I can’t resist jumping on the bandwagon and writing a starting school post. My big boy started school today. I expected to feel a bit sad because my baby is growing up, but I didn’t really feel sad at all. I’m wondering if I’m feeling the wrong thing!
We’re used to being apart. He’s been going to a childminder, nursery or preschool pretty regularly since he was 10 months old. So actually, for us, school is going to make very little difference to how much time we spend together. I felt so many things today, but none of them were sad.
More than anything, I felt proud. Proud as he ran away from me towards the school gates, full of confidence and excitement about his new adventure – not the least bit scared.
I felt excited. I’m so excited to face all of the new challenges ahead.
I felt geeky – because I’m totally looking forward to helping him with his homework.
I felt insecure. I want the other parents and the teachers and school staff to like me!
I felt worried. Will my son behave? Will he make friends? Will he be happy at this school?
I felt guilty – because I didn’t feel sad at all. I’ve got free childcare and a new way to relate to my son.
Babies are cute and cuddly, but I wanted to have kids because I’m just a big kid myself. I remember the kid stuff: kid’s films, kid’s food, kid’s games – lots of silly stuff. Now my eldest is in school, he will start enjoying things that I can still enjoy myself. If that is a little bit selfish, then you can judge me all you please.
As it turns out, my son was perfectly happy about his school day. He wouldn’t tell me much about it though. He said it was a secret.
His teacher told me that his behaviour was “challenging”. He needs to work on sharing and doing what he’s told. I’ve never been very good at doing what I was told either. But I won’t let him get away with it. He can be better than me.
We rounded off the day by dancing like total goofballs in the living room to some of our favourite songs. We left the curtains open so any passerby could witness our foolishness.
The baby days are gone for my big boy, but the fun has just begun.
Don’t accept negative consequences at work because of your pregnancy. Here are some resources to help you stand up for yourself.
Last week, MPs urged better job protection for expectant and new mothers and #pregnancydiscrimination trended on Twitter. It trended because thousands of women read the news story, nodded their heads and said, ‘that happened to me’. It happened to me despite my employer being in all other ways lovely. It happened to me even though I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. It happened to me even though I’ve never been the type to lay down and take unfair treatment. It blindsided me.
And, like thousands of women, I didn’t fight back. I needed my job – not only for the money, but also because I was emotionally invested in my career. I was afraid to “make a fuss”. And, like thousands of women, even now I won’t speak up about the specifics of what happened in this public forum, in the worry it would further harm my career. Even sharing these few words make me worry about it.
Pregnancy discrimination – troubling statistics
Here are just a few of the troubling facts about women’s experiences of employment discrimination before, during and after pregnancy.
In order to raise concerns at a tribunal, you need to pay £1200, and there is a 3-month time-limit for making a claim.
Standing up for your employment rights
If you’re a pregnant woman worrying about the future of her career, or a woman on maternity leave trying to make arrangements to return to work whilst managing the nightmare of childcare, or a woman who already feels she’s been poorly treated at work just because she had a baby, here are some tips and resources for standing up for yourself.
When you’re pregnant at work
If you’re feeling okay during the first trimester, try to get pay rises, promotions or assignments to important projects sorted as much as possible before you announce your pregnancy. You are not legally obligated to tell your employer until 15 weeks before the beginning of the week your baby’s due.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling very unwell in the first trimester, you should tell your manager. It is illegal for you to receive any unfavourable treatment as a result of time off or breaks taken due to pregnancy-related illness. There is more information on this pregnancy sickness support website.
If you are eligible to join a union in your profession, join the union now if you haven’t already. They will give you support and legal advice if things go wrong later. Sometimes, being a member of a union will save you from trouble in the first place. I wish I had joined my union before my first pregnancy.
You are entitled to paid time off for antenatal appointments.
If you experience a miscarriage, you are entitled to paid sick leave and no unfavourable treatment. You may also be entitled to paid sick leave if you experience an exceptionally traumatic pregnancy. If you experience a stillbirth or neonatal death, you are entitled to all of your maternity leave and rights. The Working Families website has a useful summary of your pregnancy bereavement rights.
