Reasons I’m struggling to blog right now

You may have noticed that things have slowed down around here. Or you may not, since – as is the way of social media – when one channel falls silent there are lots out there still switched on with lots to say.

It’s a little inane to blog about blogging, kind of like someone having a sulk about how social media is ruining our lives – in a Facebook status. Yet sometimes, the only way to get through the block is to talk about it. And even if you don’t blog, there may be something here you can identify with. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.

Here are ten reasons I’m struggling to blog right now.

1. I’m physically exhausted
That pregnancy with baby number three has really taken it out of me is no secret. Most days I have a small window of feeling human between 8am and 1pm. Some days I wake up tired and get to the evening near tears. Others I just go to sleep when the kids do. The sofa, the television and a bar of chocolate call me away from the computer not only because I’m unconvinced I’ll coherently string a sentence together but because I worry I’ll bring too much negativity to the screen.

That said, I’m writing this in the evening, hoping I’m not going to look at it in the morning and realise I need to delete it all. I also apologise for any grammatical or spelling errors gaping out at you. I blame interrupted sleep and possibly not enough omega-3.

2. I’m preoccupied
I’m actually spending a lot of time thinking! There’s the birth and the new baby and what’s going on with my kids day to day and some tricky private life stuff I can’t talk about and lots of ideas too – things I’m imagining, things I want to do, things I’m really grateful for. In a way, it’s a bit of an overload trying to organise my thoughts enough to write anything, especially since a lot of those things aren’t things I would write necessarily write about.

3. I feel vulnerable
Something that’s occurred to me a lot recently is that blogging lays my life and opinions open. Of course, I’ve always known it. I put something out there and I welcome conversation but I’m also making myself vulnerable to judgement, real or imagined. I’d love to say that it doesn’t bother me and, actually, it mostly hasn’t. But recently, I feel increasingly weary. I kind of want to get on with my life by just living it without having to deal head on with what others think about it. I’m aware that an honest post like this one flies in the face of that. I can live with that contradiction.

4. I’ve softened in my views
Earlier in motherhood, things seemed a lot more black and white and it was easier to blog about things I held to be true. I felt inspired. I wasn’t just sharing my experiences, I was advocating. I still stand by a lot of what I wrote back then and I know that some of my posts have helped others to make sense of their own experiences and to feel less alone. However, as time goes by, I feel less and less like I have the answers and more and more like no one else does either. When I write about my family, I really am just writing about my family. Not yours. I do think that’s still valuable to share but it doesn’t erase the fact that I’d find it easier to blog about “Ten things I know” than “Ten things I reckon could be true…for me anyway”.

5. I literally have less time
Not only do I have less time in the evenings because I’m either falling asleep early or might as well be but I literally have less time in the day as well. I’ve finally reached the point where I can’t function in chaos and have become a lot more routine about keeping on top of the house and life.

The kids are great playmates now which thankfully has given me a lot of space to get on with things I need to or to rest if it all gets too much. Still, Talitha has a lot of things she wants to do that require my active involvement and I generally need to have a few ideas up my sleeve to occupy Ophelia long enough to allow me to come alongside both of them. Yes, I know, I’m about to have even less time with the new baby. I read a funny post recently that said the only way to manage having three kids is to only have two in your care at any one time – not an option for home educating families!

6. I’m not sure who I’m writing for or what they want
This is a difficult one. I’m probably meant to be all gung-ho about blogging for self-fulfillment or whatevs but would I honestly bother to put my work in a public space if I weren’t writing for others? And if I am writing for others, what do they want? I’ve had a lot of real life people tell me recently that they love reading my home education posts but those aren’t the most successful in terms of social media response so it’s really hard to gauge. I feel it’s about finding that sweet spot between what I want to write about and what others want to read. I’m just not confidently hitting it yet.

7. There are so many options
Between Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram and everything else, there are so many things I could be doing around blogging that it’s actually a little overwhelming. Yet it’s hard to ignore. One of the benefits of blogging has been a first hand education in social media which has led to many work opportunities outside of this blog. Also, because the blog straddles the line between personal and commercial venture, I do feel the need to do more than write but to keep up to date with what’s out there, improve my photography and so on.

