FAMILY LIFE PHOTOGRAPHY

motherhood

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We take photos ALL THE TIME, right? We take a million snaps of every moment to get a good one and our iPhones are almost always out of memory. We share tons of photos online every single day but how often do we ever get a photo printed and frame it or store it in a photo album? I’m going to guess never, or at best, very rarely.

When my first son was born, 10 years ago, phones didn’t have cameras or if they did, they were super basic. So instead of an iPhone I used my SLR. Sure I didn’t take as many photos but the ones I did were decent quality. Facebook was in its infancy at the time and Instagram didn’t exist, so occasionally I might upload an album to Facebook (remember that??) of a holiday or a birthday but most of the time if I liked the photo I would get it printed and frame it. As a result I have so many gorgeous high-quality photos of my first born.  When I say ‘high-quality’, I mean that they are at least in focus and high resolution.

By contrast I have so few decent photos of my younger two, despite the fact that technology has improved dramatically since 2007. I have a million times more photos of the pair of them but the vast majority are blurry ones taken on my phone – certainly not good enough for printing. I always think it’s ironic that the photos from 2007 look so much better than the photos taken in 2017. Surely the quality is supposed to get better with time?! I compare photos of newborn baby Oisin and newborn baby Fox (born 9 years apart) and I get confused because the photo of Fox looks like an older photo.

The other thing that makes me sad is that I have so many framed photos of Oisin when he was little, up to about the age of 3 and only one of Arlo and none of Fox. You wouldn’t know I had 3 kids if you walked into my house. Actually maybe you would judging by the mess by that’s not my point.

So recently I decided to address this issue and actually get some proper family photos taken. Also, how rare is it to get a photo with the WHOLE family in? I really wanted to get some photos of all five of us just hanging out and doing our every day thing.  I’m not a fan of studio shots, mainly because I feel super awkward/uncomfortable posing and also it would be impossible to get all 3 kids looking at the camera and smiling at the same time. I much prefer family life photography and candid informal shots. And it’s the every day moments I want to remember – be that a day out or day at home, changing a nappy or working on my phone whilst bouncing a baby on my knee. When I’m older and reflecting on their childhood I want a photo to remind me of what it felt like,  I want the photo to capture a moment in time. I don’t necessarily want to remember the (probably stressful) day we visited a studio and tried (and probably failed) to make the kids smile.

With that in mind I spoke to the lovely Phil of FAWN + BEAR and we got a date in the diary for a family shoot to take place at Hope Cove beach, near where we live in Devon.

The shoot was easy and took about an hour if that – we just hung out at the beach like normal and *almost* forgot that Phil was there in the background taking photos of us!

I was super excited to see the photos and Phil turned them round in record quick time! Within a couple days I was sent all the edited photos from the shoot. I was blown away. It’s shameful to admit but if I ever see a photo that I’m in, even if there are other people in it too, I straight away scrutinise myself and more often than not in a highly critical way. I’m sure others do the same… right?? I hate myself in most photos. I think I look too fat, my cheeks are too round or my arm looks too big or my ear is sticking out or my eyes are too squinty… the list goes on. But in the photos Phil sent me, I actually thought I looked nice. Which happens never!! It was emotional.

So now I have a whole bunch of lovely photos of the family to print and frame. I’m so happy that we did the shoot and I’m now 100% committed to having one done once a year going forward to capture the family as we all grow up. As you know babies change so quickly and we can’t keep them small for long. Having photos is one of the best ways to preserve those memories and for me the photos I now have are priceless. I absolutely love them.

I’m sharing a selection here so you can see Phil’s style and if you’re interested in booking a family life shoot then get in touch with her on email info@fawnandbear.co.uk or find FAWN + BEAR on Facebook. Phil covers both London and Devon and most places in between. She is currently offering readers of the blog a cool 15% off your total order – just mention THE DOUBLE MAMA when booking.

 

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The nights a breast pump saved my life

motherhood, Reviews

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Breast pumps have been liberating women since their inception! Offering the freedom of a night off, be that to catch up on much-needed sleep, party (we can dream) or just work.

I remember vividly the first time I used a breast pump. It was February 2007, (almost 10 years ago- eek!!) and with my due date long gone I was eager to get my labour going and avoid an induction. I twiddled my nipples (it’s a thing look it up) and pumped using a handheld manual pump throughout the entire movie of Happy Feet in a desperate bid to get the oxytocin flowing. All I got was RSI.

That manual pump was hard work but later it saved my nipple from falling off. Breastfeeding was tough and painful at first, I’d probably got the latch all wrong and Oisin fed ferociously. I was determined to do it though so persevered through gritted teeth. The pump enabled me to keep feeding Oisin breastmilk whilst giving my nipples a break from bring gnawed on, thus allowing them to heal.

Second time round I bought a secondhand electric medela swing pump and it was amazing!! So easy in comparison. I discovered I could pump for 20 minutes straight without getting cramp in my hand or even breaking a sweat. I found I could pump whilst drinking a cuppa and reading a magazine with Arlo snoozing beside me. I had a pretty good set up going on if I say so myself.

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I pumped a lot regularly second time round because it was so easy. We got into a nice little pattern of James feeding Arlo expressed breastmilk on a Friday night to give me a night off (to sleep) and then early Saturday morning I’d pump to ease the inevitable engorgement from missed feeds then pop it straight in the freezer ready for the following Friday! God I loved those Fridays!! Living for the weekend took on a whole new meaning.

I also credit the pump for getting Arlo to sleep through the night. He used to wake so often at night and have these big long feeds then tiny top ups throughout the day. My milk therefore came in big time at night and not so much in the day. Because I couldn’t live a nocturnal life forever I had to switch things round. I took to pumping diligently; every single feed, every day, for about a week. This way I was able to ensure Arlo was getting all the milk he needed during daylight hours. Almost overnight he started sleeping better and eventually we cracked it! Whoop Whoop!!

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By the time my third came along I was offered a medela swing maxi to try out. The maxi is basically the double version. If the original swing was amazing then this was even more so. Now it was not only easy to pump one bottle, but I could get TWO in one sitting. Time saver. Game changer.

To be totally honest I don’t know what I’d do without the pump. It has been a genuine lifesaver. As a busy mum of three, juggling running a business with raising children, there are times when I have to be away from my baby. Without the pump I would have to frequently throw formula at the situation. Not that I have a problem with formula and I do sometimes use it, but my breastfeeding journey would probably have been cut short as a result, which would have been upsetting. I really want to be able to feed Foxy until he’s at least one. The pump has allowed me to continue breastfeeding but with time off. It’s been totally liberating and has saved me on many a night.

I’ve been recommending the medela swing for some time – both on my blog and to my mates – but now I’d say definitely look at getting the maxi. If you’re going to sit there pumping you might as well get two bottles for the time it takes to express one.

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So after clocking up a considerable amount of hours pumping over the past decade, here’s my TOP FIVE TIPS for a successful expressing session:

1. Make sure you’ve got a nice cup of hot tea ready and in position. This is ESSENTIAL.

2. Make sure you’ve got snacks to hand before you start. You need the calories when you’re breastfeeding, same goes with expressing. My choice of snack is biscuits but yours might be carrot sticks. Whatever. It’s all good.

3. Make sure you have entertainment to hand e.g. a remote for the TV or a magazine or a book or your phone. You probably don’t just want to sit there staring at a wall else it will feel tedious.

4. Ideally pump when baby is asleep so you don’t have to try and attend to anything else. Baby juggling whilst pumping can result in spillage of precious milk, which is more than a little frustrating (speaking from experience)

5. Best time to pump is in the morning. This is usually when you have the most milk.

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And remember you can store breastmilk in the fridge for 5 days and the freezer for 6 months! Further info on storing breastmilk can be found here.

Happy pumping Mamas!

JO’S IN THE (MOTHER) HOOD

In the (mother) hood

Having recently relocated to Devon from the big smoke it seems rather fitting that today we have a Devon-based Mum boss on the blog. Jo is a mum to two boys, sewing extraordinaire, charity worker and founder of Fox & Tootsie . Like many of us Jo is busy setting up a small business in those precious moments that exist between working the day job, keeping the kids alive and the house semi-clean. All in the hope of achieving that sometimes seemingly elusive thing; a work-life balance. For parents, that often means being able to work around the kids; being able to do the daily school run and be present for those special moments. Since most workplaces unfortunately don’t offer that level of flexibility, more and more talented women are leaving the workplace and setting up shop for themselves. For Jo right now that means late nights spent at the sewing machine but the dream is being able to focus on creating awesome kids clothes full time.

My boys have been wearing her harem-style leggings for a while now and they definitely get a big thumbs up from me! They’re made from the softest organic cotton, have a big stretchy waistband that’s gentle on the tummy and are comfy and unrestrictive, making them perfect for active kids. They are available in a variety of cool prints, are hard-wearing, wash well and tick pretty much every box you need when buying clothes for the smalls. And right now you can get 10% off with code ‘THEDOUBLEMAMA’ but only until 21.09.16. So do check out Fox and Tootsie and show Jo some mum love by following her on Instagram.

