E+E Column: World Doula Week

Today marks the last day of this year’s World Doula Week and although the week is drawing to a close, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to raise awareness of the wonderful work that Doula’s do. You might be wondering what on earth I’m talking about so apologies, I’ll start from the beginning! A doula is a non-medical birth companion, someone who is hired by a pregnant mother to support her both emotionally and practically during her pregnancy, birth and postnatal period. A doula does not replace the invaluable role of a midwife but in our current climate where staff shortages in the NHS often mean an inconsistency in who you might see during your pregnancy and birth, she provides a constant. The mother is able to spend time with her throughout her pregnancy, to be able to explore any concerns she might have fully and then is guaranteed of her familiar presence at her birth.

The word doula is a greek word meaning ‘women servant or caregiver’. For me, this sums up the role. It is one of serving a woman during one of the most turbulent and exciting times in her life. Most doula’s receive training of some sort (there is an organisation called Doula UK that acknowledges several courses and has a database of doula’s for people looking to hire one) and have a good knowledge of birth physiology and often breastfeeding as well. My perspective is that doula’s are on the rise in the UK. I’m not sure I’d heard of them at all during my pregnancy with Sophia (over 6 years ago) but I definitely had while I was pregnant with Isaac and before Elijah was born, trained with Nurturing Birth to become one myself! I attended one birth which was nothing short of amazing and a real privilege to be invited to attend but, have since put my plans to serve in this role to one side whilst the kids are so small. I hope strongly that it is something I will be able to pick up again in the future.

There is evidence that shows that having a doula can mean ‘a reduced risk of caesarean birth, reduced risk of instrumental birth, reduced need for painkillers or epidurals, reduced rate of induction, shorter labour, increased parental satisfaction with the birth experiience and increased likelihood of initiatating breastfeeding and sucessfully establishing breastfeeding’. Although it is an additional expense, Doula UK have an access fund for those that can’t afford to hire a doula and I firmly believe that it is money extremely well spent. In Devon there is an increasing number of doula’s working which I think is great news for the pregnant mothers of our county! So this World Doula Week 2016, I’ll leave you with a quote from the amazing Sheila Kitzinger who exclaimed that ‘birth isn’t something we suffer, but something we actively do and exult in’! Let’s not be fearful of birth but trust the process and embrace what our bodies can do.


E+E Column: P is for Politics

This week I’ve been thinking about how to engage children and young people with politics, at what age should we start talking to them about it and to what level? I remember mentally yawning at secondary school if someone mentioned anything to do with politics. It wasn’t until (ironically) I started my International Relations and Politics degree several years later that I realised what a dynamic, involving and relevant subject it really was. Politics permeates every facet of our lives but I think to young people it can often seem confusing and not particularly important. My 18 year old sister brought this home when she spoke to me about the upcoming EU referendum and commented that none of her friends were particularly bothered about talking around the issue. She said they needed people to explain it to them. The choice of whether we should remain in the European Union or not is a weighty one indeed, with long lasting (and in my opinion, dire) implications if the vote is to leave. It is important that the younger generation fully understand what they’re voting for or against.

But perhaps if we started broaching the subject with people when they are still children, they wouldn’t feel so disconnected from it when they reach voting age. Some might argue that it’s too complex but I maintain that you could start giving a simplified explanation of what government is, of the party system and what decisions they make that affect us from as early as Year 1 or 2. Kids deserve much more credit than we give them. Last year as we approached the General Election, Dan and I explained to Sophia what was happening, what it meant and our personal views on who we were planning to vote for and why.  She soaked it up and initiated conversations on it at a later date which seemed to show that she understood what we’d told her.

I think it is so incredibly important for our young people to be able to engage, to be able to make informed decisions at the polling booth. The average age of our political party membership is skewed massively towards the older generations and the average age of our MP’s is 50. Whilst there is an argument to be made that experience is vital in this role, there is a counter that in order to represent society in an effective manner in parliament, you should have politicians falling across the age spectrum. Politics shouldn’t be seen as a dusty old relic, something just for ‘old fogies’ but in order to have a system that truly works and represents the electorate, I believe that it is of utmost importance that young people get interested, get informed and get involved.

