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.

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.

Birthing: the real deal (I’ve done it twice)

Warning: graphic content!

Last week, in the early hours of Thursday morning, Bebette FF came flying out of me and into the world. Our second baby in as many years. It was an experience I won’t forget (unsurprisingly) but what was surprising was that a mere few hours after the birth, I found myself describing it in a way I never imagined I would: it was empowering. Exhilarating. Bordering on joyous. I can’t quite go so far as to say pure joy as it was bloody painful but it was dangerously close.

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I want to document the birth, and compare with my first. I want to be terribly honest. I hope for anyone preparing for birth this won’t scare you, but it should prepare you for a couple of scenarios out of the many, many permutations that labour can present. Like an episode of OBEM. You can stop reading at any time. If you’re not yet having a baby but contemplating it, I hope this gives you something to look forward to, as it truly is an unbelievable adventure. And if you will not give birth or have a penis and so avoid the whole birthing process then I hope it makes interesting reading nonetheless.

Giving birth is scary. It is gory. It is risky. There is no guarantee you will come out with what you went in with. That’s the terrible truth. Even more scary when you’ve done it once and you know what’s coming.  I remember my sister telling me her second birth experience was “amazing” – I couldn’t understand how she could possibly say that – the result is amazing, sure, but actually going through a labour I couldn’t quite fathom how the intense pain and effect on your body could be described as ‘amazing’  … but now I understand; she was right.

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In summary, I had Bebe FF (#1) at 39+5 after labouring for 2 days. That sounds like a long time but it really wasn’t. The first 24-36h was perfectly manageable, but towards the end quite uncomfortable and there was *some* moaning.  As many people will confess, we went to the hospital too early the first time. It’s all new and a bit daunting and you genuinely can’t tell if you’re barely started or (you hope) if you’re in full blown labour and are just really hardcore. I was the former: I was 2cm dilated, and encouraged to go home to labour some more in peace – this was not welcomed at the time, especially with a 30 minute drive each way, but in hindsight very much appreciated. I had my bouncy ball, my Tens machine, my mum, and The Devil Wears Prada at home and in the end the day went quickly. I even had a bacon sarnie before we headed off for the second entry attempt. By that time I was uncomfortable and the drive was painful. Once I got to the hospital the second time they admitted me (I was 4-5 cm and my waters went when they were checking me so I was safe! This is established labour.) I immediately asked for the epidural. You should know I have no qualms about taking the drugs. All the drugs. Except pethidine. I don’t like the sound of it and I’ve heard stories of floppy babies, so I simply said no to that. I don’t feel the need to prove my tenacity in these circumstances: I’ve made a baby, I’ve carried it around for months, now let’s get it out as quickly and safely as possible. The epidural seemed to be a good call and as I went into active labour and started moooing I felt very self-conscious and needed to be muted. The epidural came relatively soon thereafter, mildly daunting having it put in between contractions but the medical staff obviously know what they are doing – and then followed a strange period of calm. Hours of calm. Just lying back and waiting for someone to tell me I was fully dilated. The epidural didn’t work entirely and one area of my body was less numb, but it was still doing the job. Once you have it you can’t move around so I was literally a beached whale. Or fluffball fat cat.

Waiting for the epidural like

I couldn’t sleep so I just sat and waited whilst various midwives came in and out, writing notes and checking we were ok. Monsieur FF took the opportunity to snooze and was happily snoring away in the chair next to me, along with the Mothership, who came along for the ride and was dutifully working her way through the snack supplies because the waiting was long (compared to when she was the one in action (X4) I can quite imagine!). Finally after what felt like many hours someone confirmed I was fully dilated, but that we had to wait another hour or so for the epidural to wear off. I should note that whilst all this was happening my good friend was over in another nearby hospital in the process of giving birth to her first daughter. Not that we were racing or anything…  but this delay was not ideal. In fact during the wait and push phase she pipped us to the post. Anyway we waited and waited some more and eventually I was told it was time to push. HURRAH! I started to compute I was about to have a baby. Alas, I hadn’t envisaged what the “push phase” would be like and 1hr of hard pushing later things were getting frustrating. I couldn’t feel a thing, despite waiting the extra time for the epidural to wear off. As such I was being told when my contractions were (on the screen) but could not work with them as I had no clue when they were actually coming. Also I genuinely didn’t understand how to push. Sounds stupid, but the more the midwives talked me through, considering I had no sensation (and seemingly no brain), the more confused I became: so am I doing a poo here or is it something else? Why am I pushing my (triple) chin to my neck? What does “push” actually mean? Where am I?! They told me to breathe down and then in and then take a quick breath out and do some other funky thing, and you know when you actually think about breathing it suddenly seems very complicated? well I pretty much started hyperventilating…

