Poppy is doing better

We all came home from hospital once Poppy no longer needed a nasal gastric tube to help with the dehydration. There was an influx of sick kids needing the  beds and they were pretty confident the test results would show she had a bout of gastro that was resolving. We brought her home Monday evening, did fluid tracking for another 24hrs during which time she continued to improve.

So it was a bit of a shock to follow up with her doctor on Wednesday and learn that her test results were not consistent with gastro (not to mention that no one else we know has it or had caught it since she became sick). Brain injury and meningitis were ruled out, which is a relief. But we’re not really sure what happened. And she’s continued to be off colour since. She was severely dehydrated so we’ve been told that if she shows signs of dehydration again, spikes a fever, or vomits twice in a row we’re to take her back to Hospital for assessment. We haven’t needed to do that, thankfully. But it was a long week following.

She’s vomiting once severely every few days, has low urine output, and isn’t sleeping well. Her latch has changed and nursing is painful and leaving blisters.

So we’ve been keeping her close, running on very little sleep, and keeping an eye on her. 9 months in we’ve done both my nightmare parenting scenarios- both parents very sick at the same time, and baby very sick with gastro type issues on a camp. Ye gods. 

So that’s where things are up to. Work is wonderful but incredibly busy and intense. Rose and I both worked at times this week and are frantically catching up on housework and meal prep. I came home wired, excited, and exhausted​ recently and just dropped all my bags by the front door and spent an hour getting muddy in the front garden with Poppy. I knew if I walked in the house I would collapse​ on the couch and not move again. But digging up weeds and getting my hands in soil amidst the last autumn roses was exactly what I needed to calm and breathe again. Sometimes checking out at the end of the day isn’t resting it’s just disconnecting. 

I’ve also been reading about secondary lactose intolerance which can happen following a viral infection that temporarily damages the villi in the intestines, making it difficult to process dairy and breast milk. As the gut heals the villi grow back and bubs can digest everything again, but it might explain the ongoing illness aspect of this. Our GP agrees so we’re just taking it gently while Poppy recovers. If things don’t improve we’ll explore possible allergies but I’m hopeful we’ve got things sussed out. 

Yesterday Poppy spent her first afternoon in day care, which went really well. It’s a Family day care run by a friend with a similar parenting approach to us. There’s a sandpit and opportunities for playing in mud, and a cat and chickens and lots of books. Poppy is very adventurous and fascinated by other children so we’re hopeful that with the right approach she’ll find staying there a treat. Frankly I wouldn’t mind checking in for a couple of days playing in the garden myself. We’re very lucky to have such a quality option close by, it’s a far cry from some places I’ve been in with their obsessive sterilising of toys and anxiety about the weather. 

I guess it’s a little bit like mental health care that way, the most expensive, shiny, clinical settings are often where the worst ‘care’ happens, while the underfunded, homey drop in centre can be where the profound interpersonal skills and human connection that saves lives happens. That kind of ‘impressive professional looking’ and ‘human’ so rarely go together. 

So she and other children played and explored and cuddled and ate together. Rose and​ I fretted quietly. When I went to pick her up she was fast asleep so I sat with her until she woke. On seeing me she cried a little and we talked and cuddled until she felt better. She nursed and slept in my lap all evening, catching up on contact. I felt the mix of anxiety, relief, bewilderment, gratitude, and frank surprise that this is my life that has been a part of parenting since the beginning. We keep feeling our way forwards. My days are bookended by absolute joy.

Advocacy – Breastfeeding in Public

I’ve been doing more advocacy work in several areas lately, and working on my terror of journalists… (I’m queer, poor, out about my mental health challenges etc… a member of various groups often not treated well by media) It’s a little bit of an experiment to see what I’m capable of and what the costs are for myself and my family. I’m pretty comfortable with being my own media but handing control over words and images to someone else, and being vulnerable to having your story fitted to their ideas, values, and perceptions is a very different thing.

Breastfeeding parents deserve much better support. I’ve been unfortunate to find myself in a couple of difficult situation, and fortunate in that the journalists who I’ve spoken with have been friendly and not misrepresented me. So a while ago I was interviewed for a snippet on the Channel 7 news which was also shared to their Facebook page. I watched the social media storm once the story went up. I wrote this blog post and then held it in draft for a few months to let things calm down.

Most of the online conversation completely missed the point, sadly. Which is simply this:

I don’t think it’s okay for a business to:

  • Refuse to own an unusual policy and blame others instead (‘we wish we could but we can’t because they won’t let us’)
  • Keep their policy quiet so many people who it will impact are not aware of it
  • Ask people who have fallen foul of their policy and only found out at the last minute to take down a polite post in the event page online informing and cautioning others it will impact
  • Not release a public statement about their policy once they realise people are not aware of it, but instead continue to allow people to discover it at the gates of the venue where they are denied entrance because of it
  • Randomly enforce their policy by allowing some people to bypass it if they argued it was discrimination

That seems crystal clear to me, and I think most people would agree it’s bad form. That’s why I spoke up. Whether the policy itself is legal is still unclear to me, a call to the Equal Opportunities Commission wasn’t able to clear that up.

What most people were arguing about is:

  • Whether the policy itself is a good idea
  • What ‘good parents’ should be doing

While these are important topics, from my perspective they are not actually the point in this situation. If the policy is legal, then any business that has it should have the decency to own it, be clear and consistent about it, and make sure the people it impacts know about it. That seems simple to me.

I knew that a social media backlash of some kind was likely when I agreed to be interviewed. Breastfeeding, and babies inconveniencing other people are hot topics, and the internet can be a scary place! Don’t read the comments is the mantra for a reason. I’ve been doing more advocacy in various ways lately and I’m slowly extending my capacity and working to reduce my vulnerabilities. I usually follow a fairly careful – praise in public, criticise in private approach with my online sharing, but I do make exceptions when I feel it’s warranted – in this case I’ve already complained directly and been shut down, and this is important to talk about.

The policy in question?

Not allowing babes in arms at an outdoor picnic concert – Missy Higgins and the Australian Symphony Orchestra, because it was an 18+ event. Here’s the context:

  • Here in Australia it is normal that babes in arms can attend many 18+ events, free. They can be brought into pubs or other venues that serve alcohol, they can come to concerts and music events, they can even travel free on domestic flights. It’s generally understood that babies are not benefiting from the event so they don’t need a ticket, and they need to come because they need to be cared for – especially those who are breastfed and like Poppy won’t take a bottle. This is a lot more common than many people think. At the time, if she couldn’t go somewhere, I couldn’t go there.
  • We have strong laws to protect breastfeeding in Australia; it is illegal to prevent someone breastfeeding their baby. These laws are essential because there is a lot of hostility from some people. Mums still have issues with being asked to leave restaurants, told they have to feed in toilets or go home, or being harassed and even abused by strangers while nursing – all kinds of things that make being a breastfeeding Mum really hard. So the laws are important because some people have an intense ‘ick’ reaction to breastfeeding and try very hard to make those of us who do it feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or even unsafe when we try to go about our normal lives. The Equal Opportunity Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone in customer service “because they have a child with them or need to feed a child (including breast and bottle-feeding)“.

Remember the issue at hand – if you’re going to have a policy, own it, be honest and upfront about it, and do your best to make sure people affected are aware of it and don’t get caught out by it.

The Story

So, I’m home with Poppy tonight, while lovely Rose goes off to the concert we planned to attend as a family. Back in August, friends all teamed up and bought us both tickets to a beautiful outdoor concert of Missy Higgins and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra as a ‘welcome to the world’ gift once Poppy safely arrived. We’ve been planning tonight for months. Rose has been playing Missy Higgins music to Poppy so she’s familiar with it. We bought baby headphones which we’ve used successfully at other events in case it was too loud. We have infant safe insect repellent in case of mosquitos. Rose especially has been super excited because she’s really into Missy and has been since forever. When they sold out of hampers and we were broke because Rose’s wallet was stolen, she was worried because their website said we were not allowed to bring our own food. So she called them and said I was breastfeeding and couldn’t possibly go 6+ hours without eating, will there be other food available on the night? They said yes and we planned to put a little borrowed money aside for a meal.

So it was a nasty surprise when our mates contacted us and said – so sorry we’ve just found out no babies allowed! We were sad and upset and called the venue to check. They confirmed this and said it was not their idea, they would love to have babies there, but the liquor licensing laws prevent it. We were pretty upset that even when we called them and mentioned breastfeeding, they hadn’t told us about not allowing babies. They said it was on their website under FAQ’s but when we checked those went up months after the tickets had been purchased. Rose put up a sad but polite post on Facebook in the event letting other breastfeeding Mums know they couldn’t bring their babies. Another Mum found herself in the same position and people started to make phone calls to try and figure out who was responsible for this policy, why none of us knew about it, and if it could be changed.

The liquor licensing people said it was nothing to do with them, vendors set their own policy. The local council likewise. Missy Higgins team said they can’t overturn a decision by the vendor. The Equal Opportunity Commission said they are uncertain if a venue has the right to deny entrance to a baby under these circumstances. We got worried about our tickets to see Amanda Palmer next year and checked in with them – yep, babies are fine, please just take them out of the room if they cry. Phew! That’s the usual scenario, and exactly what we planned to do.

So we went back to the vendor and said hey, council and liquor licensing say babies can attend an 18+ event like this, can we please bring her. Vendor still says no and still insists it’s not their policy or fault. Then they ask can we please take down our post letting other parents know about it. That’s the point at which I got really cranky, because it’s one thing to have a policy like this, and it’s another entirely to not tell people about it! We ask for a refund of my ticket and venue says they will do that.

Phone calls and emails are going back and forth and things are kicking off on social media. People are getting the wrong end of the stick and arguments are breaking about out whether a venue can prevent a Mum from breastfeeding (they can’t and they weren’t trying to, they were preventing the baby from coming) or whether a concert is a suitable venue for a baby, which is a whole different kettle of fish. This was about a baby not being allowed in when usually they would be, and the venue handling the situation in a way I found distressing.

A friend of mine who went along on Friday night messages me to tell me that there is a baby there and they’ve been let in. They go and chat and find out that they were confronted with the ‘no babies allowed’ policy at the door. Shocked, they argued that was discrimination and were let in with their baby, but told they might be asked to leave by security at any time. They let my friend take a photo of their baby to prove they were allowed in, in case it helps us argue to be included. Venue continue to argue it’s out of their hands.

