I’ve had time to think this year. I’ve had a little time to think more about what I want out of life, and, more precisely, what I don’t. At the age of 36 I think I finally know myself well enough to know which battles are worth fighting and which ones I really don’t have time for. So here’s the list of things I’m dumping as we turn the final corner of 2017. 
Heels
Oh, how I love them. Feet jewels. They’re so pretty. And I so can’t wear them.
I’ve been trying since I was a teenager, but every time I wore them to a party or out clubbing they’d end up swinging from my hands while a mate gave me a piggy back, or kicked to the side of the room while I risked my feet on a sticky club carpet. A friend of mine used to say “You know it’s a party when Vicki takes her shoes off”. My lifelong search for the perfect comfortable and beautiful pair of heels is now over. I’m loving my brogues and Converse, and contemplating a pair of DMs like the ones I had when I was 15. I’m short and I don’t wear heels. The end.
Saying yes when I mean no
I’m a terrible people-pleaser. I want the whole world to like me, and in order to achieve this nonsensical goal I’ve always had a habit of saying yes to absolutely everything, then having to let people down at the last minute because I can’t possibly manage it. I even say yes to things I have no interest in doing at all.
No longer.
Having Arthur has changed me in many ways. This is one. When I know something isn’t going to work for us for whatever reason; travel, bedtime, nap time, more than one activity per day and so on, I just say no. I did think it might just be a family thing, but I seem to be doing it in other areas of life too. It’s far better than saying yes and then no and being known as Flaky McFlake Face. I’m also getting better at not giving a protracted, apologetic reason for my refusal. Which brings me nicely to…
Apologising for myself
Apparently this is very common for women. We often write emails at work that beg forgiveness for taking someone’s time, or asking a question about something we couldn’t possibly have known about. I’m terrible for this kind of thing. If someone bumps into me there’s a good chance I’ll say sorry.
I recently got a new job. It’s my dream job, really; freelance, working around Arthur and in an area of my field I’ve been wanting to get into for ages. I really had to talk myself into applying for it. “Oh,” I thought, “That looks great but I’m really not qualified.” 
Why not? My inner Confidence Beast asked. Isn’t your Masters degree as good as anyone else’s? Doesn’t your 16 years of experience count for anything? Haven’t you wanted to get back into work in a way that fits around family? WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
Reader, I got the job.
Dieting
This is a big one. Perhaps the big one. It’s been brewing for a long while, but having an HG pregnancy has really put my relationship with food and my body into perspective. I had to slowly starve myself over the nine months of my pregnancy and when I told people I had lost a stone in weight whilst pregnant I would get “Well, every dark cloud has a silver lining!” which tells you everything you need to know about what we think of larger-bodied people.
Since then I’ve decided to get off this particular merry-go-round. It’s never worked for me. I can’t be the person who has the ‘will power’ to make my body smaller. All diets have ever done is make me fatter in the long run, and since I stopped earlier this year and started to observe myself and my habits I’ve noticed that my weight has stabilised and my food moralising has stopped. After all, how can a delicious burger actually be bad? If I’m hungry the salad isn’t going to cut it.
For more information about Intuitive Eating and stepping away from diets I highly recommend Christy Harrison’s Food Psych, a brilliant podcast which looks at the flawed diet culture and examines ways to move forward. https://christyharrison.com/foodpsych/
Huge crowds
Have you ever stood on the South Bank on New Year’s Eve?
Don’t.
Gigs, festivals, carnivals, Oxford Street. I hate them all. It’s partially because I’m all of 5 feet 2 inches tall, and partly because the sight of all that forced jollity makes me anxious. YOU MUST HAVE A GREAT TIME. It’s guaranteed to give me the reverse. My last attempt was the Lambeth Country Show (a misnomer if ever I heard one), at which I sat in a horrible hot park with thousands of other people, ate an overpriced pork bap then raced home as fast as I could. Then contracted food poisoning. I’m grateful to the bap for the lesson. Big crowds are not for me.
I’d love to hear your version of this list. What are you happy to leave behind from your younger years?

