Monday, 30 May 2016

The Joys of Shopping Post-Babies

Sending a woman shopping 9 weeks after having a baby has got to be some sort of psychological torture. On one hand my friends and family are telling me how great I look. (I don't really care if they're just being polite, I'll take the compliment) I've even gone back playing football, so I know I'm doing OK, but accepting that my boobs are 4 sizer bigger than they normally are, my ribs and hips are wider, and I have a kangaroo pouch hanging out of my front is a little tricky to come to terms with. Especially when trying to find something that's dressy and elegant and looks good. I've even thrown budget out the window, and still coming up dud.

I have tried on 46 dresses in the last week, (honestly, that's not even an exaggeration, I've taken a picture of every one) and still haven't found anything suitable. I've bought 5, returned 3, had a loan of one and dug one out of the attic from my days in Coast. They'll all do, but that's just it. 'It'll do' isn't great. It isn't Wow. And for my first day and night out since Daithí has been born, with all of my friends, I want it to be Wow! Not for anyone else's benefit, but my own. I care too much about how I look, I know that, and I try every day to put a little less emphasis on it's importance.

I've worked retail for the last 10 years, and have dressed more brides/ bridesmaids/ mothers/ grannies/ guests than I can even remember. And have always prided myself of how well they, not only looked but, felt in their outfits too. It's important to feel good in what you wear, because it is reflected in how you stand and even how you enjoy yourself. But I'm yet to find a sales assistant who's been at all helpful, let alone someone who's opinion I trust more than my own. I've had one ask me if I was 'expecting another one', as I navigated around the shop with Fionn in the buggy and Daithí in the carrier. Needless to say I said no and left promptly, never to return again. That was it, game over, my confidence was shot for the day.

It was that incident that got me thinking about how new mothers are made feel. Be it intentionally or not. It's like people don't realise that most women after having a baby don't just pop back into shape as if like magic. We're not celebrities who disappear for 6 weeks to a team of chefs and personal trainers to 'get their body back', like they lost it somewhere along the way, and were just a floating head after giving birth. Fair play to them, it's got to be tough, to constantly be scrutinized for how you look. But for most of us, struggling through a night time cluster feed or keeping on top of the day's laundry is all we have energy for. Never mind dieting and working out.

We're told we have to lose the flab, and tone up, and erase the stretch marks, like it's shameful to show any evidence of the incredible thing we've just done. This isn't about jealousy, or laziness, it's about the constant bombardment of messages that how we look is more important than how we live our lives, keep a home or mind our children. (There's plenty of judgement there too, but that's a rant for a different day). I want to eat healthy and exercise to be a better mother. So I have the energy and fitness to keep up with two boys and to set them a good example. But I also want to raise them with a realistic image of women. The images in magazines, and on TV and in films are unavoidable, but maybe if a positive body image started at home, we'll all grow to be a little happier with ourselves.

I've spent the best part of the last 3 years either pregnant or breastfeeding, so my body hasn't exactly been my own. I may not like how it looks, but I'm bloody proud of what it has done.

That's what I'll keep telling myself anyway. In the mean time I'm going to pack 4 dresses (and shoes, bags, fascinators and shawls) and see what I feel like on the day. It's a bloody good thing we're driving home.

I left Shane with the two boys while I tried on some clothes, this is what happened!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Daithí's Birth Story

 To talk about Daithí's birth, like I did Fionn's it's necessary to talk about the months that lead up to it.

I've sat down to write this a number of times, and have had to just keep walking away. I think it is because everything that happened during my pregnancy only really hit me when I came to think about it after the fact. Shane says I needed to stop being a 'hero', saying I'm fine, when in reality, I really wasn't.

The first bad omen, was way back in August at my booking in appointment with my mid-wife. I fainted while having my bloods taken, and it took longer than she would have liked for me to come back round. It was the same midwife who had seen me with Fionn so she knew this was out of the ordinary for me. I was transferred to A&E by ambulance, and after a course of IV fluids I was discharged home to rest. I was dehydrated and exhausted, and only 8 weeks pregnant.

