Extra: Ordinary Moments

Rooftops Sprogs

Some things I meant to blog about but didn't:

  • I'm now into my fifth year of my photo a day project. I love looking back on it so much and I intended to write a lot about that but: baby.
  • Spring officially begins on Tuesday (unless you're my one Australian reader - hi, Melanie) which I think is a much better time to make resolutions than the start of the year. I intended to write about that and maybe even make some resolutions of my own but: baby. 
  • I had a bit of a panic about schools because the one the kids will be zoned to has really poor results (not because of the teachers, I don't think, but because of the demographic of our area and of Aberdeen as a whole - it's a "got money, send 'em to private school" kind of a city). I'm so worried my kids will be the bright but bored ones who lose all motivation and never bother learning how to study and find university a shock to the system and muck about with dead end jobs instead of having careers and OH, WAIT, THIS HAS REALLY STRUCK A CHORD WITH ME, THE BRIGHT BUT BORED KID, EH? I intended to write about that but: baby.
  • Matilda started playgroup and this has been a really positive thing. Also: Matilda will be starting nursery after the summer and I think that will be a positive thing, too. I may return to this one, come August. I intended to at least mention it before now but: baby.
  • On that note: taking Alice to baby massage (she sleeps through it most weeks) and going to a postnatal class run by a women's physio (sex is great for your pelvic floor if you can ever find the energy) and my book group (going to a pub on Mother's Day was a good call - they gave free booze to any woman who looked a bit tired and was wearing stripes) and how I still can't find a pilates class which works for me (gaaaaaah, does nobody want me to be strong?). General outside-of-the-house stuff. I intended to mention all of those a while ago but: baby.
  • Also: Steve and I will have been together for nine years, later this month. I'd like to think I'll at least upload a photo and do a three line post about it, but it's pretty unlikely because: baby. 
  • Likewise, keeping you updated on the moving the kids into the big bedroom/adults into the little bedroom plan. I have good intentions but: baby.
Despite my complete baby-related inability to sit down and string a bunch of coherent sentences together, I'm really loving this time in our lives.

Alice is a joy. She's so smiley and laidback and full-body pleased to see people (second child: starved for attention). Oh, she's into the four month sleep regression now and she's cutting two teeth so getting her to bed in the evening can be a challenge but she's otherwise a brilliant baby.

Matilda is fantastic. We're at this great point (she turns three next month) at which she can act out scenarios and follow stories and play simple card games, and suddenly the weekends are lovely, relaxed, full-on hygge family time, all hanging out together, having minimum effort fun.

The baby days are so much easier this time around, partly because I know what I'm doing (I spend less time googling "is this normal?" because I already know that the answer will be "yes") and partly because I've got Matilda around to chat to. The days go faster when I'm not constantly counting down to a nap or to the baby waking up or to Steve getting home from work; there's always a book to be read or a game to be played (or some laundry to be crammed into the five minutes she spends watching Waffle the Sodding Wonder Dog).

And Steve and I have fallen into a routine which works for us - the children get to bed; the housework gets done; we have proper conversations. We've even managed a couple of Netflix binge evenings, fairly confident of being uninterrupted by kids.

So, yeah, not to jinx it or anything (did I mention FOUR MONTH SLEEP REGRESSION? And TEETH?), but life is pretty good right now.

How are things with you?

Quiet Evenings

It's 8pm and all is quiet. Everyone is fed; nothing needs done which can't wait until the morning; both children are asleep. This doesn't happen every night, but we're closer to it now than we were ten weeks ago, in the earliest days of Alice.
We've been lucky so far: Alice is a good sleeper and has (mostly - not always) been happy to kip in her crib at night and nap there through the day. Not so much in the evenings, though. In the evenings, she has needed held. Which has meant no pottering around on the internet or catching up on housework or having grown up meals together, just Steve and me.

But we seem to be through that stage [for] now. 

I found that phase quite hard, first time around. Rationally, I knew that I wouldn't be holding my twenty-three year old daughter to sleep every evening, but I didn't know how long the stage would last. Was this my life for the next year? Three years? Seven years? Nine? Eating microwave meals one-handed and being scared to watch anything shouty or sweary on the telly? And was this something which Matilda would grow out of on her own or were the sleep trainers right? Should we be hurrying her towards independent sleeping somehow?

