10 things I would tell my pregnant self

With pregnancy comes a whole host of emotions. As much as it’s one of the most exciting times of your life, it’s easy to spend a lot of time worrying about things that are largely out of your control. Here are 10 things I would tell my pregnant self….

pregnant self

  1. Forget about your due date – this is so much easier said than done but if you can find a way to relieve the pressure of your due date then your last few weeks of being pregnant will be a much more enjoyable experience (Read my earlier post – The Waiting Game – to learn from my mistake on this!).
  2. Set up all “baby” equipment and practice, practice, practice– trust me, there is nothing worse than venturing out for the first time with your baby and realising that you can’t put the pram up/ down. Or needing to sterilise bottles/ breast pump and getting into a state because your sleep-deprived mind can’t read the instructions. You might feel silly doing it without a baby in tow but it will be a lot easier than trying to work it when said baby is there with you, and mostly crying at you in frustration (babies are not overly patient in my experience!).
  3. Try not to stress too much about labour – whatever happens you will find a way of getting through labour – whether that’s with pain relief or without, vaginal or C-section, home or hospital birth and so on. None of it really matters in the end as long as you and your baby are OK. And as much as having a rough plan of how you’d like it to go is useful, it’s most likely going to deviate away from that at some point so try to just go with what happens in the moment and be confident in your own ability.
  4. Enjoy the time before your baby gets here – sometimes it’s easy to think solely about the future when you’re expecting but it’s also important to live in the here and now. Your world is about to be turned upside and there are a huge amount of positives that go along with that. But there’s likely to be a few parts of your “old” life that you’ll miss – time to yourself, date nights with your partner, lie-ins etc. – so try to just enjoy those last few moments as much as you can.
  5. Don’t underestimate your instincts – this goes for both during labour and when your baby is here. You know your body and your baby better than anyone so trust your gut no matter what anyone tells you.
  6. There’s no need to over-plan – I remember visiting a number of nurseries when I was heavily pregnant and spending so much time worrying about how I’d cope when I went back to work. And I hadn’t even met my baby yet! Just take each stage as it comes because you may feel differently when it actually happens and no one can predict the future.
  7. The hardest trimester is yet to come – this isn’t meant to scare you but just a reminder that you’ll go through a lot in the fourth trimester – your body will still be recovering, you will deal with a ridiculous number of hormones and you will be trying to work out how to keep your baby happy (/alive). Be kind to yourself. Accept it’s not going to be an easy road but that it’s just a phase and it will get easier.
  8. Remember you’re not alone – sometimes it feels like you need to do everything yourself to be a good mum but it’s just not true. You will need the support of your family and friends. Whether that’s physical support through helping with day-to-day tasks or mental support by being someone you can talk to. Finding mummy friends with similar aged babies is also really helpful. I’ve made a couple of life-long friends in my NCT group who have saved my sanity on many an occasion and just having that reassurance that you’re not alone in your thoughts/ feelings will be such a godsend.
  9. Have a breastfeeding back-up plan – health professionals (and probably many others) will tell you that if you really want to breastfeed you can. But what they often forget is that there are 2 parties to satisfy here and you can’t always predict what your baby is going to do or how you’re going to feel when the time comes. Have a back-up supply of things you will need to bottle feed (bottles, steriliser, and formula) just in case.
  10. Believe in yourself – go into motherhood with confidence, knowing that you can do this. Yes you’ll get things wrong along the way but so does everyone. There will be plenty of differing advice/ opinions from those around you but have the confidence to do what you feel is best and don’t be afraid to go against the crowd.

