The birth of Juno Atawhai – Part Two

This is the second instalment in the story of Juno’s birth – read the first here!

It was 8am in the morning, I had been experiencing contractions for almost twelve hours. My wonderful friend and midwife, Nikki, had arrived and we were all excited about the journey towards meeting our new baby.

Shortly after Ramona and Mum left, in response to me feeling a bit “Eeep, I can’t do this!” (mostly due to back pain) Tim and I hunkered down in the front room. We put on some classical (I don’t usually listen to classical but in late pregnancy had really been getting down to some Mozart) and I kind of snoozed. I just blissed on out.

A second midwife appeared and after this nap on the sofa – which possibly lasted about an hour but time goes a bit quantum during labour, eh?- I went into the kitchen to say hi, to sip at a cuppa and bounce on the ball. As we chatted I had a few surprise big surges and things shifted into another gear.

The birth pool was full and I was ready to jump in. I hadn’t gone in earlier as I had wanted to sort of save it up for when I really needed relief. When I finally tumbled my behemothic body into the pool it was with the ecstasy of an Oompa Loompa diving into a chocolate lake.

I was so happy. The hot water and buoyancy eased my back pain. The contractions were really hitting me up with their bad selves and they were so welcome. The baby was coming. I reached up, I felt her head. I would meet her soon.

I had one or two big, beautiful squeezing surges and then WOAH she hit the ejection button! My whole body was pushing in the most magnificent way! The contractions were quite far apart but they were extremely purposeful!

Tim was leaning on the edge of the pool and I leant my head on his arms in one of those breaks between contractions – those breaks that are sheer NOTHINGNESS. Your body empties, your mind empties. I caught his eyes and smiled “This is EXACTLY what birth is meant to be like, Tim!”

The midwives had laid out the tools of their trade and had the mirror in position.

And then….

With the next push I got a cramp in my leg. It was the most excruciating pain! How bizarre that something as rubbish as a cramp could outdo the feeling of a contraction?! I think there was something about being mentally able to deal labour pains. I was fully prepared. My whole body and mind was involved in meeting each wave, in anticipating and greeting and getting through it. And then this sneaky cramp jumped in and threw everything out of kilter.

That cramp heralded another stage in labour, it changed the course of Juno’s birth and after much analyzing I still don’t know why.

Since getting the push reflex my midwife had been monitoring me, just the occasional blood pressure and baby’s heart rate. After the cramp, she upped her monitoring and got quite anxious.

My temperature was up, my blood pressure was up and the baby’s heart rate was up. It was decided it would be better for me to get out of the pool, to get my temperature down, have a drink and to see how things progress.

Within moments the pushing reflex faded and the contractions continued to be quite far apart.

My vitals were all screaming, just as they had with Ramona’s birth. The homebirth that ended up in hospital.

Unbeknown to me the midwives were a bit worried, they called their supervisor and consulted her. This was a dedicated home birth team, committed to supporting safe home births but even so it was decided that if my temperature, pressure and baby’s heart rate didn’t decrease within half an hour I should get transferred to hospital. They were worried about an infection and a posterior position amongst other things. A back to back labour can imitate some of the stages of real labour without other parts of the system being qute ready. A sort of “false” transition and ejection reflex can happen, without the the passage being open.

I allowed my midwife to do the first vaginal examination of the labour. I was only at 4cm. (Which, in a way suggests something… and in another way says nothing at all.)

Was my body acting like it was all systems go, when it actually wasn’t, because of a back to back position? Nikki could only feel the part of the baby’s head that would suggest a posterior position. It would explain the extreme back pain. But, maybe I was only at 4cm because I was being examined? Maybe I had been more ready but closed up? Legendary midwife Ina May Gaskin does recall births where mothers have closed back from 9cm dilated due to fear. She also recalls a mother opening from 5cm to fully dilated in the course of 3 surges. The question I still wonder about today, is whether if I had just stayed in the pool and left my body alone, would this have happened to me?

Tim and I went up to the bedroom to have some time alone, to try and get contractions firming up again and to try and lower my temperature etc.