One friend emails a journalist who then reaches out to Rose online. I’m madly anxious about the media and worried about the shit storm that’s developing online, but I’m also angry about how the venue have treated people and the misinformation that’s going on. Harassing parents with babies at the gates is rubbish. So a lovely journalist and a cameraman turn up to my house to interview me. I run home from the blessingway (baby shower) I’ve been at and change out of my pants which have baby poo on them (parenting is glamorous) and stand on my porch to talk about how badly this has been handled. They tell us about the media statement from the venue, which to my mind is waffly and vague and implies they are unaware of the issues and unsure how to proceed. It sounds suggestive that maybe they are now letting babies in after all. Rose calls them again and is told that they are not now and have not ever let babies in for this type of event, not do they plan to. They continue to blame licensing despite us having verified directly with licensing that they wrote the license specifically allowing children to be present. When Rose also tells them she knows they let at least one baby in yesterday, they bizarrely claim the baby must have been smuggled in by its parents. Baffled and frustrated, we give up.

Our friends turn up with icecream. They leave the icecream as consolation for me, and take Rose off to the concert. I get a bit teary about staying home. I jitter my way anxiously through dinner, watch the snippet when it comes on the news and feel hugely relieved about it. A couple of words I wouldn’t use (Poppy isn’t a newborn, and I wouldn’t describe myself as devastated) but they’ve been true to the situation. Phew!

I hang out with Poppy, nursing and helping her nap, and when the clip goes up online have a quick look at the comments which are mostly negative, hostile, and missing the point. My Mum comes over and we play board games. It’s hardly the worst thing to be home with Poppy. 🙂 Rose comes home and shows me a video she took of Missy singing a lullaby she wrote for her baby boy. It’s stunning, we both get a little teary. I’m sure Missy wouldn’t be okay with any of this if she knew about it. It was a truly beautiful night.

What do I think of a policy of not allowing babies into events like this?

As to the points people are mostly arguing about – obviously I personally think the policy is not a good idea. A picnic orchestra is hardly a thrash metal mosh pit and seems to me to be a perfectly suitable place for a baby. I’m concerned that banning babies effectively bans the Mum and the breastfeeding, which may even be the covert intention when people insist on policies like this, who knows? I wasn’t the only person unable to attend because I was nursing a baby.

Policies and laws around things like this are trying to balance a few things – parents rights to inhabit venues and public places with their babies, the need to keep babies safe, and the rights of other people to also inhabit and enjoy events and places. People interpret them in slightly different ways and weight them differently which is fair enough. I get that a crying baby on a bus for example, is stressful and no fun for anyone. However parents and babies need to be able to get places, so we are legally protected to be able to use public transport. There are certainly places it is not safe or suitable to take a baby, and it’s reasonable to exclude them from construction sites and surgeries for example. The venue in our case not allowing babies in appears to be a bit of a grey area.

Personally I think it’s fine to bring a baby to a picnic concert, and I’ve done so more than once. We’ve attended concerts indoors and outdoors, as well as the cinema, restaurants, the beach, swimming pool, my workplace meetings, and a camp with friends. We are considerate and take Poppy elsewhere if she is unsettled, we use baby earphones if the volume is loud, and we have a good time together. It’s important to me to include and support parents, and especially to help support and normalise breastfeeding.

Here we are together at the free Neil Finn picnic concert in Elder Park – which was absolutely full of families, children, and babies having a great time. It was the first big concert Star had ever been to and we had a lovely time. (Yes, that is a multicoloured floral stormtrooper headband, Rose is an incredible shopper)

What do I think ‘good parents’ should be doing?

People’s ideas about safety and good parenting also vary, which is healthy diversity when it comes to their own choices, but often needless shaming when it comes to policing other people. If you think having a baby outdoors in the evening is inappropriate, you are welcome to stay indoors. If I’m happy to sit under the stars with my little one, it’s hardly the kind of ‘safety risk’ that warrants shaming. There’s more than one ‘right way’ to raise a baby. Some families love camping. Some parents are into cosplay. Some like music. How wonderful!

There are things that are clearly dangerous to children, then there’s just the huge range of diversity of human interests and passions. We shouldn’t be judging difference as if it is all dangerous. One person who attacked us compared taking Poppy to see Missy Higgins as the same as taking her into a sex shop. I’m not sure Missy Higgins would appreciate that comparison!

The news snippet was brief of course, so people have misunderstood some details or jumped to the wrong conclusions. There was a mess of hostility. Attacking me for everything from my haircut to not being willing to ‘sacrifice’ going to a concert for the sake of my baby. As if Rose and I have not made sacrifices for her – our first little baby after 7 losses! I find it really interesting that there’s this backlash from some people when parents try to participate in their communities – that being a good parent is about missing out, and staying home with your little one. There are many things I’ve sacrificed for both of the lovely girls I’m blessed with, (dealing with a grade 3 tear leaps to mind!) but I really don’t feel that picnics need to be among them.

If Poppy was a more sensitive baby who was easily overstimulated, then obviously we wouldn’t take her to long, noisy events. But Poppy so far is very social and gregarious. She loves hanging out with people and is more than happy to snuggle to sleep in our arms with crowds or through movies.

As many families at that time of year prepared their children for evening, outdoors, noisy carols nights with fireworks, it seems faintly ridiculous to judge Rose and I and the other parents who planned to bring our babies to a picnic with an orchestra. I don’t think that needless sacrifice or exclusion make people better parents. I think they might make people lonelier parents, or sadder parents, or even perhaps more self-righteous parents. But staying home with Poppy while Rose went out to the concert was not character building. It was hardly the worst night of my life – a night with Poppy could never be that! But it was sad and it made me resent breastfeeding and being at home while a great many of our friends were out having a lovely time. Doubly so that it was a gift from our friends celebrating Poppy being part of our family. Hardly the ingredients for a parent who is content and connected to their baby and their community.

Funnily enough there were also other takes on what being a good parent requires. For some people it was sacrificing going out anywhere kids can’t go, for others it was sacrificing having the kids around, so still going out but leaving them with someone else. You actually can’t get it right as a parent. I’ve seen shaming along each of those lines in different scenarios. The shaming can intensify into virtual lynching if something goes wrong in any of those scenarios (such as a babysitter harming a child). Too often, being a ‘good parent’ means ‘parenting exactly the way I do’, and being fortunate enough to have nothing go wrong. What a load of crap.

This feels like a familiar dynamic to me – the way that otherwise basically kind kids will join in bullying the most vulnerable without really being able to articulate their primitive, instinctual understanding that if they don’t, they might be next. Kindness, ‘live and let live’ acceptance and friendly curiosity about diversity do not thrive in environments that are hostile and unpredictably aggressive. We support parents most like us and shame those ‘others’. We shame each other because we have been shamed, because we are hurting, because we feel we need to justify or own choices, and because we are afraid of being shamed. It’s a cycle that costs us all.

I think good parents celebrate diversity and don’t shame each other for harmless differences. I think good parents participate in the things that are important to them in ways that suit their families. I think good parents make sacrifices when it’s needed and don’t get hooked into an unsustainable culture of self sacrifice and disconnection from their own needs and the wider community.

What did this cost us?

The online storm was distressing enough that Rose and I disconnected from the internet for a few days. Friends were mostly supportive and confused by the vitriol. I found myself curiously invulnerable to a lot of the hostility but it distressed Rose terribly to see people being cruel to me. Some friends were so enraged by our preference to be able to attend the concert with Poppy that they attacked us and then cut us off. This isn’t the first time seemingly minor parenting choices have triggered an unusually​ aggressive response and the destruction of old friendships. It’s bewildering and sad, needless and infuriating. It feels to me like there are deep wounds beneath these responses.

Other friends rallied groups of parents to get into the comments and push back against some of the misogyny and shaming. I wrote this post to clarify what was going on and why but shelved it to not draw any of the hostility to my blog or personal Facebook page. After a few days the sense of exposure to people’s dark underbelly started to ease and life went back to normal. I hope the massive swell of support would help any other parents feel that there’s a lot of people who do get this and would back them.

Why did I do it?
I did it knowing the risks of a backlash, because breastfeeding has been difficult for me, for many reasons. If the venue had said no babies allowed, my friends would never have bought us tickets and I wouldn’t have been in the middle of it. Having found out about it at the last minute, I also think it’s an inappropriate policy for this lovely event, I think the venue handled the situation very badly, and I think we need to treat parents with more dignity. I believe that our culture puts stupid pressure on parents, shames and devalues mothers, and makes breastfeeding more difficult than it needs to be. There’s a real vulnerability to this, and an assumption by some that Mums can be mistreated because we don’t have enough of a voice, enough time, or enough energy to make a fuss about it. There’s a lot of misogyny in this. Social media can help connect us as well as vilify us.

Because I chose to be visible in this situation, other Mothers heard about this policy over Facebook – before they turned up and were sent home again. The downside is that anyone who saw the backlash may be even more reluctant to advocate for themselves, but after a few days the supportive comments outnumbered the hostile and rude ones. Mothers and allies banded together and backed each other. 

We are not alone anymore and we can back each other up. It’s not okay to treat us as second class citizens, deride our writing as ‘mummy blogs’, our effort to raise our kids as ‘not real work’, and the vulnerability of breastfeeding as something we should be embarrassed about. It’s not okay to tear each other down. I feel like I’ve been brave and gone and handled some fire. I’ve had my eyebrows singed off but my house is still standing, so I feel pretty lucky considering. If I’m very lucky I might even get across a small point or make some kind of difference, even if just to the other Mothers who find themselves being devalued in situations like this, or on the pointy end of our brutal culture of shaming, blaming, and excluding. We have every right to participate, to parent in a variety of ways, and to be supported to breastfeed. I’d stand up and say that again. 

Poppy is sick

We’re currently in hospital with Poppy, who has some kind of terrible gastro and can’t keep anything down. We drove home from our camping trip a day early and brought her straight to our local hospital. That was a drive I’m not likely to forget in a hurry. She was admitted and rehydrated with a nasal gastric tube. Rose and I have been caring for her in shifts. Last night at 3am I took Star home and we both caught up on some sleep. It was the first night I’ve been apart from Poppy since she was born and if I hadn’t been so sleep deprived I fell asleep the moment I got into my room, I’d probably have had some big feelings about that.

​It’s so strange to be here feeling sad and scared when it’s such a minor issue really and there are really sick kids around. I feel like I’m making drama to be upset, feel like I need to get through this as quietly as possibly without drawing attention to her, in case somehow that means she comes in for something much nastier. At the same time I feel like she’s dying and it’s inevitable that we’ll lose her. I want to bite the nurses who tell her to stop making a fuss, and kiss the ones who touch her gently and are comforting. Just giving yourself permission to feel what you feel instead of measuring it against some yardstick of what’s valid and acceptable is hard but so helpful. Parenting is weird.

I’m trying to stay out of crisis. It feels like my life tips into crisis regularly at the moment and I’m under too much strain. I’m trying to find what I need to be okay. Dashing to the hospital after missing my bus stop this morning, the strain in my body was like my muscles were trying to teleport me there directly, such an intense need to be back with her. I thought about the line I’ve been using to calm my pain levels, from my cranial sacral therapy – breathe into your bones, and the journalling I’ve done around what that means to me- the breath that turns my bones from straining steel under pressure, back to living bone, that takes root like a tree and grows and bends beneath the storms. 

