27 May 2015

Five Things People Don't Tell You About the First Month With a Baby

When I was pregnant, people were all too eager to warn me about what I was letting myself in for. They told me I would never sleep again. They told me none of my clothes would fit. They told me all about the horror of the early nappies.

They also told me I would be surviving on nothing but toast. This turned out to be untrue. I don't know who these people are who can open bags of bread and spread globs of jam one handed but I am not one of them. I am surviving on glasses of water and whatever fancy biscuits our guests bring round.

But there were several things which people didn't warn me about. Here are the things which none of the pregnancy books prepared me for:

The First Month is all About Deciding Which Rules You Can Break

There are so many strict rules about caring for your baby. Babies must always sleep on their backs, in their own bed, in the same room as you. Bottles must be prepared thirty minutes before a feed, no exceptions. But then you realise that your baby sleeps better on her side, that she enjoys crashing out on her parents' bed in the mornings, that you have to leave the room to go to the toilet now and then. You realise that feeding to rule would prevent you from ever leaving the house and that bottle manufacturers wouldn't sell "on the go" equipment if it wasn't reasonably safe. Four weeks after the birth, rules are being bent and broken all over the place because, frankly, it's the only way for you to survive.

Sleeping baby
I count four incursions here.




Babies Change From Day to Day

Okay, people did tell me this but I assumed they meant that babies get bigger or more able or that their personalities become more apparent all the time. And all of those things are true. But the most glaringly unavoidable changes are in their sleep patterns. Matilda generally has a reliable three hour nappy-feed-play-sleep cycle and I was feeling quite capable, fitting bottle washes and tweeting into her guaranteed hour and a half naps. Then she started hitting growth and developmental spurts and her pattern went all to pot. Some days she would barely open her eyes; some days (and nights) she would barely close them; some days she would sleep but only if she was curled in somebody's arms. There's no fighting it - all I can do is ride out the anomalies.

Life is All About Wind

I had been warned that life with a newborn is all about dirty nappies. For bottle fed babies, that isn't strictly true - generally, they need changed each feed and that becomes part of your routine; no big deal. But, oh my goodness, the amount of wind which babies produce is incredible and the trauma they go through trying to get it out of themselves absolutely staggering. It's no exaggeration to say that the first few weeks of watching Matilda battle her burps were an ordeal - she did so much wriggling and roaring, I was convinced there was something actually wrong with her. It wasn't until she was a month old (and could use gripe water) that I accepted that there (probably) was not.

Your Tiny Home Town is Suddenly Appealing

My adolescent self would be horrified to hear it, but the small town where I spent my teens suddenly doesn't seem quite so bleak. Partly this is because it has ample, affordable childcare and extracurricular activities are all within easy walking distance and three bedroom houses can be bought for half the price of our current two bedroom flat. Mostly it's because my mum and my sister live there and having them nearby in a crisis feels like a very good idea. When I confessed this to other new mums I know, they admitted the same thing: this newborn stage would be so much easier if Granny lived just down the road and suddenly it doesn't seem as important where that road happens to be.

Granny holding Matilda
At least Granny comes to visit a lot.


Babies Need Alone Time

When Matilda is awake, I want to entertain her or educate her or otherwise interact with her. Isn't that what parents are supposed to do? Stimulate their children? But that isn't always what babies want - sometimes they just want to lie on their playmats, waggling their limbs and staring at whatever random object has caught their eye. It took me a good few weeks to accept that leaving Matilda to it wasn't neglect (and, eventually, even to value that time to myself).

And now, somehow, Matilda is five weeks old. Time to find out what surprises her second month will bring...

21 May 2015

Home Alone: Matilda and Me

Sleeping baby


Steve went back to work last Wednesday and I'm not sure I've ever been as scared as I was on the Tuesday evening.

There is no gradual easing into parenthood. One day you're a couple, used to eating when you're hungry, leaving the dirty dishes to pile up and watching three hour films with no greater consideration than whether or not you've got enough snacks to get you through - the next, you're responsible for a baby, twenty-four hours a day and your main topic of conversation is nappy brands.

As prepared as we were, it was a big transition for the two of us. The first two weeks post-hospital were spent taking turns at changing Matilda, preparing her formula and working up the courage to bathe her. Constructing the pram each time we wanted to leave the house turned out to be a two (or, ideally, three) person job. We took shifts getting up through the night.

But there were two of us. When one of us was tired, we handed the baby over to the other and we went for a nap. When Matilda did something new and cute and amazing, we showed each other and grinned together. When her bottles needed cleaned, it was no big deal because there was somebody else around to watch over her.

But then Steve's two weeks of paternity leave and one extra week of holidays were over. Suddenly he was heading back to work and I was faced with twelve hours a day of parenting all on my own.

Terrifying.

Seriously: terrifying.

Two weeks of paternity leave is not enough. It's too soon for the working parent to tear themselves away from the baby. It's too soon for the staying home parent to feel like they've got this stuff sussed. And it's right about the point when many babies switch from a blissfully sleepy newborn phase into a fractious, fussy, sobbing, difficult bit - perfect timing if you like your new mothers stressed out and full of self-doubt.

So last Tuesday evening, I really wasn't sure that I was up to this. Matilda had had a couple of very unsettled nights and I didn't know if that was because we were doing something wrong or because she was feeling rotten (the hours spent googling reflux...) or simply because she was having a growth spurt. What if she was always like this? What if my baby cried all day forever and neither of us ever slept?

And, even when she was calm and happy, I wasn't sure that I knew what I was doing. Did I have twelve hours' worth of patience and nursery rhymes and nonsense chatter in me? Was I under or overstimulating her? Who could I turn to if something went suddenly wrong?

There were anxious tears. It was one thing me taking this all one day at a time and slowly getting through it but asking Matilda to take an incompetent parent one day at a time seemed cruel. I wondered if the wrong parent was staying home. I honestly didn't feel like I could cope.

