Breastfeeding: the sequel

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Love this by Amen Photography

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

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

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Pure happiness right there

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

The Bebette journey is not the same

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the B shirt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bronchi Bébés and the bladdy amazing NHS

The last few weeks have been a far cry from our usual pre-Christmas shenanigans. Both Boddler and Bebette were taken ill, and not just poorly with a Christmas cold, they both had collapsed lungs, also known as chest infections, also knows as pneumonia, bronchitis, also known as hospitalisation and – in Bebette’s case – intensive care. It was horrific.

This post is about that experience and – given the nature of the events – probably won’t be as light-hearted as usual. It wasn’t really a funny situation. Actually it was certainement the most terrible thing I have ever experienced. As I write this I will cry as I try to process what happened, which I’ve been politely blocking.

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Northwards we go

The story begins when we optimistically / naively thought we could take our babes on a “quick trip” up North to visit family and friends and do a bit of Yuletide celebrating. I had been fretting about the long car journey (usually 4-5 hours) with Bebette who, up until then, in all her 7 weeks had not managed a car journey *ever* without screaming her head off. I mean the simple sight of the car seat sent her into meltdown. I spent the day packing and prepping a routine to attempt to get her to the North, without our ear drums giving up their day jobs.  Btw the key element of the plan is a bath, which she hates, but exhausts her sufficiently to fall into a deep sleep.

By some miracle my travel baby plan went… to plan, and Bebette slept the whole journey. As did Boddler. Peace. For 3.5 hours (quickest drive ever – thanks Papa FF). We could not believe it. Little did we know that karma was waiting just round the corner. The next days we had some joyous celebrations and visits, until Boddler went to bed and developed a mad temperature. Actual temperature unknown due to my inability to pack a thermometer. We got ourselves so worried, Papa FF went off to borrow Auntie Em’s thermometer at 3am, which obviously confirmed what our hands were telling us – he had a raging temperature and was looking sick as a dog. We cuddled everyone together until daylight and then the next day – a Sunday – we dashed to purchase another thermometer (there were no Braun in the ear ones left, so we got a head scanner – we do not recommend the scanners – Braun in the ear is the way forward). Of course it was Sunday so the doctors was shut, meaning I spent the day frantically scanning Boddler’s head, assessing his behaviour, and consulting friends and family to try to determine what level of panic I should be reaching.  Boddler was coughing a bit, seemed to be wheezy, and breathing quite rapidly, had a gunky eye, was teary and clingy.  And hot. The best advice I got was to “look at the child not the number” i.e. stop freaking out about the temperature and look at how your child is coping with the illness. There wasn’t much I could do about the situation other than wait to see if anything got markedly worse – however every dose of calpol seemed to have a magic effect and Boddler went from lethargic to pelting around the house.  Just to add to the stress, Papa FF had to voyage over to France to say goodbye to his Bonne-Maman.  We had agreed to stay behind in the interests of a peaceful sendoff, but that meant I was left with the two babes and a worried Papa trying to assist from afar.

Out of hours 

Boddler was gradually getting worse and was clearly pretty poorly. A call to 111 confirmed he was indeed unwell, based on all their questions, and ideally should be checked out in person by a medical professional, asap. However I also had 7 week old Bebette, who was very fussy and frankly couldn’t really be left on her own for more than 5 minutes without having a meltdown. I was with my parents, one of whom needed to be in work the next day and the other who has recently had a double knee replacement.  Quandary –  Do I (a) go to the hospital in the middle of the night on a rainy Sunday, with a sick and tired Boddler, tiny un-immunised Bebette, and a tired Grandad, or (b) not sleep a wink, worry all night, fear for the worst until the morning and hope to visit a local doctor asap? Just as I thought I had made my decision, Boddler started to vomit immediately after being given a dose of calpol, and I could not for the life of me understand from the instructions whether I could safely give him another dose or not. I knew then that we had to make the middle of the night doctor trip, even though an appointment at 11pm on the other side of Sheffield was far from ideal. Off we journeyed with Grandad F as my man of the hour, and Boddler did another big vomit upon exiting the car, just to confirm we were doing the right thing.

The initial diagnosis at 11pm was a chest infection, high temperature and some difficulty breathing aka a trip to the Children’s hospital for at least a few days oxygen and antibiotic support. Urgh. Poor Boddler. And poor us as we were not prepared for this. Despite walking around like a bag woman I had not actually packed any useful survival items, particularly not for myself. If you need a glossy scented lip balm or foot massage oil,  I have 5, but clean undies, deodorant and water, negative. By now it was 1am and we were waiting at the Children’s hospital to be seen again. In amongst the drunk teenagers, and sick little people, the triage nurse kindly asked if I had realised that Boddler had a “very high” temperature (oh really? we were actually just passing and thought we would nip in for shits and giggles!) – after a little bit of drama during which Boddler decided calpol was poison, he eventually took it and kept it down, and so perked up no end.  He discovered a whole host of joyous toys to play with (*hospital toys are possibly not the most prudent option if you want to avoid more germs*) – and by the time he was seen by the young doctor on duty, around 2.30am, he was almost back to his normal self. Diagnosis now amended to viral infection with calpolic treatment and basically go home.  I have to say at that point Grandad (who had rocked Bebette into a peaceful sleep on repeat for the past 3 hours with his guns of steel) and I sighed with relief and headed back to the car and home.

Btw – side note – exiting an empty car park at 3am on a Monday morning, with a screaming Bebette and whimpering Boddler was bizarrely one of the most excruciating experiences I have had of late. I didn’t know what was still to come, but at that moment, both me and Grandad, who wouldn’t say boo to a ghost, were using expletives I wouldn’t begin to repeat here, in our attempts to try to find the exit, which seemingly was somewhere in the sky and at an angle that no one could reasonably be expected to manoeuvre into unless they were driving one of those tiny smart cars for ants.  RIDIKCULOUS. Then the car park ticket didn’t want to go in the machine, nor be read, having been rained on and squished beyond recognition by my derriere, and I genuinely contemplated glugging the bottle of calpol and throwing myself under the stationary car wheels.

