It’s been a long time. I thought I didn’t have anything to say but actually there was too much and I felt all muddled and lost, like I was in the middle of a confusing chapter. Now the pieces are all falling into place and I can see that this year has been all about reclaiming myself. I stopped breastfeeding Leona at the start of the year, I got therapy, Leona started preschool in September, I had my first nights away from her in October, I have been taking on new projects away from home, and I stopped taking my immunosuppressive medication. We also had covid in the middle of it all, so it’s been a journey!
Last winter, Leona and I were sick constantly; it was so draining. Then spring came around and I thought that we would catch a break, but we caught covid instead. It was rough. After a week of having a sore tummy and zero appetite, then a week of flu-like symptoms, Leona and I went outside for a walk and made it about 10 meters from the front door before getting breathless and heading back to bed. A few days later I decided my appetite was back but I didn’t have the energy to cook. We went out for dinner and Dave and I got food poisoning for two weeks! We were both pretty destroyed after that but it was non-stop with travel plans and parenting. So it was no wonder it took me so long to get well again. But I was so sick and tired of being so damn sick and tired over the last few years, I was determined to tough it out. No long covid for me thank you, I’ve had enough problems. By June I had to admit that things were not good for me, especially the fatigue, anxiety and my fuzzy eyesight. I reluctantly went back to the elimination-phase diet, started sleeping more and put everything else on hold. It was really hard for me to accept that I had to go back to square one. But that relapse taught me so many important lessons. Now I don’t feel in a hurry to add more to my diet, to come off my medication, to give up meditating, to get back to being busy. It will all come when the time is right.
The summer was spent travelling to weddings and visiting family and friends. Any time we did spend on our project was on the land. We weeded out brambles, harvested lots of berries and tended our trees and bushes. And as the months went by, I slowly began to feel a little better.
Throughout the summer we noticed that Leona had so much energy and a need to be out and about with other people, but we were struggling to find the time and energy to keep up with the input she needed. She stopped napping after turning 2 and slept 10 hours a night, so I never had any time off. I was exhausted just thinking about arranging multiple play-dates and outings every week. So we went to spend some afternoons at the local school to see how it was. She loved it! But she didn’t want to go without me… So that was our challenge in September, helping the transition whilst she got to know the teachers and kids. After a couple of weeks she started to enjoy it and it’s been a total game-changer. She only goes for five hours a day on weekdays, although amidst the holidays and sick days, she has only ever done one full week so far! We have a nice balance now and enjoy spending time together as well as our time apart.
Those five hours (four after drop-off and pick-up) on school day mornings go by pretty quick. But the extra autonomy and brain space has freed me up to take on other responsibilities in life. The community association that we’ve been talking about getting off the ground for years is finally getting started. It’s an umbrella association for community groups in the area, helping them get access to members, public buildings, funding and other resources. Two friends whose kids are grown and whose house is finished have taken on much of the admin that we didn’t have the time or experience for. Somehow I have ended up President of the association, giving talks and getting involved in building the structure of it. I knew it was a role that I was going to love, but when I took it on I was worried about having the energy to do it. Now I’ve got more energy, I’ve got my role and we have a great group of people bringing different skills. I’m absolutely loving being involved in it. It does take up more of my time than I bargained for, which I’m embracing but Dave hates because it’s time and energy that isn’t going into building the house!
I have also been working on a project at the house. It has been grumbling along in the background for over a year but is finally progressing since school started. I had an idea to put a mosaic up behind the wood-burning stove, not realising what a project I was taking on! Oh, I’ll just smash up some tiles and make a picture, I thought…. Hm. It has been so much more labour-intensive than I imagined! But I have enjoyed working on it more than I could have hoped.
I wanted a picture of a barn owl. Owls symbolise change and inner wisdom. It was the hoot of the barn owl that called us here that night we slept in a tent outside this house and decided to make it our own. This mosaic is a project that Dave and I have actually collaborated on – it’s been a delight to have our strengths come together on something. He hasn’t done any of the physical work but he has given me so much useful advice when I have asked for it, particularly with regard to proportion and colour, which I wasn’t expecting. One of my artist friends drew this gorgeous picture for me and then I’ve worked out how to translate that into mosaic form. I have learned so much – I have had to dig deep for patience, hone an eye for detail and learn when to go back and re-do something and when to let it be. Of course it’s not perfect, it’s my first mosaic. But the process is so valuable to me and I love how it is turning out. It feels like a physical representation of my personal journey – ever-so-slow, stop and start, but starting to be recognisable as something, maybe even something beautiful.
It’s quite fitting that I haven’t finished it before Christmas as I planned. The final two weeks I blanked out in the diary all turned out to be sick days. You’ll have to wait for the final picture in the new year – we can learn patience together.
And now I’m coming full circle back to my health to end today’s chapter on a very satisfying note. Last November (2021) I had my regular immunosuppressive treatment, which according to my neurologist’s plan was being gradually spaced out to be an annual treatment. I had a checkup in August when he was booking me in for my next treatment. “Erm,” I piped up “Actually I am planning to skip that one, see how I get on.” He’s a quiet, considerate sort of person and there was a long pause. He didn’t try to dissuade me, although he did make it clear that this was not a normal course of action. Once he was sure that I had made up my mind, he booked me for another checkup in October. When this happened, I was nowhere near convinced that I was ready to go drug-free. I was still feeling the effects of long covid, but I figured it was worth a go. I mean, I can always start taking it again.
Part of my post-covid recovery involved a new nutritional therapist who had me on high dose vitamin D. Over the next few months, this gave me my energy back in a way that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt like I needed to move – to exercise! I started going to a dance class and then something just shifted. I started feeling so energetic, my stiff muscles and sore joints felt better and I really felt totally cured. I wasn’t scared to come off the medication any more. Then, in typical Anna fashion, I spent a month over-doing it, not napping any more and feeling too wired to sleep well at night. I got tired again and felt quite upset about it. But this time I didn’t try to ignore it, I just started napping again and got back on track in a matter of days instead of months. Phew. So that gave me the confidence that I know how to look after myself as long as I stay tuned into my body.
I saw my neurologist in October without news. Then I had another check-up this month, and found out that my November bloodwork showed that my B-cells were back to normal levels again. I am officially off my medication! My heart jumped with excitement and soared with delight; I’m whole again.
So here we are at the end of another year, the house still isn’t anywhere near done, the vegetable garden is largely neglected and we haven’t started trying for a second child. So many of the things I expected from this year did not come to pass. But I’m working on an art project, I’m helping to run a community organisation and I am healthier than I have been in at least a decade. I am so deeply content with my life that everything we don’t yet have can wait. I am too busy enjoying the present moment.
