Sh’Bam! Girl power n all that…

It’s International Women’s Day. I’ve marked that by wearing purple. I also got up and insisted that Jamie have a lie in, and hoovered the living room, cleaned the kitchen, sorted the washing and filled and ran the dishwasher all while entertaining Adam. Perhaps not the most feminist way to spend IWD but in a sense I feel it was quite fitting.

I’m inspired to write because of IWD – the idea of empowerment and self-fulfillment is appealing at the moment. I have recently realised that I have not felt empowered to participate in things that make me feel good, and benefit me and my family.

After having a baby you (the new you – the mother) slip down your own list of priorities. You used to be near the top, maybe even number one on the list. But now there’s a little person occupying first place, and that’s the way it stays.

Next to that, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about my family and hoping things will all work out for the best. My folks are planning to sell their house (the house I consider to be my family home) and move to Scotland and it’s an uncertain time for us all – will the house sell? Where will they move to? Will we see more of them or less? Is it the right decision? How will I ‘go home’ and visit friends in Northern Ireland? Questions without answers vex me, and always have. I have avoided asking these questions for fear of not having the solutions.

Another big priority is family balance – as in Jamie and I juggling everything we need to juggle so that we can have a flat, a car, a baby, our jobs, some sort of social life and precious precious time to relax. We’ve learned to be incredibly accommodating towards one another and for that I am so so grateful. Well done me for marrying such a great person. Seriously.

And then there’s work – wow, work takes up a lot of my energy despite only being 21 hours a week. It’s a very busy time at work so I am flat out from the moment I arrive til the moment I leave – tethered to my childcare commitments meaning I just need to get it done in the hours I have. Lunch? I’ll eat it at my desk, thanks. And no I don’t have time to ask you about your weekend, in case you decide to tell me.

And hovering in various positions on my priority list: trying to keep in touch with friends; making sure bills get paid; wondering about whether we should move to a suburban starter home and abandon city-centre-living; thinking ‘must lose weight in order to regain some self respect’; feeling guilty about not keeping in touch with everyone I know…

Where’s the bit where I get to feel independent, empowered, nurtured and looked after all at the same time? I forgot that it was important and crucially, that it’s actually MY responsibility. So after a couple of days of fairly sullen soul-searching I decided to take back control. I need to be a priority sometimes too!

I still haven’t lost the ‘baby weight’ (AKA weight) I put on when I was pregnant. I’m not someone who is naturally thin, but nor am I always hopelessly fat. My weight has yo-yo’d since I was in my teens, and my relationship with food and exercise has changed depending on where I have been and what I’ve been doing.

Unsurprisingly, the times in my life when I have been most physically active have been the times when I’ve been thinner and felt better about myself. I think I’ve made two mistakes since putting on weight with Adam:

Dieting. I love food, but I don’t live on junk food. My diet is varied and I enjoy treats as treats, not as my normal food. So dieting merely makes me obsess about food and I ultimately feel like I have to deprive myself, while also making a huge effort to cook things that taste ok without having any calories. Dieting doesn’t work for me for the long term – I get bored and I fall of the wagon, feel bad about it, beat myself up, and reach for the crusty loaf. Conclusion: I need to stop dieting.

Exercise. Since Adam’s birth I have rarely made time to exercise. I assumed that hours of walking around with Adam asleep in the pram would just offset all the tea and cake I was having with my mummy-mates. Nope. There have been many, many weekends where I could have asked Jamie to watch Adam so I could go and do some activity. I went swimming a couple of times but it was more about relaxing and enjoying some ‘me time’ back then. I needed that badly so it took priority. And hey – I was f*cking shattered most of the time anyway. Conclusion: It’s time to get a proper amount of exercise. 45 minutes, three times a week. That’s a start, but I think it’ll help.

Not only will I (hopefully) change shape a bit and lose weight, I look forward to enjoying the endorphins as well as the me-time.