Home, Boddler breathing and Duchess

Anyway, *trying to hide rage problems* we then spent all day Monday taking it easy and waiting for Papa’s return. Calpol continued to work / mask the extent of Boddler’s sickness.  A bit of a fresh air the next day and we were off back down South to the quiet safety of our own home. Alas, as we arrived at home, at 11pm, Boddler suddenly started to gasp for breath and vomited again. This time he was really struggling for breath, and we knew we needed urgent help. We calmed him down, helping him to breathe and cleaned him up, whilst we called 111 and they sent an ambulance.  After a slightly fraught discussion about who should do what, and Boddler intervening with cries of “MUMMY” in a full yorkshire accent, I was loaded into the ambulance with a weepy hot Boddler, my purse and phone and not a lot else. We arrived at our local A&E with a terrified little Boddler who had decided that every piece of equipment posed a threat to his life and even the oxygen finger reader was number 1 worst enemy.  He was just in his nappy (massive error on my part, why I thought a blanket was sufficient is beyond me), and we were sitting in the waiting area trying to catch a urine sample (too bizarre for words).  After another dose of calpol, Boddler was back in action at the hospital toy station, and at around 4am had made a new friend called Duchess, who politely informed him that he shouldn’t throw anything inside (“my mum says throwing is for outside only” – so true Duchess, I entirely agree) and was mildly shocked when Boddler started chasing her around the hospital and his nappy fell down. Ploof. It was the highlight of my night.  The doctor was again erring towards sending us home with a virus assessment, but I insisted they wait to review Boddler once the calpol had worn off.  Papa FF arrived with Bebette who needed milk urgently, and we all watched as Boddler deteriorated and suddenly was in the emergency room requiring oxygen and nebulisers. Giving small children nebulisers is like a form of extreme torture and anyone that has had the horror of being present during the process will confirm it is sickening to witness. Of course there is good reason for administering such things but it is deeply unpleasant holding a mask over your child’s face.

Fast forward to us being admitted to a ward and Boddler getting a hearty dose of antibiotics, more oxygen reading and beeping, and dodging his oxygen mask at any opportunity.  Time for another quandary: Boddler was not well and had defaulted to screams of “MUMMY” for all communication needs. There was no way I could leave him.  Papa did his best but Boddler was having none of it, it was Mummy or meltdown.  Bebette, who by this time was doing little barking coughs of her own, really did not need to be in the hospital full of germs for extended periods of time.  And our fellow ward friends did not need to have a new baby screaming in the middle of the night. Very reluctantly I sent off my tiny 7 week old baby with Papa, with instructions on locating the frozen milk stocks.  I pulled up my bed next to Boddler, along with a mega breast pump, a hearty supply of snacks and water and tears running down my cheeks.  You cannot be in two places at once.

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Activity walls of joy in the hospital

The next morning, Boddler was absolutely on the mend, playing and exploring, but my Bebette was looking decidedly worse for wear.  Papa had brought her in against our original plan, knowing she wasn’t quite right, but not wanting to alarm me before he got to us.  After I took her in my arms and noticed how quiet she was, and one of the nurses confirmed “that bebe doesn’t look well” I panicked and rushed her downstairs to A&E, where we spent the day being observed. Another long day in bright white lights, listening to the hustle and bustle and drama of a busy A&E.  Ultimately the conclusion was yes, she is poorly too, yes she has bronchiolitis, yes she has a temperature, but there’s not a lot that can be done so go home and rest. Boddler was simultaneously released, so we breathed a huge sigh of relief and headed home, to shower and bed.  We are done! What a nightmare.

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Bebette ups the ante

Alas, the relief was short-lived. After a trip to the GP with Bebette the day after A&E, and confirmation that her oxygen levels were fine, Bebette and I had a troubled night, with her feeding very little, doing little barky/ choking type coughs, and seeming again out of sorts, spiking temperatures. By Saturday morning she was visibly working hard for her breath and couldn’t feed comfortably.  (I made a video so if anyone is concerned and wants to see what a baby working for breath looks like, especially around the lungs and chest area, just get in touch and I can share it – it was useful to film to compare with the previous day to see that it was getting worse).

We packed our bags (being a bit more organised after the night with Boddler and nappy-gate) and dashed to A&E where Bebette was promptly put on oxygen and then opti-flow oxygen.  She hadn’t had any food for a good 16 hours.  Papa took Boddler back home for nap time and food, thinking all was under control.  Then the seriousness of Bebette’s situation really hit me. In my arms, she got very worked up with someone fiddling with her mask and then, suddenly, the colour drained from her face, she closed her eyes and passed out.  My heart fell through my stomach – I mustered a scream sufficient to get most of the emergency team into the room rapidly. Bebette’s forehead flashed spots of angry red and I looked around to see if anyone could explain what was happening, and to gauge if this was somehow normal… all I saw were terrified faces and at that moment I lost a piece of myself. Someone grabbed Bebette from my arms and started to rub her and pat her back, until her colour started to come back and she opened her eyes. There was a huge, collective sigh of relief and most people disappeared from the room as quickly as they had appeared, except the core team who continued to fuss around her and confirmed she needed to be admitted to the ward asap (we had been waiting for a bed for a long time).

I didn’t know what to do other than texting Papa to tell him to get in the car straight away.  I didn’t write much more because I couldn’t compute what was happening to our little lady or what we could do.

PICU

Fast forward a few hours, and a botched transfer up to the ward (it would have been perfect comical material if it wasn’t my beautiful daughter being jostled around) and Bebette is not improving. There’s a lot of talk about the “worst” part of bronchiolitis being days 3 – 5 of the illness. But of course it’s hard to determine when the illness officially begun.

Bebette is getting more and more frustrated by the masks and wires, she’s hungry, she’s absolutely knackered and almost certainly feeling like absolute rubbish as well. The lights are bright, the noise is loud and disturbing, she’s telling us she has almost had enough, and we are starting to really panic.  We start mobilising friends and relatives to look after Boddler because we need to be with Bebette.  Together, Because it is really serious.

