Friday, 21 June 2013

The Answer to Everything (Almost)

Blogging Challenge - Day 20: Questions, Questions

Today on the blogging challenge I'm supposed to do an FAQ post, but it's Friday night, I have a glass of wine and I'm not feeling entirely sensible, so here are some frequently asked parenting questions - with my own, utterly infallible answers:

1- Natural childbirth or drugs and doctors?
whatever works best for you.

2- Breast or bottle?
whatever works best for you.

3-Co-sleep or cot?
whatever works best for you.

4- Puree or baby led weaning?
whatever works best for you.

5- Stay at home or go back to work?
whatever works best for you.

There, that ought to cover it, the major baby dilemmas solved in one blog post. Dear reader, you are now fully equipped to be an awesome parent.


PS. I am assuming that what "works best for you" will be to do the safest possible thing for the baby - based on good scientific evidence of course!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Under Pressure

30 Day Blog Challenge - Day 13: Sing a song

(yes I'm a bit late again with this one)

Today's blog challenge was to pick a song for the post title. I had no idea where I was going to go with this until I realised that E's current favourite song actually fits nicely with a post I've had in my head for a while.

A post about going back to work.

M is now seven months old so I can feel the end of maternity leave looming into view. Not going back just isn't an option for us, and it does make me rather proud when E says "Mummy does science!". I love that in her mind, scientists are perfectly normal looking women, not crazy haired men bent on evil conspiracies. I hope that both my daughters will grow up thinking they can do any job they choose, get to any level, so long as they work hard enough for it. Except that, increasingly, I don't really believe that and a little part of me worries that I'm setting them up for a fall.

Put simply, if I worked the same hours my husband does, we couldn't cope. One of us has to make compromises, and because he earns far more than I do, it has to be me. Without 24/7 childcare there needs to be one of us who can leave early at short notice, run out in the middle of the day when nursery calls, or take the following two days off to watch Cbeebies with a bucket. Essential for a parent, not great for an employee.

I'm very lucky to have been able to stay in my job but work part time since having E. The down side is that it's always the interesting stuff and the things that could help progress my own career that get shunted out. So promotion is unlikely and anyway, being part time wouldn't be desirable for those jobs. So I find myself static, doing the same thing I've been doing for the last decade. Going elsewhere isn't an option either, turning a full time job into a part time one is pretty rare, finding a part time professional job is all but impossible in many fields.

Perhaps I'm fretting about this because I have a birthday looming. I'm really a very grown up age now and I feel I should have achieved more. But for many families something has to give. Someone has to accept that they can't have the career, or get to the level, that they want and in most (although by no means all) cases that's the woman. Ultimately it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. The kids are worth it a million times over and of course I get to spend far more time with them than my husband does, stuck at his desk or in late running meetings. I also know that I'll be glad to be back talking science not nappies, even just having twenty, uninterrupted minutes to read a book on a crowded commuter train will be a treat. In the grand scheme of things, not achieving my full potential at work isn't the end of the world. I have a heck of a lot really, I just somehow need to stopping feeling under pressure to have it all.

PS. In an attempt to end on a cheerier note and in case you were wondering how come E's favourite song is Under Pressure -  take a look at this clip from Happy Feet 2:

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Review: Sea Life London Aquarium

I grew up on David Attenborough documentaries, bug hunts and trips to the safari park. I suspect that's where my interest in science was originally sparked, and I really hope my girls will come to share this fascination with the natural world. Sadly I've heard a few people say that London kids must find all animals really weird, as they never get to see any. Actually the city can be a great place for introducing children to the wilder world and I was really pleased to be invited to take E and baby M to the Sea Life London Aquarium this week and get them face to face with some fishes!

E- Ready to head underwater
 Our first encounter was a mildly terrifying walk over a glass floor with sharks swimming beneath us. E was less worried about this than I was, but I held her hand and did my best impression of thinking it was brilliant. After that she was able to run about and find the tanks that really interested her, climbing up on the steps and peering in at octopus, sea urchins and even poison dart frogs.

