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Ash-8-Months

I promise this isn’t some kind of mummy blog rant. I’ve never had the urge to write publicly on the topic of pregnancy and parenthood, but recently some friends have encouraged me to share my experiences. They said it would be helpful for women “like us” to read, so I’ve jotted down some observations and thoughts – I hope some of you find some of it useful.

Last week Ash turned nine months old, and in exactly a week from today I will be on my way home from my first official day at work in almost a year. Lots of people have been asking me how I feel about it, and while I will undoubtedly miss Ash, I am  looking forward to it (it helps when you enjoy what you do for a living).

It will be great to get back to contributing to positive social change, being inspired by my talented colleagues, and exercising the professional part of my brain. Importantly for me, the work aspect of my life hasn’t been completely on hold while on parental leave. I’ve been chipping away at developing a start-up social enterprise with a good friend of mine who happened to also be on parental leave at the same time.

Over the past nine months we’ve spent many days pushing prams together while brainstorming, feeding our babies while planning, and writing to-do lists while cleaning up vomit. It’s been so much fun!

I also decided to do a bit of tutoring at uni to bring in a few extra dollars, and have a break from full-time parenting duties. Fortunately I was able to teach classes in between Ash’s feed times, and feel relaxed about leaving him, knowing that he was with his wonderful grandmother.

Interestingly, when I tell people about working while on leave, most of the time they respond with something like “How do you manage all that? Aren’t you too exhausted to think about work? I can’t believe you can handle a newborn baby and work at the same time!”.

I guess I could take it as a complement, but these comments are usually promptly followed up by more generalised advice such as “don’t think about work while you’re on leave, enjoy your time with your baby”, or “you should really forget about doing the housework, you need to sleep when the baby sleeps”, and “don’t worry about exercising, your first priority is looking after the baby”. Sigh.

Clearly it never occurs to them that my way of coping, managing, and mothering may be different to theirs, or social norms.

Some days all I want to do is clean while Ash sleeps, so that when he wakes up I can enjoy the environment around us. Sometimes I am physically exhausted, but have lots of ideas that I just have to get out of my head and onto a google doc before Ash wakes up. Other days I sleep when he sleeps.

I think it’s really important to do what makes you happy, especially when you’re sleep deprived, a little isolated, and going through a lot of physical and psychological change.

For me, having professional projects and “work” to focus on has really helped keep me grounded, intellectually challenged, and feeling like I hadn’t had a complete identity change the minute Ash came into the world.

There is no single, better, or right way of spending your time. This clearly isn’t rocket science, but then why hadn’t anyone, any blog, or any book suggested it to me before?

In light of this, I thought I’d share some of the things that I found really helpful when I was pregnant, and in the early days when Ash was born.

But before you read on there is one very large caveat to all this – I am extremely fortunate to have a fantastic husband, an amazing mother, a caring father, a supportive workplace, and good mental and physical health. Without these things, the list below would undoubtedly look very different.

Seeing a kick arse GP

A visit to a GP is typically where your pregnancy journey will begin, so having a good rapport with them is pretty important. They’ll likely influence your decision making and set the tone for your pregnancy early on. One of the most helpful things my GP did was to firmly tell me not to read too many pregnancy or parenting blogs, and under no circumstances play Dr Google when it came to health-related issues. After that appointment I promptly unsubscribed from a bunch of sites that were doing little more than causing me mild anxiety about all the things that could go wrong with me, my baby and my relationship while I was pregnant.

Listening to the experiences of like-minded women

I’m fortunate that most of my closest girlfriends already had babies, or were well on their way by the time I fell pregnant. They have been an invaluable source of information and ideas for me, and a great sounding board.

I should stress though that I chose pretty early on in my pregnancy who I would listen to and who I would politely smile and nod at, while disregarding everything that was coming out of their mouth. There’s no shortage of opinions and views about pregnancy and parenting out there, and most people don’t hold back before telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. That’s why I think it’s really important to stick to a few trusted sources, and ignore the rest!

Writing up my birth preferences

I was hesitant about birth plans, but I really liked the idea of Simon and I both knowing my birth preferences. For me it was about understanding some of the decisions that I might need to make during labour, and discussing them with Simon and our midwife in advance. For example, what pain relief options I would like to try during labour, whether I wanted to have vaginal exams during labour (and whether I wanted to be told how dilated I was), preference for skin-to-skin contact with the baby immediately after birth, how I wanted to birth the placenta (and what to do with it afterwards), the list goes on!