But Wednesday went really well. Wednesday turned out to be calm. Matilda slept a lot; I got several little jobs done; feeds were laidback and lovely. All was good.

Thursday less so. Thursday I found myself crying over a crying baby; Thursday a friend with lots and lots of experience paid me an unplanned, semi-urgent visit specifically to calm me down. Thursday I was convinced that I flat out Could. Not. Do. This.

And Friday was somewhere in between.

And so things have been since then. Peaks and dips. Floods of love and contentment when she's curled up on my chest, clinging to me, her mother, her place of absolute safety. Floods of tears and despair when she's writhing around, cranky, feeling overwhelmed by the hugeness and newness of the world. Moments of panic when I see her wriggling in her crib, slowly waking up. Moments of joy when she coos or gurgles or does something approaching a smile.

Some of it comes naturally to me. The soothing voices and the silly songs and the bouncing her to sleep happen without any thought.

Some of it is the result of anxious research. Colic remains a dark, traumatic mystery and gripe water a magical potion.

But the scared, anxious, despairing bits get a little shorter and a little less severe every time. The calm, secure, semi-confident bits are becoming more frequent and more prolonged.

She's starting to wriggle beside me right now, throwing her arms around and making a high pitched sound like a boiling kettle. I know I have less than ten minutes until she wakes up wanting some food. And the knot of tension in my stomach isn't that tight. I can cope with this - or, at least, I think I can.

Now, if you'll excuse me, [I'm fairly sure] my daughter needs me.

15 May 2015

What I've Been Reading Recently

Not much, evidently. It's like I've been a bit distracted this month...



Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants by Ruwen Ogien
c/o Columbia University Press (via Netgalley)
I wish this book had been around when I was studying Moral Philosophy at university - clear, accessible and entertaining it provides simple but thorough explanations of several questions, theories and problems regarding human morality. From charitable donations to abortions, runaway trolley cars to torture, it covers a range of issues and prompted me to think deeply about why I hold the moral beliefs that I do.

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick
c/o Pan Macmillan (via Netgalley)
Matthew Quick is the author of The Silver Linings Playbook (which I loved) so a part of me fought against him writing another kooky book about mental health issues - "tell me a different story!" But he is telling a different story and, within a few chapters, I had accepted that. 39 year old Bartholomew Neil has always lived with his mother and never had to work or provide for himself; when she dies, he is offered support by an array of people who all have issues of their own to tackle. Sweet without being overly sentimental, quirky without trying to make social dysfunctions cute.

The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan
An eclectic selection of short stories from steampunk romance to heartbreak on a remote Scottish island. Love, sex and sexuality run through them all and some of them are beautiful.

*Affiliate links are used throughout

10 May 2015

Extra: Ordinary Moments

Matilda held in Steve's hands

Where do I even start? Two weeks at home with Matilda. It's been so huge and significant and utterly life altering. It's been all about the minute details.

It's been holding her in my hands, hearing a baby cry outside and automatically turning to the window to check that she's okay.

It's been the practicalities of meeting our health visitor and Matilda's (routine) hearing test and registering her birth. Also saying thanks and goodbye to my community midwife (*sob*).

It's been taking turns to do the middle of the night feeds and handle the nappy crises. And to have cuddles with our wonderful daughter.

It's been watching the cats slowly shift from wariness to acceptance of the new arrival.

It's been parcel after parcel of thoughtfully chosen gifts arriving at the door. It's been friends coming round for flying visits.

It's been laughing helplessly at the ten minutes of exaggerated stretches she does when she wakes up, at Steve narrating her thoughts as she waves her arms around and pulls faces, at her ferocious attempts to roll over. It's been moments of hopelessness when I couldn't think how else to entertain her.

It's been marvelling every time she learns or does something new, celebrating every day when her legs or her neck are that little bit stronger.

It's been selecting cute clothes - a flowery babygrow on the day we first went into the garden; definitely not the glow in the dark skeleton outfit on the day she was meeting the neighbours.

It's been feeling baffled by all the people on Twitter talking about normal events instead of nappies.

It's been looking at photos of her while she's sleeping and being unable to take my eyes off them. It's been looking at her any time and not believing she's real.

It's been counting up the days she's been alive and being stunned by the tiny number. It's been feeling like she's always been around.

Blue flowers

08 May 2015

GUEST POST: Slimming World Spicy Spuds

Hello everyone! My name is Amy and I blog over at Another Innocent Girl. I am looking after the blog on this awesome day whilst the lovely Sarah is off having a little baby, Good luck hun!

Everyone likes potato. Some people like it mashed, baked, fried, purred and even in the form of hash browns (Aw man I love hash browns!). Now a lot of diets don't allow the wondrous potato near your mouth but luckily for me Slimming World does and I don't know what I would do without Slimming World chips!

But sometime potatoes can be boring. You sit there staring at your chicken breast, speedy veg and your potato and sigh. Yes you can try and replace it with sweet potato, which are deliciouse, but sweet potato will never replace the humble marie piper.

Don't worry I have a solution friends and it comes in the form of this spicy spuds recipe. This will liven up any dish and turn your boring meal into an exciting one. 

I normally serve these in a big bowl at a party so this recipe caters to probably serving around 4-6 people. You can easily adapt the recipe to your needs. It's also 1/2 syn per serving due to the black onion seeds.

Amy's Spicy Spuds


Ingredients

24 baby new potatoes, wash and halved
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp black onion seeds
120g passata
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Low calorie cooking spray (I love Groovy Virgin Coconut spray as an alternative to frylight)
Fresh chopped coriander to garnish
Fat free natural yoghurt to serve

Method


  • Preheat the oven to 220'c or gas mark 7.
  • Place the potatoes in a non-stick roasting tin in a single layer
  • Mix the pieces and the passata in a bowl, season to taste and pour over the potatoes. Toss to coat evenly.
  • Spray with your low calorie cooking spray and roast for 45-50 minutes or until tender.
  • Remove the potatoes from the oven, pile them into a serving bowl and scatter over half of the coriander and mix.
  • Scatter over the remaining coriander and serve alongside a bowl of natural fat free yoghurt for dipping!

