Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015: The Game Changer

So, as 2015 draws to a close, so too do the two most frantic months of my entire life to date. With Christmas, birthdays and an actual birth day, November and December have been the kind of mental that you never quite envisage until it happens to you. It has been a year of highs and lows, with a whole lot of being pregnant, culminating in a new and precious life bursting into existence. We end the year as a complete family, and suddenly it has all been worth it. 

For a few weeks, we have been the parents of Two Under Two, but that brief chapter has also ended as 2015 winds itself up. My baby boy has turned two and, as I think back on the year's events, it is Blake who emerges as my little star. As I've done battle with morning sickness and pre-natal depression, and he with growing up in general, Blake and I have leaned on one another and got to know each other on a deeper level than ever before. 

It has been a huge year for the Meaneys; Merryn's arrival in November has turned our entire world onto its head. Some days are harder than others and there have been tears, arguments and sleepless nights, but there has also been an abundance of laughter and love, with Blake so often at the heart of both. I look at him now and I swell with pride and admiration for the little boy that once lived in my belly.

I began 2015 with a baby; barely a year old and still a few months away from walking, and I end it with a two year-old big brother - a little boy full of energy, personality and fire. He has welcomed Merryn into his territory in such a mature and loving way, and I'm suddenly forced to accept that he really is growing up. 

It occurs to me that New Year will always feel momentous now that Blake is in my life. Now that the years passing won't just be marked by the date on the calendar, but also by my baby's advancing age. With his birthday so close, New Year has become about watching him grow from boy to man; 2015 was the first year to really illustrate that. 

So, here's to 2015 - thanks for everything you've given me. It's been fucking emotional. 2016 has got big shoes to fill but, as I watch my eight week-old baby girl sleeping beside me, growing at an almost frightening rate, I can't help but reckon it's up to the challenge. 

Happy New Year from mine to yours.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

10 Things They Don't Tell You About Your Postpartum Body

Here I am: the proud owner of two small children. I am also now the veteran of two very different childbirth stories, having successfully delivered my second child by the conventional method, as opposed to having her lifted out of the sunroof. Neither is easy and they are starkly different experiences, which I will delve into at a later date when the memories don't make me cringe quite so much.

Today, instead, I plan to look at all the little bits of information that your midwife won't have given you about your body after your baby has left it. For the purposes of this piece, I will be focusing on what happens after you push one out, although a lot of these little nuggets of information will be relevant to both delivery methods.

Expecting soon? Pull up a chair; you're going to want to know about the weird shit about to befall your body...

1. You will be forced to pee.

It's immediately after delivery and you may or may not have just received more stitches than the Bayeux Tapestry. You've barely had time to re-establish which way is up and can't quite believe the things that your vagina has just done, when the midwives start demanding that you pee as soon as possible. You're not going to want to pee. Stitches or no, the thought of anything else touching your undercarriage is absolutely abhorrent, but they're insisting because they want to measure how much comes out of you. You see, some women get a thing called urine retention after childbirth and can't go at all; the hospital just want to make sure your plumbing still works after major trauma. My advice? Dab it dry, don't wipe.

2. You're going to sweat.

Pregnant women retain a lot of water. Once that woman is no longer pregnant, that water wants to leave her body. You're going to sweat harder that Oscar Pistorius on trial. Don't even think about taking polyester nightclothes to the hospital; it has to be cotton and it has to be comfortable.

3. You'll be frightened to poo, yes, but also to cough/sneeze/walk/breathe.

It's psychological really, but the sooner you get control back over your pelvic floor, the sooner you'll be able to go about normal day to day activities without feeling like your perineum is about to explode. If you've had stitches, holding a clean pad or piece of toilet paper against them when you poo will really help. I also recommend prunes, because the less effort you have to put in, the better. As for coughing and sneezing, I can't really comment; it's been a week and I've still done neither for fear of losing my womb. 

4. It feels unclean.

Postpartum bodies bleed. The loss that you'll experience is called lochia, and it's half period, half bloodbath. In the few days after delivery, you're going to ruin every single pair of pants you put on, not to mention any surface on which you sit. Getting out of the shower becomes about applying a pad to your undercarriage before you've even had a chance to locate your towel and you're still going to drip some onto the floor. Eventually, it'll settle down to being 'just' a heavy period, and we all know how delightful those are.

5. The bruising takes a while to come out.

It's a week after delivery and you might be starting to feel a bit better. Your tears will be healing nicely and your stitches might be starting to dissolve. At this point, you can probably even poo in relative comfort. Then, all of a sudden, you wake up one morning feeling like you've been kicked in the fanny by a horse. Your clitoris is swollen and throbbing (and not in a good way) and your insides feel a lot like they're trying to be on the outside. It was only after much frantic googling and a panicky text to my friend who gave birth earlier in the year before I realised that this was just normal bruising, caused by an enormous noggin forcing its way out of my lady garden.

6. Recovery takes longer than you'd expect.

After a Cesarean, I thought that the recovery from a natural birth would be relatively straightforward. In a way, I guess it is compared to major surgery, but don't expect to be walking like anyone other than John Wayne for several weeks afterwards. 

7. It'll go old testament God on you if you try and push your luck.

If you don't give your body sufficient time to recover, it's going to punish you. Your womb will suddenly send forth another river of blood to tell you that you're getting too ambitious and to sit the fuck back down on the sofa. Listen to your body; it knows what it's doing.

8. It adapts to sleep deprivation really quickly.

The early days of parenthood are a heady blur of sleepless nights and mild panic, but it's incredible how quickly your body (and brain) will adjust to this change. There will be days when you're so tired you think you might actually die, but for the most part, you and your baby will slowly find a rhythm that works for both of you, and allows you to continue as a reasonably functional human being. And the days that you can't function? Don't. Stay home and cuddle your baby; this is a time for you to go easy on yourself. 

9. It's glorious in it's state of not being pregnant. 

Being pregnant is shit. Welcome back to a world of sleeping on your back and tequila. You may be wobblier than a blancmange, but your body is finally your own again. Enjoy being the only person living in it.

