Sunday, 28 December 2014

Getting my life back?

Another mum seemed surprised that I am still breast-feeding my baby. "Don't you want to get your life back?" she exclaimed. Her comment set me thinking:

As a first-time mum I spent a lot of time fretting about 'getting my life back' (it seemed to be what you are *supposed* to do after having a baby) but I came to realise that I didn't decide to have children so that life would stay the same; I wanted to become a parent, which meant choosing to put my family ahead of my own personal interests, including my career.

I enjoyed my first year on maternity leave. Yes, I struggled with sleepless nights, felt frustrated trying to work out why my daughter was crying, and obsessed over her self-soothing technique and daytime naps; and yes, I was ready to return to work at the end of it; but, on the whole, I look back on it as one of the best years of my life. Now, I am on another year's maternity leave and I'm enjoying myself even more than I did first time around. I don't miss work, I plan to get back to my singing hobby after Christmas, and I've made new friends and picked up new interests since my elder daughter started school.

Breastfeeding prevents me from doing very few of the things I want to and switching to formula feeding wouldn't open new doors for me or expand my horizons. Yes, other people could do a feed for me but, given that I'm my children's primary carer with my husband working full-time and our parents living 200 miles away, this wouldn't help much. I have had a couple of evenings out since she was born and I just fit errands, visits and appointments around feeds and naps as best I can. I don't feel particularly comfortable breastfeeding in public but I do it sometimes. If I carry on breastfeeding until my daughter is one year old, I will have made a few personal sacrifices but not enough for me to regret not trying her on a bottle.

My life is about my children. Together with my husband, they are the most important thing in my world. Rather than think about getting my old life back, I'm building a new life centred around my family.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Needles and pins

You sit on my knee with a smile for everybody. I hold you tightly. I watch as your face crumples and turns red. Your smile vanishes, your eyes fill with tears and you cry.

I feel your pain and want to make it go away.

I cuddle you and give you some milk to make it better. I shush you and stroke your hair. I tell you that I love you and I wait for the sobbing and whimpering to subside.

Then you look at me and smile again and I know I have done the right thing because the alternative is not worth thinking about.

I lost your brother to a disease with no treatment, no vaccine, no cure. I couldn't bear for that to happen to you or your sister. So, I take you for your immunisations and I listen to you cry and I am careful with your legs until the bruises have gone.

Because I love you so much.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

All that glitters...

My elder daughter is a magpie! She likes to collect shiny things and often brings sparkly, glittery objects home from school. Usually, they are worthless - pieces of shiny paper or foil in pretty shapes and colours. Sometimes, they are hair slides she has picked up from the classroom floor or in the playground. Often, I discover them in the washing machine after I've laundered her school uniform.

Last week, it was something more valuable: glass fish, ornaments, buttons and glass pebbles from the classroom play-tray. I could tell by the weight of her cardigan that she had brought home (a lot of) something she shouldn't.

When I challenged her, she said she wanted to keep them. I asked if the teacher knew she had brought them home. No. I asked if the teacher would have given her permission to bring them home. No. I said we'd have to return them to school. My daughter was upset. She wanted to keep them.

For half a second, I thought about letting her. Then, I found my resolve and my morals and stuck to my word. I explained about stealing. I told her that taking something without asking and/or taking something that you know you shouldn't is stealing and that stealing is naughty. I also told her that if everyone just took things they liked from school, there wouldn't be any fun things left there to play and learn with.

We gathered up the stolen items and took them back to school. She showed the bag of booty to her teacher, who gave a frown and shook her head. The teacher told her to take them inside and put them back in the play-tray.

Quietly, the teacher told me that all of the children take things home. Especially the shiny objects. They are told not to, though, so I know I did the right thing in making my daughter return the ones she took. It is an important lesson to learn - thou shalt not steal.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Birthday message

Dear Monty,

By rights, we should be celebrating your second birthday today. This should be a day of presents, cake and laughter and the sort of candles you blow out whilst making a wish.

What would you wish for if you were here?

What would I wish for on your behalf?

I spent your present money on gifts for an unknown child. A child who is less fortunate than others. A child who may not have parents or siblings. A child who may not be loved.

You are loved by your family, even if you cannot feel it. Your sisters would love to have their middle brother to play with.

I wish that we were wishing you a happy birthday today and singing you the birthday song. I wish that we were opening presents and eating cake and blowing out candles. I wish that you were here.

Love,
Mummy
xxx

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

It's a family affair

Ever since our new baby cam along in August, my elder daughter has been fascinated by the concept of kinship and family.

When we brought her sister home from the hospital, she asked me "Mummy, do we get to keep the baby?"
I said "Yes."
"But we didn't get to keep baby Monty." she said "He died but he can still be in our family. I wish he hadn't died - I would have liked to have kept him, too."

She is very keen to understand what being a family is all about, as if we weren't a proper family before. "A family has a mummy and a daddy, a big brother or sister and a little brother or sister." she told me on the way to school this week. "We have a family because I am the big sister."

She has also asked why she doesn't have a big sister and finds it hard to comprehend that it's because she is our first baby!

Friday, 28 November 2014

Breast intentions

I breast-feed because I can. I didn't really make a conscious choice to do it with my elder daughter - I just thought I'd give it a try and then, if it worked, keep it up for as long as I could. I fed her for 13 months (I never gave her a bottle, not even of expressed milk) until, one evening at bedtime, she turned her nose up at my nipple and we silently agree to call it a day.

Four years on, I am exclusively breast-feeding my 3-month-old baby daughter and it is a very different experience.

My younger daughter has a tongue-tie, which made it hard for her to latch on when she was newborn and left me feeling very sore for the first 6-8 weeks. I showed the fissure down one side of my left nipple to the community midwife: "Well, it's not bleeding" she said, cheerfully. "Try putting some milk on it and letting it air-dry. Feed through the pain - if you can manage six weeks, you can do a year!" I fed through the toe-curling, breath-holding pain and applied lots of lanolin until, eventually, there was some relief.

Although her technique has improved since then, she is still a sloppy feeder, especially when she is tired or fractious. This makes me apprehensive about feeding in public. We can't be as discreet as I'd like because she latches on and off and often gets distracted, so stops to look around at interesting things. We both prefer the comfort of feeding at home on a nice pillow.

I'm hungry almost all of the time (how can it be that I *only* need an extra 400 calories per day?) and no-one else can do the feeds for me. I often end up feeding her at mealtimes, balancing the feeding pillow on my knees at the table whilst we all eat together as a family. I've thought about expressing milk to give to her in a bottle but it wouldn't save me time or energy so I don't. Besides, I spent hours expressing and freezing depressingly small volumes of milk for my elder daughter only to throw it all away when she was a year old because we had no use for it.

My favourite feeds of the day are the first morning feed and the post-bath feed. My baby is usually happy and contented at these times of day and I usually do the feeds snuggled in bed with both of my girls. There's something very special about having that quiet time with the pair of them at either end of a busy day.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Keeping the conversation going

Over the past week or two, I have had a few opportunities to talk about my family, my pregnancies and my experience of stillbirth and bereavement stress. I am grateful for each and every one of these opportunities because talking about it reminds me how lucky I am, how far I have come and how much I can do to help others understand.

Thank you to the friend who has a shared and, in my opinion, greater experience of baby loss. It is always comforting to speak to someone else who has been 'pregnant again' and who understands the unspeakable weight of anxiety at a time that should be filled with joy. The long wait for your baby to be born safely and delivered breathing into your arms is difficult to navigate and so difficult for those who haven't lived through it to understand.

Thank you to the Willow Tree Centre for the invitation to attend your 10th anniversary celebration. I enjoyed speaking about how bereavement counselling helped me to deal with Monty's death and how I found the strength for a third pregnancy. I am brave because you helped me to rebuild myself.

Thank you to the friend who shared her experience of being pregnant again after miscarriage. I know what it feels like to no longer be able to hide the bump and to have to make small-talk with well-meaning friends, colleagues and strangers. I found it very hard to talk about my third pregnancy; to hear others tell me that it would all be okay this time around. I felt confused, anxious and very grateful for the increased support offered by my community midwife and the hospital consultant. Those who cannot listen to your fears cannot empathise. Find someone who can.

Thank you to the friend who asked me how old Monty would be. It was his second anniversary just a few weeks ago. I can't imagine what life would be like with a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and a newborn! It was nice to re-live his story, to talk about what happened and to remember the positive stillbirth experience that we were so fortunate to have. I feel privileged to live at a time when stillbirth is not brushed under the carpet, when my son does not have to be a skeleton in our family closet.