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The paedeatric consultant, the same woman that discharged Alex two days prior, was brilliant and explained to us that there were two potential routes forward; one presupposing this is the worst day of illness, and that Bebette starts to improve, then more oxygen, more monitoring, antibiotics, lumbar punctures to check for bacteria in the brain (she did explain this in more detail to allay the immediate heart attack reaction – but as I’m clearly not a qualified medical professional I am just giving you the layman’s highlights) and hopefully home soon… the other was more terrifying yet, sedation, intubating, travelling to another hospital where they had paedeatric intensive care, … The consultant clarified that by intubating Bebette and allowing her body to rest, and a machine to breathe for her, we were giving her more chance to fight the virus, whatever it was that was causing her lungs to be infected and one of them partially collapsed.

As the time went by, the doctors multiplied, they came and observed the little lady, frowned, muttered, and eventually decided on the second option. Cue more sobbing from this mama, as I saw my tiny baby girl being wheeled up to theatre to be knocked out and intubated. Then the anaesthetist team pitched up and this is where the experience got even more crazy: we were made to feel very safe, very comfortable, to the point that Papa and the team were cracking jokes.  Terrible jokes, but jokes nonetheless. Everything that was happening was clearly explained to us, we were offered a hot drink whilst they were doing their work, we reviewed the X-rays with the consultant, and the next thing we knew we were in an ambulance, it was 2am, Bebette was safely tucked into a little space rocket, and again we were being offered a biscuit and a drink for the journey.  As a tired and hungry breastfeeding mama, I actually needed that biscuit.  It was just so thoughtful.  The chap leading the team and driving made everything seem normal and explained we were going to have the blue lights and sirens on just because “we will just get there a bit faster – don’t worry about it”.  The South Thames Retrieval Service even gave Bebette a little teddy, which she had with her all through the journey and which is now in her bed.  The service and the team were just fantastic.

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Socks were also critical to keep tiny tootsies warm – we were lucky enough to have a newly knitted selection.

So we arrive with our entourage at Denmark Hill PICU and are greeted by another team of legends who tell us to go and sit in the parents room whilst they get Bebette comfortable. Thirty minutes later we are allowed to see her and she is all wrapped up, with her little teddy, and her special fox blanket from Grandma that I managed to grab on the way out of our house, what felt like days ago.  She has wires and tubes and tape all over and I find that I’m sobbing again, feeling crap and useless, my poor tiny little scraggle and I can do nothing to help her. I’m a waste of space. I’ve had a daughter for a grand total of 8 weeks and I haven’t looked after her well enough.  I haven’t told her how much I love her and how much I want to love her.  I don’t know her yet.  Not being able to take my baby in my arms was heartbreaking.  Seeing her tiny body frozen, rhythmically breathing but, to the uninitiated eye, lifeless, …. I can’t even find the words.  We have not had enough time.  My body aches to hold her and feed her and to comfort her.  I can’t look at Papa FF.  I feel broken.

I knew she was as safe as she could be, but she wasn’t with me, and it felt all wrong.  I was simply not prepared for anything like this to happen.

For what was left of that night, Papa and I curled up on tiny sofa chairs and tried to sleep, between tears.  By this time we had mobilised family support and had anxious relatives waiting to hear what was going on, but we couldn’t really provide much by way of update. Those days were the scariest days of my life so far. I just did not know what could happen.  The team in the PICU were unbelievably fantastic, supportive, reassuring, took the time to talk to us and answer Papa’s 4,590 questions (one of them who was partially deaf had a lucky escape and missed half of the French inquisition) and were generally mesmerising to watch in action. There was beeping coming from all angles, tubes everywhere, and a cleanliness regime so strict that I found myself day dreaming about antibacterial soap and wearing a giant glove.  During this time, I desperately wanted Bebette to keep getting my milk and so was frantically pumping at regular intervals. If you’re breastfeeding and in hospital you get meals to keep you going. At first I was non-plussed by this, but by the end of my stay I was positively salivating at the thought of my steamed fish and chips and chocolate custard pudding.  Any stress-related weight loss that occurred in the early phases of the drama were rapidly recovered thanks to the NHS food supplies, and Costa christmas coffees.

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We were sent home to get a proper nights’ sleep, and whilst we attempted some sleep, Bebette took matters into her own hands and extubated herself. What that means is she ejected her breathing tube, without asking the doctors to help her out. Forgive the lack of technical lingo. This would have been extremely stressful for the poor nurse caring for her that night, who had insisted we go home to rest, and who herself was 36 weeks pregnant, but she so kindly waited until morning to give us a courtesy call just to let us know what had happened and to tell us not to worry.  As Bebette was managing fine without the breathing tube, she didn’t need to have it reinserted (good news) but she had skipped the drug weaning process which required her to have small doses of various drugs until she was ok without them, rather than going from a high dose to nada cold turkey (not so good).  She spent a day or so frantically and silently crying (very bizarre, poor lamb had no voice), wide awake, which in hindsight was her withdrawing from the drugs.  I had convinced myself she was just very grumpy after so much drama and so many nappy changes, which btw she continues to absolutely hate. Her poor bottom was red raw from the antibiotics and she was just fed the fred up.

Anyway, the story is nearing its close now with a joyous happy ending, as the strong little fighter massively improved in the following days. Blood tests confirmed she had RSV virus, strains A AND B.  This had developed into a lung infection aka bronchiolitis. She did not have a bacterial infection and therefore no lumbar puncture required.  She was very much on the mend and fighting fit after her 2 days in ICU and night in high dependency.  We were in hospital for a total of 7 days from the second A&E visit, and I barely left her side or the hospital room for that time. I couldn’t do anything except stare into space, chat to the nurses in awe of their life-saving skills, mutter as I hooked myself up to the milking machine, question my value to society, and eventually get excited for the steamy, starchy, soggy surprise that was coming my way at 8am, 12pm and 5pm every day.  I can still hear the beeping machines.

Taking Bebette home and cuddling up with Boddler last Saturday was the most glorious thing that has happened to us.  These last weeks have been about realising how lucky we are to have our children and each other, how brave and strong those children are, how fantastic our health service is in emergency circumstances, how much support we are lucky to have from people around us, and how much we should REALLY appreciate every day we get, as parents, partners, members of a family and members of society.

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Please always be grateful for your little ones, please keep a close eye on them during the bronchi season (details and symptoms can be found here) and please don’t hesitate to seek help and get advice from the experts if you are in any doubt about the health of your bebe.

For anyone reading this that works for the NHS, thank you. There aren’t words that can really do this justice, but you are all amazing and we are so grateful.