10. It'll make you feel like a bloody superhero. 

And rightly so. However your baby was delivered, your body grew and nurtured them, and then went through something akin to either being hit by a train or surviving a shark attack to get them here. You've sacrificed everything from your dignity to the ability to hold in the smallest amount of piss to bring this tiny human into the world, and you deserve to feel invincible (you know, once you can walk normally again).

Saturday, 17 October 2015

The Final Countdown (Schrodinger's Gestation)

As I write this, I am thirty-eight weeks pregnant. Those in the know will recognise this as Schrodinger's Gestation; the pregnancy both is and isn't classed as full term. Technically, any baby from thirty-seven up until forty-two weeks can be classed as fully cooked, but because all babies and pregnancies are different, which slot you fall into can be a bit of a mystery until it happens.

Recently, I've been doing a fair bit of complaining about the end of my pregnancy on social media. The fact that I'm friends with those who have struggled/are struggling to conceive, as well as those who have suffered pregnancy loss leaves me wanting to explain, and maybe even justify, what probably comes across as incessant, ungrateful whining.

I'm not ungrateful. I'm so, so aware of how precious this life inside me is, I'm just not someone who actually likes being pregnant. I didn't like it with Blake, but I absolutely live for the little lunatic that came from it; not a day goes by that I don't consider how lucky I am to have him. I realise that there are women out there who love everything that pregnancy brings, but frankly, I think these women are probably a little bit unhinged. There are even women who do it for other people. What a noble thing it must be to be a surrogate, but I would honestly have to respond with 'fuck that for a game of soldiers' if I was ever asked to go through this whole shebang and not get a baby at the end of it. I mean, seriously, not even if you paid me. 

This pregnancy, in particular, has been very difficult. I suffered extreme morning sickness from about week six right up until week twenty, which is a bit like having the worst hangover you've ever experienced every day for fourteen weeks, but without the fun of getting smashed the night before. It's also been incredibly tiring; where my first pregnancy involved an awful lot of self-indulgently sitting on my arse, this time around I've had a toddler to run around and clean up after. I also had some pretty severe prenatal depression and anxiety to battle which, although overshadowed by its more famous cousin - postnatal depression - is every bit as exhausting and, occasionally, terrifying.

Now, here I am at the end and my body is throwing up a whole host of new potential problems. I have a relatively common condition called polyhydramnios, which basically means that I have too much amniotic fluid. The condition itself isn't serious, but it can both cause and indicate problems with labour and the baby. However, because I'm only thirty-eight weeks, it's a wait and watch situation as they don't really know if this baby is cooked yet. The problem is that I'm categorically not allowed to labour at home. As soon as my contractions start, I have to get to hospital to be monitored. Which would be fine if not for the fact that I've been experiencing (painful) false labour every evening for nearly two weeks now. When the real thing does kick in, I'm inevitably going to accidentally ignore it until I'm way further on than the doctors would like. Should my waters break before my contractions start, then I've been instructed to get on all fours with my bottom in the air and call both my midwife and an ambulance, as the excess amniotic fluid means that my risk of cord prolapse is elevated (which would starve my baby of oxygen in no time at all). That's all very well should it happen in my bedroom, but what if I'm halfway around Morrisons?

The baby herself also happens to be rather on the large side. At my last fortnightly growth scan, she was estimated to weigh around 7lb9oz. I'm due another on Tuesday, and if she's following her current growth line, I can take a conservative guess that she's heading towards 8lb6oz. That and the extra fluid mean that my bump is huge - people actually looking at it in horror huge - not to mention really quite difficult to carry around. I also have swelling in the tissue of my abdomen, because why the fuck not?

The point is, I want my baby out of me because I don't feel like my insides are doing a very good job of keeping her safe. Yet the Schrodinger's Gestation issue means that they are loathe to induce me unless it's really medically necessary; by which they mean 'if her life is in danger'. Right now, the issues are all potentially problematic but not extreme enough to warrant interference; I just have to keep trundling up to the hospital every other week for tests.

That said, however much I complain and moan, please never, ever think that I'm taking this pregnancy for granted. I'm really not, but that doesn't mean that I have to actually enjoy it.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

A Letter to My Daughter

I wrote a letter like this about two years ago, only that time it was to your brother. It was a slightly different letter to this one, mostly because it was a different woman writing it. It was just me and your Dad back then, and I was just a wife looking upon parenthood as a new and terrifying chapter, but things are different this time around. You are joining us as a family; an established unit that you will complete.

It's strange, but you've always been with me in some way. Everyone in our family seemed to have girls, and I just assumed that I would be the same. In fact, for the first half of my pregnancy with your brother, I automatically assumed that he was you. When we learnt that he was a boy, however, you didn't go anywhere; I simply accepted that I'd have to wait a little longer to meet you. Your presence has been with me for as long as I can remember; my little girl, floating by side, waiting for me to give you a body to live in.

Unfortunately, my pregnancy with you has been a difficult one, with ongoing sickness and old mental health issues rearing their ugly heads, so I'm sorry if I haven't been very forthcoming with the happy hormones. I'm also sorry if you perhaps haven't been in my thoughts quite as much as Blake was. It's not that I love you any less, or that I'm not as excited to meet you, I just haven't had the time to give you as much in the way of daydreams. With looking after a fairly boisterous toddler and trying not to puke, my mind has been otherwise preoccupied. Not only that, but I haven't had to spend quite as much time worrying this time around. I know what to expect, so I've spent a lot less time obsessing over the details.

We're coming to the end of this pregnancy now and a big part of me regrets that I haven't been able to enjoy it. Partly because this will be the last time I do it, but mostly because it's the final piece of the journey that brings me my much loved, much longed for little girl.

You are the missing piece of my puzzle, little one. I can't wait to finally meet you.


P.S. Please don't come out a boy; I've decorated your bedroom with unicorns.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Two Brothers

The boy held onto his brother's hand as tightly as he could without hurting him, and made his way forward towards the man at the gate. It was a strange thing; the two of them looked no different to the other people milling around, yet everyone kept turning to them and smiling. He could see their mother following a short distance behind with a proud smile on her face as the crowds parted before them. A few children pointed and whispered wide eyed questions to nearby adults, yet no one seemed willing to speak to the brothers themselves. 