It is important to keep these conversations going. I strongly believe that no-one should have to live through baby loss and bereavement alone. If those of us who are bereaved parents keep talking about it, the taboo will be broken.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The greatest gift

I consider the most precious and special gifts that we have given to our children to be their names. Their names are the most intimate and personal gifts and they will keep them forever.

We thought long and hard, before they were born, about what to call our babies. I bought a name dictionary, thinking that we'd end up with a long, long-list to whittle down. As it turns out, my husband and I have similar tastes and, once we'd agreed a few ground rules, we discovered just five girls' names and about a dozen boys' names were on our shortlist.

For our elder daughter, we quickly agreed on names. Her first name means 'shining light'; her middle name is her grandmother's and great-great-grandmother's name. Her name is traditional, feminine and can be shortened if she likes (although we don't shorten it at home). It suited her as a baby and it will grow with her as she becomes an adult. I think she likes it: she certainly seems proud of her name and is quick to correct people who pronounce it wrongly (which happens quite often in the local accent)!

Naming our younger daughter was similarly easy. We reviewed the original shortlist and discounted all three names on it! I suggested another traditional girls' name, which means 'beautiful rose' and my husband liked it. Again, it can be shortened (we sometimes do) and it should suit her at all ages. We then chose a middle name from my side of the family - a name that has been passed down through the maternal line for generations.

Our son's name was much harder to choose. There were several boys' names that we liked but none was the perfect name. However, following our 12-week scan, a silly joke at home resulted in the bump being known as 'Monty' - a name that was not on our original shortlist. When our son was born, it seemed only right that, having called the bump 'Monty' for 22 weeks, this should his name. It is a fitting choice, since it means 'of the mountains' and I discovered that I was pregnant with him whilst we were on holiday in the Lake District.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Water Babies

I have blogged about swimming before. It is essential that my children learn to swim because my parents live near the sea and we often go on holiday to places that have a swimming pool. However, swimming is not a sport or recreation that I particularly enjoy and I do not feel comfortable in water so it is not a skill that I can teach them.

My elder daughter has been taking swimming lessons at the local leisure centre for about a year now and recently received her 5m certificate: she swam the width of the pool unaided on her front and her back. This is a huge achievement and I am so proud. She has previously received other badges and certificates for water confidence and water safety but this is her first distance award. She has been able to 'swim' (i.e. do the correct arm and leg movements and propel herself through the water) for several months but the limiting factor has been breathing - she keeps her face in the water so can only go as far as she can hold her breath! However, she is now mastering the art of lifting her head to breathe, without putting her feet on the bottom of the pool.

Originally, I told her that she only had to take lessons until she could swim from one side of the pool to the other. Swimming isn't her favourite sport - she much prefers gymnastics - but she seems to be more interested now that she can do it, so I'm going to keep paying for lessons until she says she wants to stop. The more confident and strong a swimmer she becomes, the better.

My younger daughter is also making strides in the water, namely at bath time. We were prepared for her to scream through her first bath but she loved it. The evening bath sees her relax and unwind and give out smiles to every member of the family. She feels at home in the warm water, in her bath chair, so we let her have a nice long soak each evening. She only complains when we take her out to get her dried and ready for bed. I think perhaps she is a water baby and I am considering signing her up for swimming lessons sooner rather than later.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Wish you were here...

It has been two years since you were born 'sleeping'.
[I don't like that phrase because it's not as if you could have woken up...]

Somehow, it seems that this second anniversary is harder than the first. It feels lonelier. Almost as if we should have 'moved on'...
but I could never leave you behind.

I remember the quiet of the delivery room and the midwife's kind words as clearly as if it were yesterday. If I close my eyes, I can see you, wrapped up cosily in the moses basket, wearing a little blue hat. You looked peaceful and, at first glance, it did look like you were asleep but you weren't - you were perfectly still.

How things have changed since then. I have been broken and become stronger. We have tried to come to terms with and understand your loss. You now have a younger sister, who is 10 weeks old. Your elder sister has started school. She asks about you often and wishes you were here because she likes being a big sister.

With you and your sisters, our family is complete. Your photograph is framed alongside theirs and I look at your image every day. I wonder what you would look like at two years old. What games would you play? Which words would you be able to say? What would be your favourite thing to eat? Would you cuddle up to me like your sisters do, or wriggle to get free and refuse my kisses?

I've been capturing my grief in photographs over the past month. Although I may appear healed on the outside, I am still very broken in places inside. I feel your loss as keenly today as I did two years ago.

I love you, Monty. I miss you.
I wish you were still here.
In many ways, I think you still are...

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Do you believe in life after loss?


On the afternoon of the day that I was told my son had no heartbeat, a doctor reassured me that I could have more children. "We know you can carry to full term" he said "you've done it before." At that moment, it was difficult to hear his words and impossible to think beyond the inevitability of giving birth to a baby who would be stillborn.

He was right, though, and I have been lucky enough to have another baby.

After a year of grieving, I conceived. After post mortem test results, physical rehabilitation, support groups and bereavement counselling, I was given hope. After the anxious wait of an emotionally challenging and physically demanding third pregnancy, I have a second daughter.

Do you believe in life after loss?
I do.

Friday, 10 October 2014

I'm a big sister

My husband and I are tremendously proud of how well our elder daughter has coped with the transition from only child to big sister. Our hope was that we could prepare and support her through the change so that she would understand what would be happening and that we love her very much.

From very early in the pregnancy, we were as open and honest with her as we could be. She took me by surprise one day when, apropos of nothing, she asked me "Mummy, are you sure there isn't a baby in your tummy?" I was only 10 weeks pregnant at the time. How she 'knew' something was going on, I don't know! We told her about the baby after the 12-week dating scan, at the same time as we told close family.

Throughout the pregnancy, my daughter was very protective of me. She wanted to keep me in close sight at all times and spend time at home. She asked a few questions about why baby Monty died and whether or not it would happen again but, for the most part, my daughter wanted to know about what the baby was doing inside my tummy. We re-read the books we had bought during my last pregnancy (book review in this post) and encouraged her to touch the bump when I could feel the baby moving.

My daughter understood my physical aches and pains. I explained about my divarication and how it meant that I couldn't lift things or bend over or get down onto the floor to play. She tried to help me with household chores and, towards the end of the third trimester, would do up my shoes for me because I couldn't reach! Although, at one point, she said "After this baby is born, I think we will stop making babies." When I asked why, she said that we should let my tummy get better and then I could play again and be more fun!

Since her sister was born, my daughter has been proud and helpful. She was overawed at meeting her for the first time, when my husband brought her to visit us in the hospital. The baby had a present waiting for her sister - a fluffy teddy bear with a T-shirt which reads "I'm the big sister". She has wanted to show off her sister to her friends, family and neighbours. She likes to choose which clothes the baby will wear each day and to help give her a bath. She doesn't like it when the baby cries!

I am pleased that she has displayed such love and affection for her little sister. I believe that this is because we have tried to keep as much of her routine as normal as possible in amongst all the upheaval. Bedtime and the bath-and-bed routine have stayed in place; she has gone to nursery/ school; and she has kept up her extra-curricular activities. We have also tried to listen to her wants and needs and to keep her feeling loved and secure. My husband and I try to find some time each day to spend one-to-one with our elder daughter, even if she just wants to snuggle up on the sofa and watch TV.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Guest post: Snipchat

This is a guest post written by my husband:

Kate and I have been together for as long as we haven't; we met on the first day at university in October 1996, halfway through our lives so far. For the past eighteen years, Kate has either been on the pill, attempting to conceive, pregnant or recovering from childbirth.

After having our three babies, we don't want any more children. The loss of Monty meant that the last pregnancy was particularly stressful and exhausting, despite the increased medical attention we received. While our rational scientific brains knew losing this baby was unlikely, it was impossible to stop worrying about it, impossible to imagine how we'd survive if the worst were to happen again.

We're older, tireder and in generally worse condition. Kate's abdominal muscles have taken a battering, coping without sleep is harder, and the thought of starting again again with another newborn is not appealing at all.

We are a partnership of equals. We both work, both cook, both take care of the children. Until now, though, the burden of contraception has fallen on Kate. I'm redressing this balance by having a vasectomy.