Of course, I was really out of the zone now and fighting a fug of disappointment. I downed water and twiddled nipples and marched and spoke to my baby.

Come on out! It is safe here for you.

Half an hour later, at about 12pm my midwife came in for a check and things were still in warning mode.

They called an ambulance.

Within moments I was buckled into the back, siren blazing, heading for the hospital. The ambulance people were trying to be kind but I was pretty mad. Just absolutely gutted that things had changed so dramatically within half an hour.

During the hospital transfer with Ramona’s birth I was stoic and still in the zone. This time I was just deflated.

We arrived at the hospital and got into a quiet room. They put me on a IV to hydrate me and after some discussion I let them put in a drip of antibiotics to ward off any possible infection, as my signs were indicating this was the case.

My midwife sat down with me and gave me a pep talk.

I was so close! The baby could be out in just an hour or two! I perked up – really?! Shall I go for a walk to try and make that happen?! She bought me back down to earth by suggesting a tiny bit of Syntocin (fake oxytocin) would help. Oh man, really? Not that crap again? On one hand I was grateful for the Syntocin I had during Ramona’s birth as after three days I was completely wrecked and I fully believe that things might have ended up on a surgeons table without it. On the other hand I knew all about Michel Odent’s work on naturally produced oxytocin, on how vital it is for mother, baby and world peace!!!

In the end I considered my baby’s head… She had been tucked in quite a tight spot for many hours now, I knew she was ready to make an appearance. I also felt that I didn’t have the emotional resource left to get out of my fug and get in the zone by myself.

I asked for the smallest dose of oxytocin and the assurance that despite being hooked up I could still have an active birth.

My community midwife had to leave now so I was introduced to the hospital midwife. Julia was quiet and respectful and was everything a midwife should be. We barely knew she was there.

I knelt down, my head on Tim’s lap. My hips wide open. The syntocin was kicking in. The surges were back and I was able to greet them. My bad mood ebbed away as the surges took all my concentration. I breathed them towards me and breathed them away again.

The room was dark, the midwife was the ideal part of the furniture, there were no interruptions. I could squat, rock, spiral and kneel. Again I was cocooned in the task of giving birth to a new soul.

Surges built, turning from squeezes to downward flexes. I could feel myself opening, opening, opening.

7 hours after I originally thought we were going to meet our baby, we were going to meet her!

She arrived sooner than I thought she would, just a few big pushy surges and here was her head! Oh! Her head only managed to get half out!!!

A few minutes passed with my vagina grasping my baby’s massive skull, awaiting the final surge. I was aware of all the sensation that involved, but I was mostly just filled with the excitement and anticipation of meeting my baby!

And one final surge…. Here she is! She slithers out, I clutch at her through my legs, sit back on my heels and welcome our new baby.

She squawks and immediately begins nuzzling in, her mouth opening and head pushing to find a nipple. Within 30 seconds she has latched herself on and is guzzling colostrum. She is 9lb 3 but hungry after her travels… Birth Story - Juno

We leave the cord for a few minutes and then it is cut. I was considering a lotus birth but due to the syntocin the hospital is worried about haemorrhaging. I get an extra shot to get the placenta out quickly for the same reason.

I am gazing at my baby in too much awe to feel any disappointment about not having a lotus birth, or even eating the placenta as I had considered- slightly to my husband’s disgust!

It is 7:30 pm and we call my mum and 20 minutes later Ramona tiptoes into the room, climbs on my lap and meets her new sister, Juno Atawhai.

Hello Juno!birth story

There is just one more little instalment to come… Hospital: The Great Escape and also some of the feelings and left over emotions I have about this second birth.

Posted in Parenting | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Birth of Juno Atawhai

This time last year it was my blessingway. What a beautiful day it was. I was convinced, because I felt so ready, supported and loved up on the good vibes of friends, that the baby would arrive that night, blessed into arrival!

She didn’t, and didn’t, and didn’t, for nearly a whole two weeks!

