Monday, 16 May 2016

Booby Trapped

Breasts. Pretty much half the world have got them so what’s the big deal about getting them out?

I’m not talking Hugh Hefner parties or Page 3. I mean breastfeeding.

I’ve written a post on this subject before (The Great Boob Debate) but it’s an issue that keeps attracting the column inches.

Women are lambasted in the press for feeding too long (“check out this freak show with a 3-year-old hanging off her nips”), too publicly (“how dare you feed anywhere to suit the needs of your baby. Shame on you”) or too brazenly (“tsk…posting brelfies on Facebook - like you’re proud you’re feeding your baby or something”).

The comedian, Adam Hills’ sketch on this very subject is brilliant. 

With breasts now so incredibly sexualised in our society, it’s little wonder some people have difficulty separating seeing cleavage on the page to actual tits out serving their purpose in Costa.

Photographer and writer Laura Dodsworth set about to create a project exploring the dichotomy between how women feel about their breasts privately and how they are presented for public consumption through the media. 

Bare Reality’ is a fascinating book featuring the chests of 100 women, aged between 19 and 101, each revealing their stories, from breast cancer to breastfeeding.

Yesterday I went to a BooksEast event in Ipswich, featuring Laura in conversation with Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs editor at the Guardian, where she explained her passion for the work and how she hopes it inspires others.

During the Q&A with a small (women-only) audience, the topic of society's views towards breastfeeding in public was raised. 

One woman said she breastfed 15 years ago and faced no disapproval, whereas now it seemed to her that feeding in public is littered with problems. Another said she thought times have moved on and it is fairly widely acceptable.

From my own experience two years ago, I would side with the latter view.  Thankfully I never personally faced any ejection from public spaces and although I heard about some cases locally, the majority of people just seemed to turn a blind eye and let me get on with it.

Despite the varying opinions on breasts and what they represent, the great thing about Laura’s project is that it reopens the debate. It invites us to reassess our own views, challenge our personal prejudices and reminds us that we need to fight against harmful attitudes.

As a woman, a mother, a father, a man, a feminist, we all have responsibility to educate so that the next generation don't have to shamefully cover up while giving their baby the most basic need.

Basically, the message is, don’t be a tit about it.


Monday, 2 May 2016

A New Chapter

I’ve always loved stories.

I love telling them, I love writing them and I love reading them.

Some of my earliest memories are of my dad reading to me (sorry mum, I know you probably did more than your fair share but memory is a selective sod).

It was at primary school that I really discovered books and began to invent my own tales (which resulted in several ‘meetings’ after school where my embarrassed parents were summoned to discuss my ‘overactive imagination’-read lies). And no, for the record, Fergie and Andrew did not come to our house to watch fireworks. 

As my years sprinted on, I enjoyed getting into series - much like the Netflix generation now. From the Worst Witch and Judy Blume, to Sweet Valley High and Point Horror. It offered escapism and excitement.

 When I went travelling around the world years later (after 3 years of prescribed book lists for an English Lit degree), my choice went eclectic. I broke free. My love of novels was reignited and a constant companion on my journey (I even kept a book review log, sadly-pictured below).

Since entering the latest chapter in my life (motherhood), reading has become a luxury. Bleary-eyed mornings are spent with one eye on Facebook while breakfast is prepared with the dulcet snorts of Peppa Pig in the background.

I get the majority of my news in 140 characters from Twitter. After a day of playing hide and seek and playdough (both of which, I’m frankly too old for), I’m pretty whacked. I usually manage about 15 minutes of reading before sleep overpowers me.

But, when you get into a good book, there is nothing quite like it. You find the energy. I’ve had holidays where I can scare remember the accommodation or sights, but you remember the book you were reading.

A good book forces you to switch off mindless TV, it lures you to a quiet corner of the house and urges you to just 'be'. Housework waits, family and friends are shunned. Nothing comes between you and the book. 

Having recently experienced this again, I’m now reinvigorated, so that’s why I was so excited to hear about Ipswich’s inaugural book festival, Books East, launching later this month.

There are loads of events on, covering all genres, and some big names are signed up, including Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

I’ll be blogging about a couple of talks so keep an eye out.

Til then, happy reading!

Books East runs from May 9th to May 15th. Visit the website for all the events

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Madness and Jellybabies

You’ve got to have an element of madness to be an ultramarathon runner.

My buddy Tom is one of them. In a few weeks’ time, he’ll be attempting to run from Land’s End to John O’Groats (that’s 816 miles) in 2 weeks.

Let’s break that down; he’ll be running 60 miles a day-more than a marathon A DAY- for 14 days.

