On Testing High Risk for Chromosomal Abnormalities

On having a high risk combined nuchal test during pregnancy

Wednesday 12th May.


The perfect twelve week ultrasound scan. Everything where it should be; everything the size it should be; everything beating as it should be.

"I have no concerns about your baby," says the sonographer. "It looks very healthy to me."

And then she asks us repeatedly whether we really do want to go ahead with the combined diagnostic test - the foetal measurements and maternal blood samples which assess the child's risk of chromosomal abnormalities.

Which we do.

People have mixed feelings about this test; it gets talked about as though the only reason people go ahead with it is so that they can abort disabled babies (and as though that decision is always easy and always abhorrent).

But it's not as simple as that.

Down's Syndrome does scare me - not so much the thought of looking after a Down's Syndrome child in my forties, but of looking after a Down's Syndrome adult in my seventies and eighties and of what would happen to that person (and, by extension, Matilda, the next of kin) when Steve and I either die or become too frail to care for her/him ourselves.

So I'd be lying if I said we wouldn't even consider a termination - we would; we would agonise over our options. But, if we were going to have a baby with Down's Syndrome, then I wanted to have processed the shock before meeting my child for the first time and to be going into that situation armed with knowledge, support and first hand accounts. I wanted it to be a conscious choice.

However, none of that was a big concern. Because that kind of thing doesn't happen to real people in real life. The scan was perfect; everything was great.

Wednesday 17th May.


Matilda and I are out in the garden when my phone rings. It's the screening coordinator from the hospital.

"Are you out and about?" she asks. "Can we chat?"

I think that she's making such a big deal out of telling me that everything is fine.

"Your test has come back with a 1 in 74 chance of abnormalities," she says.

And I feel relief flood me. 1 in 74 is good, right? It's 1.35%. It's practically nothing.

"We consider anything over 1 in 150 high risk," she states. "I'm sorry to ring with bad news."

And that's that. The phrase "high risk" has been applied to my baby's health and percentages get bunged in the compost bin.

There's more talk - she tells me about amniocentesis (having a big needle stuck into your bump, complete with risk of miscarriage) and about a non-invasive blood test we could have done privately (for £399; I laugh) and about how my age will have been a big factor in the calculation (later, I find that the odds will have started at 1 in 150 because I'm 38).

But I'm not taking much of it in; mostly I'm watching Matilda attempt to fill her watering cans and wondering how hard it's going to be to get her back indoors before I start to cry and panicking because I can't tell Steve that he has to leave work immediately without telling him why and having him spend an hour on the bus, going through all this in his head, on his own.

In the end, Matilda is wooed upstairs with the promise of lunch. And I don't call Steve home; I text a friend who's a trainee midwife and who I know will listen to me panic rather than tsk that everything's going to be okay.

And I do cry and Matilda looks alarmed; I tell her, "You know I got a phone call in the garden? It was some sad news, and sometimes when people are sad they need to have a little bit of a cry so they can get the sad out and get their happy back."

From then on, any time anything upsetting happens, she wails, "I need my happy back!" and I know just how she feels.

Friday 19th May.


Steve and I book the non-invasive blood test. The £399 non-invasive blood test.

Of course we do.

We have spent two days talking and googling and thinking and googling and talking and, although we're not completely happy with our decision, we're more happy than we would be with the alternatives.

We can't just wait and see. We can't. As soon as we start thinking about being high risk for one abnormality, we start thinking about the other abnormalities, too - the ones which are "incompatible with life"; the ones which we can't imagine recovering from. This is not something we're prepared to leave to chance.

We don't want to go down the amniocentesis route. It's free on the NHS and it tests all the chromosomes, not just the ones most likely to have abnormalities, and it is diagnostic so it will tell us "Yes" or "No", and all those things are appealing. But it means Steve taking a couple of days off work to look after Matilda (we're hoarding his time for when the baby arrives) and - more importantly - it comes with a risk of miscarriage.

A teeny, tiny risk of miscarriage.

But a risk of miscarriage nonetheless. We've been there, we've done that; we're not taking that chance unless we absolutely have to.