With Ramona, my first daughter, I had anticipated she would be late so was nicely surprised when my waters broke on her due date. (Read her birth story here.) Home/ Hospital Birth Story

I imagined there would be a similar situation with Juno… so going “overdue” (I don’t really believe in that term, or a “due date” – the only reason I knew any date at all was because I had an early, early scan to see if I was one week or six months preggo- had no idea. I chose not to have other scans) really knocked me for six.

I felt really bad about the baby not arriving yet. It was so strange and so ridiculous for me to be so bothered. But bothered I was – I spent a whole day crying into my pillow, willing her out with my snotty tears.

(It is crazy, I know. I take heart that every person who has gone way beyond their due date will understand the misery of this beached whale period of waiting!)

On the 25th of April, after yet another day walking purposefully about London attempting to have fun whilst mostly keeping our heads down to avoid bumping into anyone who might say something glorious like “Oh!! Still pregnant?!!”

No shit, Sherlock.

I should have thought up a fun, yes-I’m-taking-this-ten-month-pregnancy-splendidly-with-full-humour-in-tact approach “Oh no, we had that baby already- this is the third! Just joshing! Harhaha!”

My answer mostly involved a psychopathic stare and a deeply convicted “I will be the only woman to be pregnant forever” which is something I thought might be true, in those final days of pregnancy.

Back to the 25th of April 2013. That night we settled Ramona into bed and turned on a film that we had downloaded from Netflix ‘cos we joined up in that last week to get an offer of three months of free movies… oh…. Wait… *checks* Ah, crap, we are still paying out for that Netflix account. Argh, they got my disorganised self…

I leant over my birth ball (6 months of rocking on that rubber number had given me calloused knees) and WHOOOOOSH – BROKEN WATERS, YEAH BABY, ROCK ON, BEST MOMENT IN HISTORY! WHOOOOT WHOOOOT!

Just remembering the exhilaration of that second gets my heart pumping. I wasn’t going to be pregnant forever!

Ten minutes later I felt a squeeze across my middle – the certain tightening of Things Beginning.

We thought back to Ramona’s birth and considered what we should do. Continue watching the film and pretend nothing was happening? (I call this The Nonchalant Birther “I carried on cooking dinner through contractions and the baby arrived just in time for desert!” Or go straight to sleep in order to be wide awake for the action? (The Barely Believable Wisely Rested Birther “I just breathed through contractions, snatching sleep in between”) Or begin marching up and down stairs chanting BRING IT ON (the determined methods of The Prowling Wolf Active Birther? “I willed that baby out by purposeful yogic moves alone!”)

We decided to a bit of everything – Tim should be Wisely Rested and I would be Nonchalant Prowling Wolf.

I did a couple of hours of casually setting up the house for the birth pool to the sounds of my hypno birthing track, whilst spiralling my hips in active manner. I found my contractions were gaining in strength and rhythm. We called my mum and got her to come over to sleep so that in the morning, if the baby hadn’t arrived (HIGHLY unlikely, I thought… ever hopeful) she could take Ramona somewhere fun.

At about 10:30pm I had feeling that I should switch tactics so I curled into bed beside Tim and Ramona to try and get some rest. The contractions continued and I couldn’t sleep – I was also high as a kite on sheer excitement of meeting this new soul.

I got up at about 3am, unable to lie down, contractions feeling quite, quite strong. The hardest thing was the back pain. It was unrelenting and hard to breathe through. Tim pressed on my back, and a hot wheat bag helped a little.

We called our midwife Nikki at about 5am who arrived pretty promptly. I didn’t want checks done if things were seeming straightforward, so I continued to zone right on out into the surges. Home/ Hospital Birth Story

At about 6am Tim bean filling the birth pool and Ramona woke and my Mum began hanging out with her. A bit after 7am I had sort of got stuck in the spare room – I couldn’t move, was distracted by everything, was feeling quite overwhelmed and nauseous… it was exactly like a transition stage…

At about 8 am mum and Ramona set out on an adventure- I anticipated that they would be back in an hour or two to meet the New Kid On The Block….

In fact, they were going to have a marvellously long outing and Juno wouldn’t make an appearance for another TWELVE HOURS ….

