Wednesday 30 March 2016

Why and How we decided against Pre-School

About a week ago the final day passed where I could have booked Boris into a place in a pre-school.  It would only have been for one term, but it was our last chance.

We have ummd and ahhhd about it for over a year and really in the end it wasn't so much making a decision that got us to where we are now, but lack of being able to make a decision. However, on reflection I know that deep down I knew what I really wanted to do, but was afraid and lacked validation.  It's really hard to make a decision which is the opposite of almost everyone you know, especially when they are singing the praises of the choice they made.  This is bound to happen because obviously people want to feel good about their choices, but it makes it hard to get a balanced view in order to make an informed decision.

So I have decided to sum up my feelings about the decision not to send him in a little  actually-quite-long post that might help others decide but mainly just helps me to confirm my thoughts about it and to clarify the reasons in my own mind.

1. Being a parent is hard, I often complain tell people how hard I am finding things, that's healthy right?  Often people's response has been to put Boris into pre-school, they see I am struggling and they think that's the perfect answer, the load would be lightened, I would get a bit more time to myself (sort of although still looking after Biscuit), it would make things easier when the new baby arrives, but I realised that I don't need Boris to be away from me for 15 hours a week, or even 5 hours a week, I just need an hour or so here and there and actually I need an hour or so here and there away from both of them, not just Boris, time to myself, time of peace and quiet, time to sort the house and time to attend to my creativity.  Time away from just one of them doesn't help me all that much because I still have to look after the other and in many ways they are easier together because they have company and someone to play with.

2. There isn't anything a pre-school can offer Boris that I can't offer him myself at home and through the home ed groups we already attend. In terms of education we look at numbers and letters, I am familiar with what's included in the Foundation Stage Profile and Boris and I are talking ALL THE TIME, he asks a ton of questions and I answer them, or we look up the answer.  We socialise with other children and adults of all different ages.  We could socialise every day if we wanted to, but usually its three or four times a week, sometimes in groups, sometimes with individuals.

3. Part of the role of pre-school is to prepare children for school.  We don't need to prepare him for school because we are planning on home educating, so there is no need for him to be ready to do many of the things that school education requires such as some aspects of self care, conflict resolution, being able to sit still for long periods of time, being able to function well in large groups of children of the same age, that sort of thing.  Not that these things are bad, but they are just not things he needs to be able to do right now and they are things I believe he will be able to do given time and space in the future.

4. I wasn't able to find a pre school with a place available that didn't use rewards and punishments to manipulate behavior and what I mean by this is, all but one of the pre-schools I looked at use "time outs" (naughty chair) or a version there of as punishment for undesirable behavior.  This is totally against our parenting philosophy so I see no reason to introduce it in a pre-school setting.  It is the way most schools operate so it makes sense for children who will be attending school to be able to function well within a system that works like this, but seeing as Boris won't be attending school, there is no need.

5. I worry about Boris feeling under pressure to fulfill the Foundation Stage Profile markers.  They are mainly about school readiness,  and I would be so sad for him to be switched off to reading, writing or maths in later life because he felt under any pressure to perform at it at age 4 because of the pressure that childcare providers are under for the children who attend their centers to fulfill the criteria.

6.  I realised that it was what I wanted subconsciously.  Whenever I looked at posts on Facebook about pre-school, I realised I was scanning through the responses looking for people who had not sent their child to pre-school or had taken them out.  I wanted to validate my choice by hearing other parent's stories.  I desperately wanted to hear about other people making the same choice that I wanted to make.  You may wonder why I felt I needed validation from others on such a decision when I find it so easy to go against the norm in so many other areas of my life, but I think it's because this is the one thing (not just pre-school but home-ed generally) which will really make us different as a family.  Most of the choices we have made so far have been health related, either physical health or mental health, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing, gentle parenting etc, but home educating will really make our lifestyles different to other people's.  It's much easier to get validation on home education but less so on pre-school because a surprisingly large amount of people who home educate do send their children to pre-school.