Over the course of the pregnancy I got sick every day, multiple times a day.  At first I thought it was just morning sickness and it would pass. I smiled and politely listened to people tell me about ginger biscuits or dry crackers or whatever worked for them. When I couldn't even hold down water. I would be scolded for feeling down, and reminded that I was lucky to be pregnant, and thousands of women would kill to be in my shoes. I'd be compared to other women who had it so much worse. I think this is why I started to play down how much I was suffering. It was easier to just say I was fine, than have to listen to these stories and suggestions.

It's true I was lucky to be pregnant, and yes some women had it worse. but you know what, I had it pretty fucking bad. Whatever about how physically draining it was, it was the emotional stress that I found worse. Sometimes you just need it to be acknowledged that things aren't going according to plan, and you're aloud struggle with that. There were weeks on end when I didn't have the energy to get up with Fionn, so I'd lie on his bedroom floor and he played around me. I was taken to hospital by ambulance twice, I fainted 3 times, Daithí's heart-rate dropped every time my blood pressure did. At one stage I was rushed to labor ward during a monitoring session because his heart-rate didn't come back up. These are all scary things, and I wasn't able to deal with them at the time, because others were telling me just how fucking lucky I was.

I don't understand why people can't accept that just because something worked for them with their morning sickness, that it wont necessarily work for everyone. and that sometimes morning sickness isn't just an inconvenient part of pregnancy. It's debilitating and potentially dangerous. I started to doubt how bad I was, I was reluctant to report new symptoms in case everyone thought I was just moaning for the sake of it. I'm a strong person, but this was just too much. Had I been more assertive, I know I would have been diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, the medical term given to excessive vomiting during pregnancy. But without that support around you, reassuring you that what you feeling isn't normal, it's easy to just keep plodding along.

Every time I went to hospital, it really made me miss home, It made me feel how isolated we actually are over here. Despite only being a 40 minute flight away, we're still in a different country to all of our family. With the exception of my cousin Niall, who played hero on more than one occasion, including calling an ambulance when I fainted in his house and playing with Fionn while the paramedics looked after me,

I digress. The illness was only part of it. At 36 weeks, it was discovered that Daithí was lying in the transverse position. Which means he was sideways across my tummy, with the cord below him. It was a high risk situation, if my waters broke or I went into spontaneous labor, there was a strong probability the cord would prolapse, I would have to be in surgery within 30 minutes to have him delivered by emergency Cesarean section. I was admitted on the spot, told I could go home and pack a bag, but I would be in hospital from then until he was born.

This was when the stress really started to build. Shane had to come out of work to mind Fionn, which was a eye opener for him. It broke my heart to see Fionn come and visit, and then have to say good bye. But Shane was fantastic at home with him.
There was a slight upside to the hospital admittance from my point of view, I was forced to rest. I had anti-sickness injections daily, and there were IVs available should I get dehydrated again. I had my own room, and the staff made me feel as at home and as comfortable as they possibly could.

My family and Shane's Mam flew over loads to to help and support, but if the weeks I spent in hospital showed me anything, it is the amazing friendships we have built since moving over here. My friends are fantastic, they were genuinely concerned for my well being, and everyone made the effort to come and visit, to spend an hour or two chatting, and distract me from the entire situation. For the first time, it made me feel like this is my home now, and I have a support network of amazing people around me.

The weeks in hospital were frustrating. Every specialist I saw gave me a different opinion, one said I'd be induced at 37 weeks, one said I'd have a c-section at 38, one said I could leave on day release, another said I couldn't leave at all. After about 2 weeks it just hit me and I sat in my room and cried (for the first time in the entire pregnancy) for about 2 hours. It was ridiculous, I felt so stupid but I just couldn't stop it. The flood gates opened and everything just came out.

