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Positive Changes Recently

Writing It Down
On days when I'm feeling frazzled, I've started taking paper and pen to bed with me and scrawling down two or three pages of unedited thoughts before I fall asleep. It's the sort of unstructured, uncomfortably honest diary writing I used to do before blogging - before I had a confirmed audience - and I had been missing it. One writing session is generally enough to sort out whatever's been bothering me and to calm my mind.

Not Writing It Down
I've been blogging a lot less and that's intentional. Life feels easier when there isn't a part of my brain trying to edit every experience into a coherent story. I'm not even sure I should be writing this post, but old habits and all that...

Speaking Of Which
I got a new phone and the only social media I installed was Instagram. I am not missing Twitter AT ALL and I only log into Facebook once every few days (and only because it's the easiest way to find out about local events). I've unfollowed a lot of people on Instagram and also a lot of the blogs I used to read. I've cut my internet faffing down to just the people to whom I feel some kind of personal connection and I much prefer it this way.

Which Leaves Me Free To:
Read more. Or watch Netflix. Or chat to Steve. With tonight being the exception, I have a rule that I get offline by 9pm. I also aim to be in bed by ten but... eh... that one's a bit less rigid...


Dark Green Bedroom
Steve and I are now installed in the smaller bedroom. We've painted it dark, dark green to go with the copper and mustard yellow furnishings we already had. We don't have wardrobes or lamps yet and the walls are bare, bar one mirror, so there's a certain amount of making do going on, but I honestly never thought I could love a bedroom so much. It's so calm and cosy and grown up and gorgeous.

Pale Pink Bedroom
Meanwhile, the kids are sharing the bigger bedroom which has been painted pale pink, at Matilda's request. I really like the pink, although I might have chosen something more gender neutral myself! Anyway, not only is the room rather lovely, but the kids (currently) love sharing it - everybody's happy.

Outdoor Routine
The kids and I have got into a routine of heading outdoors for an hour or two straight after breakfast. We come inside when Alice needs her first nap, play or read or watch The Sodding Care Bears Movie for a while, then generally go back into the garden when Alice wakes from her second nap. This means we're all getting plenty of fresh air and exercise, nobody's outdoors during the really hot bit of the day, and the kids are getting used to a routine which quite closely resembles the one we'll have when Matilda starts nursery in August. It's SO GOOD to get outside after all those months of winter!

I don't want to make it sound like life's perfect. There are tough days (usually following on from tough nights) when I'm watching the clock to see how long it is until Steve's due home (or until Bitz and Bob comes on and I can point the kids at it). But, over all, I'm finding this stage in our lives a lot of fun - I can appreciate the baby days so much more this around and I love living with a chatty, imaginative three year old.

Tell me: what's new with you?

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Party decor

So, Matilda recovered from chicken pox. But then this happened:
  • WEDNESDAY: Alice had her third set of vaccinations (and cried). At the same appointment, she was prescribed a new cream for her persistent eczema.
  • THURSDAY: I applied the cream to Alice - within an hour, she was covered head to toe in what looked like heat rash.
  • FRIDAY: Alice was still covered in a rash. Matilda was complaining of tummy ache and pain when she peed. We got an emergency doctor's appointment (which involved dragging a poorly child and a spotty baby on an hour-long, on-foot, trip there and back). The doctor could find nothing wrong.
  • SATURDAY: Alice was covered in chicken pox spots. Babies under one almost never get chicken pox as they are still (supposed to be) protected by their mother's immunity. My immune system is shoddy at best, so I guess this shouldn't have come as a huge surprise, but STILL. This was Matilda's third birthday and we had plans for her friends to come round and party - that plan went out the window.
  • SUNDAY: Matilda threw up everywhere.
  • And Steve still has to go to work tomorrow. In what cruel world does he not automatically get time off to help me with our pox-ridden baby and our spewing preschooler? Somebody send... sugar? caffeine? a wide variety of ways to entertain small children? help?
But on the bright side: Matilda still managed to have a fantastic birthday. We relocated her party to a park near our house which is particularly good for preschoolers - we had the run of the place; the kids all played for two hours without major drama; I dished out cake; it was great. And, in the afternoon, Emma "popped by to drop off Matilda's present" but ended up staying for over an hour, playing with the kids, and then spending a rather long time driving me from closed chemist to closed chemist to closed chemist (seriously: why are so many chemists closed on a Saturday afternoon?!).

And in other good news: We've got Steve's parents' car for the next two months (as they're off on various adventures. Which is not good news as it means nobody's taking a child off my hands every Tuesday for the next eight weeks. But, still: car) so we can get to a few of the child-friendly places we don't usually manage.

And: I have tickets for a couple of things at May Festival and plans to spend at least one of the days taking Matilda all of the kids' events.

What's been going on with YOU this week?

Extra: Ordinary Moments


Chicken Pox
Matilda has it. Or had it. She's much better now, despite the lingering spots. To be honest, I don't think it was a particularly bad dose - there was one difficult night but, otherwise, a combination of paracetamol, antihistamines and that special chicken pox gel stuff (plus a pile of DVDs - I'd forgotten how sad and scary Lilo & Stitch is) kept her relatively cheerful. Me, less so. I've found this week difficult. Our play dates were all cancelled (our friends are usually "expose them to germs" types but have good reasons to avoid chicken pox right now); the adults we usually turn to were scared to come near (honestly, you can't catch shingles from chicken pox, people); our fun plans for this weekend had to be ditched; and, generally, we've been stuck at home, just the kids and me, for ten hours a day. And there's been some unrelated but frustrating stuff going on in the background, too. For the first time since Matilda was tiny, I've felt quite alone, and I've found that hard to deal with.

