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.

Bumpologie: the magic of pregnancy

 

As I reflect, in the last days of my second pregnancy, on the experience of being pregnant and growing a couple of people in my abdomen, honestly I am still baffled by what has just happened. Je suis complètement bafflé (nb: not a real word – the French would never confess to such a state of mind). You would think after 9+ months of cooking time most people have got their head around what is happening inside them. But I continue to be floored by the whole process; the exact timing and precise, regular changes that happen along the way, the way your body just reorganises to accommodate a watermelon, and the fact that you can readily grow a penis and a brain whilst still retaining at least 56% of your own cognitive function and doing your job/ feeding your family/ getting around/ generally surviving. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: how could women possibly be the weaker sex?!

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Like anyone going through the pregnancy journey, I have been excited but also slightly perturbed by the changes that occur in my body. I have tried to embrace the changes and I am always mindful of the privilege that is being pregnant.  However, the second time around it has been quite a different experience to the bubble-wrapped first pregnancy; more nausea, more stretching, more tiring, less bubble-wrapping, less pre-natal yoga, less cake and treats, less time to relax (see below) and to reflect on the milestones and changes (albeit seemingly more time at the very end this time round!!).  Whilst it’s utterly astounding to think that there’s a human inside me, the magical unknown of the exit process is now somewhat ruined.  As such “due date” carries both a sense of excitement and utter fear.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to think up an alternative exit route for this bebe, but there.just.isn’t.one.  YIKES.

Having the privilege of doing this whole thing twice, what did I do differently with the second pregnancy? The main things I’ve learnt this time around:

  • invest in good clothes (Isabella Oliver and Mamalicious remain top faves, larger sizes from Next and Séraphine also tend to wear well).  Towards the end you will wear the same clothes repeatedly. With a toddler, they will be covered in snot and food, so they really need to be durable.  I anticipate I will be wearing some of the trousers for the next few months.  Who wants to give up an elastic waistband anyway?
  • keep up with the belly oils and moisturisers – everyone has different skin and every pregnancy does different things to your body. Nonetheless, the moisturising of bump routine I nailed first time round was not strictly adhered to this time, until the final trimester when I spotted some suspicious looking marks.  Do not risk it and do keep those magic potions going.  My personal preference is the MamaMio range because it just smells so good.
  • don’t push yourself – when you’ve got a toddler in tow there is only so much you can do, and that’s no bad thing. Early to bed is not a crime, plenty of time for midnight parties up ahead.
  • there is no such thing as too many pillows – literally all the pillows are residing on my bed right now. I still can’t get comfy and roll around hurumphing all night, but at least it muffles my whining for Monsieur FF.
  • you can still benefit from a bit of reading. This time I was recommended Bumpology and thoroughly enjoyed it (until I lost my kindle) as a well-informed read by a science journalist au fait with actual scientific facts. There is a lot of speculation about pregnancy and labour and new babies, (and there will always be because unsurprisingly no-one wants to be a guinea pig at these times) but I found the book to be written frankly and some factual basis.  Lawyers love a few facts.
  • you don’t have to eat for two – saddest revelation from the Mothership when she pointed out, mid-way through my pregnancy that “you know you only actually need 200 extra calories per day”.  Not that I care about weight gain during pregnancy (I mean – I obviously moan about it but make no effort to stop eating whatever I need to eat), but when it comes from the Mothership you have to at least take note.  Boo.

I am also taking a moment to highlight some significant lifestyle differences between this pregnancy experience and le premier, i.e. being pregnant with a toddler in tow.

First obvious example: the prescribed “relaxing” before giving birth.

First time round we were all NCT classes, dinner dates, massages, “lots of sleep” (FYI not a real thing when heavily pregnant) and luxury bathing with lotions and potions and tranquil candle vibes in the house. Second time and IF I get a moment (and have the energy) for a bath, I have to, first, locate my bath products behind 15 different eczema potions and baby bath products. Then I have to manoeuvre into the bath around the obstacle course that is various musical fish, mats and safety devices. Once I’m in the tub (“wedged in” is probably a more accurate description), rather than resting my head on the soft bath pillow (which has been relegated to some sort of safety role), I get a sharp prod in the ear from the Nuby Octopus, before having the full foam alphabet assortment raining down on my oversized body. The baby belly that I’ve set out to have some quiet time with is now littered with brightly coloured letters reminding me I’m “OK” (ish) “OH” (so big) “FLABP” (flabby?! Or start flapping because you will shortly be in labour?!).  The letters move around as the bebe on the inside reminds me that my bladder is just one small kick away.  I have some old bath salts wedged in my toes and all around me are luminous receptacles for water, not candles. Cue gentle wails from my nearby Boddler, who, in his sleep, has sensed I may be having a quiet moment and is not at all in agreement. Immense waves of guilt wash over me (the only washing that’s occurring) as I tell myself “this could be the last night it’s just you and me buddy“… so I decide to exit the bath and provide urgent cuddles. As I haul myself out of the bath, and haul is no exaggeration, I make it to standing and notice that I’ve conveniently got an “X” and “L” wedged in my derrière.  Hearing various load grunts and groans, both from me and the bath tub, Monsieur FF calls out “t’es ok?!” (or has our bath just collapsed through the ceiling…???) “I’m FINE.”  Boddler wailing has naturally subsided by now, Boddler is quiet, but energy to re-enter the alpha-bath has depleted, so I give up. Now to find a towel that is bigger than half of my leg.

