Easy Christmas Prep With Your Toddler

Or: How to Exploit Your Toddler's Love Of Stickers

Yes, yes, it's still November, but it's November twenty-fourth which means it's one month until Christmas Eve. Which means it's one month until your home needs to be decorated, your cards and gifts delivered, and your excessive food shop completed. 

It's time to give Christmas some thought.

I haven't always been like this. Pre-Matilda, I was a bit of a Christmas cynic - "it's really just for the kids," I would say. 

Well, I have kids now (at least one - have I had the other yet? I drafted this in *ahem* September so, who knows? I might be in labour as you read it. Or in a newborn fug. Or throwing a strop because WHEN WILL THIS BABY ARRIVE?!) and, with them, came a renewed excitement about Christmas. Imagine their little faces when they see fairy lights! And reindeer! And eat their first bit of gingerbread!

And imagine all the crafting we can do!

Except... there's a limit to how much crafting you can expect of a toddler. At two and a half, Matilda is showing an interest in doing arty projects; this time last year, she just wanted to slop around some paint or water and cover every surface in stickers. 

But that didn't mean that she couldn't "make" our Christmas cards or "wrap" our gifts. Here - with authentic taken-last-year-just-look-at-those-squidgy-little-fingers photos - is how I turned her obsession with stickers into a festive craftavaganza.

Easy Christmas Cards

Easy Christmas Prep With Your Toddler - Tissue Paper Christmas Cards

A year on, I'm still seriously proud of these Christmas cards. I didn't even pinch the idea from Pinterest. Here's how to make them:
  • Place small bits of coloured tissue paper on thick lining paper or white card. Cheap tissue paper works best.
  • Paint the tissue paper with water. The colours will bleed.
  • Leave to dry.
  • ADULTS: Cut the colourful results into triangles Christmas tree shapes. 
  • Stick the tress to colourful, folded card.
  • Use sticky stars or dots to decorate.
So simple, right? And Matilda loved the painting with water bit (Steve and I got very into it, too).

Easy Christmas Prep With Your Toddler - Tissue Paper Painting

Easy Gift Wrapping

Easy Christmas Prep With Your Toddler - Present Wrapping

This is 100% just exploiting your kid's love of stickering. All we did was wrap the presents in brown paper (Matilda helped with the sellotaping) then let her go wild with sticky stars and bows. Some of the parcels had one star on them (eh... I might have added some later in a deliberately toddler-esque manner); some of them had eight or nine bows crammed one on top of the other. They looked great.

Easy Christmas Decor

Easy Christmas Prep With Your Toddler - Washi Tape Tree

Three things you can do with washi tape:
  1. Cut a triangle out of green cardboard. Let your kid decorate it with tape and/or sticky stars. VoilĂ ! A Christmas tree!
  2. Cut a gingerbread man out of cardboard. Let your kid decorate it with tape and/or stickers and/or crayons. Hurrah!
  3. Cut/buy strips of shiny paper and make paper chains. This is a two adult project - one to help thread the paper strips through each other; one to help your toddler with the washi tape - but, despite this, is a really simple craft to do with a small child.

Easy Baking

Easy Christmas Prep With Your Toddler - Peppermint Stars

When it comes to baking with a toddler, the simpler the better. Anything which just involves smushing some ingredients together and then going at them with a cookie cutter is a winner.

Despite the high sugar content, I recommend:
Both super-simple and really tasty.

You could also make puff pastry cheesy stars. Here's what you do:

  • Get a sheet of pre-rolled puff pastry.
  • Let your kid go wild painting the top of it with milk.
  • Help them to grate some cheese on top using a rotary grater (one of the ones where you turn a handle and cheese falls out - very exciting!).
  • Bake for however long it says on the packet.
As you can see, these were eaten before I could take any pictures, which tells you how much we all liked them:

Easy Christmas Prep With Your Toddler - Puff Pastry Stars

For more Christmas ideas (some very simple; some purely for us adults), why not follow my Pinterest board? My Winter board is worth a look, too.

19 Things Which Did Not Signal Imminent Labour

No matter how a woman's feeling towards the end of her pregnancy - serene; fed up; unbearably excited; nervous about what comes next - there's one thing almost all of us have in common: obsessive googling of early labour symptoms.

I had thought, second time around, I'd spend a lot less time thinking about this. After all, I know what my symptoms were with Matilda: my waters breaking and my first contraction. I knew there was no point looking for signs.

But, still, I found myself analysing every twitch and twinge. Was this routine third trimester stuff or was I about to go into labour?

