2017 is the Scottish year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, and it’s definitely something we’re not short of. Not only is the country spoiled with a wealth of scenery, it’s also home to four UNESCO World Heritage sites. Ever since I was wee I’ve had a love of history and exploring, ably helped by my mum and dad taking us to castles, heritage sites, landmarks and museums around the country.

Thanks to this, I was/am/will always be a massive history nerd. I devoured any information I could read about historical landmarks, so that when I went I understood its relevance (fun fact: I made a documentary of my trip to Linlithgow Palace when I was nine, putting me way ahead of the vlogging game). It’s been a lifelong passion for me, which has shaped my interests personally and academically. Of course, I didn’t understand the importance of culture and heritage as a kid. I just knew that these places nurtured my imagination and brought what I’d read about to life, and none more so than New Lanark Mill.

New Lanark Mill is nestled in the Falls Of Clyde, less than an hour outside Glasgow. Like a lot of 18th century villages, New Lanark centred around its cotton mill. Its residents lived, learned and worked in the village. However, unlike many other villages of the same nature, mill owner Robert Owen believed that the most efficient workers were happy workers. Key to their happiness, he believed, was access to education, healthcare and good food. Owen was what you’d call a “Utopian philanthropist”, concerning himself with worker well-being at a time of industrial revolution.

At the time it was a pretty innovative notion (let’s face it, it’d be an innovative notion today). As a result of its legacy, the Mill was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and the village still thrives today. I remember going as a child, but I don’t think I’ve been down that way in about twenty years. It was surprising how much of it I remembered (being a heritage site, there’s not a huge amount you can change, I guess). As soon as we got out of the car, the first thing that strikes you is the setting. The site is based within a conservation area, and the first thing you notice is trees for miles.

We were welcomed with tickets and a little passport which we had to get stamped in each of the five areas of the Mill. The first thing you come across is the Annie Macleod Experience: you hop aboard a pod that transports you through time, offering a history of the mill through the eyes of ten year old mill worker Annie. When the little girl’s voice came through the headsets asking “do you believe in ghosts?“, I remembered the shiver I’d gotten the first time I boarded the ride. It was strange, feeling like both a recent and distant memory. I’d forgotten the specifics of it, so it felt like a new experience watching the ghosts of the past swirl around us, bringing alive the stories of real people that could’ve easily been forgotten.

From then on we went into the mill room to see a real one in action, got a shot at hopscotch and learned some history behind Robert Owen and the establishment of the mill. In all honesty, I have no idea how a mill works but it was really interesting seeing one in action. The mill is still used to this day to make wool, which you can also take home. Textile production is a big part of Scottish heritage, and I found something quite reassuring about it. I think there’s some comfort to be found, in the time of fast fashion and mass production, that there’s still a demand for local, homespun, quality goods.

From then we took the lift up to the roof garden, the views from which were stunning. It was a bitterly cold day and we were short of time, so we didn’t get to take a trek along to the Falls Of Clyde but the views were enough to tick us over ’til next time. The Roof Garden is the largest of its kind in Scotland, contains over 70 different kinds of plants and is decorated with plaques featuring quotes by Owen. After the noise of the mill downstairs, the Roof Garden was like stepping away from the world.

After a quick refresh (the café is pretty decent, by the by) we made our way outside to the Old School House. For having such a large population at its peak, the village is fairly compact which makes it easy to navigate. Seeing the old classroom set up as it would’ve been was pretty cool, and I even had a shoddy attempt at cursive using the slates. Unusually for the time, the school was set up for both children and adults: children would learn during the day while adults (and kids who worked in the mill) could attend after a shift. It included a creche for young children and acted as a hub of activity for the community (it frequently hosted dances and concerts as well as having a library).

Across the way was an exhibition commemorating the men of the village who had fought in World War One, the women who worked in the mill producing textiles for the war effort and the efforts of village fundraisers. It’s hard to imagine the scale of loss suffered by villages like these and exhibitions like this help to keep the memory alive. It’s especially important as there are no more survivors left– it’s up to us to make their story heard and their faces visible. Seeing photographs, family treasures, handwritten letters and personal testimonies made it seem so much more poignant- and tragically pointless.

Most of the mill workers’ houses have been turned into either owner-occupied flats or form part of a Housing Association, with the ambition of keeping the village as a living community. Luckily, they haven’t all been modernised: our next stop after the school were the preserved examples of housing from the 1930s and 1820s. What struck me the most was that the houses were apparently generously spaced and in good condition for the time. It consisted of a kitchen (OK, a pretty big one, but still) and a little bedroom off to the side. The 1820s house consisted of even less: a singl’ end style property could see ten people crammed into one room. It put our current living situation into perspective- seeing the way people lived back then made me feel a little bad for complaining about our one bedroom flat. While the style of housing wasn’t all that different to anywhere else, it was the conditions they were kept in that set them apart. The mill houses had electricity and running water, and latterly indoor toilets- practically unheard of at the time.