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Arthur is nearly 11 months old. In some ways it feels as though my tiny baby disappeared in the blink of an eye, but mostly it feels as though he’s been here forever. In the blur and fog of the first year, it’s hard to remember what it was like before he showed up, perfect despite everything, and we lost ourselves to him. Now he’s almost a toddler really; pushing around the baby walker I found at a charity shop for peanuts, turning over all his toys with wheels to examine them intently like a baby mechanic, babbling as though he really wants us to understand him. 
I’m still breastfeeding. In all honesty, I thought I would have stopped by now but we’re dealing with a very specific set of circumstances. When I started to offer Arthur food five months ago (is it really that long?) he started to show signs of something called an IGE Mediated Allergic Reaction. Put simply, certain foods give him an alarming rash. Eggs, dairy, soy, citrus and banana are all off the table. I check ingredients obsessively, making sure he isn’t going to consume anything that will make him poorly. He can’t have any commercially available formulas as they all contain one or more of the things he’s allergic to.
In addition to this issue, Arthur won’t take food from a spoon. By necessity we’re doing ‘Baby-Led Weaning’ which means he hardly eats anything at all, and he also won’t take a bottle or drink water from a sippy cup yet. 
Breastfeeding is wonderful, a perfect cuddle, stillness in a busy day and a chance to check on Arthur at night. It helped us to get that elusive bond from day one, and I’ll always be so grateful that we were able to do it first time. But after such a long time of being my baby’s only real energy source, I find I’m tired. I’m starting to look forward to a time I can say yes to evening invitations, or to going out on the weekends for longer than three hours. I want to know that next year I’ll be able to organise some childcare without worrying that he’s not going to eat anything for hours. My hair and skin are suffering under the strain of my body providing nutrition for someone else for so long. My shoulders and back are always sore, as are my joints because of the relaxin that’s still being released into my system. Teeth make it very uncomfortable. I’m tired from having to get up at least once every night to feed, meaning I haven’t had an unbroken night’s sleep in nearly a year. My husband can’t really parent in the way I’d like him to (or the way he’d like to) because Arthur is still so dependent on me. It’s me he needs when he wakes up in the night, only me who can do bedtimes and first thing in the morning wake-ups. So, as a way of learning from my experiences, here’s what I’d recommend to other breastfeeding mothers in the early months based on my experience. Hope it’s helpful to someone!
Introduce a bottle and offer it consistently
At  5 months Arthur was able to take a bottle, and we’d offer it sporadically on the very rare occasions Will was parenting solo. To my regret we didn’t keep doing it, and by 7 months when we tried again he angrily rejected it. We’ve tried tonnes of different teats, all to no avail. He just won’t have it. I can’t help thinking that he might have found drinking from a cup a little easier if he’d realised he could actually suck from a bottle!
Introduce foods one by one and monitor for reactions
I had never even considered that Arthur might have food allergies. I blithely assumed he’d be just like me and be able to eat anything. If I had my time to do over again I wouldn’t crash straight in and offer everything at once the way I did this time, and I would (despite all current advice) start with the blandest foods, one at a time, which is what I eventually had to do on the helpful advice of a friend who’s been there before. It was hard to tell at first what he’d reacted to, and I didn’t even realise the rash was a problem until I raised it with my wonderful online Mum group. The only way to tell what was going on was to give those foods again, and I really think part of Arthur’s reluctance to eat is that he remembers those early reactions. I’d also (sorry, sorry BLWers) offer a spoon consistently every day. Even if I had done this there’s no guarantee, but I suspect Arthur might be a little further on with his eating and I might be able to leave him with someone else once in a while!
I know just how many women try to breastfeed and find it impossible, and I’m really glad and grateful for our success. Having said that, when the time comes to finally move on I think I’ll be glad that Arthur can be a little more independent. As we say in our group “This too shall pass”. Until then, my boob monster and I will keep plodding on.
Good luck with your feeding, however you’re doing it!

When Congratulations aren’t in order…

Oatcake Adventures

When congratulations aren’t in order…

The news is out! The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting her third child, (though I had my suspicions when she was admitted to hospital last week).. another royal baby? On the face of it, this is wonderful news.. so how come the most used reaction when I saw the news on Facebook was the ‘😢’ sad face?