It's such an odd experience, waiting around for such a massive event to occur, with no idea of when it's actually going to happen - it's no wonder so many of us spend so much time searching for answers. Perhaps the cramping doesn't mean much, but surely runny noses are a guarantee that we have less than ten hours to go?

They're not.

And nor, I discovered, were any of these things:


Braxton Hicks

I had weeks of Braxton Hicks with Matilda and I had weeks of Braxton Hicks with this baby. I know they can't be used to timetable when the birth will actually occur. But, still, sometimes they would seem a little stronger or a little longer or a little more regular and I would wonder: is this it?

The answer was: no, it was not.

Lack of Braxton Hicks

If I had a few days without any Braxton Hicks, that had to be significant, right? That had to be my body taking a little break, storing up strength before the real thing hit?

Nope, nope, nope.

Bleeding Gums

Other than a few spots of blood in the first trimester, my gums haven't bled this pregnancy. In fact, last time I went to the dentist (about a month ago), I had a glorious string of zeroes in my notes, confirming oral perfection (unless you count the little bit of plaque she had to clean off and the thirty year old fillings she wants to replace, but, you know: MY GUMS ARE GREAT). So when, on Thursday morning last week, there was an awful lot of blood in the sink, I thought it might mean something.

Apparently not.

The Return of The Heartburn

Oh, joy. After a couple of weeks off, it came back.

Because it felt like it, apparently.

That One Evening I Didn't Want Ice Cream

What craziness is this? A pregnant evening without a bowl of raspberry ripple? It had to be early labour nausea.

Except, it wasn't. I still have no good explanation.

Hot Breathlessness

Those mornings of feeling a bit swirly and a bit flushed and of having to sit down for a while after my shower? My blood pressure was low again so, you know: there was an obvious explanation. Or there was the one which said I was about to go into labour.

The first explanation was right.

Cleaning Windows

My mum likes to tell the story of cleaning the windows two weeks before my due date (in December. In the cold) and her neighbours informing her that I would be arriving that night. She scoffed, but they were right.

Yeah, I cleaned the windows. Nothing happened.

Good Nights' Sleep

At thirty-six weeks, I reached this glorious point when my bump was big enough not to need propped up at night - I could get into bed, lie on my side and... *drumroll please* ...GO TO SLEEP. Turning over was still a bit of a struggle but it involved a little effort rather than a lot of pain. I was waking up in the morning feeling rested. I was certain - because I remember that I didn't sleep much last time around and I remember that I was asleep and feeling very cosy when labour began - that this was my body getting ready for The Big Day.

I was wrong.

Abandoned Adult Time

It was Just. Too. Uncomfortable. Which presumably meant my cervix had done its weird cervixy thing and changed shape or position or... whatever it is it does in readiness.


Losing My Mucus Plug

Well, some of it, anyway.

The baby didn't show up.

Crying Over Spilt Milk

And other minor inconveniences. Surely some sort of last minute hormonal surge, right?

Wrong. I guess I'm just a bit tired.

All The Poo

In other bathroom tales: I started... eh... evacuating my system multiple times a day. People talk so much about having a huge clear out the day before going into labour that this got my hopes up.

Nothing happened. Although, as someone who usually has to make an effort re: five portions, lots of water and maintaining adequate frequency, it was at least novel for things to be running so smoothly.

Night Sweats

Just... ugh. I was waking up in a cool room with the window open and frost on the ground outside, burning up. Surely - surely?! - this meant labour was about to kick off?

Evidently it did not.

The Cats Being Out Of Sorts

Gizmo was attempting to claim new territory in one of Polly's rooms; Polly was expressing her displeasure in her usual way (I'm spending a lot of time wiping down the basin...). This HAD to be because their super-duper feline senses KNEW the baby was about to pop out, right?


Leaky Boobs

Last time I was pregnant, I had to sleep with a bra and pads to avoid soaking the mattress. This time, I've got off easy: there were occasional crusty bits in the morning, but nothing problematic. So, when I woke up one morning last week stinking of milk (I know it's some sort of sacrilege to say anything negative about breast milk, but UGH the smell!), I thought it might mean my body was READY.

It didn't. And the crusty bits were as tiny as ever. I suspect the real culprit was this:

Crazy Sense Of Smell

Okay, yes, my sense of smell has been superhuman since becoming pregnant. That's a standard thing. But it cranked up even further around week 37. "Why are you eating crisps which smell of rubber?" I shouted at Steve, from the far end of the flat. His explanation was unsatisfactory.

And still no baby head to sniff.

