Make #DressDownFriday your 2018 New Year’s Resolution

2017 felt like one giant kick-in-the-pants for global equality. The human-amoeba-leader-of-the-free-world and his Republican Dementors did their very best to roll-back and restrict access to women’s services. Alarming statistics were released showing that even in the developed West, black women were three times more likely to die from pregnancy than white women. Worryingly, domestic abuse in the UK also increased this year.

But 2017 was also the year that saw the Women’s March become the largest ever march in support of women’s rights, it was the year where Danica Roem, a transgender woman, was elected to the state legislature in Virginia against all the odds. And it was the year that women kicked-back at normative sexual abuse with the global #metoo campaign.

2018 is a brand new year, one where we’ll see continued attacks on equality, and one where people across the world will continue to rise to the challenge and fight back for equal rights.

So why not make banishing gender stereotypes one of your ambitions for 2018? Let’s ensure our kids have every opportunity to express themselves openly and live in a world where they can be themselves and achieve anything they want in life. Let’s banish restrictive and reductive gender stereotypes that say boys must be ‘tough’ and girls must be ‘pretty’. Let’s do this by thinking carefully about the language we use with our children, the toys and the clothes and the books we buy them.

Join me every week for the #dressdownfriday campaign; our weekly opportunity to show how we as parents and carers are challenging gender norms to make 2018, and every year after it, a better place for our kids.

For more information about the campaign, click here.

Five Observations on the Second Trimester

As I approach the final few months of pregnancy, here are some second trimester observations:

  1. Pregnancy has some really glamorous side effects: I remember the repulsed look on my friend’s face when out of nowhere, as I was chatting away, my gums started bleeding and my mouth filled up with blood. She politely told me and as I coughed and spluttered into a tissue, I’m pretty sure people around us thought I had late-stage TB, or at the very least, raging gingivitis. 

2. As the baby gets heavier on my bladder and I find myself suffering  with yet another cold this winter, I’m finding I ‘sneeze-wee’ through at least two pairs of knickers a day. TMI UTI!

3. I’m learning all about the baby’s personality already. For example, want to know what its favourite past-time is? Punching me repeatedly in the opening of my cervix. This baby won’t wait for contractions; it’s gonna punch its way through when it’s ready. Is it too soon for gas and air???

4. Every day I get a shock when I look in the mirror after getting out of the shower and wrapping a towel around me: I’m greeted by the sight of my vagina peeping out at me. As my stomach expands, my normal shower towel can no longer wrap fully around my lower half, creating a grotesque window to my genitalia.

5. Climbing the stairs is a full-scale mission from which I need at least 10 minutes to recover. By the time I reach the upstairs landing, my speech is laboured through heavy breathing. I sound like Malcolm in the Middle’s best friend Stevie who paused to breathe between every word (and to be fair to that kid, he was missing a lung).

A Stretch Marks Poem

The journey my body is taking to bring you here is etched onto my skin.

Thousands of tiny meandering roads, deepening, widening as you grow inside my womb.

I trace them with my fingers, hoping you can feel it tickling as I track the paths you and I are making together. We are trail-blazers.

Some people have a face that’s a map of the world. My body is a map of my world. Each new line has a story to tell; the growth of your spine, the lengthening of your leg. Every day you grow, more details of my world are forever defined.

The journey hasn’t always been smooth, and the little lines remind me of that – nothing is perfect, things don’t always go to plan.

I touched the outline of the little silver stream running by my navel when I thought I was losing you. Tracing the snaking current over the curve of my stomach with my finger, hoping this stream would have more time to grow, to surge with life.

The lines we have made together on my body will continue to change; just like you.

I will never recoil when I look at the map we made on my body. Each tiny road, each winding silver stream, brought me to you.

Why our approach to perinatal mental health is just plain wrong

For the first time in my life, at 25 weeks pregnant, I’ve found myself suffering with anxiety-induced depression. This was not an easy thing for me to admit to and not something that I was able to label myself until I finally swallowed my pride and went to the doctor for help.

