A little note during World Breastfeeding Week.

Recently, at the end of a breastfeeding education session that I was facilitating, I was approached by a lovely pregnant Mama and her partner, well into the last trimester of pregnancy, and preparing in earnest for the arrival of their baby.

She’d approached me to ask about the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months, and mentioned that she couldn’t imagine breastfeeding for that long – in fact, she felt quite overwhelmed by the idea.

She told me that she was terrified of failing – to the point that she felt perhaps she’d be better off not to even try.

My response to her was this:

If you decide to breastfeed, and you try, even once, then it is absolutely impossible to fail. Regardless of if your baby latches at the breast just once, or if you feed for twelve months straight. No matter if you choose to finger feed it colostrum, then express your milk and bottle feed, or if you choose to mix feed from the start. You might switch to formula down the track for any of a myriad of reasons, or you might seek out donor breastmilk.

However, if you make the decision that you want to try to breastfeed, and your baby then goes onto receive your breastmilk, then you’ve already succeeded.

One feed or two hundred feeds.

Well done, you.

You see, she (like many other nervous mums-to-be) was finding herself all caught up in the “shoulds” and trying to figure out how that would fit in with her “coulds”.

So I asked her how she would feel about just tackling one feed at time. Maybe a day. Maybe a week.

She thought she could do that.

So I suggested something else, which is probably not common practice, but something I think I would have found really useful when I was in the early weeks of breastfeeding:

A star chart.

Now bear with me, because I know it sounds awfully infantile, BUT my theory is this:

My experience of new mothers (myself included) is that they like to be able to measure things. They like to be able to see the results of what they’re doing. They like to keep track of where they’re up to.

By adding a simple star to a piece of paper, there is a visual representation of a breastmilk feed, completed. Another intense dose of immunity, another moment of bonding, another full belly, and another burst of oxytocin and prolactin.

It’s not a reward system as such, unless of course, they choose to use it as one. But I find the idea particularly useful for the times when breastfeeding just feels really hard, or when a mother chooses or is forced to STOP breastfeeding for whatever reason, and she can look back at those stars and be really fucking proud of herself for those occasions where she WAS able to give her baby breastmilk, and celebrating that success, rather than focussing on what she may otherwise perceive as a failure.

Sometimes, seeing how far you’ve come can propel you to keep going. And other times, it allows you the grace to be proud of yourself for what you did, while you move onto a new phase in your parenting journey.

Parenting is stressful enough without being bogged down by thoughts of failure.

If you’re willing to try, you’ve already succeeded.

Gold stars all round.

Big love,

Rysie.

#worldbreastfeedingweek

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A new story begins…

When I was a kid, I had a pet mouse named Mackenzie Mouse. He was the first pet I ever had who was all my very own.

He was all black, and he loved pink jelly beans and sunflower seeds, and ripping up toilet roll cylinders to make nests. He lived in a wooden house in my bedroom with a glass window in the front, and an exercise wheel that squeaked all night as he ran in circles.

Every morning, and every afternoon, before and after school, Mackenzie could be found in my pocket, or on my shoulder, snoozing away as I read a book, or watched telly, and when he was awake, we’d play “circus”, where he’d learned to step across a small string tightrope (to get to a pink jelly bean) or navigate a shoebox maze I’d constructed for him.

Every day, I chose his food carefully, making sure he had a good mix of grains and fruit, and he knew the sound of his food bowl getting filled. The one time he escaped from his cage and couldn’t be found, while my mum was up on a chair, shrieking, I simply called out his name, filled up his food bowl and tapped the side, and like magic, he appeared from behind the kitchen bench, so I could scoop him up before the cat found him, and mum could get down off the chair.

He lived for a couple of years, and he died of what I suppose was old age, nestled in my cupped hands, and as I buried him under the sunflowers, I wept like I had never wept before, for I had lost my most special little friend.

He was an excellent mouse.

This weekend just gone, my Girl Child got a guinea pig. She’s been waiting months for the litter to be old enough for her pig to come home, crossing off each day on her calendar, and she’s had the hutch ready since she found out they were born.

