Oh, Breastfeeding.

August 25, 2014 § 1 Comment

Fifteen years ago I became a mother for the first time, and my breastfeeding journey began: through five children and a few little breaks between babies, it amounts to eleven and a half years of actual breastfeeding.  And this journey now seems to be at its end.

I have breastfed in trains and buses and cars and aeroplanes. I have breastfed whilst doing the grocery shopping, while watching movies, while snuggled up in bed reading a book. I have breastfed while bushwalking, at the beach, even whilst sitting in the boom net hanging off a boat as dolphins frolicked just meters away (did that twice, with two different babies). I have breastfed newborn babies, just minutes old, and three year old sons who could ask for the ‘boobs’ and make a grab for them. I have breastfed for hours on end, through growth spurts and comfort feeds, and I breastfed my last baby in 10 second bursts when he was seriously ill.

breastfeeding William,  2001.

breastfeeding William, 2001.

Now that baby is two and a half, and in typical Robin style (he must be different from his four siblings!), he has been initiating the weaning process.  For months now I have been gently introducing some boundaries around night time feeding, and now Robin is taking the lead, and taking things further.

He often asks for a breastfeed, manouvering himself into position, pointing and declaring “that”. But about a week ago he began sucking for a few seconds, then clamping down and biting. After my nipple was hastily removed (with an expletive or two: it is extremely painful), he giggled and moved off to do something else. This was the pattern for a few days.

Bedtimes became an issue all of a sudden – how would I get him to sleep if I couldn’t feed him? This is where Sol has stepped in, singing Robin to sleep some nights, and other times he falls asleep while Sol and I are chatting. But in the middle of the night, the baby has returned – rolling over and instinctively breastfeeding whilst still asleep. No biting.

Robin, just a few days old, 2012.

Robin, just a few days old, 2012.

A couple of days ago, Robin stumbled out to the lounge after a long sleep. He came into my lap, and began breastfeeding. My breath was held in, anticipating the bite, but he was still half asleep and in that instinctual space so it never came. It wasn’t long – a few minutes of feeding as he came into a more wakeful state. I must have known it would be one of the last ones. I looked down, at his hand splayed protectively over my bosom, lips apart, and a look of bliss of his sweet face. It occurred to me that he was getting much more than just milk in that moment.  He was consciously loving breastfeeding, consciously revelling in our combined energy, and loving the taste of the milk.

His eyes found mine and we shared a moment of loving awareness, and of mutual bliss. It was as though he looked into me and acknowledged the breastfeeding journey we have experienced together: the tender intimacy, and the touchstone that breastfeeding was for us throughout some very difficult times.

breastfeeding Robin in hospital, 2013.

breastfeeding Robin in hospital, 2013.

Last night, he did not roll over and seek the breast at all. I have not breastfed him for a day and a half now.

I think back on all the years of breastfeeding; of the times I hated it and felt trapped, the times of mastitis. Of the satisfaction that comes from being able to nourish a baby, the gratitude of that way to comfort when babes are ill or teething, and the moments of tender connection.

2 year old Robin feeding, 2014.

2 year old Robin feeding, 2014.

I breastfed Robin exclusively for twelve months. Twelve months! Throughout his illness, when I could only literally feed him for seconds at a time before he began coughing, I was so determined to be the one to nourish him. Amidst the clinical setting of the hospital and the intrusive wires, beeping machines, and endless monitoring breastfeeding made him my baby. And that was so deeply important.

I’ve been so lucky, and so blessed with breastfeeding. In many ways it is a relief to finish: it is tiring, often limiting in practical ways, and takes energy. But the end of breastfeeding heralds the beginning of a new phase – new ways of connecting with Robin that are not yet established. Will we still have that closeness? The end of my childbearing and baby years – who will I be now that I do not have a baby to feed? It has been so long that I really don’t know. The prospect is both exciting and terrifying.

 

 

Seasons Changing, Letting go

April 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

This year summer seemed to be truly endless. I was swimming at the beach just three weeks ago.  Since then we have changed our clocks and with that, the mornings are suddenly cooler. I’m now waiting for the first leaf to fall from the star leaf tree in the yard next door.

This past month, the shift in seasons echoes the shifting seasons of motherhood. Tomorrow I (gulp) say goodbye to my 14 year old son, going camping with a few mates into the bush for the first time without any adults. Suddenly he seems almost a man, and is gradually making steps further and further into the world, alone. There is nothing I can do except to let him go, and hope we have ‘cooked’ him right.