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An extra special family snap (photo credit: the awesome Russ Jackson Photography)

bye bye boddler, hello toddler

Jeez what is happening with time? I know everyone says it flies, but this is like an extended wedding day on steroids! You blink and you’ve not only missed it, but there’s a trail of destruction to show you just what you missed.  We are 14 months in and Bebe FF is now a demi-man. That’s right. I can call him boddler to hold on to that baby “B”… but really he’s a toddler. I could even say he’s heading rapidly into terrible twos, based on the face-slapping I received last night…Ok it was couched either side with a bisous baveux (dribble kiss – sounds fractionally nicer in French right?!) but still. It has begun. He has a mind of his own and he’s not afraid to let us know about it.

So now is the time for discipline. According to wise ones (aka grandmas) this has to be done by the age of 2 -otherwise you’re in trouble. Right. How hard can it be to say “no” to a little person?? Presumably he can’t outsmart us? We adults are in charge, obviously! Right? Wrong. Actually it is quite hard to discipline it turns out. And this in my limited experience so far. Heaven knows what lies ahead. Mais why is it so hard?

1. You say “NO” *all the time*. It gets boring. No you can’t touch the charger, no you can’t have my phone, no you can’t throw your food on the floor. No! please don’t stand up in the bath! Stop! Do not eat that dirt etc. I vaguely recall once reading something that said “don’t say “no” too much, find a different way to send the message.” But which way? Absent some kind of telepathic skills I don’t possess, I can’t find any other way to communicate “No”. “Errr not really?” Or “maybe don’t do that” are not quite as effective. And tbh “no” isn’t exactly 100% success rate… Any tips gratefully received!

2. You sometimes kinda want to say “go on then, just do it” … but that would be irresponsible. Go on then, eat the dirt, and the little worm, in some places that would be a delicacy. But you can guarantee that will be the moment he starts to speak… “mummy said I could eat the dirt!” Or that there is a cat turd right there in the dirt and then, well, irresponsible.

3. It’s so hard to keep a serious face. There are so many exciting things to eat and lick, and if you go at the toilet bowl with your tongue hanging out, making a deliriously excited Gaga noise, I obviously don’t want you to lick it but it’s kind of hilarious that you even want to. No, you should not try to eat a tissue but it’s funny that you will have a go (and yet not eat mummy’s homemade yoghurt surprise?!).  Saying “no” without laughing is particularly tough. Grandma F tells me I have to adopt a strict tone. A strong “NO BÉBÉ!”. But what I actually do is “bebeeeeeee…. nnnn…. pleurghhhffhhh ….. Monsieur FF have you seen this little monkey?!!” It doesn’t help that Bebe FF has rapidly developed a very cheeky grin which he usually gives us as a quick warning he’s about to do a naughty – but being kind, he will give us rookie parents a chance to react. He goes for the phone charger, dangles it alluringly infront of his tongue, then turns to us, with that grin. “Hey, guys, just checking you’re watching me? Ok good. Here I go!”

4. You love them more than anything and don’t want to be mean. I knew this would be hard but never anticipated quite how hard. When you love a little person you don’t want to make them cry. You want to give them everything they want. Chargers and phones and dirt galore. You want to be the best parent ever. But we know that to be that parent, the Bebe has got to understand there are rules and appreciate who is in charge, for now at least. But it’s hard. Those eyes …

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Bye bye 2016: the year of the Bébé

Quelle année! In many ways 2016 has been a pretty epic fail; democratic delirium and disturbing deaths to highlight but a couple of reasons this has been THE annus horibilus. However, something very special happened to us this year that made this the best year of my grown-up life: like a shining star of hope and joy, firing out of my nether regions, Bebe FF dramatically entered the world and our lives in February and we haven’t looked back. Mainly because we literally haven’t had time and I can’t locate my glasses 😬

Since becoming a mother I’ve changed in so many ways, mostly good and a few bad (spaniel’s ears anyone?!)… I’ve learnt much about washing machines, controlling milk leakages, swaddling, hair styles for the great unwashed, yog-filled hair, baby eczema solutions, mushing food up, wiping food off the wall, cutting tiny baby fingernails, getting a poo nappy away from a wriggly baby before they put their hand in it, and extracting bogeys from a bebe – which by the way, somewhat ironically becomes far too easy as they grow and you might actually find yourself considering how on earth to keep all the snot in rather than it leaking out all over the babe’s face and your clean jacket) – all pretty critical life skills.

I’ve learnt that tiredness can indeed cause accidents…like a fist accidentally powering rapidly towards certain individual’s rib area in the middle of the night when Bebe needs attention but you are physically incapable of anything (except aforementioned punch), or the slightly unfortunate feeling of putting your pants on back to front.  I have a couple of times nearly applied nail varnish remover to my face, brushed my hair with a toothbrush and possibly only put one contact lens in (still not sure what happened…) and I’ve eaten far too much mushy food out of a sense of duty rather than because I desperately craved an apple, beetroot and turnip slush-puppy.

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Notwithstanding a few unfortunate moments, this year had by far been the most rewarding and challenging of my life. I have never felt so delighted and fulfilled as I did when Bebe FF was handed to me in those first seconds after birth, when he latched and started gulping away, when he smiled for the first time, then he giggled, then he got teeth and started crawling, saying “mama” and “dada” or “papa” (depends on his mood) and then stood up… basically he’s destined for a Nobel prize in the next few months. When he does something new, I’m like the cat that got the cream. I’m sorry, but it’s bloody brilliant. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is not a day that goes by that I don’t thank my lucky stars for him and for my family, for our family. The love and support has been just tremendous. The challenging aspects of parenthood are largely between the parents. Nappies aren’t that bad. You have to have a pretty solid foundation to battle through the months of sleeplessness and exhaustion with mutual love and respect. Mr FF has been a superstar, and is the most fantastic dad. I am insanely lucky. But don’t be fooled, we have screamed and eyeballed each other more in the last 10 months than ever before. Without food or coffee OR sleep, hanger becomes a highly dangerous state of EXHANGERSAUSTIPATED and that shizzle is scary. Faites attention.