This week I’ve done 100 squats (big mistake – walking was difficult the following day!) three 20 minute yoga sessions, and a 45 minute dance class yesterday. I can’t be sure, but I think I feel distinctly more energetic as a result. Is this directly linked to the exercise, or is it just a feeling of taking pride, of empowerment? I have taken control, and I have taken some time just to be, to focus on where I am and how my body feels (creaky).

Yesterday’s class deserves some comment too. I chose the most random class I could find on a Saturday morning at my local leisure centre. Classes have names like ‘Insanity’ which put me off, but I chose Sh’Bam because it instantly made me smile, and I instantly knew what it would be like. And I was right.

I won’t say much more about Sh’Bam, other than the fact that the instructor was hilarious. He was really nice and encouraging with a good sense of humour, and when things were gong well he’d shout “C’mon ladies SH’BAM!” which made me laugh out loud. At one point he said “That’s why I love Sh’Bam!” with all the cheese and air-punching energy of an American evangelist. The dancing itself was fine, I did my best, and felt great afterwards.

So watch this space. I really hope I can change my lifestyle to include more exercise, enjoy being more active and reap some benefits – mainly weight loss – to feel happier about myself. Life is great at the moment and I love being a mum – but I also love being me, a woman – with all my faults and strengths, and I would do well to remember that more often.

A recipe: baby friendly flapjacks

I’ve finally got this recipe right and these flapjacks are going down a storm with the under-twos. A few friends have asked me for the recipe and since it’s super easy, here it is!

You can of course customise this to the nth degree; we sometimes make pear and ground almond, apple cinnamon and raisin, or banana and peanut butter – what matters is the consistency so I suggest you follow this once and get a feel for the quantities, then get creative. You are also welcome to use non-tinned fruit, obviously, but once I ran out of frozen fruit purée from the early weaning days I realised this is much easier. NB when making these with banana you just use fresh fruit and mash it.

Easy apricot and coconut flapjacks

You will need:

  • 400g tin apricots (in juice, not syrup)
  • 30g butter (you can also use coconut oil, yummy), melted in microwave for 30 sec
  • 1/3 cup desiccated coconut
  • 2.5 cups porridge oats

Method:

Drain the tinned fruit and blitz in a blender or smoothie maker. Adam hates this bit.

Melt the butter or coconut oil in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the fruit and stir together.

Add 1/3 cup of desiccated coconut, followed by the oats.  I add a cup of oats at a time and stir so that I can check the mix isn’t getting too dry. As my lovely friend Angela says, you can always add more ingredients, but you can’t take them away. The mix looks like this:

Ingredients mixed together

 

Line a baking sheet with grease proof paper *THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT* and squidge the mix onto it, flattening to about 1cm thick. Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 25 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave for another 15 min.

Remove from oven and cut into bars or squares while still warm:

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These keep well in the fridge for a few days, probably up to five days but ours have never lasted that long. These are great for a snack on the go, as part of breakfast or any meal really. They’re very portable and full of oaty fruity goodness!

Tips: if swapping out the coconut just add 3 cups of oats e.g. to a tin of apple, and add a handful of raisins to the mix along with a teaspoon of cinnamon. For pear and almond, sub the coconut for ground almonds. I also add a drop of almond extract just because I have some in the cupboard. Vanilla is nice to add too. For banana and peanut butter mash 2 or 3 bananas and add about half a cup of smooth PB, then add oats a cup at a time until the mix comes together.

Thats it! I would love to hear your suggestions for other variations too!

The blind leading the blind? Who’s in charge here?

Since when did I become the one dishing out parenting advice? This morning I found myself ending a message with the legend ‘You can never have too many muslins’ while wishing a friend good luck on leaving the house with her newborn baby girl.

A few hours later it dawned on me just how far we’ve come from that point.

I still remember Adam’s first trip out to the Broughton Deli (still a regular hangout now; he has his regular highchair and we share lunch). He was snuggled into a stretchy wrap and we fussed about whether he was warm enough/too warm, if he would suffocate and if we had enough spare nappies etc for the 200 yard walk. I was all at sea, and my enduring memory is of a sense of ordered chaos. Its a fond memory now but seems like decades ago. A different me, a different Adam.