At the same time, it is time to begin to let go of Robin a little more. Robin turned two a few weeks ago. His birthdays have been emotion-laden days for me.

The day he was born: an amazing, unpredictable birth full of joy and radiance. His first birthday: a bittersweet acknowledgement that he was alive, amongst the painful awareness of all we had been through. And this year the most intense feeling was one of gratitude. Gosh, our journey with Robin has been both difficult and stressful, heartwarming and full of so much love. I am so thankful for all the gifts he has brought into my life. I’m so lucky to be chosen to be his mother.

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june2012 041

Which brings me to breastfeeding. Generally I wean my babes at two. Robin….I thought I would breastfeed for longer, given that he spent much longer than usual in the baby phase. But something changes for me when my children reach two: their speech develops, they grow, at the same time that I am ready to reclaim my own body and bed space. Certainly the last couple of months have been marked by bone deep exhaustion, the kind where I feel hollow, like everything has been sucked out of me (literally)!

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I’ve begun weaning Robin at night. So far it has been two weeks of very broken sleep, as I gently let him know that the ‘boobs’ are away and we will be having a cuddle instead. A few times he has pushed me away and turned to Sol’s arms in refuge, only to return a moment later, needing a continued connection with me. Now he is beginning to roll over and return to sleep quickly. I am hopeful we are nearly there. And my energy is slowly returning.

But today, I realised he had only breastfed once in the past 24hours. No! I am not ready for it to end altogether. I cherish the closeness Robin and I have experienced in his short life, and breastfeeding has been an integral part of that. When Robin was ill, breastfeeding him served so many important functions: nourishment, connection, something I had a purpose for, an affirmation that he was still my baby, and through all of that, yes, protection.

The truth is that am scared to let him walk into the world, further away from me and my protection. I gave all I could when he was a defenseless baby to keep him safe, and help him heal. Now he is a toddler, and I know that for many reasons it is time for him to leave my arms.

He is/was my baby. I’m sad to think my childbearing career is at an end, even though there is much to look forward to. I imagine us, walking off into the sunset – me no longer carrying Robin, but walking beside him in strength and harmony.

Oldest and youngest.

Oldest and youngest.

 

Reflections on a job well done.

April 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Last week, letterboxes belonging to the home birth community across Sydney and the world were filled with the Autumn 2014 issue of Birthings: the final issue over which I was Editor.

2014-04-04 10.10.08 - Copy

In late 2012 I rather impulsively responded to a call out for a new Editor for the magazine. Robin had been born that March, and throughout the year we had travelled through his illness, extended time in hospital and further recuperating time at home.

I felt turned inside out that year – after the absolute joy and euphoria of his birth came the crushing low of a seriously ill baby just weeks later. I completely let go of my own needs in order to stay with Robin in hospital on and off for five weeks – caring, advocating for, and feeding him. It was a daily hell with no privacy (our room had microphones so the nurses could hear when Robin began coughing), little freedom and constant fear, the only respite being the six hours each night where I slept in a separate room in the hospital, and the couple of hours I spent at home every second day, nurturing my other children.

Once we were released from hospital is was not the end of the ordeal. It was the beginning of a whole new ordeal, without the support of nurses and medical equipment. Robin continued to have coughing episodes and turn blue up until Christmas. Whooping cough is called the 100-day cough, but in Robin’s case, it came closer to 200 days. At home, he could not be left alone for one minute, or even one second, lest he begin coughing and turn blue. His cot had to be moved out into our living area as it took too many seconds to run to him in the bedroom – seconds in which he could struggle to breathe and turn blue.

By the end of the year, I had lost myself in some way. That whole year had been devoted to care of my baby: a job I took very seriously and fulfilled to the absolute utmost of my ability. I am brought to tears when I think back to the intimacy that Robin and I shared….I knew him so completely that I was aware a coughing episode was about to begin seconds before it would start. I knew the meaning of every breath he took.

As Robin began to grow stronger and heal, as he no longer needed to be watched so intently, I needed to come back to my self again. I’d had to let go of other commitments, work, and my own health to care for Robin, but magazine editing, which I could manage at home in my own time, seemed perfect. Furthermore it combined two of my passions: writing and birth. It would be something for me, a way for me to strengthen my own soul.

Having had no experience editing an entire magazine before, I turned to a good friend who worked as an Editor. I asked her if she thought I would sink or swim. Swim, came the swift reply, you can do it!

And I have done it, for five issues of Birthings over almost eighteen months.

The cover of my first issue: Creative Expressions.