Which leaves the private test. Which means Steve leaving work fifteen minutes early one day, and which will involve a 4D scan (not that we've ever wanted a 4D scan in the past but if it's "complimentary" then, sure, why not?), and which, although not diagnostic, is so accurate that it's being rolled out across the NHS in the just-a-little-bit-too-distant future.

If the blood test comes back as "high risk" for any of the conditions it covers, I'll still need to be stabbed in the bump with a needle, but that's a concern for another day.

And so we wait for the test date, and I avoid going to the prenatal pilates class I had planned to start and I don't snap up the secondhand Snuzpod I see advertised on a local Facebook selling page and I feel uncomfortable telling any more friends why my T-shirts are so tight, and the whole pregnancy feels like it's on hold. Again.

Friday 26th May.


Steve and I head to the clinic for the private test.

Having had a week to process everything, I'm feeling pretty good. The odds of a problem are tiny; I've told a few friends about the situation in a deliberately glib manner; I've calmed down so much that my overwhelming feeling about this appointment is excitement about seeing the baby.

The sonographer is brilliant; we're laughing within moments of Steve and me arriving and, when I tell her our odds, she cries, "For 38, that's really good!"

So we see our baby who wriggles around madly - something which didn't happen at the twelve week scan or at either of our scans of Matilda. It's amazing.

We have a brief 4D scan, although the sonographer does warn us that, at fourteen weeks, babies tend to look more like a toddler's been at the Play Doh then an actual baby. Sure enough, I wouldn't be surprised if she bunged a video of a cauliflower on the screen instead of showing us our kid.

But, despite it seeming to be some kind of brassica, she tells us our baby looks perfect.

She takes a couple of vials of blood from me, hands us a few print outs (from the lovely, wriggly 3D scan not the creepy 4D cauliflower one) and sends us off on our way. It should take seven to ten working days for us to receive the results; the call should come in the evening.

Thursday 1st June.


I know it's only been four working days but WHY HAVEN'T THEY PHONED YET?!

Friday 2nd June.


I mean: SERIOUSLY, WHY HAVEN'T THEY PHONED YET?!

I waste a chunk of my evening googling "How long do NIPT test results take?" and not finding any helpful answers.

Monday 5th June.


Day ten. Six working days. I spend the evening with my phone never more than arm's reach away.

Tuesday 6th June.


Day eleven. Seven working days.

No phone call. Did my blood get lost in the post? Was it unusable in some way? Have they lost my contact details?

Wednesday 7th June.


Day twelve. Eight working days.

The screening coordinator from the hospital calls, wanting the results for my records. Official people think they should be here by now. I can't seem to concentrate on anything.

Friday 9th June.


Day fourteen. Ten working days. The maximum length of time it was supposed to take.

I've reached the resignation stage now.

Rationally, I know that either they will phone or I will chase them up and get to the bottom of whatever's causing the delay; emotionally, I'm resigned to never, ever receiving the results, to it all having been a colossal waste of money and to the baby popping out of existence because... I don't know... it seems like the most likely thing to happen right now.

On the other hand: if they are going to call, surely they won't make us wait through another weekend. I keep my phone by my side, just in case.


Monday 12th June.


Day seventeen. Eleven working days. One month after our twelve week scan.

The weekend was tough. My reserves were gone. I spent most of my time either sleeping or hiding because I didn't have the energy to properly parent; I so badly wanted an enormous glass of wine. Or a phone call. Or, depending on the outcome, both.

I sail through Monday, quietly convinced that tonight will be the night.

Because it will, won't it?

Of course it will.

One extra day because of a bank holiday or a backlog. Totally understandable. The lab will be caught up by now and the phone call will come.

At 8pm, I accept that that is not the case.

And I cry and cry and cry.

I am seventeen weeks pregnant now and I want to bond with my baby. I had one confident week between the twelve week scan ("It's alive!") and the call from the screening coordinator ("But is it healthy?!") and that is not enough.

I'm convinced that I'm going to be one of the women who has to have a second blood test taken, that I'm going to be around twenty weeks pregnant by the time I get the results, that I'm going to miss out on enjoying a full fifty percent of my pregnancy.