July and August have gone by in a summery blur. Dave has been working slightly better hours (mostly), Leona and I have been out and about enjoying the summer and we’ve even had some time off together as a family.
We have spent a bit of time working on the land. Dave has been looking after the little fruit trees. I have been harvesting, drying and cooking herbs and medicinal plants. We have had our first courgettes and the pumpkins are spreading out across the land.
I built a smart-looking compost toilet over a few afternoons in July. It was such a delight to do a project on the house – I don’t think I’d done anything since Leona was born!
Dave framed out the bathroom door and started putting up plasterboard. Now his brother Dan is here and progress is being made more swiftly than we are used to. I will add some pictures at the end of his stay.
Learn & Grow
A Year of Conscious Un-doing
I feel myself at a real turning point in my healing journey. I have spent the last year trying to un-do a lot of the damage to my body – removing inflammatory foods, stopping emotional repression, and eliminating habits that didn’t serve me well. It has taken a lot of energy physically and emotionally. I really felt myself unravelling as things that I thought were part of my personality fell away, I had to wait and see what was going to be left behind, who I am at my core.
Now I can tell that I have shed my old skin I am excited about growing into a new one – one that fits me better. My old skin was a cloak that I used to fit societal norms, bend to social pressure, and respond to fear and self-doubt. My new skin will grow from love, hope and courage. It will honour my true nature and reflect my state of mind.
I have been reintroducing a few foods to my diet (nuts, seeds and dark chocolate!), walking barefoot a lot, taking dips in the cold river, and I have started to get interested in natural movement (climbing trees for fitness). I feel more alive and free than ever and most importantly I feel that my decisions are deliberate and conscious choices that spring from a place of curiosity and care.
I want to start honouring my true nature by changing the way I talk. My whole life I have rolled my eyes at anyone who talked about signs from the universe and connecting spiritually with nature. No longer! I will share what is in my heart. You don’t have to like it or agree with it but I do have to be true to myself.
A few months ago I read Braiding Sweetgrass, a collection of stories and teachings about building a relationship of reciprocity with nature. It contains examples of how humans can learn from plants and animals if we are tuned into their wisdom. I loved the idea but I couldn’t seem to garner any wisdom from the plants I encountered, I mean, it’s not like they can talk to me! How is this supposed to work?
Then the other day I was mulling on a problem – I was feeling a lot of resistance about working to establish a community association that we have been talking about for the last year or so. I kept putting off the work. After a while I realised it was because I was afraid to put myself out there, afraid to say ‘Hello world, here is a gift from my heart, what do you make of it?’ In case the answer was ‘Not much’.
So I was out picking blackberries at the edge of the village, ruminating on this problem, occasionally popping sweet juicy blackberries into my mouth. That’s when I realised – I would never tell the brambles not to bother making berries in case nobody picked them! Every year they do their best to make as many big juicy berries as they can, generously offering them to the world. Some birds eat them, some people eat them, others don’t even notice them, or don’t bother to collect them because it’s not something they like or value. The outcome has no bearing on the bramble at all. There is no judgement, no expectation, no shame in failure or even a concept of failure. The bramble would never consider rationing berries, or only producing as much as would be gratefully gobbled up! I need to be more like the bramble – work to produce the best association that I can without judgement or expectation. Thank you brambles, I value your delicious berries, your generous nature and your teachings.
I can feel myself getting more comfortable in my new skin already.
I haven’t felt inspired to write the last two months, but I haven’t really been sure why. I’m think I’m in the mood for change but I feel stuck. Generally things have been pretty good – we are healthy, we are able to go out and about more, it’s summer time, life is lovely, I’m having a great time with Leona. But Dave has been working so much and that has been putting strain on us all. There has been no time to work on the house, and no time for me and Dave to even sit and talk. Last week he decided it was all getting too ridiculous even for him, so he talked to his boss about it and I am hopeful that things will start to change. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
In some very exciting other news… my parents were able to come out and visit us! Hurray! It had been 15 months since we last saw them, so it was like Leona was meeting them for the first time. They came and stayed in the village for a week. It only took them a few minutes to make friends with Leona and they got along so well, my heart filled with love and joy to hug my Mum and Dad and watch them bond with their granddaughter.
Whilst they were here, we had the time and energy to sort out a whole load of things like tidying the attic, stocking up the freezer, cleaning the house and buying me some new clothes that fit. Even after all that we still had time to spend at the beach, go to parties and relax in the sunshine. Just about enough happy memories to last us until the next visit!
Our land is suitably overgrown for the time of year. The meadow has gone mad and it’s time to do the annual cut. Most of my little trees and bushes are swamped and need freeing them from the tangles of wildflowers. The berry bushes are going wild too and we’ve had strawberries, raspberries and cherries which is an absolute dream.
I have been lazy with my pictures the last few months so here is a catch-up.
As exhausting and difficult as it was, of course everything passes and a new phase emerges. We survived the tiredness and the bad moods. Dave slowly became more mobile and more useful again and we could begin to get on top of the overdue chores – getting food in, cleaning, tidying and I tried to rest a bit. Once Dave went back to work we settled back into our routine that had been working well for us and pretty much managed to pick up where we had left off a month before.
The spring weather has been a nice mix of warm sunshine, cool nights and rain. Our fruit trees flowered, most notably the cherry that I planted two years ago. The wild things are coming to life this month – tender leaves are emerging on the ash and oak trees. The birds are making a ruckus rearing their young and the bees, butterflies and dragonflies are emerging from winter slumber.
After my Mum couldn’t come out to help us, she offered to pay for some gardening assistance so that we could get all of our spring sowing done. It just so happens that one of our friends is camping in the neighbours’ garden and was interested in some casual gardening work. So much to everyone’s delight, Nik has been busy weeding, rebuilding raised beds, making comfrey fertiliser, sowing seeds and planting out seedlings. It makes me so happy to go up to the garden now and see it all taken care of and I am so grateful to have such wonderful people in my life. I have time to harvest and process a few things, so we have been eating loads of fresh herbs and greens, and using medicinal plants from our land. I am also slowly filling jars with dried herbs, saving up some of that spring abundance for the coming winter.
We have managed to dedicate a small amount of time to the garden and the house this month, which fills my heart with joy. One weekend Dave installed one of the windows we bought months ago. He had to grind out the space a little then fix the window in place. It was a small thing but a sign that things are improving.
This weekend we are just resting and enjoying ourselves. It has been raining all week but tomorrow we are due some sunshine!