*dramatic sound effect* Ba, ba, Baaaa…

Second part coming in two days! (How annoying of me, eh?! It is just LOOK how EPIC this post is already!)

Posted in Parenting | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Yurt Sweet Yurt

Waking up with something crawling on my face has pretty much been a lifelong fear of mine. A fear that was finally realised last Wednesday when a tickling sensation on my cheek pulled me from my dream (my dream was probably about sleep – both my day time and night time reveries are basically about getting more sleep…)

I pulled the tickling thing off my face and flung it on to the floor, I hunkered under the duvet and begged my dream to return quickly, quickly, quickly. But it was too late, I was wide awake and needed to know what the Thing was.  I grabbed the torch and peered under the bed.

I was actually relieved to find an enormous Praying Mantis. Far, far better to have a goggle eyed, try hard stick insect having his devout way with my face than his cruel, shiny black scurrying cousin, the Cockroach.

We have a lot of cockroaches and other members of the insect community in our place. ALOT. There isn’t much you can do when the outside is so inside, y’know? Little cracks where the canvas wall meets the floor and gaping holes in the tree house kitchen. There are some serious blurred lines between our home and nature right now. living in a yurt

If the rest of it wasn’t so darn perfect it would definitely be too much.

living in a yurt

But fortunately (unfortunately?) we LOVE living here.

We love the yurt which feels like an almost sacred space with it’s circular fluidity. The few things we lugged over from England just fit in it so ideally. The look is retro-yoga-retreat-chic, yeah.SAMSUNG CSC

We actually love having nature all up in our grills. We spend 90% of most days outside, which is what life is meant to be like I think. It is still HOT here so we eat our meals on the deck. Both the girls have swings that fly off the deck too.living in a yurt

We have a sort of kitchen cabin off the deck, and through that an old caravan which has become a bit of a play / craft room. We don’t have a bathroom (we smell more than usual) and have a little walk to the composting loo which takes a bit of getting used to.
living in a yurt

We love living cooperatively with the other two families on the farm. It is making us fairly certain that we want this community life for our family.living in a yurt

We are surrounded by these little native owls called Moreporks and they sing us to sleep cooing “morepork! morepork!” There are plenty of nocturnal possums too but they have an unwelcome, evil witch cackle.living in a yurt

We love milking the cow (Yep! I am rubbish at it as I have way too much empathy) and collecting the chicken eggs and eating whole meals with 0 food miles. IMG_9363

We will have to see how we get on with the winter. It will involve waking in the night to put a log on the pot belly stove and pinning up wooly stuff all over the inside to insulate. It will be cold but hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, eh? We will be so jolly hardy by the end of it.living in a yurt

I just need to be more assertive and get on less intimate terms with the local bugs.

Posted in Bombaround, Parenting | 13 Comments

Of course that glue stick isn’t just for girls! Oh, wait. Sorry, it seems it is….

There is a creative fella out there who has designed some wonderful posters using sentences that he has found himself saying to his children.

I love them. My favourite is “Stop riding that penguin, we’re leaving!”

At least once a day I finish a sentence and find my eyebrows furrowing in wonderment at what I just uttered.

“Oh! You did a poo in daddy’s shoe?!”

“You are really worried that the evil witch that lives in the drawer might lick you, huh?”

And lately, far, far too many sentences along these lines “Ah, see, I am not sure that that fork/ clothes peg / dog IS just for girls/ boys. I like to think ANYONE could use it?!”

If I wasn’t bothered by it it would be funny. Ramona is forming strict ideas about what is for boys and what is for girls along quite arbitrary lines and without being wholly sure about different genders to begin with. Ramona was wearing her daddy’s hiking boots and when Juno tried to grab the laces Ramona announced that she mustn’t because “You are a boy! And these boots are for girls!” (Juno isn’t and they aren’t.)

These conversations are okay, of course. Ramona is simply processing the idea of gender its meaning and the language we use around it all. I don’t have (many) worries about her forever believing that forks are only ever to be used by womankind.