Thinking about the poems and images of wings and how the pain is where they would be if they were visible (I went to say if they were real, but that’s not quite the same thing) and someone had cruelly bound them together so I couldn’t fly. The way wings are related to my poetry, difference from others, my walking in other worlds.

So I walked back to the hospital a little slower and I breathed and felt the straining ease a little, the sense of tendons overtightened like guitar strings about to snap back off. Pain rushes back in with awareness, muscles are stiff but they move again, that sense of being locked shifts. My stride changed, the pain flared worse at first then eased a little, became mobile and moved around between different muscles, felt less like I was on the edge of tearing apart.

I called some of our tribe for help. Some chatted online with me, or visited the hospital with lunch, made us dinner, took Star food shopping for school, put on a load of washing of clothes and bedding with vomit on them… I concentrated on not falling off the edge of the world in my own head and forgetting that people care about us, or feeling guilty about our resources compared to so many parents. We are there for our tribe in many ways, it’s not manipulative or parasitic to call on them for help. I made eye contact and enjoyed hugs and soaked up as much as I could.

Rose and​ I, still negotiating our new roles, fielding the constant question of which of us is the mother, dancing between the needs of our girls and ourselves, having to find a new common language for this part of our lives. Things tangled this evening and our conversation to get back on the same page was the kind where 10 minutes in it feels horribly dangerous and digging into deep wounds and black places and you’re starting to wonder if you shouldn’t just abandon it now before it all goes to hell… But we passed through to understanding and found out way back together. I’m home again for a sleep now. Poppy is sleeping in hospital with Rose after a bath and keeping down the first feed in 24 hrs. We’re hopeful she will be well enough to come home tomorrow.

This was Poppy on camp before she became sick. It was very beautiful and my new tent -a birthday gift from Rose, was amazing and wonderful. 🙂

The Nature of Adventure

We’re away for the long weekend, staying with a friend. Desperately needed, I’m hovering on the edge and need daily effort to help me get back to an okay baseline. I’ve had to put a lot of thought into getting out of work mode and being aware of the impacts of all the changes. It’s been the most wonderful thing to get out of our routine and away from work and clear my head. 

I hadn’t prepared for how different traveling with a baby is! We’re not that experienced at traveling with Star, adding Poppy has been a steep learning curve. We’ve had a couple of super stressful nights with very little sleep and a hysterical tiny person suffering night terrors who will only settle with Star… go figure. So it’s been a weird holiday, absolutely brilliant and restful in some ways, really stressful in others. Lots of work happening to maximise the former and minimise the latter!

We tried a different approach to sleep arrangements last night and Poppy only woke up 4 times, tears but no night terrors. I feel fairly human today now. By last night I was a wreck. It’s tough! 

Yesterday Star and I explored one of the sink holes in town and rose gardens along side it with our cameras. I’ve transferred to a new phone and the camera is amazing. I particularly love macro photography and looking for things we don’t usually record. There’s such a mindfulness aspect to photography where you really pay attention to what’s around you. It’s a delight to see Star enjoying​ it.

Still adapting to my new full time working life. My two main current contracts take a lot of management and I’m making plenty of rookie mistakes there too and learning rapidly. I’ve been taking heart from a great quote about how an expert is a person who has made every possible mistake in a very narrow field… the mistakes are tough but absolutely invaluable and I’m learning loads. Mostly I only make them once. Sometimes the issues and blocks and skills take more time.

Noticing things like the sense of burden that has come with the transition to being the primary breadwinner in our family. The way that I no longer really notice if the lounge is a mess but suddenly Rose who didn’t used to care, feels stressed by it. Transition of roles. I’m determined to use my time as lead parent and household manager to help me be a good breadwinner partner who gets the stress of those roles and provides excellent support. We’re discussing how we share the load and use our skills best, what to do about the areas that neither of us are great at, or both find really stressful. Rose after 10 + years in the workforce is doing the same in reverse.

My first big pay came through a couple of days ago, the first time I’ve been the earner in our relationship. Rose spent the day quite stressed and checking in with me if I was upset or angry with her. We call this her ‘foster kid mode’ and it’s one of her threat responses to particular kind of stress. Sometimes it means I’m leaking suppressed anger or taking control in ways I shouldn’t. Sometimes it’s nothing to do with me but some other stress going on. By evening we took a couple of minutes to check in together and investigate what was setting it off. The massive change in our dynamics and the fresh vulnerability of money in different roles was what came up right away. We named it and that was enough to bring down the stress for now. Simply bringing things into view safely is so valuable.

I’ve brought my usual rest and relaxation things with me and found it’s not quite working. Even making art, which I’m enjoying, is not settling me like it usually does. A whirring anxiety is chronically present in my chest. Today we did Easter gifts, Rose arranged chocolates and something else for everyone. Star was given a jigsaw puzzle. She and I started it this morning and I calmed. Now that art is part of my working​ life in a much bigger way, making it is still triggering that sense of trying to be productive. It’s still output. ‘Doing’, not the ‘being’ I so desperately need in order to calm down. Everything changes, the risks are no longer what they used to be.

So much has changed. At the moment, while I navigate new work, new roles, new cultures, new relationships, new clients, new kinds of work, two kids at home and all the differences that come with this, it is very much like a controlled period of crisis. I’m in a stage of intense personal development and high levels of self care. I’m learning from rookie mistakes such as- I can’t sustain working all day then doing housework all night. That skipping meals and running on constantly broken sleep isn’t sustainable. Or not making time to pump milk during my work day results in severe engorgement and bruising. 

Transition. Adaptation. Transformation. Moments of dark distress and others of pure magic. Learning how to be a family together, how to support each of the dreams we’ve all worked so hard for, how to attune and tend to each other. Yesterday was hard. Today is joyful. That’s the nature of adventures, and it’s what we’re teaching our girls. The hard walk up the hill gets the view. The effort to pack good supplies is rewarded when you have insect repellant on hand. It’s worth feeling a bit of fear about heights to be able to stand on the edge of the dormant volcano and see the swallows dancing over the dark water far below. To be alive.

The discomfort and hard work are the cost of the magic, those moments of bliss and awe and feeling deeply. It doesn’t need to be perfect to be absolutely wonderful and worthwhile. (something the disability community are constantly trying to get us to understand) 

There’s always a cost, to everything, your values, your goals and dreams, everything. The secret seems to be to try and keep the costs bearable, and then to bear them willingly. Don’t allow them to steal the joy or consume all your attention. 

In a way it’s hard to define, the costs seem to be part of the magic. Those who have wealth enough to insulate themselves from all of some kinds of costs, who helicopter to the view instead of hike, find themselves insulated also from the wonder and the beauty. My friends who have a lot of money are dissatisfied by and return to the kitchen meals that being me great joy. Dissociation is social and financial as much as it is personal. 

Striving seems to be part of it all, the burn in your muscles and pebble in your shoe that demands attention. An indulgent endless diet of dessert loses joy. A life deeply lived and rich in experiences is one with risk and pain and discomfort and hard work, alongside joy and love and contentment and peace and awe. 

So there are adventures all around at the moment, personal and professional. I’m overjoyed and incredibly fortunate. Learning the new risks of burnout, the new skills to find my sustainable rhythms and follow my joy. Managing and embracing the costs. Living with my whole heart.

Motherhood and Art

“Indeed, to relocate the heart of existence in the home and in motherhood is an inherently subversive artistic act. If Kim Brooks worries that the job of art is to unsettle and the job of a mother is to soothe, perhaps there is no more unsettling solution than to insist she can do both, that there is, in fact, no conflict there, that motherhood itself is dark and uncharted and frightening. What if, in fact, motherhood is a boon to the artist? What if writing motherhood is the frontier, is the uncharted territory into which we must step if literature is to advance?”

From “Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid” by Rufi Thorpe

Yes. Speaking to the heart of the frozen terror I feel in the mothers playgroups, surrounded by pastels and toys and singing inane songs in a circle. I can’t breathe and I want to run with all the urgency of a wild beast feeling the cage and the collar. I run into my night and knaw on my own limbs – what’s wrong with me? Why do I hate this?

I am also the woman standing in the baby aisle at the supermarket, weeping over the tiny soft baby things, the clean plastic and rows of bottled food. She iso empty of life and so hollowed out by yearning she can’t breathe, so tormented by dreams of a child she can’t stop the tears running down her face in public.

And then there’s the place where my art founders, confused and lost, in the halls of the great artists and among the ideas of what real art is – imbibed in such small, sweet, daily doses I don’t even notice the poison – that my art isn’t real art, that my life isn’t the source of real art, that my pain or disability or suffering are the things that prevent me making art because they could never be appropriate topics of art. We do not speak of those things. They are subversive, and the subversive is for richer, free-er, bolder, stranger, or better insulated women than me. There’s always a cost to breaking rules and I have broken so many since breakfast.

Selfishness and selflessness. The domestic and the sublime. The mundane and the world of soul. I am a mother. I feel the bind – that I should be this at all times. That if I break the role I must do so in secret. When the child returns I switch back so instantly, conscious of all the traces I’ve left of living some other life in their absence: ink on my fingers, paint on my desk, pages on the blog. I wanted this family; I work hard at it, I give myself to it. And yet.

How do I set them free when I am not free? How do I teach them to listen to their small voices when I can’t hear my own anymore? How can I hear their small voices and move beyond the quiet numb disconnection of relationships that revolve around schedules and plans and who’s turn it is to do the dishes? If I hide my own wildness, how will they know to protect theirs, to nourish and nurture it, to endure pain for it, to hold onto it as precious when all else has washed overboard?

I adore being a mother. The skinless agony of disability and loss are clothed so gently in this role. A child turned up at my door in the night, sweet with love and bloodied with betrayal and my heart opened to fit her as if I’d been waiting for her all my life. Something wretched in my soul started to sing. Another child I birthed roaring in the dark water, endured so much for the ecstatic pleasure of her tiny head resting on my chest.

Being a mother terrifies me. The generic straight-jacket of a role with so little diversity or individuality, so aggressively policed. Mother and Artist are so often positioned as opposite roles, contradictory life choices. Mothers don’t make Art, they ‘craft’. Their raw outpourings about life at 3am are merely ‘mommy blogs’. Exalted beyond angels and bound into rules of self-sacrifice and humility, we are not really human anymore. We are transformed into a wholly other thing that consumes all traces of what we once might have been.