All about maternity leave
The Citizens Advice Bureau offers a great summary of your maternity leave rights, including when it can start and how long it lasts.
If you are keen to return to work after your baby, please (Please!!) use your Keeping in Touch Days. These are 10 days when you can go to work to keep up to speed with what’s going on, without ending your maternity leave. You are entitled to receive full pay for these days! More importantly, I think these days can help you maintain your confidence about working and help your employer realise you are serious about returning. I didn’t use them with my first baby, and I regret it. I used a few during my second maternity leave, and they made me so happy. I brought baby with me and breastfed him during meetings. His burps really made a strong contribution to the proceedings.
Returning to work and requesting flexible and/or part-time working
If you’ve sailed through being pregnant at work and maternity leave, this is the stage that might just trip you up. It’s where me and many of my friends have gotten a few metaphorical scraped knees and bruises. Knowing your rights is half the battle.
I know people who’ve been made redundant upon trying to return after maternity leave. Scrutinise this. If there is a programme of general redundancies, that may be legitimate, but beware of being singled out. If you are, it’s probably illegal.
If you’ve been employed at your workplace for more than 26 weeks, you have a right to request flexible working. This could involve part-time hours, flexible hours or home-working.
If you have a meeting with your employer to discuss your flexible working request, it is considered good practice to allow you to bring a union representative or work colleague along to the meeting to back you up. I encourage you to do this.
They cannot turn your request down unless they have a sound business reason, such as extra expense or not being able to do it during non-standard hours. Please question them if they turn you down, and consider an appeal as explained in the link above. I know people who’ve asked to work 8am-4pm instead of 9-5, and been turned down, despite it not being a customer-facing role or time-sensitive in any way. This is bullshit. Fight it.
If your request is accepted, it should not involve any drop in status or pay. Part-time and flexible workers are entitled to the same promotion prospects, incremental pay rises and other employment benefits as full-time workers. Acas has further advice about this and a free helpline for any employment rights questions.
Pregnancy, birth and motherhood can change you in so many ways, it’s super unfair that we still have to fight for our jobs when we’ve been through so much. Maternity can knock your confidence, and we deserve support and equal treatment.
If your employer has given you the shaft in circumstances related to your pregnancy and birth, fight it! Here is some info about taking action against discrimination at work. However, I totally understand that having a baby is hard enough and you might not be up for a legal battle. At the very least, check out Pregnant then Screwed for advice, and tell them your story anonymously to help their campaign.
Did your employer give you the shaft for having a baby? How did you deal with it?
Ok, these aren’t recipes, so much as assembly instructions, so I’ve decided to do a whole days worth of meal ideas. My husband travels a lot for work, so I’m a part-time lone parent, and therefore the only chef. Some days I need quick, but healthy meals that require little-to-no brain power. Here’s what a day after my husband has been gone for a week or two looks like in my house.
Breakfast: porridge (Americans call it oatmeal)
1 or 2 packets of plain/original/no flavour instant microwave porridge/oatmeal
1 level tsp brown sugar or maple syrup
6-10 fresh or frozen blueberries
1 to 2 cups milk
Some people are against microwaves; I’m not one of them. Instant oats are awesome and can be made so many ways. I go for original so I can control the sugar. You can also use apple sauce instead of the banana, cinnamon apple sauce if the kids like it, and even jam or raisins. I don’t use the blueberries if I don’t have them on hand, but the banana is omnipresent.
Use a microwave-safe bowl that’s nice and deep, and depending on if you’re using 1 or 2 packets of oatmeal, use half or the whole banana.
Smash the banana with a fork until mostly smooth. Sprinkle or pour in the sugar or syrup and give it a quick stir.
Add in the dry oats and cover with cold milk.
Drop in fresh or frozen blueberries (or raisins), but a few will go far.
Give it all a final stir and cover with kitchen roll/paper towel in the microwave.
Cook on high for 1.5 min and then stir the mixture. If it’s already getting dry, add another splash of milk or water. Stick it back in the microwave for 1-2 minutes more, depending on whether you’ve used fresh or frozen berries.
Give the mixture a stir and try to squish a berry on the side of the bowl. It should explode easily and mix in pretty purple swirls. Let it rest for about 5 minutes.