However, I can’t say I don’t care. My response to her when she says these things doesn’t reflect my normal response when she says something that isn’t factually correct – normally I just repeat what she has said back to her “Ah, you think x x x x?” because I think constantly correcting children must be a pain in the ass for them. But I can’t help myself when it comes to this boy/ girl stuff… I tend to say something like “Ah, you feel these are just for boys, eh? I wonder if it could be for everyone?”

And when she came to me with a Marvel comic and told me it was just for boys I had a CONNIPTION. She loves Spiderman and it pained me that somehow she had decided it wasn’t for her. I went through the comic and showed her every female superhero in there. (There were none. I had to pick them out as arbitrarily as Ramona decides who is a boy or girl.)Gender ISSUESIs it a boy or a girl? *sigh*

I shouldn’t worry. I am fairly certain that Ramona is going to grow up eventually knowing that colours belong to all people and that no one product/ idea/ career belongs to one gender.

I don’t really know many adults that hold fast to the idea that pink is just for girls and that if you like pink you must be a bit girly.

But there must be some.

Because apparently the new pink Pritt Stick is “just for girls.”  Clearly the people sitting around the board room believe that not all children are allowed to love all colours and that there are some products that 50% of children can’t have.

Or that they can have but only after admitting that there is something wrong or weird about it.

And this is what winds me up. I mean *really* winds me up.

By scrawling “Just for girls” on anything pink/ to do with baking/ to do with dolls / certain items of clothing companies are saying that the boys that like pink/ baking/ dolls/ skirts are strange. This is CRUEL. It gives pre-schoolers the impression that they don’t fit. It makes the playground a bully arena. It gives other kids ammo to start firing at anyone who is a little different. It sets them up for life to repress their real desires in order to suit society’s idea of them.

Pink Pritt Stick?The non-discriminating kind of stick

Pritt Stick don’t actually believe that pink is just for girls. I don’t imagine the Pritt Stick boardroom to be  filled with women in pink tutus on one side and men in blue suits on the other side gleefully discussing the merits of a “Just for Girls” glue to help girls feel so much more in touch with their feminine side.

Oh no. I am pretty confident that they are all too aware that this is a false distinction (and it is false – the majority of boys and girls under two choose colours with pinker tones as their favourite colour – then they get older and half of them realise they aren’t allowed) but these marketing folk are pushing it out as a way of further commercialising childhood.

Because if they can convince parents and children that boys and girls can’t share products than we will have to keep buying more, a pink glue stick for the daughters and a blue for the sons. Each new child will need a whole new set of clothes, a whole new set of toys and, clearly, a whole new set of craft supplies.

(Craft supplies, for goodness sake!)

And it is just another deadlock on the door that traps us into consumerism and another bar in the cage of society’s oppressive gender limitations.

Pink Pritt Stick? *harumph* We are not buying it!

PS- I sent them an email about their stupid glue and you can too, if you like, using this contact form.

Posted in Feminism | Tagged , , | 34 Comments

Growing Global Citizens through Child Sponsorship

I spend a lot of my time daydreaming about the relationship between childhood/ family life and social justice/ a better world. I doodle slogans while we drive “A just society begins at home!” and picture bumper-stickers that would infuriate the overpopulationists “Change the World: Have Babies!”

In honesty though, I don’t believe simply having babies can change the world… we have to actively engage ourselves and our children to this purpose.

We need to very intentionally treat our children with the respect we feel is important to a harmonious society. We need to honour their human rights, just as we hope they will stick up for the rights of others. And we need to grasp opportunities to help them see their role as a global citizen.

I think Child Sponsorship is AWESOME for this. I think of child sponsorship as kind of old school, but the fact is that it makes an ENORMOUS difference in the lives of communities across the world.Growing Global Citizens parenting

More than nine million children around the world are part of child sponsorship programmes run by charities such as Plan UK. In a study undertaken by the University of San Francisco, it was found that child sponsorship was key in ensuring that children stayed in school longer and became leaders in their communities.