Voila! Tasty potatoes!

I hope you enjoyed this post and thank you Sarah for letting me take over your blog for the day!

06 May 2015

Four Nights in Hospital with (and without) Matilda

When Matilda was born she was running a temperature and had an elevated heart rate. She was taken to the neonatal unit to be administered with antibiotics. I was taken to a private room on one of the wards, given toast and yoghurt, and promptly fell asleep. Steve headed home to do the same. And so began the first of four rollercoaster nights in the hospital.

Day One

I woke up at 6:30 the morning after the birth feeling very faint. I ate a banana followed by the most welcome breakfast of my life and then I cried, overwhelmed by a combination of immense happiness, picturing Matilda's beautiful face, and sadness and confusion because I didn't know where she was or what she was eating or what exactly was supposed to be wrong with her or what would happen next. I didn't even know whether I was allowed to go and see her (I think I had been told parents could visit any time, twenty-four hours a day - it just hadn't sunk in) and, if I was allowed, I didn't know how to negotiate my catheter and maternity pad and underwear.

So I lay in my hospital bed, wrote my birth story in a draft email and waited for somebody to come and tell me what to do.

I felt stunned.

It was a couple of hours before I was able to go to her, catheter now removed, unwashed, puffy eyed, still in my nightdress. Nothing mattered except getting to see my daughter.

The neonatal unit was both heartbreaking and amazing. Matilda was sharing a room with a lot of very premature, very tiny babies, some with lungs so underdeveloped they would squeak instead of cry.

Matilda, the full term baby in the corner, looked enormous and incredibly healthy beside them - she seemed so out of place.

She also seemed amazing. The simplest things - making eye contact; falling asleep in my arms; wearing a hat - blew me away.

It was a confused sort of a day. Steve's parents visited but I was too tired to follow the conversation (and some of it wasn't about Matilda - what was with that?!). A student midwife who had been with me in the labour ward popped by to see how we were doing. I was so spaced that I couldn't remember when any of the mealtimes were on my ward - I missed them all because I was sitting downstairs with Matilda.

Although people kept giving me information, I was spaced and stressed and I didn't feel like I knew what was happening to my baby. She was on antibiotics but I was under the impression this was some sort of precautionary measure. She was being drip fed but this would be gradually reduced as she started to pee. She would eventually come on the ward with me but nobody could give me any indication of how long that would be - hours? days? weeks?

I cried a lot. I spent most of the evening sobbing at Steve. Why was my baby downstairs without me? Why was I stuck on a ward, syringing my own milk and waiting for somebody to phone me and tell me my baby was hungry enough to need it? Why was somebody else dressing her and changing her nappies and comforting her when she woke up startled? She was one day old and it felt utterly, utterly wrong that she was anywhere other than in my arms, in her own home, getting fed when she was hungry and bonding with her parents. I was so tired and so devastated. I missed my baby terribly. I wanted us all to go home.


Hospital-Breakfast
The world's most welcome breakfast.


Day Two

It had been an exhausting night. I had been down in the neonatal unit hand feeding Matilda before bedtime. When I had come back upstairs, I had sat up until one expressing the tiniest bit of milk and sobbing because I could hear somebody else's baby crying across the corridor. I was woken up at 4:45 to express more milk and I spent an hour producing so little food for my child that I felt utterly hopeless - how would I ever get her home if I couldn't even feed her?

Eventually, I got in the shower but, just as I was starting to feel a little more like myself, there was a knock at the door - Matilda had woken up hungry so I was needed in the neonatal unit. I hobbled down there as fast as I could, abandoning all hope of breakfast.

Matilda had been sick a few times overnight "clearing the mucus". What mucus? Nobody had mentioned any mucus. I was assured that it was perfectly normal.

Our first attempts at actual breastfeeding did not go well. Matilda would latch on but immediately fall asleep. I was worried I wasn't producing enough milk for her. She was put on a four hourly feeding schedule; having always been told newborns feed more or less hourly and should always be fed "on demand" this felt totally alien to me but at least it meant I could be on the ward for mealtimes and painkillers.

I got back to the ward just in time to scrounge breakfast. There was a text waiting for me from a friend who had been through something similar with her own baby; I burst into tears when I read it, so touched that - at six in the morning - somebody actually cared.

I put Matilda's birthday into Steve's and my Google calendar and noticed the induction which had been booked for that Sunday - I was surprised to find that that helped; it was a reminder that, no matter how upsetting these few days in the hospital were, we could have still been waiting to meet her.

During the morning, I was shown how to use an electric breast pump and that seemed incredible. I felt like a cow being milked - it was completely lacking in glamour - but I managed to produce 5ml of milk and that felt to me like a gallon.

In the afternoon, I managed a twenty minute nap and that felt incredible, too.

But the breastfeeding continued to go badly. Every time Matilda got near me, she would fall asleep. Every. Single. Time. Her drip feed was being reduced but I was warned that, if she didn't start getting enough food elsewhere, it would be increased again and she would have to stay in the neonatal unit for longer. Formula milk was raised as an option - I wasn't averse; I was breastfeeding because that's what you're supposed to do not because I felt any particular desire to do so; bottle feeding was left as a possibility.

Steve was with me for most of the day and one positive of the day was watching him with Matilda. He had so much love all over his face and every time he handled her I could see his confidence increase - that was amazing to witness.


Day Three

I got up at four to express milk but I produced so little that I wanted to give up there and then. There were tears. I was too tired and too stressed for this; I knew I wouldn't be entrusted with my own baby until I was able to feed her and, clearly, that wasn't about to happen naturally.