7. We asked Boris what he wanted.  Now this was a tricky one because the poor boy didn't know what on earth we were talking about.  As far as he knew pre-school was a playground (we often walk past pre-schools on our way to places so he sees the outside play area),  which he naturally thought was great. But we talked to him about how he would be away from mummy and Biscuit and that he would have to go there on the set days and all the other things about pre-school which don't involve him getting to play outside in the playground and he decided that he would rather stay with mummy. It's a really difficult thing to do, talking about the negative side of child care, most parents are telling their children how great it will be and how much they will love it, and I was doing the total opposite.

In coming to this decision it has really helped me to talk to people who have taken their children out of childcare settings and understanding the reasons why.  I think a lot of people find it difficult to talk about because they don't want to cause offence to other parents who still send their children to pre-school who might feel like they are being criticized for their choice. It is, of course no criticism of their choice.  Every family is different and has to do what is right for them. But it can be very difficult to know what is right for your family when there is so much pressure from others to make one particular choice.  Family, who are influenced by the media and government pressure for mothers to go back to work and the benefits of pre-school, think they are being helpful in suggesting pre-school as it would give you a break and help your child to "socialise" or whatever. Friends who send their child to pre-school will naturally want to validate their choice by telling you how great it is, and if they have any mixed feelings about their choice it will make them feel better about it if you do the same; and the Government are putting huge pressure on families to send their children to pre-school so that parents can get back into work (and give them more of their hard earned wages through taxes).  So to find people who are making the same choice you think you want to can be extremely helpful in giving you a balanced view in order to make an informed choice.

So there we have it, no pressure to get up in the morning to get Boris to pre-school on time, no "settling in time", no wondering if Boris' needs are being met or if he has been left on the naughty spot.  We are going to be together as a family, starting as we mean to go on.

Monday 21 March 2016

Top 10 Breastfeeding Myths

Poor old Jamie Oliver, he really has got it in the neck this last week.  He has been called all sorts of names simply for saying that breastfeeding is good and that mums need more support in doing it.

It sometimes seems like you can't say something positive about breastfeeding without being accused of being judgmental, putting pressure on women, or even being likened to a Nazi regime.

But we really have got to keep saying good things about breastfeeding, and we really have got to keep fighting for better support because the formula companies have millions of pounds to spend telling people that their product is really good and helping mums get to it and making sure they know about it. Funding for breastfeeding support is woefully poor, so if we don't use our voices to get the message across, what hope have we got against multi national, billion dollar companies? And the mad thing is that people supporting breastfeeding don't even do it for any financial gain!  We are doing it simply because we know how good it can be, how good it can be for mums and how good it can be for babies .  And on a personal level, I did it because I saw the the emotional pain women went through when they weren't able to achieve their breastfeeding goals and I wanted to help take that pain away. (I can assure you that the formula companies are not considering your emotional well being when they promote their product, despite how much they might like to appear like your best friend.)

It has really made me sad seeing the negativity surrounding breastfeeding that has been flying around social media this past week.  Many many women have been let down by the system and they are quite rightly burned.  But my concern is that with such a small voice in support of breastfeeding we risk putting generations of women off breastfeeding altogether.  When women are unsupported with their breastfeeding and things go wrong, they are often left to draw their own conclusions for why things didn't work out or are told false truths by family members and medical professionals alike which can derail their journeys.

So I wanted to take an opportunity to dispel a few of the myths surrounding breastfeeding that I have spotted over the past few days in the hope that it will fill women who are yet to embark on a breastfeeding journey with hope that breastfeeding is indeed good, and that the breastfeeding community is full of love and encouragement for other mums and mums to be.

1. Breastfeeding hurts:

Ok so, yes, sometimes breastfeeding hurts, BUT, and here is the big but, it doesn't have to hurt.  It shouldn't hurt.  If it hurts then that's a sign that something ain't quite right.  
There are a few possible causes to pain when breastfeeding. Sometimes it is quite simply that you have never had a baby suck on your nipple before and so it takes your body a little getting used to.  If pain persists though or there is cracking or bleeding, then it's important to get help.  Often a simple tweak to the position and attachment of the baby can solve feeding pain.  Sometimes it takes a little more investigation.  In rare cases a tongue tie might be to explain (a tongue tie means that baby is not able to draw the nipple to the back of the mouth, so it instead hits the hard pallet at the front of it's mouth, which can cause pain, but can be rectified fairly simply with a small surgical procedure) or a possible infection such as thrush (easily treatable when diagnosed).
The main thing to remember is that pain when breastfeeding is not inevitable, it's is not something to be expected and it is not something which should be tolerated.

