The Happy Baby Project

A happy baby needs a happy mum


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In praise of second hand clothes, eBay, and knitting grannies

So. Mr Schmoo is only 6 months old and I already have 2 giant storage bags filled with clothes that are too big for him.* And that’s not including clothes I’ve borrowed or am lending to friends. While he looks adorable in cute new outfits, I just don’t see the point spending money on new clothes, given everything gets covered in poo, dribble and pureed carrot, and then suddenly doesn’t fit anymore.

My solution? eBay**.

I buy these baby bundles where you get a whole heap of clothes of a particular age range – normally for about £5 – so you get a brand new wardrobe, all nicely washed, mostly great condition and nearly new, for a tiny price; and at the same time you are probably helping out some poor mum to clear some space in her house. Yes, a few things are tatty but if you pick ones with good brands and you haven’t paid much, then having a few dud items in the bundle doesn’t hurt too much. I’ve also got some AMAZING stuff which I’d have spent loads on brand new. Some examples of the bundles I’ve bought recently are:

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Lovely jacket, pram suit and dungarees set = 99p. Plus £4.50 packaging…

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Set of 6 vests = £3.30. Plus £3 packaging…

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1 t-shirt, 3 vests, 2 sleepsuits, 1 pair of socks = 50p!!!!! Plus £5 packaging…

I don’t know why more of the mums I know don’t do this as it seems like a no-brainer to me. Some of Schmoo’s nicest clothes have cost me about 20p!

My new thing, inspired by (ahem, don’t judge me ladies) Peaches Geldof on Instagram, is hand-knitted clothes on eBay. Gorgeous soft wool, really warm and old school and cosy, and I feel like I’m helping some very talented women out there. Here’s some of the stuff I’ve bought:

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GORGEOUS Arran cardigan = £4.50. Plus £3 packaging…

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Cute little beanie hat = 99p. Plus £1 packaging… (I actually got several of these in different colours, some for 50p)

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Lovely knitted mitten, hat and cardigan set = £3.99. Plus £3 packaging…

The best thing about the last set is that when Mr S first wore them, he lost one of the mittens (of course!). So I wrote to the ebay Seller – the wonderfully named alexgrannyknitting – to ask whether I could buy a new mitten from her, and she sent me 2 brand new matching mittens in the same wool free of charge!

In this age of recession and austerity, and tiny itty bitty London houses, I’m all for sharing our clothes and saving my money for what really counts***.

* I recommend any mum buying a ton of these (£5 each – from Amazon or Jojo Maman Bebe) to store old clothes and toys dust-free, and also to cart baby stuff around for holiday etc.

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** Nope they didn’t pay me for this. I’m sure other auction or second hand websites would do the trick too. Obvs.  

*** Including, but not limited to, wine and shoes.

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When two tribes go to war – on breastfeeding, Bounty & competitive mums

So I wrote this post on why I combination feed my son, and while I knew it was an emotive topic, I was amazed at the ensuing bun-fight. While the comments were well-meaning, and very welcome, discussions by several mums on the benefits of breastfeeding were perceived by some other mums (most of whom had had to resort to formula) as being unfair and judgmental, even though I am sure, in the most part, the comments weren’t intended to be. The responses I got on twitter were even stronger.

As for me, I felt guilty. I thought maybe I was putting my relaxing evening over cluster feeding. Was I increasing my baby’s risk of allergic conditions? Was I being selfish? Well, turns out after a few evenings of trying extended cluster feeding, it was clear that it didn’t work for my baby either, and we’re back to a top-up bottle of formula a night. But what remained was my surprise at how guilty I’d felt and how vehemently women had reacted to the pro-breastfeeding comments.

And it wasn’t long before I caught another social media bun-fight, this time in relation to Bounty (Mumsnet and this petition are calling for Bounty salespeople to be kept out of post-natal wards). My personal feeling is that the Bounty bags are great, but allowing commercial salespeople into maternity wards where vulnerable, knackered, emotional mums are often alone and shocked, only a few hours after birth, is a violation of privacy and the protective bubble you need around you at that time. I had tears running down my cheeks, struggling to recall my address, while I was pestered for my postcode, just so they could send me marketing emails. Kingston won’t allow siblings to enter wards for fear of the norovirus, but salespeople are OK? I’m against it, but the angry taunts on twitter from both sides were incredible. Some women suggested those against Bounty bags were stuck-up poshos who sneered at freebies. Others said you should call to get the salesperson in question sacked. Mums judging other mums just for having a difference of opinion.

