Baby brain – true fact or un peu de bull?

I’ve been back at work for a few months now. I’ve been juggling like a … clown (that could work both ways) and I’m officially a parent to two littles who are getting larger. Time is flying and life is happening far too quickly.

I mostly get sleep, I mostly get sustenance and I even, sometimes, now and again, get a snippet of time to myself. Life still feels entirely chaotic, but we are living our best life. Right?

Bebette tempted to agree

I can shower in relative peace, and Monsieur FF and I have at least a couple of hours in the evening, theoretically, to eat, drink, discuss washing, holidays, education, food shopping (yes) other shopping (no) how cute the kids are, how funny when Bebette started to give the floor the naughty pointy finger when she fell over and how BigBro came to her rescue with a “Pah Patroll” plaster.., occasionally, we even decide we don’t need to talk and we get to browse Netflix (once we find the remote) hoping to stumble across something that meets both of our immediate requirements, and needs to fit in to the allotted, rather limited, timeframe before we hit the sack.  

Anyway, all of this to observe that we are out of “la folie” that is the first year of new babedom, we are no longer “new” parents, and we are almost out of the time where we can complain about lack of sleep and unpredictable behaviour (*almost*, this week has been a great demonstration that we are not actually there yet). From here it’s onwards and upwards towards threenagers and another very optinionated Boddlerette joining our chatty, energetic crew. We are just about surviving, we are happy and we are extraordinarily lucky.

BUT, there is one pretty major thing I haven’t quite managed to retrieve since giving birth (aside from my sanity): my brain function. I don’t know for sure, because my brain function was questionable to start with. When I say ‘retrieve’ it suggests I had something to go back for – really I mean I’m looking for any semblance of grey matter to revive.  I must have had something, once upon a time, because I have managed to get employment and a few qualifications under my (expanded) belt. However, I am concerned that something up there has changed. I can’t weigh my brain, but it feels a little lighter. Slightly less energetic. Un peu perdu.

I am no detective, but I strongly suspect that motherhood has impacted my brain. How? To my mind ~ can i say that when I’m actually talking about my mind?! ~ there are two big things that are different. One good, one bad.

Let’s start with the bad.

I don’t seem to be able to do simple mental arithmetic anymore. Even spelling that was a challenge. I used to be able to quickly “tot” things up, as the Mothership would say, as I went along in the supermarket or on a restau bill, calculate time differences or switch across currencies without too much effort. Dollars into Renimbi; sure. A conference call with Singapore and a New Yorker joining? No probs. Hit me.

Today there is a problem

I take in the question, the challenge, I focus, I try not to think about the other million things floating around in my head…the washing I left in the machine overnight… the yoghurt that needs eating by tomorrow, the hundreds of single socks that are littered around the house and the fearful sock-eating creature that must have stolen the other ones,… and then all I can see is a little egg timer in my mind slowly turning, s-l-o-w-l-y ticking away, and the more I focus on that the more I realise “wow, I literally don’t know where to start… this is really taking me too long, I’ve got no time, quick! think! THINK …”

NOPE. I’m never going to work it out and then I’m lost. I’m hunting for the Calculator app on my phone and I’ve forgotten what I was even adding up in the first place. Basically, anything that requires me to go past head count of my children I’m going to struggle. I now need an app to get me through. Or an abacus.

As I write, I wonder if part of the “blame” for this could go on our smartphone generation, and not on the kids. But it does feel like the difference is more marked now than it was pre kids. Did I give them my arithmetically stronger brain cells when I was giving them all the other magic stuff?! I’ll tell myself that is the case until I can work the grey matter back into shape.

You owe me… but I don’t know what

According to scientists in Australia, baby brain is a real thing, especially during pregnancy. It affects memory, general and executive cognitive functioning. There is no indication how long post-partum it can last. Surely it is to be expected when your own body is busy constructing a whole new one. Not so sure it should still be an issue once the babe is released. Here is a question from me: did that research also factor in the additional brain power of the little bean?!

Now for a huge positive: increased time management and organisational skills.

In exchange for basic maths, I have acquired a mega, Filofax-worthy capacity to plan and organise the day.

This new skillset includes getting my two little humans to and from somewhere, dressed in something, with accoutrements as required, navigating the complex quagmire that is Monsieur FF’s schedule, and then factor in my own, full time job, which involves project management and multi-jurisdictional coordination skills in and of itself. The schedule allows little time for “free time”, and limited “on time”, but if we all get to where we need to be and back round again at some point in time, I would say that is a pretty epic achievement. Others might say it is just being bossy

It is very much a skill to use to your advantage. I read a great article written by a superstar twin mama who was taking a moment to highlight that maternity leave isn’t all about tea and cake, and forgetting your career; there are real learning and development opportunities (patience being high up there!), a chance to get new perspectives, and to really use the desire to be with your children to help you focus. Don’t waste time, but make every moment count. This also resonates with some of the mantras I took back to work with me the first time I went back to work as a mama.

Nowadays there is no dilly-dallying in shops and bars, limited chitchat at the water dispenser (more likely to find me near any form of coffee, even just sniffing the beans), and no more spam emails with pictures of cute puppies – I am officially efficient. Every moment counts. Every second I’m not with the kids I want to be doing something useful. Every second I am with the kids, I want to be doing my best to enjoy it, and to focus in on what’s important versus what can be dealt with later. You know, in that two hour slot after bath time and bedtime…

On this last part it’s a continuous journey. It is really, really hard not to be overwhelmed by a pile of washing or full sink of dishes, to think about the food that still needs to be cooked and the bedtime schedule that needs to be followed. When we occasionally stray, as we did this weekend, everything went up in smoke as BigBro simply could not cope. Our babes need a certain amount of sleep and any disruption to that has serious consequences.I’m still working on it. I have many mum friends who have admirable juggling skills, whether around jobs or other commitments, or interests. They have brains in abundance. It is possible. It takes time. And your brain is doing just fine. The trick, as we are slowly learning, seems to be not to over face yourself. Take you time. Stop worrying about your cognitive function and enjoy 🤘🏼💖

Balls (and the juggling thereof)

Given my lack of blogging recently, you might fairly assume that I have gone into hibernation, like an old hedgehog, OR perhaps that my embarrassing parenting anecdotes have run dry. Mais non! ‘Edgehoggin I am not (I wish). I continue to embarrass myself and my family on a frequent basis. The only thing that’s run dry is my energy. I’m struggling with time management. Really struggling. It turns out that the juggling of deux children, busy job, a marriage, a relatively new home, family, friends and “other” (blogging) is actually quite the challenge (*imagine “challenge” pronounced in a dramatic french accent*).

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I’m not exactly sure what it is about having two little people as opposed to “just” one that makes daily life 359% more complicated, clearly the maths do not stack up, but it’s a parenting truth.

One —> two does not equal double the work. It equals there is no end to the work.

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The ball juggling skills required are next level magician standard. Quite often you are required to juggle with one hand behind your back, because one of the parenting duo arms are out of action (at work/ at social event/ hiding in toilet… not mentioning any names…). Or, you’re challenged in some other way like being exhausted, or hangry, or both of the above in a cafe with irritable children and you realise your wallet is not where you had hoped…

The balls you are juggling aren’t those cool squishy beany clown ones that bounce back if you accidentally drop one, they are fragile like eggs (smash eggs in shopping whilst trying to carry and grab Big Bro making a break for freedom), and hard like rocks when they hit you in the head (subjected to various head kicks and other bodily abuse with whichever child failed to find comfort in their own bed so came to occupy ours). The balls you are juggling aren’t easily replaceable (can’t readily replace child or house or car if I fail to protect and maintain them…probably best to lock them up then.)

Like most people, our day starts with getting up. That simple task that once used to mean exiting bed – to shower – to kitchen – to door – to commute – to work, with multiple coffees. patisseries and pleasant perusal of interweb en route. Then with Bebe FF I could just about manage changing and dressing and feeding him before myself and, with the help of Mondeiur FF, getting us all where we needed to be, but now, with two, it feels that little bit more like mission impossible. Unless I’m barking orders (which goes down a treat as you can imagine) the chances of both children having everything done plus the adults being anything close to ready are similar odds to Brexit ever making any sense…. It’s like we’ve got an egg timer above our heads and it’s constantly on “one tiny drop of sand to go! Hurry the F up!”

If I’m not jogging through the shower and putting my pants on whilst applying makeup and managing my hair (whatever that means, usually rubbing it against something to maximise the backcombed, never-washed look) then I am unlikely to leave the house on time. ‘On time’ means at any point. Certainly I won’t have coffee or food, and most likely I will forget some element of the necessary equipment for the day (wallet, keys, eco-friendly repurposed coffee recipient….) And that’s on the days when Monsieur FF does the drop. I know. The days that I drop, I’m lucky to have any semblance of warm clothing on my body and there’s little to no chance of the “nice to haves”. I have that slightly dazed, chaotic appearance about me that means the carers at nursery approach with caution. “Do you need a hand?” they kindly offer as they glance furtively at my dishevelled appearance and the children attached to my legs and arms. YES PLEASE you absolute wonder women and menfolk! I am rubbish at the “drop” because it’s more like a reluctant, slow and painful pulling at a plaster, twice, because I have to drop one child in after the other, and on a bad day we are all just clinging to each other. I truly enjoy my job, but it doesn’t make it any easier to be parted from the kids. I don’t like dropping them off.

