Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Love hurts...

Ok. I’m back to tell my story. I haven’t much to say really. It is simply that every night for the last two weeks I have had a glimpse of what it must have felt like to be Aphrodite. In the paintings I mean, not her real life. And if you leave out the men. I am talking in sensual, emotional and devotional terms here, not sexual. Sorry, what I mean is that I now know how it feels to be lavished with adoring, caressing female attention from girls who simply cannot get enough of your body. Yes, I am talking about my daughters.

Since the girls started to sleep together our bedtime routine has evolved, or regressed, depending on your parenting point of view. I no longer meditate on Jemima’s floor while she falls asleep. Instead I lie down between them both and wait for them to fall asleep. I know that many parents - though probably not my blog readers - will be shocked that I still do this with my four and a half year old daughter. Especially back in the UK where most parents I know have perfected the art of a simple ‘Night night! See you in the morning’ bedtime routine.

And while that does sound rather nice and orderly – hmmm, there are nights I would kill for it actually - just think what I would miss out on? For as I lie there between my two sweet honey pies, I get to feel like the most loved and adored and deliciously juicy woman that ever graced the earth. On one side Bella breastfeeds, mmmming and aaaahing as she goes. While she feeds, her free arm is thrown across my body and she squishes and squeezes and squidges the flesh on my tummy in her hand. Hmm, actually this is very painful and something I could do without.

When I say: ‘Gently Bella!’, she pulls off the boob (ouch), sits bolt upright and starts to stroke Jemima’s and my hair. She thinks ‘gently’ means ‘stroke hair softly’. It is very sweet. Then she throws herself on top of me, buries her head in my belly and blows big, deep, sticky raspberries. She generally has a lot of fun at the expense of my bodily flesh.

Meanwhile, on the other side, Jemima is snuggled up whispering sweet somethings in my ear. “I love you Mummy. Let’s have a conversation”

“Ssssh, its bedtime. No talking”. Short and sharp. I try to be strict. Very business like. “Oh, I love you too”

Nowit is her turn to sit up, resting (read: digging) her elbow comfortably in my ribs. Owwww... every night!

“How much do you love me?”

Here we go. You all know that game, like the book: “How much do I love you?”? I love you as much as the sky, all the water in the sea ... Last week Jemima threw herself at me so violently I had a blood blister on my lip for a week. But I actually wanted a scar to remind me forever of the words she uttered just as her forehead came crashing onto my mouth “I love you as much as all the stars in the sky Mummy!”

A few bruises later things finally quieten down and at some stage, when their breathing becomes heavy and deep, I carefully disentangle myself from the mass of hair, limbs and lips that seem to be pinning me to the spot, shake out my pins and needles and sneak out like an excited child, “James! They’re asleep! We can eat chocolate!”. Other times though I just stay put and wallow in all that love for a while. Until my legs go dead.

Or until I get kicked out. Their loving doesn’t stop once they are asleep. At least three times before we go to bed I will hear one of them yelp in their sleep as a result of some smack, squash or kick. Once I found Bella up and awake, chatting very loudly, with some of her fingers inside Jemima’s nose, to get a good grip, and some of them inside Jemima’s eyes, how else could she prise them open? Jemima slept on, unaware. I have watched Bella roll on top of Jemima and stay there, the two of them continuing to snore gently to themselves. And the cushion boundaries stacked around their mattress never go high or far enough. One of them almost always ends up on the other side of the room, asleep on the cold tile floor with one leg flung up and resting in the cupboard. Perhaps cots and child seized beds are a good idea after all. But then there’d be no room for me.

Read this post

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I’m back. It has been a long time I know. I have been working on a feature about gang rape in Cambodia which has kept me busy and my writing focus elsewhere. The feature will not go on line so I cannot link it here. I could blog about it but really it is such a sad and distressing subject I don’t want to dwell on it anymore. I can put some good links in for anyone who is interested in the issue and no doubt I shall write about it soon, to let off some steam. Actually I have made one friend during the project who I will keep in touch with and try to help so I am sure I may tell her story anonymously one day if she allows me, if only to raise some much needed funds for her. But right now I want to focus on something lovely instead.

I have been meaning to write about this for two weeks now. I have to document it for my girls and it will make you smile too. And then in return please share your own lovely bedtime moments. For this is what I am going to tell you about tonight, our recent bedtime routine.

Ah, before I go on I have to say that as I wrote the word ‘routine’ Jemima appeared at my side with her blanket. “You said you were coming back in a minute’ she said, “You should listen to your words because you know what you are supposed to do!” Arrrggghhhh! She’s right too. I’d tucked her in bed and said I’d be back in a minute thinking she would get distracted and cuddle up to Bella and fall asleep. Then I snuck in here to write and got caught red handed. Well this time I told her the truth. That I wanted to go and write about her to add to all the things I have written about her since she was born her life. So she’s in bed mulling over the idea of having several volumes about her life to read when she is a big girl like Mummy, and hopefully falling asleep, and I shall continue with my story. Except I can’t! Double arrrghh. It is ten to eight and I have a breastfeeding support group to attend. Humph. I shall continue... keep you if it were that exciting. But it is lovely though. I may even come back tonight if it doesn’t go on too late. Otherwise tomorrow...


Read this post

Friday, November 21, 2008

For city kids... or anyone into happy children, school runs and yoga

This morning Jemima and I walked to school, dodging dead rats, motorbikes and Hum Vs (really, the tanks in PP have to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately the drivers inside them cannot see the rest of us mortals, especially small children), and stumbling on and off pavements that come abruptly to an end the minute we pass each brand new, gated-home development. Only very rich people get to have pavements outside their homes in Cambodia.

If you lose concentration, when walking on these rare and blessed safe islands, you will find yourself suddenly flat on your face as the paths inevitably end in a huge pile of abandoned rubble on the borders of the new construction. A pile of rubble which will gradually become littered with refuse, plastic bags, rotting food, a pile of rubble and rubbish that will never be removed. At least not until some one decides to build another posh tower block in its place. It’s fun honestly, our walk to school. Better if you go early to avoid the scorching sun, oh, and probably best to avoid taking a bag so that you do not become one of the poor souls to be robbed by a passing motodup as is now reported to happen at least twice weekly on our street, but still fun, really. A little prayer of protection is always helpful too. Or, as Jemima taught me today, a guided visualisation. Really, children have all the answers.

As the noise of cutting metal from the various new building projects rang in our ears, Jemima announced that we were pretending we lived on a beach. Lazy Beach to be precise, on the island we visited two weeks ago. This island has no shops, no people, nothing, just some bungalows and a restaurant. So as we walked Jemima led me through this beautiful pretend land where we would walk to school along the beach. The road was the sea, so we could splash in the water whenever we got stranded at the end of our pavements, and the Tuk-Tuks were fishing boats, whose drivers we were ordering our fish from, fresh for dinner that evening. Every so often one of us tripped up on a friendly crab, or an empty coconut shell fallen from one of the palms that fringed the white sands. Best of all, we could hear nothing but the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore, the call of the birds in the trees, and breeze in the trees.

On my way home I continued to imagine that I was in this beautiful peaceful scene and decided I would tell my yoga class about it. After all, one of the relaxations we do together is almost exactly the same. And I did tell them, to remind them that we too can reach within and find what it is we need to keep us strong and happy and healthy and whole, from within our own body, mind and consciousness, just as children do, even if we think we have forgotten how, or if over time we have lost touch with that inner wisdom.

The beauty of yoga is that it gives us tools to use in our every day lives to help us tap into our inner resources. Resources that children can conjure up easily, being so much more connected and responsive to the messages of their bodies and intuition. They are such pure souls, sensitive and close to whatever we like to call that bigger energy out there... universal consciousness, cosmic energy, God, infinity...

And the beauty of children is that they remind us and teach us every day a little more about ourselves and our own potential for growth and awareness. Normally we sing a meditation on the way to school, one of Jemima’s favourites. I’ll give it to you below. I love the fact that today Jemima found her own way to forget the city and take us to a happier, more peaceful place, where we both found ourselves filled with a wonderful sense of well-being. Bliss.

Two kids meditations
I am the light of my soul, I am beautiful, I am bountiful, I am bliss, I am I am. I wish I could sing it for you, though you could always find the tune on a website like I imagine.

Her other favourite meditation served her well earlier this morning, before breakfast. Jemima and I were up early because of her cough and she seemed very grumpy. I asked her if she was ok and she said: “I thought I would be happy today but I’m not”! Neither she nor I could think of anything that might be making her feel sad, so I asked her if she wanted to do the ‘I am happy’ meditation. Of course she did not because that is the last thing anyone feels like saying when they are not happy! So I asked her to remind me how it went because I could not remember. And off she went:

“I am happy! I am good! I am happy! I am good! Sat Nam Sat Nam Sat Nam Ji! Wahe Guru Wahe Guru Wahe Guru Ji!”
Over and over she said it until she was laughing and back to her normal self. Yey if only parenting were always this easy! If you do this meditation with your kids, sit in easy pose, crossed legs, and hold hands out in fists with index fingers pointing out in front of your heart. As you chant you wag your fingers up and down as though telling someone off, to the rhythm. Sat Nam becomes more like SataNam.

Have a wonderful weekend all.

If you liked this, have a read of this: lovely yoga and meditation for kids.

Read this post

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bella’s co-sleeping adventures continued...

So many of you have got back to me about the fact that Bella started to
co-sleep through the night that I feel I have to keep you up to date with how it is all going. Mostly because this morning I woke up at 6am feeling spookily well-rested and then realised that I had not woken since 9.30 last night. Something must have been up. It was only when I looked around the bed for Bella that I remembered the monumental decision we took, and then acted upon very excitedly, yesterday. Of course! Bella has a new co-sleeping partner. And judging by her absence this morning, they get on well together too!

