Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Breastfeeding: A Public Debate

If there's one topic that seems to provoke a totally disproportionate amount of rage from some people, it's breastfeeding in public.

This isn't a debate on breastfeeding vs bottle feeding - that's an entirely different issue (and I say, everyone has a right to choose without fear of condemnation either way). This is about whether it is right or wrong for a mother to feed her child - a human being - in the presence of other human beings.

I am profoundly grateful that I had a child in a decade where it is mostly acceptable to discreetly breastfeed in a public place (and why any new mum would intentionally flop a whole breast, nipple and all, out of her top in full view of any Tom, Dick or Harry is beyond me - there's always a place for discretion!).

Quite frankly, I would not have stayed sane in those early days if I had not been able to leave the house and visit a coffee shop where I would feed Ruby. In those early days when you really are breastfeeding on demand every. single. hour. it's pretty impossible NOT to breastfeed in public unless you want to put yourself under house arrest for three months.

I've breastfed Ruby in coffee shops. In restaurants. On park benches. In the car (not moving, of course!). In the doctors' surgery. At the train station. On the train. I've even fed her during an interview with the bank manager!

I've sat on the front row in church and fed her. And I'm pretty sure that last week, if she had decided to cry all the way through my sermon, I probably would have just sat on a stool up the front and fed her while I preached (whether you think that's appropriate or not is an entirely different debate!).

Because you know what? It's not that big a deal!

Never have I felt uncomfortable discreetly settling Ruby with a little drink.

Never have I felt the need to go and hide in a toilet cubicle (yuck!).

Never have I experienced any negative attitudes towards my actions, and aside from the odd averted eyes when it's dawned on somebody what I'm actually doing (shock, horror!), I honestly don't believe many people have even realised, let alone had a problem with it!

I'm pretty sure more people would have something to say if I just let her scream incessantly because I'm not fulfilling her needs.

Now that we're in the process of weaning, and I'm beginning to realise that my breastfeeding days with Ruby are numbered, I will cherish each and every moment. Because for the time being, in my body, I possess everything that she needs. Only I can fulfill that need. And that is precious.

So when it's time for a little snack, even when she's had her fill of purees and finger foods at lunch and she still decides to nuzzle into my chest and tug at my top, I will gladly oblige! I don't care if you cop an eye-ful. I don't care if you're embarrassed that you saw. I would rather satisfy my daughter's hunger, thirst or need for comfort than spare your blushes.

Because this time is precious.

These days are numbered.

I will never be able to claw back these moments in my daughter's life.

Before you know it, she'll be on solids. She won't need me in the same way anymore. And other people will have the ability to fulfill all of her needs (though not quite how I'm able to).

These moments, just me and her, quietly minding our own business in the corner of a coffee shop, but equally enjoying every second of being together. Me and her. Her and me. These moments are to be treasured. For they will not last forever. In the blink of an eye, they'll be gone.

So I will carry on, despite what you may or may not think. Despite what the media says. Despite what stupid, ridiculous, fame-hungry Katie Hopkins says.

Because you know what?

It's not about you.

It never was.

It's about her.

My baby.

Her needs.

Not yours.

Not even mine.

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Wednesday, 6 November 2013

How to be AWESOME at Public Speaking

Yesterday I wrote about my first speaking engagement in about 10 years. I was petrified! Public speaking is definitely not my comfort zone, let me concentrate on written communications any day! And if that's not possible, I can just about manage sitting in a small group and facilitating a discussion. But force me to stand in front of a bunch of seated observers and my knees wobble, my palms sweat and my breathing becomes short and shallow. So, how did I fair?

Actually, it went very well. But that semi-confident exterior was the result of a lot of preparation and a few coping mechanisms to boot. In fact, just making a few tweaks in your preparation, I think, can be the difference between a blithering mess and a calm, collected voice of authority. I thought I would share what worked for me - so next time you have a big work presentation, job interview or speaking engagement, follow these golden rules!

The Week Before...

1. Preparation, preparation, preparation
This speaking engagement might be your worst nightmare. You might be dreading it and wishing the day never arrives. But don't leave it too late to prepare, because if you're fully prepared you'll be much more confident. Here was how I prepared:

  • Two weeks before I spoke, I had already recorded my message off the top of my head twice on my dictaphone and scribbled down some notes. 
  • The week before, I listened back to my recordings and tried to get it down on paper.
  •  A couple of days beforehand I took these notes, grouped them together, filled in the gaps and finalised the main points and structure. 
  • I then re-recorded myself before doing a practice run in front my husband.
So by the time I came to speak, I had already spoken it out loud a number of times.