For now though, here’s what Jo has to say about her experience of motherhood from taking 15 pregnancy tests to having a peaceful, relaxed and beautiful planned cesarean section…

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Name: Jo

Age: 31

Location: Newton Abbot, Devon

Number of Kids: 2

Names and ages: Henry, 4 and George, 2

Was motherhood planned, a lovely surprise or somewhere in the middle?

Planned and very much wanted. I was desperate to become a mum, it was everything I ever wanted. I was one of those girls who dreamed of marriage and babies age 5, and couldn’t wait!!

Initial feelings on finding out you were pregnant?

Excitement, shock, didn’t believe it (15 tests later it started to sink in!!)

How did you tell your partner?

Showed him the test stick with Henry. With George I just knew, but we did a test just to confirm!

His reaction?

Shock, pleased but apprehensive. All of a sudden we both felt really really responsible and I was only 5 weeks pregnant!!! If only we knew what was to come 😉

Did you glow your way through pregnancy or was it a complete bitch?

Loved it, but moaned a lot (woman’s prerogative?!?!). My Henry bump was neat and compact, my George bump was MASSIVE. He was 9lb10, say no more!!

Tell me about your birth experience…

Henry was breech, so I had a planned c-section. I was so nervous but contrary to all the horror stories, it was peaceful, relaxed and beautiful, with my husband Matt. He was wrapped in a towel and passed straight to me and I fell head over heels in love instantly. That feeling is indescribable.

George was a different story! I found out I had group b strep (something every pregnant woman should read up about as we don’t test for it as standard in the UK and the outcomes can be catastrophic). So, as soon as my waters broke (on my due date!!) I had to be admitted to hospital to receive IV antibiotics. He was born 24 hours later, forceps and emergency so he was rushed straight to ICU. I had blood transfusions and he had tests for everything. We were reunited 3 days later, and I totally fell in love with him. We went home after a week and he was given the all clear – those moments make you realise how fragile and beautiful life is.

Describe motherhood in a few words…

Gorgeous, intense, magical, brutal. Motherhood enables you to experience the highest highs and the lowest lows all in one day!!!

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Can you share any parenting highlights?

The time Henry told the supermarket checkout man ‘mummy is wearing a nappy’ is up there!!

The boys started randomly doing a song and dance together at forest school recently, it was hilarious and everyone started laughing and clapping! Little entertainers they are.

Can you share any low points?

Henry went flying into the corner of a skirting board when learning to crawl, he was like a frog and lept so far forward!! That was a trip to A&E and a glued head!!

George went flying off the slide at the local play ground recently – and I was too far away to catch him!! He was quite proud of his HUGE bump – oops!

What do you do when the baby sleeps?

Mainly sew!! I love it, my hobby has now turned into my career and I couldn’t be happier! I’m also partial to watching films and gardening.

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Tell me about your fox & tootsie…

Fox&tootsie is my business. I hand make children’s clothing age 0-5. I source organic cotton and make gorgeous, fun and unique items for little ones.

My mission is to make everyday, bright and funky clothing and accessories for your little one so they can adventure in original, vibrant and fun clothes.

As a parent I have always found it hard to find funky prints and clothes that fit my chunky boys. So I am making loose stretchy clothing with the most adorable prints to suit any child with loads of room to get messy, have fun and explore!

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Do you have another job (besides being a Mama)?

I do, I work for a charity part time and I am in the throws of setting up fox&tootsie. My dream is to do fox&tootsie work full time, so I can do the school run and enjoy my babies littleness rather than hear about their experiences from the childminder.

What’s the best bits of being a Mama?

The adventures – seeing the world through their eyes – if you stop and explore in the way that they do, you see magic and adventure in everything. Practicing mindfulness when having kids is easy, they are doing it constantly – we could learn a thing or two from these little ones if we let ourselves.

What are the worst bits?

Haha, at the moment it’s getting dressed, seriously! You have no idea how angry my kiddies get about having to get dressed. Even when I have made them new clothes!!!

The tantrums are also tough, especially when you have to be somewhere!

What do you find hardest about being a Mum?

Juggling and that bloody annoying guilt fairy!! Who invented that horrid feeling anyway!!

What was the biggest surprise that you wish you’d be warned about/known before becoming a Mama?

The biggest surprise was how intense that feeling of love and protection is! I would literally do anything for my bubbas, and love them beyond where I thought was possible.

And the sleep, people tell you before you have them ‘get your rest in now’ and you’re like yeah yeah I can handle anything me. Then they arrive. Then 2 weeks later you’re in a state of sleep deprived shock!!

If someone agreed to mind your kids for a week what would you do?

Ooooooo….sleep, then go out with the girls, then sleep!! I would love to go away on a mindfulness break, but I couldn’t hack a week away from my little glorious grot bags!! A few days would do 🙂

Have you got any advice for mamas-to-be/new mamas?

Just to be kind to yourself and accept the help. You don’t have to prove you are a hero, you already are because you have birthed this amazing being. So accept the help on offer. Oh and sniff your baby lots, what is it with that glorious newborn smell?!?!

What’s do you reckon the most essential item mamas-to-be need to pack in their birth bag?

Nice moisturiser – it’s hot in the hospital and my skin dries out quickly. It’s also nice to make yourself feel a bit better. Also lots of babygros for baby, I tried the whole outfit for a newborn thing and dressing him was harder than getting a degree!! Babygros all the way 🙂

What’s been your best baby product? 

Grobags!! Couldn’t have lasted without them at night! Also my littlest loved the grohush, white noise helped us a lot with settling and calming.

I also had a beko sling which was just brill – and still use it sometimes now for my 2 year old on long walks when he gets tired.

What was really useful in the early days?

My mum!!! No seriously, she was a lifesaver I wouldn’t have got through it without her. Also my friends, so I could share my joy and also my woes, I needed lots of hugs after having George and they supplied them in the bucket load.

Did you make any baby-related /pregnancy hormone induced purchases that you regretted / were a total waste of money?

Oh god loads – I had to have the latest gadget! I would say the bumbo seat was pretty hopeless because my boys legs were too chunky!! They always got stuck!! I also brought loads of nursing bras before the baby arrived – but I needed them 10x bigger so I would advise waiting!! Haha.

What’s your ultimate mum product?

Medela nipple shields in the early days, water bottle purifier as I was always thirsty, a good changing bag – especially with 2 as you had to take so much stuff for such little beings!!

Who inspires you?

My mum who is the most caring and generous person I know. My dad, who believes in my everything and my gorgeous husband who always has my back! Oh and my kidlets, who make me chuckle and smile every day.

I am always inspired by people who take risk and chances…

How many children do you dream of having?

I would love one more, but don’t want to compromise the love and attention I give to my boys. So I think we are more than happy with two – I just feel so so lucky that we have 2 gorgeous boys.

If you could go back to your pre-child life, where you weren’t so tired, for a short period of time, what would you do?

More!! I would travel more because I could at a whim.

What do you miss about life before kids?

Nothing really – my kids have made me who I am now…they have brought so much to my life, and it’s everything I imagined and more (cliche I know, but it’s true).

What do you love most about being a Mum?

The cuddles and the laugh out load funny moments. Laughing as a family is a big thing in our house. Also the adventures, being able to go on a snail hunt, dress up for it and make a home for the snails, all on a Friday evening, just because!!

What do you wish you were better at when it comes to parenting?

Getting less stressed when we are in a rush (which is pretty often when you have kids who aren’t keen on the concept of wearing clothes that aren’t superman/batman outfits!!)

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BIG THANKS to Jo for taking the time to answer the million and one questions above! Do take a minute to check out Fox&Tootsie – she makes some pretty cool baby dribble bibs as well as unisex leggings for babies and toddlers. Plus Jo’s offering readers of the blog 10% off until 21.09.16 using code ‘THEDOUBLEMAMA’ so if you want to make a purchase now is the time!  You can also find Fox&Tootsie on Instagram here.

If you’d like to take part in the ‘In the (mother) hood’ series just drop me an email: thedoublemama@gmail.com

KATIE’S IN THE (MOTHER) HOOD

In the (mother) hood

Katie, aka co-founder of MUSH, is not just IN the mother hood but redefining it by enabling mums all over the country to create their own Mama gang. MUSH is a new app which has been accurately described as a mix between TINDER and NCT classes without the one night stands and the upfront costs. It’s a free app which makes it super easy for you to find like-minded mum mates in your local area.

Given I’ve just moved to Devon where I know hardly anyone, for me it’s PERFECT. I gave it a go last night and once I got past the whole awkward sending someone a message and trying to sell myself bit, which I’ve not had to do since my last online dating dalliance approximately 5 years ago, it was great. I ‘met’ a nice Mama with two boys of similar ages to my two littles and we have set up a date to meet IRL later this month. It really does feel like dating; similar levels of initial awkwardness when introducing yourself leading to nervous excitement and anticipation ahead of the date itself. Who knows what way it will go after meeting but let’s hope not as bad as some of my crash and burn plenty of fish-related moments.

Mum-dating (Mating?) aside, today we are lucky enough to have Katie right here on the blog telling us how motherhood is for her and how she came up with this corker of an idea. I’ve no doubt you will be able to relate to her experience of juggling work emails with swing pushing, having never-ending amounts of washing to do and a weak pelvic floor!.

