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…If you’re not into reading about that stuff then look away now!  This is, to be honest, a self-indulgent post.  (Hmmm, are any blog posts not self-indulgent? Discuss…)  I’ve decided to write it, and I plan to write as honestly as I know how, because I have this stuff on my mind.  I’ve never quite resolved the rather difficult birth experience I had with my daughter, never quite come to terms with failing to be able to breastfeed her and as we hope to have another child (though that’s proving to be, once again, a slow process) I thought it might do me some good to get this stuff out of my head and somehow resolved.  I’m looking for a bit of catharsis, and you, my friends, are about to bear witness if you want to.  If you don’t want to get inside my head that much, and feel there is such a thing as too much information (you’re right) I recommend you exercise your ‘get out of jail free’ card and click on someone else’s blog instead.  There have been some letters and articles in the press recently, and intermittently over the years, which relate particularly to the issue of breastfeeding, and I need to sort that out in my head . So that is, as the post title suggests, the main topic here today.

 

 Everyone knows, or should know by now, that breast feeding is the best way for a baby to be fed.  The World Health Organisation says

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is the ideal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. Virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, and the support of their family and the health care system. Colostrum, the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy, is recommended by WHO as the perfect food for the newborn, and feeding should be initiated within the first hour after birth. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age.

There’s not much to argue with there really.  It’s the way women (female mammals even) are designed to nourish their young.  There is no more natural process, and yet I have been all too aware that we as a nation are not so good at this:

UK breastfeeding rates

The Office for National Statistics performs its Infant Feeding Survey every five years. The figures from the 2005 survey were published in March 2008. The 2005 figures show some significant improvements from the 2000 survey. Key findings were:
  • The proportion of babies breastfed at birth in the UK rose by seven per cent.
  • Initiation rates in both Scotland and Northern Ireland rose by eight per cent and those in England and Wales by seven per cent.
  • Scotland, which showed the greatest increases in the prevalence of breastfeeding at ages up to nine months in 2000, appears to have stabilised in 2005, with a small increase in the rate at four months and no increase at six and nine months. By contrast, the other countries show an increase at all ages.
  • Overall, only 35 per cent of UK babies are being exclusively breastfed at one week, 21 per cent at six weeks, 7 per cent at four months and 3 per cent at five months.
  • In 2005, for the first time, figures for Wales were separated from those for England. This will enable each country to see their individual progress at the next survey in 2010.

(from Unicef report released in 2008)

So, the UK sucks at breastfeeding (ha, no pun intended).  So when I, an expectant mother 5 years ago, contemplated breastfeeding I knew 1) it was something I planned on doing, I didn’t seriously consider not breastfeeding my child 2)there was some reason most mothers didn’t breastfeed their children in this country.  As a community education worker, working in a family centre, I was very aware of the various health education initiatives there were around this as well as having the chance to see for myself what the mums in my professional as well as my personal life were doing in this regard.  (Not quite in line with the statistics, I actually know and knew then quite a number of people who would breastfeed exclusively for long periods, less than those using formula but not significantly so).
Anyway, my daughter was born a little more than 4 1/2 years ago now.  It wasn’t the easiest of births, there was quite a lot of medical intervention – much more than I had anticipated being possible, short of having a caesarean.  One of the consequences of this was that in the hours immediately after she was born I was pretty out of it, pretty feeble.  Even now, that first night is not really ‘there’, just snapshots and sort of flashback moments.  Is this, I wonder, part of the reason why my daughter didn’t manage to ‘latch on’ successfully at first?  Or when I tried again later?  And with increasing urgency, later again. 
The midwives taught me hurriedly how to express some of that early crucial milk, called colostrum, and my daughter was fed it in a little tiny cup, like a medicine cap with a lip to it, so future attempts at breastfeeding wouldn’t be damaged. This was to us as new parents just so strange.  Well everything was strange, and we were reeling from the experience, but the idea of feeding our tiny brand new daughter from a miniature plastic cup just seemed surreal.
This soon became the relentless cycle of the days to follow.  I would attempt to breastfeed my daughter, she would wriggle and cry or just turn away.  I would then hook myself up to an industrial milking machine (breast pump, but big enough to cope with a dairy herd, it seemed), spend ages getting milk out then torturously feeding it to her (and sending the rest off to be saved for other feeds) via this minute cup.  Bear in mind she was hours then days old, and I had no remote experience of anything approaching this, had snatched an hours sleep here and another there, but as I also had a ‘colicky’ baby most of my time was spent shushing and pacing and rocking and soothing and eventually crying along with her.  Within the space of 12 hours of being a mother I had failed to do the one ‘natural’ thing I had really really wanted to do for her. 
I got lots of support, lots of intervention, lots of advice from the midwives, doctors, breast feeding specialists.  But nothing, literally nothing made any difference.  My daughter, for no apparent reason, would not breastfeed.  After not very long there was some concern about her health, that Iwasn’t producing enough milk (even now that part is hazy) and whilst it was good I was expressing milk for her to take in her little cup, it was getting to the point I needed to supplement that with formula milk.  This felt like a huge deal, something there was no going back from.  Actually that was exactly how it turned out in the end.  But my daughter did well on the formula, although my husband spent a fortune in Mothercare buying all the previously unwanted formula-feeding gubbins we’d not even considered buying.
 