Wise friends counsel me – it’s okay to be afraid. Maybe my task isn’t to map myself to the role of motherhood, it’s to change the role around me so that I can take it on with more authenticity, who I am, as I am. Stretching it out like shoes and bringing more and more of my self into it. Making it rich and strange and complex. I can feel the shadow cast by the needs of child or friend and fit myself to it, almost perfectly, like mixing a cake from the right ingredients. So much of me is then left waiting in the wings, in the small hours of the night. As hard as it is for me to bring them into the light, it’s so hard too for those around us to let go of that perfect role, to not hold each other to play parts in our own lives where they are fitted to our empty places, but allow them to be human – stranger, deeper, more contradictory, more free of us, outside of our understanding, walking their own paths. Is there room for that freedom in such an intense relationship as Mother and Child? How can I teach a child to be free in love, if I don’t feel free? To hold tightly without crushing. To love deeply without caging.

Tonight, Rose drove us all into the hills to feel the wind on our faces. We are no longer solitary lovers, now we navigate a family of needs and perspectives. Poppy wails in the car and Star is stressed by the millipedes in the toilets at the park. And yet we still find a little sense of freedom. I stand barefoot beneath the trees, a very long way away from the shiny halls of power where the windows never open and no breeze ever dances, and I remember that I am human. 

On a park bench in the gathering cold of the Autumn evening, I hand express milk from an overfull breast onto the soil. Knees apart I cradle Poppy in my lap and she nurses as I watch the birds swooping in the pines, the light falling through the poplars with their tattered, pocked leaves.

This is the task, as it always is, in so many forms throughout my life. To find ways to be human, to honour the humanity, the vulnerability, the darkness, and the transcendent in each of us. This is the space between Mother and Child. I walk Star to the toilet and praise her courage honestly. I hold a millipede in my hand. I nurse Poppy on the park table, leaves under my bare feet, my milk spilled on the cold earth. There is Art here.

Learning new things

I’m really exhausted. So much had been going on lately and my usual energy cycles are being distorted. I’m struggling to keep rest, reflection, downtime, and debriefing spaces as everything is pushed into output. It doesn’t work of course, doing all the time is extremely unproductive. My generation tends to talk about how tired we are of ‘adulting’ but watching lovely tired 16 year old Star crash out on the couch the other night I thought it’s really not just about adults, is it? It’s about being responsible, hiding strong feelings, trying to be functioning, in output mode. It’s about being ‘on’ all the time and having your downtime feel numbing instead of refreshing. Its following the schedule that feels like it’s killing you because you don’t even have the energy to rebel. Its what happens when you fit a living organism to a mechanical structure. The ebb and flow energy cycles of one get pushed into the steady constant output of the other. The requirements of ‘public’ presentation – no strong feelings, disconnection from self, impulses, needs, intuition, it’s far far too many hours of forcing yourself to do things you really don’t want to do. Star flops down on the couch and I flop down on the armchair and there’s more shared ground here than difference. I’m struck as I have always been by the way we idealise young peoples lives and tell stories where responsibility, fatigue, and disconnection are only part of adult experiences. I want to be a good role model in my working life for her. 

Today I’ve had a good day, unexpectedly because this week has been a long session of crisis management and I barely slept last night again. But there have been good conversations and I’m hopeful things will improve for me. I spent the afternoon on the neighbours lawn while Poppy played. It was delightful. I feel human again. I’ve got ink on my fingers and I’m going to make cookies for dessert. 


Poppy took her first unassisted step today, not holding onto anything. I’m wrestling to keep myself going with the tremendous challenges of work. She’s struggling towards her own milestones, working just as hard, picking herself back up after falls. I’ve been embarrassed at how much support I’ve needed lately, I’m drawing on every resource I have to help me process and debrief. As I hold Poppy wailing from a head bump it seems we’re not so different. Learning new things and dealing with falls takes courage from us and love from the people around us.

Sudden death

My family has been touched by death again recently and it’s complicated and painful. Sudden death is like a punch in the mouth you don’t see coming. Rose’s estranged biological mother has died. It’s the end of a complicated relationship. It’s the end of a cycle of abuse, suffering, love, rejection, corruption and hope. It’s deeply sad, a kind of freedom, a loss, a relief, and a new torment. It’s the end of hopes and efforts for change and ‘one day maybe things will be different’. It’s a lot of secrets taken to the grave. It’s unfathomable by those of us lucky enough to have good relationships with our mothers. Some of us have never listened – or choose not to know – of the darkness that can exist between mother and child, of the grief and rage and bewildered pain of the children where things are so bad at home they end up on the streets or in care. 

Rose wrote a public farewell, feeling the tensions between the untold stories and the assumptions of others, the pressures on those who grieve to do so in the right ways, to justify their choices and fit their painful, complex experiences to our simplistic ideas about the virtue of mothers. Platitudes that hurt. 

Not all children are wanted. Not all children are loved. Not all loved children are well loved. Not all mothers or parents who love have the skills, support, and capacity to meet their children’s needs and protect them from their own demons. Some of us eat our young. 

My precious child.

Tonight as you sleep your mama is feeling lots of things. She feels sad, she feels angry. There is relief and guilt and frustration. Your Mama feels lots of things all at once and then nothing at all… numbness always follows.

This week my darling daughter, your mama recieved a call that she has been expecting her whole life. You see… your Mama’s Mama died on monday baby girl; she died in her home from a heart attack. She was 62. 

Mama hasn’t seen her Mama in a long time… it’s been about 8 years. Mama made that hard choice and mostly doesnt regret it. They have spoken but rarely and not always nicely. Your mama recently shared stories and photos of you and all the wonderful ways you fill up your Mums’ lives. Her Mama was happy to know you were happy and healthy. 

Mama had a complicated relationship with her Mama… it was never easy or particularly healthy. Mama stopped living with her when she was still a kid because she was sick and needed help to be a better Mum. That was tough on her Mama and she didn’t always try her hardest, but she never gave up. My Mama wanted so badly to love and look after me… right until the very end. 

Mama knows that things are gonna be tricky over the next little while. There are hard conversations to have and affairs to attend to. Mama is glad she has her best friend and girls by her side. Mama will be ok; she will cry, she will feel bad. Mama will hug you a little tighter, she will tell you that she promises to do her very best, she will possibly cry while rocking you to sleep. Mama will try to take too many photos as usual.

You have done something amazing baby girl; you have turned a broken, alone, afraid little girl into a proud, strong, brave Mama… and my Mama would be proud of that!

Sleep well my precious daughter… you are so very loved xxx

We’re all wrestling in our own way and finding ourselves out of step with each other. Even sweet, innocent Poppy knows something is wrong. She’s been teary and difficult to comfort this week, biting, scratching and clinging to her safe people. We were busy making the transition to Star in school again, and me at work, and Rose at home and in some work. Suddenly we’ve been adapting to this new reality and the presence of death. I’m glad I saw Cave this year. I cry and I’m scared at times for my hurting love, but I’m not crashing into the black place I did a couple of years back. He’s made death bearable for me again. 

It’s not so much a transition as a transformation. We are all so changed by the events of the past year and there’s no going back. At times I find myself paralysed by terror, rigid with fears of loss. So much to lose and so much self destruction in me and those I love, such deep wounds. With money from my art, I buy a good pen and write, and my terror eases. Fear steals so much from the good years. I see a therapist who reminds me to breathe into my bones. We sleep and are all still here in the morning. The Rose I wake to at dawn is different to the woman who lay down beside me the night before. And so are we. 

Recently we went to the home of this woman Rose has not seen in 8 years. We picked through things, looking for important documents and childhood mementos. Rose shared some of the memories with me. These are the stairs she pushed me down. This is the cupboard I would sleep in when I was afraid. Some of the stories are unspeakably bad. The walls are covered in photos of Rose. The rooms are full memories of pain. There’s shit on the carpet, filth in the corners. The neighbor tells us stories of her kindness and how much she cared for her friends. I never met this women. I feel the complex tangle of who she was to different people in her life. There’s inspirational quotes on the walls, Bible verses in journals. She kept the paperwork where her parental rights were severed. “Lying c*nt” she’s written in the margins of Rose’s testimony. We stack the tins where she kept her street drugs and dirty syringes on the coffee table. Poppy plays with a wooden toy we find for her. We take a few dolls Rose used to love and a little girl’s dress. The place feels like a cage that’s finally empty. 

We leave. We pick Poppy up from the ashy floor and gather our little collection of toxic treasures that will hide in our shed until the right day to look at them. It’s over. 

We lock the door behind us and drive home, to our beautiful home with our tree hanging green over the roof, our clean beds and lovely daughters, garden full of roses and cupboards full of food. There will be time for grief and rage and bitter pain. The wounds that don’t really heal and the fears that linger. Even when you escape the ghosts come with you, in our home it’s only Poppy who hasn’t yet learned this. But alongside so much pain is now so much tender love. None of us grieve alone. None of us dream alone.

End of the working week 

My boss took this photo when Rose and Poppy joined us after work. It’s been a huge week and I’m glad to have reached the end of it. I need some downtime to digest, and some cuddles with my family. Poppy cried when I left this morning. Rose told me last night that her sixth tooth had broken through. I’m a working Mum now. I hear about these things instead of see them. Poppy cried and I kissed her and said goodbye and walked away. My heart feels a little broken. So I’m just making room for that. Listening to the wisdom of it. It’s a big heart and it’s been broken before. I’ve learned to pay attention. It’s telling me not to look away. Not to pretend I’m not doing this, or that it doesn’t hurt. To look her in the eye, look myself in the eye, acknowledge the cost and the sacrifice, acknowledge the hope and the joy. I leave my daughters with a gentle and devoted mother. I’m so lucky. They are loved. I come home and my heart tells me to sit. We watch the light fading in the trees together. Poppy wakes weeping from her nap. We sit far from the bustling world and do nothing at all together, nothing at all that can be measured or is productive or even visible. We just be, together. 

Sensory play

Yesterday I looked after Poppy solo for a few hours while Rose supported Star to go driving – she’s doing brilliantly as a learner! I decided it was a good day for some sensory play. I baked pear and rhubarb muffins while Poppy played with bread dough, ripe pear, and lavender flowers. Then we went outside in the light rain in the garden. Poppy played in the dirt and ate parsley leaves. I weeded the roses. It felt amazing. So alive and connected. I love finding these moments of calm amongst the busyness to just marvel at my daughters and my life. It’s hard work, incredibly hard work and long hours. I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder than I have these past couple of months with home and parenting and business and talks and face painting. But such a joy! 

Then we had a bubble bath together and washed away the dirt. Poppy napped in her hammock after nursing. I did a load of washing and drank a hot Chai latte and did an hour’s work. It was blissful, reading through research methodologies with a hot drink while my sweet baby slept.

