Looking back at the 2013 LLLGB Conference

I like the idea of getting dressed up smartly and then going to publishing events, launches, conferences etc. to mix and mingle with the aim of letting the world know about the books and cards I’m producing and selling. The reality though is far different…

There are oh-so-many things to consider now that I am a parent: a breastfeeding little one who, although completely happy with his grandma, likes to check in with his mama from time to time for milk and cuddles; school drop-off and pick-up times for my big girl; a suitable child’s car seat for my mum’s car; enough refreshments, nappies and entertainment to last the day; and the practicality of lugging boxes of heavy books around when trying to hold my little one’s hand AND cross a busy road safely!

So at present ‘events’ don’t fit in easily with family life.

But the annual La Leche League GB conference is, for me, the one big annual event, and I start to think about this months in advance.

Why is this then?

As many of you know, LLL is a charity close to my heart, and their events are, of course, completely child-friendly and mama-friendly. So my little one, grandma in tow, came and went as he pleased – completely fascinated by going up and down the hotel lifts and then exploring the many corridors, then it was back to my stall…

When we had a nappy leak, a friendly mama offered baby wipes which I didn’t have to hand, and my friend, LLL Leader Lois Rowlands (who is also the creator of the image on Letting Go) carried boxes with me and then helped me to find a trolley to transport the rest.

At the end of the second day of the conference my little boy, completely exhausted from all the hotel exploring and excitement fell asleep nursing just as I had to pack away my stall and send my mum off to get her car out of the expensive car park, seconds ticking away… I hadn’t brought a sling with me or anything so knew I would have to ask someone for babysitting help. A friendly Leader offered to sit with both my little ones as I packed up the stall and then ran up and down stairs carrying half-empty boxes, my mum in her car waiting outside.

That’s what I love most about LLL – if you need a hand, a little support when you really could do with some then they are there for you. So this conference will continue to be in my events diary for the foreseeable future. 🙂

And by the way, the mixing and mingling was fun, and it was lovely to hear so many positive comments about my books, cards and prints. I am though looking forward to a rather quieter weekend this weekend… 😉

My daughter’s salt dough decorations – she’s a budding entrepreneur too!

‘The Mother-Burden’ or ‘Love & Fear’

Some reflections on the birth of a mother, and what it means to be a mother… by Teika Bellamy

The other day (22/07/2013) my mum called me late in the evening and left a message on my answerphone, “a boy has been born…”. Now I admit I’m not the most news-aware person in the world but even I knew what she was talking about. (My mum, bless her generous heart, is a big fan of the Royals and gifted the Duchess of Cambridge with a copy of Musings on Mothering a while back, but that’s another story…!)

Anyway, I was glad to hear that the Duchess of Cambridge’s son had safely arrived in the world, and as I went to bed that night I couldn’t help but wonder how the new mother (indeed, every new-born mother) was feeling. I looked back to the night, about six years ago, when I gave birth to my own first baby and the strong emotions I experienced after the birth.

I was in hospital and recovering from a post-partum haemorrhage and second-degree tear to my perineum. I was sore but happy; hungry and tired. It was good to have my husband around; it was good to finally meet my baby and hold her in my arms.

The first time I put my daughter to my breast I felt as though I had reached the culmination of womanhood; my womb and placenta had provided for her for the first nine months of her being, now my breasts and arms would continue to keep her well fed and safe.

However, when my husband had to leave the hospital, and it was just my daughter and I together, I couldn’t help but feel a little worried. It was just the two of us now – would we be okay?

I put her in the bedside crib for a moment, bundled in her NHS blanket, and I lay back in my bed and closed my eyes. I wasn’t really expecting to sleep – the lights were still on and there was a lot of background noise in this strange, clinical place, but I was tired. I must have dozed a little, because I very clearly remember being jolted awake and immediately, instinctively, looking to my baby. She appeared to be completely still, not breathing, and my heart almost burst with fear. My hands flew to her chest to find her heartbeat, to make sure that her chest was still moving up and down, and when I knew that she was okay – simply asleep and peaceful – I cried. This was the moment I really knew what it was to be a mother: for the rest of my life I would know joy, pure, wonderful joy in being a mother to my children, but also the fear, the very primal fear of knowing that something might happen to them.

