The illustrations

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.

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Here are some examples of the evolution of the artworks.

Illo 3 Illo 1 Illo 5

 

Illo 2 Continue reading The illustrations

A safety net made of love

Cheryl StrayedCheryl Strayed is a writer from Portland, Oregon. She has written fiction, a famous memoir called Wild, and an advice column called Dear Sugar. Her writing as Sugar spawned the incredible book Tiny Beautiful Things.

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.

I have been loved to well to ruin my

Mum, Dad and me
Mum, Dad and me

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.

I hope this gift of love is present in our book.

 

Grateful for: Pinky McKay

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.

Pinky YDGB praise

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.

 

Inspiration for our illustrations

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:

On the rug with Dad

Illo inspiration 3
Both boys loved this hold when they were feeling over it in the evenings.

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.

Continue reading Inspiration for our illustrations

Our story so far

I want to share some snippets of our story to show why we wanted to write You’re Doing Great Baby.

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:

It’s not all challenges though. There have been many, many joys. Especially once the mental health and breastfeeding issues had settled down. I have also written about the good times:

Stuff I want to say to you about breastfeeding challenges

This is part three of a three-part series about breastfeeding with Insufficient Glandular Tissue.

IMG_2806You 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.

Continue reading Stuff I want to say to you about breastfeeding challenges

We’re now on Kickstarter

KickstarterWe’ve got some exciting news! We’ve finished writing and illustrating the book and are now looking to get the book made as a board book.

We’ve set up a Kickstarter page to help us raise money to get board books printed.

Between now and 31st August, you’ll be able to visit the page to read more about the project, pledge your support, and get a reward (such as copies of the book!).

If we don’t reach $5000 in pledges by 31st August, none of the pledges will be processed and we won’t be able to order the board books. So please support us!

We’re also very excited to share a special preview page with you! You can read the whole book right now (unless you have babies or small kids with you, in which case you will be interrupted).

Thanks so much for being part of this with us.

Rewards

Rewards
All reward values are in Australian dollars and include postage within Australia.

 

 

Unhelpful things said to new parents

I had some unhelpful things said to me when I was a new Mum that have rung in my ears for five and a half years.

I may never forget them, but with time they are losing their power. In some ways a new mother is as fragile and vulnerable as their tiny baby.

The power dynamic between people makes a big difference to how a comment is taken. Comments from people in positions of power, such as health professionals and elder family members, can be particularly hurtful.

The two comments that have haunted me the most are to do with breastfeeding, and they were both said to me by people in a position of power.

You'll only ever make enough milk to

Formula lucky

I felt deep shame about not being able to breastfeed Leo exclusively due to what was eventually diagnosed as Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT). My condition made me feel like I wasn’t a proper woman and had no right to be a mother, so those comments cut me to the bone.

Often the comments that hurt the most are the ones that connect with an insecurity you already had. It’s like they agree with the critic you carry on your shoulder that tells you you’re a crappy Mum/Dad/person.

Hey peeps

Passing comments from well meaning family, friends or strangers along the lines of ‘enjoy every second’ can make you feel like an ungrateful bitch if you are not having a great time.

Often if you talk to the person telling you to enjoy every moment, they will be only to happy to talk about the times they themselves didn’t enjoy every moment. It is so easy to forget the power of that early time and everything going on for new parents. I am guilty of this myself – babies and little kids look so cute that you forget how intense life with them can be and how they can push any parent to their limits.

Sometimes innocent questions like “have you tried leaving them to cry/giving them a dummy/hanging their cot from the ceiling from an elephant’s tail” can drive a new parent INSANE! Too. Many. People. Telling. Me. What. I. Should. Do.

What I am learning over and over again is that comments like those above – that are either designed to hurt, or not designed to hurt but they do – often say more about the person saying them and their preoccupations and issues, than about the person it was said to. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

Some comments people made to me about how much their baby slept or fed or ate or pooed or cooed induced pangs of guilt or fear in me. Once again, they were unhelpful without meaning to be. Those comments rang in my ears too, but not as much as comments levelled directly at how I was doing as a mum or how my baby was doing.

Comparison of yourself to others is probably worthy of a whole post of its own. By the way, please let me know if you want to write something about comparison (or anything) for the blog! Would love to have some guest posts. :)

Did you have something really unhelpful said to you when your baby was small (or at any stage in parenthood) that you’d like to get out of your mind?

People say great stuff too! I’ve also written about the helpful things people say to new parents.

One thing we were sure of when writing You’re Doing Great, Baby was that we didn’t want to be giving advice on how to feed, settle or take care of your baby. We hope this gives people room to see themselves in the characters and that no-one is made to feel guilty by our book.

Blog 300x300 kickstarter2

Where else would I rather be?

When I first had Leo, I had a major case of FOMO. Not leaving the house to go to work five days a week, and realising that I hadn’t been out at night for months, was a major adjustment. I think Leo was about five months old when I first went out for a quick dinner with a friend (just down the road so I could rush home if I needed to).