The cover of my first issue: Creative Expressions. Cover art by Jacqui Fae.

I came to the role willing to learn and eager to share some of my own ideas and experiences of birth and home birth. Pulling a whole magazine together is a pretty big undertaking and a massive, intense learning curve. It has been both terrifying and exhilarating. And holding a copy of the finished product in my hand has been massively satisfying.

I’ve been humbled and awed at the birth stories women (often strangers) have submitted for publication. I’ve quailed at the responsibility I undertook as the custodian of these stories. I’ve loved getting involved with a group of fantastic women and making new friends. And my confidence in myself has gradually increased. I can finally recognise that as  a woman who has given birth six times, and who is raising five children, that I just may have some wisdom to share.

I wanted to continue for longer. I feel I was just hitting my stride with this role. However my recent break in Bellingen brought with it many realisations, one of which was knowing that it is time to move on. I’ll be forever thankful for the focus and stimulation and inspiration that editing Birthings gave me. It helped to pull me out of a place of crisis before it could turn into serious depression or similar. But now that Robin is two, and healthy, it is time to focus on myself in other ways, as well as my family and other career goals.

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I don’t think that I will have any more children, so letting go of this role mirrors my internal release of this phase of my life. Oh, what a turbulent ride the past fourteen years has been for me: breastfeeding for most of that time, a ride of joys and griefs, hormones and the primal power of birth.

I’m now birthing a new version of myself.

 

A sense of Community

September 6, 2013 § 1 Comment

I have had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Facebook.

I love being connected to friends I don’t see face to face anymore. I enjoy giving people little glimpses into my world. And I have developed acquaintances into friends through Facebook.

Sometimes I worry about privacy and posting photos of my children, data collection and ‘Big Brother’. I have been bullied on Facebook. I have censored myself at times, afraid of what certain people may think of me.

About the time Robin was born I made a radical decision: I gave permission to be myself. In my experience, especially with this blog but also on Facebook, the more I let my vulnerabilities show, the more I feel my community around me in a loving way.

Robin began walking this week. It felt as big an achievement as man first walking on the moon! At just on eighteen months, he has taken his time. We have had concerns regarding his development and growth ever since his illness, and although we do see development occurring (slowly), this walking milestone feels so significant: a concrete achievement that allay some of my fears and bring Robin closer to being just a normal toddler.

Robin2

As he recovered from the acute symptoms of his illness late last year, I thought it was over. It has been a shock to realise that we are still facing consequences from his illness over one year down the track. I often feel sadness at the thought that I have missed out on many of the joys of babyhood with Robin, but what is now stronger is the deep resolve to support him in whatever way necessary.

I’ve shared much of his journey with my Facebook community. When we first went to hospital, it took me a couple of weeks to reveal where we were, and the serious nature of his illness. The prayers, well wishes and messages people wrote kept me going at some very dark moments. They literally did. I read them and re-read for months afterwards.

Now, when I post that he is walking, or growing, or doing well, I get lots of ‘likes’. I feel my community there with us, sharing our journey through both the ups and downs. Sometimes I think that I am giving others as much as they give me by inviting them to share our journey.

And I think: this is how it should be. So right now, I love Facebook for allowing me to feel part of a community in a very modern way

 

New Challenges

August 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog as Robin as been in hospital again. His response to any virus or bug seems to be severe breathing difficulties, requiring lots of oxygen support and time.

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For me, this time in hospital was the culmination, and the resolution of many factors.

 

Culmination: feeling stressed lately. So stressed that I was washing for a break. Of course now the guilt hits that little Robin had to experience the manifestation of my inability to organise some respite for myself.

Culmination: I have been waiting for this all Winter. Waiting for his first proper illness since whooping cough, waiting to see how bad it would get.

Culmination: Robin has been seeing a Speech Pathologist. It was extremely interesting to hear her thoughts about how he is not chewing or using his tongue properly as he eats. About how his walking, talking and eating are closely linked and that it is time to give him a definite nudge to develop in those areas. A reduction of breastfeeding was discussed, to encourage him to eat more solids and thereby learn to eat faster. I began this process, just a little, and promptly got mastitis a day before Robin became ill.

Resolution: there are so many strong emotions linked to the Children’s Hospital. After our first night in emergency having tests, Sol arrived and I took a break with two lovely friends who showed up in support. As I said goodbye and walked back through the emergency doors, the dread hit me like a punch in the stomach. That feeling was all too familiar to me: the not knowing of what had happened with Robin while I had been away, of not knowing what was to come.