At six, I showered and headed downstairs for Matilda's first feed. I noticed instantly that there were no drips attached to her! This was huge! If she wasn't on a drip, she could theoretically join me on the ward!

She was clearly very hungry but, as usual, the moment she came into contact with me, she fell asleep. I gave her the tiny bit of expressed milk and then the midwives sent me back upstairs for my own breakfast. Ten minutes later, having managed three jelly babies and a text to Steve, they called me back down to try breastfeeding. I was utterly exhausted.

The hospital's breastfeeding specialist was there so she checked my technique which she said was fine. Physically, she said there was no reason I couldn't breastfeed. She also checked that Matilda was opening her mouth wide enough, which she was. We tried nipple shields, which helped a little, but Matilda wasn't used to having to work for her food - she was used to drip feeding and having milk syringed straight into her mouth.

Still, the breastfeeding specialist was happy enough with everything that she told the ward sister Matilda should be upstairs with me. The sister confirmed that Matilda's antibiotics would be stopped that day and she could come and join me. I was flooded with joy.

The midwives sent me back upstairs for lunch and a nap. Steve arrived so I shared the good news with him. The ward midwife popped round so I shared the good news with her - she said this was good timing as, otherwise, we would have had to have had The Talk about me being physically healthy and having to go home. A friend who works in the hospital came to visit and I beamed at her.

Then, at two o'clock, I was called back down to feed Matilda. A paediatrician was there doing her discharge check. She was physically fine but, when I tried to breastfeed her, she flat out would not wake up. Of course she wouldn't wake up - it was so hot in the neonatal unit my hands felt clammy; I wouldn't have been able to wake up, either. The paediatrician was concerned, though - she couldn't be discharged from the neonatal unit unless he knew she was going to get enough to eat.

I cried. I cried a lot. I told them it was unfair to punish Matilda because she was asleep on her second attempt to prove herself. I told them it was too hot for her in there. I told them I was too tired and hungry from trudging back and forth to breastfeed her properly. I told them, if I was discharged from the hospital without her, I couldn't manage the round trip for every feed and we would never establish a good routine. I told them she needed to be with her family, in a relaxed place, developing in peace.

The paediatrician relented. She was allowed to join me on the ward on the condition that she was bottle fed enough formula milk to keep her going. Fine. Whatever. Anything to have my baby with me.

I bottle fed her there and then and was amazed to see how easy it was. She latched on, she drank (she guzzled).

Steve, Matilda and I were walked up to my ward.

We had our daughter!

I felt a moment of panic - what if we couldn't do this?! What would we do when she woke up? What did all those strange noises she made mean? What if she wouldn't eat? I told Steve I was done with breastfeeding - I was too tired and I wasn't prepared to risk having her taken away from me again. He suggested I leave that decision until we were home.

Steve was exhausted so he went home early that evening. Within minutes of him leaving, Matilda had thrown up most of her earlier bottle. At her next feed, she didn't manage the required amount. I cried and pleaded with her - "You have to help me here, Matilda. They can't take you away from me again. They can't. You have to help me." I was terrified. I wanted so badly to go home where nobody was assessing my abilities, where I didn't feel judged, where I could turn to my community midwife or my health visitor if I needed support, where we could bond as a family in peace. The hospital staff were all amazing but there were so many of them I couldn't keep track of who was who - I wanted to be turning to much more familiar faces.


I'm wearing my own clothes
The neonatal unit provided Matilda with clothes and knitted blankets until we were organised enough to bring in our own. If anyone's feeling crafty or generous, your local neonatal unit almost certainly accepts donations.


Day Four

I had spent most of the night listening to Matilda, watching her looking around the hospital room, holding her when she was restless. She had fallen asleep at both breastfeeding attempts but guzzled down two bottles.

I told the midwife I wanted to exclusively bottle feed and the midwife told me that, in that case, she didn't see any reason for us to stay in hospital - she expected we would be discharged that day. I was thrilled.

Matilda and I spent a couple of hours doing skin to skin, waiting for the paediatrician to do his ward rounds and give her her discharge check. He was very happy with her health and told me how much formula milk she would need to be averaging each day for the next couple of weeks. As far as he was concerned, we could leave!

I started pootling around, packing up my things. Steve arrived, stressed because we were getting a lift home from his parents and he had thought we would be able to give them more notice. The last few days had been awful for me but they had been awful for him, too, in slightly different ways - he was the one going home to dejected cats (he did arrange for a friend to go round and play with them, though), tidying up the house and trying to keep it together enough to support me. As it sank in that we were about to take our daughter home, I could see the anxiety lifting from him.

Finally, the discharge was completed and I was given a pile of paperwork and several boxes of drugs. The midwife said we could stay in my room until Steve's parents arrived but I had already gathered that the hospital was screaming for beds that day - apparently Friday night had been the night to go into labour and there were women queued up downstairs, waiting for their scheduled inductions. My own induction had been booked for the following day and I couldn't bear the thought that I might have been kept waiting because a discharged family was sitting around in a bedroom.

We spent about half an hour sitting in the ward lounge, waiting for Steve's dad to arrive, cuddling Matilda and making shocked, excited faces over the top of her head. It was raining outside.

As we left the hospital, the skies cleared and the sun came out. The cherry blossoms were all in bloom.

Sitting in our own home, later, cotton wool snowflakes fell and covered the world outside.

We were surrounded by grandparents - Steve's side; my side - for several hours.

And then we were home on our own: Steve, Matilda, the cats and me.


Rooftops family home at last

So What Happened Next?

Well, the breastfeeding never did work. I did keep trying but even in a cooler, calmer environment, Matilda would fall asleep the minute she latched on. There have been more tears about this - was I letting her down? did Steve think I was letting her down? were people going to judge me? - but the bottle feeding is so, so much simpler I've accepted it and moved on.

