Simplifying

Back in January I set myself a buy nothing new challenge.  I haven’t been 100% successful with that, but over the past 4 months my focus has changed and now I’m making simplicity a priority in my life as a whole, not just with regards to shopping.  Here are the areas I am trying to simplify:

House: Although I failed at the buy nothing new challenge, I am still trying to stem the flow of new items into the house by shopping more mindfully.  If I need or want something I try and find something we already own to fulfil that need, borrow it, or buy it second hand.  However I have a very limited amount of free time and sometimes I feel it makes more sense to just go to the shops or order it online, and use my time for something else.  On the other hand, I am trying to declutter our house like crazy.  In particular I’m trying to clear out clothes, toys, books, excess arts and crafts materials, baby items (as we stop using them) as well as general household clutter.

Diet: Food is a big priority for me, as I find that what I eat makes a huge difference to how I feel, plus I also enjoy cooking and eating delicious food.  My focus is on eating simple, real foods like vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, nuts and seeds most of the time, and less processed food.  I am also mostly wheat, gluten and dairy free.

Mindfulness: Being at home with two small children is really hard work, but can be really enjoyable too.  I want to make the most of this time as I know I will miss it when it is gone.  I have found that practising mindfulness helps me stay present with my two girls and enjoy the little things more, as well as feeling calmer and less stressed in general, having more patience and losing my temper less.

Media: Does anyone else find media, especially social media, totally addictive?  Let’s face it, taking care of little people can be quite boring sometimes, and it is tempting to reach for distractions, especially when you can access the whole of the internet from a device that fits in your back pocket.  But I restrict how much screen time my 3 year old daughter has, and I feel I need to be a good role model to her and apply the same rule to myself.  I also don’t want her to feel that my phone is more important to me than she is.  It’s hard to find the right balance – I like to have something to read or look at while my eldest is at preschool and the baby is asleep in the sling so that I don’t go completely insane, but it’s addictive and I find myself looking at my phone all the time, just to check whether I’ve got any messages or notifications.

What am I hoping to achieve by simplifying my life?  More time, more money, more space, more freedom, more happiness and more enjoyment.

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My Body Is Amazing! (PS Yours Is Too)

So here is a post about my post-pregnancy body.  It does not include weight loss tips or an exercise plan.  I know traditionally we’re all supposed to hate our bodies after we give birth, but actually, after my successful VBAC in February, I LOVE my body.  I think it is the most awesome miraculous thing in the world!  It doesn’t look like the pictures you see in magazines of how we are supposed to look, but I don’t give a crap about all of that nonsense.  My  body has grown and fed two tiny human beings! That is a million times better than being able to wear a bikini.

Giving birth has made me feel like the cleverest person in the world.  I am amazed by what my body can do and has done.  I feel stronger than I ever have done before.  I feel like I can do anything now, it’s an addictive feeling.  I want to challenge myself.  I can’t wait to get my running shoes on again – it’s been a while!  I’m considering signing up for a 10K run to get that buzz of completing a challenge and physical achievement again.

And now I feel like my body is a temple, what I put into it is more important than ever.  I’ve been dabbling with the Paleo diet for about a year and a half now, but basically by cutting back on processed food including grains (because how much processing does an ear of wheat have to go through in order to make spaghetti?) and eating more whole foods instead, I have so much more energy (all the better to cope with the disrupted nights!), better digestion, no more bloating, better skin, more even moods, and generally just feel so much better. Don’t get me wrong I’m not perfect, sometimes we still have sandwiches for lunch or pasta for dinner, and it’s hard to resist the lure of the biscuit tin when you’ve been awake all night.  But I’ve definitely found that eating better makes me feel better.

My point is, my body is amazing and is capable of amazing things.  Yours is amazing too.  Look after it and keep it that way!  And forget about the idiots who want to help you get back your pre-pregnancy body; they are probably just trying to sell you something.

Motherhood is not Martyrdom

In parenting magazines and blogs you will often find references to the difficulty of finding ‘me time’ once you are a mum and how guilty mothers feel for taking any time for themselves. It’s like a competition with mothers competing to tell each other how many cups of tea they haven’t drunk or how many days since they’ve had a shower. Motherhood is the hardest job in the world and if you take a break or go to the toilet with the door shut, then you’re cheating.