I did it differently this time: I asked for help. I asked for support, and I received. It made all the difference.

Recovering, smiling again.

Recovering, smiling again.

I had my meltdown moment of saying I am not strong enough for this. I can’t do it this time. Thank God for friends who reply Yes, you can. Yes, you will, because it is your child. Those two friends have my undying loyalty for showing up at such a time.

Resolution: after that, well, it wasn’t so bad. Robin stabilised and we moved to a ward. I did some re thinking of my attitudes towards the nurses after some bad experiences last year. This time we had lovely nurses, mostly male. They were so sensitive and accommodating, so supportive of breastfeeding. Maybe it was because Robin was older, maybe because he didn’t have such a life threatening illness this time, or maybe that Sol could take a lot more of the ‘hospital time’, but the overall experience was as positive as such a thing can be.

I felt that some of the fear and pain from Robin’s illness last year was healed. And I am not so afraid going forward now.

breastfeeding in hospital after an almost 24 hour break. In honour of International Breastfeeding week.

breastfeeding in hospital after an almost 24 hour break. In honour of International Breastfeeding week.

 

Check In…continued.

July 11, 2013 § 2 Comments

And like the stone dropped into the pond, the ripples keep surfacing and spreading.

Ah, yes. The terror.

It is like being cracked wide open, like free falling into oneself, into a black hole of nothingness.

I don’t really know what I am so terrified of.

Only that it sometimes makes me struggle with my daily tasks, a knot in my stomach my constant unwelcome companion.

With all that I had to do last week, shutting off was the option I took. But it is like slamming the door on a flood….water begins to burst through the cracks. And finally the build up forces the door open.

On the good side, the routines and rhythms I have set up for the family have remained. They have become a steadfast beat in the background of daily living in all its busyness. My boys are pretty good at doing their jobs. My girls are getting a regular bedtime. The house isn’t too hard to tidy up at the end of each night. I’m getting meals cooked, washing folded and into drawers (mostly).

These school holidays have not descended into the unorganised mess of last time. With our 3 bedroom house feeling way too small for our growing family, I’ve engineered to have at least one kid absent nearly every day or night. Just one child less and the atmosphere at home is more peaceful and relaxed. And for the rest of us, we have gone out and done things: the indoor pool, tennis at the park, movies…so on the odd day we have at home, it’s (mostly) focused play and kicks in the backyard.

However in my efforts to keep the overwhelming emotions at bay, other aspects of my plans have not fared as successfully. Sugar crept back in, gradually. I haven’t had time to think too much about my diet. Sol and I still haven’t sat down and written out blocks of time for each of us on the calendar. I’ve only had one proper break for myself in quite  a few weeks now. And I tend to sabotage things by staying up way too late, watching TV, thinking I am nourishing myself when really I am avoiding feeling and making myself too tired to feel the next day.

Last year I handled this overwhelm by dropping all commitments for six months. It worked then. But now….I don’t want to have to do that. I am fiercely determined to be free from all ties with that time. I’ve been feeling increasingly strong and happy in the past three months: surely it can’t be that hard to reclaim that positive space? This little moment of stress is just a small step back in my ‘recovery’, just a little speed bump, I tell myself.

But, tonight at least, I feel quite content. I can sit with the anxiety, letting it out drip by drip in small moments of conscious awareness. Robin’s health remains strong as we enter the deepest of Winter. My other children are, on the whole, happy and healthy and engaged with life. I have all that I need, some things I want, and it is enough. I have much to be thankful for.

And the ripples finally peter out, and stillness and peace return.

 

The Gift of Robin

April 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

I can’t write a post about the challenges Robin has brought with him to our lives without addressing the positive.

And the positives are like a golden goblet, overflowing with everlasting life-giving water that brings richness to the soul.

His arrival has brought our family to a new level of unity and harmony. I remember after Robin was born, feeling so much bliss, feeling I was funnelling love down to my family.

Even his illness and the challenges we have faced contain gifts. His illness taught me how strong I am; how strong I can be. There is so much that Robin and I have been through as Mother and Child, such a depth of trust and love and intimacy between us that it brings tears to my eyes.

He has helped me to let go of fear; to go for the things I want. Because of his illness and the limitations it has brought to my life personally, I am now blogging, editing a magazine and doing professional editing work alongside my crafty pursuits. All of a sudden my life contains lots of things I am passionate about and that makes me happy.

The dust from Robin’s first year of life is still settling here in the Heartman House. We are still in ‘survival’. But I can’t go a day without giving thanks for this little boy and all he has brought to my life.

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