Author, Blogger, Mother, Procrastinator.
Big fan of honesty.
What is it about parenting that turns us all into our own worst critics, more so than in any other area of our lives? When it comes to the other stuff, we generally forgive ourselves for having the odd 'off day'. The occasional unproductive day at work, when you have a list as long as your arm of tasks that need completing but somehow only get around to completing a Facebook quiz to find out what your Game of Thrones character name would be. Days when your mojo goes AWOL. Days when you had one too many the night before. Days when you drop the ball and send an email slagging off Brian from sales, to Brian from sales. In relationships, too, there are times we screw up. Forget to send a friend a birthday card. Do or say something hurtful to a partner in the heat of the moment and owe them then apology. Sometimes we feel bad about it for a while after but rarely do we allow ourselves to live under a doom-cloud of remorse indefinitely. That’s because we don’t assume that those days are a fair reflection of our overall standard as an employee/friend/lover. We just had an off day. An off couple of days, perhaps. It happens. When it comes to parenting, however, we rarely allow ourselves the same slack. Or indeed any slack. On those hurried mornings when we forget that it’s Jeans for Genes day at nursery and arrive to a sea of denim and a sinking feeling. Or when, after enduring hour upon hour of sibling scrapping, something snaps and we end up shrieking like a fishwife in the park, before dragging the offending children home by their coat hoods under the judgemental glare of other parents. The better parents. I know, or at least I do now after having been unconvinced for a long while, that I am a good mum. Sometimes it feels good to say it. I am a good mum. (In my head or quietly to myself, I mean, not out loud at the school gates as that might make me sound like a bit of a tosser). I do my best for my boys; they are safe, happy and loved beyond measure. I also know that there are days when I am not such a good mum. When I’m exhausted or frustrated, or a bit under the weather. When I'm preoccupied with work or just feeling a bit low. Sometimes I am all of those things at once. When that happens, it is hard not to beat yourself up and very easy to find yourself falling headfirst into an I’m-not-good-enough vortex where you question your parental capabilities and say, ‘I just can’t do this today.’ The thing I have come to realise about being a parent, however, is that you do do it. On those days when you don’t think you can, when for whatever reason you’re not firing on all parenting cylinders and are in desperate need of a break, you still show up. So no, your children might not always get the best of you but that's only because the best of you isn’t always there to give. And rather than those 'off days' signalling that you are a bad parent, maybe just maybe it's the giving of whatever you've got, when there is next to nothing left in the tank, that makes you a bloody good one.
Top 5: Really Bloody Useful Baby Products (not an ad)
1. White Noise MachineI could probably dedicate an entire book to our White Noise journey. When we had Henry (over six years ago now, time flies when you're having fun!) we started with the very best of intentions. We'd researched what we should and shouldn't do to encourage healthy sleep patterns and associations and certainly weren't going to allow our bundle to become dependent on white noise to help him settle - that would be ridiculous! All our baby would need would be a little dab of essential oils massaged into his feet and then we'd be able to 'put him down awake' while chortling smugly at all the other silly billies who were making a rod for their own backs by blasting the hairdryer for twenty minutes or putting the Moses basket next to the tumble dryer. I think it was approximately two days before we cracked under the strain of relentless colicky crying and zero sleep and decided we would trial a spot of white noise ('as a one-off') played through our phones. It was, quite simply, a revelation. It didn't solve all of our problems, of course, but it helped a tiny baby Henry to fall asleep and stay asleep and from there began our love affair with low frequency vacuum cleaner noises. The problem with playing white noise via YouTube/iTunes/Spotify, was that we were constantly reliant on our phones or the iPad being next to the baby. We had a bash at using speakers connected wirelessly to our phones, but fell out of love with that option the day I forgot the two devices were paired and blasted the audio from a horror movie trailer (playing on my Facebook timeline) straight up to the nursery. Not