Hospital bag checklist

A year ago today I was neurotically packing my hospital bag in fear of going into labour early. Karma would have it that Archie was 2 weeks late and I needed to be induced but hey hindsight is a wonderful thing! So I thought I’d share my list in the hope that it’s useful for anyone who’s expecting.

hospital bag

Mummy’s bag:

  • Hospital notes – essential that you don’t forget these, so put them on the top of your bag
  • Birth plan – in reality you probably won’t refer to this in labour but it made me feel better to have something written down
  • Pyjamas – loose, dark and ideally with an open neck for skin-skin / nursing
  • Night-shirt – to potentially wear during labour
  • Maternity pads – my advice here is to get Tena Nights – not the most glamorous purchase but way better than the standard maternity pads which are too thin
  • Big black knickers – don’t be embarrassed, the more Bridget Jones style the better! These are useful for a couple of weeks post labour too so it’s worth buying a couple of packs – the ones from Primark or a supermarket work fine
  • Nursing bra – if planning on breastfeeding
  • Breast pads – you probably won’t use these until your milk supply kicks in (around 2-3 days after birth) but pack a couple just in case
  • Slippers – for walking around the ward
  • Flip flops (optional) – for using the shower
  • 1 change of clothes – for travelling home in so make sure they’re loose, dark, comfortable and warm
  • Pillow (optional)– not essential but it reminded me of home and was way more comfortable than the hospital ones
  • Tens machine (optional) – I hired one for £5 from Boots but didn’t use– apparently useful for the early stages of labour though
  • Phone, charger and earphones – in case you want to listen to music and/ or update family/ friends
  • Warm slipper socks (optional) – this is a personal one because I hate having cold feet (and despite not wanting to wear any clothes during labour I refused to take these off!!)
  • Ear plugs and eye mask – useful for when you’re in the ward
  • Food/ snacks – don’t go overboard as there’s likely to be a café nearby but your favourite biscuits/ crisps/ chocolates will keep you in good spirits. I did find though that having a box of chocolates by my bed and offered to staff went down well and ensured we didn’t get forgotten about!
  • Toiletries
    • Hair brush
    • Hair ties
    • Toothbrush and toothpaste
    • Lip balm
    • Face wash/ wipes
    • Body wash
    • Shampoo/ conditioner
    • Hand sanitiser
    • Tissues
    • Deodorant
    • Nipple cream (if breastfeeding) – Lansinoh is great
    • Dry shampoo
    • Relaxation oil (e.g. lavender)

Baby’s bag:

  • Nappies (pack of size 1 should be fine)
  • Wipes (don’t bother with cotton wool)
  • A few nappy sacks
  • 3 vests (long or short sleeve)
  • 3 sleepsuits (with mitts in-built)
  • 2 muslin cloths
  • Blanket

Going home:

  • Car seat
  • Hat
  • 1 cardigan
  • Warm blanket

If your partner needs to stay overnight with you then he/ she might need a few essentials too. If there’s anything you think I’ve missed then please do let me know!

Do I have a job?

Today marks the day I am officially unemployed. Having decided that (for the time-being at least) I’m going to be a stay-at-home mum has led some people to question whether I have a job at all. Here is my response.

do i have a job

As someone who has been pretty ambitious and career-focused so far in my life, being classed as “unemployed” may seem like a bitter pill for me to swallow. And yes whilst it does irk me that some people believe I’ve taken the easier route by choosing to be a stay-at-home mum, as anyone who’s been one knows, it is without doubt one of the hardest but most rewarding jobs around.

Prior to having Archie I was a marketer for a financial services company in London. It was a fairly high pressured job and I worked long hours on top of a 3 hour daily commute. I’ve always been someone who’s pushed themselves mentally so I enjoyed the complexity of the industry I worked in. Going from this environment to being a stay-at-home mummy has taken some real adjusting for me.

From the outside in, it probably seems that the hardest part of my day is dealing with a tantrum or changing a dirty nappy. But in fact the lack of mental stimulation and adult conversation combined with time to overthink and over-process information has actually been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. There is no switching off and a constant background worry because ultimately I’m responsible for someone’s life and well-being. And that someone is one of the most important people in my life, who I love more than anything in the world.

Of course a huge perk is that I have the privilege of watching my son grow up and see his little personality develop. I know how lucky I am to do this. But I wouldn’t say that it’s easy. Not that a working parent has it any easier either.

Being a parent means there are sacrifices you have to make. There is no such thing as having it all and I truly believe there is no perfect solution. Like with everything, you just have to do what you feel is best at the time and for your situation.