Well today I am calling for this to come to an end. Yes, being a mum is hard work (I am generalising but statistically speaking dads still get more leisure time than mums, although of course there will be exceptions). Some days you will be simultaneously bored out of your mind and rushed of your feet. There will be days when you don’t have time to brush your teeth. And obviously you can’t spend all weekend in your PJs eating takeaway pizza and watching box sets. But mums are human beings too, you have needs, it is not a crime to look after yourself.

Make sure you take time every day to look after yourself. If you don’t take good care of yourself, how can you take care of your family? I have a 3 year old and a 3 month old and I manage to shower pretty much every day. We also have a cleaner for a couple of hours a week so that I get a chance to sit down in the evenings (to be honest, if we didn’t have a cleaner, I would still sit down in the evenings and just have a dirty house). I read, I blog (occasionally), I take 5 minutes to just drink a cup of tea and do nothing. I think of it like the oxygen masks on a plane: you have to put your own on before you can put your children’s masks on.

If all you focus on is parenting you will run yourself into the ground and be tired and irritable, and no good to anybody least of all your children. You need to make sure you fill up your own cup with things that make you feel good, whether that’s a cup of tea and a trashy novel, some yoga stretches, going to the gym or soaking in a bubble bath. It’s also modelling to your children healthy habits for their future mental health – relaxation is important and often gets overlooked in our hectic lifestyles.

Review: The Baby’s Coming by Virginia Howes

This book tells the inspiring story of Virginia Howes and how she came to be an independent midwife, which she has been doing for 14 years. It’s not a typical career path though: young mum, kissogram, midwife! It’s written in a lovely, friendly, down-to-earth style, and you feel as though you are sitting down and having a nice cup of tea and a chat with Virginia as she tells her stories.

Virginia’s book gives a good insight into hospital birth and working on a maternity ward, from describing her own birth experiences (I assumed she must have had all lovely positive home births which is not the case) and while she was training. I know things have improved since then but I do feel that a lot of what is considered normal practice in hospitals is done for the convenience of the hospital staff, and not necessarily to the benefit of the mother and baby. There is also an element of luck involved as to what type of midwife you get when you arrive – one that wants to be in control of the situation or one who is happy to take a woman-centred approach.

However the absolute best thing about this book is the birth stories. If you’ve ever had a baby, are expecting one or would like to have one, this book is full of lovely stories that will bring a tear to your eye. Some are heartwarming, some funny, some dramatic and some very sad. They are all well worth reading. If you’re a midwife or thinking of becoming one you should definitely read this book and think hard about the type of midwife you want to be.

This book also makes me a bit sad that not all women have access to this kind of care during pregnancy and birth. Having had Virginia as my independent midwife during my second pregnancy, I know from first-hand experience that it makes such a difference to have continuity of care and have someone that you know and trust, and who knows you, your history and your wishes, at the birth. It was lovely to be treated like a person rather than a disaster waiting to happen. Sadly this type of care might not be available much longer as Independent Midwifery will become illegal due to EU Legislation which means independent midwifes have to have insurance – yet no insurance is currently available for them to buy!

I read this book in under a week – no mean feat with a 3 year old and a newborn baby in the house! I found it unputdownable, and I’ve already lent it to one of my friends who is expecting. It was really interesting to learn about Virginia’s life and what led her to become a midwife. I’d just like to know if my birth story might feature in one of Virginia’s future books!

Finding Time for Mindfulness

When you are a mum there isn’t much time for formal meditation. However even the busiest person can find time for mindfulness. Mindfulness is like meditation on the go. I find since I have started practising mindfulness whenever I remember I have more energy, I am able to be more patient, I lose my temper less and I enjoy the little things more. I also find it easier to be present and pay attention to the here and now rather than seeking distraction (e.g. Facebook, checking email etc).

Here are my favourite ways to practise mindfulness and being present whilst looking after my 2 young children:
– on a walk paying attention to the sights, sounds and smells around instead of being on autopilot
– eating or drinking mindfully, paying attention to the taste and texture of what I am eating/drinking, even if just for a couple of bites
– take a deep breath and release any tension that has built up in my body through the day
– focus fully on any mundane, repetitive task I am doing, telling myself over and over ‘I am washing up/chopping/hanging out washing’ to help keep my mind present
– look out the window for a minute
– focusing on my breathing for a moment

My practice is very imperfect and I am no Zen master but it all helps. I think of it as a mini-break for my mind, a moment of peace from the chaos around me and in my own head.