It was after five nights by the beach, where Bella and Jemima shared one bed and we slept blissfully and peacefully in the other, entirely free of little bodies. You know the ones – they are tiny by day but then strangely transmogrify into huge gangly other-worldly manifestations the minute they fall asleep in your bed? They definitely have more limbs than is normal, and feel decidedly sack-like (sand-filled) when draped across you.

Well, it was the absence of these bodies that made us finally admit to ourselves that although Bella has been effectively co-sleeping through the night, in that she rarely feeds between the hours of 7 and 6 any more, her very presence in the bed (read: on my head, under my leg, finger up my nose... go on, make up your own, they’ll all be true), not only woke both of us about three times a night, but also made it the first place Jemima thought of coming whenever anything happened to wake her (there have been a lot of night time storms lately). To put it plainly, it didn’t matter that Bella was sleeping through, we still weren’t.

So we wasted no time. Yesterday we gave Jemima’s bed back to the landlady and put her mattress on the floor. Today I will put a fairy-like mosquito net up and they will have their own little palace. Jemima was thrilled as she will no longer be on her own and Bella, well, she slept there all night cuddled up to her sister, so I am presuming she has no real objections either. She still goes to sleep on the boob and this morning at 6 she snuck into our bed for a snuggly feed and then we went back to sleep together for a while - heaven.

Should I feel sad that this era is over for us? Well, four years experience of attachment parenting has made me a realist at last. She still has many teeth to come not to mention bad dreams, illness etc... But one night of full, deep, undisturbed sleep is worth celebrating no matter how it goes from here.

My overwhelming feeling, apart from the awake-and-not-tired one, is relief. I have done something essentially for myself, and I don't feel guilty! If you are a mother you will share my astonishment. Imagine getting the reward and being able to enjoy it guilt-free! This is thanks to Jemima. With one child, if you believe in co-sleeping, the day you stop is filled with angst about letting the child down or pushing them away. Bella would probably be with us for another year if she were an only child. The fact that she has a big sister and so can continue to sleep alongside another warm and beloved body makes the whole decision so easy. And it is probably far more likely to work because it is true that if either wakes, provided they feel emotionally and physically well, seeing or feeling their sister curled up with them is enough to make them just go back to sleep rather than come looking for us. Hooray. Life feels good today. I hope yours does too.

Read this post

Friday, November 7, 2008

Green man running.. for his life!

I am off to the beach for a few days and am so excited! We have not left the city for two months.. and this is Phnom Penh, where green space has never been considered much of a priority. I feel like I am going crazy here at times. Each day there is a new building site, with a poster of the 30 storey high rise we have to look forward to. When the building commences it basically entails at least three years of nerve-wrenching, ear-splitting tile cutting.

And the traffic! Put it this way, on the new traffic lights popping up all over town the green man runs. Seriously. It runs fast too. It made me laugh out loud the first time I saw it. This city is mad. Tiny women peep their beautifully coiffed heads over the top of steering wheels (which their fragile wrists can hardly shift) of Hummers! Yes, Hum Vs. Tanks. There used to be one in Phnom Penh - now they are everywhere. Even one of Jemima's school mates rides in one now. Bonkers. Actually I have so much to say about life in this city but I have to pack so I will reflect on it from the peacefulness of the beach and come back next week to tell you all about it.. the city and the beach that is. Happy
Water festival if you are here!
Read this post

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A poem....

Dear dear readers, I am so sorry I have become such a fair weather blogger. In fact I blog so infrequently I am not even sure if you are still bothering to visit me. So in way of an apology for deserting you, and as a bit of an explanation, I am going to make myself very vulnerable by publishing yet another of my terrible poems. And so if you are still reading me you HAVE to let me know, after I have been so brave as to share this with you. Either on the blog comments space or email me at

So here it is. Basically, I was getting bored and tired last night while trying to catch up with my yoga theory homework. In the middle of a desperate attempt to find a way of explaining the science of how mantra works to clear the subsconscious mind, (it's so complicated, but anyway, it just does ok? Try it and you'll see) I felt an overwhelming desire to write a poem about why I love teaching and practicing yoga (much more than studying it). I nearly sent it to my teachers hoping they'd be so charmed they'd ignore the fact that my homework is over due. But instead I decided to share it with you in the hope that you would understand why I am spending so much more time on my yoga than on writing my blog.

Learning to teach yoga ....

gives me humility. I used to judge.

gives me an outlet for my compassion, which feels more limitless and more free flowing every day that I teach.

fulfills me everyday as I am in precious possession of a sacred gift.. to make people feel happy and whole and at peace, if only for a couple of hours a day...

gives me the chance to gaze at beautiful bumps and love and welcome unborn babes into this world

gives me the chance to love and nurture mothers and fathers and spread messages of positive parenting

makes me love and forgive and accept my own children more every day

gives me faith that the world of our children could be a beautiful, pure place

gives me an excuse to pretend to be any jungle animal I want whenever the mood takes me

takes me on my own personal spiritual journey...

I have so far to go...

I am a perpetual beginner, a perpetual student... but I am starting to feel my peace.






Teaching yoga helps me love and forgive myself.

Read this post

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Message for Fiona on baby-led weaning

This is just a message to Fiona, who asked me about baby-led weaning a couple of weeks ago. I am so sorry not to have got back to you sooner. You can now see my comment right at the end of the comments list, no 21 I think, on the post you were reading about Baby-Led Weaning. Good luck and let me know how it goes!
Read this post

Monday, October 13, 2008

How do full-time working mothers do it?

Last week I walked in the shoes of a full-time working mother – well, I ran actually, and frantically so, never quite managing to keep up. This week as my life resumes its gentle pace I am still recovering. The weekend is definitely not long enough to meet everyone’s needs. As a result I am filled with respect, horror, pity, envy and so many other emotions, when I think of all the mothers of small children who work a 40+ hour week. Mind you I was on the first leg of my Foundation course in the Healing Arts, which felt something akin to a week in group therapy, so you might have to excuse the overload of feelings which may spill themselves onto these pages...

Actually, mostly what I feel right now is an overwhelming sense of chaos. A week of being mostly absent from this house and family bears its physical marks wherever you look. There are piles of crumpled clean laundry, but no clean nappy covers and no shirts for James. There are sticky pink hand prints (pink factor infinity sunblock) all over the mirrors... and there are mirrored cupboards in every room of this house. The kitchen is overflowing with dirty plates and the ants come marching one by one. Jemima’s school book did not make it back into her bag, I daren’t look at my emails and I’m behind on my yoga homework. And this is today, and from just a quick surface glance around me.

Ask James what it was like here last week. Or put it this way, I am not the only one who is extremely happy not to be working full-time. The poor guy would reluctantly offer to make dinner, very quietly, no doubt desperately hoping I would not hear him. There was no milk for breakfast, pasta and tomato for dinner four days in a row, (I did hear him), Cham who runs Matthe’s playgroup has still not been paid... And Bella would physically prise Jemima off me when I made my daily dash back home for lunch and breastfeed.

The only member of our family who was happy to see me at work was the cat. She got to eat tinned tuna every day because it took me a whole week to get round to getting her biscuit. And notice that despite having acknowledged all the mess and the neglected children, I am not dealing with any of it but instead hiding away blogging about it while Bella has gone to Cham’s again? This is how bad it got.

But I am acknowledging it. And this is a relief to me. Because for a while last week I found myself slipping so easily into another world, where my priorities were what I would wear each day to look respectable for my course, taking time before leaving the house to prepare myself for the course, or do some yoga to help deal with my aching body and thudding heart and head (I was being serious about the group therapy thing!) By day three I was starting to consider not coming back for lunch so I could get to know my colleagues, thereby pretty much stopping breastfeeding Bella all day, and not putting her down for her nap myself.

Ok, ok. I know lots of mothers would think nothing of all this. But this is me! The same me who has written a whole chapter in my never-to-be-published book about the joys and importance of at least half-time but preferably full-time motherhood for children. Me who keeps a blog mostly in order to regularly extol the virtues of responsive parenting. And this is the thing. Controversial though it may be to say this, it is impossible to be a truly responsive mother and work full-time. Actually wait, probably if you are a truly responsive mother and you do not have to work full-time you would not, for that very reason. I know very responsive mothers who have no choice but to work full time here, usually because their partner is not here to help, and I bet/know they find it very hard... not just for their kids but for themselves. They co-sleep, they devote every minute of spare time to their children, they do an amazing job raising happy children. Respect!

So perhaps what I mean is that for ME it is impossible. Because I know, being there, normally, on and off all day apart from a few hours teaching here and there, what the needs and demands of my children are. And believe me, last week I did not meet any of them. I ran out of the school each morning leaving Jemima in mid-sentence, asking me if she could show me her pictures in the class room. I ran out of the house after our hurried lunch each afternoon leaving Bella calling me and telling Jemima I would help her make Sigrid’s birthday card later (it got made ten minutes before the party yesterday). I ignored all polite requests to possibly eat something else for breakfast other than banana.

Now I know Jemima is a mature four (sounds like a graded cheddar) and can cope perfectly well with a lot of this and so she did. She made me proud. But she also told me she loved me about ten times on every occasion that she managed to snatch some time with me, and she asked to go to bed with us most evenings. Not only was I absent physically, but she knew my mind was elsewhere. And probably the chaos in the house and the absence of some of her staple diet (!) had an unsettling affect on her too.