Having connected this year with many other HG survivors, it’s clear that ‘congratulations’ isn’t the first word that springs to mind when a fellow sufferer announces their pregnancy. Choosing to face HG for a second time is a big decision, facing it for a third time is something so many women can never bring themselves to do. Facing the worst few months of your life, whilst having two little lives to nurture is an achievement to say the least! HG is going to hit the media big time…

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River Of Slime

Peter Venkman: Hey, how many of you people out here are a national monument? Raise your hand, please? Oh, hello, Miss!

I find myself thinking about Ghostbusters II a lot these days.


Bear with me.


I’m an 80s baby, and the Ghostbusters films were truly awesome. My brothers and I loved them. What’s chiming for me at the moment is the storyline of II.

In case you’ve never seen it, the basic idea is that there’s a river of supernatural slime flowing underneath New York City and feeding off all the negative emotions of the population. Everyone’s bad temper, anger, misanthropy and hatred is creating a monster.


I’ve been thinking about it a lot because it feels very much like what we’re living through at the moment. There’s an awful lot of negativity online, in the news and in the streets. In London everything feels uneasy in a way it hasn’t in all 18 years I’ve lived there. It might just be me that’s changed because of having a baby, but I don’t think it’s just that. There’s been a shift.


In the film there turns out to be a pretty brilliant solution. The boys take the “mood slime” (turns out it reacts to positive emotions, too), use their guns to fire it all over the Statue of Liberty, put on some banging tunes and have her walk through the streets of Manhattan with everyone singing and waving. They bring some positive energy back. It strikes me that we could do with something like that, albeit a little less bonkers. Back in the day, when I was teaching, I got to create my very own positive mood slime all the time. I helped my colleagues bring kids and staff together with singing, positivity and love every time we put on a show or a concert. It was our very own Ghostbusters II finale, twice a term. On a larger scale the 2012 Olympics did the most amazing job of bringing everyone together. People from all over the country volunteered and welcomed athletes and visitors,and for three weeks we were the place to be. It was amazing.


Right now there’s a lot of head-shaking. A lot of people ask the question “What kind of world are we bringing our children into?” and I understand the concern. I sometimes find myself sinking into anxiety at the dark place the world seems to be right now. So I’ve started turning off the TV, ignoring the trolls and filling my timelines with positive people. I’m living life on much smaller scale for the time being, and it’s helping. 


Moments with Arthur are constantly amazing. Today he has clapped for the first time, kissed his cousin on the head and held her hand, reached out his arms for his grandparents, uncle and aunt and made “brum brum” noises playing with his toy steering wheel. Not bad.


Wishing you a whole river of positive mood slime.

The Humble Travel Cot And Why It Is Awesome

I’ll admit it, I never expected our cheap Red Kite travel cot to become our son’s main bed. We had this beautiful inherited sleigh cot, snowy white and gorgeous and so lovely in the nursery. It looked like the perfect picture of a baby’s room you’d see on Pinterest or Instagram.

 

When we were ready for Arthur to move into a bigger bed at 4 months (he’s incredibly tall and was starting to outgrow our side-sleeper, plus my back was killing me), I had the idea of putting him in the travel cot in our room as we’d done at my parents’ house. It worked a treat. Once I’d got over not having him right next to me, we were golden. Still in our room, still next to us, just in his own bed with a nice extra mattress we’d bought for the purpose.

 

A month or so after that we decided we’d move him into his own room. How exciting! Getting our own room back! More sleep! Finally using that gorgeous cot!

 

Nope.

 

Firstly, we hadn’t reckoned on Arthur’s thrashing around. In his travel cot with the stretchy sides it was absolutely fine for him to roll over and over in his sleep, because there was nothing to bash him. All nice and soft and fun to make silly faces against. In the wooden cot he would repeatedly wake himself up with a limb stuck out the side, crying. Enter the ‘airwrap’ cot bumper, a safe breathable mesh to stop that happening. Great, worked for a few nights, but then Arthur started crawling, practising even when he was asleep. Now he was banging his little head into the solid end of the cot. And, yes, waking himself up.