On a side note, although the pain in my hips has completely disappeared (HURRAH!!!!!), I'm still very weak around that area and was struggling to hold Matilda during breastfeeding attempts - physically, I think I'm better off using bottles.

Thus far, Matilda is a very easygoing baby. She sleeps well, wakes once overnight and only really cries when she needs her nappy changed. I'm not sure whether this is down to her personality, to something Steve and I are doing, or whether it's something she learned in the neonatal unit - I just hope it continues!

The few days in hospital felt to me like weeks - I was exhausted and anxious and missed my baby terribly - but I can also see good sides. We spent so long watching other people handling Matilda that we learned a lot and, I think, are more confident with her as a result. We know she's not going to break if we shove her waggling arms into a cardigan.

And I really can't put into words how much I value the care we were given. I wouldn't wish the same experience on anyone else but we are so, so lucky to live in a country where, when a baby is ill, the hospital takes care of them. We didn't need to worry about what it was costing us or whether our insurance was covering us. The NHS stepped up and gave our daughter everything medical she needed.

The staff at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital were hugely supportive, incredibly patient, utterly professional and brimming with empathy; they were sympathetic when I cried, they listened when I spoke or argued as Matilda's mother, and they went out of their way to look after me when I was too worked up to do that myself. They deserve my every thanks.


04 May 2015

GUEST POST: Bears, Dolls and Lorries – Childhood Toys Revisited

Hello, I’m Louisa from over at Duck in a Dress and it’s lovely to be writing a guest post for one of my favourite bloggers while she’s off on the exciting adventure of becoming a parent.

Back in September last year I took part in Sarah’s Two Days the Same project and whilst I was laid up in bed with a broken ankle, one of my pictures featured a certain brown bear belonging to Andrew, my other half. Sarah and Andrew were both born around the same year and Sarah recognised that bear as the same one she’d had when she was young.

Which of course, led on to thinking about the fact that myself and Andrew both still own several toys from our childhood, mainly because they all hold interesting tales…

Raffles the Dog

Raffles the Dog

Age: Unknown but he’s been adopted by me for the last 21 years

Birthplace: Taiwan according to his label

Raffles is a Scottish dog rescued from a toy stall at a summer fete held in Somerled Square in Portree on the Isle of Skye. My mum and dad had dragged us there during August on their annual motor-caravan road trip round the Highlands and I had a bit of pocket money left to spend. I remember being there quite early on in the day and I saw all the cuddly toys being emptied out from a large bin bag onto a table. Raffles landed on his head upside down and I fell in love. It was 1994 and I was 11 years old, possibly a bit old for cuddly toys but that summer was the last few days of feeling like a child before starting “big school” in September. I asked how much he was - 20p - and promptly handed over my pennies and took him home with me. His name came because the stall next door was a raffle & tombola stall; I did always wonder whether I should have called him Somerled (after the square) or Truffles (like his colour) but Raffles it was. He sat on my bed next to my pillow for a good many years and I even took him to university with me (although by then he had migrated to a shelf overlooking the bed). Just like Andrew’s brown bear, Raffles brought me a lot of comfort when I was growing up.

Barbie

Barbie


Age: about 27-29 years old

Birthplace: America somewhere, possibly New York, Washington, Orlando or San Francisco

This was the very first Barbie doll I owned and for a few years when I was about 4-6 years old I loved collecting both Barbie and Sindy dolls. My dad used to jet across to America with work every couple of months and would always bring me back lots of gifts, chocolates, sweets, toys, clothes and dolls. This was the first one he bought me and although I lost interest in them pretty quickly, I can still remember how proud I felt owning this princess-like doll, one that my friends didn’t seem to have. Looking at her now though, quite apart from the anatomically incorrect figure, she also looks rather scary!

Andrew the Lorry

Andrew the Lorry toy


Age: 37 years old

Birthplace: Somerset (handmade)

When Andrew was born his dad worked as a technician at the local secondary school and one of the other technicians made this for the new baby. Andrew’s dad had bought himself a 1935 vintage lorry only 3 years before Andrew was born and it was inevitable the new (and male) baby was going to grow up interested in lorries and steam engines himself. Andrew reckons he didn’t actually play with it that much but even so, it still has pride of place in our guest bedroom as it signifies what Andrew’s spent his whole life interested in.

Humpty

Humpty Dumpty toy


Age: 37 years old

Birthplace: Somerset (handmade)

This was another one of the presents Andrew was given when he was born. It was made by a family friend called Beryl (who ended up emigrating to Canada) and Andrew’s mum used to bounce Humpty up and down over the crib went he was young. As Andrew grew older, Humpty was played with rather a lot (probably being dropped from many a high cupboard) and along the way the stuffing’s gone from his legs and he’s had rather a nasty eye accident.

Nowadays he’s in retirement, sitting up on a wardrobe in a spare bedroom keeping one watchful eye over the place.

Brown Ted

Brown Ted the teddy bear


Age: almost 37 years old

Birthplace: Unknown but at a best guess, Woolworths

Andrew was given this as a baby and kept it with him for a good long time. He was afraid of the dark when he was really young but hugging Brown Ted made it all better. The bear’s been through the wars a bit though, his bottom was patched years ago, he’s been hugged so much that his nose is squashed and his arms are falling off. When we bought our first house together and he brought his box of childhood bits along, he showed me the bear and I reckoned he looked pretty miserable so he picked up the nickname of Grumpy Bear instead. Quite frankly when you’ve literally been loved to bits, you’d probably be a bit grumpy too!

Anyway I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and I’ve no doubt Spartacus Rooftops will end up with several toys that I sincerely hope will be loved just as much as mine and Andrew’s were (and still are). Thanks Sarah for having me!

03 May 2015

Matilda's Birth Story

Until recently, I didn't understand why there were so many birth story blog posts. Why did people feel the need to write them? Surely one labour was much the same as another - you either pushed the baby out or you had a caesarian? And who on earth would want to read about it? Ick.