And I feel utterly bereft.

Tuesday 13th June.


Day eighteen. Twelve working days.

I call the clinic.

The receptionist tells me somebody who had her test the same day as me is not long off the phone and that her results are in; she promises to call right back with information.

Which she does. Call right back, that is. With a promise that somebody will ring me with the results within a few minutes.

That's not information, is it? There's no clue there as to whether the news is good or bad. And I really need to pee.

But I hold it in, clutching my phone, a toddler clambering all over my bladder, waiting the longest time ever (four or five minutes) for a call.

And then it comes.

With all the drama of a TV game show.

"We needed 4% foetal DNA in the blood sample..." The woman tells me, followed by an OVERLY LONG DRAMATIC PAUSE "...and yours had 8.3%!"

PAUSE FOR APPLAUSE

"We tested [blah-medical-terminology-blah] for [such-and-such syndrome]..." OVERLY LONG DRAMATIC PAUSE "...and it came back low risk!"

PAUSE FOR APPLAUSE

And so on through each of the abnormalities they had tested for. OVERLY LONG DRAMATIC PAUSE. Low risk.

Everything low risk. Everything apparently perfect.

I confirm to Steve. I call my mum. I text a few people who were waiting to hear the results. I go and pee.

Matilda spends a good long while walking around with a balloon shoved up her T-shirt.

And just like that: it's over.

This pregnancy and this baby are at no greater risk than any other.

We can relax. We can tell the last few friends and family members our news. I ask Steve if it's too early to bring the baby clothes down from the attic (it is, he says). We even manage to bag the secondhand Snuzpod. We start to talk about names.

Decaf

Second Rooftops Baby Announcement

When you're secretly expecting your first baby, people raise knowing eyebrows when you meet them in the pub and order a soft drink.

When you're secretly expecting your second baby, people raise knowing eyebrows when you pop round for a play date and ask if they have decaf.

A splash of milk in mine, please.

Normal caffeine levels expected to resume sometime in November.

More Things

Good things in my life right now

The last few weeks have been odd and inconvenient. Steve and Matilda have been through nasty bug after nasty bug after nasty bug; the days when they've been well have either been sodden or scorching (too scorching); the news is too horrendous to go into right now; and... oh... this and that and these things and that other one. It's been a strange, impatient time.

But there have been lovely moments, too.

There has been:

Plum Cookies
Realising just in time that our punnet of plums was past its best, digging out a recipe, nipping to the shop for baking powder which was within date and honey which hadn't solidified, and the three of us whipping up a batch of sticky, splodgy, slightly tart but extremely satisfying cookies (yes, yes, "cookies" - they're not uniform enough to be biscuits).

Book Group In The Sun
This afternoon, while the rest of the family hid indoors, I spent two hours in the park with my book group. Under a tree. In the shade. Book group is probably the best thing I've done for myself in the past year - I so look forward to a bit of time away from the routine, cackling with smart, funny friends.

Date Afternoon
Just Steve and me, eating veggie burgers and deep fried halloumi and drinking milkshakes, talking about all the things we don't usually have the time or attention span for. Just what we were needing.

Flowers
Different ones springing open in the garden, every time I look outside. The geraniums, campanula, azalea (a successful experiment in a boggy, shaded corner - hurrah!), rambling roses and whatever-those-spiky-yellow-things-are-called are all blooming; we've got masses of nasturtiums on the way and so far we've only lost two sunflower plants to the snails.

Secret Garden
We met my sister and her family at Seaton Park a few weeks ago, where the three kids enjoyed the usual playpark equipment and the decommissioned-train-cum-climbing-frame, but where the real hit was the walled garden. "It's like a maze!" they squealed, running along paths between bushes so big they couldn't see over them. The walled garden is hidden up a hill at the back of the park; it's usually empty; it feels like our own secret place.

Washi Tape Birthday Cards
One of Matilda's favourite things to do right now is cover bits of cardboard in washi tape. She has mastered cutting the tape with her [rubbish, kid-safe, rabbit-adorned] scissors; all I need to do is sit nearby and nod. It's so lovely to see her creating.

