially I needed help but I didn’t know how to ask for it and I couldn’t see how anyone could help because I wasn’t prepared to stop breastfeeding.  People told me I needed to move Elijah into his own room as he’d sleep better farther away from us.  We tried this and now I just spent half my night going backwards and forward across the landing.  So we moved him back into our room, where he stayed until he was big enough to go straight into his own bed.

We put him in a double bed initially and we were told that this was the reason he continued to keep waking. So we replaced it with a single bed but this made no difference. I was still spending half my night in his room and now it just meant there was less space for me in the bed beside him. So I’d end up just carrying him into the bed with us where he’d wrap his arms around my neck and hang on until the morning.

It felt like things would never change and by the time Elijah was about eighteen months I was just about keeping a grip on things.  I’d done an eight-week mindfulness course a few months earlier and that had made me very aware that my life was out of balance and I that I was stressed and unhappy. It wasn’t just the sleep deprivation that was challenging, my working life was far too busy, I was approaching my fortieth birthday and knew that we still had frozen embryos in Wessex.

Furthermore, I was under pressure from E and other family members to stop breastfeeding and I knew that if we went through another round of IVF that this was necessary. However, I was adamant that I wanted to breastfeed him until he was two years old so he could gain the immunity benefits. I also knew that I wasn’t mentally or physically in the ‘right’ place for IVF and was concerned I never would be.

I ended up seeing a counsellor because I just needed to talk to someone who didn’t know me and who wouldn’t judge me, so that I could try to make sense of how to make things better again. I’m not sure the counselling itself helped, but the fact I had acknowledged that I needed help set the wheels in motion and I slowly started to make the necessary changes to the way I was living to help me to heal.

I recognised that the more I went on about being tired, the more I was going to create “tired” in my life, it’s the law of attraction. I also realised that I needed to take my need for sleep more seriously.  I had to go to bed earlier and slow my life down to facilitate this.  I had to stop juggling so many balls and trying to be superwoman. I had to accept my imperfections and that it was ok to rest and let things be (like the floor).

I also finally learned to accept that Elijah just didn’t need much sleep.  I acknowledged that there was nothing wrong with him and stopped looking for the magic sleep solution because it didn’t exist.  One day I knew that we would have the opposite issue – we wouldn’t be able to get him out bed in the morning, so I resolved to accept what I couldn’t change and appreciate the blessing of my energetic little boy instead – it was me who needed to change, not him.

 

 

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The Glastonbury Yoga & Wellbeing Retreat

Wow what an incredible retreat! I know I’m biased, but I LOVED it! I love Glastonbury and I love Lower Coxbridge House, they’re two of my most favourite places in the world and I loved sharing them with nine amazing ladies who appreciated both.

Glastonbury is described as the heart chakra of the planet, and my heart certainly came alive. There’s ae magical energy in this part of the world what with the ley lines and that incredible light, so that you can’t help but feel that connection straight into Source.

Lower Coxbridge House, located three miles away from Glastonbury centre and with views of Glastonbury Tor is amazingly peaceful and healing. This time E, Elijah, Eben and I stayed in one of the three yurts with views of the Tor from the massive bed where we slept cuddled together enjoying the outdoors experience. I loved the opportunity to go feral, and Elijah certainly loved this too; no shoes, earth under our feet, showering in the outdoor showers with views of the Tor, standing naked in the sunshine, not a soul around to see you.

Then there were the evening stars, seeing the sliver of the waxing moon, witnessing the most stunning sunsets and evening skies, and a huge thunderstorm with sheet lightening and torrential rain overnight while we huddled in our yurts and those staying in the house looked on and saw out yurts lit by the lightening, as if they were a light themselves. The light and the love is pretty special at Lower Coxbridge House.

It’s a special spot designed and built with love. Roses spread their love through their petals in bud and fallen to the Earth, and the horses grazing in the field with a wisdom that you can sense in their eyes. You don’t really need to go anywhere else, surrounded by nature, you’re beautifully held by this magical space. The house itself is welcoming with its rustic charm, and time undoubtedly slows down.  

