03 March 2015

How to Cope with Pelvic Girdle Pain in Pregnancy

Ten weeks ago, my doctor signed me off work with pelvic girdle pain (PGP. Also known as SPD. Also known as "my hips really hurt"). Ten weeks. I can't believe it's been that long.

My sick note ran out yesterday but, alas, that's not because I've made a miraculous recovery - it's because I'm using up my year's holiday allowance before my maternity leave starts. Holiday pay beats statutory sick pay hands down.

Pelvic girdle pain does not clear up until the baby's born. It just doesn't. The heavier the little human inside you gets, the more strain is put on the joints and the muscles carrying it around - the discomfort is not going anywhere.

But there are ways to minimise the pain.

I've had some really bad days along the way. The week before I was signed off, I couldn't stand up without Steve's help. There have been times when the small step up into our shower seemed insurmountable. My two hour antenatal classes were usually followed by a day of naps and tears. The location and intensity of the pain changes as the baby moves so I never know quite what to expect from one day to the next.

But, over all, I feel like I've got this under control (for now).

For anyone who is pregnant and starting to feel the hip pain, I recommend talking to your midwife and/or GP - I am not a medical professional; your pain may be different from mine; speak to an expert.

That said, here are some things which have helped me:

Take it Easy

This is the big one. This is the one you will want to fight against. Nobody wants to look like a slacker or a skiver or a moaner. But the more you push yourself, the worse the pain is going to get. If you don't have to walk somewhere, don't. If you don't have to sit on a hard chair for several hours, don't. Have friends round to your house instead of going out. Cancel energetic plans. Work from home or cut down your hours. If it gets really bad, please, please stop making excuses and get yourself signed off work.

I know how unappealing this all sounds but I fought against it for much longer than I should have. The week when I couldn't move around without help was the wake up call I needed. I was terrified that I had crippled myself for the rest of my pregnancy and, honestly, a couple more weeks of going to work and I have absolutely no doubt that I would have done. Some women continue to have hip problems after the birth - it's not worth taking any risks.

See a Physiotherapist (and do what they tell you)

NHS Grampian does a physiotherapy class for pregnant women which I found very useful; in other areas, you may need to request a referral. Either way, see a professional before things get too bad.

My physiotherapist showed me a number of exercises which helped to minimise the pain - I do them every morning, every night and any time I feel myself seizing up. She also taught me how to roll in and out of bed (rather than climbing in and out as I used to) and how to get in and out of cars without doing myself any damage - the trick to both is keeping your knees together.

How to cope with pelvic girdle pain - maternity support band

I was also given a horrible tubigrip which sheds all over the place and a glaringly medical support belt - I hate having to wear either of these things but, my goodness, do they make a difference when I have to walk around! They are not the same as the "support bump bands" some fashion stores stock so make sure you get the real thing!

Consider Your Position

Good posture helps me a lot. Not just with the pelvic girdle pain - I also find that sitting upright does a lot to ease that infamous pregnancy heartburn. If you're used to slouching at your desk or slobbing on the sofa, sitting up straight all the damn time takes some getting used to but it's worth it. Get yourself a little pile of cushions so you can wedge them into the small of your back and anywhere else you need support; you may also find having a pillow to sit on is useful.

As I got further into my pregnancy, I found a yoga ball a huge help. Sitting on it took some of the pressure off my pelvis, allowed me to gently move my hips around (gotta keep them mobile for labour!) and encouraged me to sit up straighter; as I get larger, I'm finding that leaning over it when I'm reading my Kindle or watching a DVD makes a huge difference to my level of comfort. At 5'7", I found a 65cm ball about the right size.

Shiny blue yoga ball

I also find having a rolled up towel in the bathroom helpful. If I know I'm going to be in there a while (and let's face it: during pregnancy, that's unavoidable now and then), I  use it to prop up my bump and to rest my elbows on - it holds me in a more comfortable, more upright position.

Finally, I invested in a Theraline body pillow. It was painful parting with £40-odd but it turned out to be a worthwhile investment. For many pregnant women, sleeping with a normal pillow between their knees is enough to minimise pain but, for me, the extra length and bulk of a body pillow is invaluable for steadying my pelvis while I sleep.

Give up on Old Sleep Patterns

My hips are at their worst in bed - lying on my side for any length of time is extremely painful. I can manage about an hour on each side and then I have to, at the very least, sit up at the side of the bed for a while or, more usually, get up and walk around. I remind myself that it's good practice for middle of the night feeds!