Meeting My Friend's Three Week Old Baby
Of course.

What's the good news with you?

What I've Been Reading Recently


Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong*
Ruth is thirty, her fiance has just left her and she's moving home to help care for her father, who has dementia. This is written in a very light, readable diary-style and the characters were fully formed enough to feel familiar. At times, it was funny; at times, it was touching; at times, it made me cringe a little (because what diary wouldn't make a reader cringe now and then?). Sometimes it felt utterly insubstantial but, underneath Ruth's throwaway observations, there was a hefty subject matter being danced around just enough that it couldn't be missed. Certainly worth a read.

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran
A collection of Moran's columns with a few TV articles bunged in, too. As with the previous collection, Moranthology, there were pieces in here which made me roll my eyes and go, "Yeah, yeah, you've met celebs. Whatevs." and there were pieces which made me (metaphorically) punch the air or feel newly enraged with our country or want to take to my laptop and batter out an article of my own. For me, the latter outweighed the former by a long way.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo
Ugh, I hated this SO MUCH. I only finished it because it was for my book group and everybody dislikes That Person Who Doesn't Actually Read The Book. Perhaps it wouldn't have irritated me so much if I hadn't read the author's smug introduction about how important this book is and how deserving of its fame, but I can't imagine having read it and not thought it was televangelist-style victim blaming nonsense. If you don't get the thing you want most in life (a baby; a cure; a father who loves you; whatever) it is NOT because you didn't listen to the omens in a bird song.

Out of Time by Miranda Sawyer
Music journalist, Miranda Sawyer, writes about her hedonistic youth, her looming future, parenting small children and her slow, creeping midlife crisis. In amongst all that, she talks to various experts about why people struggle with middle age and whether there's anything that can be done to ease us all through this time. It's a sometimes rambling book but, oh, it struck a lot of chords. I loved it.

100 Essays I Don't Have Time To Write by Sarah Ruhl
The cover of this book promises 100 tiny pieces about "umbrellas and sword fights, parades and dogs, fire alarms, children and theater". Which sounded right up my street. I didn't realise it was going to be "umbrellas and their role in theatre productions and sword fights and their role in theatre productions, parades and their role in theatre productions and dogs and their role in theatre productions, fire alarms and their role in theatre productions, children and their role in theatre productions and theater". My interest in the theatre really isn't great enough to see me through 100 essays on the subject. There was a lot of flicking forward to find references to the author's kids' entertaining behaviour.

The Lake House by Kate Morton
I loved this. I fully expected to love this because I've loved all of Kate Morton's other books. And I did. It's a big book but I raced through it in a couple of evenings. It's a fantastic mystery - I was never more than twenty pages ahead of the lead character when it came to figuring things out and I really, really, really wanted to get to the bottom of what had happened. Read this one.

What I Do: More True Tales of Everyday Craziness by Jon Ronson
A collection of columns and articles by Jon Ronson, most of which are stories of his general tactless incompetence and some of which are fascinating pieces of journalism. Hit and miss.


*Provided for review

6AM

On a night without sleep

I had no sleep last night. Not a minute. Not a second. Not a blip.

Matilda's full of the lurgy but - much to my surprise, given how much snot was pouring from her nose and her eyes yesterday evening - she has been asleep for eleven solid hours so far. So it's not her who's keeping me awake.

Steve is full of the lurgy, too. And therein lies the problem. Because we're supposed to share a bed.

Sharing a bed wasn't working for me last night.

At 3:30, I tried moving to the sofa but I couldn't get comfortable. And I could still hear him struggling to breathe.

At 4:30, I gave up, watched the dregs of a fairly disappointing sunrise and made myself a mug of hot chocolate.

And I've been sitting here by our living room window ever since, my eyes stinging a little too much to read but my mind enjoying some quiet wandering, wondering time.

In my head, I've redecorated our bedroom. Forest green and mustard and dark, dark wood. It might not seem like such a great idea after some sleep (I will sleep again one day, won't I?) but, right now, it feels inspired.