Going back to work compounds the problem; there is even less time to recoup and get organised. Pyjama parties are involuntary events caused by a failure to wash your work clothes, or set the alarm, rather than a fun activity mit bebe, cake and Netflix.

So what lies ahead? What will Bebe FF have in store for us for 2017? What will the world have in store for us all? A sobering thought. Next year, i.e. Starting tomorrow, I intend to spend at least 15 minutes per day reflecting on how lucky I am and what I can do to make life slightly better for others and slightly calmer for us. I suspect the former will be on ze toilette (less vulgar if en français) and the latter will involve me clearing some serious clutter (agghhhhhhhhhh), sharing joy and possibly moving to the Maldives. I also endeavour to get my cook on, now Bebe FF is loving his food, I won’t have to throw it away or – worse – eat it myself. And this may be the year that the bilingual babbling really begins. But who knows. Bilinguals can take a little longer to get going, but I’m fairly sure when Bebe FF finds his voice we will know about it! And last on the list for now will be more travel, because who said you can’t travel to the Lone Star State with a boddler?!!

Happy new year and bonne année to you one and all

The FFs x

 

Babbling, bubbles and baby food win

I usually try to keep my posts on one topic, but given that time is now even more limited and absolutely *flying* past I’m going to cover a few things in this post. I hope it makes some semblance of sense.

Number 1: omg. Mums and dads are legendary. Just totally AMAZEBOOBS. I’ve said this before but it’s worth noting again.  Every day as I travel to and from work, or talk to people in the business, or chat to my friends and family, I can’t help but wonder (breaking into a Carrie from SATC moment here…) how do people do it?  I regularly marvel at how people manage to get up and dressed and drop kids off and find the energy and time to make lunch or a coffee, and be polite and sociable, how they manage to muster the power to do their jobs and then go home and cater for their families. And in between plan for things like birthdays and holidays…  I mean where does on find the time?!

There is soooo much juggling required in being a parent and so little time to stop and take a breath (or tidy) it really is stupendous that people manage to function. And to work; whether it’s maintaining a house and providing for all the family’s needs or building your own business, or reporting to duty somewhere to perform surgery or teach kids or manage teams of other people with their own kids and life dramas, bloody well done. Well done for getting up and getting your pants on. I have concluded with my one little munchkin it is certainly not easy.

One thing I’m officially incapable of now is planning anything in advance. I don’t know if that’s because my brain simply can’t handle the information or if it’s a defence mechanism when I know that almost certainly something will ‘go wrong’ and plans will change. ‘Go wrong’ includes not getting any sleep, being sicked on, realising I don’t have the physical capacity to move, having no clean clothes etc. To all those I’ve recently failed, especially my Xmas planning failings, je regrette. I will make it up to y’all (in about 10 years when I’m back in the game).  In the meantime, bear with.

I have said before that I believe it takes a typical “child” until around the age of 25 to really start to appreciate their parents and the work and sacrifice that has gone in to getting them “all growed up”. At over 30 (ahem) and now a parent myself I can confirm that this realisation becomes stronger and more powerful by the minute. How Mr FF’s and my parents each juggled FOUR little kids I literally cannot fathom.  Without google and Facebook. And they managed to stay married. Sleep-deprived parents do have a tendency to be a bit snappy. <Not mentioning any names*>.

*myself

I have so much respect but no words really do it justice. Sending a big old round of applause to all of you out there.

So that’s my babbling done (you thought I meant baby babbles?  Ha!)

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Pretty proud of these teef!

Number 2: Nursery. Bugs. Omg#2. I was warned that Bebe FF would get sick when he started nursery. I even documented it in an earlier post. But I assumed he would probably avoid most stuff given he’s robust and, well, half Yorkshire. Sadly not. Not a week goes by without him having some ailement that requires a trip to the doctors and entails a few dramatic nappy changes or middle of the night washes, and at least a couple of broken nights’ sleep. Plus being snotted on 24/7 (Mr FF calls it “snorting” :-)). The poor little coquin usually looks like he’s been through a hedge backwards when I pick him up from nursery. We are still trying to get to the bottom of what exactly it is that causes his eczema to flare up. It is totally random. Most times we also spend a not insignifiant portion of the day aimlessly debating what could be at the heart of the present problems. 97 times out of 100 we go for teeth. Blumming teeth. Other options are ear infection (hard to detect, no temperature), allergic reaction to something (unlikely as he’s been allergy tested) and not forgetting the non-joyous growing pains.

This week we’ve had, amongst other things, a wheezy cough, temperature and snot in quantities I cannot even compute. The reference to bubbles in the title would be the bubbles coming from his nostrils. That’s right. He’s got bogey bubble blowing skills. So proud of my boy.

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Anyway I wish I had a solution to the sickness but sadly I don’t think there is one. Even a mask and following Bebe FF around with anti-bacterial wipes and wash all day would not help. Yes I know he’s building his immune system and that’s great, but when he can’t speak to tell me what’s hurting or why he’s awake and uncomfortable it’s deeply frustrating. Part of being a mum is committing yourself to endlessly trying to make your little one(s) as comfortable as possible as often as possible. It’s difficult when you are clearly not being successful. So far we are trying to feed Bebe FF some abidec vitamin drops every day (naturellement that is easier said than done!), we use sterimar to unblock his nose which is much more effective than the calpol spray we were using before, and a nice warm bath before bed. Also obviously try to keep him as snuggly as possible. However if anyone has any magic remedies for the avoidance of bugs please do shout up!

Third topic: weaning. For those just starting out on the journey – fear not! Even though it’s the most collosal rigmarole, we hit a turning point in the wean of fortune and at 8 months Bebe FF decided that, yes, actuellement food is rather nice. We are by no means fully there yet, but we are making good headway and finally my frozen sweet potato surprise is being consumed by the intended consumer. Luckily Bebe FF doesn’t appear to have transformed into a giant banana wafer despite consuming half of the UK’s supply of the things whilst we waited! #WEANWIN

A bientôt ❤

 

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.

 

 

Badass

This is how you feel when you take a 7 month old on a 10 hour flight (x 2, plus delays) and come out (a) alive (b) not covered in sick (c) with the same number of grey hairs (d)  still married and (e) with other passengers smiling and commenting on how great your bebe is.