She’s been bristling with anticipation, and talking about her “Oreo” non-stop for weeks. She’s been researching diets, and hygiene needs, guinea pig games, and vet advice. (My Boy Child also got one – “Spice” – but he was far more nonchalant about the whole experience.)

Watching her last night, with Oreo snuggled up on her chest, as she softly stroked his black and white head, whispering the plot lines of A Series of Unfortunate Events to him, and telling him all about the fruit snack she had planned for him, made me remember my Mackenzie Mouse, and how much I loved him.

I could have been looking at myself 25 years ago, watching that beautiful connection begin between the two of them.

Aren’t pets just the best?

Tell me about yours?

Big love,

Rysie.

Matrescence.

Almost a year ago, a beautiful little girl was born.

During her pregnancy, as her Mama’s belly grew and bloomed, and her arrival approached, we all waited eagerly for the news of her safe entrance to this world.

When the call came, I wept with joy at work, for the gift of life, and the miracle of birth. That day, I had already helped to welcome a dear little boy into his parents arms, and I was filled with gratitude for that experience. My oxytocin levels were sky high as I sat down to fill out his paperwork. And then the phone call came, and I knew that she was here, this precious darling we had been waiting for, and that she, her Mama and her Daddy were beginning a journey so incredible, I couldn’t begin to verbalise it.

Once again, I got to become Aunty Rysie, and just like that, my heart opened up a brand new spot, just for her.

One year ago tomorrow, this precious little soul came along, to enchant us with her sweet and bubbly personality, her gummy smiles, and her delightful chubby cheeks.

And one year ago, somewhat in the shadow of the excitement of welcoming this incredible newborn into the world, another equally miraculous happening occured:

A mother was born.

You know, we don’t tend to talk much about the birth of a mother. It seems that amidst the childbirth preparation, and the breastfeeding education, the safe sleeping guidelines, and the maternity appointments, it is somewhat overlooked.

But it really is a thing – this maternal psychological, emotional and physical transition following pregnancy and childbirth – and there is an actual term for it, and it appears most acutely during the first twelve months of motherhood, but continues, basically, forevermore.

It’s called Matrescence, and just like childbirth, it’s full of challenging contractions, and moments of self doubt, coupled with the realisation of raw strength and power, introversion, reflection and vulnerability.

The contractions aren’t felt in the uterus during the birth of the mother, but rather in the heart, as we grapple with our sense of self in the midst of a new role, questioning our ability to carry this responsibility, learning to trust our intuition, and discovering where we stand in our newly redefined relationships.

The words “I can’t do this” are even more common during Matrescence than they are during childbirth, but the difference is that they are rarely spoken out loud during the birth of the mother. They are whispered in the dead of night, to no one, and written in journals, and maybe, just maybe, confidentially uttered to a friend. For you see, we expect to be born into motherhood knowing what to do.

But the knowledge, and the growth can only come when the heart has given way to the birthing process, and even then when we think it’s all done, the afterpains can be shockingly raw for years to come.

It can get ugly, as we judge ourselves for the multitude of ways we feel as though we’ve done wrong. But it’s also incredibly beautiful, as we watch our children thrive and grow, and know intrinsically that we played a huge role in that.

Unlike childbirth, there’s no regularity or predictability to the labour pains felt during the birth of the mother. They come randomly, and vary in their intensity, but they almost always cause us to stop in our tracks.

*contraction*

We look at our new bodies, in awe of what they’ve created, but in bemusement of the marks, and skin, and it’s new shape, left in the wake of creating life. Our favourite pants don’t fit, but there’s no way we are going to buy new clothes for these new curves. Nuh-uh. We aren’t ready for that shift yet. It’s all trackpants and maternity singlets until we figure out what to do with extra junk in the trunk, and not to mention the new set of Pammy Anderson’s on our front. It’s all about giant maternity undies that suck the belly in, and don’t put too much pressure on the tender bits, and honest to God, if there’s ever been something to prioritise, THIS IS IT.