I remember, early on, seeing somebody on social media posting a photo of herself and her husband settling down to watch TV, wine glasses in hand, on the night of their daughter's first birthday. And I couldn't imagine it. How could they possibly be free of sleeping infant? And managing alcohol, no less!

But at some point - I can't remember exactly when - Matilda started sleeping in her crib. Well before her first birthday, Steve and I had caught up on Game of Thrones.

It's been easier to deal with this time around, though. 

For a start, I don't begrudge Alice the one-on-one attention; poor second child, she doesn't get the full days of cuddles her big sister enjoyed. If she's awake in the evening - and it's my turn to be awake with her - we sit in the dimly lit bedroom, smiling at each other, sticking our tongues out at each other, touching hands, Alice saying what Steve and I are convinced is "Hiya" and "Hello", and me wittering on about what we did that day.

If it's not my turn to be awake with her, I often go to bed early. I don't mind the 9pm bedtimes; I know they're not forever and I know that parenting two children is easier, the more sleep that I get.

And sometimes she's asleep in the evening. We change both kids into their pyjamas in Matilda's bedroom; we read them two stories; Matilda falls asleep and sometimes - sometimes - Alice does, too. Sometimes we put her down in her crib and she stays there, sleeping soundly, by herself. 

Steve and I have a free evening.

This is the first time I've bothered to come online, though. I've come online to talk about how nice it has been, not being online. The irony is not lost me.

Because it has been nice. 

Steve and I have talked so much more, whispering together in our darkened room. We have sat side by side, reading books on back-lit Kindles, like some modern day Nora Ephron movie (but without any bickering about bedside lights). We have eaten microwave crumbles and even enjoyed a glass of wine (one glass of wine. In almost eleven weeks).

And I've been surprised to find that, after the first few weeks, after the habit was broken, I didn't miss the internet. I've barely been onto Twitter or Facebook; I've removed all but my absolute favourite blogs from my reader; I've not felt much inclination to share my own stories on here. I'm still hooked on Instagram - it's my destressor, scrolled surreptitiously in the kitchen when the children aren't watching - but the rest has lost its appeal.

I'm not done with it completely, of course. I'm still reading a handful of blogs; I'll still be popping by and writing my own now and then; I still appreciate all of the friendships I've made on the internet.

But I do prefer my evenings now, reading and chatting and paying some attention to the cats.

Or hanging out with my littlest love, beaming in a darkened room.

1 Month/12 Months/40 Years

One Month
It's the last day of December. Alice was born on the last day of November. She has been with us for a full month.

On the one hand, it feels like only a couple of days ago that she was born - and we definitely haven't had Steve at home with us for a month. On the other, it feels like she's always been around, dozing in the bassinet in the corner of the room or having cuddles on the sofa.

She's an easygoing baby so far and the newborn days seem so much simpler second time around - whether that's her personality or Steve and me being more relaxed or the lovely, calm start we had to her life, I'm not sure. I suspect all three play a part. Anyway: it's going well.

Matilda's taking to having a sibling well, too. Sure, we see moments of jealousy, but mostly we see her giving Alice her old baby toys, "reading" her books or running to fetch clean nappies. We expect the usual sibling bickering later on, but the sisters are off to a good start.

Twelve Months
It's the last day of 2017. I feel like I should be reflecting on the year which has just passed, summing up achievements or wallowing in self-hatred because of the things I could have done better.

2017 was a weird limbo year, though. I spent most of it pregnant, wondering whether the baby would stay put and whether she was well and then when she would be born; I did very, very little with my days, for fear of having to parent with pelvic girdle pain.

So: there's not much to say about the year that's just been. But it was quite lovely and quiet and I've (mostly) enjoyed spending twelve full months hanging around with my eldest.

40 Years
And 2018 is the year I turn forty. In December.

I thought about doing some sort of project. Not "40 Before 40" because who has time to skydive and visit Australia and train as an astronaut when they've got a small child and a baby to look after? But... something. Getting back into drawing or doing another photography project or taking my blog seriously or... something.

But, in reality, I don't want the pressure. I want to be able to savour this time when my children are little and still want to play with me (and don't find me intensely embarrassing). Matilda will start nursery in August and - as much as she's clearly ready - that's a big reminder of how fast they will grow. I want to be present for as much of their childhood as I can.

Here I am, wishing you all a happy new year, however big or little your plans, whatever the shape of your life. May 2018 be full of the things which make you happy.