They had lost their father at some point and the boy felt a tinge of sadness as he tried to remember the last time he had seen him. There had been darkness, cold and fear, but the memory of any horror was quickly evaporating with every step that they took closer to the man at the gate. He, too, was smiling at the brothers now. There were still many people ahead of them in the line; waiting to be seen and processed, yet the man with the clipboard kept looking past them, at the two little boys stood in a clearing within the crowd. 

The boy looked over his shoulder to his mother, who nodded her reassurance that they should go on; her face still set into that strange and peaceful smile. 

The boy wasn't frightened, but that didn't mean that he wasn't confused. Their father had explained to him that they were going to live somewhere kinder, and he certainly remembered a few of the children in the crowd from the beginning of the journey, but he couldn't quite recall it ending. He supposed he must have fallen asleep at some point towards the end. 

They were almost at the gate now, the man with the clipboard was smiling so broadly that it looked as though his face might split in two, but still the boy faltered. He was worried that his father hadn't made it and he knew that if he walked through that gate, he might never see him again. Suddenly, his mother was behind him and put her hands on his shoulders, urging him forward.

"Be brave," she whispered and her warm voice next to his ear relaxed him. He stepped forward, still clinging to the hand of his little brother.

The boys had watched countless others walk through the gate without fuss and yet, as they approached him, the man with the clipboard stepped forward and embraced them both warmly.

"My boys," he said in a choked voice, "do you see how happy you have made everyone?"

The boy looked around; people were still staring and smiling at them.

"You and your brother have saved so many," the man continued, "your father included. You will see him again; don't worry."

He turned to the boy's younger brother and ruffled his short, dark hair.

"And you, little one, you have played a bigger part in the lives of others than you could possibly imagine. You're on the minds of many this evening and will be for countless years to come. You have changed things."

Nervous, the younger boy tried to step behind his brother, putting his thumb in his mouth and looking down at his feet.

"Be brave," their mother repeated behind them. This time she wasn't whispering, and seemed to be speaking to herself as much as she was her young sons.

"Yes, be brave," agreed the smiling man with the clipboard, "for you have nothing to fear any more."

Galip tightened his grip on his little brother's hand and took a deep breath as he tried to see what lay beyond the gate.

"Come on, Aylan. It's time to go."

Together, they walked.

* * *
Like many parents, the story of Aylan and his brother broke my heart when it hit the headlines this week. I cried a lot of useless tears, as I'm sure many did.

However, it occurred to me that while it was too late to help the brothers, there was something I could do. I could at the very least give them a happier ending.

Sleep well, sweethearts. 

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Beginnings and Ends

Today is the day that I leave the job I've been doing (on and off) for eleven years of my life. That's over a third of my thirty years spent in various levels of service to the carpet and furniture industry, and I do consider myself to be quite the veteran. It was never a calling of mine; it was a job that I fell into by accident, but I was drawn to the sales side of things, and it's that which has kept me hooked. I get a genuine buzz from helping people to spend large amounts of their money, but however much I enjoy it, sales is a job; it isn't my dream.

So, today I'm parting ways with an industry, and indeed a family, that has been a huge part of my adult life. Living in a fairly small seaside town, most businesses tend to be family run and this one is no exception. The staff turnover is basically non-existent and even those who do leave eventually end up coming back at some point. The people I work with are more than colleagues; they're friends and family and I'll miss them. But the time has come to take my dreams off hold. My life isn't supposed to be spent sat behind a desk or telling people about the benefits of a wool twist over a polypropelene saxony. 

Of course, I'm actually leaving to have a baby, but that's not all. I have made the conscious decision to take some time out from doing a job to make space for a career; a career that matters and that follows the path of a long held dream whilst forging the way for some new ones. Obviously there will be writing. In some ways, there has always been writing, only now that I have small people in my life, this faraway fantasy has taken on a different urgency and meaning. I've made the move from writing 'boohoo' short stories about tortured souls and wronged individuals to writing far-fetched and fantastical stories for children. Children have become my new dream. Suddenly I'm aware of just how important the education and nurture of the next generation really is, and I want to play my part in developing their imaginations and love for stories.

It might be that I'm unsuccessful, although I largely refuse to acknowledge that as a a possibility, but should it become the case then I will finish my English degree and work towards teaching young children in some other way; perhaps sharing my stories in a classroom instead of via print. What was once a vague notion of something I wanted to do has suddenly become an intense hunger and I'm powerless to try and ignore it.

So I'm taking a leap of faith in myself, helped of course by my incredible husband who is having to go out and earn actual money while I indulge in what is seen by many to be little more than a whim. I, of course, know otherwise and I'm so, so, so frightened and excited. I'm also a little sad, because I will miss the laughter I've shared in this building. All I can do is think of the laughter my words might inspire in those who really matter, in our next generation, and keep on pushing on. 

I'm so ready.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

How to Raise a Well Behaved Toddler

Ha! I'm kidding. Obviously I have no idea how to get your toddler to behave, but did you know that there is an abundance of articles out there that claim to be able to? All nonsense, of course. I'm inherently sceptical of advice pieces like that. For one thing, I believe that toddlers do exactly what they want one hundred per cent of the time,  but also I hate that they're not given credit as individual people; as though some formula will work on them all.

Doesn't make it any easier when your child hits the age at which they stop being able to see or hear you, though. Blake has reached that age. He spends the majority of the day refusing to acknowledge my existence, breaking from character only when he senses that my bottom has touched the toilet seat or that I might be secretly eating chocolate in the kitchen. Naturally, at those moments, he can't bear to be apart from me. The rest of the time, however, I'm invisible and my voice apparently functions on a frequency not detected by toddler ears.