Before I hand over though, GO DOWNLOAD MUSH!! Honestly, it’s my best App Store download in a long time!! For those of you who missed out on using Tinder (myself included), this is one way you can get your thrills without upsetting the husband. It’s fun, easy to use, innovative and means you can make mum mates who live on your doorstep. It gets a big massive tick from me!

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Above: Katie (left) and her business partner Sarah (right) with their children. Check out the big ad board in the background!!

Name: Katie Massie-Taylor

Age: 33

Location: Mortlake, South West London

Number of Kids: 2

Names and ages: Tilly, 3 and Lyla, 1

Was motherhood planned,a lovely surprise or somewhere in the middle?

Totally planned. As much as it ever can be. Actually, more laissez faire if we are going to be really honest! My husband would say opportunist. Miracle really.

Initial feelings when you found out you were pregnant:

Immediately morning sick! In awe, terrified, scream-in-your-throat excited.

How did you tell your partner?

Phone call with the first (boooo not interesting!). The second I sent him an email with an image of the pregnancy test! I was in UK and he was in New York at the time.

Describe motherhood in a few words:

Challenging, rewarding, lonely (at times), frustratingly unpredictable, lots of washing, housework, cuddles, happiness, completeness (doh!).

What do you do when the baby sleeps?

I used to sleep too. Now I have a triple shot coffee and work!

Tell us about your business…

My business partner and I have set up an app called Mush. Mush is a free app that connects mums with other, local like-minded mums in their area. It is loosely described as Tinder meets NCT and is a new way for mums to connect during what can be a (surprisingly!) lonely time. We launched 10 weeks ago and have 20,000 mums on the app already, and growing fast.

How do you juggle the logistics of work and being a mama?

I have help, luckily. Ana is my nanny who comes every day so that I can properly focus on work. We did a lot in the beginning though during nap times/ after bedtime! We tried to have designated times to respond to emails/ work, but the reality is that we did it on the hoof a lot… whilst shaking a toy in front of the baby, whilst pushing the swing, on the move with them in the pushchair. Stressful to feel like you are doing two things badly, hence the childcare now. It is better for all of us!

What’s the worst bits of being a mama?

Grazes, falls, sad faces, big chest heaving tears, leaving them, them not going to bed when you want to be a grown up, refusing food you have cooked.

What’s the best bits of being a mama?

Having that bit in their necks that you can bury your nose into for cuddles. Hearing them learn to speak, first hearing the three year old make a clever and amusing comment on the world. (Can’t think of any- see question at bottom about what I wish I was better at!)

What was the biggest surprise after becoming a Mum?

The crushing loneliness of having a full day ahead with a small baby and no one else to share it with. The need to stay busy with a baby, despite not having anything much to do (above and beyond the all-consuming sleep, eat, poo cycle).

If you had a week off your children what would you do?

Go on a detox, no go on a bender, no go on a detox, no go on a bender. That’s a tough one!

Have you any advice for new mamas?

Download Mush. Find your network of buddies to share the highs and the lows of what’s ahead. I promise you won’t regret it.

Best baby product?

A sling for sure. As your baby gets older and heavier (and you add another kid to the mix) you will look back on the days of walking out with something strapped on to your chest, a nappy in a pocket, keys and a wallet and THAT’S IT with such fondness and nostalgia. Until you need to, avoid lumbering yourself with a buggy or a bag!

Most essential item in your birth bag?

Chocolate bars. For afterwards. And loose clothes! Here is a guide we have on Mush.

 Who inspires you?

Any mum who does well in her job, and at home, and who does it with a sense of balance and prioritising the right stuff. I think that is the biggest struggle for mums, and you are constantly trying to make sure one doesn’t take over the other.

How many children do you want?

Three or four!

What do you wish you were better at when it comes to parenting?

Writing stuff down. Capturing funny moments to remember them later.

What do you miss about life before kids?

Camping trips, spontaneous sunset watching, drinks on beaches, staying out late, lie-ins. Bigger boobs, a better pelvic floor, fresh looking eyes.

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Above: Katie (left) and Sarah (right), founders of Mush, the ‘dating’ app for Mums.

A BIG MASSIVE thank you to Katie for taking part in our ‘In the (mother) hood series’ and for bringing Mush into my life at a time of need. You rock.

If you’re a Mum running a biz on the side of baby-rearing and would like to be in the (mother) hood, just drop me an email: thedoublemama@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

ANNA AND LESLEY ARE IN THE (MOTHER) HOOD

In the (mother) hood

Today we have a super special double whammy ‘in the motherhood’ featuring not one, but TWO amazing Mamas! It doesn’t get much more exciting than that around here folks. Lesley and Anna are mamas first and foremost but also the founders of Lara & Ollie, a teething jewellery brand. Their colourful baby-friendly beads and bangles are great for teething babes to gnaw on and are fast becoming the accessory of choice for stylish mamas.

I have had the pleasure of meeting this lovely mum duo now in real offline life and more recently I had the honour of ‘modelling’ for them, evidence of which can be found on the Lara & Ollie website (don’t laugh)! Their candid interview which you can read below brought actual tears to my eyes; it is so refreshing and eye opening and made me want to squeeze each of my children tight and thank my lucky stars.

Here they share what is it like to struggle to conceive and how it feels to become a parent at long last to the child of your dreams…

**Readers of the blog are being treated to 20% off with the code THEDOUBLEMAMA**

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Name: Anna Wicks & Lesley Newsholme

Age: 37 & 41

Location: Lee, South East London

Number of Kids: 1 each (at the moment)

Names and ages of aforementioned: Lara & Ollie, both aged 2

Was motherhood planned, a lovely surprise or somewhere in the middle?

Anna: Very much planned. 3 years, lots of tests (no identified problems), lots ‘not pregnant’ peeing on sticks so we chose to brave the IVF route. 3 rounds of IVF later we were blessed with pregnancy and an awesome little girl called Lara. And we’re braving it all again at the moment… big eek.

Lesley: Planned… 4 years in the making! 4 failed pregnancies, followed by a diagnosis of an early menopause, followed by a failed first round of IVF. Ollie was the result of our second round of IVF using an egg donor.

Initial feelings on finding out you were pregnant?

Anna: Massive massive relief after the hideous ‘2 week wait’. We’d also agreed we’d stop at 3 IVF rounds so it was kind of our last chance. But also petrified – we were only 3 weeks pregnant and has such a long journey ahead.

Lesley: Elation, relief, tears and huge anxiety that it would not result in an actual baby again.

How did you tell your partner?

Anna: I made him go and read the test so he knew before I did!

Lesley: He was there when I peed on the stick!

His reaction?

Anna: Speechless – and happy. He’s such a level headed person he didn’t get too excited and kept me calm

Lesley: Same as mine

Did you glow your way through pregnancy or was it a complete bitch?

Anna: Luckily I glowed – no sickness, no tiredness, no water retention, I didn’t become a hormonal bitch (although I’m sure some people might disagree!)

Lesley: Glow – All my back pain (which I’ve suffered from for years) just took a hike for 9 months it was bloody marvellous!

Tell me about your birth experience? 

Anna: Lara was born in the labour ward at Lewisham hospital. My labour was pretty good really. I laboured quickly so no time for drugs or faffing around as I was fully dilated when I got to hospital. But she got stuck so I had to have an epidural, forceps etc. But we didn’t care, we just wanted her out safely. It was just my husband and I, then as soon as we were in the ward our families all rocked up together liked an emotional bunch of excited teenagers – it was really special. All straightforward, home the next day. Then discovered they had left a swab inside me which was pretty gross so rushed back in for another night – that wasn’t so fun. Long and boring story but resulted a full maternity department investigation, interviews and the works. And processes have been changed at the hospital because of it. We didn’t take it any further. The care we got was amazing and we were all fine.

Lesley: Unfortunately for us there won’t be a next time for us and I kinda feel sad that I won’t get to experience an amazingly calm and relaxing birth… It was fairly awful. My waters broke a week before he was born, but was told they hadn’t when I went to the birthing centre so was sent home! That resulted in an infection and a bubba with a high heart rate so I got whisked out of the birthing pool after only an hour and taken to the labour ward. After pushing for what felt like a lifetime with baby not even fully engaged, exhaustion kicked in and I had an epidural and a forceps delivery. When he was plonked on top of me the relief and joy we felt was immeasurable, and the pain of not only the previous 48 hours, but the pain of the almost 5 year struggle just vanished. It also made us not really care that much that we were burgled while I was giving birth… The fact I had to spend the next five nights in prisoner cell block 5 (AKA the Maternity Ward) was more annoying than our stuff getting nicked!

Describe motherhood in a few words:

Anna: Awesome, miraculous, exhausting and a massive rollercoaster from one day, minute and second to the next.

Lesley: Hands down the best job in the world!

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Can you share any highlights?

Anna & Lesley: Literally every day is filled with funny little moments – but probably only funny to us! We see each other most days and some of the things Lara and Ollie say and do cracks us up!!

Can you share any low points?

Anna: In Sainos a few weeks ago; after negotiating over pulling the wheelie trolly, nearly taking out old people with said wheelie trolly, running off at speed down the booze isle and trying to take everything in the naughty aisles I let her mess around in the buggy while I had 20 secs of peace to pay. Obvs she fell out backwards and hit her head hard. Cue a lot of screaming and a huge egg on her head. Then about 2 hrs later she was helping me cook standing on her stool and burnt her arm on the hot saucepan. Wasn’t a great day and felt very guilty about being such a rubbish mum. Until my mum reassured me by relaying a few similar stories!