The month got off to a shitty start, and had a mediocre middle and a shitty ending. On the 1st March I went for my immunosuppressive infusion. I spent six hours in a hospital chair, plus the 2 hour round trip in the car, got home exhausted then had to take Leona out so that Dave could do some work. He had been working so much those weeks (in spite of my constant protests!) and that day was my breaking point. That afternoon I cried and pleaded and we talked it all over, eventually deciding that he would keep his work commitments to 25 hours per week. That week he finished work on Wednesday night and we had a much-needed four-day weekend. We went to the beach, we relaxed, we planted some trees and I did some batch cooking. Then everything seemed more manageable.
We spent a few weeks enjoying our new routine of Dave working in the morning, having lunch together then Dave spending the afternoons with Leona whilst I did all my meditation, cold showers, and household chores. It worked really well and I was feeling great.
Then Dave started to get stomach aches so bad that he couldn’t help with Leona or go on the evening walk. I was picking up all the slack thinking it was for a few days. We thought it was the new diet – the one that was finally making me better was making Dave sick! But he ate less and less for a few days and still had terrible pain, eventually forcing him to the doctor. He found out he had appendicitis and had an appendectomy that same night, coming home two days later to recuperate at home. I was getting more and more exhausted by the day and starting to behave in ways I didn’t like – getting short-tempered, irritable and mean.
Then my Mum decided to come out and help. She got all her paperwork together, took a covid test and travelled to London for the flight. We were so excited that we would be able to see each other and get things back on track, but was denied boarding. So we are all feeling tired and sad.
Dave is healing well and helping out more around the house, so hopefully I will be able to recover enough by the time he goes back to work. It just feels like we can’t catch a break at the moment. I’m so tired of working to pick myself up again.
The days are getting longer and Orion is high in the sky when we go for our evening walk. The weather has been very spring-like – plenty of rain, wind and sun with a few morning frosts. The primroses and dog violets are flowering, the wild plums are in blossom, and leaves are emerging on elder and wild rose. Our salads are full of fresh spring growth – juicy chickweed, tender green onions, spicy rocket and colourful borage flowers. I have been collecting fresh young dandelion leaves to make a stimulating bitter tea to ease the transition from rich winter food to the fresh crunch of spring. Our strawberry plants have started to put out their first fruit.
We felt inspired one weekend and bought five local tree varieties – two apples, a plum, a cherry and a walnut. We managed to get them planted by the end of the month, although it was touch and go! And the two windows we had ordered got delivered and we carried them up the hill with the help of some neighbours one Saturday morning.
But that was all we got done on the house and land this month. Dave has been working a lot and we have struggled to keep on top of daily necessities, never mind make any kind of progress. All of my energy and resources that are leftover after keeping Leona and the house in order are being directed to my wellbeing.
I have shared the beginnings of my healing journey below. It is a long one! If you’re not interested I suggest you stop here with some family pictures until next time.
Learn & Heal
A gradual decline
It has been a transformative month for me on my quest for better health. I started the month with so much anxiety – my symptoms seemed to be getting worse but there was still over a month to go until my next immunosuppressive infusion. I thought it couldn’t come soon enough. I was fatigued, jittery, nervous and tetchy. The pins and needles in my arms and hands were getting worse and even started in my face. My ‘good eye’ was playing up again. My fatigue and muscle weakness were bothering me more and I had daily headaches, eye pain and sore throat. I could feel myself declining but didn’t want to admit it to myself or anyone else.
I have already made big changes to my diet and lifestyle since August with important benefits, but I was feeling at the mercy of fate again, that I was in a downward spiral with no hope for a healthy future. I decided to dive back into some research and call in some support. I hired a nutritional therapist who healed her own autoimmune condition after being bedridden for a year. And together we have started the work of getting me better.
Mindset is everything
One of the most important transformations in my thinking has been my attitude towards my body. I was stuck on the idea that my body had failed me. It is attacking itself! Only a bad, malfunctioning body would attack itself. But all my reading has led me to realise that my body is not working against me, it’s the other way around. My body is trying its best to heal – that’s what bodies do best. It has spent a lifetime sending me distress calls but I wasn’t listening. “I’m tired.” Said my body. “Sleep when you’re dead!” Said I. The distress calls got louder and louder over the years – fatigue, pins and needles, digestive issues, problems with my vision. I was literally going blind in one eye and I still thought it was probably no big deal. What was I thinking?? Now I realise that I have to start to help myself.
My official diagnosis is that the functions I have lost are lost forever – there is no possibility of improvement. All we can hope to do is stop or slow further decline by obliterating part of my immune system. Immunosuppresants for the rest of my life. They leave me vulnerable to infection. And although the drugs I’m on have been proven to be pretty effective at preventing further decline, they haven’t improved my fatigue much and I still get brain fog. Immunosuppressants are not a cure. They do not make me healthy. Modern medicine says that I can not be cured.
I don’t accept the diagnosis I have been given. I refuse to spend the rest of my life unwell and in decline. Why? Because it’s a bollucks diagnosis. Autoimmune diseases, much like heart disease and many cancers, are diseases of the ‘civilised’ world. Autoimmune diseases were unknown, probably non-existent, a few hundred years ago and certainly a few thousand years ago. Our ancestors didn’t have allergies, asthma, autism or multiple sclerosis. So it stands to reason that the modern lifestyle is the major contributing factor in the development of these conditions. And it follows that they can be prevented, controlled or maybe even reversed by changing our lifestyle. We just need to know which aspects of it need to be changed and work on those. Luckily there is a huge body of scientific evidence to draw on.
Back in August I started following the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet and saw some benefits after just a few weeks. I stabilised my overactive thyroid so I no longer have symptoms of Grave’s disease (uncontrolled weight loss, overheating, palpitations). I corrected my nutrient deficiencies – vitamin B12, iron and vitamin D. And I no longer have IBS – the stomach-aches that I suffered daily for a decade are gone. Those are major wins! And a testament to the science behind AIP.
Still I felt like there was more to be gained if I knew what else to do. This is where my nutritional therapist comes in. She spent a long time getting to know my history and condition then made a list of recommendations which I have been working to incorporate into my routine. I changed some key aspects of my diet, reducing starchy vegetables, adding more raw vegetables and adding a few supplements. I notice my blood sugar is better regulated and I feel less anxious and jittery. I spent a few weeks feeling terrible with starch cravings and detox symptoms but now I’m getting some energy back and no longer need to nap in the afternoons. My muscle weakness has improved and I can do my daily walks without my legs feeling like jelly. The pins and needles have gone away and I rarely have a headache, eye pain or sore throat.
At the request of my nutritional therapist I read a book called The Wahls’ Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS With Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine. It is written by Dr Terry Wahls who got out of her tilt-recline wheelchair and back onto her bike by eating a nutrient-dense diet and practicing particular therapies. She is an inspiration! The research and science behind her recommendations is interesting and she continues to run studies and publish the results from her clinic.
