First of all I want to thank romeoromeotango.wordpress.com for sharing in our adventures and taking such a supportive interest. It is a privilege to be featured on a world class cricket blog, and I would encourage anyone interested in cricket to go and say hello!
Before we get to the Lake of the Woods, I must talk about how much we enjoyed the Mennonite farm shops and stalls that peppered our journey through Ontario. Once we had discovered how delicious the corn, fruit and veggies were, and such amazing value, we made stops at as many of the road side stalls as we could. Theodore and Monty are both huge fans of fruit and made short work of gigantic tubs of organic blueberries, raspberries and juicy peaches.
There are many different strands of the Canadian Mennonite community. Each have varying views and beliefs around the roles of technology and other aspects of modern life. All are based around Christian teaching and share a strong belief in the importance of community and a life lived in love and peace.
On arriving in the small town of Kenora, we immediately felt at home. Mike made a beeline for the excellent local craft brewery, Lake of The Woods Brewing Company and acquired a good beer selection to celebrate our arrival. We booked into Anicinabe Park on the outskirts of town and set up camp in a beautiful spot by the lake.
As we unloaded and the boys started to explore our new lakeside home, we enjoyed some classic 1970’s tunes from the trailer on the site behind us. Later, to Theodore and Monty’s delight, two young boys emerged playing ‘golf’ down the slope behind us. Very soon Theodore had acquired his own golf ball and was busy playing his own version of the game with the boys. We then met Kerry and his wife Laurie, who introduced us to their two grandsons. Later when the boys were tucked up safely in bed, we shared beers and stories around the campfire, and Kerry invited us to join him on his boat to visit Coney Island. The boys thoroughly enjoyed their tour of the Kenora area of the Lake of the Woods, ending in a swim and ice-cream on the beach with ‘Captain Kerry’. We thoroughly enjoyed our time together and I’m so glad to say that we are still in touch. As locals, Laurie had even popped back to the site – sadly after our departure – to see if we wanted a hot bath at their home, such kindness that we will never forget. Theodore also continues to treasure the two golf balls Captain Kerry gave him!
We made our way into town to the weekly farmers market, which was an epic space filled with local food and crafts. The town has a relaxed and easy vibe which we all really loved.
During our stay we were blessed with absolutely beautiful weather, which allowed wonderful lake swims and lazy afternoons toddling with the boys. We enjoyed all our meals and evenings under the sky and the stars – and felt in absolute no hurry to leave.
We decided that if British Columbia didn’t work out for us, Kenora would be a wonderful place to live if the opportunity arose.
Which places have you been to and instantly felt a connection to?
We decided early on that if we were doing a quick one night stop somewhere, a motel was the best option for our little tribe. Setting up and packing up camp is a definite project with two littlies in tow, so we made the rule that unpacking the Vicars village was a two night minimum job. So after a swift night at a motel in Nipigon, on Uncle Don’s recommendation we hit the road again and made our way to Kakabeka Falls.
We set up camp at Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, in a beautiful little spot in the trees. Set back from the river and the falls, you could still hear the roar of the water, which was pretty darn awesome! We have found all the Provincial parks on our journey to provide such beautiful camping options, with just the right balance of being in nature, with the benefits of amenities. As new campers with a young family, it was better for us to use campsites with some facilities. We usually used unpowered sites, but with access to wash stations, which has been very helpful in keeping little ones warm and clean when spending lots of wonderful time outside.
We all thoroughly enjoyed exploring the falls at twilight. There was intermittent heavy rain during our stay, and true its name, the Thunder Bay district provided a backdrop of rolling thunder. Coupled with the rather heavenly golden light as the clouds rolled by, it made for a stunning and rather dramatic experience of the falls.