 

After agonising over it for a few days (the cot! The beautiful cot!) we were resigned. Arthur crawls in his sleep, pulls himself up to standing and is generally a night time menace. To ensure that the sleep we did get was less punctuated by anxiety dreams about him maiming himself as we slumbered, we agreed to give up, take that lovely white cot down and let him sleep in his beloved travel cot.

 

As it turns out, it was a blessing. Arthur loves his bed, and is happy in there playing as I get everything ready for bedtime. He sleeps better (OK, it’s still not great but much, much better), and we’ve even bought another one to act as a playpen for downstairs when I need a break from chasing his little bottom round the living room. When we go away we take his actual bed from home, which is great for him. But the real dream is the weekend. We obviously don’t get a lie-in any more, but now we just bring Arthur’s bed into our room and let him play and nap in there. He can’t fall off the bed that way, and we still have a lovely time all together. And naps. Did I mention we all nap at the same time?

 

I’d say that’s worth retiring the beautiful cot for now.

Breastfeeding

(Before you read this, please be aware that this is based on my own experience only. I am not a trained expert, and provide useful links at the end of the piece directing you to people who are. I also think that however you feed your baby is great, whether you’re doing breast or bottle; I’m of the opinion that fed is best. Keep on keeping on, and if this isn’t useful to you I hope I’ll write something else that will be).

It’s a thorny issue, how we choose (or are forced by circumstance) to feed our babies. I was very clear during my pregnancy that I wasn’t going to put myself through the wringer if breastfeeding was too hard. I’d had the most dreadful pregnancy I could have imagined that still had a healthy outcome, and I wanted to let myself off the hook. I felt roughly the same about it as I did about labour vs c-section; however it happens is how it happens. However, nobody beats themselves up quite like a mother.

It was a bit of a surprise to me that Arthur really took to breastfeeding. It was really interesting that he didn’t seem too bothered about what the kind, NHS midwives and breastfeeding experts had told us about how it was supposed to work. We got into the recovery room, lovely Mary the Midwife put the baby onto my chest and helped him to my nipple; and that was that. He was on. He didn’t ‘scoop a big mouthful of breast’ as we were told. He just opened his mouth and sucked. Of course, there was a little more to it later. That would be when I’d start second-guessing myself and wondering if I was doing it ‘right’. I suspect literally every mother with access to Dr. Google goes through that stage, however hard or easy they find it. And make no mistake, some people DO find it hard, but there is a lot of excellent help available.

“If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong”

This is one of the things spouted when I was pregnant that makes me a bit cross in retrospect. My friend summed it up best when she said “Some babies find it easy, some find it hard, but the reality is your nipples have gone from having nothing sucking on them for 24 hours a day to having something sucking on them for 24 hours a day, They’re going to be a bit sore.” This was absolutely the best advice I received. Yes, it can REALLY hurt if your baby is struggling to latch, and if that’s the case you need help, but to suggest you’ll just blithely experience absolutely no discomfort if you’re “doing it right” is rubbish. If your baby is producing wet nappies (and the occasional dirty one) you’re grand. Just keep trowelling on the Lanolin cream until this phase passes, which it will.

“If they can’t do it straight away you need to move on to formula”

Not unless they’re not producing nappies and they’re losing weight. Babies need to learn everything. They even need to learn this. Yes, it is instinct, but they’ve never done it before. If you’re committed to the idea of breastfeeding, keep going and keep feeding on demand.

“It’s called breastfeeding, not nipple feeding”

Right, so if I try to latch him onto the side of my breast, that’ll work, will it? I was so confused by this one. My husband and I spent that first day convinced Arthur was doing it wrong because he didn’t have a “big mouthful of breast”. Everyone who stopped by took one look at him, nodded and told us he had the measure of it. We couldn’t understand it. What had they all been going on about then?