Child sponsorship works because it is more than just simple charity. Instead of giving the money to the child or their family, the money is invested in that child and their community in order to break the cycle of poverty. Initiatives such as building wells for clean water, providing improved nutrition and tools for agriculture all combine to make poor communities more independent and help them to thrive, which in turn benefits the children of those communities.

Child sponsorship money goes towards ensuring that some of the world’s poorest children have everything they need to be the leaders of tomorrow. This also includes teacher training and school fees, so that children can stay in education longer and be encouraged to go on to university.

However, child sponsorship does not only have a physical impact on children. Psychologically, World Vision and Compassion found that the spiritual aspect of sponsorship is fundamental to transforming the lives of children trapped in poverty. Simply knowing that someone hundreds of miles away, someone they’ve never met, cares for them – this knowledge has an enormous motivational and inspirational impact on a child, encouraging them to achieve.

This benefit is amplified when a child sponsor chooses to stay in touch with their sponsored child through an exchange of letters.

But this exchange isn’t one sided. I don’t believe we should see the world as “us” and “them” and simply talking about how a child benefits does kind of do this.

Here are just a few ways that I think our children can benefit from sponsoring a child:

1- A friend on the other side of the world
What a cool chance for children to build a friendship with someone on the other side of the world! Friends are crucial for our children’s hearts and also their view of the world. Having friends from different cultures and experiences can shape our children’s futures.

2- A glimpse into a different life
The letters and photos I have received over the years from sponsor children have painted a picture of a different life that no news article can do. Being able to talk about the different experiences of birthdays and celebrations had by people in different countries becomes much more powerful when our children know someone from there.

3- A tangible idea of global connectedness
Crucial to global citizenship is knowledge of how we are connected. Understanding where different fruit originates, where our jeans were made and where a song comes from are conversations that help our children understand this. Having a friend at the end of this global connection, attached to a wildly different country can be incredibly powerful.

4- A sense of efficacy
Understanding that a child is able to EAT because of the money contributed by my family is a pretty incredible way to experience agency. What better to instil in our kids then a sense that we can actually change the world?

5- A penpal
I can dearly remember penpals from my own childhood. They were a massive motivator in learning to write and draw. For both children in this relationship having a penpal can be a real and amazing, literacy and writing experience.

It costs less than 50 pence a day, but this money has the power to transform a child’s life in the developing world, rescuing them from a life of poverty and disease and instead empowering them through education and independence.

Child Sponsorship can’t change the world solo – but as one tool in developing our own children’s sense of global citizenship and raising a generation who hope and act for a more just society I think it can be incredibly powerful.

To learn more about child sponsorship, visit Plan UK here.

This is a collaborative post with the wonderful Plan UK. Please see my disclosure for more on this.

Posted in Activism | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The School of Life (An unschooling adventure begins)

We are spending almost everyday just hanging around the farm we live on at the moment. We slog up the paddock to feed the chickens and Ramona climbs into their coop to collect the eggs. We pick up the other kids and take a for walk to visit the cows. We forage for chestnuts and roast them. Ramona swings, bounces, negotiates games with the kids. She bakes biscuits, she plants flowers and we read. She paints her whole arm blue, they all watch a movie then they set a rat trap.

It is life and it is learning and it is Ramona’s school.

State school is the only right education for a left wing family, right?
I have always known that my children would go to school. My socialist lean towards good state schools for the masses grew alongside my awareness that I would one day have children that would attend them.

I just knew that the only way schools could meet the needs of a whole community was if all members of that community, rather than the poorest who couldn’t do better, supported them. Even as a teenager I scoffed at Labour politicians who educated their kids privately.

This was despite ALWAYS hating school myself. I was bullied for most of my primary school years and spent ALOT of my secondary school years absent- lazing about the beach getting a well good suntan (I’d come home and shake the sand out of my bag and mum would sigh and ask “Good day at school, Lu?!”) or playing Snake on my Nokia on the back row of desks. (I was a champion at Snake.)

Since actually having children, like so many of my opinions, I have changed my mind.