We just about squeezed in the village shop before we had to leave: the shop was a co-operative, set up so that villagers could have access to fresh produce at lower prices than in the local towns and cities. To this day it sells Fair Trade products, including New Lanark’s own-recipe ice cream. The mill also still produces its own wool, which is pretty impressive given its inception was over 200 years ago.

Places like New Lanark are crucial to our understanding of social history. It’s one thing to study it or read about it, but seeing it first hand brings it vividly to life. It makes history tangible, shows us where we came from. The mill and other places like it were milestones in social justice. Its emphasis on humane conditions was innovative at the time and remains so today. Access to education and healthcare are now recognised as fundamental human rights, and places like New Lanark realised this in a time when workers’ rights were unheard of. The layout of the place is easy to walk through, picking up information on the various attractions as you go. Lucas might have been a little young to appreciate it, but it was still nice to have a little family day out and take in some culture. There’s so much to see that we didn’t even have a chance to get around it all in one day. We’ve still got the Falls Of Clyde to explore, and we’re already looking into going back in the summer for the Brick City Lego exhibition. Who says history has to be boring?

We were invited to spend the day at New Lanark Mill as part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017 celebrations, but my opinions are all mine.

  • The Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology celebrations are running across the country throughout the rest of 2017 and you can find out more here.
  • More information on UNESCO and its world heritage sites across the UK can be found here.

Confession time.

One time, I left a mum and baby class without staying to feed my son even though I knew he was about due one.

He woke up when we left, as he normally does if he hasn’t taken a feed in a few hours. I hurriedly said my goodbyes and made haste for the door. We trundled through the park to the post office, that I had to get to before 5. It was half 4. I could see him gurning, prayed that it wouldn’t escalate before we got home. Of course it did though. He started screaming right at that point where I was closer to my destination than to home.

“Aw, someone’s hungry”, commented the woman who served me in the post office, as he spat out his dummy and screamed.

The woman who held the door for me gave me a sympathising glance as I hustled him into the cold, hoping that might calm him down. But no. He continued screaming.

He screamed as I pushed the pram in the wrong direction and had to stand in the street with my phone out trying to figure out how to get home. He kept screaming as I hit upon the brainwave of feeding him in the safe, neon foyer of the New Victoria Hospital, a safe space, where I’d attended my midwife appointments and antenatal classes. I knew I could sit and feed him comfortably and without judgement. It was one of those piercing, sore-sounding, slightly pathetic screams that only newborn babies have. People tutted, gave us the side eye, dodged the pram to get by us without making eye contact. We made it to the hospital, he had his feed and we could make our way home.

The reason I didn’t want to feed him in the mum and baby class left me feeling ashamed. I didn’t want to feed him because he takes a bottle, the mum and baby class was a breastfeeding workshop and I was embarrassed. Lucas slept all the way through it while I tried to explain how hard and frustrating and tiring feeding had been. The other mums nodded and said yes, they were exhausted too, their precious darlings breastfed too much. One mum dominated the conversation humble-bragging about how tiring it was feeding a newborn and a twenty month old at once. I had to stop myself from telling her it clearly hadn’t had any positive effects on her twenty month old’s behaviour, as the little shit wrenched a succession of toys from the hands of an eight month old baby.

Some mums were nice, but they still had their own judgements. I said that our midwife had advised me to give Lucas pre-mixed formula as a top up. They tutted, turned up their noses, they shouldn’t be telling you that. They overlooked the fact that we’d been told this because Lucas had lost 13% of his body weight and had to be readmitted to hospital. It didn’t take into account his as-then-undetected tongue tie which meant he couldn’t latch on to breastfeed and was pretty much starving. This group felt like a last lifeline, though. All of the mum and baby workshops, baby cafés and support groups were for breastfeeding. There was no bottle-feeding support. If I couldn’t breastfeed him, where was I going to go? How would I meet other mums?

It turns out there are plenty of other options- it just didn’t feel like it at the time.

