Girls Run the World

Raising a daughter and helping her fine-tune her emotional and social intelligence is a complex business. And for me, a huge part of helping my daughter learn about herself and the world around her will be framed within the context of feminism and equality.

There’s no right or wrong way to do this, and you may disagree with my approach, but this is how I see it…

My daughter will receive every support and encouragement in achieving everything and anything she wants to in life. I will bring her up to know that with hard-work and self belief, she can do anything.

However, I won’t sugarcoat anything. I won’t pretend that getting what you want is easy. I won’t shy away from telling her about the disadvantages that face many, many women. She needs to have an awareness and an appreciation of the hardship and struggle that the ‘fairer sex’ has endured for a over a millennia, and how this impacts her as a woman today.

She will know though, that this isn’t an excuse to hide behind, nor is it an opportunity to admit defeat. In fact, I will encourage her to use this as ammunition to work harder to achieve what she believes in. It won’t be easy, but she will know she has all the love and respect in the world from me.

Maybe a ‘girls run the world’ t-shirt is just a bit of fun. Maybe it’s a manifesto for tomorrow.

Breastfeeding Tips for the Big-Titted Mama!

Breastfeeding is hard. For the ‘most natural thing in the world’, it’s trickier to get right than the FT cryptic crossword with a hangover and a broken pencil. What seemed to make it even harder for me was the fact that I have tits. Contradiction in terms, right? Alas, no.

It seems that the more you’ve got going on in the chest region, the trickier it is to master proper positioning. Also, the bigger the norks, the harder it is for you to not accidentally smother your newborn in all your extra flesh and skin when they’re feeding.

What used to be a tremendous boon in my hay-day for guaranteeing a drink offer at a bar, was suddenly a pain-in-the-arse complication in an already very confusing and painful new endeavour for me.

However: ample-mammary-mums-to-be, fear not! It is still possible to successfully breastfeed! After 18 months of feeding my daughter with my ma-hoosive melons, I’ve worked out a few ‘pointers’ to ensure lactation jubilation! Here are my top tips:

  1. Positioning. Most experts will advise mums-to-be to start feeding with the cross-cradle position. It’s supposedly the easiest. But for new mums with giant breasts, this one is not all that easy to master. I also just couldn’t get the ‘lying down’ method to work, my boobs would just flop over and I couldn’t establish a good latch lying down. After trying (and failing) with dozens of methods, the best one to accommodate my chesticles was the underarm, or football / rugby hold. It squished my breasts less, which enabled a ‘free-flow’ and reduced the risk of pressure across my chest that could result in blocked ducts or sore spots. I was also able to better control and adjust the positioning of my daughter’s head to ensure her nose and air-ways weren’t restricted. All in all, it was the most comfortable position for me until feeding was properly established. Plus it’s also great for twins!

  1. Wait til that mouth is nice and wide. Then shove them on. The bigger the boob, chances are, the bigger the nipple. It’s important that as much of the areola is in the baby’s mouth when feeding, so it’s really important to wait for them to open their mouths as wide as they can. If it’s not quite right, detach and try again until as much of it is in their mouths as possible. A bad latch hurts more than someone taking a lighter to your nasal hair. When in doubt, take them off and try again until you get it right.
  2. Nursing bras make all the difference. If you’ve got huge boobs, it’s trickier to find a suitable nursing bra that fits properly. If it’s slightly too small, or fits before your milk is established, you could end up with a bra that squishes your assets, and this can lead to complications like mastitis. I always found Bravissimo the best for a really well-made, supportive bra in ample sizes. M&S have an OK collection too – just ask for a fitting to ensure it is suitable. They’re expensive I know, and not particularly attractive – you might look like Les Dawson in drag when you’re wearing it – but I would happily re-mortgage my house if it meant I could afford a comfortable, supportive bra.
  3. A little lift. If the process of gaining / losing weight has resulted in your nips gradually facing in the direction of the carpet, it makes it even harder to be able to see what you’re doing to make sure you’ve got a good latch. I spent weeks holding up my breast to the baby, rather than finding a natural position that worked for the both of us. This meant that I was squishing my boob with the hand I was holding it up with, and also meant I didn’t have a free hand to browse on my phone with. Anyone who has latched on a newborn and then subsequently realised they haven’t got their phone on them will tell you that it can be the longest 40 minutes of your life. A spare hand with which to peruse facebook whilst feeding is almost essential for your sanity. After deciding I couldn’t carry on ‘lifting’ my breast myself, I discovered an amazing product that does the job for you – the Booby Booster. It attaches to your bra and basically acts as a sling lift which raises your breast slightly, making positioning easier (and freeing up a hand to read / eat / text). A DIY version can be created by using a large piece of muslin that ties around your neck and lifts your breast. Alternatively, a natural sponge that you can cut to fit under your breast will also give it a bit of a lift.

