Giving New Meaning to the Phrase ‘Baby-Ready’

I was stressing out and up to my elbows sorting through second hand baby clothes in what will eventually be a nursery but is currently more of a giant dumping ground of baby related crap, when I had a stark realisation.

None of this matters. Not really. If things aren’t perfectly organised in time for the arrival of the baby, nothing much will change. It won’t mean that I’m any less prepared to love and provide for that wriggly ball of flubber in its first few weeks with us.

After springing from my womb, I’d be very surprised if the baby manages to wriggle down the hallway, cast a disapproving eye over what is supposed to be its future bedroom but resembles more closely the Calais Jungle, and say to us, ‘Jesus Christ, guys! You call yourselves parents? Where’s my Scandi-inspired gender neutral space of zen that I can call my own? Somebody put a call in to Angelina Jolie for me! I’m off!’

Those first few weeks after giving birth will be about bonding, recuperation, and an endless cycle of boobing, burping, yawning, and nappy changes (for both of us, I imagine).

When I was this far along with Emily, I recall I was hanging garlands and beautifully framed pictures of our family in an entirely completed baby room.

This time round, the nursery furniture is still in pieces and I haven’t bought even so much as a throw cushion in an attempt at interior decorating.

Some of this current lack of preparation might just be symptomatic of ‘second-child syndrome’, but rather than neglecting the new arrival, I sort of feel that this time round, I’ve got my priorities straight.

Quiet time to relax is already scarce, so in the final few weeks I’ll be savouring every 20 minutes I get to put my feet up with a Twix and a re-run of Rupaul’s Drag Race, instead of frantically trying to iron and fold baby grows and spending hours finding the perfect cot mobile on Etsy.

The baby will arrive without a ready-made space to call its own, but it will arrive to a Mum who is calmer and a little more mentally prepared for what is important in the first few weeks after birth.

My Bump, My Business

‘Ooh that’s a big bump! How much longer have you got left?’ The cashier at Asda asked. I told her I’m due in March. The colour drained from her face and she vomited into her lap.

Or at least, that’s what the reaction is beginning to feel like when I’m asked on average five times a day by random strangers and they look aghast imagining how ginormous I’ll be when I finally give birth.

I’ve been told, by people I have never met before:
– ‘Ooh you carry large, don’t you?’
– ‘Wow that’s a massive bump for 7 months!’
– ‘Are you sure it’s not twins?’
– ‘My daughter-in-law is 35 weeks pregnant and her bump is half the size of yours!’
And my personal favourite:
– ‘Are you drinking too much water?’

There’s something mystic and compelling about a pregnancy bump that makes perfect strangers feel like they have carte blanche to make deeply personal comments and assertions about your ability to grow a baby.

Is it because they’re so visible, so obviously not a normal part of you, that people think your bump is somehow fairgame for anyone to comment on? Like a jaunty hat or a sale tag accidentally left hanging out the back of a jacket?

These comments, day in day out, can make you feel like you’re somehow growing your baby ‘wrong’.

But the truth is, obviously, there’s no right or wrong way to grow your baby. Some people carry small, some people carry big, some are in the middle, and all are doing incredible work by growing and sustaining new life inside them.

I personally love how huge my stomach is – I love the constant reminder that my new little human is growing nicely inside me and is on its way soon. Before I know it, the baby will be out in the big world and I know I’ll miss my ‘mahoosive belly’ when it’s (somewhat) gone.

The 8th Month Of Pregnancy:

I’ve reached the 8th Month of Pregnancy and I’m feeling less of the ‘Chrissy Teigen glow’ and more of the ‘Jowly Insurence Hound bloat’. I seem to be carrying the majority of my baby-weight under my chin like a sort of fleshy saddlebag, but it does have its upside – I’m able to use it as a sort of built-in travel pillow – perfect for naps on the go!