I can imagine at this point people reading this are also feeling glad I am not working! I sound pathetic I know! This is why I am writing... to truly express my awe at anyone who manages to work and take good physical and emotional care of their children! How do you do it? When you get home at dinner time, need to feed them and bathe them and get them to sleep then and there, can you really muster up the energy to go and buy food at 8pm at night? I tell you I was so exhausted I fell asleep with them most nights. No wonder nothing else was achieved. If you are still unsympathetic remember we have no car, cannot walk out at night for vague fear of getting mugged at gunpoint, and when I did get to the bloody supermarket there were no oats because the one monthly stock was bought up by some other wiser expat who knows they only have a monthly stock. (I must find out who that is and make friends with them. I am not cut out for not being around my children.) And this is here! Where I have Sophy at home to look after Bella and take her to play with friends. If I had to drop my 14 month daughter off at childcare for nine hours a day? Well a little of the mother in me would die each time I am sure. I am so lucky to have a set up where she can be at home.

Anyway enough excuses and enough gratitude. I fully accept that I would be a hopeless working mother and whatever my circumstances I never ever plan to do this as long as we can scrape by on James’s meagre living... People use finances as a reason but I do not actually have any western friends with children on a lower salary than us. I say this not for pity, we live a great and full life, no complaints, but because for us lucky middle-income westerners with partners, it basically boils down to choice. And my choice is that I will grow my own food and stir cow poo into biogas before I become a full-time working mother. (I’ve done this before, on a farm in the Bolivian rainforest. Believe me, a truer example of love for my children does not exist. And yes I am perfectly aware that if this did become our reality they would probably ask me to stop loving them so much and go and get a decent office job, 9-5. Let’s hope it does not come to this.)

Back to reality. Bella bore it well, as far as I could see, but I was not there so how do I know? Sophy always tells me she is happy but how sensitive is she to Bella’s moods? How do I know she read her tiredness, anger, frustrations, boredom or anxiety correctly and acted upon it appropriately. I trust Sophy with caring for Bella for short periods of time and I find her kind and mostly responsive. But the Khmer approach to children is a very different one to mine. I am usually distinctly unimpressed with the way nannies care for children here in Phnom Penh when we are out and about. I often see children having tantrums that are entirely ignored by their nannies. The child’s stress levels become painful to watch and I wish I could get the parents’ number so I could call them and let them know. In their shoes I would definitely want to know about this. I sometimes catch Sophy jigging and tickling and rousing a very tired or fussing Bella, who in return gets angry and screams. She would respond far better, I try to show her, if given a soothing, gentle hug, maybe a nap or a cup of water, a pot of raisins and a cuddly story on the sofa. However much she cares for Bella she does not know her like I do and she does not read her like I would like her to. And she was affected too. She became reluctant to let go of me when saying goodbye and every night, in her sleep, when we plopped her in her little bed at the end of ours she would get up and walk back to me and collapse back down to continue her sleep draped across my body. It was very sweet, for about a minute.

Yey it’s ten o’clock. Bella will be back in a minute to help me clear this place up! I’d better wrap this up. It is really far too long to be considered a blog post. If you have got to the end thank you! And if you are a full-time working mother how on earth have you found the time?

I suppose I might have loved full-time working – I know many women can’t think of anything worse than the domestic scene I mostly find myself in. There is room for all of us luckily! I can only say how thankful and happy I feel to be back in the world where I can take time out to breastfeed Bella and make it last a chapter of my book or a ten minute snooze. Where I have the energy to make going food shopping or hanging out the washing an exciting thing to do with Mummy for the afternoon. Where I can make cooking a proper dinner last all afternoon... Bella’s a dab hand at peeling onions and garlic, if only I could find them once she has finished with them. Where I can find just enough time to myself to blog, study, teach and practice yoga without missing the girls or them missing me. Where I can spend afternoons with my friends and the kids. But mostly so that I can ban the phrase ‘maybe later darling’ from my vocabulary. For this week anyway.

Oooh, talking of which, did I tell you I have started reading the English dictionary? It’s so interesting. Hmm, reading over that does this sound a bit sad? Too bad, I love it. I get tired of using the same old words over and over. For a writer my vocabulary is not very wide really. Trust me, it’s a brilliant read, you should try it. I have only got half way through the first page of A’s so far, but I hope to make better progress now my life is back on track. I shall be back soon to show you my new improved use of the English language... lest you should feel profligate:-).

Read this post

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Monkey King and other tales for children

Hello everyone! Thanks for all your emails and sorry have not posted much lately. I will be back to tell you all about Jemima's 4th birthday as it was so sweet. But just quickly, as I will not be back just yet, I really wanted to tell you all that Jemima received the most brilliant dvd for her birthday. She completely loves it and I have no problem with her watching it over and over (and over and over) because it teaches her such lovely values and raises some important issues.

It is called the Monkey King and has six tales from the Buddhist tradition which are all lovely for children aged 3-8. They teach them lovely values such as loving kindness, trust and generosity, leadership, heroism, kindness to animals, dealing with sadness and loss and bereavement, the effect of the company we keep, courage and how change can be a good thing. It is made by an English organisation called Clear Vision, that makes brilliant educational materials for schools and kids based around the Buddhist teachings.
Here is the link you can watch a bit on line if interested. Great Christmas presents!

Read this post

Thursday, September 18, 2008

"The teacher in my heart". Yoga, meditation and other lovely relaxing things to do with children.

“Georgie will take your children on fun-filled journeys through forests, oceans and jungles. They will fly like butterflies, roar like lions, dance like monkeys or grow from tiny seeds to big beautiful trees. And as they do, they will gain a sense of peace, grounding, self-love and self-confidence. Parents or nannies are welcome to join in the fun!”

This was the ad I wrote for my yoga classes for three to five year olds at Jemima’s school. And I admit that as I wrote it a bit of me wondered whether it would really turn out to be true… how much could yoga really benefit children? Would they really enjoy it?

Three lessons later and there’s not a doubt in my mind. Yoga for kids is simply brill! I am amazed at how the children respond. Not so much to the games and fun because all children love that. But the way they lie down at the end and slowly start to chill out, the time they stay there quietly studying the ceiling or with closed eyes... yoga really does seem to bring them a sense of peace and well-being. During the meditation (I am brave, I am bold, my own spirit I can hold!) there is no stopping them. They really get into it and the looks of belief or concentration on some of their faces are so heartfelt and earnest it makes me feel like crying.

Of course they all mess around and it gets noisy – just as it should. They get really excited as we go on our different adventures and it is quite knackering to teach! But they seem to go so easily from something really active, like swimming like a mermaid, to being very still in child’s pose, as tiny shells. One girl says she does it every morning with her mother now. When I asked if anyone could remember why we sing a special song to begin the class the same girl said: "To greet the teacher in my heart". She was right, but expressed it way better than I ever did! Jemima keeps telling me she wants to do yoga in the mornings so her muscles don’t hurt so much next week. It definitely makes them aware of their bodies and breath and gives them ways to use their breath to control their mood and feelings. So lovely to see.

It’s great having Jemima in the class. She asks me to plan the class around a particular thing- usually fairies or mermaids – and then tells me what yoga pose to use. You can imagine this. Jemima wobbling about in some strange, twisted posture, saying:

“Teach that one Mummy!”

“Urm, ok! But how about doing it a bit more like this?” I respond, while desperately trying to think of an actual yoga pose that looks remotely like her bodily creation. My changes don’t always go down so well but I am just pleased she’s happy to do it with me. I have made it very clear she can take it or leave it as I was worried she would start to resent yoga now that it is such a big part of my life. But so far she seems to be enjoying it. As for Bella, well everything she does with her body looks like yoga to me. I am constantly amazed how bendy she is (makes me realise how quickly Jemima's nearly four year old body is already stiffening up now that she has to sit on chairs etc..)

It is lovely to find ways of doing it all with them so that it does not always take me away from them. And this brings me to our new bedtime arrangement, one I am seriously happy about.

Until now every night either James or I lie with Jemima while she falls asleep. It is something we have always done – or at least since I was pregnant, when I was glad of the power nap that got me through the rest of the evening! But lately both we’ve started to get impatient and wanting to get on with things we need or want to do while they are asleep. One of these things is preparing for yoga classes and my own practice. I have been aware for ages that I hardly ever find the time to meditate on my own despite teaching meditation being a part of my new found career! But there never seemed a quiet moment apart from early, early morning.. ahem.. I am not there yet. And then it struck me – my brilliant idea which has been making me and Jemima so happy ever since. Now, every night after stories and lights out I sit on her floor with a candle and meditate while she curls up in bed and watches me. I get my half an hour of peace and meditation practice and Jemima gets to fall asleep by candle light with a lovely calm energy around her. I feel less distracted because I know that she is happy (Bella’s normally already asleep at this time) and that I am doing something for her as well as me. And it becomes so much of my routine that for the first time in my life I am meditating every day. Perfect. Love it.

While we are on about yoga and relaxing and what not here is a recipe for yogi tea – very yummy and, a little diluted, also great for soothing teething babies and good for children generally.

Yogi tea – too many benefits to list but see a few below...

To 2 quarts of water add:
15 whole cloves – good for nervous system
20 green cardamom pods slightly crushed – digestive aid
15 black pepper corns – blood purifier
5 2inch sticks of cinnamon – strengthens the bones
8 slices of ginger root – healing for colds, flu, natural antibiotic, energising

Boil gently for 30-40 mins adding water as evaporates. Add ½ teaspoon black tea (creates right chemical balance with rest of ingredients) and drink black or with milk, hot or iced, with honey to sweeten if necessary

Makes 2 quarts

And here, if you will excuse the note form, is a copied and pasted bit of an email to the breastfeeding group summarising all the things we came up with for relaxing with baby/child while breastfeeding or not.

Relaxing with baby - both of you!