Check the temperature; if it’s still too hot, feel free to add another slash of cold milk to cool it if the kids can’t wait.
If I use 2 packets, this will feed all three of us, easily. It’s an easy way to add fibre and potassium, vitamins and calcium to a one-bowl breakfast. And it’s something you can experiment with – use fruit you love!
Lunch: quesadilla and grapes
4 or 6 flour tortillas
4 cups Red Leicester or Double Gloucester cheese, grated
Two handfuls of seedless grapes
Some people go for grilled/toasted cheese and soup as a lunchtime comfort meal. I grew up with quesadilla and grapes. The tortillas are lighter than bread, and you don’t need butter to toast it up. I lived in England long enough to know that Red Leicester and Double Gloucester cheeses are the creamier, less oil-producing cheeses perfect for this job. Trust me: ditch the cheddar just this once. And who doesn’t like cheese and grapes? The red seedless are my kids absolute favourite.
First things first, you can buy pre-shredded cheese, or grate your own, but be sure to grate straight from the fridge so it doesn’t smudge all over the grater.
Put a griddle or wide pan on to warm on a medium-low heat. No butter or oil necessary.
Put one tortilla onto the flat surface and pile shredded cheese onto the center.
Lightly spread the cheese towards the edges but don’t worry too much, it’ll spread as it melts.
Top it with a second tortilla and let it be for about a minute. Squish the top onto the bottom by pressing with your hand or a spatula, and then bravely flip the lot. It sounds scary, but using your hands isn’t crazy, because you can pinch the edges together and quickly flip the whole thing before it’s too hot. I pull it up, slide it towards me and then over backwards, reaching to the far side of the pan in a sort of wrist motion.
The cheese will start to melt nicely and the top tortilla can be pushed a bit to spread it, if you like. All in all, it shouldn’t take more than 3 or 4 minutes to have crispy outside and gooey inside.
Remove the quesadilla onto a cutting board and start again at the griddle for 1 or 2 more. Once slightly cooled, cut like a pizza into triangles and serve.
Give your grapes a wash and pat dry and serve along with the quesadilla. Serve with pressed juice watered down, and guacamole (if I can be bothered). I’ve also been known to spread a thin layer of refried beans onto the bottom tortilla; it adds protein and fibre, and helps the cheese stick for the first flip. I tend to keep a tin in the cupboard, and literally pop it open, stir a bit with a butter knife, and spread on like peanut butter. It may not look appetising, but it’ll add flavour and a bit of veg. You can use the rest of the tin to make chilli or burritos (watch this space for those recipes)!
Dinner: fish fillets, beans and mash
3-6 frozen fish fillets (fish fingers just don’t have enough fish for my liking – these still have crunch but more of the good stuff)
1 medium sweet potato
Knob of butter
Heaping tsp of soured cream
Tin of baked beans
Salt and pepper
My kids routinely eat every morsel of sweet potato mash, but leave white mash on the plate. This ‘recipe’ is a great introduction to how naturally sweet these beauties can be.
Preheat the oven to the temperature recommended on the packet of fish (usually around 200c/390f).
Rinse your sweet potato and poke it in a few places, then put it in the microwave for about 3 minutes. You don’t want to cook it through – just get it started.
Spread your fish fillets onto the baking tray and into the oven once heated to temp.
Place a piece of aluminium foil onto the oven rack and the potato onto that. This will finish the sweet potato in time with the fish, and allows natural sugars to caramelise.
While the fish and potato bake, get your baked beans going on the stove (or microwave with a cover), to warm through. I used to add a tiny bit of brown sugar or maple syrup to baked beans in the UK, because I’m used to southern style beans, but use whatever tastes good to you.
Once you’ve removed the fish as per their instructions, check if the sweet potato is leaking juices – good stuff! The foil now comes in handy to save your oven from juices, and to help your oven mitt as you grab it out.
Let the fish cool and slice open the potato. Scoop it out of the skin and into a deep cereal bowl.
Add the butter and stir to smooth big lumps out of the potato.
Add the soured cream and stir well. You can add a splash of milk if you want a creamier mash; it usually depends on the potato itself.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Plate up the baked beans, cut the fish into bite-size pieces, add a scoop of mash, and Bob’s your uncle!