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But look how cute they can be!

Short interlude whilst I work and juggle a few more manageable balls: load some washing, identify food required, have a hot hot drink, etc. Strangely, work time can be some of the calmest time of the day, especially when I don’t have to commute; I’m relatively in control, I am achieving small things without it causing me or anyone else to have a meltdown, and when I talk people (sometimes) listen, as opposed to having a loud chorus of “I want AN ICE CREAM” screamed at me whilst I explain how good vegetables are for you. Especially runner beans which make you run fast FYI. Btw you can’t have ice cream when it’s blinking freezing outside?!? I digress.

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When the end of the working day comes, it’s another mad rush to get to the kids before they hit the ‘extremely tired and unreasonable’ stage. For the avoidance of doubt, I’ve not worked out when that starts exactly, but it’s almost always well underway by the time we get home. I make food whilst the kids are playing (even though they’ve already had about 5 meals at nursery) and then watch them both spray it around their clothes, faces and the floor, chairs, and anything else within a 2 m radius, excluding their mouths, before I give up. Inevitably a “big boy cup” of something will by now be splashed across the table. I try to “whizz” around with the handy little Dyson and it immediately gets clogged with pasta. Should I wait for it to solidify?! I clean away, to make it look semi-passable for the rest of the grown up evening (lol!), and as I hoist the children out of their seats *merde* another portion of pasta falls from their laps and onto my semi-clean floor.

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Gimme gimme gimme 

Next is bath time which entails reservoirs of water, eczema-friendly bubbles and enough bath toys to amuse half of the United Kingdom. That’s not to say one doesn’t need to add some more, as Bebette did when she casually took some apple into the bath last night. Pourquoi pas. Of course then Big Bro desperately wanted to play with the apple and none of the other purpose-built jouets.

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Pretty much bathtime every night in our house… 

Big Brother generously offers to wash Bebette’s hair but isn’t so keen on doing his own, so we have a small battle/dance trying to get his hair clean whilst Bebette looks on in amusement, nibbling her bath-apple. Then we’ve got to exit both children, dry, cream, nappy-up, PJJ on and all trying to maintain some level of calm and pre-bed tranquility. One of the two-person gang (if we are fully armed) needs to disappear to locate milk/ water and sucking devices, as well as ensure beds are ready to receive children.  Stories are told, multiple rounds of Burglar Bill, “Grandma wolf”, Tabby McTat, and then a negotiation that any further reading is solo. “Ok but I want the big book Mummy!” Obviously the most ginormous book of vehicles is the final literature of choice before sleep time, and sleep is signalled by the dulcet sound of that huge book hitting the floor. ONE DOWN! Bebette has decided she doesn’t like to go down at the same time as Big Brother; I’m not sure if she’s cottoned on to the fact she gets all the attention in the evening or she genuinely just finds BB to be too noisey but she ain’t got time for bed with him. So she nods off eventually with us downstairs as we continue to attempt to nourish ourselves/ render the floor passable for another 6 hours/ catch up on any work that is outstanding and urgent/ generally not speak to each other or relax.

And this is the hardest of truths: with two small children and two full time jobs, the main thing that suffers is your relationship. The “leisure” time to unwind and politely converse about the highs and lows of the day is gone, for now. There is barking of further orders, refusal to follow orders, frustrated unclogging of Dyson, emptying of bins, cleaning of kitchen area, and then it’s time to hit the sack because otherwise there is a real risk that hours of sleep may total less than one hands’ worth. The absolute minimum for healthy survival is really 6 hours. Of late, with sickness and excitement and any other excuse they can come up with we’ve been receiving nightly visits to our bed. BB can wander in and just clambers over us and adopts a comfortable position such that he can headbutt one of us and kick the other. Bebette starts mewing when she wants to join the party and also has a magic ability to adopt the most bizarre positions to minimise the available space for the “growmops”. Real life:

 

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This matin

We wouldnt have it any other way. Of course. We are so super lucky. But jeezlouise, this is not easy! Mega hi5s to all parents out there, as always my understanding and respect levels of all that our parents have done, and all that those around me have been doing (don’t even go there with multiples) you are absolutely AMAZEBOOBS. Now to keep it up!

Awesome photos by the talented Clare Long Photography 💕

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Bébé blues

Gut-wrenching pangs of belly ache, uncontrollable emotions with unpredicatable smatterings of tears, irrational and snappy…. sound familiar? No, I’m not talking about PMS or your behaviour when you get to the end of your favourite Netflix blowout and run out of chocolate… These are all symptoms of what I like to call the bebe blues. When I say “blues”, this isn’t the day 5, post-partum hormone hit that knocks you for 6 (more like 10). Those early baby blues are a good introduction for what lies ahead. The bebe blues I’m talking about is the feeling you get when you are apart from your bebe(s). The sadness that washes over you in continuous waves. The feeling that there is something that is just not quite right in the moment, that you’ve forgotten something enormous, something as important and huge as your underwear (metaphorically). The feeling that nothing tastes or smells or even looks quite how it should.  Something is missing. I’m not going all Mel C on you, I’m just trying to verbalise something that doesn’t feel good. It is a bit like a terrible form of torture, as if torture wasn’t terrible enough.

Tu me manques literally means you are missing from me. That’s exactly it.

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I hate being away from the kids. I hate it. Anyone that knows me knows I don’t use the ‘H’ word very often. No need. But here it is necessary and appropriate. I didn’t understand these feelings before I had my own kids. I couldn’t comprehend why someone would want to go home and not go out adventuring. They will be there when you get back?! Enjoy! Go wild!! Forget everything! But now I know. Being away means missing them, missing precious moments with them. Home is where you find your family. Your tree (*stickman*). They want to cuddle you and look at you adoringly and tell you what they did on the potty.  It’s making me smile just thinking about it.

Whatever the reason for the separation from your children, and however long the break, I don’t imagine it ever gets any easier. The endless things to worry about and the “what if” scenarios; it truly is hard to turn off the parenting switch. It’s ironic really. For all the time spent wishing for just a single moment of calm, a toilet trip sans audience, a sleep that isn’t abruptly and rudely interrupted with someone declaring they have finished their “dodo”,… when you actually get that moment of peace, all you want in the world is to be back in the thick of the chaos.

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What chaos?!

Boddler and Bebette have had two parental breaks that were entered into knowingly, and one unplanned break each that we battled through back in November last year with the dreaded Bronchiolitis. I have acted blasée about both the occasions I’ve left my children, all smiles and saying of course it’ll be fine and it’ll do them good etc etc. But inside I’m melting. When the time comes to stretch the magical thread-bond that holds us together, the feelings that sweep over me are just overwhelming. The rational part of my brain (if indeed it exists) seems to close down. Anything could happen. My lungs feel like they are shrivelling up and my hearing seems to mute. I actively accepted this, I say to myself, I chose for this to happen. We needed a moment! But I’m still not convinced … I try to find a way out of the situation and back myself into a corner.

Honestly, occasionally I miss the times when it was, selfishly, just me. I was carefree. I didn’t have to miss anyone  and I could just crack on with business. Now, I’m weaker. I wouldn’t change it for the world, of course, but it’s sad, bittersweet, that it is always going to be so hard.

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Bittersweet facial expression goals 

I realise more and more that when you first have a bebe you’re at the optimal point of your bebe attachment – 0-6ish months, you’re connected, like glue, and they are stuck with you, and often to you. Milky and delicious. From that moment forward your whole life is a very, very long and slow pulling at those magical bonds, until your little bundle is eventually ready to fly the nest and then you have to sit back and watch as they grow their wings and (abw) make you proud. What a journey! And a useful reminder that these moments in life, especially in the early days of parenting, are incredibly intense but are also ones that we will look back on in years to come; the moments we could snuggle our babes so tight, and tell them we love them and enjoy their sleepy gazes and fluffy, sweet smelling heads without complaint. The fantastical thing about missing the kids is the moment you get them back in your arms. There is nothing quite like it.

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Never letting go

 

 

 

Bossy

It has been brought to my attention recently that I am bossy. Bossy! Moi? Shut the front door!!

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Boddler learning my facial expressions masterfully.

You are too fricking right I am bossy. I own bossy, and about 20 million pairs of bossy boots to go with it.

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Just as a quick reminder, I am the eldest of four girls; my mum saw fit to add more kids to the mix as a childminder when we were young, so there were literally hundreds of us. She was our boss and I was the (self-appointed) deputy boss (~Dad sensibly mostly took a pew in the quiet corner of the house). Throughout school and university I jumped at any opportunity to lead and to manage; games, teams, events, projects… I may not always win, or be the best, but I do always do it with a large dose of enthusiasm. And, the very reason I’m writing this and my biggest challenge of all: I’m a mother. I’m a mother of two strong-willed, energetic, feral and fantastic little children. Part of the mum job remit is to be “bossy”, otherwise you simply ain’t gonna get out of the house. You ain’t gonna get kids to bed. And you sure as heck won’t get anything productive done.

Oh please Boddler would you be so kind as to get your little lovely chubby feet into your sandals because we really must go to the shop to get you some milk, don’t you think, wouldn’t that be lovely?” Said no mum ever.