And I’m guilty of judging too. The woman I shared a maternity ward with fed her child formula from the get-go and then had to be woken by the midwife to change her baby’s nappy. What sort of mother is that I thought, unable to sleep a wink, jumping out of bed every time my baby made a sound. But, now, I think I judged her unfairly too – what do I know of her situation, of why she’s made the decisions she did? What did I know of how exhausted she could be?

Even the Daisy Waugh school of  “guilt-free motherhood“, can actually be guilt-inducing. Her description of pain-free inductions to fit in with schedules, and why stair-gates are a waste of time, suggest that any mother who has actually tried natural birth or invested in fripperies like changing matts are high-maintenance control freaks who probably aren’t much fun at dinner parties. Like other parenting philosophies, hers is extreme and judgmental too. So much for guilt free mothering…

Anger, blame, recriminations, guilt. Changing bags at dawn.

It might be because us mums are thrown together – the NCT, nursery and school all make shaky alliances of women who don’t know each other well enough to laugh off competitive jibes or support those who have chosen a different path. It reminds me of being 14 again, at an all girls’ school where, until we were old enough to know better, we befriended those who were the same as us, and ridiculed anyone who dared to be different. We had to have the best school bag, the flashiest pencil case, the shortest skirt. We fancied the same boys and liked the same bands. It was our way, or the highway – a very lonely highway in a deserted lunch room, a girl sent to Coventry, tray wobbling as she scanned the crowd for someone to sit next to. I rejected all that when I matured, of course, but here I am, 20 years later, with that same feeling that I have to fit in, that we’re all competing again.

It doesn’t help that a lot of these parenting philosophies (are you a Gina Ford-er or a Baby Whisperer or a French Children Don’t Throw Food-er?) are rather one-sided and not very pragmatic, and we tend to swallow them whole rather than picking and choosing from them according to what works for us and what doesn’t. We also tend to get a bit blinkered that what works for our child works for ALL children, even though every child is an individual person with their own characteristics, and often changing day by day, week to week. So it’s hard for us to accept that other mums might have found a method of parenting which might suit their child perfectly well, but might not work for us. But rather than accept that, we seem to feel the need to defend our own stance, or feel guilt that we’re trying something else. For example:

– My saying my son sleeps through the night might make someone who is up every 2 hours feel like they are doing something wrong. They aren’t and it’s not because I’m doing anything right either – it’s just the way he is and it might all change tomorrow anyway

– Your saying that your 14 week old is going to monkey music, baby sensory, and swimming lessons, makes me feel lazy for only taking my boy to the park or chilling in the house all day because I’m a bit knackered. But in my heart I know he could stare happily at his toy chicken for hours and it blows his tiny mind, whereas other babies need much more stimulation

– Your saying you let your baby sleep and eat on demand makes me feel a bit strict in Gina Ford-ing mine, but as long as we’re all happy then that’s what matters

–  Your telling me you have enough milk for your child makes me feel inadequate that I don’t have enough for mine. But I don’t have to worry about milk seeping through my clothes, I don’t even need breast pads. But I’d take all that and more if I could feed him all day like you

– Your enjoyment of co-sleeping and carrying your baby around on a sling makes me feel guilty I shipped my baby off to his own room at 3 weeks and prefer to leave him kicking on his play matt. But when I think about it I know he’s an independent little squirt who loves being left to kick around on his own, with a big cuddle and a play every so often

– Your claiming that the weight just “dropped off” because you breastfed makes me feel crap that my arse has actually GROWN during the process. I’m actually quite depressed about it. But my body is obviously conserving calories for some reason and I love it all the same

So what is the answer?

Firstly, us women need to give each other the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know any mother who isn’t trying to do the best for her child, and dealing with a crying or unhappy baby is stressful and upsetting for us all. Let’s just accept we are responsible, intelligent adults who would do anything for our children, and let’s also accept that all babies are individuals and what works for one might not work for another, or might not even work a few weeks down the line. Let’s stop competing, and start supporting. And if that doesn’t work, let’s share a bottle of wine and talk about something else for a change.

Secondly, let’s remember no-one is handing out a prize for who is the best mother (unless you’re Foxy Bingo and think Katie Price is a paragon of parenting). All that counts is that you, your partner and your little one are happy, and that you aren’t making anyone else unhappy in the process.

