Gardens in the Sand

After our first night camping at Blind River (see July’s post) we travelled on and spent four nights camping in Agawa Bay, Lake Superior Provincial Park.  I remember those days feeling relaxed and endless. It was the first time on our trip we had no permanent access to power – so the process of adjustment could begin.  We were cooking most of our meals on a camp stove and generally spending our time outside, relying on natural light, so the days took on a different rhythm. 

A Superior supper. Lake Superior, the largest of North America’s Great Lakes and the worlds largest freshwater lake by surface area.

My favourite memories of Agawa Bay were wandering down to the shores of the lake with the boys, collecting the beautiful jewel coloured agate and making ‘gardens’ in the sand with Theodore. We spent most of our days and evenings by the lake, the hours stretching for days. Monty was a big fan of the water, so he spent a lot of time ‘Montying’ his way in to the lake and throwing his pretty stones in with daddy. 

I’ll be honest, I was obsessed with bears for the first few nights (weeks) but reading up and speaking to the park rangers helped. It was later that I learned that whilst bears are definitely ones to be aware of, it’s the cougars you’ve really got to worry about. By which point we’d camped our way across five Provinces and survived, so I felt altogether better about the realities of co-existing in nature with two tiny, tasty looking humans.

One night after dinner we got chatting to a family from Fairbanks, Alaska.  A couple with their 13 year old son and family dog.  They explained that they were taking two years out to travel around Canada together in their ‘bear proof tent’, a small tear drop trailer.  They were planning on having a two week break with some friends on Manitoulin Island before heading to the East coast in time for Fall.  It felt reassuring to speak to another family on their own adventure and to exchange stories about our East and West coast experiences (Mike and I travelled the East coast and Newfoundland on a previous trip).

Our tents survived their first heavy night of rain, but we quickly realised the benefits of a tarpaulin suspended above – or at the very least pinned over the top to stop what we found to be inevitable water drops accumulating over time.  We also decided at this point that a screen tent to cook in during inclement weather was going to be very useful.  We already had a ‘play tent’ for the boys (a 6 berth tent), which turned out to be one of our most valuable pieces of equipment.  It provided a dry contained space where they could keep their toys and books and have space to play and move around freely, whatever the weather.  It also provided a place of safety, where Mike and I could sit and relax knowing no one could wander off.

The boys settled into sleeping in a tent very well.  We have co-slept with both of them, so sleeping in one room all together is normal for us – and incredibly useful.  That coupled with our days following the rhythms of sunrise and sunset made for healthy sleeping routines.  The only exceptions were nights when Monty was teething, and the occasional night terror (from me!)

An hours drive from Agawa Bay, there is a small town called Wawa – most obviously notable for a giant goose sculpture on the way into town, along with two others dotted along the road for good measure (the boys really enjoyed spotting the geese!).  

One rainy day we took a trip in to get supplies and to grab some ‘inside lunch’.  As we were legging it from the car into the diner, a tall friendly looking lady with a huge smile on her face and open arms leaped out in front of us, exclaiming ‘hey, how are you? Do you want to stop in and play?’  She explained that she was from the family centre and that they were having a French language day if we wanted to join them, an invitation we very gladly took up with two slightly grouchy children in the rain. 

This was our first experience of any services for children and families in Canada.  Having never leapt into the street to connect with the local community in my own social work practice, I felt inspired and excited by such a pro-active approach.  The boys enjoyed a good two hours in what was a beautifully equipped centre, learning the french names of all the different animals (their go to toys of choice every time, bar a few tractors and cars for Monty).  We enjoyed an enthusiastic and supportive chat (with a hug!) and a good play, a lovely surprise on an otherwise rainy day camping.

Moving on, we spent a night in Nipigon, then on to Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park.

On the road beside Lake Superior, Ontario

9,332 miles, and counting

Writing about our adventures on the road has been more difficult than I imagined!  By the end of our first few weeks in Canada, limited access to power made jotting notes on my phone tricky, but in all honesty, that wasn’t it.  After a short time travelling, it just didn’t feel like anything I wrote did our experiences any justice.  It felt more like taking a photograph from a moving car (something I’m always trying to do) or joining up a dot to dot, with the dots dancing around the page.