Mash is great ‘glue’ for beginner eaters. And the virtuous sweet potato has more vitamins and fewer carbs than white potato. Something we can all enjoy!
I’m not saying it’s the most creative menu, but it’s full of little cheats that keep me away from fast food. There’s a way to moderate the sugar and salt, get some nutrients into them, and it’s food I know they’ll eat. Sometimes that enough!
In the UK, the current NHS policy is to encourage women to attempt a Vaginal Birth after Caesarean (VBAC). I’m aware that in the USA and in many other countries, they have the opposite policy, in which they believe it safer for women to always have a caesarean if their prior birth was a caesarean. So while I recognise it’s quite progressive that the UK encourages VBAC and that there’s quite a lot of evidence to show that they are relatively safe, when it came my turn to have my second baby and VBAC was suggested, I was terrified. I spent a lot of time trying to find information for women who were scared of attempting VBAC, but all I could find were campaigning sites that were all in favour of it. This was in 2014 and I think there is more out there now, but I thought I would share my experience anyway in case it helps someone.
My first labour was induced at 10 days overdue after meconium-stained waters (baby got distressed and had a poo in the amniotic fluid). After 20 hours of labour, I had an emergency caesarean. This was followed by my baby being in special care for pneumonia caused by complications of the birth – probably from breathing in the poo-water.
In my second pregnancy, the one thing I wanted to avoid more than anything else was for my baby to be sick again. I blamed being overdue combined with the emergency caesarean for my baby’s illness. So I figured that an elective caesarean, in which I could be calm and know exactly when everything was going to happen, was the best option for me.
However, the NHS tried really hard to convince me to have the VBAC. I received special consultations from a “Birth Choices” midwife. I visited her armed with the NICE guidelines about VBAC which delineated the risks of the procedure. These guidelines have since been updated to be more positive about VBAC. She listened to my concerns and agreed to book me in with a consultant to discuss it further.
The consultant told me she was quite confident that I would have a successful VBAC, but she understood my absolute refusal to go overdue or to have an induction. I also didn’t want to be lying on my back strapped to a foetal monitor, which is generally recommended for VBACs. But the consultant told me it’s possible to take breaks from the monitor to walk around, and sometimes even to have a remote monitor that allows you to move.
To mitigate my fears about going overdue/being induced, she booked me in for a scheduled caesarean at 41 weeks, with the plan for me to have a few sweeps before my due date came along in the hopes of getting things moving.
Now, in my first pregnancy, baby basically never dropped into my pelvis, so they couldn’t even do a sweep. This time, I had two sweeps, and I went into labour just one day past my due date.
Now, no sort of birth is a walk in the park. But this time baby came in about 4 hours altogether and delivered without any complications. He still ended up in special care due to feeding problems, but that’s another story.
So really I just wanted to write down my experience in the hopes it might reassure anyone else who might also find VBAC, and with it the possibility of another emergency caesarean, scarier than an elective caesarean. My healthcare providers gave me so much advice and support and it turned it around for me.
My main advice is, whatever your feelings about the sort of birth you’d like to plan for your second and subsequent pregnancies: stick to your guns. If you have a strong preference, it is their job to convince you otherwise (if necessary), and make you feel safe. Don’t let them bully you into something you don’t want. But if they can change your mind legitimately, like they did for me, now that’s another story.
Tips for new mums who are finding breastfeeding difficult, from my own experience
Apparently, in the USA, August is National Breastfeeding Month. I’ve read some really interesting posts about feeding and I thought I would share my own story along with a few thoughts I have that might help someone just starting out on their baby feeding journey and who is perhaps finding it difficult.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was a bit complacent about breastfeeding. I’d read all the literature saying that “breast is best” and that it’s easier than formula feeding, and it was never really a decision for me. I just planned to breastfeed and assumed it was as simple as that.
But then real life sent me for a loop. At 10 days overdue, there was evidence of meconium in my waters, and so they induced labour. I laboured for 20 hours but ended up with an emergency caesarean. At first, I was put on the ward with my new baby, and I couldn’t get him to latch despite lots of help from the nurses there. Then, suddenly, they whisked him away to special care. It turns out he had pneumonia, probably from breathing in some of the meconium-stained waters. So he ended up in a different ward from me, in a plastic box with extra oxygen and antibiotics.