8. There’s some cool stuff happening out there
Speaking of which, there is so much online now that it can feel a bit wimpy to “just” spill my guts. Photography and video standards are high and increasing. The quality of the writing I stumble across sometimes is, frankly, daunting. Writing “a little thought I thinked today” without tons of research and links to books and sites to back up what I’m trying to say feels inadequate.

9. I struggle with perfectionism
Related to the last two points and possibly all of them, I find it difficult to step out into the unknown. I’ve always felt like I need to be sure I can succeed at something before taking it on. When parenting gets me down, it’s usually because it lacks clear measures of success or because there’s a lot that happens that I can’t know beforehand. Similarly with blogging, I feel like I need to be sure about what I’m doing before I attempt anything and that’s not always possible. Hopefully, publishing a post like this one will help me push beyond that.

10. Not blogging is a self-perpetuating cycle
Finally, the less I blog, the less I feel able to blog. The challenge grows insurmountable. I worry that I’ll return with a whimper rather than a bang (and see point 9!).

Here’s to breaking that cycle. This blog has survived six years and has taken me through a lot in that time. There may come a time to call it quits but it’s not today.

Changing my blog’s name from Circus Queen to Beautiful Tribe

Sorry if you’ve navigated to this blog over the past few days and wound up wondering: “Wait. What? I thought this was Circus Queen. What’s Beautiful Tribe?” I’ve wanted to change the name for a long time and I finally decided to go brave and take the leap this week.

A leap it’s been indeed. From the technical side, I really shouldn’t have picked a week I was going to come down with a particularly nasty virus that’s going around (hence the late explanation!). And this is only the start.

In many ways, changing a blog’s name and domain is like starting all over again. Of course, the content I’ve built up over the past five years is still active and the social connections haven’t gone anywhere but, in terms of search engines and other geekery, it’s going to take some rebuilding.

Still, I am so glad to have made the change. It feels right and that’s always going to be worth it.

Back when I started this blog a little over five years ago, I didn’t really know what it was going to be about. I just knew that work was winding down with me being pregnant and not able to get over to London as much, with being new to Bristol and not having much time to sink my teeth into networks here before going on maternity leave and with not even knowing if I was going to continuing working after maternity leave was up. I knew I wanted to keep writing no matter what and a blog seemed a good way to make that happen.

I chose the name Circus Queen because it was daring, like I wanted my writing to be, yet deliciously vague. That was a wonderful fit when life ahead was wide open with uncertainty. Eventually, that vagueness began to feel like bad branding rather than freedom. For years, the name hasn’t communicated anything about this blog and that’s really bothered me.

Yet, I stalled over actually changing it. I have tried and tried to make it work, having built up a following and established a strong domain around it but I couldn’t shake my unhappiness about the name. I finally had to concede that if I didn’t accept the risks and make the change I might as well ditch the blog because it was always going to bug me. If I couldn’t commit, I’d never realise its potential. Also, the longer I let it go on, the harder it would be to make the change.

After a lot of agonising, I came up with the name Beautiful Tribe. I played with it a while, hoping that its lure was that it was “right” and not just that it was new. I’ve thought about other names over the years, though, and none has felt like something I could put the full force of my time, money and effort into. Beautiful Tribe does.

As I’ve said in my “about” page: “I see this as a place where a “tribe” of likeminded people, especially parents, can support and encourage one another. I’m also always reflecting on what raising my own little “tribe” really means.”

I hope, along with the new name to breathe new life into what I write here, taking more risks and creating something that’s genuinely valuable to readers. Thanks for sticking with me this far. I hope to keep hearing from you too.

Image by Annie Crossman Photography

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Ten tips for taking a baby to a blog conference

This weekend I went to Mumsnet Blogfest 2014 at King’s Place in London, a blog conference. I’d bought a ticket way back when, earlier this year, and my thought process was: “Ophelia will be eight months. I could totally leave her with Laurence for the day.”