And right now, this is what feels right for us. But I’m also fully aware that this is likely to change. And there will possibly come a day when we will need to re-balance things. In the meantime, I just hope that I can still be the best mummy I can be by being a stay-at-home one.

2018: A year of firsts

Unsurprisingly 2018 has been a year of firsts for our family – particularly for Archie. As the year draws to a close I thought it would be a good time to reflect and summarise all our little monkey has achieved.

firsts

From top left to bottom right:

January – First time being late! Let’s hope it’s not in his nature.

February – First breath and the day I became a mummy.

March – First smile. 5 weeks in and finally some positive feedback!

April – First night away from home – a weekend with our friends in Center Parcs.

May – First swimming lesson – Daddy particularly enjoyed the “dunking”!

June – First giggles – still my favourite ever sound. This month also included his first day away from mummy, his first night in his big cot and the first time he rolled over.

July – First night without his sleepyhead – when we realised he actually prefers sleeping on his tummy.

August – First time sitting up unaided. He also clapped for the first time this month which is his favourite party trick to date!

September – First time he stood up in his cot – I noticed it on the monitor when he was meant to be asleep! This month he also properly crawled for the first time.

October – First time abroad – we ventured to Tenerife on a 4.5 hour flight (it was interesting….!).

November – First time on the swings – and they were a definite hit.

December – First steps – also his first Christmas and the month he said his first words (dada, mumma and nana (banana)).

Wow what a year. I can’t believe he’s so close to being a toddler (where did my baby go!). It’s been the most life-changing year of my life to date and I can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store for us. Wishing you all a healthy and happy one.

10 lessons I’ve learnt since becoming a parent

For anyone about to embark on the crazy journey that is parenthood, here are 10 lessons I’ve learnt so far…

grayscale photo of group of men holding each others hands
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  • Nothing can prepare you
    You can read all the books, watch all the videos, talk to as many other parents as you can but ultimately your experience will be unique and nothing can prepare you.
  • There’s only so much a baby can “slot” into your old life
    Oh yes we’ve all been there. Naïve statements about how we won’t let our baby’s schedule rule the roost and we’ll just bring them along for the ride. Try it once and I promise you won’t be trying it again!
  • Friendships will change
    This is probably obvious given your life and priorities are about to massively change, but some of your friendships won’t stand the test. The good news is you’ll find new friendships along the way and those that stick around will be stronger than before.
  • You will become last in your priority list
    You probably felt like you never had enough time for yourself before but add in looking after your baby and you will forget your needs even exist.
  • Amazon Prime will be your new best friend
    As organised as you are pre-baby you will inevitably find a long list of things that you “need” (or “everyone else has”) once baby arrives and if you don’t have Amazon prime before I give it one week before you realise you can’t live without it.
  • You will become obsessed with (and talk neurotically about) sleep
    You can probably add feeding and pooing to this list too because it’s all you and your mum friends will ever talk about. But sleep is the big one. As soon as your little one has a fairly good night you will obsess over your previous day’s routine and will try to replicate it to the nth degree. But 9/10 it will have nothing to do with anything you can influence so just enjoy every bit of sleep you can get and invest in some good coffee!
  • Remember to find time for you
    Going back to lesson #4 it’s important that you do remain a priority, even if you’re now at the bottom. Finding time for yourself and doing things from your ‘old’ life will make sure you don’t feel resentful about your new one.
  • You and your partner will probably bicker (a lot)
    Thrown into a job where you both have no experience, are completely sleep deprived and someone’s life depends on it, it’s no wonder you and your partner will face your biggest test to date.
  • Your respect for other parents (especially your own) will go through the roof
    Instead of wishing that parent with the screaming child would ‘calm it down’ already, you will have a newfound respect and empathy for other parents. And whatever you think of your own parents before, you will look at them through different eyes when you see all they’ve faced and come through.
  • It’s the hardest but most rewarding job you’ll ever do
    It’s cliché but I’m sure there’s not a parent out there that would disagree. It’s likely to be the most challenging thing you’ve ever done. And there’ll be times when you think, why did I do this?! But even the tiniest smiles, coos, gurgles, laughs from that little person will make you realise why you did.