More medical staff were coming into the room and, thankfully, Bebe FF was remaining remarkably calm considering where he was trapped. They started talking about other options (scary) as I ramped up the pushing efforts. Everyone was observing me and kindly commenting: “she really is pushing hard look at her face” … but seemingly to no avail. Eventually I got the “push” right and then the midwife uttered the words you never want to hear … but equally do… “the baby is not going to come out, it’s too tight“. Cheers! But wait…. that’s when the knife comes out and the midwife asks me “are you happy for me to cut you?”. Erm no not really. Strangely I would rather you didn’t cut my vagina. Do I have any other options? The truth is as that point you don’t really, you are going to get sliced somewhere or other. With the medical staff staring at me I say “Ok”. Close eyes, push for my life, Bebe FF emerges, slightly shocked and with a major cone head. Try to open eyes, I have pushed so hard my eyes feel like they’ve popped out of the sockets. “I can’t see!” I squeal and then see a blurry, bloody little human with a curl of blonde hair being handed up to me. Unbelievable emotion. Shock. Legs akimbo, everyone sighing with relief, little yelps from the new Bebe. A wave of relief washes over me. Monsieur FF and the Mothership are taking pictures, preparing nappies and clothes and we are all cooing over the little miracle that just made it out of my belly.

Then the horrible part. The stitches. Actually my experience of this was truly horrible so much so I can barely bring myself to write about it. Suffice it to say the slice wasn’t the only injury suffered and the woman that was given the delightful task of repairing me was not in a great mood, and was not being particularly gentle. You’re probably clenching your teeth right now – rightly so. The epidural, which up until now had proved overly-powerful, suddenly wore off and I was acutely aware of what was happening to my nether region. Even the local anastethic jab was not pleasant. In the following weeks recovering from those stitches was the hardest part of my post partum recovery / new motherhood experience by far. I found the instruction to keep them dry just ridiculous. How can you possibly do that? I was not sufficiently gentle with myself and didn’t take it easy enough, and I absolutely should have. Your body goes through so much, you need to force yourself to take it easy those first days (ideally 10-15 days). Do not throw yourself down into chairs with stitches. Do not run up and down the stairs. Do not march around with tight trousers. Try not to cough. Be gentle. They need time to heal. Take comfort that the fact it does heal. But go easy…

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Numéro 2

So that was #1. Longer than I thought but might as well get into the details. #2 was remarkably different. First, she was overdue. Having spent all of week 39 waiting for any sign, teeing up support in case of emergency, largely led by the mothership, and preparing to hospital dash at any moment, no signs came. Having being told repeatedly second babies come sooner and quicker, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Bump was feeling bigger and bigger and my fear of The Stitches Part 2 was getting greater with every growing day in my belly. As you may have noticed I got a bit restless. But I tried to remind myself to enjoy the calm, enjoy my bebe #1 and enjoy sleep. And that was sensible. I was worried about leaving Bebe FF and when the mothership had to go home for a short period between week 39 and 40 I was slightly on edge. Unnecessarily it turned out as the little bebette had not made an appearance.

Finally, at 40+5 I went in to the hospital hoping to be induced (which was possible because of my blood condition (can’t remember if I mentioned already but I have a blood issue that makes me high risk and requires me to jab myself every day during pregnancy and for weeks after)). Our midwife was lovely and she explained the process – you start with a pessary, if it’s not working you have another after 24 hours and then if necessary you move on to the drip. If you’re already dilated they can break your waters. I was having mild contractions but wasn’t sufficiently dilated for a water break start, so I started with the pessary, sincerely hoping that was all the help I would need. We were told the next check would be 24 hours later, cue our jaws dropping, – We do not have enough food supplies!! –  and Monsieur FF checking his watch as this was not part of the plan. I suspect he thought we could turnaround in an hour and save on car parking … luckily after about 3 hours of patient waiting, eating and wandering the hospital halls, including some crab walking action on the stairs (think it works!) the real contractions began. We were in a rather grim labour ward, complete with a couple that considered it acceptable to fart and burp ad infinitum and make comments such as “if a baby is born with teeth will they be removed?” And “you should get them to break your waters as that lubricates the way for the baby”… Headphones on I started to have regular contractions quickly and thanks to the Tens machine, candy kittens and some awesome Spotify work, powered through happily until late evening. By that time all our roommates had gone and we had a very peaceful space to hang out. It was actually quite pleasant. We knew Bebe FF was safe and tucked up with the Mothership. Monsieur FF even took a little snooze (common theme) and this time we both enjoyed all the snacks. Eventually I called the midwife and asked to find out where I was, as I was starting to get uncomfortable. When she checked she said I was 2-4 cm dilated which was rather confusing. One much closer to the epidural than the other. Ok, I’ll keep going but I need some paracetamol. And the epidural soon please. Paracetamol arrived and took the edge off.