My post about Lucas’s first month, and a post on Instagram, detailed our experience with feeding and the tongue tie clinic and I got a lot of feedback from mums who’d been through similar. I still couldn’t find a lot of support for bottle feeding, though. Even buying formula online had a “breastfeeding is best!!!!” disclaimer slapped on it. Sure, the NHS website had a step-by-step guide to covering the basics, but the support is notable by its absence. The difference in menu options says a lot…

There’s bottle-feeding information, yeah, but look how- pardon the pun- formulaic it is. How to sterilise bottles, how to make up formula, what types are available. On the topic of breastfeeding, there’s a wealth of information about how to feed, what positions are best, feeding your baby in public, trouble-shooting, even testimonies from other mums. There are no testimonies from bottle-feeding mums.

I know, I know. I’ve seen the posters, read the literature, spoken with health professionals. I know “breast is best”. Bottle-feeding was never my first choice. For one thing, well, the health benefits. For another, the convenience. Like I could take my baby out for hours and not have to worry about making up feeds because they were right there. And yeah, the crucial factor for me, it’s free. Formula is EXPENSIVE and you only go through more of it because, let’s face it, your baby’s only going to get bigger.

What message does it send, though, that bottle-feeding is treated like such an afterthought even by our health service? I don’t mean this to descend into a breast vs. bottle debate, and it shouldn’t be. However, the drop in mums who breastfeed goes from 81% in hospital to 55% after six weeks. Surely they can’t all be ‘just lazy’? A study on baby café services in the UK concluded that unrealistic expectations from antenatal services left mums unprepared for the reality of feeding.

In my experience this was absolutely true. I wanted to breastfeed, so I never felt pushed into it by antenatal services. However, at no point did they say just how hard it’d be. I seem to remember there being talk of it being a new skill that you had to learn, but it revolved around the first couple of days in hospital. Lucas’s first feed, in the hour after he was born, went without a hitch. I mistakenly thought that was it. It was a different story at home. He couldn’t feed or get the energy to feed and so he cried. The more he cried, I cried, and the whole process just felt torturous.

We took him to the tongue tie clinic at the Royal Hospital for Children, in the hopes that it’d help him latch on. It didn’t, and we went back to the same routine. In between this he was happily taking formula. He was steadily putting on weight and the health visitor commented on how alert he was. I tried to express but got less and less each time. It came to a head when he screamed even before he tried to latch on. “What the fuck DO YOU WANT?” I yelled. Then it hit me. I was shouting at a baby for something that he couldn’t help or understand. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

This post by the brilliant Not So Smug Now was really eye-opening. I didn’t know that it was illegal to advertise formula. The government, it seems, views formula in the same regard as tobacco. The World Health Organisation isn’t too keen on it either, believing that its use should only be considered following an informed and impartial decision.

It’s a good thing that breastfeeding is being encouraged, as is the push to normalise it in public. Studies have shown that a woman’s decision to feed can be based on environmental factors, and that young mums are more likely to bottle-feed as it’s deemed as socially acceptable (although a big part of me thinks this is due to a confidence issue as much as societal). Expectant mums should absolutely encouraged to breastfeed, or at least be made aware of its benefits. However, if mums do choose (or have) to bottle feed, similar information and support should be offered.

MP Alison Thewliss published a bill last week on the marketing of formula feeding. She’s done a lot of work in promoting breastfeeding, and I agree with many of the points, but I do have some concerns. I definitely think it should be tested independently under scrutiny, and companies should be held accountable for misleading promotion. Independent findings should also take precedence over formula-sponsored ‘research’. It’ll allow mums to make a more informed decision regarding feeding choices, which can only be a good thing. I think follow-on and ‘hungry baby’ milks are a complete con, and shouldn’t be marketed as a supplement to weaning (we bought Lucas ‘hungry baby’ milk only to be told that it’s not more dense in nutrients. It just bulks up more).

Plain packaging feels like an easy target, like formula should be something that’s hidden away out of sight- much like tobacco products. Same goes for not allowing it to be discussed in mum and baby clubs. Excluding support for mums because of their feeding choices isn’t going to help them feel included and supported. I doubt that’s the intent, but who knows. You can read the bill here and make up your own mind. These measures aren’t going to increase breastfeeding awareness. That can only happen through education, continued research into feeding choices and better access to feeding consultants and postnatal care.

What I do know is that we need to refocus our own scrutiny. 50% of new mums in England and Wales feel that their mental and emotional wellbeing was overlooked due to a lack of access to midwifery care. In 2016, Citizens’ Advice reported a 58% increase in expectant mums raising concerns over employee rights. There is still a gulf between maternity pay and maternity allowance that can cause anguish for mums on zero hour contracts or who are self-employed.

Instead of shaming mums for their feeding choices, let’s direct that energy elsewhere. It’s a crazy notion, but let’s support them instead. Being a new mum can be an extremely lonely, vulnerable and emotional time. Lucas was referred to the tongue tie clinic a second time, but they said there wasn’t really much to be done. “If the bottle works for you, keep doing that- just enjoy him”. That’s exactly what we’ve done. As long as a baby is fed, clothed and loved, it’s no one else’s business what teat it prefers.