All of the measures of success I had subscribed to up until now (academic, career, creative output, good relationships, number of friends, how busy I was) – they all meant NOTHING.

SO WHO THE HELL WAS I NOW? I didn’t recognise myself.

Who are you again?
The first time we took Leo out to a cafe

It took me a while, but ultimately I came to like the new ‘me’.

New me:

  • Prioritised sleep over pretty much everything else.
  • Thought about someone else before myself.
  • Could say ‘no’ more easily.
  • Was more comfortable in my own company.
  • Could communicate my needs.

Three years after I became a mum, my friend Tabitha had her first baby. We have an ongoing conversation about all things to do with motherhood and one day we had a conversation about all the things you give up when you have a child. All the things that go on hold – some of them never to be picked up again.

I am not sure which one of us said it, but we decided that the key question was “Where else would I rather be?” The vast majority of the time, the answer was (and is) “nowhere“, which was quite a shocking realisation at the time. As much as the days drag on sometimes, by the time it’s the kids’ bedtime, I look forward to stories and bath-time and kissing their soft cheeks and having a sniff of their heads (I’m a head sniffer like my Dad). It’s a mixture of exhaustion, growing older and Stockholm Syndrome… It’s also the knowledge that, as Gretchen Rubin says

The days are long, but the years are short.

Some days I need reminding, but much of the time I am in touch with the fact that there will be plenty of time for dinner parties and long baths by myself and going to the toilet without someone sitting on my lap. (I wrote more about my attempt to live in the present moment in my post about Sarah Napthali’s book Buddhism for Mothers).

Comedian and father Louis C.K. put all this very eloquently:

“When I first got married and had kids, I had some friends I played poker with on Mondays and I thought: The poker game on Mondays, that’s the water line. If I don’t make that game, I’m losing something. I’m losing something if I don’t make it to that game. It means I’m letting go of my youth, I’m letting go of my manhood, all these things — my independence.

“But then after a while I realized: Why would I want to go play poker with a bunch of guys in a smoky room when I could be at home with my family? I realized that a lot of the things that my kid was taking away from me, she was freeing me of. There was this huge pride in having a kid and also that I didn’t matter anymore. The greatest thing about having a child is putting yourself second in your own life. It’s a massive gift to be able to say you’re not the most important person to yourself.”

Transitions and going back to work

My desk at home
This is my desk at home, including: phone, breastfeeding herbs, breakfast, dinner makings, Leo’s word wall and nappies to put together.

I am going back to my job part-time next week after 14 months of maternity leave.

It brings a chapter of my life to a close and another one is beginning. I look forward to: listening to podcasts on my commute, wearing dangly earrings, being part of a team, talking to other adults, warm tea, learning new things, yoga in the office on Fridays and eating lunch without a million interruptions. But as much as I’m looking forward to the break from total 24/7 parenting, I am also sad about missing out on time with Clem and Leo. It’s a balancing act, right?

If mothering was a paid job I would sit down with my boss each year and reflect on what I’ve achieved and identify the areas I need to work on. Instead, I’ll tell you. I have:

  • Loved and cared for little Clem.
  • Loved and cared for Leo, and helped him transition to big school.
  • Recovered from my second bout of postnatal psychosis and depression (the first was after Leo’s birth).*
  • Developed my skills as a cook/cleaner/playmate/dispute resolutions consultant/mumma bear/school mum/washerwoman.
  • Worked hard on everything to do with this book (we are going to launch our crowdfunding campaign to actually get the book printed in August – more details to come of course!).

It’s been great work – all of it. I am so grateful to have had this precious time with my family.

The areas I need to work on are: going with the flow, working exercise into my everyday routine, spending time with Jeff where we are not sitting on the couch working on our laptops, and not flying off the handle at Leo.

I find the time right before a change or transition the hardest. The waiting, the over-thinking – gets me frazzled every time.

Baby and kid land is full of transitions. It gives you the chance to really hone your ‘going with the flow’ skills. Kids are great at living in the moment, but heaven knows I need all the practice I can get!

  • Transitions are hardDropping naps
  • Toilet training
  • New beds
  • New ways of getting to sleep
  • Starting solids
  • Weaning
  • Going back to work
  • New siblings
  • New daycare/preschool/big school

I am exhausted just reading this list! But we get through it all, and afterwards I can’t see what all the fuss was about.

If I’m feeling tense and overwhelmy about a change coming up I try to remind myself that it is going to happen whether I resist it, wish it away, or just hang in there. So I may as well relax into it as much as I can and enjoy the ride.

* I am slipping this in like it’s no big deal, but this has been a big challenge for me. It’s something I will have a post devoted to soon because often people stay quiet about mental health issues and I am ready to talk about it.

– For more about ‘going with the flow’ – see my post about the book ‘Buddhism for Mothers’