The Happy Baby Project

A happy baby needs a happy mum


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A little word about PMS…ssssh

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Myself and a mummy friend were discussing this the other day – how much worse PMS is post-baby! And why no-one mentioned this to us beforehand?!

I am now a roaring lion, rage-filled and snappy, sending The Chef scuttling away to the kitchen. Then, I am suddenly prone to bursting into tears at the slightest thing – sobbing into my glass of wine at The Voice, adverts about dog rescue; crying because I love my son so much or because the world is a sad place or because I don’t like our kitchen units. It is so ridiculous, so over-emotional, that I often find myself laughing at me crying, while crying, becoming a snotty crazy mess.

I googled this and was overwhelmed with the amount of forum posts asking whether anyone else found PMS worse after a baby. The answer is YES, it’s much worse.

A small bit of research revealed that it tends to be worse for new mums due to a combination of bad diet, lack of exercise and exhaustion – so it should get better after a while, and I expect it would improve if you went to the gym, took some vitamins – particularly B6 which helps if you’re run down -and cut down on the custard creams. Plus the first few times the new hormonal change is probably difficult for your body to process. Or so I’m hoping.

It is also apparently worse for mums who suffered from post natal depression. I think I may have had mild PND at times – or I was just over-emotional and very hormonal – so I am not surprised its been pretty bad for me.

And hey, yeah I know it’s not particularly dignified talking about periods or PMS but I wish someone had told me before I spent another month blubbing on the sofa…

If you want to read more about how you can cope with post-partum PMS, I found this article really helpful.

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Time: An update

I once wrote about Time on this blog – my son was very young and the gist of the blog post (I know you don’t have much time either, ladies) was that I was finding I didn’t have very much of it.

But now Mr S is almost 11 months, and I’m going back to work, and something most surprising has happened.

I have found I now DO have more time. I’ve made my own time – wrung every last minute out of the washcloth of life. I am now the Master of Time – I control time, I plan time, I break it up into itty bitty pieces, I multi-task, I do things in 7 minutes I never dreamed I could fit into such a small window – like having a shower, sending 3 emails, 6 texts, making & eating breakfast and emptying the dishwasher.

If I find an unplanned 5 minutes of spare time while waiting on a platform, or while S naps – oh what a luxury! I will take that 5 minutes and do something useful – like sorting out the receipts in my wallet or re-organising a cupboard.

I can leave the house at 10.30am for a 10.50am music class that is 17 minutes away – I get there quickly because I now walk with a pram as fast as a cheetah on speed, and I can manage to pop into Boots for formula, Cargo for a cushion cover, and Tesco for milk, and STILL find time to chat to my NCT friend before class starts.

I live my life by to-do-lists and reminders and diary entries. If I lost my iPhone, I would be lost, full stop.

But that’s not to say I don’t use time as DOWN time. I need my down time to have energy for when S is awake and for all the housework that needs to be done before bedtime – these cupboards won’t re-organise themselves.

I am a watcher of The Real Housewives of Beverley Hills, I am a reader of historical fiction and Nora Ephron. I am an eBay queen and a social media lurker. I try to find time each week to call a good friend and to facetime my mother.

I suppose I am just a mum – this is what we do. This is what my mum did and her mum did, all the way down the line.

I can’t even imagine what I’m going to do with the 40 minute commute to work – such a wonderful amount of time. The possibilities are endless, or I might just spend the entire time googling the JoJo Maman Bebe website…


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On Happiness & Motherhood

Note from Sasha: I wrote about happiness and being a mum on my other blog, The Happiness Project London, and I thought I’d share it here….

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And then there were three….

You will have to excuse my lack of blogging of late. But on 27 March 2013, I gave birth to my son and my life changed out of all recognition. And recently, 7 weeks on, I’ve realised some things about happiness that make the HPL rules more important than ever to stick to and I wanted to share them here.