And sometimes you will fuck up, and that’s OK. We’re not perfect, that’s what makes us human. One day we can teach our children that it’s OK to mess up sometimes too. And with a lot of love, and perhaps a bit of Calpol, everything will be alright.


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Breast is best?

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My happy baby boy doing Calvin & Hobbs – 12 weeks

This week is National Breastfeeding Awareness week and so I thought it time to share my thoughts on the whole thorny issue of feeding.

My baby boy is a healthy wee thing – he sleeps through the night and has done since he was about 8 weeks, he’s a big bouncing boy, holding his head up and smiling lots, and I have no worries at all about his health. I was lucky enough to breastfeed him from birth to now, without many problems, but since he was about 10 days old we have topped him up with formula, now almost daily, for reasons I will explain below.

When my baby boy was born, he couldn’t latch on for a day or two because he was so knackered from the birth and being yanked out after getting stuck. I expressed colostrum (or was expressed like a cow when I was too exhausted) and fed him with that and then on day 2, he latched on and it was wonderful. I’d feed him for as long as he wanted, when he wanted, and then we fed him every 3 or so hours when he came home.

I love feeding him – I do it quietly and calmly on a nursing chair in the nursery and its our time together. He smiles at me, I stroke his head, its a lovely bonding, happy time. I also feed him when he cries sometimes to calm him, and before he goes for a nap if he’s unsettled. I don’t care if certain people (looking at you Gina F) say this is a bad habit to get into as we both feel happier and calmer when we do.

But we had a problem quite early on. I am VERY annoyed that I got bad advice from the first community midwife who visited, who said I was feeding him too much (!) and that he should only be fed every 4 hours. This was terrible advice (everywhere I read newborns must be fed every 3 hours!) and in hindsight I was so sad to see we followed it to the letter, and in the app where we recorded breastfeeding, I saw we moved from every 3 hours to 4 on her advice.

Poor baby got quieter and quieter, never crying to be fed, and we mistook this for having a chilled out little baby, congratulating ourselves on how relaxed he was. Unbeknownst to us, he was actually weak and dehydrated, and at his first weigh in at the hospital he’d lost 14% of his body weight.

I was devastated, crying my eyes out, especially as he’d been feeding so well and we’d acted on bad advice. We had to go to the children’s wing of the hospital where we pleaded with them to let us take him home and feed him up (the alternative was him staying there on a drip). They said we just had to feed him up and asked us what we thought about formula. Initially we were very against it, but they needed us to feed him up and we would have done anything to make him better – I could hardly bear the guilt that I’d actively caused him to be dehydrated – so we agreed. For the hospital, they didn’t care HOW we fed him, just that he was fed enough.

There began Operation Military Feeding where I had to breastfeed him, then express and feed him that, then feed a top up of formula, every 3 hours. It was exhausting, but so worth it. The formula was a godsend – it gave him the strength he needed to breastfeed better. In 24 hours, our wee boy had gained 200 grams. In 3 days, he was crying to demand to be fed for the first time, hydrated and fighting fit, and discharged from hospital.

While it was a scary and sad experience, it was good in that:

1. It meant I expressed from 2 weeks in and realised the benefits of this – relieving painful engorged boobs, meaning I could feed him out and about by bottle if I didn’t fancy breastfeeding in public, and allowing The Chef to do feeds.

2. It made me get over my initial reluctance to give him formula and to understand the benefits of formula top-ups.

The fact is, the hardcore breastfeeding brigade would have encouraged me to keep breastfeeding him exclusively, and in fact the community midwives wanted me to wean him off formula as soon as I could. Their argument is that formula and bottle-feeding stops milk production, makes babies go off nipple feeding, and adds extra bacteria to babies’ stomachs.

But now, knowing I’d received bad advice before, I stuck to MY instinct as a mother and carried on with top-ups of formula as and when needed. The hospital too just wanted me to feed my baby, full stop, no matter how. In my case, top ups of formula made my baby breastfeed BETTER as it gave him the strength to feed, to cry and demand feeding for the first time, so he fed better than before.

Now, at almost 13 weeks, we top him up with formula almost every day. Either because he’s hungry and my milk is coming out too slow, or its in the evening and I just don’t have enough milk for him and he’s a hungry baby boy, or because I’m out and about and breastfeeding is impossible. I do still breastfeed him 5 times a day and The Chef gives him what I’ve managed to pump for his late night snack, but its never quite enough and he needs formula to satisfy his hunger.