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Fast forward 2 hours later, more music, reading and a lot of leaning against the wall and rotating hips on the birthing ball and it’s really starting to hurt. I’m moaning a bit and starting to feel grumpy and nervous, as I still don’t have any real  pain relief. The midwife then appears to monitor the bebette and whilst the monitor is on my waters break. Monsieur FF and I both heard a loud “pop” and then I felt a little stream of warmth. The midwife came back and we both exclaimed my waters had gone. Hurrah! Labour ward here we come! She looked at me like she didn’t believe me and asked me to show her. Maybe it was because she was covering her colleague who was on a break, and wanted some peace, but she was not amused. I was trying to prove that water had just leaked out of my body… Suddenly I feel more leaking and the pressure in my pelvis ramps up. Bebettes head is now pushing on my cervix and everything is going very quickly. “I want the epidural please” I remind the midwife, in between whimpers. “You just need to get to the labour ward first”. A small journey down a corridor but in practice it felt like a marathon distance. I had to stop twice to moan against a wall and when I eventually climbed onto the bed in my new room, back to my more friendly and believing midwife, I almost cried. “IT HURTS!” “Please can I have the EPIDURAL!!”. My midwife starts to prepare the various bits for the epidural and then, hearing my yelps, decides to check my status just in case… “Ok, I’m really sorry Rebecca, but you can’t have the epidural”. “WHAT THA F….” I start to scream and then the brain kicks in (rare at this time) and I realise that means I must be nearly there. “You’re 10 cm and ready to push. Try this gas and air” she says, grinning. Somehow I KNEW I wouldn’t get the epidural despite asking a zillion times. I’m glad I didnt. As I started to reply that the gas and air made me feel sick last time, a massive wave crashed over me and I snatched the mouthpiece and took the deepest breath ever in the history of life. I felt drunk. “Oh M G this is actually amazing! Everyone was right!” Turns out I probably didn’t breathe it right last time. Another brain fail. You have to go whole heartedly into that gas and air.

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Then followed an almost out of body experience; around 8 contractions, each with about four waves of energy. I could feel bebette moving down the birth canal and with each contraction I could help her get further. By this time I wasn’t moaning I was absolutely Pavarotti- style bringing the house down. When she got to the exit, I screamed the loudest I will likely scream in my life. “I’m so sorry!” I whimpered as the contraction passed. It’s embarrassing to think about how much noise I was making but I needed to do it, animal instincts were taking over. “Don’t worry, her head is out!”. For Monsieur FF this was the most captivating part; our daughter had her head outside of me, but was just patiently waiting for the rest to be ejected. The image has stuck with him and each time I wear the bebette in the sling, with just her head showing he tells me it reminds him of the birth. Poor guy. Anyway the next contraction the little crevette was born and the pain immediately subsided. She was passed up to me, this little pink thing with a dark mop of hair and Monsieur FF and I looked at her, and each other and smiled. And then started searching for the source of the dark hair. He checked his watch again – it seems we didn’t keep him waiting too long in the end. You can see from our faces we were equally shocked and delighted.

So for the final hurdle, What’s the damage? I had to have stitches, but this time the midwife was very gentle and the damage was minimal. A mere 3 hours later I was showered and on the maternity ward and Monsieur FF was again checking the time – how long until we can go home? We wanted to get home and relieve the Mothership, share these momentous moments, and congratulate Bebe FF on becoming a big brother.