Tons of Alternatives to New Year's Resolutions

Title text

I'm not a big fan of New Year's Resolutions - too often, they put the emphasis on criticising our current selves instead of reshaping our lives in meaningful ways.

That, and the cold, gloomy month of January is a particularly nonsensical time to put extra pressure on yourself.

However, I get the appeal of marking the start of the year somehow. It does feel like a significant date in the diary, doesn't it? And, if you're going to start a daily project, doing so on the first of January makes it easier to track your progress.

Over the years, I've come up with various alternatives to the "must not eat cake" tradition.

Here are a few suggestions, if you want to Do Something For The New Year but don't want a direct debit to the gym:

When The Babymoon Is Infested With Winter Bugs

Playing on the bed

I had this idea that I was going to get lots of photos of our lovely, snuggly, lazy, snowy, festive family time together. The date of Alice's birth fell so well that Steve's only having to work three days in December - we've got almost a whole month in which to enjoy life as a family of four. Which, frankly, is still not enough. But it is a whole lot better than the statutory fortnight.

Some people call this quiet bonding period a "babymoon" (and some people use "babymoon" to mean a holiday you take while you're pregnant. And then the first lot of people tut about kids these days muddling up their terminology and living extravagant lifestyles. And so on). So: I was going to blog about my babymoon.

And then we let Matilda go to soft play where - as far as I can tell - they spray the kids with germs at the door. I should have known better. She's never not been ill after a visit to the ball pits.

Sure enough: a few days later, she was hit with the cold. And the next day, so was I. As it happened, this was the day of my 39th birthday. I would rather she had given me a cake.

Snowman decoration

So the babymoon hasn't quite gone to plan.

And I'll admit: I have shed tears about this.

I cried because we had to cancel our plan to take the kids to a preschoolers' Christmas show at the theatre on my birthday. And because I didn't get to have cake and mulled wine. And because I received some lovely presents but didn't have my hands free of snotty toddler long enough to look at them for almost a week.

I felt hard done by because we had to tell friends not to come and meet Alice, as planned. I felt awful for Matilda because she had to miss her special festive dance class and the family trip to the Christmas Village (helter-skelter! teacup ride! carousel!) we had promised we would combine with the registering of Alice's birth.

I felt exhausted because giving birth, bleeding every single day, having a horrible bug, dealing with newborn night wakings and dealing with a bored, miserable two year old who couldn't sleep for more than an hour without wailing for somebody to wipe her nose was a bit more than my body could handle.

But mostly I felt devastated because I was too scared to hold my newborn. The thought of a twelve day old baby being filled with the cold was just too awful to contemplate, so we decided Steve would enjoy all the Alice snuggles at one end of the living room, while Matilda and I slowly wound each other up at the other. When I did have to hold Alice - sometimes due to practical necessity and sometimes because SHE'S MY NEW BABY, DAMMIT, AND I NEED A CUDDLE - I did so whilst clad in a carefully constructed hazmat suit of muslins so her skin wouldn't come into contact with any of the same surfaces as Matilda's, or anywhere I might have coughed. I have never washed my hands so much.

Red tinsel in the sunlight

Well, we managed to hold it off for a week, but Alice has caught it now. I've still got a tickly cough. Matilda's still spluttering everywhere and falling to pieces by the middle of the afternoon. It's... yeah... not great.

But we still have two weeks of Steve's company left. And those two weeks include Christmas.

So it's time to wrench back a little enjoyment.

Tomorrow, Steve and I are toting Alice into town to register her birth (we have until Wednesday to do so) while his parents read book after book after book to Matilda; we will sneak in a hot drink while we're out.

If Matilda's perked up by the end of the week, we'll give the Christmas Village a go. If not... well... she'll surely be up to watching a festive film by then, won't she? She managed to sit through the CBeebies show on her fourth attempt.

My sister and her family will be passing through town.

We'll find the time to wrap presents whilst eating mince pies.

I'm having lunch with a friend on Christmas Eve.

And, for all her coughing and spluttering, Matilda's ever so excited for Christmas Day. Mostly because of the gifts, it must be said, but nevertheless: this is the first year she's understood that something exciting is going on and we're going to do our best to embrace that.

And, of course, it's our first Christmas with Alice who, at twenty-five days old, won't have a clue what's going on, but who is adding an extra festive (if slightly snotty) layer of joy for the rest of us.

Snowy Rooftops

HOME BIRTH: Alice's Birth Story


When the snow started on Wednesday night, I knew Alice would be with us soon.