Lesley: Ollie is the kamikaze king! So there have been a few bumps and scrapes for which I feel totally awful about. The worst one being when he face planted into a blunt chunk of metal in a play area and two of his teeth went through his bottom lip- right through to the other side, even leaving marks on his chin… Blood everywhere, a trip to A&E and a referral to a Maxillofacial (the fancy word for facial reconstruction) Consultant. He’s still got a lump of scar tissue, and every time I look at it I think ‘yep, my fault’.

What do you do when the baby sleeps?

Anna: Work, work, work. Oh and eat, of course. And try to have a quick conversation with my husband before he works too. Because we have no daytime childcare during the week it’s quite difficult to get anything done in the day for our teething jewellery business so nights and nap times are our only chance. Masses of admin – emails, DMs, customer stuff, organising ourselves for events, trade fairs bla bla, not to mention making and packaging products in an attempt to keep up with demand.

Lesley: werk werk werk on our little biz – ditto to everything Anna says!

Tell me about your business…

Anna/Lesley: We set up a silicone teething jewellery business called Lara & Ollie when the kids were a year old. When we became mums we put all our costume jewellery away and when we found teething jewellery we thought it was a brilliant idea, but couldn’t find anything we liked. So we sourced some beads, made our own and the rest is history…! Our aim is to help mamas feel stylish again and dress up an every day outfit with something fun – that also happens to be safe for a baby to chew and fiddle with.

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How to juggle it all?

Anna/Lesley: It’s a tough one trying to build a business with toddlers as they never sit still. Ever. But as we live close to each other we throw the kids in the garden with all their toys and talk shop as we supervise/break up arguments. We get together almost every day so talk shop whilst we’re Sainsbury’s, en route to play groups and have a ridiculous amount of Whatsapp chat as we think of ideas, remember things we need to do etc. It’s a massive juggle because we also try not to let it take over our primary jobs as mamas. However we’re super ambitious and excited about what we’re creating so sometimes it’s hard to just put it to one side and concentrate on being mamas.

What’s the best bits of being a Mama?

Anna: Unconditional love from someone who doesn’t judge. Then there’s the laughter and silliness and the incredible sponge that a 2 year old is. She remembers everything and is so inquisitive and interested in the world – it’s amazing. Seeing her unconditionally love her daddy and having so much fun with him too that’s pretty special. And being a family unit – love it when the 3 of us hang out.

Lesley: So many best bits I don’t know where to begin… The unconditional love, the kisses, the cuddles – Ollie gives the best cuddles ever. And after the journey we’ve been on just being a family – the 3 of us together – I’m grateful for that every day.

What are the worst bits?

Anna: At the moment the constant negotiation to do anything – from getting dressed, leaving the house, getting in the bath. Then there’s the eating. How can someone be that fussy about food that is so yummy. Oh and the terrible 2s tantrums – oh the drama!!

Lesley: yeah he still doesn’t sleep 2 years on! Small price to pay though.

What do you find hardest about being a Mum?

Anna: The worry – not all the time but worrying about their safety, injuries and the world she’s going to grow up into – the Internet in particular

Lesley: For me there is absolutely nothing harder than wanting to be a mum and not being able to fulfil that dream, so I find this really hard to answer. Yes there are tough moments, but they pass and are soon and easily forgotten.

What was the biggest surprise that you wish you’d be warned about/known before becoming a Mama?

Anna: that everything really is a phase and you worry like hell, then it passes and you’re onto the next phase/challenge and have forgotten all about the previous one.

Lesley: You can survive on very little sleep… for a very long time!

If someone agreed to mind your kid(s) for a week what would you do?

Anna: Go skiing with hubby – but in a 5 star luxury spa hotel so I could awesome food, amazing wine and a bit of pampering too.

Lesley: Worry about Ollie for a week!!

Is there anything you’d like to share with new mums / mums to be that you wish you’d known?

Anna: Breastfeeding is frikkin hard work and you’ve got to be dedicated, strong and determined – not easy when you’re sleep deprived and have no clue what to do with this small person! And everything is a stage. It passes, then there is another stage!

Lesley: Nothing is as straightforward as the books suggest… All babies are different and just because one does one thing at a certain age doesn’t mean yours will too. Take sleep for instance… Lara slept through from about 12 week, Ollie however only managed it at 14 months (and has since regressed!!!).

What do you reckon the most essential item mamas-to- be need to pack in their birth bag?

Anna: My bag was in the car until I was back in the ward so was chuff all use – I just drank a lot of water. Our NCT group had lengthy conversations about what we were going to wear to give birth in. Comedy!

Lesley: Ah those comedy conversations about what to wear in hospital!!.. You really don’t need to sweat it about maternity nightwear!

What’s been your best baby product?

Anna: Stokke Tripp Trapp (totally didn’t copy Cat on this one but massively agree with her). It’s amazing. A few family members said we were mad spending so much money but it’s worth every penny and more. And looks lovely!

Lesley: A sleepyhead baby pod – although it didn’t make him sleep through we certainly got more sleep after buying one. Then there’s the Kokoso coconut oil – it’s like a miracle cream for everything from nappy rash to cradle cap. Also a digital thermometer – boring but takes the ‘oooo did I do it right/for long enough etc etc’ out of temperature taking.

What was really useful in the early days?

Anna: Biscuits, cake, hubby and my mum – phoned her at least once a day to ask what the hell to do (still do ha ha!)

Lesley: Coffee and my other half (both still are!)

Did you make any baby-related /pregnancy hormone induced purchases that you regretted / were a total waste of money?

Lesley: That flipping sheep that claims it will help your baby sleep!

Anna: That frikkin sheep was ace – we loved it and Lara slept with it singing lullabies for months ha ha!!!!

What’s your ultimate mum product? 

Anna/Lesley: Our Lara & Ollie teething jewellery. Obvs!!!

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How many children do you dream of having?

Anna: Really hope we can have a sibling for Lara. And then that’s it. I don’t think I could cope with any more than 2 and frankly our bank balance couldn’t either!

Lesley: One was a dream come true

If you could go back to your pre-child life, where you weren’t so tired, for a short period of time, what would you do?

Anna: Travel

Lesley: Go travelling again

What do you miss about life before kids?

Anna: I genuinely don’t miss anything. Ok maybe not having our house overtaken by toys, but I even like that! I get really annoyed when people constantly moan about parenting and their kids. When you’ve been faced with the possible prospect of not being able to have a family you feel grateful every day. And I’m definitely not saying it’s easy, it’s bloody hard work – way harder than a high powered career but it’s also a lot more rewarding and you get so much more back. Parenting is a choice!

Lesley: Nada

What do you love most about being a Mum?

Anna: So much – I don’t know where to begin!

Lesley: Unconditional love and all the cuddles as a starter for 10. I could go on and on and on!

What do you wish you were better at when it comes to parenting?

Anna: I wish I had more patience. My fuse is so short and I wish I could be better at taking a deep breath and letting things go. Luckily my husband is very patient so he’s trying to coach me!

Lesley: Ha ha – more patience.

 

Thank you ladies for being so open, I’m sure your respective journeys to motherhood will resonate with a lot of women and give hope to those who are going through similar struggles. And for those of us out there who’ve not had this experience, thank you for reminding us how very lucky we are because on the hard days, I for one can sometimes forget.

Finally Anna and Lesley are kindly offering readers of the blog a cool 20% off any Lara & Ollie purchases using the code THEDOUBLEMAMA. Happy shopping peeps!

From one Dad to another: Tips for helping your breastfeeding partner

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This post is a little bit special as it’s not been written by me but my kind-of –instagram-husband. I say ‘kind of’ because 1) we’re not married and 2) he doesn’t take that many pictures for me, but he is definitely the behind-the-scenes guy. One of the things that he does do without recognition is support me with my breastfeeding (and write blog posts about it because he knows it’s so important to me)! So on that note, here’s his tips for other Dads so they can feel a little less useless if their partner/wife decides to give it a go! So mamas if you’re breastfeeding or planning to, just share this little list with your other half…

 

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It’s National Breastfeeding Week and as a father of 2 babies under 18 months, I have some recent experience of trying to support (sometimes unsuccessfully) a breastfeeding Mama. Breastfeeding is an incredibly personal experience/decision, so please don’t put me down as some kind of evangelical ‘breast is best’ Dad, this is just some advice for Dads whose partner has decided to breastfeed because, it can be tough and we can actually help…. a little….

1 – Support

It can be tough in the early stages and I’m told very painful. Encouraging your baby Mama and reminding her what a good job she is doing will go a little way to her not wanting to lovingly place a pillow over your face you in your sleep as she does the 3am feed. On this note, getting up and offering to do the settling/burping so she can get back to sleep is another way to avoid this occupational hazard.

2 – Drinks!

Breastfeeding is thirsty work but Mama being able to make a drink for herself with a baby latched to her boob is tough. I help by regularly filling up a big drinks bottle, which a) doesn’t spill if there is no level surface to hand and b) holds a lot of liquid so has to to be replenished less often.