While picking up supplies in Nipigon, we got chatting to a guy who was mid way through sailing his boat from Toronto through the Great Lakes to Thunder Bay. He strongly recommended a visit to Fort William Historical Park. A huge site offering a comprehensive view of life in the Canadian fur trade, at a time where exploration was a key part of life for many settlers. With a village of heritage buildings and a farm, a favourite for the boys was watching a recreation of a battle between the North West Company and Hudson Bay Company, the loud bangs from the canons and rifles their favourite part. They also loved seeing all the animals on the farm, again an experience really bought to life by the actors on site who did a very skilful job of involving the boys in lots of hands on experiences.
After our brief stop at Kakabeka, we got back on the road to embark on a longer hop to our next destination, Kenora, Lake of the Woods. This would be our last stop in Ontario before we crossed the Provincial border to Manitoba. Not only did that feel like a bit of a milestone, this part of Northern Ontario is an absolute stunner, so we decided to kick back and enjoy it for the best part of a week, a decision we did not regret!
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.
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.
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 www.babycantravel.com 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. TheMontessori 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 Ihad 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.
As I walked up to put a nappy in the large bear proof bin, I suddenly realised what people were talking about, why there was a look that some people got when we told them that we had sold our house, given up work and bought plane tickets and a bunch of camping stuff… we have just sold our house? It dawned on me that the little camp behind me is literally everything we have right now. Suddenly I got it, and I couldn’t help but laugh, it took me this long? The sheer absurdity and a cold fear suddenly gripped me. The whole thing was completely insane. I walked to the shower hut with a sense of foreboding. If we’d have only kept the house at least we’d have had something to go back too… I brushed my teeth and thought of terraced houses with cute back gardens… And we’re spending the money from selling our house on travelling across Canada? There is no job, no anything lined up at the other side… we don’t even know anyone. With two young children. This is LUNACY. Probably best not to think about it. How can I not think about it? God I want to speak to my Mum… That’s probably not a great idea now either, best wait until I’m in a better frame of mind…
I left the shower hut and as I walked in the evening light, caught sight of our little camp. Just as suddenly, my fear and feelings of absurdity started to dissolve. This is everything we have, right here, right now. This is everything we need right now. We have sold our house, and we’re using everything we had stored up in it to live, right now.
As we settled together into our cosy tent for our first night under the stars, our two boys all jarmied up, I knew again exactly why we are doing what we are doing.
For the crickets.
For the spaciousness.
For the uncertainty.
To anyone uninitiated into the workings of the Canadian Permanent Residency process, this term won’t mean a great deal.But to anyone familiar with it, you will know this is the moment we have been waiting for!
The process so far…
After finding a buyer for our house only a week after putting it on the market and the sale going through in the time that we had hoped for to the day – we didn’t feel that we could complain too much about any other delays.As you might imagine, there are a lot of hoops that need to be jumped through.Alongside completing a fairly hefty application form, Mike and I both undertook English language tests (IELTS) at the University of Bath (which, I am at pains to say I will never hear the last of, as Mike got the higher score), obtained police certificates and had our qualifications verified for Canadian equivalency by World Education Services (WES).
Unfortunately an unexpected request for more paperwork from WES, turned into a 7 week delay and despite all efforts on our part to be patient, the pressure did feel like it was beginning to build. Whilst we were feeling confident that once we had the right documentation we would make one of the upcoming rounds of invitations, the longer we waited, the more chance there was that the points threshold could change… in short, it was a bit frustrating!
Nonetheless, on the 21st June we received the document we needed from WES, and on the Monday 25th June 2018, we received our Invitation To Apply for Permanent Residency.Hurray!
The next stage…
We now have 90 days to submit all the evidence we need to support our application.Having previously collated the documents we were aware of, a new list has now emerged.It turns out that in the chaos of the move, things like our wedding certificate were put somewhere in a storage facility near Birmingham.So, weighing up the swiftest course of action, we are very grateful to our kind friend in Italy who is doing his best to cut through all the red tape to obtain us another copy- which is unfortunately more complicated than we could have imagined!Failing that we will be travelling to London via Birmingham next week…
We also need medicals, which are half price across the pond, so we have decided to get them done when we arrive in Canada.Once submitted, our application should be processed within 6 months, however the average time on the Government of Canada website is currently 58 days, so we are hoping for something closer to that!*
*Update: As of September 2018, we now know that this 58 day time frame actually refers to the Permanent Residency card itself, which is received seperately after the initial paperwork. This means that the average processing time is usually, but not always, within 6 months.