recommended. This was followed by us panic purchasing several white-noise bears and other cuddly creatures with sound boxes hidden inside them. Ones with cry sensors that would 'kick back in' if the baby stirred, or play your chosen noise for a certain number of minutes. Between our various noisy bears and smartphones we managed just fine to keep up with our hoover-audio habit when baby Jude joined the party three years later. This year, after becoming the proud owners of our third baby, we (or rather my husband) felt compelled to Google 'white noise machines you can plug in' after one of the cuddly options yet again ran out of batteries in the middle of the night. Step forward, the Avantek White Noise Machine, which plays 2o 'soothing natural sounds' continuously or for as long as you want (it has timer settings) and is mains-powered, The Dream. I posted about it on my Instagram Stories a couple of weeks ago and have already had loads of messages from mums and dads who have followed suit and are reporting back to say, "OMG it's brilliant!!!" so this is me simply sharing the love. It doesn't look as pretty as the cuddly ones but it does its job and I CANNOT RECOMMEND IT ENOUGH. It's nice to imagine a time in the future when our family won't be reliant on the background hum of a fan to drift off to to sleep but until then, this bad boy is the bee's knees. Price: £29.99Available from: Avantek, via Amazon.Did I pay for it? Yep! 2. My Friend Goo As I type this, I have just put a very cross baby Wilf down for a nap (with the white noise blasting, obvs) and MY GOD he has been hard work today. I know it's not his fault, I know he is never deliberately 'hard work' but his teeth have been causing him no end of bother and Jesus, don't we know it! I'm pretty sure he has been teething since the moment he came out. We have trialled loads of teethers since and the best one by far is My Friend Goo, a lightweight natural rubber beauty. For Wilf, the charm comes from the fact that Goo is super easy for small babies to keep hold of (a triumph where many others have failed), which makes him a a great chewy companion for the pram or baby bouncer. We (or rather Wilf) really recommend Goo. Price: £10.99 (reduced packaging) or £12.99 (gift packaging)Available from: Cloud and Cuckoo. Did I pay for it? No, it was gifted (thanks Jenna, who designed it!) 3. Leka Play MatWe're big fans of the IKEA Leka range and this mat has been a gem. It looks good, can easily be machine washed (absolutely essential when you have a refluxy baby) and is also really good value. We also bought the wooden baby gym for £20 from the same range, which, compared to other baby-entertaining apparatus on the market, takes up a lot less space! Price: £25Available from: IKEA Did I pay for it? Yep. 4. Etta Loves Muslins I love the story behind these. Etta Loves founder, Jen Fuller, said she wanted to create muslins that were 'functional, developmental and stylish' after noticing that her 4-week old little Etta was staring at the pattern on her top. So, as well as being soft and absorbent, these muslins have been designed with input from an early years visual expert, to ensure that they stimulate babies' visual and cognitive development. What that means in real terms is that baby Wilf is very often transfixed by their patterns AND they’re extra large, which is oh-so-useful when you have a sicky baby who easily saturates a small muslin in one sitting. They look amazing, too - I've been asked several times about the leopard print one when out and about (you know you're a parent when you're having a muslin chat in the Co-op). Price: muslins from £19.95. super soft bamboo sensory washcloths start at £7Available from: Etta LovesDid I pay for it? No, we gratefully accepted these as a new-baby gift and have used them loads since. 5. Shnuggle baby bathWhen I was pregnant, I saw trillions of people raving about these baths. To be honest, it was a real case of 'Instagram made me buy it' but I'm glad because it's been ace! It has a bum bump to help with Wilf's posture plus a foam backrest which is much softer against his head than the old baby bath his big brothers had, and he doesn't slip and slide around as much. Really well-designed, would definitely recommend it. Price: RRP £24.95 (have previously seen it for £19.99 when shopping around)Available from: Shnuggle (we bought ours from John Lewis but currently out of stock there)Did I pay for it? Yep. That's all for now! xx I have not being paid to write this post, the above links are not affiliate links (no commission) and I've noted whether we paid for the items ourselves or whether they were gifts. These are purely my recommendations based on what we've found helpful this time around (so far!)