Significant Dates

"We're all Tuesday babies, so this one definitely will be/won't be." "My mum's just left - it would be really inconvenient to go into labour now. So I will." "Ooh, a Halloween baby would please Steve immensely." "Giving birth on Bonfire Night with fireworks flashing around me? Perfect."

Yeah, labour doesn't care.

Hair Loss

Throughout this pregnancy, I've lost maybe two hairs a week in the shower. Truly, I've been basking in my glossy, almost-as-thick-as-normal-people's hair. Then suddenly I began losing a rather dramatic three or four strands each morning. Which HAD to be significant. It HAD to be.

It was not.

The Bump Dropping

This is the big one, isn't it? Conventional wisdom is that, second time around, the bump doesn't drop until RIGHT before labour - it plunges down and the baby arrives before the day is out. Well, that's what happened LAST time. THIS time, the bump plummeted down to my ankles (more or less) two weeks ago and I'll admit: I started to get excited.

Despite Google's warnings that the conventional wisdom is nonsense.

Google was right, though: no baby.

I resigned myself to waiting for the real sign: intense contractions.

Except, obviously, that's not true.

I pretended to resign myself to waiting for the real sign. Whilst holding my phone under the table and discreetly searching away.

Second Baby Estimated Due Date: How Am I Feeling Today?

Sarah Rooftops

So, here I am: hitting the baby's estimated due date.

Okay, strictly speaking, I wrote this yesterday. It's possible - but unlikely - that the baby's arrived in the meantime. But let's suspend disbelief for a bit and pretend that I'm writing it all right now, this morning, then hitting "publish" instead of "schedule".

It's the baby's estimated due date. As with last time, I've been trying not to focus too much on today. The key word here is "estimated"; there's about a 5% chance of the baby arriving on 19th November but anytime in the next two weeks would still be considered normal.

Matilda, for the record, was exactly seven days "late". It's popular wisdom that second babies come sooner but, having looked at the stats, the difference seems to be a matter of an hour or so - nothing there to pin too many hopes on!

So... how am I feeling today?

I'm feeling good.

Yes, I wrote recently about wanting the baby to arrive early. I do still feel parent guilt about how much time Matilda and I are spending at home but, firstly, she's been so snottery recently that she hasn't wanted to go out and, secondly, it's been easier to play at floor level since the baby shifted further into my pelvis. So there's a lot less guilt than there was.

And, physically, I'm doing pretty well. The heartburn's back but I'm sleeping better; the baby's head is so low that I can't even sit on a yoga ball comfortably but I'm not in any pain. There are times when I don't feel pregnant at all. Still. At forty weeks.

So I'm doing well. I'm not wishing the last few days away. I'm comfortable and calm.

But... okay, the final up-to-five weeks of pregnancy can be tiresome. Because there's so much waiting around, knowing that things are outwith my control.

You know when you're waiting in all day for a parcel? You want to nip to the shop for biscuits but you can't risk it in case the delivery arrives. You try to make the most of being stuck indoors by reading/watching box sets/cleaning/baking/whatever but you can't quite relax - you're constantly listening for the van pulling up outside, for the gate, for the tiny tap on your door (because your doorbell is apparently invisible), for the discreet slip of a Sorry We Missed You note sliding onto the lino. You suspect that the delivery will arrive at the very last minute - because they always arrive at the very last minute - but you're still up and showered by 7am, just in case. You wonder why all delivery companies can't be like DPD and have that map for stalking the driver because, seriously, if that technology exists, why have you been given a 12 hour delivery window instead of a 15 minute one?

Yeah... the final stage of pregnancy is like that. BUT FOR FIVE WEEKS.

(Yes, I already made this comparison on Twitter. Apologies if you were paying attention. As far as I could tell, the only people who read that tweet were angry men in their fifties who took it completely out of context and started messaging me ranty warnings about using Yodel)

As I was saying: five weeks. Five weeks of being scared to go anywhere in case your waters break on the bus/in the frozen section/all over a cinema seat. Of wondering how you would make it home if you were having contractions (or a very quick labour). Of monitoring your body for labour revving up. Of suspecting you will deliver at the very last minute but still waking every single morning, wondering if today's the day. Of wondering why nobody's invented a scan so accurate you could scribble "Baby's Arrival" in your calendar with confidence - maybe even nip out for coffee with friends that morning because you know the kid's not turning up until 3pm?

It's tiresome.

I'm getting more contractions now. Some of them are still very much Braxton Hicks contractions (low down, mostly triggered by the baby's movements) but some of them are a lot more... real. They're at the top of the bump; I can still talk through them but I couldn't change position.