 

Why “breast is best” didn’t work for us

Whilst pregnant with Archie I knew I wanted to breastfeed but I was quite adamant that I wouldn’t put pressure on myself in case it didn’t work out. Fast forward to 2 weeks after his birth and I felt like I had no other choice.

feeding bottle shallow focus photography
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Breastfeeding a very hungry baby

Following Archie’s birth we stayed in the hospital for 24 hours and during that time I was given an amazing amount of breastfeeding support. I left feeling fairly confident that we had the latch right and that breastfeeding would actually work out for us. I remember feeling relieved as I know there is a lot of research to say that “breast is best” and, like every mum, I wanted the best for my baby.

Unfortunately I was completely naive to the fact that it’s not just about getting the latch right.

A few weeks into exclusively breastfeeding, “cluster feeding” was becoming a daily occurrence. Every night Archie would feed continuously from around 2pm to around 1-2am. In fact my hungry little monkey would scream the house down unless he was attached to my boob or asleep! This was “fine” (I use the word loosely!) until my husband went back to work and did his usual 14 hours a day, meaning he got home and I’d barely had a drink or anything to eat, having been “chained” to the sofa all day.

I found the crying extremely hard to deal with.  I felt like it was a reflection on me. Like he was constantly angry at me because I couldn’t satisfy him. Like I just wasn’t good enough.

Although it was only a few weeks, it felt like a lifetime and I feared this was my new life now. Add in (what felt like) a million hormones and a body which was recovering from an intensive labour and I’ve never been more of an anxious wreck.

But despite all of this, I was convinced I didn’t have a choice. Scared I would be a failure. Not as good as the other breastfeeding mums.

This blurred vision wasn’t helped by several health professionals who urged me to keep going, using phrases like “if you formula feed your baby it’s like giving them McDonalds”, “give your baby a roast dinner, not a Big Mac” (yes this was said by different people not just one).

The road to combination feeding

Luckily for me, I had a family who could see the impact this was having on me. The shell of my former self I had become. And not only that, but the unhappy baby I was trying (unsuccessfully) to satisfy. About 4 weeks in, my husband couldn’t take it anymore – he went into the kitchen, made up a bottle of formula – and ultimately made the decision that I couldn’t bring myself to make.

The transition to combination feeding wasn’t a smooth one. Archie’s tummy struggled with the different consistency of formula and experienced horrific wind and reflux. It was excruciating watching my baby in pain and the guilt I felt “because it was my fault” was unbearable.

A couple of weeks in though and we finally got into the swing of things. That’s when I realised the impact the experience had on my bond with Archie. I was finally starting to “like” my baby which I know sounds so awful but it was hard to like someone who just screamed at you for the majority of the day.  And the change in him was profound – he was so much more content and didn’t spend every minute of his day feeding or screaming for food. Don’t get me wrong he still fed a lot and I spent most of my time breastfeeding or preparing bottles but he was definitely happier and it felt more manageable.

The end of breastfeeding

About 10 weeks in I still had a very hungry baby and I was quickly losing faith in my milk so I was topping up more and more with formula. Shortly after, Archie refused to breastfeed and it was a difficult pill to swallow but it was clear what he was telling me. Initially I felt some resentment. Why didn’t my baby want my milk anymore? Why did he not want that comfort from me at least?

But ironically as we moved to formula feeding I felt the bond between us grow and grow. It no longer felt like a battle – him telling me he was hungry and me not being able to satisfy. I could see his personality developing and it was then I realised that there are so many more ways in which I can provide for and comfort him beyond that of feeding.

The right to choose

I’d be lying if I told you it was a perfectly happy ending and I was at peace with our feeding journey. I look back and I’m disappointed that I wasn’t further supported by the health professionals. I was told that if I moved to formula then my baby might prefer it and refuse my milk which horrified me at the time. But as my mum rightly highlighted, so what if he does, doesn’t that just mean you’ve made the right choice?

And that’s just it isn’t it? We live in a day and age where we’re lucky enough to have a choice. Why isn’t it acceptable for you to choose what’s right for you and your baby? Instead I experienced so much guilt and felt like a failure. Something which, even with the perspective I have now, I still find lingers. Because ultimately does it matter how you fed your baby as long as they’re happy and thriving? And as long as you’re happy and coping?