 We've actually visited before, on a busy bank holiday weekend. This time it was mid week, and I'd definitely recommend that if possible with pre-school children. It was still fairly busy but I could let E range around and still keep up an eye on her, even with a buggy. It was much more fun for her to decide what she looked at, rather than me dragging her attention to everything (look it's a piranha! please can I tell you the story about me and your dad going fishing for them in the amazon - PLEASE, oh no, you just want to look at "Nemo". fine.). Also, the place is huge, so although we probably didn't see absolutely everything we did get around it all with interest levels still high.

The big attractions for us were the sharks, gliding around in their tank with some surprisingly unconcerned looking fish (apparently the sharks are too well fed and too lazy to bother eating them), the great big turtles and the penguins, in their genuinely chilly Antarctic area. E also rather liked the seahorses but looked a bit confused when I tried to explain to her that it's the Daddy Seahorses who have the babies in their tummies (and that this was a brilliant idea)!

On the practical side, the aquarium is well geared up for young children, the entire thing is buggy accessible with lifts to every level and quite a few disabled / baby change toilets which are big enough to take the buggy in with you (so it is possible for parents to have a wee too). there is a buggy store, which we used last time, but walking around the entire thing may be a challenge for little legs. There is at least one drink stall on the way around and for food there are all manor of places nearby (including sushi).

Penguins! (ok this one isn't my picture)

The other great thing is the location. Next to the London Eye and opposite the houses of parliament. Entry to the aquarium isn't cheap (although you can often find offers, or 2 for 1 tickets if you travel by train) but after a morning in there, there is plenty to entertain the kids for free on the Southbank;  street performers, skate boarders or just exploring the Southbank centre which often has free events.

Overall the city kids had a great time, Baby M veered between wide awake and gazing in wonder and completely zonked. E was clearly utterly exhausted by the time we got home, but didn't want the day to end. It took quite a long time to coax her out of the bath as she insisted that she was now a turtle (and not at all tired).

She was out like a light when we finally got her to bed, probably dreaming of fish. I'm hope this little insight into the wonders of the wild things will stick with her. I think it probably will.

Disclaimer - We received free entry and lunch was provided, this review represents my honest opinion of the day.

Monday, 10 June 2013

RCOG: Baby On Board, Brain Out The Window?

30 Day Blogging Challenge - Day 10: Key Phrases

Pregnant women aren't stupid (ok some of them are, grab any large enough selection of the population and there will be someone who thinks dolphin midwives are a great idea, but that's got nothing to do with pregnancy hormones).  Most women are reasonably intelligent AND can still make grown up, rational decisions, even with a baby on board. So long as the advice they receive is accurate and helpful. 

Ah but there's the rub. You'd need a heck of a lot of spare time, not to mention post graduate qualifications in a variety of maths and science subjects, just to make sense of all the information out there. The media of course loves nothing better than piling guilt on parents (see my post on the Telegraphs "Too Posh To Push" story for a great example of lazy, data fiddling journalism), but even seemingly venerable medical institutions  can sometimes be really unhelpful. 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynacologists (RCOG) for example. From the people who brought you a totally arbitrary C-section target rate (then withdrew it, then re-instated it) comes new advice for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers on chemical exposure. A lot has already been said about this in the media so I'm not going to go into great detail, but it basically lists a huge number of everyday things that "could" contain harmful chemicals which "might" possibly be harmful, although there is currently no evidence for this, no way of testing it and they may all be perfectly safe. It suggests that women should be made aware of all this so that they can make an informed decision as to weather they want to "play it safe" and avoid these items.

Now, as I said I'm totally in favour of informed decisions (I love 'em, soooo my thing). But how is this helpful? No doubt there will be some, very anxious, women who will take on this advice and spend their entire pregnancies in paranoid fear of shower gel. It's quite likely that trying to avoid everything on the list will result in levels of stress far more harmful than any of the chemicals. But worse than that, for many women this document, and the media interest it inevitably attracted, could be the tipping point that turns them off all medical advice. Being bombarded with this sort of thing over and over again and then told some of it has no basis in evidence could diminish the credibility of important, and proven, pregnancy advice (such as stopping smoking and heavy drinking, or taking folic acid supplements) to such an extent that it all just gets ignored. 

It's great that RCOG want women to make informed choices, but throwing out panicky advice, based on little or no scientific evidence risks doing more harm than good to the reputation of the field and to the babies it aims to help. 