So. There we go. The full monty. (Great Sheffield film btw.) good luck on your journeys 💓

 

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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Bumping and Groaning

OOF. I want to start by noting that time is absolutely flying, so much so I will have to interrupt my third instalment on Texas travels to blogulate about being preggo. Sorry about that. Mais why? Because I’m seven months in to this surprise pregnancy already. SEVEN MONTHS. Once Bebe FF2 arrives I suspect, for a short while at least, I will struggle to find the brain power required to even find my blog, let alone write it. So I need to get a pregnancy blog in pronto. Especially since this blog didn’t exist last time I was up the duff, so there’s a fairly important part of the mamahood journey missing from our story. HOWEVER – important note – seven months in I may be, but as you probably well know, that means I’ve got a good 2-3 months to go. Even writing it makes me want to cry a little bit. That’s right people, pregnancy isn’t just 9 months! It’s more like Harry Potter style 9 3/4. And what’s the big deal with those last months? Well it’s hot. We live in a country that is not accustomed to very much heat and that’s problematic when you’re lugging around a hot water bottle in your belly. I’m melting and sweaty and bloated *already* and it’s only going to get worse. I don’t remember it being this crazy last time – but that’s probably because Bebe FF was born at the end of winter, and the only complicated thing about that was finding a jacket and warm shoes that could circumnavigate the belleh and cankles. I could hide under layers and enjoy hot chocolates and mince pies galore. This time I need to find things that are floaty and light, but keep me decent and cover up the numerous areas of my body that are trying to compete with our forever friend Free Willy.  That essentially means the clothes can double up as a (king) bed sheet or a mammouth tent for Bebe FF to play with. (Side note: I should start calling him Boddler FF now.)

Trying to explain to Boddler FF that there’s another Bebe coming to join him is quite a challenge at 17 months. When I ask “where’s the Bebe?” he gleefully points to himself. Specifically his belly (I guess it does sound like “Bebe”) which btw isn’t totally disproportionate to mine considering his tiny stature. Eek. Non little guy – you’re going to be a BIG BROTHER! He grins again. Super. Don’t know what that is but it sounds like it will be delicious.

How can we prepare for a new Bebe with a Boddler requiring all our attention and full time jobs “in-between”?! I think it’s fair to say you can never prepare for a bebe. First or fourth it’s going to be a shock to the system and a momentous life changer. We are trying not to get too lost in the specifics and just take one step at a time. At least we have a vague idea of what lies ahead…

One advantage of the timing here is we have a lot of  the critical equipment  required that’s still in good working order and has not accumulated too much dust. Bottle sterilisers, baby sleep devices, slings… I almost have no excuse to shop… *almost, Monsieur FF, but not quite*.  There is the rather mad question of double buggys. Those things do not fill me with joy. The idea of lugging one around and trying to get in a shop door and not quite being able to make it through is quite traumatic. Imagine if it was a cake shop??! That would be like a form of torture. Sorry no cake for you lady, if you can’t get in you can’t get served. Panic face. So no, I have not got a double buggy and I intend to try and avoid having one at all cost. If I did get one it would be the baby jogger city stroller. But what I’m going to try to do is wear the new Bebe and push the Boddler. And the Boddler will have a little buggy board so in alternative circumstances Bebe will be in the Babyzen Yoyo+ 0+ (can’t wait to test it with a new Bebe) and Boddler will be boarding along. Obviously I will update on how that works out.

As to the pregnancy, for someone that loved every moment first time round, this pregnancy has certainly been a different adventure so far. It’s an absolute miracle, but it’s strange when you have someone you want to devote all your energy to, and yet you are being zapped from the inside in order to build another human being. It’s bloody brilliant that I can do this. I still feel rather superhuman.  But I was not prepared for this on any level. So despite being 7 months in I confess I’m still in shock. I also didn’t have time to kiss goodbye to wine, carpaccio and goat’s cheese so that’s been a bit harder this time round. Right now Bebe is growing into the rather alarming winter squash size, and is almost at the point where a good jab in the ribs and bladder are possible simultaneously. My actual size is probably at least a month bigger than I was with Boddler FF. I am generally more swollen and don’t know if that’s the summer, the type of Bebe or the fact it’s number 2. In all cases I’m not at my most beauteous… The nausea has been more constant and the cravings less severe which is actually a bit less fun – who doesn’t want to do a KFC dash for chicken and gravy on a Sunday afternoon?! This new Bebe apparently.  But I tell you what’s really annoying and got me last time as well: maternity clothes. That’s right, the tents with the tapered side to “flatter your bump”.  Just to be clear, ‘bump flattering’ clothing doesn’t magically transform you into Kristen Cavallari. It makes you look a tiny bit more like a half human half whale than just going for two dress sizes bigger and looking potentially pure whale.