Another good one is the preparation of le stuff that you need for new Bebe. This preparation process was like a ritual with number 1; neatly washed, folded, laid out or hanging, delicately positioned in certain areas of the house which were previously bare, and well in advance of the little bonhomme arriving… this time, it’s about not mixing the tiny baby vests with the seemingly giant man vests worn by big brother, and using any “relaxing” time to half-heartedly fold neatly in the knowledge that, in a mere few days, the items will be piled in a basket covered in poop and baby milk. Anything strategically placed around the house (anywhere that isn’t already occupied by more brightly coloured FP necessities), like a Moses basket or crib, is promptly given the Boddler FF treatment, namely climbing in or on it, and leaving a trail of snot and dribble, not dissimilar to the star of the Snail and the Whale… except the message he leaves is not “save the whale” but “MINE“. Marking his territory. And technically correct because much of the equipment we are able to recycle given it’s all still fairly new. When it comes to jumperoo time I anticipate some fierce battles…

One rather dramatic change for the positive in the FF house is that we do now actually cook meals at home.  Partially due to the fact it’s pretty hard to go out for dinner when your toddler needs his bed at 7.30pm.  Any of my uni crew reading this are no doubt grimacing at the thought of the ultimate garlic flatbed, carrottes rapées followed by yoghurt surprise. Gousto is a game changer. (If you want to get 50% off your first two boxes try code REBEC269169.) So, now I’m pretty much a master chefette, I’ve obviously prepared weeks of frozen food, all ready to go when we have no time for cooking…. just kidding, we still have a ridiculous freezer which can only accommodate 3 tubs of Ben and jerrys and some frozen peas so I ain’t got time (space) for that. But I have got some delicious protein balls ready to go, if Monsieur FF doesn’t scoff them all before this Bebe#2 arrives.

So what now, what should I be doing in the last few days of freedom? I’m not used to waiting (patience levels: 0) but as I’ve alluded to recently in a few Insta posts, I’m very conscious that this time is really precious – soon we will be in the mad fog of newborn business and our Boddler has to adapt to the fact he can’t have our attention 100% of the time. More importantly for me to compute, I can’t give him all my energy because the newbie will have a number of demands that must be met. So rather than wishing this one would hurry out, I am trying to embrace the calm, the family of three vibes, and enjoy the excitement of not knowing when our lives are completely shifting again… except it had bloody better be within the next 5 days!!! As you can see I’m nailing the embracing.

Just to make life that tiny bit more interesting, in a deftly and ingenious move, Boddler FF has decided that the last days should go his way, and in a way that is bafflé-ing to all around him, including various health professionals, has managed some hybrid mix of chicken pox, foot and mouth, eczema flare up and standard nursery cold/snot-fest meaning he can’t go to nursery (the “normal” I wanted him to retain whilst home life catapults into chaos). Instead of putting my feet up with my super trooper Mothership, (who btw has just had a double knee replacement, but notwithstanding has still come “up” to me from the Great Yorkshire to give me strength and generally do the magic that mothers do at this time) I’m chasing around after the little spotty monkey. Despite the numerous ailments he seems to have energy in abundance. Du coup I’m not sure if his sibling is hiding on the inside to avoid the lurgy, aware of the chaos just outside and staying sensibly put, or – as I suspect may be the case – is brewing an exit performance so momentous that Boddler FF will have to sit on the sidelines for a little while. Let’s wait and see….

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Back to work

This week I went back to work.  It was one of the hardest weeks of my life.  I cried. I was tired. I was grumpy.  I was a terrible wife and barely spoke to my husband at all (sorry Monsieur FF).  But you know what: I survived.  WE survived.

I was really happy to be back in the office: to see colleagues; to check emails; to read without interruption; to wear something that didn’t get covered in food and dribble (at least not until  I got home), to have a hot drink, a leisurely lunch, and sit down and talk business. Not babies.  Mais that’s not to say I didn’t miss my bébé like crazy. I did. I was beyond excited to get home and grab him.  I actually ran (hobbled: new shoes #error) to nursery to dramatically throw down my bag, fling my shoes at some poor child and embrace him.  But, honestly, it was nice to have both work time and bebe time.  This is how life is going to be now. I am a working mum. And I am going to embrace it.

