Miscarriage and My Maternal Mental Health

There are so many feelings during the first few weeks of pregnancy.  Excitement, anxiety, trepidation, fear, happiness.  Throw hormones into the mix and most of us are usually a hot mess.  I felt all of those and more.  It had taken us a little over 2 years to get pregnant the first time around.  When everyone around you is getting pregnant and you aren’t, it’s a long, slow, heart-breaking journey, but when the pregnancy test came up with two lines, we were elated.  It was all I’d ever wanted and all we’d ever wanted as a couple.  The pain inside us from a stressful conception journey drifted away instantly.  I spent the first few weeks feeling very sick with constant headaches and I could feel the changes in my body.  At around 7 weeks pregnant I felt all of that stop.  I just woke up one morning and I knew, but no one would listen.

At our booking in appointment with the midwife at 10 weeks I told her that something was wrong.  I had always trusted my instincts in the past and they had served me well, but she totally poo pooed the idea that I’d miscarried.  I hadn’t had any bleeding, I hadn’t had any pain, all of my symptoms just stopped and I told her I knew it was gone, but she said “with all due respect, I’m the professional and that happens sometimes”, which I’m sure it does, but I was already an anxious person and this made me even more so.

So we waited another 2 weeks until our first scan.  Excitement mixed with nerves as we sat outside the scan room.  Bladder full, mind fuller.  Watching happy couples come out with their scan pictures.

We were finally invited into the scan room.  It started with the usual polite conversation and smiles but it soon went all quiet. The radiographer’s face fell and after another few minutes of concentration she uttered the words no one ever wants to hear, “I’m so sorry to have to tell you that there is no heartbeat”.  We were ushered into a side room right opposite the scan room with the door left wide open and advised a nurse would be with us shortly.

45 long and painful minutes sat waiting followed, listening to the elated squeals of joy from all of the other couples coming out of their scans and we were sat in a room RIGHT OPPOSITE!  I know hospitals are tight on space, but waiting so close to the scan room was a horrific experience and rubbed salt into an already excruciating open wound.  I felt so low and once we were eventually seen and the operation I had to be booked in for was explained, it felt like they were going to be removing my hope.  I had to wait just over a week for my ERPC (evacuation of retained products of conception) surgery.  I was desperate to get it over and done with.  I spent every minute of every day blaming myself for what had happened and going over the first seven weeks of pregnancy with a fine toothed comb in my mind, so at least during the surgery I could be put to sleep and my mind would be at peace for a while. I didn’t smile much in those weeks, I was living under a very dark cloud.

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Some days, even a smile was a chore

I was the first operation of the day and it was over and done with very quickly.  The nurses, doctors and anaesthetist were all amazing and treated me with the utmost respect, but afterwards I was told I wouldn’t be able to leave until I’d been for a wee.  I must have drunk about a gallon of water after being told that so I could just use the loo and leave.  My husband told me he’d never seen me hop, skip and jump to the toilet quicker than he did that day and I pulled my usual grief curtain down and did my usual ‘I’m FINE, everything’s FINE’ but underneath it all I was breaking, I had been for weeks.

I got home, crawled into bed and cried my heart out.  Relieved it was all over and I could move on, but devastated that it was all over and that I could move on.

It took me a long time to smile again but we got there.  I had a very understanding and supportive female boss who had been through a similar experience and with my close family and friends behind me, I was able to get back to some semblance of normality reasonably quickly.  The experience left a scar though.  During my next pregnancy, I was so anxious and refused to buy anything for the baby until after the 20 week scan, even then I still didn’t feel like the pregnancy would go all the way.  At that time, social media was in its infancy stages and there wasn’t the online communities and support there is today for all those affected by baby loss.  I was one of the lucky ones to have the close support network and my husband was amazing, but I know not everyone gets that.  My mental health took a dip, especially during my second pregnancy when I was 2 weeks overdue and knew I had to be induced, but that’s a whole different blog in its own right!

I had the baby, my precious baby girl and my world brightened significantly and some of my wounds healed.

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I was inspired to pen my story this week by my amazingly brave friend, who has been raising awareness of stillbirth since the loss of her beautiful first daughter, Florence, who was born sleeping.  I am not looking for sympathy, but something she said in her recent interview with channel 5 struck a chord.  She said that people didn’t know what to say to her after she gave birth to Florence, and it was similar when I went back to work, because I was so low, everyone would ask me what was wrong.  It was different in that no one knew I was even pregnant, but because I had taken two weeks off, everyone automatically asks on your return ‘are you ok?  What’s been the matter?’  I didn’t want to lie, so I told them, but as soon as I uttered the word miscarriage, everyone fell silent and looked awkward and shuffled off, but we need to be talking about it.

1 in 4 women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime and 1 in 100 women in the UK experience recurrent miscarriages (3 or more in a row)*, so you can see it is common.  There was no advice, groups or people I was steered towards after my miscarriage, but thankfully now there is more information and support around now for women in all cases of baby loss.

So it’s the end of Maternal Mental Health Matters Week and it’s got us all talking about all aspects of maternal mental health, which is amazing, but I just hope it doesn’t stop after this week.  Let’s keep the conversations open.  Miscarriage, stillbirth, ptsd, pnd, it all needs to be discussed, and we need to be making sure all those women AND men going through any one of these is fully supported.  Ask ‘Are you ok?’, let them talk or not if that’s what they want, but just be there, tell them you are there for them, be supportive and be inclusive and to hospital departments dealing with these issues; please don’t dump couples who have just been given devastating news in a room right next to those having joyous, healthy pregnancies when they have just found out that their world has just fallen apart, it can severely affect their mental health at such an awful time!!
KEEP TALKING.

