Every now and then I have one of those I-hope-I’m-getting-it-right moments. I had one of them last night in the kitchen, chatting with Laurence about awkward conversations I’ve had about home education recently. Home ed is an easy concern trigger for me because it’s so blatantly alternative. Yet I wander down this hole when thinking about a lot of my day-to-day decisions when it comes to my children, knowing there’s no sign from the sky with a clear answer.
“I’m not worried about their education,” he answered. I waited for some form of “I believe in you, babe” call to positive thinking but instead he gave me this reminder that we pass to each other every now and then: “As long as they know they’re loved, as long as they love others, as long as they do good in the world – that’s what it’s about.”
The work of parenting involves a whole lot of confidence building so they have the tools to realise all those things. Where do we get started with that mammoth task? I was asked to share how we nurture our children’s self esteem as part of Families’ #LoveYourselfProject and it’s struck me that no simple to do list works here. It’s the sum of so many of our own little attitude shifts, so many little actions along the way.
It’s less about about telling them they’re beautiful and more about refusing to complain about our own perceived physical flaws. It’s less about praising their intelligence and more about listening to their stories, showing them that you value what they say.
I don’t go in for much praise. Personally, a lot of praise made me worry about my performance growing up, accomplishing the opposite of what it was intended to do. I was told I was so bright. In response, I felt I must not fail.
Confidence building answers deep questions that live inside all of us: “Am I safe? Am I loved? Do I matter?” Our role is to answer our children’s questions with actions that say: “You are safe – you can trust me. You are loved – there are no conditions on my love. You matter – I respect you.”
The questions are asked over and over again from birth onwards, and they will be answered, one way or another. If our own store of positive thinking is running low, it will be difficult to find the resources to adequately answer them the many times a day they’re asked.
Certainly I’m in a place right now where I realise that I must address my own hurts, my own past and grab hold of the answers to my own questions (“I am safe. I am loved. I do matter.”) so that I have energy for even basic parenting, let alone to model the confidence and freedom I want my children to grow up knowing.
2016 was a year I didn’t blog so much. I was tired from growing another baby. I was daunted by the task of raising my older two. I was (am?) dealing with personal grief that can’t be discussed here. I watched too many of the people I love struggle. I felt too many things. I couldn’t organise my thoughts. I didn’t know what I believed about a lot of things. Coming here often seemed inauthentic. Saying something real was exhausting and terrifying.
Yet I’m still here, writing, and I can see the good things the last year gave us. 2016 will always be the year Delilah was born and filled our minds with that arresting light unique to new babies. By dredging up a lot of uncomfortable things about myself, the year has given me the opportunity to begin to face what really lies behind conflicts with my family, particularly with my children.
We’ve just come back from a three-week trip to Thailand as you might have seen if you follow me on Instagram. It was a real privilege to make a holiday of my brother-in-law’s wedding, and an opportunity to spend much needed time together and to reflect.
More than ever, I am convinced that God is in it with us. Not that there are answers to a lot of our questions. Or that I can expect circumstances to radically change. If anything, this year taught me that a lot of life’s hurts don’t go away. They simply dull over time. But I believe that He is walking with us, even as we learn to live with pain.
This year brings huge change for us. This month, in fact. We’re finally moving to Cornwall, where Laurence is already working. That too brings a mess of different feelings. I’m excited about being near the sea again and about the lifestyle it offers. I’m looking forward to getting rooted in new communities in ways we possibly didn’t pursue enough here in Bristol. I hope it means we’ll get more time together as a family now that Laurence won’t have to go away for work.
Still, it’s hard to leave the friends and family we have in Bristol. I think of those outside of Bristol and know that we are moving a lot further away from them too. We signed contracts on our house some time ago and I got emotional about selling the house two of our children were literally born in; a house that only one of the three is likely to clearly remember. I can’t think about any of that too much, to be honest.
