Forget Summer with its sun beaming down on roasting skin, sizzling in the heat. It has never been my favourite season.

Stark shadows mark the ground like a warning sign. The sun: a danger to delicate skin. Fair and freckled, I hide under the canopy of trees; their shade is my safety.

I sense relief as the leaves fall to mark the sun’s retreat. Slowly the days draw in. Anticipation builds as the greens radiate into oranges, reds…

Eager to move through the seasons I remind myself to cherish the glow of early mornings. To catch the sunrises through the window, misty from the outside chill, before they disappear into the months of darkness ahead.

Winter is long and equally relentless. The absence of the sun’s warmth is as much of a challenge to me as its presence. I hide wrapped inside blankets, relying on the comfort of warm cups of tea and hot water bottles.

To me, those few days in early Autumn are the most precious. When the sun shines in cloudless skies but its power is muted by a gentle breeze. A touch cooler. Is it too early for a scarf? I long to be outside, swaddled in soft knits, found like long lost treasure at the back of the wardrobe.

The bright blue sky comes alive with the glow of burning oranges in the trees below. Crisp leaves underfoot; the ground is coated with spiked conkers, undiscovered by squirrels. Inside the deep red gloss shines.

I am reminded of back to school and fresh starts. The clean page of a brand new notebook, or a the shine of a new pair of boots; adventures lie ahead; marks are yet to be made. Autumn’s beauty lies in its endings, paving the way for new beginnings one leaf at a time.

I had never really understood Feminism. Back in the noughties when I took my History A-level, feminism was a thing of the past. As far as I was concerned we had completed it once women’s right to vote had been achieved in 1928. Now, after a few years of experience in the big bad world, I can see there is a lot more still to be done.

I attended an all girls school and we were sold the dream. We could have any job we wanted, marry who we wanted, if we even wanted to marry at all, and children; they were also optional. Most of our teachers were women; they were our role models. If they could have a fancy countryside house a few miles from the beach, a nice car and a family, then so could we. It didn’t really occur to me to look closer to home because the two worlds were so different. Perhaps my own mother hadn’t achieved everything she wanted to due to the limits of society, but she also left school at fifteen and had her children very young. Anyway, I knew my life would be different from my mother’s. I believed I could have it all, or at least most of it.

Alongside the uplifting education we received, there were strange elements of sexism at play at the school. When I first joined, the pupils were amidst a battle with the Parent Teacher’s Association and the Governors over the uniform update including the option of wearing trousers. I had just spent the last 6 years of my school life with my legs covered and I was devastated that a presumably pro-women all-girls school would then deny their pupils the option of covering their legs. (The reason I wanted to cover my legs was of course because society demanded smooth shapely calves, with a light tan, which I knew even at eleven years old I would never be able to achieve or maintain, but that’s another story.)

I distinctly remember a friend was suspended for shaving her head for charity, obviously it was too short and too unladylike. She stayed in hiding until it was deemed presentable enough because, of course, hats weren’t allowed either. We were often pulled up on our choices concerning our hair design against the tight rules and regulations, right down to the detail of which scrunchie we were wearing. I wondered if the boys in the neighbouring school were equally harassed for how they looked.

I always found it entertaining that we had to learn how to put a condom on a banana, whilst the boys must have slept through their lesson on menstruation and pregnancy, if they had one at all, if my experience having to explain it to them was anything to go by. I remember the fear of pregnancy was drummed into us so hard, most girls were on the pill before they left school. Not because we were all whores servicing the boys in the school field at lunch, but because education was too important to us for it to be destroyed by a silly mistake. It was clear even then, that it would be the girls who suffered the consequences in that situation.

I got a paper round as soon as I could but I knew friends that “weren’t allowed” whilst their brothers were. Their fathers were limiting their independence from a young age based on the perceived vulnerability of girls from the potential actions of men. My own father, whilst I was encouraged to go out and earn money, had issues with my sister and I having boyfriends; a stark contrast to his enthusiasm over my brother’s multiple girlfriends and sexual exploits. He is a year younger than me.

The trouble with change is it happens slowly. Here we were almost eighty years after women’s suffrage had been achieved with presumptions about gender still hanging around. Unfortunately not a lot has changed since then, either. I know, however, that I am one of the lucky ones. I grew up in a part of the world where while women and men might not be on quite an equal footing, it’s a better situation than some. I got an education. I was able to go to school and to university. Crucially, I have been able to make my own choices; they were not defined by my gender and not decided by my father.

