30 January 2017

When your baby is subject to negative comments online

This is a hard post to write, mainly because I never thought that I would have to, so I have no idea really what to say, other than what I feel.

A month or so ago I did a little Instagram campaign for Petits Filous where I had to take a photograph of Rohan eating their new yoghurt and hashtag it to be part of it. I got paid a small amount for doing so, and thought that was it. I don't really do too many paid ads especially on Instagram but was happy to do so. I was happy with the photo. But at the end of last week and over the weekend I've been alerted several times that Rohan's photo had popped up on many people's Facebook feeds as an advert for Petits Filous. I hadn't been made aware that this was going to happen by the company prior to it going live, but since they technically own the rights to it, they are allowed to use it across their social media. I don't actually have a problem with this, as one it's in the small print and two, I like that they have chosen a "real" approach to their campaign rather than a shoot with baby models. The fact that they chose Rohan's photo who doesn't particularly look like your stereotypical model child is also a good thing in my eyes.

My problem is the comments. Now I know all about the "below the line" comments on facebook and I know that they are usually not worth the time to even read, but call me naive, but I in no way ever dreamed that people would have anything negative to say about my baby. Granted a lot of the comments are people jumping on a "they're full of sugar" bandwagon without actually knowing facts, or viewing yoghurts in a everything in moderation stance. But I read on until I found a comment that made my heart stop and my skin prick. And it wasn't the only one.

"He looks unwell"
"He looks allergic"
"Is it me or does he look sad"
"He looks so upset and like he's been forced to eat the yoghurt"
"Why have they forced and distressed him to eat a yoghurt for an ad"

Ah. There are so many things I wanted to say. I replied to one comment and then I stopped myself. I could go and reply to every single comment but would these people even listen? I stayed awake most of the night thinking and going over what I would say to each of these comments, trying to make sense of it all. But I do think I need to address some of the comments here.

Firstly, yes, he was unwell. He is quite often unwell with a cold or runny nose and that all has to do with his genetic condition. Believe me I am aware that my child is unwell. His condition also affects his eyes which mean they are often sticky or wet, especially when he has a cold. If I feel he is suffering more than usual I take him to the doctors, because as I have mentioned recently on my instagram he has been pretty poorly with this most recent cold and he is at a higher risk of catching a chest infection which can be very serious with a child with a heart and respiratory conditions. I am the first to know and react to protect my baby when something is not right. So yes he is unwell, unwell with a cold and in general he is not a 100% healthy baby, something which we have been dealing with since before he was born, and battling every day with all our might to try and make his life comfortable and enjoyable. If you want to know more about what is 'wrong' with Rohan then taking the time to read about him and his genetic condition would be a good place to start.

Whilst I appreciate that many of the comments about him looking like he has a cows milk allergy come from a place of concern or experience, perhaps they weren't put in the most understanding or sensitive way. If my child had a CMPA and I knew about it, then why would I be feeding this to my child? Rohan has been seeing a dietician since he was born, and every gram of food or milk that we feed him is monitored. When we last saw his new dietician a few weeks ago I had to list everything that he regularly eats, which includes the occasional yoghurt. Now Rohan is on a high calorie diet and she encouraged me to add butter, cream, cheese, chocolate and even sugar to his meals in hope that he gains weight. Obviously this is not the normal advice, but his diet is very closely monitored and there is in no way that I would be feeding him something if I knew it would be harming him, much less to then photograph it and put it online. He see's various other healthcare professionals regularly and no one has ever been concerned that he may have a milk allergy. In regards to his eczema, I suffered from it myself as a baby and still do, so it may well have been passed on from me. He also has to wear an oxygen cannula every night which is secured in place by tape across his cheeks which probably irritates his skin (I'd much rather have him a little rash than you know, stop breathing, so it's a side effect worth putting up with.) It's not there all the time and comes and goes according to how well he is feeling too. He's not distressed by it any way.