*contraction*

We look at our partners snoring in bed, as we sit awake feeding the baby, cursing them on one hand for their redundant nipples and obscene ability to sleep through the baby snuffles and grunts that keep us awake, while simultaneously loving the shit out of them for the way they supported us in childbirth, the way they bring us coffee and the way they love this baby so immensely. Then we remember how they got the baby all excited at bathtime, when it should have been wind down time, so the little ratbag wouldn’t sleep, and then we are back to hating on their snoring heads.

*contraction*

Somehow, coffee with friends just got really hard. We are awake at weird times, and we might be desperately lonely, but so, so often, the sleep deprivation wins out, and it’s another pyjama day at home. Or maybe we’ve spent the past fortnight gearing up for a girl’s night – shaved the legs, washed the hair, maybe even bunged on some fake tan, only for the night to arrive to find us sitting in the Emergency Department with a toddler with croup, and we realise that what we want to do is sometimes in direct opposition to what we need to do. And it can hurt.

*contraction*

We spend months, hell, YEARS waiting for the baby not to need us so intensely, waiting for the chance to regain ourselves back, just a bit. Then we cry when we return to work because we miss them so much, forget how to hold a conversation that doesn’t include them at least once, and feel on the verge of tears when the little bugger reaches for daddy at bedtime. Who even ARE we without these little people??

*contraction*

Our firstborn starts highschool. Wait, what?? STOP!!!!

To my dear friend, who has just about completed that first year with absolute grace. To her partner, who has been both her rock and the snoring head in the bed. And to sweet baby A, who always reaches for daddy.

You are so loved, and we are so proud of you all.

Big love,

Rysie

It boils down to this…

I’ve written about my own births quite a few times throughout my blog posts, and most of you know I birthed with a midwife as my primary carer.

Although I’ve often reflected on how wonderful my experiences were, I’ve struggled to establish exactly WHY I felt that way – aside from knowing that I felt absolutely safe and supported, both times.

Yesterday, at work, a colleague of mine was sharing with our midwifery team some literature she had found, discussing the “three C’s” of pregnancy care and how satisfied mothers reported being with their care.

And there was my A-ha! moment.

All three C’s were major components of my pregnany care.

I KNEW my midwife (and her backup), and she knew me. I saw her at every appointment. She knew what I was up to, physically, mentally, and emotionally. She remembered things that we had discussed before. She got to know my husband. She was there when things were great, and she was there when things became challenging. She was my person.

There is nothing within a fragmented maternity care model that will ever measure up to this kind of familiarity and security. CONTINUITY of caregiver is just so crucial to good care.

Every single decision relating to my pregnancy care was MADE BY ME. I was given information, practical education and time to make the choices I needed to make around my care. I was informed fully about the risks and benefits around everything that was offered to me, and I was prompted to explore the evidence bases from which this information was taken. I was given statistics and percentages, and I was never handed generalised statements to try and sway my thoughts. I was encouraged to ask questions.

Every CHOICE I made was fully informed by evidence. And every choice I made, was one hundred percent made by me.

Thus, when it came to my pregnancies and births, I felt as those experiences really belonged to me. I was extremely well informed. I had a caregiver that I trusted. And when things became a bit more complicated during my second pregnancy, I drew upon those resources to help me to establish my sense of CONTROL.

Having control doesn’t mean having a “perfect” experience. Having control, to me, meant being the key stakeholder in the decision making that was going to affect me and my baby.

When the Girl Child was threatening to make an early arrival, I’m sure I drove people mad with my questions. But I wanted to know the paediatric team. I wanted an orientation to the special care nursery. I wanted to discuss how things might look if it all went pear shaped, what a transfer might mean, and what supports I would have. I wanted as much information as I could possibly be given, so that I could re-evaluate what choices were available to me in this potential scenario.

I was never left sitting in a bed, wondering “what if”. The communication and engagement from every professional involved was flawless. And it was led by my midwife, who only needed to look at my face to know that I was ruminating on something.

Control, for me, wasn’t about dictating a result. It was about being considered, and incorporated into decisions about my care. It was about honest conversations, and being informed of changes, and being spoken to, instead of being spoken about.