And I’m really, really happy with this. It gives me the freedom to formula feed him now and then, to get The Chef to do a morning formula feed if I’ve had (a very rare) night out, and to make sure he’s getting enough food. As the Baby Whisperer Tracy Hogg says – in the 60s when formula was invented, the medical profession thought it was far BETTER than breastmilk and breastfeeding dropped right down to around 20% of mums as everyone was formula feeding, thinking it was the best thing ever. Nowadays, the medical profession thinks breastfeeding is best, but hey they change their mind about everything all the time (vaccinations, when a baby should be weaned, inductions, etc) so who knows if they will change their mind again, and formula is improving all the time so that one day it might be better for our babies than our own milk.

Breastfeeding is such a personal thing, and I KNOW my milk changes all the time – sometimes my boobs are huge and I am an impressive dairy cow, and other days my boobs are floppy and for no reason I can see I just don’t have enough milk and my baby isn’t satisfied with me alone. In the evening I know I have less milk (I know for a fact as I’ve pumped and seen I don’t have a full feed) – which makes sense as I’m probably tired and a bit dehydrated from feeding a hungry baby all day. Some days my milk is white, other days its translucent. Some days I’ve eaten something the baby doesn’t like or my milk is coming out too slow or fast as he cries and pulls away and he won’t eat unless I feed him from a bottle (expressed or formula).

For me, mixing and matching is great – I KNOW he’s getting nutrients both from me and whatever the formula is giving him, I KNOW he’s getting enough food, and as an added bonus for mummy, it allows me to pass over occasional feeds to The Chef or to have a leisurely pub lunch as I know I don’t have to breastfeed in a busy pub when I’m hot and its noisy, because I have a bottle of formula in my bag instead. I’m a responsible parent and I believe I’m acting as responsibly as I can, while giving myself some freedom and ensuring I’m not stressed or anxious (which is the worst thing for baby anyway).

And the fact is, while I know that he feeds better when it’s just the two of us in his nursery, quiet and calm, I also know my baby boy sleeps better in his cot rather than out and about in the pram, and loves nothing better than when it’s just the two of us alone at home, and if I acquiesced to his wishes all the time I would pretty much NEVER LEAVE THE HOUSE and become a complete hermit. I’m not a robot, I’m not a dairy cow, I’m just HUMAN and I need my baby boy to fit in with me sometimes. And if he gets a bit of formula because I want to meet friends or need a lie in, and if he has to have a longer afternoon nap because we had a nice lunch out and he had to sleep in the pram, then he will be fine, and I’ll be happier for it, which in the long run is better for him.

So my problem with the hardcore breastfeeding brigade is their emphasis on EXCLUSIVE breastfeeding, and continuing with breastfeeding when it’s just not working, to the detriment of both mother and baby. I have a friend who had mastitis and was told to continue breastfeeding by a community midwife, until she ended up in hospital on a drip. I have another friend who thought she wasn’t producing enough milk in the evening, but who was told she should persevere to increase her milk supply, and whose baby cried all evening with hunger (for 3 months!) until a breastfeeding counsellor from the hospital confirmed she wasn’t producing enough milk and said to top up with formula. That little girl slept through the evening for the first time ever.

I do believe women should give breastfeeding a go (and it is such a lovely bonding experience for you and baby), but if it doesn’t work or isn’t enough, then you shouldn’t feel bad about using formula, which, after all, was once hailed as better than breast. One of the happiest, liveliest and biggest babies in my NCT class was formula-fed from birth as breastfeeding didn’t work at all.

The fact is, parenting and breastfeeding theorists are ALWAYS extreme it seems to me – never adopting a relaxed, try it and see approach, but advocating strictly one camp or the other. This just makes it confusing for mums who feel they can’t trust their own instincts, and puts undue pressure on women who are desperately trying to breastfeed and suffering because it’s not enough for their babies. At the end of the day, us mums know best – we do – we HAVE to trust our own instinct and go with what we think right, and not beat ourselves up for topping up with formula, or reverting to formula feeding when breastfeeding won’t do.

Surely as long as our babies are well fed, that will lead to a relaxed and happy baby and happy mum too?