3 – Cook up some healthy meals

Fairly self explanatory, but a good healthy diet will help Mama’s milk supply and general wellbeing. As above it can be tricky for her to find time to eat herself when feeding baby around the clock. So do what you can to make sure she is eating well, but to be fair, as long as it’s you who is ‘cooking’ it, beans on toast will probably be well received.

4 – Baby must be hungry….

Your crying baby might not necessarily be hungry if she/he is crying, especially if they have just been fed. I have been guilty in the past of just handing baby over as soon as he became a bit irritable to the annoyance of Mama. Ask (if you don’t know) when the last time baby was fed. If it was less than an hour or so ago, don’t automatically hand baby over. Try burping, rocking, taking them for a walk etc. Remember, you have just as much ability to settle/comfort baby as Mama does.

5 – Encourage her to pump

Even the most dedicated breastfeeding Mama will want/need a break at some point. When she is ready and breastfeeding has been established maybe encourage her to pump some baby fuel. This means you can potentially do a night feed and give her the gift of sleep, or let her have a night out. If you do give mama a night off, make sure the pump is ready in the morning, as you don’t wan’t to end up in this situation…

Overall though I think it’s just about doing what you can to help Mama and baby, which I am sure we all want to do. Finally, if your baby mama wants some tips on breastfeeding, tell her to have a look at my partner’s blog; The Double Mama and/or her Instagram for loads of advice.

And if you want to see what I get up to with my three boys (can’t promise it’s that exciting) then you can find me on Instagram here!

JENNY’S IN THE (MOTHER) HOOD

In the (mother) hood

It’s back!! Y’all be pleased to know the supposedly-weekly (but not at all weekly) ‘In the (mother) hood’ feature has returned! This is where we get the opportunity to virtually meet and get to know the Mamas we’ve been busy stalking a little better, learn what motivates them and be inspired etc.

This week all those boxes are being ticked because we have the wonderful Jenny from Top Five Baby on the blog sharing her story and experience of Motherhood thus far. Be warned it’s not all rose-tinted as Jenny and her husband sadly lost their beautiful little boy Elliott at just ten days old. Here Jenny talks about how those experiences have shaped her journey and how she’s managed to turn the loss of Elliott into something positive for Great Ormond Street Hospital in his memory…

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Name: Jenny Walker

Age: 32 (although my daughter tells everyone I’m STILL 21).

Location: North Derbyshire now, near Bakewell (was Stoke Newington until recently, all my babies were born in London)

Number of Kids: This is always a tricky question for me, if I give the most honest answer this confuses people and stuns many into silence, but I’m a mummy to three and always will be. My second baby, a little boy called Elliott, died at 10 days old and I have two girls now.

Names and ages of aforementioned: Nia age 4; Cora, 20 months (born a year and a day after her brother) and Elliott.

Was motherhood planned, a lovely surprise or somewhere in the middle?

Very much wanted and planned for all three.

Initial feelings on finding out you were pregnant?

Pure delight.

How did you tell your partner?

I can’t remember exactly but I’m pretty sure I waved my wee stick in his face (probably every time!)

His reaction?

Very happy too (at least he seemed to be!) he was probably not too pleased about the wee stick in his face.

Did you glow your way through pregnancy or was it a complete bitch?

All three were nauseating for the first 14 weeks and then much better during the second trimester, followed by obstetric cholestasis (again all three pregnancies) at around 37/38 weeks. So not exactly dream pregnancies but as is always the case, I remember them being a lot easier than they were.

Tell me about your birth experience?

All three were hospital births at the Homerton in East London.

Nia: horrendous induction followed by epidural and forceps. Yikes.

Elliott: induction again but this time without pain relief (not on purpose) and a much calmer, happier experience. I gave birth standing up and he (sort of) fell onto a pillow. I did a lot more reading about being relaxed during birth (thank you Ina May Gaskin) and approached the whole process in a more accepting way (contractions = rushes/sensations etc).

Cora: another induction but I had my superstar midwife Cate (who had been my midwife with Elliott so knew my history) by my side. She knew what I wanted and was so gentle, kind and wonderful throughout the whole labour. I am grateful to her every day and am now very lucky to call her a friend. We pinched her name for Cora’s middle name. She’s Cora Cate.

Describe motherhood in a few words:

Awesome, happy, hard and the best thing I’ve ever done.

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Can you share any highlights?

Seeing my girls interact with each other and love each other so much. My four year old gets into bed in the morning with our 20 month old and (sort of) reads her stories. I watch and listen on the monitor and giggle in bed as it’s hilarious. Cora shouts for her big sister in the morning sometimes instead of us. Win!

Can you share any low points?

When my 4 year old tells me to “stop texting Mummy!” leading to the guilt. Why do Mummies have to have the guilt? I really don’t like the guilt!

What do you do when the baby sleeps?

At night I sleep! During the day I try and squeeze in some time to work on topfivebaby.com see below!

Have you got a business? 

I have spent much of the past year setting up a review site bringing together the best baby kit. It is called topfivebaby.com

I know there are other review sites out there but topfivebaby.com aims to make the research process super simple by doing all the leg work and narrowing it all down to five items in each of the categories covered.

Do you have another job (besides being a Mama)? 

Currently, trying to make topfivebaby.com a success! After everything we went through with Elliott I vowed never to return to an office. I’d been made redundant whilst pregnant with Elliott, and looking back it was the best thing that could have happened to me as it gave me an excuse to live in a much happier way.

After Elliott’s death I focussed most of my efforts on fundraising for Great Ormond Street Hospital where he had been treated. We have raised a lot of money and managed to put in place a special end of life care room at GOSH in Elliott’s memory for families in similar situations to ours (nothing like this existed when Elliott died).

I squeeze all of this in around the little people so I never really feel like I’ve finished a job, but I’m learning that this is actually ok.

What’s the best bits of being a Mama?

The cuddles and the kisses. I never want them to stop.

What are the worst bits?

Currently breath-holding. My youngest Cora, is punishing us with this. She breath-holds whenever she really hurts herself and it is terrifying for all of us to see because she passes out and goes blue. Given everything we’ve been through with Elliott we all panic every time it happens.

And losing a child. It really is an unearthly pain which very few people fully understand. We are extremely lucky to have had incredible help from Great Ormond Street after Elliott’s death. For anyone reading this who might be struggling, please do ask for help, it helps make something incomprehensible, eventually bearable.

What do you find hardest about being a Mum?

Trying to get on with “normal” life after Elliott died.

If someone agreed to mind your kids for a week what would you do?

Go to a beautiful spa hotel and relax. But I’d miss them if it was a whole week. A couple of nights would be enough (I think).

Have you got any advice for mamas-to-be/new mamas?

Go with your instincts, if you have just a tiny clue about what you’re doing then that should be enough. But if you’re still struggling, ask for help.

What’s do you reckon the most essential item mamas-to-be need to pack in their birth bag?

Lots of knickers, nursing bras, maternity and breast pads. Oh and all the stuff for the baby to wear plus nappies. I can’t think of just one thing, sorry!

What’s been your best baby product? 

I have to give you five 😉

1. The Medela Swing breast pump. It is really, really good.

2. The Stokke Tripp Trapp, so incredibly well designed and ergonomic. It allows your baby to be up at the table with the rest of the family right from the start (if you buy the newborn set).

3. Aden and Anais swaddles, they’re quite pricey but wonderful. We still use ours as bedding in the summer as they’re so lovely against the skin.

4. BabyBjorn soft bouncer. It is unobtrusive, easy to store, looks great and is a perfect, simple design.

5. I love my Ergobaby. Both our girls (still) go in them which means we can get to places we otherwise wouldn’t go with tired little legs.

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What was really useful in the early days?

My husband (he’s still useful though).

Did you make any baby-related /pregnancy hormone induced purchases that you regretted / were a total waste of money?

Yes, I bought our first buggy second hand thinking I was saving money. It was broken when I bought it (the brake didn’t work). I couldn’t do a thing about it as I had no receipt. I’ve spent more getting it fixed than if we’d bought new! So annoying!

What’s your ultimate mum product? 

Again another five!

1. Lovely smellies. I adore Neal’s Yard and recommend Seaweed and Arnica for post birth sore muscles. I also recommend their citrus hand wash and hand lotion. It is antibacterial and kind to hands that need washing every five minutes.

2. Concealer: I use Clinique’s All About Eyes. It’s really gentle, super easy to apply and seems to last forever.

3. Liz Earle hot wash cloth and cleanser. It makes cleaning my face super quick (including removing mascara!) with no need for anything else other than moisturiser and also lasts forever.

4. Bio Oil: not just for tums and thighs. I apply mine to my forehead and eye area at nighttime to discourage the wrinkles from getting any more obvious.

5. Eight hour cream. Massive “mum” cliche this one, but it seems to cure every little issue for all of us (Nia always seems to have an invisible scratch that needs attention) so I always have it on me.

Who inspires you?

My mum who managed four kids and a career and my sister who is doing the same.

Plus I’m constantly inspired all the time by friends just doing their best at this mothering malarkey, whether they go to work and do it, whether they’re running their own business and especially if they’re managing to get through full time without anything else but being a mummy superstar.

How many children do you dream of having?

Just one more.