Why I'll Never Regret Having Children
Last week, there appeared to be something of a furore surrounding mums who admit that they 'regret having children.’ I know this because I was asked, several times and by several different media outlets, for my commentary on the topic. Any parenting blogger will know that to be asked for your ‘commentary’ on a topic is really an invitation to pick a side and then go on the telly or radio where you will (almost certainly) be pitted against a parent on the ‘other side.’ There is nothing new about this format and I generally just ignore invites along those lines – not because I’m rude but because I don’t much fancy the idea of having a barney live on air with another mum or dad whose viewpoint is probably not that dissimilar from my own and who I’d probably get on just fine with if I met them in the pub (but ‘you make a good point actually and I’ve really enjoyed this discussion’ doesn’t make good TV). Generally, when these topics start trending online, an assumption has been made about the ‘side’ I would pick and, if I’m honest, said assumption rarely paints me in a favourable light. 'Sarah! We’re doing a debate on our drivetime show about smacking – do you fancy coming on to say you think it’s OK to smack your kids?' ... 'Hi Sarah, we’re looking for a mum who regularly drinks alcohol straight after the school run, can you get to our studio tomorrow morning?' ... 'Hi Sarah, do your kids have all their teeth or have any had to be taken out due to sugar consumption? We’d love to have you on if they’re missing a few!' ... 'Unmumsy Mum, we’re doing a feature about mums who put heroin in their kids’ Bolognese and thought you’d probably be OK with that…' (the last one is a lie, but you get the idea). To a certain extent, I understand why they contact me. If they’ve managed to find a ‘good mum’ for the opposing side (enter Ruth from stage left), they need a mum who is a bit rougher around the edges to add some balance. Producer Bob probably takes one look at my page before declaring, ‘I’ve found one! She swears, enjoys a glass of wine and relies heavily on frozen beige carbs - she’s bound to smack her kids and not brush their teeth. Let’s get her on!’ It’s mildly offensive that I am continually invited to represent the ‘bad mum’ side of any debate but I generally have far better things to do than dwell on it or reply, ‘Actually Bob, my boys’ teeth are fucking sparkly.' However, the plentiful invites I had of this nature last week ruffled my feathers because this time, the assumption had been made that I somehow regret having children. ‘We thought you might have something interesting to offer on this debate from the side of those mums who wish they hadn’t had children.’ Let’s just let that sink in for a second. Wow. I have poured my parenting heart out many times on this blog and in my books. There have been some admissions I’m not proud of (like the time I called baby Henry an arsehole then cried about calling him an arsehole), bits I’ve found it difficult to talk about (mainly all the times I’ve wobbled over feeling like I’m not cut out for the job) and a whole load of honesty about how I’ve really found the various stages of the parenting adventure. One thing I've never said is that I regret having children and that’s because it is something I have never felt. Yes, in the thick of the sleep-deprived, newborn fog when the baby wouldn’t settle and I tried to breastfeed a pillow I may have said, “We should have got a dog.” And sure, there was that afternoon when I text James to say, ‘What the hell have we created?’ after Henry had a paddy about ‘the wrong ham’ in his sandwich just moments before Jude pulled his trousers down and shat in the DVD cupboard (RIP Despicable Me 2) but never have I wished that I could turn back the clock and not have children. Even trying to imagine a sort of parallel universe where I’m not a parent is just about the saddest thing I can think of and that’s not to say I don’t understand people who decide having kids isn’t for them, I just mean it’s sad because I know now what being a parent is like. I’ve lived, breathed and (house full of boys) smelt parenthood every day for the last six years and on every one* of those days I have counted myself lucky that I am a mum. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s a bit boring (controversial statement in itself, but there we go). Sometimes it’s hilarious. Sometimes, a certain milestone or simply holding a tiny hand makes my heart sing and I mean SING with joy. Sometimes I worry that I’m cocking it all up. Sometimes I just want five minutes’ peace in the bathroom because it’s that time of the month and I’d rather not be interrogated about the ‘little mice’ and ‘Mummy’s willy’ again. Sometimes I think how nice it would be to have a duvet day and watch something that isn’t WWE or Henry Danger. Sometimes the kids do something I’m extremely proud of and I want to climb to the top of a very tall tower and shout “Those are MY kids! Mine!”Sometimes a photo on Timehop reminds me of the days when I could, if I so wished, spend all of Saturday getting ready for a night out and all of Sunday recovering from it. I may look back fondly on those days and sometimes I may even joke, ‘take me back!’ but never have I truly wished to go back there. In the alarmingly wide spectrum of feelings I have experienced since having children, regret is simply not one of them. I don’t know who I’ve written this post for, really. Perhaps it’s a more measured response to all those people who thought I would be the ideal candidate to talk about the regret of having children. Perhaps it’s for the fellow mums and dads who crave a full night’s sleep and have the odd ugly cry when they find dairylea in their best trainers, yet still wouldn’t change it for the world. Or perhaps it’s for my boys who will no doubt read this one day and think, stop blethering, Mother. Henry, Jude, Wilf – if Mummy could live her life one hundred million times over, the three of you and your dad would be in it every time. No regrets. *When I said I'd counted myself lucky on each and every parenting day over the last six years, I was, of course, excluding Legoland.