They come on and off throughout the day, but they're more frequent in the evenings. I had weeks of this with Matilda so I know not to get my hopes up, but, still, they mean that I go to bed every night wondering if I'll be starting tomorrow with a new baby and I wake up every morning feeling a little bit disappointed that I'm not.

I'm a planner; I'm not happy about leaving this to my body's whims.

And, despite having been through labour once before, I can't get quite my head around the idea that, at some point in the next two weeks, my body is going to rocket out of my control. That I could be in the middle of playing with my child or watching telly with Steve and - BAM! - I'll be hit by a proper contraction; that, whether I feel ready or not, I'm going to have to ride through labour, breathe it all in and out until the inevitable end point is reached and there's a baby in my arms. That still feels crazy to me - that something that enormous can take control of my body, with very little warning, without my immediate say-so, and utterly change my life.

My life. And Steve's. And Matilda's, most of all. Matilda, who will be going from only child to older sibling - who is currently excited about this idea but, surely, can't really grasp what it means yet. There's a lot of future to wonder about there.

But, for today, I'm going to stick to wondering about the next two weeks. Or ten minutes. Or three days. Or however long it is until this baby arrives.

And I might even risk heading out of the house.

This Pregnancy So Far: Announcement20 weeks; 27 weeks; 37 weeks.

That Morning The Baby Didn't Seem To Be Moving

Bus stop photography.

I was lying in bed yesterday morning, aware of Steve moving around the flat, getting ready for work. I wasn't aware of the baby moving around inside me.

I wasn't too worried, though; I rarely feel this baby moving when I'm lying down and I don't think I ever felt Matilda moving when I was in bed. For me, nights have always been my break from the prods.

I lay for a while, listening to Steve pootling around while I concentrated on the baby. I felt absolutely nothing.

I hoisted myself over onto my other side - a slow, complicated process at the moment, but one which usually provokes a little bit of shuffling around in there. Still no movement.

Steve got into the shower. I was effectively trapped in bed until he was finished; sitting up would have woken my bladder. So I lay there and paid attention to the baby. Who I still couldn't feel.

In total, I lay in bed for an hour and I didn't feel the baby once.

* * *

Once Steve was done in the bathroom, I got up. Peed. Prodded my belly a lot.

A lot.

I wasn't feeling anything.

For an hour, I pressed and prodded, trying to get some sort of reaction from the baby. There was nothing. Nothing at all.

Just panic, throttling me, pushing tears out of my eyes. What if there was something wrong? What if something had gone wrong in the middle of the night and I was too late? What if what if what if...?

The tiniest furtle was felt. A hand, low down. At least, I thought so.

And then a miniscule, hesitant kick.

Movement! But not the usual sharp elbows and frantic fingers. Tiny, gentle movements. Tired movements? Poorly movements? Was the baby actually okay in there?

I was sitting there, accepting that I would need to go and get checked out - just to be on the safe side - when my trainee midwife friend texted me. I told her what was happening; she told me to get to the hospital.

* * *

It was 8:30. I knew the day assessment unit would just be opening.

The day assessment unit is a new thing, in Aberdeen. It was launched while I was still early in this pregnancy. It's a specific place where pregnant women can go when they're worried; it's calm and focused and much easier to talk yourself into visiting than the previous option: a ward full of women waiting for their inductions to take effect.

I still didn't want to ring, though. I didn't want the hassle of making arrangements for Matilda. I didn't want the expense of a taxi or the hour of being jiggled around on buses. I didn't want to talk to anyone.

But, more than those things, I didn't want to deal with the horror or the guilt if I didn't get things checked out and... you know... failed to avert a disaster.

So I phoned and they asked if I could be there within the hour.

* * *

By the time I arrived, the baby was jiggling away inside me - normal, strong, frequent movements - but nobody minded; they all assured me it was best to get any change from the norm checked out, no matter how fleeting it had been.

They told me they were going to do a trace. This involved putting a belt and some sort of monitors around my stomach while I reclined (although not too far!) on a comfy chair. Beside me, a machine beeped along to the baby's heartbeat whilst scribbling a record on a piece of paper; in my hand, I held a button which I had to press every time I felt a movement.

I felt a bit daft, sitting there, constantly pressing that button. Constantly. The baby had clearly had enough of being still!

But I found it interesting, watching the spiky charts unfurl from the machine, seeing the baby's heartbeat rocket from 140bpm to 180bpm every time there was one of those great big "why can't I stretch out in here any more?" shifts against my stomach.

I sat there for half an hour, at which point the staff were happy that all was okay.