Useful Links

The NCT’s advice on bottle feeding includes how to prepare feeds and deal with common feeding problems.

The fantastically funny (and honest) ladies over at Frank About Feeding talk about all things breast and bottle- no prejudice here.

Fearless Formula Feeder, aka author Suzanne Barston, offers a refreshing look at formula feeding, with enough support and information to help you make an informed decision.

You can keep up with official developments from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding.

NHS Scotland has a with lots of resources.

 

There was a point during January when I couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t January. December was so chaotic- what with Lucas’s arrival, frantic Christmas shopping, family and friend visits and pretty huge lifestyle adjustments, the festive season and first month flew by. Last month, though? Not so much. It’s a pretty universal thing. Christmas is so merry and bright and celebrates indulgence, whereas January is drab and cold, everyone’s skint and those over-indulgences give way to shame and calorific austerity.

All things considered, it’s a bit of a relief when February rolls around. At a mere 28 days, it’s a neat gateway that slides us nicely into March in time for spring. However, with its convenience, it brings a new set of challenges. I can count at least ten birthdays, all family and close friends too so I can’t even patch them. As well as this, let’s not forget the neon red heart in the room: that most beloved/detested of questionable holidays, Valentine’s day.

Valentine’s Day brings certain expectations. If you’re loved up, you’re expected to buy into the cards and flowers consumerism of it all. Single? You’re expected to either partner up ASAP or stay out of sight at home so as to not ruin the day for smug couple-types. Into casual dating? Better super-like that Mr/s Right Now ASAP and hunker down until it passes. Whatever your relationship status, there’s always the failsafe option of watching a movie, right? Rather than the usual well-trodden rom-com path, why not think outside the (chocolate) box a little? I’ve put together a wee list of some of my favourite alternative romantic movies, guaranteed* to land you that elusive second date.
*not a guarantee.

Audition (1999)

Image source

If you’ve ever been on a first date that went well, then fizzled out, you might just want to watch this before you send that follow-up text. Takashi Miike’s slow burning, visceral Audition makes single sofa Saturdays seem a lot more appealing. Following the death of his beloved wife, Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is encouraged to start dating again. Unfortunately it’s before internet dating is really socially accepted, so he has to get creative in his quest for love. He posts an advert for a fake film audition, which is either the creepiest or sweetest approach I’ve ever heard. For now we’ll go with sweetest… When fragile, engrossing Asami (Eihi Shiina) turns up, he’s instantly smitten. The two go for a lovely, romantic dinner, and it seems like they’ve hit it off. So, is it happily ever after? Well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be worth watching if it was, would it? For two thirds of this film’s running time it’s a deftly handled romantic comedy with a pretty neat twist on the . The final act smashes into you without warning, and descends so quickly into madness that it’s hard to take in upon first viewing. You might want to consider screening your online matches that little bit more carefully after this.

May (2002)

May is an oddity that I only discovered in the last year. It’s actually quite a sweet film, albeit one which made me terribly uneasy, and on the verge of seriously cringing for most of its duration. Our titular heroine (Angela Bettis) is a teeny bit of an oddity: lonely and ostracised as a child, she seeks companionship from anyone who shows her kindness. She doesn’t really differentiate between genders, she just wants a pal. And woe betide anyone who gets in her way. Her clumsy attempts at forming relationships go from bad to wrose, from dreamy mechanic Adam (Jeremy Sisto) to domineering Polly (Anna Faris). May is a genuinely touching film, but our unreliable narrator (I love a good unreliable narrator) ensures that we’re strung along from one tense situation to another. Thankfully, there are no schlocky scares to underline this: just a growing sense of tension as May becomes increasingly unraveled. It’s also a macabre, modern take on the Frankenstein’s monster story: in her desperation May makes a friend, a doll she calls Amy and creates from a patchwork of… well, you’ll just have to see. All in all, this is a really sweet, criminally underseen little gem and an assured debut from director Lucky McKee.

Candyman

Ever felt yourself pining for the one who got away? That one that seemed to end before it ran its natural course? Or, at the very least, have you ever played that sleepover game where you do the ritual to see your future spouse’s face in the mirror? If the answer to any of the above is ‘yes’, you’ll find a lot of resonance in Candyman. Based on the Clive Barker short story The Forbidden, it’s about student Helen (Virginia Madsen) who stumbles across the Candyman story while researching urban legends for her thesis. She becomes slightly obsessed, chasing down the legend’s origins and, umm, accidentally summoning him into existence. Whoops. Candyman is a great example of a slasher without pandering to genre convention. It respects its source material, but Tony Todd’s embodiment of the title role is unlike anything you could’ve imagined while reading. Even if the whole ‘mouth full of bees’ thing is enough to give you the dry heave.

