The journey of a lifetime – feeding my babies

Thanks for visiting from Adventures of a Novice Mum and welcome to my post for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt  “Day 1 The Start of My Journey”.

Sponsors today include Boobie Milk with a £50 voucher, Cherub Chews who are offering a breastfeeding necklace and Loveyush who are offering a breastfeeding scarf for our Grand Prize winner. Over £700 worth of goodies are up for grabs entries via the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

The start of my breastfeeding journey was, as so many are, a rocky one.  After a difficult and traumatic birth, with the masses of medical intervention that I had never wanted, my poor body was tired and battered already. Add into the mix a constantly hungry, velcro baby and some very very poor support and you have the recipe for a broken mama.

I had so desperately wanted to exclusively breastfeed my baby and, after I had (as I saw it) ‘failed’ to give birth, it was even more important to me to succeed with feeding: to try and make up for the drugs he’d received, the being ripped untimely from his mother’s womb, the fact I was a sobbing, miserable mess who struggled to attach to him.  The hospital pushed me to use formula and, exhausted and fighting to the last, I eventually gave in, although I pumped and fed, fed and pumped as well – anything to escape the hospital and get back to my community midwives.

I was, however, one of the lucky ones. I had the most amazing support from my husband and mother, I found a good midwife at my local unit who helped me when I turned up in tears at 3am two weeks after giving birth, I also found a support group not too far away where gentle peer supporters listened to me endlessly rehash my birth and a trained midwife gave some decent advice on holding my baby so everything was more comfortable.

I was on my knees with exhaustion, traumatised, in pain, struggling to bond, but I gritted my teeth and kept right on going and gradually, after about six weeks, things began to improve.  I couldn’t believe that something that was supposed to come naturally could cause so many difficulties and 10 months later, when the chance was offered for me to train to become a peer supporter myself, I jumped at the chance.

Feeding my daughter

Feeding my daughter

It’s been a long journey, from that first attempt to latch my baby on post c-section, dazed, exhausted, ignorant – to here. Now I support and advise other women and argued with ignorant HCPs when I began feeding my second baby and they tried to offer unwelcome and poor advice as I fed her in the Neonatal High Dependency Unit after, yet another, difficult birth.

Things are gradually changing. Between my two babies the hospital started to seek ‘Baby Friendly’ status and when I had my daughter they offered her donated breastmilk to supplement my milk.  There is still bad information out there, though, bad advisors, ignorant HCPs who, despite being medical personnel, have received less training on the mechanics and biology of breastfeeding than I, as a volunteer, have.

My breastfeeding journey has been a bumpy one, but it’s promising to be a lifetime one that carries on long after my own children have ceased to feed from me as I support generation after generation of other mothers to feed their children as they truly wish to do, and what a blessing that is.

Following on from my journey, please do visit Just Motherhood to see how her journey began and be in with more chances to enter the grand prize draw. Remember you need to earn 50 points to be eligible, full details can be found on the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Site.

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Keep Britain breastfeeding scavenger hunt 2015

The Tiger Who Came To Tea – a modern metaphor

A critical analysis of ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’ as a commentary on social and familial dysfunction

The Tiger Who Came To Tea was one of my top favourite books as a child and now my son is as fond of it as I was, but it’s a strange experience to re-read, as an adult, something you knew inside out and back to front as a child.  Everything that seemed so obvious, straightforward and normal when I was three strikes worrying notes as a grown-up and I began to question the true story behind the story.

tigertoteaFor a start the tale seems to be told less from the point of view of Sophie, the little girl (as you’d expect from a children’s book) and more from the POV of the mother.  Straight away this makes me question the motives behind the story – is it a true depiction of events, or is she embroidering the situation to draw her daughter into her fantasy life and aid her in the deception of her husband, the ‘Daddy’ of the story? My instinctive understanding of the book from this new perspective is that ‘Mummy’ has some kind of mental health or addiction issue, possibly drugs or alcohol.

