Slings and Postnatal Depression

I remember being handed a huge pile of booklets and other information when I was pregnant with my daughter – about nappies, about breastfeeding, about reducing the risk of SIDS… Somewhere, tucked away in the book provided by the NHS, was a single page about Antenatal and Postnatal Depression (AND/PND).

I skipped past it, never thinking for a moment that it could apply to me. I was in a happy relationship, we were about to move into our own house, and I had no history of mental illness.

But after my daughter was born, nothing seemed to work. Everything I knew from my extensive reading was at odds with what my baby seemed to need. Routine was impossible: she wouldn’t take a dummy or lie on her back in the crib, meaning that she was constantly latched to my breast or asleep across me. I remember desparately calling my own mother, sobbing over the computer.

“Just pick her up and love her,” my mum sagely said. “Let her sleep in with you, and feed her whenever she squawks.” I protested. All my books and websites conflicted with her advice – routine was vital, back-sleeping in cots prevented SIDS…

And then a knot settled in the pit of my stomach. I’d read about safe co-sleeping, about the need to feed on demand… I knew these things could (and, arguably, should) be done. The part of what my mother had said that made me so deeply uncomfortable was the command to love my child.

I pushed the thought aside. I was busy – I needed to pack for our impending move. I needed the baby to sleep away from me. I needed her to be content alone. Or so I thought. What I actually needed was time, and closeness with my baby.

A few days later, a package arrived on the doorstep. It was from my mum’s friend, who’d overheard my desperate conversation – a woman I’d known from birth. Inside were a sling and a very heartfelt note. She shared stories about her children – my friends – and how she’d felt when they were young. She confessed to having had PND.

Her feelings were so similar to my own that I began to accept that my baby wasn’t at fault in all of this, she was not challenging. I was unwell. I sought help.

The presence of the sling, however, continued to baffle me. I’d seen women with infant carriers before but never given them much thought – they weren’t mentioned in the literature we’d been given, and at that time they weren’t as commonplace as they are now. I laid the sling to one side, unsure of when I should use it – was it for shopping trips, or hiking, or in the home…?

It lay on the top of the piano for a week. I continued to struggle to pack our belongings as my husband struggled to adjust to his life at work on very little sleep. And then one day our pram broke, and I needed to go into town for more boxes.

Hesitantly, I put my daughter into the sling. She settled instantly and went to sleep. We collected boxes without a murmur, went for a coffee, visited the library… I felt my shoulders begin to fall from where they’d been present around my ears, hunched up in stress.

We went home, I fed my daughter, and then instinctively put her up again. I could take stock of her now, even as I packed, and her soft, warm skin beside mine was comforting in a way I couldn’t have imagined it would be. I would stop periodically to smell her head, marvel at how her nostrils were exactly heart-shaped. For the first time since her birth, I let myself begin to appreciate the perfect, glorious human being that she was. And because I could continue with the drudgery of packing the guilt that I’d felt every time I stopped to hold her was assuaged.

Life continued and we moved forward. It was slow – a process that took almost two years, a lot of medication and therapy, and many hours with the sling – but I fell in love with my daughter. I think about how bad things might have been had my mother’s friend not sent that package. And as much as the note was the catalyst that began my recovery, the sling was definitely the best possible medicine I could have asked for.

Asking for help

If you think you might be suffering from AND/PND, your doctor, midwife, health visitor is a good point of contact. The PANDAS foundation is a charity that specialises in natal mental health, though Mind and the Samaritans can also offer assistance.

For more information about slings, the UK Sling Libraries Network is a good starting point.

This article was written for Natural Parenting by Frances who is a Scottish mum of two, currently living in the Aberdeenshire hills with her Danish husband. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found hoarding craft supplies and drinking too much tea.

Autonomous Thinking Teenagers and Vaccines

On graduating with a BSc in Homeopathy, I found myself supporting mothers like me. I guess we always attract similar minds, and as attachment parenting was such a big part of my life, those with similar values came. Within a year, I was supporting their children too, and as my practise grew, so did these children. Many have taken gap years, travelling to the most unusual of places. Most have gone to university, and one or two have graduated and are finding their feet in an ever-changing world.

Interestingly, I don’t hear from these clients between the ages of 13 and 17. I think that it is because so much of their time goes into discovering who they are while trying to cope with the basics of sleep/food/socialising. I wait patiently until I get a polite message, often at age 17/18, asking, “Can I call you?”

Very often they wish to discuss vaccines. I know that this call isn’t spontaneous. I imagine the discussions that have happened at home before contact is made with me. Maybe there have been some heated debates as these young autonomous thinkers are faced with compelling arguments about the importance of vaccines whilst their parents have felt passionately about not vaccinating them.