Wild At Heart (1990)

OK, so this is probably the least ‘horror’ leaning film on the list. However, it does feature witches, occult symbology, sinister hitmen, bad omens and one of cinema’s most chilling psychopaths. It’s also one of my all-time favourites, so it’s staying. In the midst of all that, though, is a good ol’ fashioned ‘lovers on the run’ story. What’s more romantic than packing your bags and going on a spontaneous road trip? Well, not a lot- even when you’re on the run from hired goons that your mum’s hired to kill your boyfriend. Wild At Heart is an oddly accessible curio from the master of weird, David Lynch. It’s a gloriously grotesque postcard from the heartland of America, loosely following the yellow brick road of The Wizard Of Oz. Sailor (Nicholas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) drive across the country encountering a host of oddballs and assassins, the perils they face along the way only bringing them closer together. Equal parts black comedy, violence and pastiche, it also features an unforgettable performance from Willem Defoe as the loathsome, sleazy Bobby Peru (like the country). One of Lynch’s most linear works, it’s disturbing, deranged and deeply sexy.

Cherry Falls (2000)

I deliberated on this one: there are better examples of horror/romance, but this won out as it recalls awkward high school memories, subverts the usual slasher movie convention of the Last Virgin Standing, is gleefully silly and, most importantly, features a supporting role from Michael Biehn. And, in my opinion, not enough films do. This film is entirely ridiculous but I enjoyed its attempts at turning the old cliché on its head. I know it’s never going to remembered as a classic of its genre but it’s an interesting enough little twist. In any case I’m a sucker for a good slasher film, often the sillier the better. It’s also notable for a starring role from the dearly departed Brittany Murphy, still managing to seem bonkers as a virginal model student and daughter of the local sheriff. Bless ‘er.

Other notable near-inclusions: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Fly (1986), Interview with The Vampire (1994), Haut Tension (2003), Let the Right One In (2008).

Happy new year, everyone! The collective mess of 2016 has finally drawn to a close. Never has a year carried such a weight of anticipation as 2017. I know you can’t really blame a year for being ‘bad’. The loss of celebrity idols doesn’t equate to a ‘bad’ year (although Bowie and Alan Rickman within days was a bit sore). If we’re being really pernickety, time is linear and the concept of it is a man made construct, so we can’t constrict bad times to a 12 month period.

Still it’s always nice to put a full stop on a stressful time, which is what 2016 was for me- and a lot of friends, too.

It wasn’t all bad though. One of the good things about reflecting on the past year is remembering how much good actually happened. Upon reflection there was a lot to be thankful for. Even before I started blogging again I liked to have a wee look back on the year that was- it’s something I’ve always done at this time of year. Now that I have a blog again it’s nice to have a snapshot of different times of the year. I can see how my writing has developed (if at all- you tell me). It shows me how far I’ve come in a lot of aspects of my life. In this year of big change that’s been especially welcome. As is tradition I’ve compiled a wee list of some of my favourite posts of this year: ones that are special to me, that I’m especially proud of or ones that have had memorable responses. Let me know what you think of my choices… I haven’t even been blogging again for a year so I guess I’m still learning!

FYI, clicking on the post titles will take you straight to them.

Norwegian For Beginners

This was my first post of the year, although it took me until February. I’d meant to write a travel post after our first Berlin trip in November 2015 but graduation, work and Christmas sort of got in the way. Three days in Oslo seemed like the perfect way to break myself back in to writing, and try something new with travel writing. It also meant I could show off the sweet skills of my new phone camera (alas, we can’t all afford the tools we’d like) and new found love for VSCO. Writing about something new helped to refocus me. It enlivened a love for writing that had lain dormant. I also wrote that Berlin blog after our second trip, which you can find here and here.

In hindsight

Despite being an early entrant, this was one of my favourite posts of the year. It wasn’t written with any agenda or expectation. I was completely free in writing it. It was just a nice way of documenting a spontaneous adventure, something different after a hectic 2015 and the start of (what I thought) would be a year of adventures. If there’s anything to take from this post, it’s that I should learn to just write for the enjoyment of doing it. It’s easy to write yourself into a rut but getting out of it can be tricky. It’s definitely something I’ll be taking with me in 2017.