I'm toying with (unaffordable) ideas for the bathroom floor, too. The flat came with tatty lino which looks dusty at all times, presumably to blend in with the real dust, languishing atop the skirting boards. I hate that lino so much but it's such a small space and one which I spend so little time in that it's never been a priority.

Oh, there's the manky carpet on the stairs to think about, too...

Recently, I've been dwelling on some big questions about the future. One day, there will be a life beyond small person parenting, for example, and I've no idea what shape that life will be. Am I prepared to dive into yet another new career, in my early forties? And what should it even be?

I'm too tired for those questions right now, though.

And I'm too unfocused for my current, vague blog negativity which is something to do with the drop in comments. I'm here to put my thoughts in order but, more than that (because I could always write a private, personal diary, right?), I'm here to connect with people. So, while my stats hold steady at a few hundred views per new waffle plus a stream of people reading my two biggest "evergreen" posts, I feel like there are less and less people actually saying hello. I know that's not just me; every time I bother to check Twitter (roughly once a month), I see other bloggers bemoaning the same thing.

It's been bouncing around in my head a lot but this is not the time to explore it.

This is the time to listen to the birds, watch the sunlight slip slowly across the wall until it hits a spot the cats can bask in, and daydream about brass mirrors.

Who else is up at this hour?

Potty Training And Parents


And so we have hit the potty training stage.

We didn't have a clear idea of when we were going to tackle this. We know babies who were trained at fourteen months (I was trained at fourteen months) and we know kids who were four years old - whatever your personal take, there's an expert who agrees with you, and I'm not here to argue with them.

Our own vague plan was to look for the signs that our daughter was ready and then... just... sort of... go for it?

The only trouble was: she might have been ready around about her second birthday, but Steve and I were not.

We (and I'm going to switch to "I" here because I don't want to put too many words in Steve's mouth. And also because I'm the one who's at home with her on weekdays and therefore dealing with the bulk of the potty talk) were keen for her to potty train because: it seems healthier than wearing a nappy; it's cheaper; and I felt a little guilty every time I chucked a bag of disposable nappies in the bin.

But...

But...

I kept putting it off.

I kept finding reasons why this week was inconvenient and that week was impossible and, oh, surely there was some potty training manual I was supposed to read first, wasn't there? And I had to slog to the end of that godawful book group choice before I had time for that.

But, really, I didn't want the hassle.

Could I really be bothered to clean up accidents? I spend enough time dealing with cat puke and hairballs as it is.

Would we have to stop all forty minute bus journeys immediately and forevermore? I mean, seriously: at what point can kids hold it in for that long?! After a few days? A week? Several months? Aged twelve? There are days when I find it a bit of a push. Could we never visit certain friends again?!

Those incredibly small and lightweight foldaway Potettes looked so BIG and HEAVY when I tried to imagine carrying one around in my bag. I'm already laden down with Organix bars and Upsy Daisies of assorted sizes; I don't need any more luggage.

And, oh hell of all hells, I'd have to take her into public toilets with those blasted blasting hand dryers that every single child in the known universe under the age of five finds utterly terrifying. Or could I just let her pee in a corner of Boots? Maybe on the potty aisle? Try before you buy?

I knew that my daughter was going to take to the potty fairly easily but it seemed like an awfully big adjustment for me.

In the end, she didn't give me much choice, though. One Sunday she announced that she would be ditching the nappies the following morning. And so the decision was made.

So I reminded myself that I've been through big parenting adjustments before. Remember when she was a newborn and I was terrified of leaving the house because WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU HAVE TO CHANGE A NAPPY IN A PUBLIC PLACE?! OR YOU DIDN'T BRING ENOUGH AND SHOPS HAVE CEASED TO EXIST?!

Yeah, I got over that panic pretty quickly.

This would be the same.

And, you know what?

It was.

A Potette helped. A wet bag helped. Staying close to home for the first week helped. Not making any plans which involved punctuality the following week helped.

But really I just had to do it.

My kid was ready; I had to get myself ready, too.