In the last few weeks I’m also urinating with the frequency of an 80 year-old man with a prostate the size of a melon. This is because the baby pressing down on my insides has reduced my bladder capacity to roughly that of a months. Every time I need the loo it feels like I’m holding back a Hoover Dam-amount of water, but when the time comes to relieve myself, a disappointing trickle is all I can manage…until 20 minutes passes and I need to repeat the lavatory song and dance all over again.

Another telling sign that I’m struggling to keep the waterworks in check this pregnancy is that the other day my phone auto-corrected the word ‘your’ to ‘UTI’ highlighting just how often I’m typing these annoying little letters into my phone. This whole pregnancy has been one giant, literal, pain in my vagina. In fact, if this baby is a girl I’m pretty sure I’ll be obliged to call her ‘candida’ or ‘cystitis’.

But as we’re nearing splashdown, I have massively enjoyed this baby’s 24-hour workout routine (note I nearly called its movements ‘womb gymnastics’ until I realised how utterly wrong that sounds!). This baby has no set ‘busy time’, instead it performs a Latin-jazz infusion Gangnam dance every five minutes throughout the day. I know I’ll miss this feeling the most…except the tap-dancing on the top of my cervix…that I can probably live without. Not long now, baby!

GUEST POST: The first rule of postnatal club is: you do not talk about postnatal club

There’s no point sugar-coating it – being a new mum is tough – so where’s the help and support that’s so desperately needed? This guest post from Hannah Preston sums it up perfectly…

I like making informed decisions. Whenever I’m about to buy something new or embark on a new adventure, I do my research, whether that’s comparing reviews on Which? or asking at least five different friends for advice. I was no different when I became pregnant last year with my first baby. I read the books (I’d recommend “How To Grow A Baby and Push It Out”), I signed up to the Bounty and Emma’s Diary newsletters, downloaded the Baby Buddy app and attended the NCT antenatal classes.

I was as prepared as I could be for the pregnancy and labour, and to an extent I was prepared for those first few weeks caring for my new baby. I had nappies and sleepsuits and had been warned about the sleepless nights and that my hormones would be all over the place.

What I was not prepared for however was how I would feel physically after the birth and how long I’d feel terrible for afterwards. The lack of information and support for new mums on caring for themselves after giving birth is shocking. The only mention in my five class antenatal course was that we’d probably experience the “baby blues” on day three after labour. This made it sound like we’d have a weepy 24 hours and then be fine.

There are plenty of books, apps and support groups about looking after the baby in those first few months, but very little on postnatal care for the mum. In addition to all the overwhelming mental health issues new mums face, such as postnatal depression which is such a big topic that it deserves a separate, more detailed discussion, and dealing with constantly questioning every decision you make – is your baby too hot/cold, had too much/little sleep, eating too much/not enough? – (which I know is true for new dads too), there are a lot of physical issues to deal with that just don’t get discussed.

Even just focusing on breastfeeding, something we’re led to believe is the most natural thing in the world, there is a whole lot of unspoken pain and discomfort. You’re told that it will help you bond with your baby, when actually for a lot of women you’re too distracted by cracked, bleeding nipples and searing pain to enjoy the experience. (See Charlotte’s earlier blog post to get an insight into this kind of pain!). Although it’s not something you hear about before having a child, there are at least quite a few support groups – such as breastfeeding meet-ups at local cafes, Facebook groups and national hotlines – that you can access.

There are many other physical aspects that can leave postnatal mums in pain, worried, embarrassed and feeling alone, without any support. It’s not unusual for new mums to experience one or more of the following: mastitis, vaginal tears, pus from C-section scars, anal fissures, haemorrhoids, prolapses, infected stitches, incontinency…

Not only do new mums often have to deal with these physical pains, but they have to do so with an onslaught of guests visiting to coo over their new bundle of joy. It’s lovely introducing your little one to family and friends, but often new mums will be doing it through gritted teeth trying not to think about whether leaking milk is showing through their tops whilst having to shift from one side to the other to ease the discomfort of sitting down.