What are your favourite ways to practise mindfulness?

Is The ‘Birth Experience’ Really Important?

The phrase ‘positive birth experience’ conjours up two images: one of treating birth as a spiritual experience, peacefully wallowing in a birth pool with candles and new age music playing and dining on the placenta afterwards, the other approaching it as some sort of athletic endurance event with no medication allowed and a fair amount of blood, sweat and tears.  In my opinion, what is important about the birth experience is not necessarily what happened, but how you feel about what happened, whether you gave birth at on a labour ward, in a midwife-led unit, or at home, whether you had a vaginal birth or a c-section.

There is also the school of thought that ‘a healthy baby is all that matters’.  Well, no, getting pregnant does not make you a vessel for your unborn child.  A pregnant woman is still a human being with rights and feelings.  Being pregnant doesn’t give anyone the right to bully you, frighten you, or do things to you without your consent.  You still have the right to make decisions and choices about what happens during pregnancy, labour and birth.  And what mum would knowingly make a decision that harms her baby anyway?  Other people say that it is just one day of your life and so it doesn’t really matter what happens – but I would argue that it is a momentous occasion and what happens can affect you for a long time afterwards.

Adjusting to life as a new mum can be a challenge.  There is a steep learning curve involved.  There is a lot to come to terms with; suddenly going from one being to two, lack of sleep, learning how to take care of a newborn, and the physical healing process from the birth.  Getting off to a good start, and feeling happy and positive makes it much easier.  Or, to put it another way, if you start of full of negative feelings, anxiety, fear or unhappiness, it makes it much harder.

I’ve had one negative and one positive birth experience.  The negative one (my first birth) left me feeling very anxious, like my body was stuck on ‘high alert’ all the time, and this affected how I felt about myself as a mother, and how I dealt with the day-to-day challenges of looking after a tiny person who has very limited communication.  I jumped every time my baby made a sound and dreaded her waking up, I felt like a terrible mother and went into a panic when my baby cried because I felt like I wasn’t good enough.  I remember people asking me ‘are you enjoying it?’ (being a mum) and although I smiled and said yes, inside I was thinking ‘What??? Are you mad???’.  I was exhausted not just from the disturbed nights but from being anxious and angry all the time, and trying to process and come to terms with what had happened.  It took me over a year before I felt anything like  ‘normal’ again, and it was over two years (and some counselling) before I felt ready to face another pregnancy.

The positive birth, on the other hand, left me on a high.  It was a planned home VBAC that ended in hospital (click for the full story).  When they placed my baby on my chest I felt like I could take on the world, I was totally relaxed and happy.  I would willingly do it all again, and I actually feel a bit sad that we don’t plan to have any more children.  This time I feel full of energy and love (although exhausted at the end of the day of course!).  I think it is telling that my second baby has started smiling two weeks earlier than my first, because I am smiling at her all day!  I expected life with two small children to be a case of grit your teeth and get through it, but if you asked me now ‘are you enjoying it?’ the answer would be a resounding ‘Yes!’.

Coming back to the phrase ‘birth experience’ – I don’t think a positive birth is dependent on a checklist of what you should or should not do.  It is possible to find a home birth traumatic, and a c-section wonderful.  I think really it comes down to knowing what you want, and making the right choices to make it happen.  Obviously sometimes there are special circumstances, and things don’t go to plan, but if you feel calm and in control of what is happening then you will feel strong and empowered rather than frightened or even traumatised.   The ripple effect of how you feel about your birth can affect your life, and your whole family, for a long time afterwards.

My VBAC Success Story

Things have been a bit quiet on the blog lately, because our baby girl finally arrived!  Here is the story of how she came into the world… My first birth was an emergency c-section after a failed induction.  This time I had planned a home water birth (HWBAC) with an independent midwife.  My partner and I also had HypnoBirthing classes during the pregnancy (I used the self-hypnosis CDs in my first pregnancy which didn’t help me at all).

It was about 2am and my 3-year-old woke up, needing to be tucked back into bed, and I realised I was having contractions about 10-15 minutes apart.  They just felt like my belly was going hard and tight and I practised my hypnobirthing breathing with each one.  I tried to go back to sleep but I was too excited so I came downstairs and started listening to my hypnobirthing CD so that I was at least resting.  About 4.30 in the morning I went to the loo and felt a pop as my waters released.  After that the contractions started coming every 4-5 minutes, but they were still easily manageable.  I woke my husband up so that he could help me time the contractions and because I was hoping things would move along quickly!  About 5.30am he decided we should call the midwife but she said that I was too happy and chatty and that she would phone back later.