During the day, I lie down for roughly one hour out of every three. I know that's unlikely to be an option at work but UK employers are required to give you time and space to rest during your shifts so push for as much support as you can or, again, consider working from home or changing your hours. At the very least, lie down for a while when you get home from work.

Adapt Your Home and Your Partner's Habits

Nothing major. But, for example, from about week 30 onwards I struggled to pick things up from floor level. Hanging storage in the shower is essential. Steve is also now in the habit of leaving any crockery I will need throughout the day on the kitchen counter so I don't have to bend down to reach it - it sounds like a tiny thing but is actually a huge help.

Squatting in front of the washing machine is impossible so I stored a folding chair next to it. What a revelation - I'm never going back to standing while I hang or fold laundry again!

As weird as it seemed at first, I also need Steve to put my tights, jeans and/or socks on me every morning (as well as doing any cleaning, drying, moisturising or trimming required below waist level). Awkward... But your partner's most likely going to watch you giving birth so you may as well get used to being vulnerable in front of him or her now. Believe me: it's better than trying to lasso your own foot with your pants.

On the subject of clothing: I have found maternity tights wonderfully supportive! I'm always more comfortable on the days when I wear dresses.

Ask for Help

On the subject of your partner, I'm afraid they're going to have to take on the bulk of the housework. The medical professionals I spoke to were all adamant that I was not to wash dishes, iron, hoover, scrub things or stand around cooking - anything which involves standing, kneeling or repetitive movements has fallen to Steve. Good man.

Your partner's not the only one who can help you out, though. Ask friends and family for lifts. Ask them to help prepare the baby's room. Ask them to carry heavy objects for you. It's time to swallow your pride and accept that your friends are there for you.

Go Online

We planned to get a lot of our baby stuff second hand but, because I couldn't get out and about to collect it, we resorted to Plan B: buying everything half price in the January sales. Over the internet. Now is not the time to go wandering around the shops or carrying home bags of stuff. Make the most of home deliveries. The same goes for your groceries.

Apply Heat

It takes me a little while to get going in the mornings - when I first get up, I'm in a lot of pain and the thought of standing in the shower for five minutes is completely unappealing. The stream of hot water does help, though - it seems to loosen things up a bit.

Likewise, I sit with a hot water bottle either against my hips or between my thighs for the first couple of hours of every day. Stick on heat pads are a no-no during pregnancy, though.


Pelvic girdle pain is rubbish luck. Mine set in around week ten so, at this point, I've been in some degree of pain for a solid twenty-four weeks. If you're going through this, you absolutely have my sympathy.

You will cry sometimes. Sometimes the pain overwhelms you; sometimes the feelings of helplessness overwhelm you; sometimes all those weeks still to come overwhelm you. Don't fight the tears. Get them out of your system. You'll feel better for it.

But the sad fact is: all you can do is get through it. Don't ignore your symptoms; speak to the professionals; do everything you can to minimise your pain and stop things from getting too much worse. But, ultimately, it's a matter of taking it one day - and sometimes one hour - at a time.

There are bad days but if you look after yourself there can also be fairly good days. The trick is to tip the balance to the easier times. I wish you all the best.

01 March 2015

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Red plastic monster bowl sitting on a paperback book

Another busy couple of weeks.

I've had one midwife's appointment and four antenatal classes (three of which Steve came along to). I've learnt about clothing babies, feeding babies and the process of squeezing a baby out - I'd be feeling overwhelmed but I now realise just how often my lovely midwife will be visiting us during the first couple of weeks; there's a huge amount of support there and that's very reassuring.

Sarah with black cat (Gizmo) / Miranda July's new novel in hardback

The electricians finished up the last little bit of their job - they were such nice guys and made all the problem solving look kind of fun. If anyone in Aberdeen wants their details, give me a shout.

Steve and I (well: Steve) ripped up the carpet in the second bedroom. We had intended to leave it until we were feeling a bit more flush but, with all the work we've been doing or having done, it had moved past the "we can make do" stage and very much into the "we can't have a baby rolling around on this" one. We discovered gorgeous floorboards underneath it and I'm a little heartbroken to have to cover them back over again but carpet seems the more sensible option for a toddler in an upstairs flat...

Bare feet on bare floorboards
Blue pot of hyacinths

I also had a wee visit from a couple of friends and their kids. Steve and Martin's other best mate (they've been a threesome since they were teeny) was in town last weekend so they were out having some variety of beer-sodden fun. I had a surprise visit from Bruce bearing cake on Friday. And this weekend two different people have driven me off on hot chocolate-related excursions (one with a detour via the dump).