It is only now, as my body releases the hormones I’ve had circulating in my system over the last 10 or so months, which kept my baby inside me and allowed him to grow, that I am able to reflect on how I’ve changed.

Firstly, I realise I had a tough pregnancy. I have a new-found affinity for Kim Kardashian in that I too grew to the size of a small bus while carrying my baby boy, to the extent that many people (including medical practitioners) told me I must be having a huge baby. I feel for her because while you can put vanity on the back burner as much as you can, hating photos of yourself, catching yourself sideways in a mirror and gasping at your sheer bulk, isn’t the best thing for your self-confidence or esteem.

And then there’s how the hormones affect you. For me, my body was allergic to the hormones, and while my body gave everything it could to make my son the beautiful and chilled out boy he is, it took something from me – my skin became red and sore and swollen and itchy, I didn’t look like me, I would look in the mirror and cry in pain and in sadness at the loss of something. Only now, when he is 7 weeks, and my skin has begun to look normal again (thanks, in part, to Waitrose Baby Bottom Cream, who knew?), I feel that I have regained “me” again, only a fatter me with droopier boobs.

Then there’s the moods, the loss of confidence at work because of baby brain and guilt about maternity leave and your career path, the overwhelming love and fear for your baby and your family, and the separation from old friends whose lives are now on a different track.

Then there’s the birth. Well mine was pretty bloody awful. It was brutal and traumatic and you can read about it on my baby blog here if you want to. It gave something to me, of course – it gave me a power and a confidence, especially as I did it without an epidural and mostly on gallons of gas and air, but it also made me cynical and angry at mother nature and at life, and its something I realise I need to recover from mentally and emotionally, as does The Chef who saw things I can’t even imagine.

And finally motherhood. The highs, those incredible highs – of picking up a sleepy warm baby in the morning, of the first smile, the picking his clothes and laughing when he does something funny, the watching him asleep, the cuddles and the love – that overwhelming love again – and the worry about anything that might happen to him. I feel such pride in my family, in him, this chilled out wee fella that The Chef and I made, who seems better than us, who seems so perfect, who I can’t wait to watch grow, who develops every single day.

But, at 7 weeks, as the hormones that made him slip away, I feel something new. A sense of change, of wondering who I am now, what I do from here.

I’m not working, my life is my baby and cups of coffee, endless coffees, with other mums. We talk about our babies and about our boobs and our stitches. I am fascinated with recording every feed, every poo, every minute of sleep.

I found myself telling a (male) friend of mine, in great detail, about how my son hadn’t pooed for 2 days and how it was great that he had finally done a poo that morning, explaining in detail how he went red and I felt bad for him but was also happy as he’d been constipated… and halfway through I thought – what on EARTH am I doing! I’m talking about my son’s shits in great detail! To a bloke! I’ve become one of those mothers….And I post photos of him on Facebook all the time. And when The Chef brings up something in the news I feel ashamed – I didn’t watch the news today, in fact my world is here, so small now, between the bedroom and the nursery and the kitchen. And between the coffees, I am here – in the nursery mostly – with him, loving him and cuddling him, but alone, lonely at times. Working us both up to the next coffee, the next GP visit, the walk to the park, that is the day’s activity.

My god I’m not complaining. I love being a mum – I’m good at it I think. I love him and I love our life together and I love my family. But I realise my identity, my happiness, my confidence, has taken a knock with all this, left me moody and on the verge of rage or tears fairly easily, left me not quite knowing who I am now, how I’ve changed, whether I will ever be the old “me” again. And so now, I realise how important it is that I work on my happiness, and in doing so, work out where I go from here.

And so to the rules again:

1. Be Active – important given I can only live in elasticated waistbands for so long. I’m doing a mother & baby yoga class to ease my creaky bones, and I’ve dug out my gym kit with thoughts of swimming and running.