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SHOES ON! COATS ON! STAND BY THE FRONT DOOR!  The command still resonates with me and even as I write it I have to resist the urge to make a mad scramble to the front door, grasping for any stray sister I can en route. That command is how the Mothership got us all to school every single morning, and it mostly worked a treat. Only now am I starting to appreciate the #skillz required to do that.  She bossed us and she got the job done.  Go Mothership!  (Sidenote: for context this was shouted from the top of the stairs, whilst she was still in her nightgown, slowly approaching the bathroom, whilst hoovering and trying to sew a name badge on to something, slurping a cup of tea).

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“Mum, your baby is crying!” I was helpful, even in pint size. Perhaps holding screaming sibling under my arm like a loaf of bread not so helpful.

It is a such a shame that the use of the word “bossy” in this case, by my better half, wasn’t intended to be congratulatory. Or encouraging. He wasn’t telling me I was doing a good job moving a seemingly impossible mountain aka whining children around. It was pejorative (although still palatable with the French accent) and he meant to tell me to calm down and stop being “aggressive” (also his word).

What was it that made my behaviour a negative type of bossy exactly? There are a few factors: (a) Possibly I was hangry.  Fine. That is often the case, I need energy all the time.  I will do better with ensuring I have food supplies.  (b) I was giving instructions without a smile. Maybe. I do sometimes forget to say please and smile when I’m asking for someone to grab a nappy bag, and I am sorry about that. I’m working on it. But most likely it was (c) because I’m a woman. I’m a mum and I was giving instructions about things pertaining to the kids, and clothes, and food, and packing, and family logistics. “Boring mum” stuff. If I had been giving instructions to move a team of army officers, or dealing with an urgent response to a corporate crisis, or something, anything to do with driving a fast car whilst being chased by blokes with guns and dodging bullets (think The Rock), perhaps I would have been told I was leading like a boss. I was being assertive. Winning.  But navigating four people from A to B to C with bags and buggys and food supplies and beverages, on trains and in taxis, in seemingly impossible (sweltering hot) circumstances, simply doesn’t cut it. That’s not a real challenge.  And it doesn’t require bossing.  Apparently. Yes, I physically need help to do it all, I can’t carry a million things and clingy humans, but mentally, I’m juggling it all above my head. Solo.  There simply isn’t room for two people to juggle simultaneously, unless you can mind read, and we certainement can’t, so one of us has to take the command lead.  In this case, me.

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Anyway, it got me thinking again about the clear gender divide, the inherent sexism in the way we use language, still, today; the negative connotations that certain adjectives carry, versus the complimentary and empowering connotations associated with others.  Not surprisingly, the former tend towards women and female “characteristics”, whereas the latter tend towards the men of the world.

By way of example, the Cambridge Dictionary working examples for the word “bossy” (online version) are still largely focussing on an imaginary woman’s behaviour:

“My older sister was very bossy.” <was she indeed.  I hope that wasn’t you reporting me, Fawcett sisters!!>

“Girls of that age can get quite bossy.”  <what age exactly? today age?>

“Stop being so schoolmarmish and bossy!” <what is the male equivalent of a schoolmarm?>

Let’s compare to a few more positive, macho adjectives and their working examples:

Leader: “He’s a natural leader.” <Shocker.>

Powerful: “I get the impression Sheila is the powerful one in that relationship, not her husband!” <Wow. Go Sheila. Perhaps we ought to call the police and a schoolmarm to sort you out?>

Confident“His confident leadership inspired his followers”.  <Presumably referring to our friend Mr T and his twitter team….>

I recently saw a clip of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaking at the Chatham House London Conference. Aside from being an eloquent speaker, and a fantastic author, she is also a strong feminist. Strong, I should note, and not “angry” as she finds she is often described:

“In our world, a man is confident, but a woman is arrogant.

A man is uncompromising but a woman is a ball-breaker.

A man is assertive, a woman is aggressive.

A man is strategic, a woman is manipulative.

A man is a leader, but a woman is controlling”

<and I would like to add: BOSSY>.

Well said.

So, what can we do about this?  Ladies, gents, let’s all make an active attempt to think twice before we describe someone’s behaviour using a pejorative adjective.  Let’s also work to take the perj away.  Be gone negative connotations! I want my children to be proud that they are bossy.  Being bossy is good.  I want them to look back, as I am today thinking of my mum, laughing and dashing to the door all at the same time, and be proud of all that we achieve together.  And also to be grateful.  Thank you Mothership for sorting us all out. Thank you for getting us to so many places and giving us so many opportunities.  Often times, it wasn’t in easy circumstances, and I’m sorry that I didn’t give you more credit for it all. Thank you for doing it and keeping it all together, 24/7.  Let’s be honest, most people would struggle getting out of the door with four children, I can confirm I struggle with a mere half the quota, so hats off to you.

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Mumming isn’t something you can dip in and out of, or that you can turn to mute when you’ve got a banging head or there’s something better to watch on TV.   When you are MumBossing, it’s usually against a backdrop of limited sleep, and questionable sustenance. That alone should render the “bossiness” respect to the highest levels.

I am going to try to be more pleasant as I boss, but I sure as hell won’t stop bossing, and next time Monsieur FF starts to tell me I’m being bossy, I shall thank him, highlight the wins of the day, which may or may not include exiting house and cleaning poo up, and look forward to a congratulatory glass of bubbles.  Go Mamas!  Cheers! X

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cake reward / bribe for all those achieving high boss levels

Boisterous

Boisterous is a word I use frequently to describe Boddler. From my perspective, it’s no coincidence that the word sounds like a hybrid of “boy” and “monstrous”. Boisterous actually means cheerful, noisy, energetic, like “a boisterous group of lads”. That’s a particularly apropriate example in this context.  Lads.

The terrible twos are hitting hard over here in BlablaLand. We’ve gone from cute, monkey-like mischief to full-on kicking, thumping, “go-away”ing madness. Madness because it is actually making me mad. As in, I almost can’t control my temper. It’s one thing to shout “Go away, wee wee!” into the toilet, whilst we frantically wave the little piddle away, but quite another to scream “GO AWAY!” at me when I’m trying to get the little man into bed, accompanied by the odd slap on the face, or worse, to shout it at some poor relative who is trying to say “goodbye” nicely.  Testing boundaries. That is what is happening, it’s normal. But it is hard. I don’t appreciate attitude, especially when it is coming from someone who is a third of my size and 1/17th of my age.  I’ve had to engage in some deep breathing, counting to 3 – for myself – and I can confirm that “Jaymie daddy” has been receiving some of my most deathly glares in the past weeks as we navigate co-parenting this little character.

The thing with toddlers is they are hard to control. There. I said it. I like to be in control and I can’t control my two year old. In fact he is already outsmarting me. That doesn’t say much for my smartness levels, but this really is sinking to a new low.

“Do you want to go straight to bed with no dinner?!”

“Yes”.

Hmmmm.  Plan foiled.

“What did you do at nursery today?”

“I hitting <insert victime name>!”

“Oh no! That makes mummy feel very sad!  That must have made <victim> unhappy.”

“I laughing.”

“Did you say sorry?”

“I say sorry.  I kicking football and played rugby BAM and…I kicking <victim number 2>.”

Nightmare.

“I want a ice cream.”

“What is the magic word?”

“…..”

“Please?”

“Peeeeeeezzzzz I want a ice cream.  MUMMY! I want a ice cream!  MUMMY!!!!!”

“Ok, there you go.”

“I want more!  Mummy, MUMMY!!! MORE!! Mummy, what is that?”

<mummy is discretely trying to eat her much more exciting chocolate covered ice cream…>  darnit.  I can’t even get my sugar hit!

Unfortunately with Boddler, he knows the right things to say. He says his sorry and duly gives his apologetic cuddle, once his crime has been committed.  But what then?  He just keeps repeating the same behaviour. It’s impossible to tell if it is improving as when he stops one mechantise he launches into another.

We have spent some trying to justify his actions as resulting from him being (a) confused – he wants to rugby tackle, or hit a tennis ball, how does he know that you shouldn’t tackle a small baby, and that you only hit tennis balls outside with a racket, and ideally balls that are actually tennis balls and not wooden fruits … (b) disturbed by the arrival of his younger sister… except she just sits there grinning at him… (c) hangry / overtired… well that’s everyone in this house right now (d) a boy… the most likely problem.

Toddlers have a lot to learn at this age, they are absorbing everything like sponges, and the main things they need, as I understand it, are patience, love and support.  And possibly a naughty step.

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Casual meltdown en route to the plane. Papa is on it.

A major problem I have when I’m entertaining both kids is how to look after them both, protect and teach them, at the same time. Sounds obvious but it’s much harder than it sounds when they are little. A kindly health visitor suggested that when Boddler is playing up, or looking for attention, I should “take him out of the situation” and let him calm down.  Sadly I don’t have hundreds of different places that can accommodate a kicking, flailing, aggrieved child, and I don’t have a back up care-giver to keep an eye on him when he’s “out of the situation” and on the naughty step/ in his room.  In fact, I have to abandon a sobbing Bebette (who has likely been man-handled by her brother after giving him a big, toothy grin), take her brother away from her, but put him somewhere safe and secure (?! limited options) and then rapidly return to sobbing sister to give her excessive and loud moral support (that Boddler can hear from wherever he is) “OH POOR YOU SISTER, OUCH THAT MUST HAVE HURT!” – in theory I’m trying to show him if he is doing things to get attention, well he won’t get any attention. The person subject to the wrongful conduct (Bebette in this case) will get it all, and some.  Except in practice, I just have two screaming children, a beeping washing machine, and nowhere to hide…

What should one do when the terrible twos are getting the better of them?