E+E Column: Keeping it Real

Our Mothers Day morning contained a great deal of shouting and tears and I’m embarrassed to say not all of it was from the kids. It turns out that a certain young man hadn’t got the memo of societal expectations for the day and was his usual charming sleep deprived grouchy self. So much for a blissful morning with my perfectly behaved children! As I perused my facebook feed later, filled with pictures of gifts, flowers and happy families, I wondered how many of them had also experienced similar less-than-idyllic moments over the course of the day.

Whilst I fully understand the habit of just sharing happy moments, moments that we want to remember, that make us proud, I do wonder if there is an unintentional consequence of people not being ready to be honest about all the (‘scuse my french) shitty moments and a knock on effect of others feeling like they’re not doing something quite right. I am completely guilty of this myself from both sides of the coin. I tend to keep my public persona pretty positive and tend to only share the good times on my blog. My rationale is that I don’t want to remember all the times that I’ve wanted to tear my hair out in 20 years time but I’m not sure whether this excuse really washes. Because then, at the same time, I read people’s posts of tranquil family life, peppered with photos of beautiful pristine smiling children and wonder, what am I doing wrong? Why are my big two constantly grubby and grumpy, why does my house constantly look like a bombsite, even when we’ve been up for just 20 minutes?

Of course, when I’m in a better state of mind I know that I’m not doing anything wrong. This is just life with children. Of course there are heart warming, magical moments but there is also a lot of squabbling, a lot of messiness and a whole lot of the mundane. I’m not saying we should dwell on the negative aspect of things but I do think we shouldn’t completely hide it away either. Maybe by acknowledging this less than rosy side of things, we could make another parent feel a little less alone. Let’s share all aspects of life with each other, let’s support each other in both the bad and the good times, let’s build each other up when the other has had a rubbish day. Let’s keep it real.



E+E Column: Regarding Sleep

Dear children of mine, it seems as though some of you haven’t quite got the right idea about sleep so thought I’d lay out some truths for you here. I’ve made this letter public in case some of your peers are suffering under the same mistruths as you are…

Firstly, sleep is not the enemy. Nor is it a punishment. I’m not quite sure where this aversion to sleep comes from but I assure you that it is necessary and can indeed be quite enjoyable. In fact, I have it on good authority from parents of teenagers that in 10 years or so, you’ll be striving to meet with your good friend sleep much more often than is realistically possible if you want to get anything else done that day. But for now, each bedtime brings a battle. And I don’t know why! Sleep helps you grow, it helps you reenergise for the coming day, if you’re lucky it might bring some pretty good dreams with it as well. And the bedtime routine itself is quite enjoyable, stories, snuggles… I’m not quite sure why once your head is on the pillow you start the fight.

Because the second thing is, we know all your tactics. And I mean all of them. You’re not thirsty, you’ve just weed, the light is on, you can’t possibly have had a bad dream in the 45 seconds since I left your room. You, my dear child, are busted. And baby, you are not much better. Writhing and giggling, kicking and gurgling, whilst simultaneously yawning and rubbing your eyes. It is quite obvious that you are tired. So I’d like you both to stop messing about and just sleep! I promise you that if I was allowed to go to bed at 7pm each night with no more cares for 12 hours, I’d be grasping that invitation with both hands and succumbing to the peace that is sleep! So let’s stop fooling around and accept sleep when it is offered.

And finally, when it comes to waking up, there is a certain decorum involved. No one wants a 6am wake up call that involves elbows in ribs, a constant refrain of ‘is it morning time yet?’ or worse, hysterical screaming. Our neighbours especially will not appreciate any of the above. We are not opposed to a gentle sliding into our bed for a cuddle and you are most very very welcome to play quietly in your room for a while. Once over the age of 10, waking up isn’t a process akin to flipping a switch. It is more of a gradual emergence into a state of bleary eyed consciousness. Some parents may do it with more grace than others but none of us can muster the enthusiasm that you crazy young things posess from the moment your eyelids snap open. Just remember that tomorrow morning.

So if you could just take onboard the key points here and implement them accordingly, we’d be most appreciative. Ta.

Sincerely, foolishly hoping, your chronically sleep deprived Mum.


Blissful sleep!