A Protest

In all honesty I got a little complacent after graduation. The job market started to pick up after new year but- other than just apply for ’em- I wasn’t doing much to make myself a Top Candidate. I fell into a routine of applying for jobs during the day, working in a bar at night time and being thoroughly miserable for the entirety. In March, I received a shock when I was let go, over the phone, without any warning or explanation. I wrote this post after weeks of trying to explore other options (such as employment tribunals) and realising that I had none. My case met all of the criteria for a tribunal, but as I was on a zero hour contract I had no entitlement. It left me feeling at the end of my rope. I felt like no one could help me- or wanted to. I wrote this post to make people aware of the conditions that zero hour staff worked under- regardless of the establishment. After posting it, I went for a walk to prepare myself for the negative feedback. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The outpouring of support was pretty overwhelming and I even got a new job- and a reconnected friendship- out of it.

In hindsight

This whole debacle was one of the biggest hidden blessings of the year. It forced me to rethink where I wanted to go, and look at areas in which I was lacking. It made me take action. I’d gotten lazy. I started looking into volunteering opportunities, and got more involved in the online blogging community. I took my story to my local MP who was immediately on board (because she is amazing). She took my case to Westminster and used it as part of a campaign against zero hour contracts. Unfortunately the DWP still thinks they’re a great idea but there’s a long way to go. The DWP is also headed by a man who allegedly believes in gay conversion while also getting embroiled in extra-marital sexting. Workers’ rights are really close to my heart but I didn’t get as involved as I would’ve liked last year. I’m excited to see what 2017 brings.

Speaking of unexpected twists…

Little Surprises

Writing about personal issues has never been my forte. For all that I post on social media, it’s never that deep. I’m just not a very open person. Some people aren’t. I admire the openness of people who can wear their hearts on their sleeves, but that’s just not me. However the feedback from A Protest gave me a boost in confidence. I found that I could write about personal issues if I felt they could help other people. It didn’t make me feel all that vulnerable if I knew that other people might take something from it, or use it to further their own knowledge.

Our pregnancy announcement was met with an influx of congratulations but I felt like a fraud. It had taken us a long time to get to a happy place with the news. It was a shock for which we weren’t ready, or even sure that we wanted. My first reaction wasn’t excitement. It’s hard when every pregnancy announcement, blog or website talks about the joy of impending motherhood when you don’t know how you feel. The two weeks in between taking a pregnancy test and sharing our news were the loneliest and most terrifying of my life. We didn’t know how we were going to proceed and I couldn’t tell anyone until we did. I wanted to put a little contribution out there in my corner of the internet for anyone in the same position. I wrote this thinking that if at least one scared expectant mum saw it, she’d know she wasn’t alone. It was still scary to publish, but it turned out to be my most-read post thus far and the response was pretty overwhelmingly positive.

In hindsight

I could never have predicted the reaction this post received. This was only my third post of the year. I had no following. I wrote it so my friends could see it. The amount of shares, comments and messages that I received, from people who had felt the same, was unreal. It just showed that the way I felt wasn’t weird. It didn’t mean I was going to be a bad mum. It was normal. It was what spurred me to keep writing, but with the same honesty I’d put into this. To everyone who read this, or who will read it, I hope you manage to take something from it- and please know that however you feel, you’re not alone.

Baby Talk

After months of writing pregnancy updates, I’d hit a wall. Writing about pregnancy had been a great way of helping me navigate it. There had been a few missed weeks where I’d been lacking in inspiration, working back shifts and getting home late or just felt a bit deflated. I’d tried to write different kinds of posts but a creeping self-doubt had set in. Posts where I’d tried to make a serious point descended into hormone-fuelled rants. Deviations from my usual content felt forced, uninteresting, unfunny. I couldn’t think of how to get out of it, but opted to stop trying to make it happen. In that time I’d noticed a pattern in comments people were making about me, my bump and pregnancy in general. The more it went on, and the more I smiled through gritted teeth, an idea came to me. I started taking note of the more common ones, mentally noting the things I wished I could say. Stuck at home with a bout of the lurgy one day, I wrote them all down and voila- a list long enough to make a post out of. Again I almost resigned this one to draft post purgatory in case it came across as ‘woe is me, no one understands my life choices’. To combat this I scheduled the post and busied myself for when it was due to launch. When I came back to it, it had already been shared by some new and expectant mum pals as well as- the ultimate test- child free pals, too. Not too shabby.