My wife has given so much to this family, putting us above her health, career and peace of mind. She is loved by us all for it, and it's time she had a break. No pills, no injections, no coil, no tube tying.

A vasectomy is a simple and straightforward procedure, done in minutes. We're certain this is the right thing to do. The common argument against it is that it's permanent, and you “never know” what might happen in the future. I'm fully aware of that and I'm fine with it. I consider our family complete and permanent.

Our lives have been in limbo for the past few years, with no real plans for the future other than to wait for the next pregnancy. We're done with that. Our children mean more to us than we could ever have imagined, and the next chapter of our family's story starts now, with the certainty that our daughters are at the centre, growing into the bright, independent young women we know they can be. We can plan for the future again. It's liberating.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

How I met your father

It is 18 years since I first met the man who would become my husband and your father. I have known him for half my life and almost all of my adulthood. I knew that going to university would be a life-changing experience, I just didn't realise how.

Freshers Week, October 1996, University of Bath: I met him on the first day of university, at an orientation session for first-year students enrolling onto the BSc in biochemistry. We were supposed to go straight from our induction session to a freshers' event in a different location. I wasn't sure where I was going, so I turned to the person sitting next to me and asked if he knew. He did. We walked together and have been walking side-by-side ever since.


Was it love at first sight? There was definitely a spark of attraction, something about him that caught my attention. Within a week of that first encounter, we were friends. We became lab partners and shared text books. He doodled on my lecture notes. After a month, we went on a double-date with one of my housemates and a girl from the molecular and cellular biology course. Their romance didn't work out; ours did.

After a year, we moved in together, albeit with mutual friends. We undertook our sandwich-year placements in the same places. In 1999, we spent six months living and studying in Melbourne, Australia. Being away from our friends and families for half a year solidified our relationship and, on the cusp of a new millennium, we got engaged.

We married in 2001. A low-key wedding with close family and friends, on a shoestring budget and a focus on building our future. At that point, we had no thoughts of children or home-ownership - we were fresh graduates with two student loans, one income and a PhD stipend.

Eighteen years since we first met, we have each other and a stronger bond than I could ever have imagined. We have a lovely home, two beautiful daughters and memories of the son we lost. We have been through a lot together but there have been many more ups than downs.


That's the story of how I met your father. Whether by chance or by fate, I'm glad I did.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Remember

October seems to be the new Lent, with campaigns for people to give up smoking and drinking alcohol for 31 days. It is also Baby Loss Awareness Month.

This year, the Wave of Light will take place at 7pm on Wednesday 15th October, at the end of Baby Loss Awareness Week. We will be lighting a candle in memory of Monty.

There is also a project called Capture Your Grief, which encourages people to take and share images along a set of themes as a way of healing themselves and expressing the grief they feel after the loss of a baby or child. I'm not a great photographer so I don't know how much I will participate in this project but I want to give it a go.

Today's theme is "Sunrise". I took this photo to capture the watery, Autumn daylight filtering through the leaves and branches of the tree outside my bedroom window. In the first few days and weeks after Monty was born, I would lie in bed, looking out at this tree and feeling the subtle warmth of Autumn sunshine. It was very calming and grounded me in the midst of my grief.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Mind the gap!

My abdominal divarication was more pronounced during my third pregnancy than in the two previous pregnancies and it is taking a long time to heal.

Since my second daughter's birth, I have been doing some very gentle exercises to start bringing the muscles back together. Pelvic floor exercises, three times a day, and abdominal holds once a day in bed. Today, I attended a physio appointment back at the hospital.

The divarication is bad: 10cm across at its widest and 5cm at it narrowest point. My abdominal muscle tone is poor. I have to 'challenge' the muscles to bring them back together but it is going to take time and I have to take it slowly.

The physiotherapist reminded me that it has only been 4 weeks since my daughter was born and that I have done well to lose all the baby weight I put on. No dieting or strenuous exercise is allowed though, so any further weight loss will have to wait until I've worked on the divarication. I'm not supposed to lift any weight greater than my baby - even lifting her in her car seat is too much! I must also continue to roll out of bed and avoid engaging my upper abdominal muscles as far as possible.

I have to continue the pelvic floor exercises three times a day (long holds and quick pulses, ten sets of each). I also have to tighten my deep, transverse abdominal muscles and have one exercise to do once a day. Then, I have to see the physiotherapist in one month's time to see how much progress I've made.

My goal is to be able to re-join the gym and do two work-outs per week by the time I return to work next September. The physiotherapist thinks this is realistic and achievable. Wish me luck!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

While you are sleeping...

The sage advice to new mums is that you should try to sleep whilst baby is sleeping. This is a great idea and I do sometimes take advantage of baby's nap time to catch 40 winks. However, there are other activities that I also like to try to achieve in one of the naps my newborn has between feeds. Here's my top ten:

1) Make a cup of tea and drink it hot!

2) Eat something. Anything. I need an extra 400 calories per day, apparently.

3) Check my diary - I'm sure I am supposed to be somewhere at some point but I have forgotten!

4) Check the internet - with no family nearby and all my friends working part-time, I rely on Facebook and email to keep in touch with people and arrange fleeting catch-ups over coffee

5) Re-stock the change bag

6) Take a shower

7) Get dressed

8) Online shopping. I love the internet for bringing the world into my home. I can order anything I need and have it delivered to my front door. Mostly, I use online shopping for groceries but I check out the sales at a few clothes/shoe retailers and keep our Amazon wish lists up to date (it saves thinking about it too much close to birthdays and Christmas).

9) Solve the Guardian cryptic crossword

10) Watch you sleep!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Reflections on the third trimester

During my second pregnancy, I looked back over the first two trimesters and recorded my feelings and experiences (see here and here). I didn't write a summary of the third trimester because my son was stillborn and bereavement became the focus of my blog for a while.

Now that my younger daughter is a few weeks old, I feel I ought to write about how my third pregnancy went, in particular, the last few months. I wrote this post for the HICTHY blog the week before my induction but there are some other feelings I would like to record and share.

My weight was recorded at 36 weeks. I had gained approximately 11kg, compared with my weight at the 10-week booking appointment. All of this weight was in the bump and it put incredible strain on my back and abdominal muscles. My divarication (evident since about 14 weeks into the pregnancy) seriously limited my mobility and my ability to perform normal functions, like lifting, carrying and housework. From about six months, people would comment on the size of my bump and exclaim at how long I had left until my due date. In the end, I started fibbing about when my baby was due so that I didn't have to answer so many questions!

I felt guilty for the impact of my immobility on my elder daughter. I found it extremely difficult to get down to her level to play. She couldn't sit comfortably on my lap and it was hard to find a position in which to give her a big cuddle. I felt bad for making her wait so long for me to get up and about when she needed something and I didn't like myself when my aches and pains made me tired and irritable and grumpy with her. At one point, she said "I think we'll stop having babies after this one is born, Mummy." When I asked why, she said "Because then your tummy muscles can go back together and you can play and be more fun."

I found it hard to share in other people's excitement about my pregnancy. The closer I got to 34 weeks (the point at which I lost Monty) and then, beyond that, towards my induction date, the more anxious I felt. I arranged almost weekly appointments with the community midwives and hospital consultants to bolster my strength and seek reassurance.

I left work at 34 weeks. Until that point, I had made few preparations for my baby's arrival. We got all the baby things (clothes, bedding, toys, equipment) down from the loft. I washed and sorted it and the house began to look like we were expecting a baby. I was expecting to feel a mixture of emotions and flashbacks to Monty's birth. In actual fact, because all the baby paraphernalia related to my elder daughter, there was very little to spark memories of my son. The few items I had bought especially for him are safely stored in his memory box. I couldn't use them for another child.

The third trimester was tiring. Emotionally and physically exhausting. It seemed to last for a long time. It was almost impossible to find a comfortable position in which to sit, stand or sleep. I spent a lot of time 'listening' for baby's movements and keeping track of how and when I felt her kick.

When we were finally given our induction date, I felt excited and ready. My husband panicked. That last week dragged. I needed to get to induction day and hold our baby in my arms. To hear her cry. To see her face. To bring her home.

Friday, 12 September 2014

A warm reception

This week, my elder daughter started school!

Following a home visit (during which her teacher commented on her confidence, which hadn't shown through at the in-school stay and play sessions earlier in the Summer), term started for the new intake on Monday morning. My daughter was so excited that she was up and fully dressed in her uniform before 8 o'clock! We had packed her book bag the night before with snack money, her water bottle and a packet of tissues (my idea - just in case!). My husband persuaded her to eat a good breakfast and clean her teeth without dribbling toothpaste onto her new school jumper and then she nagged us to get ready and take her to school.

