Power to the Mother: Ashleigh Moir

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Power to the Mother is a series of interviews on the transformative and empowering experience of motherhood.

For the last Power of the Mother interviews of 2018, I’m sharing with you a conversation with Ashleigh Moir. I first met Ashleigh through one of Eloise’s courses, and since then have had a kind of fascination with her. There’s something about her assured presence that seems hard won, and from her outdoor-living philosophy to her amazing support of women, her attitude is always inspiring and I feel lucky to have found her. Here we talk about unexpected motherhood, finding support and - of course - getting all that glorious fresh air.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, and your family?

I'm Ashleigh. I live on the East Kent coast, with a family which seems to ebb and flow as bodies come and go through the front door! My partner Brad and I have four children between us. His two sons are 18 and 14 and are busy doing whatever it is that teenage boys do - whilst finding time to drop in on us when they fancy it! I have an 8 year old son, Seb, who divides his time between us and my ex-husband. Together we have a daughter, Quinn, the sole girl in the pack and our only 'permanent resident'. Quinn is 3 and would be due to start school in September, but we've chosen to home educate her. 



What was your experience of pregnancy, and birth?

I have had two straight forward pregnancies and births. First time around I was just grateful to be dealt a lucky hand. I was 22, single for the most part of my pregnancy, living alone in a neighbourhood people actively avoided, about to enter parenthood with very little but fear and resentment. I wasn't even sure that I wanted children when I fell pregnant with Seb, much less to have children in my early 20s. I was utterly convinced that my life was over, that everything I'd dreamed of (I can't even recollect what those dreams were now!) was being taken from me. My pregnancy was non eventful, but I was miserable beyond measure. My friend Jade who'd been my reliable drinking buddy: who'd saved me from dodgy dates and held my hair back whilst I threw up out of taxi windows - was suddenly my birth partner. Bless her, I dragged her to NCT classes and everything! She was as good a birth partner as a 24 year old single woman who had never given birth could be. Seb was born just before midnight, after a 5.5 hour labour, with minimal intervention. Jade went home and cried on her kitchen floor with a bottle of rum... thoroughly traumatised.

When I fell pregnant with Quinn I had been a parent for 5 years, I'd learned so much about myself - and it turned out that I absolutely loved motherhood after all! I was really just a girl when Seb was born, but I was beginning to find my feet as a woman by 27. I'm not sure I was in a more ideal situation - I'd recently left my marriage after having an affair, I'd severed all contact with my family, and I was living back in that same undesirable neighbourhood (although by this time it was 'up and coming', the smell of gentrification was ripe). Brad and I had been seeing each other for 4 months when I fell pregnant, and as anyone who's ever walked away from a marriage for love will know... those first few months are emotional chaos! My son had just started school, and was adjusting to parental separation. To be frank, a pregnancy was incredibly impractical. But gosh did I LOVE that pregnancy! We really believed at first that terminating the pregnancy was our only viable option; the alternative just seemed ridiculous: but I just couldn't do it. The voice in my head that said this baby had to be born, was overpowering - and of course she did - it was Quinn! This time I wanted to own my birth and feel the empowerment that I heard women speak of, but couldn't relate to. I practiced hypnobirthing, planned a home birth, hired a doula. Quinn's birth was out of this world - powerful but painless, she arrived after an hour of labour, on my bedroom floor. We hadn't even got around to calling for a midwife. We thought I was still in the early stages of labour and then - there she was!

I should add, in case this reads as a total day-ruiner to either child in the future; Motherhood has been the making of me, they are the most precious, incredible gifts I've ever received. I make no secret of the fact that I was absolutely gutted to fall pregnant on both occasions. Neither of them will ever be able to say they were a 'much longed for child'. But goodness I am grateful that they were sent my way!

Above all else, I've been most empowered by the process of discovering myself and my own Mothering identity, separate entirely from the norms I grew up with. It's been really hard to fathom what is right for me as a Mother, and what I thought was right because that's what I'd always been shown. It was only when I started tapping into my own intuition and taking control of my own Motherhood experience, that I realised I'd been telling myself a load of stories about babies and postpartum life that I didn't even really believe. Shedding that, being true to myself and healing old, probably intergenerational, wounds, was both freeing and incredibly empowering. 

 

Can you tell us about your experience of motherhood first time round?