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Back to work selfie

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This post is hard to write.  Whatever I say in here are my very personal thoughts, specific to me and my life, about going to work and having a baby in someone else’s care.  But I’m not alone.  There are so many people out there in a similar position, whether you are a mum, or a dad, trying to work out how to balance your “old” life with this new, exciting but terribly demanding one.

There are also loads of topics that could be covered by the post, predominantly focused on the impossible choices that (mainly) women face as professionals and mothers.  However, I don’t yet feel capable of broaching that one, not least because I can’t see an easy solution.  It’s just bloody hard.  Désolée.

I’m sure somewhere along the line someone is going to be offended by what I say.  I apologise.  This is such a sensitive subject  it is incredibly hard to discuss it without getting into the minutiae of your individual situation (your career/your current role/your family/your income/your aims in life/your marriage etc.)   I’m going to be frank because I think it’s important to document my journey, but also because I’m one of the lucky ones :  I work for a very flexible company and in a flexible team. More about that shortly.

When you have a baby, deciding if and when to go back to work is a massive deal.  Deciding on what basis to go back is complicated, not least because it is not just your decision.  Some people don’t have much choice because their child needs 24/7 care.  Some people don’t have much choice because they are the main breadwinner in the family.  Some employers don’t offer many real options.  There are so many factors in play, it’s really quite mind-boggling.  Not to mention the fact that, chances are, you are not exactly desperate to get back to work work (as opposed to all the hard but super rewarding mum work (which includes lots of cake and cute baby clothes)).

Deciding who is qualified to look after your bebe is like trying to decide who is qualified to run the country. That’s right: no-one.  But there are only a finite number of nurseries, or nannies, or childminders, and there are even fewer options that will fit with a reasonable commute and your financial viability.  I’ve always struggled with the concept of “paying to work” which is the bizarre situation you find yourself in when assessing whether to go back to work.  Unless you are in the very privileged position of having free childcare (usually down to amazing and local grandparents or relatives) or a job that pays a freaking fortune, or you’re just a straight-up millionaire, you are essentially paying to do your job because by the time you deduct the costs of having someone else care for your child, you’re probably barely breaking even.

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The whole subject has actually made me feel quite uncomfortable.  I have questioned myself on an hourly basis for the past month.  What am I doing? Why am I doing it?  If you asked me on what basis I was going back to work, you will have seen me pull a strange face as I reply “full time” and cast my eyes down.  I say “strange” because even I can’t recognise what emotion I’m experiencing… is it guilt?  Is it embarrassment?  Is it sadness?  Most likely it is confusion tbh. I literally don’t know how I feel.

Yes, I’ve gone back to work, and I’m going to do my job full time.  I work in London and like most people I have a commute of the best part of an hour.  So when I finish work in the office, I then need another hour to get back to bebe FF.  You are probably judging me right now. Analysing my decision. Not necessarily in a negative way, but you are wondering why and what led me to that decision, right?  I would be doing exactly the same.  Does she love her job that much? Can they not afford any other option?  Did she not have the option to do part time? Does she not like being a mother??!

Right – just to be clear – I absolutely adore being a mum.  

It is literally the best thing in the world ever.

See – bold, large and colour. Seriously. This is the shizzle. I could not feel luckier. Not a day goes past where I am not overwhelmed by the miracle that is Bebe FF, astonished by how much I love him, delighted by how happy I am in our little family unit, amused by his little bottom and tiny teef, amazed by how quickly he is growing and… scared.  Scared of life happening.

Notwithstanding all the above, I also enjoy being a lawyer.  I love my job. I worked hard to become a lawyer and get this job. I’m a professional woman in a global business.  Oh and the business is a toy company, the LEGO Group to be precise. You may well be familiar with it. The plastic bricks that last forever?  The ones that hurt when you walk on them? That’s us. I’m one of many lucky people to be employed by the Danish super brand and I should be rather proud of it.  My job is exciting and it is demanding.  To do it well, I believe that I need to be available most of the time.  In my experience thus far, it is also incredibly flexible.  Not only does the LEGO Company embrace flexible working, they positively encourage it.

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Bebe FF’s first trip to the office age 3 months – suspect he will be more excited about it in the future.

We don’t have a designated desk in our office.  We are taught “Activity Based Working”, to mix and mingle across departments and functional areas, and we are encouraged to work from home as often as we deem appropriate, provided we are able to perform our function, and judge when a meeting can be conducted from the office and when it can be handled remotely.  I know some people* struggle with the concept of “flexible working” (*the majority of UK employers for starters, and generations before us that aren’t so au fait with modern technology and still think sending a fax is high tech…)  It requires a level of trust and a recognition that a positive and enthusiastic workforce is good for productivity and, therefore, business.  Naturally there are financial advantages for the employers too, not just happy and driven, productive workers, but lower costs (rent, bills, general sustenance).  You need the right tools for it to work efficiently – flexible work spaces, portable laptops and remote video conf capability etc. but all of this stuff is so easily available nowadays, I find it hard to understand why it isn’t more widely adopted as a working standard.