But when I went to a night photography workshop a couple of months ago, I realised two things: I would need to build pumping breaks into the day (totally doable but I prefer to just breastfeed her!) and she would just rather be with me. So, I decided to take her with me.

I wasn’t the only one who’d decided to take a baby along. It was lovely to see Me, the Man and the Baby, Mummy is a Gadget Geek, My Buggy Junction, and blogger-to-be It is Well in Jesus all with their babies. And it’s great that Blogfest was the kind of conference where we felt able to do that.

Having survived the day, I’ve a few tips I thought I’d share about taking a baby to a blog conference.

Ten tips for taking a baby to a blog conference-2

1. Go in with a plan
This is a sensible idea for a blog conference, whether or not you’re taking a baby with you. They can be massive, busy, somewhat overwhelming things. Think in advance about what you want to achieve. What sessions will you get the most out of? Who do you want to meet? Get in touch with people beforehand, if you can, to arrange how you’ll get in touch once there.

2. Set realistic expectations

Maybe you’re thinking you want to get the most out of your ticket price but go to every session and you may well risk burning out. The keynote sessions at the end looked amazing but I knew Ophelia and I would both be cream crackered by the end so we peeled off around 4.30. I’d made the decision beforehand so it wasn’t too heartbreaking when it came to it.

3. Know your baby

A lot of people said to me, “I couldn’t have brought my baby.” Actually, I doubt I could have brought Talitha when she was this age. She was just so active. She would have been on the floor crawling everywhere the whole time. Ophelia bumshuffles and explores when we’re out but, mostly, she still prefers to be held so I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about that. She’s also a relatively quiet baby. You’re the only one who can say whether your baby would be fine in a situation like this.

4. Think about where you sit

There were different thoughts on this. I sat at the back in all the sessions so I’d be able to make a quick escape or get up and jig if I needed to. Emma from Me, the Man and the Baby chose to sit at the front, at least in the morning keynote session, as she thought there’d be more there to grab her baby’s attention.

5. Know yourself

Think about your own energy and comfort levels. Go easy on yourself and be honest about what you’re going to be able handle. I chose not to mingle quite as much as I have done in past conferences because I knew that I’d soon lose the will otherwise.

6. Be respectful of others but don’t worry

I always think there’s a fine balance to be struck here. Provided your baby is not being too loud, most people are happy to overlook the odd babble. Crying is impossible to ignore. I left the beauty blogging session a little early because Ophelia’s happy noises were getting too loud. But then, I’d set my expectations around needing to dip and out of things so that was fine.

7. Wear your baby

I think every blogger I saw who’d brought their baby had a sling. It’s great for getting babies to sleep, navigating your way through a crowd and letting them be up by the action. Buggies were present too for holding all the stuff that comes with babies and for laying down a sleeping baby. I must admit that when I collected my goody bag, I could have done with a buggy or my granny trolley! But then, I would have hated taking it on the London underground, I suppose.

8. Accept help
Thank you to everyone who offered to hold Ophelia for a moment, helped entertain her and offered to get me things. You bloggers are a friendly bunch.

9. Dress comfortably

As it was going to be a long day, the last thing I wanted was to be overly conscious of what I was wearing. So I wore a breastfeeding dress which allowed me to feel reasonably stylish while giving me easy access. I wish I’d thought a bit more about my shoes, though, brogues don’t deal well with standing for long hours.

10. Be prepared
Will you need to take food? Bottles if you’re not breastfeeding? Nappies? Plan in advance so you can just forget about all that on the day and just focus on what you wanted to take away from the blog conference.

Blogging Through Two Pregnancies

Last week started on a high note with the news that I’m a finalist in the Mad Blog Awards. Thank you to all who nominated me. This little blog has come to mean a lot to me over the last three and a half years. To be up for “Best Pregnancy Blog” is the bling on an already treasured piece of the Internet.

I’m particularly excited to have made it in this category since I started blogging back when I was pregnant with Talitha. Back then we didn’t really know what bent our parenting would take.

We tended towards the alternative anyway (possibly me more than Laurence though now I’m not so sure) and were vaguely talking slings, cloth nappies and home educating. But we didn’t know much about attachment parenting (and were turned off by its media stereotype) and I wasn’t sure how bothered I was about breastfeeding, one way or another.