2. Know your topic
It seems obvious, but know your topic really well. I was privileged to speak on something I'm particularly passionate about. Before I've ever spoken on my topic, I've lived it. To the point where it's already a part of my life's philosophy. It was already ingrained in my psyche so talking about it in an engaging, exciting, passionate manner was pretty easy. When you know your topic inside out, you won't be fumbling through your notes trying to work out what to say. So rather than worrying whether I sound knowledgeable, I just needed to worry on communicating effectively.

3. Exude passion
Similar to above, but be passionate! If you're not passionate about your topic, how can you expect people to engage with you? Even if it's boring facts and figures, interpreting those facts and figures must be a little bit exciting in your field of expertise, right? When you're passionate about something, it's not hard to get other people excited too. 

On the Day...

4. Look the part
Think back to the last time you looked in the mirror, applied some lipstick and then went to conquer the world. Now compare to the last time you looked in the mirror and thought 'Oh God. I look terrible.' How would you want to look speaking in front of a room full of people? If you feel confident in the way you look, you'll speak confidently, whatever the topic.

So get a hair cut, don some killer heels (my preaching shoes were red patent), apply some lippy, accessorise and go get 'em!

5. Know the running order
Make sure you know when you'll be called on to speak and by whom. The worst thing would be if you felt rushed or sprung upon so check with the MC or leader beforehand to find out at what point you will speak, whether you need to pick up a microphone, whether it needs turning on, whether someone's going to introduce you or will you just jump up. And if you have a Powerpoint presentation or any other media, try and hook it all up beforehand so you're not caught off guard with techie problems!

While You're Speaking...

6. Occupy your hands
When speaking publicly, the common dilemma is what do you do with your hands? You need to do something otherwise you'll end up biting your nails, wringing your palms or just shaking like a leaf. But if your hands are occupied, they will channel all that nervous energy. If you're holding a microphone then, great. If not, decide what you're going to do with your hands before you begin; that way, you'll have all the right props with you. I gave myself three options so that I could alternate between each one - then it wouldn't be so obvious. Here's mine:

  • Have a glass of water handy so you can take a sip to pause and slow down, or simply just hold the glass when you start fiddling.
  • Rest your hands on the table as you turn the pages in your notes.
  • Wear a simply piece of non-jangly jewellery. I had a long chunky necklace on and found myself just holding the pendant every now and again. (Don't fiddle with it constantly, though, it's distracting!)

7. Break the ice
When you get up to speak, don't launch straight into your talk. Break the ice with a joke or a funny story about your journey there or your preparation. I commented on how lengthy my notes were. That introduction just gives you a chance to get used to the sound of your own voice and allows you to calm your nerves before getting to the important stuff.

8. Bring focus
Once you've introduced your talk but before you launch into the key points, do something that intentionally brings your focus back to the task at hand. It helps to take a moment to pause and slow down before rushing into the important stuff. I took a moment to pray out loud - just asking God to help me to speak His words (I was preaching in Church ~ maybe don't try this in a job interview situation!).

9. Pick out your supporters
As you speak, work out who in the crowd are your biggest supporters. They're normally on the edge of their seats, smiling, nodding and generally looking engaged. Hopefully you'll see a few! Then make sure you look directly at those people when you look out at your audience. Their encouragement will help you to feel like you're winning.

10. Be awesome
Know that you're there for a purpose and that you wouldn't be there if you were totally incapable. So just relax and enjoy the ride. Laugh at your mistakes, make jokes along the way and enjoy it!
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Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Don't Send Me, God!

Since joining the leadership team of our church this summer, I knew the day would come where I would be asked to preach.

That day was Sunday.

Me, standing at the front, speaking to a room of people. And not just blabbering on about any old crap, but attempting to speak knowledgeably and articulately about the Bible. The Word of God.


See, I don't know how much you know about the Bible and the characters within, but allow me to explain. There are a couple of protagonists often cited as examples of unworthy people who God decided to use anyway.