 

*stats from Tommys.org

10 things I love about my body…

So it’s 9:14am and I am starting to write this in a coffee shop having just wolfed down a peanut butter brownie for breakfast (don’t judge me).  Not my finest choice as far as breakfast on the go goes, I get that, but a most enjoyable one nonetheless.  Mix chocolate and peanut butter and I will shun the smashed avocado and poached egg on sourdough faster than Usain Bolt on a mission to win gold!

I am overweight. I have been most of my adult life. I come from a mixture of Hungarian, Dutch and Welsh heritage and neither of my parents were tall nor particularly slim and my mum has regularly told me I am the spitting image of my Hungarian Grandmother. Food has always been a very big part of my family life.  I come from a family where no one was ever allowed to leave the house on a Saturday before we all sat down to eat a family lunch together.  The Christmas’s of my youth were all about family and food and fun and I know I use food as a comfort blanket all too often these days, but I just bloody love food!  I exercise, probably not enough, I juice vegetables and fruit, I eat healthily, but I also have PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) which affects my weight significantly.

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Pre children our holidays were ALL about the food!

I have struggled to accept my size and my weight for most of my life.  From my school days I always felt chunkier than my peers, a few of whom I knew were struggling with eating disorders.  I just couldn’t make myself sick, nor did I want to as I actually enjoyed food and the social aspect around it. Food was a cultural thing with my background and many of my relatives were feeders and amazing hosts.  I went through a period in my 20’s where I lost a couple of stone on weight watchers and loved my size.  Then I got married aged 26 and the comfortable phase kicked in.  I gained and lost weight slowly and healthily over the years but I really had to work hard to lose it.  I never really knew why I found it so tough until I was diagnosed with PCOS in my late 20’s by a fertility consultant.  To have a reason made me happy and throughout my first pregnancy I discovered the low GI way of eating and it really suited me.

After having my first daughter I lost 24lbs within 2 weeks of the birth by doing nothing other than breastfeeding!  However, I think I put that back on during the first 10 months of her life with the lunches and cake meetings with my NCT group!!!  But then as everyone around me started losing weight and I struggled, it affected my confidence and self worth again.  I had never felt like I could wear all the cool clothes, hell even the mum uniform of Breton stripes was out as it made me look wider, even though I loved stripes.  My confidence was at an all time low but lifted when I became pregnant again with my second.  I adored being pregnant, I really did, but my second baby bump was absolutely massive.  The placenta was massive and the amount of fluid I was retaining was ridiculous.  I ballooned, my stomach stretched so much.  After I had the baby, sadly I didn’t ‘snap’ back into shape as society dictates we should.  The stretch marks and the dreaded mum tum arrived and this time it was here to stay.  I was so sad about my shape, even though I ate healthily and worked out.

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My chins and I, hard at work at Baby Prints Cheltenham!

It has taken me until now, 38 years old, 2 kids and a lot of personal trauma in my life to finally try and be positive about it.  It has taken me this long to appreciate what I have.  The kids don’t give a stuff whether I have a mum tum or cellulite on my legs.  My friends don’t care if I’ve eaten all the mince pies at Christmas and developed an extra chin in the process (my husband does make amazing mince pies though!), so why should I?  I know how to eat healthily and I do regularly, but I also don’t believe in denying yourself life’s little pleasures.  Life is too short to regret not making yourself happy.  I had a massive green smoothie for breakfast and lunch yesterday and a halloumi and asparagus salad for dinner last night so I feel I could get away with the brownie for breakfast this morning!  It’s all about balance and it’s about not making yourself feel guilty.

One of my friends feels awful if she doesn’t look a certain way or if she misses an exercise class!  I don’t let things like that bother me anymore.  It’s just not worth worrying about things like that as it has consumed far too much of my life for far too long.  Who am I out to impress?  NO ONE!  If someone can’t love me for being me and judge me by my looks or what clothes size I wear, then I really don’t want them in my life!

One of the things I found so cathartic and started to allow me to accept my body as it was, was sitting down and writing a list of 10 things I love about my body.

If you are struggling with self confidence or acceptance with your body shape or size, I really recommend writing a list.  It will focus your attention on being grateful for your body and all the things it has given you and helped you with in life.  Don’t get me wrong, I was desperately stuck at 6 for a long time so the last few may be clutching at straws, but I did it, now I just have to keep reminding myself of these and not slip back into my old negative way of thinking about things.  I don’t want my daughter (or my son for that matter, who was recently called fat by one of his friends at school) to grow up with the self-loathing of their bodies like I did.  It’s an unhealthy obsession, and although I sometimes struggle finding reasonably priced clothes to fit and look good on me, I am getting over it.  So who is in? Who will join me in the positive body movement and learn to love yourselves, you’ll be thankful you did!!!