A friend recently shared this Twitter thread by Kate Clancy, an associate professor at the University of Illinois, who details her list of ailments and her frustration at how little the postpartum experience is discussed and how it’s under researched.

I shared it with a group of friends who’d also recently had babies and nearly all of them opened up and said they too had some kind of physical issue following giving birth.

I’ve talked to more mums since and it seems that a lot of us have gone through some kind of lingering pain. When talking about the pros and cons of having a caesarean, one of the listed disadvantages you hear is that there’s a six-week recovery period afterwards. This makes it sounds like you should have fully healed in those six weeks, and that if you had a vaginal birth it will take a lot less. A lot of new mums, no matter how they gave birth, are still suffering for months afterwards.

Considering so many of us experience physical postnatal problems, I wondered why it’s something that just doesn’t get talked about. I’m not suggesting mums should go round revealing intimate details. When someone asks you how you’re doing you don’t want to have to reply “it feels like I’ve had a lawnmower go through my lady bits” or “I’ve got a literal pain in the arse. How are you?”. In our society, when even farting is considered unladylike and feminine hygiene brands are only just starting to feature red rather than blue liquids in sanitary pad adverts, it’s just not the done thing to discuss ladies’ nether regions.

But there should be more support available. At six weeks your baby will have a check-up at the doctors and most mums will too. In my district however, they’ve stopped offering automatic check-ups for mums which I think speaks volumes.

When it comes to both the labour and the after-care, I’ve regularly heard new mums say “I can’t believe no one told me about XYZ” or “how is it that I never knew about ABC”. A recurring response is that if we knew the actual truth, it would put us off having a baby. I call bullshit on this excuse. It wouldn’t put people off (if it does, then maybe being a parent isn’t for you, because guess what – motherhood is tough) but instead would make us better prepared. It would mean you’d know when to go see your doctor, you’d have an idea of what to buy to help ease the discomfort, partners may be able to help out more, guests might not overstay their welcome, work might not hassle you so quickly, there’d be support groups to go to where you could chat about it without embarrassment…

As Kate Clancy asks in her Twitter thread – “Why don’t we have evidence based recommendations for postpartum mom care?”. More research should go in to understanding these postnatal conditions to find out what can be done to prevent them/help quicken the healing process. I can’t help but wonder if it was a problem that affected men too and not just women, something might already have been done about it.

There are plenty of topics that aren’t talked about when they really should be. From miscarriages to mental health, we really need to remove the stigma and start having discussions so that people can get much needed support.

I often hear the phrase “happy mum, happy baby” bandied about, so why aren’t we giving mums the postnatal care that they need and deserve?

Hannah Preston is a first time mum and can usually be found blogging about Leeds over on www.lovingleedsblog.co.uk.

 

Make #DressDownFriday your 2018 New Year’s Resolution

2017 felt like one giant kick-in-the-pants for global equality. The human-amoeba-leader-of-the-free-world and his Republican Dementors did their very best to roll-back and restrict access to women’s services. Alarming statistics were released showing that even in the developed West, black women were three times more likely to die from pregnancy than white women. Worryingly, domestic abuse in the UK also increased this year.

But 2017 was also the year that saw the Women’s March become the largest ever march in support of women’s rights, it was the year where Danica Roem, a transgender woman, was elected to the state legislature in Virginia against all the odds. And it was the year that women kicked-back at normative sexual abuse with the global #metoo campaign.

2018 is a brand new year, one where we’ll see continued attacks on equality, and one where people across the world will continue to rise to the challenge and fight back for equal rights.

So why not make banishing gender stereotypes one of your ambitions for 2018? Let’s ensure our kids have every opportunity to express themselves openly and live in a world where they can be themselves and achieve anything they want in life. Let’s banish restrictive and reductive gender stereotypes that say boys must be ‘tough’ and girls must be ‘pretty’. Let’s do this by thinking carefully about the language we use with our children, the toys and the clothes and the books we buy them.

Join me every week for the #dressdownfriday campaign; our weekly opportunity to show how we as parents and carers are challenging gender norms to make 2018, and every year after it, a better place for our kids.