If you could go back to your pre-child life,  for a short period of time, what would you do?

Cliche again, but I’d take a few more long haul flights!

What do you miss about life before kids?

Not having to book a babysitter whenever you want to go out and drink wine.

What do you love most about being a Mum?

The fact that I’m their mum and that I know no one else (apart from their dad) loves them like I do.

What do you wish you were better at when it comes to parenting?

There is a constant pressure on us all at the moment to “be more present”. What does that even mean anyway? Putting pressure on yourself to enjoy all the moments can make those moments a lot more stressful.

 

A big thank you to Jenny for sharing her journey with us; she is one brave, strong and inspiring lady! If you’d like to make a donation and support the family’s fundraising efforts for GOSH, then just visit their page here.

Also do make sure you check out Top Five Baby before making any baby-related purchases! I for one think it’s a FAB idea. I’m sure I speak for most mums when I say we’re a time-poor collective so anything that makes the process of deciding which bit of baby paraphernalia to buy a little easier, is surely a winner. You’ll also be happy to know the site is very clean, simple and user-friendly. Check it out!

Finally, if you’d like to feature on the blog as part of the ‘In the (mother) hood’ series, just drop me an email: thedoublemama@gmail.com

 

RE: Me-Ternity Leave

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Dear Meghann,

I wanted to write this letter yesterday when I first became aware of your me-ternity proposal. I’m on MATernity leave at the moment with a 5 week old baby (and a 16 month old toddler and a 9 year old) so I guess the reason I didn’t manage to is because I’ve gotten lazy.

I mean between all the lounging about, resting, recharging, taking time to refocus etc and just general well-deserved ‘me’ time I really ought to have found the time to bang out a letter.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME????!!!!!

I’ll tell you who deserves a me-ternity break, the mums who have just finished their maternity leave!!

I’m on maternity leave with a newborn and a toddler and I don’t have time to wash or even eat some days and that is not an exaggeration. The only ‘me’ time I get is when I’m sleeping and even that is strictly limited since I am disturbed every couple hours. When I say ‘disturbed’, I mean fully awoken to feed the baby, soothe the baby, attempt to resettle the baby. This routine can take 1-2 hours. At most I’ve had 3 hours uninterrupted sleep since his arrival. Some nights I am woken every 45 minutes. The really bad nights I just don’t sleep.

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To read that you’re jealous of working mums who get to dash out of the office promptly at the end of the day using the ‘excuse’ they need to collect their kids is mind-boggling. Maybe I’m jealous that you get to go for casual drinks after work ON A WHIM (ok, there’s no maybe, I am jealous). You then get to saunter home, pondering what you fancy for dinner, before settling down to do whatever the frick you want. Working Mums have to run to childcare, often quite literally as they can be charged a £1 a minute for every minute they’re late, to scoop up their tired, irritable kids who they’ve been separated from all day (oh the overwhelming guilt), rush home, prepare a dinner, make sure their homework is done, give them a bath, make sure their teeth are brushed (can be a battle in itself), then put them to bed with a story and whatever else they demand, before getting stuck into ‘Operation Clean Up’ which includes washing up, putting crap away (aka a million noisy plastic toys), washing clothes, preparing everything they need for the following day, for school, for clubs etc. Next up is dealing with the daily life admin which increases tenfold with each kid you have. Then maybe some time before midnight, if they’re lucky, they might try and throw some dinner together for themselves. Or just go to bed with a bowl of cereal. Standard.

Yes you might work later in the office but at least you do get to clock off at some point and then your time is all yours. A mum’s work never ends. She’s on call 24/7 365 days a year. In any case if you work late it’s because you choose to, because you have the luxury of choice. A working mum doesn’t have that choice.

So when they return to work all empowered and confident it’s because they know there’s no shit they can’t handle.

Which leads me nicely to my next point… You say that women return from maternity leave more confident and self-assured and you attribute that to the fact they’ve had time off to focus on themselves etc. I’ll tell you why women come back from maternity leave feeling confident! Because they just survived the most difficult period of their entire life! A women who has grown and birthed a small human and then spent many months caring and nurturing this same small human, tending to all their needs on little to no sleep, can do ANYTHING. Mums are freaking superwomen. So when they return to work all empowered and confident it’s because they now know there’s no shit they can’t handle. They do not return sure of themselves because they’ve had a break and a bit of RnR.

And when it comes to those that don’t return to their careers but do something else entirely once their maternity leave is up, it’s often because THEY HAD NO CHOICE. They didn’t spend their maternity leave recharging and refocusing nor were they afforded the time to think up some great new career plan. The grim reality is that for many women returning to work and paying for childcare is simply not an affordable option. Or not an option that pays. The results of a recent study published in The Sunday Times showed that women with 2 kids would need to earn a salary of £40,000 just to break even on the childcare. A woman making £60,000 a year, would be left with just £36 a day after paying tax and childcare. You’d have to be pretty damn dedicated to return to your job and work for free, or work to pay the childcare bill. Unless you really wanted that job, it seems a pretty pointless exercise. That’s why so many women change careers after having a baby and start up their own businesses, because they are forced to. They need to make some cash so they have to think creatively even though they’ve had no sleep and no time to themselves whatsoever. They still manage to do this. They learn to juggle like they’ve never juggled before. They become masters of spinning plates. The women I know are launching businesses on broken sleep whilst bouncing babies on their hips.

Mums are the most capable people on the planet so when they return to work, it’s a doddle in comparison to parenting.

So if you want time to refocus and consider changing career, how about you use all that time you have to yourself every evening and weekend, because you already have more me-time than any new parent will ever have.

And if you still really want to experience the ‘break’ that is maternity leave, so you don’t feel as if you’re missing out, then take a sabbatical and go work as a childminder for 6 months. 7 days a week. All day and all night. With no lunch breaks. And then try doing it for free! That’s right, many mums on maternity leave don’t get paid at all or they get some small token amount in the form of statutory maternity pay. See how much fun you have doing that!

I’ll tell you what will happen, you’ll be desperate to get back to work! Where you get your own desk and nobody climbs on you, a lunch break (WHAT A LUXURY!!!), actual food to eat and the chance to drink hot cups of tea, where you can go to the toilet ON YOUR OWN and nobody throws up on you or in your hair. Best of all you don’t even have to clean up anyone’s faeces.

When I first went to work in an office after having my son I thought I’d hit jackpot. That 1 hour lunch break was the first ‘me time’ I’d had since he was born. A whole hour to do as wished. I could just go and sit somewhere quiet and be alone with my own thoughts.  It was such a novelty. To be honest it being in the office felt a little getting a break from the real work.

That’s my final point! You’re jealous of colleagues waltzing off on maternity leave on what you perceive to be a ‘break’ from work,  but YOU GET ANNUAL LEAVE! Know any new mums who get a holiday or even a weekend off? You’ve got to be joking. Most are tethered to their new baby around the clock. If a new mum is feeling burnt out, they’ve just got to dig even deeper. Usually there’s no option to do anything but. The mat leave gig is 7 days a week, day and night and there is no holiday. It’s relentless. Not exactly a job description to be envious of.

But of course Motherhood is also very wonderful and fulfilling and life affirming. In writing this letter I am not trying to deny that motherhood can bring much joy. Indeed some days of my maternity leave are the greatest days of my life but alas some are also my very worst. That’s the thing about motherhood that you don’t understand until you’ve lived it; it’s a rollercoaster of a journey with massive highs and equally enormous lows. But whatever it is, on any given day, it’s bloody hard work. So I get that you might want a family and feel jealous of your colleagues who do have kids and I’m sorry for that, but comparing maternity leave to something of a vacation is absolutely mental. If only to give you a heads-up in case you do ever have any kids of your own, I want you to know you will never have any more ‘me time’ than you do right now. So make the most of it. In fact, thinking about it, you know really needs a me-ternity break….!! Working Mums!

So yes I whole-heartedly support the idea of me-ternity! It’s a brilliant concept. All new Mums should get one once they’ve finished their maternity leave, before returning to work. Because they are the ones that don’t get any me-time at all and the ones, sleep deprived and hard-working, that probably need and deserve it most of all.

With warmest wishes,

Siobhan Miller

Working Mum to 3 boys, currently on Maternity Leave.

Dear Jamie…

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breastfeeding baby

Let’s talk about my breasts, because I know you want to. You recently announced that breastfeeding was “the next big thing” when asked by LBC what was next after your successful and admirable campaigns with school dinners and sugar tax etc. The only problem is breastfeeding, and the inevitable breast vs bottle debate that follows, is not the ‘next big thing’ but the ‘are we seriously still discussing this thing’. It’s been done. Overdone even. After 10 years of having babies and parenting, I’m bored of hearing about it and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

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Now before you start thinking I’m anti-breasts or ‘oversensitive’ as The Independent claims, I want you to know that I think breasts are awesome. I breastfed both my boys and plan on breastfeeding the third, who is due imminently. I have no issue with getting them out in public either and totally agree that women who choose to breastfeed should be supported and allowed to breastfeed wherever the hell they want to. I guess you could say I’m pro-breastfeeding, and that would be half true. You see I’m also pro-bottle feeding, because above all, I’m pro-choice.

