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Archive for June, 2013

Jun 30 / Caro

Me and Mine – June

dear beautiful

I can’t believe that another month has gone past since the last Me and Mine, which I snapped right at the very last moment. Continuing the theme. this month’s picture has been taken this morning. Fortunately better camera and better light than the last effort, but neither Thomas nor Ian had much patience for the endeavour today!

But here we are, camped out in our front room playing with Thomas’s current favourite toy as our garden is currently a demolition zone!

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And a couple of the outakes:

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Jun 26 / Caro

What Lactivism Isn’t, Or Shouldn’t Be

If you’ve read any of my previous breastfeeding posts, you’ll know that I’m pro breastfeeding. And, yes, we’re still going strong at almost 20 months. This doesn’t, however, mean that this is what I think is “right” or it’s what I believe everyone else should do too. Far from it.

I do lurk around on a few breastfeeding and so-called “lactivist” forums. But I really, really hate the word “lactivist”. I think it sounds unnecessarily confrontational and so often seems to immediately alienate anyone who chooses not to breastfeed, or struggles to breastfeed. My opinion of the term is not helped by some the self righteousness I’ve come across on these forums. Like the woman who was incredulous that her “friend”, who also identified herself as a lactivist, wanted to give up breastfeeding at two years, for a host of carefully considered reasons.

It has struck me that some women truly believe that lactivisim is about forcing others to start, and then to continue, breastfeeding. That it’s about increasing breast feeding rates at any cost.

But it shouldn’t be.

To me, lactivism, or breastfeeding promotion, is about ensuring that every single pregnant woman and new mother has access to balanced education about the risks and benefits of all feeding options, and help and support to ensure they can process that information and make a properly informed decision about how they want to feed their baby. Because just telling women that breastfeeding is better because… x, y and z reason, isn’t helpful if a woman doesn’t have the capacity to process that information and its relevance to her life. It’s also about ensuring that women who do choose to try breastfeeding have the necessary support to get over difficulties they may encounter.

It’s not about attacking other feeding options, drawing battle lines, defining a single “right” pathway to follow or telling people what to do.

It’s simply about helping people make choices once they are in possession of all the facts, and not only when they begin their breastfeeding relationship, but at any point during.

Choice is key. We do all, ultimately, have the right to make our own choices. But I suspect that many women do not even attempt to breast feed because of misinformation, or a lack of information, or an inability to understand the information. And many more give up because it isn’t what they expected (another rant forthcoming on the marketing of breast feeding as easy and natural) and because the support they need isn’t there when they need it.

If I felt every person who does not breastfeed was happy about that decision, or had been properly informed in making it, then I would be happy. But until that day, lactivism needs to focus not on blindly recruiting breast feeders, but on cultivating a generation of women who really understand the options for feeding infants and can hopefully in turn pass that knowledge on to their sons and daughters.

Breastfeeding boy

This topic has been on my mind for a while, but I was prompted to finally write this down now during National Breastfeeding Awareness Week.

Jun 25 / Caro

Burning Question

I learned a few tips at Britmums Live. Things that weren’t necessarily rocket science, but which hadn’t really occurred to me. But I have to admit that before I went, I had just one burning question about blogging. And now the weekend is over, the question, to a degree, still remains.

How do you get people to read your blog in the first place?

You see, all the tips about how to find your voice, be funny or take better photographs are meaningless if no one is looking at my posts anyway. And a quick glance at my stats tells me it isn’t that people are coming and not liking what they see, they’re simply not coming at all.

I’m a bit baffled by newly started blogs that seem to have reams of comments almost from day one, and I have to wonder what they do that I don’t. (I know comments aren’t everything, but they are the only clue I have to the number of visitors to blogs which aren’t my own.)

