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This body; these breasts.

 

I’ve been on adventures with this body and these breasts that have seen me overcome insurmountable challenges, doubts and climb mountains both physical and emotional. I have ridden through waves of doubt that turned into storms of peril, and I’ve come out to see the other side.  I know what I am capable of as a woman, and it isn’t half of what it was until I became a mother.

I don’t think I ever really had a relationship with my own body until I became a mother. I was 19, and until then my body had served as more of a canvas for clothing and make up which I experimented with. It was a body for sex and pleasure, but it wasn’t a body that I really ever felt connected to or even respect for, really. It just was.

But that was ten years ago. It’s different now.

Ten years ago when I first became a mother for the first time. Ten years ago my body first served a purpose to grow, nurture and provide for my belly-dweller when she was thrust earth side. It wasn’t smooth-sailing at first. I remember feeling a lot of regret and resentment towards my body. It didn’t do what it was supposed to, or maybe was it that I just hadn’t been patient enough to allow it to?

I guess it doesn’t really matter. I learned. I learned to trust, to surrender and to let go. My body grew within it life another three times after that first time. It grew expanded and tightened, expanded and tightened and expanded and tightened once more.

I’ve had pregnancies all beyond forty weeks and one that extended into it’s forty-fourth week.

It took me until my third daughter to work out how to breastfeed, for multiple reasons including a traumatic birth and overcoming the residual trauma left behind from sexual assault. Being a woman with itty bitty titties I thoroughly enjoyed the ample bosom that formed while I nourished Wilding and Beans. Looking at my breasts now, one month after my final baby has weaned one month before she turned 3 – and they tell a different story.  They’re probably smaller now than my soft belly is, which by the way is no where near a six pack but that’s okay . My life-sustaining breasts are now a mere blip, where wearing a bra is totally unnecessary but handy in terms of retrieving them from hiding under my armpits.

The top of my hips are now covered with beautiful silvery lines, where my pelvis stretched with the weight of accommodating my babies as they grew.

After ten years of growing and nurturing my offspring, my body is now purely my own.

My body is soft.
My body is strong.
My body is supple, and flexible.
My breasts are small but mighty.

And my lines tell a story all over my body of the journey it has been on.

Oh, the stories I could tell you.

I’m so grateful.

 

 

After Ten Years; It’s Time for Some Happy.

Sno turns ten tomorrow. Ten years since she burst into our lives and made me a parent. I was admittedly completely unprepared, with no idea what to expect. Our beginnings were very rough; a traumatic birth which induced a double whammy of post-natal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. I wish I could tell you all about her first six months but that would be lying – they were a complete blur to me. I was in a very dark place and her cries were often lost amidst the sea of dark thoughts. Eventually we saw the light, and together with the help from specialists I found my way out of the pit of depression and things got easier. We bonded, albeit later than I had hoped – but hey we got there.

I guess why I’m telling you this is because, Sno and I – we have had a hard road together.

around and around and around she goes

And it’s time for some happy.

After Sno got her diagnosis at age 6 (roughly 2.5 years before I began noticing real quirks), her schooling years have been a mixture of mostly tough times with a little bit of good in there. Now at the age of ten, after six years of formal schooling, I can say out of those six years she’s only had about 2 where she wasn’t completely miserable. That’s a long time for a child to be unhappy or struggling, despite support people doing their best to make things easier. That’s a lot of screaming meltdowns from a child who is unhappy and isn’t coping.

Last weekend we made the decision to withdraw Sno from formal schooling, and educate her at home.

I won’t be writing a post blaming the school, or the teachers, or the support people – because that’s not the case here. They have been wonderful. But despite the supports in place for Sno at school, it just hasn’t been helping. She has been keeping it all together during the day, and then the evening comes and she’s rendered mute and unable to express her thoughts or feelings, so overcome with anxiety that she has been unable to communicate. For the past six months every single day we have had to help Sno through roughly 3 hours of screaming meltdowns. Our house is tiny, so I’m sure you can imagine the impact that her upset has had on us as a family collective not to mention on Sno. That’s a lot of time for a child to be unhappy. It’s not okay.