I'll admit: the last couple of weeks have been pretty tough going. Being so active put a lot of strain on my hips which has triggered a great deal of pain and totally worn me out. However we have just three to eight more weeks to wait until the baby is born and I can totally cope with that. Particularly as, other than a handful of midwife appointments (and one comedy show I don't intend to miss), I don't have to leave the house at all.

For more photos from my life visit Two Days the Same and/or my Instagram.

26 February 2015

5 Things You Really Need to do Before You're Thirty

When I was in my early twenties, I remember feeling like my thirties were this looming deadline. Some of my friends wanted to be married before they turned thirty; some wanted children; I wanted to be a successful novelist and/or have a career which I loved. We all felt that not achieving those things by thirty would be the ultimate in failure.

Some of us met our targets and were happy about it. Some of us met our targets and realised they weren't what we wanted after all. Some of us flat out didn't meet them. Like me. I hit thirty single, in an insanely tedious job and without a novel to my name.

But I didn't feel like I had failed.

In fact, I spent about an hour of my thirtieth birthday on the phone, sorting out the mortgage for a flat I was buying alone. It wasn't my original goal but I was earning, I was independent and I was investing in a home. That felt to me like success.

And I was happy. I had good friends; I wore crazy vintage clothes; I hung out at the local dive bar so much that a wave across a crowded room was enough for the bartenders to pour me out my usual. I was still having fun.

When I see younger bloggers bemoaning turning thirty (or twenty-five or twenty-one or eighteen) because they'll be old and have to stop being fun and won't be able to dye their hair blue and they're running behind on their Life as a Grown Up schedule, I feel sad. Because here are the two big secrets of getting older:

  • The people who have everything figured out by X age are the exception, not the rule. 
  • If you stop having fun when you leave your twenties, you're doing something wrong.

There is no point in life by which you have to be married or have children or have a mortgage or own a car or revert to your natural hair colour or have travelled to five continents or stop wearing polka dots or start spending your weekends scrubbing the bathroom or give up clubbing or have reached the peak of your career.

You can do any or all of those things if you want and if those are the opportunities life brings you. But none of them are mandatory. There are no absolute deadlines. It is almost never too late to change course and you may be surprised by how often you decide that you want to.

Playing Guitar Hero in a children's Batman T-shirt
Sarah Rooftops (aged 30 years, 19 days)

However, there are certain things that I think should be achieved before thirty. And here they are:

  1. Own Your Hobbies and Interests
    Whether you love crochet, comics or cooking, by the time you leave your twenties you should have the self-confidence to say so. You don't have to like everything your friends like; your friends don't have to understand all of your interests; your hobbies don't have to be "age appropriate". The important thing is to have figured out some things which you do enjoy - and to have ditched most things you don't.
  2. Be Able to Budget
    So, okay, I've been unemployed and I've been on benefits and I know what it's like when money is incredibly tight - there may be times when your income does not cover your outgoings. But if you earn a wage and it is enough to pay your bills and put food on the (possibly imaginary) table, it's time to start living within your means. Debt should be for emergencies only, not for holidays or shiny new shoes.
  3. Know the Difference Between Banter and Bullying
    One makes a person feel valued; the other makes a person feel belittled. If your friends knowingly make you feel belittled, they are not your friends. If your friends unknowingly make you feel belittled, you should be able to tell them so - if they don't take it on board, they are not your friends. If you knowingly make somebody else feel belittled, just... stop. There were no excuses for the mean girls behaviour in high school and there are even fewer excuses as adults.
  4. Take Care of Yourself
    If you've spent the last fifteen years trying fad diet after fad diet and you still don't like your body, it's time to face facts: fad diets are not the answer. Eating smaller, healthier portions may be. Doing more exercise may be. Learning to change your opinion of your figure may be. Ditch the quick fixes and learn to treat your body with consistent care.
  5. Stop Judging Yourself by Past Mistakes
    The chances are that, by the time you hit thirty, you've taken a few wrong turns - dated the wrong person; taken the wrong job; run up debt; stacked up a few too many blank spaces on your CV. But, by the time they hit thirty, so have all of your friends. Are you still judging them for their twenty-two year old self's terrible haircut? No. You're concentrating on their recent successes. Start treating yourself the same way. Because we all get to screw up sometimes and we all deserve the chance to move on.