  • first, stay calm.  Most of the time, the issue is that they are two.  That’s it.  The less you react, the quicker they lose interest in their naughty ways.  You can’t do anything except take a deep breath, be consistent in your approach and persevere.  So I am told.  *deep breathing*
  • second, purchase numerous books about child rearing entitled “how to talk to a two year old”. Because you clearly can’t do it so you need a dummy’s guide on how to get there.  Generally snort into the book and ignore most of the confusing guidance (“do not punish your child, do not say “no”,  do not say “naughty”, do not shout, do not reward your child, do not congratulate your child, do not say anything after the event as they won’t remember…do not actually speak to or look at your child for your own well-being.” Ok, these ones are quite good: how to talk so little kids will listen (for parents) and the “< body parts > are not for” series which we read on a daily basis, and they also use at nursery.  Any other recommendations welcome!

Reading quietly whilst someone causes pant-wearing chaos

  • third, consult with all the older wiser more experienced people you know, who will not miss an opportunity to remind you that, actually, it’ll only get worse and the kids will eventually hate you anyway. So, enjoy it! Yikes….
  • fourth, hang out with other parents and children and try to mentally note all the things they are doing that seem to work. Your notes might end up looking like this:
    • Offer choices, but not too many choices: your toddler wants some control but has the attention span of a gnat. Would you like vanilla or strawberry yoghurt?  Oui.  C’est bon. Would you like a yoghurt with fruit, or a french set, or perhaps a fromage frais with a little sprinkle of… zut, you’ve lost them.
    • Do praise your child. Do it quite often.  But not all the time. Not too much praise. Cancel the praise, limit praise to exceptional circumstances. Praise for sitting on bottom. Praise for eating carrot. Do not praise for eating toilet roll.  Praise for tidying up toilet roll.
    • Have a reward chart. Offer stickers for good behaviour. Try to keep stickers on the chart and avoid getting them stuck awkwardly to your bottom.
    • Distract your child. When they start to display signs of terrible twoism, rapidly locate an alternative activity / food type / person to play with.
    • Consistent consequences – actions have consequences and your toddler needs to know this. Bad behaviour means you have to say sorry, you make people sad, and you lose a privilege or you have to tidy up your mess.  Think about consequences that are realistic and practical (no more dinner ever again, for example, is not going to fly.)
    • Try to explain your feelings.  Tell child you feel happy, or sad. Demonstrate to child using dramatic facial expressions. Explain to child you are trying to show your feelings and not actually crying. Comfort child that thinks they have made you cry.  Everyone is crying. *Help*.

Ok, well that’s some food for thought. For me, writing this has helped me to see I need to really stay calm, try not to be triggered myself, and appreciate that Boddler is just being a two year old and probablement isn’t destined for even more terrible things.  However, minor shiver down the spine thinking of the threenagers that lie ahead…

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Usually I send love and strength to you all at this point, but this time I’m asking for a little bit of strength and love back! Merci bien ❤

 

 

 

Bouncing and other funny stories

Ahhhh bouncing. How I miss you. How I loved a good bounce around back in the day. A bit of trampolining was my favourite. I mean I *really* loved it. Like going to my friend’s house and having a go on her trampoline and thinking she was the luckiest girl alive. Like the moment years of pestering finally paid off and I “persuaded” my parents (I now know this means whined them into submission) to get a trampoline for the garden. The pinacle of joy.  I joined every after school club possible and even made the trampolining team (that was for enthusiasm over skills, obvs). The fear and excitement and joy of getting a leotard on, and hair slicked back, ready to bounce in front of the judges. All eyes on you, your pointy toes and your major wedgie situation…

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Pretty much me

Remember:

Must point toes.

Must get arms up by ears and realllllly straight.

Must smile.

Try not to shake or you bounce off in a random direction.

You know what I never once thought about? Peeing myself. That’s right kids, I had complete and utter bladder control. I took it for granted. Today I don’t think I would make the team. I think the team would be mortified and the wedgie would be the least of my worries (although not insignificant :D).

Pelvic. Floor. There are few words in this world that trigger an immediate reaction in adult women, but I’m fairly sure those have to be number 1. You’re squeezing right now, aren’t you?

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Me explaining pelvic floor to Boddler using weird hotel art – he’s choosing to ignore me and singing Wind the Bobbin Up.

Pelvic floor muscles. The muscles that support your pelvic organs (bladder, bowels and uterus) and cover the bottom area of your pelvis. We all have them, we are warned about exercising them, during pregnancy we are reminded of the importance of the pelvic floor muscles on a regular basis by knowing midwives, but the truth is we rarely exercise them. Before motherhood you probably don’t have much need to. But, once you eject a bebe, whichever way that bebe comes out, your pelvic floor will take a hit and you need to work hard to restore it.

The wonderful NHS website states: “strengthening your pelvic floor muscles can help stop incontinence, treat prolapse, and make sex better, too.”

So, it’s really quite important.  What I find really astonishing is the lack of support and follow up that comes as standard here in Britain for this critical post partum area. Over the channel, in my second motherland, la Belle France, the attention to rehabilitation of the pelvic floor is second to none. Every single French mother gets 10 physio classes offert to assist them in getting their muscles back to full function. As I understand it they even get a magical wand which is used to expedite the process. How can our neighbours so clearly recognise the importance of this therapy and over here you are laughed out of the GP for time wasting, or told by your midwife they will refer you, eventually, if it’s “really bad”? It’s like you just need to deal with it. Now you’ve given birth, well, you’re a bit broken and you’ll just have to get on with it. Sorry. There’s almost a stigma attached to it. Why do you need your pelvic floor anyway? You don’t want to be the next face of Tena lady?!

It doesn’t really sit with my image of superwomen who have grown and ejected a bebe whilst doing their day jobs. If anything, women deserve a double dose of support having done all of that and still operating alongside our male counterparts. We still run around after the kids, we still lift and push and do all manner of strenuous things despite having put our pelvis through hell. And if you do have some struggles, some discomfort, or leaking, what does “really bad” look like compared to “normal”?

 

 

When I gave birth the first time with the epidural, I had no sensation when I was pushing and I pushed seriously hard. Maybe too hard, if that’s possible. I almost exploded my eyeballs, and I ejected my catheter twice. Once the little guy was safely in my arms, and sensations restored, I had approximately zero bladder control for the first few days. Loss of continence, or incontinence, went on for a week or so and then gradually, and thankfully, started to strengthen. During those initial days I really thought I was broken. I panicked. How would I carry on with my life if I needed nappies for the rest of my days? I tend to cough and laugh quite a lot. Do I need to stop those things?! I asked the midwife if I would ever be the same. “Give it time. We will refer you to a physio if it’s necessary.” Well on the first count, she was right. Time is a great healer and it is true that these wondrous bodies of ours will rapidly rehabilitate themselves. Remarkably in a few short weeks (although it feels long in the moment) your bodily functions start to restore. However, it’s hard to ascertain if you’re completely restored, or as restored as you are going to get.  How do you know? I practised regular squeezing along with post natal yoga when I was ready, and there was a lot of focus on exercising the pelvic floor. I was also told squeezing whilst breastfeeding expedites the strengthening process, but it may also be because you’re doing  it so often it’s a good distraction from the nibbling and dribbling going on elsewhere.  In any case, the pelvic floor exercises are critical.

 

 

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Fast forward to my second birth and I did a bit of research before the madness set in. I want a functioning pelvic floor (and abdominals) now and, importantly, as I get older and my muscles naturally start to weaken. I don’t want to wait until I’m so broken that I can’t function.  I want the French treatment. I found a physio team that offer post partum therapy and the therapists are familiar with, if not trained in, the French techniques. The London-based physiotherapists I’ve found are called Mummy’s Physio. My experience with them so far has been very positive. Ok, pelvic floor physio is about as glamorous as it sounds. For us prudish Brits, and I’m really up there on the red face scale (I don’t even like wearing swimwear in “public”, perhaps this stems back to the leotard wedgie horrors… anyway I digress) it’s hard. No one particularly wants to be prodded and probed, it’s an uncomfortable conversation to discuss your pelvic function and honestly it’s hard to remember and to make time to do the exercises, BUT I know it’s so important.  And certainly the team at Mummy’s Physio (and I’m sure many others) will make you as comfortable as possible.

I urge you to do your exercises, wherever you are in the parenting game. Download the NHS app, Squeezy, to remind yourself to do them. And don’t be afraid to explore rehabilitation options with your doctor. Don’t be embarrassed. If you have private healthcare you may well be covered.

We are powerful women.  Let’s keep our bodies strong. 

Precious pelvic floor power to you all x

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You are worth it!

PS. In case you aren’t familiar with them, this is how to do pelvic floor exercises from the NHS website:

How to do pelvic floor exercises:

  • close up your anus as if you’re trying to prevent a bowel movement
  • at the same time, draw in your vagina as if you’re gripping a tampon, and your urethra as if to stop the flow of urine
  • at first, do this exercise quickly, tightening and releasing the muscles immediately
  • then do it slowly, holding the contractions for as long as you can before you relax: try to count to 10
  • try to do three sets of eight squeezes every day: to help you remember, you could do a set at each meal

As well as these exercises, practise tightening up the pelvic floor muscles before and during coughing and sneezing.