  1. Pump it up. You can now get different size breast-pump funnels, and this can make a huge difference to the success of your pumping, if you have large breasts. I never managed to find a pumping bra that was designed for the large-chested mother, so I made my own by cutting holes in an old nursing bra! Nothing beats a bit of hands-free pumping.
  2. Feeding outside the house. I was always self-conscious of feeding the baby in public, because there’s nothing discreet about whipping out a 3lb lump of fatty tissue in the middle of a coffee shop. If you don’t give a shit about doing this, then that’s fantastic! If you do, however, don’t let it put you-off feeding out and about, and absolutely don’t let feeding make you feel like you’re a prisoner in your own home! Discreet feeding is achievable for the busty mamas! I would wear a nursing bra, a strap top, and then an over-sized top over this. It enabled me to ‘drape’ the extra fabric over the exposed boob skin when I lifted my top up to feed the baby, without covering-up the baby’s head. You can also use a light scarf, or invest in a nursing apron. Those sometimes these can look more eye-catching than sitting there with your tit out. There’s no right or wrong way to do it. So long as you’re happy and comfortable.

Hopefully, these tips will come in handy for the ample-chested mum-to-be. It is possible to control those beasts and make breastfeeding work. If you have any other tips like this, do comment below. Likewise, if you’ve tried any of these tips, give me a shout and let me know how you found them. Happy feeding, busty-mamas!

Gok endorses #DressDownFriday!

At this exact moment in time I’m stood in my kitchen doing a happy dance – We got Gok!

I’m so thrilled to announce that the #DressDownFriday campaign has now been officially endorsed by none other than fashion legend, Gok Wan!

Having seen the campaign online, I was invited to meet Gok last week after his Fashion Brunch Club in Cardiff. Gok has kindly lent his support to the movement to help spread the message of the power and influence of clothing and the impact that this can have on kids.

He said: “Fashion should be empowering, not restrictive. The #DressDownFriday campaign is encouraging parents to opt for clothes for their kids – one day each week – that promote variety, individuality and equality. I’m thrilled there’s a campaign like this out there!”

With the campaign launching just three months ago after I got sick of comments from a range of people about the fact a ‘pretty little girl should be in a dress’, I’m so blown away by how far we’ve come. So many incredibly supportive parents and kids’ fashion designers have adopted the campaign and post photos of their gender-stereotype-busing outfits each and every week.

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know so many of you and I’ve loved bonding over a mutual agreement that our kids shouldn’t be confined by gender norms when it comes to what they wear, what they play with, what they do, and who they are.

I am so unbelievably grateful to Gok and his team for taking the time out to learn more about #DressDownFriday and offering to help promote it to a wider audience. Here’s to many more empowering Fridays ahead!

If you’d like to learn more about the campaign and take part, click here.

Why you should never tell someone to ‘smile’

This week when I was filling up the car, a bloke at the petrol pump opposite looked over to me and said, ‘Cheer up, love. It might never happen!’ I was so flustered by his comment that I think I might have laughed back at him to show him I wasn’t always a miserable cow – I was just struggling with the lock on the petrol cap.

Almost immediately afterwards, I was kicking myself at my lame-ass response. I basically obeyed an order from an intrusive stranger. I let him judge me, without a hint of a clue as to who I am and what I might have to frown about, and I chose to please him rather than defend my situation.

Thinking back, this has happened to me on a few occasions. I don’t think I’ve got a particularly severe ‘resting bitch face’, and even if I do, it doesn’t give complete strangers the right to think they can control me, my mood and my actions with one simple command.

Telling a woman to ‘smile’ is patronising and incredibly condescending. For that moment, it reduces her worth to no more than her ability to please the person that demands a smile from her. How incredibly messed up is that, when you really think about it?

When you ask someone to smile, it isn’t really about cheering them up, it’s about you being happy that the world around you looks that way you want it to look. It can be completely unintentional, but off-the-cuff comments like this are casually thrown about every day and women are generally just too damn tired, or embarrassed or scared to disobey or challenge them. I know, I’m bloody one of them!