I have good days and bad. On a good day, I look back at a low period and almost laugh at how feeble I was being. It shocks me that I have struggled to cope with the most menial of tasks. On a bad day, there feels like there’s no way out. Completely out of the blue, a wave of sadness hits me and I find myself howling uncontrollably no matter where I am or who I’m with (the guy at the carwash the other day looked particularly concerned). All at once, I feel inadequate and like I’m failing as a mum to my toddler and as a mum-to-be to the new baby. My best is never good enough and I feel like I’ll never be happy again. Eventually these feelings subside and I feel like I’m almost back to my old self.

Having never experienced feelings like this before, it took me a while to work out if these were ‘normal’ hormonal pregnancy feelings, or something more. But when I was up in the night for what felt like the millionth night in a row, obsessing about the baby dying, the house being burgled and the car getting ticketed for being on double-yellows, I knew I needed to speak to someone.

This was completely new territory for me. Admitting to a doctor that I wasn’t coping felt strange and unnerving; I was letting someone into my weird little world, and I wasn’t sure how they’d react.

Thankfully, he was sympathetic and understanding, and I was referred for counselling. That was two months ago, and that’s were things pretty much are today.

Because the waiting list for mental health support is apparently worse than it has ever been before, the doctor recommended I start on anti-depressants immediately to help me cope whilst I wait for counselling.

I was a bit taken aback by this. I’ve never needed to take anti-depressants before, and having read the potential side-effects, although risks are minimal, I wasn’t happy taking the pills whilst pregnant.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not ‘anti’ anti-depressants. In fact, were I not pregnant, I’d have started taking them there and then. They have been literal life-savers for many people I know.

Even in my anxiety-riddled mind, I can see that this is a totally backwards way of addressing perinatal mental health concerns. Doctors are forced to rely on the prescribing of anti-depressants as an interim solution because access to counsellors is increasingly hard to come by.

Given that waiting lists are increasing, and they’re increasing for mums and mums-to-be, surely this is reaching crisis-proportions and much more needs to be done to address this?

One in 10 women experience some sort of mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year of giving birth. Devastatingly, suicide is one of the leading causes of death for new mums and mums-to-be. These are incredibly vulnerable women who are already dealing with an insurmountable amount of pressure and responsibility, and they’re not getting the help and support they need. Instead, they’re being fobbed off with pills to keep them on an even keel. This has huge ramifications for them and the families they’re caring for.

Personally, I feel that just talking to someone who isn’t a friend or family member would be a huge step forward for me, and a huge weight off my shoulders. I need someone to help me make sense of these thoughts and feelings whirring around in my head. And I want to be able to do this before having to rely on medication. For tired, anxious, pregnant mothers, surely this should be the bare minimum we can expect in terms of support?

Presently, I’m on three separate waiting lists for perinatal counselling, and I’ve been waiting for three months to speak to someone. I’m still not taking the anti-depressants but will reconsider this once I’ve spoken to a councillor.

Have you or your partner ever suffered with perinatal mental health issues? What is provision of care like in your area? I’ve found this website particularly useful in understanding what additional support is out there for expecting mothers and what the current state of support is like across the UK.

Five Christmas gifts for kids that are woke AF

Empowering and life-affirming gifts are not just for adults. Take the opportunity this Christmas to continue your children’s emotional, cultural and intersectional understanding with one or two of these incredible gifts for little ones. Stay woke, kids!

End Gender Norms jumper from Bloody Nora Pam

This jumper comes in black in ages three up to 11 and costs £16. There’s no better way to ensure kids understand the restrictions of traditional gender norms by offering them a choice and allowing them to wear whatever they want. This gender-neutral jumper is a must-have for any parent that rejects the tired ‘pink and blue’ trope. Get it here.

Recycling truck from Green Toys

Recycled milk jugs are the primary component in all of the Green Toys products. The plastic is collected by waste management, cleaned, shredded into flakes, reprocessed into a raw material and mixed with food-safe, mineral-based colouring. By using recycled plastic, they divert materials from landfills, save energy and reduce their carbon footprint. This recycling truck is the embodiment of close-looped play and is a great way to introduce the idea of recycling to your little ones. Reduce, re-use, re-cycle, Rihanna!