2. Dad's find it harder to bond with their babies when mum's breastfeed:

There are many ways for dads to bond with their babies that don't include feeding.  Bathing, baby wearing, co-sleeping, cuddling, massage, playing together etc etc.  If dads weren't able to properly bond with their babies except through feeding then mother nature would have given men lactating breasts too.

3. Breastfeeding makes your boobs saggy:

There are three things that cause breasts to sag.  One is pregnancy.  Even if you decided not to breastfeed your body still grows breast tissue and prepares the body for breastfeeding.  Often this means your breasts grow bigger, causing them to stretch, but sometimes not, which is where I come onto the next reason for breasts sagging - genetics.  Some women will have boobs that sag, others won't, it's down to your genes.  And finally, aging.  You can't argue that gravity plays it's part in the downward direction of our breasts and over time (aging) gravity can take it's toll, unless you are one of the lucky ones (genetics).  Breastfeeding does not cause breasts to sag.

4. Breastfed babies wake more at night:

A recent study by Swansea University showed that all babies wake in the night and that what sort of milk a baby was fed did not affect the number of times they woke.

5. Breastfeeding takes longer:

Different mother and baby combinations make for different feeding times.  Some babies take a long time to feed, others take less time, they are all different. Sometimes babies will suck the breast for comfort which may have led to the myth that breastfeeding takes longer.

6. You have to eat a really healthy diet so your baby gets healthy milk:

Studies show that even mothers who would be considered moderately malnourished produce breast milk that is equal in quality to that of a well nourished mother.  It doesn't matter what you eat, your body makes excellent milk.

7. You can't drink (or eat curry, drink orange juice, etc) if you breastfeed:

It is perfectly safe to consume an alcoholic drink whilst breastfeeding.  The body is an excellent filter.  There are actually no food or drink restrictions with regard to breastfeeding.  Some mums find that different foods they eat affect their baby in different ways, but there are no hard and fast rules, it's all trial and error. But there is certainly no reason not to eat curry or cauliflower or grapes unless you discover any undesirable side effects in your baby. Here is some more information on alcohol and breastfeeding:

8. My boobs/nipples are too small/ too big to breastfeed:

Nipples and boobs come in all shapes and sizes and are not a reflection on the mother's ability to produce milk or feed her baby.  It is the amount of breast fat that usually affects the size of the breasts most significantly, but also the number of ducts can vary from woman to woman from between 4 and 9 per breast. However they work on a supply and demand basis so even if you have four there is no reason why our breasts would produce less milk. Nipples also come in different sizes and do not reflect an ability or not to breastfeed.   If mums experience difficulty getting their baby to latch and find that the size of their nipple is the reason, there is almost always a way to adjust the positioning so that the baby can latch effectively, a visit to a breastfeeding supporter can help find a comfortable position.

9. You can't breastfeed twins:

Women's bodies are designed to be able to sustain multiple births. Two babies, two boobs! Don't believe me, just ask on any good breastfeeding group. Unfortunately many mothers have been led to believe it is simply not possible.  I am here to say, with the right information and support, it is.


If you have had breast surgery you can't breastfeed:

It is very likely that after a breast reduction, or breast implants that you would still be able to breastfeed.  Check with your doctor before assuming you won't be able to breastfeed after having breast surgery. I have seen many women with both implants and reductions successfully breastfeed their babies.

Hopefully that has dispelled a few myths and maybe given some women confidence in their bodies ability to nourish their babies.