At the school gate, was a large group of parents and grandparents with children looking smart in their brand new uniforms. The head teacher, the two reception class teachers and the teaching assistants were there to meet us with big smiles and welcome us to school. We had a quick orientation of the classroom, put her bag, water bottle and PE kit in the right places and then had a quick cuddle to say 'cheerio'. My husband and I were a little nervous as we walked away, leaving our 'little big girl' with her new teachers and hoping that she would like school and have a good time.

Thankfully, the first morning was a success and she was raring to return the next day. Each morning, she has puts her book bag in the blue box and her water bottle in the green crate, then finds her name badge and puts it on a plastic clip on the register. Next, she likes to find 'Digby the Dog' - the class soft toy 'pet' - and settle down to play at one of the workstations. Whilst she has played with a couple of girls and can remember the names of most of the children in her class, no strong friendships have yet emerged (except for her affection for Digby!).

When a neighbour asked my daughter what she had been doing at school this week, her answer was "Learning!". They have played rhyming games, built models with Lego, drawn and painted, and played outside.

We have another two weeks of part-time settling-in sessions to do - afternoons next week, followed by mornings and lunches the week after - before attending school full time. I am so proud of how well my daughter has adapted to big school and hope she continues to enjoy it for the next 14 years!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Things I had forgotten about establishing breast-feeding

I breast-fed my elder daughter for over a year and, by the end, we were really good at it. However, it wasn't easy at the beginning. Four years later, I'm breast-feeding my newborn younger daughter, re-learning my technique and it's bringing back lots of memories:
  • Hand-expressing frustratingly small volumes of colostrum to encourage baby to feed on the first night (and having said colostrum sucked up from nipple  into a syringe by a midwife)
  • The toe-curling, sharp, prickly, stinging pain of the latch-on until your nipples get used to being sucked on 8-9 times a day
  • Attempting to hold baby correctly (one hand behind her back/shoulders, the other holding your breast in position) whilst simultaneously shushing, keeping her arms and hands out of the way and maintaining a good, upright position for your own spine is nigh-on impossible!
  • How quickly your boobs engorge when your milk comes in...
  • ...and how baby has to re-learn her latching technique because your engorged boobs are so firm
  • There is no nicer sound than that of a baby contentedly swallowing her milk
  • The post-feed cuddle, where she sleeps on you all warm and floppy - 'milk drunk'
  • The ferocity of the post-feed poo
  • Middle of the night baby hiccups
  • Lanolin very quickly becomes your new best friend 
  • Religiously recording all feeds, which side you fed from and for how long (although, now there's an app for that!)

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

My precious babies

I look at your sister and I think of you.
I cry a little (just a tear or two)...

I gaze on her face as she drinks from my breast
And smile as she snuggles to sleep on my chest

I nuzzle her forehead, kiss her with care
And drink in that 'newborn smell' from her hair

I rock her to sleep in the still of the night
She fits in the crook of my arm, just right.

I wonder what she will grow up to be?
Will she look like big sister or daddy or me?

And I cry a little, just a tear or two,
Because I couldn't do any of these things for you.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Hello, little baby!

After months of taking the Pill, when I yearned desperately for the baby I had lost;

after months of trying to conceive again;

after 38 weeks of an emotionally and physically demanding third pregnancy...

...we finally welcomed our second daughter to the world!

Friday, 15 August 2014

Read it yourself

My daughter has thrown down a gauntlet and I have nervously picked it up.

After settling her down to sleep in bed the other night, I heard her prowling about in her room and then she emerged onto the landing and started to creep down the stairs. When I asked her why she was out of bed, she said she wanted to read another book but she didn't know how to make the words work. She wanted to learn to read.

This is great news! We have been learning and playing games with numbers, letters and words for some time now and we read lots of stories and books. Until now, though my daughter has shown little interest in actually reading for herself, preferring to listen to us read and memorising her favourite stories.

The reason I feel daunted is because I am not a teacher and I don't know how to teach someone to read. I don't remember how I learnt to read but it must have been by sight and rote, since phonics hadn't been invented back then and I was a confident reader by the time I started school.

My daughter will start school in a couple of weeks' time and I know that the school uses phonics in the reception class. We have a CD of phonics songs that we listen to in the car but, I'll be honest, it doesn't make much sense to me. It seems that English is not a phonic language and there are so many exceptions to remember or explain, even in the simplest of story books.

I bought an exercise book which attempts to introduce pre-schoolers to phonics. The first set of problems involve matching up pictures with the letter sounds they begin with. My daughter completed this challenge without any difficulty.

Next, I made some flashcards. Based on the assumption that the phonics programme will start with the letters S, A, T, I, N and P, I wrote down (on separate cards) all the real three-letter words that end with combinations of these letters. For example: bat, cat, fat, hat, etc. We now have six sets of cards with three-letter words that end -AP, -AT, -IP, -IT, -AN and -IN. The 'game' is to sound the letters and then blend them together to find the word. If we focus on one set at a time, then the sound of the word stays the same and just the initial letter changes.

The first time we played with the flashcards, my daughter did a lot of shrugging and guessing at words. We praised her every time she got one right. (Note: she has no trouble sounding out the letters, it was the blending that seemed to be confusing her.) Tonight, she was much better at it and actually read several words for herself. I know that she was reading them because they were words she didn't know (such as vat and yap).

"Mummy, I read it!" she exclaimed at one point and I have never felt more proud.

Hopefully, our game will encourage her to try some more reading over the next couple of weeks and give her the confidence to give it her all when she starts school in September. I have high hopes that she'll be reading by Christmas.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Hospital bag: third time round

I have left the packing of an overnight bag to take to the hospital until much later than in my two previous pregnancies. I'm packing light, assuming I'll spend one night in hospital after the baby is born. So, here's the list of what I'll be taking:

For me:
Toiletries: hairbrush, comb, hair bobbles, lip balm, toothbrush and paste, few pairs of breast pads, shampoo, shower gel, deodorant, flannel, maternity pads and a tube of lanolin.

Clothes: slippers, few pairs large cotton pants (comfier than disposables), pyjama bottoms, two nursing vests (to wear as pyjama tops), old nightie to labour in, cardigan, nursing bra and going home outfit (jogging bottoms and vest top).

TENS machine

For baby:
Two vests, two babygros, cardigan, hat, socks, two muslin cloths, nappies and cotton wool.

Car seat and blanket (to be left in the car until we are discharged to go home)

For husband:
Toothbrush, deodorant, spare socks and spare pants.

Other:
Camelbak water dispenser plus hydration tablets
Snacks
Maternity notes
Plastic jug
Notebook and pen
Purse with coins (for car parking and vending machines)
Camera
Mobile phone
Knitting, crossword book, other entertainment (I'm being induced, so it might take a while...)
'Big sister' present for the baby to give to my daughter

Friday, 8 August 2014

Nesting

After my daughter was born, I kept all (well, nearly all) of her baby items. I planned to use them again one day and, since we hadn't known we were expecting a girl, most of the newborn items were neutral coloured. (Although, swiftly, everything became 'pinkified' despite my best attempts at keeping pink to a minimum.) We converted the airing cupboard in the spare bedroom into a large storage cupboard and I carefully packed all the baby vests, baby-gros and toys into plastic crates as my daughter outgrew them.

Two and a half years later, I unpacked the crates and laundered the baby items. I wondered, as I went along, how my daughter had ever been small enough to fit them and how tiny my new baby would seem compared to my toddler girl! We moved her old cot into the box room and bought a small chest of drawers. I carefully folded all the vests, baby-gros and bedding and put them away neatly, ready for my second baby.

He never used them.

I took the smallest vest to the hospital to dress him in and a fleecy blanket to wrap him up.

A few weeks after he was born, after the funeral, I returned all the items to their plastic crates. This time, we put them up in the loft. I couldn't bear to have them 'staring' at me from the spare bedroom cupboard, reminding me of my loss and making we wonder if we would ever use them again.

Almost two years later again, I am 35 weeks pregnant with my third baby. The crates have been brought down from the loft. I have begun to sort through them and get things ready for our next new arrival. My daughter is helping. She doesn't remember using the toys herself. She doesn't recognise the vests and baby-gros. She likes to put her doll inside the sleeping bags. She considers each item and decides whether or not the baby will like it.