The yoga was ace.  I love yoga. I love teaching yoga and sharing yoga and I love doing this especially where the energy is so clean. With only nine ladies in the class there was plenty of opportunity for channelling Reiki to each of them while they practiced, and witnessing the tension drop away over the weekend as their inner Goddess shone a little brighter too.

Chanting the Gayatri Mantra along to Deva Premal’s rendition on her CD, “Embrace”, I had tears in my eyes as my heart opened with the memories of chanting this beautiful mantra in other places in the world with other beautiful souls and I was overcome with a deep sense of there being no time or space and deep gratitude too for all the teachers who have taught me and supported the yoga journey.

And as for Glastonbury, wow. E and I dipped semi-naked into the White Spring on the new moon, re-birthing, and again the next day naked this time with two friends, women together facing our fear of the cold and the darkness and laying ourselves bare. We trekked up the Tor twice and chilled in Chalice Wells drinking the iron water from the mouth of the Lion. We shopped for crystals, Elijah choosing them and their meaning appropriate as always.

The food on the retreat was sublime, prepared with love by Olga, a beautiful Spanish lady with a passion for raw food and its healing properties. Never has a dairy, gluten and refined sugar free chocolate “cheese” cake tasted so amazing, let alone the fresh juices served at breakfast and the yummy salads.

The Goddess was smiling on us in Glastonbury there is no doubt.  She was weaving her magic and bringing us home to ourselves. I gave thanks in the Goddess Temple before being drawn to Wildwood, a beautiful shop with a very strong energy, and in there I found myself a Goddess statue for my altar at home. She brings love and creativity, and reminds me to return.

I’m so grateful to the Goddess and to Glastonbury for helping my heart to heal and to the beautiful ladies for sharing with me and us flying as we did together, and to my little family for flowing with it and to Sarah for making it all possible, and Olga for nourishing us. I was inspired and enlivened by the whole experience and shall return again soon. It nourishes the soul. With love and gratitude. x 

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Part 19 - The Joy of Breastfeeding

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Part 19 - The Joy of Breastfeeding

During my pregnancy there was a local campaign to encourage more women to breastfeed. I didn’t need any encouragement as I was desperate to breastfeed.  But equally I didn’t want to be pressurized into a state of anxiety about whether I could actually breastfeed and E and I were very much of the opinion that we would wait and see what happened.

In my ideal world, as I have mentioned before, I would have birthed vaginally and peacefully at home and the baby would have immediately latched on to my breast and that would have been it, job done! Sadly, this was not the case, especially as I was not feeling very well immediately post-surgery and it wasn’t until I was back up on the ward that I was encouraged to try and get Elijah to latch on.

Easier said than done however and the first few attempts didn’t go well at all. The midwives took it in turns to try to help Elijah latch on and introduced me to a variety of feeding positions, including the rugby style one, which still flummoxes me today. I was aware that the pressure was rising but E and I had it in mind that when Elijah needed to feed he would feed.

Whether that was the reason he finally latched on I have no idea, but it coincided with my lovely male midwife helping me to establish breastfeeding. It was karma really, because there I’d been at the beginning of the day loathing the idea of a male midwife as I thought he would lack empathy and an awareness of how to help a pregnant and then post natal lady, but he was exactly the help I needed. I was breastfeeding!

It was amazing and yet equally strange that first time.  Here was my new-born son who was still so incredibly unfamiliar to me, and yet strangely familiar too, latching on to my left nipple, and suckling away. The sensation was much stronger than I had imagined and I had this sense of the enormity of the task at hand – I was my son’s sole source of nourishment, I had to make this work.

In the days that followed it was tough.  My nipples became really sore and it hurt when Elijah fed. I’d find myself wincing and thinking that surely this couldn’t be right, but apparently it was perfectly normal to feel like this. It was also very new to me and I was concerned about how I was holding him and whether he was feeding properly. 