It sounds daft, I know, but I was born in the middle of a bad winter, Matilda came home amid huge cotton wool snowflakes (in late April) and I've said all along that this baby would arrive with the first proper snow of the season. So I sat up until midnight, watching the snow fall, and then I went to bed excited, certain (finally certain) that labour would hit me in the wee small hours.

Which it did.

It was a little after 4am when the first contraction woke me. It rolled around my stomach and - just like last time - I wondered briefly if it was something I had eaten. I lay there for twenty minutes, waiting for a second one. And then I knew it was real.

From that point onwards, the contractions came every five or six minutes. They were short and manageable, and I lay in bed, smiling in the dark, full of this secret. I got up at 6:30, had a bloody show in the bathroom, then sat in the living room, watching the snow falling outside.

At 7:00, Steve got out of the shower and I told him it was snowing. Then I told him I was in labour. He was bouncing around with excitement; he put on his "lucky T-shirt" - the one he was wearing when Matilda was born. Unlike last time, I knew this was the real thing and I knew he definitely needed to stay at home with me. Still, in the lulls between contractions, it felt so unreal that I wondered if it was all in my head.

At 7:30, Matilda appeared (an hour later than usual). We didn't tell her the baby was on the way but we did beckon her over to look out the window. "Snow...!" she whispered, in wonder.

The weather made for an easy morning. Steve and Matilda headed out into the garden to build a snowman and a snowcake, to throw snowballs at the wall and to generally mess around in the white stuff. The toddlers from downstairs joined them. I stayed indoors, reading and writing and rocking through contractions on my yoga ball.

A little after 10, I called the community midwives to let them know I was in labour and to chat about what to do next. The two on call midwives were in clinics at the time, but another midwife spoke to me and said she'd sort everything out at their end. She advised me to call back when I was getting three or four contractions in ten minutes, and to take some paracetamol in the meantime - I'm pretty sure paracetamol for labour is more or less a placebo, but I took some anyway, just so I could tell her I had.

By 13:00 nothing had changed, other than Steve and Matilda had come indoors, soaked through and shivering, and we had all warmed up with hot chocolate and toast. The midwife I had spoken to earlier called to see how I was getting on; she advised me to go for a nap and then to start walking up and down stairs to see if I could speed things along. She warned that, if the police advised against driving in the bad weather, the midwives wouldn't be able to come out to me overnight - I would need to go to the hospital.

Steve and Matilda headed out to the shops to buy the coconut mallow biscuits I was suddenly craving, and I went back to bed. For an hour I lay there, dozing between contractions - they continued to be spaced five minutes apart but were becoming so intense that I was having to curl and uncurl my toes (turns out "toe curling" is a real level of pain) as I breathed through them. To my surprise - as I've never managed the visualisation part of hypnobirthing - I found picturing the baby's head pushing down into my cervix really useful at this point; I kept repeating "down down down" to myself and thinking about how the pressure was helping me dilate.

Eating toast

I got up at 14:30 and - BAM! - the moment I climbed out of bed things intensified. I rushed to the bathroom, cleared my system (downwards, not up), and suddenly the contractions were lasting two minutes each, with barely a minute between them.

I started bouncing on the yoga ball (no way was I going to manage stairs at that point!) while Matilda watched some inane nursery rhyme show Steve had found on Netflix. When, after half an hour, things were still just as intense, Steve called a neighbour to take Matilda for the rest of the day, and I called the midwives. The first on call midwife said she would pop straight over.

In fact, both midwives arrived within a couple of minutes of each other, at around 15:30. "You look very in the zone," the first told me, as she came up the stairs and spotted me on my ball.

I had had a couple of flashes of "Why did I think it was a good idea to get pregnant again?! I can't do this!" but I was able to shut those down almost instantly. Generally, when people talk about hypnobirthing mantras, they're lovely pinnable statements about beauty and light and trust and fate; my internal voice is more forthright and tells me something along the lines of, "There's no going back now, so you can either fight against your body or you can get the baby out calmly - you choose."

I chose calm.

The midwives checked my blood pressure and the baby's heartbeat, then asked if I wanted an internal examination - I didn't much fancy the discomfort but I was really keen to know how far I had progressed, so I agreed. It ended up taking almost an hour for me to get through to the bedroom, onto the bed and into a position which didn't make me feel like throwing up (head on Steve's lap; feet resting on the bed frame), but when the midwife told me I was already 9cm dilated, the elation I felt made up for the discomfort. I was so, so close! However, my waters hadn't broken, which the midwife explained meant my body was trying to shove a water balloon through my cervix - not an easy or a comfortable task!