Then I found myself six months pregnant and I couldn't get enough of them. I wanted to know what this was like for other people - I wanted to be mentally prepared for what turned out to be the myriad of possibilities and to know that all these other women had got through it in more or less one piece.

So: Matilda's birth story it is. For all the heavily pregnant women reading. And most likely nobody else.

After a couple of months of Braxton Hicks contractions, things started to ramp up in early April. For a week and a half, I was getting fairly intense contractions every thirty minutes, every evening. They weren't frequent enough to be real labour and they would calm down when I went to bed, but every evening I would start to wonder if this was it.

It wasn't.

On the eighteenth of April, four days past the estimated due date, I had a membrane sweep. I was in two minds about whether or not to go ahead with it - both of the midwives I spoke to were quite upfront that nobody knows for sure whether sweeps are actually effective or whether it's all just a coincidence. It sounded pretty unpleasant but I really wanted to know whether the contractions I'd been having were getting me anywhere. I decided to go ahead with it and it turned out it wasn't that bad. It was uncomfortable but it only took a minute or two; I had some bad cramps for about an hour afterwards and a bit of bleeding. The midwife was able to tell me that I was only 1cm dilated but my cervix was already very soft.

Then nothing happened. Nothing happened for the rest of that day. Nothing happened the next day. I assumed the sweep had failed.

I was booked in for an induction the following Sunday which I really didn't want but which I was opting for because the alternative was to struggle back and forth to the hospital for a check up every day until I went into spontaneous labour. I was feeling pretty disheartened at this point - I could not imagine labour happening of its own accord; I knew it was impossible to stay pregnant forever but I was resigned to needing medical help.

Then, at 4am on Monday 20th April, I was woken by an enormous thumping sensation in my belly and an immediate, extremely powerful contraction. For the next two hours, I lay in bed having strong contractions every fifteen to twenty minutes, but I still wasn't certain that this was labour starting - a part of me wondered if it might be wind from the pineapple curry I had eaten the night before!

When I finally got up, my contractions increased to every ten minutes and I lost what was unmistakeably my mucus plug - it was like a handful of ectoplasm coming out in the toilet. Nice. The pain was gentler while I was in the shower but there was no change to my contractions regardless of whether I was sitting, standing or lying down.

By this point, I was almost certain I was going into labour but I knew that this could be a long, slow process. Steve and I grinned at each other a lot as we tried to figure out how to handle this. He ended up calling his boss and arranging to work from home in case I needed support.

By 8am, the contractions were coming every 3-5 minutes and lasting 50-80 seconds each. I was leaking liquid but was unsure whether it was just discharge or whether my waters had gone; at 11am, the baby must have shifted position because there was a big gush of liquid and that was that question was answered. I called the midwife unit for advice; they said, given that we were quite close by but didn't have a car, they recommended staying at home until I was averaging four contractions per ten minutes or no longer felt able to cope.

Steve and I had a big bowl of pasta for lunch, realising that we were both going to need lots of energy and might not have a chance to eat again for a while!

Shortly after lunch, things became more intense. The contractions starting rolling into each other, to the point where I couldn't tell where one was starting and one was stopping. All I could do was count the peaks - there were roughly four per ten minutes and I was incapable of anything other than holding my head in my hands and breathing through them. Our original plan of taking a taxi to the hospital suddenly seemed unmanageable so Steve called a neighbour and asked for a lift while I called the midwife unit and told them we were heading in.

Hospital bracelets

When we got to the hospital, I was given an internal examination. I was only 3cm dilated so not considered to be in active labour (that starts at 4cm) and my contractions had died down to two per ten minutes. The midwife told me it was not unusual for contractions to lessen when people left the comfort of their own home - she sent us for a walk around the hospital to get them going again. This resulted in me spending fifteen minutes trapped in a public toilet, breathing through a flurry of strong contractions, unable to stand up and wondering whether the baby was going to slide out of me right there. Steve and I then spent a further fifteen minutes sitting on a bench in the middle of the hospital, breathing through another flurry and working up the energy to make it back to the unit.

Back in the unit, the midwife filled the birthing pool for me. The water had to be kept very warm for the baby's comfort; I found I couldn't fully submerge myself as the heat made me feel faint and nauseous. Squatting in the water, hanging over the edge of the pool so that just my legs and belly were submerged was great, though - it took a lot of the weight off my hips making it easier to ride out the contractions.

At some point, I decided I had had enough of the water. From then on, I spent the rest of the labour hanging over a birthing ball. Every so often, I had to clamber onto the bed for an internal examination - those climbs on and off the bed were far and away the worst bit of labour; thanks to my hips, they were five step procedures and each step would set off another contraction. When I lay on my back I felt like I couldn't breathe.

I was given gas and air to help with the pain. So many people had raved to me about gas and air beforehand but I've got to be honest: I felt absolutely no benefit from it. In fact, it made so little difference I wondered if the equipment might be broken! What it did offer was something for me to bite down on during contractions - I soon realised that each contraction lasted for five deep, slow breaths so I concentrated on biting, squeezing Steve's hand and counting one... two... three... four... five...

At some point overnight, I was given a shot of morphine. Again, it didn't seem to make any difference to the pain, but it did let me take forty second naps between contractions. Those naps were some of the best of my life!

Through all of this, Steve was awake timing contractions, keeping track of what was happening when, handing me the gas and air pipe, handing me the seemingly endless bottles of Lucozade the hospital provided, telling me I was doing great. He tells me he got through it on cups of coffee but I have absolutely no memory of him drinking them.

The usual naysayers had warned him beforehand that "things will be said" during labour - that I would sling all sorts of abuse at him. He had treated this with a large degree of scepticism and it definitely wasn't the case. At all times, I felt like we were working as a team - I was the one in labour but he was the one getting me through it.

