Although we were talking about picture ideas from the beginning, Jeff and I wrote the text for You’re Doing Great, Baby (which you can read in full online here) before we drew any pictures for it.
Jeff is by far the better drawer of the two of us, and we thought it would be fun to keep the project just us, so he did the drawings and I coloured them in with watercolours.
If I ever need proof that practicing something over and over makes you better at it, then this is it. Jeff drew and drew, honing the characters as he went. I coloured some of the pictures five times before we were happy with them.
Some pictures (like Mum and Baby lying on the mat on the grass) took two weeks to finish. So many blades of grass! And we did that one three or four times.
Here are some examples of the evolution of the artworks.
Birth is such an important time in a woman’s life. When a baby is born, a mother is born as well. Here are some thoughts about my two birth experiences with our boys. Reading other people’s birth stories has helped me process my own experiences, so I am offering these up in the hope they may help someone else.
Leo’s birth in haiku
Labouring at home
Get to hospital: freak out!
Vaccum and he’s here
Leo’s birth was traumatic for me (and probably for him too). We laboured beautifully at home (got to 9cm dilated), but when we got to hospital things went pear-shaped. He was born with the use of ventouse extraction, with a lot of fear and a bunch of medical people we had never met before in the room. He was whisked away for oxygen before I could hold him, or even look at him. We were reunited about twenty minutes later, but it was the longest twenty minutes of my life.
For the first few hours after he was born I felt like it had all been wonderful. I had a beautiful, healthy baby after all.
But then the memories of the birth started coming back to me in bits and pieces, along with a flood of emotions. I remembered being told not to push when I had the urge to (with no explanation) and then later being told crossly that I wasn’t pushing hard enough or fast enough and that my baby was in danger. I remembered the rushed episiotomy. The phone call for back-up being made in haste and the room being filled with medical professionals and bright light and me flat on my back.
I remembered the last thing I heard before he was born was the obstetrician saying to the midwife “of course the heart-rate would be fine now…”
Nothing was explained to me about what had just happened. It felt like I could have just dreamt it all.
“A woman is more likely to develop PTSD if she feels like all control has been taken from her and she is the passive object of other’s ministrations. She isn’t asked for consent, for example, for different maneuvers which they may do. She’s supposed to shut up and let them get on with doing the birth. And she comes out of that feeling helpless, and this helplessness can persist in other areas of her life too, so it’s not just the birth. So she gives up and feels that it isn’t justified for her to take responsibility for anything. And women can feel this for many, many years and I’ve had women in their 60s and 70s call me to talk about births which they haven’t yet worked through and this experience has stayed with them and incapacitated them.”
Sheila Kitzinger (1929-2015), author and birth activist
I believe in Jane Hardwicke Collings‘ idea that “everyone has the birth they need to have to teach them what they need to learn on their journey to wholeness.” She also believes that we learn something from each birth that helps women mother their child. Through Leo’s birth I learnt that I didn’t know how to communicate my needs effectively. Everything that I learnt during Leo’s birth, and in those early months as his mother, taught me how to tell people what I needed and how to advocate for myself and him. Now that Leo is five, it makes my heart sing to see how easily he tells people what he needs. That was always something I struggled with as a child (and as an adult).
Pretty much every time I listen to Cheryl’s Dear Sugar Radio podcast, which she does with Steve Almond, I am struck hard by the truth of something she says. She manages to articulate things that my body/heart knows but my mind didn’t. I am so inspired by her writing and her honest, compassionate advice.
In an episode entitled ‘The Wounded Child Within’, the Sugars address a letter writer grappling with the question: “Are we ever able to fully let go of our past?”
In answering the question Cheryl touches on her own past (which included the all-encompassing love of her mother, an absent and abusive father, and the death of her mother when Cheryl was in her early twenties). After her mothers’ death, Cheryl became self-destructive as a way of coping with her grief. (She chronicles this period of her life in her memoir Wild.) In reflecting on how it is that she managed to survive that period of her life she said:
I had been loved too well to ruin my life.
This idea feels familiar to me, and yet I had never thought of it like that before. I want to put it in bold with rainbows behind it, because I think it is true and amazing.
My parents loved/love me in a way that makes me want a good life for myself and my own family. Their love is present in me like a cell that has divided again and again and is the blue print for my love for myself and my loved ones.
Their parenting wasn’t perfect (just as I am not a perfect parent). Can we just agree there’s no such thing as a perfect parent?
They did their best and there is something about their love which keeps me on a loving path with myself. It’s my safety net. I have had tough times in my life. I have made bad decisions. But ultimately I know how to love myself because of how they loved me.
But what if we weren’t loved by our parents in a way that nourishes us? My Mum had a troubled relationship with her own parents, and she felt saved by the love of her maternal grandmother. Her Gran’s love is present in her love for me.
Surely giving our children this love safety net is one of the greatest things we can do for them.
I find it very comforting to visualise an imperfect but beautiful safety net made of the love of all of my ancestors, present inside of me and my children.
Pinky McKay is a lactation consultant who writes about parenting. Her catch- cry is:
Be as gentle to yourself and your beloved as you are to your little one(s).
She talks honestly about mummy self-doubt, how overwhelming new motherhood can be, and how parenthood changes relationships with partners, friends and family. I found what she has to say about the wide range of ‘normal’ when it comes to baby sleep very comforting.
She feels like a kindly aunt rather than a parenting expert and every time I receive one of her newsletters there’s something useful in there. Her own children are grown up, but she still manages to remember what those early times felt like and her compassion and non-judgemental attitude towards new parents is very inspiring. Leo’s favourite muffin recipe is even based on her oatmeal muffins (I add choc chips and raspberries).
She was kind enough to write a lovely endorsement of our book.