20140327-165920.jpg

A child has a natural instinct and ability to learn
I first questioned our faith in our education system when I read about one of my favourite authors lack of ability/desire to read until she was eleven, at which stage she taught herself and began reading and writing novels ferociously. She didn’t go to school, she simply hung about with other kids at their commune. WHAAAT? People can become successful novelists without school?

I began reading up on children’s development and learning and I began to trust that intuition I had about my child’s natural ability to learn.

It was through reading John Holt’s “How Children Learn” that I found my instincts shored up. Through spending time with Ramona I had become fairly convinced that her curiosity and sponge – like mind was enough of a combination to give her all the learning she would ever need in life. Just like I *never* taught her how to speak (really; we never once corrected her talking or pronounced items to her, we simply spoke to her a lot) I became sure that she wouldn’t have to be taught anything.

The times that I tried to teach her stuff fell flat on their face- for example, when we found her a secondhand scooter and I tried to show her how to turn it and use the brake. She completely ignored me and continued to use it all wrong but then one day, about a year later, she was just ready and she got it out and in the space of half an hour could turn and brake, and charge WAY TOO FAST down massive hills, just like a pro. All without a peep of advice.

Through John Holt I discovered hundreds of examples from home life and the classroom (he was a teacher for many years) of children taking their own learning into their own hands and discovering SO MUCH. And most of all, delighting in it.

20140327-164510.jpg

I actually feel sad that for most of my life learning for me has been completely devoid of joy. It was only when I was 17 and went to college, where I was given a choice of subjects, and crucially, an enormous amount of autonomy, that I discovered how much I loved to learn. And then, despite not knowing any algebra, or even knowing what different clouds are, or who was the reigning king in 1703, because I was far too busy mastering Snake, I went on to become a fully functioning adult! And I got A-levels, and then a diploma, then a Bachelor of Arts and then a Master of Science!

As soon as adult-led, compulsory education got out of my life I fell in love with learning.

I feel that for far too much of the time an adult’s interruption in a child’s learning process actually hinders that learning. That we try to teach something in a little box , the boxes that all our schooled, adult minds work within, and the child then learns to put that discovery in to a box, rather than what they were originally going to do with it which was probably explosively creative and intelligent and linked up to all other bits of knowledge they have in their amazing brains.

With a nurturing, supportive environment children are fully able to complete their own learning journey.

The term for all of this? Unschooling.

20140327-164302.jpg

Unschooling in every part of life
I recently realised that we have always been unschooling. For unschooling isn’t just “Not sending children to school” – it is really a whole life philosophy of trusting children. Trusting their own natural learning process but also trusting things like their eating (Baby Led Weaning is a great example of unschooling with a baby!) and their sleeping and their playing.

A few weeks ago we trundled along in big old Bert (our bus) to the New Zealand Unschooling Retreat. We bowled in through the gates and found a whole field full of tents, the whole place strung up with flags and a big craft marquee in the middle. (It is what heaven is like.) There were way more people then I thought would be there and we met so many people on this journey. Most unschoolers I knew by then were through online forums like Facebook groups- and the internet can be quite a polarising, angsty place, eh? To meet unschoolers in real life and to see how gracious and understanding and embracing they were was awesome.

And to spend time with so many families who work outside of the common control based relationship that can define quite a lot of other families made us feel normal!

20140327-164003.jpg

It really did feel different to another gathering of families. There were no threats called across the fields, no bribery at the shared dinner, some kids up as late as the adults, all kids treated with as much respect as the parents.

It was a sort of mini utopia of peaceful adult- children interaction, a place where the children were autonomous and the adults supportive.

School’s out for… Ever?
And I guess that’s the funny thing… It is fully possible to be an unschooling family whilst having children at school. Some parents will do all this stuff- this trusting their child, communicating respectfully, allowing full autonomy- but not feel able to have their children at home full time, or their children will even choose to go to school.

If you encourage the sparks you see in your child’s eyes, give opportunities for them to dig deep into the things they love, and give them space from pressures to read and add and write then you are unschooling, even if the go to school.

