Finding my Voice – For my Daughter

I have honestly always felt like a boy mama, right from day one. I have never longed for a daughter and much to many people’s surprise baby number 4 was not ‘one last try for a girl’. But having a daughter has changed me; she has made me look at society differently and the ways in which girl’s roles are positioned within it. Having a daughter has made me stop and look at myself, my behaviours and the roles I fulfil. It’s left me questioning many of my behaviours and if I’m honest feeling a little lost in myself. What kind of example am I setting to her? What kind of female role model am I to her? What I do know is that I want my daughter to grow up as a strong woman. Who is able to pursue activities in life which make her happy; that enrich her and fulfil her. I do not want her to feel that she has to conform to any pre-conceived ideas about what a woman should do, how they should behave or what they should look like.

I watched a story on the news today in relation to the up and coming Oscars, which was discussing gender inequality in films. There is a test, called the bechdel test which was designed to test the presence of active female roles within films. In order for a film to pass the test there are three criteria it must fulfil; firstly there must be two female characters in the film, secondly they must talk to each other and thirdly the subject must be something other than a man. My initial through was how basic and almost trivial that criteria seemed and yet the report went on to say that half of the winners for best picture in the history of the Oscars have not passed the bechdel test. I was genuinely shocked. Films that I myself have loved watching and regard as great films, like ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. How is this possible? That we are watching films that are so heavily male dominated that two female characters do not even have dialogue with one another. Or if they do it is only concerned with a man!! I haven’t been able to get this out my head all day, I’ve been left me thinking about the way women are treated within our society. The roles they are given and the ways in which the media portray those roles.

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We have seen a lot of movement in the film industry over the last few months, high profile women using their voices to speak out at the way women are treated. The #metoo and #timesup campaigns have been spread across the media and I really do believe a change is on the horizon. So what does that mean for ordinary women like me and our daughters? The reality is we still live in a patriarchal society and gender inequality is spread across it. It’s present in our schools, in our places of work and in the media our children are so heavily exposed to. Change won’t happen just because we want it to. We have to be the change. I do not want my daughter to grow up and be paid less than her brothers simply because of her gender. Where do we start? We start by empowering ourselves and each other. We start by believing that we are strong women, that we have a voice and a right to be heard. We stop cutting other women down and build them up instead.

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The words being written right here on this blog only exist because a group of women who I’m lucky enough to call friends believed in me. They encouraged me to believe in myself and empowered me to share what I had to say. Because this female voice, this voice of a mum of four, a wife, a daughter, a sister is worthy of being heard. I want to be part of the change. I want to stand up and stand united with other women. It’s time we were not simply part of the chorus, a pretty background to the male centred plot. It’s time women and what we have to say took over the story line because it’s just as worthy of the central plot as a man’s; in the movies and in real life.

For my Piper x

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M.S your not just taking her your breaking me.

What do you do when life drowns you? I blog as a kind of therapy. I write about motherhood & my journey as a mum of 4. Yes motherhood overwhelms me and scares me and I worry I’m not getting it right. But ultimately motherhood empowers me and motivates me to be a better me. And writing about it and sharing it with other parents is something I love to do; it lifts me up and inspires me. I’m not drowning in motherhood, right now motherhood is what’s keeping me afloat. I’m drowning in life. My mum has Multiple sclerosis. She has had it for 25 years, in the last 10 years it changed from remit & regression to secondary progressive. I don’t write about it. Because I don’t really no how. It doesn’t inspire me, it breaks me.

I’m well aware that by sharing experiences of illness and disability you can raise awareness and understanding of the condition. It can help others suffering to feel less alone in their struggles. But I still don’t know how to share it with people. For a long time I never told people my mum was ill. Even as an adult; I would make friends with other mums and talk about my mum, I would simply leave out her illness. Not because I was or am embarrassed, never that. But because I wanted them to have a true picture of my mum. When you describe a person as being in a wheelchair people have preconceived ideas of what that person will be like. We shouldn’t have but we do! And that’s not my mum she’s not a disabled person in a wheelchair. She’s a former beautiful wild child. She was an amazing nurse, a strong, spunky woman. The mum who made me the most incredible birthday cakes and spent £300 on 2 kittens we hid from my dad for a week. The first & only source of advice I wanted when I became a mum.

M.S is stealing her from us, from me. I don’t want to watch her slip away. I don’t want to sit here & see her unable to hold her cup or feed herself. I want my mum back………..

Preparing for a Realistic Birth.