I have noticed that working to change my emotional coping style has benefited me hugely. I read a book called When The Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress by Dr Gabor Mate. It was fascinating, illuminating and painful to read about the mechanisms by which repressed emotions cause harm to our bodies. By the end of the book I had a better understanding of what my emotional issues are and how to manage them. The author especially promotes “the power of negative thinking”, meaning that when feelings of anger or sadness arise, you should feel them fully and express them calmly. So that’s something I have been working on. It is liberating to identify and express feelings as they arise, rather than squashing or trying to ignore them like I have tended to do in the past.
I know that my eyesight responds dramatically and immediately to stress. When I am tired or worried, my ‘good eye’ plays up and I can see floating chains of bubbles and have trouble focusing. The last month or so I have been experiencing gradually worsening vision but tried to ignore it, suppressing my anxiety about it. I never want to tell Dave when I’m unwell because I know he worries about me. The day that I finally blurted out to him that I wasn’t coping and I was so afraid, I felt so relieved that it has barely bothered me since.
Of course the power of positive thinking is equally important. When you are relaxed, content or peaceful, your body takes the time to repair itself. My nutritional therapist prescribed daily healing meditation. This is the kind of thing I would have scoffed at in the past but I have embraced it fully and I have had some powerfully beautiful experiences in meditation this month. Now that I am not festering with negative feelings, I am able to experience deep peace and connectedness for the first time in my life.
I am reading Medicine Woman by Lucy Pearce, which is giving me important context and making me feel less alone in my struggle. The book is thought-provoking and requires a lot of self-reflection and consideration. I am making my way through it slowly and with due care.
I have reached out to some friends this month, sharing my struggles and joys more freely than before. I have started telling my parents how I am really feeling – this is surprisingly difficult! But then very nice to experience. And I’m loving inhabiting this body and mind that I have been battling with for so long.
Cold water therapy
A friend told me he was using The Wim Hof Method to control his autoimmune condition. This involves cold water therapy and breathing techniques. I started reading the book and that same day I did my first cold shower – just 15 seconds of cold at the end of my usual warm shower. Actually I probably only managed 10 seconds the first time, I think I was counting quite fast! The second day was a little easier, the third easier still. I have also been practicing his breathing exercises and found that I could peacefully hold my breath for a minute and a half at the end of the first go. I feel I have more energy and I’m already hooked.
Detoxing is one of those things that I didn’t believe in. Science says it’s not real, it’s just something that hippies talk about. But that’s absurd. Of course our bodies have mechanisms for removing toxins – we have to eliminate our own waste products all the time, as well as those that come from our environment. Of course toxins can build up in our bodies – bioaccumulation is a known phenomenon. We are subjected to far more toxins than our ancestors, including many known carcinogens. There are lots of ways we can support our bodies in keeping healthy, from avoiding contact with harmful materials to supporting healthy liver function, to bathing in epsom salts or clay. I have been taking supplements to support my liver and I have been taking clay foot baths.
It seems obvious but I definitely needed to hear it from Dr Wahls to realise it – if you are not active now and you don’t change anything, you’re not going to suddenly become active. If you want to be more active, you have to work at it. I was already taking Leona and Charlie out for short walks every day, but now I walk with more purpose instead of tiredly ambling. In the mornings Leona loves riding on my back in the sling as we walk through the woods. In the afternoons she’s keen to get out and walk herself so I spend some time barefoot, sinking my feet into the clay puddles in our field like a chilly outdoor spa whilst she potters around collecting sticks and splashing about.
It isn’t easy trying to fit all of this healing magic into our lives, especially since Dave is back at work. He is wonderfully supportive and often spends all day alternating between working at his desk and looking after Leona, forgoing any time to himself in order to give me the time that I need to rest and heal. Thankfully Leona still naps in the day as well because that time is precious to me.
On the 1st March I am going for my second immunosuppressive infusion. A month ago I was desperate for it. Now I don’t really want to have it. I feel that I am starting to see the benefits of natural healing and the thought of killing off part of my immune system is painful to me. But I do think it’s the right thing to do – at least for now. It will buy me six precious months in which to continue to look after myself without the threat of deterioration. After that, I can meet with my doctor to discuss what the future holds. It’s a long road and not to be hurried. I’m excited and optimistic for the next chapter.
January has been cold and it snowed a lot. Just getting around the village in all the snow and ice has been hard work. Dave spent a good amount of time cutting and bringing in firewood. We shovelled a lot of snow in the car park, sometimes just finishing to clear the car out as the snowplough made it up and formed a new bank of snow to clear away. The villagers skidded around on quad bikes and in wellies to tend their animals and cut firewood. Muffled grumblings about the winter weather and all the extra work emerged from layers of winter clothing.
We were both feeling a bit down at the start of the month. Winter hardships and covid restrictions combined with our lack of productive activity added up to a lifestyle that wasn’t very satisfying. We can’t change the weather or the pandemic, but we have made some changes at home. We switched up our routine to free each of us up for parts of the day. We also decided to liberate some of our savings to allow us to get on with things whilst Dave is still looking for work. That allowed us to buy in firewood and heating fuel so that Dave can spend time building the house instead of just keeping us warm. And we bought some materials and tools for the next building project too.
We had a visit from the local carpenter, who trekked up the snowy track with us one day to talk about making two of our windows. We discussed the options, made our decision and put in our order.
We decided what materials were needed for the bathroom wall, made trips to the DIY store and took turns carrying the stuff up to the house during breaks in the snow. Then Dave managed to get started on the construction – he put up some plasterboard on the ceiling first. Next he put up the top and bottom rails. Then he got his old work contract reinstated with the company he used to work for, so he has a bit of work coming in. It’s a relief financially but a strain on getting anything else done.
Leona just keeps on growing. She has gained a lot of confidence on her feet and often insists on doing the whole evening walk without holding our hands at all. She loves making us laugh by pulling funny faces or trying to blow raspberries on our tummies. She is a keen little helper around the house, passing us pegs to hang up the laundry, putting peels in the compost bucket, and passing logs in when we’re stacking firewood.
Dave and I have been growing too, and it’s noticeable that there has been a positive shift in our relationship this month. All those years that I’ve spent mulling, learning and talking things through in the background of our lives have finally culminated in tangible change for both of us. Over the years, I have been working away at a lot of things that have been problematic for me personally – I had some counselling sessions and no longer suffer depressive episodes, I sleep better, I stress less, I eat more healthily, I express my feelings more easily and I listen better. It’s only now that I’ve been feeling more settled in my own self that I have had the capacity to hear what Dave needed too. It’s been nice to take the things I’ve learned and work through some of our thorny issues together and share the positive effects. Of course we still disagree, argue and get frustrated with one another, but it feels a lot easier to manage now that there aren’t any more elephants in the room.