Bittersweet bifurcating

I was flicking through some trashy magazines at the hairdressers last week (first time I’ve been solo since pre Bebette days – the hot tea and trash was amazing) and I couldn’t help but notice the number of distressing stories about couples with new babies whose partnership is “on the rocks”.  The story goes like this: they had a baby, they thought it would be fun; they got a cool LV-monogrammed buggy, Dior booties, and a Chanel high chair for consuming petits fours, then the baby arrived and they rapidly realised it was pretty hard work – no – actually bloody exhausting, the baby wrecked the booties and pooped in the chair, so one half of the couple decided they needed a break, a night out, and to let loose. Sadly for that half they went a tad overboard, momentarily forgetting about their other half and bundle of Dior-enrobed joie at home, paps got a pic, and *shock horror* the other half wasn’t too happy (and then rapidly sold story to aforementioned trashy mags). You can probably guess which half was maman and which was papa.

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We are all familiar with the story.  What I didn’t really appreciate until recently is quite the extent to which we women-mother-folk are in a bit of a no win no win situation here.  Aside from the bebes themselves, which is obviously the most gigantic win of our lives, when you are a mother, particularly a new mother, you quickly realise that juggling motherhood and your previous life as wifey / partner / daughter/ sister and friend is, well, slightly impossible.  Most often not only is it not physically possible to do everything you want to be doing, it is also an emotional minefield…exhaustipating is a word I use frequently.

Emotions emotions, so many of them flying around when you are avec bebes.  I’ve been thinking about all the things that swirl around in my hormone-filled head recently and have distilled into two key mots:

First, bittersweet.  

Bittersweet is a word that resonates with me in my current situation. Bittersweet because whatever I do now when I’m not with les petits, wherever I am, whoever I’m with, there’s a part of me that feels sad, bad, even, that I’m not with them.  I am missing them.  I am missing them achieving a milestone, or needing support, or some comfort or perhaps just pure selfishly missing them. If I am not with both of my bebes at the same time, I feel guilty, worried, sometimes nervous; I miss one, feel bad for wasting time missing one when I’m with the other, and then I’m just anxious to have them both in my sight and my arms again. If I’m not with Monsieur FF, I feel guilty, especially if he’s looking after the bebes and I’m out; I worry – does he have everything he needs, can he find the nappies, will he know how to distinguish a vest for Bebette and one that’s for Boddler? (*not always, it turns out, luckily Boddler survived being squished into 3-6 months, except his VP(N)L was pretty epic )…

I’m often counting down until we can all be reunited, trying to check everything is ok, trying to be present from afar, but failing.  Even when I’m with my family, we are safe and happy, I think of the people I haven’t seen, our families and parents and siblings and their own little bundles, the people I’ve not spoken to, the birthdays I’ve missed and the time that is flying by….and, you guessed it, I feel guilty.  I’m usually grumpy, and tired, because despite my best efforts, everything is tainted by a feeling deep down that I’m going to miss a moment, even as I’m living it.  Basically, I want it all, all the time.

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Try to make it a positive said the man

Bifurcate is the second mot du jour.

Bifurcate means split into two branches.  When I became a mother, my self, the person that I was, split.  There is the mother part, and then the rest. The split was uneven.  The mother branch is mammoth. It’s the main road, the M1 of my life right now.  There are “service stations” for nappies and washing and food preparation. The Rebecca that used to exist before mamahood is a little tiny, windy country road with trash-filled hairdressers, frivolous frolicking, wine bars with half drunk wine glasses, casual cafes and rainbow clubs with glittering disco balls littered along it.

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Bebette remembering the good old days for us, before everything was covered in a layer of slime.

I like to think of myself as an independent woman, I don’t need anyone or anything, although I’m very lucky to have plenty of both. I was incredibly fortunate to have an amazing, happy, relatively relaxed parenting duo who gave myself and my sisters everything we needed growing up. They taught me the value of love and education and money. I worked hard to get a job and before long I was able to support myself. I liked knowing I could fend for myself.  Then I met Monsieur FF, my partner in crime, and we decided to embark on marriage and a family.  That was back when we both had the ability to speak to each other reasonably, and rationally, without screams of “DAAAADDDDEEEEEE AI DONE A POO” and lentils flying around in the background.

Becoming a parent and a mother is something that transforms you overnight. Physically, one night you’re going to bed, a normal, slightly bulbous human being, with an almost equal share of a bed, and the next day (ish) you have somewhat reduced in size and in your shaking arms you hold a little mewing ball of bebe. Once you get over the shock (if ever), and the realisation that this is the new you, that there’s a little person who is entirely dependent on you (and no you can’t “give it back”), that’s it. There goes your independence (and your half of the bed). Because now you’re reliant on people and you can’t entirely rely on yourself. Your partner, your parents, your siblings, your friends… you need them all, more than ever. You need help, you need support, and you need a boost.

You also don’t feel particularly fierce when you’ve just given birth.  Of course, you’ve delivered a child, fricking amazeboobs, you deserve a medal, but for some reason, the saggy, wobbly vehicle that did all that hard work suddenly seems very ugly. Even when it produced something so beautiful.  It is not fair. But that is the way our minds work. I would speculate there are few women who truly feel they can strut around in the giant pads and with mammoth leaking breasts in those first weeks post-partum and feel like they are owning whatever it is they want to own.  Your self-confidence takes a massive hit. And let’s be realistic, if you don’t feel great about yourself, it’s hard to imagine someone else is feeling great about you.  

Herein lies the problem: it’s a bit of a vicious circle.  We don’t need to be told we are loved 24/7, but it certainly feels nice. We don’t need to be told we are beautiful and we are nailing it in order to do our mothering jobs, but it sure does give you a bit of a boost when you are covered in someone else’s snot and poo, and you feel a tiny bit broken.  The times we have low confidence are the toughest times on our relationships because we need so much and we can give only a little.  Our partners need more, because someone else is in the picture now – where before it was one on one, now it is one on four and attention and energy levels are at an all time low – your partner in crime is suddenly way down the list of VIPs, in fact they are waiting over on the lay-by on your little B road, whilst you hurtle along the Motherhood M1.  The lower they go, the further down the B road, the more likely they are going to get, well, fed up.  And then they are off and next time you see them is in the hairdressers on the front cover of your trashy mag.  Doom.

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So what do we do? What about trying to find that little piece of ourselves that is not mumming, from time to time.  Is that the solution?  Is that even possible?  What about the little, winding B road?  Can you switch off from mothering mayhem and turn back into that vivacious lady that used to totter around in mad heels and go dranking? (sidenote: if this is me then “totter” should really read “violently clomp”.) Can you be a mother AND a woman, a wife, a nice partner?  Can we be mothers and still be FUN??

The trash magazines would suggest we had better bloody try! However much our partners and husbands might be nodding politely, the reality is this, mumming is a 24/7 job.  In the early days it’s more like 25/8.  It sucks you dry, literally and metaphorically.  There isn’t much of you left to spare.  If you are lucky, like me, your partner understands that you are giving your all to the little ‘uns and accepts that, for a while, “fun” has to be redefined as a glass of wine on the sofa whilst falling asleep to Netflix.  “Talking” means a couple of text messages during the course of the day.  And when the kids go to bed, you are likely to follow closely behind.  Our better halves may well need to go out and blow off steam.  This is certainly a change of pace.  They don’t need to recover from childbirth or adapt to their new bodies. They usually have a better chance of a complete night’s sleep.  Their bodies don’t start leaking when they hear a baby cry.  Their days may be structured differently and they also have plenty on their plate.  Lucky for them they even have a plate…. and it probably doesn’t have congealed egg on it.

Sometimes it would be nice to blow off steam and unwind too, although the logistics usually render the whole process of “unwinding” redundant.  The truth is, you can’t really “unwind” from mumming.  And honestly we probably don’t really want to.  By the time you’ve organised the kids and the various complexities of the milk/food/bedtime routine, you barely have time to get your own trousers on.  It’s just a lot of hassle and then, refer back to bittersweet section above.  However difficult it may be, you actually wouldn’t change it for the world. So, for a little while, we want different things.  And we just have to find a happy middle ground.  And also try to ensure we get a bit of time to veer off the M1 ourselves, and remember that little B road that was everything before everything changed.

 

 

Boys who (dress) like girls who (dress) like boys who (dress) like boys…

Gender neutrality. The hot topic of the moment. The words that scream equality and seek to avoid discrimination. In the world of bebes, this “movement” (for want of a better word) is increasingly reflected in the way we choose to dress our children, the books we read, the toys we give them, the way we speak to them and the activities we undertake together.  The aim: to encourage our children to think for themselves.  We want to avoid imposing limitations on our little people before they have had a chance to develop their own identity and to decide certain things for themselves.  Like who they are.