Looking through the baby paraphernalia reminds me of when my daughter was born, four years ago. This is all her stuff. Some of the things were made for her. I am looking forward to using them for our next child.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Step change

I have set myself a challenge: for the duration of my maternity leave (13 months): I will use the car less and walk more.

As a family, we are not heavy car users. Over the past few years, our annual mileage has been less than 10,000 miles. My plan is to reduce this to less than 8,000 miles whilst I'm at home. As a first step, I have adjusted the mileage allowance on our car insurance policy to 8,999 as an incentive. (This has also saved us a few pounds so I feel like I'm winning already!)

I noted the mileage on 1 August (78,400 miles) and hope to keep to fewer than 600 miles per month, which sounds easy enough but I've done 100 miles this week already.

If I do really well at this challenge, perhaps we'll only just nudge 85,000 miles this time next year?!

Best foot forward...

Monday, 4 August 2014

Daddy cool

A friend of my husband's is a first-time expectant father, asking for advice on how to prepare for becoming a parent. It has made me think about the things that my husband does and how even the 'little' things can make you a good parent/partner.

Communicate: Before our daughter was born, we talked about what kind of parents we wanted to be and how we wanted to share responsibilities. Our aim was for both of us to be equally competent at looking after our daughter and for her to see us as equal. There is no way we can achieve this without communicating with each other and adapting to new situations and our daughter's development.

Cook: One of the most helpful things my husband can do is cook. If you're not a great chef, you can still get breakfast ready and make a spare packed lunch for your partner (even if s/he's staying at home for the day)! Whenever my husband is home in time to cook the evening meal, he does. When our daughter was newborn, this was brilliant - he would cook whilst I did the evening feed.

Support baby's feeding: Whatever type of feeding you choose, there are things you can do to help. Whether its measuring out formula, sterilising equipment or helping your partner to get comfortable and bringing a drink/snack. I breastfed our daughter for 13 months. At the night feed, my husband would get up, bring our daughter to me, doze until the feed was over, get up again and do the post-feed nappy change, then settle her back to sleep. Whilst he couldn't actually feed her himself, this support was immensely helpful and much appreciated.

Tag-team: It can be very helpful to take things in turns, especially at the weekends. You both deserve 'down time'. One of us would have the Saturday lie-in, the other would have Sunday. We allocate each other some 'personal time' during the week, so that we can each get some jobs done or spend time on our hobbies/interests. This gives us a good balance so we can retain our own identities and made time for family stuff.

Be hands-on: Find ways to help look after your baby: change some nappies; put the baby down for naps/bed; do the bath time routine; help with a feed/mealtime. First-time round, no parent 'knows' what they are doing, so roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. The more you practise, the better you'll get!

Home help: Share domestic responsibilities. We have always shared household chores and, when I went on maternity leave the first time, we agreed a new division of labour. I was not going to do all the housework as well as look after the baby, even though my husband was working full time. I took on the lion's share but he kept some jobs to help me out. When I returned to work, we re-jigged it.

Flexible working: My husband altered his work pattern to spend more time at home. When our daughter was newborn, he worked 8am until 4.30pm so that he could be back at home in time to cook dinner and help with the bath-and-bed routine.

Ultimately, if you care about your partner and your baby, you'll probably think of some ways in which you can help out and provide a loving and secure environment for your family. Worrying about how good a job you'll do is probably a good start!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Career brake

Before I conceived my daughter, I applied for a promotion at work. I had been with the organisation for five years and made a few sideways moves but wanted to progress further before starting a family. When I found out I was pregnant, almost a year into my promotion, I was deciding whether or not to enrol on an MBA programme. I had attended a couple of open days and started writing a business case to get sponsorship from my employer for the tuition fees. However, once I knew I was having a baby, I put those plans on hold.

I made a conscious decision to put the brakes on my career and give myself the space to adapt to and enjoy being a mother.

Five years later, the brakes are still on.

After my first maternity leave, I changed employer, took a step down the career ladder and accepted a drop in salary. My reasons were valid: to work closer to home and travel less. I negotiated part-time working and accepted a 12-month fixed-term contract. Thankfully, I was subsequently given a permanent contract and have since secured a better role, albeit still at the same pay grade.

Two years later, I found it very hard to return to work after losing Monty. For months, I couldn't sleep properly or concentrate well. I struggled to plan my work, set objectives or think about professional development. It has taken a long time to rebuild my confidence (and I still have to make progress here...) and start to think about the future.

Now, I'm just about to go on maternity leave again for a year. For the first time in a long time, I'm in a role that I really enjoy. I'm not in a position to make a change at the moment but I sometimes think about the next step and when I might take the brakes off. It will be another couple of years, at least.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

I am an animal

Our current favourite parlour game is a variation on "Animal, Mineral or Vegetable". We started playing it in the car on a long journey a few weeks ago and it has become a source of entertainment that we can play anytime, anywhere.

The rules are simple:

One player thinks of an animal (or fish, bird, crustacean, insect, etc).
The other players take it in turns to ask questions to guess the animal.
The questions must lead to 'yes/no' answers.

Our daughter loves this game! (Although she always starts out by thinking of a whale.) It is a great test of her deductive skills as well as her knowledge of the natural world.

We have found that zoo animals are particularly easy to guess, whereas local wildlife and insects are much harder: hedgehog proved very difficult!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Graduations

For a long time, a child's life is all about 'firsts': first steps, first words, first day at nursery/pre-school, etc. We are now experiencing a few 'lasts' and my daughter is finding it quite emotional. I think she is torn between wanting to grow up and wanting things to stay the same.

My daughter starts school in September and is excited at the prospect. She has a place at her (and our) first choice school, walking distance from our house. The 'green jumper' school as she calls it. We have bought her uniform and have appointments booked for a 'going-to-school-haircut' and being fitted for school shoes.

However, she is starting to realise that change is approaching and isn't always sure how comfortable she feels about it.

They had a photo-shoot at nursery, where they had to wear tiny mortar board hats and black gowns and hold pretend certificates. (I showed my daughter my graduation photo but I'm not convinced she really understood what it was all about!) There will be a graduation ceremony and party in a couple of weeks' time. Although my daughter will continue to attend nursery three days a week until the end of August, when she leaves, she will have to say goodbye to her best friend, who is going to a different school. I'm expecting some tears and melancholy, even though we can arrange to meet up for playdates in the school holidays.

There are changes afoot to our extra-curricular activities and hobbies, too. My daughter has three interests: swimming, gymnastics and singing. Gymnastics and swimming will continue when she goes to school, although she'll move up a class and attend after school or at the weekend. Singing classes, though, have ended. All the children from her Music With Mummy group are starting school in September; the whole class has 'graduated', having attended together since they were about a year old. At their last lesson, they were each given a certificate and a keyring for their school book-bag.

I'm trying to show my daughter how to celebrate the end of something. To look back on an enjoyable experience and look forward to the next stage in her life. I've tried to explain that school will bring new opportunities and that she will be able to continue with some of the things she currently likes.

Growing up can be hard and confusing and you can't stop it from happening but it can also be fun, exciting and rewarding. As a family, we have a lot of change heading our way this Summer/Autumn but I'm sure we will navigate our way through it together and, by Christmas, will be firmly settled in our new routine.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Day out review: Sundown Adventure Land (Pets Corner)

Whilst visiting the grandparents at the weekend, we enjoyed a fabulous day out at Sundown Adventure Land (aka Pets Corner). Sundown is a theme park specifically designed for under-10s and it certainly kept our four-year-old daughter and her nearly-three-year-old cousin entertained all day!

We arrived just after the park opened at 10am and started with a quick play in the under-5s play area. Then, we headed across the story-book village to the far side of the park to go on the Tractor Ride. Our nephew had been to Sundown before and this ride is one of his favourites! The children enjoyed 'driving' the tractor around the monorail track and wanted to have another go round when it was time to get off.

So, we took them to the next ride - Robin Hood. This was a similar ride but the children enjoyed it. My daughter declared it 'her best' so we said we'd come back for another go later in the day.

We by-passed the Lollipoppet Castle, snuck past a dragon guarding a treasure chest, and visited the Wild West, where we rode the Rocky Mountain train ride. After this, we were starting to feel very hot and thirsty (the weather was gloriously sunny and warm) so we went to the Rodeo Corral indoor play area and cafe for ice creams. It was air-conditioned and very quiet, so the children took the opportunity to enjoy the soft play facilities for half an hour or so and we took advantage of the opportunity to sit down!