What is really depressing about all of this is that from birth, we say ‘smile’ to girls all the time. And when we’re not saying it to them, we buy clothes to remind them to smile, just in case they feel sad about something and they drop the happy façade.

I recently walked through the clothes section at my local supermarket to pick up some bits for my daughter, and there were no less than three separate t-shirt designs that ordered girls to ‘smile’. Want to know how many there were in the boys’ section? None. Why is it that we encourage girls to smile and not boys? Why are we still so obsessed with the notion of a passive, smiling female? And why would it be interpreted as a weakness or out of the ordinary for a boy to smile?

If you want people to smile, you need to give them something to smile about. Make more people happy, do more nice things for the people around you. But don’t always expect a smile. A smile needs to be earned, and it’s not yours to demand. We need to spend less time encouraging people to smile, and more time doing ‘smile-worthy’ acts.

Have you ever had a stranger tell you to ‘cheer up’, or ‘smile’? How did it make you feel? I’m genuinely interested in how widespread this is, and how it impacts the people that have experienced it.

From luscious-locks to bonkers baby-hair. Pregnancy does some crazy things to your barnet

Everyone knows pregnancy and birth does some weird and wonderful things to your body. For example, I had a real problem with excess saliva and dribbling when I was pregnant (I bet Beyoncé isn’t a pregnant dribbling mess). And when it comes to pregnancy hair growth, mother nature seems to give with one hand and take with the other.

Around four months into my pregnancy, my hair felt glossier and thicker. It took all my restraint not to flick my hair at strangers whilst saying ‘because we’re worth it’ in a Geordie accent like Cheryl.

Cruelly enough though, the pregnancy didn’t just effect the hair growth on my bonce. I was a bridesmaid for one of my best friends when I was six months pregnant. I was already feeling self-conscious about looking like a sea-cow in my bridesmaids dress, but when I was getting my make-up done, the girl frowned and said to me, ‘do you mind if I just tweeze out that long hair on your chin?’ I could have died of embarrassment. I’d never had a chin-hair in my life, and I had no idea it was there. For some bizarre reason the baby hormones had surged in one direction through my body, pushing a grotesque, straggly hair out of the bottom of my chin. I was the bearded bridesmaid. We tweezed, moved on, but the humiliation of the moment never left me.

I spent the rest of my pregnancy meticulously checking my face for follicle intruders and tweezing from places I had never anticipated; my ear lobe, my neck, and from my widow’s peak that seemed to be traveling down my forehead to hang out with my eyebrows.

By the time I gave birth, I was rocking a full-on Frida Kahlo brow, and a hairline like Eddie Munster. It’s probably a good thing that babies’ sight is poor at birth, otherwise my daughter might have taken one look at me and crawled back into my uterus.

And the hairy fun didn’t stop there. Roughly eight weeks after birth, I started shedding like an Alaskan Malamute in the desert. Huge, terrifying clumps of hair would come out in the shower and patches of bare skin appeared on my scalp. Tying my hair up was a total no-go as the patches were so visible, so the days where I didn’t have time to wash my hair became my designated ‘hat or stay indoors’ days.

Luckily the hair-loss slowed, and it was replaced with strange, unsightly re-growth hair. My hairline started to travel further and further forwards around my head, around my ears, down my neck, and lower on my forehead. Now, with a mini-fringe that runs all the way around my hairline, I’m one facial Immac session away from being a Wookie.

I naively thought my pregnancy would turn me into Rapunzel, but instead it turned me into Sideburns Lady from The Wedding Singer. But with extra dribble.

The Pramshed

I have invented a new work-out for parents – ‘Baby Gate Gymnastics’

Fucking baby-proofing. I’m sorry for the Big Swear but I needed to get that off my chest. I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own home. I’d open a bottle of vodka to calm my nerves but it’s bloody locked in a cupboard behind a sophisticated and incredibly fiddly child lock, and I can’t be bothered with the faff.

The truth is, the baby is no longer really a baby at all. In fact, she appears to be a toddler-come-amateur-parkour enthusiast. Today I found her precariously balanced on the top of our fire guard which, ironically, we installed to keep her safe from the fire. I’m contemplating the need for a fireguard-guard.

With her gymnastics skills reaching new heights – literally – my husband and I have set about barricading sections of the house into ‘baby-safe zones’. With the introduction of baby gates seemingly everywhere, it’s currently easier to escape from Belmarsh Prison than it is our living room.

The weekend that we installed the gates culminated in a text-book passive-aggressive argument between me and my husband. He was sick to death of me nagging him about it, and when I asked through gritted teeth for the twentieth time how much longer he would be putting them in place, I got the ultimate tradesman’s spiel in return; “Look love, it’ll take as long as it takes, OK?”