Thursday 17 March 2016

Butterflies, babies and breast cancer

One of the great things about Facebook is that you are able to keep in touch with people who, in real life you might have lost touch with altogether.  Perhaps because you didn't know them that well to begin with, or you didn't have that much in common, you didn't live near each other etc.  Even though you probably wouldn't see them again in real life it's wonderful to be able to see their life journeys unfold with all the highs and lows that we all experience.

I have recently been particularly thankful for Facebook because it meant that I have been able to follow the story of Heidi Loughlin.

Heidi is a lady that I met a year or so ago at a church toddler group with her two young boys.  We chatted maybe a handful of times, she was witty, intelligent and we had things in common so we because friends on Facebook, as you do.  Not long after we met she moved away, so in any other circumstances we would have lost touch as we hadn't really known each other well enough to built a friendship.  But thanks so the virtual world we were able to stay in touch.

I would see the odd post that she put up now and again, pictures of her children, that sort of thing. Then things changed.

She shared possibly the worst news you could read about a friend, acquaintance, anyone.  She had cancer.

Heidi has an unusual and aggressive form of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer, but what has made her story even more moving is that shortly before being diagnosed with cancer, she discovered she was pregnant.

To help keep her family and friends up to date with what was going on, Heidi started a blog.  But because Heidi has an absolutely wicked sense of humor, her blog became something bigger than she initially thought it would be.  She has been on her local radio station, in the newspaper and on TV, and is practically a local celebrity. She is doing much to raise awareness of inflammatory breast cancer as well as helping to raise money for several charities.

Her story resonates with me particularly at this moment in time because I am currently entering my 28th week of pregnancy. The same number of weeks gestation that Heidi's baby, Ally was when she was delivered by C section into this world so that Heidi could continue with her cancer treatment.

Devastatingly Ally moved onto the next place sooner than anyone could have imagined.  I just cannot perceive the pain and heartache that Heidi and her family have been through and are still going through now.

It is because of this that I have felt compelled to help raise money for one of Heidi's chosen charities, and for Heidi to help her to achieve her "bucket and spade" list.

I have been inspired to paint a butterfly for Ally and Heidi because in the midst of her despair this amazingly strong woman found comfort in the image of a butterfly. She shared this quote on her blog:

"A butterfly lights beside us, like a sunbeam....and for a brief moment it's glory and beauty belong to our world....but then it flies on again, and although we wish it could have stayed, we are so thankful to have seen it at all." Author unknown. 

Of course money doesn't take away pain, or cancer, but it can at least make life easier, and hopefully a little lighter and more joyful.

So it is for this reason that I am selling a limited number of prints of this butterfly painting, and will be giving 100% of profits to Heidi and her chosen charity Mummy's Star.

I will also be auctioning the original painting.

Not only has Heidi's story moved me emotionally, it has also moved me to examine my breasts more closely.  And I would like to take this opportunity to call out particularly to any pregnant or breastfeeding mamas out there who might have some unexplained changed to their breasts, to get your breasts checked out and not to leave without an acceptable answer. Our breasts go through many changes during pregnancy and breastfeeding but it's really important to know what is normal and what isn't. Inflammatory breast cancer quite often does not appear as a lump, but a spreading redness and cellulite type appearance. It could be mistaken for mastitis in a breastfeeding mother so it's even more important to be mindful of the symptoms. 

If you would like to purchase one of these prints please visit either my Etsy shop or my Facebook page.  I am selling them for £18.00 per print plus p and p.

The print is approximately 5 inches high and 7 inches wide.  It is professionally printed onto heavy weight paper using archival inks. Each print is numbered and signed.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Learning and Listening

I have been learning loads and feeling very creative these last few weeks.  I am feeling like I am much more able to focus on my goals and what I want to achieve.  It feels good.

I have read and watched a few inspiring books and videos recently that have really helped.  Especially with my focus. Just little things from each of them pop into my head every now and again and remind me where my focus needs to be. For example I used to get this feeling whenever I saw some crafty item or arty thing where I would think "ooh I could make that, that would be a real money spinner" and I would start to think about making that thing myself and selling it in my Etsy shop.  Sometimes I would get as far as buying materials and making one of them.  Then my motivation and energy for the idea would fizzle out and I would lose interest and move onto the next money making idea. This would happen again and again, and I would even get jealous of other people succeeding at projects that I "could" do, but wasn't.  I would end up feeling fed up and just do nothing.