I was then encouraged to pump some milk to be fed to my son through a feeding tube put in his nostril. However, milk doesn’t come in as quickly after a caesarean, and the breast pump did nothing. One of the nurses suggested that we try hand expressing colostrum into a syringe. At 3am she helped me painfully and painstakingly squeeze my nipple (that’s right, another woman was squeezing my nipple – no dignity for new mums) until a tiny bit of “yellow gold” leaked out into the syringe. I was then expected to do my post-caesarean shuffle all the way to the other ward to deliver the infection-fighting stuff to my little one. I did this every couple of hours for 3 nights that seemed like an eternity.
Later, when he was well enough to be moved into a room with me, I spent countless hours trying to get him to latch without success. He failed to gain any weight, and they suggested top-up feeds in order to get some food into him. They also suggested I try nipple shields, to make my rather flat nipples stick out more so that baby couldn’t get some purchase on them. The combination of these two tools were the magic bullet for us – he gained weight, got better, and we were able to go home. At home, we carried on with breastfeeding using nipple shields and kept up the formula top-ups. My health visitor told me that our breastfeeding was doomed because my breasts wouldn’t get enough stimulation using the shields and the top-ups would affect my supply.
But she was wrong! At 3 months old, my son figured out how to nurse without the nipple shields. We then carried on with the mixed feeding and ended up breastfeeding until he was 18 months old, albeit not exclusively.
Because of this ultimate success in building a breastfeeding relationship with my first son, I was overconfident again when it came to my second. When I brought him home from hospital, he was too sleepy to feed. I initiated formula top-ups, but then the midwife that came to visit me told me that if I used top-ups I would never be able to establish breastfeeding with him. She recommended I stick with exclusive breastfeeding and, unfortunately, I listened to her. By the time another midwife came to visit a couple of days later, my son had lost weight and was becoming dangerously dehydrated. We ended up back in special care with my son in a plastic box and me chained to a breast pump, just like with my first!
We were sent home after a few days doing top-up feeds, but I was finding his latch so painful that I was sobbing every time we tried to breastfeed. I was so disappointed in myself for not being able to do it after I’d ultimately managed it with my first. I decided to move to exclusive bottle-feeding, to use mostly formula and to keep expressing breastmilk until my supply ran out (as I was assured by many it soon would). However, somehow the act of taking the pressure off myself changed things, and when I decided to try breastfeeding again a few days later, he latched. And we were away. Our breastfeeding relationship lasted until he was 16 months.
So as you can see, it was a struggle for me, and I really feel for every single mum out there trying to feed her baby. No matter what you do, it feels like someone else thinks you’re doing it wrong. So here are a few tips for new mums trying to feed their babies, gleaned from my personal experience. They might not resonate with everyone, but if they help even one mum not feel overwhelmed with guilt for her feeding situation, it has been worth sharing:
While there is scientific evidence to say that breastmilk is best for babies, the best thing for babies is to be fed! Get food into your baby any way you can. Breastfeeding, expressing & bottle feeding, using nipple shields, formula feeding, whatever. It’s your body and your baby and don’t let anyone guilt you.
Many lactation counsellors, midwives, nurses and health visitors will give you great advice, but some might not. Their advice is not the end all and be all. Go with your gut. If you don’t agree with some advice you receive, don’t follow it blindly (like I did with my second son).
There is a lot of advice out there that says that things like nipple shields, exclusively expressing & bottle feeding, and top-up feeds mean that your breastmilk supply will drop and you will ultimately have to stop. I’m living proof that this isn’t necessarily true! If any of these tools help you carry on breastfeeding, even if it’s only once a day from just one boob, then that is just fantastic.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’ve had some wonderful advice from NCT lactation consultants, and there are loads of breastfeeding support groups out there where you can meet mums going through similar things. Ask your local children’s centre or health visitor for details. Sometimes a sympathetic ear can be the thing that keeps you going.
Let go of the mum guilt. Us mums are guilt machines. But you are doing your best. I know because you’re here on the internet looking for help.