When I started my very first blog, back in 2005, it seemed easier. I blogged then in a smaller niche, and the market was less crowded anyway. I joined relevant blog carnivals, got listed in an aggregator for my niche and then simply left lots and lots of comments on other relevant blogs. At least 75% of those comments in which I left a link led to a visit back from that blogger and my relationships flourished. Even though that blog is long dead, lots of those relationships aren’t.

Some people would argue that leaving a comment purely for the backlink isn’t “ethical”, (so I’m at pains to point out that these were always actual comments on the topic of the post and not left only for the link) but perhaps this is why the same technique no longer seems to work. A few months ago I was leaving multiple comments each day on blogs that I liked, but just a handful of those links have ever given me any traffic. It confuses me too, because pure curiosity leads me to visit, at some point, the blog of every person who does leave a comment on mine. (But then, we know I’m nosy!)

I know that blogging has moved beyond simply the blog since I first began. Now social media is an important extension to any blog. So perhaps the key is being more confident on Twitter (I still feel like I’m in a crowded room with conversations being shouted through me, and find it enormously difficult to connect without “butting in”) understanding how Pinterest works (I still don’t!) and using Instagram (I’ve never really got around to it). I currently have such a small following on Twitter that even if I tweet my blog posts, I get at most one visit as a result.

I also know that there are some SEO tips that I don’t employ, including not titling my photos or adding the alt text (I guess I’m lazy), plus my tagging is sporadic at best. But ironically, that is exactly where my traffic does come from – Google searches and image searches.

I’d hoped, although I wasn’t that expectant, that Britmums might give me some pointers on how best to find and build my blogging community, but instead I very much felt there was an assumption that we were all already immersed in one since we were at the event.

The funny thing is, I don’t mind if people don’t like what they read on my blog, or don’t want to return, but I’d like them to look and see, and then make that decision. So my burning question is, how to get people here?

Of course, the fact that you aren’t here means you won’t be able to answer this question, but if you do happen to drop by, please leave me your tips and tell me what I’m doing wrong!

Jun 24 / Caro

Seized: A Story I Don’t Often Share

I attended Britmums Live, my first blogging conference, this weekend. It was a great, if a little overwhelming! experience. I met some lovely people and came away feeling inspired. I’m not sure I can add much to the many great posts already out there about the event, however I am feeling ready to share this story today. My motivation is partly from hearing the very inspiring Katie Piper talking about how how you make your own life and choose how to react to the events and experiences that shape you – which definitely struck a chord. I was also prompted by the very amusing Katy Hill, who pointed out what a bunch of over-sharers bloggers are. It occurred to me that sometimes I’m happy to over-share the unimportant minutiae – like the state of my bikini line – whilst keeping some of the things that are really important to me, and about me, locked away.

Today, I’m choosing to share something which has had a big impact on my adult life. This is also another post in what I hope will become an ongoing series about “Me, Before Motherhood”.

One day in November 1999, as a 19 year old who’’d just begun my second year of university, I woke up in Accident and Emergency with the mother of all headaches. I’m fairly certain that had I rolled over and pulled the duvet over my head that morning, as I desperately wanted to do, I would have faced a different outcome. If I had not sought help, by the time a flat mate had found me in my bed that evening, I’d possibly already have been dead. Claimed by meningitis.

I came through to the other side, obviously, although it was a rough road. But I can’t claim that I came through unchanged.

Meningitis left an indelible scar on me that mostly remains completely hidden, but had the ability to rear it’s ugly head unbidden, and make itself known to all around me.

The scar is the ongoing tendency to experience seizures.

Or, in other words, epilepsy.

Epilepsy, to me, is a beast that tore its way through my twenties, turning life and relationships upside down. It took away my driving licence and threatened to take away my career plans. I struggled to get it under control, then struggled to deal with the emotional fall out and learning who my true friends were. Finally I fought, incredibly hard, to be allowed to continue to complete my degree and enter my chosen profession.

