My London

I’m a Northerner born and bred, and yet last September I was able to say that I’d lived in London for as long as I lived up North. 18 years, to be exact. I used to hear the clichés from friends and family a lot. “I like London, but I couldn’t live there”, or “I’ve been to London. Never liked it. Everyone’s so rude, nobody talks to you.”

Well, having lived here for so long (I think now I can actually call myself a Londoner) I can tell you that the second thing is nonsense. Most people visiting London only actually go into the centre of town, shops and shows. You’re usually only going to meet other tourists there; so really, you’re not meeting that many Londoners. They’re all at work, you see. The other thing worth mentioning is that Londoners will absolutely talk to you. IF YOU ACTUALLY BOTHER TO TALK TO THEM. And despite popular belief they won’t edge away, or look at you like you’re mad etc etc. They’ll smile and pass the time of day just as they would anywhere else. Our next-door neighbours gave us presents when we got married and when Arthur was born. The lady a few doors down brought us a load of toys hers have grown out of. Since having Arthur I’m on nodding acquaintance with many more neighbours and have made friends in the flats opposite. It’s a community like any other.

If there is more of a reticence in a big city you can’t really blame us. We live a different way, with different worries and concerns. Over the past few years we’ve watched as our beloved cities have been targeted by extremists and our people killed on the same streets we walk every day. It’s difficult to keep being friendly to everyone you meet under that strain. After the London Bridge attack I really struggled to go back into the centre of town. Having a baby with me was probably the main reason. I have to wave my husband off to Soho every day for work, and if he can do it, so can I. This is my city, and it always will be; my Borough Market, my Strand, my Camden Town, my South Bank, my Angel. These are the streets where I became an adult, staggering out of pubs and clubs with my friends at university, catching the Number 12 night bus (highly recommended if you like watching a drunken bust-up), living at seven different addresses in Southwark, Islington, Hornsey and back to Southwark again. This is where I fell in love with my husband and married him, this is our son’s first home. I’ve conducted choirs and orchestras here, taken kids on endless trips, written and chatted in cafes all over the city. Private members bars, pubs, museums, galleries, opera houses, concert halls, parks, trains, tubes and buses.

I love this place. The view from Waterloo Bridge will always make me catch my breath in wonder, and my husband and I still argue about which side is best as we try to look at the view and the road at the same time while we drive across the river to visit our families. Ah, the river, Old Father Thames (or Mama Thames if you believe Ben Aaranovitch’s excellent Rivers of London series). It divides us into two halves, causing jocular debates about which is best, North or South. I’ve lived South more than North, but I’ve got a secret space in my heart for the trendier North, especially Camden where I had my first proper teaching job.

Despite all of this our house is on the market. It’s time to move on.

I always knew that if we finally did manage to have a child I’d want him to have a similar childhood to mine. It’s a personal thing; there are plenty of awesome kids I know being raised in this amazing city, and we could stay and do the same. It would be easier in many ways; moving is awful, and our home is lovely. It’s just that after my pregnancy when I went back to the North something shifted. There’s a longing for open sky, for walking boots and woods, and hills to explore in the fresh air. I never expected to feel that way. I thought I’d want to live here forever, but my pregnancy and becoming a mother has changed me. I can’t deny that. I’ve been rearranged somehow.

We visited friends outside of London last weekend. It was lovely, and although we didn’t do much exploring while we were there we did have time to exhale. Driving back into town through Wimbledon as the streets got narrower and the buildings taller, I felt the sky get smaller and suddenly I knew. I’m ready.

But you’ll always be my first love, London.

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Hot Chocolate Stories

For as long as I can remember I’ve had this thing for hot chocolate. It’s not so much a drink as a state of mind; soothing, nourishing, decadent and delicious. I don’t drink it that often; it’s as if I forget it exists for a while and then have a sudden wild enthusiasm for it and have it every night for a week.