We remained in hospital for 6 days all in all, trying to get breastfeeding going.  I had all sorts of strange interventions which were deemed worth trying.  I can’t think of another time I felt so disempowered, so at the mercy of the will and control of others.  I remember sitting in a little room at 2 or 3am with a well-intentioned midwife taping tiny tubes to my breast and nipple then squirting my previously expressed milk through the tubes as I positioned my daughter to try to feed yet again.  (The idea was to show her this was how she was meant to get her milk, she’d never managed to latch on, maybe she just thought my nipples were buttons or something) What happened instead was I ended up covered in my own milk, tears pouring down my face, my baby crying because she was hungry, the midwife getting  increasingly brisk and shrill. 
When the midwives finally got me to concede defeat after 6 days, I went home, and continued the pattern begun in hospital.  Feeding was an endless round of trying to breastfeed, feeding, expressing, sterilising, making up formula, nursing a colicky baby and then starting again.  (I might have got the order wrong, and even missed out a stage or two…it’s a bit blurry).  We kept this up for 6 weeks, then my breastmilk just dwindled away and we were left with formula. 
If I’m truthful I was ashamed.  I was ashamed to be seen feeding my baby from a bottle, ashamed to have given up so soon (although I did everything I could to keep my milk going, I tried and tried to breastfeed…see how I still need to justify myself even now?!) .  I longed for the intimacy and bond inherent in breastfeeding your child.  I longed too for the convenience and simplicity of breastfeeding as opposed to the tedium and timeconsuming nature of preparing formula feeds.  I realise that may be a romanticised picture of breastfeeding too – I’ve known enough mothers who have felt utterly bound by a child that just wants to breastfeed all the time. 
It troubled me for a long time about what would have happened to my daughter if she’d been born somewhere where formula wasn’t available.  What happens to children whose mothers can’t feed them, or children which can’t/won’t take to breastfeeding?  Well I know now that there are very ancient examples of bottles used clearly to feed babies, so perhaps they were given cows milk or similar.  Or another breastfeeding mother, a wet nurse, would take them on.  Or they would simply die from malnutrition…
So it bothers me that the debate about breastfeeding is so simplistic.  Because the reality for some mothers, like me, is that it was a painful journey away from our plans and hopes, and towards a second-best choice that we ultimately had no choice but to take.  My daughter wouldn’t breast feed.  I got lots and lots of support from professionals whose job it is to sort that out.  Receiving that support was a double-edged sword, of much needed help and advice, combined with a sense of ‘if it still doesn’t work after all this, it’s your fault not ours’ (not ever said, just how I feltf) She still wouldn’t breast feed.  Literally not even try.  I didn’t need anyone to make me feel guilty, I’d already internalised enough of the breastfeeding argument to do that myself.  I find it difficult to believe my particular situation was unique but equally I hear few voices that echo a similar story.   That’s why I’ve written this, just in case someone else is having or has had the same experience and wants to know they’re not the worst mum in the world because they couldn’t succeed at breastfeeding.  Now my daughter’s older, I’m coming to realise if that’s the worst thing I fail at as a parent I’ll be doing an amazing job.
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bestkeptsecret

ASBO Jesus hits the nail on the head, and makes a neat mental link for me with my previous post.

I’ve spent part of today watching Rob Bell’s dvd “The Gods Aren’t Angry”.  (It’s funny, having just put in that link, I’ve found myself, through Google, looking through a lot of people’s thoughts on Mr Bell.  Goodness, what a controversial figure he is in some quarters.)

It’s been a thought-provoking, challenging ray of sunshine on a wet day in Edinburgh.  Fundamentally, to me, it has spoken of grace, of the world-changing spiritual earthquake there is in knowing we are not caught in a trap of endless offerings to unsatisfiable ‘gods’ (today, perhaps those relentless gods of work, money, family, approval…).  One part that really has made me think is the idea of the rituals that we sometimes use, religious or otherwise, to somehow try to appease those angry gods our minds and hearts can be preoccupied with.  What is a useful, a meaningful ritual?

I can only quote from Rob Bell himself:

What is the point of a ritual?  The point of a ritual is to ground us, to open us up, to remind us, to tap us in to the peace that has already been made at the culmination of the ages, through this Christ who offered himself.  Any ritual that piles on a whole load new weight …[of] the same old guilt…is not a Christian ritual…The only proper Christ-centred ritual is one that reminds you, that refreshes you, that awakens you…that opens you up to the God who has made peace with all things in heaven and earth through this Christ who offered himself.