2. Connect – vitally important for me right now. I miss my friends after 7 weeks of wanting to be holed up with my baby boy. I want to organise a girls’ night out and drink wine – wine! – and a night eating good food with The Chef. I want to drink a martini. I want to go to the cinema. I want to see old friends, and friends without kids, and phone people when I feel isolated with a baby stuck to my breast.

3. Give – my current bugbear, after awe-inspiring treatment by NHS midwives at Kingston hospital, is the proposed plans for the NHS – the fact that it is effectively being privatised from under our noses to an American-style insurance-based system with healthcare for the richest, from private companies, while the poorest will suffer. I need to see what I can do to get involved. As a mum I’m also filled with an empathy I don’t think I had before – so I want to make sure I give clothes and toiletries to charities that help women and children.

4. Nurture – easy. I do it every day until around 7pm when I put him down to sleep. But there are other projects too to get excited about – transforming my garden, planting new colourful flowers, transforming the house in which I spend so much time in nowadays. Projects, and economical maternity-leave budgeting ones at that, will keep me busy over the next few months.

5. Learn – I’m going to learn to cook. As The Chef knows, I can barely boil an egg, but I’d love to get better of it, to become a bit more domesticated, to feed my lovely family. I’m starting this week with doing a few simple meals. God help us all.

6. Be Curious – Since the hormonal fug of pregnancy has started to lift, the baby is able to sleep in his pram, and I’m mastering public transport, I want to go exploring London again. So many places I want to go – Eel Pie island (open house 22/23 June), the Polka Theatre, the Electric Cinema, some of the new restaurants whose openings I’ve totally missed.

Happiness, like confidence, is a transient thing, and one you need to keep working at. Getting married, having a baby, can be the happiest time of your life, but the changes they bring and emotions they evoke can be overwhelming at times. I’m glad I have the HPL rules to ground me, and I love a project to work on. I’ll let you know how I get on.


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My birth story

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Our son, age 19 days

Note from Sasha: When I was pregnant and before I gave birth, I wanted to surround myself with positive birth stories. I listened to hypno-birth CDs, read Ina May’s wonderful birth stories, heard delightful birth tales from mums at my active birth class, and sucked up the positive birth stories and videos from the Tell Me A Good Birth Story blog and Facebook group. I didn’t watch OBEM and I kept myself mentally in a positive place, visualizing the birth I wanted to have… The birth I ended up with however, was not quite what I expected. While the middle bit was lovely in parts, the beginning was difficult and at the end there were complications. I am writing this in the hope of finding closure for some of the scarier parts of it, to get catharsis from re-living it (and hope The Chef can do the same – for he saw things that I didn’t and doesn’t have the same rose-tinted lenses as me), but I don’t want any pregnant ladies getting upset and I would therefore recommend you only read this on the understanding that what happened to me was rare – I consider myself one of the something like 20% of births that has complications due to the position of the baby – and that if you totally understandably, as I did, want to read only positive birth stories, this is probably not a good one to read!

And on that basis, we start at 3.45am on Monday 25 March 2013, in bed….

There was a pop and then a splosh as my waters broke. It could have been nothing else, I knew it immediately. As I ran to the bathroom it popped again, and I was suddenly standing with a puddle of water at my feet on the cold tiles. My waters. And so it begins.

Our first schoolboy error was to get over-excited. It was 3.45am for god sake, and contractions turned out to only start the next evening, but we were excited and nervous and The Chef and I didn’t sleep any more that night. Plus, amniotic fluid kept coming out of me in gushes making sleep impossible. The Chef stayed home from work, we pretended we were going about our business as normal, but we were rabbits caught in headlights, I was timing contractions, anxiously waiting for the onslaught of birth.