Firstly she seems to need to run through a list of the possible menfolk who may or may not be at the door unexpectedly – does she have debtors calling? Is she selling favours? Does she owe the milkman and the grocer money? This is a possibility that seems to be borne out by the ‘Tiger’ supposedly drinking all the water in the taps – perhaps the bills have gone unpaid and the water’s been switched off.

tigertotea2The Tiger is obviously the excuse ‘Mummy’ has cooked up to excuse her shoddy housekeeping and other misdemeanours to ‘Daddy’ and when you read that this Tiger has apparently drunk all of Daddy’s beer, the reason for her behaviour comes clear. She has a burgeoning alcohol addiction, as so many middle-class, middle-aged women do.  Why? I hear you ask – well the answer to that is apparent if you only look at the illustrations. The first portrayal of Daddy shows him wearing some very snazzy tartan trousers and standing with his hip jutting out and his keys held limply in one dangling hand. Yes. Daddy is a closeted gay.

So let me re-narrate The Tiger Who Came To Tea as I posit it really happened…

Mummy finds herself trapped in a dreary domestic drudgery to a man who does not find her attractive and to whom she is merely a beard.  She has one precious child, but not the three she always dreamed of and in her loneliness turns to alcohol to see her through the day. She drinks one of her husband’s beers, then another, then another until they’re all gone. Sneaking out of the back door she also smokes a quick spliff she bought off the grocer’s boy, then comes back in to find Sophie has laid the table for tea.

The munchies start to hit and she’s ravenous but how to explain her behaviour to Sophie? There’s only one thing for it.  She quickly spins a story inspired by the repeatedly ringing doorbell.  Ignoring the milkman and grocer’s boy – both trying to claim the money they’re owed – Mummy pretends there’s a Tiger at the door and he wants to have tea with them. Taking the part of the Tiger, Mummy devours the sandwiches, the buns, the biscuits and the cake. Her throat raw from the spliff, she gulps down all the milk in the milk jug and all the tea in the teapot.

Mummy seizes this opportunity to make excuses for the lack of any supper for Daddy and the paucity of food in the ‘fridge and pantry, caused by her neglect of the grocer’s bills.  The kitchen is a complete mess and Daddy is due home any minute, so Mummy hurries Sophie into her nightdress without washing her or brushing her hair and they both go down to tell Daddy all about the ‘Tiger’ who had eaten all the food and drunk all the drink.

Daddy sighs inwardly, but knows the true reason for Mummy’s neglect and disreputable behaviour and knows that it is him to blame really. He takes them out to dinner and, perhaps, he gently talks to Mummy about her ishoos, because this book thankfully has a happy ending – a tale of redemption and optimism if you will, because the next day Mummy pulls her act together and went shopping and on the final page it states that the Tiger, obviously a metaphor for Mummy’s descent into alcoholism, never came for tea again.

Or perhaps Judith Kerr just wanted an excuse to paint a big, friendly tiger eating cakes. Go figure.

Just in case it isn’t absolutely, screamingly obvious – this post is intended as totally tongue-in-cheek, inspired by the lovely surrealism of one of my favourite childhood books. If you enjoyed this style of post, then why not try ‘Another Day For Me‘ – a critical analysis of Nick Cope’s song of the same name.

Craft groups and the female space

craft groupsThere’s something special about taking part in a craft group, whatever kind of craft you do, due largely to the return to the female space that it offers. This is something that is so hard to come by in our modern life. Except for baby or toddler groups (where the topic of conversation tends to be limited to the one, rather narrow, subject of children) we don’t often get the chance to spend time working together with other women in a way that would have been the day-to-day norm for our forbears. Whether poverty stricken field workers doing the laundry and spinning together, or upper class ladies all sewing on their samplers, we would have occupied this same, busy, feminine space where we could just ‘be’ and work together.  Much like those heart-to-hearts parents and children find so much easier in the car; removing the sense of observation and confrontation makes it easier to be open.

It’s something I’ve noticed as a mother – that caring for children and doing housework is not so onerous a chore when performing it in company. We’re social creatures meant for the community of the shared environment and the current isolation of everyday life is both alien and hard. Something about being with other women, too, is important. Whether it’s the shared experience, or the shared perspective – perhaps if society ever becomes truly equal it will become less of an issue, I don’t know.

There is so much that is soothing in doing a craft. It is work that leads to an end product that is valued by us and others and is, usually, either beautiful, or useful or both. When you compare that to our normal activities (whether paid work, childcare or housework) where so much of what we do is of fleeting duration and little valued you can see the appeal.