Eat your heart out Eddie Izzard.

That’s not offbeat- that’s sheer lunacy.

The more I heard about this challenge, the more I drew parallels with parenting. Stay with me here.
Firstly it’s jumping into the unknown. 

Sure, a few people you know might have done it. They seem fairly well adjusted and functioning as a normal human being from the outside but you have no idea how you’ll fare. Whether this will be a challenge too far- the thing that breaks you. You wonder if you’ll fall at the first hurdle (in the case of accident-prone Tom, this is likely, given the fact he once dislocated his finger and needed stitches in his knee after tripping over a jellybaby. Yup).

Tom's nemesis

Once you begin the ‘race’, you know there’s no turning back. When asked what Tom’s biggest fear is about his epic run, it was “getting lost”, followed by “not completing it”. I think most parents could relate to this too.

We all feel lost at times. As for not finishing, it is hard to see beyond the next day a lot of the time, let alone the next year. Look at the whole scene ahead of you and it’s just too damn scary to contemplate.

I once found myself stressing about having to help my daughter with homework and make packed lunches every day. She was less than six months old at the time.

Like a new mum, Tom’s diet on route sounds similarly sugar-driven. Porridge to start, followed by a can of coke every 10 miles, supplemented with jellybabies (careful there) and fig rolls, before consuming two evening meals once it’s over for the day. All that’s missing is that crucial huge glass of wine (but then with 60 miles to run the next day, I don’t think that’d be such a good idea).

So why put ourselves through such an endurance test?

Tom’s answer for his challenge was “excitement.” Personally, I can think of much more exciting things to do for 10 hours a day but I know what he means really.

It may not be a laugh a minute on his journey, excitement around every corner, delight in every pothole, but when he gets to the end of each day and nurses his wounds, he can look back knowing how far he has come.  He may even silently congratulate himself before taping up his feet and getting some shut-eye in preparation for what lies ahead. And I guess that’s what we’re all doing really.

I’ve been on this particular road for two and half years now and even looking back through these blog posts, I can see how far I’ve come. I’m not sure I’m at John O’Groats yet- or even where that is, but for now, I’m focusing on enjoying the journey, building up the miles, and best of all, I get to spend it with this little chum.


*Oh and by the way, Tom is doing his run in aid of two great charities, East Anglia's Children’s Hospices, and Great Ormond Street Hospital. If you want to find out more and donate, see his website here. Thanks!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

How running keeps this mum sane

In a month's time, I'll be taking part in my first half marathon- 2 years to the day since my due date (though the little bugger didn't arrive til 10 days later!).

It's true what they say about motherhood, there are obstacles at every step of the way - highs and lows, ecstasy and despair. Much like a half marathon, I imagine.
In fact, ever since I got into running a year ago, it has become my baby (my other one). When said child is playing up, over-tired, or testing my patience, I can just grab my faithful trainers and sprint off like a retired greyhound (with a responsible adult left in charge, obvs).

I've run through heatwaves and snowstorms, picked up a medal or two, become strangely competitive at ParkRun and use the acronym 'PB' (personal best for those not 'in the know') without cringing.

Family and friends say they hardly recognise me - but I do. This is the girl who loves her own space and cherishes 'me' time. I quickly learnt that as a mum, that's a pretty alien concept, so short of popping off to the spa every weekend, running comes a close second.
I never used to understand it when people talked about thinking things through while they run.
Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell used to run for miles, planning whole political strategies apparently. I don't quite manage that most nights, but a good old jog around the 4-mile block does clear the old cobwebs, sorts through my frustrations from the day and gets my creative juices flowing. I'll often return from a run feeling brighter and lighter. Only thing is, it is fairly addictive (damn you endorphins).

Still, I've not been bitten by the bug so hard that I'd turn down an offer of a night down the pub. That wins every time.

So with my 13-mile (gulp) adventure in Ipswich looming ever closer, I've been studying the route and have been drawing my own parallels with the slog/beauty that is parenthood.
Running up Constitution Hill (twice? really?) equates to the sheer exhaustion and relentless of the lack of sleep in the first year.

The unexpected slight incline up Tuddenham Road- I'm reminded here of the 4/5 month sleep regression. Just when things were beginning to get better.

The flat part through town is around about 15 months when she was pretty chilled out about stuff, able to walk, explore and enjoy life on her own.