So much would be easier about staying yet we’ve felt strongly that we needed to go. Right now we float in liminal space. We are packing up the house, decluttering, booking things in, ticking points off a checklist. Then we will be staying in a friend’s holiday let, waiting to move into a new home. We must embrace uncertainty for now. There can be no “once we’ve done this, we will feel settled”. More patience is needed than that. More patience and, for me, more writing too.
I almost called this list “eight baby essentials” but changed it because I don’t believe there are any essentials. Other than a sling. I don’t know how I’d do the baby thing without a sling. But then not everyone gets on with them. At any rate, many (all?) of the things on this list are definitely not essentials but they’ve all made this third time round that little bit sweeter.
1. Babywearing weather cover
A babywearing accessory I could have done with the last couple of times us a babywearing weather cover. With Talitha, I wore Laurence’s oversized snowboarding jacket and felt anything but glamorous. This time I decided to just get it over with and buy a Mam Babywearing weather cover (pictured above) so I’d not have to worry about the cold and rain but could still wear my own coat.
2. Moveable baby station
How did I only just get a handle on this with baby number three? With Talitha, I had a baby station upstairs in the nursery she never slept in. With Ophelia, I changed her everywhere and never knew where anything was.
This time, I have a Sunjellies basket that I put all the changing bits in (I have a few changing mats), plus my water bottle, phone and a pen and notebook for jotting stuff down because, let’s face it, my memory is totally shot by now. The basket was especially useful in the newborn period when I needed to limit how often I went up and down the stairs for the sake of recovery.
I also have everything I need for changing set up in the drawer of my bedside table so I don’t need to get out of bed should a change be needed in the middle of the night, which it constantly did in the newborn days with babies two and three. Oh, and I have two nappy buckets, one upstairs and one downstairs so I can quickly chuck dirty nappies in to await laundry day.
3. Pabobo night light
Speaking of not getting out of bed, I like having a night light when I’m bedsharing with a baby. It’s reassuring to be able to effortlessly check on them periodically. It also means I don’t have to turn on a harsh bedside lamp and fully wake us both up. Pabobo sent me their automatic night light to try out and it’s proved just the thing this time. It’s gentle, pink light doesn’t keep any of us up and it turns itself off when the sun rises. Its sleek design means it doesn’t feel too “kiddy” in our bedroom either.
4. Water bottle
Thirst during breastfeeding caught me completely off guard with Talitha. Who knew it could be so sudden and intense? This time, I bought a pretty blue stainless steel water bottle from Klean Kanteen so I’d always have some within easy reach and ready for one-handed drinking.
5. Cuddledry baby towel
The concept behind this towel is so simple yet something of a stroke of genius. I’d heard of them before but Cuddledry recently sent me one to try. Basically, it’s a super soft towel that buttons around your neck so it hangs like an apron. Then it has a baby hood in one of the hanging corners. As someone who needs to really concentrate not to get sopping wet extracting a baby from a bath, this is a fantastic innovation. This is their unisex grey stars design featuring a subtle star trim. It’s stylish and practical.
I longed for a pair of padraig slippers since Talitha was a baby but I just could not justify the price. This time we’re in a better financial position so I decided to just go for it. They keep Delilah’s feet toasty, especially when we’re out with the sling and I smile whenever I see them. Now, if only I could have bought them for baby number one and got three babies to wear it for my money’s worth?!
7. Washable wipes
On a pretty different note, I’ve discovered washable wipes this time and I’m never going back. I used cut up bits of terry toweling last time but they got pretty ragged after a while. This time I invested in Cheeky Wipes and they are such a pleasure to use. They’re so much more effective than cotton wool and masses better for the environment too. You do need a lot of them for the newborn phase but we use them for hands and faces too so it’s been worth our having a lot.
A photo posted by Adele Jarrett-Kerr (@beautiful.tribe) on
8. Sophie la giraffe cosmetics
And as we’re talking about baby care, I’ve enjoyed trying out Sophie la giraffe’s organic cosmetic range. The hair and body wash even has a natural detangler. The body lotion doesn’t set Delilah’s eczema off but I haven’t dared try the wash on her, and just water does the trick anyway. The older girls and I have used both though and we love them. They smell light and fresh and really do the job. We’re Sophie fans in this house and have had a giraffe for each baby (had to keep replacing and we kept losing it!) so it’s been fun trying out these products they’ve sent us.