Skin to skin - not only feeding but baths together, co-sleeping/napping, sling
Carry baby in sling as much as poss - some skin on skin if poss
Soothing music - same each time - (I have lots of relaxation music use for yoga)
Chamomile in bath or oil burner and chamomile tea for mother (chamomile tea also v nice bottom wash instead of wipes when at home)
Candles, lavender
Meditate before (can recommend a simple 3 min meditation for a calm heart)
Relax baby before feeds - bath together, play your music, massage him (lavender & chamomile and olive oil), curl up in special place...
Calm thoughts while feeding - whatever you say to your baby, they know what's going on inside! Try reading to him - even if it is an adult book you find inspiring, or make up a story, or tell the story of his life so far, hum, sing to him, long deep breathing etc...
Drink lots and lots of water - when dehydrated we become easily stressed and anxious.

Read this post

Buying beds in Phnom Penh... (was going to be about yoga but turned into an expat ramble...)

Bella and I had a great morning in the mattress shop today. She spent it bouncing and contorting her body in ways that barely looked possible, even from a relatively-but-not-very-bendy-yoga-teacher’s perspective, while I tried to find a mattress that did not contain (what smelt like) deadly toxic poisons within. There is no way I would have Jemima breathing in whatever was in some of those mattresses for 12 hours a night. Really, the things people have to put up with here that would not be legal in any of the rich countries in the world.

Yes it was one of those mornings when I struggled to reconcile the life I lead here with that of so many Cambodians around me. Anyone living here understands. How do you feel when you have just spent close to $100 in a shop, while playing with your baby, watching everyone else play with her and love her and try to feed her nice things etc, and the next thing you do is meet a six-year-old boy, in the middle of one of the busiest highways in Phnom Penh, with his brother, the same age as Bella, strapped to his body in a Krama, telling you his mother and father are dead?

They are not dead. They have sent their children out to beg... for – if you believe most locals – money to fuel their drinking and gambling habits. But maybe not... maybe they need the money for food and rent. The older boy’s clothes were completely torn and his younger brother was naked, with something like scabies on his face and arms. I didn’t give him money because the biggest street kids’ organisation in Cambodia, Mith Samlanh, asks us not to - it just fuels begging. As long as their parents think they can make money from the streets, these children will never get the chance to go to school as. Try explaining that to the boys though. I felt horrible as the tuk tuk tried to move forward in the traffic and the boy held on for as long as he could.

I have been through all this before on Motherland I know. It is just that same old story of feeling guilty because instead of spending all my time trying to make my own children’s life lovely, a bit of me feels I should do more to try to make life happier for Cambodian children. Last year I did, and next year maybe I will. But right now in my life all I want to do is be there for my girls and study and teach yoga. The latter takes up enough of my time for me not to want to spend a minute of the rest of it on anything other than my family. Oh to live somewhere back in the UK where this decision does not make me feel like so uncaring and uncompassionate. Instead I live here, and it could almost be anywhere. (Actually I am sure my Cambodian friends and helpers, Sophy (cleans and looks after Bella when I work) and Sokhun (our tuk tuk driver) would beg to differ. I do spend half my days with them speaking their language). But you know what I mean, the things that make me feel happy and fulfilled these days are joining in circle time with Jemima’s class, or teaching Bella to swim. Neither of these things have much to do with Cambodia, let’s face it.

Really I am just indulging in a little off loading because I am not planning to change anything about my life right now. In fact the reason I first sat down to write this post is because, despite the nagging conscience, I am blissfully happy with things at home at the moment and wanted to share some of the stuff we’ve been doing recently that has been so lovely for the kids. But because this has turned into a ramble (and one barely worth publishing but I have written it now so I may as well!) I will finish here and link you to a new post which I shall now write called Yoga, meditation and other lovely relaxing things to do with children.
P.S. If you got this far thank you!

Read this post

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

She’s co-sleeping through the night! Ha! They said it would never happen...

Woo hoo! I’m writing to spread good news and hope to all co-sleeping and other mothers out there whose babes are currently all night-wakers and feeders. At 13 months Bella started to sleep through the night! With no crying, no training (not formal anyway)... i.e. no misery and guilt. Wow. Phew. I did wonder if it would ever happen but I am so, so glad I held out now. After the soul-destroying experience of following the crowd and training Jemima at only six months (I know, a mere newbie. T’was gentle training but still, I’ll always regret it), I have fed and cuddled a co-sleeping Bella countless times every night since the day she was born, in good faith that one day it would pay off. And it has... here’s how. This one is for you Kat! I have only just seen your comment on last post... sorry and hope this lifts your spirits!

I suppose in a way you could call it training. Not really though, and it was accidental. After two weeks of sharing two single beds pushed together with my husband and two babes, at my dad’s house, (actually there was also a ‘nest’ of duvets etc on the floor, where one child would start the night but often where either James or I would end up by morning), I was getting a bit rattled. So the minute my sister’s family left us I announced that I was starting the night in the spare double room all on my own and when Bella woke James could bring her to me. We’d then spend rest of night in there together (me and Bella only I mean). I was so excited to have some space and fell asleep stretched out like a star fish, super happy - albeit with the usual slight downer of knowing that soon I would wake up for the first of many of our midnight love-ins.

When I woke to find Bella being handed to me smiling and laughing by James, I was about to groan, “The fun begins”, when I noticed it was light outside.
“What time is it?”
“Ah... hang on? What time is it? Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

This was quite honestly the first time I had slept for more than three hours in a row for nearly 18 months (sleepless latter half of pregnancy included in calculations). Not only had I just slept for seven hours undisturbed but after she fed we both went back to sleep until 8am. Oh. My. God.

This was the same child who, all that week, had been waking hourly and feeding in a frenzied, upset way, unable to sleep without my boob, but too tired to feed properly. Or she was just teething? Who knows, and who cares anyway now! It is history. For three nights we did the same thing, Bella snuggled up (read: squashed between) with James and Jemima, me blissfully spread out in my own bed. Each night she woke, murmured a bit, sort of cried a bit once or twice, James shsssshed her and she went straight back to sleep. I spent my days dancing around the house, rejoicing in my new well-slept self. I was convinced I had less wrinkles and looked positively 10 years younger, having been complaining all year of looking like an old woman thanks to loving Bella so much. There was only one thing that worried me. While I had absolutely no desire to return to the all- night feeding, I did want to go back to sleeping and cuddling up with Bella and James. Would she start waking again once I came back?

No! Hoorah! We took it slowly, starting with her in the nest on the floor for a week, where she woke once a night, two nights, and not at all the rest of the time. Amazingly for us, one of those nights she did not even feed but cuddled up to me instead. Then she came back into our bed and continued to sleep through. She sometimes wakes but mostly goes straight back to sleep. Once or twice she has fed once, which I can handle, no problem. Three weeks have passed now and the pattern continues. Joy.

Post script – (For those of you who, although this post was designed to give hope and encouragement, are simply too exhausted and milked out to rejoice with me, and are still in the stage where you feel more comforted more by other’s suffering than other’s successes) - There is one blip... jet lag. We came back from the UK to PP two days ago and put it this way, it is 10pm and Bella has been walking (oh yes, she is walking now too!) around the house and helping me type for the last hour that it has taken me to write this. She is now having a bath with James. Even if we do get her to bed before midnight she will wake a few hours later to romp around for a couple of hours... they say children are affected by jet lag for the same number of days as there were hours in the journey... i.e. 2 down, 10 more to go...

Have faith, take courage, stick with it... it will happen to you.

Read this post

Sunday, August 24, 2008

London rocks!

I’m sitting on the sofa at my in-laws watching the end of Olympics party, televised live from London. Having said yet more good byes to visiting family today, all this national celebration and patriotism is making me quite emotional. Remembering what I love about Britain, wondering where on earth in the world we will be in 2012 and hearing Jemima say today: “We’ve been here rather a long time now haven’t we? Isn’t it time to go back to Cambodia now?”… Well, it does make me wonder what a simple life would be like - one where we know where home is and we live there.

Anyway the reason I am finally blogging again (been busy catching up with family and friends, sorry) is because Bella is asleep, Jemima is out somewhere with her cousins, dressed as a fairy and high on birthday cake (early b’day party so she could share it with family) and, well I just feel like joining in the ‘celebrate London’ fest.

Because it is a totally brilliant city, let’s face it. On our first day in the country we were invited to a public peace meditation in our old stomping ground, Brockwell park, complete with crystals, drums, and words of wisdom, mediated through participants, from various spirit guides; Jemima was mesmorised by a woman with dreadlocks that reached down to the ground, and we all had a good chat with a jolly old man who was sitting on the street terrace of a smart restaurant, sharing a quiet drink with his South American macaw. It was perched merrily on his shoulder, huge, rare and colourful. What a welcome.

The day after that we came across a bunch of students having a jumble sale outside their shared house – 18 of them lived there, in 16 rooms. They offered us tea and biscuits and we sat and listened to them practicing for their upcoming busking tour around Eastern Europe. They promised to remember Jemima and play Happy Birthday for her on her birthday. And so it went on. The parks and playgrounds are amazing, the people are truly weird and wonderful (we spent a lot of time in Peckham in the middle of the day in the middle of the week…) and best of all, they come from all corners of the world. Love it.

Oh, gotta go, Bella's up. Not much else to say anyway really ... the rest of our holiday has been much more rural, very lovely, bloody cold, and will be all over a week today. We are looking forward to coming ‘home’ to Cambodia. Bella is now walking (so sweet) and … sleeping through the night! I did not believe it either, but that is another story, to be blogged about soon. All I will say is: no sleep training involved. Hooray! All those sleepless nights were worth it… Back soon.