Blake isn't naughty... as such. He doesn't throw enormous tantrums, nor does he get spiteful with me or other children. In fact, most of the scenarios you would automatically picture when told of 'bad behaviour' are alien in our house. What he does is ignorance, and he does it very well. In the course of an average day, I can say 'no' about six million times. The problem is: it doesn't mean anything. I know that he knows what the word means, because he used to react to it exactly as you'd expect, but somewhere down the line he has decided that it simply doesn't apply to him. 

There are a few simple rules in our house that I try to enforce. One of those rules is that if the child is outside playing and I'm in the house, then the screen door stays open. That's so that I can both hear him and access him quickly in the inevitable event that he trips over his own feet and hurts himself. Blake has decided that he'd prefer the screen door shut. I have tried everything to try and get him to see my point - from a calm explanation as to why the door needs to be open to basically yelling 'NO' at him as I carry him back into the house, right through basic bribery; when chocolate stops working, you know you've got issues. The fact is, he literally doesn't give a shit that I've said no. Somewhere in his head, a little switch has been flipped. He has gone from revering everything I say and do to thinking 'that one with the boobs? You can ignore her. She talks bollocks'.

Don't even get me started on bedtime. We have never been able to defeat that monster.

"Are we seriously back on that?"

I finish most days feeling guilty that I've spent the entire day berating the poor boy, but I don't know any other way of instilling some sort of discipline into him. My sister babysat recently and acknowledged (with some frustration) that getting his attention was a lot like saying 'Blake' over and over again into an empty flowerpot and hoping for some kind of response. 

As I say, he's not really a naughty kid, so it's difficult to establish any serious discipline routines and I sincerely doubt that any of them would work on a child that refuses to allow any negative communication. Plus, the rest of the time, he is genuinely the cutest little snuggle bunny I have ever laid eyes on. Not to mention the fact that his somewhat defiant nature has spawned some cracking personality traits that I really don't want to discourage. 

I don't know what the point of this post is. I think I just wanted to put it out there; to perhaps reassure myself that I'm not just fucking terrible at this parenting lark. I don't think it's me. Perhaps he just is what he is. After all, haven't I said myself that we ought to treat small people as individuals? Perhaps Blake is just individually as deaf as a post when it comes to being told what to do... I think I'll blame that one on his father.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Fingers (Not Legs) Crossed for VBAC Victory

I can't quite believe I'm already in my third trimester of this pregnancy. It's gone so much quicker than my first, when every week seemed to drag along at a snail's pace as I laboriously approached my due date. Obviously, I've been giving a fair bit of thought to the birth itself and I am pleased to announce that I am officially a candidate for a vaginal birth after c-section (or a VBAC for those in the know).

Well, 90% pleased; the other 10% is fucking terrified. 

Mostly, I feel really positive about the whole thing. I laboured with Blake and got to 7cm without pain relief before my little womb monster decided that he'd had enough, so I think that I can cope with labour without too much trouble. What really scares me is the prospect of something going wrong.

In reality, the chances of that happening are pretty slim. There is such a thing as scar rupture in which the walls of the uterus are put under so much strain by the contractions that the old caesarean wound opens. This puts the life of both the mother and baby at incredible risk, so naturally I'll have a consultant on stand-by, ready to whisk me into surgery at the first sign of any rupture happening. For my part, I have to be super alert to any pain that lasts between contractions because what I feel will be the ultimate indicator to something going wrong. Well, bugger me, that's a lot of pressure. When I was in labour with Blake, I could have barely told you my name, let alone felt a deeply in-tune connection with what was happening in my nether regions.

 The obvious solution to anything going wrong will be to immediately take me in for another section, and therein lies my second biggest fear. The truth is, I just really don't want one. Any of you that might be thinking that a caesarean is the easy childbirth option would be wrong; they're horrible. The surgery is scary (especially under emergency circumstances when you've not had a chance to work out which way is up), and the recovery is long and painful. There are also these awesome anaesthetic shakes that no one tells you about beforehand, but that last ages after the operation itself. It's only when you're lying there, practically shaking yourself off the table and wondering if you're dying, that someone bothers to tell you it's normal. For the first hour of my son's life, I was too scared to hold him in case my violent shuddering threw him from the hospital bed. Not only that, but I had all manner of trouble once they took my catheter out.

Plot twist! I'm also scared of giving birth naturally because, well, ouch. My lady bits have largely remained unchanged in the long term by the birth of my son, but a VBAC will soon put paid to all of that. A day or two out from having Blake, I could go about my toilet business without too much thought; not like my poor episiotomy inflicted sistren. Sex was tricky at first, but eventually returned to normal after a few months; those who have had vaginal births complain of a permanent change in sensation. Also, how the hell do you go to the toilet when you have stitches in your bits? The whole thing sounds bloody brutal.

So, I'm a bit of a contradiction really; I'm thrilled to be given the chance to give a VBAC a go, but I'm basically terrified of every option I have. I know that when the day comes, I'll just deal with whatever happens, but that doesn't stop me from obsessing about it a bit in the meantime.

Isn't childbirth fun?

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Real World Reasons to Breastfeed

It is often drummed into us at antenatal appointments that breast is best. I'm not here to dispute that; as a mother who has successfully fed one child and is gearing up to feed the one growing inside her, I'm a big advocate of what can often be a contentious issue.

Not everyone can breastfeed, and not everyone wants to, but there does seem to be quite a lot of women who are somewhat on the fence about whether or not they want to try. For those ladies that are unsure, there is plethora of information available about the evidential medical benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and their babies. In my opinion, that's kind of the problem; not only is this onslaught of facts and figures somewhat overwhelming, but a lot of us hear words like 'cancer' and 'SIDS' and immediately close ourselves off.

With that in mind, I'm here to provide some benefits of breastfeeding that women can relate to their immediate lives. After all, isn't it all about stacking up the real world pros and cons?

1. It's free.

A bit of a no-brainer, that one. Formula is expensive, whichever brand you go for, and breast milk is completely and utterly free. Ok, not completely, because you'll need extra fuel and those cakes soon add up, but it's still a whole a lot cheaper than buying milk in.

2. Less washing up.

Bottles are a pain in the arse to wash. You need a special brush to get right up into the teats, and even then you'll be paranoid that it isn't quite clean. Once you're finally satisfied that any trace of earlier feeds has gone, the rinsing starts. The ever-lasting bloody rinsing...