This was schoolboy because by the time labour did start, almost 24 hours later, I hadn’t rested or slept and had barely sat down since my waters had broken. It was also a mistake that I excitedly texted people to tell them, not only because then we were on a stopwatch, a countdown, which meant I perhaps did not let things progress as slowly or patiently as they might have done as I could feel a clock ticking towards induction (at 24 – 48 hours after my waters had broken); but also because some started calling or texting to check I was OK given the long delay to labour, even when I was in the middle of pushing, which disturbed the peace we had worked hard to create (I don’t blame them, I just reckon its best to keep it to yourself). I didn’t tell the hospital as I didn’t want to come in – I was positive my waters had broken and there wasn’t any brown, green or blood stains in it so no need.

My memory of Tuesday is a little hazy, the universe very kindly erasing the more painful aspects of the experience in my mind (sadly not in The Chefs, which is why I don’t think I could bear to read his version of events), but contractions got stronger in the evening until they became close to being unbearable. On reflection, I think he was in a difficult position, right in my bottom. There was no warmth, power and pressure to the contractions, just an agonising pain right in my bottom which made me scream and cry out loud. I couldn’t sit or lie down, having a bath didn’t ease it. I can’t recall the pain even now but it made me screw my eyes up and shout and I just couldn’t get comfortable. From the sounds I was making and the pain, we thought I was in labour so at 11pm we drove to Kingston Hospital, me screaming in pain every few minutes. The Tens machine was useless, the lavender oil on handkerchief actually helped, but I was in trouble. My hypno-birthing was out the window, nothing brought comfort, I was panicking.

We had a miserable half hour at hospital. The midwife in triage didn’t seem particularly sympathetic and insisted on a vaginal exam which I just couldn’t do because of the pain. She offered me an injection for the pain and I said no immediately – again on reflection given what transpired I should perhaps have said yes. A different midwife from the Malden Suite with a softer, calm attitude took over and explained I couldn’t go to the birthing room or get any pain relief until they knew how dilated I was. I nodded and submitted to the painful exam and was told the worse news possible – I was only 2cm dilated. She gave me a sweep and told me I could either go home or walk the stairs at the hospital to get things moving.

At this point The Chef did something heroic. We spent a miserable few minutes walking the cold, grey stairs of the hospital, me moaning in agony on his chest every time a contraction came, and I believe if we had stayed there I would have had an epidural and probably a caeserian section, but he made the decision for us to go home – a brave decision given he must have known he was taking me and my pain on himself only, with no-one to help him, whereas many men would have wanted to stay at the hospital with others to help and shoulder this burden.

We went home and from then until 2am was the most miserable part of the whole birth. I was in agony. With no pain relief, no position could bring any relief. There was just a shooting, agonising pain and pressure in my bum with every contraction, and the only thing I could do was to sit on the toilet and shout it away. My poor neighbours. I spoke to my active birth yoga teacher who thought the baby might be back to back given I was fairly compus mentis but unable to deal with the pain. She suggested some positions that might help but nothing worked.

I was devastated, saying to The Chef I can’t do this, I can’t bear this, I can’t take any more. I want an epidural. I want drugs. Call the hospital and tell them to come here and inject me with something. I can’t get in the car, I can’t get to hospital. Tell them to come and help me.

At around 1.30am he decided enough – back to the hospital – but it took me a full 30 minutes to be able to handle the pain enough to get in the car. Even though at the hospital they said this was just a normal labour where the baby is in the back and bottom, I have read so many birth stories and wonder if this is true – the fact I could not get into the car, I could barely walk, couldn’t get comfortable in any position, felt like the baby was ripping me in two with every contraction did not feel normal. But hey I will need to try it again to test my theory…

Back at the hospital 2am, more screaming and running to the toilet, another examination. I was 6cm dilated and in labour. I’d gone from 2cm to 6cm in 3 hours with nothing more than paracetamol.

Two rays of light – drugs, drugs, drugs for me please. I begged for an epidural. They went off to call someone. I was also able to get a birth room in the Malden Suite with – hurrah – the lovely midwife from before.