Eventually, during one of the junior doctor strikes, I saw the same consultant two days in a row. Daithí had turned but was still unstable, I was aloud home for the weekend with an appointment for another scan the following week. Fionn was so excited to get me home, he practically skipped down the hall pulling my suitcase behind him. The scan showed Daithí was doing what he should have been doing, but my cervix wasn't favorable for labor, I had a sweep anyway in the hope it would move things along and he'd be born before he had a chance to turn back. There was still a risk of cord prolapse because of how he had been lying so they wanted to induce me anyway. Out of desperation, (and because my Dad was booked to be over and could mind Fionn) they agreed to induce me that week.
Off to get the baby

Potential TMI warning, this is where it starts to get gritty and gross. (It is a birth story, what else would you expect?!)

That was it then, finally a plan I felt I had a say in. I was finally able to see an end to it all.
Friday morning came, and they were full. I wanted to cry. They were able to get me in at lunchtime. So myself and Shane walked over to the hospital where I was greeted by the midwife who had delivered Fionn. A very different birth this time.  I had an hour of monitoring, and the gel inserted. It was then a waiting game. We walked to halls, and climbed the stairs to pass the time and move things along. I had mixed emotions being back in the hospital, but I knew this time I wouldn't be leaving without a baby.

On the monitoring before the second gel was needed, some contractions were starting to show. I sent Shane home to get some dinner. While he was away is when the fun started. What I thought were my waters went but there was blood. A lot of blood. Me being me tried to keep tidy and clean up, but made a holy mess of the bathroom. The blood came with every contraction. Within about a half hour they went from being manageable to horrendous. Shane got back and tried calming me down. I was determined to have a drug free birth again, but my plan for a water birth went out the window because I had to be monitored constantly. I tried a tens machine, it made everything worse. The contractions were getting stronger, and the blood worse. I wasn't dilated, but the midwives wanted to get me down to labor ward. Of course they were full, just my luck. They were pushing to get me a room, In hindsight, I should have realilsed, that had there not been any issue I could have delivered no problem on recovery ward, but the amount of blood and Daithí's heart-rate had the midwives worried, but they weren't going to let me know that!

The contractions had been full on for what felt like about an hour when I was wheeled down on my bed, straight into a labor suite. Everyone came to introduce themselves, the student mid-wife, the two supervising midwifes, and the consultant. This is when I started to lose my cool. Looking back I wish I had done a refresher antenatal course, to mentally prepare myself for the birth. I'm confident this is why Fionn's went so smoothly. But I couldn't get my head around it all. The months of stress and puking and worry just hit me and I freaked out. I was using that gas and air like there was no oxygen in the room. I hated how it was making me feel, but I couldn't help it, the pain and the blood was just too much. The midwife offered pethidine and I went for it.

Daithí's heart-rate kept dropping off on the monitor with each of my contractions, and it was taking too long to come back up, they would have to monitor him internally. Someone broke my waters (It was only the hind waters that had gone initially), and they got a monitor on his head. While all of this was going on two more midwifes joined the party by the door (Shane later told me they were communicating to the surgical team). I was handed a gown and told they may have to do an emergency section as Daithí's heart rate was so low.

At this stage I was 7cm dilated, and Daithí had other ideas. With the next contraction his head was out in two pushes, then he kinda got stuck. The midwife said she'd have to hold open my cervix which was blocking the birth-canal. Through a contraction I said 'please don't', my pathetic attempt at humor amid the madness. I remember the consultant saying to the midwife that they might have to take him to NICU because of his condition. He was born on the next contraction.

After only 50 minutes of active labor and 7 minutes of pushing and he was put on my chest. cold, and silent and dark blue. Fionn was blue when he was born and took a while to cry, but this was different, it really scared me. Shane cut the cord straight away, while the midwives were vigorously rubbing and shaking him to get a cry. (A detail Shane added after the fact as again, they were trying to keep me as calm as possible.) My first words were 'Is he ok? Why is he so quiet?', He was then taken across to the other side of the room by a midwife with Shane in tow. He was fine thankfully, just a little in shock. He was weighed and put straight back on my chest, where he latched on by himself like a damn pro!