24 February 2015

How to Involve the Other Parent in Pregnancy

Steve's hand on bump

I've written before about how mum-focused pregnancy advice tends to be. To a certain extent, this is understandable - the pregnant woman is the one whose body is changing and the one who gives birth and the one who has the potential to feed the newborn baby.

But it mattered to me that Steve should feel included in this pregnancy. He's the father and he should know that that role is important, not just once the child arrives, but right from the very beginning.

Because it is. Pregnancy is tough and I would be really struggling without him.

So, with a bit of input from him, here are some ways to help the other parent feel involved:

Word Things Well

Yes, it's "the baby" (or "he" or "she" or "it") but it's also "our child" or (when its kicks are particularly uncomfortable) "your child". I don't think Steve realises just how big his grin is when I remind him that this baby's his.

Regular Updates

I make it a habit to read up on the baby's size, weight and development every Sunday. Steve could do the same, of course, but it's more fun for both of us for me to read things out to him so we can learn about the baby together.

Feeling for Kicks

We have one wriggly baby in there and yet, up until a few weeks ago, Steve had only managed to feel it moving twice. We would joke that he had magically soothing hands because as soon as he put them on my belly, the baby would calm right down - but it made me sad that he was missing out. To be honest, I don't think he realised what a big thing he was missing until he started feeling kicks regularly and seeing a bit of the movement - now he'll rest his hand there, waiting to get walloped and laughing every time that he does.

Antenatal Appointments

While pregnant women in the UK are entitled to as much paid time off work as they need for antenatal appointments and classes, the other parent is only entitled to unpaid time for two. It's worth asking employers how flexible they can be about this, though - Steve's work has been great about letting him juggle his schedule and/or work from home so he could come along not just to the two scans but to my 25 week midwife appointment (when we knew we would get to hear the heartbeat for the first time) and to as many antenatal classes as he wanted. He actually got more out of some of the classes than I did so it was well worth him coming along.

Cater to Different Tastes

I've done most of the shopping for the baby - I've got more time on my hands; I enjoy it more. While there are certain baby clothes I've bought because I loved them, there are others I bought because I knew that Steve would. And, sure enough, when I showed him the tiny black babygrow with the glow in the dark skeleton on it, he beamed from ear to ear.

Hobby Exploitation

This was Steve's suggestion! He likes cooking and turned making sure that I ate properly throughout my pregnancy into a bit of a project - we've never had such a healthy, varied diet as over the last few months and he's enjoyed the challenge. The same could go for a parent who likes making toys or designing interiors or... um... giving really good foot rubs!

Telling the Stories

Sometimes I remind Steve to call his mum just so I can see the proud look on his face when he tells her the latest news about the baby. If we're both in the room, people tend to ask me about the pregnancy but I like to let Steve answer a lot of the time - this is a shared story after all and I know that every time I talk about it, it feels a little more real; I think the same goes for him.

Decision Making

I'm not just talking about deciding together what colour to paint the baby's bedroom. I'm not even talking about choosing names. The other parent has the option to cut the cord after the birth and to tell the mother the sex of the baby (as opposed to the medical staff doing those things) - as far as Steve and I are concerned, how I go through labour is largely my decision, but those two things are entirely his. And they're kind of huge.

Is there anything else you would add?

19 February 2015

Smugness and Happiness are Not the Same Thing

Smiles drawn inside bottle caps

Here's something I've been seeing a lot of on Twitter recently:
  • Hey smug parents! I'm sure your baby's very cute but I just slept for 11 hours so which of us is really winning?
  • Hey smug marrieds! Thanks for the tasty wedding cake but I had sex 8 times this weekend so which of us is going to burn it off first?
  • Hey smug homeowners! Bet B&Q's a blast on a bank holiday but I don't have to pay for this boiler repair so who's got the better life now?
I see these statements get admiringly retweeted time and time again and it saddens me. I don't think they're funny and I don't think they're clever; I find them disappointing and there are three main reasons why:

Happiness and Smugness are Not the Same Thing

I know very few people who are genuinely smug about their lifestyle choices. In fact, try as I might, I can't think of any. What I do know are people who are happy with some of the decisions they've made (and also some people who are not).

But, honestly, no matter how happy these people are that they have or have not had children, that they have or have not tied the knot, that they have bought a home or travelled lots or secured an incredible job, none of them are free from self-doubt. Look beyond the part of them which thinks, "Yeah, I'm glad I chose _________!" and you'll find a part of them which wonders whether people actually like them or whether they're ugly or whether their financial choices are sustainable.