The midwives got to work setting up the gas and air and unpacking the rest of the kit at this point, while I sat on the edge of the bed, rocking and breathing through contractions. As with last time, I found it easiest to get through contractions if I counted my great big out breaths - the majority of my contractions lasted ten breaths each, although some were as long as forty.

The next couple of hours were a blur of contractions. I had a couple of puffs of gas and air, but I found that taking big in breaths when I really wanted to breathe the surge out broke my concentration - I did the rest of labour without pain relief, counting my breaths and clutching Steve's hand. Occasionally I would turn my head to smile at him, but mostly I had my eyes tightly closed so I could focus on what my body needed to do.

At various points, I was sitting on the edge of the bed, kneeling on the floor with my head on the mattress, and standing with my head on Steve's chest. Each time I changed position it was at the midwife's suggestion - I knew she was right every time, but it was always a bit of a thought, having to actually move!

There were a handful of contractions so intense that I found myself making a long "hoooooooooooo" noise through them - I think I sounded like a grieving owl; Steve thinks a ghost. There were also a couple when I found myself starting to cry out, realised I was letting myself lose my sense of calm, and consciously forced myself to start counting my way through them again. Mostly, though, they felt manageable. I don't know how to explain the pain - because there's no denying they were painful; I wouldn't want to go through labour more than a handful of times in my life and, towards the end, I did tell the midwives, "I just want a fifteen minute break!" - but at no point did it make me feel scared or out of control. I was very aware that this was my body's way of doing something enormous, momentous, completely out of the ordinary and that all this hard work was natural.

Throughout the labour, the first midwife did regular checks of the baby's heartbeat and less frequent checks of my pulse. I had been a little worried that this would feel invasive or disrupt my flow, but I barely noticed at the time.

At 19:00, the midwife strongly urged me to go the bathroom and try to pee. It was several hours since I had last been to the toilet and she said the position and downwards movement often helped things along. I was absolutely certain I didn't need to pee (and I was right) but I trusted her advice, so I made my way to the bathroom very slowly.

The moment I sat on the toilet, my waters exploded out of me - Steve was standing next to me and jumped in surprise, the bang and splash were so loud! The midwife's tone became urgent at this point - "DO NOT PUSH!" - as our bathroom is too small for anyone to have caught the baby, if I had delivered her right there.

Steve and the midwife hurried me back to the bedroom where I squatted beside the bed and started pushing. Not having felt the ultimate delivery with Matilda, this bit was new to me and I wasn't sure how much pain to expect - it did sting but not nearly as much as I had expected; I did have to cry out during the pushes, but from effort rather than actual pain.

On the first push, the top of her head was visible; on the second push, her head was out. I was told that if I turned my own head I'd see everything in the mirror behind me, but I couldn't move. The baby, meanwhile, was trying to wriggle inside me and that caused me to cry out in pain! On the third push, at 19:31, she was out!

She was tangled up in her cord, so the midwives quickly spun her free, then passed her through my legs for me to hold. I leaned back against the mirror and cradled her to me, stunned to be suddenly holding her - too stunned to think beyond that.

Steve and Alice

The midwives waited until the cord had turned white, then clamped it and asked if Steve wanted to cut it. Much to both my surprise and his own, he agreed.

I then had the injection to help the placenta come out - I felt that labour was quite enough pushing and I felt no great attachment to the placenta, so I had no qualms about this. After only a couple of minutes, it slipped out of me with a huge splat (hurrah for incontinence pads!); the midwives cleared it away, commenting on how healthy it looked for eleven days post dates - definitely the strangest compliment I've ever had!

The first midwife then helped me onto the bed, gave Alice her vitamin K injection, and then checked me over. I had some grazing and one tear so neat and superficial that they said it didn't need stitched unless I wanted it to be - I declined; I wanted to sink into my baby bubble and forget about medical stuff for a while.

At some point during all this, somebody rubbed Alice clean and wrapped her in a towel. I've no idea which midwife it was or when it happened!

While the midwives tidied up, Steve called our neighbour who brought Matilda home - she dropped her off at the front door, but didn't come in.