Representative dolls from Diverse Dolls 4 All

Ever been disappointed by a total whitewash of the dolls in the toy store? Representation is such an important part of each child feeling accepted and self-assured and playing with dolls that represent a variety of ethnicities is the first step you can take to ensure your children understand the multi-cultural world around them. Diverse Dolls 4 All also specialise in multi-cultural learning aids to help enable children to learn about difference and diversity.

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

A quick search online will bring up a plethora of socially-conscious kids’ books, specialising in feminism, LGBT+ issues, race and gender. ‘A is For Activist’ by Innosanto Nagara is a fantastic first step in introducing your children to activism and the idea of fighting for what you believe is right. Huge messages on every page to inspire hope for the future! 

Supporting a young girl in India

It might be hard to explain an intangible gift like this to your child while they are little, but a long-lasting commitment to sponsoring a child in need of basic aid could be life-changing for the two of them. The Invisible Girl Project enables you to sponsor a young girl in India who has previously been at risk of being killed, abandoned or trafficked.

Although they will grow up thousands of miles away your youngster will grow up alongside your sponsored young girl, and over the years your child can follow their progress closely through letters and updates. Although it may not seem like a gift to them, they will grow up with a deeper understanding of life in a completely different culture. At the very least, it will help them empathise and appreciate all the other toys and comforts they have in life – even if that empathy only lasts for a few minutes at a time!

Do you have any gifts on your wish-list for your kids that you hope will empower and inspire them? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

Q&A with Kith + Kin Design founder

For the next couple of weeks I’m in the proud company of Louise, founder of Kith + Kin Design, for our #DressDownFriday competition collaboration. Regular readers will know that I’m passionate about working with driven, creative entrepreneurs to tackle gender stereotypes that are all too prevelant in kids’ fashion today. It’s been such a pleasure to get to know Louise and her business, and I’m thrilled to be able to share a little more information with you about what her company stands for and why she’s passionate about gender equality. Have a read on…
When did you set up your business?

I set the business up about a year ago, when my sister was pregnant. I work freelance as a fashion print designer and wanted to pursue my own practice. My sister and her partner didn’t want to learn the sex of their child before the birth. Wanting to get on with planning and dreaming for this new person in their lives, she found it difficult to buy unisex clothes that appealed to her. This started the creative wheels turning in my head, and so I set out to fill a gap for parents who face the same challenges.
What makes Kith Kin Design unique?
I go my own way and don’t subscribe to trend. I offer a palette that is more daring than the monochromes and subtler than the hyper primaries seen in other gender neutral clothing brands. With the mini artists collection I’ve focused on creating timeless artworks rather than chasing sales by offering more of the same. I’ve thought about the life of the garment post sale and the waste created with superfluous packaging, and I actively encourage further wear by producing how to guides on the website and on the reverse of the bespoke milestone cards included with purchases (instead of fancy packaging). It might not be 100% unique but it certainly feels rare to be making things you’ll genuinely want to hold on to and pass on.
Why is there an emphasis on gender neutral through your work?
It’s a response to the emphasis that big retailers have put on gender in babies clothes. Not every parent wants to be dictated to about what their baby girl or boy should be wearing, especially when the offer is more of the same old stereotypes. Sticking to gender norms limits our experiences and our interactions. Babies don’t care what they’re dressed in, but adults do, and behave differently according to the gender they think they are engaging with. And associating specific colours with specific genders is a trend in itself. In Victorian England babies were typically all dressed in white whatever their gender. Pink and blue was introduced in the 1940s to encode the ideas about gender of that time. Now in 2017 we know that there is no sacred list of what girls and boys are meant to be like, and growing up to be a seven year old adventurer and tree climber is not incompatible with playing with dolls. So why not dress in whatever colours we want to right from the start? And, of course, it makes it a whole lot easier to pass clothes on!
Why is organic and ethical important to you?
Fashion is the fifth most polluting industry in the world, tied with livestock, and is notorious for it’s treatment of workers. As the person in control of production I feel it’s my duty to make sure the decisions I make change fashion’s negative impact on the planet, and respect the people making the clothes. I follow a slow fashion method of producing limited quantities which transcend seasons, thereby reducing waste. My care towards the garments goes beyond selling: making clothes that will last, and can be passed on to family and friends or donated to organisations who help new parents at a time of need, is an overarching goal of Kith Kin Design.
Why do you support the #dressdownfriday campaign?
Retailers need to know that there are a growing number of parents, friends and family who see the outdated and damaging messaging of their clothes and want change, want more flexibility and more diverse clothing for their kids. Dress Down Friday makes people feel supported by other members calling out retailers for blatant stereotyping in their kids wear offerings. It’s a place for community and reassurance – when the high street makes your thoughts about gender stereotyping seem exceptional, it’s good to be reminded there is in fact a whole load of people thinking the same thing!
You can shop the Kith + Kin collection here. Click here to find out more about the #DressDownFriday competition in collaboration with Kith + Kin Design.