Wilf's Birth Story
It has, quite remarkably, been three months since our unit of four became a five. I have been meaning to blog our birth story ever since and in many ways, I’m surprised it has taken me this long to share what was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I suppose I’ve been a bit worried that anything written in the newborn-brain-fog wouldn’t do our story justice but I’m not sure the fog is going to lift any time soon (I can still barely string a spoken sentence together) so I’m going to do my best. As most of you will know, Wilf is our third baby. My previous two deliveries were less than ideal and, if I’m honest, had left me feeling pretty negative about labour. I won’t give you the full background on Henry and Jude’s deliveries as this could easily become Essays in the Unmumsy Births volumes 1-100 but in a nutshell, I had preeclampsia with Henry and a ‘failure to progress’ with Jude, leading to two very ‘medical’ feeling births: me on my back, bright lights, lots of bodies in the room, ALL the drugs and a total loss of control on my part – the low point being during birth two, when I went on strike at 10cm dilated, sploshing about completely naked in my waters, refusing to push and declaring that I was dying (out of sheer terror, I think – I can still remember the panic!) Wilf’s birth could not have been more different and three months later I'm still on Cloud 9 about how well it went. Shortly after I’d had Jude (who was ‘definitely going to be our last, thank you and goodnight’) I wrote that in the unlikely event that I ever had another one, I would give hypnobirthing a bash and I cannot begin to tell you how glad I am that I did. I honestly feel that the whole delivery was a testament to hypnobirthing. On the morning of 12th December, I had ‘the show’ (always makes me want to do jazz hands) and started to feel a bit funny. I had Henry’s nativity play at the local church at 10AM and by the time I was sat down listening to him singing Prickly Hay I was having light contractions every 15 minutes or so (way more intense than Braxton Hicks but I could still chat through them). Back at home, they continued in the same manner for the best part of the day (not yet enough to head to the hospital) so I did my best to chill out, watching The Holiday (love that film), drinking tea and eating biscuits. At 4PM, I attempted a nap to bank some sleep and help me relax but found I could no longer sleep through the contractions, which were around every 10 mins. At 5pm, my waters broke all over the living room floor (proper comedy waters gush like in the movies, it was everywhere). It was at this point that I had a bit of a worry as I realised, with all the excitement over things ‘kicking off’, that I hadn’t felt the baby move for a couple of hours. After phoning triage at the hospital, I was told I needed to go in just to check the baby’s heart rate and although I had hoped to relax at home for a lot longer to minimise hospital time, I needed peace of mind that he was OK, so we loaded the car with the hospital bags (yes bags, as James has his own bag with snacks and drinks to 'keep him going') and off we went. I don’t know if it was James’s driving or the sudden change of plan but during the 10 minute car journey I had three contractions and they were pretty intense! With Christmas songs on the radio, I started breathing as I’d been practicing - in for 4, out for 8 – and felt pretty calm and relaxed as we arrived. The midwives were not expecting me to be in active labour when I turned up and I think my calmness on arrival was deceiving, so we were told to wait in the general triage waiting area. This was not ideal as by this point I was having contractions every 2-3 minutes and could no longer sit down. I waddled over and told the lady on the desk that things had changed and I needed to get to a room in the birth centre ASAP (the polite way of saying ‘shit’s getting real’). We were put in an assessment room to check Wilf’s heart rate which was fine, thank God, but my blood pressure was not and it was at this point that I feared my calm birth was about the fly out the window. Given my history of preeclampsia, the rapidly increasing blood pressure was a big concern and after consultation with doctors, I was told that the recommendation was to send me to labour ward and not the birth centre as planned. I was also informed that a water birth was no longer recommended, due to an increased risk of fitting associated with the blood pressure drama. If there was a Sliding Doors moment of the labour, where everything could have changed, this was it. I remembered Siobhan (my hypnobirthing teacher)’s encouragement to ask questions about the risks and benefits of any decision (and needing to change my mind set about ‘not being allowed’ to do things). Given that I was already having contractions every two minutes, I asked if it would be at all possible to get into a pool and reassess my blood pressure from there, as I had a strong feeling the baby would be making an appearance very soon and I was terrified that laying on my back on a labour ward would set me back. Our midwife, Rosie, was brilliant, and given that my blood pressure was not yet an emergency situation (let me be clear: if it had been deemed at all dangerous, I would have waddled