The considerations seem, simplistically, to start around colours and their association with sex: blue for boys and pink for girls.  Yellow, it seems, is the safest of neutral colours, excluding ‘non colour’ white, and its close friends grey and cream (and black, but that seems slightly sombre for a little ray of light).  Now where did those colour associations come from?  All those years ago, did someone from up high declare that “those colours deriving from and the same or similar to PINK  shall strictly be reserved to those of female disposition, and those colours deriving from and the same or similar to BLUE shall be strictly reserved to those of the male disposition.  Thou can use YELLOW if thou art not sure.” Hmmm doesn’t seem quite plausible does it.  This got me thinking, and by thinking I obviously mean googling because, let me be honest, I rarely actually think much anymore, I just ponder how best to get an answer quickly.  SO.  Google and my dear friend Wikipedia tell me that:

“Since the 19th century, the colors pink and blue have been used as gender signifiers, particularly for infants and young children. The current tradition in the United States (and an unknown number of other countries) is “pink for girls, blue for boys”

The leading expert on the topic seems to be a Ms Jo Paoletti, a (now retired) lecturer at the University of Maryland. She said, when interviewed on the topic for Smithsonian:

“It’s really a story of what happened to neutral clothing,” says Paoletti, who has explored the meaning of children’s clothing for 30 years. For centuries, she says, children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6. “What was once a matter of practicality—you dress your baby in white dresses and diapers; white cotton can be bleached—became a matter of ‘Oh my God, if I dress my baby in the wrong thing, they’ll grow up perverted” Paoletti says.

Nicely put in the usual direct, and brilliant, American way.  As I read on I’m told that, as well as world wars and women’s liberation movements, another major factor was the advent of prenatal testing, meaning people would find out what bebe they were having before it arrived.  This presented an enormous opportunity for businesses to sell their gender-specific wares, and – true fact, per Paoletti – the more individualised the clothing became, the more was sold. This quickly extended beyond clothes to all the bebe paraphernalia required (which itself continued to develop to take us into the realms of new car purchases when it comes to transportation devices) and – low and behold – those fortunate enough to be able to equip themselves with all the “must haves” bebe items, AND to have bebes of different sexes could then buy everything, twice.  Extreme consumerism. That does not sound familiar to me at all…not in the slightest. AHEM.

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NOT GUILTY.  I don’t even dress my children in clothes, let alone gender specific clothes.  Right, Bebette?

Right, ok so we’ve determined there is nothing set in stone, well not literally, on the colour gender signifier.  So we don’t have to get our knickers in a twist about girls wearing blue.  But the simple issue of colour/gender association has today, in a world of consumerism, intense advertising and new waves of gender expression, extended to all that we do with our children, like how we talk to them and what they play with: should a toddler girl drive a tractor or pretend to be a plumber? Can a boy wear nail varnish and play at being a midwife or a ballet dancer? Then the considerations spiral into personality and even sexuality: are all little girls “bossy”? If a girl wants to behave like a boy is that a bad thing? Are little boys that like dolls and dresses and pink going to be *whispers* gay?  Mon dieu.  Suddenly this topic seems a bit overwhelming.

We have a boy and a girl. The boy, Babbler, wears every colour under the sun, and up until recently his favourite toy was a microwave.  Now it’s a pink hoover. He has long “girly” hair and when we were on holiday, in his green and orange t-shirt and shorts, he was frequently mistaken for a girl. When he’s wrapped up warm and people can only see hair and big eyes poking out from under his hat, they ask if he’s a girl. Not literally, obvs, they say, with that wonderful hesitation “what a lovely… little person… is… sh-he cold??”  I have no issue with it. It doesn’t offend me, why should it. He bombards around “exploring” and discovering, smashing and crashing and hitting as he goes. He likes splashing, and throwing and kicking and shouting. He is loud and shy and cuddly and boisterous all at the same time. He seems, for now, to be quite the little lad. But what do I know.

We also have a baby girl, Bebette, and she’s displaying, one might say, classic characteristics associated with, dare I assume, being a baby girl (highly opinionated, slightly sensitive and lover of soft, snuggly things). Although perhaps those are just characteristics of being a bebe… again, what do I know.  She has already been subjected to tutus and hair bands. She has flowery dresses and pink tights. There are not so many questions about what colour baby she is when she had a big pink bow on top of her wild fluffy, lopsided hair tufts.

I’m a feminist.  By that I mean I recognise that men and women are different, and equally fantastic in their own, special ways.  I believe men and women deserve equal levels of respect and, in some circumstances, should be treated equally.  Not always, that is a very simplistic way to view the world.  But they should be treated fairly.  Women are not secondary to men.  Men do not bring more to a party.  Women can do things men can’t, and vice versa.  I also believe that men and women bring very different things to the table and those differences should be embraced.  Finally, I truly believe that women, in today’s society, are not always recognised for the incredible jobs they do, not least in circumstances where they are juggling careers and families.  It’s not always the case that it is women that deserve to be recognised, but I just highlight that as an example. Anyway, why am I harping on about this? I want my daughter and my son to grow up respecting each other, and believing they can both do whatever they want to do in life.  Whatever they have under their clothes should not hinder that.  Just because one of them, potentially, has a momentous task of building, ejecting and nourishing another human being should not render that one incapable of fulfilling other career goals, or achieving the same as male counterparts. Subject to a few caveats (not really keen on either of them being lion-tamers), and any obvious physical limitations, the world is their oyster.  I don’t want Bebette to feel that, because she’s a woman, a delicate little flower, she can only do some jobs, whereas Babbler who is big and strong and macho can do anything and everything he pleases.  And vice versa for Boddler.

So with that in mind, is there anything I should or should not be doing right now, as they are in the early stages of development? It seems hard to imagine, but is the way I am behaving with them now going to affect that mentality?  Is the way I speak to them affecting their perceptions of themselves and others?  Am I inadvertently rendering them weak and subordinate by dressing them one way or another?  Is Bebette a little fluffy, cuddly doll?  Do I need to get her into bebe power suits???  Why am I worrying?

Jo is already on it:

Some young mothers who grew up in the 1980s deprived of pinks, lace, long hair and Barbies, Paoletti suggests, rejected the unisex look for their own daughters. “Even if they are still feminists, they are perceiving those things in a different light than the baby boomer feminists did,” she says. “They think even if they want their girl to be a surgeon, there’s nothing wrong if she is a very feminine surgeon.”

Exactly. Good.  I’ll put a placeholder here to consider further…

But finally, just a note: as Bebette and I break back into the under 1 social sphere and start an array of jazzy baby classes, I realise that more and more people are dressing their babies “unisex”, or more often, dressing their girls with “traditionally” boyish clothing. This creates a world of worry for me as I strike up conversation. Now I’m the one with the awkward hesitation in my voice, the slightly panicked glance at the child searching for any clue about it’s gender. Dummy chord. Green. Shit. Toy attached to pram; fluorescent yellow. Crap. Can I make an assumption or should I just go with strategic, noncomital conversation starters: “gosh what beautiful eyes!” “That’s such a cute onesie” “how old is your little …. one?….”  Silly.  It doesn’t matter does it.

So, I’ve dabbled in this topic but there’s a lot more to read and to say.  For now, here’s my closing gripe: baby girls are dressed in traditional boy clothing. Where are the baby boys dressed as girls?

Baby-making

This post has been difficult to write. It is about baby-making. Hold that thought: I’m not going to tell you about the birds and the bees. I’m confident you probably have a rough idea of the physical actions required to get all the ingredients in the right place. What you possibly don’t appreciate is what an absolutely miraculous process it is, to go from having the ingredients to actually creating a little human bean.

We have some experience on the subject. Babbler took quite some time and magic to make.  Before he appeared in the world, we had lots of waiting, prodding and probing, questions, tears, not a single positive pregnancy test, multiple rounds of IVF and we suffered a miscarriage of what might have been twins.

Making a baby can be quite a difficult «thing to do». And like all good things in this world, the more you want one, the tougher the wait, and the harder you fall when you don’t get one.  You can’t just have a baby.

Starting a family

Starting a family is one of those things that seems completely alien when you contemplate it for the first time, a far off pipe dream, something you do when you’re “older” and “ready”… One day, quite suddenly, the people around you start to get married and couple up, everywhere you look you see bumps, and buggies and babies, you eat your body weight in pink and blue cupcakes, you start to enjoy perusing the baby clothes in your favourite stores, you start waking up early and you realise that you would rather be snuggled up at home than out somewhere loud and sticky-of-the-floor.  You have a job, you have some semblance of a home and potentially even a car. BOOM, just like that you realise that the time has come.  You are “ready”. Exciting! Scary. Let’s go! What do you do?! Having paid close attention in sex education you know that anything more than touching fingernails with your partner in crime could result in a bebe, so grappling with that possibility, you throw caution to the wind *in a completely controlled way* dive in and commence le proces.

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Let’s make a bebe! One day goes past.  Of course you buy a pregnancy test and immediately start to feel nauseous, and you are frantically prodding your boobs, because you are fully expecting to fall pregnant on the first go. Except that it is rarely that straightforward. Sorry.  No, your cheap pregnancy test isn’t faulty. No, your expensive one that tells you in actual words, not lines, that you’re not pregnant isn’t somehow confused about the bit of urine it sampled. You’re just not pregnant. Not this month.  You feel a bit silly, perhaps a bit sad, but you pull your big girl pants up and crack on to the next month. After all, it’ll probably happen next month. And that fits in better because, well, you have got that party this weekend you really want to go to, and then there’s that wedding next month that you just couldn’t be pregnant for, so it’s all fine.  Good.

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true dat

In fact, if you check the NHS website, it tells you that 80-90 out of every 100 couples trying to get pregnant will fall pregnant within one year. One whole year. First, that is potentially up to 12 long and disappointing months of “trying”.  Each month is made up of a familiar cycle: it begins with the period (doom), then waiting for ovulation, the ovulating days, and then the phantom pregnancy times, also known as the “two week wait” – the days you spend waiting for your period. The days you wonder if you might, possibly, be making a baby.  Just FYI that’s about 168 days of the year that you’re waiting. That’s a lot of waiting for those with a propensity towards impatience…. Second, that means that 10-20% of couples will take more than a year to conceive. They may need help. They may never conceive.

