I am delighted to be sharing this interview series with you, where I will be talking to a different woman every fortnight about parenting, motherhood, their daily rhythm and what makes a beautiful childhood. So without further ado, let’s meet the mother…
This week, I’d like to welcome East London nanny and doula Anna Cochran to Frida be Mighty. Passionate about positive birth, giving children a slow and gentle childhood, and women’s rights, Anna’s interview is heartfelt, authentic, and inspiring. I’m sure you will enjoy reading her answers as much as I do…
Can you introduce yourself and your family?
We are Mama Anna, Papa Ben, Yona-Gray the Kid (who is 18 months old) and Woody the dog. We live in a small 1-bedroom flat in East London. I’m originally from Germany and Ben moved over from the US 5 years ago after we got married. He is a full time coffee roaster and barista and I’ve been a full time nanny in the UK for over 11 years. Yona-Gray has come along with me since she was 4 months old. We love great coffee, travelling, going outdoors and everything vintage.
Do you have a daily rhythm? What do your days look like?
As we both work full time we have more of a weekly rhythm, rather than daily. Monday-Wednesday, Yona-Gray and I are out of the house from 8am-7pm – long days for both of us. We are working on this currently, as I think this energetic toddler-season needs to be balanced with calmer days. But we absolutely love to see our nanny-kids. Those mornings we spent with a little girl Yona-Gray’s age and in the afternoons we pick up a 4-year old from nursery. Yona-Gray loves those girls like her sisters. I think it’s so brilliant for everyone involved. But it’s still very tiring, so on Thursdays she stays home with Papa while I go off to work on my own. That day is very freeing for me and Yona-Gray and Papa stay in pyjamas all day and listen to music, watch Fraggle Rock and take long naps – bliss. Friday is our family day. We love long brunches, do some cleaning and head out either to the park, late lunch or a gallery in the afternoon. I often get a lay-in and might go to a yoga class every-so-often. On the weekend Ben works, so Yona-Gray and I take it really easy. Sometimes we spend it at home, take slow walks with Woody or meet friends. Right now I give her lots of time for free play and we started doing some activities with playdough, cleaning and sorting dry pasta into different bowls too.
You were a nanny and a doula before having a child yourself. How do you feel those experiences prepared you for motherhood – if indeed anything can prepare one for motherhood!
Growing up as a elementary school teachers daughter I was exposed to many alternative teaching approaches my mother applied in her lessons and in our home, such as Steiner, Montessori, Forest School and anything in between. I was her Guinea pig especially for craft and nature activities.
Later as a nanny I got to apply many different philosophies and approaches myself, whether I liked it or not. From rigid routines to child-led approaches – I’ve seen and trialled it all. Over the years I’ve been able to build myself a pretty clear picture of how I wanted to parent. I have become a huge believer in gentle, child-led parenting that respects the child but also the parent. In my experience pushing our adult expectations and agendas on children doesn’t work. It just makes things frustrating and takes the joy out of parenting. When we slow down, get to know our children and follow their lead things just flow and we as parents learn a whole lot more about ourselves and life. Most importantly we experience joy to be mothers and fathers and dare I say – we experience the magic of childhood along side our children.
Training as a Doula several years ago only enforced those believes for me. During my training I did a lot of reading, research and writing papers on natural approaches to pregnancy, birth and parenting. The research confirms that those methods are ideal for children’s development – physically, emotionally and mentally. I’m a huge advocate for learning to listen to our instincts again, starting during pregnancy and finding a good support system of like-minded people.
My biggest influence during my doula-studies is everyone’s favourite midwife – Ina May Gaskin. She is a treasure for womenkind and everyone needs to read her books. Once you get sucked up into the world of natural, intuitive approaches you’ll find amazing authors and speakers on birth and parenting like Michel Odent, Grantly Dick-Read, Janet Balaskas, and Sheila Kitzinger. Those influences will very likely lead you down the road of parenting approaches such as “attachment parenting”, “Continuum Concept”, child-led parenting and later perhaps the philosophies of Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner. These all respect the child’s natural development, abilities and choices. I believe with those kind of parenting tools we can raise strong, confident, loving and empathic humans of the future.
Which aspects of parenting bring you the most joy?
Being a parent is such a huge privilege, plus you gain a tiny best friend who adores you (and drives you mad at time!). We get to watch them grow into these amazing humans right in front of our eyes and (ideally) we guide them and shower them with love. It’s so beautiful. We get to relive some of the favourite parts of our own childhoods or do the things we never did as children and wish we had. The greatest thing is seeing them happy, content and loved. There’s no greater achievement in life for me. And I can’t get enough of all the affection Yona-Gray blesses me with at the moment too!
Which parts of motherhood do you find challenging?
I think for me, as it must be for every parent out there, it’s seeing our kids unwell or struggling. It just breaks your heart whether they struggle with an illness or their own limitations. We want our children to do well and sometimes we are helpless and there’s nothing we can do – in case of illness for example. Other times we need to stand back and let them figure things out by themselves. Taking a step back as parents for the child’s benefit can be a real struggle but I believe it can also be the biggest gift to them. Yona-Gray needs me to put my trust in her and her abilities so she can thrive and become confident. I’m a real believer in that but sometimes it’s a hard thing to do.
How do you make time for self-care, and what does that look like for you?