I find I shift between feeling very connected and feeling like I’m babysitting someone else’s child. Working outside the home Mum challenge? Times like this seem to click things for me – when I’m caring for Poppy by myself, able to focus on her needs and get a bit of rest for myself too. I feel lighter and closer and my heart opens up. I’m pulling away from the idea that only one person’s needs can be met at a time. Sometimes that’s true, but sometimes thinking it must be that way all the time makes it hard to act differently… sometimes what Poppy needs is also what I need. Looking for the overlap there’s rich experiences there, a kind of synergy and peace. Exploring the garden barefooted in the rain. Blowing bubbles at each other in the bath. I didn’t know I needed that but it was exactly right. What we call sensory play for her we call grounding for me. Different language, same connection. ❤

Amanda Palmer and Poppy

Rose, Poppy and I all went off to see Amanda Palmer’s concert last night with our friend and her 8 week old baby. It was amazing and both little ones were brilliant. They nursed, slept, and played in almost total silence (we had baby earphones for both during the louder songs). Towards the end Poppy was really keen to watch Amanda performing and started to ‘sing’ along to the songs. We were in the second row so during a quiet moment Amanda heard her and she and Rose had a brief conversation about her. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to be listening to her stories and songs about her little boy and life as a Mum with my own deeply loved baby on my lap, nursing at my breast, or standing on my knees to watch.

It was a stunning and bittersweet evening. Amanda was feeling sick so she didn’t stay for signing and meeting like she usually does. I was inspired by her and her beautiful strange friends as I am always am – Amanda treats her fans with the respect of fellow artists which is something I love and try to emulate in my own small way. She is deeply and undeniably human, constantly pulling back the glamour of fame to show the pores of her life. Maybe because I’ve just finished her book it didn’t feel like meeting someone famous, more like touching base with a very successful friend I don’t see very often. That’s part of her magic though, her ability and willingness to be authentic and personal. She’s a huge inspiration for my own art and writing. She’s worked incredibly hard and taken a lot of risks to build her career. I also felt a little sad that my life has moved me away from such wildness and strangeness in my own art. She seemed so free and unconstrained, while my fears and my inclination to adapt mean I’m always trapping myself in small boxes then breaking out again. There was such beauty in the evening and an odd kind of grief. Family. Children. Distance. Art. Love. Regret.

Walking back to our car we happened upon Amanda pulling away in hers with a couple of friends. We waved goodbye and she realised we were the fans in the concert with the baby. She hopped out and gave Poppy a cuddle. There’s a kind of ache I’ve known my whole adult life, a hunger for the weight of a child in your arms. It’s precious beyond measure to have Poppy here at last – Facebook is reminding me that this time 2 years ago we were head over heels in love with unborn Tamlorn. Over the next few weeks the status updates in memory will change to grief and anguish. When we’re apart from our babies we miss them in a physical way, miss the smell of their skin, the silk of their hair, their weight against our chest. It’s beautiful to be reunited with them and precious to be allowed to hold someone else’s for a little while. We all had a tired hug and went on our ways into the evening. It was a beautiful night.

A week of firsts!

Rose, Star, Poppy and I are all adapting to some huge and wonderful changes. I’ve been fortunate to have been contracted on some fantastic projects where I’m getting to stretch my brain and hone my skills. Digesting lots of information, exploring a variety of frameworks, working closely with a small team… there’s a fierce joy in me at getting to do what I love to do and pushing myself further than I’ve gone before. It’s not enough to sit safely on the sidelines, critiquing. Wrestling with language, concepts, assumptions, models, evidence, diversity, communication, connection, being part of creating something. It’s such a pleasure to work. I dress up in good clothes, and go away and work hard at something that’s deeply meaningful to me, with people I respect, and I get paid. The chronic struggle between Rose and I, each saddled with the role we want least, her with a job and me at home, has eased. There’s a calm and a peace as we settle into the roles we’ve most wanted all along and feel best suited to. 

I have done my first pump at work, carrying home precious bags of milk in an insulated lunch bag with a freezer block. Trying to figure out what to write on the sign on the door so no one walks in on me partly nude. It feels so strange and vulnerable! I’m very lucky that there are many women in my workplace who are mothers who once nursed and are sympathic and supportive. 

Rose has done her first 9-5 day with Poppy without me to nurse. She’s also done her first working from home where I care for Poppy. Rose cried a little to leave her. I took Poppy to play on the grass next door so she couldn’t hear every little grizzle and feel her heart ache. She came back brighteyed with pleasure at stretching her work wings again. Star is making sense of her third week of year 11. Star, Rose, and I have each been navigating renewed contact with cut off family members. The process is delicate, painful, hopeful, disappointing, exciting, and triggering. New bridges and fresh starts take courage and work and the risks aren’t always rewarded. Change everywhere. 

Transition is challenging.We’ve never done this before! We are stepping into the unknown and drawing on the grace and experience of others. Anxiety is high and rough nights with teething leave everyone short of sleep and limping along unable to shine the way we want to. I’m watching and noticing where the stress is and what’s working and what isn’t. I ride the waves of my stress, insecurity, and numbness, far out of my comfort zone but knowing I can do this, that this is where the growth is, where the opportunities are. This is what I’ve been working towards for so many years. 

If I can navigate the extreme stress of painful life changes like homelessness without self destructing then I can deal with self doubt, imposter syndrome, and new roles with patience. Tending myself, tending our family as we navigate new roles and routines and resources and pressures. Stretching us and getting a sense of our strength and capacity, where our joy lies, where our limits are. Building the routines that keep daily life running, and shaking loose of the schedule when we all need to break away a little, breathe a different air under a different sky. We are in the spring time of our family, all growing towards a bright sun.

Enjoying my work

I’ve had a wonderful few arty gigs this weekend, my anxiety low and my joy in being around kids and doing something creative high. It’s been a pleasure. The more I make sense of my ideas and values around professionalism the more I’m relaxing and able to be myself. I even shared a bit of lunch with the delightful family of a sweet 4 year old after creating glitter tattoos for her and her friends. 🙂


Even more magically – today while I was away face painting, POPPY DRANK 150MLS OF EXPRESSED MILK! Rose are I are ecstatic. This is a huge breakthrough for helping to reduce stress and anxiety around work. What a champion. 😀 It’s been a lovely couple of days. 

6 months raising a baby with Rose

Poppy is six months old today and I’m blown away. My whole life has changed so much in such a short time! Not so long ago Rose and I were childless. Now we are navigating the daily intense splendor of parenting in full swing! Star is learning to drive and Poppy is learning to crawl. Life is a cycle of feeling overwhelmed, confused and afraid, then finding our feet again and enjoying a sense of calm, contentment and competency. It’s like the tide, some days we are in touch with our expertise, others most painfully not. We are learning not to panic on the days we feel out of our depth, to just do our best and hold on. We are in a constant unfolding process of creating together what kind of family we are. It’s such a joy and a privilege. 


My relationship with Rose, my beautiful, dedicated partner in crime, goes through a huge change. We are a team highly focused on the needs of our girls and finding the safe space we’ve created for each other gets stretched out to include our kids. There’s less time to be young ourselves, less energy for our own needs. The role of parent dominates and we adjust, joyfully. In quiet moments we remember to change form, days where we have barely touched as we tag teamed life, we reach out and remember each other. 

Watching Rose be a Mother is a joy I wasn’t sure I’d get to see. I’ve learned so much from her. She is a joyful parent, she naturally gears towards play. She shows Poppy the rain, paddles her toes in the ocean, lets her smear yogurt on her face and squeeze watermelon through her fingers. She sings and Poppy dances. She knows all her ticklish spots, knows her tired cry, her pain cry, her sleepy face. She is highly attuned, watching for the edge where fun turns into fear and pulling back from it. Everything else may be a disaster but Poppy is clean, fed, groomed, in a fresh nappy and dressed immaculately, always. 

I have learned so much from her and still look to her first in matters of children. As a child and youth worker her experience is much broader than mine. We’re a good team. There’s a lot of complimentary skills. I’m able to speak to the anxiety about every spot, to help set up the rhythms and routines that keep the household running, to help hold the space when emotions drown someone. I’m chief spider catcher, milk maker, and debriefer. Rose cooks beautiful meals, folds the nappies, cuddles Poppy to sleep. Reads me Harry Potter. Suggests nights down the beach. Reminds me to stop working and soak it all in.

Through 6 months she’s had my back with breastfeeding, which has been a joy sometimes and a hell others. When I’ve told her she needs to change her ideas about being supportive and support me if I need to stop nursing too, she’s wrapped her brain around that. Yesterday she gave me a beautiful gift bag to say thankyou for 6 months of breastfeeding. It had peanut butter cookie dough ice cream, milk bottle lollies, and a three strand milky pearl bracelet from her, Star, and Poppy. I am so touched. She gets it. She gets me. 

We are in the thick of some unexpected work opportunities that are some of the most exciting and inspiring I’ve ever had. I’m doing several projects with the SA Mental Health Commission. Rose is also involved with their youth projects. So we’re having a lot of deep conversations about work and parenting and money and vulnerability and mental health, figuring out what we need and how to look after each other and our family and set things up so we can be shiny. It’s a whole new level of partnership where we are both deeply aware of each other’s struggles. We’ve supported each other through all our work ups and downs over the years and we’ve learned a lot. Rose is intimately familiar with the kind of madness I have around money and ethics where being broke and exploited feels safer to me and negotiating pay melts me into panic attacks. This time I’m surrendering a lot of power to her and my other trusted people to help me navigate this area. Exporting the skills I lack. I’ve seen other people with deep wounds or difficulty seeing straight in a key area do this (one brilliant couple I know, she keeps an eye out for his signs of burnout. He is honest and open about his voices and she has the power and right to call veto if the warning signs of overload are present). It’s a very big change from trying to up skill myself in every area, it’s vulnerable and strange to use my best judgement to rely on trusted others instead of continue to try and navigate when I know my compass is very faulty. It’s kind of terrifying and liberating. 

Twice since I picked my advocacy work back up, Rose has found language to say ‘my gut is worried about this plan’. Not easy conversations to have or language to create but we’ve muddled through. Muddling through is an approach Rose brought to our relationship and frankly I think it’s our superpower. Imperfect, messy, inelegant, nevertheless we get there. We muddle together. I’ve taken the unprecedented steps of backing away from something that she identified as too high risk, focusing my energy on lower risk ventures for now. Together we are becoming more skilled at dealing with the impacts of my advocacy (both good and bad) on our whole family, now that we have one! Two heads are better than one, it seems. 

Rose and I are both brilliant and vulnerable. It’s hard to see both aspects at times, but in our years together I’ve learned they are two sides of the same coin. All those years of suffering, all the skills we lack and blocks we hit and struggles we have are the place where the insights, the deeply tuned empathy, and the sparks of brilliance are. They are a package deal, intricately linked to each other. When things work well we can buffer the lacks and losses and create a setting for the skills to shine. But there’s no way possible to gain all this insight without some scars, and even healed you don’t run like someone who hasn’t been wounded. You don’t love like someone who doesn’t know loss. Our absolute joy in Poppy comes with a thread of terror, a dark numbing loss, memories of death and sadness and fears of being inadequate, incompetent, and alone. 