Someone who is happy to have had a child might be struggling to earn a living. Someone who is happy to have married might be stressed about where to set up home. Someone who has bought a house might be worried that they'll always live in it alone.

I doubt many people are 100% sure of 100% of the life that they're leading. So, when they share pictures of their baby or their home or their latest travelling adventure, they're unlikely to be saying, "I'm better than you and I pity you for not leading an identical life to mine!"; they're more likely to be saying, "In the midst of all this self-doubt, here's a moment of joy!"

And, sure, people do overshare sometimes and their running updates/baby photos/wedding planning stresses get boring, but it's unfair to label them as "smug" when all they really are is "excited". If you don't want to read them, scroll past.

Other People's Happiness is Not About You

What strikes me most about the "Hey, smug people!" tweets is how defensive they are. They're not saying, "Your status updates don't interest me"; they're saying, "I feel targeted so I'm going to attack you."

I think most of us take other people's comments and behaviour a lot more personally than we should. We read one of those, "Grr! People who _______!" tweets and wonder if we are the person who _______s. One of our friends is less available than usual and, instead of assuming they're busy or dealing with bigger problems, we assume they don't like us any more. We look for subtext in everything.

But the subtext is rarely there.

Other people don't think about us nearly as much as we think that they do.

When somebody on my timeline writes, "I'm getting married tomorrow!" they do not actually mean, "Hey, Sarah! I'm getting married tomorrow and YOU'RE NOT! You're such an unmarried loser!" 

Reacting to those updates with a "Hey, Smug Married People!" tweet wouldn't be a response to something they were actually trying to tell me; it would be me responding to my own paranoia. It would be me going, "Should I be getting married? Are they better than me because they're getting hitched? No! No! I refuse to accept that! Not being married is awesome because _________"

And, frankly, it's much more dignified to keep that sort of inner pep talk to myself.

Stomping on Somebody Else's Happiness is a Dick Move

It just is.

I know people can seem insufferable when they're posting endless updates about their new business venture or their home improvements or their fancy-schmancy holiday. I know there are only so many photos of other people's babies and kittens and puppies and shoes that any of us want to see. Most of us, from time to time, are guilty of going overboard (and I will most likely cross that line myself when Baby Rooftops arrives).

But, you know what? I'd rather scroll past a load of repetitive status updates from a very excited friend than know that s/he was sitting at home, agonising about whether or not sharing his/her happiness would come across as smug or annoying.

We get so few huge, amazing moments in our lives, I'd rather people over-shared than felt the need to hide them.

If somebody's happy, let them say so. Turning around and calling them smug because you're not interested or they've touched your neurotic nerve is flat out unkind. 

Mute or hide their updates for a while, if you have to, but don't try to stomp all over their happiness. Because, when your moment of flat out glee comes around, you'll want them to be as understanding of you.

17 February 2015

Old Wives' Tales: Is it a Boy or a Girl?

In Aberdeen, the NHS hospital doesn't give expectant parents the option to find out the sex of their baby. I'm not certain whether or not we would have chosen to know - on the one hand, having a surprise is nice; on the other, it would be handy to know which set of baby names we could stop discussing (we still don't have a boy name picked though I did wake up this morning convinced we'd chosen Spartacus).

I get asked a lot if I have a hunch either way. I don't at all. But I do catch myself wondering about it.

So, purely for fun (my friends' babies have disproven all of these time and time again), I thought I'd go through the old wives' tales and see which way they're pointing.

The Bump
  • I'm carrying low. Some may say this is because I have a long torso. Some may say: IT'S A BOY
  • My bump sticks out the front (rather than out to the sides). Apparently that means: IT'S A BOY
  • I've had a linea negra (dark line) from my groin to my belly button since I went on the pill in my teens. The line is now half way between my belly button (which would mean a girl) and my ribs (which would mean a boy). So: INCONCLUSIVE

How I'm Looking 
  • At this time of year, I would normally be battling extremely dry skin. This year I've barely been outdoors so I'm not. Soft skin suggests: IT'S A GIRL
  • There's no sign of that thick, glossy pregnancy hair I was promised. Thin hair means: IT'S A GIRL
  • My left breast is a teeny bit bigger: IT'S A GIRL
  • But, my areolae have darkened: IT'S A BOY
  • My legs are their normal selves - not swollen, not extra hairy: IT'S A GIRL