At the moment I can’t have dairy because of my son’s allergies. Perhaps because of that I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had. I remember them in a way I’d never remember a cup of tea or coffee (although my Dad definitely does the same thing with coffee and has spent his life trying to recreate one he had in Crete in 1978).

A Spanish Stroll

I was seven and we were staying on the Balearic island of Menorca. We’d just been out for tea, me, my parents and my little brothers, and we were strolling through some sand dunes near a lighthouse when we came upon one of those lovely bar/cafes you get on the continent. I don’t remember much about it except for the cool parasols and the fact that it was twilight, and I was wearing my new shawl, because lace shawls were all the rage just then; and that mum and I had hot chocolate. I can still see the thick glass, the sediment in the bottom, and taste the rich sweetness of it. God, it was good. I’d never tasted anything like it before. I’ve never found anything like it since.

A French Breakfast

We used to go camping to France every year from when I was nine. One year we arrived on French soil very early in the morning, and we all had the kind of appetite you get after a long journey. We started the drive and had to “keep our eyes peeled” for somewhere to eat breakfast.

Passing through a small town we found a café. Well, I say café but it was actually someone’s front room. We were excited about the fresh, crunchy bread with little pats of butter, the croissants and the steaming coffee, but ten-year-old me asked for hot chocolate. Perhaps I was thinking back to Menorca.

Do you remember those battered metal jugs for water at primary school? The ones that beaded with condensation when the water was cold on a hot day?

The friendly woman (waitress? chef?) brought out one of those. It was steaming, and she set it in front of me. It was full to the brim of creamy, foamy, delicious hot chocolate. “Is this all for me?” I asked, stunned. The woman didn’t speak English but she understood the sentiment of what I said and nodded. Mum (who seems to be ever-present in my hot chocolate stories) peered over delightedly. I hope I offered her some, because I know that jug of delight defeated me and we had to go when I was barely halfway down it.

Hot chocolate served in a jug. Perfect.

When your baby gets a little bit older you’re sort of expected to go back “to normal”. People stop offering help, and start expecting you to be back to the way you used to be. As if you had some kind of lengthy convalescence and are now back to full health.

The thing is, though, you’re not.

Your joints still ache from breastfeeding. Your back hurts. You get barely enough sleep to survive. Your body feels like it’s been rearranged somehow; it’s still not entirely yours. And that’s not even thinking about the psychological effects of having a baby; the lasting effects of PND or PNA, constantly worrying about the little person you brought into the world and love so much you’re bewildered and frightened by it. After a year has passed you’re probably trying to juggle work with parenting, and, if you’re a stay at home parent, you might be bored out of your brain. Whichever path you’ve chosen (or been forced into due to circumstances) you more than likely feel guilty. It probably gnaws at you.

Whatever you’re doing right now, at this moment, your little person is there, in the background on a loop in your mind as you worry about whether you packed enough snacks for tomorrow and whether that rash us just post-viral and whether it would be selfish to get your partner to take over for a couple of hours so you can meet up with your friend who’s going through tough times.

I don’t have any answers for you, I’m so sorry. I won’t trot out the cliché “you got this” because if you’re anything like me a) you find it annoying and b) you feel very much as though you don’t got this.

All I will say is that I’m pretty sure most women feel like this after having a baby, and that it takes a lot longer than twelve months to get over pregnancy and birth, especially if you’ve endured trauma in either or both. All I will say is it’s OK. You’re OK, or, if you aren’t, you probably will be soon. Try as much as you can to reclaim something you used to love; even if it’s just relaxing in the bath with a paperback. Cling to your mum friends, because they know. They really do. And this:

Well done.

New Year’s Eve. It’s been tricky for me for a while. You see, I lost someone very close to me just over nine years ago, and a great many of the brilliant New Year parties (and the not so brilliant) had her in a starring role. Since then I’ve tried to play along but my heart’s just not been in it. People talk about Christmas being tough for the same reason, but for me this particular night is when I feel the need to honour my friend, when I think about her even more than usual. Over the years it has lost its sting, but I remember that first year, watching the fireworks at a bustling party and thinking “She can’t kiss me, text me or phone me this year. It’ll never be the same again.”