Formula has everything your baby needs. If ultimately you are unable to establish breastfeeding, or for whatever reason you stop sooner than you had hoped to, your baby is going to be just fine. You haven’t “failed”. You have been on your own unique feeding journey and moved on from breastfeeding at the time that was right for you. If you encounter any haters, tune them out
Finally, one last thing I wish someone had prepared me for: breastfeeding can be as difficult to stop as it is to start. If, like me, you end up breastfeeding for quite a while, ending breastfeeding starts to feel like a huge step. What if baby won’t sleep anymore without nursing first? When is the right time to stop? Just the act of reducing breastfeeds can send your hormones haywire. I was incredibly emotional both times I stopped, crying constantly for no apparent reason. Don’t be afraid to go back to a lactation consultant at this time to get support as you wind down the feeding.
So there’s my little contribution. I hope someone might find it useful. Remember, they’re your boobs, it’s your baby, and you’re the boss!
I would love to hear your feeding stories in the comments. What was best and worst? What helped you?
A child’s musing on those moments when mum loses her sh*t.
I’m sure pretty much everyone knows and loves the famous blog, ‘Reasons my son is crying‘. It pokes fun of the very many things a typical young child might have a bit of a tantrum over. An example from my own 4-year-old today:
4yo (observing as I begin to apply sunscreen to his 1yo brother): The sunscreen says “kids” on it.
Me: That’s right. Good reading.
4yo: But my brother’s a toddler. Not a kid.
Me (continuing with sunscreen application): Not all kids are toddlers. But all toddlers are kids.
4yo (high-pitched; distressed): NOOOOOOO! My brother needs TODDLER SUNSCREEN! I’m the kid. The kids sunscreen is only for meeeeee!
So, yeah, that happens. And it’s pretty funny when viewed in hindsight. But what about when you’re right there in the moment? Sometimes, don’t you just feel like lying down on the floor, going stiff as a board and refusing to move, a la toddler? Or just having a good old cry? Well, I do. And it got me thinking of what my sons must think of me, when I’ve lost it and cried in front of them. Some examples from my own experiences:
Newborn baby be all like:
My mum keeps shoving her boobs in my face. They are all hard and huge. And she is DOING IT WRONG. I am not having any of that milk until she ups her game a bit.
Wait? Now she’s crying? WTF, I’m the one who’s starving here!
Six month old be all like:
Mum has been IGNORING me all day. She keeps going into the kitchen and turning on some machine that’s really noisy. Now, she puts me in this highchair and starts waving a spoon full of orange mush at me. I don’t think so! I’m going to wave my hands wildly and knock the spoon of mush down her shirt.
She’s crying again. She tried to poison me and SHE’S the one who’s crying!
Nine month old be all like:
I’m tired of this sleeping at nighttime stuff. It is so last month. I’m going to just rest for short 45 minute intervals and then wake up and scream for mum. She loves giving me cuddles in the middle of the night.
3 hours later…
I just had to scream for TEN WHOLE MINUTES before Mum came to cuddle me this time. She’s biting her lower lip and begging me to go to sleep, tears streaming down her face. I don’t know what her problem is. I thought we were having fun, seeing each other all night.
18-month-old be all like:
I’m finished eating and no longer require this plate in front of me, still half-full of food. I shall toss it across the room in the manner of a medieval king.
Hey, why is mum shouting just because there are some baked beans in her hair? I put baked beans in my hair all the time!
2-year-old be all like:
These playgroups are kind of cool. Hey, wait a minute! Some kid is trying to play with the same plastic kitchen as me! I’m going to hit him repeatedly with this small metal pan until he goes away. What? Now mum is trying to drag me away from this usurper. I will go stiff as a board so she can’t move me until I’m ready to go. Uh oh, woman is tearing up again. Maybe if I scream a little louder in this public place she will learn to respect my boundaries.
4-year-old be all like:
It’s getting late and I’m actually quite tired. I’m going to give Mummy a big cuddle and tell her that I love her before I go to sleep. Wait…is she crying again?
Is it just me or have you experienced these sorts of moments? What are the reasons your kids’ mum is crying?