One of the most useful sources of information I found in preparing my birth preferences were the prenatal yoga classes I attended with Vedanta Nicholson. Not only were these classes a fantastic way to relax and learn essential active birth skills, but Vedanta gives you really practical, evidence-based information about labour and birth in each class. I also found the following books incredibly useful – they all helped to inform my birth preferences:

One of the things I learnt about birth preferences, is that they can be helped or hindered by hospital policies. For example, some hospitals in the ACT don’t allow water births, and they all have various standards when it comes to medical intervention during labour.

A couple of my girlfriends had gone through the Birth Centre at Calvary, and highly recommended it. After chatting with them I thought it would probably suit me, because I was keen to have a vaginal birth with little or no intervention if possible. I must say that I received amazing care from the midwives, nurses and doctors at Calvary – and I saw quite a few after a 30 hour labour that ended in an emergency cesarean section!

Even though my labour didn’t end as I would’ve liked, I found the entire experience absolutely empowering and mind-blowing! Anyway, that’s another blog post

Once Ash was finally born, there were a few key things that I found helpful, particularly in the early days:

Focusing on the positives – there are lots!

While I spent the first few months post-partum feeling frustrated about being so physically inactive while my body recovered from the Cesarean Section, and adjusted to keeping another human alive (outside my body this time), I kept focusing on the fact that we had a gorgeous and healthy little boy in our lives. This simple mantra gave me a clear reference point when I was thoroughly sleep deprived, full of raging hormones, feeling fat and lethargic, and at times, completely unsure if Simon and I were “doing it right”.

Forming a parental brains trust

Simon and I are really lucky that the group of parents we did our hospital classes with started a really supportive and candid closed Facebook group so we could stay in touch. While I’ve never been big on the concept of “mother’s groups” or discussing difficult and personal issues with perfect strangers, this crew was (and still is) a great support for Simon and I. It’s been so interesting to chat with other parents about everything from sleep, to teething, nappy options, health issues, weaning, first foods, childcare experiences, and everything in between.

Finding my new training routine

Having gone from doing functional fitness, Capoeira, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu regularly pre-pregnancy, to being restricted to “just walking” for 6 months post-partum, I had to rethink and reimagine my ideal training routine. It went something like this:

When Ash was about four months, I started to do some one-on-one personal training sessions with my man Simon. My focus for these sessions is mobility and light strength work. When I am super tired we run through a series of stretches, focusing on unlocking all my tight and tangled spots (there were lots).

At six months I felt I could add some more dynamic, whole body movements into my training. So I was super excited when I returned to FuncFitness to train once a week, it’s one of the friendliest gym communities in Canberra. The culture of where you train is always important, but even moreso when you’re getting back to training after a break, and are feeling super unfit.

Most recently I’ve started doing some one-on-one Muay Thai sessions with my friend Mitch Langman. Some days we work on the psychological aspects of my training, sometimes we spar, sometimes we run drills on the focus pads. One of the things I love about training with Mitch is that regardless of what we’ve done during that hour, I always leave with a smile on my face, feeling a billion times better than when I first walked in.

So what’s next? I’m absolutely itching to get back into some Capoeira and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Elements – I’ll find some time somehow!

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Last year I was lucky enough to attend the Better Boards Conference, and co-present with the talented Ruth Pitt on the YWCA of Canberra’s long-term strategic plan. This week the Better Boards team sent me the video of our presentation, so here it is – enjoy!

You can read my original post covering the conference here

Note: I’ve since resigned from the YWCA of Canberra board to take up an exciting role within the staff team, and I love it!

Martial Women and Girls, April, 2013

A lot has happened since the first Martial Women and Girls event in January, so I wanted to give you a bit of an update.

We held our second event

Our April event was jam-packed full of awesome! We tweaked the program based on our January participants’ feedback, and engaged some seriously talented ladies to lead our lightening workshops to explore the theme of ‘combat’ in their individual artforms.

Pia and I also did some radio about Martial Women and Girls in the morning with ABC 666‘s Mel Tait which was great fun. Some listeners ended up coming along to participate in the event later that day which was an unexpected but awesome outcome!

Our lineup of highly skilled and talented women for the day included 2008 Judo Olympian, Steph Grant, Muay Thai teacher and fight trainer, Jenny Blasi, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach, Jenni Walke, and amateur boxer, Julie Simms.

With more than 35 participants, many of whom hadn’t attended our January event, the group was a good mix of experienced martial artists, brand newbies, and beginners from Boxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and Gung Fu clubs around town.

Jenny Blasi, Muay Thai, 2013

Jenny Blasi, Dark Carnival Muay Thai, leading a demonstration on the combat principles of Muay Thai.