I’m a plan-obsessed control-freak – but I’m not finding out the sex of baby #2. Here’s why…

When I fell pregnant with my daughter, I was absolutely sure I wanted to know the sex of the baby as soon as possible. At the time I didn’t mind if the baby was a boy or a girl, but I had convinced myself that it would be easier to bond with, and ‘visualise’ the baby, if I knew the sex. Paranoid that the pregnancy wouldn’t go to plan, I figured that the time I had to get to know the baby would be invaluable time I’d never get back if the worst was to happen.

More practically, I’m also a compulsive planner, so the more time I had to buy all the stuff I needed and sort the nursery, the better. By the time she was born, the obsessive organiser in me had everything in place; every pair of baby socks had been washed and paired, the muslins were ironed and folded and the home-made Jane Austen mobile was hung over the cot.

Now I don’t necessarily regret the decision to find out the sex of our first born, but over the last couple of years, I’ve come to feel differently about our society’s approach to gender when it comes to babies and young children.

Everyone that stopped me in the park or street in the first few weeks asked me if the baby was a boy or a girl. I didn’t mind this at all until I started to notice a pattern. Over the next few months, whenever the baby was wearing something gender neutral, people always assumed she was a boy. When they did this, the language and even the tone and volume of their voice changed. She was referred to as a ‘strapping young lad’, with ‘good strong legs for football’. People were louder and more direct when they spoke to her. Whenever she happened to be dressed in anything more feminine, people addressed her as a ‘beautiful, delicate little thing’, in hushed, comforting tones.

I was also puzzled when many people, after hearing me fret about her sluggish weight-gain as a newborn, would say, ‘yeah but little girls are supposed to be small, you wouldn’t want a great big baby girl, would you?’ All I wanted was for my baby to be healthy, it seemed peverse that this was a response I would hear over and over again – if my baby’s health was at risk, why would I care what she looked like? It seemed totally irrelevant to me.

As the year passed, I came to notice more and more how much emphasis we put on gender; from the way we talk to babies, to the sea of pink and blue clothes on the high street with their reductive, generic slogans, to the hyper-gendered baby toys in every shop window, to the increase of ‘gender reveal parties’.

Why, when these babies are yet to make their way in the world, were we so hell-bent on leading our daughters in one direction in life, and our sons in another? This heaps unnecessary pressure on kids from the get go and almost asks them to live up to an impossible idea of what it means to be a ‘girl’ and what it means to be a ‘boy’.

When it is well evidenced that ideas that children form about gender from the ages of two and three stay with them into their adult lives, we know that the toys they play with and the clothes they wear have a huge influence on them. Children aren’t born with these ideas; they learn them from the world around them.

I became increasingly more agitated when people would assume Emily was a boy because she was wearing something considered ‘boyish’, like a dinosaur t shirt, or Paw Patrol wellies. Finally, in my own small way, I decided to push back on all this gender nonsense.