Those who are planning to go to university feel most concerned about meningitis. They all report a lot of pressure and want to understand the issues so that they can make the decision that is right for them. What fills me with joy is that they are actually calling, they want to talk about this, and, though worried about their responsibility, they are being brave. What fills me with awe every single time is the parent who says (probably with the most sinking feeling in his or her stomach), “There is a lot of information out there. Speak to the GP, and speak to Benaifer. Do the research, and let’s see what you discover.” My own sons, now in their late teens, are surrounded by vaccine research, and so perhaps I’m unlikely to be in that really anxious position that my clients find themselves in. This is why I am always left with a sense of complete respect for parents who put their learning aside to help their children start to learn for themselves.

I feel such a sense of privilege to be involved at this stage, because it’s not just about vaccines. It’s about young people stepping out into the world and realising that the decision their parents made for them regarding their health is not an easy one. That there has been a constant stream of confirmation that the family’s health is on the right path, and that often they have had to justify those choices to others – perhaps the hardest bit of all.

When we speak, the young person will always start with, “I know what your views are on vaccines, but my mum thought I should speak with you anyway…” Surprise follows when, like the young person’s parent, I don’t begin an anti-vax tirade. I’m not sure any type of rant has ever aided learning, especially when someone is calling because he or she is confused. So the first step is to break things down, and this is what I say:

First, find out through your GP what the actual name of the vaccine is.

Secondly, ask your GP for a full list of ingredients. I say that they will know by looking at it whether it looks complete or not. If not, do ask again, but you may have to move your research online at this point.

Thirdly, research each element of the ingredients. Names aren’t always what they seem, so find out what they contain and what effects they have on the body.

Occasionally, depending on the personality of the young person who is calling, I may suggest at this point looking into the testing that has been conducted on that particular vaccine.

Lastly, with the information you have gathered:

Consider how your body might cope with ingredients not individualised to you and that your body has not had before – you know your body better than anyone else.

If you decide to take the vaccine, make sure you are feeling extremely healthy on the day, and contact me if you need support before/after your vaccination.

Know that I am here for you, without judgement, to talk more. Tell your parents how amazing they are!!!

And on this light note we end the conversation. All these conversations have ended with the vaccine not taken, or the vaccine has been taken and the client has not wanted/needed to contact me. What I do know for sure is that every single one of these calls has resulted in a stronger, more mature relationship between that young person and the homeopath.

This article was written for Natural Parenting by Benaifer, who as well as being a home educator, breastfeeding counsellor, doula and Reiki master, is an experienced homeopath. She lives in Hertfordshire but works with clients all over the country.

Unschooling Reading

Written words are everywhere in our lives. From understanding street signs to online gaming instructions, from comprehending movie subtitles to cake recipes, reading is a useful skill. There is a clear motivation for children to gain reading skills in a literate world. Most elementary reading instruction focuses on either decoding phonics skills or using the ‘whole language’ approach, which often involves memorising sight words. Some children show a clear preference for one learning method over the other, though many use a combination of these approaches. But what about children who learn to read outside of school and without a specific curriculum? There are varied paths to literacy.

At the ripe age of 3 1/2, my eldest daughter, Camille, was reading simple words on her own. I didn’t encourage or discourage her efforts. I simply read to her as often as she wanted me to, and answered her questions. “What sound does this letter make?” “Is butter spelt B-U-D-R?” “Why not?” By the age of 5, she was easily ploughing through Charlotte’s Web and the first Harry Potter book, having learnt to read seemingly by osmosis. One day I was reading aloud to her, and when I took a break she picked up and continued where I’d left off.

My next child, Sylvia, showed absolutely no interest in reading at 3 or 5, or indeed 7. She loved stories, and often created elaborate ones of her own imaginings, but decoding the words was secondary to her interest in the meaning behind them. We read picture books, non-fiction books and adventure stories. We played alphabet and rhyming games, shaped letters out of dough and spelled words out of breadsticks. We played with literacy skills in many of the same ways we had with her older sister, but it didn’t click when she was staring at a page full of words. She wanted meaty stories and in-depth information. She did not want to read about red fish and blue fish.

She slowly progressed in her reading skills and I continued to read aloud to her. We also checked out audio books by the dozen from the library: everything from The Bartimaeous Trilogy to Diary of a Wimpy Kid to The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Her comprehension of vocabulary and story plot was phenomenal, but she still struggled with decoding the words. We have come to understand that she shows many dyslexic traits. However, at the age of 10 she went straight from reading simple Dr. Seuss books to beginning a 500+ page book on Greek heroes.

At the age of 7, Ayla is not yet reading fluently, but I am confident that she is well on her way to gaining the necessary skills to do so. “Because late starters at reading are still learning through play, language, and interactions with adults, their long-term learning is not disadvantaged. Instead, these activities prepare the soil for later development of reading,” states Sebastian Suggate, who conducted research on this subject. His studies show that the gap is quickly closed between earlier and later readers over time. Furthermore, when children are allowed to progress towards reading at their own natural pace, the joy of discovery and sense of accomplishment they achieve may help them become life-long learners who approach the challenge (and sometimes frustration) of gaining mastery over new skills with confidence and determination.