Read this post

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Having two children

We are off to the UK tomorrow. I can’t believe it is one year since we were there to welcome Bella into the world. I had not even started this blog (this is my 101th post!). Just over a year ago there I was for a lazy month on my own with Jemima, Bella still on the inside and James still out here, wondering how I could ever love any child as much as my first child. I had pangs of guilt at what it might mean for Jemima to share me with a new sibling. The night she left to stay with my sister Alex, as I was going into labour, I wept at the thought of never having that life with just her again. I am writing this post for my friend J, who is pregnant with her second child. Because I just want to say “Don’t worry, nature takes care of it”.

These last few months, as Bella has begun to be more active, nearly walking, talking constantly and fluently - in what could be Russian, I am not quite sure - I have been deeply touched by Jemima’s response to her little sister. They have never been inseparable like some siblings. I mean they both seem to happily go off and do their thing. They are interested in each other of course, and play together for limited periods, but neither idolizes the other (not yet anyway). Actually I am almost relieved at this – I had visions of Bella constantly being hurt or left out as her big sister got bored of playing with her or ignored her advances. All of this may be yet to come I suppose, but at the moment it is quite beautiful to watch them together.

I have a stinking cold at the moment and it has been good for me. It has forced me to just sit still, watch the kids play, and feebly join in when required. I could watch them for hours. Bella is hilarious and keeps us constantly entertained with her games. She likes to go out of the front or back mosquito screen and hide for a minute before popping her head round and screaming with delight because she knows how easily she can make us laugh. Even when she doesn’t try we still can’t peel our eyes off her. She is just so yummy and squishy. Even when she cries she looks sweet. She pours over books for hours, stopping and peering close up at a particular picture for several long seconds before saying “hmmmm” and then something in Russian that I think means “That is so fascinating”, turning the page and doing the same all over again. She always has something in her arms. She’ll find something random – yesterday it was Jemima’s pants – and holds onto them loyally for an entire day. And when she is tired woe betide anyone who tries to separate her from her chosen item of the day.

All of this she does while Jemima rearranges the furniture around her and does gymnastics, jumps from one island to another and makes a ‘baby school’ a la ‘gymboree’ for Bella. I just have to sit there with my tea and assume a range of undemanding roles such as mummy mermaid, crocodile or friendly monster. Actually we made the mistake of watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang last weekend so now I am the child catcher. Apparently I have a ‘nice big nose’ so the role suits me perfectly.

Jemima always addresses Bella as ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’ and laughs when she does something sweet, strokes her face and tells her she is ‘such a sweetie’. She seems to genuinely rejoice in Bella making us laugh, looking lovely in a dress, enchanting all the Khmers we meet. I’ve no idea how long it will last but I am determined to enjoy and cherish and nurture the lovely friendship they have. They adore each other and it makes me wish I could remember the early years with my sisters. I have three older sisters and it is lovely to think that when I was a baby I was fussed over as much as Bella is today.

As for me (and James feels much the same), once Bella was born I never had to think again about whether I would be able to love another child as much as Jemima. It just happens. But I am not saying it feels the same second time round. It is a very different thing I find, loving a little baby, than a three year old child with a mind of her own, which she expresses loud and clear and often. I know Jemima so much better than I know Bella. Or at least there is more of Jemima to know, if that makes any sense. So while my love for Bella is deep and protective, it is still very physical. I still breastfeed her on demand, sleep with her, pick her up whenever she or I need. Of course we play and talk and listen to each other a lot as well, but I don’t understand Russian. Jemima’s relationship with me feels a lot more emotionally intimate. It feels strange writing this because as a mother of just one baby I am sure it would be hard to understand. Until your child begins to talk and share their view of the world and life within it with you, and then you have another baby to remind you what it is like loving a baby... then you will understand. Hmmm, do any other mothers of two share these feelings or relate to what I am saying? Ho hum... anyway my point is, dear J, it is different but all good. Lovely. Cherish what you have now but relax in the knowledge that you have something to really look forward to and be excited about.

I am off to steam my cold away. Yesterday Sophy made me lie in a boiling hot bath full of Kafir limes and lemon grass and sweat it out. I recommend it actually – as long as you have lots of drinking water at hand. She is telling me to do the same today so that I am well for the flight tomorrow. So that’s what I’ll do. And I will try to blog from time to time from England. Bye all 

If you like this post have a read of this one too, about Attachment parenting for making life with siblings easier.

Read this post

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tips for travelling with kids

I have been saying for so long that I would share a few tips for travelling with children. I am so sorry it has taken me this long – especially when many of you have reminded me a few times now! Well seeing as on Friday we are off to England for our summer holiday (hooray) I may as well do it right now! I need to remind myself and psyche myself up for packing anyway, so what better way? Here goes... actually I do not have that much to offer when I think of it ... but maybe that is because my main advice to travelling families is to keep it simple.

Ok, here is my list of things you may want to take with you. I would say the toys are probably the least important but included them anyway. We took some to Vietnam, but our kids mostly played with their environment (you know, rubbish, old tin cans, cigarette butts, plug sockets, hotel loo brushes, filthy shoes) or other people.

1. Ergo or your favourite baby carrier, and a cloth sling that folds up small.
2. A wet cloth in a bag for washing faces and hands – more eco-friendly and less heavy than a pack of wipes.
3. A bag of dried apricots and prunes... for snacks that last for weeks and are filled with iron for when their diet becomes less balanced.
4. A bendy plastic catchy bib you can fold up and shove in handbag.
5. An inflatable highchair (really - it makes having to eat out three times a day bearable).
6. Stories, songs and cbeebies on an ipod with headphones and/or speakers.
7. A bag with small toys that you can empty onto the floor of an aeroplane, bus, train, hotel room, airport... anywhere when it becomes necessary. E.g. finger puppets, sock puppets, face paints, fuzzy felt, rubix cube (!), small dolls with clothes, beads for making jewellery, plastic water bottle (Bella’s favourite for three weeks), bouncy ball, balloons, small dolls with long hair and a hair brush (hours of fun for me at any rate), play doh, bath crayons for writing on tiles and bath tubs and bodies – washes off.... sure have more ideas, can’t think of them now but would like to hear yours!
8. A book of children’s songs or the words to your favourite songs - be prepared to sing for hours and hours and hours...
9. Essential oils... lavender for sleep or nausea, chamomile for nappy rash or swelling/sunburn/sleep, tea tree for antiseptic. And rescue remedy for shocks (like flying out of bunk beds on night trains in Vietnam or being attacked by a dog when you are only one foot high), Echinacea and olive leaf tonic for vitality after way too many long bus rides for a three year old.
10. My boobs.

Oh, and a few lessons learnt about travelling overseas (from my travelling with kids chapter in my book)
1.It can be fun! (Just as long as you accept the fact that it will be different to the good old days BC).
2.Travelling with kids can help you see a place with new eyes.
3.Most children love new food, new places and new faces.
4.The journey can be part of the holiday…
5.but if it’s by bike, make sure she loves it as much as you do, before you set off!
6.Travelling with children is easier in countries where people love kids and are willing babysitters.
7.My children are a lot more resilient to heat and mosquitoes and jetlag than I am.
8.Exposing my children to new cultures will help them see the bigger picture, be thoughtful and open to difference.
9.If you plan it right, you might even be able to have the odd night out, exhaust them so thoroughly that you get a lie in the next day, and have sex in the middle of the day when they nap…
10.failing that, going to bed early when they do with a good book is pretty close to heaven (oh dear, I am definitely in my thirties…)

If you like this post you might like to read about our travels in Vietnam or about my travels with my girls.

Read this post

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Incoherent ice-cream fuelled ramblings about mothers' guilt

Ok. Starting again. I am officially working part-time and loving it. My new career as a yoga teacher feels totally brill and meant to be. That is, as long as everyone else is happy. You know what I am talking about ... the night you go out with your friends and have a ball and come home to find the baby has been screaming and you suddenly regret the whole evening and never want to see your evil friends again. Or when you come home blissfully relaxed after spending two indulgent hours reading Hello! Magazine at the hairdresser to find your husband exhausted and cross, the house a mess and the children hungry. Suddenly you hate your new haircut and catching sight of it in the mirror makes you utterly feel self-indulgent and unfit to be a mother and wife. How quickly our feelings of elation can turn into tormenting guilt.

This is what I am going through at the moment. Although, after all my fretting, it turns out that Bella is not the one I need to worry about. Despite my guilt about leaving her so young (if I did not have one more year in Cambodia to do this course and certify I would put the whole thing off until she was two.) she is just as happy as ever, playing with her beloved Sophy and her little friends in the mornings while I work. It helps that I am only out for two hours at a time so I still feed her and put her down for her nap. No, to my surprise, it is Jemima that seems most affected by my new pursuits.

At first I was just impressed by her emotional intelligence and cheekiness. Last Monday morning as I was taking her to school, hurrying her along as I had a class to teach, Jemima pointed out that I am working every day now. When I reminded her that I worked in the mornings only and asked what was it she wanted me to do while she was having fun at school, her response was: “You should wait outside the gate until I have finished”. I laughed (while feeling guilty because really I know I should be spending that time alone with Bella before her big sister comes home).

But, a week later, I realise it is not actually very funny after all. Today I learnt that Jemima’s feelings about my new career are obviously more intense than I thought. She chose not to go to summer school in the morning (“I am so tired of playing!”) and got very upset when I said I had to go out to teach for a couple of hours. And then after lunch she disappeared to the bathroom and refused to let me come in. She left the door open though, but would not tell me what she wanted to do or why I could not come in. I left her for a few minutes and when I returned I found her behind the bathroom door having pooed in her pants. Jemima has been fully potty trained for ages - this was not an accident. At first she cried and pushed me away but after a minute or so of me coaxing her gently she eventually allowed me to wash her off. When I flushed her pants down the loo by mistake we had a moment’s reprieve to laugh about it, but really I found the whole thing quite heart breaking.