Two bits of luck – Firstly, the midwife looking after us had read my birth plan and in it the fact that I wanted a natural, private, active birth. This would make for a wonderful experience with her and lead to her encouraging a great decision that I was to make shortly. Second, they were unable to find someone for an epidural so we’d have to wait for a while, and in the meantime they offered me pethidine which I took and which took 15 minutes to work and…

…..ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…..

I was in the lovely midwife-led birth suite. Gas & air which was wonderful and which I sucked happily for the next 10 hours. Pethidine which made me feel light and relaxed. The relief. Oh the relief!

I turned to The Chef and smiled for the first time in hours.

“Thank fuck for that” I believe were my words.

The next 5 or so hours were spent, in my mind, in relative bliss, at least compared to what came before. I was still unable to sit or lie down, so I literally stomped the floor for hours. We put music on, LED candles, ate starburst and drank juice. I cracked jokes with the midwife. I smiled. I told The Chef how much I loved him. I danced to the music. I sucked the lovely gas & air, my new and bestest friend. I was enjoying it. The contractions came on strong but sucking gas & air right in took it away although my moans hung in the air but that was from another me, the gas & air me was OK now. I barely breathed normal air at all now, apart from when a new midwife who’d come to put in an antiobiotic drip due to my waters breaking so long before told me I should stop as I was swaying. I could barely leave the gas & air nozzle. I wondered if I could carry it around like a drip. I would run to the toilet and run back to it. If there is a number 2 baby I would like gas & air mainlined from the start, installed in my house – is such a thing possible?

Halfway through this, the midwife came to tell me that they were free to give me an epidural. But now, I didn’t need it, I felt fine, happy. I was having the birth I wanted, this was all going swimmingly. Brilliantly, she’d read my birth plan and I think was encouraging me to stick to it now I was able to cope. I said no to the epidural and I am amazingly proud of myself for doing so as I managed fine without it and again I suspect if I’d had it, I may have ended up with a C-section given what was to happen…

And then – it got even better. As the pethidine wore off, I was able to move to the birth pool room and there followed around 3 or so hours (time is hazy) of comparative bliss. Comparitive because I was on gas & air and it seemed heavenly. I was naked, with The Chef outside the pool holding my hand, and the new guttural low moans I was making felt right, natural, good even. At 8am there had been a midwife shift change and we had a new woman with us. Yes, she was absolutely lovely and again did everything according to my birth plan, but she was a stranger and on some level I know I was trying to impress her, trying to do things quickly, aware of how long I’d been taking, feeling impatient to get some results…

At some point, The Chef whispered in my ear I was doing brilliantly, it was going great, I was fully dilated.

Again, with hindsight, I was happy then, with no urge to push. I might have rested, relaxed, waited until I felt the instinct to bear down. It may have helped. But given what transpired maybe it wouldn’t have. And I was tired, and I had been awake and birthing for almost 30 hours and I felt this is the time, and maybe I thought I should do this now, come on, hurry up.

So I started to push. But I didn’t really know what I was doing, I knew push into your bottom from One Born, but it isn’t natural in front of people or when its a baby which you know isn’t actually meant to come out of your bottom. I pushed.

And I pushed and pushed and pushed. I pushed for 2 hours in the end.

I pushed in the pool, several different positions. The midwife suggested breathing and ways to push. I pushed on hands and knees. I pushed on a birthing stool. I pushed on a bed and I pushed with my feet in stirrups. I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere and I started to get tired and dejected. I can’t do this. I never really felt the urge to push. I don’t know what I’m doing. I think I said these things. They gave me a deadline – 5 more minutes – I pushed sadly. No baby.

At around 11am the cavalry came to assist. I was happy to see them. But our karma, our candles still flickering, our birth music playing, was interrupted. They were sensible, serious, bearing a suction cup and green scrubs. They didn’t smile so much. I cracked a joke I think which they didn’t get. I want to lighten the mood, I said. They were there to get this baby out. Don’t squirm so much. Push into your bottom. No NOW.