We did it.  We went long haul and we had an epic time.  Yes, it was a massive headache preparing and packing; yes, it was weird being somewhere super hot and not sunbathing, and yes, it was strange not going out late in the evenings, drinking and raving.  Because Monsieur FF and I used to rave all.the.time.  But sacré bleu it was joyous.

Bébé FF swam through magical cold water cenotes, saw Miss America Latina, talked to parrots, patted iguanas, visited the Mayan ruins in Tulum and Xcaret, rode facing forward in a cab, and even sans seat (eek), slept in a swanky steak restaurant, ate fresh avocado, cucumber and melon (or at least touched and licked convincingly), swam with fish in the sea, tried a coconut, acquired a significant number of Mexican girlfriends and by all accounts had a pretty fantastical time.  Gracias!

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Senorita Mamacita

As you know, we enjoy travelling. Most people gawped at us when we said we were going to  Mexico, like “do you remember that time you gave birth to a BABY? IS HE STAYING BEHIND?!”  Er nope. He is coming. It’s called an adventure and we love them. However, “we” (mostly me) also recognise there is a lot of work and forethought involved in long haul travel, so you have to put the time in. Some people (*some people*) think you can wing it. Maybe a mix of both approaches is best. The type of  things that I don’t worry about day to day in my house in the UK that suddenly become concerning in a hotel resort in Mexico: water, milk source, baby friendly food, washing, sterilising, sleeping, swimming, bugs and mosquitos, safe travelling, general safety! Etc. So pretty much everything. Long haul avec bébé requires a lot of packing and unless you’re very brave with food and milk, careful planning and rationing. Listen to me! I can’t even plan my own dinner! 10 days worth of weaning friendly food and milk, milk receptacles and hot weather clothing was slightly mind-boggling. But we managed, and even had stuff spare! (In our three large luggage cases … ahem).

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During the planning and run up to the trip I was listening out for useful tips and learning as much as possible from other seasoned bebe travellers.One major tip I was given was to travel with bebe before he is crawling.  That was a good tip.  He was quite content to sit in the chair, on my lap or lie in the little cot bed on the plane without wriggling around too much.  He was content playing on his playmat in our hotel room whilst we got bits ready.  He’s trying to crawl but we are absolutely not encouraging it!

Another helpful tip I’ve mentioned before was to buy liquid milk supplies after security at the airport – you can preorder milk from Boots. We did this and had a good supply for each flight.

For those wanting to brave the wild wild wilderness of the world outside your country, here are a few tips, first on the actual travel part:

  1. get to the airport early and ensure they know you are travelling avec infant. It sounds obvious to us, as our little bundles rule our worlds, but the planes only have a set number of infant friendly seats and even fewer at the front with space for the portable bed/chair.  The person checking you in doesn’t care if you face many, many hours on a plane with a grizzly tired baby on your lap.  Be polite and firm and ensure you get a suitable space.  On our initial flight there were both chairs and cotbeds available, on the way back only a chair (looks like a bouncer) – we tested both and both were good. The chair was secured, safe, helpful sleeping material and the cotbed provided a little space Bébé FF could have his toys and play quietly.
  2. Take quiet, non violent toys and snacks that aren’t too messy – we love the Kiddylicious rice crackers as they are totally mess and stick free and very easy to bite and swallow. The mini rice cakes are also pretty good and were happily tossed on the floor when gummed enough. Slightly awks when you see it stuck to the air hostesses skirt, but if you will lean in a coo then you have to deal with the consequences 🙂 I say “non violent” because when a passenger realises he’s sitting in close proximity to a baby for 10 hours, he’s likely to be slightly aggrieved. When he is smacked around the head with a plastic rattle, has to clamber around a dumper truck to go to the loo and finds a teething ring in his dinner he’s going to go apesh1t. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Cuddly toys, small simple chew toys and things that can be safely affixed to something (with dummy ties) work well.
  3. Make sure Bebe is in comfy but sufficiently warm clothes, onesies / PJs are easy and help Bebe ease into sleep mode – the plane temperatures fluctuate but tend to be chilly I find. My legendary big and thin wool scarf/blanket was great for keeping me and Bebe FF at a snuggly temperature.
  4. Try not to stress. Ha! Pot, kettle. I know.  But if you stress, Bebe stresses and then all hell breaks loose. We had a few slightly fraught moments where we had trays of food and drinks and turbulence meaning Bebe FF had to come out of the carrycot and onto a lap – luckily Monsieur FF took the hit and managed to pile everything up around himself so that I was mobile to get the little man. Unfortunately our BA flight was very slow on the service and Monsieur FF was actually contemplating whether he could squeeze into a nappy when he was finally freed from his castle of carton and crusty stale bread to excuse himself to le toilette.  Anyway, keep your sh1t together. Literally.

 

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keep it in here

Tips whilst you are away:

  • you might not have a kettle (i know – who doesn’t drink tea seriously?!) or microwave and water may not be suitable for drinking so think about how you are going to clean/sterilise. We used bottled water which we heated through the cafetière. We used the cold water sterilising bags and Milton sterilising tablets. Check out my Instagram for more details:@be_my_bebe

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  • the milk powder might get sticky if you’re somewhere humid. Ours did and we ended up keeping it in the fridge. It was fine and Bebe FF guzzled it down but be careful as it can go off. Also watch out for little ants and creepy crawlies trying to make the container their new home. Yuk.
  • with fruit and food generally think about where you are and whether the not-so-clean tap water could have been used to rinse. The resort that we were in was fine but I wouldn’t have given him anything “freshly washed” outside.
  • bugs and mosquitos in particular are a pain in the arse. Literally. If like me you are insanely tasty and irrisistible to the blood guzzlers you need to lather yourself in sprays. We used some supposedly natural oil based bracelet things which were relatively effective on the limb they were closest to. After having my left leg mauled by 50 mozzies I started sporting an attractive anklet look. Fluorescent green (my desire to coordinate was quickly thwarted by the yellow blue green choices). FYI the bracelets can also double up as hair bands. I attached some of these to the pram and babybjorn. Babies and deet don’t mix well so we avoided spraying Bebe FF directly with our boots repellent product and instead tried to keep him under the mosquito net when out and about in the pram. When he was with me, I was prime target so he was safe. Motherly self-sacrifice. He didn’t seem to get bitten so it worked.
  • take some napisan and/or washing products with you in a mini container or take samples. Stains stick, and smelly milky stuff smells decidedly worse 10 days later. We managed a couple of washes of bits and luckily had no major poo dramas so felt pretty pleased with myself.