The 10 things I love about my body

  1. It housed my two babies – it is incredible and life-giving and although another two beans didn’t make it, it still started the remarkable journey of growing life!
  2. It is strong – I never thought I’d be able squat 60kg at aged 38 but I had a LOT of practice carrying my babies on my hips, front and back in a sling!
  3. My boobs – although they might now resemble a sad pair of spaniel’s ears, they served the purpose of keeping both of my babies alive and comforted for a total of 5 years.
  4. My feet – they have carried me away from danger, they have marched me towards adventure and caused me much amusement when they swelled beyond belief during pregnancy, but that also made me rest when I needed it. Feet don’t get enough praise for the exemplary job they do.
  5. My bum. It may be the size of a small country, but its mine. It also houses gluteal muscles that allow me to squat and improve and challenge my strength!  I have comfortably sat on this ample seat all my life and no matter how much weight I lose it never leaves me and I don’t think it ever will so learn to love it I must!
  6. My eyes. Being able to see the beauty in nature, the beauty in people and the beauty that this strange and often messed up world has to offer is sublime.  Eyes are the window to your soul and I truly believe that.  To be fair, mine mainly look sallow and tired, but often, that’s exactly how I feel!
  7. My shoulders. They carry stress, they carry burdens away from my children, they have even been known to carry my children, but they are strong and tough and help me do loads of things in daily life.  Without these, I couldn’t carry my kids.
  8. My hands may be small and I have the affliction of the family short fat sausage fingers (thanks Dad!), but they can be deft. They are the tools of my trade, they wipe tears away, they hold my babies in close, they create beautiful keepsakes for parents and without these little sausage fingers I’d be nothing.
  9. My heart – its not just what you can see on the outside, my heart is big and I go out of my way to help people. I have spent most of my life doing things for other people.  I’m not a great people manager as I am far too empathetic.
  10. It’s mine – the whole thing, my whole body works. It keeps me alive, it tells me when I need to rest, when I need a break, when it is busy fighting illness.  It has seen me through two horrific childbirths, through grief, through sheer exhilaration and everything in between and I am still here.  It’s not perfect, but it works and most importantly it’s mine and is home to my soul.

Ok, so if I wrote a list of things I hated about my body, like the cellulite, the size of my thighs, my eczema, my hair, etc etc, I would be able to reach 25 with no trouble, but I guess what I’m trying to convey, is that we all have things we hate about ourselves, but it’s time to start appreciating you, your body and the amazing things it does and enjoy it and our lives!

NOW GO FORTH AND LOVE YOURSELF, FLAWS AND ALL!

For more inspiration on kick ass women loving themselves and positivity, check out these Instagram accounts:

@bodyposipanda
@helenwearsasize18
@thismamadoes
@kelly_thebeesknees
@thatmumwithcancer

 

The ongoing saga of anxiety…

Watching an episode of ‘24 hours in A&E’ the other week, there were three women brought in who had all been stabbed by the same man in a Sainsbury’s car park.  Completely unprovoked and completely random attacks.  In the following weeks I have never been more aware of who was around me or near me or the children, I was often crippled with fear.  I would feel nervous being in crowds of people, I would feel uncomfortable if the kids wanted to run off in different directions at the park and the whole scenario of what would happen if I died that way played in my head like a broken record for days.  My mind is a stressful place to be sometimes as all these thoughts whirr around.
Having lost quite a few people very close to me now, I have a fear of dying, because I know how much it hurts being the one left behind.  I never want my children to feel the pain that I have, and to some extent, I think we all feel like that once we become parents, especially mothers, but my anxiety ridden brain takes it to the nth degree and plays out the worst possible scenario! It made me want to write again about my own struggles with an anxious mind and give you more details of how I manage it (or occasionally don’t!!!).

After my last blog on anxiety, I was both moved and heartbroken that so many people got in touch to tell me their stories of how it has affected their lives and their families.  It made me want to continue the conversation and I want to shout from the rooftops that ‘IT REALLY IS OK NOT TO BE OK!’.  I know it’s a cliché and an overused hashtag #itsoknottobeok, but I feel it’s a vital one that we all continue to talk about and normalise, because mental health matters. It REALLY does.  Life is hard enough without having to feel alone and alienated.

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It had been decided by an archaic society that any form of mental illness was a sign of weakness and you should therefore be locked away for it, but it’s really not.  I know many very successful, career driven people who live with, and manage, high functioning anxiety.  Our society seems to want to move with the times where technology is concerned, but not so quickly in accepting the thought that mental illnesses are not things we should brush under the carpet and not talk about through fear of being judged.  I think there is a definite shift over the last couple of years, but is it happening quick enough and are enough people are talking about it? There are an estimated 18 million people living in the UK with some form of anxiety disorder, so it is clearly more common than you may have thought and you are certainly never alone.

Anxiety is a human trait which is deep rooted in all of us and harks back to the days of living in caves and fighting sabre toothed tigers! It’s the fight or flight response that pumps us full of adrenaline.  Everyone has some form of anxiety and it is designed to keep us safe, for example, we are all anxious when approaching a main road, and it stops us from walking straight into it, but anxiety takes many different forms and people deal with all sorts of different symptoms.  Sleeplessness, panic attacks, the feeling of having a heart attack, a ‘brain fog’, sweats, a raised heart rate, feelings of utter hopelessness, some lose the ability to reason things out, these are just a few.  Some have all of these symptoms, some have one, but does that make one sort of anxiety more valid than the other?  The simple answer is no!
I was talking to a close group of friends recently and we got onto the subject of our anxieties.  I asked if anyone had or would see a professional about it.  One of the group said she wouldn’t as she felt like a ‘fake’ as “my problems aren’t real anxiety. Not like people who have full on panic attacks and need to take medication.  I’d feel like I was wasting their time” she said.  This shocked and saddened me and this is why we need to keep talking about it, because anxiety takes many shapes and forms and you should never feel like a fake!  One form of anxiety is not more or less acceptable than another, they all suck and if you need to seek some help to manage it then you are just as entitled as the next person.

pexels-photo-262113.jpegI think I am becoming more aware of my anxiety the older I get and am able to manage it in a few different ways.  This got me thinking about how other people manage theirs, so I did some research and there were a lot of similar ways people seemed to deal with it.  Reading all of the comments were fascinating and I have summarised a few of the most common answers below.  If you are an anxiety sufferer to any degree and haven’t tried any of these, give them a go. I’d love to hear how you found them, but remember, what works for one won’t work for another.  If you use a technique not on my list below then please get in touch, I’d love to hear it.