It was only recently (7 months into breastfeeding) that I realised if I was away for a while and needed to relieve a bit of pressure that it was my nipple I should squeeze to get milk out. Literally, this happened last week. Up until then I’d been kneading the whole thing like I was making bread or something. I’m pretty ashamed of how long it took me to get this. I used to be quite bright.

“ You’re feeding him too much”

No, you’re not. You can’t. If he wants to feed, let him feed. It doesn’t matter if it’s because he’s hungry, or tired, or because he just wants comfort; WHO advice is to offer the breast if your baby cries. If they don’t take it, they’re not hungry. Just smile, nod, and tell the kind advice-offerer you’re following current guidelines (rather than those of 40 years ago, add that if you’re really fed up). It’s really important to understand that at the beginning, as one wise midwife put it, your baby is “putting his order in”. At the beginning there’s no proper milk, only colostrum, and so baby needs to spend ages at the breast. When your milk comes in (and my, isn’t that unpleasant, sorry ladies) it’s supposed to calm down a bit. In my experience, that meant Arthur went from feeding all through the night to maybe 70 per cent of it. It was fine. It was normal. I was just terrified that it wasn’t.

“You need to start her on solids”

There’s a lot of guff about this. I decided to start giving Arthur some solid food at 5 months, and almost immediately wished I hadn’t. He wasn’t ready. He had IGE Mediated Allergic reactions (red rash on his face) to pretty much everything at first, and I have been kicking myself for doing it ever since, because now I have something else to worry about. Now I’m worried that I’ve caused the intolerance by starting him on food early. Pretty much impossible, but hey, Mum Guilt. NHS advice now is that milk feeds are the most important way a baby gets nutrition until they’re 1 year old. If only I had trusted the good old NHS and really waited until I was sure. The bottom line here is you know your baby. Trust yourself, because you are the best expert here, even as a first-time mum. Nobody else has raised your baby, after all. There are babies that sleep round the clock, there are babies that barely nap. There are babies who walk at nine months, and there are babies who refuse to lift a hoof until 18 months. They are all different. Trust yourself, and if you need to, seek expert medical advice.

“You need to move on”

This is really a judgement call. I thought that once you hit six months and the baby miraculously took to eating like a pro, drinking out of a sippy cup as if swigging a pint of best bitter, you could just, you know, stop. Boy, was I naive.

Babies have to learn to do everything.

Arthur doesn’t really understand what the sippy cup is for. He likes the bright colours and enjoys putting it in his mouth the right way, but when the water comes out he jumps, amazed. What’s this stuff? Weird, wet stuff I have a bath in. What’s it doing in my mouth, then? Curious. Maybe I’ll just bash it against my high chair instead. Ooh, nice noise. Do you like, Mum?

Even just today, I got it in my head we needed to start giving him a bottle of formula to give me a bit of a break every now and then. Wouldn’t that be nice, I thought. Well, for starters he’s forgotten how to take a bottle so just chews the teat and squeezes it, and cries for boob. He also appears to have had The Reaction around his mouth, meaning I can add ‘dairy’ to the list of things to give a wide berth for a while. I called my Mum, expecting her to tell me to keep trying and it would be fine, but as ever, I was surprised.
“He’s a breastfed baby” she told me. “If it’s working, why would you change it?”

Why, indeed. Good luck with it everyone, and remember, there are a ton of really excellent places to go to for advice. Here are the best I’ve found.

http://kellymom.com/

https://abm.me.uk/ (Association of Breastfeeding Mothers)

https://www.laleche.org.uk/ (La Leche League UK)

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/breastfeeding-first-days.aspx

http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/ (World Health Organisation)

 

 

 

 

 

Babies and Holidays

We’ve just done a two-part holiday in Cornwall and Devon with the Little Droid, and it was fun (and exhausting). For context, our first place was a Yurt on a family campsite, the second an Air BnB flat. For our first go we decided to take it easy (ish) and stick with the UK, heading to sunny Devon and Cornwall in the family chariot  Here are my top tips. Some are specific to the type of holiday, but point one is a must wherever you go!