I met my ex husband when I was 35 weeks pregnant, and we moved in together when Seb was about 6 months old. Throughout the later part of my pregnancy and early motherhood however, I was almost entirely reliant, financially and emotionally, on my own family. Understanding now what a vulnerable time early motherhood is, I feel so sad for 22 year old me. Most of the important choices I made were influenced by how I was parented, what my mother believed was right or better. Her ideas surrounding the postpartum period and motherhood were the ideas I'd grown up around, and they became my ideas. Retrospectively they weren't the right choices for me. I didn't put Seb to the breast once, he was formula fed from birth and slept in his own room from about 5 weeks old. I absolutely support a woman's right to make those choices, and others, after educating herself with all of the information we have available to us. Mine weren't informed choices however. I had been raised in a house where breastfeeding was disgusting, unnecessary and shameful, and so it never crossed my mind that I would even want to give it a go. I should have sought information and educated myself before making a decision (I outright refused to attend the breastfeeding info session that was part of my NCT course) but I would never have had the confidence to tell my Mum I wanted to try to breastfeed, even if I did. When my milk came in a few days after Seb was born it was just a gross and painful inconvenience, but I never saw it as a food for my baby. I just made up another bottle. I have absolutely no doubt that this has negatively impacted on my experience of motherhood with Seb, I so so wish I could turn back the clock. I wish I could give 22 year old me some of that 'pressure to breastfeed' that people talk about. I know that sometimes people feel angry at me because I'm so passionate about breastfeeding education - but it doesn't come from a place of judgement, it comes from a place of longing, of wishing I'd been fully informed before choosing an alternative. Of course this didn't just apply to breastfeeding, there were all sorts of parenting choices I made first time around that upset me now; simply because I can acknowledge that I didn't understand babies and I didn't understand motherhood. It's painful to look back on. 

 

And how have things been different second time round?

By the time we'd got our heads around the fact that we were having a baby, I had already lost all contact with my family. In the 5 years since Seb's birth I'd met so many mothers, and seen so many different types of motherhood in action. Looking back I realise that before having Seb, the only motherhood I'd really witnessed was within my family, my mum, my nan, and to an extent my aunt, who is an adoptive mother to my cousin. I had never held a baby until I gave birth to one. Which is a bit nuts. But through socialising as a mother, I'd actually seen someone breastfeed for the first time, my friends had home births, trained as doulas, encapsulated their placentas, they wore babies in slings, home educated - all things that I'd been led to believe only really strange/appalling people did! Suddenly I had two gifts: knowledge, and freedom from judgement. I researched the s**t out of pregnancy, birth and early babyhood, reading everything that I could find - and if you ever want to see HOW detailed a birth plan can be, hit me up and I shall show you mine! When Quinn was born I finally found this incredible joy, not just in my children, but in myself, in the woman that motherhood was moulding me into. I breastfed (and it wasn't disgusting!). We had a really really tough start to breastfeeding, it really didn't work for us at first and I can safely say that my early experience of breastfeeding is the hardest thing I've ever had to overcome. It took my mental health to the absolute brink. But somehow, the woman who'd previously agreed with her mother that women shouldn't be allowed to breastfeed in restaurants (???) was determined to breastfeed this child, even if it broke her. I went on to train as a breastfeeding support worker. I wore Quinn in a sling every day. I used cloth nappies from birth. I could go on, but you get the picture. This is the mum I was supposed to be all along and I'm so glad I found her in the end! 

Quinn's three. She still sleeps in our bed (as a deliberate choice of ours, not because she just gets in against our wishes) and still breastfeeds at least twice a day. I still wear her in a sling too actually. And as mentioned, we'll be officially home educating come September. 22 year old me would not even recognise this as motherhood!

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It sounds like motherhood changed you in so many ways second time round. How did you find support? What would you say to those who struggle to find it?

I'm lucky to have been able to gain support from the right people at the right time. In terms of support in my role as a mother, since Quinn was born, that's included friends, strangers on the internet, midwives, doulas, breastfeeding support workers and lactation consultants, infant massage instructors, babywearing consultants, Mothers I just met in cafes, the baristas in the cafes, the people on the non emergency medical helpline, my partner, his mum, his sister. If I need help, and someone can help me, I will graciously take it, whilst never taking those people for granted. 