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A medical update & thoughts on dealing with obstetricians

As some of you may know, I was recently sent to an obstetrician to see whether I might have obstetric cholestatis (OC), in which case they may have induced me early (around now actually!) due to possible harm to my baby. This led to a dramatic turnaround in my original birth plan and was a real eye-opener in terms of learning to expect the unexpected.

Well, the good news is that it is very unlikely I have OC as my bile salts are fine and my symptoms aren’t very suggestive of it. But the original tests still show a high ALT (liver function) test which is abnormal, and the weight of medical science suggests that this is a bit odd. That’s pretty much all I know, but I’m beginning to think its just a wierd symptom of pregnancy, of baby causing all sorts of problems. But in terms of hard, cold facts (which, as a risk-averse control freak I always like to be in possession of), I’m yet to know why I have this or what it means to me or my baby, so until we know more I am in a state of limbo, not knowing whether I will be able to have the natural birth I want, and worrying that things will get worse.

Note I have nothing against induction for medical reasons, I know how common they are, and I know that many inductions can lead to wonderful, natural births. Although I also know that something like 70% of inductions lead to epidurals (many are done at the same time) due to the sudden, quick contractions that don’t build up gradually as they do in natural labour, making you work super hard to cope. I also know you need to be monitored in hospital so my prefence for privacy at home for as long as possible, for active movement, would be reduced. Although as I say, I’ve heard some wonderful stories about brilliant induced births where mums managed to move around and have lovely, natural (and blessedly very quick!) births.

The obstetrician started by telling me: “Its my job to worry; and I get worried about heavily pregnant women with abnormal liver functions walking around in late pregnancy.”  Which hinted to me that he was thinking about induction. At this, I burst into tears, and when he asked me why I was so against induction (he seemed genuinely surprised), I explained I’d just rather things happened naturally, given all I’d read about the body’s natural production of oxytocin, and my hypno-birth/active birth preparation, although of course if there was any chance my baby could be harmed I’d induce at the drop of a hat.

I also asked him what was causing the dodgy liver function, and what harm it could do to me or my baby, and it transpires that he didn’t have a clue. It was an anomaly. It could be anything, possibly a virus that I’d picked up, but it was unlikely that we’d find out what it was. I suggested a liver scan (thanks to some great advice, as always, from twitter mums) to see if it was something as simple as the baby kicking my liver, and he proposed a raft of blood tests to check for things like hepatitis.

So, subject to the tests showing up something specific (unlikely), or the ALT levels increasing to a worrying level (fingers crossed), or me starting to feel ill (I feel great), or the baby stopping moving (baby appears to be doing a daily marathon inside me so no worries there), then I suppose I can carry on happily until labour starts naturally. Which is great news. The consultant isn’t seeing me again for another 2 weeks which shows he can’t be that worried. And I’m doing all the natural things to induce in the meantime – long walks, gardening on hands and knees, raspberry leaf tea.

However, I’m not sure we would be here in this relaxed “lets wait and see” situation if I hadn’t made it clear that I was against induction, and hadn’t asked a raft of questions about why my wierd liver results were a problem. So my tips if you find yourself in a similar predicament are:

  1. Find out as much as you can before you see the consultant. Ask your GP for information, speak to your midwife, ask twitter and find out what you can from the internet (although don’t panic if you read anything bad).
  2. Be clear about your personal choices for birth – you shouldn’t be pushed into something you don’t want to do if it isn’t necessary. If you’d rather only induce if absolutely necessary, make this clear as it won’t be assumed. I’m amazed at how many women I’ve seen on mummy forums saying they actively want to be induced even if its not clear that there’s anything specifically wrong.
  3. Ask lots of questions – if they want to induce then WHY – why are you or your baby at harm? What is wrong? If they don’t know, the next stage should surely be more tests – blood tests, ultrasound scans of your organs.. If you don’t know what you’re dealing with, how can you properly evaluate the risk?
  4. If you do find out you might need an induction, don’t panic or get upset, speak to other women in your NCT group, or email Natalie at Tell Me A Good Birth Story, to put you in touch with other women who have had happy, successful inductions, to hear some positive birth stories. It may not be what you planned, but with a little mind-change and some planning you can still have the birth you want.


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Baby on board – royal babies and a royal pain in the arse

So Kate Middleton is pregnant and we seem to consider ourselves collectively entitled to speculate on everything from baby names to colour of hair; while commenting on her medical condition and whether or not she’s just being a wuss.