After the children had fully explored the soft play, we realised it was getting close to lunchtime. We decided to ride the Boozy Barrel water ride and then take a break for some picnic lunch. The children enjoyed getting wet on the way round the ride and were delighted that the grown-ups got soaked too!


After lunch, the children rode some Go-Karts and played in another outdoor play area. They enjoyed chasing each other around whilst we enjoyed a cup of tea. The sun was quite warm by this point, so we moved on to the sand pits at Captain Sandy's Play Cove and the Angry Birds playground (which was designed for slightly older children).


With the early afternoon temperature rising and the children starting to look a bit warm, we made our way over to the big Crash Landings soft play. This was also air-conditioned (hurrah!), so we spent an hour refreshing ourselves with cool drinks and watching the children climb around the enormous play frames. Our nephew was a little too short to climb by himself but our daughter helped him up to the top. They enjoyed whizzing down the bumpy slides and jumping around on the padded play blocks.

We still had some parts of the park to visit, so we persuaded the children to put their shoes back on. We re-rode the Tractor Ride and had another go on the Boozy Barrel water ride and got wet all over again. As we dried off, we played in the Pirate Adventure play ground.

Then we rode the Rocky Mountain train again and spent some time looking around the Wild West Village. The children climbed up onto the plastic horses, drawing large plastic coaches and put their heads through a 'most wanted' poster for a photo opportunity. We headed towards Fort Apache - a large outdoor play area with lots of wooden climbing frames and slides.

By this time, there was less than an hour until the park's closing time. So, we visited the gift shop and bought a fridge magnet for our collection.

The children were so exhausted, they could hardly walk but they didn't want to go home! We had all had a fantastic day out and would definitely recommend it as a day out for young children. Despite visiting on the same day as a couple of school parties, we hardly had to wait or queue for anything and at no point did the park feel busy. There was plenty for the children to do and they enjoyed and were entertained by everything.

Our daughter has asked if we can go back to Sundown Adventure Land the next time we go to stay at Grandma's house.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Forward and low

I have become increasingly fed up with the 'wisdom' of strangers who think that it's OK to pass comment or judgement on my bump and its size/shape. No, I'm not nearly ready to drop and it's not twins! Oh, and you can't 'tell' that it's definitely going to be a boy...

I have carried all my pregnancies forward and low and my tummy muscles have separated (again!), so there is little support for this third-time bump.

Here's the proof - photos of me at approximately 6-months in each of my three pregnancies:


Spot the difference?

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

First 'day' at school

My daughter attended her first settling-in session at school today. Chaperoned by her father and wearing her green school jumper, she went along to meet her teachers, find her way around and make friends with new classmates.

Although shy at first (as we expected), she sat next to the other child from her nursery who is going to the same school and they drew pictures. My daughter's picture is of our house, with us standing outside. Daddy has a grumpy face. She showed her teacher that the house has 12 windows.

She also played outside in the water trough and did some painting.

When the session was over, she was disappointed to have to go home.

When I came home from work, she was still wearing her school jumper!

Hopefully, this bodes well for the next settling-in session and for starting school proper in September.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Make a little birdhouse in your soul

It has taken a great deal of courage to disclose my third pregnancy. I confess, I hid my 'condition' for as long as I could. I almost made it to 18 weeks before I could no longer disguise my growing bump underneath long-line cardigans and pretty scarves.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that we're not excited at the prospect of having another baby (because we are!), it's just that our excitement is tempered by anxiety. We are keeping our fingers crossed that everything will be ok. I cannot relax until I hold my newborn safely in my arms.

This pregnancy is bounded by numbers. I know exactly how far along I am. I count the days and weeks that bring us closer to realising our dream: another take-home baby; a living sibling for our daughter. I carefully monitor the baby's movements and wear a kick-counter so I don't lose focus. I mark in my diary the intervals between appointments with the midwives, doctors and consultants.

I find myself getting grumpy with 'well-meaning' strangers who stop to enquire. I don't want to make small-talk about my pregnancy. Quite frankly, I just want people to mind their own business. I'm not in the mood to be public property.

This is my pregnancy and my baby. I feel over-protective and hypersensitive.

Yet, at the same time, I feel incredibly privileged to be pregnant again. I am starting to look forward to and plan for a new arrival. I am trying to enjoy this pregnancy and bond with my unborn child.

I'm in the third trimester and counting the days until we get to say 'hello'.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Changing Man

In celebration of Fathers' Day and in honour of the amazing job my husband does as daddy to our four-year-old daughter, here are ten ways in which fatherhood has changed him... (for the better):

1) He bakes cakes and has found an apprentice:


2) He would rather come home to do the bath-and-bed routine than go out for drinks after work on a Friday night.

3) He loves 'film night' with our daughter, where they make popcorn, choose a film from Netflix, close the curtains and turn the lights off, and snuggle up on the sofa together for a couple of hours.

4) He has seen almost every episode of Peppa Pig (and can recognise which episode our daughter is watching on YouTube, even if it's dubbed in a foreign language)!

5) He loves role play and dressing up (especially when it involves pirates)!


6) He has developed a flair for drawing and colouring in.

7) He is adept at soft play.

8) He now understands how tights work.

9) He has learned how to dress hair and has graduated from merely combing hair to detangling knots and styling ponytails and plaits.

10) He's gone all 'Jackanory' and become an awesome storyteller!

Friday, 13 June 2014

10 signs you are a parent...

1) You consider any time spent in bed after 7am to be a 'lie-in'...

2) ...and four hours of unbroken sleep to be a 'good night'

3) You consider it a luxury to consume a hot beverage whilst it's still hot

4) Your plate is a dumping ground for the food your kids don't want to eat

5) You realise why bedtimes are so important

6) You spend more time sitting on the floor than you do on the sofa

7) You can't remember what it's like to have a wee/poo/bath/shower in private

8) You hear yourself saying things that your parents used to say to you when you were a kid

9) You like to just sit quietly on the sofa enjoying the peace and quiet when the kids are out...

10) ...but miss them like crazy and secretly count the minutes until they come back home!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Day out review: @Bristol

We only popped into Bristol to buy a birthday present for one of our daughter's friends (she's been invited to a party next weekend) but we ended up walking all the way down Park Street, across College Green and crossing Anchor Road to visit the science museum at @Bristol.

My husband and I haven't been to the science museum for years and we hadn't previously taken our daughter so we weren't sure what to expect. Thankfully, we were impressed by the exhibitions and spent over three hours exploring what was on offer.

The first thing that caught our daughter's eye was the water wheel and Archimedes screw. We spent ages moving water around the containers, damming the flow and releasing it again. There was a little, yellow, rubber duck floating about and we watched it navigating the barriers and waves!

Then, we looked at some optics and fluid flow exhibits. Our daughter enjoyed 'balancing' the ball in a flow of air and then turning the air jet off. She loved the whispering dishes, too, sending secret messages across the room!


The human body exhibition was fantastic. We learned about smell, touch and sight, as well as muscle mechanics and how organs fit inside the human torso. The vein-viewer was fascinating.

Upstairs, we spent a long time learning about animation. We are big fans of Wallace and Gromit and traced pictures of our favourite characters.

We blew giant bubbles using large hoops and a bubble bar (although it wasn't possible to get inside a bubble, which would have been awesome). The anti-gravity room made me feel sick (I should have paid attention to the sign outside) but our daughter loved watching the ball that appeared to be rolling uphill!

We built suspension bridges, created electric charges and made cyclones.

Our daughter's favourite bit was definitely the light maze - strings of lights hanging from the ceiling which she, and several other children, wandered around inside.


We had lunch in the cafe and bought the obligatory fridge magnet in the gift shop.

Our daughter didn't want to come home - always the mark of a great day out! We're even considering upgrading to annual membership.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Missing out

I have concealed you twice now. I omitted you and, once, I fibbed. I didn't intend to; it just happened. 

It made conversation easier not to mention you.

I'm sorry.

******

It's not that I don't enjoy talking about you, it's just that the memories are bittersweet and telling new people can feel awkward.

Remembering how you felt, when you existed inside me is so special. How you moved and what you liked. Your big sister is delighted to know that you disliked marmite toast and cups of tea (two of my breakfast staples) so much that you would make me feel sick if I ate them! I don't think you were a fan of my singing, either, since you stayed ever so quiet during rehearsals.

