Less than one year ago Poppy was thrown into this unfamiliar world, knowing nothing, doing nothing, completely dependant on her parents. And now she is a walking, almost talking, increasingly independent, huge personality with a whole range of feelings and ways of expressing them and an unfathomable amount of knowledge and skills that blow me away every day. How did that happen?
I was thinking about her upcoming birthday and how much she has changed in that first year, how truly amazing she, and every other baby, is! And it occurred to me that we have so much more to celebrate on that special day. Poppy may have had a shock when she came into the world all those months ago, but it wasn’t just her life that changed drastically. And despite how hard everyone said it would be, how many ‘You just wait’ looks I was given, to be honest, I think we have done a bloody amazing job so far.
For starters, Poppy’s birthday will mark a whole year of exclusive breastfeeding, no formula in her entire life so far, which less than 1% of Mum’s in the UK can say. I know this isn’t always possible so I consider myself very lucky to be contributing to that statistic, but despite the fact that she latched on immediately with no trouble, it hasn’t been without its difficulties. It was always so important to me that she was breastfed, I didn’t ever consider another option, but looking back on how much I actually did to make it possible makes me feel quite proud. Poppy spent the second week of her life crying in pain every time she fed and woke from her sleeps screaming and bright red in the face. She struggled to empty her bowels and had a blistered rash on her bottom. I was horrified seeing her like that, but kept being told that it was normal, just colic that would go away eventually. I didn’t buy it and took things into my own hands, researching how my diet could be affecting her through my breast milk. Looking at the common culprits, I decided to start by cutting out dairy, which was incredibly daunting considering I used to have cheese at every opportunity! I looked at the list of names for hidden dairy and read labels vigorously. It seemed I couldn’t eat anything. But I had to try something, and so for the next week or so I literally ate nothing but fruit and veg to be absolutely certain that nothing was contaminated. I felt pretty fed up not being able to eat the proper meals I was used to, but things with Poppy improved quickly which kept me going. I gradually got used to preparing wholesome meals without any dairy at all, using oat milk in our risotto and almond milk for my breakfast, tea and coffee. It was still so alien to me, but after two weeks on this diet Poppy was a new baby. I felt so relieved that I knew what had been causing the pain and angry that none of the professionals would take me seriously. Even after I had seen the amazing results my doctor and health visitor refused to believe it and made me feel pretty inferior to them. Then one day, after I had enjoyed some dairy free dark chocolate, Poppy seemed to react the same way as before. I checked all of the ingredients and Googled some more. Soy. Many babies who are intolerant to dairy are also intolerant to soy. So another thing to look out for, and this one really was in everything I picked up. I was constantly worried about eating out, or grabbing something on the go, I had to read every label meticulously to be sure that I wouldn’t be hurting my precious girl. I felt miserable that so many things seemed to be off limits, and I worried I would never have a social life again! But I still never considered giving up breastfeeding. I carried on, learning new recipes, changing the entire contents of our cupboards, without even questioning it, because it was for Poppy. I did this with little support and whilst juggling a newborn baby, recovering from a traumatic birth and adjusting to all of the other changes in my life. Of course, I may have felt a little sorry for myself, but at the time, in the blur of those early hazy days, I didn’t fully appreciate my own efforts. It was just another thing I had to do, something that perhaps would pass, like the spit up on my shoulder and the middle of the night feeds (little did I know that they weren’t going anywhere fast either). Almost a year later we are still breastfeeding and my diet is radically different. I don’t even have to think about it now, I am simply dairy and soy free, just like I have brown hair, an embarrassing laugh and a weakness for Pimms. It has become a part of me instead of a temporary fix to a problem. I remember wondering if I would continue to breastfeed for as long as I wanted because of this, but that no longer crosses my mind. For starters I have discovered that dairy seems to have been the main cause of my eczema, and I feel better in many other ways as a result of my new diet. It is difficult at times, going to social occasions, being tempted by my old favourites when we go out for dinner, but I can count on one hand the amount of times I have knowingly slipped up (and Poppy still reacts when I do). I never had that sort of will power on any diet I have ever been on! I have to refuse chocolates and cakes that are offered around without a second thought, pass on a lovely cup of hot tea when there is no alternative milk available, watch everyone else scoffing my favourite foods without making a fuss, accepting the fact that it is my responsibility to avoid temptation rather than expecting people to accommodate for me. It has become second nature and with our breastfeeding journey going beautifully I don’t plan to give up until Poppy is ready, which judging from the earlier statistic, is (sadly) not all that common. Now I know this may not be worthy of front-page news, but I am allowed to brag every once in a while.
There are other reasons why I feel this has been such an achievement. Having always struggled with accepting my body and eating healthily, knowing that I was nourishing Poppy forced me to take better care of myself. Since those first small changes I have learnt so much more, incorporating so many fresh and wholesome foods into my diet, trying new things all the time, constantly learning more about nutrition and ditching the junk almost completely. More importantly ditching the fasts and yoyo diet cycles completely. I am finally respecting my body which deserves to be as healthy as can be, because I have realised it is actually pretty incredible, to have grown and nourished a strong human being all by itself. Funnily enough I now, without even trying, weigh less than I did when I was practically starving myself, but I am happier than I have ever been regardless of what the scales say. I believe food is the most important thing to get right in your life, and I am proud that I have turned my relationship with food around completely. I am also proud that I can offer Poppy the best start and hopefully teach her about healthy choices throughout her life too.
So I guess my next achievement links in with that perfectly. This last year has made me more confident in myself than ever before. My post baby body and new inner peace is just the beginning! There are so many choices to make, small and big, when you have a child, suddenly you have to be sure of yourself, otherwise you might cave under all the pressure. I have always been headstrong to an extent, but vulnerable and my confidence was easily knocked, over the smallest of things. But starting when I was pregnant, I had someone else to make decisions for, and I started to believe in myself more for the sake of that unborn baby girl. I refused induction when the doctors were making me feel like I was wrong. I knew deep down everything was OK, and I was right. Every other decision after that made me more and more sure that I would do things my way. People who scoffed at the fact that we co-slept, or wore Poppy in a sling for the majority of her newborn life; they didn’t make me question my choices one little bit. Suddenly I didn’t care what other people thought of me, because it wasn’t them who would be affected by my decisions, it was Poppy. Initially I had been worried about postnatal depression, having gone through depression and anxiety many times before. But previous bouts of depression left me feeling worthless, unmotivated and with no sense of purpose. I remember thinking, even during Poppy’s 4 hour crying fits, I had never felt more worthy, important, purposeful or in control of my own emotions in my whole life! There were hard times but I just felt like finally I had found what I was meant to be, I had so much to be happy for and someone else to be strong for and nothing would bring me down. Not that I am claiming to be a better mum than the next, or better able to cope with the hard times; in fact accepting that I cannot be perfect and that is still good enough, was a huge realisation and perhaps part of the reason I did remain so positive. When I see Poppy smile at me every day I feel as wonderful as she thinks I am.
As well as these personal achievements I will be celebrating the more simple things that have happened in the past year. We have moved to a fantastic place, made fantastic friends and we have shared so many good times as a family. Tim has come so far in his career, and I am so proud of him. I have thrown myself into a new life here, juggled a baby and a diploma, which is going pretty darn well, as well as keeping the dog alive and the house tidy (ish). So I hope you don’t mind the very personal (and slightly long) post, but I wanted to share with you all of those positive things that explain why Poppy’s very first birthday means so much to me. People warned me that having a baby would change my life, and it has…entirely for the better.
What are you proud of since becoming a parent?