And what a learning curve it’s been. I want to caveat any advice I give you, should you be a new parent in my company: feel free to ignore me. Advice gets hurled at you from each and every direction in those first few weeks and months. Take on board the stuff that you like the sound of; that sits well with who you are; that suits the way you want to live. The rest is entirely redundant and belongs to another sort of parent.

What would I have done differently? Not much, actually. I believe you need to make your own mistakes to learn independently – something I’m trying to pass on to Adam now as he goes through some massive developmental changes.

I’d maybe have avoided springing out of bed to lift Adam as the first sob rang out of his cute wee bake; he’d maybe be able to settle himself to sleep by now (at 10 months I’ve still got to be in the room for him to nod off). Meh, he’ll do it eventually. I never heard of a three year old who couldn’t fall asleep on their own.

I’ve read a few articles about child development and been interested to find that independent learning is really important for babies. We’re conditioned to intervene almost constantly to keep babies doing what we want them to do, and stop them doing what we don’t. We engage them in structured play and games, songs and stories. We take them to classes and playgroups. We get disappointed when they don’t listen or take part, and allow ourselves to feel guilty or inadequate for that.

Since I stopped worrying about this (along with the sleep, the pressure to do baby led weaning, and the eternal fear that he will be emotionally damaged by something I must be doing wrong) and started letting him ‘free play’ I’ve seen how much fun babies can have when they just use their imagination.

We have a story at bedtime – most of the time he grabs the book (which has a cut out hole on the front cover) and opens it so he can ‘peep’ at me through the window. Once the hilarity of that is over with he will tolerate me reading to him because its a habit now. I know some babies love books and it used to vex me that Adam’s main interest involves trying to eat them.

But then I see him crawl over to his toybox and pull himself up to stand peering into it. He will carefully select what he wants and then spend a while interacting with toys, cruising around different parts of the room, overcoming physical obstacles and whooping with delight at inanimate objects. He doesn’t need any input at all! What is lovely is that he frequently comes over to me to ‘touch base’, give me a toy or pull me down for a cuddle, to make sure I’m watching. He knows I’m there and he feels secure enough to play independently – learning all the time.

So can’t a new parent learn this way too? I feel like I struggled to follow advice from books and websites and peers, to the point where my brain began to fizz and I found myself feeling quite down – as though I was a bit of a failure for not managing all the things I felt I should.

No one was harder on me than… well, me. And yet I’m still rushing to suggest stuff to new mums. I’ve reflected on this today and while I know its just out of a desire to help, I want to be mindful about it. Unsolicited advice can be helpful but can also weirdly make you feel under pressure, like you’re a sandwich short of the full picnic. I don’t want to perpetuate that so I’ll stick to answering questions I’m asked, and making sure my proverbial door is always open.

If I want Adam to learn anything from me, its that he can be confident and have faith in himself. I think I have been on an amazing journey over the past ten months, and have learned a huge amount – most of it just simply through experience. There is just no substitute for ‘on the job training’.

But it IS true, you really cannot ever have too many muslins.

I let him go and do what he wanted at the Mela. Turned out he wanted to join a Senegalese drum circle.

I let him go and do what he wanted at the Mela. Turned out he wanted to join a Senegalese drum circle.

 

Nine months later…

So pipsqueak has been keeping me very busy, and as ever the blog slips down my agenda. It’s situated below items such as ‘veg out on sofa once baby is asleep’, ‘remember to cook and eat food’, and my favourite ‘try and do housework’.

I often think about it though, and think I really must keep it up. And promptly move on to the next thing, mainly looking after Adam or sitting, eyes glazed, scrolling through Facebook until my thumb hurts. So here’s the latest.

I cleverly thought I’d fill some space by asking for guest blogs. The problem? I asked Dads. I asked Jamie who is even more frazzled than me in the evenings, as he has been at work all day being busy and important. And I asked my friend M, who is a dad to twins. ‘Nuff said. So there may be a couple of dad blogs to look out for.