But thinking about you and the plans I made brings back the memories of losing you, of how I found out that you had died, and how we had to say goodbye before we even said hello.

******

You should be 18 months old now. You should be toddling about and starting to play with your sister. 

You are missing out and I have missed you out.

I am sorry.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

My girl

My little girl is getting so grown up! Now that she has turned four, she is no longer a toddler and most definitely a pre-schooler. She is clever, articulate and funny and likes to make her own choices. She is clearly developing her own tastes and style.


Fashion:
My daughter's style is practical yet feminine. Not girly (she rarely wears a dress), she rocks the tunic and leggings look, often accessorising with pink or stickers or plastic jewellery. Her shoes and wellies have flowers on them. She loves clothes that are a little bit silly: monkey pants or T shirts with funny pictures.

Hobbies:
Singing, swimming and gymnastics are the three staple activities of my daughter's week. She has won certificates and badges for all three and is keen to continue them when she starts school in September. She takes her hobbies seriously and looks forward to going to classes each week. At home, she enjoys craft activities: making, sticking, drawing and painting. She loves making patterns and enjoys playing with coloured beads and looking through my button collection, stringing her favourite buttons onto long strands of wool.

Playtime:
There are plenty of toys in the playroom but her favourite games involve role play and/or Lego. She likes to play 'mummies and babies' with her dolls (we have so many dolls...!) and loves to build mini cities for the Lego people. As I type, she and Daddy are rummaging through 40-odd litres of Lego, looking for hats for Lego figures! (He is building a castle and she is making a Rapunzel!)

Friends:
My daughter has lots of friends, who she knows through nursery, her hobbies and my friends from our antenatal group. Her best friend is a girl from nursery. They have known each other since they were about a year old and have developed a really strong bond. It's a shame that they will be going to different schools later this year.

She loves spending time with her cousins, too. We live a long way from our respective families, so we don't get to visit more than a few times each year but the cousins get along well and play nicely - they just pick up where they left off on the the last visit!

Music:
There is often music in our household. My daughter loves singing and making a noise (I think she gets this from me). We sing nursery rhymes, TV theme tunes and make up silly songs with nonsense words. We also like to dance around to popular music. This morning, she is grooving along to an iTunes Genius playlist that started with Cake's 'Comfort Eagle' and has moved on to Beck's 'Devil's Haircut'! Sometimes, after she has gone to bed, we can hear her singing lullabies to her toys! (Ahhh!)

TV/Film:
We have our favourite programmes on CBeebies: 'Mister Maker', 'Topsy and Tim', 'Melody' and anything with Justin Fletcher. However, we have also recently discovered 'UmiZoomi' on Nickleodeon, which captivates my daughter and has her shouting along with the counting and pattern-recognition games. 'Peppa Pig' is, of course, high on her must-view list.

My daughter has a few favourite films, too, on DVD or NetFlix: Disney's 'Tangled', 'Puss in Boots' and 'Kung Fu Panda' are among her most-watched. She also likes the Aardman Animations films about Wallace and Gromit.

We occasionally go to the cinema, which my daughter considers to be a real treat. She loves to buy a large box of popcorn and a drink and sit on my knee to watch the film. Despite taking a couple of toilet breaks, she is good at sitting through a whole film plus trailer.

Food/Drink:
My daughter's favourite foods are pasta and pizza. She also loves fruits and vegetables (although she prefers to eat them raw and crunchy). Thankfully, she will try most things, so we are able to cook and eat quite grown up meals without having to make too many adaptations. It is easy to take her out for lunch or dinner. She very much enjoys going to the pub, especially if we say we can stay for food. She mostly drinks water, milk or fruit cordial but occasionally asks for a cold cup of tea!

Literacy/numeracy:
My daughter is confident with numbers and letters. She often points out letters and numbers when we are out and about: street signs, house numbers, car number plates, etc. I don't think she reads very much at the moment but she loves having stories read to her. We show her the words as we read and try to explain how letter sounds work. It was only recently that I became confident that she is right-handed, so we have just started to practise some letter-writing. She can write her own name (if we remind her of the letter order) but loses concentration quickly and often decides to colour the letters in!

My daughter is happy and confident and is a pleasure to spend time with. She is looking forward to starting school and making new friends. She loves being a big girl and gets upset if there is the mildest suggestion that there is anything babyish about her!

Increasingly, she is more companion than charge. We are so proud of her!

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Birthday quiz: turning 4

On my daughter's fourth birthday, we repeated the questions from the birthday quiz. Here are her answers:

1) Who is your best friend?
Robyn

2) What is your favourite book?
Yucky Worms

3) What is your favourite game/toy?
Mummies and babies

4) Where is your favourite place to go?
The Dog Pub

5) What do you like to eat?
Pizza

6) What do you do with your pocket money?
Spend it

7) Who do you like to spend time with?
Gym tots

8) What would be your perfect day?
Monday

9) What did you get for your birthday?
Dolls

10) What do you want to be when you grow up?
A tooth fairy!

It's interesting how the answers have changed from last year!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Losing my religion

No-one congratulated me on the birth of my son.

The room was quiet. "Let me look after this little angel for you" the midwife said, as she cut the cord.

I had delivered him on my knees. I gripped the bed rail and caught my breath. I felt relieved that the labour was over but sad that my baby was no longer a part of me and would soon no longer be with me.

***

The next day, the midwife said she was in awe of me.
I didn't feel awesome.

At home, a few days later, the community midwife told me I didn't have to be so brave.
I didn't feel brave.
I felt numb.

********

Grief changes shape, but it never ends
(Keanu Reeves)

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Day out review: Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

"Daddy, can we go to the museum to see the dinosaurs?"

How can you refuse a request like that?

So, this morning, we set off in the blustery, wet weather to the city centre for a visit to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. As with other local museums, this one has no entry fee but you are encouraged to make a donation.

The museum has a wide range of exhibitions. We only stayed for a couple of hours, so didn't manage to see everything.

The first gallery we visited was natural history: lots of stuffed animals from the British Isles. There were also some (live) fish in tanks, which were swimming around contentedly. Our daughter was able to recognise and identify many of the birds, mammals and sea creatures displayed in the cabinets.

Next, we went to the dinosaur exhibition. Our daughter was very excited to see skeletons and bone fragments from the prehistoric age. She was interested in the ammonite fossils, some of which had been found locally, and she enjoyed the interactive and digital aspects of the display too - making a plastic dinosaur jaw bite and piecing together sections of a skeleton to make a full dinosaur.

We continued to a display of maps and drawing of Bristol, which my husband found particularly interesting. It didn't capture our daughter's interest, although she did stop to look at some of the busts of local heroes.

The second natural history gallery contained stuffed specimens of foreign animals. Again, our daughter was able to identify quite a few. There were lots that she didn't know, though: beaver, echidna, chamois (?), for example. She didn't take much notice of Alfred the gorilla, who mysteriously disappeared in 1956 - perhaps the story will interest her when she's older?

After sampling the ceramics exhibition, we headed back down to the ground floor to the children's activity zone. My daughter and husband had fun exploring what was there and dressing up in funny costumes. A lot of fun was had 'stepping into' a picture frame and pretending to be the subject of a painting!

Tired out from all our exploration and learning, we put a donation in the collection box and wandered off down the hill to the Boston Tea Party for well-earned drinks and cakes!

Not a full day out but a well-spent morning! When asked what her favourite part of the museum had been, our daughter's answer was "The dinosaurs". So, I've promised to take her to the Natural History Museum in London when she is a bit older.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Letter to a newly bereaved mother

Dear bereaved mother,

I heard that you, too, have lost your baby. The precious child that you have been carrying and loving for months has been born and died. You have empty arms and a broken heart.

Unfortunately, you are not alone. Other mothers have felt this pain before you and more will follow.

The fabric of your world has been broken. The ground has given way beneath your feet. All that you understood and believed in has been shattered. Over the coming weeks, months and years, you will try to repair and rebuild your life; it will never be the same...

but there is help. Among family, friends and people you do not yet know, there is love and support. You just have to look for it. Take the plunge and open your heart, whether to a counsellor or a support group or the Samaritans. Do not hold the grief and pain to yourself - it is too great a burden to bear alone.

Although it seems that life has lost its meaning, you can find a new purpose.

The family you dreamed of will never be realised. You may go on to have other children but there will always be one missing. I know it may seem insensitive now to talk about the future but, one day, there may be another baby. Perhaps more? Rest assured that no future children will ever replace the one you have lost or diminish the love you have for your lost baby.