  1. Fresh Air – being outside with fresh air in your lungs appears to help relax and de stress our minds. Whether you are walking for 5 or 10 minutes or just sitting and appreciating the view in a café, getting out can help balance us.
  2. Quit the caffeine and alcohol – Ditch the daily cappuccino for a chamomile tea (or other caffeine free drink) or ditch the gin for a ginger ale (easier said than done I totally appreciate!) and reap the benefits.
  3. Exercise – a gym session, pounding the pavements, a dog walk, working out at home, running around after the kids, it’s a natural way to fill your body with endorphins and get the feel good factor!
  4. TALK – talk to a friend, partner, parent or a group of friends that you absolutely trust and be open and honest about your thoughts and feelings.
  5. CBT or NLP – after an initial chat with your doctor, they may refer you for some help in the form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) or Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). These are said to be amazing for some at helping to develop coping strategies and identify key anxiety triggers for you.
  6. Say NO! – stop doing too much! Focus on you, don’t feel pressured into saying yes to every little thing going, take some time for yourself because self-care is NOT selfish!
  7. Breathe – when we get anxious, we breathe in short shallow breaths and therefore don’t take in enough oxygen which in turn creates more anxiety. Stop, breathe in slowly through your nose and fully out through your mouth for a few minutes.  Be mindful and try pushing your stomach out as you breathe in and relax all your muscles.
  8. TALK TO YOUR GP – don’t be afraid, they will not judge you, but do try and see the right doctor, one that you feel completely comfortable with.
  9. Meditation – find a quiet space, slow your breathing right down and clear your mind. Some people who noted this used apps such as Headspace and Calm.
  10. HUG – (I loved this one) Whether it be a big hug from a family member, a partner, a friend or your kids, hugs release oxytocin and serotonin into your body and can sometimes make the world seem OK again!
  11. Step away from your phone – we are so reliant on our phones and computers these days and a lot of social media can add to anxiety, so leave your phone turned off and enjoy the freedom.

It really is OK to not be OK.  It is OK to seek help if you need it, no judgements and no stresses.  If you need medication and professional help to manage your anxiety or a walk, a cuppa (caffeine free of course) with a friend and a hot bath will heal your woes, then just do whatever works for you! We are our own worst critics at times, so please, be kind to yourself and remember, YOU ARE AN AMAZING HUMAN BEING.

 

Christmas Crafting with Babies and Toddlers…

The magic of Christmas seems to multiply once you have children. You want to make it magical for them too, even when they are too young to be able to understand or remember it! But we all love a Christmas craft, especially grandparents and family who maybe don’t see you very often, and they make wonderful memories for the future, even if they do go slightly wrong sometimes! You just have to take a deep breath and accept that it’s going to be ‘fun’ and your baby may poo glitter for the next few days and your walls may be covered in paint splatters, but hey, its all going to be ok (so long as you make sure your glitter is non toxic!).

I have, in my 7 years of parenting thus far, always spent my October evenings going through Pinterest and pinning every adorable craft idea known to man. Some of them have totally ballsed up, but here, I have cobbled together a little selection of the hand and footprint craft ideas which have worked, to save you spending hours trawling through pinterest and getting totally overwhelmed, as you probably have far more interesting things to do!

DESIGN YOUR OWN BAUBLE

The first craft idea that worked, I tried when my daughter was still a baby and young enough to fit her little hands around a Christmas bauble.

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This one was simple, all it took was some plain glass baubles, some white paint, and a set of thin permanent markers. I painted her hand all white and then pressed the bauble into it. This is much easier with plastic baubles if you are doing this with babies or really young children. Then simply wait for the white paint to dry and turn the white fingers into snowmen once they are dry. Even the least arty amongst you can do this one and they can hang on your tree for years to come. I would recommend plastic baubles though, as once my beast of a second child came along, he pulled them off the tree and they smashed. I was mortified!

If you are local to Cheltenham, Aldi had some decorate your own white IMG_4613baubles in the store last week for only £1.99 a pack, great for finger painting for babies and toddlers or if you aren’t brave enough to try this on your own, you could pop into your local pottery painting shop and get them to help you with a painted one!

CHRISTMAS CARDS

Card blanks can easily be bought cheaply from local craft shops such as The Range, Hobbycraft, etc, and hand and fingerprint painting can be really effective on these. Here are some ideas that have worked for me.

The reindeer on the right were made with my youngest child’s feet for the head and the hands, which were printed first as the body, were my eldest child’s simply using brown poster paint. They were finished off with a fingerprint each of pva glue on the nose and some red glitter dusted over it. Is it even Christmas if your house isn’t covered in a light dusting of glitter anyway?
Then googly eyes were glued on, but drawing eyes on would be equally as effective, or using black paint and fingerprinting the eyes in.  As you can see the snowmen card on the left didn’t go as well.  The nice neat hand on the left of the card belonged to my eldest and the right, slightly smaller hand belonged to my then 18 month old beast who just wanted to smear his hands in the paint!  But I managed to work around it and make it look as though the poor snowmen were all falling over!