Boobs require a quick wash in the shower, which I hope you would be doing anyway.

3. No sterilising

I have never once popped my breast into a steriliser, which is probably a good thing; I've retrieved bottles from those contraptions shortly after their cycles have ended and given myself third degree burns.

4. Less clutter

Things you need for bottle feeding: bottles, teats, formula, steriliser, bottle brush, bottle warmer... the list goes on.

Things you need for breastfeeding: breasts. Of course, you can get all sorts of paraphernalia to go with breastfeeding too, but if you're anything like me, you'll use approximately none of it.

5. Baby doesn't have to wait.

Picture the scene: it's 3am and you have a hungry infant who can only communicate in shrill screams of despair. You have two options - you can either go downstairs, boil the kettle, mix a bottle, wait for it to cool and try and pacify your angry husband who has a 6am shift that day, or you can pop a nipple into the baby's mouth and provide immediate milk, perfectly mixed and at the exact desired temperature within minutes of them waking.

6. You can eat more.

I mentioned the cake, didn't I? Breastfeeding uses up calories, so it stands to reason that you need to put more in. Bring on the carbs!

7. It's a good excuse.

Don't want to go to that Ann Summers party with the loud girl from work? Best you tell her that little Albert won't take a bottle yet and cluster feeds in the evenings. In fact getting home for a feed is a pretty good excuse to leave anywhere. I once got out of having to go and sit and exam thanks to my magical boobies.

8. You can be a bit smug.

You're doing something that's universally acknowledged to be difficult, so be as smug as you like. But never, ever get self-righteous; just because you can do it doesn't give you a free pass to preach. People don't like that.

9. You get quality Netflix time.

While breastfeeding is being established, it can take a long time. This naturally means an awful lot of time sat in one spot, plugged into a baby. This is time well spent catching up on your television consumption. I once watched four seasons of Misfits in less than two weeks.

10. It sends baby to sleep.

Mastering the side-by-side feed will be a powerful part of your "please nap" arsenal. The baby will drift peacefully into the land of slumber, comforted by the close proximity of their loving mother. Of course, you'll be obligated to wait until they wake up before attempting to remove your nipple from their maw, so bring reading material or a fully charged smartphone.

Still on the fence? Ok, I have to admit it's not the easiest thing in the world and it absolutely isn't for everyone, but my advice is try it; you might love it, and it'd be a crying shame to never really know...

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Why My Brothers-In-Law Are The Real Heroes

Yesterday, I read a news story that made me angry. It was about a local man that was being hailed as a hero for turning a relationship breakdown into something positive, moving to Rio de Janeiro and helping the underprivileged children of Brazil. Very noble of him certainly, except I happen to know that there's one detail the newspapers weren't aware of. In the midst of the catastrophic break up that he did mention, there was a fling that he didn't. From that fling came a child. A child that he actively rejected and then essentially ran away from. A real hero, I'm sure you'll agree.

I have personal experience of growing up with the knowledge that I'd been rejected by a man that had never even met me, so stories like that tug at my anger strings. However, something then happened that stopped my anger in its tracks; I was reminded of the power of stepfathers. Naturally, I have an automatic soft spot for any man that does a wonderful job of raising children that he has no genetic obligation to, and I was reminded of this by a post my older sister put on Facebook. Her husband is father to only one of her children and incredible stepfather to the other four. Her post was about the amount of money she had spent on school uniforms so far, and she mentioned how hard her husband has to work in order to be able to afford such requirements for all five children. It occurred to me then that, rather than getting angry about the men who were walking out of children's lives, my energy would be better spent recognising the ones who made a conscious decision to walk in.

I have two sisters and both of their spouses are heroes. They fell in love with these beautiful women and, almost without thinking, took on the children of lesser men as their own. The husband of my older sister went from a pretty responsibility free lifestyle to father to four children in just a few short months and, as far as I'm aware, it's never even occurred to him how amazing that was. My younger sister attracted the attentions of a man who already had a child, but who was living quite a bachelor existence; one which he immediately dropped, fitting naturally and comfortably into his role of dedicated family man. They are real men because they choose to be and I love them both for it.

My Dad - my wonderful, caring, occasionally terrifying Dad - he's a hero too. He moved in with a woman he had met and her two neurotic daughters. I was only three, but my sister was eight and was fast becoming the teenager that he would have to learn to deal with. I was young enough to be pretty open to the new man our lives, but I'd soon grow out of that. A few years back, I began to serialise my teenage diaries (you can find them here), but stopped that little project in its tracks when I discovered that my teenage self was horrible. I was horrible to and about my friends, but I was absolutely demonic when it came to talking about my stepfather. I was pretty awful to his face too; in fact, I once threw a drink into it while he sat in his armchair. My Dad didn't leave. He didn't get up and say "fuck this shit; these aren't even my kids". He waited for me to calm down and then dealt with me like any father would - with a bollocking and a grounding that he would inevitably let me talk him out of.

So sod the bloke in Brazil, who had the chance to know someone incredible and turned it down. Sod the men all around the World who are failing to be a part of the lives they helped to create. Sod them all, because there are plenty of incredible men who are willing to fill the gaps that they're leaving, and those men are the real heroes.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

If Adults Acted Like Toddlers

This evening, Blake and I were walking from my friend's house to my car. He was looking after my keys and I was holding his hand and chatting merrily about seeing Daddy soon, when suddenly Blake stopped. He put my keyring into his mouth, making him look like an elaborate door knocker, and refused to take another step. Blake is eighteen months old; this behaviour did not surprise me in the slightest. However, it did get me to thinking how weird it would look if I had done the same thing. If, at the age of thirty, I had stuffed my keys into my mouth and stood stock still on the pavement, completely refusing to move.

Toddlers do some strange things. After all, they're still discovering the world and everything is new and exciting. Plus, and this bit is crucial, they get away with it. Somehow I don't think it would be quite as cute if I were to stroll down the road, trying to open every gate that I came across. I think it would be less cute still if I were to tackle Morrisons by shouting at the top of my voice the entire way round. 