As I gave her a bath I asked her:

“Did you just want to know how it would feel or did you do it for another reason?” “Another reason” she replied.
“Did you want me to come and find you and help you or did you want it to be a secret?” “I wanted you to come and find me” she sobbed.
“Has it got anything to do with me working this morning?”

Ouch. How do full-time mothers do it? Ok, this last ten days has been more intense than usual because James has been away so I have had to leave them with baby sitters on Sunday and a couple of evenings when he would normally have them, but honestly I am here for three meals a day, nearly every afternoon, bedtimes, during the night on demand, and yet my nearly four-year-old child is missing me. This is the same child who makes new friends every day and frequently tells me she wants to go and play at X’s house and “You can just me off, you don’t need to stay”. It makes me wonder just how much we teach our children not to need us.

Surely children who have been in nursery from an early age do not express themselves like this? Surely it is only because Jemima has had me to herself for three years, and shared with Bella for nearly four, that she feels so strongly about this. Not just that she misses me, but that it is her right to have me around. The belief that young children need and deserve to be at home, do things in their own time, and have their mothers with them seems to be firmly ingrained in her mind and heart simply by that being her experience so far. Jemima has been reminding me of my duties regularly since I started teaching a month ago. “You don’t play with me enough, Mummy” or “You really do not need to do yoga every day!” or “You never take me to school” (James, does, and I pick her up, except when he is away when I do. To her credit, when I point this out she says “Oh yes, that’s true.”).

Today was the first sign of real distress and it quickly passed when I cancelled all our plans for the afternoon and took her swimming alone while Bella slept. She was so happy. She fell asleep telling Bella and me what a lovely day she had and how much she loved us both. But at the same time she also explained to Bella that she could not be there for her in the mornings because she had to go to school, which was her work, so Bella would have to learn to be without her for a bit. Oh god, is this what I really sound like?

I’m trying to work out whether she is actually missing me or simply picking up the vibes of me having something else big and important in my life, other than her and Bella. She sees me coming home from a class on a bit of a high and while she reaps the benefits of a happy, more energised and playful mother (oh the joys of yoga), does she also detect a new passion in my life?

I ought to say at this point that I miss both of them too. I just cannot imagine how it must feel to walk out of the house in the morning and come home at night in time to put your child in bed. (And then in another bed... sorry, no more co-sleeping rants I promise). Even after two hours away I find myself interrogating Jemima on what she has played, eaten, thought about, how she has felt... And although I know that I would do nearly anything possible to avoid working full-time and leaving them whatever my circumstances, I do feel incredibly grateful that the choice that I have made, to be (now mostly) at home with my kids, has been made so much easier by living here.

I suppose all I can do is try to work more in the evenings and look forward to James’s return and our holiday in England in August. And, along with all mothers worldwide, I shall probably continue to love my new job on a good day and want to give it all up on days like today. Oh goodness. I have finished the ice cream. Something else to feel guilty about.

Read this post

Snuggling up

It is 630pm and the girls are asleep. Hoorah! I am steadily making my way through a huge bowl of chocolate ice cream to celebrate. While James has been away I have discovered that putting them to bed together means that I can leave Bella awake and she just falls asleep quietly next to her big sister. They look so darling curled up together it makes me want to cry. We keep talking about buying one big mattress to put on the floor in Jemima’s room and move Bella in with her. At least to start the night off with at any rate. But even as I write this I am shaking my head. No. It’s too soon. While some people say that Bella is so happy and independent that she must be ready for the move, I see it the other way round.

Yes she is so happy and independent. So why on earth would I risk changing that when I have not a doubt in my mind that those attributes come largely from her sharing our bed. Anyway this is not another post about co-sleeping actually. Today I am writing about my new, anxiety-fuelled, role of being a part-time working mother. But I mention the bedtime thing because that I absolutely believe that the reason Bella seems so unfazed and happy despite my increased working hours is because she spends all night snuggled up to me, waking for feeds and cuddles from time to time. Hmmm, actually I think I shall stop here and start a new post about the whole working thing... read here or here or here if now in the mood to read about co-sleeping!

Read this post

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bella’s birthday blog (and a tribute to single mothers everywhere)

Today is Bella’s first birthday. In fact as I write this it is almost to the minute that she first looked up at me, opened her eyes wide and latched on to my breast. We were in a holiday-let bungalow in Winchester with views over the garden and golf course. The landlady’s daughter was a community midwife hence had no qualms whatsoever with me giving birth on her sitting room floor. Bella was delivered by the same midwife as Jemima, though our home birth plans did not work out first time round. This time it was perfect (the birth I mean, not the hours of agony before hand). Given that she could effectively have been born in any one of six different house-sits and spare rooms, none of which felt quite right to me as I tried to make my nest, and that Sheila was only on call for about three nights in July, the beautiful circumstances of Bella’s coming into this world really were a miracle. And I could swear she has been smiling ever since (teething nightmares aside).

Sheila and her co-midwife Sue stayed for tea and toast, put me and Bella in the bath and helped James clear up. They stayed for hours, making me feel like I was the only woman they had ever helped to give birth. Sheila even asked me for a CD of the music I had playing on repeat for nine hours. James never wants to hear it again – he said it was like being in a time warp where the only thing that changed was the intensity of my screams. (For anyone living in Phnom Penh the music was from Boom Boom Room – their female chill out mix. I never planned to have it as birthing music but once it had played through once I needed it with a passion. I still love to listen to it. I think I will put it on right now actually).

The rest of the day was spent resting in bed between receiving visits from family and friends while Jemima had a day on the beach with her grandparents. She had come home from her cousin’s house where she had spent the night, greeted her little sister with a mixture of excitement and indifference, not really understanding what all the fuss was about. My only anxiety over that time was how it would affect her and how they would get on. I found it incredibly emotional giving her a little sister and imagining the life change to come after nearly three years of her having me all to herself. Now a year later we have to try hard to remember life before Bella.

Today I cannot help wishing I was back in England in that bungalow bedroom being spoilt and cared for by family and friends. I am not complaining. Really it is lovely to be here in our own home in Phnom Penh. The sun is shining (of course) and the weather is cool. Jemima has spent all morning telling Bella she is ‘such a funny sweet heart baby’ and for the first time ever Bella sat patiently beaming in her high chair as though she knew something was up while I made her breakfast and we sang to her. But... you knew there would be one, this is expatria... James is away, Jemima is off school sick, and I have not slept for three nights thanks to their remarkable waking antics caused by anything and everything from needing to pee, 40 degrees fever, ants in the bed attracted by strawberry flavoured medicine, Bella’s tormenting teeth and a cockroach in the mosquito net. My mouth feels like it has lost all feeling and my face is sliding towards my feet... I thought kids were supposed to keep you young. I am quite fine really, but put it this way, for the sake of the kids I am doing a lot of meditation for emotional balance.

Seriously I am so in awe of single mothers and fathers. Maddy you are an angel! Last night at 3am, still not having slept, I felt I was on a slippery slide. I left Jemima and Bella in my bed and retreated to a quieter place, my parting words to Jemima being: “Bella may cry for a minute, just ssssshhhh her and she’ll be asleep in no time”. What was that? And what will come next? By Saturday will I be asking her to make my tea and take her sister for a walk while I lie in? By day it feels manageable again but in the dead of night when there is no one around to calm you down... I just don’t know how single parents keep their cool.

Anyway Jemima is tiring of making Bella’s card and is covering each crayon, or fish, with glitter glue, sorry, tomato ketchup, so I should probably go. It has been good therapy to blog after such a long while. Thank you for listening. I'll be back later to tell you about her tea party we are having this afternoon and a picture for you.

If you liked reading this, you might enjoy this.

Read this post

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Porridge, glorious porridge!

I can hardly believe that I am about to write an ode to porridge (oatmeal, for the Americans out there). As a child I hated the stuff. My whole family used to eat it and seemed genuinely to enjoy it. I could never understand it. Its appearance was not that distinct from that of a jelly fish melting on the beach... a sort of grey, lumpy gloop. To taste it made one really empathise with Oliver Twist – he actually asked for more? It was runny, yet each swollen boiled oat flake seemed to need chewing. No wonder my sisters used to dowse it with Golden Syrup. I’ve never liked that either. I was the child that ate everything, but to my mind, and my taste buds, porridge had absolutely nothing to recommend itself. I used to eat the oats raw, with milk and brown sugar. That’s yummy. I still do that. But porridge? No thank you. Porridge was definitely something I never intended to have to deal with again, once I had left home.

I put it out of my mind for many years quite successfully. And then I met, fell in love with and got married to James. He made porridge for breakfast, which I politely declined, and took me to Scotland – the land of the stuff. It was a freezing December holiday, Jemima, unbeknown to me, was just a tiny cell settling into her new home, and I admit that ‘a bowl of hot, creamy porridge with fruit compote, or local honey’ did begin to sound lovely when written on the fireside breakfast menus of old country house B&Bs (especially when the alternative was haggis). I tried again but it was no good. It never was creamy and it still brought back childhood nightmares.

And then one day I saw the light. It is James who I have to thank. I can’t remember when or where but at some point in our lives together he managed to persuade me to try his porridge. He pointed out that while our parents, and the Scots, may think they are the masters of porridge-making, swearing by water, soaking the oats over night and a touch of salt etc, they are all woefully misguided. I hate to be disloyal to my beloved parents, but M & D, he is right, you are. James’ porridge may sound philistine, cooked very, very slowly with loads and loads of full fat milk and not a drop of water or salt, but it is deliciously white and creamy and sooooo much nicer than yours! :-)

So much so that I now eat it every morning despite living in THE HOTTEST COUNTRY ON EARTH (arguably, but I would not want to argue with me over this right now, as I am sweating away under the fan, sitting still) and our nearly four-year-old daughter asks for it every breakfast, lunch and dinner. Honestly, she even gets excited when I give it to her as ‘pudding’. (I can sell anything as pudding if I put my mind to it.) And here is the point of this blog post. To advocate the delights and nutritious wonders of porridge oats for adults and children alike! Why? Well partly because a few people have asked me about oats lately. Strange this, now I come to think of it. They must have a sixth sense. And partly because most breakfast cereals are full of sugar and salt, and in Cambodia, are bloody expensive. But mostly because they are yummy, healthy and totally brilliant when you have no food in the fridge to give to your kids.