In the last week of January the snow melted and the sun came out. There are daisies popping up everywhere, buds about to burst open and the warmth is returning to the land. There were leafy greens for the picking and we enjoyed making salads again. I harvested some large black Spanish radishes, rocket, kale and other greens, and I dug up some marshmallow root for drying. I sowed some peas too.
On the first of February the neighbour’s mimosa tree was in flower, the primroses were out, the birds were singing and it felt like the beginnings of spring.
Learn & Grow
The start of February marks the start of spring and a festival called Imbloc in the Celtic tradition. The festival falls on a day around the first of February when lambing season starts, spring sowing begins and the blackthorn blooms. This day is when the Cailleach (the old woman of winter) is reborn as Bride (the spring maiden).
Imbolc is said to be the day when the Cailleach gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. Legend has it that if the weather is fine, that means that she wishes to make winter last a good while longer and is using the fine weather to collect plenty of wood. If the weather is foul, the Cailleach is asleep and winter will soon be over.
Imbolc is a day to light fires and candles to mark the strengthening of the sun, to do spring cleaning and visit holy wells as a symbol of purification. This year, I hope that spring brings with it not just warmer, longer days, but also some hope of a reduction in covid cases, more vaccinations and the prospect of hugging our loved ones again in the not-too-distant future.
We started the month by helping out some friends replace the little roof over their bathroom. It was five days of full time work for all of us. Dave was moving tools, getting materials, and doing the building with Nik and Ellie. I was looking after Leona and Charlie, cooking, tidying, doing laundry. I actually enjoyed it for the most part and was a good test – I’ve kind of being dreading Dave getting a job, but I think I’d be alright. And it made me realise that we can make time to do other projects in the meantime.
Bouyed by that experience, we have organised a work exchange with some friends who have a three year-old. The idea is that one or two people take the kids, freeing up the others to work. The first one we did at their place, cleaning up the newly refurbished bedroom ready to fit out and use. It worked really well – the kids are so much easier when there are two of them entertaining each other, and it’s nice getting some work done with an impartial helper. At our place, we planted out the last of the little plants from the nursery into the field.
The weather has become decidedly more wintery this month. A few frosty nights, some high winds and a bit of snow and rain are setting the tone for the coming months.
We have spent some time doing indoor tasks. Dave did a few job applications. And I did a few job applications! It’s been almost six years since I had a paid job and I thought I’d never want to go back to the type of work I used to do, but one of us has to work and I would actually be quite excited if it were me.
Things have been a bit slow lately but we have been planning the next stage of the house works. We want to put the stove in position. In order to do that, we need to build the section of bathroom wall that the stove will back up against. So that means marking out the bathroom, choosing materials and getting them to the house.
We have decided where the stove is going and that we want the wall behind it to be made of bricks with studs at either end to continue the rest of the bathroom wall as a stud wall. We have measured up and been to the wood yard to collect the wood for the studs. We have also registered our interest in some locally made windows with the carpenter, who will be in touch soon.
This month has been quite up and down. Leona is a joy – she is so interactive now and understands so much more. She is obsessed with books at the moment and has started to make a few animal noises. And at 12 months she took herself to the potty for a wee on her own for the first time! This involved her walking over to the potty, standing in it, squatting on top of her feet for a pee, then stopping mid stream because her feet got wet! None the less we were very excited about this development. Now she has turned 13 months and is finally – finally – getting her first tooth!
The short days and bad weather in winter make it difficult to get much done. Since neither of us can really go anywhere with Leona because of covid restrictions, we both get sucked into the vortex of everyday chores and achieve little else. Our days get filled with cutting firewood, keeping the house warm, drying laundry above the stove, walking the dog, cooking, playing with Leona and keeping the house from getting over-run with mess. It is quite a tiring state of affairs and leads to unnecessary conflict and unhappiness. But at least being indoors with Leona is easier now that she can run about the house and play, and we do live in a lovely place to get out and about in when we get around to it.
I had been basically ignoring the fact that Christmas was coming around. Without being with the rest of the family, it just didn’t feel like holiday season at all. Thankfully some of the lovely people in my life were in more of a holiday mood. We had a small solstice gathering with two other families out in their field with a fire and marshmallows. On Christmas Eve we visited our Danish neighbours to join in their festivities for a few hours. Christmas Day was made special by our families even though we couldn’t be with them – my Mum sent us stockings and a gift box for Leona, my sister sent the same jigsaw puzzle to all the family households to carry on the Christmas puzzle tradition. Some friends sent cards and gifts. And a local friend sold us half of one of his lambs for our Christmas dinner. We had video chats with the families and a lovely Christmas Day in the end.
Boxing Day was gloriously sunny with snowcapped peaks. And I felt sad that the year is coming to an end with no end to covid in sight. I’ve never had to miss my family much before, we’ve always been able to get to each other without too much trouble. It’s hard enough missing them for myself without thinking about how much they and Leona are missing out on each other. As much as I want to say goodbye to 2020, I’m having a hard time seeing how things are going to get better any time soon. For the first time there are a worrying number of cases in the valley and we know some people who have had to go for tests. It’s all getting a bit close to home and it feels like things are going to continue to get worse before they get better.
On New Year’s Eve when we went out for our night-time walk together, it was snowing beautiful fat snowflakes and the air was still and crisp. We had a glorious walk and a good sleep and woke to a winter wonderland that brightened our spirits.
Learn & Grow
The topics of community and connectedness have been on my mind for a while. I am reading a book called If Women Rose Rooted, which is about women in celtic mythology and finding yourself in this uprooted modern world. Signe and I have been talking about these things a lot and we felt inspired to start a women’s circle. All the while of course corona virus continues to disconnect and disconcern and I think most of us feel a strong yearning to connect with each other and to feel safe.
I think about how infrequently most of us get to experience a deep sense of belonging. I’m talking about the feeling that you fit right in – that you’re not too big or too small, not too loud or too quiet, but that all of your unique qualities are just right in that moment; that you are enough just as you are. Maybe you’ve felt this surrounded by people you love, or engaged in an activity that brings you joy, or spending time in nature. It is a rare and wonderful thing in this busy and judgmental world to feel that you truly belong.
My most profound and prolonged experience of belonging was on a wilderness survival course in the wooded wetlands of Manitoba. It was a ten-day course with the instructor Survival Dave. First we spent a week doing survival skills, and then we drove to a remote lake and canoed to a small island for a few days to test those skills out. There was nobody else around; just me, Survival Dave and his dog. The water lapped at the shore, the trees waved in the breeze and the mosquitoes danced at the edge of the woods.