As someone who has suffered quite a bit myself from being up the duff, I felt a huge amount of sympathy for her. Not only have I read how debilitating hyperemesis gravidarum can be, she is having to suffer the indignity of her private and medical life being dissected and discussed by all and sundry, at a time when she probably just wants to snuggle on the sofa with a hot water bottle and a box set, without having to see or speak to anyone. While we had to hide the indignity of constipation, hives, excema and acne from work colleagues and acquaintances, she had the extra pressure of trying to keep smiling to an ensemble of school children whilst wanting to vomit discretely behind the hockey goal.

But whilst my sympathy as a fellow pregnant lady is understandable, I’ve been amazed at the vitriol spouting on my Facebook about the whole thing. Yes, you might be bored with the speculation, yes she obviously has a fairly extreme case of morning sickness, but I’ve seen comments – often from other women – questioning whether “normal people” would need to go to hospital with a “bit of vomiting” or even that she should “harden the f**k up“.

Lovely.

And it made me question how sympathetic we are as a society to pregnant women in general. I’ve had medical professionals act like I was a right royal pain in the arse simply for trying to get help for pretty severe skin problems, being told that pregnancy was a bit shit and that I should just deal with it. It was as if pain and suffering was a woman’s lot and a burden to be carried around stoically without so much as a whimper. It took a male GP and a male osteopath to point out that in fact I didn’t have to put up with unnecessary pain and hardship, that I was right to complain, and that something could be done about it.

This same lack of sympathy can be seen on London’s public transport. I must admit I’ve always hated the “Baby on Board” badges, assuming pre-pregnancy (totally unfairly) a slight smugness, an unwarranted self of entitlement, on behalf of the wearer. I have finally got hold of one (here) but still haven’t got round to wearing it yet as I still feel self-conscious and uncomfortable doing so. In real life I don’t like talking about myself or my pregnancy much (yes, I am aware of the irony of blogging about it all instead) and prefer to carry on life as normal – albeit a lot spottier – so screaming out that I’m with child to complete strangers on my morning commute doesn’t really appeal.

But as I’m week 25 and the bump and me are about the size of a small van, I’m finding I really do need to sit down, not because I feel that as I’m pregnant I am somehow entitled to a better commute than everyone else, but because my legs and hips and pelvis and back hurt, because I’m so out of breath I’m claustrophobic when crammed into small spaces, and standing in a crowded train means getting pushed and jostled and bumped in the bump. A nasty prang with a fold-up bike smacked against my belly was enough to make me now try actively to get a seat, and for me that means doing the least I can do to draw attention to myself, while giving me the best chance of getting a seat. My trick is to undo my coat buttons and stand duck-like with bump protruding until someone notices. To be fair, they nearly always do.

I find it embarrassing and I hate the charade of pretending not to catch people’s eyes while hoping desperately that you – YOU – will notice and stand up for me. I do find it is mostly men who stand up, while women often look away, and I don’t know if this is because women feel like men should be the ones to offer their seats, or whether they were like me with the Baby on Board badgers, begrudging another woman her imagined smugness, her sense of entitlement; or thinking that she should just suffer in silence as women have done before her, as women should.

Who knows. All I know is that since all this happened, I’ve felt a bond with my fellow women, have felt more feminist, more feminine. So I feel a new warmth and empathy towards Kate, towards my mother, all mothers, all daughters. Maggie Howell in her wonderful birth book quotes a Tanzanian saying:

“Pay attention to the pregnant woman – there is no one more important than she”

And it is this that TFL should print on those badges; this that I hope my fellow passengers on the 08:49 to Waterloo consider before they unceremoniously boot me out the way.


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An amazing birth story

Since I posted my blog post on pregnancy yoga, active birthing and hypno-birthing, I’ve been inundated with emails and texts from mums saying I should definitely give it a go, and telling me some incredible birth stories of their own. I heard from friends who said they’d actually enjoyed the birth, had felt like a strong powerful woman throughout – they’d felt primeval almost, howling like a wolf. Of course other friends seemed to have an awful time of it, and I have no idea which camp I will fall under, but the common theme seemed to be that lots of people said the hypno-birth CDs by Maggie Howell were brilliant, and most said that if you really want to try a pain-relief free active birth, you need to truly believe in it, start early, get your partner involved, and make it your all-encompassing aim. A half-arsed attempt doesn’t seem to work.