The one-size-fits-all stair gate turned out to be a one-size-fits-most-but-for-some-inexplicable-reason-not-my-stairway-gate. These contraptions seem to have been invented less for the safety of a toddler, and more as some sort of cruel aptitude test for new parents.

Now with the gates and locks finally all fully installed, getting around our house is like an automatic lock-in game on the Crystal Maze. As I’m trying to navigate my way through two separate gates and a flight of stairs from the living room to the bedroom with a sleeping toddler, I half expect a leopard-print-clad Richard O’Brien to be loitering in the hallway with a sand timer, playing the harmonica.

It takes all the agility and cunning of Catherine Zeta Jones in Entrapment to successfully make it to one side of my house from the other without tripping up, setting off an alarm, or having to fumble with a stubborn child lock.

This has led me to seriously consider setting up a post-natal exercise and mental aptitude training session, involving installing and then hurdling baby gates and opening a series of child locks with a pinky finger, all whilst holding a 15-pound sack of flour. Think a ‘buggy run’ will get your heart racing? Try child-proofing and then moving around your home with your partner without totally losing your shit at each other. I’m thinking of selling this idea to Joe Wicks or Davina McCall. I think I’d make a killing.

 

The Pramshed

Breastfeeding: Milky misery or lactose loveliness?

I love breastfeeding my baby. She’s 13 months old and we’re still going. It’s easily the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done and I’m lucky enough that she still relishes feeds; her little eyes rolling back into her skull after her final gulp, like a tiny drug addict. That sweet, sweet hit of lactose.

Let me assure you now though, that this isn’t simply another rosy ‘pro-wabs’ post. All this symbiotic mushy stuff came at a huge price to both of us. I’ve been to the brink of depression with it, I’ve experienced physical pain that in all honesty far eclipsed the birth, and worst of all it nearly cost us being able to bond at all in those precious first few months.

‘Why the frig did you do it then?’, I hear you cry. Fair point. I’m not sure I’ll ever really understand my motives for carrying on back in those early days. It was such a haze of surging hormones, lack of sleep and utter shellshock. But I guess I felt that by stopping I would have failed at the one thing every woman is supposed to be able to naturally do.

All the pre-natal classes I went to, everything I’d read before, all those beautiful pictures of naked women breastfeeding their cherubic, doe-eyed babies, it all made breastfeeding seem as natural as breathing. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this was absolutely what I was going to do.

When it came down to it though, it just wasn’t working. We’d been doing it as a species since the dawn of our existence, I thought, so why the fuck was muggins here having such a hard time of it? Essentially, I felt like I’d ‘failed’ at being a ‘natural’ mother.

Of course I now know that’s all bollocks. Not feeding a baby breastmilk isn’t failing. It’s not even conceding. I’ve fed my baby formula plenty of times in the last 12 months and it’s a successful alternative for tons of women.

What I do feel is a real tragedy is that we are constantly bombarded with the ‘breast is best’ mantra, and yet there is often little or no consistent support past that.

Personally, I came across some wonderful individuals in the NHS who tried their best to help, but there never seemed to be any overarching strategy for post-hospital support, and little understanding of how to help when thing were REALLY going wrong. We’ve been told time and again how breastfeeding reduces the strain on the NHS and how all mothers need to do it. Yet they fail at every turn to facilitate educating women on how to breastfeed, how to deal with the NUMEROUS painful side-effects and how to emotionally support these broken, tired new mums that feel like failures because it isn’t working for them.

The truth is (and they never tell you this in pre-natal classes), breastfeeding is fucking hard. And that’s why so many people stop doing it. It isn’t because people are lazy, it isn’t because people are ignorant or selfish. It’s often because people go into it with the expectation it will simply ‘click’, and it’s a shock to the core when it goes wrong.

In all my travels, out of the hundreds of new mums I’ve met since having a baby, only a handful have found it a piece of piss. Those lucky bitches.

In all honesty, I’ve never known pain like that of trying to latch on an uncooperative baby to nipples so raw and tender you could cover them in rice and serve them up as sushi. By day three after giving birth, when I saw the baby’s ravenous mouth coming towards my cracked, bleeding nipples, it was as if a buzz saw was about to make a valiant attempt at breastfeeding from me.