When Emily was about 15 months old, I set up the #dressdownfriday campaign; a means by which parents could come together en-masse to uplode pictures of their kids in clothing that smashes gender stereotypes.

I felt like all this gender prevelance presented an incredible opportunity to challenge the status quo and reject these outdated ideas on gender. Within the space of six months, hundreds of parents had joined the campaign, and it received backing from a number of online clothing brands – and even got a celebrity backing from Gok Wan! You can read more about the campaign here.

It has also been great to see the conversation around gender being driven by organisations like ‘Let Toys Be Toys’ and ‘Let Clothes Be Clothes’; they’re helping to change the narrative around traditional gender norms and they’re getting parents to consider the impact of hyper-gendering on their children. Retailers like John Lewis are launching gender-neural clothing lines and many others are introducing more ‘empowering’ slogans and designs for both boys and girls.

And so now that I’m pregnant with my second child, I’m looking at the prospect being a parent to a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’ a little differently.

I now don’t feel the need to know the sex of my baby. This little bean is already so loved and is already so much a part of my life, not knowing their sex hasn’t stopped me from bonding with them.

As a relentless planner, I’m also finding it easier than I thought to plan for a baby without knowing the sex. Regardless of the gender, the nursery and all of the newborn clothes will be white with splashes of colour, and a great deal will be hand-me-downs from their big sister, who already has a wardrobe made up of clothes from the boys’ and girls’ section of the store.

I’ve come to think that if I expect this baby to grow up being tolerant and excepting of others, I need to demonstrate to them that there is no right or wrong way to be a boy or to be a girl. They will have the opportunity to wear, play and socialise without gender restrictions. This way, they’ll hopefully know that they can grow up to be whoever and whatever they want to be…and that no matter what, they will always be that little bean that has been so loved from the minute I found out I was pregnant.

20 Weeks & Counting: What I’ve Learned So Far…

We’ve just come back from our 20 week scan and I’m relieved to say everything is A-OK with the baby.

Now that we’re successfully half way though this baby-cooking journey, it’s made me reflect on the first few months of pregnancy, and I thought I’d share some of these ponderings with you.

First off, it seems to be the cruellest irony of pregnancy that at a time when you’re feeling your worst – physically and mentally – in the first few weeks after finding out you’re pregnant, you have to do your utmost to hide your pregnancy from the world. Let’s take a minute to applaud all those mamas out there who have successfully made it through their first trimester whilst balancing a career, parenting, and general day to day life – without so much as a groan or a whimper to give the game away. It is fucking rough to have to ‘carry on as normal’ when you feel like you’ve got a perma-hangover and even the thought of putting your toothbrush in your mouth makes you gag. Mamas, we don’t get enough praise for making it through the first few weeks, so give yourselves a great big pat-on-the-tits for that.

Secondly, upon reaching 12 weeks of pregnancy, I seem to be carrying my baby weight-gain entirely around the bottom half of my face. Everything I’m eating is apparently not providing nutrients and sustenance to the baby, it’s instead working its way to my jawline and pillowing out my neck and chin. Having a ‘neat bump’ is the last thing on my mind when my chin is nearly resting on the top of my tits.

Finally, I’ve noticed how different things are when you’re pregnant for a second time. First off, people don’t give as much of a shit that you’re expecting. You’re already a parent, having another kid just makes you even less likely to make it to hen dos and after work drinks, so people just assume they’re going to see even less of you than they do now. Added to that, you spend less time obsessing over the pregnancy than you did the first time round, mainly because you’re too busy trying to constantly put socks on a toddler to worry about ‘what fruit’ your baby measures up to that week. Attending to a two year-old who is more demanding than Mariah Carey at her birthday party has meant that the first half of this pregnancy has flown by.

The aim of the game now is to continue to grow a healthy human inside of me, to find time to ‘bond’ with the baby and relax into the pregnancy, all the while looking after a feral toddler, preparing for an impending house renovation and finding a few hours in the day to actually do some work. Simple.