When I returned home there was an enormous (external) pressure for him to put on weight. I’m not surprised so many women give up trying to breastfeed and go immediately to the bottle, because I was made to feel as if something was wrong with my milk, or that I wasn’t breastfeeding him properly. The visiting midwife told me that if he didn’t start putting on more weight he was either going to have to return to hospital or we would have to start supplementing with formula.

It was ridiculous.  There you are, a new mum trying to do your best, only to be told that your best isn’t good enough and perhaps you don’t have enough milk to feed your own baby.  Cue feeling disempowered all over again. So, then, in my infinite wisdom (not so wise as it happens) I tried to massage milk from my breast into my nipple, which resulted in me flooding Elijah and giving him excess wind.

It wasn’t until a lovely calming Irish midwife came around to the cottage and shared the magic words, ‘Nose to nipple, tum to mum’, that we truly ‘got’ the breastfeeding. Why had no one told me this earlier? Unbeknown to me at that time, I had been unintentionally squashing Elijah’s nose into my breast so that the poor thing couldn’t breathe, which didn’t make for a particularly restful feeding time!

Plus, I’d been switching breasts too quickly in a mission to make sure he got plenty of milk but had been giving him lots of hind milk. And of course with the breast massage and the squashed nose, it was hardly surprising he ended up with too much wind. I also hadn’t worked out at that stage that what I ate made a difference too, for example dairy made him very snuffly with mucus and soya made him particularly windy.

My Mum would talk about him being blue above his mouth and how this was an indication that he still had wind, but I just couldn’t see this.  My Auntie took this to another level because she could actually feel the wind while she was rubbing his back.  I can feel energy and auras and chakras, but I couldn’t feel the wind in Elijah’s body and felt that my Auntie must certainly have a gift.

Others had this gift too as they would visit and wind my baby for me in half the time it seemed to take me.   It was certainly not my skill and I was quite happy for anyone else to take control of this. This was the bit that I found most exhausting, simply because Elijah was so unsettled until he had been winded properly, and during the middle of the night this really challenged me.

Winding aside, this whole ‘babies not putting on weight’ thing is a common theme and I know that I am not alone with my experience. I’ve heard lots of stories of women being told in those first few days after birth that their milk is not good enough and that their babies are losing weight and may need to be topped with a bottle.   It’s crazy because babies lose weight after birth.  That’s a reality.

Given the time and encouragement, many women will go on to feed their babies perfectly adequately without the need for top ups. That’s not all women, I appreciate that some are simply not able to establish breastfeeding – to this day my Mum’s still sad that she was never able to breastfeed my brother and I beyond six weeks simply because no one told her she needed to drink lots of water (and not milk as she had been advised and which she can’t tolerate).

Others find that they don’t have enough milk to satisfy the needs of their babies, or that they lose too much weight trying to sustain their milk supply due to the demands of the baby.  Others simply don’t have the energy, and others just don’t like it. There are a myriad of reasons and while I’ve always been very pro-breastfeeding I do appreciate that it’s not for everyone, it’s a personal thing.

For me, once breastfeeding was established, that was it.  I was well away and absolutely loved every minute of it.  I loved the fact that I could nourish my son from my own body.  There is this notion that the breasts constitute a chakra (energy centre) all of their own and so when you’re breastfeeding, you’re not only physically and emotionally nourishing your baby (especially with you holding him/her by your heart space) but you’re spiritually nourishing them too.

I also loved the fact that breastfeeding comforted and soothed Elijah.  As mothers we become experts on learning how to comfort and soothe our children. It’s what we do best. You’ve only to see how a child calls out for his Mum when he falls and calms immediately when she picks him up and talks to him in soft tones. Or how a baby calms immediately when he is brought to the breast, or rocked or ‘shhh-ed’. Well Elijah was certainly calmed by my breast.

This certainly had its advantages, not least in helping him to settle to sleep, but also when we travelled. It was just so easy to whip out my boob on the aeroplane for example, and not only calm him, but help to clear his ears as we changed altitude. He’d often sleep the whole journey.  He was comforted by the boob on boats too, and made travel in that first year so easy. In fact, it made everything easy because we didn’t need to faff around with bottles, or warming milk, and there it was, his source of nourishment within me.