One of the most incredible birth stories was from a friend who I’ll call Anna, who had an easy, quick birth at home with her second child. It was such an amazing story that I had to share it:

I have just had baby no 2 and did the whole hypo-birthing thing and it absolutely and completely works!  I didn’t go to classes (although I think they would be great) – I just listened to the CD you have (lots in the last few weeks) and read the book that goes with it – Effective Birth Preparation – as well as the Marie Mongan Hypnobirthing book.  I practiced the breathing a bit before and it really does work.  I had baby no 2 after having an easy 4 hour labour in my bedroom at home – listening to the birthing music CD. I was so relaxed I didn’t want to go to hospital until I had to (although by the time I realised I needed to it was too late and I ended up having him on our bedroom floor pretty much delivered by my husband!).

It was the most incredible experience especially compared to last time – I would do it again tomorrow (although some gas and air would have been good – it helps with the relaxation). So I just wanted to say go with it, get into it – it is amazing!  And although only 3 weeks old, my baby boy seems to be happy, chilled and content so far! I am a complete natural birthing convert! Your partner does need to be in on it as well – this time I made mine read certain bits of the book and he believed it more and was really supportive.  I even had him practicing birth breathing (you breath baby out not push) when he was having a poo! He just kept prompting me this time to relax which did really help.

My first baby was a little different…

I know it works as I got a bit half-heartedly into it last time with my first labour – I was told about it initially when I had reflexology close to my due date and then listened to the CD a couple of times a day in the last couple of weeks. I went into labour on the Monday lunchtime after having a sweep, 10 days overdue.  I forgot all about Hypnobirthing and laboured all day and night – and all the next day!  My contractions would get to a couple minutes apart then I would not have one for 15 minutes… By Tuesday evening I was exhausted – I had spoken to the hospital who told me I was not ready to come in and who said it was too early for any pain relief. I had a mini breakdown – was so tired and couldn’t face another night of no sleep and not progressing.

I then decided to get a grip and try the hypno-birthing.  So I turned down the lights, lay on the sofa with my tens machine, put the music on, and imagined I was an animal in a field! A couple of hours later I told my husband I was ready to go to hospital, he didn’t really believe me as I was so much calmer than I had been, nor did the midwife that I had previously spoken to on the phone (who basically said I told you not to come in yet and tried to send me home again!)- but when she examined me I was 8 cm (much to her surprise!). I believe this was only due to the fact I completely relaxed and chilled out about it for a couple of hours – and let my body do what it is designed for!  I had the pool then which was great and the midwives kept saying they couldn’t believe I was fully dilated and chatting and calm and not really in that much discomfort.

BUT they told me the baby seemed to be in distress so they took me out of the pool down to delivery suite, wired me up to loads of machines to monitor him, tried to make me push when I wasn’t ready and didn’t feel like I wanted to – and as soon as I was taken out of the calm environment the pain was unbelievable, I couldn’t relax, had no pain relief and was too late to have any. It all went downhill from there and ended up needing forceps!

So I went into my second birth ready to completely embrace the relaxation and hypno-birthing and believe in it and it worked! My husband took it more seriously this time as well – he saw how well I did in the middle last time, compared to the beginning and the end – so tell your partner if this works it will be much less stressful for him!

I am not normally a no drugs / no pain relief kind of girl but think for child birth its the way forward (although I loved the gas and air and would have it every day if I could)!


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An introduction to The Happy Baby Project

I write the blog The Happiness Project London and here’s the last post I wrote which may explain why we’re now here:

I’ve been quiet over the last few weeks because life has changed somewhat, and it has something to do with the little wriggly person that’s been growing inside me. Yes, the HPL is having a baby!

And while I’m wildly happy about it now, there were times in first 12 weeks when I really struggled to remind myself of all I’ve learnt about being positive. Of course I appreciate how lucky I am, and what an exciting thing is about to happen to us, but my body’s reaction to the news wasn’t exactly pleasant. And it took this wonderful blog post by Caroline No to give me the strength to say IT’S BEEN BLOODY SHIT! I’ve been a bit rubbish at this pregnancy stuff! And finally – who cares!