All in all we had a brilliant trip, we achieved so much and Bebe FF seemed très content for the whole duration.

We chanced things a few times and were glad we did. If you go in with low expectations and an open mind you will probably be pleasantly surprised. We went to a show about the history of Mexico one evening, with a dinner service, and expected to leave after the first few minutes.You should have seen our delighted and slightly smug faces when bebe FF decided to nod off at the start of the two hour performance and we were able to enjoy a multi-course dinner whilst watching the spectacle; he napped on the seat next to me oblivious. The ear defenders or “snugs” worked a treat.

It’s not worth thinking about what you’re “missing” when on holiday with a bebe. You’re not missing going out and drinking or burning yourself in the sun, you’re experiencing the trials and tribulations of a new place with your new person, where everything is new for them. And you’re bloody lucky too! We managed to enjoy many a margarita and cerveza – just mostly during the day and early evening 😁

So we’re there any downsides? Yes. Jet lag.

West to East is hard. Since we’ve been home we have had some jet lag issues, I’m not going to lie. The first couple of nights we had a very active and awake little trooper from 8pm-1 am, the very time we wanted to be asleep. Usually he’s down at 7.30pm. We had a very sleepy little guy at 9am that had to be woken up and really wanted to nap until 1pm.  He’s been teary and confused.  It’s been hard and he’s out of sorts.  We are too.  It’s called post-holiday blues. But we are coming out the other side. Ish. We’ve also started the initiation to nursery and working life (URGH), and transitioned to formula full time so it’s been a very challenging week. But more of that next time… Besos X

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Baby food and weaning

Weaning. Weaning Weaning. That’s all I’ve been thinking and talking about the past few weeks.  I know, compelling and rich.  You can imagine the conversations at the FF dinner table have been riveting.

So, what does “weaning” even mean? According to the dictionary it means to “accustom (an infant or other young mammal) to food other than its mother’s milk“.  N.b. the babes don’t suddenly stop having their milk, you just start to introduce solid food alongside the normal milk. The process isn’t a quick one.  It takes months.  The babes don’t stop their “baby” milk feeds until they are around a year old.  They gradually start to drop their milky requirements as they fill up on food.  This is why it is important to feed them healthily to ensure they are getting the vitamins and goodness they are currently enjoying in the milk. Oh and btw “solid” is sometimes a generous description for food that is really liquid gloop.

When you start weaning, you have the choice of adopting a “baby-led” weaning approach, or a… mummy-led approach?!  Basically you can give your baby actual solid pieces of food, that resemble the food that a normal human being might eat, and babe will attempt to grab them and chew or gum them, then lob them on the floor, or you can give them mush in a bowl with a spoon.  There’s a high chance the mush will also end up on the floor.

Here’s a quick run down of the pros and cons of each from my initial assessment:

Baby-led: looks fun. Chopping up veg is pretty easy. Sharing your food with bebe is nice (as long as it’s baby-friendly – not too much salt or sugar). Makes an enormous mess.  Slow to see any food actual enter bébé’s mouth and stay in there.  You can eat with bébé and (enjoy?!) the leftovers.

Mummy-led: looks fun. Mushing stuff is pretty easy.  Puréeing is strangely satisfying.  Lots of cool pouches of mush ready made in the supermarché.  You can do airplane spoon movements. Makes an enormous mess.  Less enjoyable eating the leftovers.

So, on the basis of my initial assessment I decided to adopt a mixed approach. i.e. when I have the time, and the patience, let Bebe FF lead the way. When I don’t, it’s pouchy gloopy mush on a spoon or rien.

As with so many things in the UK, weaning is not only a huge milestone but a giant marketing opportunity. As every marketeers dream customer, I am sucked in to purchasing all the “devices” and “equipment” and brightly coloured packets in order to ensure Bébé FF “eats” as much as possible, and to generally render this otherwise slightly painful process more joyous.

Why painful you ask? Surely a baby with gnashers that breastfeeds is the epitome of pain?! Yes, that’s true. Thanks for reminding me. He needs to start eating to relieve my AMAZEBOOBS. FYI I’m now combo feeding. The gnawing was too much. However, this weaning business has been a struggle, for me, as well as for Bebe FF. Why?

  • I LOVE food. I love it. I would eat (and drink) all day and all night if I could. Every day.
  • I hate waste. I was brought up to clear my plate, be grateful and not be wasteful.
  • You know what else I hate? Mess. Especially sticky brightly coloured food mess sprayed up my creamy wall.  Yes cream was an error.
  • We just got into a routine.  I knew when to feed Bébé FF and the rest of the time we were playing or napping and it was just parfait.  Suddenly my day has turned into milk feed, prepare food, watch food being thrown around and in some cases regurgitated, clean up bebe then clean up food during nap time, milk feed, prepare more food, watch food being thrown around, clean up food and bebe etc.
  • Finally, I’m not the world’s most advanced chef. Ahem. Perhaps an understatement. Ze garlic wrap and yoghurt surprise avec vitamins are a couple of uni “dishes” I will never live down … So when I “cook” it is out of pure love, and it pains me to see the results sprayed on the floor and up Bébé FF’s nose. (Hang on, you could count that as a win as technically it’s inside him…)

Ok let’s be positive here. Weaning is fun.  It is. *Grin face* And when bebe actually starts to eat and seemingly enjoy food, then you’re on a path to happy and healthy toddlerhood.  You are winning.  Plus there is not much in the world more delightful than your little bundle de joie with something delicious smeared all over his little chubby face.  Too. Cute.

And Bébé FF’s enormous grin when he discovers that I’m not trying to poison him and the banana purée with a hint of vanilla is actually pretty darn tasty – you can’t put a price on that.

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Let’s review.

When to wean?