Take time to grieve. Find inner strength and courage. Build a sanctuary in your heart to keep your baby's memory safe. There is hope and in time, if you feel brave, you may embrace the fear and try again.

Yours faithfully,
Bereaved mother
xxx

Monday, 21 April 2014

Food, glorious food!

My daughter loves crudités: peppers, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and carrots. She likes breadsticks but is wary of hummus and other dips. She has tried smoked salmon, Parma ham and salami. She loves olives and sundried tomatoes. She has a 'thing' for Bombay Mix (but we have to make sure she doesn't eat too much because it has an undesirable effect on its way out the other end...)!

Left to her own devices, she would eat pizza or pasta every day. She prefers tomato-based sauces to creamy ones. She likes to put pepperoni and pineapple on her pizza. She likes minestrone soup and a roast Sunday dinner - crispy pork crackling and chicken skin being devoured using her fingers!

We cook from fresh ingredients almost every night and mostly eat Anglo-Italian food, inspired by Jamie Oliver, the River Cafe and Nigel Slater. We rarely have pudding, although we keep ice cream in the freezer in case our daughter asks for it.

When I think about my childhood favourites, I remember hogs pudding, German salami (with orange plastic trim that had to be peeled off) and pasta being macaroni or spaghetti. For special occasions, we had vol-au-vents with chicken filling! My mum cooked every night - usually a casserole or piece of meat with potatoes and vegetables. She always had a pudding of some sort - often fruit with jelly or Angel Delight.

There is so much more choice nowadays. My husband thinks he was in his twenties before he ate olives and cured meats and I certainly wasn't aware of several foods that are now staples in our cooking (such as pine nuts, pancetta and gnocchi) before I went to university. I wonder if my daughter realises how lucky she is to have such variety open to her?

I despair if she sits at the kitchen table and immediately decides she doesn't like what I've cooked before even trying it. We tell her: eat what you do like and leave the bits you don't (and encourage her to try new things before dismissing them). I cook at least one meal a week that is different, just to see if she will try something new. I usually do this after she's had a day at nursery, when I know that she will have eaten a two-course cooked lunch and afternoon tea and, therefore, will not be hungry for a full dinner at home. Often, I am surprised by what she will turn down or accept. Tonight, she turned her nose up at polenta but, at lunchtime, she demolished a salade nicoise.

I hope that she will continue to expand her palate and try new foods, that she will embrace cuisine and try her hand at cooking. I hope that she will learn about a balanced diet and enjoy healthy and less-healthy foods in appropriate measures. I hope that she will travel the world and be confident to eat things she has never seen before.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Climb every mountain

Last week, we went on a family holiday to Keswick. We rented a large house with my husband's family and enjoyed a week of outdoors activities.

We have been to Keswick on several holidays. All of us enjoy walking but, since my daughter was born, I haven't had as many opportunities to do big hill walks. My Lake District holidays have been limited to ground-level activities or staying at the house with a small toddler. This time, with my daughter being almost four years old, we were able to do much more and she certainly made the most of her holiday!

It's a long journey from Bristol to Keswick, mostly along the motorway. We travelled mid-week, which meant the traffic was lighter. Supplied with jelly beans as prizes, we played I-spy and back-seat-boogied to songs on the radio. We broke the journey at Trentham Monkey Forest, where we had lunch and a nice walk around the monkey habitat.

Over the winter, we have been training our daughter up to do some long-distance walking and she can now manage 3 miles or so without too much complaining or asking to be carried! So, our first day in Keswick involved a walk around Derwentwater. Not the whole circumference (that's about 9 miles!), just the section from the Lodore Falls Hotel to Hawse End, at which point we opted to take the launch boat back to Keswick.

On the back of our success with a low-level walk, the next day, we decided to take our daughter up a mountain. We drove part-way up Latrigg and then walked a mile to the summit. At the top, we took one of our trademark 'Come On!' photos with our daughter as the conqueror, for the first time. She felt on top of the world and says that climbing a mountain was her favourite part of the holiday!


We had a rest day next, on which we went swimming and played in the park.

The next adventure was another flat walk, from Keswick via Portinscale to Nichol End Marine, where there is a delicious rock bun cafe. The walk was only a couple of miles but my daughter wanted to catch the launch boat to Keswick, rather then walk back. It rained in the afternoon, so I took her to the little cinema to watch the Muppets movie. We shared a huge cone of popcorn!

By this point, we were getting close to the end of the holiday, so we decided to have a day out at the zoo. We went to the Lake District Wildlife Park at Bassenthwaite. It boasts over 100 hundred animals from A-Z but it was a bit chilly and some of the animals sensibly opted to stay in their huts! The highlight for my daughter was the opportunity to stroke a rabbit. (She has been asking for a pet rabbit for ages and we've been holding out, so when she was able to sit with a rabbit on her knee and stroke its ears, she was delighted!)

On our last day in Keswick, we went swimming again and walked around the lake to a small pebbled beach, where children were dropping stones into the water. The sun shone and it felt quite warm, so we stopped in Hope Park on the way back to the holiday house, ate ice cream and played mini-golf.

Throughly rested and refreshed from our break, we set off back to Bristol the next day. We stopped off at the Rheged Centre, near Penrith to do some craft activities and buy some lunch. The journey home was fairly subdued - two of us slept, whilst Daddy did the driving!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

A handbag!

Every six months, or so, I have reason to clear out my handbag. Each time, I stare in amazement at the ridiculous accumulation of rubbish I find inside and vow to keep my handbag tidier (and lighter) in future. Inevitably, I fail...

Today brought another clear-out. I have treated myself to a new bag in honour of my forthcoming birthday. It's a funky green satchel with far less volume available than my previous handbag.

When I emptied out the old one, this is what I found:

  • purse
  • A5 diary (contains everything I need to know!)
  • mobile phone (needs charging)
  • house keys and car keys
  • Sands locker token
  • swipe card for work
  • swipe card for nursery
  • two opened travel packets of tissues
  • two Oyster cards (one mine, the other from work)
  • mini London A-Z
  • sunglasses (in case); 
  • glasses (in case) - normally kept at work; 
  • swipe card for gym, locker token and gym notebook (even though I haven't been to the gym in about 3 months...)
  • vanity mirror
  • 'personal bag'
  • lip balm and lip gloss
  • mini tube of handcream
  • alcohol hand rub (for emergencies!)
  • hair bobble and hair clip
  • fold-up travel hairbrush
  • travel sickness bands
  • iPod and earphones
  • voice recorder, pitch-pipe, name-badge - all related to my hobby (barbershop)
  • three biros (two black, one blue)

(Not to mention the cupcake and two pieces of flapjack that I brought back from the lunch at today's meeting in London!)

I'd like to say that at least half of this stuff has found a new home but, alas, the majority has been declared 'essential' and moved into the new bag! Better luck next time...

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Book review: The Enchanted Wood

We have tried an experiment with the bedtime stories and it has worked! We have introduced a book with chapters. So, rather than reading thee stories that reach a conclusion, we have started reading 'The Enchanted Wood' by Enid Blyton.

I found a lovely illustrated, hard-back copy in a local book store. (I also managed to get two of the other three books in the Faraway Tree series in the same style.) Although there is not a picture on every page, there are enough illustrations in the book to keep my daughter's interest.

I was a little concerned that she wouldn't be able to remember what had happened in the story from one evening to the next but she has proved me wrong. She loves the book and insists on having at least one chapter (equivalent to two stories) each night. In fact, we are on our second reading of the book because she didn't know what to do once we got to the end!

I'm planning to give her the second book in the series for her birthday and keep the third one until Christmas.

I loved the Faraway Tree stories when I was a girl, so it has been a delight to re-read them with my daughter and to introduce them to my husband. They contain the perfect mix of imagination and wonder: from 'pop-cakes' to the changing cloud lands at the top of the tree and the scrapes that the children and their friends find themselves in. The characters names have been changed slightly to keep with the times (Jo, Bessie and Fanny have become Joe, Beth and Franny) but mostly the story is the same.

I love the old-fashioned use of language, which gives my daughter new words to learn and new ways of expressing surprise and delight. The chapters are well-paced and just the right length to keep a young reader's (or listener's) interest and the sub-stories are not too long.

It has been 30-odd years since I read the books for myself and I am glad to be reading them again with my daughter. Perhaps in 30-years time, she will read them with her own children?