I will mention here that the suggestion to homeschool is being fully supported by all the medical and health professionals involved in Sno’s life, as well. So this is a journey we will be taking with support from every angle. Which is so wonderful.

A week ago I told Sno of our idea to educate her at home and the look of sheer relief on her face, the way her body softened – just confirmed to me that it was the right decision. We will be taking the rest of the term off to deschool, with no pressure on any formal types of learning at all. The next few months Sno will be decompressing, relaxing and finding joy in her life again. There will be lots of time spent in nature, there will be a lot of time for her to read with the cats in her lap, there will be art therapy and Sno has expressed a keen interest in learning coding. The goal is to allow Sno to be able to heal so that she can be in a place to learn and take on new information. It’ll be slow, slow, slow.

Honestly,  I just want to see my girl’s spark back. She has been so flat, so jittery and on edge for way too long. After holding her in my arms on Monday night where she experienced a trembling panic attack we  just think she needs down time and time to heal. It’s absolutely devastating to see my beautiful, intelligent, amazing daughter so weighed down and so unwell.

 

Yesterday afternoon we were at the local reserve and she asked to take off her shoes so she could run around. And she did, she ran laps of the grassy area barefoot. There was giggling. So much giggling. Around and around and around she went, one foot in front of the other, at speed. She looked so free, so at peace. I want to see more of that. And I think we’re on the right track.

I Know This Little Empath..

…she’s five years old. I remember vividly the day we were in the car on the way to kindergarten. We passed by a bunch of trees that were being cleared and happened to stop at the traffic lights beside a mulching machine. The scream I heard from the backseat was piercing, ripping through my ears and sending a shiver down my spine.

She watched on, completely horrified as the trees were fed into the machine, trunks first, and then were spat out into the holding cart – now mulch.

“STOP!,” she screamed
“Why are they killing it?!??! They’re hurting her! Stop! STOP!,”

You would think I was making this up. I’m not. That day is forever etched in my memory, painting an accurate portrait of my little girl who feels so deeply. She cried for that tree for days afterwards, sobbing into her pillow about the loss of life and destruction of something so beautiful and perfect.

This is only one example of how I’d describe what living and loving an empath is like.

I could also tell you about the time we forgot her pillow behind at Stradbroke Island, and only realised too late. She had formed an almost personal connection to that pillow, she knew it’s shape and form and she was thankful for the comfort it provided her.

Then there was the time we went for a walk in a nature reserve nearby to our house after a big storm had passed and she was crying into her hands, shocked at the destruction which left trees uprooted and plants destroyed everywhere.

Pillows and trees, huh? I guess it sounds a bit ridiculous. But to my little super-feeling, incredibly intuitive and sensitive Wilding – that’s what life is like for her. She’s in tune with things that we don’t even consider to have feelings or much value at all, even.

The little empath I know is the one who is right up beside others when they fall over or hurt themselves, rubbing their back and quickly offering a hug as soon as she can detect pain for them. She’s the one who gets upset when others get upset, telling me she is bothered by their “hurting face” and she cries when other people cry because she connects to their sadness on a deep deep level.

What I would describe as “referred mood” or “mirrored mood”, my little empath takes on the moods of others around her – seemingly without even being aware of doing so. When I’m sad, she’s sad. When I’m mad – she’s mad. When I’m struggling, I can see she is, too. My husband is like that too. This definitely makes for some fun conversations at times, and some, err.. let’s call them, discussions. Picture me, being premenstrual and slightly umm, snappish, moody, dramatic? And then picture my husband behaving in the same sort of manner, without realising it. Yeah, I’ll totally admit to saying “I’m the one with PMS, not you!,” Hah.

I know many empaths in my life, and they all happen to be autistic. So that whole “autistics can’t display/possess empathy” myth is a whole heap of bullshit.