My skin decided it didn’t like the preggie hormone or the preggie hormone didn’t like certain foods anymore and broke out in giant red itchy spots all over my chest, neck and face, which might or might not have been hives. I got teenage acne. I developed an agonising pain in my right buttock which turned out to be my pelvic girdle pinging out of place, making walking nigh on impossible. I found myself sobbing like a heartbroken teenager for hours on end, once hysterically laughing and sobbing at once, not knowing why. I felt nauseous and fat and bloated and frumpy, unable to squeeze into my old clothes but not big enough for maternity gear. I ate three burgers in a week. I missed wine and hangovers, still do. And don’t get me started on itchy boobs and cracked nipples and giant wire-less maternity bras which make cycling to work an interesting exercise in pot-hole avoidance and agonising bouncing droopy pendulous bosoms….

A cumulative force of utter exhaustion, the need to cry repeatedly and teenage acne-like skin meant I lived as a hermit for weeks – not even wanting to go for a walk and covering my face when I saw anyone including a man reading our meter: “Don’t Look at Meeeee!”.

There were sudden periods of anger, an unbearable urge to snap. The Poor Chef got the brunt of it, being the only person in my vicinity for much of the time. You put a wine glass in the dishwasher the wrong way – YOU IDIOT!!! You didn’t put the plant pot in the right place – YOU RUINED MY BIRTHDAY!!! And how could he understand the raging hormones that were filling my body with negativity and fury and sadness, when he was just really really happy?

But on the cusp of 12 weeks things got better. I got my energy back, which built up to something like hysteria when I realised I could finally socialise and actually see my friends again (lunches and walks along the Thames best – drunken dinners not to the most fun when you’re sipping on Schloer all night and wondering why everyone’s laughing at an unfunny joke). My skin cleared up and my hair went from greasy to full. I contacted friends, I felt positive, I started thinking about the future. And The Poor Chef came out of hiding.

And then this week we had the scan. I was a bag of nerves, wondering if it was there at all, or alive or deformed, or multiple. But then we saw him (for we call him “he” after the scan but we don’t know if he is a she yet of course). What a gorgeous wee wriggler. He was tiny, of course. But with a round little belly and a lovely face with big lips. And beautiful frogs legs and two feet, which he kicked in the air before turning his little bottom towards us. I can’t feel him yet but my tummy is getting more solid and I love the little reminder that he’s there, wriggling and waiting.

So now it’s different. I’ve told people which really helps. I’ve bought a few bigger clothes and am enjoying better skin and shaking off the indignity of the last few weeks. I’m loving my new body – the round curves, the bigger breasts, the hardening belly. I’m so proud of my body, so impressed at its strength and the way it seems to know exactly what to do. I can see why women who’ve given birth often want to do marathons  afterwards – and I feel the same – because I love my body in a way I never have before and I’m amazed at what it is capable of and I want to get fit, not just work out at the gym to lose weight, but get stronger and faster and show myself what my body can actually do. I feel womanly and dare I say a bit beautiful.

I am already aware of competitive mum syndrome and what lies ahead. There are the I’m-still-a-party-girl mums (I stayed up til 2am and wasn’t tired at all! Yes the baby is two weeks old lets book that girls’ holiday to Ibiza!). There are the body-beautiful mums (I’ve not put on ANY weight! In fact I’ve LOST weight! Who’s the first for botox?!). There are the capitalist mums (I’ve just bought the most fabulous baby papoose to match my bugaboo pram travel system in a neutral colour to match my tastefully decorated nursery!). And there are the this-is-totally-natural-to-me mums (vitamins? I didn’t bother with those. Epidurals? I’m just going to power breathe with my doula).

So what sort of mum will I be? Well who knows. But I’m not pining my party days any more. In fact I’m loving getting to bed at 10pm and being cosy under a woollen blanket on the sofa. My favourite recent purchase is a great pair of sheepskin slippers.  I’m looking forward to my body getting big and round because I have a feeling it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be doing and I really want to take care of it from now on. And I believe what my child really needs is our unconditional love, and a favourite cuddly toy which is soft and old and worn, and being read to all the time, and its grannies and granddads and aunty and uncle teaching it about life and the world and where it came from.

I know one thing for sure. This is the biggest adventure of our lives and its one that I’m finally ready for. And sometimes it will take all I’ve learned about happiness and positivity to keep me going when times are tough, but the joy this little thing will bring will teach me more about life and love than I ever imagined possible.

So wriggle away wee man, we love you very much, and we can’t wait to meet you in March!