In hindsight

I guess a common theme here is to have more confidence in posts that I think people will hate. I know, you should write for yourself and not care what people think. The fact is, as much as writing is cathartic for me, it’s also about connectivity. Getting comments from people who’ve read what I’ve written, and have their own take on it, is the biggest compliment because it means they’ve engaged with it. Even if people don’t agree with me- well, it’d be boring if everyone thought the same. Pregnancy is such a topic of contention- I’d read a few posts and they can come across as a little sanctimonious. I made an effort to not come across that way, and I think it worked. This one taught me that just because a topic has been written about, doesn’t mean mine will be the same. My voice isn’t the same as anyone else’s. If I can take anything into my 2017 blogging agenda, it should be this.

29 Things

Again there are so many “X Things Before x Years” posts out there, I never thought mine would be any different. However, approaching 30 felt like a big deal to me. One that should be marked. I’d never made a “30 things to do before I’m 30” list because, well, I didn’t really know where I was heading. All ambition and no direction has always been my downfall. The place I’m in now as a result is far removed from what I imagined. I thought about listing 30 things I should’ve done, but what would’ve been the point? Listing your regrets, and things you didn’t do, is a waste of time. It’s not going to make them happen. Instead I went a little more introspective and looked at what I’d learned instead.

In Hindsight

Writing has always been really cathartic for me, and none more so than here. Not only that but it was revealing. Thinking about what I’ve learned in the last ten years made me realise how much I’ve actually done. It made me see how far I’ve progressed- maybe I’m not where I thought, but it’s been a hell of a journey getting here. Again I used a sick day (this time muscular pain which had pretty much left me bed-bound) and typed until I had a complete list. The first few took time but once they did, they kept coming. It helped me focus on my achievements rather than my failings. It reminded me that even when I thought I’d gone the wrong way, I’d still taken something from it. Reflection is eye-opening, and it can be scary, but this taught me that it’s worth checking in every once in a while.

His Story Chapter One and Two

OK so this one is a bit of a cheat since it’s technically two posts. One is a continuation of the other though, and they tell the same story, so it’s cool right? These posts were important for a couple of reasons. First of all, superficially, they were the first posts on this, my new blog domain. It seems trivial but it was a big deal for me. Blogging has always been a sideline for me, even with my increased content this year. It was never something I’d invested in (other than time). Investing in a new domain and theme meant paying actual money, which meant I had to really believe in what I was putting out- or rather, in where I was taking it. Going self-hosted was a big step for me and I looked into a lot of options before I did. I haven’t had much chance to get the best of it but it’s still early days.

Secondly- obviously- it gave me a chance to reflect on my birthing journey and share it with whoever might be interested. I didn’t want to present a sugar coated view of labour, but didn’t want to go into the blood, sweat and tears either. I like to think that months of writing about pregnancy in that way had made it easier to write about the birthing part, too.

In Hindsight

I’m not sure I was prepared for how emotional this would be to write. After restarting my blog to document pregnancy, surely I knew all along that a birth story would be the natural end. As I said though, I’d gotten so used to pregnancy that it was hard to associate this baby with the bump I’d grown to love. The birth story was a definite full stop to a previous chapter. In the weeks that have passed, I’m glad that I have pregnancy posts to read back on. It’s nice to see everything that we got up to, and how it felt at the time. However, a very distinct new story has very definitely started. I might be a little melancholy to leave the old one behind. There was so much help along the way, check ins every few weeks, a definite end. The new one doesn’t have an ending, or much direction. That’s what makes it scary, but it’s also what makes it exciting.

My last blog post ended on a somewhat optimistic note, as I mused over my impending maternity leave and preparedness for birth.

“I’ve written out my birth plan, we’ve packed mine and the baby’s hospital bags, Ally’s achieved the impossible and constructed IKEA drawers for the baby’s stuff in the time between him finishing work and me getting home. We’ve got a little rocker all set up in the corner, a cot, a pram and a car seat all ready to collect and a stockpile of nappies we’re adding to every week.

All we need is a li’l bean to fill them. I just hope we’re not waiting too long”

Less than 48 hours later, I was sitting in the maternity ward of the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital with my newborn son in my arms.

Everyone, meet Lucas.

baby-boy-lucas-james-birth

I know, I know. It was a pretty big shock to us, too. When I’d said I hoped we wouldn’t wait too long, I meant ‘after my due date’. My last day of work was supposed to be the 9th of December, after which we’d have ten days to prepare ourselves for parenthood. I had so many plans: birth plans to finalise, playlists to make up, forms to fill in, a flat to clean, a breastfeeding DVD to watch, one last aquanatal class to go to and maybe- if I had time- hair to dye and nails to do.