The contractions never really settled into a pattern but remained at a level the midwives described as "very strong". They kept calling me "Superwoman" because I was smiling instead of screaming and I chose to accept the compliment.

As I got further along, it became harder for the midwives to establish how far dilated I was - my bowels were too full! At one point, they were placing me at anywhere between 7cm and 10cm. Various measures were taken to clear my bowels (I have now lost all feminine mystique in Steve's eyes!) and all of those measures failed.

Around lunchtime on the second day, my temperature rose too high so I was moved from the midwife unit into the more medical labour ward. A belt was strapped around my belly to monitor the contractions and my heartbeat while a clip was attached to the baby's head to monitor her heartbeat. Both were uncomfortable and I was becoming very dehydrated - I could feel the skin peeling from my lips.

My temperature was still rising so a doctor was called for advice. She said I had the option to have my bowels cleared manually and to keep pushing but that, for the baby's safety and for my own comfort, she wouldn't recommend it. She advised having a spinal anaesthetic and a forceps delivery, both of which I had hoped to avoid - a spinal would mean not being able to feel my hips (that might sound like a good thing but I was scared of inadvertently damaging them further) and forceps sounded brutal. I was so tired that I couldn't take in what she or the anaesthetist were telling me - I couldn't even keep my eyes open long enough to look at them. All I remember hearing was "high chance of resulting in a c-section" which filled me with terror. Still, I was lucid enough to know I had to put the baby's safety first - I signed the forms and we were off.

I was wheeled through to the theatre which was bright and white like a spaceship and filled with so many people in green scrubs, all of whom introduced themselves and none of whom I could name or recognise now. I've no idea what they were all there for.

I was guided into a forward slumped position while the spinal anaesthetic was administered, clutching a midwife's hand and biting on the gas and air pipe through several more contractions. I was then helped onto my back, with my legs and lower torso already becoming heavy and numb.

Steve was brought in in scrubs and sat beside me, facing my head. A midwife sat on the other side, hand on my belly, feeling for contractions. If I put my hand on my belly, I could feel the muscles tensing and relaxing but all of the pain was gone.

Then it was time to push. With each contraction, I had to take a deep breath, hold it in and push down. This was bizarre - I couldn't feel my body responding at all and yet it must have done because after just three big pushes the baby was out!

"Can you see?" the midwife asked Steve.

He could. "It's a girl! We've got a girl." His eyes were filled with tears; mine filled up, too. She was placed on my chest and we held her and we looked at her and it was the hugest thing, this tiny, purple daughter of ours.

Steve-and-Matilda

After a moment, she was taken to one side to be checked over. I sat cupping Steve's cheek with one hand, blinking back tears and looking over to where our daughter was being examined. Steve was then called over to give her a cuddle while the surgeons tidied me up.

That done, she was brought back to me and laid on my chest.

"What do you think," Steve asked, "is she a Matilda?"

"Yes, I think she is."

She lay on my chest and stared into my eyes, slurping a little on the gunk she had swallowed coming out. She had red forceps marks on her cheeks and a red spot in her left eye. Her fingers were white. Her hair was dark and wavy. She had vernix coating her head. I held her for a few minutes and she didn't take her eyes off mine. She and Steve were taken aside for her second check over. I couldn't see her but I couldn't stop watching Steve gazing at her.

She was perfect.

Except that she was perfect with a raised temperature and a fast pulse so she was taken to the neonatal unit to be administered antibiotics... But more on that to follow.
​​


01 May 2015

GUEST POST: Relocating With No Back Up Plan

Hi I’m Siobhan from Siobhan Claude Van Damme. In December 2013 me and Mr Mac (my husband) relocated from London to Edinburgh. Most people assumed It was because one of us had a job up here but that was not the case, we just really wanted to live here so decided to make it work.

Siobhan Claude Van Damme: Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh


Relocating with no jobs to go to is not a fun prospect but we were prepared for things not working out immediately. If you want to do the same here are the things we learned:


Have savings


We had enough savings for a deposit up here when we moved but spent a lot of that on the costs of the move. Part of this was the physical costs of moving a two bed house worth of furniture from London to Edinburgh, part of it was having to pay six months rent up front to secure our flat. Having a financial cushion made things like that a lot easier to deal with.


Be flexible


I was willing at first to work anywhere commutable to Edinburgh as I had got used to commuting so travelled up for a lot of interviews. However after three months of solid job seeking I could not find a good match. That is when my employer offered me the chance to work for them for an extra three and a half months to complete a major project. It was excellent timing and I leapt at the chance to see the project through. Commuting from Edinburgh to London was challenging but the extra money went a long way to helping us feel more financially secure in our new home.


Be patient


Mr Mac took five months to find a permanent job here that matched his skill set. He temped for the first five months to keep him earning. I have been in a fixed term contract role that has now concluded and am about to start temping. Things will get better and more settled but we both know we need to ride the waves before that happens.

Siobhan Claude Van Damme: Packed Boxes for Move to Edinburgh

Get out there


Getting out and meeting people has been a vital part of feeling at home here. I already knew some fabulous Edinburgh ladies through Twitter but we also met people through friends of friends and so on. Basically for the first six months or so we said yes to every invitation and in doing so we slowly grew a group of friends who we have come to love and wish we’d known longer. I know we got lucky in some ways but we also worked at it and are continuing to do so. We are also working at visiting friends from before and keeping those bonds in place. It is hard work but it is so very worth it.


Relax


For us a large part of the move was to get away from a frenetic pace. It took a while to chill out and deprogramme but we have both finally started to do it and it feels great. Things are not perfect but they are a damn sight better than they were and that is enough for us right now.


Do the things you said you would


We said we’d go out more when we moved, that I would start exercising more, that I’d join pilates classes, that Mr Mac would play guitar more. We have made those things happen. We had to. If the move was meant to make our quality of life better and we did none of the things we knew would do that then it would be a bust.