There are some people in this world that are pregnancy unicorns. I’m talking in particular about the media savvy, possibly photoshopped beauties that grace the pages of women’s mags, that women with high hormonal levels naturally turn to for comfort “reading” (why do we torture ourselves?!). True unicorns. They don’t swell or bloat or get extra cellulite. In fact, because they are pregnant they are even more radiant than ever and no doubt have a special healthcare regime, including having a minion work moisturising bear cub milk into their eyelashes, slowly massage placenta-boosting, ultra nourishing essential oil-infused baby dinosaur sponges around their lower backs whilst they are fed omega 3 rich nutrition cookies. These are the ladies that work out happily throughout their pregnancy, and naturally have the full extra-stretchy new gym kit to accommodate their tiny, neat baby bumps, as well as the requisite energy levels. These ladies lose weight and gain muscle during pregnancy. At least that’s what we are led to believe. Not to mention they spend their spare, non-workout time walking around the luxury babe shops in vertiginous heels which for most people on a good, non-pregnant day would require at least serious blister protection. But not for these ladies – they are practically dancing whilst toting the latest must-have bag no doubt filled with healthy almond-based energy balls.  Here are a few examples:

Urgh. Beautiful. Now let’s talk about reality.  At least the experience for most of the normal human population, myself included. My thighs don’t normally rub … well, they didn’t. Pregnancy gives me a special extra layer of thickness all around my thighs. “Pregnancy” or perhaps the food I’m eating or exercise I’m not doing…. it’s all same same. Why? Does the baby swim down there occasionally for a change of scenery? Er NO. Is it providing extra warmth? Yes. In summer. Just what I need. And what about my arms? Previously manageable bingo wings are now like giant eagle wings, they could knock a person out if they get too close. Am I storing milk in them? Not that I’m aware of. And a new one for me for the summer: double cankles. That’s right. I can’t blame pregnancy for my cankles which I proudly inherit from a line of strong (therefore thick-ankled ladies), but I had not appreciated they could expand further and start to engulf my feet. Heat plus pregnancy = canklesquared. So those shoes that the ladies above are trotting around in would literally not go over one of my toes right now. Not to mention the fact the heel would immediately splinter into a thousand pieces. Boom.

Maternity clothes for the normal pregnant lady that are big, floaty, eagle-wing, cankle-covering…. where does one find these delights? Can someone please tell me why maternity clothes are not available to  try in stores? Is it because they take up too much space in the store? Is it because they are so horrific and eye-offending that it’s best to make them available only online? Is it because stores are embarrassed about the lack of effort they’ve put into their maternity range? Or perhaps it’s because it’s not the most lucrative product in store – after all it requires double the amount of material and triple stitching to prevent popping. Perhaps that’s why they use the worst, most garish fabrics in the history of the world? I did a brief stint as a fashion lawyer but surprisingly I don’t recall particular legal battles around this highly important issue. That said it was for one of the few stores that actually bothers to stock clothes in store so big kudos to Topshop.

The one time I really need to try stuff on because I have no clue what maternity size I am, I can’t. Maternity size may mean the same size as pre-pregnancy but just with the elastic magic, ot you could suddenly find yourself going up 1-3 dress sizes. Luckily I’ve never had an issue with the number inside my clothes, provided it fits right and is comfortable I don’t care if it says 8 or 18. However in pregnancy attire, at a time of particular self-consciousness, going for maternity XL does make me rather nervous… have I really gone too far this time with the peanut butter on butter on toast? Am I growing a giant… logical next thought is how the heck do I get it out?!

This time round I’ve learnt to spend a bit more on a few nice pieces and accept the fact I will wear them repeatedly. Last time I made some bad choices late into my pregnancy, panic buying items that were nasty material, colours (poo brown anyone?) or that bobbled straight away. Last time I lived in H+M jeans, another store that, at least in London, bothers to stock in store. Thank you H+M. I also had a lot of GAP shirts and tees and Seraphine work items. The GAP stuff in particular was very comfortable and durable. Useful as this is the most effort I’ve ever put my clothes through!  This time I’ve tried out the pricey but high quality Isabella Oliver and got some more Seraphine dresses, as well as one of my favourites Mamalicious available on Asos. I have to say I don’t really recommend the Asos branded stuff itself as it seems pretty low quality, not up to the job, although I don’t love Asos generally so that could just be me. Asos is however very easy and it does provide helpful essentials like bump bands, tights and tees. It’s also the one stop shop for plenty of other brands e.g. New Look which also has some good basics – I’ve often been recommended their jeans.

If anyone is reading this in the fashion biz, please take note. We may only be pregnant for a short period of time in the grand scheme of life, but anything you can do to make this crazy time more comfortable and less eye-offending would be amazing. Merci!

Ps Happy Bastille x