Personally I think not. As mums we’re the ones that know what’s best for ourselves and our babies. Sometimes we just need some encouragement to embrace that during a time when everything else feels out of our control.

My birth story: Induction

Following weeks of hoping my baby would come on his own accord, it was clear my labour needed a bit of a kick-start. I was booked in for the ‘dreaded’ induction and had to accept, like many, it wasn’t going to be the birth I’d originally hoped for.

induction

Forget the ‘due date’

As I headed off on maternity leave, I remember lots of people telling me not to focus too much on my due date and to just accept my baby might come at any point. And yes as great as that is in theory they might as well have told me to never eat Dairy Milk again because I wasn’t going to listen!

I remember being fixated on the fact that I was going to go into labour early. I have no idea why although it was probably an attempt to prepare myself in case it did. So when my due date came and went I felt disappointed but also a bit relieved because it delayed the prospect of labour (like most women I was terrified!).

As the days continued to tick by I remember the midwives booking me in for an induction and reassuring me that it was just a back-up plan and probably wouldn’t be necessary. The mere fact that they assured me of this made me think that induction was probably not a good thing and when I read some of the horror stories online this just confirmed it. It became my main aim to go into labour naturally and to do anything to avoid being induced.

So I did all the usual things – rubbed copious amounts of clary sage onto my tummy, drank litres of raspberry leaf tea, endured 2 sweeps, bounced up and down on my exercise ball until I felt dizzy and went for a casual 3 mile walk at least once or twice a day.

Off to a bad start

Unfortunately despite my best efforts, it was clear this little monkey wasn’t going to come out on his own accord and on the Saturday I headed to the hospital to start the induction process.

When we first arrived the midwife told me that they wouldn’t be starting anything until about 7 hours later because the ward was completely overrun and we needed to sit and wait. She showed us to my bed (which hadn’t even been made yet) and I could just feel myself welling up. The 5 other women in the room (in various different stages of labour) must have thought I was a complete wuss. I have such a fear of hospitals and when telling the midwife this she just said I should get used to it because I would probably be here for at least a few nights. Her whole attitude basically said ‘given the number of people, you’re lucky to be here in the first place, stop being ungrateful’. And so naturally I burst into tears and acted like a complete baby! I really wasn’t sure whether I could go through with it and the midwife reminded me it was my choice and I could just go home and  wait for things to progress naturally if I’d wanted. But this went against any professional advice I’d received and I didn’t want to put my baby in any danger.

Luckily for me, my husband intervened (if you’ve read my breastfeeding story you’ll see he’s very good at this). He took her to the side and persuaded her to let us check in but that I could then go home for a few hours and come back when they were ready to start the induction process. So we went home, my husband ran me a bath, I ate a big bar of chocolate and we had a big heart-to-heart about how exciting it was going to be to meet our baby and how a few short days in hospital would feel like nothing in the future.

Being induced

At about 5pm we re-entered the hospital and the midwife stuck to her word by sticking me straight on the monitor and talking us through the procedure. After being monitored for a while she was happy that baby was doing ok and we could get started. In went the pessary and then we just had to wait for something to happen. She told me that if the pessary was working (often it doesn’t work first time) then I should feel period pains which would then move to my tummy (aka contractions).

Now the timings here are a little blurred so bear with me but a short while after the pessary was inserted the period pains were getting seriously strong and I had a constant urge to use the toilet. I requested for the pessary to be removed and at that point I was 2cm dilated so the midwife said I was in the early stages of labour.

The pain was getting incredibly intense and the time between the period pains was getting shorter and shorter (they hadn’t moved to my tummy so I was convinced they weren’t contractions at this point but looking back I now know they were!). I started demanding an epidural (to anyone who would listen!!). I remember thinking if I can’t cope at this early stage, then how will I be able to cope when I’m in the thick of it (so to speak).

The midwife said I couldn’t have an epidural until I was 4cm dilated and given she’d only just examined me (40 mins ago) she advised me against another examination and told me to have a bath.