Washing Machine And Drier

Staying​ anywhere longer than four days? You really, really need this. You know how much washing you get through now? That doesn’t holiday when you do, sadly. If you can’t manage this, a launderette nearby is a must. In fact, that’s even more use than a place with a washer and no drier; as we had in our second place with no outside space to dry stuff. Then you just have a load of damp washing hanging around in a poorly ventilated flat.

Buggy Access

We really didn’t think about this. Not even one bit. We stayed in a place with steep steps up to the front door, which was doable but very annoying and turned popping out for some milk into a major performance. I think someone should have filmed us huffing and puffing our way up those steps with a 20lb kid and a load of shopping. All part of the fun!

Proximity To Shops

This was where our second place bested the first. We were minutes from everywhere, including the all-important launderette.

Highchair And Cot

Sounds obvious, but you’re going to need these unless your baby isn’t weaning yet and you’re seasoned co-sleepers who can fit in a normal-sized double bed. You may be able to hire either or both, but if you’re hiring then do remember a comfy mattress for the travel cot. They generally come with ones that are OK for one or two nights but not brilliant for longer. See also;

Space For The Cot

In the massive yurt this was no issue. In the flat we had to double up the living room as the baby’s room as both of the bedrooms were too small for the cot. This wasn’t ideal as it meant we had to leave baby sleeping on the bed in our room if we wanted to watch a bit of telly or, you know, talk.

Parking Nearby

If you’re driving, this is an absolute solid gold must. We spent every day at our second location playing free car park hopscotch. It was a massive bore.

Don’t Over Pack

No matter how much I try, I always pack too much. This time we had loads of unworn clothes between me and Husband. Mainly because we were washing as we went!

You can’t really over pack for a baby though. Unless you take a snowsuit in June. We had about a million bibs and still ran out. I was attaching flannels and towels to the poor child in the end. 

Long Car Journeys

Our boy is a remarkably good car traveller. He very rarely gets cross at being stuffed in his car seat. So it came as quite a shock when, on the journey home, he set up a grim, teeth-rattling wail that would have woken the dead. We ended up stopping at three consecutive service stations, skipped the next then stopped at another. Two hours were added to the journey. We hadn’t been faced with fed-up-of-the-car Arthur before; but then we realised.

We did the outward journey at night.

It was great. A sleeping baby and a very quick run. No problems at all. In future we’ll be doing it this way on the way back, too! At least until he learns how to say “Are we nearly there yet?”

Camping Vs Holiday Flat

Let’s be clear, now. It wasn’t really camping. If you’ve electricity, a heater, fridge, microwave and a proper bed, it just isn’t really. It was lovely though, a great big room, loads of space for Arthur to roll around in and the outside basically inside. The massive, massive downside is that with only one room (we had been mistakenly led to believe there were two on the website), bedtime was a challenge. But then, for us, bedtime is always a challenge. Arthur doesn’t​ do bedtime anyway, being a party baby, so really it was business as usual. With a couple of extra tantrums (from me). The other downside was the night it blew a gale. But we’ll gloss over that.

The flat wasn’t ideal for our purposes, I won’t lie. If we could have added a tumble drier, garden, assigned parking and a second bedroom with room for a cot (this time Arthur was in the living room as the second room was entirely bed so again, not ideal), it would have been great. What was irritating is that the cot space situation wasn’t clear from the flat blurb, and we didn’t know to ask. 

However, it did have a proper bath and en suite shower, always a bonus, and it meant we could give Arthur a proper bath. We were also moments from everywhere which was fantastic. No need to drive to the shops, and we had a lovely time pushing Arthur along the Quayside with lots of people commenting on his angelic demeanour. He gets his acting skills from me.

Whatever you’re doing for your holidays; UK trip, abroad, or just a nice week at home, have a great time. And take lots more pictures. As if you needed telling!

Manchester

This morning I wanted to get my thoughts down about what happened in Manchester. Writing has always been the best mode of communication for me, and helps me make sense of things. It’s only relatively recently that I’ve begun sharing it with others. I know that the only people who will read this are my friends, and will forgive any half-formed thoughts.