I then got violently sick. Again. Christ as if I hadn't been sick enough. After about two hours of bonding, tea, toast, and calling family, the midwife came back and offered to run a bath. It was bliss, even if I did leave the bathroom looking like a scene from a horror movie.

The one upside from this birth was I didn't need any stitches. I said after the first time, I'd sooner take labor again over the pain of peeing after stitches. I think I deserved this little win.

Shane was sent off home to bed and I wheeled Daithí back up to the recovery ward. I actually spent less time in hospital post birth with Daithí than I did with Fionn. I was home, eating a fillet steak, drinking a Budvar and watching Ireland play Rugby with my 3 boys by 4pm. Now that is bliss.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Why we moved, and why we haven't moved back yet.

This is the original piece I wrote for HerFamily, their article from this can be viewed here.

Our Wedding Day
12th July 2012
The first thing we always get asked by people here, is ‘Why on earth did you move to Nuneaton?’ Well, honestly it wasn’t top of your list, the original plan was to move to the west coast of Australia, I had a job lined up, Shane didn’t. (The whole point of us leaving Ireland was so that he could find work). Then two weeks before we got married, he got a phone call from Jaguar Land Rover, offering him a position. This was way too good an opportunity to turn down. So we packed our lives up and got on the boat the day after we landed back from Honeymoon.

Not knowing anything about the geography of England, let alone the midlands, we drew a 20 mile radius around where Shane was working and I spent a month traveling to all these different towns, (on a bus mind, as I had been driving on a provisional license in Ireland, and that's apparently a big no no here!) until we settled on Nuneaton.
Nuneaton can be beautiful to be fair
Although we’d like to think this is a temporary move, once children are involved everything looks a little bit more permanent. We’ve bought a house, and with Daithí being born 8 weeks ago, the chances of us sticking to the original plan of moving home before the kids start school looks less and less likely. I’d like to think we will move back to Dublin at some stage, but as each year passes by here, it feels more and more like home and there are more and more people we’d miss.

In Ireland we speak the same language, watch the same TV shows and wear the same clothes as the UK, but it’s amazing the cultural differences between the two countries. The NHS is one of the biggies, but I’ll come to that later. Another is people don’t talk to each other! This is something I seriously struggled with, I’m used to saying hello to whoever I pass on the street, and knowing all of my neighbors (and their kids/grandkids/dog). That hasn’t been the case here though. I’ve tried making small talk with Mammies in the playground, or with other women in gym classes etc. but they tend to look at me like I have ten heads!! People are very polite, but like keeping themselves to themselves. It took us almost a year to learn the names of our next-door neighbors when we bought our house. I think once people realise we’re Irish they make allowances for our crazy need to talk to people.

The cost of living is a lot lower here, once I stopped comparing the £ to the €. We’re earning in pounds, and spending in pounds, so I had to stop drawing the irrelevant comparisons. Groceries, dinners out, running a car etc. all take up a smaller percentage of our weekly budget than they did when we we’re living in Dublin. Granted Nuneaton isn’t a capital city, but still, we could afford to buy a family home without having to sign our lives away.

The National Health Service goes a long way to helping lower the cost of living, especially with the inevitable/ crazy Mammy trips to the doctor you tend to make with a new born and a toddler. GPs are free, as are prescriptions (including contraceptives). A&E visits, ambulances, specialists, consultants, all free!! I felt like I was stealing the first time I left a GP’s practice and chemist without putting my hand in my purse. Out of hours appointments are easily available, and the maternity care I have received has been faultless. I was able to book midwife appointments on a Sunday, and all visits are at the local childrens’ centre, meaning less visits to the hospital. Honestly, it may be an unpopular opinion to read, but I feel a lot safer in the hands of the NHS when it comes to antenatal care. I know my life is the priority, and I have the final say over my body. I know, so long as everything is fine it doesn’t really matter where you have your baby, but everything I have experienced here, especially the screenings offered before the baby is born, has made me feel so much more at ease about having the rest of my children here. I had an awful time while pregnant on Daithí (I'll write about it soon) but I am so glad I was being looked after by the NHS for the while ordeal.