Adam is almost nine months old now. He can sit up, roll over, pick stuff up and feed himself, and he can crawl around like a wee creepy crawly. I’m thrilled to see him growing and learning but it astonishes me that just nine months ago he was a tiny, sleepy bundle of hiccups and new baby smell, and he has changed so much. And THEN my mind gets blown when I think about how much he grew and developed in the first nine months when he was, er, in utero, so to speak. From the teeny wee space prawn we saw on our first scan to the full term baby, those 40 weeks were intense!

We are determined to make the most of this time while he is growing so fast, and I don’t want to wish his babyhood away. Except for one thing that is. I’m counting the days hours and minutes until he sleeps consistently through the night. I’m devastated to find that my sweet little baby is in a minority (supposedly) of babies who don’t sleep through by nine months. And I can look forward to further sleep regression between 9-12 months too. I honestly don’t think Adam’s sleep could regress any more!

My my friends with babies who do sleep all night are sympathetic, and I get sick of hearing myself repeat the same tired phrases like “this too shall pass” and trying to stay optimistic. So pass already! I’ve done my time, seriously. I’ll do whatever you like and I mean whatever.

On the seemingly random occasions when Adam does sleep through I no longer get excited, metaphorically hand-rubbing and thinking “this is it!”. No, I just try and be thankful for the extra sleep and attempt to replicate the following day minute for minute in case routine and diet have anything to do with it. They don’t.

Now that Beelzebub can crawl and sit up etc he does that in his cot and it can be quite comical to find him staring through the bars like a convict. But it’s hard to maintain a sense of humour when you’ve not slept more than four consecutive hours for nine months.

Believe me I have scoured books and the web, I’ve interrogated the parents of good sleepers, I’ve honed my routine and even changed it completely, and I’ve never quite cracked the code. But I haven’t done ‘controlled crying’ because wee Adam cries in the night for me, and at 4am I’m not doing anything more important than dealing with his needs. He’s only a baby for a short while, and I can sleep when he’s ready to let me.

Any time you like, boyo.

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Green goddess or green eyed monster?

My baby’s skin is like silk. His rosy cheeks and chubby thighs display the very picture of health, and I’m particularly proud of his bottom.

Yes, that’s right. His wee bum is as smooth as… A baby’s bottom. He has no trace of nappy rash, no irritation and wears his nappy all night up to 12 hrs with no ill effects. At 14 weeks old the only thing we have ever used on his skin is coconut oil, and my homemade baby wipes are soaked in a mixture of boiled water, baby oil and lavender oil.

But I believe the real reason for his peachy wee buns to be his delightful set of cloth nappies. And when you have this as an excuse, not to mention the financial and environmental benefits it’s easy to get carried away.

Carried away? With what?

My name is Ruth and I’m a cute cloth addict.

I recently joined a Facebook group to try and sell on my newborn size ‘stash’ and made a tidy £90 back from my original spend of £120. Result. But in doing so I found myself scanning the ‘for sale’ posts in the group, day and night while waiting for mine to sell.

I have to confess there is now only £23 left in my paypal account. I’ve been unable to resist buying some of the cute designs I’ve seen. And I’ve been telling myself that this is a perfect example of a low carbon cycle – all these nappies are ‘pre-loved’ (let’s not think about all the Carbon Royal Mail are expending pinging these things to and fro across the country from one mad mum to the next).

Like a real addict, I’ve been rooting through my other nappies to see which old tatty ones I can sell on to fund my new habit. I was given a bunch of tired but functional nappies by friends and colleagues and *ping* they just sold tonight so I’m like a gambler – trying not to be tempted by more cute cloth.

My poor, poor husband. He is becoming increasingly bewildered by my new habit. Lots of new nappies arriving means new systems to work out and new methods, remembering which boosters go with which nappy and so on.