Because I hadn't had a scan since twenty weeks, they said they would arrange one for later that day, just to be on the safe side. It was booked for a little before lunchtime, which gave me an hour and a half to fill; I was welcome to stay in the unit, watching daytime TV, but I decided to go for a wander instead, getting a little fresh air then having an uninterrupted cake in the cafe at the far end of the campus. I cursed myself for not having brought my Kindle.

* * *

Bag and dress
Waiting room photography.

Eventually, it was time for the scan. I was feeling hot and exhausted by this point, glugging down water in the waiting room.

It was a quick scan - or, as quick as it could be, given that the baby kept thumping the umbilical cord out of the way, whenever the sonographer tried to check it.

A 39 week scan is nothing like a 12 or a 20 week scan. There is no clear, full image of the baby. There is one blobby body part filling the screen which the sonographer assures you is a head or a hand or a leg, while you nod and squint and wonder how on earth they can tell. I brought five lovely print outs of unrecognisable lumps home afterwards.

But all looked well with the baby (apparently). The head was fully engaged; the measurements would have put the baby at over 40 weeks; the heart was thumping away; and the cord was doing its thing.

The only concern was that the sonographer could only find one measurable pool of water; she assured me this wasn't unusual, but that she thought the doctors would probably want me to have another scan in seven days' time, if the baby hadn't arrived.

* * *

After the scan, it was back to the main room for a chat with the doctor.

Sure enough, she advised having another scan in a week's time. She assured me that, at this late stage, when the baby's taking up so much room, it's not unusual for there to only be one or two measurable pools of water, but that it was better to keep an eye on things than not.

Which almost reassured me.

And that was everything done.

* * *

It was a long day. I was so glad I hadn't had to take Matilda with me; I was out of the house for five hours in total and there was a lot of waiting around. When Steve finished his work for the day, I passed out for three hours solid.

But I'm glad I went in.

Even though, by the time I got there, I was as certain as I could be that nothing was wrong.

Because it was a relief to have medical professionals confirm that. It was a relief to hear my baby's heartbeat, to see knees (apparently) jolting on a screen.

At this late stage, I do so much monitoring of my own body ("Is this a sign of labour?") and so much hazarding of guesses ("Is tonight the night?") that it was helpful to have somebody tell me something definite: my baby's doing well.

My baby is ready to come out, they say. Which just leaves one question: when is that going to be?

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Dining room

I'm drawing into myself now. It's that stage of pregnancy. As soon as Steve gets home, I retreat into a dark room and just... lie there. Most of the time, I don't even nap; I just lie on the bed, in the dark, and sometimes I remember to visualise a positive birth. I felt the same way last time - this deep need to hide from the world towards the end, to curl away somewhere warm and dark and quiet and safe, to have nobody around me but Steve.

That said, Matilda and I are having the nicest days at the moment. We both seem so calm while we play picnics and doctors and toy shops. We've pootled to the library and taken out every Topsy and Tim book she could find. We've hung out together, not feeling the need for anyone else. It's been lovely. Until 5pm when I want to go and hide.

Christmas cactus
Have successfully found a location the cats can't reach. Flowering for the first time in years.

On Saturday, Steve and Matilda headed into the garden to give me half an hour to myself. At which point a phone engineer appeared at the door - completely unexpectedly - wanting to sort out our broadband (which had been shuffling along at 17MB instead of the 63MB we're paying for for... goodness knows how long; as people who came of age in the dial up era, we hadn't really noticed).

I went into town in the afternoon instead. It wasn't the dark and quiet I was craving, but I didn't have to talk to anybody. I stuck to shops with self service tills. I skipped the novelty Christmassy hot chocolates because I didn't want to interact with baristas. I paid for the bus with my phone. I ACHED SO MUCH WHEN I GOT HOME.

Sunlight through autumn trees

So, usually, I break these posts up into a few little anecdotes. But that's it for this week: I'm retreating from the world and I'm ready for the baby (Wednesday night's pineapple curry did nothing to spur things along).

How are you?

Cat toy
Matilda broke Polly's scratching post (by standing on it to look out of the window); she chose this toy by way of apology.

Thoughts On Feeding, Second Time Around

I keep saying that I'm ready for Baby Number Two to arrive. The crib is assembled, the clothes are washed, there are nappies and wipes in the cupboard.

The truth is: I'm sitting here, at thirty-eight and a half weeks pregnant, still swithering about how to feed this baby. Which is a pretty basic thing, right? The kid needs milk, one way or another, and, at this late stage, I should have figured out how I'm hoping to provide it.