I do, however, think we have some way to go. Feminism is the focus of equality for the female of the species, but there is much more equality needed in this world. Equality for all people regardless of gender, race, sexuality, mental and physical health. I don’t understand why in 2020 we are still trying to close the gender pay gap or why there are so few women in the top jobs. Why does it feel like the country is being run by exclusively white men from Eton? I hope we can increase the visibility of diversity across all groups, including those from poorer backgrounds in all industries. Encouraging young people, like our teachers did back then, that they can be this person, they can do this job. There should be no limitations on ambition.

History is what has defined certain groups to have a so-called easier time today and history is where it should stay. Feminism, however should be in the history books with an asterisk. *the pursuit of equality is still ongoing.

Updated: Aug 31

It’s World Breastfeeding Week and I am filled with bittersweet memories of the short time I breastfed my baby boy. I was in awe of how wonderful my body was to be able to nourish him and give him everything he needed to grow. It was a privilege but I would be lying if I said I didn’t find breastfeeding hard, both physically and emotionally and unfortunately it didn’t last long.

After 9 months of giving my body over to the little human I was making inside of me, I was ready to have my body back. I felt trapped by the constant need to go to the toilet, his head taking up the space my bladder usually occupied. I wanted to wear something other than the few bump-friendly outfits I had on rotation: thick stripes, thinner stripes, multi-coloured stripes. I was desperate for sleep having suffered from bouts of insomnia fuelled by anxiety. It was such a relief when my little human was born, I assumed my body was mine again but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I was now his source of food, warmth and comfort. I was needed at every cry. He was hungry and I had to help him. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t go to the toilet. But it wasn’t about me anymore.

In the first few days cluster feeding made me feel like a hamster trapped on a wheel. I would wake up from a couple of hours sleep, my breasts full and uncomfortable expected to do it all again. He wasn’t the best feeder and of course, we were both still learning. Each feed was a challenge and nowhere near as easy and convenient as I thought it should be. I feared going out in case he woke up and I’d need to wrestle a screaming baby to my breast in public. I was afraid of what people would think of me. I felt like a I was terrible at being a mother. Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, they had said, so why was it so difficult?

I would spend hours on Google, often in the dead of night, searching for someone to tell me what I was doing wrong. Why was he crying all the time? Why was it so painful? How long was it going to be like this? I felt like for him to be that hungry I mustn’t have been feeding him at all, there can’t have been enough milk, perhaps he wasn't latching correctly. Midwives often said “if it hurts you are doing it wrong.” I googled for answers, but I didn’t find them.

The midwives would come and weigh him and ask how he was feeding. Approving smiles were made when I told them he was “exclusively breastfed.” Michelin star food for babies and I was providing it. It was the very best for him, they said, but it didn’t feel that way to me. I was frightened to introduce formula fearing bottles would confuse him. It would hold us back and I felt like we were making no progress at all. I would hold back tears saying I was finding it difficult, he didn’t latch well, he screamed taking in so much air the milk would often come back up. They would remark how well I was doing; he seemed happy. What I was experiencing was all normal and to be expected. He was gaining weight; there was nothing wrong.

When I first gave birth, I went home with my newborn in a daze, riding a high of unconditional love, adrenalin and hormones, which lasted the next few days. But when the hormones wore off and the adrenalin disappeared my need for sleep was so urgent I would cry at every feed, I knew something needed to change. I gave up after just three weeks.

Knowing now my experience was normal and likely had I persevered, I would still be breastfeeding now but I wasn’t prepared for what it was like and my expectations fuelled my desire to give up. Had I known I wasn’t doing anything wrong and this was just how it was, I wouldn’t have blamed myself as much as I did. I had heard it was hard, but I knew few people that had got through the hardship and out of the other side. There seemed to be two types of people, those that found it easy and those that had given up.

I hated that had given up. It took me some time to come to terms with the fact I was no longer feeding him myself. I had been selfish and wanted my body back. I felt there was a stigma to putting myself first. I denied my baby the nutrients he needed for a couple of extra hours sleep each night and to feel comfortable in my body again. But the truth was I was happier. I was now able to bond with him because I was more relaxed, better rested. I cried less. There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to doing what is right for you and your family. Formula isn’t a bad thing. Looking back now, with a healthy, happy and thriving baby, exclusively formula-fed, (well and solids) I know we made the right choice.

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© 2020 Kylie-Ann Homer.