Look ‘em up in Wikipedia for all the facts but in a nutshell oats are brilliant to eat in the morning as they give you a slow steady energy flow which will easily last until lunchtime. Very good for tired mothers. Actually I eat them whenever I want a snack and energy boost (before you say it, chocolate is also not so available and pretty expensive in Cambodia). If they are ‘pure’ oats they are recommended as part of a gluten free diet as well, and, best of all, if you are a Brit with a tradition of pudding after meals, oats can be made into lots of yummy quick puds for impatient kids. Actually whenever the girls are tired and the prospect of a normal dinner seems unlikely, or unbearable, I just make them big bowls of porridge with fruit mashed in and we eat them on the sofa or in bed. The girls are happy and full and I have hardly any washing up to do. When I am in a hurry or especially lazy I give them raw oats with milk as they love those too. For Bella, until recently, I substituted cows’ milk with water and then added yoghurt and banana to make them creamier. With Jemima, in the days where I had a freezer full of expressed milk, I used breast milk until she was one. Here are Jemima and Bella’s favourite recipes:

Porridge with any cooked fruit puree – apple, apricot, prunes are favourites and (Prunes and apricots full of iron) but any will do. Mashed bananas are good too.

Porridge with raw fruits all pureed together (we always make fruit salad but because Bella hasn’t enough teeth to eat pineapple or apple chunks I just chuck some oats in a bowl with some fruit salad and blend it all up for her. Jemima, bless her innocence, considers this a seriously good pud in the way that you and I might consider cheesecake or chocolate tart... so eats this too.

Porridge with cinnamon sugar. Porridge with mango. Porridge with honey (no honey for babes under one year). Porridge with brown sugar. Porridge with jam. Chocolate porridge. Hmmm, you get the picture. Porridge with just about anything. Enjoy. And share your recipes with me too. There must be something I have not thought of that goes well with porridge!

If you liked this read these: Recipes for babies and children and
Baby-led weaning

Read this post

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Expat files... I have been here before

Just as I am finally feeling really at home in Cambodia, thinking this part of our lives was meant to be after all, nearly everyone we know and love is leaving. Not all of them for good, but Phnom Penh is definitely emptying for the summer. The streets already feel very quiet and by the end of next week nearly all of Jemima’s friends who have not already left will be gone for the whole of July. They’ll come back just as we head to England for August. James will also be away for two weeks. I really ought not to complain. I have plenty of inner resources. I enjoy being on my own with the girls, it’s raining every afternoon at the moment, the house feels cosy and perfect for hanging out at home cooking and painting etc. So it has been hard to explain this strange feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach – a familiar sensation of being left behind, vaguely friendless. Until today, when it suddenly made sense. I have been here before.

It was while I was cycling by the local international school that it dawned on me. Normally I avoid that street due to the huge jam of four wheel drives, expat and Khmer, that block the road as they drop off and pick up each day. Today the street was quiet, term having ended last week, and as I passed by the school I was suddenly bombarded with some long forgotten childhood memories: school boys packing trunks and cases into the backs of Volvos and Range Rovers; a disconcerting quiet in the house and the streets, and a faint wondering about quite what I should do with myself now.

I grew up in the very peculiar environment of a famous English boy’s boarding school. Our entire lives were built around the school bell, whose ring would signal the onslaught of 750 boys onto the street every morning as I was walking to school; a sudden silence in the corridors above my bedroom each evening when prep started, and the bursting of jubilant boys through banging doors as their hour of homework was up. I often fell asleep to the sound of their thumping music and muffled conversation.

For 13 years we shared our home with 85 boys, separated by nothing more than a ceiling and a couple of fire doors, one of which led to the stairs in my bedroom (of all the rooms in this beautiful old Georgian house, I, and my sister before me, chose to make our bedroom in the tiny space under the fire stairs). Our life was so intertwined with the school timetable that the silence that fell around us at the end of each term, when the boys went home to their real friends and family, was at once sacred and lonely, liberating and unsettling. For me at any rate, these tri-annual interruptions to our normal existence, forced me confront, or preferably avoid, an uncomfortable confusion about what was my real life and society, and what was just a fa├žade.

While my relationships within, and my commitment to the expat community here cannot be compared to the encounters with school boys (who I barely knew despite sharing the same roof) of my youth, I am amazed I have not been reminded of all this before now. Ever since our family left that old-fashioned, though much beloved institution, when I was 18, I have turned away from everything that it represented, or at least all of the negative associations: private school education, privileges bought by wealth, British upper class, elitism, snobbery, colonialism, English foreign policy and so much more... I suppose the simple act of sending your children away to school could not be further away from my ideal of motherhood I write about on these pages!

And yet here I am living in an artificial, privileged community that could be anywhere in the world for all its connections with its physical location, but happens to be in Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in the world. I have a 'house-help', a night guard, and friends that leave each year to reunite with their family and ‘real’ friends. My father often jokes that the overseas NGO world is a bit like the British Raj in India. Mostly it is nothing like that, but it does have its comparisons.

I’ve lost my thread but it is too late to recover it so I’ll just publish this for what it is... a few memories and reflections on life and where it takes us. Just writing about it now brings up so many memories of this extraordinary childhood existence – though of course it seemed the most ordinary thing in the world at the time – that I feel inclined to shut myself away for a few months and write and write and write about it. One day I will.

Read this post

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Have I given up?

Someone kindly told me today that they miss my blog posts. Thank you! I do too. I miss those quiet nap times during Jemima’s mornings at school when I make my coffee, close the door and just write. Someone else asked why I do not write for magazines and newspapers, adding: “Have you given up on the writing?” Her question has been put to me a lot lately, not just by others but also by myself. I have only just I decided that the answer is probably yes. At least in terms of making writing a career, I think I have given up. Here is why.

I do not write to live, I live to write. Well the bit of me that does not live to be a mother does anyhow. This is my main problem. I write about what I feel passionate about, I write to campaign, to challenge minds, to open hearts. I am not interested in writing if what I am writing about does not interest me. Basically I want to be an instant columnist and published author without putting in the hard slog that most respected journalists invest in their careers for many years before they are rewarded their well-earned fame. Instead of writing for local magazines in Cambodia, or small regional newspapers, who are always interested in new ideas, I write to the broadsheets whose in-boxes are flooded with copy every day. And while I sit and wait for the rejections to come in I blog to my heart’s content... hmmm, see what I mean? I definitely do not write to live. I cannot remember the last time I was paid for something I have written.

So I have decided to give it all up. To write about what I love is too hard without being a ‘somebody’. Why would a paper publish an article on motherhood written by me when they could get Deborah Jackson or some other parenting expert? Even when I do get commissions I end up cocking it up by being too ‘opinionated’. One big parenting magazine rejected a co-sleeping article of mine because it came out in favour of the practice. If I had made it entirely neutral I would have got it in. And this is my other problem. Only somebodies get to write opinionated articles.

So instead I wrote to all the mothering magazines which are ‘alternative’, - all those that share my ideals of positive, natural, green, attachment parenting. I waited patiently – most of their websites say they take 3-6 months to get back to you. During which time any serious ‘career’ writer would be busy filing other articles about anything that sells, (especially as these same magazines often pay you in kind – a few free editions in return for your article.) Me? I blogged. Well at least that way I get some response to my work. Thank you all :-).

One beautiful such magazine (English) actually asked me to hold on to my ideas as they were very interested. We had a great telephone chat and I was completely excited as it really was my dream publication. I did hold on. For nine months. Every so often I sent them polite reminders, left messages, spoke to the assistant editor. Only after some twenty unanswered attempts at feedback did I finally pay myself enough respect to actually, albeit mildly, express my frustrations at their lack of communication. I received a curt email in response saying that they liked my ideas a lot but their time was precious, divided between the magazine and their children, and that if I did not understand this perhaps I was not the right contributor for the magazine.

WHAT? If I can’t understand this division of passions, who the hell can? When I wrote a gentle, but assertive, response pointing out that I have respected their time and their ethos entirely... for nine months no less, but that as a professional writer and full-time mother of two I am sure they would understand that my time was also worth respecting, they could not even find the time to reply. I have been sorely tempted to send them an invitation to a time management workshop. Had they just let me know which ideas they were so interested in I would have written them up and sent them the articles by now.

My self-esteem plummeted of course, but my disappointment still keeps me awake at night. If I can’t even get published in a magazine which comes from the very same place as my blog and my book, i.e. a mother’s frustration with the mainstream parenting literature out there and a desire to put forward another perspective, well, you can see why I am giving up. Their absence of communication on top of the lack of interest in my ideas was the final straw. Gosh reading over this post is depressing. My most inspiring parenting magazine has totally destroyed my confidence as a writer about motherhood? One day I shall have to address this. With the help of therapy perhaps.

Before you start to pity me though please don’t. It has not happened without reason. I am embarking on a new adventure which I find exciting, interesting and challenging. Training to be a yoga teacher was definitely meant to be. It gives me the opportunity to continue to communicate with and support mothers, and children, and babies... unborn and newbies! What better way to encourage positive parenting than through a lovely Kundalini prenatal yoga class? And who knows, after practicing for a while I may even be able to offer up an article about something I am passionate about, this time with some actual expertise to back me up as well!