"I'm not going to let myself get stressed out about it this time," I tell everyone who asks (the midwife; the health visitor; a surprising number of people who are not medical professionals). "I'm going to try to breastfeed but, if it doesn't work out, that's fine."

What I don't admit is that, if it doesn't work out, that's more than fine. Because I don't really want to breastfeed at all.

You're not supposed to say that, though, are you? We all know breast milk is better for our babies than formula - what sort of terrible parent would choose to give anything less than the best?

Not me! Of course I'm going to try! Of course I'm going to offer the boob! Of course this kid's going to have the chance to get the good stuff! Of course I can't bring myself to be the mother who puts her own preferences ahead of her baby's health! I'm going to give breastfeeding a go!

It's just...

Do I have to?!

The thing is: my nipples are sore and I haven't even started yet.

The thing is: I want other people to be able to feed the baby so that I can have one-on-one time with Matilda.

The thing is: I want Steve to be able to do night feeds so that I can catch up on my sleep.

The thing is: I want my boobs back for grown up stuff. Soon.

The thing is: I want to be able to go out for a couple of hours on my own.

The thing is: last time around, I listened to breastfeeding friends' stories of mastitis and jaundiced babies and being used as human dummies and skipping important events because they couldn't take/leave the baby and bleeding nipples and night weaning and all the crap which can come with breastfeeding and I felt relieved. I had my misgivings when I first fed Matilda formula, but, within a couple of weeks, I felt like I'd had a lucky escape.

All of those things could be seen as selfish. I mean, honestly, yes, to some extent, they all are. They're all about me wanting a better experience of motherhood. But I don't hold with mothers being expected to play the martyr. Parenting should be enjoyable; nobody should be made to feel guilty if their path to a positive fourth trimester is different from the norm.

And the bits about wanting to be more present for Matilda? They're the most important things.

Last time around, all the other mothers I knew breastfed. All of them. They were all (outwardly, at least) supportive of me doing whatever worked for my family, but I was aware of being the odd one out. In my little world, breastfeeding was the default state and, for all their horror stories, every mother swore it was worth the hassle it caused.

So it was difficult to admit to myself that I didn't much fancy breastfeeding, this time around. It was one thing being the person who got "unlucky" once, quite another to quit under the pressure twice. I found myself guessing how other people would see this apparent weakness/laziness/selfishness of mine and being surprised to find that I cared.

But this time around, it's different.

Oh, I know people who are breastfeeding happily. Some of them are breastfeeding their second or third kids happily. They can't imagine doing it any other way and that's wonderful. For them.

But I also know people who are combination feeding. I know people who tried and tried and tried but ended up exclusively using bottles. I'm not quite the oddity I was before.

And I know people who are breastfeeding resentfully. They whisper about how jealous they feel of their partners' full nights of sleep, trips to the pub and lives which don't revolve around shoving boobs in a baby's mouth. They admit that they're looking for excuses to switch to bottles - bitey teething spells; thrush; whatever. They feel angry when their babies don't play along with the return to work weaning attempts. They're unhappy with the situation and I sit there, biting my tongue, trying not to shout, "I KNEW IT!"

So, with Baby Number Two, yes, I'm going to attempt to breastfeed. Of course I am. And part of me hopes that it's a revelation - that I find myself loving it; that I'm happy to carry on until the baby's had enough; that I never feel that it's an impediment to caring for Matilda or, for that matter, myself.

But, no matter how successfully the breastfeeding goes, the plan is for the evening feed to be formula. Because we know our priorities and our priorities are for me to spend fifteen uninterrupted minutes cuddling Matilda, reading her bedtime stories and chatting about her day, knowing that, if the baby wakes up hungry, Steve can wield the bottle.

As for the other feeds? Well, we'll have to wait and see.

But I mean what I've said to everyone who's asked: I'm not going to let myself get stressed about it this time. I believe that breast milk is better than formula milk, but formula milk is better than mother and baby spending the early days crying when they could be having cuddles. Whatever keeps us both contented is whatever works for me.

One Sunday In November

Cup of tea set against rainy window

Every so often, I like to have a day when I focus on photographing the little things. I like to catch what the weather was like, which tiny toys were strewn around the living room, what Matilda chose to wear, how it felt to be spending a day in our house at this particular point in time.

When it comes to making my photo book of the year, very few of these pictures are included. Some are, though. Some, I look at and think, "Yes, that was family life when Matilda was X months old," and I squeeze them into a corner of the book so I'll always remember the weeks when she was obsessed with THAT game or THAT toy or - right now, in November 2017 - THAT balloon from her friend's third birthday party.