I’ve found the attitude to breastfeeding refreshing too. I was lucky, especially with my maternity hospital, it has won country wide awards for their breastfeeding support, but even in the wider community. There is an initiative called ‘Warwickshire Welcomes Breastfeeding’, and all of the cafes and restaurants around the county have little stickers with the logo in their window. It’s just something small, but it has definitely made me and other mothers feel a lot more at ease about feeding in public. Quite a lot of places have quiet corners, with comfy chairs if you want more privacy, and every shopping centre/ supermarket etc has a feeding room. I fed Fionn until he was 1, and I never received a negative remark. There was also excellent support in the childrens’ centre, all of the baby groups and clinics had a specialist nurse who was on hand to answer any questions, or just to chat about the ups and downs. There seems to be a baby boom in Nuneaton lately, so it’s a common sight to see a group of Mammies sitting around a cafe all feeding.

Easy access to non-­religious education is something that seriously appeals to us too. We had discussed what we would do about schools if we had had kids in Ireland, and had prepared ourselves for a battle to get them into schools without being christened, but luckily that isn’t an issue for us any more. All school admittance is based on a catchment area, depending on your post code, and the options of schools range from a number of secular and non religious schools, to Church of England and multi denominational, and Catholic schools.
Roger Casements Ladies Team
County Champions 2014

We’ve built a great surrogate Irish family over here, a lot of that came from joining the local(ish) GAA club Roger Casements in Coventry, a city with a huge Irish population. (Not that I ever played before in Dublin, but they were more than welcoming of new faces.)

It’s still tough not having family here, but we Skype with my Mam and sisters every few days, Fionn will carry the laptop to me so he can see them, he’s so used to seeing Granny in the screen, that he runs his fingers through her hair when he does see her in person to make sure she’s real. It’s hard for the grandparents missing out on their developments, but they’re all just relieved were only a 40 minute flight away and not half way round the world.

All in all we’re very happy here and settling more and more as each year passes, but if money weren’t an issue, we’d be back home in Dublin in a heartbeat.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Baking with Babies

Let me set the scene. It's 7am and lashing rain after two days of sun. I was awake at 4am feeding Daithí, awake again at 5am when Shane left for work, and up at 6am with Fionn. He was hyper. I was not. I was in need of coffee.

Fionn starts asking to bake cupcakes, I don't even know where he learned this, I try not to bake as a rule, I leave that to my more talented friends, my contributions to gatherings tend to be savory; home-made salsa, guacamole, that sort of thing.  So I tell him no, but he persists. Against my better judgement, and probably out of fear of his screaming waking Daithí, who'd want to be fed AGAIN, I gave in.

Luckily while I was pregnant, I had stocked the press with everything Aldi have to offer for home baking. So I cracked out the old Junior Cert. Home Ec. cook book* and tried Chocolate Chip Cookies.

*This is the only cook book I use, as it assumes you have no idea what you're doing (check) and only have access to basic ingredients (I'm lazy, so check). It's made some surprisingly simple and delicious family dinners to be fair.

Note the little hands trying to get to the
chocolate while I was trying to take the pic!
This recipe is for two dozen cookies (The book said 12, but sure they'd be gone before Shane even got home from work so I doubled)

200g Butter
100g caster sugar
300g self-raising flour
100g chocolate-chips
2 tablespoon coco powder (This was a little tweak I made)

To make it easy for Fionn to get involved, I measured everything out into colourful Ikea bowls, and got him to turn on the oven. Of course he got excited and started working his way through the chocolate chips, so I had to quickly convince him to get the butter and sugar into the mixer. I creamed this for 2 minutes, while trying to line the baking trays and keep a hyper toddler away from chocolate.

He then 'helped' to pour the flour, coco and chocolate into the mix. He got it all over the table/ chair/ floor, got bored and went inside to watch Sarah and Duck.

So while that mixed for another 4 minutes 'till it looked like playdough, I cleaned up. He still had no interest in baking, so I rolled out the cookie dough, realised I had no cookie cutters, and improvised with an Ikea plastic cup. I seriously don't know how I survived before Ikea childrens' stuff.