For more information about the campaign, click here.

Five Observations on the Second Trimester

As I approach the final few months of pregnancy, here are some second trimester observations:

  1. Pregnancy has some really glamorous side effects: I remember the repulsed look on my friend’s face when out of nowhere, as I was chatting away, my gums started bleeding and my mouth filled up with blood. She politely told me and as I coughed and spluttered into a tissue, I’m pretty sure people around us thought I had late-stage TB, or at the very least, raging gingivitis. 

2. As the baby gets heavier on my bladder and I find myself suffering  with yet another cold this winter, I’m finding I ‘sneeze-wee’ through at least two pairs of knickers a day. TMI UTI!

3. I’m learning all about the baby’s personality already. For example, want to know what its favourite past-time is? Punching me repeatedly in the opening of my cervix. This baby won’t wait for contractions; it’s gonna punch its way through when it’s ready. Is it too soon for gas and air???

4. Every day I get a shock when I look in the mirror after getting out of the shower and wrapping a towel around me: I’m greeted by the sight of my vagina peeping out at me. As my stomach expands, my normal shower towel can no longer wrap fully around my lower half, creating a grotesque window to my genitalia.

5. Climbing the stairs is a full-scale mission from which I need at least 10 minutes to recover. By the time I reach the upstairs landing, my speech is laboured through heavy breathing. I sound like Malcolm in the Middle’s best friend Stevie who paused to breathe between every word (and to be fair to that kid, he was missing a lung).

A Stretch Marks Poem

The journey my body is taking to bring you here is etched onto my skin.

Thousands of tiny meandering roads, deepening, widening as you grow inside my womb.

I trace them with my fingers, hoping you can feel it tickling as I track the paths you and I are making together. We are trail-blazers.

Some people have a face that’s a map of the world. My body is a map of my world. Each new line has a story to tell; the growth of your spine, the lengthening of your leg. Every day you grow, more details of my world are forever defined.

The journey hasn’t always been smooth, and the little lines remind me of that – nothing is perfect, things don’t always go to plan.

I touched the outline of the little silver stream running by my navel when I thought I was losing you. Tracing the snaking current over the curve of my stomach with my finger, hoping this stream would have more time to grow, to surge with life.

The lines we have made together on my body will continue to change; just like you.

I will never recoil when I look at the map we made on my body. Each tiny road, each winding silver stream, brought me to you.

Why our approach to perinatal mental health is just plain wrong

For the first time in my life, at 25 weeks pregnant, I’ve found myself suffering with anxiety-induced depression. This was not an easy thing for me to admit to and not something that I was able to label myself until I finally swallowed my pride and went to the doctor for help.

I have good days and bad. On a good day, I look back at a low period and almost laugh at how feeble I was being. It shocks me that I have struggled to cope with the most menial of tasks. On a bad day, there feels like there’s no way out. Completely out of the blue, a wave of sadness hits me and I find myself howling uncontrollably no matter where I am or who I’m with (the guy at the carwash the other day looked particularly concerned). All at once, I feel inadequate and like I’m failing as a mum to my toddler and as a mum-to-be to the new baby. My best is never good enough and I feel like I’ll never be happy again. Eventually these feelings subside and I feel like I’m almost back to my old self.

Having never experienced feelings like this before, it took me a while to work out if these were ‘normal’ hormonal pregnancy feelings, or something more. But when I was up in the night for what felt like the millionth night in a row, obsessing about the baby dying, the house being burgled and the car getting ticketed for being on double-yellows, I knew I needed to speak to someone.

This was completely new territory for me. Admitting to a doctor that I wasn’t coping felt strange and unnerving; I was letting someone into my weird little world, and I wasn’t sure how they’d react.

Thankfully, he was sympathetic and understanding, and I was referred for counselling. That was two months ago, and that’s were things pretty much are today.

Because the waiting list for mental health support is apparently worse than it has ever been before, the doctor recommended I start on anti-depressants immediately to help me cope whilst I wait for counselling.