I've tried to turn these days into a blog project in the past but, honestly, photo heavy posts get so little engagement that I tend to think, "What's the point?"

Perhaps there doesn't have to be a point. Perhaps I can just share little pieces of my life without needing a response or a bunch of people linking up, doing the same, and without having anything deep and meaningful to say.

Anyway, whether or not I start doing this regularly, I have decided to share our (very quiet) Sunday. Because, who knows? It might have been our last as a family of three. And that seems like something worth remembering.

Colourful balloon
Dark blue and purple hydrangea
Toddler hands holding suitcase
Black cat (Polly) sunbathing
Scone with jam

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Ghost cupcake
One last moment of Halloweenyness (real word).

Family Time/Couple Time
My mum visited this week. The baby did not arrive. I half expected to go into labour the moment she boarded her train home. But didn't.

Anyway, Steve and I took her visit as a chance to go on a date night. Because who knows how long it will be until our next one? We went to Handmade Burger because I really wanted a milkshake and some deep fried halloumi, and all we talked about was baby names (no decision, as yet).

I also spent a couple of hours waddling around town, trying (not in the least bit successfully) to find stocking fillers for Steve and Matilda. When I sat down afterwards there was a crazy amount of movement in my belly and my bump suddenly plummeted. The sunburst belly button which had been riding on top of the bump for months has now disappeared from (my) view and I can only sit in two positions: almost fully reclined or leaning really far forward with my knees spread wide. It's a glamorous time, for sure.

Reindeer shadow

Peppa Pig
The obsession shows no sign of waning. I'm inclined to let her work through this on her own, rather than launching into a battle of imposed screen time limits. In the meantime, I'm taking the chance to catch up on housework without anybody "helping". I may even *gasp* have grabbed a little time to read a book. During the day. With a two year old in the room.

Oh, and on the bright side: it was an episode of Peppa Pig which inspired Matilda to paint a recognisable picture of a tree.

Toddler paintings

Stranger Things
Meanwhile, Steve and I have finally started Stranger Things. Yes, we're soooooooo far behind pop culture, yadda yadda. Seems like Twitter might be right about it being good, though, eh?

Autumn leaves in puddle

Kids Don't Owe You Kisses

My daughter's gorgeous.

She's little and she's cute and she's ever so squishable. She has bouncy fluffy curls you just want to ruffle. You want to swoop in and smother her with cuddles. You want a hug when you arrive and a kiss when you leave.

And I'm fine with that if she's fine with that.

But it has to be her choice.

Post title image.

If you ask her "Can I have a cuddle?", usually she'll say yes. Usually, she'll go to you and give you a hug. Or at least a high five. Happy smiles all round.

Sometimes she'll say no and it will hurt your feelings. But, you know what? That's okay. You're a grown up. You'll recover. You asked and she didn't feel happy accepting and it's her right to decide who gets her touch her and when.

If you don't ask, I guarantee she'll back away.

If you loom down over her, grabbing at her for kisses, she's going to hide herself behind my legs. As well she might. As well you might, if somebody twice your size was towering over you, smothering you with their size, trying to touch you in a way which has suddenly caused you panic.

You do have to ask.

Kids' bodies are not there to please grown ups. They're just not. No matter how much you want to cuddle them. They are little human beings and they should get to decide who they are physically affectionate towards, just like big human beings should, too.

I don't want my child to ever feel she owes anybody physical contact. I don't want her to feel that, because somebody was nice to her, she must use her body to be nice in return. I don't want her to learn that it's rude to pull away if somebody touches her in a way she doesn't like.

Those are not lessons for girls to take into their teenage years. Those are not lessons for women to take into workplaces. We should all believe that when we tell someone, "No, I don't want you to touch me," our words will be met with respect.

Your uninvited hug isn't harmless if it teaches her that good manners involve being held in a way she doesn't want.

Yes, you really, really want to hug her. Hugs feel lovely. Hugs make us feel cherished. Hugs are special.

And that's why, when somebody my daughter likes and trusts asks her for a cuddle, she usually says yes. Because hugs feel lovely to her, too. Hugs make her feel cherished. Hugs are special. If she likes your company, she'll usually like your cuddles.

But give her the space to decide for herself.

When you push her, you push her away.

Timeline of Home Birth Preparation

When I first started planning for a home birth, I didn't know anybody who had had one; I wasn't sure what was involved in arranging one or what would happen and when.