Less than half an hour after Alice was born, the two sisters met for the first time. Matilda whispered "my baby sister...!", took off her outdoor things and climbed into bed beside us. Steve got in, too. The midwives took themselves off to a different room to do paperwork and eat biscuits while the four of us curled up together, marvelling at this change to our family.

An hour later, Matilda fell into her own bed without complaint or bedtime story, Alice fell asleep, and the midwives left. I didn't know how to thank them enough.

Matilda and Alice meet

In our quiet house, I had a shower and then Steve and I sat on the sofa with Alice, me eating jammy toast (rhubarb and ginger jam, homemade by a friend of our neighbour) and drinking very sweet tea (it took three days for sugar in my tea to start tasting wrong). At 22:30, we gathered ourselves together enough to call our mums and message the rest of my family.

We couldn't quite bring ourselves to lay Alice down in her crib that night. We took it in turns to sleep and to sit up in bed, cuddling her.

I'm all for every woman having the birth which suits her best - use all the pain relief and accept all the assistance which works for you - and I have no doubt that this was the best birth for me. I feel so fortunate to have been able to give birth to Alice at home, drug free, and to have been cuddled up with my family around me so soon after she arrived.

For me, it wasn't so much about being able to control my surroundings - on the day, I didn't care whether the lights were bright or the house smelt of lavender - but about being familiar with them. It helped that I didn't have to assess the height of the bed before climbing onto it; I didn't have to look for handholds on my way to the toilet because I knew exactly where everything was; I didn't have to wonder whether this item or that item was available because I know exactly what this flat contains.

There were moments when I knew that, if I was in hospital, I would have found it harder to cope - I would have been wondering whether there was something the midwives could do to make things more comfortable (different pain relief? pop the waters?) - and I found it empowering (as much as I hate that word) to accept the whole process as it happened. I found it really interesting that I was happier without gas and air as, in hospital, I know I would have started using it earlier and I'm not sure if it would have occurred to me to stop.

But, most of all, I got the moments after the birth that I wanted. I got to climb into my own bed with people I love. I didn't have to wave goodbye to Steve, an hour after giving birth, and I didn't have anybody urging me to put the baby down and get some sleep. Nobody wheeled my child away to the neonatal ward. Nobody scrutinised our bonding. I could eat and drink and chat and doze however and whenever I wanted. I didn't have to think about packing up my things and dealing with a car seat - in fact, it was days before I left the house - and I didn't have to talk to or listen to anybody outwith my immediate family.

We started life as a family of four, curled up together, cosy in our own home, and, nine days later, everything still feels perfect.

More About Home Birth: Why I wanted one and the timeline for preparing.

Why We Chose The Name Alice

Sarah and Alice

I was eighteen weeks pregnant when a friend suggested we name the baby Alice.

"It's [my teenaged daughter's] middle name," she said.

I was sure Steve wouldn't like it. I was sure Steve didn't like it. I was sure Steve had actually told me he didn't like it.

So I gave it no more thought.

* * *

In fact, it was a while until Steve and I gave the second baby's name much thought at all.

First time around, choosing a name was great fun. We scoured the end credits of TV shows and movies. We considered the names of favourite characters. We got lost in loops on the Nameberry website. 

We scribbled down suggestions. He scored out anything too flowery; I scored out anything which sounded like a vampire ("This is a real person who will have to go to real job interviews, you know").

We had screeds and screeds of girl names which we struggled to narrow down; we had a handful of boy names which we supposed would do, at a push.

Second time around, we were so busy dealing with a two year old, we simply didn't have the same focus.

* * *

I told my book group we were outsourcing the naming of our child to them and, all credit to them, not a meeting went by at which they didn't present me with a list of suggestions. 

One member downloaded an app which was basically Tinder for baby names - swipe right if you like the name; swipe left if you don't. I swiped left and left and left. Who would give their child a name which means "sorrow" or "grief"? 

They googled for literary names and they googled for feminist names. Their favoured option was Policarpa-Jacquotte, although I'm 99% certain they weren't serious. 

In amongst their increasingly ludicrous suggestions, though, was Alice. 

"Matilda and Alice," they said, "two good names from children's books."

* * *

"They suggested Policarpa," I told Steve, over dinner. "Jacquotte. Taramasalata. Saffron. Alice."

The next day, Matilda started talking about, "My baby sister, Alice."

To my surprise, Steve turned out to like it, too. Even more so when I told him its meaning is "noble".