Delilah hit thirteen weeks today. My baby isn’t a new baby anymore. Not technically. I can’t keep calling her newborn. The 0-3 month clothes are bagged up, ready to be given away. Many of the 3-6 months are going that way too. I didn’t keep the clothes last time because I wasn’t planning to have any more babies. This time I have no plans. It just doesn’t make sense to move house with lots of bags of someday maybe’s.
Though I do think she’s likely our last. The thought of another pregnancy fills me with dread when I consider being that tired for that long ever again. I’ve been left this time with a stomach divarication for a souvenir. Hopefully with exercise my muscles will meet again but in the meantime, I have the strange sensation of not feeling like my insides are completely secure. I’m reaching for pelvic floor exercise videos recommended by a friend to ward off any long term effects of having carried and birthed my three beautiful babies.
On the other hand, this has been the easiest newborn period we’ve been through. We know how we do the baby thing, we’re settled enough not to worry about much and we’re extremely grateful that nothing major has come up. She’s now awake more, laughing, chatting, starting to reach for things, an active presence in our lives. Memory of life before her now has to be conjured up – it doesn’t come easily.
There is a part of me that sniffs her hair, gazes at her perfect sleeping face and thinks there’s something wildly addictive about babies.
It’s easy to swing back and forth. I did have a moment when Delilah was crowning where I very distinctly thought, “Why am I doing this again? I am never doing this again!” But a few days passed and Laurence, utterly loved up with this new baby, hinted that it wouldn’t totally be out of the question to have another. To which I instantly said it would be out of the question only to seconds later think, “but maybe?”
He’s back to saying three is fine but I don’t feel the need to be definitive either way. To say she is definitely the last and to paint every baby memory in “the last time” would unnecessarily depress me. Leaving the possibility hanging in the air actually gives me peace that I don’t mind if she is our last.
I seriously wouldn’t mind if this were the last time my hair falls out postpartum, though. It’s taking grit not to chop it all off this time.
It’s been a bit quieter here in the last couple of weeks. Those who follow me on Instagram may have seen that we were in Cornwall, in and round Falmouth, to be specific. We actually weren’t on holiday, though staying in a caravan and hanging out on the coast did make it feel that way. Laurence was working the whole time we were there. When I’ve mentioned in recent updates that he’s been working away, that’s where he’s been. We’re moving to Cornwall.
We made the decision when I was 38 weeks pregnant with Delilah (who’s now ten weeks old, can you believe it?!). We agonised over it, prayed about it. It’s such a good opportunity for Laurence, doing work he enjoys in a part of the country he’s longed to move back to. It’s a chance for our kids to grow up immersed in the outdoors. And I get to live near the sea again, something I’ve been aching for.
Still, we’re moving hours away from family and friends we will miss. Stepping out into the slightly unknown. Even after a week down there, imagining what our life there could be like, I felt my stomach knotting itself on the motorway back to Bristol. Saying goodbye is hard. Change is scary.
In a sense, I’m already a long way from home. In another, I don’t know where home is anymore. It’s not as drastic a move as going back to Trinidad and Tobago would be. My family is my home. My home is a moveable thing.
The children and I spent the week looking around Falmouth, meeting up with home educating families I’d make contact with online and chilling in the caravan. We spent an entire day in Maritime Museum (as in almost opening to closing!) and they still asked to go back the last morning we were there. Another day we visited Trellisick Park, a stunning National Trust property near Truro. We also made it to a home ed group in a community garden.
I’ve been so touched by the welcome we’ve received from people we met up with. Strangers have made us feel like friends. That’s made me feel a lot less anxious about the move.