Competence and vulnerability tend to get split off as we try to show one side in our work and our public lives and the other keep hidden for 3am or maybe the shrink. The reality is, that heart is so big because of its scars, and the flaws in the diamond are part of what makes it precious. None of us are invulnerable or competent at everything and dangerous things happen when we try to be or get put under pressure to pretend to be. I’m learning that professionalism is not actually supposed to be a brittle facade of perfection, where you conceal every sign of pain, insecurity, confusion, doubt, or failure. It’s not a superhuman inhuman cardboard cut out of yourself you hide behind and can’t have any realconnection through. 

Professionalism is a place where you have a good sense of who you are, your skills and vulnerabilities, and you can talk about them, negotiate around them, set up what you need to be brilliant, and nurture and protect the vulnerabilities. Human and connected. That’s a pretty radical departure from what I was taught, and what most of us experience. (Thinking of my lovely friend in a management position on excellent pay who used to lock herself in the toilet at work to cry, and send me miserable emails from her phone) Spaces it’s not safe to be human do dangerous things to people. Dehumanised roles and workplaces have brutal, predictable impacts on people. It’s only the psychopaths who thrive in them, slick, charming, and invulnerable. People like me tend to simply self destruct without really knowing why. It’s my nature to not fit into boxes I’m pressed into. Most people are able to adapt but find the cost is both more subtle and more profound than they at first realised. 

It takes skill to keep the needs of work (be shiny at this time in this way) set up in such a way that they fit with human needs, with the way our energy ebbs and flows, our needs for human contact and for retreat from it, for a sense of meaning in our work. It’s the nature of all industry to wrestle with the line between productivity and exploitation, to look for cheaper, quicker ways to get results, to fall for slick charm and treat people as faceless cogs in a machine. And if resources were limitless and there were no consequences for abuse, that process of chewing up and spitting out people, animals, and our environment would work just fine and be highly profitable. It wouldn’t matter if we all worked like machines, but we ate living organisms and fit together not like cogs but like parts an ecosystem. So kids die in sweatshops overseas making cheap clothes, and middle-class workers with horrible bosses suffer chronic depression, migraines, and the kind of miserable self destructive behavioral ticks we used to see in caged, bored, lonely zoo animals. No resource is limitless. Industry that abuses creates wealth for a few at a high price for everyone else. Ethical, sustainable industry does not exploit but instead invests. Like good relationships. Like good families. 

So my beloved Rose and I are gearing less towards self improvement and more towards what discovering what environment we need in our family for each of us to be our shiny best somewhere. What does Star need? What safe place to fall, what resources, love expressed in what way? What do I need to be brilliant and keep my finger off the self destruct button? What does Rose need to allow her painful past to be a source of invaluable insight rather than a millstone of inertia and defeat? Not how can we be less vulnerable, but how can we be more human? Work with how we work. Muddling through. Imperfect but good enough. 

This is a love letter to Rose, really, in its own way. She is the heart of our home, the one who reminds us to be in the moment, to soak each other up. She’s here through it all, even when it’s overwhelming. 1 year of loving a teen together. 6 months of loving a baby. She changes nappies, pack lunches, teaches baby sign, wipes tears, gives cuddles. She buys pearls. She is my love. ❤

Some days you win

Today Rose held down the fort while I got a very needed sleep in. Then we swapped and I got Poppy to sleep on my back and did the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, hung a load of washing, planned dinner, and walked to the shops for ingredients. Some days you win.

My three lovelies have all been down with the flu. Sickness is hard. Yesterday all three were feverish and miserable when we had a blackout. Rose had the great idea of going to the beach to enjoy the cool wind there. It was beautiful. On the tough days I have to work so hard to contain my fear that I’m not enough, not good enough, not up to this, and that it’s always going to be this hard. Last night my beautiful girls cooled off in our van by the ocean while I read James Herriot by a battery powered lamp to them. Just like my Mum did for us.

I stood in the rain and felt it wash something dusty and old and indefinable from my skin. I splashed in the puddles and drank rainwater from the roses in my garden, sweet with the taste of the petals. The magic still works. I’m a Mum and so new at balancing all these needs and managing my anxiety and wearing so many different hats. I rocket between bright joy and deep contentment and intense frustration and jagged fear. But out in the night under the sweet water falling, I’m still who I used to be. Still enchanted by the world.

I don’t know how to balance it all. There’s days I give and keep giving, I turn myself over and over into what those around me need and I do it gladly or I do it through pain and exhaustion. I do it because that’s my job and I know how it feels to be young and to need someone.

There’s days I make time for myself and find I’m not sure what I need anymore, that I’m numbed and confused and it seems easier to keep giving instead but I can taste the trap in that, the way needs get disconnected and met secretly. I sit at white canvasses and hate what I draw, eat foods I don’t like, feel empty and twisted. The less I listen to my own heart voice the harder it becomes to hear.

And work too, my other great joy, trying to find how Mothers do this. How to stop my work being a kind of alarm that rings under all my time, telling me I am not doing enough and should be doing that instead. To be where I am and rest into plans and schedules and embrace the messiness and uncertainties and compromises with joy. I have worked so hard to have some kind of career. I have to remind myself that it’s okay to be inexperienced and uncertain, that it’s okay that I crave this other part of my life, that I need it too and that it also brings me such joy.

I’m so new at this. When my children are hurt or in danger there’s a panic in me like an atom bomb. I let it go off in the desert in my chest and keep breathing calmly – we’ve got this. My beloved Rose, so generous and kind, sleeps a million miles away on the other side of our bed and I find whole weeks go by where I barely kiss her and the ever present guilt – good enough partner? good enough mother? – drives me further away. But when I ask myself to be selfish I run to her across the room and dive into her arms. I remember my sweet love.

She holds Poppy and I burn my candles at both ends for short windows, replying to emails, painting, taking calls and making plans. Art comes to life all around me. A hailstorm of hope and relief. This is my place in the world. This is the work of my heart. And then the small hours, not doing but being. Poppy nursing by my side and the fuschia blooming through the window in tiny pink fireworks. Stroking Star’s hair. Sitting in the garden with a friend. Stirring soup on the stove. God in the small things. Another load of nappies pinned to the line.

Looking for the patterns through it all. Ways to be present, fully, all the different parts of me that need to be here to breathe the air. The children grow so fast while I am looking somewhere else. The opportunities wither if not grasped. I am loved and valued. My world is a garden full of life and I’m tending it, learning how to grow each different thing. Beyond grateful at my good fortune. Spending my self completely in these things I adore.

Breastfeeding is much harder than I thought it would be 

Out of nowhere breastfeeding recently became incredibly difficult and painful again. Poppy has two bottom teeth now and everything changed overnight. She is biting me, nursing badly and grazing my nipples, and having bad feeds where she growls, thrashes, bites, and claws me as she comes on and off my breast repeatedly, giving me ‘niplash’ in the process.

It’s been horrible. She bit me badly enough to make me bleed on Christmas, and that nipple swelled and became extremely painful. My headspace rapidly crashed as each feed was more difficult and more painful. Within a couple of days I was crying frequently, my head was overloaded with ‘I hate myself’, and I couldn’t reach out for help because I was swamped by the conviction that my friends all loathed me. Reaching out at that point takes a hell of a lot of ‘brave’. I asked for suggestions online and called our Breastfeeding helpline, but all the suggestions were things I have already been trying. Unfortunately as it’s Christmas/New Years, the other resources I trust (lactation consultant and physio) are away. So there’s no easy answers.

Someone suggested Poppy’s moderate posterior tongue tie, which we elected not to revise, may be causing troubles. Thinking back, Rose and I recall that we were warned by our lactation consultant that troubles can return around 4-6 months as her face grows.

So, in between crying I’ve been reading a lot. I read my way through a couple of tongue tie groups on facebook – the good, bad, and ugly of ties and revisions. I read through Pinky McKay’s blog. I came across a thought provoking article about tongue ties, which mentioned functional lactose overload in an offhand way, and planted the seed of an idea about synchronicity between mother and baby during feeds. Tongues Tied about Tongue-Tie So I did some more hunting and found a couple of useful articles about Lactose Overload and Lactose Intolerance.

I’ve trialled block feeding (the solution for lactose overload) and Poppy has reduced vomiting to less than 1/3rd of her usual amount over the past 48 hrs. I was going to try this earlier to help manage strong letdown, but I’ve been anxious about reducing supply and the oversupply seemed to settle down on its own. But now I think I’m on to something. She is less fussy, less windy, and her nappies are now normal for breastfeeding instead of green, acidic, and frothy. I’m thrilled! How has no one else mentioned this possibility? 

As for biting – what I’ve been trying for Poppy before feeds:

  • teething gel to numb gums
  • cold wet frozen face-washer to chew
  • various other fridge cold baby chew toys
  • rubbing her gums with my fingers
  • letting her chew on my knuckles
  • yelping when she bites
  • taking her off the breast when she bites and making her wait before nursing again
  • ignoring bites and continuing to nurse

For my damaged nipples I’ve been using:

  • cold wet face washer
  • multi-mams bio gel
  • breast milk and air drying
  • thrush treatment gel
  • antifungal and antibacterial cream
  • resting from nursing and pumping only while very damaged

They are finally healing. It seems some kind of infection was going on because it wasn’t until I pulled out the antifungal/antibacterials that things improved, and fortunately they then improved quickly. So I’m doing 3 hourly block feeds (feeding only on one side for 3 hours then switching to the other for the next 3). 

Biting is being caused by 2 things, I think… Frustration, caused by slow milk flow when breast is running out, or by pain of teething, or gas pain etc. She often warns me by growling, wriggling, squeezing my hand in her hand and so on – now I’ve tuned in more I’m picking that up and taking her off the breast before she bites.

The second thing is when she is startled. Her startle reflex has dramatically increased the past few weeks, she’s also having nightmares. Gone is my little baby who would sleep through the dog barking. I’m wondering if that’s partly developmental (increased awareness), partly related to being in pain because of the teething… And partly because my nervous system is in fight/flight due to how stressful it is to be bitten. I think we are setting each other off with stress – she bites and scares me, I yelp and scare her. Feeds become scary for both of us. Muscle tension makes feeds more difficult physically for her – the movement of tongue and mouth are impeded. High frustration increases biting…

So my current theory is that we are in a negative spiral of distress as both our nervous systems kick into sympathetic arousal for feeds. I am the Mum here, my nervous system has to the be the one that calms hers down, she can’t lead mine to feeling safer. 

So I am grounding and settling myself before nursing, paying close attention again to her position, freedom of head and neck, good body contact between us, allowing her to wrap her arms around my breast to control her latch, and we are doing much better. Sometimes I need help from others like Rose to help me calm so this is possible, but I think we’re on the right track and hopefully given some extra care, nursing will once again become easy. 