In my experience, autistic people don’t feel a lack of empathy – they feel the exact opposite. They feel all the feels, to a large degree. They take on the moods and feelings of those around them, like a big sponge. This can make life really intense for them and also their loved ones.

One thing I am conscious of doing when I see Wilding (and Sno, and Papagirltribe) mirroring moods is to reassure them that whatever mood I may be in, or others may be in – is not their fault, or their doing. I remind them it’s okay, and I reassure them compassionately that things will work out as they should.

And on the days where  my precious little Wilding is awash with emotions invoked from trees or pillows, I hold her space and allow her to process the world around her however she wishes to do so.

Because being an empath isn’t a curse, it’s actually a blessing. And it needs to be fostered with compassion, kindness and understanding.  Because it is very, very real.

Hey, Doctor – Here’s some advice for you about my child.


Recently we ended up in the ER with some unexplained pain for Sno and I have to say I was completely gobsmacked with the complete and utter lack of understanding surrounding autism from some of the health professionals. So I figured I’d break it down. I am well aware that there isn’t always ample time to put all these steps into place but more often than not, it pays to be mindful of them.

Here’s my list of tips for health professionals on how to best support patients who are autistic.

  1. Introduce yourself.  My child doesn’t know who you are, so a simple way of making her feel at ease is simply by introducing yourself. Don’t just come into the room and start questioning.
  2. Connect with my child first. Before you need to start any medical procedures or begin talking in medical jargon – make an effort to connect with my child and build trust. Perhaps you could ask how old they are, comment on their cool shoes or even show them your cool pen – it doesn’t matter what, but take a little moment or two, it helps my child feel at ease.
  3. Explain to my child what you need to do before you do it. Fear stems from lack of knowledge or understanding; hospitals can be scary places for children, autistic or not. But when you explain what instruments are for and how they work, the fear dissipates and you’re more than likely going to have a willing patient, rather than a scared and closed off one.
  4. Ask for their permission before touching their body. This again applies to all patients. Please do not touch my child’s body without their consent. Absolutely do not pull down their clothing without their permission.
  5. Don’t talk about my child with them in the room, as if they’re not there and can’t hear you. Asking me questions about my child that they could probably answer themselves just makes my child feel invisible. They deserve more respect than that. And finally;
  6. Get me onside. I don’t care how many years you’ve been in the medical profession or what kind of awesome doctor you are – none of that matters if you can’t treat my child with respect. Autistic children are complex and their issues may not always be clear to the outside looking in. So, if you want to help my child, you’ll need to listen to them and me. I know my child better than anyone else does, so you would do well to take my lead with how you approach her.

Small adjustments make the greatest impact. So maybe consider dimming the lights, turn the music off and taking a moment or two, if you can. Believe me when I say that a calmer child is more likely to cooperate and be helped by people they don’t know, so even though all of this stuff may seem like a lot of “work”, it’s worth it. Let’s all work together, hey? We all want the same outcome after all- a happy, healthy child.

 

The One Label I Just Can’t Get Behind.

“How high functioning is she?”
“How severe is her autism?”
“Wow, she can’t be that autistic!”

Oh my god. ENOUGH already!

I have lost count the amount of times I hear people (who obviously know nothing about the autistic spectrum) try and categorise my autistic daughters, attempting to shove them into boxes to better their understanding. I am all for labels, in fact – I encourage the diagnostic process for autism, because I stand by the benefits of support that the diagnosis can bring.

But one thing I cannot get behind is the whole  high/low functioning divide. I just can’t do it, and I won’t.

Why not?

Because this type of label doesn’t help, it hinders. It minimises the struggles an autistic individual can have, and it silences and invalidates them.

Just because someone who is autistic can talk and interact with others, doesn’t mean they don’t have other challenges and doesn’t mean the challenges they do have make less impact on their lives. You just can’t see it, and just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. This is the same with a non-verbal autistic individual; just because they can’t talk doesn’t mean they aren’t incredibly intelligent, perceptive and intuitive.