If you’ve never taken part in a group like this, you won’t have much of an idea what I’m talking about, so let me paint you a picture…

craft group 1It’s evening in someone’s home. As a crafter their sitting room is liberally bestowed with the fruits of their labours, and probably gifts from various crafty friends. A crocheted blanket in cheery colours is draped over the back of the sofa. Embroidered and appliqued cushions adorn the room like sprinkles on a cake. On the wall are various pictures, from a cross-stitch, to a heart made of buttons, some drawings, photographs and a large felted landscape.  A soft glow from lamps is cast across jars full of knitting needles sitting on decoupage coasters whilst a handmade dreamcatcher sways in the window.

At one side of the room is a set of shelves. Books on all kinds of craft from crochet to quilting are ranged in subject order and boxes full of fleece, yarn, fabric, and paper are stacked underneath. On the table in the centre of the room is a large plate of cakes, a bowl of crisps and at least one open bottle of wine and several glasses.  All sorts of women sit around the room, on the sofa and chairs, a bean bag, a pouffe and cross legged or sprawled on the floor, colourful projects filling their laps.craft group 2
The conversation is muted at first – a quiet discussion on this month’s ‘Let’s Knit’, or queries about which charity shop was selling off a job lot of yarn.  As the crafters warm up, and more wine is consumed the conversation gets more animated, more personal.  Babies are mentioned, as they always will be at gatherings of mothers, but the group is diverse and the ‘babies’ in question are all ages, from newborn through to grandbabies.  From babies the transition to sex and menfolk is simple and inevitable and raucous bursts of laughter spill across the room.  Sometimes there are tears and shared sorrow, too. Perhaps (as happened in my group) one of the mothers has lost a baby and the group draw together to support her and each other and to organise his funeral. This is womanhood at it’s strongest – sharing strength, sorrow, joy. Being together.

craft group 3Some of the women craft furiously – listening in, but working hard, their clicking needles providing a soothing backdrop of noise like a heartbeat. Others let their work lie idle in their laps, too taken up with the chatter to concentrate on both.  The most skilled have their fingers flying as fast as their tongues wag, finishing a whole sleeve of a cardigan whilst ripping the reputation of their son’s form teacher to shreds.

Eventually women begin to make excuses. It’s a school night, they’re tired, the toddler is teething and it’s not fair to leave himself alone to deal with it.  One or two will carry glasses out to the kitchen and the conversation will drift back to the muted level of the early evening as they wash and dry the glasses and plates and help tidy up.  The evening is over and everyone returns home but with a sense of community, shared experience, support and the whole of this entwined in the fabric of the project they’re making so it stays with them always.

10 really excellent gifts to buy a new mum

10 excellent gifts to buy a new mumAs you may have seen I was recently inspired to do a post on a Top 10 gifts to buy a new baby. Now, although this is super handy when going to visit this hypothetical infant, I do have to make the point that the gifts suggested there are in no way gifts for the mother (with the possible exception of Ewan the sleep sheep, if he works as he ought). So here are ten really excellent gifts you can buy a new mum to make her feel special, treated, looked after and not merely the battered incubator & milk bar for a new human.

1- Monkey mama twiddle necklace and teething ring
Now I do have to make a wee disclaimer – if your intended recipient is more yummy mummy than lentil-weaving hippy mama like me then this gift is no good.  For breastfeeding and/or babywearing afficianados, though, I would go so far as to call this (or similar) a ‘must have’.  The Boy was an inveterate biter – even before he had teeth he liked to give his stony-hard little gums a good work out on my poor, tender nipples.  I bought myself a wooden teething necklace and necklacewhen he got bitey pulled him off and handed him the ring – miraculously he would give his wee gums a good chomp on the ring, then latch back on peacefully.  The Girl is a tiny monkey and likes to have a handful of ‘fur’ when she feeds or is carried. Before I thought to get my necklace back out this was (preferably) a handful of T-shirt but (usually) a painful grip on the loose skin of my breast or a handful of hair, generally with kitten-sharp fingernails digging in or the strands becoming ever more twisted about her tiny, clammy fingers!

They come in pretty colours and different designs and, when you can’t wear much jewellery for fear of it being grabbed, it’s nice to have something to accessorise with.