WRAPPING PAPER

IMG_4722Making your own handmade wrapping paper is easy.  Get either a large sheet of paper or the kind of roll you find on children’s easels.  Hobbycraft, The Range or IKEA have these or get a roll of brown craft paper.  Rip off a long piece of paper and either let your child loose with festive coloured paints or use stamps.

These can be bought or easily made from a potato or a sponge.  It makes for a really effective and personalised wrapping.  If you do Christmas trees, you could decorate the trees with the whole family’s fingerprints to make it really special.


FINGERPRINT AND HAND AND FOOT PRINT IDEAS

Here are a small selection of other ideas, which have worked really well with both my children from the baby years onward.  Remember, what I haven’t posted is the awful ones which didn’t work, and believe me, there were plenty.  It really does just take being brave and whatever you produce will be amazing because it will be their masterpiece!

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Not feeling too brave?  Not a crafty bone in your body?Well why not try one of our Christmas craft kits.  they come with handy little ink pads and a selection of Christmas craft shapes to decorate. simply pop baby’s fingers or toes in and print on the pre-cut shapes, it couldn’t be easier. We have just two left at £5 each with £1.75 p&p. Contact me to buy yours now!!!

I’d love to see your ideas and your crafty inspiration for Christmas crafts you’ve done with your children.  Please tag me in your pictures on Instagram or send me some pictures as it’s that time of the year where the craft drawer is being raided again!

 

‘YOU ARE A BAD PARENT’ … and other such accusations of an anxious Mama’s mind.

It’s one of those mornings where I am once again shouting like a fishwife as neither of the kids is listening to a word I say.  It’s windy and rainy outside and I am coming down with a head cold.  “WILL YOU PLEEEEASE JUST PUT YOUR SOCKS AND SHOES ON” I yell for the fourteenth time and it’s not even 8am yet.  I am such an awful parent, I shout all the time.  Lack of sleep and a massive 4 year old bed invader trying to crawl into my skin every night doesn’t help, but my back and neck aren’t comfortable at the moment either.  I also go to bed every single night worrying that because the kids rooms are the first you come to at the top of the stairs, they will either be attacked by an invader first or fall down the stairs and break every bone in their bodies, so hence I sleep very lightly.

Finally they oblige with the socks and shoes, begrudgingly, and we are ready to leave for school, everyone in a foul mood.  We all get strapped into the car and we are all damp and cold.  The weather is bad, so I ask both of the beans to turn their tablets right down so I can concentrate on the road.  We leave every day at around 7.45am and cross one of the motorway junctions into Cheltenham, so our route is always busy.  I have locked my car door from the inside as I do as a habit on every journey.

We head over the motorway and then down a thin country lane.  The vision is poor and I am driving well below the 30mph limit.  The kids are happily playing on their tablets in the back.  We come round a corner to another car travelling down the middle of the road clearly going over the 30mph limit.  Everything goes silent.  We’ve been hit by this maniac. I wake up sideways, with the car half way in a hedge. I can’t move, I can’t talk but I am aware of what is going on around me.  One of my babies is screaming in sheer panic and pain and the other is silent.  I am helpless, I am useless and I can’t comfort my children. People have come out of their houses to help but because I have locked the door, they can’t get in.  Then I black out from the pain I am in.

The screaming like a fishwife about shoes and socks bit is true, this happens most days before the school run, but the car journey and subsequent accident is not.  Or at least it hasn’t happened yet.  But this is the reality of what anxiety sufferers go through every day.  I am an anxiety sufferer. Some days this scenario or a similar one, all with the same ending, plays in my head as I’m making a bowl of cereal or brushing my teeth.  Playing out the worst possible situation in my mind.

I lost my Dad when I was just 14 years old.  A key period in life when you are discovering who you are.  I was an awkward teenager but happy, I had found my tribe and school was going ok, but a difficult few years leading up to my Dad’s death culminating in losing him, turned me into a negative person and always fearing the worst.  This anxiety and worry still lives with me today.  On the outside I am a far more positive person than I feel inside, full of motivational one liners and always wanting to turn around other people’s negativity.  Since having babies, I always put on my positive pants to avoid showing my kids negativity but it literally haunts me sometimes.
I have anxious thoughts about the safety and security of my family and some people just don’t understand all the horrific episodes which are curdling in my mind.  I have had some people say to me “Oh just loosen up a bit” or “live a little”, but that’s the worst thing you can say to an anxious person!  It then sets my mind racing in another direction and I think ‘yeah, why can’t I loosen up a little bit?  I must be such a shit parent/friend/wife/human being, that I just can’t loosen up a bit’ and then I over analyse a situation and it makes me feel worse.

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I read a really interesting article recently that identified the link between traumatic events in childhood and adult anxiety (not the case for everyone with anxiety, but everything fit with me.  I lost a parent and more recently a brother, I feel like losing people close to and important to me will happen all the time and I guess my anxiety is my mind’s way of coping with the fear – to prepare myself for it by imagining the worst possible outcome).
I was a care free child, this isn’t something I have had all of my life, but it sucks.