I’m not going to lie I spend a LOT of time at the moment thinking about Labour! I am 38 weeks pregnant baby’s head is engaged, my hospital bag is packed, my sister is on standby to babysit, we are ready to go whenever this lil munchkin calls time!! The thought of giving birth again fills me with both overwhelming anxiety and utter excitement. I have had three vaginal deliveries, I know I can push out a baby, I know how earth-stoppingly incredible it is when your baby emerges and you become a mummy for the first time or again. But I also know that I do not handle the pain of child-birth well; I have always wanted to manage on just gas and air and have always had to have pethidine to get me through the 2nd stage. I have always wanted a water birth or at least to be able to get into the birthing pool during labour and have always encountered some little complication which has prevented this. To be totally honest I have always felt like I haven’t remained in control during my labours and been left with a feeling of disappointment in myself.

This is my last baby, my last pregnancy and my very last labour, so what am I hoping to achieve? I am trying to prepare myself for a ‘realistic birth’. In an ideal world I would love to have a water birth. I imagine a really calm atmosphere, me in the birthing pool, just Rich and a midwife in the room maybe some music on and most importantly me feeling like I am in control. I would love to feel empowered in my labour; a strong, confident mama who believes in her own abilities to birth her baby!! But there is also the flip-side; what I don’t want. I don’t want to have a C-section the thought of being cut open completely freaks me out, I have the upmost respect for all the mums who go through that!! I don’t want to experience any significant complications in labour or to have to stay in hospital once the baby is born. The thought of being away from Archer when he is so young and extremely clingy still is a real worry for me. And possibly most obviously I want to birth a healthy baby.

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So going back to my 3 previous labours while no I haven’t achieved my “ideal birth” I have been incredibly fortunate to avoid all the things I’ve wanted to (aside from staying in hospital 2 nights with Archer because he was so tiny). I am incredibly grateful for having experienced 3 straightforward births which have produced 3 healthy babies. So with my last impending labour I am reminding myself of this. My one failing in my 3 previous labours has been feeling disappointed in myself; I am not going to allow myself to feel that after this labour because I struggled or cried or needed strong pain relief to get me through it. Labour is bloody hard work, it’s incredibly painful and at times totally overwhelming. No woman is less of a superhero because of the level pain relief they require to get through it. No woman is less of a heroin if she requires assistance in any form to make sure both herself and her baby stay safe and healthy. Just like the baby born every labour is unique it cannot be compared to any other labour. Whether you pushed out a baby with no pain relief at home, you had every drug available in hospital or your baby was delivered by C-section it’s irrelevant. You made and birthed a baby and that makes you one hell of a…….I couldn’t think of which world to use here that does it justice which is stupid because of course it’s Mother/Mama/Mummy.
Charlie xx

Low Birth Weight Baby: My littlest love

As the arrival of baby number 4 is only weeks away we have been doing the standard get the baby clothes out of the loft for a good wash thing. Like all parents we started looking through the little baby vests and got that pang for how little our baby once was and how quick the time has gone. There are, however, a number of vests and baby grows in our box which aren’t little they are tiny. Because our Archer was really tiny when he was born. He weighed 4 lbs 14. Now Archer wasn’t a prem baby; he was born at full term, I was 39 weeks and a day. Ultimately Arch was healthy, something we are incredibly grateful for but having a low birth weight baby has brought some challenges for us and I wanted to share my experience for others mums who may go through this.

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Archer’s first vest, this was baggy!!

Firstly Archer was kept in hospital for 2 nights to keep an eye on his blood sugar levels; medical staff also insisted on giving him top-up formula feeds after I had feed him. This was difficult because as a family we weren’t really prepared for me and the baby to have to stay in hospital and I felt really guilty leaving my 2 older boys at home. In terms of feeding I knew he was feeding really well from me and I had committed to not letting him go longer than 2 hours without a feed because I wanted to exclusively breastfeed him myself. Yet the medical staff still insisted on the formula top-ups, I ultimately trusted their medical judgement but I didn’t feel that they way this is done is particularly supportive of the mother. A healthcare assistant came and sat on the end of my bed and fed Archer. Now I hold my hands up to being an insanely possessive mother but having a women I didn’t know feeding, cuddling and cooing over my new-born upset me.

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My big boys with one day old Archer in the hospital.

I don’t feel that having a low birth weight has affected Archer, he has developed totally in line with his age; he’s just always been small, on the 9th percentile for growth. The only area we have struggled with slightly is feeding. While he has always fed really well, he has been very sensitive to certain foods and suffered from reflux. While I was breastfeeding him I had to give up a number of foods because he just couldn’t tolerate them, including all spicy foods, cheese and coffee (coffee that was a killer for me exhausted mum of 3!!) Again when we weaned him he loved his food but he would get tummy aches after certain foods and we had to be very aware of what we gave him and try to keep an eye on what upset his little belly. There is of course no way of knowing if this was down to his low birth weight or not.