Jenni Walke, BJJ, April 2013

Jenni Walki, Elements Fitness and Martial Arts, facilitates a lightening workshop on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Julie Simms, Boxing, 2013

Julie Simms, Winnunga Boxing, teaches the girls some basic drills with focus mits.

Stephanie Grant, Judo, 2013

Stephanie Grant, Hill Sports Academy Judo, demonstrates some spectacular throws with her training partner Mikali.

We were also lucky enough to have martial artist, yoga teacher and personal trainer, Barb Whiddon take us through the warm up on the day, and Capoeirista, Physiotherapist and yoga teacher, Emily McLoughlin guide us through the warm down and meditation at the close of the session.

Our next event is due to run in July, so stay tuned!

We secured a small grant to help build our community

Each year, the YWCA of Canberra calls for applications for its Great Ydeas Program, which provides local women with seed funding to get their project, small business, or social enterprise up and running, as well as support for professional development opportunities.

This year I was lucky enough to receive a small grant to build a dedicated website and marketing materials for Martial Women and Girls, which will get underway as soon as I return from Europe in July!

The Canberra Weekly ran a bit of a story about it it the last issue which was super cool. I loved that they used the pic of me kicking my partner Simon too 😉

Canberra Weekly article - Martial Women and Girls

So what’s next?

We’ll continue to hold regular events, build our online networks, and train of course! We’re keen to get a demonstration together for the 2014 Multicultural Festival, but that’s a little further down the track.

If you would like me to add you to our mailing list to receive updates about future activities and events then just leave a comment below with your email address.

Hope to see you on the mats!

Martial Women & Girls Workshop - Pia & Nu Nu

As I sat sharing a pot of Chai Tea with a fellow martial artist, Pia Waugh, I quickly came to understand our mutual desire to encourage more women and girls to get involved in martial arts in Canberra. The prospect of running a series of events with Pia was so intensely exciting, and at the same time I felt a little rocked by how quickly she had gained my trust, respect and confidence in collaborating with her. But this was the start of something great – I could feel it.

It wasn’t about competition, profile-raising, building a business, or any of that stuff you have to consider when you’re trying to make a dollar or two. We just wanted more women to experience some of the life-long benefits that martial arts can offer. Together we planned to create a space for women and girls of all ages, disciplines, and physical capability to come together to exchange skills, knowledge, and passion to build a stronger martial arts community in the ACT.

The first of our events was held in January this year, with over 35 women and girls in attendance. The vibe in the room was nothing short of awesome. I was so excited to see a whole bunch of faces I’d never encountered before, and at the same time have the comfort of a few of my best friends and training partners participating too.

Martial Women & Girls - January Workshop - Group Shot

The evidently vast age range of the participants which I estimate to be around 17-65, made me a little nervous at first, but the anxiety melted away as I watched people strike up conversations with one another, introduce themselves, and get comfortable on the mats.

After the intros and short demos, our participants enthusiastically dove right into a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu workshop with my mates Jenni and Sarah from Elements, followed by Boxing with Maddie and Muay Thai techniques with Nu Nu from Stockade, a Kyokushin Karate workshop with Claudia from Elements, and finally a Gung Fu session with Pia.

Martial Women & Girls - January Workshop

After some harassment I ran a short session on Capoeira music with the group, and I realised the women and girls in the room were not only brave, open-minded, and bold, but musically talented as well – not a bung note in the room!

We closed the afternoon with a short meditation, and had a chat about some of the drills and techniques we had explored. To me, the event was everything I’d hoped for and more, and some of the feedback we received still puts a big cheesy smile on my face. I just can’t wait for the next one in April!

“I liked that it was all girls. This is an unusual statement for me to make but I think that this is one of a very few situations where just girls is beneficial. I would have otherwise felt less comfortable.” – attendee, January 2013

Martial Women & Girls - January Workshop - Jo & Em

“Thank you. Building a women’s martial arts community in Canberra is a fantastic idea.” – attendee, January 2013

Martial Women & Girls - January Workshop - Jenni & Romina

“I finally understand BJJ!” – attendee, January 2013

Big thanks to Sharen Scott for these great pics!

Capoeira – what’s there not to love?

This is a quick and dirty video I cut together of my awesome mates at Elementos Capoeira, Canberra. This was my first time mucking around with a GoPro (thanks Frank and Trill), and it also marks a long awaited return to the editing suite!

 

One of Her Canberra’s 15 Women to Watch in 2015

Her Canberra - 15 Women to Watch

Nominated for Mamamia’s Most Clickable Women of 2013

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