Dinner time would also be interesting. If I were to suddenly start copying the way that my son ate, I would fill a spoon with peas, lift them carefully to my face, only to the tip them directly into my lap the millisecond before they reached my lips. I would fill my fork with food, then pick it off and shove it into my mouth along with my entire fist and, once I had had my fill, I would inexplicably pick up my plate and tip whatever was left onto the floor.

I would gurn for no apparent reason and stare at strangers until they acknowledged my existence. I would then smile coyly and look away. When my son does it, it's adorable; if I were to do it, my husband might see it as me flirting ineffectively with others. 

Sleeping would be altogether less restful. I'm of the opinion that Blake might never be ready to come out of his cot and go into a bed; he would fall out within minutes. I have never met a more active sleeper. If I suddenly began to imitate his sleeping pattern, I would cover every inch of the bed within the first hour of being in it. I would repeatedly try and crawl in my sleep until my head hit the headboard, only to turn around and try to go the other way. I would never keep a blanket on me and I would intermittently cry out for no reason at all, soundly asleep again within seconds. I would need bed guards and there almost certainly wouldn't be any room for Mr Meaney.

I would walk around the house, bumping into furniture, forehead first and I would fall onto my bottom without warning, apparently thwarted by my own centre of gravity. I occasionally do these things now admittedly, but there has generally been wine involved. To my knowledge, Blake has never once had drunkenness to blame for his incessant falling. 

I would laugh loudly any time I witnessed someone hurt themselves. Then I would attempt to climb the bookcase, hurt myself and shout incoherent obscenities at anyone that tried to point out the rough justice of the situation.

I would hide under the kitchen table if anyone mentioned the words 'get' and 'dressed' together in a sentence.

Toddlers are strange creatures indeed; part small, angry goblin - part hilarious, drunken hobo. They are that brilliant mix of snuggly baby smells and genuine comedy genius that mean they can get away with almost anything. As their personalities grow and blossom, their behaviour is puzzling and utterly fascinating. It's just a shame that we can't get away with replicating it, because toddlers really do look like they're having the most fun of all.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Depressing CBeebies Reinterpretations

I have delved into the murky waters of CBeebies shows before, but if I'm honest, I would have to admit that I lacked conviction. My husband, on the other hand, does not. When I planted the seed in his head that these shows were open to reinterpretation, his dark little mind ran with the idea. Soon, he was coming to me with some truly depressing explanations for the seemingly bizarre plot-lines that we were subjecting our child to.

After that, it became something of an obsession. It began with his reasoning behind Old Jack's Boat and Mr Tumble, but led us to some pretty gloomy corners of our own brains. Because misery likes company, I've decided to share some of them with you.

Old Jack's Boat

Ah, Staithes; the place that our bleak, bleak journey began. I innocently wondered aloud one day why Jack's boat, The Rainbow, looked all rusty and decrepit right up until Jack walked aboard, when it would spring into bright, fresh colour. 

As I have already explained, my husband is quite dark, and a few days later he proposed a theory. His explanation for why the boat only seemed to sparkle with life when Jack was on board was that, actually, Jack has a severe case of Alzheimer's Disease.

Mr Meaney reckons that The Rainbow is exactly as rusty and un-seaworthy as we see it in the harbour. Jack, however, only remembers the boat how it was, and when it changes we're merely getting a glimpse into the mind of a horrendously confused old man who think his boat is still shiny and new.

This theory also goes some way to explaining Jack's fairly fantastical stories and why the locals of Staithes insist on talking to him with grating condescension.

Something Special

As if I wasn't feeling sad enough about the fact that Old Jack was slowly losing his mind, my husband then decided to move onto another family favourite: one Mr Tumble of Something Special fame. I cringed away; our boy loves Mr Tumble and I wasn't sure if I wanted to hear the sad stories behind his red nose and spotty bag. Unfortunately, I was hooked; I had to know what horrors my husband's brain was capable of cooking up.

There are several members of the Tumble family with which our hero interacts. We have Aunt Polly, Grandad Tumble, Lord Tumble, Fisherman Tumble and Baker Tumble, all of whom look exactly like Mr Tumble, but each wears a different variation of his trademark outfit. 

In steps Mr Meaney...

Mr Tumble is in a home. He has severe learning disabilities and requires round the clock care to make sure that he gets everything that he needs. Sadly, however, his parents were unable to cope with the difficulties that their son placed on them and have abandoned him completely. 

With no family coming to visit him, he creates the Tumble family in his own head. Dressing up in simple costumes (Aunt Polly's hat aside), he brings each character to life and engages with the family that he never had to stave off the crushing loneliness that he would otherwise face.

It also explains his proficiency with Makaton sign language.

Teacup Travels

Inspired (and completely depressed) by Mr Meaney's ideas, I decided to tackle a show myself. Namely Teacup Travels, in which two children, Elliott and Charlotte, visit incredible distant lands via the stories of their Great Aunt Lizzie and her precious teacup collection.

It's pretty obvious where my brain went with this one: Lizzie is drugging the children. I don't know why, perhaps she just worships chaos, but she is slipping hallucinogenics into those children's teacups, sitting back and relishing the results.

There are certain things that back up this theory, quite apart from the children in question being under the illusion that they're genuinely in ancient Rome/Egypt/China the second they take a sip of her 'tea'.

The children's mother features in both the opening and closing credits, dropping them off with Great Aunt Lizzie. Lizzie's very title would suggest that the two women are somehow related, even if by marriage only, yet the mother never steps foot on the property; she simply sends a child through the gate and leaves. When she returns to collect them, she waits again on the other side of the gate and never, ever goes inside or speaks to Lizzie directly. She also only ever drops off one child at a time.

Elliott and Charlotte's mother is desperately in debt. Lizzie is no relation to any of them, but she enjoys 'spending time' with the woman's offspring and pays generously for the chance to do so. The mother knows that something is wrong, but she needs the money, yet she absolves her guilt slightly by only ever subjecting one child to Lizzie's game at a time.