It’s recommended by the NHS to start around 6 months. If your baby has allergies it is particularly recommended to wait for the 6 month mark, and then try to introduce the main allergens before the end of year one. When you start, the main recommendations (as far as I understand) are to try baby rice and porridge first, mixed with whatever milk your little one enjoys, then introduce vegetables and then fruit. Try to get them onto the veg because they have a sweet tooth, thanks to their milky diet, and they need to start to adapt to the world of savoury delights.  And that’s pretty much it. That’s about all you will get from most public sources on weaning.  After that you are on your own.

I spent a fair amount of time Eugoogling in the first few weeks because BébéFF seemed to gag every time anything hit the back of his throat.  It was a bit scary and I felt like I was torturing him.  I didn’t really find anything to allay my concerns, and my homegirls didn’t really seem to be experiencing the same issues (shout out to those mamas and their beautiful bundles who are by all accounts nailing this eating business, and the mamas are chefettes extraordinaire). In the end I just eased off for a week and tried again later. After what seemed like a few years (but was actually weeks), he began to swallow, and chew, and bits of food were slowly disappearing. And the detective in me was able to conclude he was actually consuming the food when I saw the popo.  Wow.  The real food popo.  Another thing I just wasn’t ready for.  My nose!  Poor Monsieur FF practically faints when he has to changé the nappy nowadays. But here’s a positive – it’s much more solid!!!

The aim of weaning: to introduce bebe to flavours, smells, textures, and encourage a healthy desire to eat veggies and fruit and not Maccie Dees every day.

The leading authority on all things purée is a lady who sounds like my favourite sugary treat, and not a particularly healthy veggie fiend:  Annabel Karmel.  The baby-led arena is not as concentrated (or marketing friendly) but I have a good cookbook by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett.  That makes it sound like I’ve got past page 5 – chopping up a cucumber.  When I really start cooking it will be great.  I know it.  We just aren’t quite there yet.

As mentioned, another positive is that it’s an excellent excuse to buy more brightly coloured bébé stuff.  Minimalist monochrome hasn’t hit the baby-weaning aisle yet.  What do you actually need?

  • A high chair – think minimal crevices and easiest to wipe. Ikea have nailed this.
  • A bib or ten.
  • Soft spoons. Bébé FF spends more time licking and chewing the spoons than anything else.
  • Little pots to serve the food. They are very tiny and cute.  And also help you be realistic about what bébé will be consuming in the first months.
  • Sippy cups so bebe can start to have sips of water. Particularly helpful when they start gagging as it helps wash down any food in there.
  • Most importantly the food itself!! Weaning is a great reason to go a discover your local grocery store or farmer’s market, and stock up on delicious fresh, organic, brightly coloured and may be even exotic fruit and veg.  You will look at the available options with a fresh pair of eyes.  It’s exciting.  You want bébé to have the best.  It’s a challenge sourcing the food and transforming it into something bébé wants to eat, but you can do it and when you do, and they like it, you feel proud.  Ref the riveting conversations 🙂

You may also even don an apron. I actually feel more matronly than ever before. I almost want to cook Mr FF elaborate meals. Almost.  Puréeing a carrot, it turns out, hasn’t completely transformed me in Mrs FF-Roux quite yet.

We shall return to this sujet again in a few months, by which time I may well have quit my job and be appearing on GBBO.  One thing is for sure – the photo ops are endless.

Bon appetit!

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!

Baby showers

When I found out we were having a baby boy (pretty much waved his business at us when we had our 20 week scan) one of the first things that sprung to mind was the zizi situation. Right, let’s be realistic here; I’m going to spend my first months of motherhood covered in wee. Baby boys, in particular, have a propensity for showering you with pipi at any opportunity.  Well, all babies do it, but boys are capable of more acrobatic waterworks n’est ce pas. Eek.

Having grown up surrounded by sisters, with limited real exposure to “Malian” babes and their zizi antics, I was genuinely worried about ensuring I safely and effectively managed / avoided the piddle. What if it goes in his eyes? Or up the wall? What if it goes in my eyes and then I accidentally knock him off the table or blindly attach his nappy to his head? What if we all go blind?? What if the wall caves in due to excessive moisture? What if we drown in wee? Etc. Bit dramatic. Sure. But all they do these bébés is drink liquids all day, so it’s fair to assume that you will be facing (literally) a lot of wee.

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As well as googling the latest designer raincoats, I did a bit of research on how to manage the pee.  Naturally I went straight to Amazon Prime. And bien sur Amazon had the answer. Fear not anxious new mums! For the small price of £22+ extortionate postage (wtf?!!) you can buy these Peepee Teepees “for sprinkling wee”!!

Seriously. Aside from being ridiculously expensive (are they stitched with golden thread perhaps?!), considering that they are going to be catching baby wee, they are a little bit tiny and – once your baby is more than about a month old he will wiggle around endlessly – you will surely find the Peepee Teepee is stuck to his chest in a way that would make Madonna proud.

I’m happy to report that for once I didn’t succumb to the Amazon middle-of-the-night-slightly-delirious-purchase of the Peepee Teepees. I resisted and I’m proud.

More importantly I also managed to escape being peed on quite effectively. Touch wood.  I needn’t have worried. Monsieur FF was not as fortunate. He seemed to attract the pipi. I suggested maybe Bébé FF was trying to make his daddy proud, nothing like a bit of willy waving between chaps. I won’t forget the panicked screams of “PIPI !!! PIPI!!!” in those early days when Bébé FF was mid-change and decided he wanted to relieve himself al fresco. I’m not sure what Monsieur FF thought that screaming would do, but putting his open hand up didn’t help much either. Sans designer raincoat he just had to man up and take it on the chin. Tee hee.

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Unknown man “taking it on the chin”. How to baby shower – nailed it.

I’ve developed a couple of techniques to prevent baby showers which I am happy to share:

  • Place a strategic wet wipe over the danger zone as soon as the nappy is off. This allows bébé bottom some air whilst protecting you.
  • Otherwise if going for a quick change prepare your clean nappy by inserting it in place under the existing nappy, whilst the dirty one is still on. When you are ready, fait attention, remove the sticky sides and then swiftly extract the dirty nappy with one hand whilst deftly lifting and fixing the new one into place.
  • Ensure the zizi is not sticking upwards otherwise bébé may end up with a wet belly button.
  • Purchase designer raincoat.
  • Umbrella hats are also a winner.

Voila….good luck! 💦💦