I’m not ashamed of epilepsy because, much like diabetes, it’s not something that I can help. I did not choose this. But it’s not something I’m particularly proud of or open about either. And that is mainly because of the incredibly narrow minded attitudes and prejudice that persist in society today, which have repeatedly both astonished and appalled me. Whilst I have no doubt that it was the countless supportive people who really got me through the tough times after my diagnosis, it was equally the many cruel, thoughtless people who nearly finished me off. Sadly epilepsy still carries a great stigma.

I know the only way to change this is to talk about it, but, perhaps selfishly, my focus has always had to be on protecting myself and my career.

Since I’m talking about it now, though, I’d like you to know that epilepsy doesn’t have to mean an end to normal life. I’m extremely fortunate that my epilepsy is now fully controlled, although I am unlikely to be able to ever come off medication (I have tried, with disastrous consequences). My seizures are preceded by an aura, or warning, and these two facts allow me to work and participate in activities in the same way as anyone else. I don’t pose a danger to myself or to anyone else as a result of this condition.

If I could choose, of course I wouldn’t choose epilepsy. But I do recognise the things it has given me. It increased my (already not inconsiderable) tenacity and determination. It’s taught me that you can change attitudes and you can be successful even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It’s also taught me a lot about people and saved me from relationships with people who’ve shown their true colours when it was introduced.

I learned first hand that the problem, as always, truly belongs to those people and not to me. Because I’m doing just fine with my life and my beautiful, happy family.

Jun 20 / Caro

Thomas Loves…

The more Thomas’s personality grows, the more strongly his little quirks show up. We’ve always known that he is strong willed and determined, but prone to frustration. And he’s a very passionate little boy who tends to be all-or-nothing, with very little middle ground – he either loves something, or he flat out hates it.

Thomas loves

(No, I didn’t put money in the Thomas ride-on. He doesn’t have to know that it moves, for now at least!!)

At this moment in time, some of his big loves include:

  • Thomas the Tank Engine, and trains in general. I do believe Thomas has not fully understood that although he and the little blue train share the same name, they are not one and the same. From all the “peep peeping” that goes on throughout the day, you could be forgiven for getting confused too.
  • Cake. And biscuits. And chocolate. Yes, I’m a BAD parent, so string me up now!
  • Crayons and pens. He likes nothing more some mornings that carrying a biro around, clicking the button up and down. Oh, and drawing on everything with it, including his own belly.
  • Brushing his teeth. Surprisingly this is at absolutely no insistence from his dentist mummy. He just loves it, and constantly demands more “boo-pas” (toothpaste) and to “bussssssh”.
  • Dancing. He’ll dance to the doorbell. And the washing machine. I hope he never loses his confidence!
  • Books
  • Sweeping. This is the most enduring of his obsessions so far. He spies brooms wherever we go and does everything he can to get hold of them and sweep! He throws sand out of the sandpit just so that he can sweep it up again. I have absolutely no idea where he learned this domestcity from, because it certainly wasn’t me!
  • Telephones. We’re over thinking that everything is a telephone. But sadly that means he knows which is the real telephone and won’t be fobbed off with a substitute. He holds it to his ear and says “Hiya. Yuh, Yuh. Byeeeeeeeeee” I have no idea why, as this is not my typical phone conversation! Strangely if there s actually someone talking to him, like his daddy, he goes silent!
  • Bubbles. We still get demands for “bubble” several times a day.
  • Swings. We go past the playground without stopping at our peril, which is a problem when so many routes home go straight past the playground!