After that, I decided to take another look at Bing; the big bunny with the big heart. 

Bing confuses a lot of people, mostly because the parent type characters appear to be some kind of rag doll type things that the youngsters call by name. Also, why can't Pando keep his bloody trousers on for more than a minute at a time?

I can answer both of those questions. Bing and his friends are foster children. The little rag doll things aren't their parents and, although the nice people at social services have tried to match them with someone as similar to them as possible, they haven't quite found that perfect fit.

The adults are nice, however, and the children are largely happy despite their turbulent early starts in life. Sadly, some behavioural anomalies still remain. Bing, for example, has trouble coping with day to day life and is almost completely unable to follow simple instructions. And that sodding panda just can't stop taking his clothes off.

Happy watching...

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Second Baby Syndrome

There are certain questions that people tend towards asking when they see that a woman is pregnant:

1. When is it due?
2. Do you know what you're having?
3. Is this your first baby?

And it's this third question that I'm here to discuss today. In fact, I'm as guilty of this as anyone; I found myself asking a girl just the other day if the small human concealed under her considerable bump was to be her first. She said yes and I cooed and reassured her that it wasn't nearly as horrendous as people liked to make you believe. All in all, it was a rather lovely moment.

When I was pregnant with Blake, the same thing would happen; people would get so excited for me when I told them that he was to be my first child and made such a fuss of me and my ever-expanding belly. 

This time it's different. This time people ask me if the baby is to be my first and I respond with "no, my second" and, more often than not, the response is a slightly disappointed sounding "oh" and a change of subject. People just don't seem to really care about subsequent children.

I'm not complaining as such, because I'm just as bad. We toyed with the idea of not bothering to announce the pregnancy because we just didn't expect people to care. Not only that but I haven't really given the person growing inside me much thought. It's only now that I can feel it moving that I regularly even remember that I'm having another baby in a few months. Partly, I think this is because I simply don't have the time for sitting around and mooning over what my child might look like this time around. When Blake was still on the inside, I would spend hours each day obsessing over him. In short, my mind was completely preoccupied by my son. Well, my mind is still completely preoccupied by him, and the poor little one in my womb is having to settle for filling little gaps in my consciousness. 

Perhaps this is all to do with the fact that the mother knows what to expect with subsequent pregnancies and births. People are less compelled to give out advice because she simply doesn't need it, while she's less likely to give much thought to the pregnancy because she knows just how much feeling like shit is normal. Instead of obsessing over every ache and pain or googling gender prediction old wives' tales, veteran mums are far more likely to take the whole thing in their stride (between the vomiting if they're anything like me).

I do feel sorry for the child though. They haven't even been born yet and already they're having to compete with Blake for attention. There's also a very real chance that there's going to be a third (especially if this one is another boy), so they're probably going to have Middle Child Syndrome to deal with at some point too.

Poor baby number two. I think I'll spend some time rubbing my bump and telling it that I love it tonight. You know, just so it doesn't feel quite so left out...

"Hello? Is anyone listening out there?"

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

"It's Probably Just a Virus"

If there is a more infuriating phrase that us parents have to endure then I am yet to find it. I'm sure that doctors must find it tedious fielding a never-ending stream of worried mums and dads with snotty nosed infants, but is this really the best catch-all sentence that they can possibly muster?

Look, I get that viruses don't respond to antibiotics. I get that most healthy bodies are perfectly able to fight them off without the need for medical intervention, but sometimes what a parent really wants is for a professional to just have a good look at their child, put a name to the nasty that's currently poisoning their little bodies and offer some sodding reassurance. Is that really so hard? Is that really a million miles away from the services that the NHS is supposed to provide? Or does the fact that no physical medicine changes hand make the entire thing a waste of precious resources?

Oh, bugger off.

Blake has been ill since Saturday morning. At first, it was just a bloodshot right eye which had developed into full blown, gloriously gungy conjunctivitis by the next morning. Being the dutiful parent that I am, I marched straight down to the pharmacy and came away armed with antibiotic eye drops, the orders to administer them every two hours and a cold certainty that it wasn't going to be that straight forward. Blake was happy to prove me right and the Optrex wrestling matches quickly went from pretty tricky to completely traumatic within a few doses. Not only that, but they don't seem to be working; we're four days in, Blake's eyes are worse than ever and he is now tracking a pretty impressive fever as well as several other bonus symptoms.

Today, I got home from work and almost burst into tears when I saw him. His eyes were puffed shut and thick with dried green gunk and his lips were blue and shivering despite his baking temperature. My first instinct was to call the doctor to try and get him seen immediately. I wanted someone to look at his eyes, to take his temperature properly with a more reliable thermometer than my own and to tell me exactly what was wrong with him. When a doctor called me back and I explained the symptoms, I got the exact response I expected:

"It's probably just a virus."

Well, yes, maybe it is, but why do these viruses never have a fucking name? A virus can be anything from a common cold to meningitis, so wanting a little bit more clarification is hardly a lot to ask. What type of virus? How long can I expect it to last? Have you seen these symptoms together before? Could it be an allergic reaction to the drops that I'm forcing into his bloodshot eyes while I pin his arms to the sofa? I don't want some umbrella terminology designed to placate me and make me go away; I want to know what's wrong with my son.

In the end, the doctor reluctantly made me appointment for tomorrow that I'm to cancel first thing if Blake shows any improvement overnight (his actual words) and, while I'm sure this ailment is fairly minor, I find it incredibly frustrating that parents are so easily dismissed as paranoid. Blake has some kind of complication revolving around conjunctivitis and I'm sure it'll clear up in time, but how often do we have to hear about a child being sent home with a vague virus diagnosis, only to end up critically ill in hospital a few hours later before doctors begin to take us seriously? As spoken sentences go, "it's probably just a virus" is particularly meaningless, and I for one am sick of hearing it.