In the mean time, we are enjoying our last week in Ireland.It feels (to me) like our time here has flown by.Playing, swimming, meditating, growing, learning, exploring together.Monty has both learned how to walk and run!It has been such a privilege and I am full of gratitude for a moment in time I am sure we will look back on with great fondness.
Next weekend we travel to London to spend some time with close family and friends. Play time with cousins, evenings out for mummy and daddy and an important trip to the Natural History Museum is all on the cards before we say our fondest farewells. We then catch our early morning flight to Toronto, travelling on holiday visas with the intention that we will receive our residency cards on the road.And so, the big itinerary planning has commenced!
We are planning our trip from Ontario, on through to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and then on to British Columbia.The route after this will depend on if we have our residency cards and any job offers.So far, after four job interviews we have discovered that whilst there is an encouraging amount of interest, until we have the visas (and permission to work in Canada), it is difficult to get any further forward.In order to bridge the gap as economically as possible, we have decided to take to the road in a trailer tent, which we are hoping will take us through to somewhere around the end of September, depending where we are.
Google maps won’t plot any more stops, so we’ve had to stop at Nelson for the purposes of the above map, but after that we plan to spend a few weeks travelling in British Columbia- further itinerary pending. Depending on job offers this might include a trip up to Whitehorse in the Yukon, but if not, we are looking to pause and take stock on Vancouver Island… although part of the fun will be to see where the wind takes us!
Thankfully we are pretty much where we hoped we would be back in January, even with the unforeseen delay. So the next time I write, we will (hopefully!) be on the other side, post flight with a couple of jet lagged toddlers, and the proud new owners of a second hand trailer tent – all advice for surviving the flight very welcome! There is still a small part of me that can’t quite believe that we will be flying off and following our hearts into the big unknown, but there is a larger part of me that really can! It has taken the best part of a year to plan and process between us, the vow being that whatever happened next, it would all be part of the adventure… We’re stuck right in now, the sun is shining, our spirits are high and the dinosaurs are ready and waiting!
So here we are!We have sold our house in Shaftesbury, waving goodbye with a car loaded to capacity with all the worldly goods we could carry, and so far with a couple of stops along the way, we have made it as far as the west coast of Ireland, County Cork.
On the day we departed, we hadn’t left Gillingham before I had lost and found the first twenty pounds of our travel budget.Stopping to say goodbye to one of our much loved friends, I had swiped my phone out of my pocket to take a goodbye pic, and dropped a twenty pound note into a gust of wind outside Waitrose.Within 10 minutes my friend had cafe staff and her family entourage searching the banks and the bushes. Just as we were about to give up, a passer by asked what we were doing.I explained and she told us that we couldn’t give up now – she had lost twenty pounds only the week before and she simply couldn’t see it happen again.Within another 10 minutes she had found it clinging to the side of a hedge and returned it.Lunch was saved and I had avoided the sheepish conversation I was dreading with Mike (he was wondering where on earth we had got to and why our son was wandering around in his pants – although we’d made the toilet trip before the lost cash debacle, we still hadn’t quite made it in time!)
As we drove away, I felt that the last twenty odd minutes had summed our experience of living in Dorset perfectly.The consistent loving kindness, from friends and strangers alike, the ease of finding friends and the willingness from neighbours and passers by to lend a friendly ear or a helping hand.We left feeling full of gratitude for the years that we have had there and for all the people that we would be taking with us in our hearts.