We’ve only recently made the news public, partly because we wanted to tell people as we saw them but also because I needed to spend some time down there to wrap my head around what we were doing. I’d previously only been to that bit of Cornwall for maybe half an hour at most. Now that we’ve accepted an offer on our house here and had our offer accepted on a house down there, the wheels are fully in motion. We’ll be visiting a couple more times before the big move but it’s on. It’s happening. Hopefully in January.
The children are excited about the move but it’s hard to tell how much they really understand, that being there means not being here. We’re not making a big thing of it, though. They’re little enough that the adjustment may well be simple enough. There’s no point worrying them by harping on about something that’s overwhelming even to an adult.
We met Laurence for fish and chips on the beach after work and he took them swimming in the sea on the weekend. So far, that’s what the move means to them. They delight in meeting new friends and finding new places. It looks like the one with the most mixed feelings is me. But I am excited by the prospect of new places, new people, new plans. I really am.
I struggle with the idea of there being a prescriptive, singular plan God has for each of us. At the same time, I’m so aware that this is an opportunity to ask fresh questions about what it means to live intentionally, pursuing purpose. I wish I could say it was clear what this means in the context of this move. All I can see right now is an opportunity to make little decisions prayerfully, trusting that wherever we go and whatever happens, we are not alone.
So how’s life with our third baby so far? Ask me again tomorrow. It probably depends on the day.
Delilah turned eight weeks earlier this week and it never stops amazing me how much happens in such a short time with babies. I’m not even just talking about the stuff you expect with a new baby, like the high-speed growth or the suddenly meaningful smiles. Sure, she’s breaking out of her 0-3 month clothes and we’re enjoying more awake time. She’s moved well out of sleepy fetus mode and is now looking like her rather than every other newborn (actually, she looks a lot like Talitha except much chubbier). I look back on this past month and it’s impossible to reflect on time with her in isolation. Every week her presence changes life for our whole family.
The month started off with me being pretty stressed over her eczema. On reflection, she started developing the tell tale rash from week two but I thought it was just baby acne. Then suddenly, it was seriously intense, angry spots and red, rough patches everywhere. I took her to the doctor who gave me a cream. That didn’t help. It seems to be trial and error with eczema. Meanwhile, her poo was coming out in full cappuccino foam and it was hard to imagine that the two might not be linked.
This bothered me more than I’d expect. It seems a bit silly – it was a relatively small thing – but my newborn just didn’t look right. Her skin should be soft to the touch and it wasn’t. I was paranoid that everyone was looking at her wondering what was up. I worried that it would start making her uncomfortable as she got older, if it wasn’t already, since she was starting to pass her hands by her face a lot.
A visit to a kinesiologist threw up the suggestion that it was cow’s milk protein bothering her. In retrospect, she’d become completely covered the day after I’d binged on fancy cheeses. I’d already cut it out and it seemed to be getting better. I’d also started using colloidal oatmeal which was like a miracle cream.
After a few weeks of no cow’s dairy, her poo settled down and her skin was clear. A couple of times, I forgot and ate something with cheese or sour cream in it and later that day, the rough red patches returned, along with an uncomfortable baby. Then, earlier this week, I finished off the girls’ ice creams. Within hours the rash appeared and I spent the evening with a fussy baby whose poos were once again foamy and, for the next 24 hours, green. So, it’s safe to say I’m pretty convinced the cow’s milk is a no-no for the time being. Hopefully she outgrows it.
Meanwhile, life has taken an interesting turn lately with Laurence working in Cornwall for half the working week. We’re both finding this something of an endurance test. For him, it means a lot of driving and staying in different places. For me, the days are long with a newborn, never mind with a two-and-a-half-year old and a five-year-old from wake up to bedtime. This might make some chuckle but I genuinely underestimated how stressful I’d find this. I think I actually forgot when making this arrangement while pregnant what newborns are like and what a juggling act it was making the adjustment from one child to two.
In truth, so far I’m not finding the jump from two to three much more difficult than that last leap. If I had to compare them all, I’d say that zero to one was the hardest in terms of being totally transformative, both because it’s an identity shift becoming a mother and because of Talitha’s specific breastfeeding problems. The jump from one to two meant accepting that not everyone’s needs could be met and that we just had to muddle through as best we could. Two to three really has been just a case of adding another.