The thing is though, if you box individuals on the spectrum into these high/low categories – you’re the one missing out. You’re missing out on being able to support them through their silent struggles, and you’re also missing out on being able to notice how they can enrich your lives.

Does the fact that someone can talk make them more important or worthy than others? No. Does the fact that someone cannot talk or shuts down socially around others mean they don’t have valuable things to contribute to society? No.

Autistic people are not puzzles that need to be solved. They are not a problem that needs to be fixed. They are not an irregularity that needs to be corrected. They are individuals, unique in themselves just like every other person on the planet.

So this whole high/low functioning  categorisation really doesn’t come into it.

At the end of the day: it is all autism. And the best thing we can do as a society for our neurodiverse community is embrace them for who they are; as amazing individuals.

No, She’s Not Grumpy – She’s Autistic.

If I had to tell you how many times people have commented on my daughter Beans’ disposition as being “grumpy”, well.. I’d completely lose track. It happens daily, really. But the thing is; she isn’t grumpy – she’s almost 3 years old, she’s a toddler, and she’s also autistic.

If you knew she was autistic, you’d know she doesn’t get “shy” around strangers, she actually struggles socially.

If you knew she was autistic, you’d know it takes her a long time to warm up to people.

If you knew she was autistic, you’d realise that trying to get her to give you eye contact or say hello is really distressing for her, and you’d back off.

If you knew she was autistic, you’d know it takes her about half an hour to decide on what item of clothing to wear every morning; and that despite having a wardrobe full of clothes – she only regularly wears about eight items.

If you knew she was autistic, you wouldn’t use the hand dryer right beside her in the public toilet and you wouldn’t mow when she was around.

If you knew she was autistic, you’d understand why she likes her food divided up sometimes.

If you knew she was autistic, you’d be compassionate and understanding when you see me carrying her everywhere – because her legs tire easily, and they hurt.

If you knew she was autistic, you’d know that if the morning routine is deviated from in any large way without warning ; she screams and screams.

If you knew she was autistic you’d know how much thunderstorms terrify her.

If you knew she was autistic you’d know she completely falls apart when she’s itchy.

If you knew she was autistic you’d know that some shoes can take a long time to put on comfortably.

If you knew she was autistic, you’d see how at peace she was when she was playing in water.

If you knew she was autistic, you’d realise that an iPad or an iPod is a parenting tool – not a display of bad parenting.

If you knew she was autistic, you’d realise what an epic mimic and imitator she is, and that she’s processing her world through watching and copying others.

If you knew she was autistic, you’d see that her lining up things and having collections is super calming for her – not funny or odd.

If you knew she was autistic, you’d know that when she’s screaming on the floor and I’m not cuddling her or touching her it’s because she doesn’t like to be cuddled or touched when she’s upset, it’s not because I’m a bad parent.

And finally: if you knew she was autistic you would know that when she smiles – it’s authentic, when she laughs – it’s from the heart, not just there to please you or make you feel recognised. When you see her for who she is rather than what you’re getting out of her, you’d realise that she is so much more than just “grumpy” – and you’d put your judgement aside.

 

Toilet Door Affirmations.

Some people I guess would pen me as a hippie, due to the fact that I haven’t shaved in over 8 years, the fact that I birth my babies at home and still breastfeed my almost-3 year old daughter. Meh. Call me what you will, truthfully I don’t give a shit because I know who I am. One thing I definitely believe myself to be is a person who likes to look outside the box, and question everything.. and I am proud to be a woman with an open mind.

I believe fiercely in the power of thought. This comes into play with how we as people interact with each other, how we regard ourselves and our individual capabilities, how we learn, how we labour and birth, how we achieve, how we overcome obstacles and how we ready ourselves for new challenges.