#DressDownFriday Competition with KITH + KIN

It’s been a while since I last collaborated with an awesome brand to bring you a #DressDownFriday competition, but you incredible, stereotype-smashing parents deserve a proper treat for your continued support of the campaign.

With that in mind, I’ve teamed up with KITH + KIN, a fashion brand that specialises in unique, gender-neutral and organic baby-wear.

KITH + KIN have kindly offered up one of their t-shirts that will be winging its way to one lucky winner.

Here’s what you have to do to enter:

  1. Like Musing Mum and KITH + KIN on Instagram
  2. Post a picture of your kids in their outfits that smash out-dated and pointless gender-stereotypes, using the hashtag #dressdownfriday
  3. Tag Musing Mum and KITH + KIN in the photo

And that’s it! The competition will run from 27th October – 17th November. After that, a winner will be selected at random from all the #dressdownfriday entries. Each #dressdownfriday post will count as an entry, and you can enter every Friday of the campaign if you want to!

Thanks again to all of you for your continued support of the #dressdownfriday campaign. Working together, we can normalise the idea that kids should just be kids! If you’d like to find out more about the #dressdownfriday campaign, click here.

Here are the Ts&Cs:

Usual terms & conditions apply. Competition details form part of these terms and conditions. Competition runs from 27th October  to 17th November – on the 27th October, 3rd November, 10th November & 17th November. Separate entries can be submitted on each Friday of the campaign. Entries are accepted worldwide. To be entered into the draw, entries must post a photo on instagram. They must be posted along with the hashtag #DressDownFriday. Kith & Kin and Musing Mum must be tagged into these photos. Entrants must like Kith & Kin & Musing Mum Instagram pages to be entered into the draw. The winner will be picked at random on the 23rd November. The winner will be contacted via direct message at which point clothes size and delivery address can be shared. Sizes available are 6-12 months or 12-18 months. Postage / delivery is included in the prize. Prize value is £18.00. The prize is one T shirt. No cash or other alternatives will be offered. The winner agrees to the use of their name, photograph and disclosure of country of residence and must be willing co-operate with any other reasonable requests relating to any post-winning publicity.

Toddler Halloween Party Ideas

Last year I threw a Halloween party for Emily and a few of our friends. Halloween is my favourite holiday of the year – I have my inner goth to thank for that – most of our decor year-round has a gothic Halloween feel to it. As much as I like throwing a themed party, I’m all about minimal fuss and minimal expense, so I thought I’d share some of my pictures and party ideas with you in case they’re useful for anything you’re planning for Halloween.

First up – decking the halls with ghoulish apparel

I got all the decorations at Home Bargains, Asda and Poundland. In total I didn’t spend more than £20 creating a Halloween vibe throughout the downstairs of the house, and this included balloons, cobwebs, garlands, ceiling hangers, pumpkins, lanterns and skulls. I didn’t go crazy with the decorations, but it’s enough of a gesture to theme the party.

Looking the part

I bought ‘mummy daughter matching dresses’ from Want That Trend, it cost around £35 for the two dresses and for something that’s pulled out of the wardrobe once a year, the quality is fine. I bought a 50p witches’ hat and a £2.99 witches’ headband and broomstick to finish off the look.

Fast and frightening finger food

I kept the cost down by catering hotdogs and buffet food, including newly-weaned toddler finger foods. Where possible, I tried to stick to the spooky theme…

 Keeping the little monsters entertained

I laid out a craft table with paints, paper and spooky cookie cutter plastic shapes for the toddlers to make halloween cards to take home with them. For the littler ones, I made a series of ‘slimy, gooey sensory bags’ that I stuck to the windows / play table for them to get to grips with. I made these using green hair gel, glitter, and added things like google eyes and plastic spiders. All the kids loved having a good squeeze of these (me too truth be told)!

It was such a fun party, and great to see all the littlies dressed up and enjoying themselves. Not bad for a party that cost under £100 all-in.

Hope a few of these ideas give you a helping hand ahead of your party. Let me know if you use any of them and how you get on – I’d love to see your Halloween party pictures too!