It was through Pinky’s Parenting by Heart program that I found the work of Naomi Stadlen who wrote the great book What Mothers Do – Especially When It Looks Like Nothing. Naomi uses the voices and experiences of real mums to explore the unseen work of mothers and their incredible bond with their children.
Thank you Pinky for everything you do for new parents.
Jeff needed quite a bit of persuasion before he was willing to draw the pictures for our book. I like to call him “the reluctant illustrator”. It sounds all elusive and brooding – which if you’ve ever met Jeff is totally not how he is.
I love Jeff’s illustrations so much, and it was incredible to watch his drawings get better and better as he practiced. I’m going to do a post about the evolution of the artworks soon.
While we were still coming up with the story, we toyed around with the idea of having illustrations of lots of different parents and babies (a la favourites The Baby’s Catalogue or Look At You! A Baby Body Book). But in the end we decided that the best way to tell the story was to depict one parent (a Mum – the most common primary care-giver) and baby.
A lot of the illustrations you see in the book were inspired by experiences we had had and photos from Leo and Clem’s early life. Here are some examples:
I will spare you the photo of me going to the toilet with a baby on my lap. Although variations on that scenario happen almost daily, we had to stage it because funnily enough that wasn’t part of our family album.
When I was a new mum I read A LOT of blogs and articles about things that I was going through and wanting to learn more about, and I found it really helpful and normalising to read unvarnished tales of motherhood. I hope that in turn it is helpful for people to read about our story.
The main challenges I faced when I first became a mother were:
Mental health issues. I have had postnatal depression (PND), which was later diagnosed as mild postnatal psychosis, after both of my children.
This is part three of a three-part series about breastfeeding with Insufficient Glandular Tissue.
You can read my breastfeeding story here. This post is a collection of everything I’ve wanted to get off my chest (ahem, pardon the pun 😉 about facing breastfeeding challenges.
Just because you can’t exclusively breastfeed it doesn’t mean you can’t breastfeed at all.
Please don’t judge bottle-feeding mums.
Please don’t judge women who have stopped breastfeeding after breastfeeding challenges.
Please don’t judge any mums!
The things women are told to do to increase their supply are very daunting for a first-time mother still learning the ropes. It’s all very well to say to feed and pump around the clock, but when you have a baby who takes a long time to settle, naps for 40 min stretches, needs you to hold them constantly and their feeds take an hour (as Leo’s did), that’s pretty much impossible.
Formula is necessary for some women, for lots of different reasons. I felt like I was feeding him poison at first because of everything I’d heard and that’s soul destroying.
To health professionals dealing with women with breastfeeding challenges, including IGT
Please acknowledge a woman’s grief when breastfeeding doesn’t turn out as she had expected.
A new mother is as vulnerable as her tiny baby. She’s spent 9+ months nurturing this little person and she wants the absolute best for them and it’s very confronting if you can’t give them what they need.
This is part two of a three part series about living with Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT).
You can read about my story here. Here are some things I have learnt from my two experiences of breastfeeding (and supplementing with formula) due to IGT.
Best is best, sweet lady.
Only you can forgive yourself.
Try to make peace with, and love, your breasts. They are doing their best.
Give yourself permission to grieve and feel sad/disappointed/angry.
It’s not always going to feel so hard.
IGT fucking sucks.
Just because you can’t exclusively breastfeed it doesn’t mean you can’t breastfeed at all.
The vast majority of people who see you breastfeeding/bottle feeding/using a supply line won’t judge you. They may be curious if they see you mix feeding, but they won’t judge you. Women often give themselves a much harder time than anyone else would.
Surround yourself with support. Because IGT and related conditions are pretty rare, sometimes your best support will be from other mums online. Like the amazing IGT Mamas Facebook group.
Once I imagined love, rather than just milk, being transferred through both breastfeeding and bottle feeding, I felt so much better about it all.
It’s really annoying to read in a lot of breastfeeding literature that it’s very uncommon to have bonafide low supply (i.e. supply issues that aren’t due to some other issue with baby’s latch or introducing formula etc.) when you have bonafide low supply.
It’s World Breastfeeding Week this week and to celebrate I wanted to write about my breastfeeding journeys with my two boys. It’s not a conventional story of “successful” breastfeeding, but I am proud of our story.
I was diagnosed with Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT) when Leo (my eldest son) was 3 days old. I had been expecting to breastfeed through any challenges that came our way. I had read all the literature about ‘boobie traps’ and formula compromising your supply, so it was a horrible shock to have health professionals telling me that I needed to supplement him. I thought that if I saw enough Lactation Consultants someone would tell me that it had all been a bad dream, but no-one could tell me that I’d ever be able to produce enough milk for my little one.
Every bottle felt like a reminder of my inadequacy and failure as a mother.
To say that I was shattered by not being able to exclusively breastfeed is an understatement. I left the hospital feeling like Mother Nature and hours later I felt like a worthless piece of junk. It felt like I was grieving for a death – the death of a relationship with the most precious person in the world. I felt deeply ashamed of feeding Leo formula, and bewildered by all the extra jobs: sterilising bottles, counting out scoops of formula, having a warm bottle ready for him as soon as he needed it – all at a time of the greatest sleep deprivation.
Chronic low supply is chronically depressing! Every time I expressed I was faced with it, every time he chugged down a bottle of formula I was faced with it. Eventually I had to stop pumping after his breastfeed in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep afterwards.
In those early days breastfeeding feels like mothering itself, and many of you would agree. Part of me agrees… I loved our time we had breastfeeding. BUT, when you have something like this happen, you’ve got to find another way of thinking or else you’ll go mad. It’s the first question you’re asked by GPs and other health professionals: “Are you breastfeeding?”. So if you ‘fail’ at breastfeeding it feels like you’ve failed full stop. Making new mothers feel like failures is so unhelpful.