Our first stop was at The Woodland Retreat in Devon.I had booked this little break to celebrate Monty’s first birthday last year, little did I know that it would also be marking a variety of other beginnings for our little tribe!Our cabin was set in an absolutely idiliic spot.We were amazed that the surroundingspace was also ours for our stay, which included a huge bell tent where the children could play – which was great insurance for any rainy days!We were in fact blessed with the weather and we were able to thoroughly enjoy the camp fire and surrounding woodland, complete with hammocks in the trees and beautiful enclosed spots making the most of the gorgeous surroundings.
We didn’t venture too far afield during our stay, just a little trip into Greater Torrington to get essential supplies like marshmallows for the campfire.We spent our days between the rustic outdoor kitchen and living areas of the cabin and exploring the camp and the woodland areas around.The log burners kept us toasty warm in the evenings and at night.We slept in the cosiest room in the centre of the cabin, with a double bed and bunk beds surrounding a log burner.As our stay was in early May, it was necessary to top it up with logs throughout the night, but once it was burning, it was deliciously warm and cosy.The beautiful patchwork quilts we all had to snuggle up in were the perfect finishing touch.Connected to the cabin was a little path leading to a converted bus ‘The Dodge’ which also had additional beds and a log burner had our party been larger.A firm favourite for our new-to-toilets pre schooler were the composting toilets – his toy animals still frequently queue up across the coffee table to ‘sprinkle their sawdust’ at each trip!
We all had such a lovely time, and it felt like a real privilege to be able to ‘land’ in such a beautiful place after the craziness of our initial move.A big thank you to Alex and Lydia who made us feel very welcome during our stay, and had organised a cream tea for the boys and some vegan treats for Mike and I on our arrival, just the perfect welcome!
We were sad to leave after our long weekend, we could have very easily stayed for a few weeks, or even for the summer!Part of me was still very happy landing in that little woodland.
Our next stop was over the border in Pembrokeshire, Wales, staying just a short drive from beautiful Freshwater West Beach.We spent the morning jumping waves and exploring rock pools– and eating a delicious breakfast and lunch from Cafe Mor, a boat shaped beach cafe, serving fresh seafood and seaweed delights – with a delicious black bean burger for the vegans among us.
After lunch it was onward to the afternoon ferry from Pembroke Dock to Rosslare, Ireland.We were very fortunate with a smooth crossing, especially as the gentle rock we experienced crossing into open sea was enough to leave me rooted to my seat, gazing at the horizon trying to combat much less gentle waves of seasickness.Our two young sons thoroughly enjoyed themselves, intrepidly exploring one end of the ship to the other.I can’t help hoping that in the short time we plan to stay in Ireland before our departure to Canada that aeroplanes could start to offer the same amount of space and entertainment, especially as I eye our particularly rambunctious one year old!
It’saround a four and a half hour drive from Rosslare to Castletownbere, so we bundled our suitably sleepy babies into the car and chased the sunset ever further west.
Grandad and Grandma’s warm welcome has made the transition into sharing their home a very enjoyable one – at least for us!Despite an anticipated outbreak of chicken pox in our youngest soon after our arrival, the boys have both settled well into their new surroundings.Three weeks of sunshine (which I am assured is fairly rare without a break!) has done wonders in healing the spots and allowing us to be outside in all the green and rugged coastal beauty that the west of Ireland has to offer.
Potato and bean planting with Grandad has commenced and Ottis has taken great pride in showing us around his new garden and beaches.He arrived a few weeks ago, and has shown us that sharing his retirement with Grandad and Grandma has been a great asset to his favourite hobbies, playing continuous fetch all day in the garden, followed by an early evening swim in the sea – it’s spaniel heaven.