Pinning down a picture somehow felt limiting.  Like endeavouring to capture a beautiful moment as its happening, sometimes a photograph just doesn’t cut it. It’s got nothing to do with the camera or the photographer (or, maybe it has…) but often that magic just can’t be captured.  Sometimes it’s like trying to replicate something completely original, oversimplifying it until its only a shadow of its original splendour.  

I picked up a book in a thrift store about Wabi Sabi a few weeks ago, and it describes these experiences wonderfully.  Wabi Sabi is a complicated Japanese concept suggesting that anything deeply affecting and beautiful is necessarily transient, imperfect and incomplete.  In terms of my attempts to write about our experiences, I think that is pretty much what I ran in to.  In fact, I think that describes so much of human experience. 

Transience and liminality can be such great creative spaces, and for me I find that I move into a more creative zone once some of the dust has settled. Helping two sproglets – and a husband – with their own swirls of dust is also something of a task that requires a great deal of loving care and attention. Now the pace has slowed and we have had time to catch up with ourselves, I feel like I have more of a base to write from. So, in the next posts I will attempt to share the highlights and the lowlights of our meandering adventures so far… they will be imperfect and incomplete, but all wholehearted parts of the journey we would like to share.

Toddlers on a Plane

Our flight to Toronto went extremely well for two young children who had been woken up at 4.30am that morning.  I was a little nervous and trawled the internet for ideas about how I could keep a 3 year old and a 1 year old entertained, for at least some of the time anyway.  I found to have some great pointers.  In particular, wrapping each activity individually to be unwrapped at different intervals – we didn’t actually end up having time for that – but we did manage to pack some things in a gift bag!  Peekaboo Farm and Peekaboo Wild apps are firm favourites for both boys. The Montessori wooden cheese was and still is a surprising hit for Monty.  He spent a long time threading and unthreading it, and still enjoys it in the car.  This brightly coloured first words cloth book is also a good travelling favourite for him too. Theodore was very happy with some dinosaur and animal sticker books (courtesy of Nanny Jones) and appreciated the inflight films.  Sleeping and eating also proved to be excellent activities for all! 

After we arrived, we spent a week with Mike’s Uncle Don in Port Dalhousie, St Catharines.  In that whirlwind of a jet lagged week, we went for our visa medicals and met with some friends who made the move from Amesbury, UK to Ontario the previous year, which was a wonderful welcome.  We bought our trusty workhorse of a car and eventually sorted out some car insurance – which is probably the most complicated process we have encountered, other than the visa!  We also visited the stunning Niagara Falls, (of course!) and enjoyed a dance on the shores of Lake Ontario at the Niagara Jazz Festival.  After being a very kind and welcoming host to our gaggle of a tribe, Uncle Don then took us up to his cabin on Lake Nipissing for a couple of days.

Even with their ultra cute life jackets, the mummy bear in me had some reservations around taking my two babies on a speedboat. Thankfully as we bounced through the water, some wisdom came to mind. Not from the most traditional of philosophers or spiritual teachers, but from Poppa in the The Good Dinosaur.  Being immersed in his teachings, at one stage on a daily bases, has obviously had some effect on me, “You gotta face your fear Arlo….if you don’t face your fear you won’t survive out here. You’ve got to get through your fear…”

Deciding not to dwell on how things turn out for Poppa and focusing more on the on the outcome of Arlo’s journey, I found it strangely comforting, and very quickly I was relaxed and loving the wind in our faces and the new blue and green world speeding by.  Monty was even more relaxed and was either fast asleep or feeding every time we got on the boat.

On our first lake swim, Monty, Mike and I  had a grand time pretending to be turtles. It was when I got bitten on the bottom by what looked to me like a small pterodactyl which then pursued me up the bank, that we decided to rejoin Theodore and Uncle Don in the safety of the cabin- and to make our next purchase some child friendly bug repellent.  