Through reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert I realised that I need to focus on doing the thing I really love rather than trying to do things that will make money. Because, firstly, those things probably wouldn't ever make me money any way because my heart wouldn't really be in them (and people would see that) and secondly because although I might not ever make money doing what I love, at least I can die a happy woman knowing I squeezed every drop of my passion from me into something I love.  So whenever I get that silly feeling like "Oh I could make tea cup candles or doily lamp shades or scrabble tile art,"  I stop and think to myself  "Helen, let someone else do those, you can't do everything.  You love painting, that's what your heart is calling you to do.  Do that"  And I feel much better.

Holy Humming Bird

I recently watched a TED Talk video on You Tube about how you attract buyers, not by WHAT you sell but by WHY you are selling it. I found it really helpful and inspiring, a strong reminder that people aren't just interested in my art, but they are interested in me and what motivates me, what inspires me, what calls to my soul.

I am currently taking the Kelly Rae Roberts Flying Lessons Ecourse which reinforces this message.  I have been following Artist Kelly Rae Roberts for years (since 2009 in fact) and have really enjoyed watching her journey unfold.  She produced this ecourse back in 2012 I think so I have known about it for a while, but it wasn't until recently that I was ready to invest in myself and take the course.  (Leonie Dawson says you get $10 back for every dollar you invest in yourself)   It's really exciting and has helped me massively with my focus and how to run a creative business. She talks a lot about being yourself and letting people see the real YOU.  So I am working on this and making it more of a focus for my blog.

As for my art, well I can't get enough time for it!! I just want to do it all the time now and am really enjoying working in water colour, which isn't a medium I used that much in the past. It's a wonderful feeling to finally be developing my own ideas in a natural, organic way.

Of course I am faced with the daily challenge of balancing parenting my two gorgeous boys with this strong desire to create, I desperately want to me the "perfect" parent and do everything right, but I am learning to let go a little, to realise that I can't ever be (no one is) perfect, but managing the guilt is hard, always feeling like I fall short is hard.  But I know I can't ignore the whispers of my heart to create these paintings or else a part of me dies, and a half dead mother is no good to anyone.

I don't know where all this is going to take me, all this muddling through parenting and snatching minutes here and there to paint, I am hoping eventually I will be able to sell something! (Maybe one day I can even bring in an income through it.  Shhhh don't say that too loud, I don't want to scare the idea off)  But at the moment it's bringing me joy, and for now that's enough.

Wednesday 9 March 2016

Much needed holiday

We went for a much needed weekend away last weekend.  I was desperate to get away for a weekend before this baby arrives and there are so many things going on over the next few months and we wanted to avoid Easter holiday so I took the plunge and booked up a holiday for us all at a place called Bosinver Farm near St Austell in Cornwall.

It was gorgeous and great for families, we could have spent the whole weekend on the farm if we wanted to, there was so much to do.  The cottage was so stylish, all the furniture was really good quality, it felt like a real luxurious treat.

I was deeply glad of the rest, of being able to get away from the "shoulds":  "I should be doing the laundry, I should be doing the dishes, I should be hoovering, I should be getting dinner ready, I should, I should, I should..."  Do you ever feel like that?  But away from our home there was nothing that needed doing so I got to have a good sit down, just enjoying things like drinking my tea and looking at the view, meditating, making a conscious effort to relax my body into the chair and doing bits of the Kelly Rae Roberts E Course that I recently signed up for.

I also read an entire book, albeit a short one!  The War of Art by Steven Pressfield! Go me!

We visited a friend who lives nearby and met her lovely new baby at Trebah Gardens, and went to the Eden project, (poor show on the "breastfeeding room" Eden Project, disappointed) although I wasn't so fussed about filling our days with activities so we took a very laid back approach to getting out and about.