Having Arthur sometimes feels as though I’ve been given the keys to the great, vast secrets of the universe. After four years of the toothache of infertility, this little boy’s smile cracks me open with the force of a hundred suns. It is mind blowing. You know those moments when you feel at peace with everything, at one, you don’t know what with and you can’t explain it? Those moments when you feel that maybe God really does exist? I have those daily now. It is overwhelming. And along with the love and peace and wonder comes something different, and darker.

Fear.

I know now what it must feel like to have a child caught up in something like that. The heart-stopping, gut-wrenching horror of it. To not know they are safe. I have always loved the children I teach, and I have always been able to imagine it. Now I know. There is nothing I can do, or say to make things better, but I grieve with those parents and all I can do is try not to feel it too much, because it is not helpful, it solves and changes nothing. I also know that the bomber was a boy once. A baby who giggled and rolled and cried and needed his parents, just like mine. And that’s perhaps the worst thing of all. That I feel for him too, and for his family, even though I will never understand his actions.

But after all that, under all that, is compassion. The beauty of humanity, the very best of us is always seen just after these all-too frequent events. The vigil in Manchester, Tony Walsh’s beautiful poem, the cab drivers who ferried people from the venue for free and helped distraught parents find their kids. The outpouring of love on social media.

So, today, I’m going to try a few things that might help me with finding my own compassion.

If I see something on social media that makes me angry, I am not going to reply. Hate breeds hate, and if I comment on it my friends and family will see it. I will put down the phone, close the laptop. I will choose to see only the wonderful things the internet brings us. I will go for a walk and look at the summer leaves. I will tickle my son and revel in his laugh. In this way, I will be kind.

If I find myself getting too sad about the news, I’ll turn it off. I’ll call my husband, or Mum, or a friend. I’ll take my son to a cafe and mingle with other people, the good ones. I’ll listen to good music and read meaningful poetry. In this way, I will be wise.

I love Manchester. I have so many happy memories of that metropolis. Choosing my piano and flute from Forsyth’s. Affleck Palace. The fountain near Victoria Station students used to fill with bubble bath. That bar where they serve cocktails in goldfish bowls. Long boozy lunches and Christmas shopping with my friend Ben. Those things are all still there, and always will be.

Today, I will head out into my own beloved city with my lipstick on, my head held high and my little son in his sling. Because that’s all any of us can really do. Humanity is terrible, but also beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Stretch Marks and Scars

I was 35 when Arthur was born which had never been my intention. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t one of those people with a “plan” to have two kids by 30 or anything, but I sort of thought it would be earlier (and easier) than this.

Having said that, being an older prima gravida does have some advantages. A lot of friends and family had their babies quite a while ago, so I’d already changed my fair share of nappies. I’d also heard a lot of truthful birthing stories, so my Birth Plan was basically “Get the baby out without killing either of us and we’re cool”. No home water births for us. I read the hypnobirthing book with a healthy dose of scepticism. (Read: I giggled like a loon at the idea of my atheist joker of a husband reading aloud the visualisations during birth. I thought it might give us a laugh though).

One of the most interesting personal developments to come out of all of this though is a genuine respect for my own body. The media likes to bang on about getting one’s “figure back” or being your “pre-birth weight”. Honestly I’ve realised that in the heat of parenting, when you got up more times in the night than an elderly incontinent, a bit of sugar is the least you deserve. I was back to my “pre-birth weight” pretty quickly, but that’s mainly because of HG and the fact I wasn’t skinny to begin with thanks to four years of comfort eating. My post-natal body is quite something.

My breasts are hilarious. Huge, saggy, stretch-marked and one is at least two cup sizes bigger than the other. My husband regularly sings “Hooray, up she rises/She’s got breasts of different sizes” when I wander round nude. Which I do all the time now, because I just Do Not Care. So liberating.

My belly has a lot going on, too. I remember thinking I’d got away without stretch marks until after the birth when I finally dared to look in the mirror. Ah. There they are then. I don’t really mind them at all now, despite my obsessive use of products to keep them at bay while pregnant (newsflash: these work about as well as wrinkle or cellulite creams).