So we're one month in now.

On Saturday, I finished the godawful book group choice and the potty training manual I thought I should read arrived. I haven't even cracked the spine.

We're through it.

I'm £9 per month better off and unencumbered by disposable nappy guilt; she's proud of her newfound skills; and there's something quite pleasing about a small child whooping "Well done, Mummy! You did it!" at me every time I exit the bathroom.



20 Facts About Me

20 Facts About Sarah Rooftops

(Bonus fact: I smile more than this picture implies)

Ages and ages and ages ago, Helen tagged me do to a "20 Facts About Me" post on Instagram. I meant to do it but... you know... it involved more thought than I'm used to putting into Instagram and so it never happened.

And now it's not an Instagram thing. So I'm doing it here instead:
  1. I have one sister. My mum's husband also has two daughters and I'm never sure how to refer to them. "My mum's husband's daughters" sounds a bit impersonal, as though I don't really like them (which I do); "my stepsisters" sounds a bit intimate for people I met in my thirties. I may be overthinking this.
  2. I left home at sixteen. I felt so grown up. But was not.
  3. Steve and I have been together for eight years. This is how we met.
  4. I was Aberdeen's first female cinema projectionist since the war. 
  5. Despite loving the clanky, clunky magic of old school projectors, I avoid seeing films which I know are on film; I can't stand all the hisses and scratches and truncated scenes ("which shoddy projectionist caused that?!"). 
  6. I have very few regrets but I probably shouldn't have listened to the grown ups who told me art school would result in a life of poverty.
  7. I've been a vegetarian since I was twelve, partly for ethical reasons and partly for health ones. No, I don't miss meat.
  8. I would miss garlic, though. And coconut.
  9. The first band I ever saw live was The Cranberries.
  10. The brighter the colour, the better. I dress like a children's TV presenter.
  11. I don't currently own any make up.
  12. The only thank you card I remember sending a stranger was after my miscarriage. I am so grateful to all the medical staff who work so hard - at all hours; regardless of holiday periods - to help strangers through their toughest times. And all at no cost to us. (*waves SAVE OUR NHS placard; shouts out DON'T VOTE TORY*)
  13. I started my (current) photo a day project on 1st March 2014; this was cautiously symbolic as it was the point at which I felt ready to try for another pregnancy. I hope to keep going until Matilda and any subsequent child/ren hit eighteen, if not longer.
  14. I am allergic to perfumes (in toiletries, candles, cleaning products, air fresheners etc) and also to penicillin. 
  15. I really like city centres which have a mixture of old and new buildings; I'm more interested in creating layers of architectural history than in preserving only the ancient.
  16. I graduated from Aberdeen University in 1999.
  17. My ideal way to spend child free time is either to have a hot beverage and cake with one of those friends who never fails to make me laugh or to spend hours on end with a book.
  18. The first thing I ever had published was an opinion piece on armpit hair in J-17. Not to give you the impression that I was ever a freelance journalist; I worked in marketing pre-child so I've seen a lot of my writing in print.
  19. I can't drive and I'm happy that way. I also can't ride a bike which strikes me as a much bigger issue.
  20. In my twenties, I was sure that I didn't want children (and I believe that's a valid choice which doesn't need defended, so I'm not implying anything when I say that:). In my thirties, I think parenting is the best thing I've ever done.
I'm tagging Elise and Emma for the simple reason that they've both been making me look like a prolific blogger recently - here's a prompt for you both! But, if you fancy joining in, consider yourself tagged, too.

Advice for First Time Parents

Advice for First Time Parents

When you have your first baby, you get given a whole lot of pink or blue baby clothes (regardless of how vocal you were about keeping things gender neutral), rattles your kid won't play with for several months and concrete but contradictory advice.

Well, I'm not here to tell you how to get your kid to sleep through the night, when to wean them or whether to give them a dummy. I am not an expert on any of those things. In fact, I'm not convinced that anybody is, regardless of what it says in their Twitter profile.

But there are some things I've figured out along the way which I think are worth sharing.