They may never conceive. Have you ever thought you might not actually get to have children? It’s quite a dramatic leap to go from trying not to “accidentally” get pregnant by fingernail contact, to contemplating that you may actually never have a child.  I don’t remember that coming up in sex ed.

For some people, that’s perfectly fine. Ideal actually. But for others, that wasn’t in the life plan.  You assumed you could have children. Whenever you felt like it. As you start to look around you, you realise there are indeed many couples that don’t have children. You had perhaps assumed it was their choice, that they didn’t want to have any kids, but now this new knowledge makes you think twice.  You cannot assume anything.  If there’s one major lesson I’ve learnt through all of this it is never assume. Don’t assume that everyone can just have a baby.  Don’t assume that people have chosen their current situation.  It may look like they just don’t have kids, or haven’t got any yet, but there is almost certainly a story there, a journey. Also try to avoid asking. I used to think it was perfectly normal to ask newlyweds when they would be trying for a babe. It’s the logical next step.  Is it?  If they want to talk about it, they will do so in their own time and in their own way. It is not an easy one to talk about, it is personal, it is often complicated, and if there’s one major benefit of all that we have been through, it is the awareness of the struggle. The struggle is really real. We now have enough experience to put ourselves out there, if you need to talk.  We can, I hope, relate to, and offer support to prospective parents in all their shapes and sizes.  And I hope this post will help a little.

Unexplained infertility

According to the same NHS page, one in seven couples in the UK will suffer “fertility issues”.  Those may be complications, difficulties, bits and pieces that are missing or not working, or blocked, but perhaps could work, they just need some help. Then, of those one in seven, 25% will have what is known as “unexplained infertility”, i.e. the common causes of infertility are not applicable, but there is no other medical explanation available. So there’s something wrong, you don’t seem to be making the babies, but there isn’t actually a medical reason pourquoi.  i.e. there isn’t much that the doctors can do to help you. Technically, we fell into this category.  Years of “trying”, plenty of questioning, eating well, bouts of not drinking (alcohol may affect fertility) trying to be calm (stress may affect fertility) and keeping track of what was happening when (knowing when your ovulating can help to ensure you are targeting the right days), but all to no avail, meant we were inexplicably infertile.

What do you think? We were hoping to have a family together. Should we be together? I started to wonder if it meant we weren’t well matched as couple. Perhaps the French and Yorkshire genes just don’t work. C’est trop.  Rational thinking fell to the wayside as I watched bumps growing and buggy’s crashing into things around me. More scan pictures, more happy announcements, more people telling me they were winning on the fertility ferris wheel. Thankfully, we were very happily married, and everything was still quite new and joyous.  The monthly let down was really just a few hours of sadness followed by a rapid assessment that it was probably for the best, copious amounts of chocolate and realisation that I had lots more important things to do than having a baby that month.  Any misery I felt I managed to keep to myself, any misery Monsieur FF felt he also bottled, and we thoroughly enjoyed and relished spending time with our family and friends and their growing families.  We didn’t really talk too much about it.  Then time went on, our efforts became more concerted, our abstention from the vices of life more marked, and our patience for bebe FF increasingly failing.

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One of the hardest things about infertility struggles is knowing that people are rooting for you but that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to help.  Can you give me a baby? Nope. Our parents waited patiently for our grandchild offering, and waited some more, and then they quietly started to worry and then, once they knew that there was potentially some cause for concern, that we were trying, and were not getting, they offered their support and their love, but it couldn’t take away the angst we were experiencing.  It is so personal, so intimate, and yet once it is out there, it is so exposed.

Those that you share with know that you are trying, and that it is not working. It’s not funny. You don’t need to “try harder”. That doesn’t feel good.  It is impossible not to feel like a failure.  I was, at times, embarrassed. People would ask, casually, or directly, if we were planning to have children, and we would respond that we weren’t ready, or we weren’t really trying, or that we had a plan, something, anything, other than saying that we don’t seem to be able to have a baby.

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Would we ever have a family? Our respective families are sizeable, and for all accounts conception came without any issues for our parents.  There was no waiting, no struggles.  If you haven’t struggled to conceive, you simply do not know how it feels. I’m sorry.  You are lucky.  It’s not a case of “doing it more often” or “trying to be less stressed” or indeed “eating more salt”…

Just as another factoid, even if you hit the exact right times with the exact right mixture, and you’re under 35 (age is another major factor in the fertility Ferris wheel) then you still only have around 25% chance of conceiving. And let’s not forget, conception doesn’t necessarily equal a bebe.

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IVF

So where do you go from inexplicably infertile? In our case, we were advised to “try” IVF, in vitro fertilisation, as a means of identifying where things were working and where things might be going wrong.  What is IVF?  Technically:

During IVF, an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilised egg, called an embryo, is then returned to the woman’s womb to grow and develop.

Actually: you have a controlled menopause, loads of injections, you are stimulated to produce as many eggs as your ovaries can muster, more injections, then the eggs are vacuumed out of you whilst you are sedated, they are mixed with the contribution from your other half or a sperm donor.  A few days later, if all is well, the mixture is then returned to your womb, in the hope it will get comfortable and decide to stick around.  Your mixture might be 3 days or 5 days old, and could be fresh, or frozen.  You are instructed to take a pregnancy test around 14 days later, and not a day before.  This is the “two week wait” or “2ww“.  Websites are dedicated to it. Chatrooms go into overdrive on the topic. Sensible, rational, intelligent women have been known to lose their actual minds during this period.  It is ROUGH.

But, at the end of the day, or a long IVF cycle, you may end up with a stock of fertilised blastocysts, or even better a BFP – big fat positive pregnancy test – or, even better than that, an actual bebe.  In equal measure, in fact, a slightly higher probability, is a BFN or indeed a pregnancy ending in miscarriage.

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I don’t recommend taking IVF lightly. As something we “tried” it wasn’t like taking a car for a test drive.  It is by far the most invasive, uncomfortable and emotional experience I have voluntarily walked into. However, I am so grateful that (a) I got the opportunity to experience it, to pursue our dream of starting a family and (b) I am now able to better understand the difficulties and challenges many people face on their own journeys.

Miscarriage

The word fills me with sadness. I am just one of literally billions of women that have suffered a miscarriage.  One in every four women suffer a miscarriage. Miscarriages come in all shapes and sizes, none any more manageable than the others.  There is not a scale of horribleness for a miscarriage, depending on when it was or how it happened, the reality is that – in every single case – you had hope and you lost it. It slipped away. And it was out of your control.  Losing something you really want is never easy.  It is utterly devastating. Before 20 weeks it is known as miscarriage, and after 20 weeks gestation, still birth.

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According to the NHS:

For most women, a miscarriage is a one-off event and they go on to have a successful pregnancy in the future.

But, sadly, it is not as simple as just brushing it away and starting again.  This isn’t just a medical process that had a bit of an unfortunate ending. You have to wait until you are emotionally fit.  You have to wait until you are physically strong enough and your body is prepared to try again.  For the women that aren’t “most women”, they may suffer multiple miscarriages.  Every pregnancy after a loss is wrought with anxiety and fear, every trip to the toilet could spell the end. Pregnancy is much less joyous when it’s filled with fear and questioning. You dare not get excited, you don’t know what to think, even though every cell in your body is screaming at you that it’s working on something miraculous. There aren’t really any words for the feeling of losing that miracle.

I’m mindful here that I can’t speak to how it must feel for a man to lose a baby, for a partner to lose a baby they weren’t carrying.  As the carrier, your body is reminding you every moment that passes that it couldn’t do its job, for whatever reason.  It takes a long time for that feeling to subside. A part of you is lost forever, in the same way that a part of you is exposed as it wanders around in front of your eyes.

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For anyone out there going through a loss, sending strength, and hope.  There is no plaster that patches up the pain, or drug that can block the dull ache you are feeling, but there is always looking forward, and upwards.

Through the difficult times we experienced, the things I valued most were the family and friends that took the time to sit with me, to listen, or to let me be silent. The friends that brought us some food when we didn’t feel like cooking, that invited us for drinks when we had not had a drink for a while, that showed up on the doorstep when we didn’t feel like getting dressed. The comments and support from the heart, allowing us to grieve and recover rather than jumping forward to what happens next. *Thank you to our friends and family that stood by us, shared their positive energy and hope and enabled us to move forwards.*

When you miscarry, you lose a piece of your heart and you make a dent in your relationship. What we also experienced, however, was a feeling of solidarity and a new level of caring we hadn’t felt before. Monsieur FF was so closely by my side through the horror show that was our drawn-out miscarriage, I could literally lean on him at any moment. His strength lifted me, as I was close to falling. We took some time out, some special memories away from our daily routine to realign and refocus. It seems like a lifetime ago back then, but we truly didn’t know if we would have a family. We agreed to start an adoption process. We agreed to go on a mad holiday. And we agreed we would not give up hope or each other. Our miscarriage made us stronger. We don’t mark any dates or talk about what happened now, for better or for worse, we move forward and, as it happens, we are in the incredibly fortunate position to now have had multiple babes.  It seems that we struck the jackpot, not once but twice.