2- L’Occitane almond shower oil
oilAfter both of my pregnancies I have developed very dry skin and this seems to be common amongst most of the mums I’ve spoken to. A lovely lovely friend of mine bought me this luscious shower oil after I had The Girl and I’m obsessed with it. It saves two steps in the showering ritual – so useful when you have limited time to shower – as it moisturises, washes and makes the best shaving lubrication I’ve ever used. Plus it smells absolutely divine, but is a very light, subtle fragrance so you don’t have to worry about it overwhelming your baby or obliterating your own mummy-smell for them.  A top gift for any new mum.  I can also recommend their lavender hand sanitiser as a handy out-and-about hand cleanser for post-nappy-changes. Smells 100x better than any other sanitiser I’ve used!

3- Paperwhite Kindle
Chances are the baby will be keeping her up at night, so an e-book reader with built-in lighting is ideal for entertainment during those long night feeds. The light won’t wake the baby or the erstwhile snoring husband and an e-book reader is so much easier to manage one-handed than a ‘proper’ book, lovely though they are.  Just check she doesn;t have one already, but this would be an ideal ‘group’ gift, say, from an office to a mum about to go on mat leave.

4- Photobox vouchers and/or a photo frame
One thing there will be a surfeit of that first year is photos – photos of the baby, of mummy with baby, daddy with baby, Great Auntie Joan with baby etc. Why not buy some vouchers for an online photo printing site so they can immortalise those memories in a photo book, album or on a wall.

5- Jewellery (esp personalised to the baby – fingerprints/birthstone etc)rings
This might be one for the baby’s co-parent to purchase as it’s likely to be a bit more expensive.  The (lovely) Man has bought me two rings, one for each baby with their birth stone in and they nest together. I adore them probably more than my engagement ring because they symbolise my darling babas.  There are all sorts of options for meaningful jewellery – Not on the highstreet has some great ideas for fingerprint jewellery, but there are usually local jewellers who will do this for you which makes life easier in terms of getting the baby’s fingerprints!

If you want something engraved with a name then I adore Dino Daisy who does quirky little pendants and bangles stamped with the letters and images of your choice and for a very reasonable price. Although delivery is a little slow (due to being made to order) her customer service is great and she does her best for you.

6- Photo shoot
Again a great idea for a ‘group’ present, a photo shoot, or series of photo shoots, makes a lovely present for the whole family so they can immortalise their new addition and the new shape of their family.

7- Massage
After nine months of pregnancy and then giving birth and a possible hospital stay followed by sitting in funny positions to feed and constant carrying, bending and lifting trust me a massage would be a welcome gift. Try and find a masseur who’ll come to the house to minimise stress for the new mum and make sure you offer to be there for baby jiggling purposes so she can really relax!

8- DVD boxsets/subscription to a streaming service
My baby was born just a few days before my birthday and my lovely sister bought me a NowTV box and subscription to Sky Entertainment for 3 months – it was bliss. I watched so much crap. If something like this is beyond your budget, why not try one of these boxsets I recommended – she’ll be grateful of the TV on demand!

9 – A cleaner
No new mum should have to be worrying about cleaning – even tidying is too much sometimes and nothing makes as much mess as being post-partum and having a baby. Buy her a few hours with a good cleaner for the first couple of months and she’ll love you forever!

10 – Food!
See my post ‘How to support a new mum‘ – she’ll either be ravenous, or have no appetite but in great need of nutritious food (and cake). Look after her properly and come bearing food and you won’t be turned away!

Spiced oat and sultana biscuits – child friendly cooking

These are a great biscuit to make with your small sous-chefs.  The Boy is three and a half and there a quite a few elements of this recipe that he can help with.  They’re also a nice sturdy biscuit that won’t disappear into crumbs when clutched in a small, chubby fist.
I took this recipe from a book of British recipes and just adapted a few elements to make it my own.