Up the bridleway, past the park is the 20-month stage I reckon. Bit of a struggle, with tantrums and stubbornness but enhanced understanding and more words means there's lots of good stuff there too.
Throughout my journey though (the mum one that is), I've been cheered along and metaphorically hydrated by family and friends. And when I finally limp across that finishing line on race day, my biggest fan will be watching me (and hopefully giving me a smile) and it will all be worth it (though a beer or two would be appreciated as well!)

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Me And My Shadow

I've come to realise that my baby and I are pretty similar, which is just as well really, as I don't think I could be around someone else for as long if they weren't on my wavelength.

I'm actually not a massive fan of children per se, so imagine my delight when my one turned out to be pretty cool.

Bias does not come into it. Objectively speaking, she is the best kid in any room and let's face it-it'd be pretty awkward if I didn't like my own child.

We share a lot of interests (people watching, being outside) and we love a lot of the same stuff (presents, baths, attention, cow's milk, cake).

We both get bored easily and love to go out a lot. She's also a chatterbox around people she knows-all gabble though (again, the same), and when I once tried to engage her in some football, she ignored the ball and carried on talking (which reminded of my sixth form days of 'playing' footie when my teacher yelled "Cassidy, stop chatting and get the ball").

It's nice to think I'm probably her best friend right now- though it's not reciprocated in the truest sense of the word-I tend to like more conversation back.

Also our sense of humour differs. She prefers more slapstick stuff (hats falling off heads, hiding in really obvious places etc) whereas mine is more dark. But we are both hard to please. You have to earn our laughter.

I like going to bed at a reasonable time and sleeping past 7am, I enjoy quiet time to myself, and I could quite happily sit and watch hours of Breaking Bad. She-not so much.

But despite these differences, I know that I must treasure this time because right now, I'm her world and she is mine.

Friday, 3 October 2014

A treat for you and baby

All new mums need a bit of TLC and while you may crave time to yourself, it isn’t always possible in those early days. 

Pre-motherhood I loved to indulge in spa treatments- that quiet period of bliss where you can empty your mind and be properly pampered. Once you have a baby, this luxury is elevated to something close to heaven and while it is great if you can get that half an hour away, it is not practical for everyone.

As I browsed online for things to do with the new kid on the block, regretfully discarding special offers for hotel breaks away or day trips to the spa, I stumbled upon a rather unique treatment at SK Clinic in Bury St Edmunds. A massage for both mum and baby. Surely, I thought, this is the best of both worlds?

While you get to lie back and be pampered, your baby also gets their own massage, the known benefits of which include helping with colic, digestion and circulation.

On entering the swish clinic, just next to Angel Hill, a team of friendly staff members greeted me warmly, appropriately cooed over baby and I was immediately put at ease.

As my daughter was at the upper age limit for the treatment (9 months), I was a bit concerned that she wouldn’t sit still for long enough or would be too clingy to me.

However the girls reassured me that if she wasn’t happy during the massage, they could take her out of the room while I could have my treatment in peace.

After derobing, I lay on one bed in the calming candlelit room, while my daughter was on the adjacent one. 

Having just woken up, baby was slightly grizzly and was a little unsettled at first so while my therapist started on me, two other girls (who seemed very comfortable/confident with children) took my daughter out and played with her, managing to pacify her very quickly.

Some 10 minutes later, I heard the door quietly open, followed by whispering and my daughter’s familiar chatter. They placed her on the bed next to me and began giving her legs a gentle massage, which she responded to well - not surprising given the very serene atmosphere of the whole place.

When she was very young I did a few baby massage classes with her, but as she has got older and more active, this practice has fallen by the wayside so it was great to re-introduce and know it still has the same effect.

I enjoyed my massage immensely. The therapist applied exactly the right amount of pressure and the smell of sensual oils filled the room. From my shoulders, down to my back, it was deeply relaxing and I almost forgot where I was – let alone that my daughter was a foot away, also being treated.

The upper age limit is there for a reason as the older the baby is, the less likely he or she is going to want to sit/lie there. However this treatment would definitely suit younger babies.

As assistant spa manager Laura Darragh explained: "Babies thoroughly enjoy a gentle massage, the laying on of hands is very relaxing for them, even therapeutic. The reason is of the five senses, touch is the one that is most developed at birth. Massage can help to ease your baby’s tummy troubles and teething pains, can boost muscle development and soothe them to sleep.

"There are also advantages for mum, just by touching your baby through massage, helps for you to bond with them. If the baby is relaxed then it's highly likely mum will be too."
This 30-minute treatment (costing just £50) is the perfect antidote for new mums who need that break but can't/don't want to be apart from the little 'un. It is only a shame I discovered it so late, because had I known, I would have booked it from the maternity suite!