My breastfeeding journey with my first was rocky to start with, which I think is pretty typical. When I say rocky, I mean pretty fucking painful. My left nipple, just so you know, actually split so bad I could lift the top of it up and off. I continued to feed my baby through gritted teeth because I had been told ‘breast is best’ so many times that I was left believing there was no good alternative option. But anyway that was a long time ago, my nipples healed, breastfeeding got easier and I moved on to the other parenting hurdles.

Many years later I had my second son and this time it was easy to feed him from the start. What I had not anticipated however was that when I got pregnant with my third, whilst still breastfeeding, that my milk supply would dry up. I had exclusively breastfed for 6 months without any trouble and I had fed my first son for a full 12 months, I had not considered that my breasts would ‘fail’ me now. I assumed I had breastfeeding nailed. But little by little my breasts stopped filling with milk and I lost that let down sensation. Hours would pass between feeds and whereas before my breasts would feel full, they stopped ever feeling full and worst of all, my baby’s nappies got drier and drier. Politics aside, breastfeeding is above all else intended to provide hydration and nutrition, right? So what happens when your baby is becoming dehydrated and malnourished because the milk just isn’t there? Clearly breast is most definitely NOT best in a situation like this.

In the end it was a Doctor who told me to stop and give my baby a bottle. She told me that my body couldn’t grow another baby and produce enough milk at the same time. Now some Mums can do this; they can breastfeed all the way through their pregnancy and then tandem feed afterwards, but like everything in life, we are not all the same. My body was struggling to do both so I gave my baby a bottle and immediately his nappies started feeling really heavy with wee again. I felt terribly guilty. Not because I had stopped breastfeeding but because I hadn’t noticed how dry his nappies had become. They had got slowly less heavy over time and it was only after giving him a few big bottles of milk and feeling the weight of the nappy afterwards that I realised how dehydrated he must have been. I felt guilty that I had not noticed and had needed a Doctor to tell me.

Of course I was disappointed that our breastfeeding journey was cut short and that he got less time at the breast than his brother. Whenever a decision is taken out of your hands, it’s frustrating. I like to be in control and had expected to be able to choose when I wanted to stop feeding, so that was a little upsetting but in the scheme of things really insignificant.

Now I’m sorry if I’ve bored you with these nostalgic tales but my point is that breast is not always best, even if, as you say, it halves the chances of you getting breast cancer! My experience is just one reason why it’s not but there are millions of reasons and situations where breastfeeding is more damaging than it is beneficial. Sometimes it’s not best for the baby and sometimes it’s not best for the mother. It’s not just physical reasons either but psychological ones too. A mother’s psychological wellbeing is paramount to her being able to mother well and if breastfeeding threatens that, then it’s simply not worth it. Especially when we have a perfectly good alternative in formula (and thank goodness that we do).

Now the final thing I wanted to say is also probably the most important so please stick with me. I want you to understand that promoting the ‘breast is best’ message (with all good intentions I don’t doubt) is not only inaccurate because breast is not always best (as explained above) or ‘easy’ as you claim, but this message can also be really dangerous. I don’t mean dangerous because a load of angry oversensitive formula-feeding women will want you hung, drawn and quartered (although this is probably true) but dangerous because I’m not sure you fully understand the risks of promoting breastfeeding. In publicly promoting the ‘breast is best’ message you are reinforcing the dynamic whereby bottle feeding is pitched against breastfeeding and seen as, at best, inferior and, at worst, an inadequate way of nourishing and caring for one’s baby. This makes any mother who has wanted to breastfeed but has found they cannot, for whatever reason, feel like they have failed to do the best for their baby before they have even had a chance to get started.

The results of a large scale study published in 2014 looking at the relationship between breastfeeding and post-natal depression, found the group most at risk of developing depression were those that planned to breastfeed but then were not able to. The good news was that those who planned to breastfeed and were able to, were least likely to experience post-natal depression. The group who did not breastfeed but did not plan to, were in the middle. Now why do you think this might be?

It can’t simply be that bottle feeding increases the risk of depression because the results showed it was more complex than that. The group that planned to breastfeed but could not were over twice as likely to experience depression than the group that bottle fed but had planned to. It seems plausible and highly likely that those who planned to breastfeed but could not struggled because they had bought into the ‘breast is best’ message, they had committed to it physically and emotionally, probably bought their overpriced feeding bras in preparation etc etc. But then they found it wasn’t as straightforward as all the breastfeeding advocates had made out. That’s got to come as a bit of a shock, right? And when you whole-heartedly believe that breast is best and breastmilk has all these great benefits, what the hell do you do when it doesn’t work out? Nobody has spoken to you about the benefits of formula so you can only assume that it offers none of the benefits of breastfeeding and by feeding your child with a bottle, they are going to be obese, stupid and sickly, all of the things breastmilk supposedly protects against. So now how do you feel when you have no option but to bottle feed them? Pretty shitty.

Now I know depression is far more complicated in every way than just feeling shitty but this feeling of not being able to deliver has got to be a major contributing factor. Which means it’s so important that women understand they have options. And good ones at that! Breast may be best in many situations; where mother wants to breastfeed and baby can be breastfed and they are supported in this decision and her milk comes in and its not causing any physical or emotional harm or pain. But equally it’s important than women understand breast is not always best. Sometimes bottle feeding is best. And when bottle feeding is best, be that for whatever reason, then isn’t it brilliant that we have the option to provide hydration and nourishment to our babies in this way. And no woman should ever feel guilty about this or worry they are not doing a good job.

The bottom line is, if you’re feeding your baby (whether with your breast or a bottle), you are doing a mighty fine job and nobody should ever dispute this.

I’m all for empowering and supporting women in their choices and strongly believe women should be informed, but let’s not focus solely on singing the benefits of breastfeeding. They have been sung many times before. We can debate the benefits of breast (of course nobody should be silenced) but let’s not forget also the benefits of bottle feeding. We need to support all women and be sensitive to those who wished to feed but could not, because not everybody is as lucky as you and Jools have obviously been; not everybody will find breastfeeding easy.

Best wishes,

Siobhan

An open letter to the Daily Mail…

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Dear Daily Mail,

I liked your headline “Why NO woman should have a home birth: Government drive to free up hospital beds will lead to rise in ‘dead or damaged babies’, doctor warns“. It was certainly attention grabbing, which is the measure of a great headline, right? It’s less important of course that the headline be accurate.

It was particularly eye opening for me because I have read a lot about the new proposals to support birth choice with a great deal of interest, as both an expectant Mum and antenatal teacher, but I never knew it was motivated by a desire to free up hospital beds. You must have insider knowledge. I was naive enough to think it was a positive step to empower women and improve outcomes for mothers and babies.

The ‘dead or damaged babies’ was a powerful bit of alliteration. Nobody wants a dead or indeed ‘damaged’ baby, which brings to mind images of babies with limbs twisted and broken like pen-marked, discarded dolls of old. To pop that next to ‘NO woman should have a home birth’ (caps included of course to reinforce the message) was particularly effective. It definitely made home birth seem like a seriously dangerous option with horrific, nightmarish outcomes.

And a ‘doctor warns’! Then it must be true! That’s the golden seal of approval. Bravo! ‘Says a lecturer from Hong Kong who has no experience of current maternity services having not worked in the UK for three decades’ wouldn’t have worked half as well, even though it would have been more accurate. Good copy editor you’ve got there.

The strange thing though about the whole ‘NO woman should have a home birth’ because we at the Daily Mail want to save all the babies from being born dead or damaged thing, is that the birth place study (from which the stats you use in the article are taken) says that for mums with straight forward pregnancies expecting their second or subsequent babies, home birth is as safe for babies as birth centres and labour wards but has significantly lower risks when it comes to medical intervention including assisted delivery and unplanned caesareans. In fact a mum expecting her second or subsequent baby, enjoying a uncomplicated pregnancy, is a full 8 times more likely to end up having an unplanned caesarean if she is on labour ward compared to having a home birth! So I’m sorry if I’ve missed something but why exactly should NO woman have a home birth?!

It seems pretty clear from the birth place study that home birth is a statistically better AND safer option for a lot of women. Which means by advocating that all women should go into hospital, even those for which being in hospital is totally unnecessary, you are actually significantly increasing their risk of having medical intervention and major abdominal surgery, with no improvement in outcome for baby! Why is it that you wish to endanger women in this way, under the guise that you are trying to protect their babies?! All the steps being taken by the NHS are to ensure women are informed, empowered and supported in their choices. Why is that you seek to misinform and mislead? Why is it you wish to put women with uncomplicated pregnancies at risk? It’s almost as if you want to manipulate women, using their strong maternal desire to protect their unborn babies from being ‘damaged’, into choosing to birth in a statistically more dangerous setting. It’s irresponsible of a national paper and to be totally honest it’s really pissed me off.

So here’s my response. I’m going to try and keep it based on facts, research and real-life relevant experience (as opposed to what you have done). I will try very hard to lock down my inner rage…

From your point of view it must be regrettable that you were unable to find an expert working in maternity services in the UK who actually practices medicine to share Dr Lord’s opinion. That would have added some weight to your claims. I’m sure you tried but of course no UK Doctor would say this.