Good luck and we are here if you need us.

Breastfeeding: the sequel

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Love this by Amen Photography

I have blogged before about the mad journey that is breastfeeding and the wondrousness of boobies (here is the first instalment). Since then I have enjoyed the consequences of breastfeeding (read: saggymcsaggerson babylons) and I have produced a second Bebe, that I have also been feeding with my boobs. Even writing it like that reminds me how mind-boggling it is to nourish a human bean with something produced by my very own breasts. Crazy. (Obviously growing the bean in the first place is pretty stupenduous, but this part you can actually see with your own eyes!)

As I alluded to in the first post written last year, I am entirely mindful that this is a very sensitive subject. Plenty of new mamas don’t breastfeed, either out of choice or because it’s not physically possible, or for many reasons they start and then have to stop, or have to modify what they are doing to suit their babe. No one journey is the same and whatever happens, having a happy, fed bebe is all that matters.  

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Pure happiness right there

As I said last time, this is just me talking about my journey.  I’m lucky / unlucky / weird / blessed / happy to have the chance to breastfeed again. However, I must say that living this a second time, it has been decidedly harder than the first time. Strange, as you would think boobs get used to it (they certainly look like they do) and as a second time mum, most likely I am already equipped, mentally and wardrobiley, for the job. Turns out not really.  Well, for me at least, the difference I think is down to (i) the bebe and (ii) the circumstances.  I consider these differences a bit below and then I will introduce you to my favourite breastfeeding clothing, in particular The B Shirt.

The Bebette journey is not the same

The bebe part: No pregnancy is the same, “they” say (the older wiser types) and the same goes for all that follows. This Bebette that we have, this little ray of light, is a petite lady who doesn’t gobble like her big brother. She is delicate. It’s more like she’s taking afternoon tea, or a small glass of champagne, than glugging a gallon of milk; I can almost see her little finger up in the air. Bebette can’t easily cope with the fast flow of milk that I have. She wants a skinny pizza with a side of dust, not the Super Mega menu with XL stuffed crust and extra deep-fried cake, and a beer or 10….

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The problem is that boobie milk systems need some sort of regulation – if Bebe is fussy, you end up with your boobs getting very confused about all this nibbling and they lose track of how much milk to actually make.  This, in my case, led to a bout of (very painful) mastitis (more on this below).  It has also resulted in the washing machine going into overdrive with milk-sodden clothing.  Poor Boddler has had the shock of his life a couple of times when he has come to inspect “Sista mulk” and been sprayed in the face himself. Luckily he has goggles.

After the double whammy hospital adventure we enjoyed last month, I’ve also spent a lot of time pumping this time round. Jeez, the hospital pump is hard.  Massive shout out to all the mamas out there that have had to pump, whether to encourage their milk production, or because their babe is hospitalised at birth or afterwards, or because their babe simply won’t latch. It is harrowing.  But massive cheers to the NHS for providing nourishment for hospital mamas, this really makes a huge difference.  Also, whilst pumping is hard, it is a little intriguing to see how much milk you are making – as a mildly competitive person, I kept challenging myself in hospital to make more and more, gallons of milk, feed my Bebette until she rolls out of hospital…. FYI I lost, but it was a good challenge.

As a side note, any newish breast feeders reading should be aware of the symptoms of mastitis (NHS link here).  When it happened to me, it escalated quickly, my boob felt bruised and sore in the morning, it was a bit red, then more disconcerting was the crazy headache and flu-like symptoms I developed that afternoon: I got fever and the shivers and ended up calling 111 the next morning, a Sunday (again!) and was able to get a prescription for antibiotics very rapidly for later that day. Hot showers, continuous feeding if you can, and massaging helps, but as soon as you feel fluey or sick, you need to get medical help asap, as it can be very painful.  *Shout out to my GP mama friends that helped me (and continue to help) with sound advice through these struggles.  Legends.*

The ease with which you can breastfeed may also be influenced by the circumstances, like whether you already have a child running around, and the time of year: last time I was breastfeeding it was spring – summer; I had little vests I could pull down, and limited additional clothing required in the warm weather (yes, yes, U.K. warm so you still needed a second layer…). I also had the time to sit down and wasn’t likely to get a ball lobbed at my head whilst I was feeding.  Shocker! Back then, Boddler was so greedy I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a hand in pulling my top down to get to the food himself. There was almost no spillage or regurgitation. The whole feeding process was quite straight-forward and manageable, except for the odd leak and the teeth *panic face*.

Bebette is quite a different kettle of fish. She likes the warmth and comfort of my boobie area but is less bothered about the actual milk. She also feels more delicate, has a sensitive stomach and needs to be carefully positioned for her feeds.  This is in contrast to Boddler who was like a magnet to the nipple. Bebette needs a compass and guide dog and tends to fall asleep whilst feeding.

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Like my maternity wear this time round, I was armed with a bit more knowledge of what was required for nursing a babe. However when I went through my box of neatly organised maternity clothes (read: pile of clothes shoved in a corner that I wasn’t expecting to see for a loooong time) I couldn’t really find any good feeding tops in there. Just a lot of vests and the odd mamalicious or seraphine number. I had a couple of big shirts but, I confess, I hate ironing. So I am not wearing those.

the B shirt

A good feeding top requires stretchiness and also must be a material that can be scrunched up (or down) without being too thick, and without preventing bebe from breathing or making her get too hot. This time round I also have a decidedly more flabby tummy, and it certainly looks more traumatised with my new tiger stripes second time round. I am acutely aware when I try to cobble together my own feeding clothes (ie two tops on top of each other, one pulled down and one pulled up) there is a very high chance of embarrassing flab-flashing.  I am already getting my boob out, I don’t particularly want to extend the nudiness any further.

So, there’s a legit need for something new – where can I find a good breastfeeding top? After lots of googling in the middle of the night I found my answer.  Say bonjour to The B Shirt. The B Shirt is a breastfeeding dream – it keeps your tummy covered whilst you discretely locate your milkers and latch your bebe on. The B Shirt is stretchy and warm, long enough to cover you and your bottom, and it washes well. And it can deal with frequent washing too. But best of all, the B Shirt does good things.  It supports women that are struggling – more on this below.

The top comes in three basic colours; white, grey and black. No garish flower patterns or bold horizontal stripes that make you feel even more ginormous over here.  The boobie “flap” opens upwards discretely, without a full-on untangling or déshabille exercise, revealing two neat little boobie holes, so you won’t be flashing side boob either. It’s not rocket science and yet it is genuinely so hard to find anything even close to suitable for the job. This has been my saviour.

I particularly like the B Shirt because: (a) a couple of real mamas, who themselves have breast fed and supported numerous other mamas with breastfeeding, set up the business not only to help nursing mamas generally;  but also to raise awareness, funds and provide tops and support to breastfeeding mamas out there who are statistically less likely to continue to breastfeed. According to their research, a major reason women stop breastfeeding is embarrassment. Isn’t that sad?

81% of new mothers start off breastfeeding when their babies are born, however when their babies are just 6 weeks old only 36% are still breastfeeding. This means that the UK has some of the worst breastfeeding rates in the world.

Breast milk with all its magic properties is sitting in boobies, ready to go, like a cup of fresh water in the desert, or (more relatable) a delicious steaming pot of coffee on a grey Monday morning, and yet it’s not being served because the barista is embarrassed about the cups he is serving it in. Meanwhile there’s a ginormous advert for Starbucks, with a cup that runneth over, right outside. You get the point.

Money from the sales of the B Shirt and donations will go towards getting those mamas in need the right clothing to do this important job, without feeling embarrassed.  I concur that this top has reduced my embarrassment levels, which are all the higher when there’s also a toddler running around and therefore the possibility of large scale accidental flashing, and much more rushed boob-accessing. A comfortable, affordable top that does good beyond helping you on your breastfeeding journey – pretty epic. (b) it’s called the “B” Shirt – the logo is boobs – it’s like we were destined to be together! And (c) the ladies that came up with this beauty are located in Totnes, which is a magical place in Devon I happen to know thanks to my musical sister and her man who are very happily located there. Side note: it is glorious and definitely worth a visit. (d) they also sell reusable bamboo breast pads which are great.  Another winner, comfortable and environmentally friendly.  Boom.

The one thing missing at the moment with the B Shirt is sleeves, although I expect sleeves are in the pipeline along with more colours.  I also don’t think the lace trim is particularly necessary, but equally it adds something to remind you where the flap is – tired mamas need all the help we can get!  The only good feeding top I’ve found with sleeves is a Seraphine bamboo top, which is super soft, but I can’t find the link to that now, and as far as I’m aware Seraphine doesn’t boast the same mission and aims as the B Shirt so I would rather spend my money with the Totnes ladies.

I’m teaming my B shirt with the Bravado Seamless Nursing Bra, available from John Lewis.  It’s a bestseller and I can see why – super comfy, supportive, and easy to get up and down. Also very easy to wash.  Feeding bras have caused me as much angst as the tops, but this bra has done the job and even comes with conversion kit so when you are done feeding you can continue to wear this.  Unlikely, for my fried eggs, but I appreciate the opportunity.

So, that’s me done on breastfeeding take 2 (so far) and what I’m wearing.  I hope this is helpful and good luck you wonder mamas!

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I leave you with this thought of the day.  Really orange carrots.