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My beautiful little baby boy with his Daddy

There are a number of reasons why a baby can have a low birth weight and the 3 main categories were explained to us as being some kind of infection during pregnancy, a health condition in baby or a fault in the placenta. We have never known the reason for Archer being so tiny, both him and me were healthy throughout pregnancy, no infection was ever picked up and they tested my placenta which all came back normal. As a mum of a low birth weight baby there are things I have found difficult. Firstly I had major mum guilt that I hadn’t done my ‘job’ properly in growing our baby. I worried that maybe other people thought I hadn’t eaten properly throughout my pregnancy or done something that had caused this. I do realise now that’s silly and I know none of my friends or family blamed me. Yet as a mum I did feel this sense of my body having failed in a way but the truth is it didn’t. You can do everything you’re meant to and sometimes things don’t go exactly as they should and not even the experts know why.

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Beautiful Boy, tiny but perfect

My advice to other mums who have a low birth weight baby; firstly the chances are there’s nothing you did wrong. Secondly you might not ever get an answer as to why it’s happened, and while this can be frustrating it’s also just life; us humans don’t know everything we forget that sometimes. Thirdly while you may face challenges with your baby because of their low birth weight so do all mums with their babies. These challenges simply vary, all babies are so wonderfully unique and that’s part of motherhood. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard or overwhelming we find things, we stand tall and face them down. There seems to be this unbelievable strength in us mothers when it comes to our children. Don’t forget that all you amazing mamas out there.

Charlie x

Can I hit the pause button?

Can someone else be the parent? Just for the day? Does anyone else ever feel like they need someone else to take over, hold the reins?? Maybe it’s the fact that in a few days it’ll be May, the month before baby is due and I become a mum of 4 and it all just got a bit real. Maybe it’s because life feels a bit complicated at the moment; this week has been kind of a rollercoaster. Or maybe it’s just down to crazy lady pregnancy hormones which I am full of; one minuet I’m snorting (yep full on pig-snorts) with laughter the next I’m trying not to cry into my chocolate milk!! But I find myself searching around for a parenthood pause button. I just want someone else to take over.

 

The thing that makes this so ridiculous is that I’m a total clingy, control-freak of a mother. I find it almost impossible to let anyone else do stuff with my children, their dad has to pretty much fight me off to get a look in. If I do leave them which is rare I’m pining for them after about an hour. (I know trust me I want to punch myself in the head too!!) I think I have a fear of missing out on something and I worry that no-one else will else will look after them the way I do. The problem is I’m not sure I’m doing that great a job right now, hence my desire to hit the pause button. I’m tired, being 32 weeks pregnant with a 17 month old is hard, and my little body is feeling it!! Truthfully there is this little bitch sat on my shoulder dripping self-doubt into my head. Because if I’m not managing now, how the hell am I going to cope with 4?? I don’t want things to slip through the cracks. I don’t want to be grumpy and negative, that’s so unfair on the boys.

That’s the thing about being a mum, there is no time-out, no pause button, no off switch. It’s not a hat you chose to put on or take off. From the second your baby comes into this world you’re a mummy and that doesn’t ever stop. And while motherhood is wonderful and rewarding and provides you with an indescribable love; it’s also exhausting, overwhelming and at times suffocating. So what are we supposed to do when it all gets too much? I guess the first thing is to know that it’s alright to admit it. It’s not always easy to hold your hands up and say you need a break but it shouldn’t carry any judgement and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. It doesn’t mean you love or adore your children any less. In fact (and I know I’ve said this before) looking after yourself makes you a better mum. You’re giving your children a happy, rested mum; they’ll enjoy you more and vice versa.

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I suppose the hard part is finding that ‘thing’ which you can do away from your children which makes you feel good. I know women for who work is their escape; where they find their sanity, for others its exercise and for lots of women I know they take refuge with their girlfriends when things get too much. If I’m being totally honest I haven’t figured out where mine lies yet (I’ll keep you posted). I guess what I’m saying is that as mums we should all take the time to figure out where it is we can recharge and have some seriously deserved me time. Remember this is about you and what makes you happy, you’re not looking for anyone else to validate what helps you. If it makes you happy, de-stressed and gives you the strength to get up in the morning a tackle motherhood like a boss then you bloody do it!! Enjoy the 3 day weekend mummies we have earned it.
Charlie x

Easter: A time for new beginnings, self-acceptance or just lots of chocolate?