1. Moses
God told Moses to go before Pharaoh and ask for the people of Israel to be released from Egypt. Moses' response? 'Don't send me, God, send someone else. I am rubbish at public speaking.'

I am Moses. I love communicating. I have lots to say. I believe that good communication can change lives. But give me a pen and paper or a laptop over a speaking engagement any day!

2. Gideon
Gideon was asked by God to rescue his people from the Midianites who were treating them very cruelly. God actually found him hiding in a wine press (as if you can hide from God!). Gideon's response? 'Don't send me God. Send someone else. I'm so small and insignificant. I am the least of the least. Why would anyone listen to me?'

I am Gideon. I'm the small, awkward, kind of shy girl that would rather hide at the back than live on the front row. There are bigger, stronger, more exciting people who could do a much better job.

3. Timothy
Timothy was Paul's protégé. Paul wrote much of the New Testament and was responsible for spreading Christianity across much of the known world. Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy 'Don't let anyone think less of you because you're young.'

I am Timothy. We don't know his specific set of circumstances, but we know he was young and he was feeling insecure about it. Aside from the children, I am actually the youngest member of our congregation. I lack experience. I lack wisdom. I lack formal training. I'm definitely not a theologian or bible scholar!

BUT (and with God there's always a But!) God used all of these people significantly. All of these people became history makers because ultimately they were obedient to the call of God. They weren't perfect (Moses was a murderer for a start!), but they loved God and were obedient to his call.

So on Sunday I got up, having done no public speaking since school, and, with hands shaking and shallow breath, I began to speak. I was obedient to what God had placed on my heart. After a few minutes I started to breathe. I stopped shaking. It began to feel like the most natural thing in the world. I ended up speaking for 30 minutes. I actually enjoyed it. I think other people enjoyed it. And may I say it went well?

Lesson learnt: When God calls you to something, as scary as it may be, step into it. He will meet you there. Where your abilities end, he will come with His abilities and bridge the gap. Take that step of faith! Who knows, you could make history!


Got a work presentation, speaking engagement or interview coming up? Come back tomorrow for some practical tips on public speaking that I found helpful.
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Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Baby Diaries: 7 months

You're seven months. Where's my baby gone?!

You're moving around like a whizz kid, crawling everywhere, never staying in one place! If I'm out by the washing machine, you'll come and find me. You can't be trusted to stay and play with your toys, I'll always come back to you chewing on a cable, or screwing up a magazine (definitely time we baby proofed this house!).

You've totally skipped learning to sit and it seems you would much rather get about by crawling. You occasionally go from all fours onto your bottom with your hands out on the floor at the side, but you haven't shown any inclination for proper sitting!

You can however pull yourself up on your knees and sit quite comfortably like that. Yesterday you even pulled yourself up onto your feet... for a very brief moment! I'm sure it won't be long before you're toddling about!

You weigh 12lb 13oz. Still mini, but perfect in every way and the health visitors are finally happy to leave us to it rather than checking up on you every fortnight!

You've been loving your food! We've been giving you purees and you'll eat pretty much everything and every flavour. You now sit in highchairs whenever we go out. You're still a bit small for them and because you can't sit up properly we have to prop you up sometimes but you're getting the hang of it! All the coffee baristas in town know you and enjoy getting lots of smiles while you're meant to be eating!

Our breastfeeding days are definitely numbered. Of course, you now have two bottom teeth which took a bit of getting used to, but also you can go a lot longer without breastfeeding now, and with the introduction of a beaker, you just don't need me as much. Still, we still have lots of snuggles to make up for it.

We had some success sitting you in your inflatable do-nut and leaving you to watch CBeebies while I have a shower each morning. But now you're bored by all that sitting and you have worked out how to tip yourself out of it!

You love mirrors and are fascinated by your reflection! We have lots of fun making silly faces and smiles.

You love visiting your Grandparents round the corner and give lots of smiles and giggles when Nana comes to play. She looks after you while Mummy works and you have a brilliant time.

We've also started you in your big buggy now which you seem to enjoy. You get to see a lot more of the world that way!

We're enjoying the transition into winter too because you can wear lots of cute dresses and tights!

I feel like we're entering a new era where you're much less little baby and more pre-toddler. I am very quickly learning that babies don't stay babies for long! But hopefully we can keep you small for a little while longer!
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