If there's a baby on board, there's still a brain (actually two!), but let's not make it's job too difficult please!


Sunday, 9 June 2013

Picture This

30 Day Blogging Challenge - Day 8: Pictures

In case you're wondering, yes I have missed a couple of days, only one of them because I just didn't have the time/inclination, the others are because the challenge doesn't actually involve a new post. Today's however is going to happen and it's a nice easy one - to include some pictures.

There's been plenty of things going on with the girls recently that I just haven't got round to blogging about so here are a few of our activities from May and the Start of June 2013:


M masters the beaker with surprising speed

M's first Go on the Swings, helped by big sister

and E's first trip to the bowling alley

M eating her dinner/ throwing her dinner all over the kitchen

Meeting Daddy for lunch

The vintage steam fair comes to town

Friday, 7 June 2013

For the Love of Grannies

30 Day Blogging Challenge- Day 6: Say Something Nice

Sorry for being a day late on this one, M has had a stinking cold and she's teething so we've reverted to positively newborn levels of sleep (or lack of) my attempts to string this together last night were therefore utterly incomprehensible and although I don't have much time, and will have to make it short,  I didn't want to skip this one.

Thank heavens for Grannies

I'm lucky enough to have both a lovely Mum and Dad and Mother-in-law (no really, I like my mother-in-law!). Before E was born I had no idea how much I would need their help. I'm rather independent and assumed we'd get on fine with a new baby - how hard can it be? Idiot.

Thankfully the Grannies were there

When the hospital food lived up to it's reputation the Grannies brought in stinky cheese, sandwiches, pate and about half a ton of homemade fudge.

When I was beyond exhausted with a newborn they rocked her and bounced her and pushed her in the pram so I could get even a tiny bit of sleep.

When we were existing on takeaway noodles they braved Tesco Ghetto to shop and cook for us.

As E got older they were the chief babysitters, making it possible for us to attend those no kids invited weddings or even have a weekend away as a couple.

When baby M joined us they made sure E was looked after while I was in hospital so that F could stay with me and once F went back to work the Grannies virtually did shifts so that I always had help and could recover from surgery as quickly as possible.

They did all this despite the fact that neither of them lives nearby. Granny Wafer (named after her cat) is about an hour away (on a good day) Granny Seaside is at least four hours drive (she lives by the seaside). They also both had plenty of other things to do and other people to help out.

The other area in which the Grannies have really come up trumps is advice: They only give it if we ask for it! Speaking to my mummy friends this seems to be a rare thing indeed. Others are driven mad by insistent, outdated or just plain bizarre commands, we get a pool of experience that we can drawer on if and when we want it.

But of course I've missed out the most important thing: The Girls absolutely ADORE their Grannies and of course Grandad too (sorry for not putting more about you Dad - brain fuzz!). Even baby M is now starting to recognise them and on Granny Seaside's most recent visit that little chubby face broke into a massive grin upon seeing her again.

So, just in case I've not said it enough, actually I'm not sure it could be said enough, Thank you Grannies, you're brilliant. xxx


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

What is a Caseload Midwife?

30 Day Blogging Challenge- Day 4: Start With A Question

What is a caseload midwife?

To put it briefly, a rare and wonderful thing.

When I was pregnant with E I had the standard model of care for a low risk, first pregnancy. My antenatal appointments were with various midwives at my GP surgery. When I was in labour I was looked after by several shifts worth of midwives, none of whom I'd met before. On the postnatal ward there were another batch and when I got home yet more, rarely the same person more than once. This would probably have been fine if everything was straightforward, but as it wasn't I really hoped to have greater continuity of care second time around.

Thankfully I got REALLY lucky.

This time I had a caseload midwife. She visited me at home for my first appointment and for the last couple when getting to her was starting to be an effort. For medical reasons I saw her (or one of her small group of colleagues) every four weeks throughout my pregnancy and when M was born my midwife was the one who received her from the surgeons and made sure she was brought to me in a matter of moments. She arranged my gown so that my newborn could be placed skin to skin and shared our amazement as M immediately tried to wiggle up for a feed. Once I was home it was her or one of her team who visited me, as often as I felt the need, for more than four weeks. They checked on both my physical and emotional recovery and helped me with breastfeeding (not that M needed much help). It was wonderful.