Christmas with Kids 

… is shaping up to be everything we hoped it would be. My heart has been  doing somersaults with glee all week. I always treat this time of year as a season rather than a day, which takes a lot of the pressure off. We do several catch ups with different friends and families. A couple of weeks ago we sat down as a family and each shared something that makes it feel like Christmas for us. I wanted to bake something with cinnamon in it, Rose wanted cute clothes for Poppy, and Star wanted to see some Christmas lights. So those things we made happen and everything else was flexible. I’m learning that being a parent means letting things go and embracing what is. The goal has been to enjoy ourselves, and every time we’ve got stressed and frazzled we’ve re-jigged things to get back to that goal. It’s been wonderful. 

Poppy has finally cut her second tooth and just come out of a wonder week into a sunny few days. What delightful timing to have my happy little girl back again! 

All the new traditions! All the wonderful memories. There’s been lots of anxiety for everyone lately so we’re all in gentle mode with each other. My home is full of cuddles. Just now we’re off to our traditional Christmas Eve, games and treats with friends in front of Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Life is beautiful. ❤

Multiplicity and visibility 

Sometimes I hate my advocacy work. I resent being out – or worse, having to come out over and over again. I count the costs and look back at my decision to be open about multiplicity back in 2010 and ask myself if I would do it again, knowing what I know now?

Some days the answer is no. It’s no through tears, through gritted teeth, through anger and a sense of betrayal at every opportunity once open to me that didn’t work out.

Becoming a Mum brings me into contact with a whole new world. I out myself as queer. I out myself as many things. But mental health? Difference, disability? Back in my first public talk about multiplicity, I sat behind a table to deliver it because I was trembling too much to stand. After a lot of thought, I came out on this blog in 2012 with my post I am not Sarah. How the hell can it actually get harder over time?

Because now I have so much to lose.

The most challenging delivery of my Psychosis without Destruction talk so far was one I did for a room full of GP’s while I was pregnant. I was so stuck leading up to it, so blocked trying to rework the talk into the much shorter time slot. Frustrated beyond belief that I was struggling so much, I finally realised that I was simply scared. Our culture is not always kind to mothers who are different. We judge, shame, and fear diversity in mothers. In the back of my mind was the fear that admitting to psychosis in a medical setting might end with being bundled into an ambulance and sectioned.

Multiplicity? It’s the kind of thing people can lose custody of their kids over, and I have a kid now. It’s a conversation I don’t want to have with new mum friends every time. Because drumming up the courage and the ability to set the tone as comfortable and normal instead of strange or frightening takes spoons I don’t always have. Some days I’m all out of brave. I can hide this so well, why not simply walk away from that part of my life and start to blend in for a change?

And then.

And then last night, I get a phone call from an old friend telling me they think they have child parts. And I say – congratulations. Parts can be the most wonderful thing in the world, the closest and most beautiful relationship. Congratulations on discovering this, on being ready to know. Do you want me to send you a welcome pack? Two – one for you, one for your counsellor. No worries. You got this.

I think who else are people going to call to hear that? Some days I love my advocacy work. I love that people know they can reach out to me. I love that less people feel totally alone and strange and freakish. I love meeting others and learning from them. I love hearing the stories and I cherish the diversity.

When people email me to say they are not sure if there’s a place in the world for them – how can my answer be oh maybe there is, but only if you are good enough at hiding it. How can that be the only hope for people like us? When they say to me I make them feel that maybe there is place in the world for someone like us… All the costs are worth it. They seem so small, even petty. Peoples lives are made better by honest sharing.

I have more to lose, sure. And I’ve paid a price anyway, steeper then I hoped to. But beware of greener grass. A life hidden, secret, and isolated extracts a cost also, sometimes more subtle and harder to count, but there all the same. I’ve been lucky. Look at my beautiful life, my wonderful partner, gorgeous children, my tribe of strange, beautiful, good hearted people. I have been so blessed. If I’m not strong enough to have these conversations, if I’m not willing to hold this space, the burden falls to those who can’t hide it. Those with systems that are struggling, those where the loneliness is killing them, where the pain is like a bloodstain on their shirt everyone tries not to stare at. If they are not the first multiple people have met, not the first contradiction of the serial killer trope, then I have helped ease a little of their burden. It’s not much, but sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a difference.

I have known so many multiples over the past few years. We are so diverse, and so normal. We have pets. We have rent to pay, careers we’re figuring out. We get sick, we care for others who get sick. We watch the news and worry about the world. We fight with our neighbours. We stream movies and eat ice cream and get behind on our laundry. We switch and get stuck or  lose parts or  battle with nightmares or have complicated relationships with our partners. We navigate disclosure in a million ways.

Visibility and activism are such a challenge for so many of us. Think about it this way – there are many gay/lesbian/bi activists because visibility and recognition are key needs – to have our identity, or relationships, and our children recognised as real and legitimate. We don’t want to hide, we want to be identified as gay/lesbian /bi etc. There are far fewer trans activists because most trans people do not want to be identified. We want to live out our lives safely and unobtrusivly. Being identified as trans for some of us is stressful – it may increase the likelihood of discrimination, cruelty, and violence. We want to be identified as our real gender, not necessarily as trans.

For multiples, most of us have learned that imitating non-multiples is the key to success and safety. Our systems are hard-wired for secrecy and hiddenness. Our systems may be vibrant and diverse inside but outside parts cannot be distinguished from each other and switches may be merely subtle shifts in mood or demeanour. For some of us we have learned bitterly that others realising we are multiple can bypass most of the protections it offers and make us deeply vulnerable.

The challenges with visibility go deeper though. As a child I recall watching myself switch in the mirror and having no words to express the way my face was suddenly no longer my own. It was terrifying. For awhile I was convinced I was possessed by the devil. I also developed a deep fear of mirrors. Being confronted with the other inhabitants of my mind and body was intensely disturbing. Imagine coming upon a stranger in your home, in your room, wearing your clothes, your deodorant, your grandmothers necklace. Imagine them wearing your face, using your hands, eating your dinner, kissing your partner.

It’s taken me years to be okay with mirrors. Being photographed. Being video recorded. Having my voice recorded. After diagnosis I had to avoid all of them. Mirrors and reflective surfaces would trigger switches. I could start to identify who was in photographs, I could hear different voices and speech patterns, identify switches between us. For someone who was terrified this wasn’t ‘real’ you might think this would be comforting evidence. It was simply terrifying, falling down a black hole where my identity and existence dissolved and nothing was certain. On bad days I would avoid all these things. On good days I might, when feeling strong, stand in the bathroom for a moment and stare at our face, watching the eyes flickering. Here we are. Slowly getting used to it. Exposure therapy. The unbearable fear becomes over time simply a daily reality. Here I am, brushing my teeth, switching. Mirrors hold no terror for me anymore.

I’ve been out since 2010 and we still don’t share individual names with anyone other than Rose. We don’t sign blog posts or artworks, we don’t identify photographs. We use our group identity as a shield and protect us all behind it. We are so open and so hidden at the same time. We are slowly coming to bear being recorded. Visibility of a different kind. It’s still very disturbing to see ourselves on video. Voice recordings are okay on good days when I have some brave left. I cope pretty well these days with having writing and art on display, and photos of us.

All of these used to be impossible. People would do things like tell me that a piece of writing didn’t sound like me, or that they really preferred one of my artwork types over another (and inside someone curls up in shame that their art isn’t good enough, inside the fear of being found out sounds like an alarm, the impulse suddenly reawakens to police who ‘Sarah’ is, who we present to the world, to try and curate our public self for an impression of consistency). People would tell me that they preferred my clothing style one day over another and we would freeze inside, as embarrassed as when a friend’s mother used to compare me with her daughter as we stood in front of her as kids.

Loathing the ‘specialness’ of the sensationalism – ‘the holy grail of psychiatry’, the media full of terror (even an old teacher of mine was once planning a book where the investigator gradually discovers he is the killer), and the dehumanising of talking about us as if we share nothing in common with other people. We are human. We are people.

The opposite impulse is also present for us. Walking up to the podium to talk about multiplicity at the World Hearing Voices Congress a couple of years ago, a 10 year old part offering to switch out and identify herself ‘so then they’ll see that switching and child parts aren’t scary’ while the wounded one vulnerable to self harm screams with terror at being so exposed. ‘Thankyou, my love, but no, please don’t. You would be wonderful but we mustn’t scare the others (inside).’

I’m not the only multiple being visible, of course. Being visible about something people want to hide means keeping a lot of people’s secrets. It means flying a flag so those who have fallen down the rabbit hole of self have a person to reach out to – even better if it’s someone safe, who will balance sympathy and optimism. Someone not embedded in ideas of multiplicity as a crippling disorder, but not gung-ho about pushing an agenda or assuming their path will be everyone’s path. That’s what I hope to be, what I try to be. A safe starting point in that journey of self discovery. There are a lot of us out there, mostly hidden in plain sight. It’s far from safe to be visibly multiple for many of us. But it’s so important that some of us are.

Nursing Poppy

Here is Poppy, enjoying a breastmilk ice block. She’s been teething on and off for a couple of weeks. 

Lying in bed nursing today I realised I’ve come full circle. I hated breastfeeding at first and found it very traumatic – to the point of having nightmares about it and crying through most feeds. Now I generally enjoy it and would miss it if it stopped. Poppy is cuddled up to my side, nursing and looking up at me with huge blue eyes. She pauses from time to time to sing to me, cooing like a bird. Sometimes she reaches out  and pats my breast. Sometimes she buries her face into it like a puppy. 

Now that it doesn’t hurt and I get thrown up on a lot less, there’s times like this where it’s quite magical. I’ve discovered that if I don’t eat any chocolate, she keeps most feeds down. If I indulge, she dumps entire feeds over both of us. I’ve no idea why but I’ve tested it twice and is definitely chocolate that upsets her. Things we have to do, ey? I’m lucky we found the support we needed to make breastfeeding work, because it was such a hard road at first and I was really unprepared for that. 

I’ve actually been working on my phobia of the media too, and talking with a local journalist about some of our experiences… We’re going to be in newspaper this weekend, so watch this space. 🙂

Poppy in the Park 

Rose and I recently took Poppy to the park and sat by a river. Poppy enjoyed some time on her tummy and amused us by carefully licking the grass. 

Every day I fall a little more deeply into the role of being a parent. I feel my fear receding and I let go, going deeper, feeling myself change, my life change around me. I have not lost my art. I am not devoid of separate identity. Poetry has not fled me. I clean my home and tend my family and wash vomit from my hair… And feel whole. Give myself to this, wholeheartedly. Lie on the beach with Poppy asleep on my chest, and feel her breathing, skin to skin. I hold her and at times, I become her and my hand on her chest is that of my own mother, or my grandmother. 