Siobhan Claude Van Damme: Starting to Unpack Boxes in Edinburgh

You take yourself wherever you go


Don’t expect a new city to make all your problems go away. You take yourself with you wherever you go. In my case it meant I found the experience very stressful which had a bit of an impact on my health. That was always going to happen, because of who I am. I think being okay with being you helps the whole thing work better and I am a tonne happier with a lot of elements of my life now than I was.


Have you ever done a major relocation? Do you have any tips to add?

27 April 2015

GUEST POST: Some Benefits of Being Crafty

Today, Elise is taking over my blog. Elise was the first internet buddy I met in real life and I feel hugely lucky to have her as a real life friend.


When I was trying to think of something to write for Sarah, I went through so many ideas in my head (tutorials! show and tell! materials!) but this one seemed like it was just waiting to be written. I'm a pretty creative person by nature, and I have been for as long as I can remember. Knitting, sewing, crochet, drawing, cutting and pasting (the pre-Word document kind), snapping, knotting... You get the picture. Therefore, I came at this post as someone who doesn't know any differently - I have to be creating to stay sane! I'm sure most people can identify with this list to some extent though. So, what are the top benefits of being a crafting aficionado?

Crafting bits and bobs

1 - Celebrating individuality. 

There are some projects I like to do over and over again. I've lost count of the number of baby booties I've knitted over the past couple of years. My signature style is to stick a pompom somewhere on each one, I can't get over the cuteness of them. However, I've never made two pairs the same. Even using the same pattern each time produces such different results according to wool colours and combinations, that every receiver of these tiny gifts is assured of an individual product. So if there's something you especially love to make, just know that it's not hard to vary the method and end up with something completely one-of-a-kind, even if it just means changing the colours from the original design.


2 - Presents for all! 

To lead on from my first point, crafting is a great way to give gifts that show you really care. Want to send you favourite friend a birthday card? Draw a cartoon of an 'in' joke. Or, if that's stretching your skills a bit far, trace a design you know they love. I'm not above getting a bit of help from a light box! Feel like showing your other half how much you love them? Knit them a cosy hat. Once you get to grips with a basic stitch, hats are the easiest thing ever to make. Don't have time to make something? Buy them something fab, wrap it in brown paper and tie it up with some string adorned with pompoms (yes, them again.)


3 - Saving money. 

Most of the crafts I do are chosen on the basis that I can make things in my own style, but the second biggest plus to come from being creative is that it helps save the pennies (for more craft supplies, naturally.) I recently spend around £6 buying an alphabet stamping set on eBay, and so far I've made two cards and a bunch of Christmas tags. A couple more cards and it'll have paid for itself! Charity shops are great for sourcing bits and pieces too. If I like a design on a garment but it's not my style, I know I can refashion it into something that is. If I find a cool postcard or print, I can pop in there and find a vintage frame to display it for pennies. Which leads me on to...

Knitted and crocheted baby gifts

4 - Trying new things. 

I'm a creature of habit for the most part, but when it comes to making things, I'll give anything a go. I love using fun fabrics to make blanket squares and tote bags, but why not have a go at covering a notebook? Always using your yarn for crochet? Make a pompom garland. (I'll shut up about pompoms now, I swear.) Take loads of photos? Print some off and hang them in mismatched (from the charity shop!) frames. Into stamping? Grab some pens and try doodling. Or go right off track and try something else altogether. Love painting? Have a go at cake decorating.


5 - Brain power. 

Let's assume we don't all love sudoku (I do, but...). Sometimes making something by following a set of instructions is the ideal time to test out how well your mind works. The amount of times I've come across a step in a pattern that doesn't seem to make any sense is pretty high. Either it can be fixed by playing the Google game and consulting the rest of the online world, or it can be solved by a process of trial and error. I generally use a combination of both, but whatever happens, at least when I do figure it out, I'll have learned what works (and doesn't) along the way.


6 - Keeping those hands busy. 

Something I've found to be a pretty common statement among fellow creatives - we don't like to feel idle. Sure, we all love a Netflix binge, but we just do it with one eye on the screen and another on our needles/notebooks/sewing machines. The only time I ever actually sit and stare at a screen is in the cinema, and I've never known any other way, so it feels odd to me not to have a project in my hands when I'm on the couch. My mum is a fanatical knitter and TV watcher, so I'll blame her for that habit.

Sketching at Kelvingrove

7 - Exploring new places. 

This one is a bit of a double header. There's the basic reason for visiting somewhere new, which is to see another place, explore, maybe take some pictures, maybe turn them into a calendar... Plus maybe get some inspiration for designing something new. And the second one. To hunt out a whole new set of craft and charity shops! It's not for nothing that I go on so many weekend jaunts around Scotland.


8 - Community. 

This is where blogging and the digital age come in. When I was growing up, my main passion in life was knitting. However, being a kid in the 90s meant this wasn't a hobby for sharing with other people my age. I was neither a cool kid or a dork, I just hung about somewhere in the middle, being vaguely aware that my 'granny' hobby would be met with judgmental looks. As I got older, I started to own my passions, and guess what? Nothing bad happened! In fact, as I discovered with the advent of blogging and tweeting and Ravelry-ing, there were millions of people out there just like me! I was in heaven, and I still am. Here's to being the weird kids!


9 - Gushing. 

Now we come to the final point. Which is... with great creativity, comes great admiration. I LOVE when people love what I make, and if you're creating something that looks even the tiniest bit...not shit... other people will love it too. Seriously, the amount of times I show people in 'real life' (as opposed to blog life) something that I've made and they go nuts for it is still surprising to me. I kind of want to shout at them that 'it's so easy! If I can do it you definitely can! It only takes one type of stitch!' Oh, this example is from when colleagues gushed over a blanket I made and don't seem to understand how easy it is to create. But this is the beauty of the gushing. We can either spend ages explaining how it's done or we can just smile smugly politely and say thank you.