Alas. There are plenty of people out there who aren’t as lucky as us LEGO UK employees, and who are having to fight for their employers to even consider more flexible working.  Check out Mother Pukka for starters.  Her Flex Appeal campaign is brilliant.  It’s all rather ridiculous when you look at the stats: clearly a flexible workforce is a happy workforce, and a happy workforce is far more productive than a morose bunch of reluctant 9-5 workers. Flexible working means working in a way that best suits you as an individual. As Mother Pukka puts it:

Flexible working doesn’t mean working less or slacking off, it means finding hours that suit your life and how you best work.

Self-evidently, if your employer gives you the flexibility to work the hours that fit in to your situation, then you are all the more likely to feel satisfied, and put in the hours and show the commitment to your employer – that improves your work and ethos, and their staff turnover (and all the costs associated with hiring and up-skilling new staff).  Also, critically for parents, it means you can work around your childcare.  Most people are awake for, let’s say 14 – 16 hours per day.  There’s no reason why all the fun stuff has to be crammed into the middle 8 hours is there?!

Family is a priority at LEGO, and having a REAL work life balance is considered to be a true demonstration of success.  It is perfectly normal and commonplace for the office to be near empty by 5pm.  Why?  Everyone has gone to pick up their kids, to spend some time with them before bedtime.  That doesn’t mean they have finished working for the day.  But working on the report due on Friday can be done anytime between now and Friday. Why not do it after the kids’ bedtime.  You are not rushing and you feel happy*.

(*Presupposes bedtime was a success and you don’t have a romantic diner a deux planned)

So, now you know that I am working full time, but it is not like most versions of full time that exist today in the UK.  I told you, I’m very lucky and I know it.

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For the avoidance of doubt

Also, on another note, I have taken 8 months of maternity leave – I could take up to a year and be guaranteed my job on my return.  I have friends in America who were lucky to get 3 months of maternity leave (apparently it can be as little as 6 weeks if your labour is “normal”). Likewise in France, a mere trois mois. THREE MONTHS.  WTF. I’m not being over dramatic when I say I don’t think my body had even recovered after 3 months, let alone my brain being functional and ready to juggle the challenges of motherhood and a career.  What kind of world do we live in?! The NHS encourages and promotes breastfeeding for the full first 6 months of a baby’s life. How do you manage that and be back at work? And I assume given the lack of flexibility on maternity leave, those American employers aren’t likely to be terribly flexible with the working hours either, or having a creche in the office…?

In any case, ladies, whenever you go back and if you go back, or decide not to, respect to you. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this quandary and whatever you do, I hope you make the most of it.

Well folks thats all I’ve got for now. I’m just embarking on the journey and have a tough road ahead.  Bugs, sickness, work travel, socialising, emotional breakdowns, impossible decisions at home and work, brain failure… so much still to navigate.  But I leave you with this: My good friend, fellow lawyer and producer of Bebe FF’s birthday girlfriend (one hour before Bebe FF to be precise) Claire, shared with me a tip that was imparted on her as she rejoined her legal job, also full time, and a couple of months before us.  She said I should do the following:

  • when you are travelling in to work, think about something you are looking forward to; a meeting with a colleague, a nice lunch, a new exciting project.
  • on your way home, as you dash to pick up your precious little one(s) in time, focus on something you’ve done that day that you are proud of; concluding a project, some positive feedback, a significant learning, a job well done.

This will help remind you why this challenging time isn’t just about battling through and feeling guilty, it’s about being proud of yourself and your achievements, and making the most of each day.

 

 

Body Combat

People say your body will change when you have a baby. Those people are right. (Again, dammit). Even when your belly has eventually deflated, and your boobies too, you seem to be just a bit bigger, saggier and wider everywhere.  The unofficial rule “9 months on, 9 months off” seems fair when you’re not actually in the 9 months.  The 9 month “target” is looming close for me now. Why do I even have a target? Can’t we just appreciate what an immense job our bodies have done and be proud of the wobble? Sadly not.

When you think about having a baby you imagine being pregnant, the bump of joy, and then having this little bundle in your arms, but at no point do you visualise the person holding the bébé is not “you”. Not you as you know “you”. You know what I mean?!

Stay with me here.  Let’s recap.

Being pregnant is amazing: you’re glowing, your hair is thick and wondrous and you’ve got a little person wiggling around inside you that needs you to eat, sleep and generally be zen.  Heaven.

<ok the maternity clothes are horrific, as is the nausea and the burping is not very ladylike but let’s pretend we forgot about that already>

Being a new mum is kind of the opposite: you’re tired and pale, your hair has all fallen out and hasn’t been washed for a while <ahem>, and the little wriggly person is now dribbling milk down you whilst you try to sleep (but fail), try to eat (but fail – except for cake and chocolate) and generally are capable of being just absolutely frazzled. This is all normale. But it’s hard. It’s hard realising that (a) your body is pretty messed up right now and (b) you really don’t have the time to sort it out.  Bébé is your one and only priority.