I was a bit taken aback by this. I’ve never needed to take anti-depressants before, and having read the potential side-effects, although risks are minimal, I wasn’t happy taking the pills whilst pregnant.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not ‘anti’ anti-depressants. In fact, were I not pregnant, I’d have started taking them there and then. They have been literal life-savers for many people I know.

Even in my anxiety-riddled mind, I can see that this is a totally backwards way of addressing perinatal mental health concerns. Doctors are forced to rely on the prescribing of anti-depressants as an interim solution because access to counsellors is increasingly hard to come by.

Given that waiting lists are increasing, and they’re increasing for mums and mums-to-be, surely this is reaching crisis-proportions and much more needs to be done to address this?

One in 10 women experience some sort of mental illness during pregnancy or within the first year of giving birth. Devastatingly, suicide is one of the leading causes of death for new mums and mums-to-be. These are incredibly vulnerable women who are already dealing with an insurmountable amount of pressure and responsibility, and they’re not getting the help and support they need. Instead, they’re being fobbed off with pills to keep them on an even keel. This has huge ramifications for them and the families they’re caring for.

Personally, I feel that just talking to someone who isn’t a friend or family member would be a huge step forward for me, and a huge weight off my shoulders. I need someone to help me make sense of these thoughts and feelings whirring around in my head. And I want to be able to do this before having to rely on medication. For tired, anxious, pregnant mothers, surely this should be the bare minimum we can expect in terms of support?

Presently, I’m on three separate waiting lists for perinatal counselling, and I’ve been waiting for three months to speak to someone. I’m still not taking the anti-depressants but will reconsider this once I’ve spoken to a councillor.

Have you or your partner ever suffered with perinatal mental health issues? What is provision of care like in your area? I’ve found this website particularly useful in understanding what additional support is out there for expecting mothers and what the current state of support is like across the UK.

Five Christmas gifts for kids that are woke AF

Empowering and life-affirming gifts are not just for adults. Take the opportunity this Christmas to continue your children’s emotional, cultural and intersectional understanding with one or two of these incredible gifts for little ones. Stay woke, kids!

End Gender Norms jumper from Bloody Nora Pam

This jumper comes in black in ages three up to 11 and costs £16. There’s no better way to ensure kids understand the restrictions of traditional gender norms by offering them a choice and allowing them to wear whatever they want. This gender-neutral jumper is a must-have for any parent that rejects the tired ‘pink and blue’ trope. Get it here.

Recycling truck from Green Toys

Recycled milk jugs are the primary component in all of the Green Toys products. The plastic is collected by waste management, cleaned, shredded into flakes, reprocessed into a raw material and mixed with food-safe, mineral-based colouring. By using recycled plastic, they divert materials from landfills, save energy and reduce their carbon footprint. This recycling truck is the embodiment of close-looped play and is a great way to introduce the idea of recycling to your little ones. Reduce, re-use, re-cycle, Rihanna!

Representative dolls from Diverse Dolls 4 All

Ever been disappointed by a total whitewash of the dolls in the toy store? Representation is such an important part of each child feeling accepted and self-assured and playing with dolls that represent a variety of ethnicities is the first step you can take to ensure your children understand the multi-cultural world around them. Diverse Dolls 4 All also specialise in multi-cultural learning aids to help enable children to learn about difference and diversity.

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

A quick search online will bring up a plethora of socially-conscious kids’ books, specialising in feminism, LGBT+ issues, race and gender. ‘A is For Activist’ by Innosanto Nagara is a fantastic first step in introducing your children to activism and the idea of fighting for what you believe is right. Huge messages on every page to inspire hope for the future! 

Supporting a young girl in India

It might be hard to explain an intangible gift like this to your child while they are little, but a long-lasting commitment to sponsoring a child in need of basic aid could be life-changing for the two of them. The Invisible Girl Project enables you to sponsor a young girl in India who has previously been at risk of being killed, abandoned or trafficked.