International Women’s Day

When I woke up this morning and realised it was Women’s Day, I felt compelled to write something, my first real, non-column post on the blog for a while. But now I’m here I’m not quite sure where to start. We’ve come so far but still have far to go? I’m acutely aware that as I sit in the hallway sandwiched between listening to the big two in the bath and the baby sleeping, what on earth do I know? I’m a healthy white, British, basically middle class woman, I’ve had the priviledge of not being in paid employment and spending the day at a natural learning group with the children, they are now in a warm bath ran with clean water of which we have quite literally on tap. In the grand global scale of things, I’m pretty priviledged, bless, rich…

Although issues of gender discrimination are undoubtedly still prevalent in the richer nations, we know nothing of inequality, of hardship compared to women in certain countries. Countries where women are still not allowed to vote, to drive, to go out without a chaperone. Countries where mothers are fighting daily for their daughter’s right to education, are walking miles for clean water for all their children, where sadly, female genital mutilation is still a practice performed on young girls, where access to menstrual sanitation is at best, limited, where rape is an ingrained and almost accepted part of culture.

It leaves one despairing at the world we live in and feeling lost as to how we can help make a difference. But, each and every person that decides they want to do something to effect  change is capable of making a difference. Thankfully, in part due to the rise of social media and virtual community, these trodden down people are gaining a voice. People are becoming more and more aware of the struggles of those on the other side of the globe to them.  And the action you take might only seem like a small contribution but it could make the world of difference to a real life person somewhere in the world. Whether you choose to sponsor a child, to donate regularly to a charity, to become an advocate for someone who needs a voice, to campaign, to spread the word and rally others or even to go and volunteer in a country many miles away, you can do something. And surely, something is better than nothing.

A great friend of mine, wrote a beautiful song about Marie Colvin, the brave Times journalist who sadly was killed whilst reporting from Homs, Syria in 2012. It seems like a very fitting song to leave you with today on International Women’s Day 2016, a tribute to a strong woman who continued to stand for those less fortunate than herself right until her last breath.


E+E Column: Siblings and the love/hate paradox

I sat down last night to write a column about the complete and utter lack of sibling harmony in our household recently but then today, in the way that only children can, they threw me completely off by getting on better than they have for weeks. Since Christmas, the relationships between the small folk in our house have felt quite fraught. I’d been hoping that rather than a new phase, this was primarily a result of this appallingly wet and windy winter we’ve been having that has resulted in us spending a lot more time indoors than usual. Today though, I’ve decided to give up on trying to analyse what causes them to one day shove each other into shelves in the co-op (a particularly embarassing moment in my parenting journey) and the next to be curled up on the sofa under a blanket reading books together.

I’m going to borrow and distort from Jane Austen and state that it is a truth universally acknowledged that the sibling relationship is a truly unique one. Bound to each other by family and proximity, it is the only time in your life that you have housemates thrust upon you with no choice in the matter. I guess it’s only natural that there will be periods of both harmony and dischord, sometimes within the same three hours. I feel like I might have written about this before and don’t want to bore you all with repeated platitudes but I think there is still a lot that can be said about the nature of siblings and how to effectively peacemake when things take a particularly dour turn.

The main approach that I’ve started to take recently is to try and not get involved so much. There is a fairly constant low level of bickering that exists in our house and I was tearing my hair out trying to appropriately deal with the aggrieved parties. I’ve decided that unless it is a ‘biggie’ I’m going to leave them to it. Most of their problems stem from a lack of communication so I’ve been reminding them (sometimes gently, sometimes not!) to just talk to each other. And although it’s early days I’m hopeful that it is making a difference. Instead of coming to tell tales to me, when they actually stay calm and explain why they’re upset to the other, more often or not, they manage to resolve it themselves. Of course I’m still getting invovled when they are struggling to deal with each other and of course they still fight like cat and dog at times. Isaac in particular seems to know exactly the most effective way to wind up Sophia and she takes the bait every single time. Oh joy! But (and I say this tentatively), I’m hoping that we are on our way to maintaining a reasonable level of cooperation in our house. They may not have chosen each other, but they’re stuck together for at least another 12 years so here’s hoping they realise sooner rather than later that it’s easier just to get along!