However I still read what Dr Lord, a Hong-Kong based lecturer who has not worked in the UK for the last 27 years, had to say about our maternity services and the positive steps being taken by our NHS to empower women. I can’t say it was an enjoyable read but I was definitely hooked.

Whilst I whole heartedly agree with the closing paragraph that women in the UK who are fully informed and aware of the findings of the birth place study will not take unnecessary risks and choose to birth in dangerous places nor wish to put their baby in harm’s way, there are a number of points I think require some clarification/ correcting.

I should probably also mention my ‘qualifications’ because, although I’m not a doctor, I do believe I have quite a lot more experience of current maternity services in the UK than Dr Lord does. I am a mother of 2 with a third due in the next few weeks. I also work in the field of antenatal education as a hypnobirthing teacher. I had a labour ward birth with my first, a home birth with my second and am currently deciding between home or the birth centre for my third. Due to my circumstances I have regular contact with community midwife and also my obstetrician.

My wonderful midwife, Natalie Carter, contrary to Dr Lord’s ill-informed opinion of community midwives, is challenging me to consider the risks of having a home birth again after a previous bleed and has encouraged me to use the birth centre this time. A friend of mine, Clemmie Hooper, who is a case-loading midwife and an advocate of home birth (for the right women) is also doing the same. It may come as a surprise but midwives, even those who support and facilitate home births, do not wish to put women or babies in dangerous situations. In fact quite the opposite.

My obstetrician, Mr Fabian Imoh-ita, (whose name I DO know Dr Lord) is friendly and warm and I have nothing but respect for his opinion and vast experience. I am lucky to see the same midwife for all of my ante-natal visits as with my last baby and same goes with my obstetrician who I also saw in my last pregnancy. I do not live in rural England but in the busy city of London. I feel incredible grateful for the amazing maternity services we have on offer. I only wish Dr Lord was able to experience the same. She might learn a thing or two.

So here are the points that I’m not totally onboard with…

1. I don’t know if Dr Lord has ever spoken to a community midwife in the UK. From what she says I would hazard a guess that she has not. My community midwife, as mentioned above, certainly encourages me to make difficult decisions regarding everything from place of birth, to delayed cord clamping to active management of the third stage etc. Our chat is not all airy-fairy and idealistic as Dr Lord suggests, although of course we do discuss my wishes and preferences because guess what?! We are talking about my womb and my baby, so I do get a say in the matter (thank goodness!). My midwife ensures that I am fully informed about the risks as well as the benefits of everything so that I can make informed decisions and give informed consent, which is a necessary and legal part of medical practice in the uk. I’m not sure about the rules in Hong Kong but here in the UK if women don’t give informed consent to a procedure conducted on themselves, it’s considered common assault. In my individual case, I have to weigh up the benefits for baby of various things like delayed cord clamping versus the risk to myself as I have a history of post partum haemorrhage. These decisions aren’t easy but I am grateful for the advice I am given but that ultimately the choice is mine to make.

Also one note on delayed cord clamping, which Dr Lord lists alongside other things she considers part of a misguided idealised version of birth, is that delayed cord clamping as of 2014 is recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK. So it’s not something that irresponsible risk-taking mothers request but actually recommended best practice. I guess that Dr Lord missed the memo or is unaware because she hasn’t worked in the UK for almost 30 years and obviously doesn’t keep up with the research. That’s ok but if you’re going to comment in a national paper it would be kind of cool to check stuff like that out beforehand.

2. There are without a doubt numerous long term benefits of a positive birth experience, be that at home or in hospital. There are so many women suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome after giving birth and even more who haven’t been diagnosed but are left distraught, disappointed and disempowered. This effects everything from bonding to breastfeeding. The long term benefits of a positive birth and a woman feeing empowered and confident as she embarks on motherhood for the first time are immeasurable in value. You would have to be totally ignorant to overlook or diminish the importance of the birth experience. It is arguably the most defining moment of a woman’s life.

3. The risks. There are risks with everything. There are risks with home birth yes. There are also risks with hospital births. Yup, you read that right! There are many risks associated with choosing to have a hospital birth. These are less publicised and may come as a surprise because we are conditioned to believe hospitals are safe places. For example the risk of intervention is increased by just being in a hospital setting and this includes everything from epidurals to assisted delivery to major surgery in the form of a cesarean section. The risk of infection is also higher in hospital. Dr Lord doesn’t even give these risks a moment of airtime, which seems somewhat unfair/unbalanced given she is discussing birth place choices.

She quotes a from the birth place study published in 2011 and claims that 0.35% of babies born to first time mums have an adverse outcome in hospital compared to 0.95% of babies born at home to first time mums. It would probably help if she actually got the stats right. And Daily Mail, I’m surprised this slipped through your production editor’s net, although I suspect perhaps it was deliberate. The truth is 0.53% of babies born in hospital to first time mums experience adverse outcomes. In both settings the absolute risk is less than 1%.

For second time mums with uncomplicated pregnancies or those having subsequent babies, the study showed that home birth was the statistically safer option. Of course Dr Lord didn’t mention this finding. That would somewhat contradict the catchy headline!

That’s not to say second, third, fourth time mums should be berated for choosing a hospital birth or accused of being dangerous and taking risks. I’m not suggesting the Daily Mail run the headline ‘Why NO woman should have a hospital birth and risk episiotomies, paralysis, being sliced and diced and having a dead baby in a bid to cost tax payers more money’. The idea seems outrageous (although you’ve got to admit, it does sound like it could be a Daily Mail headline). But it is just as outrageous to suggest first time mums are taking unnecessary risks by choosing to have their babies at home.

Also what hasn’t been considered is the 99.07% of babies born at home to first time mums without adverse effects, how many of these births would have been negatively effected by being in hospital??

If we are weighing up risks to make an informed decision regarding birth place, we need to understand the risks of both settings. For example, the birth place study showed that low risk women expecting their second or subsequent baby are eight times more likely to have major surgery (cesarean section) just by stepping foot in an obstetric unit compared to being at home. They are also six times more likely to have an assisted delivery, over six times more likely to have labour sped up using drugs (augmented), five times more likely to have an epidural and five times more likely to have an episiotomy.  For first time Mums with uncomplicated pregnancies the risk of having an unplanned cesarean, assisted delivery, augmentation, epidural and/or episiotomy almost doubles just by being in hospital.

I am all for encouraging women to be informed about risks and made aware of the birth place study findings, but this goes both ways: women need to be informed about the risks of being in hospital, just as they need to be informed of the risks of being at home, so they can make informed choices and decisions. I cannot comprehend why anyone would be in disagreement with this proposal. Of course women should have choices and be able to make their own decisions. We may be pregnant but we are still mentally-competent adults.

Also necessary to making informed decisions is the need to understand the benefits of various settings. All Dr Lord has mentioned is the risk factor of home births for first time mums. But what of the benefits for baby and for mother of being at home? Less likely to have medical intervention, instrumental delivery or major surgery. Therefore quicker recovery times. Less likely to be left waiting in a busy triage waiting room. Less likely to be put on a drip to speed things up. Less likely to have an epidural. Less likely for baby to experience distress in utero. Able to birth in the comfort of your own home and control your environment. Able to eat your own food. Able to get into your own bed. Able to have your partner stay with you throughout. Able to ensure access to a birth pool. Feeling safe and relaxed enough to produce the necessary oxytocin to enable the body to work efficiently, therefore resulting in an easier, quicker and more comfortable birth for mother and baby. Having 1:1 care throughout your labour with the midwife present being in a position to focus solely on you and two midwives at the point of delivery. All of these benefits to being at home must be considered when making a decision.

In life if we only ever looked at risk we would never leave our homes and risk being run over or mugged. Certainly that’s less likely to happen and the risk reduced if we stay inside. But of course we go out because we believe the numerous benefits outweigh the slight increased risk of a rare but adverse outcome. Same goes when we get in a car, or board a plane. We take ‘risks’ with our lives every single day to enjoy the benefits of life. I feel for those who focus only on risk and ignore everything else, for they miss out on the greatest joys in life. Speaking from experience, my home birth was the single most amazing day of my life and I truly hope many, many, many more women get to experience that, if it is right for them.

So as a woman expecting a baby imminently I know there is no birth setting that promises me zero risk. What one has to do, myself included, is weigh up the benefits and risks of all the settings available and make an informed choice that is right for them and their individual circumstances.

Isn’t it truly amazing that our NHS supports and facilitate this and does not take a one-size-fits-all approach? I feel so lucky that we are treated as autonomous individuals and receive such a high level of woman-centred care. Why would anyone want it any other way?!

I can’t think of anyone apart from Dr Lord, who has a serious mis-understanding of community midwives, believes women to be incapable of making sensible informed decisions and who wants to continue working with scalpel in hand until the day she dies / retires. I feel very sorry for the pregnant and vulnerable victims that come into contact with her and her scalpel blade. We can only hope that one day they will be in a position to make informed choices too.

And Daily Mail, next time you want to slate home birth, how about you start by firstly getting someone who has some relevant experience to comment and secondly check your bloody facts.
 
Yours Sincerely,

Siobhan Miller

Mum of (soon to be) three and Founder of The Positive Birth Company.

Instagram: @the_double_mama@thepositivebirthcompany
Twitter: @thedoublemama@theposbirthco
Facebook: The Positive Birth Company.