Although they will grow up thousands of miles away your youngster will grow up alongside your sponsored young girl, and over the years your child can follow their progress closely through letters and updates. Although it may not seem like a gift to them, they will grow up with a deeper understanding of life in a completely different culture. At the very least, it will help them empathise and appreciate all the other toys and comforts they have in life – even if that empathy only lasts for a few minutes at a time!

Do you have any gifts on your wish-list for your kids that you hope will empower and inspire them? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

Q&A with Kith + Kin Design founder

For the next couple of weeks I’m in the proud company of Louise, founder of Kith + Kin Design, for our #DressDownFriday competition collaboration. Regular readers will know that I’m passionate about working with driven, creative entrepreneurs to tackle gender stereotypes that are all too prevelant in kids’ fashion today. It’s been such a pleasure to get to know Louise and her business, and I’m thrilled to be able to share a little more information with you about what her company stands for and why she’s passionate about gender equality. Have a read on…
When did you set up your business?

I set the business up about a year ago, when my sister was pregnant. I work freelance as a fashion print designer and wanted to pursue my own practice. My sister and her partner didn’t want to learn the sex of their child before the birth. Wanting to get on with planning and dreaming for this new person in their lives, she found it difficult to buy unisex clothes that appealed to her. This started the creative wheels turning in my head, and so I set out to fill a gap for parents who face the same challenges.
What makes Kith Kin Design unique?
I go my own way and don’t subscribe to trend. I offer a palette that is more daring than the monochromes and subtler than the hyper primaries seen in other gender neutral clothing brands. With the mini artists collection I’ve focused on creating timeless artworks rather than chasing sales by offering more of the same. I’ve thought about the life of the garment post sale and the waste created with superfluous packaging, and I actively encourage further wear by producing how to guides on the website and on the reverse of the bespoke milestone cards included with purchases (instead of fancy packaging). It might not be 100% unique but it certainly feels rare to be making things you’ll genuinely want to hold on to and pass on.
Why is there an emphasis on gender neutral through your work?
It’s a response to the emphasis that big retailers have put on gender in babies clothes. Not every parent wants to be dictated to about what their baby girl or boy should be wearing, especially when the offer is more of the same old stereotypes. Sticking to gender norms limits our experiences and our interactions. Babies don’t care what they’re dressed in, but adults do, and behave differently according to the gender they think they are engaging with. And associating specific colours with specific genders is a trend in itself. In Victorian England babies were typically all dressed in white whatever their gender. Pink and blue was introduced in the 1940s to encode the ideas about gender of that time. Now in 2017 we know that there is no sacred list of what girls and boys are meant to be like, and growing up to be a seven year old adventurer and tree climber is not incompatible with playing with dolls. So why not dress in whatever colours we want to right from the start? And, of course, it makes it a whole lot easier to pass clothes on!
Why is organic and ethical important to you?
Fashion is the fifth most polluting industry in the world, tied with livestock, and is notorious for it’s treatment of workers. As the person in control of production I feel it’s my duty to make sure the decisions I make change fashion’s negative impact on the planet, and respect the people making the clothes. I follow a slow fashion method of producing limited quantities which transcend seasons, thereby reducing waste. My care towards the garments goes beyond selling: making clothes that will last, and can be passed on to family and friends or donated to organisations who help new parents at a time of need, is an overarching goal of Kith Kin Design.
Why do you support the #dressdownfriday campaign?
Retailers need to know that there are a growing number of parents, friends and family who see the outdated and damaging messaging of their clothes and want change, want more flexibility and more diverse clothing for their kids. Dress Down Friday makes people feel supported by other members calling out retailers for blatant stereotyping in their kids wear offerings. It’s a place for community and reassurance – when the high street makes your thoughts about gender stereotyping seem exceptional, it’s good to be reminded there is in fact a whole load of people thinking the same thing!
You can shop the Kith + Kin collection here. Click here to find out more about the #DressDownFriday competition in collaboration with Kith + Kin Design.