(click on the photos to enlarge for viewing)


 

Self-talk in particular is powerful. It is the lines or phrases  we tell ourselves in times of challenge. You know; when you say “I’m going to have a crap day” you usually do, and when you tell yourself that something is too hard – you often get defeated? Yeah. That sort of thing. So when I hear my girls saying things like “I can’t do this” or “This is too scary” or “I’ll never be able to do that” I am quick to help re-frame their self-talk. Changing the phrases into “This is tricky, but I will get it” or “I will get the hang of this with practise” may seem like a simple thing to do yet can have lasting impact.

Where I am going with this? I wanted to tell you about something I do for my girls. I print out affirmations for them and stick them on the back of the toilet door. Why? Because I figure it’s a place they’re still and quiet for a reasonable amount of time every day, and I like to think that the lines of strength and courage they read may translate into action, cancelling out other negative ones. I am hoping it will gently alter any negative self-talk they may have.

On the back of our toilet door are words which dispel the power of fear, re-frame challenges and hopefully impart strength and courage to the minds of those who read them.

Meh. Maybe it’s crazy and pointless, but I figure it can’t hurt. And I also figure with all the inane, degrading shit that penetrates subliminally from the media into the minds of our young girls, they’re going to need any positive self-armoury they can muster – and that counts for the messages they send to themselves, too.

 

Dear Daughter as you near your 10th birthday,

I see you growing up right before my very eyes. Your body is changing and you’re noticing every single occurrence, both welcoming it with excitement and feeling overwhelmed from it, because, really, you’re still so very young.

I watch as you come and wrap your arms around me awkwardly, all legs and arms.. and then no sooner, you’re running off to your room, slamming the door behind you because you want to be left alone.

I know you’re in this place of in-between. I can’t imagine how frustrated and confused you feel. But I want you to know you’re not alone.

We argued this morning, we both said words we didn’t mean and although we have both since apologised and made up, it’s still lingering with me. I don’t want to be someone you can’t talk to, but also, if you don’t want to talk – that’s okay. You don’t have to talk. Silence is good with me, if it’s with you.

I’m in a place of watching you go through changes hormonally that seem totally out of your grasp, and I just want to hold you. I want to tell you it’s okay. I want to tell you that it gets easier.. but I don’t know if it does. Maybe it’s not that being a woman gets easier or if it’s just that we become stronger. Because we learn to embrace our innate feminine power and all that comes with it. Slowly we learn to surrender to the ebb and flow rather than fight against it.

But daughter, I can see why you’re fighting against it. It’s new and relatively unknown, and being a woman isn’t easy. Becoming one is even harder. I can understand why you’re fiercely trying to hold onto your childlike innocence, I can see that you don’t want to grow up.

Here’s the thing, though. No matter how old you are, no matter how many moody outbursts you have or how much you try to push me away – I will always be here. My love for you is not conditional – you may outgrow your clothes but you’ll never ever outgrow me. I will always have time for you, I will always make time for you and I will always be in your corner.

I know this shit is tough. And I’m more than willing to let you live your life, your way, as you learn to navigate it independently. But nothing you can ever do will make me not love you, and there will never be a time I won’t be your constant.

Always,

Mama.

A letter into the ether.

I know I only just spoke to you before on the phone, but that doesn’t mean you’re really here. You haven’t been here for a long time now.

I’m struggling at the moment, and in truth I feel like I probably have been for a while. I called you up today because I was hoping to hear your comforting voice on the end of the phone line, like a big hug – but while I waited, it never came. Instead our conversation went around and around in circles with you asking me the same set of questions three times,  until I begged an excuse and got off the phone, and began crying in the car as I was driving to find a place to write you this.

Truth is, I don’t ever hear from you. You completely forget, unless I call – and then when I do, you’re endlessly apologetic. Your world fluctuates between you work, caring for your Mum and then getting sleep. And really, that’s all that you can manage.  I know you never intend to hurt me by purely forgetting that I exist, but my heart is fucking throbbing with the pain I feel for being abandoned. I know I hear you say every time on the phone that you’ll “try harder” to remember to call me but I’m realistic enough to know it won’t happen. It isn’t your fault. But that doesn’t stop it from hurting.