Love rushes up and spills over. Star and I curl up together, talking about life. I kiss her hair, touch her face when she returns from school. She borrows my eye-shadow, stands beside me in the kitchen learning to cook, holds Poppy tenderly. On nights when she stays with friends, my heart waits to hear her return, like a dog sitting by the door. They have changed me, these girls. They light my world. 

Art with Love 

I’m still happily painting most evenings, given a chance. Last night I finished 6 ink paintings, as part of a larger project. These will illustrate a podcast I’ve recorded and be posted  online as a video slideshow. It feels wonderful to be creating. ❤

I’m also thrilled to be selling prints. My Etsy shop continues to reach people I haven’t heard of before, which is really wonderful. Recently I received a message over Etsy that truly astonished me.

I learned that people have been buying my print Waiting for You as a gift when a friend experiences a miscarriage. A woman contacted me to buy another print – a friend of hers had been gifted one, and that friend had given her a print, and she now has a friend who has  also miscarried, and she wanted to continue the chain of gifts. It’s so heartbreaking that miscarriage is so common, but to be a part of a spontaneous community response like this – it’s the most wonderful thing I could have hoped for. What an amazing development!  

It means that people are telling their friends when they are grieving, breaking the awful taboo of silence about miscarriage. It means that friends are finding tender ways to respond and connect to each other in grief. People are hurting in connection with their communities, not in isolation. They can hear about resources, they can offer compassion to the next person. It’s a very small thing, next to the loss of a child. Yet it’s also a very powerful thing. Learning that my art has become part of a spontaneous response to such a painful event makes me feel deeply honoured. This is the heart of my art, my peer work, what I love to do in the world. Thankyou all of you who read and share my world in some way, you are part of my tribe and you make this kind of connection possible. ❤

Bliss

We had a fun Halloween this year a dress up party with friends. I baked pumpkin scones, Rose made guacamole. Star dressed as a vampire, Poppy as a skeleton, and I went as Frida. Now we’re home (except Star) watching The Lone Ranger in our underwear. (it’s warm here) 

We are getting a little better at travelling in the evenings! We had a huge breakthrough the other night. We all went out to a family birthday which was too important to miss even though we were all dreading getting Poppy home again in the car seat of eternal unhappiness. 

For the first time, we actually made it all the way without stopping! We all sang together at the top of our lungs and that seemed to work some kind of magic. At one point we were singing Cave’s ‘Into my Arms’, and I remembered Rose and I singing that song on our way to the first scan to see if Poppy was growing okay, tears streaming down our cheeks and our hearts already broken. Here we all were, singing it to the most beautiful baby in the world, as I drove through the night: singing her home. I wept again, drove through tears. Such joy in this life together. In the space of a year, my life has completely changed. I have a whole beautiful family to tend, and they are my heart! Star has been with us for 9 months now, and Poppy for 11 weeks. I no longer fear the roles, I’ve come through the initiations and I am still myself. It feels like I’ve finally reached a place I’ve been homesick for most of my life. Beneath all the other feelings and goings-ons, contentment flows like the deepest river. It bubbles up into my days as the most heartfelt bliss. I am at this moment, truly fortunate. 

Away with Poppy

We have been brave and joined some friends on a camp, staying in a big hall by the beach. It’s been wonderful. Rose and were both pretty anxious about how Poppy would travel and sleep, but we were lucky on the drive here and she slept for a couple of hours in the car! Last night was tricky but not unmanageable. It’s been great to spend so much time with friends. 

Poppy is 9 weeks old now and simply adorable. I live for the moments when she makes eye contact with me and bursts into a huge smile. She also purses her lips and makes this cooing sound, like a dove, that makes my heart do backflips. She’s started blowing bubbles too, and is learning to use her hands to bring things to her mouth to suck on. I can’t get over how lucky we’ve been. 

Rose and I continue to recover from a million and one illnesses. We’ve recovered from almost everything except infected teeth/gums, nipple thrush (again, bugger it), the sciatica which is proving difficult to heal up, and one last skin abcess. This is brilliant, and as pain levels continue to slowly improve we are both much happier most days and more able to enjoy our lovely little family and our bigger, beautiful tribe. 

Poppy in Spring 


We pulled weeds in the garden recently. It feels like she’s starting to get her fill of cuddles and she’s actually wanting to be put down to explore the world from time to time now. It’s simply amazing to watch her develop. 
Is been a funny kind of week, rather wonderful and also quite distressing at times. The other evening, Poppy was unsettled through the early hours so I was up with her. I crawled into bed next to Rose at 9am seriously annoyed with the universe and ranted about how fed up I was about everything. Rose, wisely, kept quiet and snuggled in. Cuddles make everything better. 🙂

Then we went off to a babywearing group and I learned how to wrap Poppy, and still had my ranty pants on. Apparently that was quite welcome! I feel so much more comfortable in parent groups that are more alternative, it was refreshing. It has occurred to me that many of the Mums who approach parenting as a role they have to fit into and hide who they are to do well at probably have that approach to the rest of their lives too. That’s not how I live so it’s unlikely to play much part in my parenting either. Now that Poppy is here a lot of the fears and sense of being pushed into roles or to behave in certain ways have eased. I feel a lot stronger and less vulnerable to dumb advice. (not invulnerable, just less) 

I was thrilled to sell some prints through my Etsy store. I get great pleasure from wrapping and posting them. It inspired me tonight to clear a lot of boxes and things out of my studio and into the shed so I can once again reach my art desk and inks. I’m feeling inspired to create. 

I also touched base with some great people and secured a couple of public speaking gigs, which is always so exciting. Something about this work just makes my heart sing. 

I got some warm feedback about my authenticity being inspiring. 

I also discussed the possibility of holding my exhibition Waiting for You down south somewhere for those folks who couldn’t attend it in town. 

My life is incredibly hard work at the moment – loads of housework, admin, caretaking, providing emotional support, sleep deprivation, and the rawness of post-partum. At times intense frustrations and fears spill over. Other times there is simply the joy and bliss and pleasure of tending to my family and enjoying being a Mum. I’ve been inhibited by trauma and a kind of survivors guilt, always aware that I’m so fortunate and many others are still hoping for or grieving their dream children. It feels like I’m letting go of those things and sinking gradually more deeply into my own life, my own path and experiences. When I hold Poppy my hands wake up and feel alive, like they do when I make art. I’m so incredibly glad to be here. 

After the Storm 

We’ve had a huge storm through South Australia this week, and prepared for disaster in various forms. The whole state was plunged into a blackout when major power lines went down. I cleaned up the house because walking Poppy around to calm her in near dark is a recipe for falling over a pair of shoes and winding up back in hospital. I also bought a bag of ice, more candles and extra milk and emptied the most needed items from the fridge into a couple of eskies so we could keep the fridge and freezer closed and cool throughout the blackout. Fortunately we have gas for hot water and cooking. I checked in with friends online to let them know people could visit us if needed, and went around to most of the neighbours to make sure they had candles, matches, hot water, and knew they could knock on our door if anything went wrong.

We cooked and ate dinner together by candlelight, no screens, phone batteries being conserved in case of emergencies. We talked and told stories and I took out James Herriot and read a few chapters… it’s a tradition in my family that books are read during camping trips, and Rose and I used to read each other to sleep most nights but since Star and now Poppy we’ve not had the opportunity. It was special. We talked again about family and rituals and values. Since then we’ve had a couple more dinners by candlelight together, and they’ve been beautiful. We’ve planned a trip away with friends in a couple of weeks, together as a family. We’ve celebrated Star arriving 8 months ago. It feels like something has changed again between the four of us, deepened, a sense of connection has grown stronger. It’s precious.

Rose and I are still recovering from all our health problems. She has been suffering from terrible pain due to sciatica and a tooth infection. She had a root canal started a week ago but things went badly wrong and she wound up with a severe infection that we were told was verging on life-threatening when a different, stronger course of antibiotics finally started to turn things around. Her face had swollen and blood and pus were dripping through the bored out tooth into her mouth. We’re both being told that we’re obviously run down and need to take time off to recover and get our immune systems functioning again.

I’ve had a bad bout of gastro (is there any other kind of gastro? – this one came with spasms that felt depressingly similar to labour contractions), I’m still got bad infections in my teeth and gums, as well as mouth ulcers and skin boils. We are both finally over the staph infections and a host of other problems though, so progress is slowly being made.

Our world is about basic needs at the moment – good food, as much sleep as possible, rest, affection, getting out in the sun when it’s around, staying warm, showers. We’ve made it to parent-teacher night, a myriad of medical appointments, and the occasional social gathering. We’re making headway on all the paperwork and admin that comes with a new baby, and making arrangements for Star to get her drivers license and a vehicle to learn to drive in.

Poppy continues to be spectacular. Every day she is awake a little more, a little more aware of and interested in the world. We get the most beautiful smiles and giggles. Breastfeeding continues to get easier and I’ve been able to process much of the trauma of the early weeks. We can now breastfeed in public, through appointments, and I can pump around 200mls for Rose to feed her so I get some sleep. I’ve made it past the 6 weeks mark – which means breastfeeding is considered established and we’re likely to be able to keep it going.

These two girls, Poppy and Star, are simply delightful. Our amazing girls, both with such lovely, loving hearts. Rose is a beautiful partner, we tag team and debrief and hold each other. I find it hard to believe that only a few years ago I lived alone, and now my world is this beautiful little family filling my every hour. They mean the world to me. My heart is full and my mind is stirring. The shutting down and enduring that happened through the end of the pregnancy has finished with, I can feel the cogs turning again and what I choose to concentrate on comes into focus. I can’t multitask as well as I used to but my mind is working again. I’ve read my first Terry Pratchett book since he died – something that was impossible before now. Death is present a lot of the time still but less overwhelming. I’m able to read and understand what I’ve read. The desire to write (if not yet the coherency) has returned and art is starting to call to me again. Nesting hasn’t left me – I still clean and do admin and organise and plan. I sometimes get days where thinking about what I’m going to next regarding work/business/career doesn’t make me panic, cry, or hate myself. This is a very new, fragile, and precious development. I’ve wanted my whole life to be a parent, and a huge driving pain about needing meaning in my world has eased. 

I find myself quietly haunted by how this could have gone if we’d been met with tragedy again – losing Poppy to miscarriage it stillbirth or early death, losing Rose or Star or other family or friends. I’m aware of the pain and bitter-sweetness my luck causes to those who are still childless and still hurting. I feel at times a sense of survivors guilt – it can be hard to give myself permission to let go and enjoy myself when I know so many still suffer on a road I’ve been saved from. At times I feel consumed by fear, waiting for the next crisis, the next terrible loss. Tragedy comes to us all. There’s only so much I can do to push it away. All I have is now, and all I can do is live in it, as deeply, fully as possible. This time in my life with my fledgling family is intense and consuming and painful and beautiful and exquisite. I’m here, giving myself to it, being as alive as I can be.