* * *

Still, I resisted. 

Alice was the 46th most popular girls' name in Scotland last year and a part of me still hasn't grown out of that adolescent horror of liking the same things other people do

It also sounds similar to the names of some of Matilda's friends. Would Alex's parents or Alastair's feel like we muscling in on their moniker?

* * *

I started spending idle moments clicking through name websites, hunting for something which sounded nice, had a strong meaning and didn't clash with "Matilda". 

I had thought that it would be easier this time because at least we knew we were having a girl. 

I was wrong. 

We had considered so many names for Matilda that everything we paused at felt like a hand-me-down. We didn't want our second child starting her life with something we had deemed "not good enough" for her big sister.

But we had never considered Alice.

* * *

I asked more friends for suggestions, feeling horribly negative as I batted away each idea:

"Old manager."
"Makes me think 'Puddleduck'."
"Family member."
"CBeebies character."
"That's a cheese spread, not a child."

I liked the idea of a wintry name for our November/December baby, but had similar problems:

Holly: "Dad's cat."
Ivy: "We spent a whole week killing the stuff."
Robin: "I'm getting angry about How I Met Your Mother all over again."

Eventually, everyone would come up with the name Alice, and I would murmur, "Maybe..."

* * *

"I'm already thinking of her as Alice," Steve told me, when I groaned that the kid was going to end up with Don't Know Rooftops on her birth certificate.

"Me, too," I admitted. "But I want to know that we've ruled out all the other options properly."

And so we started to make a list of other names we liked. 

And then we started to veto them.

I scored out his suggestions; he scored out my suggestions; we both scored out Policarpa-Jacquotte (sorry, book group buddies).

And we were left with two names: Alice and a name which started with S.

We didn't want her to have an S name. We have S names; we wanted her to have an initial of her own.

So the S name became the middle name. 

And we called our baby Alice, knowing deep down that she could never have been anything else.



Alice. Born at home on Thursday 30th November. Everybody well. More to follow. So much more.

Alternative Christmas Traditions You Can Start With Small Children

Deer figurine with fairy lights

Donate Old Toys

Take time towards the end of the year to go through your children's toys and books together and find things to donate to a charity shop. Even if your child can only part with one thing, that's one more thing another child could be receiving for Christmas (and one less thing cluttering up your home when you're trying to find room for all the kids' new Christmas gifts).

Keep Advent Calendars Simple

Remember when advent calendars were made of cardboard and each door had a picture of a snowman or a stocking or a sleigh behind it and that was it? They were still so very, very exciting, weren't they? There's no need to spend a fortune on twenty-four tiny gifts (no, not even books) or to commit yourself to doing twenty-four different time consuming treats with your kids - you CAN just give them a paper calendar or a basic chocolate calendar from the discount store, and that WON'T be setting you up for a headache every December.

Bake For Customer Service Folk

Use festive cookie cutters to make shortbread or bung together some mince pies (no judgement for using shop bought pastry and/or mincemeat!) and give them to your neighbours or your postie or that one nice delivery driver or the folk in your local shop or the lovely librarian. Anyone who regularly makes you and your family members smile.

(And, if you're feeling self conscious about this suggestion, let me just assure you that one of my best memories of working in video shops - and working in video shops was AWESOME - is of a regular customer bringing us a homemade fig cake one December).

Watch A Christmas Film on Christmas Eve

It has become A Thing for children to be given an incredibly generous "Christmas Eve Box" filled with books and DVDs and pyjamas and sweets and crockery and... well... more stuff than I personally think they need on Christmas Day itself, never mind the night before. You do NOT need to do all of this; making some hot chocolate, putting on comfy pyjamas and snuggling up on the sofa to read a Christmas story or watch a festive film will give you the same cosy feeling without all the added expense.

Eat By Candlelight

The winter solstice is a few days before Christmas and it's the perfect time to get out the candles. Make it a tradition to eat by candlelight and/or fairy light through the darker parts of December.

Stick to Your - Small - Budget

Steve and I have a strict £30 limit for ourselves and the kids; we have a £10 per niece/nephew limit agreed with my sister; and we do a £10 Secret Santa with Matilda's group of friends. That's it. There is no need to spend £100s on each child if you can't comfortably afford it (arguably, there is no need to spend £100s on each child even if you CAN comfortably afford it); focusing on family time and festive traditions is much more important than running up debt buying presents. Take this from someone who received tiny gifts compared to most of the kids in my class at school: receiving less will do your child no harm.