During one of many dreamy evenings looking out into the twilight over the bay, we were admiring the work that Mike and his dad had been doing together in the garden.Mike’s dad explained that with each plant and tree he wanted to sustain and grow memories that were significant for each, not just for himself but for generations to come.There are trees for both myself, and Mike and each of the boys, planted on or around the time of each of our sons births.There are other trees and plants, some from previous lives, previous gardens, some from our garden in Shaftesbury that now grow in amongst all the lush vegetation and rocks, so fitting with the rugged landscape.There are layers of plants and trees, some that have taken years to flourish, some that were not intended for the spot they were in, but now look as if they could never be anywhere else.
All the planning in the world could not have predicted exactly how this garden would look at this moment.How the relationships between each piece would grow and compliment each other.How every fragment influences and changes the other and makes something new, whether it was intended or not.Being a part of it, for however long we are here now, and looking forward to whatever blooms in the future seems like a fitting way to spend our time while we wait for the next pieces of our adventure to come together.Things may go close to the way we have planned them, and they may not, but I’m looking forward to seeing all the moss and the wild flowers that grow in between.
We can hear our three year old singing himself to sleep on the baby monitor and I’m watching our littlest, crawling around squealing with delight as he pulls himself up on the sofa. We’re immersed in the everyday and also, we’re not.
Nothing has changed, and yet everything is about to change. It’s a change that we want and an adventure we’ve been talking about for so long. We could have planned it different ways… but after years of waiting and wondering about the right time or the right destination, we’ve decided. We’re selling the house and moving out to Canada.
I’m hoping we can live somewhere close to the wilderness. I’m excited to experience what it is like living close to the spectacular wildlife and to show our children the wonderful and diverse natural world that we live in. I am so looking forward to experiencing the seasons. And there will be snow, more or less of it depending on where we go. I’m looking forward to embracing it, learning to ice skate and learning to ski. Taking whole seasons to learn. I’m looking forward to summers spent by lakes, spent staying in cabins and exploring with the boys. I want my boys and I to grow and develop experiencing it. All of it.
It feels like we are on the edge of something big. I have moments where I think what we’re doing is absolutely crazy. Other times I wonder how I’m going to do the simplest things in order for it to happen. Like pack up all our belongings and take the pictures off the walls. The photographs I gazed at whilst giving birth, the walls that have protected me and my family whilst we have made our way into the weird and wonderful world of parenthood. We’ll be taking the pictures and the memories with us, but there is a sense of loss at saying goodbye to family, our home and to the wonderful friends we have made during our time here.
At the moment we are sitting with many unknowns. There are a couple of job opportunities in the pipeline, the visa is underway and we’ve accepted an offer on our house. Exactly when and where we are going is unknown. Thankfully any gaps between selling our house and getting out to Canada will be covered by a stay with Grandma and Grandad Vicars in Ireland, which will be a wonderful start to our adventures, and one we are full of gratitude for. We are also truly thankful that our beautiful Ottis will also be spending his retirement out in Ireland with them. We decided it would be the perfect place for Ottis before we made our travel plans, so my hope is we will go with his blessing.
Mike and I first visited Canada nearly 10 years ago. That trip was intended as a recce to see if it was somewhere we would like to live. We travelled from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Newfoundland and absolutely loved it. To my surprise at the time, my favourite places were in remote Newfoundland. Which really did come a surprise, as I had vowed I couldn’t live anywhere that didn’t come furnished with a Costa coffee shop.
After years of Mike and I growing together, I feel like our ideas have evolved and changed with us. The thread all the way through has been that we want an adventure, somewhere far away with mountains and forests, but how and when that was going to happen has taken on different forms. Everything we have done so far has been an adventure of its own, developing careers, exploring different places, becoming parents, building a home in a warm and loving community, making new friends and staying in touch with old ones.
It was during some development training that Mike undertook that we both threw ourselves into one of the exercises. When I was doing my therapeutic training, these kinds of exchanges happened on a regular bases. Mike described it as like having his coat trapped in the car door as it pulled away… but nonetheless, these were journey’s we still made together. Except this time it was me doing a bit of the running! The idea was to sit and imagine our 80th birthdays, making a note of all the things we wanted to have achieved by then. It was a powerful process for us both. What I came to realise was that I had always believed that we would travel and live somewhere else, at least for a bit. I found that at each point in our lives that we had previously considered it, it hadn’t felt like the right time for us to go.