A couple of days before we left Port Dalhousie, as we were loading all our Canadian worldly belongings into the boot of our car, a lovely guy called Alan introduced himself to us.  He said that he often got feelings about people and when he saw us he thought we looked like we were on a special journey.  He wanted to give us a gift to help us on our way, and gave us an arrowhead he had made out of clay.  He told us he was of Native American descent and was also travelling to Vancouver to be with his daughters.  It felt like such a good omen to have met him at the beginning of our trip, and was just the beginning of the friendliness and warmth we have received from folks across the country since our arrival.  The clay arrow head has had pride of place hanging from our rear view mirror ever since. 

A breastfeeding journey

For all those who are on, are supporting someone, considering or reflecting upon their own journeys

I believe that parents should have a choice about how they want to feed their babies.  I am not of the opinion that one way is preferable to another, only that the best way to feed a baby is the way that suits the parents and the child.  This is very much my story and not intended to influence the views of others who have different opinions and experiences.  It is all to be celebrated.

This time around I was sure that it was going to work.  My baby and I were going to nurse around the clock until my supply built to just the right amount and then we would be able to continue through to weaning and beyond.  I had read a few books and was going to the support group.  And most significantly, I had the experience of not having had feeding go the way that I had wanted it to with my first son.  So, I felt armed with all the knowledge and determination I needed this time.

When son number two arrived we did indeed nurse around the clock, I enjoyed it.  It was tricky to juggle the time with my two year old, but paternity leave meant that I could nest in with my little one and enjoy all the cuddles, from both boys.  This did mean that my husband picked up absolutely everything else, which he deserves a few medals for.  He cooked and looked after us all while we snuggled.  I loved breastfeeding my first son and I was delighted to be able to do it again, this time knowing what it was I was looking forward to.  The blissful snuggles, the little pecking head as he rooted around for a feed.  The specialness of this time, the uniqueness and the beginning of a very special relationship.  At this point I will very clearly say that breastfeeding is not a prerequisite of any for these special moments, but that for me it was very much part of the experience I wanted.  From the moment he was born we have had these things and for that I am so full of gratitude and feel truly blessed.

breastfeeding 1

The frustrating and frankly disappointing side for me was that despite all our efforts, my little one was not gaining enough weight.  Whilst I knew it was all for the well being of my baby (of which I am truly grateful for) I grew to resent the almost daily weighings.  With every appointment and every note in the red book, I felt a little more crushed.  For me, in what was I’m sure a very hormone fuelled haze, it felt as though the health professionals coming into my home were somehow threatening our relationship, threatening to take something very special away from me and my baby.  They were actually very supportive.  One of the midwives in particular spent hours supporting our feeding, helping us with our latch, just being present while we fed and then whilst I pumped and topped him up with expressed milk from a syringe.  It felt very special and I am very grateful to her for her time and for her sharing her own story, which was very helpful to me.

I had  resisted giving formula top ups because I was convinced that it this was why my supply didn’t increase enough the first time around.  My first son also had a dairy allergy that wasn’t diagnosed for a while.  It caused him chronic eczema and I felt so worried that by introducing dairy early the same thing might happen again.  I pumped after every feed, which was tricky because he was feeding pretty much all the time, so I also pumped during feeds just to make sure.  I was also afraid to use a bottle because in the end my first son developed a preference to it, cutting our breastfeeding journey so much shorter than I had wanted.

A few weeks in I took a ‘breastfeeding holiday’ and spent much of one weekend in bed with baby.  It was a very mixed bag for me.  On one hand, it was a beautiful time spent cuddling and co-sleeping with my baby.  On the other, my confidence in my body was beginning to wain.  I could not understand why despite everything I was doing, my supply did not appear to be increasing.  So I was also often sat up wide eyed, looking up more books and information.

The midwives arranged for a breastfeeding counsellor to contact me and we chatted a few times over the phone and met at baby weigh in.  We also attended our local breastfeeding group.  Both were of great support, providing guidance and a non judgemental ear.  Most helpful were the stories shared by other women on their journeys, each and every one unique, however they all shared the common thread that not all was plain sailing.  Many making the decision to continue, supporting each other along the way.