But something just didn’t feel right so I was adamant she did. About 5 mins later, she looked completely shocked, declared I was 9cm dilated and said that I needed to get to the labour ward as soon as possible. She rushed out to get a wheelchair and my poor husband ran around trying to get our belongings together whilst computing what she’d just said.

When I got to the labour ward, I was 10cm dilated (the pushing stage), and I felt much calmer. In fact I didn’t want the epidural after all which was lucky because it was too late for me to have it anyway. I just kept thinking I’m about to meet my baby and I won’t have to stay in this hospital for much longer (win win!). It took about 2 hours of pushing but when Archie was finally placed into my arms, I felt this overwhelming feeling of relief and happiness. He was everything I’d been hoping for – a beautiful healthy baby. And although it sounds ridiculously soppy every ounce of pain and anxiety was worth it.

The ‘ideal’ labour

Since meeting other mums I’ve realised that I’m not in the minority – many women don’t have the labour they envisage. I think part of this is because there’s this ideology that a good labour needs to be completely natural and in your control, which isn’t always possible (or desirable).

If you’re pregnant and reading this I’m assuming this is quite a scary prospect – it’s the fear of the unknown which is often the most challenging part. But know that even if it doesn’t turn out how you planned it, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have a ‘bad’ labour. I’m not sure what defines a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ labour anyway to be honest (I’ve never heard anyone refer to the former). It’s a process you have to go through to have a baby which let’s face it is never going to be the most enjoyable experience. But if you can, try to focus on the fact you’re about to meet your baby and at some point you will look back and think it was all completely worth it.

The waiting game (2 weeks overdue)

A fortnight. 2 weeks. 14 days. 336 hours. It may not seem like a long amount of time in the grand scheme of things but if anyone’s been overdue then you’ll know that it feels like a lifetime.

shallow focus of clear hourglass
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Planning the ‘ideal’ waiting time

Before I had Archie I commuted daily from London which resulted in about 3 hours of travelling every day. This quickly took its toll when I was heavily pregnant so I decided to give myself a few weeks off before baby arrived to enjoy ‘nesting’ and to put my feet up. Unfortunately what I hadn’t anticipated was Archie being super comfy and deciding he didn’t want to come out on his own accord (read my induction story here).

What was supposed to be a few blissful weeks turned into me at first suddenly panicking that baby might come early (I know the irony – for some reason my head couldn’t contemplate it in the opposite scenario!!). So week 1 consisted of me buying a few final bits I needed, putting some finishing touches to the nursery, doing a deep clean of the kitchen and doing all the crazy things someone does when in ‘nesting’ mode.

After that I had 4 weeks. Of just waiting. And willing something to happen. Whilst at the same time becoming more and more terrified at the prospect of labour.

The concerned friends and family

As my due date came and went, I started to receive daily messages from my friends and family asking me if I’d had the baby yet, had any twinges, any inkling as to when it might happen? I mean I’d never known anyone be so interested in my life – the pure definition of peer pressure!

To highlight the issue further, I was part of an NCT whatsapp group with 7 other women who had all given birth to their babies 9 days before Archie decided to make his appearance! I read detailed comparisons of how their baby was sleeping, feeding, pooing and everything else in between. All I wanted to do was actually meet mine!

As the time passed I began to have some irrational thoughts.  Maybe I would never meet my baby? Maybe I wasn’t even pregnant to begin with? I mean that sounds ridiculous now but at the time I honestly thought I would have a permanent bump and would be rocking maternity clothes forever (with those wonderful elasticated waist bands maybe it wouldn’t have been such a bad thing!).

I spent so much time worrying that I forgot to just enjoy it. To embrace the quiet and alone time. The excitement of meeting my baby.

I don’t want to sugar coat it too much because the reality is it can be very uncomfortable at the end of pregnancy. But I’d like to think if I ever got the chance to re-live it I’d eat my weight in Cadbury’s chocolate – when you’re pregnant there’s no such thing as overeating – and watch all my favourite Xmas films – because how can anyone be stressed watching Elf?!