I will always write, I know this. But the energy and competition it takes to try to get noticed and published is simply not something I enjoy or want to spend my time on. Instead I shall continue to blog and enjoy the feedback from the faithful readers I do have. It is true that this yoga takes up most of my spare time, but I’ll be back. I can’t help myself anyway. Most of this post was written one-eyed (Jemima accidentally stabbed the other one with a glitter pen today and my vision is not quite restored), on my lap top, balanced on my knees, while sitting on the loo seat watching the girls in the bath. (The odd splash can’t do too much harm can it?) You see? I’ve made the right decision. I’m definitely not cut out for professional writing.

Read this post

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Being allowed to love motherhood... and a yoga meditation to help us!

Thanks so much for all your comments and emails everyone. You keep me going. You also distract me when I should be studying, like right now. But I'm tired and have thoughts I just have to express. The good news is that my Khmer friend is breastfeeding after all!

I do not know if she is mixed feeding with the formula that her parents bought her. She did not answer that question and I did not want to push her. But her text said something along the lines of "We are so happy. We are breastfeeding successfully and will carry on". Hoorah! I'm so happy. Not just for the baby but for the mother.

We often think we are putting pressure on mothers when we advocate breastfeeding. I think we forget just how many mothers, who do not end up breastfeeding, really, really wanted to at the beginning, but did not succeed for lack of support, reassurance and lanolin sore nipple cream.

The Kundalini Yoga teachings say that the baby shares the mother's aura, or electromagnetic field, from birth until they are three years old. They specify that the mother and child should remain very close for the first 40 days outside the womb. This is not only to make the baby feel safe and secure. The modern pressures on new mothers are to get their life back, let their baby cry a little, allow the father to bond with a bottle, use a cot, get back to work... They all seem to be in favour of the mother, but I think they simply prohibit bonding, encourage resistance to what a mother's instinctive role is meant to be, and cause frustration, exhaustion, even post-natal depression.

All the mothers I know who have truly followed their instincts, who have stayed close to their babies through co-sleeping, baby-wearing, breastfeeding where and when either mother or child feels like it, are the happiest mothers I know. They have no conflicts, they are not trying to follow any prescribed method or hurry back to life as it was before. These are the women I hear using expressions like: "I feel like I have come home", or "I have found my purpose", or "I have found peace". I know a lot of mothers - surely this can't be a co-incidence. Mothering as nature intended, with the support and encouragement of our social network, is usually without any of the trauma that both mother and child so often seem to experience in western child-raising cultures. (Arrgh writing this reminds me why I wrote my book! To encourage mothers. I've lost faith in it but I must work on that one day. Hmm, I digress, sorry.)

So, having said all this I thought I would share a lovely moment I had with Jemima last week. It was just the usual morning Tuk Tuk ride back from school. But it was one of those moments when you want to give thanks to the universe for being alive. Jemima was on my lap cuddling me and telling me she loved me 'soooo much'. She was laughing and throwing her head about and her hair was blowing in the wind. I know that of all the memories I want to hold onto forever, this one will never fade. It's not corny to admit it. Being a mother is the most valuable gift I could have ever wished for. I want to live my life as mother in a way which ensures that, whatever happens to me, I will never, ever look back and regret not having spent enough time with my children, or cuddled them enough, smelt them enough, listened to them or looked at them. As I write this my sister is in England supporting the husband and children of her dear friend who is dying of breast cancer. We should live every moment as fully as we can and never take our blessings for granted.

I know, I can hear lots of stressed out mothers screaming at me already. So here are two things to appease you. One is simply that not all our school runs are so lovely. On Friday we walked to school and Jemima had to step over a huge dead rat. Today at exactly the same spot, though I had forgotten, she said: "Where's the rat?" We looked down and there was its skeleton, stinking in the heat of the sun. OK, not a such a great story but a little bit of description is always nice.

This one is much better. Also last week, we had one of those horrible evenings when everyone was crying, no one got to sleep on time and I was hot, bothered and at the end of my tether. I wanted to scream and shout and throw things in a way that only tired and hormonal mothers do. But, for a change, I did not. Instead I lit a candle, sat on the floor and looked through my meditation files from my course notes. Three minutes later I was calm, could be civil enough to help my children to sleep despite their protests and focused enough to recognise that I needed a bath and an early night. (A miracle for me as I am the world's worst late night phaffer. I never get to bed before 10:30, and that's on a good night). The result was so effective that even James was calm and receptive to my mood. He offered to let me sleep in the spare bed while he did Bella duty. I was asleep at 930, fed Bella once at 12 and slept on until morning. That is the best night's sleep I have had since she was born. Here is what I did:

It is called Meditation for Emotional Balance (Sunia Antar). You could look it up on the internet for a picture or more information before practicing it, or just follow my instructions and enjoy the benefits. It can take as little (no less) as three mins, and as many as eleven (no more).

Drink a glass of water. Water imbalance is often a cause of emotional discomfort or lack of focus.
Sit cross-legged with your arms crossed across the chest and hands placed under your armpits. As though you were hugging yourself. Keep your head straight and raise the shoulders right up to the ear lobes without cramping the neck. The action of pulling up the shoulders and tightly locking the entire upper area creates a solid brake to the four sides of the brain.
Breathe slowly and deeply. Long, slow and deep breathing gives us indirect control of our minds. This eliminates obnoxious behaviour and promotes a calm mind regardless of circumstances.

After three minutes of this healing meditation you will find that while the thoughts will still be there, the feelings will not. Every mother should know this as they and their children will benefit. Life is too short to keep on feeling negative, when allowing ourselves a few minutes of stillness can help us regain positivity and calm.

Sat Nam. Love, Peace and Light.

Read this post

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

You thought your in-laws were bad! On breastfeeding...

Last Sunday night, just as I was putting the girls and myself to bed for an early night, a friend from my breastfeeding group called. Her Khmer friend was in hospital with her six-hour-old baby and having problems breastfeeding. Her first baby (now one year old) was not breastfed because the woman’s mother insisted that her daughter had wrongly shaped nipples for breastfeeding. The baby was given rice milk from birth.

So off I went to the hospital. I have done this before but I am always amazed by the sheer number of people congregating in the maternity units. There is one benefit to be gained from not offering food or drinks in hospital – your family rallies round. Each room, not to mention the corridor, was crammed full of family members, from small children to grannies, all fussing around the mother, offering home cooked food, another blanket, and lots and lots of advice. Did I say benefit? Well I do love the idea in theory. In practice unfortunately, the sheer volume of people can interfere with the mother’s bonding with her new baby, and the well-meant advice is often harmful and misguided.

My new friend’s room was just as packed. I was nervous that they would wonder who this western woman thought she was, coming in and offering advice about breastfeeding. Little did I know that her father was interrogating James outside:

“Is your wife a doctor?”
“oh, she’s a nurse right?”
“Urm, no”
“What is…”
“She’s a breastfeeding counsellor!” he sort of lied.
“Oh, good!”
Apparently a peer counsellor, untrained but experienced, might have been confusing, what with the language barrier… so James explained to me later. But I know he was just scared. There were a lot of people.

They were all very friendly however and it was quite clear that the mother herself desperately wanted to breastfeed her second child. So we chatted, I helped her latch her baby on, reassured her that her nipples looked perfectly normal to me and that her daughter was latching on and sucking perfectly. Then it became clear that the whole family thought that she did not have enough milk, so I explained about colostrum and the fact that her milk would not really come through until day three or four. Then I encouraged her to take off the baby’s clothes, and her own layers, and hold her skin to skin for as much time as possible. This actually goes against Khmer culture where they believe that a newborn baby and mother lose dangerous amounts of body heat during labour so they each wrap up in several layers of towels and blankets, which of course prohibits the breastfeeding hormones from doing their job. In the countryside they still practice ‘roasting’, whereby mother and child spend a month in a hut lying over hot coals, sauna style. Luckily this woman was educated enough not to throw away the colostrum, which many Khmers believe is dirty and bad for the baby.

I left the hospital feeling hopeful that she would enjoy a happy breastfeeding relationship with her new daughter. The next day she called again with the same concern. “I have not got enough milk”. I went over the facts once more and received a text a few hours later: “My baby is now absorbing milk. Thank you so much for your help”. Hoorah! I knew she would need lots of encouragement but it seemed as though the case were closed. I got distracted with other things and that was that. Until this evening, when my friend updated me on the woman’s progress. I am gutted. Despite her education, her parents have convinced that her milk is too yellow after all. It must be bad, they thought, so they went out and bought a tub of formula and that was that. Gutting.

I know it is no use getting upset or too involved (although I have texted her of course and offered to meet up with her tomorrow!) but it is hard not to feel angry. It was so disheartening in the hospital to see the number of brand new babies on bottles all along the corridors, and more so because the grandparents and mothers offering them were so proud of the fact. “Formula” they said to me happily, as I cooed over their babies. The laws against advertising formula milk mean nothing in a country like Cambodia. The image of a fat, formula-fed baby is desirable - just that morning James’ colleagues were expressing disapproval and disappointment over how small Bella is. (She is not small. She is just slim and long…but there were no tubby rolls for them to pinch and squeeze.) I am not angry with Cambodians. It is the formula companies I feel disgusted with. Infant mortality in Cambodia occurs at a rate of 65 deaths per 1000 live births. In 2000 it was 95 per 1000, so the situation is improving thanks to breastfeeding awareness campaigns. But while the formula companies continue their aggressive advertising campaigns, babies and children continue to die unnecessarily. In a country as poor as Cambodia, women, babies and children need all the health benefits offered by breastfeeding that they can get.

Grrrr. I'm off to bed. For a far more articulate read about very naughty formula companies check out Baby Milk Action. Good night all.

Read this post