I set up a shelter, made a fire, caught a fish and swam naked in the water. I felt completely held by that place, allowed to feel whole by our total immersion in nature. And through that feeling of being rooted, Survival Dave and I connected in a beautiful way. We shared our feelings freely, we listened completely, and we were peacefully present. There was no room for shame or embarrassment because there were no rooms for our sense of perspective to be lost in. There was no need to fill silences with hollow words because the world was not silent. There was no need for vacuous flirting or awkward remarks because there were no pressures or stereotypes to conform to. We were fully ourselves, fully present and wholly at peace.
Although by the third day I was hungry, tired, dirty, mosquito-bitten and uncomfortable, it was with a heavy heart that I departed that island. I would have endured much more hardship in return for that feeling of connectedness and belonging.
Not a day goes by that I don’t lament the trappings of modern life that keep us from connecting with our natural environment and our true selves. I feel a deep sense of loss that we live out our lives locked in buildings, eating food out of plastic packets and breathing stale air. It makes me feel trapped, saddened and lost. I crave nature. I need connection. I miss community.
I don’t really think it’s a suitable option in the modern world to go and camp in a makeshift shelter and survive off squirrels and chestnuts. I love that Thor Heyerdahl did it and wrote a book about it so that we can experience it vicariously through him, but that’s not really what I’m looking for. It’s the feeling of belonging that I crave – and thankfully belonging is something that we can more easily cultivate whilst living an otherwise normal life.
This month I took part in my first Moon Circle – a gathering of women around a fire, sharing stories, feelings and dreams in confidence. It was beautiful. We were outside in the pale winter sun at the edge of the woods, the cool breeze rustling the branches, the view of the distant mountains stretched out to the South, the fire warming our toes, the Earth holding space for us all. We listened fully, we talked from the heart, we sang together and we felt like we belonged. For me, this is the start of a healing journey to become more connected, centred and rooted in this place we have chosen as our home.
November brought warm sunny days and chilly nights. We worked on the land to make the most of the weather, with the short days focusing the mind. It’s a great time of year to cut the grass, clear the weeds, do some propagation and get the land ready for a winter rest.
We continued scything in the field. Although we had sowed the nitrogen fixers and green manures as ‘chop and drop’ material, we have actually been using them as ‘chop and rake into piles’. Hopefully the mulch will build soil more quickly in the localised areas where we have put it. We are also using it to kill off the vegetation in places where we want to plant trees and bushes.
I took some time to clear out the plant nursery, which I have barely glanced at since the summer. Thankfully it hasn’t needed watering much and only one plant had dried out. I threw out the things that hadn’t worked, set aside the things that hadn’t germinated but still had the possibility, and got together the plants that were ready to go out into the field. Many of them are so small that they might never come to anything, but they certainly won’t thrive in their little pots, so they might as well go out.
I sowed the next batch of seeds in the nursery and started clearing and sowing in the propagation beds, too. Some comfrey I dug up got planted out in the field where it can work on building soil.
Dave spent a day or two fixing some broken tiles on the roof. The whole line of ridge tiles had to be taken down and re-cemented. Now it’s all looking ready for winter.
He has also been working on the electrical plans. He’s been learning about the rules and regulations and seeing how to run all the wiring to make sure it is safe, efficient and hidden from view!
We have also been spending some time on administrative tasks. Dave and I went to collect our residency cards before Brexit, which was a little spark of excitement amongst the bureaucratic drudgery.
Leona is 1 now and just keeps changing and growing up every day. We keep having to find new ways of allowing her to help out with everyday tasks as much as possible because it’s the only way to get anything done. She won’t let you dress her unless she is lifting up her feet to put them in the trousers, she won’t eat unless she is allowed to get stuff off our plates with our cutlery, she won’t go on the potty unless she sits down herself. I’m still figuring out how to get her nails cut since the old method starting failing me a week ago.
Some pictures from Leona’s birthday at our local viewpoint.
Learn & Grow
I watched a Netflix show called Call to Courage by Brené Brown, then read a friend’s copy of her book Daring Greatly. It is about having the courage to be vulnerable, and was a beautiful compliment to everything I have been learning about nonviolent communication, taking responsibility and listening with empathy.
A new realisation for me was realising the difference between guilt and shame. Feeling guilty allows you to take responsibility for what happened and change in the future. Shame wants you to crawl inside your shell, only emerging to lash out at others. I wouldn’t have said that I felt shame until I read the book – I guess I had shame and humiliation mixed up in my head. And feeling shame is shameful after all, and I wasn’t ready to admit that I could be so imperfect.
Now I can see that so much of my negative communication, particularly with Dave, comes from a place of shame. When I criticise his words or actions, it is almost always because I’m feeling ashamed about my own words or actions. When I defend my poor choices, it’s because I can’t bear to accept that I made a mistake. I’m always trying to worm my way out of being responsible for doing anything wrong. It’s the system that’s stupid, the tool that’s designed badly, the instruction manual that’s too complicated, it’s Dave’s unrelenting criticism that’s making me defensive. Why is it so hard for me to accept that there are things I’m not good at? I don’t expect perfection from anyone else, why expect it from myself?
Even right now I’m trying to figure out who or what did this to me so that I don’t have to take responsibility for being this way! It’s outrageous. And it’s so ingrained that it’s hard to even see it, let alone do anything to change it. If the stages I need to go through are Oblivious > I can see it happening > I can feel it about to happen > I can prevent it from happening, then I’m still spending most of my time Oblivious. Usually it’s only in the calm aftermath of an argument when I can see it all in retrospect.
Some of the traps I have noticed that I fall into include “I’m sorry but…”, which isn’t an apology at all. Another good one is coming up with lots of reasons why I did or didn’t do something, “It’s because I thought that…”, especially if those reasons are someone else’s fault, “I would never even have had to do that if you hadn’t…” Or just flat out attacking the other person in order to avoid confronting your own issues “Yeah well maybe I did that annoying thing, but you always do this annoying thing…”
So identifying that I have fallen into a trap is step 1. How do I move on from there? Well usually an apology and declaration of feelings is a good place to start. I have noticed that although I am sometimes capable of an apology, it is often swiftly followed by a criticism, because pointing out other people’s imperfections always makes us feel better. So I’m working on just stopping after the apology.
I want to be able to look at my mistakes from a place of curiosity and improvement. But you’ll have to watch this space to see how that goes, because I am so not there yet!