*** UPDATE: Blake's 'virus' was actually a severe allergic reaction to his eye medication. ***

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Why I've Stopped Giving a Sh*t About What Other Parents are Doing

When my son was younger, I was all about keeping up with the proverbial Jones's. I spent my time on the internet reading about what other mothers were buying for their children or giving them to eat, and I ended up driving myself to the very edge of insanity. There was no way I could keep up with what everyone else was doing; my budget simply wouldn't allow it, and yet here I was torturing myself about all of the crucial developmental tools that Blake was missing out on. I truly felt that he was being held back in life by my lack of Fisher Price gadgets and Nuby feeding utensils.

It's only now that he's older, and as developed as I'd expect at his age, that I've realised that material goods in a baby's life are no different from material goods in ours; that actually they don't matter. It's just stuff.

For example, when Blake was a little less mobile (oh, blessed days) I was completely obsessed with the idea of the Jumperoo. It seemed like everyone else had one and the internet was basically telling me that if I didn't have one then I was failing my child at a most fundamental level; he would never learn to walk and his fine motor and communication skills were going to suffer irreparable damage thanks to my crap finances. In truth, not having a Jumperoo really meant that the only thing we were missing out on was having half our lounge taken up by a plastic monstrosity. The actual functionality of a Jumperoo was easily achieved with a bargain door bouncer bought from eBay and a reasonably priced (but perfectly sufficient) baby walker given to us by Blake's Granny. 

Blake never had a Sophie La Girafe teether. As I jumped from forum to forum, I was crippled with guilt over the fact that I hadn't invested in something that had brought so many other children such hours of joy. Let us not also forget that it's made with all natural materials, as though we're somehow poisoning our offspring by daring to let them put anything man-made into their mouths. I've seen people putting out impassioned pleas on social media to find lost Sophies because those sodding giraffes cost a small fortune. Can you guess what happens if Blake loses one of his cheap teethers that I buy from Boots? I buy another one.

When I introduced Blake to bottles, I spent hours online researching the best types to buy. I tied myself up in knots reading about Dr Brown bottles that prevent colic and will make your baby the happiest he can be and eventually save him a fortune in therapists when he's older. I read about techniques to alter the hole in rubber bottle teats to make the flow more resemble that of the breast, and stood in Tesco nearly in tears wondering what sized teats to buy in the first place. In the end, I bought the pretty standard Tommee Tippee bottles and now, sixteen months later, we're still bloody using them, alteration free.

I bought the cheapest travel system that I could find that still had good reviews, and I absolutely love that thing; I'm pretty certain it could survive a nuclear holocaust.

We used a mid-priced Moses basket and put it next to the bed instead of bothering to hire a Bed-nest. 

We put the landing light on and opened his bedroom door a crack instead of buying a night-light that projected stars onto the ceiling. 

I downloaded a free lullaby app on my phone instead of worrying about a Slumber Buddy. 

We used a hand-me-down baby monitor that does nothing but transmit sound instead of investing in an Angelcare mat that sets of alarms in case of an emergency. 

It's not that I didn't want any of these things, because I did. The more time I spent on Google and Twitter, the more I convinced myself that I was somehow failing my child by not keeping up with everyone else, but then something strange happened: Blake stayed alive. He started to crawl, and then to walk and kept up developmentally with all of his peers despite the fact that our house was more 'car-boot' than 'Mothercare'. So I relaxed and I learnt that things are just things. Clever marketing is designed specifically to make us feel like shit if we can't afford a particular product but, chances are, you can probably do just fine without it. 

I began to work on the principle that my Mum never had any of this crap when she was raising us and we all still grew up into (mostly) fully functioning adults. I mean, look at me: I can read and write and I never even watched one, single episode of Baby Einstein. 

Monday, 11 May 2015

Here's to The 'Middle' Mums!

I've seen a lot of things said about the benefits of being both a young and an older mother. From this lovely meme on Facebook:
to Huffintgon Post's article about why it's awesome to have a baby past fifty, and while this is all well and good, it got me to thinking that there doesn't seem to be many articles heralding parenthood in the dirty thirties. So I thought I'd write one.

I was one month away from twenty-nine when I had my first baby, I'm now carrying my second at thirty and, for me, my child bearing years have come at the best possible time in my life. Both young and older mothers have advantages over the other, yet here I am, smack bang in the middle of them all, reaping benefits from both sides.

So let me tell you why I think that being a 'Middle' Mum is the best.

1. You've lived but you haven't quite finished yet.

From the young mums cry of 'I will be young enough to enjoy my child as an adult' to the older women citing a full life behind them, it seems to be accepted that life in general is popped temporarily on hold during the baby-bearing years. If we accept this premise, then I think that I'm perfectly placed. I've had my selfish single years pre-parenthood, but I can also feel secure in the knowledge that I'll still be reasonably young once my offspring are old enough to buy me a well-deserved glass of wine.

2. Lots of  your friends are at it.

The late twenties and early thirties are very much an average time to start popping out babies these days. Both very young and much older mothers are more likely to find themselves suddenly isolated from their peers once a baby is on the scene. Not so for us Middle Mums. Everyone is at it, so we always have plenty of puke-stained company.

3. We remember what it's like to be young.

Just humour me here: We remember because it wasn't that long ago, really. Honest. Please agree. This puts the ultimate patience on our side. Being young can really, really suck sometimes and we know, because we did it fairly recently. Really.

4. But we're far enough away from our own childhood to not want to repeat it.

You won't catch me engaging in circular arguments with a toddler in full temper tantrum, put it that way. I can outwit them with my knowledge of the world and my unexpected use of big words and actual, genuine logic.

5. We have energy, but we also appreciate decent 'down-time'.

Because, let's face it, post-lunch we're about as ready for a nap as the child is. But don't underestimate us! One, or maybe two cups of coffee is all it takes to have us running around the garden with a football or building Mega-Blok giraffes with the best of them.

So here's to the Middle Mums! The often overlooked women in their late twenties and thirties, who have perhaps taken breaks in much-loved careers and partying lifestyles to have their babies in the middle of the parenting age debate. That said, while this is the best age for me, I don't really think that there is a perfect age that spreads across the entire board of motherhood.

The  best age to have a baby is the age that is right for you, personally, and if you go by that, I don't think you can really go wrong.