Choose A Gift For A Stranger

There is bound to be a charity near you collecting toys for underprivileged children. Letting your kids choose a gift for a child they don't know is a great way to encourage empathy and kindness; it also helps them to appreciate their own fortunate position.

You could also consider a reverse advent calendar, which involves putting one food/personal essential item into a large box each day in December, then donating the lot to a food bank just after Christmas. This is one for slightly older children; toddlers will lose focus pretty quickly.

Make Christmas Gifts For Your Garden

If you have a garden - and, unlike ours, it doesn't swarm with seagulls whenever you carry food into it - be sure to feed the birds. Decorate trees with popcorn garlands for a really festive look.

Make Thank You Cards

If you send Christmas cards, it's probably already a tradition to make them with your children. But what about thank you cards? I would argue that these are more important - taking the time to thank somebody properly for a gift is an important habit for kids to learn, and the easiest way to do that is not to watch their parents writing a message in a shop bought card, it's to put effort into creating the cards themselves.

Is there anything you would add to this list?

For loads of Christmas baking and craft inspiration, follow my Pinterest board here.

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The Conflicting Beliefs Of A Heavily Pregnant Woman

Festive socks and baby bump

On Sunday, I could feel my stress levels rising. Steve and Matilda went out to watch the Santa parade and to give me a bit of space; I got myself comfy and tried to think lots of calming thoughts. And to will the baby out of me.

It didn't work.

I lay in bed that evening convinced of two things:


That I would be pregnant forever.

I went into labour with Matilda at 40+6 and gave birth at 41 weeks exactly. As much as I've tried to think in terms of the "delivery window" rather than focusing on the estimated due date - or any other significant date - I hadn't entirely succeeded.

A part of me believed that 41 weeks exactly was my body's natural birthing date. If the baby hadn't arrived by then, it wasn't going to happen.

I felt oddly accepting of this. I was disappointed that I would never be able to get a comfortable night's sleep again but, otherwise, I had adjusted to being pregnant - I could cope.

I remember having much the same feeling in the last week or so of my pregnancy with Matilda; it seems to be fairly common to believe that your body is simply incapable of birthing your baby.


On the other hand, that my body knew what it was doing and would get around to giving birth in its own good time.

In Aberdeen, you're offered induction from seven days overdue. I lay in bed that night realising that, if I had gone along with the standard medical timetable, I would have spent that day on the induction ward and - most likely - would have been spending that evening trying my best to get to sleep in a hospital bed, surrounded by heavily pregnant strangers.

I knew I would have hated that.

I knew it was too soon for this baby - that my body wasn't done with this pregnancy yet; that it was too early to interfere; that I would get around to labour when the time was right.


I got even more stressed.

Because, the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that I didn't want an induction at all. I wanted to let this pregnancy run its natural course - be that 41 or 42 or even 43 weeks. I did not want to pump my body full of chemicals to hurry things along (unless it turned out to be medically necessary).

I reminded myself of the facts - the increased risk of this if I waited; the increased risk of that if I was induced. The variations in the odds were tiny. The only significant difference seemed to be that women who wait tend to be happier with how the birth turns out.

Was I going to put myself and my baby through an induction because it was inconvenient to have a few additional scans? Surely not.

On the other hand, Steve had two weeks of paternity leave and a week of holidays he had to squeeze in before Christmas Eve - to get his full entitlement, he had to finish up work on or before this coming weekend, whether the baby was here or not. Of course I should try to give birth before then, whatever that entailed.

So I let myself stress and fret and cry.

It seemed impossible that I would go into labour naturally before my booked induction. With only four and a half more days to go, of course I wasn't going to have had the baby in time. I was heading straight towards something I wasn't sure I wanted; I felt like matters were spiralling out of my control.

When Steve left for work on Monday morning, I sobbed because he was leaving me to deal with this on my own (I have a whole post somewhere inside me about how badly our system lets parents down in the later stages of pregnancy, of how important it is for the parent who isn't pregnant to be able to support their partner through scans and appointments and tough decisions. But that's a rant for another day).

And then I went to my 41 week midwife appointment. For the second time, I declined a sweep. And I clarified how to cancel the induction and what would happen next, if I did.

While my mind wasn't made up either way at that point, I could feel the stress disintegrating, just from confirming that I still had a choice.