I hope you don’t think I’m terribly vain. I’m not obsessed with how I look. But I tend to prefer to look like I’ve actually got dressed, as opposed to walking the streets in my PJs, and to make myself look vaguely presentable. I just want to feel normal.

New mommas and mommas2be, here is a quick reminder:

  •  Did you previously brush your hair? Yeah, you’re probably not gonna have time for that.
  •  Did you wash it? Yeah, sorry, unlikely to manage that unless you schedule your shower and have someone covering your back. I’m being serious. See post on Baby Steps to re-live my showering traumas.
  • Did you enjoy hot drinks? You do know tea tastes better cold? ….OK no, it doesn’t, I’m sorry.
  • Did you used to “pop” to the shops, or the gym or on a run? The only thing you will be “popping” for a while is your trouser bottoms and popcorn. If you do get out to exercise you’ve probably planned three milk feeds, left enough clothes out for a family of 6 and anticipated the possible protections required for bébé in the event of WW3. When you actually get out there you will wonder why on earth you’ve gone to so much effort in order to get outside and do something you used to find torturous. That’s right ladies, exercising is now a treat!!
  • Did you iron your clothes? Bahahahaha!! The only thing you will be ironing is …nothing. Maybe baby clothes. If you iron muslins you have too much time on your hands.
  • Speaking of hands, did you like having two of them?! Did you, once upon a time, enjoy having painted nails?  You probably won’t get round to locating your nail varnish, let alone applying it to your nails. And IF you do (well done) bébé will immediately start wailing, leaving you no option but to smear it all over their new outfit and your bed/sofa and leave a permanent reminder that you tried, but failed, to be glam. And also you’re a terrible mother. And when you finally get round to removing your manky, cracked and smeared nail varnish  and you cannot fathom why it’s taking so long to come off, you realise after seemingly endless rubbing that you are actually rubbing your nails with a wet wipe and Sudocrem. Aggggh.
  • Conclusion: first world problems. I know. But just get your other half to take bébé on a walk and get a shower, go for a swim, or to the whatever salon. Get some head space. Try to have some “you” time. Enjoy it.

The lack of “you” time is quite a shock to the system. In a way it makes me feel terribly selfish that I should want a bit of time to exercise, have a girly drink or “beautify”; that I have to ask Mr FF if I can possibly be allowed to go out for an hour to the nail place to do something he never even knew I did before. “Mais why do you need to Shelllack (sic) ze toes, doesn’t eet ‘urt? what does eet do?” Having to explain beauty treatments to your other half is quite depressing. Having to justify the need for these ‘treats’ is very depressing. But, heavens, if you get to escape for that pedicure, the time in the plastic chairs with the flip flops can be likened to a week in the Indian Ocean. Ok… maybe more like a weekend in France. Restorative. You will be skipping to the park later.

Ladies, “you” time is important. Getting out of the house is important.  Tu es important. Learning to love your new body is important.  Leaving le bébé is important. They do actually manage to survive just fine without us. (The other halves may struggle un petit peu…) But it’s important that we are surviving for them. Happy mummy means happy baby. And daddy.

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This horribly slim baby momma is winning at exercising and being happy. Also note she’s clearly had her nails done.

It’s hard not to feel a slight pang of longing or something, at the overwhelmingly different life you lead as a babymomma. And I don’t want to be ashamed of saying that or make you feel bad or apprehensive. It is different. Of course it is. But it’s also bloody amazing. You would never want it any other way. I can’t imagine not having bébéFF. He’s my everything. When Mr FF is making him giggle there’s nothing else in the world that matters. Not my waist or my wobbly bum (had that before anyway :-)), thin hair or manky nails. In fact all of those things remind me what a journey we have been on and how miraculous our bodies are. I MADE that little garçon. I made him, in my tummy. And I got him out! No need to go into the details on that part. And now I’m helping him grow and nurturing him. AMAZEBOOBS! The rest doesn’t matter. I’ve got plenty of time to worry about the physical repercussions of all this later.

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How I feel every single day!

Boobies, Breasticlés, Amazeboobs

WARNING: This post contains graphic boobie-related content.  If you don’t have boobs, I suggest you don’t read this.  You may be traumatised.

As someone* once said:

“I don’t care about amazeballs, what about these amazeBOOBS?!”

*probably

As this week is apparently world breastfeeding week it seems opportune to celebrate the wondrous balls that are higher up, the boobies.  I have always been amazed by boobs and I’ve never really had any of my own to speak of. Having Bébé FF allowed me to grow a pair.  Literally.