It’s fitting that it didn’t turn out that way, really. My pregnancy was an unexpected surprise so why should the birth have been different? Much like that fateful day when I took a positive test, the birth saga itself feels like something I watched out of body. It’s hard to articulate without being matter-of-fact. I’ve already retold the story so many times that it feels like I’m running through the plot of something. I worried that it came across detached when the reality as quite the opposite. It was all I could do to keep my emotions intact to stop me feeling scared and overwhelmed. In order for me to do so, I had to treat it like any other day.

In the end up, I don’t know if going the full ten days would’ve made me any more prepared. I’d probably have sat at home, frustrated that I couldn’t do as much as I wanted. Yeah, some time off would’ve been nice. The way things ended up, it was for the best that li’l bean came out when he did.

I had a half day on the Thursday to go for my 38 week midwife appointment when I had the weirdest feeling. Walking up from the stairs from the train, I felt a sensation that was altogether warm and cold.

“Shit”, I thought. “I’ve pissed myself”.

Pregnancy is a pretty undignified process at the best of times. You lie in clinical rooms while strangers poke and prod you, ask intimate questions about your health and have a feel of your bones and muscles. You swell in areas you didn’t know you could and bloat beyond recognition. Still, though. Pissing myself? That was a new one. I’d drank a lot of water in order to take a sample to my appointment and figured I’d left it too long. It briefly crossed my mind that it might be my waters but honestly, I had NO IDEA what that entailed. In the early stages of labour you generally have your show first, then your waters break, then you get contractions. There’d been no sign of the first stage, which meant to me that I was in the clear. I thought your waters erupted in a gush, like The Shining’s elevators but with amniotic fluid. In any case I toddled to my appointment and was sure they’d let me know otherwise. I got there, they took some bloods, listened to the baby’s heartbeat and felt my tummy.

“His head’s engaged”, one of them said. “How have you been feeling?”

“Well, I actually thought my waters had broken”- she winced- “but it turned out I’d just peed myself”

Apparently this is a really common occurrence, so they didn’t second guess. I didn’t even realise it was still going. I told them I was finishing work the following day, they both wished me well and hoped I’d get some rest before baby came along. I made my appointment for 39 weeks, went into town to pick up some Christmas shopping and realised the pee was still going. It continued the whole way around town. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s ever had a little accident in The Disney Store but I’m sure the overwhelming majority are of single-digit age. By the time I got home, I had what felt like pretty gnarly menstrual cramps too. A bath didn’t help, and neither did a bounce on my gym ball. The li’l bean had given a few grumbles but nothing to suggest that he was on his way. The constant dull cramp had given way to sporadic bursts but it was nothing that a couple of paracetamol, peppermint tea and an early night couldn’t fix. Or so I thought.

As the night went on so too did the ‘bursts’, but due to a lack of show I chalked it up to Braxton Hicks. Ally kept insisting that I phone the midwife. It was only an hour later, when I realised that I was still- umm- leaking, that I took him up on it. When she asked if my waters had broken, I detailed the peeing myself debacle. She told me that it was a continuous process and I explained that it had been going on for about ten hours.

“It does sound like you’re in the early stages of labour. Keep timing your contractions and contact us when they’re about 3-4 minutes apart”

Ffffffuuuuuuucccckkkk. This couldn’t be happening. We weren’t ready. I had playlists to make up. Forms to fill. A week’s worth of me time to catch up on. It was ten days early. But no, contractions were coming on heavy and before I knew it, it was 4am and I was bouncing around on my ball while we double and triple checked our hospital bags.

Even looking back at it all now feels like I’m watching someone else. I don’t remember feeling scared or apprehensive as long as things kept ticking along. I felt very matter of fact. We busied ourselves with organising and tidying, pushing away the thought that every contraction as following closer than the last. Time seemed to stand still and tick away all at once. A follow-up call to the midwife confirmed that things were on track and I should go for a bath. I sat in it for almost two hours. It was gross.

The standard advice for mums to be is to stay home as long as possible before going into hospital. It’s supposed to be that your home is a familiar environment, it’s where you feel safe. That’s all good in theory but being at home was starting to have the opposite effect on me. I’d messaged my friends, my mum was on her way, my bags where packed. I’d started to normalise as much as I could but it was running out fast. I wanted to be where there were professionals and equipment to monitor my baby. I could only ration so much. It suddenly seemed ridiculous when my biggest concern was making my mum wait outside while I wrapped myself in a towel while still in the bath.

In the end, when she came to get us, we didn’t even phone the hospital. We just left. We piled out and the fresh air burst our little bubble. I thrust my phone at Ally, insistent that he phone my manager to say I wouldn’t be in for my last day. After that last piece of life admin was taken care of, I finally felt like this was it. I was in labour. Nothing was going to make it go away, other than actually having my baby.

But that’s a story for another day.