Of course this did present its challenges. Elijah cluster fed for the first 16 weeks of his life.  This meant that he was fussy each evening unless he was attached to my breast. No one really understands the reason that babies cluster feed as it certainly didn’t help Elijah to sleep through the night. But for whatever reason he needed a constant supply of my milk during the evening from approximately 6.30pm to 10.30pm, when he’d finally fall asleep.

It was exhausting.  In the earlier days I had a really hard time accepting the fact that each evening I basically had to sit down and feed him. Prior to the birth I was used to teaching yoga each evening and being out and about, and now here I was, having little choice but to sit down and join E watching TV.  I’m not a massive fan of TV so I tired of this novelty very quickly and became frustrated that I couldn’t be doing something active instead.

When I did return to teaching yoga after six weeks, I initially taught for two evenings a week. This meant that E had a very testing time because all Elijah wanted during those two hours was my breast. I had learned to express by then but the bottle didn’t cut it for Elijah and I’d return home to a traumatised E and an unsettled baby. I’d take Elijah immediately to my breast and he’d calm down instantly while E would pour himself an extra large glass of wine!

These evenings certainly didn’t help our relationship at the time and I soon cut back to just the one class a week.  This I absolutely relished as I love teaching yoga, and it was a welcome break from the usual evening routine. It probably helped to keep me sane during this time even if it was testing for E. Needless to say we were both delighted when the cluster feeding finally came to an end and we could have some time out together during the evening.

Then of course there was the challenge of the night time feeding and nothing can prepare you for this. When you’re in the final stages of pregnancy and finding it difficult to sleep with the discomfort of your bump and the constant need for peeing, it’s easy to conclude that it’s preparing you for the night-time feeds.  But in reality night time feeding takes it to an entirely different level.

Initially it was a novelty and I had heard other women say that they spent that time watching TV and eating biscuits.  So I tried this.  As soon as Elijah awoke for a feed I would take him downstairs and breastfeed while drinking tea, eating biscuits and watching TV.  I quickly realised this approach was not for me and made me feel particularly yucky!

Instead I stayed in bed and fed him there under the light of a lamp, while E continued to sleep beside me. I was ok with this initially, but after a few weeks of being woken every two to three hours the sleep deprivation had truly kicked in and I started getting resentful that E was able to sleep while I had to keep waking. It wasn’t just the feeding of course, but also the winding and the nappy changing that took the time.

I kept a little notebook by my bed and jotted down the time I was woken for feeding and the time I was able to go back to sleep again.  The intention was to note how long Elijah was going between feeds, but really all it did was make me completely obsessed by the number of hours of sleep I was getting each night, which wasn’t very many. Sleep deprivation continues to be a major theme in my life, but more on that later.

Returning to work at twelve weeks certainly challenged the feeding schedule as I had to ensure I had enough milk for my Mum to be able to feed Elijah for me. There was so much work to do in the office and while in the past I had been able to work longer hours than I was contracted to do, now I had to rush off at the contracted time to collect Elijah. I also had to make time to express milk and I was often so busy that I had to make a real effort to factor this in. 

Of course my breasts made it very clear to me that it was feeding time and I was certainly thrown into some degree of panic if I turned up at work having forgotten to put in my breast pads.  Yikes, leaky breasts! Initially expressing was challenging; I had invested in a double electric pump and I recall sitting at the kitchen table with one of my friends as I attempted to pump milk from my breasts. I felt like a milk cow and with my friend laughing at me it was perhaps hardly surprising that no milk came out!

My cousin suggested a hand held pump and that worked a treat.  It also made it easy for me to express at work as the only private space available to me was the toilets.  This wasn’t exactly ideal but there really was no other option, so I just accepted my reality and I quickly established a routine, making sure to store the milk in the fridge and take it home with me at the end of the day.