How I'm Feeling
  • I'm craving cake and biscuits and ice cream more than crisps. I'm running on sugar. That means: IT'S A GIRL
  • I haven't vomited once. But, then, I never do. My Stomach of Steel is infamous amongst my friends. Still, lack of morning sickness is supposed to mean: IT'S A BOY
  • NEWSFLASH: My feet aren't cold!!! For someone with Raynaud's, this is a tiny hormonal miracle: IT'S A GIRL
  • Extra headaches? Nope: IT'S A GIRL
  • I admit: at sixteen weeks pregnant, I smashed up one bag of crisps in a fit of irrational, exhausted frustration. But, over all, am I more irritable than usual? I'd say not: IT'S A BOY

The Baby
  • In the scan photos, its lower jaw looks rounded: IT'S A GIRL
  • But, on the doppler, its heartbeat sounds like a train (not a horse): IT'S A BOY

  • My age at conception (35) plus the month of conception (7) add up to an even number: IT'S A BOY
  • Steve hasn't put on any weight (honestly, who comes up with this stuff?!): IT'S A BOY
  • I sleep on both my left (a boy!) and my right (a girl!). Which is: INCONCLUSIVE

The Final Tally

Well, that was no help at all.

15 February 2015

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Red spotty mug, black and white stripy tee.
Snow outside the window / Silhouette of a star

So, it's been all go around here.

Although by "all" I mean "everybody else not me". Obviously.

Some friends carted our old spare bed off to their brand new home (which I can't wait to visit!).

Steve and Martin spent ages boxing up all the stuff in the attic and moving most of it downstairs so the electricians could yank up the carpet and get at the wires.

And the electricians yanked up the carpet and got at the wires. The lighting rewire took a day and a half (the only lights we had to do without overnight were the external ones and the entrance lobby - no big deal); they also tested all of the sockets and electrical fittings (only two of which turned out to have alarmingly avant-garde wiring) and replaced the consumer unit (because the rules say they have to).

They actually have one small job to finish off next week but, otherwise, it all went really smoothly and was much less awful than they had told me it was going to be. We have a few gaps around some of the switches to fill and paint but I was prepared for huge chunks of wall to be missing so it's really not that bad!

Now to await the invoice...

Four stages of a socket rewire

A little over a week ago, Steve and I attended a Relaxation Massage antenatal class which was quite lovely. Not only was it enjoyable for me but it gave Steve some idea of how to help on The Big Day - and that has to be a good thing. As much as pushing a baby out doesn't sound much fun, at least the pregnant women have something to focus on and do; I'd rather that than hanging around, watching my loved one go through labour and trying to find some way to make myself useful.

Black cat (Gizmo) sitting by lampshade / half eaten chocolate cow

Incidentally, today is my sister's birthday. I don't think she reads my blog (although you never know; she looks at Two Days the Same now and then) but I work on the assumption that everyone in my real life stumbles upon it every so often. So just in case: happy birthday, sis!

The rest of you, I thought I'd give a quick (unsponsored, unaffiliated) shout out to the two fab shops where I got her presents: Nottingham based Newton and Apple and Cheshire based Snowdon Design & Craft.

In other news, I'm over on Chicademics at the moment being interviewed about life, love and blogging. Check it out.

What's new with you?
For more photos from my life visit Two Days the Same and/or my Instagram.

14 February 2015

What I've Been Reading Recently

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin
c/o Curtis Brown
Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. I was a little hesitant to read this - it was the second book in a row about somebody dying in a cancer hospice and the first hadn't sat quite right with me. But this one was wonderful. Although death is a constant presence, the book focuses on the love shared by a sometimes chaotic, sometimes bickering, sometimes incredibly generous family and the people closest to them. This could have been maudlin but is instead touching, funny and - as much of a cloying cliché as it is to say this - ultimately life-affirming.

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell
c/o Curtis Brown
The world has gone to crap - floods; failed crops; mass slaughter of the poor - so sixteen year old Lalla's father rounds up 500 of the most inspiring people he can find and they set sail on a ship stocked with enough food to last them several decades. Everyone seems happy... except for Lalla who becomes increasingly concerned about her father's ethics and whether or not there's a longer term plan. I've got to admit: I found Lalla pretty irritating and that made it hard to side with her (even though she was probably right) but the premise is an intriguing one.

The Madness of Modern Parenting by Zoe Williams
More of a big essay than a book, this one was right up my street. Williams looks at the alarmist way pregnancy advice is presented; likewise advice about newborns; why breastfeeding is a class issue; our ability to make women feel bad regardless of whether or not they return to work; recent shifts in attitudes towards fathers; and the highly stressful way in which we educate our children (and why). All of which, under the current circumstances, was interesting to me.