Before I launch in, on a serious note I just want to say I know breastfeeding is a very  sensitive and sometimes controversial topic. I can only speak from my own experience on this. I understand that every woman is different, every baby is different and each new family’s circumstances and birth experiences are different. All of those differences mean that every single woman has a different boob-related experience when they have a baby. The main thing is ensuring your baby is fed. How you do it is your concern only.  You made a baby, you deserve a freaking gold medal.  Nuff said.

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So. Let’s talk about boobies.  If you didn’t already know, the effect of having a baby on your boobs can yield some quite extreme and often hilarious(ish) consequences.  I’m still using mine, but I have heard that things get worse, not better.  Quelle surprise.  This is really a post for the prospective and new mommas that have no clue what is around the corner, or have just recently shared some of the joys of being a milking machine.

As I said at the start, this is a very personal experience so I can only share what happened to me.  BébéFF is extremely gourmand and as a result had located my nipple and started suckling before I even had chance to get my eyes back in focus after the minor trauma of getting him out.  Pretty sure I was shouting ” Help! I  can’t actually see anything! Have I had a baby?!” whilst he got down to business.  I was lucky that he was a hungry baby.

I was also lucky to have a wonderful midwife who took the time to show me the ropes.  I explained to her that I probably wouldn’t be able to breastfeed given my boobs are so small.  She clarified to me that apparently “that is not a thing“.  Accompanied by a withering look. Fair.  In fact, small boobies really come into their own for this job.  You have just got to get set up.

Side note: There is nothing more bizarre than having a random lady grab your new baby and your boob and try to connect the two, but I have to tell you, it worked.  A few attempts at bouncing my boob against his unsuspecting mouth and he was latched.  If you can get a midwife to give you some tuition, do it.  The sooner you can get bébé on that boobie the better.

I was also very lucky to get home to a quiet, calm house quickly, and be waited on hand and foot.  I fully appreciate this is not always possible, and certainly not when you are on bébé number 2+.  Quick tip from our NCT classes: have a sports-capped bottle of water in every room.  Once you sit down to feed, you are not gonna be able to move, and you will only have one hand free, at best.  You will never know such thirst.  It’s like bébé is drinking directement from you.

The next thing to note is that in the first days postpartum you will be repeatedly asked if “your milk has come in“.  No, you’re not being asked if Monty the Milkman has been to visit (heaven knows you need the milk, but do milkmen even still exist?!).  In fact, after a few days (3-5 usually) of violent suckling of the magical creamy colostrum you have produced, actual milk will start to fill your boobs. You will know when it happens. Believe me. I’ve mentioned “the Pamela” effect before.  My babylons got so big I genuinely couldn’t put my arms down by my sides.  It was funny for 5 minutes.  Then I needed my arms back.

Unfortunately, I had to decline offers to be in the new Baywatch movie due to the rest of my body being used in Scream 9.

Another thing to note is that just because you are producing milk, you don’t actually need to drink milk.  Can you believe that? Yes, a health visitor genuinely took her time to explain that one to me. Brilliant.  Good job I’m here to tell you all this, eh?!

What you do need to do is drink plenty of liquids and you will likely find you are super hungry.  This is where the cake comes in particularly useful.  I was told to eat plenty. So I did. Don’t have to tell me twice! But seriously, it probably helps you to make the good milky stuff.  500 calories extra is just a rough indicator.  I aimed for about 2 million extra and pretty much nailed it.

Be sure to get yourself measured once you are established, as the boobies are in their element and will require a new range of boulder-holders.  When the assistant announced my new measurements, I had to hold myself back from asking them to announce it over the tannoy.  I almost got a T-shirt made.  They eventually neutralise but I was astonished by the sheer volume of material in some of my bras.  Epic.

I’m sorry to say that you will likely be bitterly disappointed with the range of nursing clothing that is available.  In part this is because you actually don’t need special clothes with hidden pockets and access areas.  You just need bigger tops and ideally button-up or zip-up top layers, with a vest top underneath.  I know, it’s annoying to hear, I’m not usually one to shy away from any opportunity to buy clothes you “need”, but like the maternity ranges available around here, you will mostly spend your time (and money) being disappointed by the poor quality “specially-designed” products, and resort to areas of your existing wardrobe you forgot you had.  So buy a load of vest tops and some comfy tees in a couple of sizes up from your normal size.  Gap, H&M and Toppers are always reliable.

(By the way, one of the most ridiculous things about maternity shopping is that most of the maternity ranges aren’t available to try in store.  The one time you really blumming need to try the clothes on and you can’t.  Seriously. What is that about?)