It’s ridiculously easy to allow ourselves to become trapped by rituals, practices, ways of living, which negate that, as if the reconciliation and restoration Jesus brought was not for all, for all time. 

But I’m a Christian, I know this stuff (even if I don’t always quite manage to live in the reality of it).  This message is for all who are far off, for a world of people who don’t know the story of grace, and have not experienced people like me – like I said, people who know this stuff – bringing grace and love into their lives.

In the dvd Rob told some beautiful stories of grace.  Like the newly single mother of four who lost her home and was facing homelessness with her children until a couple from Rob Bell’s church stepped in, bought her a home (!) and gave it to the family freely.  Or like the family struggling in the economic downturn to put food on their table, so another family committed to buying all the groceries they might need until things got better (and spent $900 on the first grocery shop!).  Or like the friend who spent time with Rob himself a few years back when he had become caught in a spiral of ever-working, ever-proving himself to the detriment of much else, and sat with Rob telling him with great love and persistence “You don’t have to live like this, you don’t have to live like this, you don’t have to live like this…” until Rob finally heard him. 

I would like to be a grace-bringer to the lives of others, and this reminder of the source of the grace extended to us all has been timely.

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 Step 1:  A missional expression is about living out your faith in a collective way, about loving your tribe – about knowing who your tribe is.  With this in mind, your missional expression will need a ‘vehicle’.  Most of the time this will be figurative.  However, sometimes it will turn out to be literal…

 

 

 

 

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 Step 2:  …(and even have retro cool-appeal) Once you have established what your vehicle is, you need to spend some time examining said vehicle from every angle…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Step 3:  Think it through – is it just your ‘big idea’ or can others get onboard with you?  Once you’ve thought this through it’s time to get going! 

 

 

 

 

 (So for a beach/surf based missional expression here’s how it might go next)

 006

 Step 4: Put Jesus at the centre.  There’s not much point otherwise.  Surf, play on the beach, be part of the tribe you belong to in this context.  And as you live authentically it may be that others who share your interest, your passion, will join you…

 

 

  

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Step 5:  Be open to others joining you who have a different way of living out the missional expression.  Not everyone will want to jump into a wetsuit and catch some waves.  But how great would it be if a differently gifted, differently impassioned person wanted to be on the beach getting the barbecue ready for when everyone gets out of the water, ready to eat?

 

 

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Step 6:  …So it’s not surprising that more people will join in time.  It’s going to be awesome!

 

 

 

 

 

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Step 7: Shared beach, shared surf, shared food, shared life, shared love.  Authentic lives lived openly with one another.  And the chance to hang out in a VW campervan? 

 

 

 

 

 

 Okay, this is a playful rendering of an idea we’ve had.  Children’s toys make everything look fun!  Who knows what will happen, but in the meantime we’re going to have some fun on the beach anyway, because it’s what we love to do and we spend far too little time doing it.

Fancy joining in a national art project to be put together during the Edinburgh Festival?  Check this out (I plan to join in too, if it’s not yet too late):

The National Portrait Gallery of Scotland will be hosting an exhibition later this year entitled Rough Cut Nation.

This unique multimedia project draws together a group of young artists from around Scotland to create a dramatic collaborative installation. For the Edinburgh Festival they will construct a remixed version of Scottish history as informed by street art and graffiti culture, painted, pasted and projected directly onto the walls of the Portrait Gallery.

The project updates William Hole’s original decorative mural scheme of 1889-1898, depicting important events from Scotland’s past. This new installation exploits the empty space produced by the Gallery’s current closure for redevelopment.

The original mural by William Hole portrays elements of Scottish history with strong religious and at times Protestant overtones.

As one of the artist duos involved, we are interested in exploring religious iconography and the use of Jesus as a moral or social catalyst within both Scottish history and contemporary culture.

With that in mind we would like to ask you three questions:

1. In one word, describe who was/is Jesus?
2. In one word, what does Jesus have to do with Scottish History?
3. What impact has Jesus had on Scotland past, present and future?

The answers that we collect from these questions will potentially form part of the final artwork, but will not be attributed to any one individual.
Thank you for your willingness to participate in this project, please send your answers to DUFI.JESUS@GMAIL.COM

DUFI ART | Guerrilla Art & Creativity
DUFI-ART.BLOGSPOT.COM

Well, BK did it, and I couldn’t resist so here’s everything you never wanted to know about me.  Thanks to BK for leading the way, it’s been great fun doing it. 