I approached the birth of our first child with a kind of wide-eyed enthusiasm and with possibly more naivety than was healthy. Always an avid researcher, I was probably clued up on a lot of things others wouldn’t give much thought to but I had so much growing to do.

I look back at some of those blog posts with so much advice I’d like to give the me of three and a half years ago. But she wouldn’t have listened or, if she did, it would have further disempowered her. She needed to live it. She needed to find her own maternal instinct and know that it belonged to her and only her.

In my first pregnancy, I was also a Pregnancy Blog finalist which was huge for me as my blog was still very new. I didn’t win and rightly so as I shared the category with others who had been in it much longer and had gathered a community around themselves. I was just pleased to be noticed.

In a way, I still feel a little like this, this time around. Certainly, at least a couple of the other finalists in my category have blogged for longer. Each blog, Edspire, It Started with a Squish, Me, the Man and the Baby and Mum’s the Word, has a character all its own and Jennie, Danielle, Emma and Jayne all do things with their blogs that I can’t, just as we all carry our babies and parent our children in ways only we can. Do go check them out.

Still, I’ll be honest, I would like to win this time, probably mainly for selfish reasons but also because this pregnancy has allowed me to give voice to a desire too many women dare not allow themselves to dwell on – a desire for a positive pregnancy and birth.

I started this pregnancy with so much excitement and worry. Then I started thinking it could be different this time. It became more real again when we found out we were having another girl.

The course of everything was massively impacted by attending a KG Hypnobirthing course. That is one of the best decisions we’ve made. We also opted to hire a doula – another great choice.

All in all, I learned a lot about positive pregnancy and was able to complete that chapter with Ophelia’s birth story with which I was entirely satisfied. I learned once again that things don’t have to be “perfect” to be “positive”. It even helped me to reflect on Talitha’s birth, which I’d found traumatic and see all the good in there too – there was so much of it.

I am profoundly grateful for my girls and no matter how they’d been carried, birthed or fed, I’d be grateful for them, just as I love them equally though the early journey with each has been very different so far.

I do get a bit sad (and a bit angry too), though, when I hear about women talking about things being done to them and being made to feel like they have no choice.

There are things out of our control when it comes to pregnancy, birth and infant health but mothers matter and, ultimately, mothers are the usually the ones best placed to make decisions about their bodies and their babies.

Anyway, if you want to see me win “Best Pregnancy Blog” in the MADs, you can vote for me here –

I am a Mummy Blogger and a Feminist

The tension in the room was palpable, with sharp intakes of breath and much reiteration of what-I-meant-despite-what-I-sounded-like. The Mumsnet Blogfest 2013 Keynote Panel topic “Can you be a mummy blogger and still be a feminist?” was selected in order to be controversial, though one must ask, “To what end?”

Starting with arguably petty questions such as “Is making jam feminist?”, “Is wearing high heels feminist?”, many valuable points to be made were lost from the start. All delegates were invited to attend this session and yet, many would not have self-identified as feminists. The term is still grossly misunderstood and from the tweets during and following the blogging conference, it seems that there are a lot of women who find it divisive and would rather do away with it altogether. I am not one of them. Feminism has accomplished too much and has too much work yet to do to be thrown out with the bathwater.

For me, that was the core problem in this debate, the feminism presented in that hall at King’s Place was too small. We’d just emerged from a week where female genital mutilation is back in the media eye because of the huge figures of girls at risk and women and girls living with its ugly after-effects, right here in the UK. And yet, here we were, a room full of grown women, getting our feelings hurt (on and off stage) because we’re still hung up on what other people think of our decision to go to work or stay at home with our children.

OK, I admit that’s a bit flippant. Our identity is important and it’s often shaped more by what we’re doing now in the day-to-day than it is by the bigger picture. Our children are the piece of the world that we get to influence and the decisions we make around them do matter. Of course they do. I just wish we’d do more getting on with it and less worrying about whether another mother thinks we lack ambition or don’t love our families enough. I’m not sure many sensible people would honestly think that of us anyway.