Into the oven for 15mins at 180 and they were ready to come out. However, Daithí had woken up in this time, and was mid-feed, 15mins turned into 20mins, and as trying to explain to Fionn how to turn off the oven didn't work, they ended up a bit over done.

They were still pretty good if I do say so my self, Fionn didn't agree. He ate half of one, and came back into the kitchen to me cleaning up, pulled at the baking press again and said 'Bake cup-cakes Mamam'.

Seriously! I can't win.

Would love to hear if anyone tried out this recipe and how it went for you!

Friday, 6 May 2016

The Six Week Slump

I think it's safe to say most of us fall through the first few weeks with a new born in a bit of a happy, hazy, blur. I know for me, I was getting energy from some secret store I haven't been able to tap into before or since. And of course, I ignored every nag of 'take it easy', 'you need to rest more' that pretty much every one threw my way. 

My reasoning being that if I didn't get out of the house and run Fionn around a park at least every second day he'd be an unimaginable nightmare. I was actually quite proud of myself, I did a lot more in the first few weeks of Daithí being alive than I ever dreamed of when Fionn was a new born. A lot of that is definitely down to the confidence that comes with a second baby, but there is also the catch 22 of having a toddler as well. Go out and tire him out and you tire yourself out just as much in the process, or stay in and stay well rested, but have a ball of energy in the form of a two year old bouncing off the walls fighting you every step of the way to bed time. 

So for me it was a no brainier, I had to get out. Go for a walk, go to town, go to the park, go to the library when it was too cold, just get out of the house. I felt great for it. Positive, and up beat, but that adrenaline, or whatever it was seems to have worn off, because this week I have hit a wall. I am more tired than I remember being first time round, and I'm starting to beat myself up for falling asleep on the couch in the mornings and not having the energy to think straight. I've still forced myself to do things, but looking noticeably more disheveled than I had done 2/3 weeks ago. And also having more and more Baby Brain moments. 

With Shane being on nights, I've made an effort to get out of the house every day so he can sleep. It didn't exactly go according to plan. I made a bump start to the week on Monday after loading up the car with two boys, the buggy and remembering shopping bags and items and receipts I needed to return, I made it into town, queed for a parking space, unpacked everyone and everything only to realise I forgot my purse *face palm* everyone back into the car,  drive home, get purse, back into town, walk to bank, it was a damn bank holiday. Fuck. I was actually ready to give up then and there when Fionn pointed at a cafe and said 'Nom Noms please Mamam'. Can't argue with him when he asked so politely. He ate his kids box and allowed me to have a coffee in peace.

Twice, I had to put Daithí in Fionn's nappies on Wednesday after forgetting to pack the changing bag, it was up to his armpits, he was fine, but Fionn wasn't too happy about it. It meant the waiting room in the dentist's surgery was great craic. One sleeping baby, and one screaming toddler. I was meant to have x-rays, but I think the dentist decided everyone had had enough and said she'd do them the next time. Honestly, I don't blame her. 

Then it got sunny! Everything is so much easier when it's sunny. or so I thought, Fionn, screamed the house down for 20 minutes because I had the nerve to get him dressed. I managed to get him into the car and he fell asleep. Two sleeping children while I had lunch with a friend. Bliss. Then 2 hours playing and a picnic in the park. The little angelic face on him in this picture does not accurately represent the little shit who was throwing sand and screaming in the playground. 

Last night, after voting, we went on an hour long family walk which lead to a slightly later bedtime, surely that would mean I'd get an extra bit of sleep in the morning. Nope. Not a chance. 5am wake up call, after just getting Daithí back asleep after a 4am feed. 

Amid all this, I made Rocky-Roads for Shane to bring to work for his birthday, had Daithí's 6 week health visitor check up and wrote the quiz for my GAA teams fundraiser that's on tonight. I can't even go to it because I can't leave Daithí for that long.

Fuck my Actual Life today.  

Sorry there's no positive spin on this, I really just needed a rant.