The worst bit wasn’t the pain though, it was the dread of the pain. The dread that consumed me and made me fear the baby, and fear the pain that she caused me. It hurt to bend over and tie up my shoes, it hurt to lay on my side in bed, it hurt to put on a seatbelt, it hurt to unload the dishwasher, and worst of all it hurt to pick her up and hold her against me. I resented her. I felt guilty to the point of depression for resenting her. This was supposed to be easy. They all said it would be easy. Where is my doe-eyed, tranquil baby that’s supposed to lap gently at my breast like in all those bloody pictures? Why couldn’t she just do it properly?

The poor baby, try as she might to sustain herself from the trickle of milk she was able to squeeze out, was not gaining any weight, and a return to hospital was almost on the cards.

In those first nine agonising weeks I had managed to rack up a bevy of glamorous ailments including blocked ducts, mastitis, a bacterial infection and the little-known condition, called what-the-fuck-is-happening-to-my-nipples-they-feel-like-they-are-being-Jack-Bauer-style-tourtured. All of this before the baby was FINALLY diagnosed with a tongue-tie and we were able to have it corrected, and that was only because I paid a private specialist to examine her and me as a last resort. (I’ll do another post on tongue-tie in particular down the line.)

In the weeks following the procedure, feeds finally became quicker and more importantly she finally started gaining weight. The damage was so severe it took a good few weeks for the pain to subside, but after helping Pfizer stocks soar with the amount of painkillers I was taking, at around 12 weeks in, I finally started to enjoy breastfeeding. And we finally started to bond. Thank fucking Christ.

And from there things just got better. After all that agony and upset I was finally able to hold her close and let the love course through me as she fed, snuggled up next to me in bed. And she seemed to enjoy it more too, now that she could finally get her fil. I’ll tell you there is no stranger, more amusing sight than being motor-boated in the cleavage by a six-month old baby. Weird, lovely baby.

I can’t help but wonder how different it would have been for us in those early days if her tongue tie had been spotted in the hospital when she was born. We’ve been lucky that it so far hasn’t caused any long-term issues. But when I think back to the pain, and the feeling of helplessness that I couldn’t give my baby what she wanted, it’s frustrating to think that all could have been avoided, and probably could have been avoided for many, many women in the same position, if only the right support had been put in place.

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A letter to my daughter on her first birthday

Dear Sausage

Happy birthday*, my baby girl! It amazes me that you’ve been in my life for a whole year. In some ways it feels as if it was only a moment ago that I was first holding you in my arms in the hospital bed, shitting myself (literally and figuratively) over the sheer weight of responsibility that faced me.

In the last year you have managed to change me more than you can ever know. My life before you was, well, mine. Now, my life is all about you. And I’m not gonna lie, that took some getting used to!

Before you were born I didn’t realise what bliss there was in simple freedoms, like being able to say, ‘I’m bored, let’s go to the pub / cinema / Prague.’ Now everything is planned to the most minute detail like a military take-down of a dictator. A tiny, screamy, pooey dictator.

But what I have lost in terms of superficial spontaneity I have gained in a million other ways by having you, and by learning about myself and what I’m capable of.

You have taught me to take stock and just breathe. It sounds simple but in 30 years I’ve never managed to master the art of dealing with stress. I’m hardly Deepak Chopra now but I’ve come to accept that shit happens. I will have sleepless nights, I will forgo any semblance of a social life, I will struggle to get back into my old clothes and I will grimace at my unsightly stretch marks (seriously, posters of me post-partum should be hung in family planning centres to warn teens off sex). But you know what? None of this stuff bothers me. Not even a jot. I feel like the luckiest person in the world because for some miraculous and unexplained reason, I get to be your mum.

My biggest ambition is to make sure that you grow up healthy and happy; that you know without exception that your mum and dad love you more than anything in the world and that you know we’re already absurdly proud of you, of who you are, and who you will become.

On top of all that you’ve taught me in this never-ending but expeditious year, you’ve made me want to be a better person, so that I can be the best mum I can be for you. And you can’t even talk yet. How impressive is that?

So for all you’ve accomplished and for all you’ve taught me in your first year on the planet, I want to say thank you. And hopefully, someday, when you’re old enough, you’ll thank me back for being your mum. And for that time you weed up my nose and I didn’t even shout at you. But I’ll tell you about that on your 2nd Birthday.

Lots of love,

Silly Mummy

X

*Actually your birth-day was weeks ago but what you’ll come to learn about your dear old mum is that even with the best intentions, things don’t always happen exactly as they’re planned. One of the quirks you’ll come to love about me, I’m sure!