Top hates of the moment include:

  • Nappy changes and being dressed. I’ve clearly spawned a little nudist.
  • Having his face wiped. He’s trying to start a fashion trend for wearing yogurt.
  • Going in to his car seat or pushchair. He’s perfected the stiff-as-a-board routine. And he does it wthout fail if I’m trying to strap him in the pushchair in public, screeching at the top of his voice. I can feel strangers eyes boring in to my back as I use a strategically placed knee to help secure him in there.
  • Fruit that is not puréed. Don’t ask me why. I’m guessing it’s a texture thing, but it’s strange for the boy who managed to eat literally everything whilst he still had no teeth.
  • The vacuum cleaner. It’s fine so long as it is switched off, but the moment we turn it on, he runs away as fast as his little legs will carry him!
Jun 19 / Caro

Thomas the Tantrum Engine

My son has never, in all his short life, been afraid to show his feelings as forcefully as he can, and we’ve been experiencing meltdowns and full on tantrums for so long I can’t remember when they didn’t happen. But when he was younger, he’d get frustrated with the world, and frustrated that he couldn’t communicate his needs and wants with us. Now, however, there is no doubt about the fact that his tantrums are classical toddler tantrums, driven by not being allowed to have, or do, something which he desires. He has become the master of the insta-tantrum, which goes from nought-to-sixty within three seconds flat of me uttering the word “no”. I can tell you now that I’m absolutely dreading what the twos, and threes, will bring if this is the ones!

Amongst our top tantrum starters at present are “bis-bit”, “cake” and “choc-luc”. Or in other words, demands for biscuits, cake or chocolate. Oh, the parenting fail, I’m sure, that my child was not only cognisant of these things, but had the language to start asking for them before the age of 18 months! And ask for them he does. About fifty million forty times a day. I rue the day that he first ate a chocolate button, for I didn’t know then that I would never get peace again. On being told no, he screws his face up, takes a big breath, throws his head back and wails, often pausing to shout “yes” and “more”. If I deign to offer him a different snack, he’ll look at me as though I’m offering him some crud scraped from the bottom of a shoe. And I thought I was being oh-so-clever when I filled the biscuit tin (yes, he knows what and where that is!) with rice cakes and fruit. Not impressed does not even cover it – as well as the tantrum it appears he has also mastered the withering look and the “what-do-you-take-me-for-mummy?” face.

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We also have a problem with Thomas the Tank Engine, in so far as my son is completely addicted to the little train that shares his name. He will find the television remote control and come running to us demanding “toot toot” and “peep peep”. The thing is, there are much worse things he could be in to (in fact, he watches no other television) and I quite like Thomas the Tank Engine for the simple fact that it is the only thing for which Thomas (the boy) will sit still for more than thirty seconds. He absolutely loves it. Unfortunately my conscience won’t let me allow him to stay parked in front of it for too long, (and I already have the theme tune on a loop in my brain) but if I don’t switch it on when demanded, we’ll have an insta-tantrum that involves falling to the floor and banging his feet and fists.

A more unusual cause of tantrums in this house over the last few days are my boobs. I was almost mentally composing a post last week about how breast feeding may be coming to an end. We brought him in to our bed last week as he wouldn’t sleep and was really unsettled. I still sleep with my top half naked (sorry, TMI) so bringing Thomas in to bed is like serving myself up on a plate. But he wasn’t interested at all. And he also didn’t feed for a run of five straight days last wek. Now, though, boobs are back with a vengeance. He wants to feed like a newborn again, and much as I like the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” strategy, I’ve had to refuse or I would never get anything done. And there are times that it just isn’t appropriate. Such as when I’m sitting on the loo. (Yes, he’s barged in on me in the bathroom with this demand!) Refusal, of course, is met with the most epic tantrums of all, with head banging, scratching and shrieking.

The difficulty is, I don’t think I’m dealing with these behavioural challenges very well. In fact, I know that I’m not as I have absolutely no clue what I am doing! I don’t want to give in, as even I can see how pointless that would be, so I’ve been relying on distraction as my main tool. The problem here comes when my method of distraction from one tantrum is the very thing I refused and which led to the prior tantrum. So I find Thomas the Tank Engine going on when I want to divert him from my boobs, and my boobs coming out in preference to chocolate buttons .