Us by David Nicholls
c/o Curtis Brown
I'll admit: I didn't expect to enjoy this. It sounded far too schmaltzy for my liking - a middle aged man trying to save his marriage; a surly teenaged son; a month long family trip around Europe. It had all the ingredients to irritate. But it turned out to be truly lovely. The characters are all believably flawed; the relationships were convincing; the trip had plausible ups and downs. I couldn't quite decide how I wanted this to end - I wanted all the characters to be happier but it wasn't always clear how best for that to happen - but I sat up late reading until I found out how it did.

Nine Uses For An Ex-Boyfriend by Sarra Manning
I was in the mood for something lightweight and chick-litty and this sounded like the ideal thing. I've enjoyed the Sarra Manning books I've read previously (especially Adorkable which I think is a blogger must read) and this didn't disappoint... although it wasn't as feelgood as it looked! When Hope finds out her boyfriend of thirteen years has cheated on her, it sparks three long months of doubts, rage, break ups and reconciliations. This is all frustrating and will be familiar to anyone who has ever been through a painful split, right down to the questionable decisions Hope makes along the way. This was a quick, engaging read but don't go into it expect a cupcake-fuelled romp!

The Woman in the Movie Star Dress by Praveen Asthana
c/o Doublewood Press (via Netgalley)
A woman working in a Los Angeles vintage store which specialises in clothes worn by movie stars realises that, by taking peyote before wearing the outfits, she can inherit some of the previous owners' personalities. Unfortunately, the previous owners' personalities are sometimes a little at odds with her own... Vintage clothes, Hollywood and a bit of a mystery all made this appeal to me. The plot turned out to be pretty decent but the book itself read a lot like a first draft - a few more edits would have been of huge benefit (note: the author tells me there's another edit in the works).

Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder
c/o John Murray Press (via Netgalley)
I loved this book (despite it being *shudders* pro-running). Aged 104, Aggie Smart is recollecting her life. Her childhood on a Canadian farm was filled with family tragedy; her youth involved an incredible stint as an Olympic athlete; her later life includes a journalism career but seems to keep circling back around to the needs of her family. Okay, that description makes it sound kind of sentimental and/or grim. It's really not. It's a beautiful book filled with love, hope and strong, generous women. Very much worth a read.

Affiliates links are used throughout.

13 February 2015

Getting By With a Little Help From Our Friends

Heart shaped polka dot coasters

My original plan was to write this as next week's pregnancy post. Then I realised that today is Galentine's Day - when better to celebrate my friends?

Although "Galentine's Day" is a bit limiting. Perhaps "Palentine's Day" would be better. The male friends in Steve's and my lives are right up there with the female when it comes to deserving our thanks.

We knew we had good friends. That has never been in question. But, you know, it's easy to get on with normal life, meeting for coffee or dinner or drinks, chatting by text or liking the occasional status update, and not really stopping to think about the strength of those friendships.

If I had stopped to think about them I may well have guessed that the friendships meant more to me than to my friends; that I was the one keeping them going; that I wouldn't necessarily be missed if I faded away. It's usually me who suggests meeting up or who coordinates group activities. Many of my friends have much larger social circles than I do. I would have assumed that I was relatively disposable.

And that's whilst liking myself well enough and thinking I'm a good person to be friends with. But, you know, there are lingering adolescent insecurities in all of us. A couple of formerly close friends have vanished out of my life along the way - it's entirely plausible that more could do the same.

But the last few months have really brought home to both Steve and me how much our friends care. These are two-way deals. These people value us and we very much value them, too.

When I was about sixteen weeks pregnant, Steve had a fairly major operation. He was bedridden for two weeks and weak for a few weeks after that. I, meanwhile, was still suffering from early pregnancy exhaustion and already struggling with the pelvic girdle pain. Neither of us was in a fit state to properly care for the other but we were touched when our friends rallied round, coming round to care for him while I was at work, appearing with dinner and flowers for us, reminding us that they and their cars were on call in case of emergency.

Those few weeks would have been (more) awful without them.

And now I'm stuck at home the vast majority of the time. Although I don't really get bored, I do get frustrated not being able to head out for dinner or a movie or a mooch around the shops.

More than that: I get frustrated about how little I can do around the house - I can only do minimal cleaning and tidying and there are very few DIY tasks that I can manage.