My favourite type of nappy is a pocket style – you have an outer ‘shell’ with Velcro or poppers to fasten and more poppers to adjust height (so they can fit a baby for a long time). These have an opening at one end so you can insert a booster pad, which is the bit that absorbs all the wee. The leg/waist elastic is what contains any solids and the great thing about pocket nappies is that you can add more boosters for more absorbency. Here’s a picture (copyright Little Lambs Ltd):

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My favorite booster material is bamboo – not only is it a natural material but it’s super absorbent. It takes a while to dry compared with cotton or microfibre but it’s by far the most effective of the three. You can also get boosters made of hemp and even charcoal… A whole new world eh?

In the beginning I was tempted by ‘all in one’ nappies – the bigger versions of the first patterned nappies I bought. They’re so convenient but not always as leak-proof.

At night time we, like many cloth nappy users, switch to a traditional two – part system. The inner nappy is shaped to fit like a disposable – and then covered with a waterproof wrap. There are loads of types to choose from, and again we use bamboo as it NEVER leaks and the wrap we use is totally bomb-proof:

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The more I grow to love my cloth nappies the more interest I get from friends – most are curious because I post photos of my cute wee man in his cute wee nappies. Some are actually planning to use them or at least try them and in some cases I like to think I’ve influenced or inspired them.

The question I get most (or with most curiosity) is about washing them. Contrary to popular old fashioned belief there is no soaking or hand rinsing or boiling; I use a bucket with a snap-on lid (similar to most disposable nappy bins) with a mesh bag stretched over the rim. All wet and dirty nappies and wipes go straight into the bin and when it’s full I just lift out the mesh bag and stick the whole thing in the wash. Pic:

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A few drops of tea tree oil in the bucket keep it smelling fresh (it’s also a natural disinfectant). Here are some other factoids:

Cloth nappies should be washed with just a small amount of washing powder; fabric softener affects their absorbency so avoid it at all costs.

To keep nappies soft dry them outdoors or use a tumble drier and those Eco ball things – because we are in a flat and use ages-to-dry bamboo our washer-drier comes in very handy. Not so green but still greener than pampers. 🙂

To keep nappies smelling fresh add a few drops of essential oil like lavender or tea tree to the prewash tray of your washing machine.

Most of the time you can get away with a 30 degree wash (with a cold pre wash to rinse away the poop) but to keep smells and bacteria away do an occasional 60 wash with an extra rinse and no washing powder – called a strip wash – to thoroughly clean them and reduce the build up of powder.

For small babies poo is water soluble so you don’t need to do anything before washing – post-weaning this is another matter.

While out and about I keep a couple of wet-bags in the changing bag to pop used nappies in. These are also handy for occasional damp babygros due to pee/puke/rivers of drool. Just remember to transfer to the bucket – not nice to discover a two day old shitty nappy in your wet-bag while you’re changing your baby in front of the health visitor, which definitely didn’t happen to me today.

Vest extenders help prolong your baby vests – say what you like about disposables, your baby will never get a complex about having a big ass. Cloth-bummed babies are bootylicious, but that does make for awkward between-size dilemmas.

See? I’ve not just been blindly impulse-buying pretty nappies (although I mostly have) I also know my stuff and am ready to educate and encourage other parents too! One of these months I might even drag myself out of bed and head to a Changeworks Nappuccino, the funky wee coffee morning for fellow cloth-addicts.

I’ll post a pic of my new stash when they’re all out of the wash. A new one arrived this morning but before I could put it on I had to use it as a shield against a pee fountain! Here it is after a wash – it’s a Charlie Bananas ‘BlackBeary’ (geddit?)

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If you’re reading this and you’re interested in finding out more I’d recommend the nappy lady site for a pee fountain of information, as well as Changeworks for local information if you’re in South East Scotland.

I’m also happy to answer questions about my experience and give any advice I can. It’s so cute, fun, green and good for your baby – no nappy rash here, just peachy wee cheeks!

Sorry I’ve been busy…

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A radio silence can only mean one thing. My waiting game is over and I’ve had my baby!

Our gorgeous baby boy Adam arrived in the early hours of last Monday morning after a total of 23 hrs since my waters broke.