Leona has just turned 1 and I have been reflecting on all the changes that came with becoming a parent. One of the main things that strikes me is remembering how scared I was before we started this journey. I was scared of giving up so much of my time to parenting, I was scared of the unknown, and I was terrified about what would happen to my body. I think it’s very natural to feel all of those things in the culture that we live in and mostly I am grateful to my friends who started this journey before me. Seeing them engage with their kids has led me to see the benefits of gentle parenting. Hearing them talk about their birth experiences as joyful and empowering helped me let go of the fear around childbirth. Seeing them breastfeed their babies and toddlers normalised that relationship for me and allowed me to see how it benefited them. Watching them hold their babies close and hearing how little they cried allowed me to see the simplicity in caring for a newborn. But I did struggle with the idea that they were somehow different to me, that maybe I didn’t have the patience to stay home with the kids, to be a gentle parent, to give birth without fear. And I still had a lot of questions or sticking points in my mind. I was uncomfortable with the idea of being a stay-at-home Mum because my version of feminism involved trying to be masculine rather than embracing what it means to be feminine. I felt pretty sure I wanted Leona to go to school because I thought I’d want time away from her and I thought that school was good for socialising, for normalising, for learning. I was almost certain that I would continue to do what I wanted to do when she came along – that I wouldn’t be happy to stand around whilst she investigated leaves on the path if I wanted us to get to the play park.
I think it’s fair to say that over the last year and a half I have made gradual shifts in my thinking that have culminated in a radical change to how I see the world, how I see myself and what I value. I’m not saying that those changes would be right for everybody, but I do think that it’s important to be very intentional with our choices instead of simply following the path set out for us by expectation, societal norms, or ingrained habits.
I wanted to share my story of labour, birth and new motherhood – not because I think it’s anything special – quite the opposite. I want to tell it because the horror stories always hog the limelight it was only reading lots of normal stories like mine that made me realise that I didn’t have to be afraid. (For more good birth stories, check out Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and Milli Hill’s Give Birth Like a Feminist.) I recognise that I have a lot of privileges and a sprinkling of luck, and I am not trying to say anything about anyone else’s experience or choices.
Labour and Birth
A year ago I went into labour at about 6am. I was lying in bed peacefully when the first contraction gently tugged at me, and I felt a rush of excitement. ‘It’s happening!’ I whispered to myself gleefully. It was dark and quiet and I just lay in bed for a few hours, tuning in to my body and relaxing whilst Dave slept. I had three contractions over two hours, each one was a gentle wave of warmth and tension and I felt quite peaceful. When Dave woke I shared the excitement with him. We decided to take the time to drive up the mountain for a little wander around the viewpoint to honour our last morning together as a couple. It was a beautiful winter morning. After that, Dave spent the day working from home, handing over and tying up loose ends knowing that he planned to take six months unpaid leave. I spent the day cooking, resting and walking. I remember taking a walk through the village and chatting to the neighbours feeling the occasional contraction and not telling them about it, like this feeling was too beautiful and intimate to share and could be spoiled if they made a fuss over me. After lunch, the contractions were getting stronger, more rhythmical and I started timing them. When they were five minutes apart for an hour, we started getting our stuff together. When they were four minutes apart for an hour we decided to make our way to the car. I had a hot water bottle on my lower back and was feeling the need to move, breathe and sway as the contractions came. I called the on-call midwife and we said we were on our way in.
The hour-long car journey was mildly uncomfortable because I couldn’t move around, so I was relieved to get out and walk up to the maternity ward at about 8pm. Irene met us there, took one look at my smiling face and said that she didn’t want me to get my hopes up because I didn’t look like I was in labour. I thought ‘whatever, I know my body’. She asked if I wanted a cervical check to see how far along I was and was astounded to find that I was already 4cm dilated. Obviously. I didn’t know Irene as well as some of the other midwives so it was nice that we had an hour to chat before things started hotting up. I paced around, bounced on a pilates ball and spent a lot of time just swaying my hips around. It was like my body knew what it needed to do and I was just going with the flow.
I knew what stages of labour I was going through because I had read all about them. I knew my preferences with regard to the birth but I also knew under which circumstances I wanted to deviate from those preferences. I felt confident, focused and content. Dave had taken our stuff to our room, eaten some dinner and come back to be with me. He followed me around holding a hot pack on my back, helped me lean into each contraction in the way that I needed. I took deep, soothing breaths. Irene left us to it, mostly. I don’t know what it was like to watch, but on the inside I never doubted my ability to birth, never wavered in my decision not to have an epidural. It wasn’t that I was determined to ‘tough it out’, it was that I knew it was going well and that I didn’t need any intervention or assistance.
When I got angry and nauseous, I knew I had made it to ‘transition’ (the time between reaching full dilation and starting to push). I let the anger do its thing. At one point I was crawling along the floor because that’s what I needed to do to make it through a contraction. Another one demanded that I grab onto something above me and pull down. Another had me shouting and I hit the wall, exclaiming that I couldn’t do this! But through it all, after every contraction there were a few minutes of peace and I could always collect myself in those moments to get ready for the next one.
As I felt transition give way to a pushing sensation, I knew we were getting towards the end. I needed to squat and hold onto something during contractions. Irene set me and Dave up so that we were stood facing each other and I put my arms around his neck so that I could bear down and hold myself up on him at the same time. Irene started telling me how to push and I told her there was really no need – I wasn’t even consciously doing the pushing. My body was totally in charge; I was just along for the ride. And what a wild ride! My waters broke during the second round of pushing contractions. After the third I could feel the top of the baby’s head with my fingers! It was all going faster than I would have liked but there was no stopping it now, the rollercoaster was in free-fall. On the next big wave of intense effort, my body bore down until she came whooshing out like a slippery seal. Irene caught her and somehow managed to hold her towards me between my legs so that I could take her.
In that moment, when I looked down and saw her, everything just paused for a second. I felt baffled. ‘What do I do with that?’ I wondered. ‘Why does she have hair already?’ I’d been so focused on the birth experience that I hadn’t really thought about what it would be like to meet my baby. I felt quite protective of her and brought her clumsily to my tummy as I perched on the edge of the bed, shaking from the adrenaline, the warm cord still attached. I started laughing. Haha, I just gave birth and here is the baby – wild! I had only arrived at the hospital three and a half hours before.
I lay down and brought Leona to my chest, they must have cut the cord at some point around then. I felt my legs getting squirmy again and then the placenta came out and I felt relieved. After that I really wanted to just curl up in a dark room with Leona. We had an hour of skin to skin before I got a few stitches in a horrible brightly lit room that offended all my senses. Dave went with Leona whilst they weighed her and gave her a vitamin K shot and stuff. Then we got wheeled along to our room to leave us in peace for the night. I had a midnight meal, a shower and snuggled up for the night with Leona. I didn’t sleep a wink, I was so high on adrenaline.