Time away is always good for reflecting.  I am having some issues with my faith at the moment so had a bit of chance for prayer and thinking about that.  I have always identified myself as a Christian but recently been having some problems with some aspects of the faith and my feelings about it, lots of guilt and fear, so I am having to explore my spirituality at bit, looking for the truth, trying to be open to messages from God and guidance, so some time away from normal day to day life helped a little bit with this.  Still lots of exploring to do though.

I am hoping to have more focus on my art business in the next few weeks, as well as booking up another Gentle Parenting Retreat. Exciting times ahead, and feeling really good pregnancy wise, got lots of energy, though starting to feel uncomfortable at night. I am wanting to pack as much in as I can before this baby arrives. It's ironic that I am feeling the most creative I have in a long time yet have the least amount of time to use the creativity and motivation. It's a challenge and I am still battling my own inability to focus on the task at hand and not be distracted by things like Facebook.  But I feel like things are getting better,  I feel like I am starting to Thrive.  Perhaps it's like spring for me, just as the new shoots are starting to come through the ground my own creative shoots are starting to reach through.  It definitely feels like a time of growth and transformation.  

Thursday 3 March 2016

Gentle Parenting Retreat Success!

On Sunday 28th of February I hosted the first ever Gentle Parenting Retreat in Berkshire.
After months of planning, organizing, emailing, buying resources, advertising, and dreaming it actually happened!  People committed to it, they showed up and it actually happened.  I couldn't quite believe it as people were walking through the door.  Everyone who had their name down came and it was so so wonderful.  All those mums together in the one place, sharing similar struggles, fears and hopes, there was a great atmosphere and energy in the place.

We began the day with some time to chat and have a cup of tea before moving through to the studio where I began my art workshop.  I hoped the workshop was relaxed and enjoyable.  I talked to the mums about listening to their inner critic, the critical voice in their heads. We thought about how we could turn the positive intention behind the negative voice into a positive affirmation or word to paint onto the front of their canvas, and a symbol to reflect their parenting journey.  I also taught some paint and collaging techniques.

I was pretty nervous before beginning the workshop.  I hadn't taught a group of adults as large as this before, and it's been a while since I have spoken in front of a group, but the women were so wonderful, kind and keen to have a go, it was very heartwarming.  The results of their creativity were astonishingly beautiful, the colours and images that were created spoke volumes.

After lunch we enjoyed a mindfulness workshop run by Tanya Forgan, we had time to open up about some of the challenges we find in gentle parenting, as well as learning techniques for using mindfulness in every day life.  We had a couple of wonderful guided meditations, with relaxation techniques which left us feeling relaxed and chilled out.

At the end of the day I couldn't stop smiling to myself, and have since had lots of positive feedback and interest in future Gentle Parenting Retreats. I felt the day was truly a success on so many levels, and I can't deny that I am proud of myself for pulling it all together, but of course know that it could never have happened if it wasn't for a fantastic group of mums who really believed in the event.  For me the aims of the day were absolutely achieved.  I wanted mums to be able to relax and reflect, to be able to refill their cups so they could return to their children re-energized and revitalized. I certainly returned home buzzing and filled with a renewed sense of being able to cope whatever new challenges arose. And I learnt some new relaxation techniques which I have already put into daily practice.

I feel like an internal shift has taken place since I began this project, I really do believe that this is in part due to the Shining Life Workbooks which have helped me set my goals and targets, plan ahead and reflect and review.  It has made me feel like I really can achieve my goals and dreams when I set my mind to it.  But it also seems to just all be happening at the right time, maybe a year ago, this just wouldn't have worked, but now it feels right.

I am excited to organise another retreat in the neat future, I feel for us mums it's something we need to do regularly as part of our self care.  In a funny conversation this week with a friend, we said that if we were to see the work we do as like a job that we were being paid for, the retreat would be classed as a day of professional development or a networking event.  In a paid job these things would be seen as important, essential even, but for some reason, because we aren't paid for our "work" this type of occasion is dismissed as self indulgent and a luxury. We really need to shift our thinking on this and invest in our own self care and development to help us become better parents, and more importantly better versions of ourselves.