All this might sound gloomy, but honestly it really isn’t any more. Last year, the first with my son, we made the decision to stay in, watch a film, drink fizz and laugh at the Hootenanny. You can just about see the fireworks in London from my doorstep, but I was warm in bed instead. It was the first time I’d felt 100% positive about the night in a long time.

The Christmas holidays are bloody hard work when you’ve got two loving families living 200 miles apart and you want to fit everyone in. Not that hard compared to a lot of people, I know; but we seem to spend a lot of time in the car. We have a blast, and this year Christmas was fantastic, but we tend to be pretty tired when we finally make it home. I decided that if we were always going to have to be away for Christmas Day, perhaps we could reclaim New Year. Have it as a little celebration, just the three of us. I can’t think of a better way to ring in 2018.

Thanks to you all for taking the time to read the little bit of writing I’ve managed in this first full year of being a mum. It’s been wonderful, challenging and exciting, as all the best years are. Sure, the 31st December is just another day; but you can’t deny there’s a lot of magic in all that joyful hope and expectation. I’ll raise my glass to my little family, my beloved friend, and to all of you.

Happy New Year ❤

One Year

It’s a little bit late, but I wanted to mark Arthur’s first birthday by writing him a letter.

Dear Arthur,

12 months. One whole trip around the sun. A year has come and gone since you burst into our lives, and it’s been tough, and wonderful, and awe-inspiring and hilarious.

Now you’re one there’s a lot happening with you. You started walking at 11.5 months, which was so exciting. I love watching you tearing around, investigating everything and pulling everything apart. You’re saying some words now, too. For a long while your favourite word was “Daddy”, even to the point of chanting it round Sainsbury’s. Your first proper word was “duck” but we haven’t heard it since. You say “Arthur!” tenderly as you recognise yourself in the mirror and give yourself a kiss. You’re also pretty good at “Wow!” and “Oh!” but my favourite word so far has to be “bauble” which has replaced all other words as you’re so pleased with it. No Mama, not yet. Why would you need it? I’m always here, after all. And I’m beginning to be concerned that you think my name is Boob anyway.

So, what else are you up to? Books. You love love love them. You’re never happier than when sat in a big pile of your books, turning pages upside down happily to yourself. You prefer to do this whilst listening to music in your bedroom. I didn’t get to that stage until I was at least 12, so well done there.

You’re funny. So, so funny, and you know it, too. Thankfully you still do your Roland Rat laugh, only now it’s accompanied by the cheekiest of grins, with plenty teeth. You love it when we chase you, especially if you notice the gate to the stairs has been left open and there’s an opportunity for some climbing.

You have so many amazing toys, but right now you’re not that interested. What’s more important to you is practising your walking, up and down, up and down the hall. You’re often carrying something as you go; a toy car, dolly, perhaps even the coaster I got from a wedding in Nice years ago. That’s a particular favourite. You’re sociable and loving and you adore other children, but Daddy and I are still your favourites.

Hopefully, as you enter your second year, I’ll be a bit more with it. It’s a tough gear to get into, parenthood, and I wasn’t always sure I was doing the right thing. I did my best, and that seems to be enough for you. As long as we get our sticky cuddles and kisses every time you toddle over to me, only to race off again, I think we’ll be OK. There’s a lot of fun stuff waiting for us this year. More talking, more playing, more holidays, more tearing about. Crayons, sticker books, play-doh and glitter. Trips to the zoo, trips to the seaside, chips and chocolate and apples and carrots. All of that and more.

I’m so glad you came along. I’m so glad we get to be your parents. I’m so proud of you. Keep being you, Little Droid. You’re the best person we’ve ever met.

Love,

Boob.

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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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.