at speed to labour ward), she agreed to try it my way for a bit in the hope that the pool would relax me. The next two hours were everything I had hoped birth would be this time around. James put some gentle spa music on, we sprayed some relaxing room spray and I went into my own zone, focusing on breathing and, lo and behold, my blood pressure went DOWN! I had requested to have no internal examinations (as these really stressed me out in previous deliveries) so was left to my own devices, with Rosie monitoring Wilf’s heartbeat with the hand-held Doppler thingy while I was in the pool. For an hour and a half, I barely made any noise except to breathe as I'd practiced and I really made use of the visualisation techniques, particularly a hot air balloon one where I imagined the hot air balloon inflating as I felt a contraction coming on, and then floating away as it eased off. I found it really helpful to have something to focus on and I can’t even begin to tell you how different it was to Jude’s birth, where I swore, shouted and begged everyone to put me out of my misery. At around 11:25PM, I felt like things had changed and that the ‘up’ breathing I’d practiced was no longer working - like something was pushing down into my bum and I knew it was time to change to the ‘down breaths’ (I’m laughing as I type this, aware it sounds a bit wanky but IT WORKS, I promise IT REALLY WORKS!) Despite having had zero internal examinations, I just knew it was time for him to arrive and I can’t tell you how nice it was not to have people saying ‘you’re 10cm, it’s time to push, no you can’t go on strike’ like I’d had before – this time, the midwives just trusted from what they were observing that I knew what to do. After 20 minutes of bearing down into my bum using the candle-blowing-out breaths (which I had practiced when going for a poo, yes really) accompanied by a bit of cow-like mooing, Wilf’s head was out. I felt so calm, even stopping to have a chat about the colour of his hair, and shortly after with one final big poo-push the rest of him followed, just before midnight. The cord was wrapped twice around his neck which made me panic momentarily (“OMG DO SOMETHING!”) but he was absolutely fine and Rosie helped me get to him onto my chest. The feeling at that point was total euphoria. I have never been prouder of myself and after two pretty negative births I almost felt like this birth had put the others right, somehow. Wilf was 8lb 13oz – my biggest baby yet – but I’d had paracetamol and codeine only, as I just didn’t feel like I wanted anything else (I’ve sampled ALL the drugs in previous births and never enjoyed the sensation of being ‘out of it’, though I did find the epidural pretty magic with Henry). Post-birth, things very nearly got medical again when the placenta got stuck and had to be manually manipulated out by poor Rosie (not going to lie, this was basically like being fisted), but again I breathed through it and the atmosphere was not at all one of panic. After tea and toast, some skin-to-skin and Wilf’s first feed we left the hospital just a few hours later and were back at home by 5AM, meaning Henry and Jude had gone to bed like normal and woken up to find a baby brother! I know every birth is different but I am convinced that the reason this birth was so different was due to the time I’d spent with Siobhan and the resulting calmness and confidence I had in my own decisions. I’m so glad I decided not to have any internal examinations and pushed for a water birth (clearly if I had considered this a real safety concern I would have reacted differently but I was so sure the pool would help and that he would arrive soon, and he did!) and the biggest game changer of all was the breathing. The most important tool ever, I felt in control (almost) the entire time. I have had so many messages since I mentioned hypnobirthing asking if I would recommend it and I honestly can’t recommend it enough (and this goes for every type of birth - including induction and c-section - it's not all about drug-free water births). I'd say there is probably a spectrum as to how 'into' the hypnobirthing you get and I reckon I was somewhere in the middle - I never got used to calling contractions 'surges', James never once joined in with reading me any of the 'affirmations' (nor did I particularly want him to) and I would be lying if I said I didn't feel pain but bugger me, it was 100x better than I ever imagined birth could be. This comes from a sceptic - someone who was worried she might have to start chanting or sacrifice an animal under a full moon while wearing tie-dye – when in actual fact, it was just a course geared towards making every type of birth as positive as possible. I did hypnobirthing with Siobhan, founder of The Positive Birth Company, who, alongside classes, also offers a digital download pack with all the hypnobirthing resources you could need for just £35. For more information visit the website or see @thepositivebirthcompany on Instagram. I have not been paid for this post. I am sharing because I would like to give something back to Siobhan who gave me a birth experience I will remember fondly forever (and which has gone some way to drowning out the memory of the swearing and the 10cm strike).
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