Expressing soon became second nature but it was another consideration in an already busy and exhausting day. I was increasingly frustrated at never really clearing my inbox and constantly chasing my tail. I was resentful of the fact I had to work and then rush straight to my parents to feed and collect Elijah. I then had to go home to the pile of washing and the cooking and all the other chores that come with running a household.

I lived off 70% dark chocolate those weeks. And tea.  And wine in the evening. I justified the chocolate on account of its iron content, and the fact I absolutely needed the caffeine and the sugar to get through the day.  The wine I justified because the sugar from it was the only thing to get me through the evening and take the edge off a little bit.  People say that you lose weight while you’re breastfeeding but with E that certainly wasn’t true, if anything I put on weight as I was constantly ravenous and still totally thrown by this new way of being.

Initially I had no qualms about breastfeeding in public but then we had an incident at six months that challenged this. E and I were in a neighbouring Island and out to dinner with my Reiki Master and her husband in their local Indian restaurant. Elijah still liked to feed most of the earlier evening and so I spent much of that meal feeding him.  I was wearing a floaty blouse, which made it easier – or so I thought – to breastfeed subtly in public.

Alas not.  There was a couple sitting at the table next to us, the wife and I sitting on the same bench that ran along the whole side of the restaurant. I was aware of their presence but I was so involved in our conversation that I didn’t pay them too much attention. As they stood up to leave, the woman came over to talk to us.  I was so used to people coming over and commenting on how beautiful Elijah was that I was confused by her words:

“It’s disgusting the way you’ve breastfed that baby”, she said
“Sorry?’ I asked with a confused look on my face, “sorry, what did you say?”
“I said it’s disgusting the way you’re breastfeeding that baby”, she repeated.
I was startled, “Sorry”, I heard myself saying because this certainly wasn’t what I was used to hearing and it took me a moment to clock that yes, she really did say those words, I hadn’t misheard her and I wasn’t imaging it. I never intended to upset someone else with my actions and so I was genuinely sorry, albeit totally confused.

By this point, E had stood up from his seat and was standing to the other side of the incensed, and drunken, lady.
“She’s just feeding the baby”, I heard E saying.
“I nursed all of my children, but I would never have been as indiscreet as you”, she said to me with disdain in her voice.

I was truly shocked. This had never happened previously, and while yes, Elijah had been fairly much on and off my breast the whole time we were in the restaurant, I had been doing my best to manage this.  Inevitably there’s always going to be a moment where you guide them on and off the nipple, and perhaps by six months I’d grown quite laid back about this, but heck, I was feeding my baby, it’s a nipple, what’s the big deal! Women sunbathe topless for heaven’s sake. It wasn’t like I was sitting there flaunting my breasts.

The lady was noticeably drunk and started challenging E, who was beginning to get a little wound up by this whole incident, which was something I’d never seen previously.  He was most certainly my knight in shining armour that evening. The lady’s husband had already left the restaurant and the restaurant staff quickly rushed over to see what was going on – I wasn’t used to all this drama! I told E to let it go, which he did, and the lady quickly left the restaurant.

It was one of those horrible incidents which happened very quickly but which has been ingrained on my memory ever since. I just couldn’t understand it and was mortified by it. The restaurant staff were incredibly friendly and apologetic, but of course it wasn’t their fault, and I was just confused by the whole experience.

I was shaken for the rest of the evening. Until that point I’d never questioned breastfeeding in public.  If Elijah needed feeding, I fed him, to me it felt like the most natural thing in the world.  But clearly others didn’t feel this way and it saddens me that this is the case. I was annoyed I never got to find out exactly what element of me feeding Elijah upset the lady the most, so that I’ve never been able to make sense of the episode.

Unfortunately, I became less comfortable feeding in public after this, especially as Elijah grew older.  If we were in a restaurant I would take him off to the toilets to feed him, which was silly really, because who wants to eat their dinner in the toilets, poor Elijah! Or I’d faff around with scarves and muslins to hide it.