Most of us don’t blog about issues like FGM – at least not on a regular basis. So where does that leave us? Does sharing recipes, blogging about potty training and even reviewing holidays consign us to complicity with a patriarchal system and its inherent commercialism? Not necessarily, and the reason why was touched upon in the session. I only wish it had been explored further as it was the sole useful point raised.

For too long, domesticity has been sidelined as unimportant because it is primarily the work of women. Now, one of the speakers on the panel argued that true feminism would attempt to subvert an order in which domesticity is considered a female pursuit but I take issue with that. Children are tied to their mothers in a unique way, whether or not they are breastfed. It is a biological imperative we can’t escape – and usually don’t want to, whether we work or stay at home. It is entirely natural that we would blog about our family life. There is something curious in any attempt to attach shame to that.

Which is why I shirk off discomfort over the term “mummy blogger”. It was compared to the word “girly” in the session and the chair even wondered if it was being reclaimed like the “N-word”, a suggestion which, though it was met with nervous laughter, I personally found offensive. The word “mummy” though mildly irritating in certain contexts, does not evoke an even vaguely similar history of oppression.

However, I believe the reason why we’re so awkward about words like “mummy”, “mum” or even “mother” (many have argued that we should simply say “parent”) is that we’ve accepted a lie that mothering is trivial. By extension, we’ve been conditioned to agree that being a woman is somehow other and lesser because being a man is normal and idealised.

Knowing that, why would I tip-toe around either of these terms? I am a feminist because I believe in change and will use all my womanly arts to listen, speak and act to create a world in which my children can grow up safe, confident and strong – regardless of their gender or sexuality. I am a mummy blogger because I know that, as a mother, the creation of that world begins with the way I raise my own children.

Mumsnet Blogfest

I thoroughly enjoyed Mumsnet Blogfest 2013. It was a great time to meet up with friends I’ve met through the Internet as well as an opportunity to brush up on social media, writing and photography skills. What a pleasure to be in the presence of speakers like Jo Brand, Charlotte Raven, A. L. Kennedy and Lionel Shriver. Many, many thanks to ARDO Breastpumps for sending me. If you haven’t yet read it, please check out my Three Things Every Parent Should Think About When Choosing a Breastpump.

PS: For more parenting posts, follow me on Facebook or Bloglovin’.

The blog is changing!

I’ve not changed my blog’s look for about two years now. Eek! So much in our lives has changed since then and the time feels overripe to give Circus Queen an update. So, while we’re doing that, it’s going to look a bit weird around here. I promise it will all settle down soon.

In the meantime, tell me, what are your favourite posts around here? Is there anything you’d like to see more of?

Should a blog have a niche?

I’m breaking my own rules by blogging about blogging. It feels a little weird, like a writer writing a book about, well, a writer. It’s vaguely self-conscious. Well, hey, I figure you read this blog so whom better to discuss this question with?

Circus Queen has been a parenting blog from the start (in a way). I began it at a time when I was pregnant and my freelance work was slow. I wanted a space to explore this miraculous experience of growing another human being and to keep sharpening my writing.

Then, when Talitha was born and taught me to parent with instinct, attachment and gentleness (ie she never wanted me to put her down) it became a lot about chatting about this newfound passion for a conscious style of parenting.

My own breastfeeding difficulties made me want to help other women at this vulnerable stage in their lives and so, alongside volunteering as a breastfeeding peer supporter, I naturally have blogged a fair bit about breastfeeding – more than a fair bit, maybe!

And it’s not that anything’s wrong with any of that. I think it’s all important stuff to talk about and I really enjoy it. I love talking slings and things. It seems you do too because I always get higher traffic on days when I blog about something related to “natural parenting”.

Still, I’m starting to feel myself strain at the edges of these self-imposed confines. I’m discovering that I want to blog about interests that have little to do with parenting or even with the home. I’m held back by the thought that these things don’t fit…but then they do in my life so why not on this space?

What are your thoughts as blog readers or perhaps even as bloggers? Should a blog have a niche?