1. First thing you wash in the shower? I begin at the top and work down…

2. Would you kiss the last person you kissed again? Absolutely (it was my little girl, and before that my husband)

3. Do you plan outfits? Well, I don’t close my eyes and randomly select clothes from my wardrobe/drawers, so in that sense I do plan.  Do I spend time thinking through combinations of clothes, and weighing up relative pros and cons?  Virtually never, and it stresses me out when I have to do it (like picking out what to wear for a special occasion because I always discover a wardrobe deficiency somewhere

4. What are you craving right now? Sleep

5. Do you floss? Tried it, strangled my tonsils (suspect I need to practice)

6. What comes to mind when I say cabbage? Slugs (as in slugs ate the cabbages I tried to grow last year)

7. Are you emotional? At times. 

8. Have you ever counted to 1,000? Don’t think so, but I’m pretty sure I know how it goes… 

9. Do you like your hair? Sometimes.  It looked nice yesterday for some reason, today not so much

10. Do you like yourself? I don’t know how to answer that honestly.  Counselling here I come!

11. Would you go out to eat with George W. Bush? Don’t know.  I’ve heard he’s a personable guy, and might be good company, but I’d probably get indigestion from all my inner seething.  It would be interesting to get an insight into someone who so recently (and disastrously) shaped many world events.

12. What are you listening to right now? The distant sound of a radio, and various fans around the place trying to cool it down.

13. Are your parents strict? Well, I’ve been an adult for a long time, so their strictness doesn’t really factor into my life these days.  But when I was younger, they were moderately strict and probably could have been firmer with us.

14. Would you go sky diving? Categorically, no.  Why jump when there’s a perfectly good plane to stay in?

15. Have you ever met a celebrity? Celebrity is a relative term, so when I was younger meeting a local radio DJ counted as meeting a celebrity, a little older and meeting people in bands I liked was really exciting.  A couple of weeks ago we were close enough to Jamie Oliver to (nearly) touch him.  He didn’t speak to us though (someone else was talking to him at the time, I like to think he’d have had a good chat otherwise….)

16. How many countries have you visited? England, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, France, Andorra, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, USA.  Think that’s it.  We’ve not been abroad for a few years now, lots of UK holidays these days.  Hoping to go to Italy for the first time next year, and I still look longingly at our guide books for a return visit to New York, or San Fran, or a first visit to New Zealand, or Canada or Alaska.  Or any of the Scandinavian countries…the list of ‘would like to’s is really long.

17. Have you made a prank phone call? No.  I’m more of a prank recipient, and have always hated it so wouldn’t do it to someone else (unless it was a really close friend I knew could take it?)

19. Do you have a cell phone? Like BK I can only acknowledge it to be a mobile, but yes.

20. Can you use chop sticks? Very badly, so I prefer not to.  Don’t want my food to go cold / land on the floor.

21. Are you too forgiving? No.  Can you be?

22. Ever been in love? Yes.

23. Last time you cried? Can’t remember

24. What was the last question you asked? “Can I have a kiss and a cuddle?”  (context: saying goodbye to my daughter at nursery this morning)

25. Are you sarcastic? hmm…sometimes. 

26. Do looks matter? Define “matter”.  In the grand scheme of things I’m pretty sure looks aren’t important, but in the everyday world they do affect things (e.g. us getting upset because a child in my daughter’s class called her fat, and even more heartbreakingly, our daughter reassuring us it doesn’t matter.  But her feelings were still hurt, and she’s still little so we don’t want her to be worrying about stuff like that)

27. Do you like your life right now? Yes

28. Can you handle the truth? I’d rather know the truth.  Handling it can be another matter

29. How often do you talk on the phone? Not much, I’m not much of a phone person.  Love texting since I got my new phone though, but calls are expensive

30. Where was your profile picture taken at? It’s part of a piece of art I did a few months ago, so it’s come straight out of my head… 

31. Can you hula hoop? Used to be pretty good, but not so much these days, although I have the occasional secret practice with my daughter’s hula hoop when no-one’s watching…

32. Do you have a job? Yes, but I’m leaving in 6 weeks to pursue a different kind of life, for a while.  Very exciting!

 33. What was the most recent thing you bought? “The Guardian”, a bottle of diet coke and a tub of grapes from Scotmid.

I’ve just been doing some research for work-related art projects and have discovered the most AMAZING place, just here on our doorstep, with sculpture by the most incredible artists, and a fantastic vision and resource for Scotland…  I’d not heard of it before, although apparently it has only in the last couple of months opened it’s doors to the public.  I wanted to share my discovery of Jupiter Artland with you.  I’m currently planning visits and workshops and more visits and more workshops…

Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy

The funny thing is, I’d been planning a quick Andy Goldsworthy blog based around an article in The Guardian’s Travel section a couple of weekend’s ago – he’s been steadily installing artworks in mountain huts in a particular part of France, for discovery by visiting walkers.  Never really wanted to go on a walking holiday until I read about it, so I might yet come back and share that particular source of inspiration with you.
July 2009
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