Still, fairy undaunted, my love affair with breastfeeding continued and I was therefore incredibly distraught when at ten months Elijah went on a nursing strike. I was up in Edinburgh at the time visiting one of my best friends. It was bedtime and I was feeding Elijah when he bit down hard on my nipple, causing it to bleed, and I yelped! And that was that.

It was the strangest thing because that night he didn’t wake for a feed, which had never happened previously and I awoke in anticipation wondering if he was ok. The next morning, I considered that perhaps he’d finally learned to sleep through, but alas not, he refused to take my breast. I google searched and was introduced to the concept of a nursing strike.

Later that day flying back to Guernsey, he still refused to feed and screamed his way back on the plane instead. It was frustrating and incredibly upsetting because ordinarily he’d be comforted by breastfeeding. Back home he still refused the breast. By now my breasts were engorged and I was incredibly emotional and teary. I wasn’t ready to stop feeding. It just felt far too sudden.

That evening I approached the local Facebook breastfeeding group and was grateful for the advice. Someone suggested that Elijah may have an ear infection or some other condition that was putting him off feeding so I took him to the doctor the next morning.  The doctor thoroughly checked him over but couldn’t find anything wrong with him and concluded that he’d simply decided that he didn’t want to breastfeed anymore. There was a part of me that wasn’t prepared to accept this and I set out to do what I could to encourage him back to the breast again. 

By then I had researched ‘nursing strike’ at length and I decided to put into practice my findings and the advice of other mothers who had experienced a similar thing. Thus I did as much skin to skin as possible, laying naked with Elijah in the bath and in the bed.  I woke during the night and brought him in his sleepy state to my breast to try and trick him into feeding again, and I tried not to be discouraged when he turned his head away from my nipple. I drew him to my breast again in the morning, determined not to give up and later on and off throughout the day.  I kept expressing milk during this time to maintain my flow and ease the pressure in my breasts.

Finally, during the fifth night, after days of tears, skin to skin and expressing, he took to my breast again.  It was very early in the morning and I was so delighted and excited that I woke E to share my good news with him.  It was such a relief and I couldn’t have been happier; my son wanted to breastfeed again! I loved the intimacy of it, and the connection it created and it made me appreciate the beauty of breastfeeding in a way I had perhaps taken for granted previously.

E didn’t really understand and would have been happy if E had stopped feeding. He was desperately uncomfortable with the idea of me breastfeeding E until the two years I intended, and my Dad also had a similar opinion on the matter. But I was determined as I felt there were many benefits to be gained. Admittedly the accompanying sleep deprivation was challenging but I knew it was beneficial for strengthening his immune system and providing him with a natural immunity, plus of course the emotional, mental and spiritual benefits too.

I resisted the pressure I was experiencing from E and other people’s negativity because deep down I knew it was the right decision for Elijah and me.  It helped that my best Mummy friend was also breastfeeding her son and in fact continued to do so as she became pregnant with her second son. Both of us would talk at length about the need to wean at some stage, more so because we were both exhausted by the night time feeding, but the trouble was neither of us really knew how to do this.

As it happened her son weaned himself.  Apparently when you’re pregnant the taste of your milk can change and her son didn’t like it.  In so doing, she proved our theory that the breastfeeding was causing the excess night waking because her son started sleeping much better. Elijah on the other hand was still, eighteen months in, waking every two to three hours. It was getting super draining.

I was in some quandary.  I had a sense that I wanted to breastfeed for two years, but I was feeling the pressure from E and other family members, and I was aware that we had three frozen embryos in Southampton.  However, by then Elijah was talking and was calling breastfeeding “Nunnas” and he demanded it after any period of separation and I just loved the intimacy it created between us and I didn’t want to stop this. 

But I was tiring and fast approaching my 40th birthday. I had it in mind that after I’d celebrated my birthday, if we were going to try to have another baby, then we needed to get on with it.  Only that I still wasn’t quite sure how I was going to stop breastfeeding and wean Elijah, at least in a gentle way, as you are not meant to do IVF if you are breastfeeding. So I did the one thing I knew I could do – I handed it over to the angels and prayed for a solution.

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