While children may learn to read at different ages and paces, and with a variety of approaches, you can’t go wrong with reading aloud to them. Read often. Use silly voices. Play rhyming games that make everyone giggle. Restructure a favourite fairy tale from the perspective of the antagonist. Over time, their abilities will develop and they will gain mastery. As a part-time librarian and a full-time Unschooling mum, I value literacy highly – not only the skills, but also the enjoyment of those skills.

This article was written for Natural Parenting by Nikole who is mum to three unschooling daughters. Along with her husband, they live on a small acreage in Wisconsin, with a dog, two cats, a rabbit named Blue, and a goose named Jupiter.

Inspired by Science

It’s no secret that my family is mad about science. We love to get messy doing experiments, which provide a natural outlet for the burning curiosity that all children seem to have. It never surprises me to see the hypotheses, theories and solutions that my daughters come up with when we decide to do a bit of science. For me, it’s not about channelling them into science-based careers, although I do of course want them to understand that they can become scientists if they want to, but about helping them to learn critical thinking skills that will empower them in whatever they choose to do as adults – not just for work, but also in life. We live in a ‘post-fact’ era, after all, and being able to think for yourself is an important skill to learn.

To prevent these experiments from becoming too structured and school-like, I try to mix it up a bit – sometimes we do experiments with their friends and at other times we take field trips. It’s important to get out and about to explore the world, but we’re always the ones instigating these sorts of activities with our friends, so it was with much interest that I came across Ruth MacLaren’s Sciencedipity workshops in my home county of Devon.

Ruth is a teacher and biomedical scientist, and she set up the non-profit company four years ago. I asked her how she got into doing this, as most scientists stick to their professions and tend to stay hidden away in the lab. Ruth tells me: “When my daughter, who was then nine, said she didn’t like science at school because they did very few experiments, I felt concerned about the impact that could be having on our future scientists. You could say I had a ‘penny drop’ moment: I realised that this was what I was meant to do – to facilitate fun and inspiring science workshops so that children’s enjoyment of the subject lasts.” This is the side of science that my children love, too – the hands-on, messy stuff teaches them about the world far better than any textbook can, and allows for different ways of absorbing the information.

I find it heartening to hear that Ruth’s workshops are so popular. “I get lots of emails from parents to tell me their child had an amazing time, or thanking me for inspiring their children,” she tells me. I ask her why she thinks the reception has been so positive. “Making exciting, practical science accessible to all is really important. There is also a gender gap in some areas of science and engineering, and stereotyping still exists. I visited a school in Devon last week, and the children thought that although women could work in science, they definitely wouldn’t have children or wear dresses! As a busy mum, I hope that through my outreach work I can also show children that science is for everyone. I even do science parties. Science is brilliant fun and can be adapted to suit any occasion. Harry Potter and Halloween science are my favourites.”

It surprises me to hear that these gender stereotypes prevail, but we are perhaps an ‘alternative’ household, so I often forget what the wider world is like. At home my children watch The Magic School Bus, a popular American children’s show where Ms. Frizzle – a science teacher – often wears dresses that match the topic of her teaching. Yet other children think that scientists can’t wear dresses! What can we do to help overcome this? Ruth’s solution is certainly one route: I can attest that participating in workshops is extremely good fun! But you don’t have to be able to attend these events to spread a love of science. It can be achieved at home, too. There are many easy science experiments available on the internet, using common household ingredients – you could even invite some friends to take part and have a science party! Ruth says: “I’d recommend visiting some well-respected websites such as the Royal Society of Chemistry or Biology, as well as science buddies – they all have great experiments to try. Whatever you do, make it practical and fun, have the children take ownership of the activity, and let them bring their own ideas into the experiment.” Want to try something at home? Ruth’s favourite experiment is The Elephant’s Toothpaste: “It’s so easy to do, and really visual. The children love this one. The science behind it is very straightforward and can be explained in a child-friendly way. I have older children do The Elephant’s Toothpaste themselves using a weak hydrogen peroxide solution, which they find such fun, as the bubbles just keep coming!”

Parents who don’t have time to arrange science sessions at home but don’t mind paying for resources can use Letterbox Labs kits, as we’ve recently started doing. You receive a box of goodies and experiments in the post, with very simple-to-follow instructions and all the necessary equipment included. The diffraction experiment particularly struck my five-year-old, who has a bit of an obsession with rainbows and loves that the simple glasses we made make rainbows appear where there is light. I love it when my children become excited about things like this and continue to think about and ask questions about them, as it’s so obvious that the activities are worthwhile and are helping their critical thinking skills to develop while allowing the natural wonder to thrive.

We still have the soaps at home that the children made at the Sciencedipity workshop, and since using them my girls have a new understanding of what soap is and how it’s made – something that hadn’t even occurred to them to think about before. Who knew that such a simple household item could be such an object of interest – and also demonstrate the magic of science?

And this is fitting, since Ruth also tells me that what keeps her enthusiasm is just this: “My work with Sciencedipity is inspired by the children I meet at my workshops. My enthusiasm is fuelled by their passion for science.” As Ms. Frizzle says, “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!” Just be sure to put on a pair of goggles first!

Find out more:

This article was written for Natural Parenting by Zion.