As the days and weeks went by my supply did increase, it just wasn’t quite enough for little one to gain.  He was thriving in every other way, just not his weight.  He was sleeping and smiling and being generally delightful.  I had no other cause to think that there was anything wrong.  Thankfully all the health professionals agreed with me, he was doing great, but the plateau in his weight was a concern.  Around 6 weeks our GP referred us to a paediatrician just to check there was no underlying causes for concern.  The referral took a couple of weeks, and by the time we got there I felt that this appointment was a bit of a line in the sand.  If the paediatrician said that we should top him up with formula, I would.

There was a lactation consultant at our appointment who was very supportive and reassuring.  It felt encouraging to me that she was there.  I had grown to believe that maybe I was making the wrong decisions for my baby and was about to be reprimanded by a doctor who felt they knew better.  Actually my experience couldn’t have been further from that.  The paediatrician we saw was supportive and sensitive.  After running several tests he said that he felt formula top ups would be a good option to try if I was happy to do so.  He prescribed an amino acid based formula, given that I had tried him with a small amount of dairy formula before and his skin had reacted.  I felt listened to and my views about what was best for my baby well respected.  The same paediatrician continued to support us until my not-so-little baby was discharged a couple of weeks ago.

During my research I discovered that it was possible to buy an at breast nursing system that would enable me to give my baby his formula top ups via a tube while he nursed.  For me this seemed like an option that would allow us to continue to nurse without the worry that he would become more accustomed to using a bottle.  I opted for the Medela SNS as it was cheaper and available for quick delivery.  Whilst it is a bit fiddly, especially at first, it has enabled us to carry on breastfeeding whilst giving formula top ups.  Affectionately referred to by us as ‘turbo boob’, it allows nursing to continue at the same time as topping up and allayed my concerns about bottle preference or ‘nipple confusion’.

breastfeeding 2 medela

I also researched taking Domperidone in order to increase milk supply.  My understanding is that it is licensed as a drug for issues with the gastrointestinal tract, but a known side effect is that it can also cause or increase lactation.  It is not used a great deal in the UK for this purpose, but has been widely used in Canada and Australia to help increase milk supply in breastfeeding women.  I discussed this option with my GP who also discussed possible risks with me.  I decided to give it a go and to date I believe it has increased my milk supply considerably.  I have noticed a reduction if I reduce my dosage, so whilst little one is still feeding a fair amount I will continue to take it.

Little one is now nearly 7 months old.  His weight started to increase at a healthy rate with the amino acid based formula top ups and since we have started weaning his weight and growth has accelerated, he loves his food!  We are still nursing and I am delighted with the way it is going.  For me there was a process of grieving the breastfeeding journey that I had originally wanted, accepting what was, and then fully embracing and celebrating it.  The grieving was painful, hormone rich and seemed to give my inner critic a pretty huge loud speaker.  Thankfully I had the unwavering support of a wonderful husband, family and friends.  I have also had the support and opportunity to explore everything this has bought up for me with my psychotherapist, which is invaluable.

My journey to date has been a process of understanding that nursing can take place in many forms.   I had previously built up quite a rigid view of how I wanted things to be.  I realise that part of it was probably influenced by previous trauma, of my experience as a mother with my first son and from my experiences as a baby myself.  It struck me that although I have felt well supported, at the most difficult times I still felt incredibly isolated.  The thoughts and feelings I experienced have been confusing and at times greatly lacking in self compassion.  I hadn’t quite realised how scathing and unkind my inner critic had become, scathing about a gift which is ultimately about love and nourishment.

There was a point when I was very keen to know exactly why my milk supply did not seem enough for my baby.  The part of me that craves order and some kind of reward for my hard work wanted to demand that we found out.  Maybe some kind of justification would help me to accept it.  As time has gone on, this has felt less and less important.  Possibly if there is another opportunity to breastfeed in the future, I would be interested to know, but for now I have come to a place where I feel happy and grateful for the special journey we are on.

Which is why I wanted to share my journey so far, so that others can hear someone else’s story and know that there is a way through, whichever choices end up feeling right.  There is support and information available, but its not always easy to access when we’re in various states of vulnerability.  Below I have listed some of the sources of information that I found most helpful.

  • The most comprehensive book I have read which seems to cover all bases is “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” by La Leche League International.
  • This is a link to the Medela SNS nursing system that I use

I wrote most of this post with one hand.