Our friends have been amazing.

Oh, there are those who have faded away. I expect that's inevitable. Some friendships are more about socialising than mutual support and they can falter when people's lives change.

On the other hand, others have grown stronger and that's been a lovely surprise.

So, yes: over all, our friends have been incredible.

Far away friends have been sending more emails and more text messages and generally making that little bit more effort to stay in touch - I can't stress how much that means to me right now.

Close at hand friends have come round with biscuits and flowers and cake and - most importantly - chatter. A lot of them are insistent about lifting the kettle themselves or helping out with little jobs while they're here.

Our closest friends have gone above and beyond, helping us get the flat in order. There have been lifts; there have been uploads of unwanted items. The attic has been completely emptied and completely refilled. Loads of DIY jobs have been done without me having to do more than offer round some biscuits.

We've thanked people with pizzas and home cooked meals but they've all made it very clear that the help would have been here regardless.

And that has blown us away.

A lot of them have or have had their own things going on recently. One couple was buying their first home; another is planning a wedding for the same week as my due date. There have been several bereavements and some health scares. Some are job hunting or having worries about work. Still, they have been there for us.

I'm not surprised that our friends are considerate but I'm surprised by the level of support they've been showing us and incredibly touched.

So I wanted to take a little time to thank them.

We very much love them all.

Yellow and purple flowers

10 February 2015

Why the Baby Will be Taking Steve's Surname

When Steve and I first adopted Polly, there were a lot of conversations about which surname she should take. I felt strongly that she was 50% my cat and I wanted her surname to reflect that; Steve felt strongly that she was 50% his cat and he wanted her surname to reflect that, too.

The eventual compromise was to make up a completely new (slightly ridiculous) surname by combining both of our own. When Gizmo came along, we gave him that surname, too.

Baby Rooftops: Steve, the father's, hands on the bump

When Steve and I told our friends that we were going to be parents, a lot of them expected a similar debate. Surnames are a feminist issue and I, of course, have always had - and shared - my opinions.

I don't agree that it should automatically be the wife who takes the husband's name on marriage. I don't agree that women should automatically be the ones to give up their family identity in favour of men's. I don't, for that matter, believe that married couples should have to be one-male-and-one-female. And I don't believe that both partners need to have the same name.

But a shared surname does make sense to me.

To me, a shared surname feels symbolic: the couple are no longer She-of-this-family and He-of-that; they are something strong and new and all about the two of them. They are combining their two family backgrounds and building their own new unit. If you're going to get married (and that's a whole other blog post), choosing a shared surname strikes me as more of an outward commitment than a wedding or a new piece of jewellery.

I had always assumed that if Steve and I ever got hitched or had children, there would be a lot of discussion around the surname(s). We've talked about it before. We've ruled out double-barrels (which, to me, are just storing up bigger issues for the next generation - do they quadruple-barrel?). We've joked about using the same ridiculous surname we've given to the cats. We even discussed picking a random word and using that (but - other than "Rooftops", obviously - they all seemed kind of naff). I assumed marriage or parenthood - if they ever happened - would be the crisis point when we finally had to thrash out a decision.

So it came as a surprise to me, when we started discussing baby names, to find myself trying them out with Steve's surname rather than my own (or the cats').

Quite simply: the surname detail didn't feel important any more.

Somewhere along the way, my family surname has stopped having much significance for me. My sister has married and taken her husband's name; my mum has remarried and taken her husband's name; I'm the only one of my family left in the UK with this surname and, rather than feeling like I should be clinging on to it or protecting it (it's pretty unusual), that leaves me feeling free to let it go. It doesn't represent my bond to my family members - they no longer share it and that hasn't changed our relationship. It's just the name I happen to have.

Steve, on the other hand, does feel quite tied to his name. As much as we've joked about made up names in the past, in reality he doesn't want to change his surname and he likes the idea of passing it on.

Getting into a debate about something which is important to him and isn't important to me doesn't seem right. I'd be arguing for the sake of arguing; he'd be arguing because he cared.

And, finally, after all these months of pregnancy - of watching my body change to accommodate a baby; of feeling this tiny new human kicking inside me - I don't feel I have anything to prove. This child is mine, whatever its surname.

It's Steve's, too, whatever its surname, but I'm not sure the thump of belonging hits men as hard until the baby's actually born. There isn't that physical connection. But there can be a symbolic one.

So, there we go: Steve's surname it is. That's one naming issue painlessly solved. Now we just need to figure out what we're actually going to call the kid...!