I worry about everything and I know worry is a part of being a parent, it’s natural, but I literally dwell on things and turn them into haunting, horrible, scary demons.  Will this car journey be our last?  What is our get out plan if there is a fire?  What if one of the kids dies in the night?  What if I die in a car accident on the way home from the school run?  What if my husband gets hurt in a traffic accident or is blown up by a gas leak (he’s a heating engineer)?  A lot of my major anxieties surround death and losing those close to me, understandably so.  I was talking to my sister the other day about this very subject and it made me realise that I never grieved properly for my dad.  I am stuck on the anxiety and confusion stage.  I went to one counselling session when I was 14 and refused to go back as I found the  patronising, condescending and she couldn’t even pronounce my Mum’s name!

I remember at school, in the sixth form being told I just wasn’t very good at certain subjects by a teacher and when I started in my first job in the marketing team of a big corporate, no one would give me the time of day or listen to my opinion.  All this has had a profound effect on me and forced my self esteem into the ground.

My anxiety also makes me socially awkward, I am so crap at starting conversations or being part of them in a group of people I don’t know.  It feels like I have the devil and angel on my shoulders, telling me i’m a bad parent, i’m not good enough to join that group or talk to them etc, but then part of my brain (or the angel on my shoulder if you like), tells me not to be so silly, I am a strong woman, I am an amazing mama and wife, but sadly, more often than not, the devil’s voice is louder and more dominant.

All of this happens in my mind, so on the surface, I can often seem very confident and outgoing.  One thing that has had an amazing impact on my anxiety and self esteem is Baby Prints Cheltenham.  Being my own boss, motivating myself and doing something I love and am great at is wonderfully freeing.  The kids see me as a positive, motivational force and long may that continue, as without this little project to keep me focused and positive, I just don’t know where I would be.  A customer has just collected a beautiful pair of dainty footprints from me and I could tell she absolutely adored them.  That gives me an enormous sense of self-worth, I have just created something, for someone that will be cherished.  It’s a massive ego boost and helpful in overcoming creeping, negative emotions.

If you are an anxiety sufferer or know someone who is, they key is not to react to your/their anxieties, but to respond, repeat their worry back to them to show them you are engaged and listening to their problem.  There is a myth that people should change their negative emotions, but that’s not true, we have to change our relationship with negative emotions.  Emotions all have jobs.  Sometimes just being there for people is the only thing you can do in stressful situations, no phones, no tv, just BE PRESENT!

It’s also a myth that people should be anxiety free, especially children.  WRONG.  Anxiety and worry are forms of protection and therefore have purpose.  It stops children doing things like putting their hands on stove tops or in fires.  But stress and anxiety are more dangerous when you believe that they are harmful.  So please don’t tell an anxiety sufferer to ‘chill out a bit’, just empathise and try to feel the pain and the worry they are having.  We can get anxiety from having anxiety, it’s often a vicious circle.

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Some of the YESMUM affirmation cards range

I watched an online presentation recently from an expert in child psychology who has developed a programme for anxious children, and as an anxious parent, I found it utterly fascinating and have applied many of the tips to my own life, with mindfulness and self-compassion being major factors in supporting anxiety sufferers.

Mindfulness is something I often neglect as a busy Mama, but obviously something which needs to feature heavily in my life for managing my anxieties.

My six year old daughter suffers a lot with anxiety too.  The guilt that I face on a daily basis, wondering if it’s something I passed on to her, did I make her like this? Does she see me at my anxious worst? What did I do wrong as a parent to have caused this? crushes me every day.  I get frustrated when she often doesn’t listen to me when i try to calm her down, but only because I don’t want her to turn out like me and let it rule a lot of her life.  But one of the most important things that I took away from this online presentation is to find my inner zen and FEEL….

Freeze – remove the emotional charge from the situation
Empathise – listen to her problem, however small
Educate – allow the feelings to come out and then talk and problem solve
Let go – let go of the guilt you are harbouring (which is no easy task for a Mama!)

Source: GoZen

So, mindfulness is something that we will all be taking more time out for.  Both my daughter and I have child and Mama appropriate affirmation cards, which we use daily, from the YesMum range and I have also invested in some mindful activity cards for the kids and I to do together from mindful kin, a wonderful primary school teacher sharing her ideas for wellbeing in the form of these beautiful family friendly activities.  Tonight’s is ‘Blow a feather or a little piece of tissue across the room. Can you tell me how you did that? How far can you get it to move with just one breath?’  This is going to help focus their minds before bed.

Next problem I have to encounter once they are all chilled and ready for bed is getting the oldest (6 years old) to sleep beyond 6am and getting the youngest (4 years old) to sleep through the night (both of which cause me anxiety and worry!) easy right?!  I think i’m going to have a gin and a relax myself, those little nuggets might take a bit more than mindfulness to tackle!

To my boy…

Dear Squidge Monkey,

This is a very hard letter for me to write. I am so sad right now as I feel I’m losing you.  It has taken me weeks to write this as I keep breaking down and having to walk away from it just to come and squeeze you.

From the moment I first held you in my arms it felt like they wanted to take you away from me. They did, you were born in a shitstorm (your own!) and you had to be taken away to be tested for infections and all sorts as the cord was wrapped twice around your neck. Your Daddy was with you the whole time, making sure you were safe, but I sat alone, feeling desperately lonely in that cold delivery room, devoid of any company or information. Quiet, still and wanting my baby to be at my breast where he belonged. You were gone for over an hour whilst a junior doctor tried repeatedly to get a line into your tiny arm without luck. They told me you would be gone for 5 minutes.  It felt like a lifetime.

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My baby boy. My last baby.

On day 2 of your life you had to be taken away from me again for a lumbar puncture. They explained what could go wrong but I wasn’t allowed to go with you. I felt so alone and fought with the midwives to let Daddy back into hospital that night to give me a much needed cuddle as I couldn’t give you one.