Some things you need to become familiar with if you are planning to breastfeed:

  • nursing bras – think soft, non-wired, clippy and probably the ugliest bras you will ever own.  I can recommend John Lewis for comfortable bras (satin crop tops are amaze) but if you have babylons the size of watermelons you probably need to just invest in two hammocks.
  • breast pads – equally exciting as other types of female pads.  You need these to prevent your boobs leaking.  Yes, your boobs may leak.  Like a tap. You can get the Lanisoh ones, but if you go through hundreds of these as you may well do at the start, look out for Boots mega boxes and similar supermarket versions. They are all have different levels of packaging, softness and stickyness on the back.
  • nipple creamLanisoh Lanolin. Buy two tubes of it immediately. Apply it every time bébé goes anywhere near your nipples.
  • breast pump – a contraption used to extract milk from ze boobies when you want to increase your supply / build up a freezer stock / escape for a mad night on the town (more likely to a yoga class or for a bit more sleep, but we can dream).  These come in “manual” or “electric”.  Both will make you feel a bit like a farmyard animal. Manuals are smaller, lighter, portable and cheaper.  Electrics are more efficient, more pricey but don’t require an impromptu forearm workout.  If you are planning to pump more than very occasionally, I recommend the electric variety.  You get used to the terrible repetitive buzzing noise fairly quickly.
  • bottles and pouches and freezing milk solutions.  I only discovered this later on, thanks to my lovely NCT friend, but the Tommee Tippee Express and Go pouches are excellent. Highly recommend.

 

Now I said the consequences of breastfeeding can be hilarious.  Well, I never thought I would be saying this, but I want this blog to be frank.  So when your boobs squirt milk all over your bébé, couch, and often an unsuspecting family member (or worse) you have got to laugh.  This really does happen.  I’ve lost count of the number of times BébéFF started squirming around under my various protective layers, and as I pulled him out I could see why.  Milk everywhere.  When bébé pulls off your boob, your boob won’t just stop what it’s doing.  Be warned. Always have a muslin to hand for those awkward moments.  It’s funny and a bit embarrassing.

I haven’t really mentioned breastfeeding in public, that’s another of those mummy milestones and slightly controversial topics I don’t feel ready to face today.  Suffice to say, my own view is you get on and feed your bébé wherever the heck you need to.  If you are in a place you are legally entitled to be (i.e. a public place) then you are legally entitled to feed  your bébé there too.  Pretty sure that is the law.

I shall finish with this thought of the day.

When crumbs fall down your top (which happens often) technically they have been boobie trapped.

You are welcome. ❤

 

Baby steps

Having a bébé is a big deal and it is not all cute babygrows, nursery rhymes and cake (although it is a lot of that).  I had not fully appreciated how this journey would change me; not just physically but emotionally.  I don’t think you can anticipate the change.  It is utterly mind-boggling.

This post is entitled “baby steps” but I’m not talking about actual “baby” baby steps, with mini Nikes (although those are awesome #wishlist). I’m talking about the transition from being a pregnant lady to a new mum, and a new mum to … well, a normal functioning mum.  The former isn’t a step, it’s more like a giant screaming projection into a parallel universe. The latter, well, it feels like you are taking a lot of tiny baby steps towards something, but you’re never entirely sure what.

A baby step could be doing a load of washing, washing your hair, it could be sending out your thank you cards, going for un petit jog, baking a gateaux, taking bébé out in the car, changing bébé in a restaurant changing room, drinking a hot drink that is actually hot, eating your lunch at lunchtime as opposed to 4pm, fitting into your pre-preggo jeans (ok that’s a big step – well freaking done!!)… All of these things seem like little nothings to anyone that hasn’t just had a baby.  But I can assure you, each one feels like a massive achievement to a new momma.

I remember emerging from a baby changing room for the first time, victorious after about 30 minutes of precarious balancing of wobbly-headed bébé on my hip, inevitable complete outfit change due to up-the-back-poonami and carefully ensuring all precious baby change items were returned to correct place in mary poppins-esque changing bag without dropping bébé or bag.  I genuinely expected a round of applause.  I felt like shouting out to the people sitting unsuspectingly at their tables that I have just changed my bébé for the first time in a strange space that wasn’t my home and he seems to have survived the experience!  I was so proud of myself.  Later I realised I had poo smeared down my top but you can’t win them all.

Taking a shower is another classic achievement.  In our NCT classes the lovely Caroline, our NCT guru, was asking us what we planned to do with our bébés when it came to shower time.  “Erm, put them in a chair and take a shower?” was my smartarse response.  I remember guffawing at the idea I wouldn’t be able to take a shower. Pah! Well.  Guffaw I did not when I realised Caroline was right. I was on my own for the first time with bébéFF and I was in dire need of a shower.  So I look at bébéFF and he looks back at me.  Silent. Not smiling at that age.  Just staring back up at me. Ok, I can do this. How hard can it be?  I will just put him in his little bouncy chair and he will be fine! Off I go to get the bouncy chair up the stairs (smash a few things en route) and carefully position it somewhere in the proximity of the shower which is basically outside the door.  In goes bébéFF.  He looks at me.  I look back.  Pause. Then he starts to scream. Not just a little cry but the full-lunged job. Right. Ok.  At this stage you are still trying to understand what the scream means – food? poo? gas? sleepy? need a cuddle? 30 minutes later I have addressed most of the aforementioned and he is ready, again, silent, in the chair.  I take a delicate step towards the shower, and I slowly start to extract myself from my milk and spit-sodden PJs. By the way it’s about 2pm.  Shameful. I’ve got a leg in the shower when the screaming starts again.  Seriously.  Then the doorbell rings. Amazon Prime. And so it goes on.  Eventually you progress to getting in the shower quite quickly, having your 5 minutes of calm, and then when you go to switch off the tap you hear the dreaded howling that was drowned out by the water.  You are a terrible person.  So, when you finally manage to have a shower AND wash your hair AND there is no crying at all for the duration – you are winning.