As I said, I was really lucky. This kind of care is not common. To access it (at least in this area) you need to be booked with a hospital that has caseload teams and either registered with a specific GP practise or planning and eligible for a home birth (preferably both). I was near to a good hospital but didn't meet the other criteria. However, due to some complicated postnatal issues first time around I was referred to the case load team by two different doctors and after a bit of pleading they agreed to take me on. 

Of course this time everything was straightforward, (to the point where I felt a bit of a fraud for taking up one of these precious spaces), but maybe the standard of care I received contributed to how much better I coped. I just so wish I'd had this option first time around. 

Perhaps if I had, the midwife with me in labour would have known I needed honesty, not cheer-leading. Perhaps she could have broken it to me that my planned natural birth was increasingly unlikely and we could have made a calm decision to do the C-section sooner, while I was still in a fit state to think for myself. 

Perhaps my recovery would have been easier without such a long labour before the surgery and my postnatal problems would have been picked up sooner by someone who knew me and could tell things weren't right. 

Perhaps breastfeeding wouldn't have been such an almighty struggle if I'd had consistent advice and support.

Of course I can't know all that for sure, but I'm certain that my experience was far better all round this time and the caseload midwives certainly contributed to that. 

I'd love to see this kind of service available to all mothers who want it. It seems deeply unfair that at the moment it's mostly reserved for those having home births, who are likely to be the most low risk cases and so often not those with the greatest need for support and continuity of care.The NCT (along with a few other charities) have recently launched a campaign for more caseload midwives: A Midwife For Me And My Baby. I have a couple of reservations about the campaign (see below) but I really hope they are heard and that it makes more pregnant women aware of the existence of caseload midwives, what they are and what a valuable service they can offer, however you plan to give birth.


Note on campaign: I whole heartedly support widening the availability of caseload midwifery. The campaign calls for more women to receive this kind of care during pregnancy and birth, I would like to see  the postnatal period included as well. This would encourage breastfeeding by ensuring consistent advice is given and could help to pick up postnatal problems more quickly. I'm also concerned that the wording of the campaign manifesto is rather pro-natural birth. For example having a caesarean is put in the same list of bad outcomes as the death of the baby, post natal depression or PTSD. It's quite negative about obstetric units while at the same time praising "empowering" women to avoid interventions. I don't think it's helpful to load these issues onto the campaign and it distracts from the idea that caseload midwifery should be for everyone. It's perfectly possible for a women to look at all the evidence and make a rational, fear free, dare I say it "empowered" decision that she wants doctors around just in case, really doesn't like pain and wants an epidural ASAP, or that she'd rather be induced than go overdue etc. These women should be supported just as much as those who decide a natural or home birth is right for them.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Top Tips for Caesarean Mums

30 Day Blogging Challenge - Day 2: Top Tips
 - and... Day 3: Call To Action

Today's task for the blog challenge  is to post a top tips list, so here are my 10 c-section tips. Some of these only apply to those who know they'll be having a caesarean but others are worth keeping in mind however you plan to give birth, just in case...

1- Prepare Older Children In Advance.
A new baby is always going to be tricky for a young child, even more so if Mummy suddenly seems ill and can't lift and carry them around as she used to. If possible talk to older siblings in advance about what's going to happen and start reducing how much you carry them etc. so that it's less of a shock when the baby actually arrives.

2- Have A C-Section Birth Plan .
Even if you're planning a natural birth and everything seems perfect it's a good idea to think about what you'd want if you do end up in surgery, that way you can still have some control over what's going on (I wish I'd done this before my first, emergency caesarean). For example you can ask to have the screens lowered so you can see your baby being born. Or have your gown arranged so that your newborn can be placed skin to skin on your chest, within moments of birth. Make sure your birth partner is fully briefed on all this as you may not be in any state to be assertive!

3-Take LOTS Of Drugs!
Don't be a hero, take the painkillers! Find out what you should be having when and set a reminder on your phone, then start chasing up the nurses before a dose is overdue. It's much better to take medication regularly, if you wait for it to really hurt you're likely to end up needing stronger drugs. Take it from me you don't want to be on morphine after 5 days with no sleep - freaky.