Mothers throughout the world live with these two powerful emotions every day. We long to make sure that our children are well fed and safe, and sometimes, in the early days our fears for their safety may seem overwhelming. Certainly, our anxieties about them being well fed are common, particularly in the west. It can be of great solace to a breastfeeding mother to meet with other breastfeeding mothers to discuss weight gain concerns in the early days. Speaking with a counsellor from a breastfeeding support charity like La Leche League can be invaluable too, especially for a mother who needs some reassurance and good information about how often to feed in the early days and weeks.

I still remember how it took many months, years even, for my fear for my daughter’s safety to ease off. Even now, I like to go to my children’s beds and stroke their heads when they’re fast asleep. It’s an extra way for me to re-connect with them – to again check that they’re okay – when we’ve been extra busy during the day.

Obviously, as our children get older our fears for their safety lessen, although of course they can be replaced by other, new and perhaps more complicated fears.

Just the other day, I lost sight of both my children in the school playground. I thought perhaps they’d walked home together already (we only live about a minute’s walk away from the school) so I rushed out of the school gates and down the road to find them… but they weren’t there. I ran back to the school (ultra-aware that I was the only parent there without a child – my heart almost bursting with fear again) and then I spotted them. Tears came to my eyes as relief at finding them washed over me.

This is the mother-burden: the fear that allies itself with joy, and no amount of money, possessions or status can remove it from a mother’s heart. Yet this is what it is to be human: to know our own mortality. Sometimes our fears are irrational, sometimes they are very real and rational; they are nearly always a useful way to connect with our inner voice, which can swiftly impel us to make necessary adjustments to our everyday lives so that fear can be avoided for future scenarios.

It would certainly be less of a burden to not feel fear for and on our children’s behalf, yet let us not forget that fear is a powerful – and sometimes urgent – reminder of how much we love and value our children. And I firmly believe that our ability to love unconditionally is our strength.

Remember the chocolate with the breastfeeding image?

It’s been a long time since I was given the bar of chocolate with the beautiful painting by Stanislaw Wyspianski on the packet. His painting depicts a mother breastfeeding her child; a completely normal scene. Yet a beautiful scene.

I was very pleased to receive the chocolate – ah the perks of publishing! – but I promised myself I wouldn’t eat it until Musings on Mothering was published. I hesitated for a long while, but finally found a good time to use (and indulge myself – and others – with) this lovely chocolate.

My daughter’s school was fundraising for Children in Need last Friday – and they asked for parents to bake cakes. Aha, I thought! So I decided to turn the chocolate into a creamy ganache and use it atop the fairy cakes I made. Here is the result: and by pure chance I photographed the cake on our cake/biscuit tin, which funnily enough portrays another beautiful image: Summer Evening on the Skagen Southern Beach with Anna Ancher and Marie Kroyer, 1893, by Peder Kroyer.

Oh, and the cakes were tasty!

Mummy, I love you because…

At a recent La Leche League meeting I went to, romance was in the air… well, it was more that mother love was in the air…

Some meetings focus on breastfeeding challenges and difficulties, and how to overcome them, but this February’s meeting the focus was on us, as mothers. We got little chocolate hearts with a label that said “I love you mummy because…” and we had to fill in what we thought our baby or toddler would say. It was lovely to just reflect on what we, as mothers, mean to our children and to take a pause from the daily hubbub of life.

“I love you mummy because…”

hmm… perhaps a good start to a poem?

Breastfeeding art and chocolate

At the October 2011 La Leche League Great Britain annual conference, I got the opportunity to meet lots of lovely mamas who were keen to help me out with the anthology project. The lovely Nik Harris even gave me a very special bar of chocolate, which alerted me to the wonderful work of a Polish artist called Stanislaw Wyspianski.

A Polish chocolate manufacturer had seen the obvious beauty in the painting titled ‘Motherhood’, and decided to put it onto the chocolate wrapper. They obviously have very good taste!

As for the chocolate, well, as much as I love to eat chocolate, I daren’t open the beautiful packet. It will sit on my desk and continue to tempt and inspire me in equal measures!