To the fact that I was forcing him to eat the yoghurt. This is just ludicrous. Why would I force my baby to eat something he doesn't want, and then take a photograph of it? If he doesn't want something he tells and shows, and then I stop. Honestly do people even believe the crap they write sometimes? As regular followers of this blog or my instagram will know Rohan's feeding journey has been a huge battle for us, one which I feel we have done so well with and I was actually very proud of this moment captured. He was NG tube fed for the first six months or so of his life, we started weaning a little later to give him a good chance to be able to do it. We worked so hard to get him to take milk orally and we eventually did it. To know that he wasn't really expected to be able to feed 100% orally but we managed it is a huge huge victory for us. He took to weaning really well too, and whilst he doesn't really manage proper solid food yet, the fact that again he takes all his food orally is massive to us. He also manages to feed himself with the spoon, and really enjoys it. I'm proud of him and I'm proud of us for working so hard. So for someone to say he looks sad and not enjoying the food is a massive hit for me. I dare anyone to try and take a photo of someone eating and look spontaneously happy about it, and see the results. I always try and capture my children naturally without forcing them or telling them how they should look (not that you can tell a baby how they should look!) If Rohan was in any way upset or not enjoying his yoghurt or me taking the photograph then why on earth anyone would think I would just carry on anyway is beyond me. No he wasn't forced to eat it, he was enjoying it. No he hadn't been crying and I hadn't ignored him being upset. No I didn't distress him for the advertisement campaign. He was happy and in no way protested either the yoghurt or the photographs being taken.

That is also another point, anyone who knows Rohan or has spent more than two minutes in his company will know that he is anything but a sad child. In fact the one comment above all that we receive is that he is so happy. He is calm and content and will always give people a true and happy smile. I have so many photographs of him looking happy, and maybe this photograph doesn't show him beaming, but he was happy. This photograph captured his face in about 1/100th of a second, it doesn't capture all of his character, or even his general mood at that time. To me he doesn't look sad or upset (I do believe it or not I know how he looks when he's upset, and it's not like this!) he just looks like he's looking at me and intrigued by the camera, which he often is.

But the real point is, is that I shouldn't having to be even defending these points. Yes I share my children's life online but I never thought that this meant it opened them up to be discussed, criticised or told by people who have no idea of our story or situation that they look or feel a certain way. I have never encountered it before, and I'm not shy of sharing "real life" moments. My feed or blog certainly isn't full of posed, curated whimsical photographs of my children (not that there's anything wrong with that, if that's your thing) it is just of them growing up and our telling our story alongside it. Perhaps that's why I've never had anything negative before, because my pictures are always posted from me, their mother, alongside our story to a community who has followed along for a reason.

Rohan's little face has never been put out there before out of context, without my name along side it, for the whole world to have an opinion on. That's what upset me. The fact that people are so quick to judge, to criticise and comment on a picture of a baby. A baby for goodness sake. To say he looks sad is a direct comment on my parenting. To say he looks unwell is a direct comment on the fact they think I'm doing a bad job. Except they're not saying it to me directly. They are saying it in an open forum where perhaps they think I wouldn't read it. I know for a fact that if I was feeding this yoghurt to Rohan in a cafe, and he had his eczema on his face, a snotty nose and slightly watery eyes that no one would come up to me face to face and say "Excuse me, but I think your child has an allergy to cows milk." Or "Excuse me but your child looks upset and it looks as though you're forcing him to eat that yoghurt that he clearly doesn't want". Or "Excuse me but your child looks unwell and you're doing a terrible job as a mother and you don't know anything about how to raise your child or what's best for him, but I do, a perfect stranger viewing your life for a minute or so".

But somehow this is ok online? No my name wasn't attached to the picture, but it's a baby and that would surely mean that somewhere his mother/father/carer/family member would be aware of this photograph or adverts existence, and would therefore read the comments. Yes some people were trying to help, but was the picture asking for help? Was I posting it asking for a comment on whether it looks as though he has an allergy, and that I was concerned? Was I asking for an opinion on whether he looks happy feeding himself a yoghurt? No I was not. The photo was taken to show my child enjoying, yes ENJOYING, this yoghurt. He was, so I took the photo. I submitted it, they used it in their advert. That is all. No advice needed or asked for.