I know there are darker days to come. You’re already confusing your own granddaughters name’s up and I know there comes a time when you’ll probably not remember my own. I feel the sting of your mind beginning to phase me out of your recollection and memories and it is tearing my heart into two, because I could really use a Mum around now. Someone to hold me, after my daughter has screamed all morning and to tell me that it’ll be okay, and tomorrow’s another day. Someone to take me out for cake and shoot shit with me, because it’s fun and that’s just what we feel like doing.

I’m already grieving you now even though you’re still living, and I don’t know whether that’s easier or harder than the alternative. Having a memory of someone sharp in your mind with a perception of how things should be is a daily reminder of what isn’t.

You keep calling yourself an “idiot” and how you’re “stupid” but this isn’t the case. It isn’t your fault, or your choice. And I’m probably incredibly selfish for even making this about me, but I just had to get it out.

Being a mother to four girls myself provides me with a new chance every day to do things right and be present. But somedays I don’t want to be a mother, I just want to be a daughter. I see how you’re there for your own mother and dote on her compassionately, and I am desperate to have the same kind of attention from you. I don’t know whether it’s because you “let me go” sooner than you did with Oma, or not, and that’s why her memory has stuck around for you more than mine has.

Either way, I’m hurting. I know I’ll be okay but the pain of losing someone who is still living is intense and all-consuming at times. There are countless what-ifs and whys racing around my head that I know will eventually be set to rest, and I’m working on it, but I’m not there yet. You’re there but not. It’s like you’re in this in-between state of worlds from back then and now, and I can’t imagine how exhausting and confusing that feels for you. Others around you are working to help themselves make sense of your new reality, but you’re not at any level of acceptance yet.

I just miss you, Mama. So I’m sending this out into the ether with a hope it’s a little healing and I can let go of the wanting and accept the what is. You’re only fragments of who you used to be, but I’m still fully here.

And it’s okay. Because it is what it is.

Jessica.

Sensory Tool Box.

I was going through Sno’s room yesterday, helping her sort out all the junk she has hoarded over the last few months and we came across a pretty wide selection of sensory tools, so I thought  (with her permission) I’d share them with you. Sno is happy to share this stuff and hopes that in sharing what works for her, she can help other kids on the spectrum, too.

A little bit of background first. Sno is almost 10 years old, and she received her ASD diagnosis almost 4 years ago. Over that period of time we have found what really works for her to self-calm when she’s having a meltdown, and we also know what aggravates her sensory system. We follow the Zones of Regulation program at home (and at school) and after a bit of trial and error, her tool-kit is pretty perfect now.

Sno loves:
Tactile toys.
Deep pressure.
Nice smelling things (particularly citrus and mint).

Sno doesn’t like:
Noise.
Excessive visual stimulation.

Sno’s box of tools resides on her beside table, with her chart of Zones and ideas for each section right beside her bed.

Her box contains:
A stretchy caterpillar toy.
Scented gel pens & colouring book.
A strip of soft purple minkee fabric.
Her iPod and noise-cancelling headphones.
A few stretchy animals.
A homemade visual sensory bottle.
A spiky foot massager.
Her Tangle.
A little pouch containing some Arnica healing balm for bumps & bruises, some cuticle cream for “flicky nail skin”, some homemade essential oil roll-ons (lemon myrtle & peppermint scents) and some pawpaw lip balm.
Soft eye-mask to shut out bright lights.
A few hair coils which Sno uses as fidgets for when at school.

What she uses depends very much on that moment, but all these tools get used regularly. On long outings or car-rides or school excursions a few will get chosen and packed into her small backpack, along with a water bottle, book and a snack. That way she’s always prepared and can self-regulate independently. Being prepared like this results in much fewer meltdowns, too, due to much less masking being necessary.

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