I squirmed when she gave me a vaginal exam and felt for baby’s position – I found it unbearable throughout the birth. You can stay here on local anaesthetic or go to theatre and get a spinal she said, unsmiling. Stay here I said, but then when I cried at the pain of her hand I heard her say “lets just take her to theatre” and I thought I saw the midwife looking upset and trying to defend me but being overruled. But I stayed. Local anaesthetic only. Not much to dull the pain of what was to come.

Then they catheterised me an a litre of water came out. So baby couldn’t have got past a full bladder no matter how hard I’d pushed. And then they cut me, then or after I can’t remember. And then they sucked with the cap, several pairs of arms and hands holding me down and shouting and I had to push and I wasn’t doing it properly and The Chef saw all sorts of things that I will never know. And I was excited because they were talking about what to do after the head came out…

…and then the head came out.

But there wasn’t excitement, there wasn’t the body. There wasn’t the panting slowly that they’d told me. There was only panic, and emergency buttons, and people running in and shouting at me. And we didn’t know what was going on but it was urgent to GET HIM OUT NOW. And YOU HAVE TO STOP MOVING AND PUSH AND I CAN’T I CAN’T I CAN’T DO IT AND YOU HAVE TO JUST PUSH.

And more hands on me and arms pushing me down, and people rushing in and pushing my knees into my chest and pushing on my stomach and me saying STOP ITS SORE I CAN’T DO IT. And me kicking the women next to me. And me looking at The Chef with terror, and him in terror, and wondering will I live through this and what is happening and just rip it from me and make it stop….

And at 11.47am he was born.

He was purple, I was told. And he wasn’t breathing and he was whisked off to the side for them to help him breathe and make him live. And I could barely move my head to look at him and I didn’t feel anything except pain and trauma and shock. The brutality of it all. The Chef was also in shock – he thought he’d lost us both – and asked feebly if it was a girl or boy. It was a boy. I could barely summon enough emotion to care then.

The woman at my feet kept going then. She yanked my placenta out and stitched me up. I asked her to wait, that it was sore, but she answered, unsmiling, that she had to do this now.

After 5 minutes he was brought to me. My son. He had blood on his head and a bruise from the suction cap. It took me minutes, hours perhaps, of holding him, to love him. At one point, soon after this, my heart would burst with love for him – overwhelming, heart-stopping, love for him. But for now I was exhausted.

The Chef and I looked at each other. He sucked on the gas & air, still in shock. I said something like next time we adopt, or next time I get a C-section, or never again. But at around the time I burst with love for my son I said next time it will be better. Next time I’ll have pethidine immediately. Next time the position won’t be so bad. Next time…

An explanation

We needed some closure about the tugging and the shouting and the emergency. We didn’t know what had happened. That night, in the ward on my own with my son, exhausted, I sobbed to the midwife that it had been traumatizing, that I blamed myself, that I felt so sorry my son had gone through that, that I didn’t know why.

And they explained it to me and The Chef and it made it easier to digest, to understand and to reconcile ourselves with, although closure is just out of our reach for now:

Once my baby’s head came out, it started “turtle-necking” or going back in, and at this point (they couldn’t have worked this out any earlier), they realized that his shoulder was stuck in my pelvis. It’s called shoulder dystocia and it’s rare. They had to get him out as quickly as possible. They did what they called the McRoberts manoevre which involves pushing the woman’s knees to her chest and pushing on her stomach to get him out. This is the easiest, quickest and simplest way to deal with it and it worked. His body was out only 2 minutes after his head. After 5 minutes his scores were completely normal. He suffered no harm at all from this or the procedure.

Also something like 25% of first time babies are assisted on their way out, like mine was, but this is vastly reduced in second babies. Whether or not I ever understand and “get” pushing and the urge to push is another matter.

He is a happy, chilled, beautiful baby boy. He feeds and sleeps well. He rarely cries. The Chef and I love him to bits.