That is immensely hard work but the necessary mental shifts have been made and the family framework is already there, if that makes sense. If anything, the difficult bit is psychologically adjusting to being back here again, holding and feeding a tiny baby and rousing at various points in the night.
From a practical point of view, Ophelia still needs lots of holding and cuddling. She’s a much more physical toddler than Talitha was and it’s proving challenging trying to find other ways to meet that need at times when I just can’t put Delilah down or am feeding her. Having said that Ophelia seemed to be weaning, she still asks for a bedtime feed maybe two or three times a week though it generally lasts moments, sometimes more. She’s re-learned how to latch which was a big surprise and has made the whole thing a happier experience for us both. I’ve started offering again and she doesn’t always say yes but she seems to get a lot of comfort from knowing that it’s still available to her. I don’t feel like we’re tandem breastfeeding but I suppose we are.
She’s hit that stage where anything can become a control issue and I’m having to either learn when to let things go or to slow right down and try to understand where she’s coming from. My mantra at the moment is “Respond, don’t react.” Realistically, I’m finding that a struggle to put into practice, especially if they’re both crying at the same time. When that happens, something in my brain goes into panic mode, telling me to run away or throw a tantrum myself. I’m just grateful we haven’t yet had an episode of all three crying at once. I’d probably just join them if that ever did happen.
Having been here before means I know that this won’t last forever. We will all adapt and I will learn how to relate to Ophelia. That doesn’t mean it will suddenly click and all run smoothly, and it won’t be about instant fixes and perfect formulas. It never is. It will be long, slow, gradual and messy. But it’s all about getting to know each other and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
As for Talitha, it’s been tricky finding the time and energy to do the things she wants and needs to do. It’s been a lot of trial and error. Maybe more error than I’m ready to admit to myself. She’s been surprisingly patient but I have needed a lot of the time to just get on with it and stick a crying baby in the car where I might have spent time at home calming her down first. Mostly, we’ve found ways to work around the situation by taking what we’re doing on to the floor, reading while Delilah breastfeeds or naps and making the most of a sling.
It’s not perfect. I do find the millions of questions difficult to deal with in the middle of nappy changes but then I’d struggle with them anyway. There have also been days when they’ve watched more TV than I’d like or I’ve been asked “What can I do?” more times than my sanity can take or when hardly anything gets ticked off our to-do list.
In the scheme of things, though, life is ebb and flow and this time is short. Meanwhile, they’re learning important lessons about waiting for one another, creatively entertaining themselves and spending valuable time together as siblings.
Four weeks before Delilah was born, we had a maternity shoot with Annie Crossman, a Bristol photographer and friend. It was a fantastic way to celebrate this third pregnancy and to focus as a family on the excitement of welcoming a new baby into our lives.
Actually, our first family shoot with Annie was last year, when we mistakenly thought our family was complete with two children. Now, it’s impossible to imagine our family without our third child, Delilah.
Annie came to our home to do a newborn photo shoot with us when Delilah was just one week old. What a week it was! The girls were besotted and we were all in that dreamy newborn honeymoon phase. At just over three weeks on, the new baby effect hasn’t worn off yet.
I admire the effort and artistry that Annie put into capturing these images of Delilah and of our family. She was so prepared with props and ideas, really open to our thoughts. She made it a completely relaxed experience, which is just what you need when you’re in the thick of the postnatal period. Also, Delilah kept waking up throughout and Annie patiently waited while I fed and comforted her back to sleep between shots.
Looking at these photos and looking down at the one-month-old baby asleep on my lap as I write this, I still can’t get over the fact that she’s here – she really is here. I’m so struck, thinking of all of my children, that I did nothing to deserve so much love and beauty in my life. I just hope I’m making the most of this fleeting time when they are so small.
PS: Talitha and Ophelia are wearing dresses from Piccalilly that I bought specially for this shoot. I think I’m going to keep offering them matching outfits as long as they’ll let me!