Luckily you were ok, and we got through it together, even with you being taken away from me twice a day to have your medication administered. We were out in a little under a week, but those early days we shared all our time together, supporting each other. You helped me get through those days, we had to get well to get out and go home so we could start our family life together.

You were such a different baby from your big sister. You wouldn’t sleep in the bedside cot in the hospital. Even with my clothes as makeshift sheets and blankets you just wanted to be next to me. Next to my skin, listening to the comforting beat of my heart and, as we discovered over the next 3 years and 4 months, next to an available boob!

Upon bringing you home to Daddy and your big sister, everything changed.  The dynamics of all of our relationships changed and the love just grew.  We had a lot of adapting to do and I went through a very difficult patch coping after you were born.

Mum guilt now shaped my very existence but I have always done my very best for you and your big sister. You have both always been my first priority, sometimes to the detriment of myself.

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They grow up so quickly.  Cherish every moment, even the bad ones.

You would never sit in the buggy when we went out.  We bought three to see if it was a comfort thing, but you just wanted to be next to me in a sling, wrap or carrier.  To be honest, I miss carrying you in a sling.  You could be crying and nothing but wrapping you in swathes of our favourite wrap on my chest would placate you.  There was no greater feeling of power than that on my behalf.

Once Bella started school you and I had all our time together.  We had some amazing fun, days out and treats.  Your favourite thing to do was put on a film and snuggle with me on the ‘big sofa’.  Wherever we’d go you would always be there, holding my hand, always wanting to be near me for comfort and reassurance.  You were my sunshine on a cloudy day, the strawberries to my cream.  We had a blast.

Having an older sibling, you have always developed fast as you desperately wanted to keep up with her. You started walking at 10 months and literally haven’t stopped since. You loved making your sister laugh, hearing her giggles and your eyes opened so wide with excitement and the huge smile on your face as we’d collect her from school were heart meltingly adorable.

We’ve had some amazing times together you and I and you make me laugh so much.
When Baby Prints customers would come on a day when you were home, you’d always poke a dinosaur around the door!  Just to remind me that you were there.  How could I ever forget my darling, you are never far from my side and always in my heart and on my mind.

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Twinning is winning!

Your bedside cot soon became where I would lay my head to sleep, as from around 12 weeks old you could roll and preferred to be in our bed with us, mainly in the starfish position.  You were there until you were 2 and even after you had your own cool dinosaur room, every night, to this day, without fail, you wake up and come in to our bed, rubbing your eyes. I don’t mind it at all as I know it won’t be forever and you will soon grow out of it.  I am clinging on to my baby as long as i possibly can.  my last baby.

You have recently turned 4 and still you have a place in between Daddy and I in our bed. You told me the other week that you don’t like sleeping in your own bed as you get lonely. It broke my heart. You need comfort, you are and have always been a very sensitive soul. You are painfully shy, but once you get to know people you are the life and soul of the party. You hate being told off and it makes you cry.  You get sad when your big sister doesn’t want to play with you, yet you are always making others smile and laugh.

My boy, you are loving, kind, considerate, articulate, loyal, friendly (once you get over your initial shyness with people), sensitive, generous, full of empathy, funny, passionate about the things you love, full of energy, your smile is infectious and you are so beautiful. You are starting school in a little over 2 weeks and it feels like the system is taking you away from me too young. You have only recently turned 4 years old, and I am not ready for the changes that are about to come, but i know you are.  It is the end of an era.
I felt the same with your sister and know these feelings will pass, as they did when she started school and I saw her absolutely loving it, but I have to keep reminding myself I know you need this.  I also know you are going to absolutely love it, I know you will be the class clown, but will be sensible when you need to be, because I see all this in you on a daily basis.  I have watched you grow from a tiny bean inside me, to this gorgeous big boy, confident at making friends with random kids of all ages in the park!  You are so ready, despite being a young one in the year, you have been ready all summer, but you are my last baby, you will always be my baby boy, (yes even when you’re 40!) there will always be a place of comfort for you on my chest, a snuggle, a hand to hold and my lap to sit on whenever you need it.  I will always be by your side my angel, always with you when you need me (and often when you don’t!!!).  It is time and I hope and wish that you love this new journey.  Enjoy making new friends, love learning new things about the world around you and developing so many new skills.

I feel like I am losing my best friend, my right arm and a huge piece of me, but what I am gaining is time to continue on my journey finding me again, time to work, time to develop and grow myself.  That too is an important part of these changes.

I can’t wait to support you in this new phase and watch you grow into the amazing human you were born to be.

All my love, always,

Mama xxx

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Professional pics by Oobaloos Photography

Newborn gifts to make new Mamas smile

Congratulations! You’ve just been through hours of abject pain and your undercarriage will never be the same, alternatively you may have endured massive abdominal surgery to get your baby out! Here, have some flowers or another babygro, but are these the presents that parents really want to be receiving?

We’ve all been on the receiving end or alternatively the buying end and I myself have been guilty of buying both flowers AND babygro’s for my friends and their new babies, but it’s not until you’ve had a baby and are well into toddlerhood that you have gone down the route of finding actual useful ‘stuff’ that makes parenting easier, and you realise what’s actually useful and what’s not!  Flowers are beautiful, but when you have a newborn, priorities change, and changing the water and throwing out dead flowers is often waaaaaaay down the bottom of the list and it can often just become an inconvenience!
Baby clothes are great, but unless you know what size the baby is, how quickly he/she is growing and the personal taste of the parents, leave the clothes to them. We had so many that my chunk wore for a day before growing out of them (he was 9lbs 12oz at birth!)