Here's what I had figured out after four months of parenting, and here's what I would add to it now:

Nobody Cares About Your Toenails
I'm still - still - baffled by all the "If this baby doesn't hurry up and arrive, I'm going to need another pedicure" tweets that I see. Pregnant ladies!, think about what midwives see on a daily basis (keywords: birth; poo; vomit; blood) - if they're looking at your feet it's because they're gauging whether or not you need compression socks, not because they're tutting at your toenails. Likewise: it's not your bikini line that they're examining down there.

Your Baby Can't See Beige
If the nursery is painted magnolia with beige giraffes on the curtains, it's all for your own benefit. Babies can't see far and they only see high contrast - if you must go minimalist, stick to black and white. But, honestly, you may as well embrace the primary colours now, while you still have a say in where and how they're used.

It's Okay Not To Love Every Minute
Even if you spent years trying and trying and trying to create this baby, it is okay to have middle of the night crying fits because you just want to get some sleep. The best, most contented parents you know have all had moments of sobbing "I can't do this!"

You CAN Do This, Though
Every week it will get a little bit easier. Especially when your baby starts to smile. And, if it doesn't: speak to your health visitor; they have heard it all before and they exist to help you through this.

Video Your Kid
Even if you never watch the videos (you will, though), nothing cheers up a wailing child like watching themselves fall over a teddy bear seventy-nine times in a row.

Parent Friends Are Essential
Go to toddler groups and baby classes; ask friends to put you in touch with other new parents they know; try those play dating apps. Shove yourself right out of your comfort zone and exchange phone numbers because it's a long day if you don't have another grown up to text about teething.

Advice for First Time Parents

Fresh Air
Get some. I don't care if you're in your pyjamas with hair you haven't washed in a week - sit on your doorstep and look at the clouds for ten minutes. You do NOT have to spend every moment your baby naps doing the ironing; you DO need to grab a bit of time for yourself.

On That Note
Don't buy baby clothes which need ironed. They'll get crumpled as soon as you put your kid down for a nap/clip them into their buggy or carrier/let them roll around on the floor. Jersey cotton all the way.

Your Partner Is A Parent, Too
They might use slightly different words and a slightly different rocking motion than you and it might not be working quite as fast as you might like, but let them figure it out for themselves. Nobody welcomes constructive criticism when they're feeling incapable and sleep deprived.

Pat Their Bum Dry
Why does nobody ever tell new parents this?! If you've just used a wet wipe on your baby's bum, pat it dry. Don't just assume you need nappy cream, either - we've only ever had to apply it twice.

Not All Advice Is Aimed At You
All those leaflets about breastfeeding and chatting to your baby and not feeding them Maltesers? They are for people for whom this stuff is not already obvious. If breastfeeding doesn't work for you, you are not a failure; if you can't think of enough small talk to fill your baby's every waking moment, they will not flunk out of primary school; if you think filling a teether with strawberry jam is a bad idea, your kid's teeth will be off to a good start. Don't work yourself up assuming that all advice leaflets are attacks on YOUR personal abilities - they're not; you've totally got this.

And If Some Other Advice Doesn't Seem To Be Working For You...?
Ignore it. All kids are different. And some of them really don't want a bath at bedtime.



What I've Been Reading Recently

What I've Been Reading Recently

The Power by Naomi Alderman
Young women suddenly develop the ability to electrocute other people... and the balance of power in the world begins to shift. It sounded a bit... daft... but anything which looks at gender politics is worth a go (also, honestly: it was my book group's latest read so I didn't have much choice!). And it was fascinating. I didn't love everything about it, but I did love how much it made me think and I was very, very glad that I had a date in the calendar to sit down and talk through all the questions it raised with a group of other women.

Seriously... What Am I Doing Here? by Ken Schneck*
Ken Schneck is a gay Jew working for a university in Vermont; he doesn't like upheaval and he doesn't like to travel. And then he finds himself in Uganda. And then he finds himself doing a charity bike ride, attending a healing retreat, heading back to Uganda, and hiking through the Rocky Mountains. He kept this diary throughout. Now, I love - love - collections of autobiographical humorous essays but I've also started and given up on a lot of really, really bad ones; I was kind of expecting this to be one of the duds. It wasn't. Ken's writing style is seriously funny but it's not just that: throughout the book, Ken is trying (and often failing) to deal with the collapse of his marriage, and - no matter how much he tries to hide his feelings behind humour - his pain is very much apparent. This is personal, (fairly!) honest and deeply engaging. I loved it.