Is this what is to be expected though, my punishment for sharing my children's lives online? Am I supposed to just shrug and accept that people can say what they want in totally insensitive, judgemental and wholly unhelpful ways? Am I supposed to grow a thick skin, to not feel sick that my child is being discussed in such a way. I am a mother, my main and most important instinct is to protect and that is what I felt. To protect from these people with nothing better to do with their time than hang out on a yoghurt companies facebook page commenting on a little's babies face and trying to justify themselves in the process. The ones who think they're helping but really know nothing and are hiding behind their protective phone or computer screens. What is wrong with people?

Since our journey with Rohan began, before he was even born I used the internet and my small following as a place to go to for support. It became therapeutic to share my thoughts, worries and fears and updates of our journey too. In that time I've been contacted by various people who are following a similar journey and I know it helps us all to share. It's a place where I feel I can speak my thoughts honestly and a place to work through my emotions. If I need advice or help then I ask for it, for me it's the same in real life.

So to those who are concerned about the wellbeing, happiness and whether he has an allergy to dairy, I hope this has cleared things up a little. And to those people may I share with you a little advice before you go and comment on another baby's natural picture (or anyone else's for that matter) :

Is it:
T - True
H - Helpful
I - Inspiring
N - Necessary
K - Kind

Hopefully with this in mind it may eliminate some of those comments that yes, do actually hurt when you read them. Remind yourselves, and your children of this and hopefully the internet can be a slightly (I'm not holding much hope because man, the internet is a mean place sometimes) kinder place to be.

Edit: I just wanted to say a huge heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you that has commented in our defence, to try and highlight some of the reasons and give context to this picture. For all those who can see Rohan's beauty through his snotty nose and rashy face and to Petit Filous for choosing to show a real baby, whatever else he may have going on, doing a normal baby thing. Eating a yoghurt. That's it.

27 January 2017

And then you were six

Six. Actually six. I told him to stop growing the other day because I'm not sure I can really fathom the fact that I'm a mother to a proper child. I'll convince myself every year that this is the last year that he'll really feel like my baby still, but I feel like six is the last. Five was manageable, even though we had started our school journey it was just reception, he still needed me for lots, still retained a little baby roundness to his face. But that's all dropped away, he can read, he can write and he thinks he knows everything all ready.

Of course he still needs me, and there's that innocence still there. There's the belief, magic, wonder and make believe that's at it's peak but will all too quickly start to fade. He has such a curious mind, he wants to know all the facts, is fascinated by patterns and sums and he loves to tell you all that he knows.

This boy though, it's so hard to believe that I started writing this blog here because of the little bean that had started growing inside. All those thoughts and wonderings on how our lives would be once he was here. Then he arrived and changed it all and we spent those five years with just him. I can't believe how lucky I was to spend the majority of those years just being with him, showing him the world. To watch him grow has been a privilege. It's not been easy, and it's still not easy at all, in fact I feel like we're facing big challenges right now but he really is amazing.

I still find it so hard to take in that he's so grown up, to think back to him being just as small as Rohan is now. I long for more time with him when he was little, to step back in time and hold him when he was just a baby, or keep his little hand in mine for a while longer. It's that cruel reality that you wish away the hours in the day but before you know it years have sped by and you can hardly remember what their voice sounded like at that age or how their mannerisms have changed. I know I have all of this to come in one way with Rohan, it might not be the same of course, but I feel a little bit of mourning when I think back to Theo's childhood gone by. I want to do it all again, and yet I know when I was there I would miss this Theo now. But it's tough, five has been hard, but I'm really trying not to wish it away.

I feel bad that five has been difficult, it's been hard on him. He's had to adjust and learn to become a brother. His world of just us three was changed, and changed so dramatically. He had to see his brother, a baby, go through all that he did, experience us not being there properly for two months whilst he adjusted to all that change. He had to learn to share us after so long of it just being him. He's taken to it all so well, he loves his brother with so much adoration and care it makes my heart explode. Then we shook his life up once more and changed his school, we left the place where he's grown up, swapped the city for the countryside. He loves the countryside and being out here, and hopefully in the long run it will all work out, but two big changes in one year is a lot for an emotional five year old. On top of that we've been stressed and stretched thin, perhaps not being as patient as we can with all that we've been through this year ourselves.