Soon after the birth of my first baby, I also fell into the trap of buying so many toys for my tot because everyone had them. The Lamaze crinkly toys, the pull down giraffe that rattles and vibrates, the dangly rabbit. My baby didn’t really like any of them!!

So here are a few things that over the years I’ve come to realise are useful, worthwhile and will go down well with all new parents!  There are options for all budgets in this list too!

1. JELLYCAT TOYS.
One toy you can’t go wrong with is a Jellycat cuddly. With its soft fur and adorable features, Jellycat have nailed the market in comforter toys. If you can afford it, buy two of the same design or choose a character which isn’t likely to stop being produced, because it will inevitably become ‘THE comfort toy’.  If the child loses it later into toddlerhood, the parents may never speak to you again after world war three style epic tantrums have ensued, after the loss of their favourite toy!!!! A new one at this stage simply won’t do, take it from someone who has endured this pain. “It’s not my real bear” are the fateful words I’ve heard on many a sleepless night. If we’d have introduced two at the same time, we could have rotated and they could have got manky, dribbled on, washed and snuggled at the same rate, thus tricking her that they were in fact the same bear!!! (So when inevitable loss struck we didn’t have to go through hell, feeling like the worlds worst parents because because bear was lost!) It’s ok, he was found again in various random nooks and crannies!

2. BABY SLIPPERS.
Whether it’s summer or winter, babies toes can always get a little cold and you really can’t go wrong with a tiny pair of cute, crocheted baby slippers. Go check out Gloucestershire country lass and all round lushous lady Oscar and Boo for the cutest hand crocheted slippers and hats!

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Oscar and Boo’s adorable newborn booties

3. COCONUT OIL
With an arsenal of toiletries in a mother’s changing bag and in the bathroom cabinets, all for different ailments, one thing that can replace them all is Coconut Oil.  A natural, anti-inflammatory gentle oil which has antibacterial and antioxidant properties is useful for both baby and Mama in a wide range of uses.  These include treatment for eczema, baby acne, cradle cap, nappy rash or use it as a base for a baby massage, for treating dry skin on both Mama and Baby, slather it all over your bump, your undercarriage, use it as a food safe nipple cream.  It is also helpful for cuts scrapes or grazes and can help treat insect bites on little ones.  All in all it is the one, food safe magical all rounder, that no changing bag or bathroom or kitchen cupboard should be without.  Eating it can also be a beneficial way of getting the oil’s health benefits into your system.  I use it in my coffee or my smoothies.  Most supermarkets or budget stores now stock Coconut Oil in some form.  Holland and Barrett stores do an amazing handy travel sized pot, which no changing bag should be without! a nutritionist also recently advised not to fall into the trap of buying the expensive extra virgin, organic, raw variety and in fact it’s all pretty much the same!

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Coconut Oil is a one for all cream no changing bag should be without!

4. AMBER
Amber has long been renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties and whether you are in the camp of believers or non of its properties, a beautiful necklace or bracelet for Mama is a lovely gift.  I used amber teething anklets on both of my babies right through into toddlerhood and we had a reasonably easy ride where teething was concerned, coincidence or not, you decide.

5. RUBBER TEETHING JEWELLERY
A fantastic idea, these gorgeous tactile necklaces, bracelets and key chains are amazing at keeping little ones hands and minds busy, not to mention are totally safe to chew and munch on when they are struggling with growing their little gnashers!  Often made by local, small businesses run by super mums, we love Gloucestershire based Kito Baby.  Go check her out on Instagram.

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image courtesy of Kito Baby UK

6. KEEPSAKES
Babies grow and develop at a ridiculous rate.  It won’t be long before you are picking out their first shoes and harking back for those teeny tiny fingers and toes.  I know it may seem self indulgent to include this on the list as I produce baby and children keepsake pieces, but I honestly believe they are a fantastic, permanent visual reminder of how small your precious little bundles were.

Not only are Baby Prints a great idea as a gift, but having professional photographs of your baby and especially ones with the whole family together are such a precious keepsake.  When i look at my phone now, the only pictures of me are selfies with the kids.  No one takes pictures of me anymore and the beautiful style of baby and family photography by one of our faves Laura Eperjesi Photography is amazing and such a keepsake.  You’ll see her pictures all over our studio and home walls. to give someone the gift of a family photograph for life is amazing!

All those phone photos and professional pictures are great, but no one ever prints photos anymore.  I have a cabinet FULL of family photos from the 70’s – 90’s and often sit in front of it and get them all out for a trip down memory lane.  But what if you could put them all into a coffee table style book.  Perfect!  There are loads of services around which offer this, but we adore Cheltenham based Ella’s Books.  You simply send her all your photos and she will personalise an absolutely stunning book for you, often containing her own illustrations and annotations if required and the real bonus is that she edit’s the pictures to get the best out of even the humble mobile phone photo.  Let’s face it, who has time to compile their own book with real thought and attention to detail when you have a baby, toddler or both?!  We had our youngest’s first year documented in this way and couldn’t be happier with the result!

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A gorgeous Ella’s Book’s photo book featuring photos of my youngest by Laura Eperjesi Photography.

So this is just a small list with some of the things I think would make lovely, thoughtful gifts for any new mama and baby.  There are so many more gifts that I could add but I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!!  Did you receive something totally genius or wildly inappropriate?  It’s over to you….