I hate to say this, but breastfeeding was agony. “How can something so natural be so painful?” I cried! But I appreciate now that the world we grew up in is not our natural habitat. It’s like expecting a lion raised in captivity to go out and hunt and kill an antelope on the first try. I knew nothing about breastfeeding a newborn and I’d never seen anyone do it. My boobs had spent their whole lives tucked snugly inside a bra, never feeling so much as the wind or sun on them, and were wholly unprepared for the surprisingly strong mouth of a hungry baby. But the midwives were incredibly supportive and we struggled through it with a combination of technique, equipment and willpower.
Dave and I spent our first three days and nights as parents in that private hospital room. I don’t think I got dressed the whole time. Dave rushed about doing admin and whatnot. All our meals arrived like magic. I had never been so hungry in my life! I ate everything they brought and sent Dave out for more. I felt like I’d run a marathon. My whole body felt bruised and all of my muscles that usually hold so much tension were soft and squishy. My belly went down pretty quickly, my boobs got huge after a few days and I just went along with it all like a little leaf riding downstream, accepting that I would get a little battered along the way.
After we got home I curled up in bed with Leona and just went with it. Dave was running about doing the endless laundry, cooking, tidying and baby bouncing. I cried, I laughed, I chilled, and spent a lot of time breastfeeding and even more time eating. One day Dave came into the bedroom to find me crying. “Oh no, what’s the matter?” he asked. I sobbed back “I think I’ve just fallen in love with her!”
We spent the first month just being together and it was glorious. I think Dave was quite stressed actually, and I found breastfeeding to be a challenge for quite a few months because I had some serious over-supply that made it painful for me, and poor Leona threw up constantly. She didn’t ever breastfeed to sleep until she was three months old and didn’t stop throwing up until five months. She had colic from two weeks to three months, which was tough. Dave used to stay up and carry her around in the sling or bounce her in his arms. She generally slept soundly from about 3am and didn’t like to get up until almost midday. So we slept in a lot too. It really was a whirlwind of emotion and change. I’m so grateful that we didn’t have to do anything except survive and be together in those first weeks and months.
Learn & Grow
You hear people say that the children in their lives teach them things. I don’t think I really understood what that was about, except that they could come home from school with facts about the Egyptians that you’d forgotten all about. I didn’t realise that a new born baby could lead you to question everything you had stored as accepted fact about society, parenting, feminism and responsibility. This little person comes into your life with no expectations about how things should be; all they know is that they need you to help them meet every single one of their needs. And they are capable of communicating their pleasure and displeasure very effectively.
The first thing Leona taught me was surrender, and she managed to do that before I ever met her. I was so afraid that my body would go ‘wrong’ – that I would be infertile, that I’d have a miscarriage, a stillbirth, a disabled child. Maybe I worried about that so much because I thought that my body’s failure to produce the ‘perfect’ baby would reflect badly on me, that it would mean I had failed as a parent, as a woman. It took me a good few months to accept that I had no control over the outcome of the pregnancy. Sure, I could reduce risks by eating and exercising well, and reducing stress. (Although in reality I was nibbling on toast and cream cheese, doing lots of physical labour and feeling a whole lot of stress.) Once I accepted that I had to surrender to whatever life threw at me, I also realised that I might even be allowed to enjoy it. I had been so worried it wouldn’t work out that I hadn’t allowed myself to connect with the life growing inside me in case it got extinguished. One day I realised that even once she was born I wouldn’t be able to guarantee her safety. I remember asking Dave, “when are we going to admit to ourselves that we love her?” And we agreed to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to pain and open our hearts to love.
Since having Leona in our lives, I thoroughly enjoy getting to know her and helping her make her way through life’s struggles and pleasures. It has been a delightful challenge learning to let go of my assumptions and work out how to forge the path I want to travel. Of course parenting would be a whole lot easier if we lived in an integrated society and knew all of this stuff before we had our own baby to look after. I saw a video of a photographer working with newborns and watched with my jaw on the floor at how she held, rocked and soothed the babies. The babies were so peaceful they looked like they were smiling! I was like – oh, this is what we should all be able to do! We are missing out on so much joy. We are taking the hard road, learning and stumbling as we go, each new parent struggling to figure it all out on our own. I’ve read about indigenous women who can soothe ‘even the most colicky baby in minutes’ and thought about how much suffering could be avoided. All of us stressed out parents, all our crying babies, all suffering for what? So that we can go out and earn the money we need to live in this world. And that’s to say nothing of the suffering of all of those who actually don’t have enough money to live. So much is asked of modern parents – we have to be everything to our children because all of us are closed away in our little households away from everyone else. Humans are meant to live in a community where there are other people to rock, soothe, play and learn with, where advice and assistance are always at hand. Anyway, I digress. If you want to read more on that, check out this article.
Something I have learned about myself on the road through new motherhood is how to love my body. Like many modern girls, I went on a long journey from childhood ambivalence to adolescent denial, through confusion, distain, flaunting, all the way to acceptance, but it’s only now that I’m getting towards love and nurture. We ask so much of our bodies and get annoyed when they complain with aches, pains and dysfunction. Now my body has grown a whole other body, birthed her, fed her and comforted her as she grows. I think my body deserves a little tender loving care.
Another thing I’m learning is trust. To trust myself, yes, but not just that. I set out looking for the best way to navigate a pregnancy, the best way to birth, the best way to parent, the best way to mother. Because if you can just find that best way, you’ve got a template to follow, you don’t have to worry about being inadequate or imperfect and if anything goes wrong then it wasn’t your fault. But of course there is no best way to do anything. In every moment you have a choice between a whole load of different options. Your choices are limited by circumstance, by your resources and your ingrained habits. There are no absolutes. For example we can’t truthfully say that ‘breast is best’. We can say that breast milk is the most nourishing food for a baby. We can say that WHO recommends that children are breastfeeding for at least two years whenever possible. We can say that many women enjoy the breastfeeding relationship once they have it established. But we can’t say that breastfeeding is the best choice for every family, or even a choice at all for some, because each family has limitations and needs beyond those of the baby.
I used to be so judgemental. Not intellectually – I knew that everyone was entitled to make their own decisions. But I lacked compassion for those who made choices I didn’t agree with. Now that I can see that my own decisions come with reasons that don’t necessarily apply to others, I can appreciate that other people’s decisions are borne of reasons that I may not understand. So next time I feel myself judging someone, I just think to myself “I don’t know their story.” I still think it is important to discuss issues, particularly when we disagree. But if we enter a discussion with judgement instead of compassion, all we will achieve is to cement each other in our existing points of view and alienate one other. Everybody, especially parents, needs compassion and support rather than judgement. We already judge ourselves harshly enough. We all want our stories to be heard and understood, so the best thing we can do for each other is to listen.