4- Get BIG Pants
I mean really big, totally huge. You don't want anything that will rub against your scar, (the same goes for trousers), so go for the full Simon Cowell, right over the belly, type. Don't bother with disposables, head to primark and get multipacks two or three sizes bigger than you'd normally wear, they'll be cheaper and last a bit longer too.

5- Go Home With A Pillow
There are about a million speed bumps between the hospital and our house, I really wished I'd heard this bit of advice before I bounced agonisingly over them all: have a pillow in the car which you so you can hold against your tummy for the trip.

6- Be Prepared To Be Immobile
Yes it really is major abdominal surgery. To start with, blowing your nose or clearing your throat will be impossible, and it'll be days, possibly weeks, before going from lying down to sitting up isn't a major undertaking. It's not fun, but it won't last forever and forewarned is forearmed, the next three tips should help you get through it:

7- Get A Co-sleeper
It's really tricky to lift a baby in and out of a moses basket if you've had a C-section. A co-sleeper cot attaches to the side of your bed and allows you to slide the baby over for a feed and then push them back to a safe sleeping space with minimal movement from mum. The downside is that they're pretty expensive although you can sometimes find them second hand and the NCT now hires them out.

8- Don't Do Too Much
You may actually feel fine and be tempted to push the pram for miles or get on with the housework, but force yourself to take it easy for at least a few weeks. I haven't always followed this advice to be honest and at the end of a mildly busy day I'd end up feeling utterly exhausted and like I'd just done 500 sit-ups. Silly woman.

9-Get Help
Call in the grandparents, your friends, anyone who'll cook the dinner, keep the house from total chaos or look after the older kids for a bit. You're going to be running around looking after someone else for at least the next 18 years, so enjoy having people want to help you out for just a few weeks.

10- Ignore The Negativity
You almost certainly didn't have a C-section because you didn't try hard enough, were scared or too posh to push. You had it because the most important thing was getting your baby safely into the world, with you in a fit state to care for her. Anyone who makes you feel bad about that, or thinks they're a better mother because they got lucky with the birth, simply doesn't know what the heck they're talking about. Your first act as a mum was brave and selfless - go you!


Update: A few people are ahead of me here, but the challenge for day 3 is to ask for action from my readers, so here's two things you can do:

1- Comment - tell me your top C-section tips, or perhaps the things you really wish you hadn't done.
2- Share the blog - Do you have any pregnant friends? They may or may not be planning a caesarean but it's good to be prepared either way! Use the buttons below to share this post to facebook and/or twitter. (Many thanks to those who've done this aleady without me asking!)

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Pregnancy in the News

30 Day Blogging Challenge - Day 1:  Something Topical

Here we go with the blogging challenge, first up I'm supposed to blog about something in the news. Of course it's typical that today is one of those rare days where there isn't a major news article about some study "proving" that having a C-section makes your baby 14 times more likely to turn green or that feeding your child rhubarb will inevitably lead them to a life of crime. So I took to google news search to see what I could find.

Word of advice, never put the word "pregnancy" into google news search, it gets quite depressing. To summarise most of the first page: Caprice is pregnant, Beyonce isn't. Kim Kardashaian (and I still don't really know who that is) is getting too much baby advice and Kate Middleton has a yellow coat.

I'm tempted to write - WHO CARES????

But clearly people do or there wouldn't be so much of this stuff in print. Somehow whether or not a celebrity is pregnant, what she's wearing and how much weight she is or isn't gaining is deemed important. I may just have to accept that I'll never really understand that.

But hidden a little further down that page is this article, about a recent report into infant and maternal mortality. It estimates that 287,000 women and three million babies still die each year due to complications in childbirth or soon afterwards. The report authors suggest that many of those deaths could be prevented if the mothers had access to just four antenatal appointments and were able to give birth in medical centres with skilled birth attendants. Throw in a good dose of health education and access to contraceptives and the benefits will be even greater. They put the bill for this at $24.1 billion a year, it sounds a lot, but look at it this way; for less than the UK annual transport budget, we could provide every mother and baby in the world with adequate, life saving, health care.

But it seems that that's not nearly so interesting or newsworthy as Kim Kardashian eating frozen yogurt