I love my c-section scar. I think it’s cool, like a tattoo or piercing. Sadly it’s not visible thanks to the overhanging spongy flesh. I won’t be wearing bikinis any time soon, but honestly I didn’t wear them before anyway.

I’ve called a truce with my body. We’re OK now. I’m unlikely to ever be a size 10 ever again and that’s fine. I recently watched an old family home movie on which 13-year old me was chasing around after my little brothers and cousins. I already had a big bottom. It was a revelation, frankly.

The really important thing to me now is health. After 9 months of throwing up every day, you stop taking that for granted. My body managed to grow a baby despite the fact I was barely feeding it. It has, in turn, fed that baby for six whole months. It can already walk long distances again, as well as perform complicated yoga routines. My body has healed itself admirably. Food is wonderful now; rather than restricting what I eat because I want to be smaller, I’m eating what I want because I can. I’m still enjoying food far too much to stop eating chips just yet. HG is great for perspective on dieting.

My body and I have always been wary allies. I’ve never loved it. But now? Now I think it’s amazing. 

6 Months

Yesterday marked half a year since Arthur was born. 

We’re past those newborn days. They were amazing and impossible and hilarious. We’ve had to learn how to be parents and get to know our boy. I thought I’d mark the occasion by writing him a letter. 

Dear Artoo (I call you this because R2-D2 has always been my favourite Star Wars character. Like him you’re brave, clever, and indispensable to the adventure)

You’re getting big. So big, in fact, that I’m starting to have to strain the 6-9 month vests and sleepsuits over your bottom. You have a sharp little tooth sticking out of your lower gum, only just through but it’s there. You’ve got a new cry that I think means “I’m bored, change it up” but I can’t quite be sure yet. Your hungry cry and tired cry are VERY clear now. You can sit without me holding you (although you still pitch to one side like a drunken sailor on deck, and once threw yourself backwards and gave your Dad a real fright), and you can roll. A lot. You’re working on the crawling which is more like a face slide with your bum in the air, but it’s coming along, and you chat to us all the time. These are all the obvious things that everyone does; you’ve also got some of your own going on too. 

1. In the bath you reject all toys except the little purple cup I use to rinse your hair. I have no idea why, but it’s your beloved. 

2. Cuddly toys aren’t really what you want when you go to sleep. You like to rub a muslin all over your face and clutch it with your chubby little hands instead. 

3. You always start laughing with what I call your “Roland Rat” laugh (look him up, he was 80s awesome) before the belly laughing. It’s the only way I can describe it. 

4. You adore your Daddy, and spend ages every morning gazing at him, chatting and grabbing his nose and beard.

5. You love books.  LOVE them. You’ve been turning the pages by yourself since you were four months, but now you’re finding it easier to do that without shouting at the book at the same time.

Over the next six months we’ve got some exciting things going on. Your first holiday with me and Daddy, our party with the other November Babies and another little cousin coming your way too. Tomorrow is your very first Eurovision Song Contest! I’m very much hoping you’ll be asleep for it, but still. 

In the future there’ll be babysitters, nursery, family, friends. Right now it’s all about the three of us. Because I can feed you with my boobs I get to keep you to myself, and if I’m honest that’s pretty fantastic. I’m not ready for anyone except Daddy to have you yet. We’re a team, the three of us. I’m clearly Han and Dad is Chewbacca.

I often ponder just how unlikely you are, my brave little droid. When me and your Dad went to the clinic I got the date wrong. I was so upset, thinking I’d blown it by taking my last injection at the wrong time, but they ended up managing to collect 13 eggs the next day. I’ll always wonder if you were the 13th egg, the one that might never have been if I hadn’t got the day wrong. Did you hear me when I told you to grab on? Of course not… but you did anyway. You wanted to be born, or at least that’s how I’ve always seen it. If your Dad and I had gone for IVF sooner, if we’d had kids without help, if scientists hadn’t invented IVF in the first place, if your grandparents had never met, if me and Daddy never met; it’s just the most unlikely cosmic chain of events really. 

Yet here you are. 

Thanks for picking us. 

Love Mum xxx