I had been planning a home birth for months and practising hypno birthing as well as yoga to help with relaxation and breathing for pain relief.

I had an amazing labour, that’s all I can say. The contractions did build in intensity but I felt so safe and relaxed in my own home, with a total of 3 amazing midwives over the course of the day and my amazing husband keeping me motivated and looked after.

I went from the yoga ball to tens at about 1pm, then got in the pool about 8 – the relief! – before deciding to honk on some gas and air at around 12midnight.

I loved the pool, set up in my nursery with fairy lights and soothing music. But after several hours in it the midwives encouraged me to follow my body, but the pushing/bearing down urge wasn’t strong.

They examined me and to my absolute horror I was not fully dilated, only 9cm and Adam was approaching from an awkward angle making the pain worse and the contractions less productive. They were amazed I had done that long without drugs but asked me to think about how long I had been labouring.

I weighed up how long I might have to go and in the end we decided to go to hospital for an epidural. Once there I couldn’t stay still for the epi and Adam had a wee drop in heart rate… A section was decided on.

The relief from the spinal block was unreal. The operation was standard and my experience has been fine… I have absolutely no regrets as this was the best delivery possible for me and my baby, who as it turned out was totally back to back!

Those hours I spent at home were some of the most profound and powerful of my life, the connection to my husband and my home were strengthened in a way I just don’t think would have happened in hospital.

Most importantly I do not consider this a ‘failed’ home birth. I might not have delivered at home but my labour is a wonderful memory I will always treasure. I marvel now at my own strength – meeting Adam at the end of it all was just out of this world and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I wanted to document this story and share it in case it inspires, comforts or reassures anyone. Maybe you’re thinking of having a home birth – I’d say go for it, don’t be nervous. It could be the most meaningful experience of your life. If there’s even a hint of need for you to transfer to hospital your midwife won’t waste a second. I didn’t deliver at home but I loved the security and familiarity that came with my labour.

And maybe you’re scared of labour. Don’t be. It’s an awesome experience – I felt so in control and able to just ‘blow the contractions away’ as a friend suggested. I used breathing techniques from yoga and hypno birthing to help and they really did – the first noise I made in pain was in the hospital just before they decided I needed a c section – 22 hrs in!

If I can do it, anybody can. I felt empowered and strong and I will always have that as my lasting memory. The operation was a blur, and recovery has been okay. I’m getting a bit stronger every day and being the mum of such a beautiful wee boy definitely helps.

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Nesting, nesting, 1 2 3

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Today’s blog is brought to you by the letter N – as in ‘nesting’. Now anyone who knows me will be doubled over at the thought of me on my hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor. It’s hopefully a little easier to visualise me industriously making useful things whilst creating a lot of mess.

My current project is all about reusable baby wipes. Yup. Glamourous.

The ‘cheeky wipes’ system is very clever and also quite expensive. I have inherited a dose of terry squares and I decided to copy that system, putting my ever so basic sewing skills to good use.

Here’s how it works: you have two clip-close Tupperware boxes and two ‘wet bags’ for when you’re out and about. One container or bag holds the ‘fresh’ wipes, which are usually steeped in an antiseptic solution eg water with essential oils or even chamomile tea. The other container is for your ‘mucky’ wipes, and you can either use another solution eg tea tree oil to cancel out whiffs, or just seal it up until you can deposit the wipes into your nappy laundry bin.

The wipes are just cotton, bamboo or microfibre and the boxes are literally the Tupperware tubs you see for £1 each in Poundland. I decided to be thrifty and try to make my own rather than spend a (not unreasonable) £30-odd for a new set. Well, I have the raw materials here in the flat!

I started by cutting out a shape that fits nicely into my Tupperware so I don’t have to double them up. I found that grease proof paper works well as a pattern template! I’ve got as far as cutting a whole load out, and will run a simple zigzag stitch around them to stop them fraying. If I had an overlocker (the holy grail of seamstresses worldwide) I’d use it to do a more thorough job.

Will post pics of the finished job- in the meantime here is the pattern cutting:

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