Tonight the bunny will visit our house and leave out Easter eggs for my boys, who will wake up delirious with excitement and require a full military operation to stop them raiding all their chocolate before breakfast. The bunny also hides little eggs in the garden and the highlight of Easter Sunday morning has to be the insanely excited, if a little competitive (between the big boys) egg hunt in the garden. The boy’s scrambles for eggs are intermingled with questions of “do you think there are any more”, while I try to remember the top secret info the bunny passed me on exactly how many eggs there are and where they are hidden!easter1

So besides all the chocolate and the cuteness of baby animals popping up everywhere what does this Christian holiday mean to me? What I love about this time of year is the freshness, that inspiring feeling of new beginnings. I’m not really a believer in re-inventing yourself. We spend far too much time being critical of ourselves. I do, however, believe that we can learn to accept ourselves and in doing so make little changes which make us happy. A “new you” isn’t required, love you as you are now. Its OK not to be perfect; in fact that’s actually what makes you bloody brilliant. Accepting your faults is so uplifting and refreshing, and not to mention GOOD FOR YOU. easter2

There are so many things I suck at and wish I could do better, there are also so many things I wish I did full stop. But at the end of the day I wake up every morning and live. Some days I do really bloody well and other days I pull on my invisibility cloak and crawl through the day. And you know what that’s OK! If you want to make a change then go for it, find that self-belief however deep down it may be hidden and give something new a try. I saw a social-media post the other day which said “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” I thought about that for a while and there are lots of things I don’t do or try because I’m afraid. Afraid I’ll fail or afraid of what other people will think of me. There’s nothing wrong with being afraid, acknowledge your fear let it sit in the passenger seat but don’t let it drive your car.

As we walk along our path in life there will be lots of things we can’t change, or make better and accepting that can be incredibly difficult. Yet when we make peace with those things and let go of the anger or frustrations we may feel, we are actually making space for new solutions, acceptance and positive emotions. Life can be so full of pressure, worry and stress; and these things have such a detrimental effect on our mental and physical well-being. What we should take from Easter is to stop, smile and remember that life’s a gift. Don’t spend it worrying that your not good enough, don’t allow the superficial pressures of our society to weigh you down. Find what gives you joy, laugh and enjoy life with all its incredible imperfections.easter3

I really hope you all have a wonderful Easter; eat too much chocolate, get out in the sunshine, smell the flowers, smile and remember you are enough. Charlie xx

Side by Side We Stand.

Exactly one year ago, on International Women’s Day I published my first ever blog (I have linked this in the comments below if you wish to have a read). In it I discussed the concept of blogging and how it can inspire us as women but also place expectations upon us. As this was my first ever blog my perspective on blogging was situated firmly as an outsider. So after a year what have I learned? Well firstly I have to be honest I haven’t been blogging for a year, I have dipped in and out of it and only in the last few months have I actually dedicated myself to blogging regularly. Part of my blogging journey has understandably involved social media; Facebook is where I share parts of my life online with I’ll refer to them as my ‘real-life friends’ and I have found using Instagram has connected me with new ‘virtual-realm friends’. I have been able to connect with other female bloggers, most of whom are mothers; some new to blogging like me and others more established well-known bloggers. When I read my first blog post back what strikes me now is that I don’t once mention the women behind the blogs; the real women behind the words or the Instagram pictures. It didn’t once occur to me that I would have a true connection with these women, who I would share experiences with. Women who I would empathise with, gain support from, while being encouraged and inspired by.

Yet that is precisely what has happened; I have started to build up relationships through social media with other women. I recently contacted a number of established bloggers to ask them to contribute to a blog post I wished to write (watch this space it’s coming!!). Now when I sent out the email I honestly had no idea if I would get any responses. Because when you think about it these women don’t know me, they are insanely busy running successful blogs, working, oh and that little chestnut motherhood!! But I did!! I got a lot of responses, these amazing women took the time not only to email me back with the information I had asked for but also to offer me support and encouragement as a new blogger. And that was it right there, the part of blogging that I hadn’t thought about, the part of blogging which hadn’t once occurred to me when I first started and wrote my first blog post. Other female bloggers supporting and encouraging me!!

This isn’t really about blogging; this is about women, blogs and social media are simply the platform that connects these women together. Women being inspired and motivated by one-another, learning from one-another and most importantly supporting one-another. We live in a patriarchal society, there’s no denying it, a significant pay gap between men and women still exists (according to the government stats it currently stands at 18% https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-gender-pay-gap). You are still more likely to see a man in the most senior positions within businesses and our political environment is still a male dominated arena. The only way this is going to change is if we as women support one another and celebrate the success of strong women around us. So often it can seem like society pits women against one another, forcing us to compete. But the truth is there isn’t a limited amount of space for women to be successful in. One woman achieving something that you want to achieve shouldn’t be viewed as her taking your spot, she isn’t, she’s pushing open that narrow gap for women which exists and making it wider.

An Instagram post I saw shared recently said “Real Queens fix each other’s Crowns” (@thefmlystore) How bloody awesome is that? And so true!! Let’s support one-another ladies. Be inspired, be supported and show each other the love. Whether it’s in a workplace or at the school gates that successful, badass women you’re in awe of, she’s your ally not your competition. Side by side, together we can elevate one another and make sure those crowns stay straight and sparkling.

Happy International Women’s Day you amazing woman.

Charlie