The Broken Bridge by Philip Pullman*
Sixteen year old Ginny's mother died when she was a baby; she has been raised by her father in a small town on the coast of Wales. She already spends a lot of time thinking about her identity - where she comes from; life as one of only two black kids in town; what her future holds - and then a social worker turns up and reveals a whole lot of secrets Ginny's father has been trying to keep. I had a couple of issues with this (mostly to do with two dimensional adults) but nothing which would have bothered me in my teens; as a young adult I would have absolutely loved this and, as a 38 year old, I was genuinely curious to find out the truth about Ginny's past.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
Okay, I know I'm several years late on this one but: if you haven't read this, I really think you should. Dystopian yet beautiful, exploring interconnected lives and the aftermath of a pandemic which all but wiped out the human race. Astounding.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
So, obviously I read this because it's by Aziz Ansari and I enjoy Parks and Rec and I thought it would be funny. Ironically, the jokes were the bits I didn't much like. The rest of it? The analysis of flirting, dating and relationship trends in a world of social media and internet romance? That, I found really interesting.

*Provided for review

Ways In Which I Am Not Leading A Blogger's Life Right Now


Decorating
You know how, if you've run out of things to blog about, you buy a couple of lamps and a bunch of flowers and a seasonal duvet cover and you film a little video about giving your bedroom a makeover? Yeah, the closest we're getting to sprucing up our home at the moment is buying sample pots of paint with which to hide the huge coffee stain on the living room wall. You may note I said "buying" sample pots instead of "actually getting round to using" them...

Vlogging
Still don't get it. Who's got the time to film and edit vlogs? More importantly: who's got the time to watch them? They can't be skim read; they're not for me.

Throwing A Massively Instagrammable Second Birthday Party for Matilda
Trying to fit ten toddlers plus twenty parents into our two bedroom flat sounded a bit overwhelming (not to mention that we don't have enough pull-along ducks to stop that many children bickering). Paying real, actual money to hire a hall (even one which came equipped with a couple of shrivelled helium balloons lodged in the light fittings) seemed like an unnecessary expense (not to mention a bit of a gamble, what with toddlers and their amazing ability to catch debilitating illnesses at the most inconvenient of times). And Matilda's choice of theme would have been so specific - I'm guessing "sparkly orange dinosaurs flying to the moon with cats and ice cream" - that I would have had to hand make all the decorations, and see above: who's got the time? So we bought her a cake from the supermarket and took her to the garden centre with her grandparents instead.

Enjoying New Clothes, Holidays, Fancy Events, Shoes, Designer Make Up, Aspirational Magazines etc
They look so pretty in other people's grids but my idea of a splurge is buying biscuits from the extravagantly priced Tesco Express instead of from a discount store.

Baking
Remember when I said I was going to prioritise baking on my own last month? Yeah, that didn't happen. When I did get a couple of hours to myself, I was more likely to spend it napping. Or removing cat hair from the carpet with a squeegee.

Not Much Enjoying Parenting
I keep reading that toddlers are unreasonable, illogical tyrants who ruined your waistline and drove you to drink. But that's not my experience. My home might be covered in sticky fingerprints, my bank account might be empty (although rejoice: the pet insurance finally agreed to pay £500 of Gizmo's £736 vet bill!) and I might have a shamefully in depth knowledge of Hey Duggee but I'm finding parenting a toddler to be brilliant. Tedious sometimes (there are only so many cups of imaginary tea a bladder can hold) but mostly hilarious.

Keeping to A Blogging Schedule
The downside of a happy life: I don't have much to write about. How are things with me? Same old, same old. Parks, Pom Pom the panda books, stickers on every available surface, repeat.

And it's kind of lovely.