75g/3oz rolled oats, toasted
100g/4oz butter
50g/2oz caster sugar
50g/2oz soft brown sugar
1 egg
175g/6oz plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp bicarb
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
75g/3oz sultanas
50g/2oz chopped almonds or nut of choice

-Line baking sheets with parchment.
-Cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy.
-Are you brave enough to let your child crack the egg? Add it now (one way or another) and beat it in.
-Sift in the flour, salt and bicarb and mix into the creamed mixture with the remaining ingredients.
-Drop heaped teaspoonfuls of the mixture a couple of inches apart onto the baking sheets, flattening them slightly with a fingertip. The Boy loved this part – both the dividing stuff up into smaller portions and the squishing things with his fingers!
-Bake at 180 degrees C (350 degrees F) for about 13 minutes until golden brown round the edges. Transfer onto a cooling rack, then store in airtight container. Will last for five days or so… if not consumed!


Switching the sultanas for other dried fruit can make a real difference – apricot and almond are delicious (leave out the spices if you like). Crystallised ginger works well with no nuts. How about chocolate chips and peanuts? Dried cranberries and white chocolate is a delicious Christmassy version, especially with the spices in – experiment! :-)

Summer dessert recipe – Fizzy Lemonade and Raspberry layered jellies

Lemonade and Raspberry layered jellies

Serves 4 – 6

Fizzy Lemonade Jelly Layer

lemonadeandraspberryjellies4 sheets of gelatine
½ pint of cloudy lemonade (the fizzier the better)

Chill your containers – wine glasses or goblets look really good with this jelly in.

Undo your lemonade bottle and pour out enough to just cover the gelatine sheets. Once they’re softened add the liquid and the gelatine sheets to a pan and warm gently until the gelatine is completely dissolved. Pour it out into the measuring jug and quickly add the cold lemonade. The pouring should be enough to mix it thoroughly and you don’t want to de-fizz it!

Quickly pour it out into the chilled glasses (if you want to add fruit then pop them in now. A few fresh raspberries look especially pretty, but make sure they’re chilled too)  and put in the fridge for a few hours until set.

Raspberry Coulis Layer

2 sheets gelatine
½ punnet frozen raspberries

This deep red, fresh raspberry layer looks stunning above or below the lemonade layer.

Measure out ¼ pint of water, keep back enough to cover 2 sheets gelatine.  In a pan boil up the raspberries with the remaining water. Add 2 or 3 tbsp caster sugar (to taste) and when all the raspberries are softened push through a sieve to make a thin puree.

Add the gelatine sheets and soaking water to the pan and keep heating until the gelatine has dissolved – do not allow to boil.  Remove from heat and allow to cool a little, either naturally or by adding an ice cube or two and stirring until melted. When cooled pour over the lemonade jelly and replace in ‘fridge to set.

Top with a fresh raspberry and a sprig of mint.

Top Tips – for a fun twist, why not have a Pimms & strawberry layer with the lemonade – or try a fizzy ginger beer layer instead? Elderflower cordial also makes a delicious, subtle jelly – mix with sparkling white wine for a grown-up version! As long as you avoid papaya, pineapple or guava then the world’s your lobster 

Feel free to re-blog this, but do link back & give me credit please!

Cuddle Fairy

‘I want to be alone’ – why privacy in birth is so important

Disclaimer – I have no medical training whatsoever. I am, what’s known in certain circles as, a ‘birth geek': basically a lay person who has done so much research into the subject of birth that in some areas she may actually be better informed than select medical professionals.  I would always recommend that you do your own research and make your own decisions based on this.

privacyinbirthProbably my favourite music radio station is my local – JackFM. It plays a nice mix of music, no repeats, has sarky jingles that make me smile and the presenters seem to be a sparky bunch who genuinely have fun together.

Part of the on-air banter spilled onto my Twitter feed today where Trev suggested his pregnant co-presenter, Caroline, give birth in a live broadcast. Despite my inner voice of logic and reason shouting at me that it was merely banter and to ignore, my inner birth geek galloped over to her soap-box, hopped up and told Trev off for treating Caroline like a lab rat, posting a link on privacy in birth.

This was the link I posted.

Basically you need the same conditions to give birth as you do to orgasm: peace, privacy, the chance to focus on your body and what it needs.  Plus privacy in birth is a Human Right! I know Trev was just being funny, but the cultural norm of giving birth in hospital, surrounded by strangers, bright lights and medical equipment is pretty much the furthest we can get away from the ideal conditions for birthing, hence the rise in intervention and traumatic births.