When you’re a parent any time by yourself is self-care, whether it’s going to the toilet or down to the corner shop! For me self-care has usually to do with caring for my spiritual well being. Sometimes that’s just creating a calm atmosphere; lighting candles, putting on quiet music and intentionally slowing down despite the chaos of having a very energetic toddler. Other activities I hold in high regards include: a yoga class, going for drinks with friends, sleeping in, reading a book while also comprehending the words, getting my nails or hair done, having head space to develop new ideas and projects. These sort of things typically fall into nap times or bedtimes for me. I believe that self care is all about holding space for yourself, giving yourself time to be you, to think, to connect to your inner self. It’s so crucial to do this. Motherhood brings so much change. We lose ourselves and have to find ourselves all over again. We are immensely changed, yet still the same. I desperately need that time and space regularly to come to terms with the change. I’m proud to say though that I feel that I am my best self now since becoming a Mama.
What do you think makes for a beautiful childhood?
A secure attachment, freedom to play, spending a lot of time in nature and an aesthetic, inspiring play space.
So much can be (and indeed has been) said about secure attachment. For me that’s the base for a child’s freedom to eventually play independently and use their imagination freely. Those children, in my opinion carry no burdens, no worries. They can solely dedicate their time to play. That in itself is beautiful.
Freedom to play is one of the most important parts that make a beautiful childhood. Sadly in this country we put children into tiny uniforms that make them look like mini-cooperative-workers at age four, they must sit still behind little desks and we measure their achievements and compare them to one another constantly. Our children need much much more time for independent play, for much longer. That’s how I see it. I just recently signed a petition to the government to push the start of formal education back to age 7. It just makes so much more sense. The system here just doesn’t work in my opinion.
Play in nature – I have my fondest childhood memories of playing outside with no adults hovering around at all. They just sent us outside so we imagined whole worlds and had amazing adventures, never particularly safe but those memories are my favourite.
The past years I’ve come to learn more and more about the importance of aesthetics and beauty in the environment our little people grow up in. Maria Montessori talks about it and you can find it in Steiner education also. Instagram is full of it nowadays. But I want to see more written about the subject. It’s something I’m passionate about exploring more myself in the future. For me these 4 things make up the pillars of a beautiful childhood.
If you could share one insight or piece of advice with other mothers, what would it be?
The two things that have made our lives with a baby much much easier are definitely bedsharing and breastfeeding. I had a fair bit of knowledge about both before getting pregnant so it came naturally. I actually had no friends who decided to completely bedshare. All of our friends bought a crib or at least side-bed but for us it made sense to actually build a big family bed. Part of the decision was because of space and otherwise it simply felt right for our family. We just wanted to be snuggly close to Yona-Gray at all times and being a baby and all she wanted the same.
A newborn’s basic needs are closeness, love, milk and feeling clean. Obviously they get hot and cold and feel pain at times ect. We felt that if she was right next to us we could meet her needs quicker, with closeness and milk being taken care of at all times automatically. No need for either of us to get up or even wake up fully. Except for the occasional nighttime-poo. Unless she was ill or teething (or those dreaded sleep regressions..) I never felt I didn’t get enough sleep, she nursed whenever she wanted and none of us had to wake up fully. It was a lifesaver. Bedsharing has gotten a really bad rep in the media and has in western culture generally but if you know the rules for safe bedsharing it can make life with a baby much easier and enjoyable. WHO has a great info sheet on how to bedshare and cosleep safely.
Still having a young child, breastfeeding for me is an obvious one to swoon about. As everyone knows the list of benefits are endless but a lot of mamas don’t get enough support and help they need to figure it out. I thought I knew everything there was to know on how to breastfeed, I would get it all right by myself straight away..that was not the case. The first two weeks Yona-Gray and I really struggled to get her latch right and it was really painful at first. But I knew learning to breastfeed was a process rather than it working or not working right from the start. I think that’s the key. If a new mama wants to breastfeed she should be prepared for it to take a while to get it right. It can take some endurance and determination too. I had great midwives who helped me with my latch and I went to a local La Leche League group a couple of times (they are all over the world). In the end I would say it took 3 months for my milk supply to normalise. I had overproduction that whole time and it wasn’t always easy. Yona-Gray breastfeeds to this day. I know it strengthens her immune system, comforts her and gives her nourishment. Our journey shows no signs of coming to an end just yet and that’s totally fine although not without it’s challenges. Breastfeeding for me is another way to make life easier, reduce waste and energy of having to do more dishes or getting out of bed to prepare Formula. When new parents are seeking for ways to make things easier those would be my two top tips for them.
Finally, what is your favourite children’s book?
I’ve always had an obsession with children’s literature. So this question is really hard. I don’t think I can pick one. But a great children’s book for me has to have beautiful illustrations and be funny or touching for both child and parent. For small children I love “I Want My Hat Back” by Jon Klaassen, books by Richard Scary and Doctor Seuss. For older children I adore The Narnia series by C.S. Lewis and a Russian/German version of the “wizard of oz” by Alexander Volkov, called “The Wizard of the Emerald City” which he also wrote sequels to. There are honestly too many amazing books out there for children and if I linger much longer thinking about this question I will never finish this interview! Reading together is one of my favourite things about being a parent!
Thank you so much Anna! And thank you especially for being so generous with your time and writing such long answers – they were such a treat to read.
You can find Anna on Instagram here @heysistermoon. She is also working on a project called Family Folk, which she will be announcing more about soon, so keep your eyes peeled. I’m excited to find out more…