But we'll get there. He's doing ok. There's a lot to take in with Theo, slightly different ways of behaving which are challenging and there may be a reason for that somewhere. He's incredibly bright and confident, people all seem to know his name and it just feels like he is open to learning so much. He can pick up computer games just like that, maths is his favourite and he loves making dens. He likes to dance, to build complex lego, to sit a read his beano to himself. He loves animals and learning facts about them. His favourite food is still pizza and filled pasta and we've still convinced him that he doesn't like fizzy drinks. He's not so fond of being kissed anymore, but will occasionally permit you to do so on the cheek and give you one back. He logical and literal, almost too much sometimes. He is kind, he likes to help people out and he loves to be given little tasks and instructions to complete (but that doesn't include getting dressed or putting his shoes on, because I don't think any child can do that when asked first time!). He has funny sayings and ways of speaking that he's picked up, his current favourite being "I'm deadly serious". He currently loves Harry Potter, Lego Nexo Knights, owls, star wars, furbys and angry birds.

But there we are, I'm sure there's a thousand more things about Theo that I could write, but it's hard to remember each individual thing, but they all add up to him. He's unique, not like other kids, and that can be hard, but amazing too. He's Theo and sometimes I can't believe that I've managed to document him growing up on here, but I'm so glad I have. I can't believe we've made it to six, six already! We survived those first five years and I think we've done a pretty good job. Theo you are great. And loved, so very much.

21 January 2017

3 / 52 and 4 / 52

A portrait of my children, once a week, every week in 2017

A double once again, but hopefully I'm all caught up and back on schedule. These past two weeks have flown by, but have seen us take a little trip to the seaside and wonder at the beauty of the beach in winter time. We've mainly just been spending time at home too, which is something to tell the truth I've never been very good at, always needing to be busy and off out somewhere, but for once I feel content to stay at home and just be. That includes enjoying the quiet moments of a bath in the sink, the early morning pink glow on a face peeping through the curtains and a just woken up baby face in bed.

Oh and in the spirit of trying to include ourselves in the frame a little more, here's my favourite sibling, father and mother portraits too.

20 January 2017

A family walk: Clevedon

A crisp winters day in the quiet between Christmas and New year. Rob was back at work, we were all recovering from illness and moving but there was an itch to get out into the sun and explore. We've been to Clevedon many times before, but now we live even closer we didn't want to miss this chance and weather. We strolled along the front with many other people and made our way onto the beach, Rohan sat on the stones whilst we watched Theo leap from one rock to another and throwing pebbles into the pools with a satisfying plop! The sea was as far out as I had ever seen it and we ran down ramp right to the end. The water was so still and calm, the freezing colours of silver, blue and purple all around us.

We then took ourselves to a cafe to warm up with hot chocolate and lunch and Theo got his reward of an ice cream for being so well behaved. It was one of those days where it just worked, we had fun and I felt like a super women. 

13 January 2017

1 / 52 and 2/52

1 / 52 A portrait of my children once a week, every week in 2017

2 / 52 A portrait of my children once a week, every week in 2017

11 January 2017

December in Devon

The week before Christmas we took Theo down to Devon for a few days whilst we moved house. It was a little bit of calm before the crazy storm that was to come. I think visiting Rob's grandparents is always my place to go to for a little sanctuary. I'm not sure if it's the sea being so close but I always find it so therapeutic, plus Rob's grandparents always treat us so well that it's so hard not to enjoy it!

We only stayed for a day or two but I wanted make sure we did something a little special with Theo for Christmas before we left him for a few days, so we took him to a little zoo to visit Father Christmas. It's such a funny one, as now that he's getting older I wonder how long he'll believe in it all. This year I feel like he really believed it, but I'm sad to think that the magic won't last that long. I do really want to up our emphasis on that Christmas should be about giving and helping others as much as possible, and hopefully as the run up to Christmas won't be so hectic next year we can really try and do more.

We woke up to the valley being clouded in thick mist that refused the lift for the day which made it feel even more wintry and magical. The little zoo in Shaldon was quiet and we spent a bit of time looking at the monkeys before visiting the little grotto, where Santa spent ages chatting to Theo.

Afterwards we made our way down to the beach through the smugglers tunnel and marvelled at the fog covered beach, where I may have gone a little crazy with taking photographs, because you know, it just looks so beautiful!

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