These are not only stressful in the immediate situation, but lead to all sorts of knock on effects like difficulty breastfeeding, PTSD, difficulty bonding and post-natal depression for mothers and a whole slew of medical difficulties for babies ranging from forceps injuries to not receiving cord blood, from not being populated with the microbiome they should have received from their mother, to major medical distress. We don’t even know about the long-term effects of using drugs like syntocinon, which mimics the love-hormone oxytocin, though some research suggests it may promote the development of depression in later life by messing with a baby’s brain chemistry.

Yes, there are undoubtedly some cases where hospitalisation, observation and medical intervention are definitely the best option, but to suggest that birth is a form of entertainment and sod what’s best for the mother? That’s a worrying extension of the kind of thinking that has produced ‘One born every minute’ – a programme which seems to go out of its way to terrify women by portraying the most dramatic, interventionist births it can find.

In one of my birth prep sessions with a hypnotherapist it was suggested that we only have our partner present if we were comfortable pooing in front of him.  Perhaps I will propose that Trev live broadcast himself having a crap and then Caroline can decide if she wants  to revisit the topic of a live birth. Somehow I think not…

For more on this topic I have created a list of useful links. If you’re pregnant, or supporting a woman who is, I recommend reading these.

Hormones in labour & birth – How your body helps you – Sarah Buckley

Giving birth in a stable might be a better option than a labour ward – Milli Hill

Failure to Progress – A satirical parallel of giving birth under observation

Absence, a poem

The brats and I went down to stay with the Mater for a few days recently to give The Man time to do useful and uplifting things like install lighting in the garage and painting all his Warhammer miniatures (don’t say anything!). Just before we left I scrawled a little ditty for him on the whiteboard in the kitchen, and thought perhaps you might enjoy reading it. I call it ‘Absence, a poem’…

Arty stuff

Now the blog has been running for a good while I thought it was probably time to smarten it up a bit, make it a bit more professional, a bit more my own.  I’ve been sketching out a potential blog header in my spare (hah hah) time and thought you might like a sneak preview of one of the elements in its rough pencilly format.20150717_225029

Am quite excited about it – I just hope it looks as good finished, though these things rarely do!

It’s been so lovely to get my pencils out and do a bit of drawing again, though mostly it reminds me how out of practice I am and how little time I have. Ah well, these days of tiny babyhood are fleeting and, before I know it I’ll have too much time on my hands and wishing my children wanted to spend time with me.

Making mistakes and learning from them

makingmistakesWe all make mistakes. It’s one of the pitfalls of being a living breathing human being.  I don’t know if everybody, like me, looks back on some of the bigger ones occasionally and still cringes over the heinous nature of their error or the people who got hurt because of it, but it’s probably no bad thing if you do, as long as it stops your from repeating history.

We tell our children that they should learn from their mistakes, so why do we beat ourselves up so badly for the ones we make?  Mothers, especially, are guilty of this.  We constantly berate ourselves – internally and out loud – for the slip ups and ‘bad parenting’ that we do on a day to day basis so, as well as the historic cock ups we still admonish ourselves for, we now also have to factor in a constant, daily tally of our wrongdoings as applied to our children.

Losing my temper is a big one I’m guilty of.  I shout, I even bellow, and I hate myself for it. There’s no excuse – there really isn’t – but it happens time and time again. I try to reassure myself that I’m not a bad parent; that I was tired bone shatteringly exhausted, doing something dangerous like cooking or holding hot tea and that my child has been repeatedly, persistently, determinedly ignoring my requests to stop the behaviour that is irritating me or putting himself at risk, but it doesn’t stop the critical voice in my head from castigating me for my loss of control.  Even worse I can see my own angry behaviour mirrored in some of my son’s more unpleasant reactions and what a terrifying eye-opener that is.

When I’ve cooled down I do go to my son and apologise. I explain that I lost my temper and I shouldn’t have, that there are better ways to deal with things and I’m sorry. Usually I will explain how his behaviour led to my explosion, but I try and do it in such a way that it doesn’t become an exercise in shifting blame, but merely pointing out that actions have consequences – or at least I hope that’s how it comes across. Finally I ask for him to forgive me.

All we can do, as parents or as human beings, is to make a sincere apology, explain our actions and try to move on.  If we can’t model self-control to our children then I suppose we can at least model contrition and penance and usually (as happens in our family anyway) we can learn, from them, true forgiveness.