As it turned out, the Girl Child behaved herself and stayed in until 38 weeks. So, none of that planning was put into place in the end. But, during a really frightening time, I felt completely safe and supported.

Why?

Because of the three C’s.

They were there, lit up in neon, both times for me.

I wish, more than anything that more women had that experience (minus the threatened prem of course!), because, for me, it was literally life changing.

Would love to hear your experiences?

Big love,

Rysie.

Mother Earth

This Earth – she is our Mother.

She nourishes us, provides for us, and gives herself for us.

Like hungry infants, we nuzzle forcefully into her breast; demanding, seeking and craving the nourishment and security she represents.

And like wilfull todlers, we demand more and more; for what is hers is ours, and we know she will never deny us.

Eventually, she will crumble under the weight of our demands; such is her love for us.

And only then, when we are orphaned, perhaps we shall understand her gifts, her sacrifice, and our own destructive greed.

She deserves better.

This Earth – she is our Mother.

*image from Google.

The Myth of the Good Baby

Two new parents, and a brand new baby.

They’re exhausted, and like every set of new parents ever, fumbling their way through the first days of newborn life.

Have I done the nappy right? Is he latched properly? Why in God’s name is his poo black?? Support the head!! Support the head!!

As they’re working their way through all of these unknowns, along comes the inevitable question:

IS HE A GOOD BABY?

Nothing makes my teeth grind more than this question. I WISH someone would answer this one day with:

“Oh, no actually, he’s a juvenile delinquent. He’s been running an International Drug Trafficking Ring from the inside – we’re just off to face court now”

Or maybe:

“Nope, he’s a jackass. He came out, looked around, criticised the decor and the menu, and demanded a refund. Worst baby ever.”

But of course, when your brain is mush, answers like that don’t come easily. So, we just nod along, and say yes.

Of course, the question is referring to sleep. And at two days old, I’d be fairly confident in suggesting that little Archie is sleeping like a baby – that is, in short bursts, interspersed with crying, and feeding, shitting and burping.

Which in my eyes, makes him a very good baby indeed.

He’s a newborn. There are going to be days where he’s an absolute dream. There are going to be days where they’re convinced he came directly from Satan himself, and they’d willingly had him over to the postman if given the chance. And there are going to be lots of days in between.

And just when they think they’ve got that baby figured out, there’ll be new developmental leaps, and teething, and fevers, and tantrums. And through all of that? He’ll STILL be a good baby.

Newborn babies do what they’re biologically programmed to do. They cry for food, for comfort and security, and when they’re in pain. They seek out their parents to provide what they need. They do it A LOT. It’s NORMAL.

This kid doesn’t know he’s a Royal, and he’s supposed to behave with decorum. The only thing he knows is that he’s now in a whole new world that is nothing like he’s familiar with. So, like every newborn before him, he’s going to go off like a frog in a sock until he figures it all out.

Because he’s a GOOD BABY.

Big love,

Rysie.

So, I heard you made fun of my Mama?

Did you know that in the day before Meghan Markle gave birth to her son, she was the source of much hilarity at a Global Obstetrics Summit?

According to multiple media reports, discussion around her upcoming birth included this pearler of a quote:

“Meghan Markle has decided she’s going to have a doula and a willow tree… let’s see how that goes,” Dr. Timothy Draycott, envoy of the Royal College of Gynecology and a professor at the University of Bristol, reportedly said to “raucous laughter” from the audience of doctors in attendance. “She’s 37, first birth … I don’t know,” he went on.

I sincerely hope that the first photo that the happy new parents release to Instagram looks something like this GIF.

The culture of birthing is so heavily swayed and influenced by those who “control” it. And in my opinion, if the people (such as the charming speaker from the ACOG conference) who DO control it have ZERO faith or belief in women AND WHAT THEY ARE CAPABLE OF, and actively seek to undermine and belittle the exact population that they are supposed to be providing THE BEST CARE for, then maybe we’ve got the wrong people running the show.

Just sayin’.

Rysie.