It does seem like timings and procedures vary a lot from one region to another, but - for anybody curious about how it works - here's my timeline of planning a home birth in Grampian in 2017:


Pregnancy Week 28

If you know you want a home birth, you can tell your midwife at any point from your booking appointment onwards. The sooner, the better, really. I swithered a bit about whether or not I was brave enough, so the first time I mentioned it was at my 28 week appointment.

I felt really quite self-conscious bringing the subject up - home births are still very much the exception in Scotland, and I was a little nervous about what my midwife's reaction would be. Are home births seen as this year's pregnancy trend? Would I come across as high maintenance or self indulgent or completely detached from reality? But, as friends kept pointing out to me, it's my body and my labour experience and my choice - nobody had to like my decision but me (and, ideally, Steve).

As it turned out - and not surprisingly, given that she's lovely and has been unfailingly supportive of all my other choices - my midwife was great.

First, she talked to me about the benefits of home birth, which include a reduced likelihood of intervention, increased comfort and relaxation due to being in familiar surroundings, focused attention from two midwives, reduced need for childcare and less likelihood of being separated from your partner straight after the birth.

Then, she talked to me about the risks and drawbacks. These include the on call midwives being unavailable to support me as they're attending somebody else's home birth, the possibility of complications which would result in a transfer to hospital, the possibility of needing to go to hospital for stitches if I had a tear beyond the midwives' ability to repair (eek!), and the very minimal supply of gas and air (less than three hours, total).

She confirmed that there was nothing in my records which would cause her to advise against a home birth. She also confirmed that there was no reason the midwives couldn't go on call for me from my preferred date of thirty-seven weeks.

She reminded me that, if the baby went overdue, I would be offered an induction between seven and twelve days past my due date, but she stressed that it would be entirely up to me whether or not I accepted.

Suddenly, it all felt very real!

Pregnancy Week 34

Friday 13th. Good thing I'm not superstitious...

My midwife came round, firstly, to check our home is suitable for home birth and, secondly, to do my routine antenatal checks. In addition to the usual antenatal checks, I had to have an extra blood test for anaemia which can be a concern during home birth.

Our home needed to have good directional lighting in whichever room(s) I planned to labour in so the midwives could carry out their examinations. It also needed a hard, flat surface in case the baby needed to be resuscitated and stretcher access in case of emergencies. Women wanting to use a birthing pool (I didn't) also have to check that their property is structurally sound enough to support its weight.

She (awkwardly!) reminded me to have refreshments on hand for the midwives; they are on call for 24 hours and carry out their usual clinics and home visits during that time so, depending on the time of day and length of labour, they may have been on their feet for a very long time! I assured her that stocking up on snacks was already on the to do list; Steve can always be relied on to over-cater.

She reminded me that some of the midwives live and work locally, but others would have an hour's drive to reach us, so to call the hospital fairly early on in labour - a plan of action could then be made over the phone. It would be pot luck which two midwives were on call on the day - there was a good chance it would be people I'd never met.

We went through the birth plan section of my maternity notes, talking about who I hoped to have as my birth partner (Steve), what I wanted done about/with the placenta (injection and disposal) and whether I wanted the baby to have the vitamin K injection (yes). I didn't have any additional requests.

We went over the possible complications and the reasons the baby and I could be transferred to hospital again. She also explained that the midwives prefer to do an internal examination every 4-6 hours and to listen to the baby's heartbeat roughly every 15 minutes in the early stages and after each contraction near the end.

We confirmed that the midwives would go on call from 37 weeks. I stated that I was unlikely to accept a sweep, but that I was likely to accept induction at the latest possible date (40+12), purely because getting Matilda and me to and from the hospital for monitoring every other day beyond that is impractical. Under those circumstances, I would be offered an additional scan at around 40+7 to check fluid levels and the baby's growth.

She asked whether I would be happy to (theoretically) have a student midwife present, which I would.

Pregnancy Week 36

A couple of days before my on call period began, a very friendly hospital porter arrived at our flat with two big boxes of kit, one funny looking stool and five canisters of gas and air. He told me they recommend leaving the gas and air downstairs; he carried the buggy which usually sits at the bottom of our stairs plus the two boxes and the stool up to the flat and was happy to put things wherever I asked him to. He confirmed that the fire brigade had been made aware we had gas and air on the premises (it's explosive!).

On the pharmacy's last working day before my on call period, a community midwife dropped round a small box of drugs to be kept in our fridge.

And then I spent all day Saturday hoping not to go into labour - I would have been seriously gutted to miss out on a home birth by a matter of hours!

At 8am on the Sunday morning, my on call period began.

Has anybody else had a home birth? Tell me all about it!