Luckily...
Tomorrow is book group day. There will be wine and grown up conversation and, as an added bonus, I've enjoyed the book (Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine). And next week is the start of a new term, so the kids and I will be back into a more normal routine. And I've found a postnatal pilates class I can actually get to. This is all good.

Bedrooms
We swapped the bedrooms around a couple of weeks ago, so Steve and I are in the smaller room and the kids are sharing the big one. So, yes, at four months old, Alice is out of our bedroom - this was not the plan. I actually drafted a whole blog post justifying this decision but deleted it - the gist is that the "suitable for 0-6 months" mattress for the bedside crib was too thin for our very tall child; she was getting sore, dry patches everywhere which pressed into it and we accepted that the only way to sort them out was to move her onto a bigger, more supportive mattress; as we were planning to put her onto a single bed sized floor bed rather than into a cot, that meant moving her out of our room. Anyway, this has proved to be a good move - everybody's sleeping better and we now know that both kids can sleep through incredibly loud middle of the night nonsense from their sibling! Now we just need to find the time to redecorate...

In Other Tales Of The Kids Growing Up
We just got the letter confirming Matilda's place at the school nursery, come August. This is a good thing - she's very ready and very excited about it; I'm happy to have that one-on-one time with Alice - but I'm still not entirely sure how she's old enough for this. Can it really be that three years ago today was my due date? Can it really be that SHE'S GOING TO TURN THREE NEXT WEEKEND?! Surely not.

And I'm Sure There Was Something Else I Was Going To Mention...
But, nope, it's gone. So, tell me: what's new with you?

Sparkly Pink Dinosaurs With Bows On Their Heads

Was it John Lewis which started it all? There was such a big fuss when they claimed to have made their children's clothing department gender neutral - people reacted as though letting boys wear pink and girls wear blue would sterilise the lads and stop the lasses from ever finding suitable husbands.

Except, of course, their children's clothing department isn't gender neutral at all. The traditionally boyish clothes say "Boys and Girls" on the labels; the traditionally girly clothes say "Girls and Boys"; gender neutrality would have seen them all simply labelled as "Kids". No, all they really did was stock a dress which was covered in dinosaurs.

And they were by no means the first shop to stock dinosaur covered girls' clothes (we had bought some from Sainsbury's about a year beforehand) - they were just the first ones to spot the PR opp.

Nevertheless, since all that publicity, it's hard to find a clothes store which doesn't have dinosaur print clothes in their girls' section. Girls' clothes are awash with pretty pink Stegosauruses with bows on their heads and Diplodocuses with sparkly jewels around their necks.

The thing is: this isn't gender neutrality. The problem is not [just] that girls don't get enough dinosaur clothes.

Herbivorous dinosaurs are trendy at the moment but that's not the same thing as treating all kids as equals. You can't bung a purple Triceratops on a T-shirt and claim that your store's a feminist must-shop.

To be fair, there are a handful of stores which have moved on from dinosaurs. If you can afford to buy at Boden, their girls' section features dragons and sharks and pirate flags, all on dresses and skintight leggings; if you're a supermarket shopper, Sainsbury's offer robots with skirts on. And that's... something.

But it's still hard to climb in a skirt; it's still hard to keep a pastel T-shirt clean in the mud; it's still hard to keep flimsy fabric intact when you're swishing through nettles with a stick. The images might suggest that girls can play at boys' games, too, but the clothes themselves don't particularly allow for it.

It's also fairly easy to find T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like GIRLS ARE SUPERHEROES and GIRLS RULE and GIRLS CAN DO ANYTHING. And that's... something, too.

But it's still dividing children up into two teams: girls and boys. It's still using their biological sex to define what they're capable of. It still encourages them to claim that the other half of the classroom is crap.

Meanwhile, for all the cute dinosaurs on girls' clothes, I've yet to see a unicorn or a flower or a slogan about the importance of friendship in the boys' section (which, yes, I do still - fruitlessly - peruse). It's still a depressing mass of drab colours, fierce creatures and words like MONSTER and TROUBLE.

Girls are still being treated as delicate and pretty; boys are still being told they're a bit of a nuisance. The shops haven't succeeded in making their clothes sections gender neutral; they've succeeded in making dinosaurs gender neutral - and, even then, only the ones which ate leaves and look cute when they're coloured in pink.

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Rooftops Sprogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are things with you?

Quiet Evenings


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve and I have a free evening.

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

Because it has been nice. 

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

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

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

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

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

1 Month/12 Months/40 Years


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tons of Alternatives to New Year's Resolutions

Title text

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

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

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

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

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

When The Babymoon Is Infested With Winter Bugs

Playing on the bed

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

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

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

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

Snowman decoration

So the babymoon hasn't quite gone to plan.

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

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

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

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

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

Red tinsel in the sunlight

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

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

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

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

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

My sister and her family will be passing through town.

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

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

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

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

Snowy Rooftops

HOME BIRTH: Alice's Birth Story

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.