Reflecting on this and where we all are right now, I realised that now was the perfect time. Having read Braving The Wilderness and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown just a short time before, and having post it notes with her quotes all around the house, I was feeling inspired to “choose courage over comfort” and move forward with our life plans We both came to the same conclusion, which is largely exhilarating and a little bit scary – between us we are going to make this happen! Shift out of comfort and right into the unknown.
We’ve decided we are up for it, in all that it brings.
It will be the first time I’ve travelled anywhere without a return ticket. It will be the first time we’ve stepped out as a family of four to go and explore…
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.
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’.
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.
Tuesday was, without a doubt, a difficult day for my son. He is recovering from a virus which has obviously been causing him a great deal of discomfort, alongside growing a full set of teeth at the same time. Not easy. Especially not easy for a toddler who is busy grappling with the power of his body and emotions on a good day – let alone on a more difficult one.
Tuesday was also a difficult day for me. Finding myself unable to shake the disapproving look of the woman in the book shop that morning as my son threw himself on the floor and proceeded to bump his head, that look stayed with me all day. It gently corroded my confidence in parenting my boy, who was finding the day equally as bewildering and exhausting as I was. Except we both had the expectation that I should have been able to do something to change it. Instead the day ended with him in my arms, sat at the dinner table, dinner half cooked, both of us crying, when my husband walked through the door.
As my husband graciously took over and I was able to find some space to reflect, it became apparent that I had become subject to an incredible amount of guilt around not knowing how to fix the situation. I realised that the perceived criticism from another had not only set the tone of our day, but that it had left less space for me to tune into what my boy might have needed, giving us even less of a chance of getting there. Instead, it had opened up a space where my own pre-occupations and insecurities could thrive. In my mind the difficulties had built up like a huge tower of Jenga which was going to come crashing down on our heads at any moment.
This didn’t leave me any space to remember the moments of joy. The trundle down to the park at the bottom of the hill, my son taking great pride in every step. Watching his smiling giggling face come rushing towards mine as I pushed him on the swing. Walking with him hand in hand up the high street whilst he marvelled at everything we passed. His little smiling face peering over my shoulder and saying ‘boo’ as I cleaned the floor after lunch. Picking him up for another tearful cuddle and discovering that blowing raspberries all over his face immediately rights all wrongs in the world in that one sparkling moment.
Revisiting my role in all of this, I came back to what he needed me to do. He needed me to be with him. Regardless of what that involved being with, he needed me to show up. To be alongside him in all his pain, anger and frustration. To hold him through his fear as he momentarily realises that I actually cant read his mind and frighteningly he cant clearly communicate what it is he desperately needs to tell me. To gently hold the boundaries, whilst listening and meeting him wherever I could.
Which also happens to be the bread and butter of my life as a therapist. As is acknowledging the need and significance of rupture and repair. As described by Dr Allan Schore, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbfuBex-3jE&sns=em) it is in the interplay of rupture and repair that resilience is allowed to develop.
“The ability to repair ruptures is what allows for the tolerance of negative affect”
So it is in all those magical moments of connection, however momentary, that the real work of relationship and resilience is being woven. My initial guilt, shame and slight terror that this is what toddlerhood has in store for us, eclipsed the real beauty and intricacy of our relationship. I can have a tendency towards perfectionism, which at its best drives me to work hard, but at its worst does not allow for nuance, the bitter sweet, the light and the dark. It is my hope for my son that he can embrace all of these things, both in himself and in others. As we go on in our journey together I realise that not only am I helping to show him the world in all its colours, he is also reminding me of the colours I might choose not to see and showing me how truly beautiful they are.