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HOME BIRTH: Alice's Birth Story

Alice

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
Snowman

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."
"Thatcher."
"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.



Introducing...

Alice

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:

ONE

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.

TWO

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.

AND THEN...

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.

The Last Saturday Of Life As We Know It

Clutching a Care Bear

I knew this would be our last Saturday as a family of three (if you don't count potentially spending next weekend on the induction ward - which I don't). Or it would be our first Saturday as a family of four. Either way, I decided I was going to document it.

I didn't factor in having such a sleepless night that I would go back to bed and nap through most of the morning, and I didn't factor in being so achy after quite a bit of walking around that I would go back to bed and nap through Matilda's dinnertime. So there aren't as many photos as I had planned. But, still, I'm glad there's a record of this - very ordinary - day.

Cup of tea
Reindeer socks

Matilda decided against going to her dance class in the morning (cue: excited texts from fellow parents, wanting to know if I was in labour), opting instead to head to the park with Steve. It was so cold she only lasted about half an hour, but she did bring home a tree branch ("metal detector") bigger than herself.

I pottered around on the internet a bit then read some of my current book (I'm not convinced it's worth recommending yet - it's very "Oxford grads say clever things about sex to each other in a large country house whilst drinking wine and wearing tatty clothes").

Then - partly because we were running low on assorted things and partly to get me out of the house in a low-effort way - we headed to a supermarket cafe for lunch. I had my first festive hot chocolate of the year and Steve had a "Christmas dinner" which took so long to cook they gave us another round of drinks for free.

Matilda feeding me a crisp
Black Forest hot chocolate

By the time we got home, I was pretty much done in, so I headed off to bed for a couple of hours while Steve and Matilda mucked about with play dough then did Matilda's dinnertime.

I hoisted myself back up in time for her bedtime which is such a happy, hysterical fiasco at the moment that it's impossible to sleep through it it seemed a shame to miss it.

And then it was time for the grown ups to have chilli, apple pie and settle down to watch Motherland.

Sunset
Night light and toys

I'm planning to do these "day/weekend in the life of" photo posts once a month from January onwards. I'm thinking the second full weekend of each month. They're for my own pleasure - and to make sure I capture the incidental moments of the kids' lives regularly - but they're also a bit of a creative challenge. If anybody feels like joining me, you'd be more than welcome!

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Cat Statue

I can't seem to work this post into anything but a daily diary of last week. So here you are:

Monday
The day after my due date. My mum arrived for a four day "just in case we need childcare" visit.

I had my 40 week midwife appointment and declined a sweep. One day overdue feels far too early, to me, to start meddling with a pregnancy's natural progress; I was feeling confident that my body was getting around to things in its own good, healthy time and I didn't want to hurry things along without a good medical reason. Not that I haven't eaten several pineapple curries over the past few weeks...

That said, I agreed to my induction being booked in. A date and time were put in the calendar for medical professionals to start poking and prodding at my womb. As previously mentioned, I was agreeing to an induction because I didn't want to be traipsing back and forth to the hospital for monitoring every other day; I also didn't feel confident refusing the monitoring, although, having had a couple of late scans now and having seen for myself that the baby is big and healthy, I'm swithering a bit on that stance...

Tuesday
Off to the maternity hospital for a scan, following on from the one I had on the morning I couldn't feel the baby moving. Last week, there was only one (4.5cm) measurable pool of water; on Tuesday, there were three and the deepest was 7cm. The umbilical cord was throbbing away efficiently. So: everything looked great.

Wednesday
Mum, Matilda and I headed into town for a few hours. It was so good to be able to get out and about with my child, knowing that there was another adult there to wrangle her when I felt too achy. Even more importantly: that there was somebody there to help if my waters broke somewhere I would rather they hadn't.

We had cake; we had a play; we had lunch; we went to see Pounce, the giant leopard created by the artist behind The Kelpies, which was quite spectacular (although Matilda had some concerns about how the cat was going to get down from its pole). When we got home, we pretty much just slumped on the sofa and zoned out.

Thursday
Okay, so I learnt my lesson about wandering around town for a few hours at forty weeks pregnant...! This was the first day all pregnancy that I had to let my feet drip dry after my shower because, try as I might, I couldn't get my hands anywhere near them. I had had to get Steve to get up and help me turn over in bed several times through the night because I was in too much pain to do it by myself. I also woke up to find a whole new set of stretchmarks at the sides of my bump which looked like something was trying to claw its way out of me (which, I suppose, is not too far from the truth).

Mum and Matilda went off an adventure without me (because I couldn't get down the stairs); I pretty much just slumped on the sofa and zoned out. Mum headed off to catch her train in the early afternoon; Matilda and I pretty much just slumped on the sofa and zoned out.

Friday
Our neighbour, back from a two week holiday, popped round and offered to take Matilda out for a while. I pretty much... okay, you know where this is going by now...

And then I decided to do a separate post for the weekend.

How was this week for you?



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:

text

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.

Anti-climax.

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?

Wrong.

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.