I know I’m sending the kid confusing messages, and he probably ends up having almost as much Thomas the Tank Engine/boob/biscuits this way as he would if I just gave in each time he asked!

It’s the principle though, right? He can’t have everything he wants just because he asks for it.

No, it seems he has to throw a tantrum about something else first!!

Jun 14 / Caro

Diabetes: Caught Between the Miracle Cure and the Deadly Scare

It often seems that there are only really two types of media story about diabetes. The first is the “New Hope on the Horizon” or “End to Jabs Misery for Diabetics” or even “Diabetes Cured… in Mice!” story. Damn those mice. They’re always getting cured. These stories are frustrating because we’ve been hearing it, covering the same ground and getting nowhere, for most of my diabetic life – which is now over thirty years. And it’s not as simple as not believing that there will be major changes in what we know and can do about diabetes, but these stories make it sound imminent and for those of us living with it, the reality is that on a day-to-day basis it still feels impossibly far away.

The second type of diabetes story that clogs up the health pages centres on the condition as a ticking time bomb. How diabetes rates are soaring and how much of a burden we are placing on the Health Service. How we are at risk of so many health complications, whose rates are also soaring, and that diabetes remains a leading cause of premature death.

There is very little middle ground in the mainstream media. What people outside the diabetes community see of the condition is either overwhelmingly positive (we’ll all be cured next year) or overwhelmingly negative (we’ll all be dead next year). Those of us living with type 1 diabetes are, however, for the most part caught somewhere quietly in between these two extremes, striving to live full, happy and healthy lives. And these kinds of media stories do nothing but undermine our efforts to that end.

Despite what the media may have you think, we’re simply not close enough to a cure to pin hopes on it happening. Every hour that we spend with sub-optimal blood glucose levels threatens our bodies and long term health. We can’t rely on a cure or new treatment to appear to halt that damage, so it’s imperative that we live each day as if the cure is never coming, in order to remain healthy enough to see it if it does. And funnily enough, cure aside, most of us don’t want to end up statistics of the condition anyway. We want to remain complication free and achieve a normal or near-normal life expectancy even if it never arrives.

So we work hard, extremely hard, to minimise and mitigate the risks as much as possible. I’ve said it before, but it always bears repeating, that diabetes is not a simple condition for which you take a set amount of medication each day and then forget about it. Every moment of every day has the capacity to affect blood glucose levels – food, activity, stress, illness, hormones, the weather… The list goes on. And the endlessly unpredictable human body can react to the exact same scenario in two different ways on two different days. It’s a constant juggling and balancing act that we ignore at our peril.
However, the negative side of diabetes in the media is a cause of a surprising amount of judgement and misunderstanding about what we can do and achieve. And the truth is, provided we are putting that effort in to controlling it as best we can, there isn’t much we can’t do. We can work in professional and challenging jobs. We can play sports at high level. We can travel around the world on our own. And we can certainly have healthy babies (I‘m proof of that!) And most importantly, we are able to contribute, not merely be a burden. But sometimes we’re under pressure to make diabetes look like it’s easy in order to suppress the idea that we shouldn’t be doing the things we want to, or to reduce other people’s concerns about us doing them. So we get on with all the mundanity of blood glucose testing, insulin dose adjusting and carb counting quietly and try to conceal our frustrations and struggles. Success at making it look easy is sweet, but it doesn’t help people outside the diabetes world understand what it’s really like.

Here’s the bottom line: Diabetes is hard work. And it’s relentless. It’s not our fault that we have this complex autoimmune condition – we certainly didn’t bring it on ourselves. And no matter how hard we try, and how well we do, high and low blood sugars are a fact of life. Diabetes is a big deal and it’s not disappearing any time soon. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t live full, normal lives, provided we are properly supported.

This week is Diabetes UK’s Diabetes Week, focusing on raising awareness. I don’t think we only need to raise awareness of the fact that diabetes exists, but also of the actual realities of living with condition every day.

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