Our daughter woke up at around 6.30am as usual and came downstairs.  My husband got her dressed and made her breakfast.  I was still quite happy breathing through the contractions at this point and we explained that the baby was coming today!  She was very excited to hear this!  Over the next few hours things gradually got more intense and I started making quite a lot of noise with each contraction (apologies to the neighbours!).  We had explained previously that mummy might make some funny noises and we laughed about how I sounded like a dinosaur.  The midwife came over at around 10.30am and examined me but said that it was still early (later I found out I was still only 1cm!) and that she would be back later that afternoon.  I was quite disappointed as I felt like I’d already been going for ages!

As things progressed I was finding it more difficult to focus, I was getting noisier and couldn’t find any comfortable  position, even between contractions.  At about 1pm we decided to send my daughter to a friend’s house, thinking it would only be a few more hours, as I felt I needed more support from my husband, and she was beginning to get a bit upset by the noise.  We also phoned my hypnobirthing teacher and asked her to come over.  When she arrived she helped me focus on getting into a rhythm with each contraction, and we all ended up chanting ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1, relax’ together which helped me immensely.  She also made me repeat over and over ‘I can do it, I will do it’ which really helped me to find some more strength from somewhere.  We also tried a few different things to help speed things along and try to ensure baby was in a good position and to get me more comfortable, like walking up and down the  stairs.  I also got in the pool for a while but I was surprised to find that it didn’t help at all!

Then my midwife arrived (timings are a bit hazy by this point!) and said she would stay this time.  I checked myself and realised that I could feel the head coming down!  I also started having a massive urge to push with each contraction.  It was like nothing I had ever imagined.  My hypnobirthing training had led me to expect that I could gently breathe down the baby with each surge, but it was like my whole body just decided it was time to PUSH!!!!! and there was nothing I could do about it.  So instead of breathing the baby down I just tried to let go and not resist the pushing, and let my body get on with it.  I was determined to get the baby out before my daughter’s bedtime so that she could come home.   I kept expecting the midwife to say she could see the head at any moment but nothing happened.  After about 2 hours I checked myself again and realised that the head hadn’t moved at all.  Not one tiny bit! I was devastated!  My midwife examined me to confirm and we tried a few different things to try and help baby move down, but she wasn’t budging.  After another half an hour I realised we were getting nowhere fast and asked to go to hospital.  My midwife agreed that we had tried everything and hadn’t made any progress, and that we did need medical intervention.

My midwife called an ambulance and we transferred to hospital.  When we arrived I started using gas and air because I was exhausted from all the pushing and I really wanted to stop.  A doctor came and said that they would try ventouse, otherwise it would be a c-section.  I was scared at the prospect of another c-section (I have a *huge* phobia of hospitals and surgery) but thanks to the hypnobirthing I was able to stay calm and relaxed, I also realised that there really wasn’t much choice at this point.  However we had a massive delay because there was one emergency after another, and only one theatre, and so we ended up waiting a further 4 HOURS before it was my turn to go into theatre, all the while pushing and trying not to!  So in total I was pushing for 7 hours – luckily it didn’t feel like that long, and I stayed calm the whole time, which I think is down to hypnobirthing again.

Once I got into theatre I had a spinal block which was blessed relief after all that pushing.  I was relieved that things were finally coming to an end and was even able to laugh and joke with the hospital staff.  They did an episiotomy and used the ventouse, and with 2 massive pushes/pulls the baby was out.  I couldn’t believe it! I had done it!  It wasn’t quite the lovely peaceful home water birth I had imagined but I was still over the moon!  I felt like the strongest woman in the world, like I could do anything now.  When they put my baby on my chest I was so happy, it was the best feeling in the whole world.  It was amazing.  In fact I’d say I’m still on a high now, 4 weeks later.

I am so thankful to my husband for being there and supporting me, my hypnobirthing teacher for going over and above the call of duty and helping me out on the day, and my fantastic midwife for being completely respectful and making me feel like every decision was my decision.  Between the three of them I felt calm and relaxed throughout the whole experience, even when we transferred to hospital, and although things didn’t quite go to plan it was still a really positive experience which has helped to heal a lot of the hurt from my first birth.