We have heard of a local preschool that is completely child-led and even have one full day in the local woods and we have begun thinking about Ramona going there for a day or two. She LOVES hanging out with other kids without us and I think she would thrive.

And if we manage to set up a Forest School ever, then we would happily send the girls there – that is basically unschooling under trees!

But I do feel that at this stage, a classroom led by adults where tests and homework and a disjointed curriculum are not for us.

20140327-163805.jpg

Unschooling lays the groundwork for utopia
And I guess I am left with the same question I began with. Can you really be a lefty and unschool? Are we not ditching the rest of society? Being uncaring about the state of state schools?

The way I see it is that ultimately schools *will* get there. They *will* eventually understand and put into practice the fact that a child’s learning journey is best undertaken free from pressure and that a child has the right to be treated respectfully and given autonomy. It might take a while but eventually schools will be up to it. (There are already some amazing schools in Germany; Democratic Schools and Forest Schools that look this way and preschools sometimes practice this stuff.)

We are on the cusp of a movement that will allow children freedom and rights and responsibility. But to get there we need families already acting in this way.

Unschoolers are part of the movement – by supporting natural learning and respecting the full rights of children we are revealing it! We are saying “this can be done!” And we are building a world where schools can too.

So long term I think unschooling is one path to a socially just society. (Which is what all us raving commies want, eh?)

Have you heard of unschooling? Do you do it in parts or fully? Would love to hear from you. (I don’t have much internet in my life so can’t reply to each comment but I do want you to know I read and value each one.)

Posted in unschooling | Tagged | 23 Comments

Natural Parenting in Art

I am always delighted when I stumble across natural parenting in historical photos or art. It seems to affirm a strong belief of mine- that society’s discomfort at public breastfeeding and other intuitive forms of parenting is a modern phenomenon.

(I wish I could say phenomenon without following it up with a musical “doodoodidodo phenomenon doodoodidoo” it would make me feel a lot more like a grown up but I can’t so…)

Doodoodidodoo.

Allow these breastfeeding images to be a salve on the wound caused by the public shaming of breastfeeding mothers. Some of history’s best artists and the world’s most sohisticated fine art deal with the beautiful act of nursing – try fitting the word “tramp” in to some of these situations.

Come and take a stroll through some of my absolute favourite natural parenting paintings by some of my favourite artists…

La Maternite
Auguste Renoir
1885
Breastfeeding Renoir- Natural Parenting in Art

I love the everyday scenario of a mother perched on a wall to respond to her baby’s need. I feel like her eyes have the oxytocin glaze, that relaxed kind of high breastfeeding can sometimes produce.

Artist Stella Mertens says “Renoir – eternal continuity- this flesh remains bound to this flesh; monument to hope and love created by your genius.”

The Three Ages of Life: Detail
Gustav Klimt
1905

Natural Parenting in Art Klimt Cosleeping

Oh, Klimt. A hero of mine depicting a passion of mine. Look at the connection between mother and child here! The vulnerability and the trust between them. There is a peace here in this deepest of sleeps; the contentedness of cosleeping.

Mother and Child
Jose Orozco
1919

Babywearing: Natural Parenting in Art

One of the first things strangers often remark when they see my large baby on back is “Gosh, you must have a strong back!” As if it is a hardship. I love this picture as it perfectly shows that babywearing is no hardship, no maternal sacrifice. There is pleasure here. A woman able to work, to create, while nurturing a child. The child is intrigued – mother is opening doors to the world and the child is in the perfect place to discover it all.

Young Mother Giving Milk to Her Son
Utamaro
1753 – 1806 (Woodcut undated)
Utamao Breastfeeding - Natural Parenting through fine art

This baby is guzzling like a champion and he has that look on his face that nursing babies often get – a sort of pride at nailing this breastfeeding business. I love the delight on the mother’s face and I love that these are expressions that have crossed the faces of millions of nursing mothers and babies over the course of history. Utamaro, what a legend.

What is your favourite natural parenting image?

Posted in Attachment parenting, Babywearing, Breastfeeding, Cosleeping, Parenting | Tagged , , | 14 Comments