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New baby life really is like learning to walk all over again.  As the months go by, the steps increase in frequency and strength, and you become more confident.  But the terrain keeps changing and you need different shoes.  Usually it changes right about when you’ve got the hang of the current challenges.  I mean what is this weaning business? Bébé can’t possibly drink from a cup?! That’s soooo grown up!! He can sit in a high chair?! WTF! Next thing we know he’ll be crawling. Yikes. Then how will I do … Anything?? Can you actually put them in a cage? Mind. Boggled.

The message in this post is simply this: baby mommas are amazing creatures.  Don’t let the tiredness and exhaustion make you forget this.  Every step you take no matter how minuscule, is a step in the right direction and you are winning.  Felicitations! We need to be proud of each and every step.  Take your moment in the baby change to be proud of yourself.  Enjoy that 2 minute shower when you get in there.

You have probably seen the baby milestone cards, you know the ones: woohoo mon bébé smiled today! or yoohoo mon bébé rolled today (into the sofa leg… Awks). Well the mummy milestones are just as important. Maybe even more important. Happy mummy equals happy bébé.  I will say this a lot.

There are some great new baby momma achievements to be marked. But the milestones keep coming. Some are more critical than others. Leaving bébé with someone else for the first time, that’s a big one. Finishing a glass of wine, perhaps less of an achievement (to some), but still up there.

Luckily some clever mummapreneurs have come up with cards to help you celebrate your milestones. Mummy Milestones are available on Etsy and you can follow on Instagram @mummymilestones.

 

Hey, here’s a blogging baby step for me: – let’s attempt to get interactive! It would be great to hear about your mummy milestones.  Leave a comment and share – we can revel in your glory mamabears ❤

 

B – intro

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Welcome to my very first post.  Allow me to give you a little context to this blog, before I launch in (mostly this is for my benefit so I can focus my ramblings).

Why now?

I’ve been meaning to start a blog for yonks. I like writing. I love words.

I used to keep a diary, back in the day. It was a great way to vent all the emotions and (mostly soppy) feelings I experienced growing up, without actually having to say anything out loud and bore/shock any one person.

When I grew up I discovered alcohol, which – let’s be honest – facilitates openly venting your woes and conveniently eliminates any feelings of guilt or embarrassment. You just have a rant, ideally to a fellow drinker, and then forget about it. Au revoir diary entries and hello cringey hangovers.

I also found Mr FF. You know, that one special person you will annoy for the rest of your life. The person you know you can trust to listen to (or at least feign interest in) the doom and douleur of daily life. And he’s not alone in my world of special people. I’ve also been blessed with the perfect parentals, and three utterly amazing sisters. Then there’s an array of truly legendary friends dotted around my world and across timezones. All these people lend me their ears and shoulders.  Anytime. So a diary really is redundant. And who has time to write when you could be drinking, travelling and generally cavorting around anyway?? Exactly.

Having a baby has changed everything.

Bit of a shock to the system. No more cavorting. No more drinking (ish). Travelling is a moot point.  Certainly not with ease. Or a hangover. Mr FF and “the Specials” have their own daily doom to deal with.

We have reached the age where most people are in a similar boat. There may be a real correlation between drinking and diaries; somewhere to vent thoughts is once again required. The insane, extreme emotions and angst, trials and tribulations I face as a new parent need to be expelled… without boring any one person and without having eye contact.

So here we go with my blog-diary-thing. Ok it doesn’t have the fluffy pink cover I’m accustomed to… but I can add pictures! I love pictures! And I can embolden and italicise to my heart’s content!

I’m grateful that newfangled technology allows me to write wherever I may be. In this instance, in my Pjs with a snoozing Baby FF next door.

Technology also allows me to share. Without embarrassment, for it shall be you that chooses to read on. On your head be it.

If you’re simply curious, contemplating a family for yourself or you are already a compatriot in the journey of parenthood, I hope this brings a smile. I also hope it doesn’t feel like a waste of your precious reading time. I know, more than ever, having eyes open and brain accepting of information is a rare and beautiful thing as a new parent.

This blog is going to be mostly me chatting about babies, baby stuff and being a parent, but I may also find occasion to talk feminism and careers. I will try to give any useful tips where I can, although as Mr FF just pointed out, I would do well to follow some of my own (mostly cost-saving) advice …

 

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