I am an extrovert (ENTP for those who're in to their personality types) and I need to engage and connect with other people as a means of self care. I therefore tend to have people around me most of the time, by design! I seek out social interaction daily... and I'm happy to introduce myself to people or just join in conversations.

I think it's probably a lot easier for extroverted parents like me to get the support they need, because we don't find it as difficult to put ourselves in the way of the people we want to speak to or be seen by. 

When I was single I loved dating. I would happily go on 7 first dates a week given the chance. I love meeting people and finding out about their lives and loves. I kind of keep my dating game strong by just introducing myself to mothers I think I have something in common with and asking if they want to hang out! I met most of my friends this way! It is not in the least bit uncommon for me to send other local mums Instagram messages asking if they'd be interested in a play date, having never really spoken to them before... nobody has ever said no! 

I guess I'd just encourage everyone to try to overcome their social nerves, their awkwardness or fear of rejection. Just go out and grab the support you need by the lapels and give it a good shake! Remember, you deserve to be liked and to receive other people's kindness and compassion. Everyone else wishes they had someone to talk to as well, so you don't have much to lose!

 Probably easy for a straight white cis-het able-bodied Mother to say, I know. Being able to decide that you're going to go out and demand to be supported is kind of privilege in action isn't it? 

 

The outdoors is hugely important to your family, its so inspiring! How do you get yourself motivated to spend most days outside, come rain or shine?

If I have a 'parenting philosophy' then being outdoors and connecting with nature alongside my children is at the absolute centre of that. As I move into a new season of motherhood where I no longer have an infant constantly attached to my breast, I feel as though my identity as a mum is wrapped up in our 'outdoors in any weather' lifestyle.

 It's actually hard to achieve with Seb, he's in school full time, often has after school activities, and then spends half of the time that's left with his Dad. The time I spend with him amounts to hours during term time, rather than days, which is horrible. But Quinn is with me 24/7 and we maximise our access to the outdoors, come rain or shine. We loosely follow a nature study curriculum as part of our pre school home education, though everything is very child led and relaxed. We go to outdoor groups such as forest school, farm school, beach school and gardening club, for a few hours at least 3 days a week, though usually 4. I also throw in a few day trips, nature walks and hanging out on the beach with friend, we don't really 'do' indoors very well!

 Its just absolutely crucial to how I parent, so I'm never really sure where my motivation comes from! The benefits to spending lots of time outdoors for children are so numerous, like, undeniably enormous; and I also find that our social, outdoor lifestyle supports my mental health and wellbeing, so it's a definite win/win. Different weather conditions provide so many unique play opportunities and sensory experiences. I just think children are missing out on so many cool things by staying indoors unless the weather is fair. That's my privilege talking again but I'm lucky enough to be able to offer Quinn this childhood, I would be a fool not to utilise that good fortune. 

Without supposed 'bad weather' you can't authentically experience nature, and I guess what I want for my kids, above anything else, is an authentic, natural childhood.

 I am a pretty committed environmentalist. At the moment I am both terrified and heartbroken by the state of our planet and the continual decline of natural habitats. It genuinely keeps me up at night. We try to live in such a way that we make choices to reduce our impact on the environment, not always easy but we do make an effort.  I believe that I have an environmental responsibility to raise children who will give a shit about the planet. Our children's generation(s) stand to be the ones to pull nature back from the brink, but only if they're taught to love it. How can we expect children raised in air conditioned classrooms and soft play centres, to want to save the rainforests, or replenish our oceans, or just get more hedgehogs in British gardens or protect bumblebees. My 3 year old daughter could save the world one day, but only if I show it to her first. 

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What advice would you share with mothers expecting, brand new mothers and mothers far into this journey?

Buy less stuff.

 

And finally, how do you create pockets of mindfulness in your day? What do you do?

I don't really see mindfulness as something I achieve by stepping back from parenthood. It's not really wrapped up in 'me time'. I find mindfulness in really being present with my children; something I do find hard! We're wandering back to that personality type thing again, but as someone who is both extroverted and intuitive, I find it hard to stay with single thoughts or ideas for long. Reminding myself to really SEE my children, to drink them in, to listen to them, to touch them purposefully - that's golden. Mindfulness exists best within parenting, not in spite of parenting.

You can find Ashleigh on instagram as @quinnathome.