Thursday, 14 February 2013

The greatest gift

It was wonderful to hear the news last weekend of the safe arrival of the baby daughter of two of my dear friends, and a precious reminder that this is the greatest gift of life. 

News of a pregnancy is just the start of an incredible journey to parenthood that for most of us begins and ends in one big smile (even with the morning sickness, crazy hormones and exhaustion).

After finding out that my then husband and I were to become parents was indeed one of the happiest days of our lives, but life dealt a severe blow when we learned at the 23 week scan that our baby had an enlarged heart. There followed the longest weeks of our life as we had to wait for news of test results and leave the rest to fate, and simply just had to get on with life and hold on with all our heart to the feeling of a growing life inside me.

Sadly, on 22 August 2004 - my birthday - I felt my body change as it started to prepare to deliver our baby three months too soon. I knew our baby daughter was still with us at this time, and I can also pinpoint the exact moment when her life slipped away - it was before the scan told us so, a scan that I still hung onto the hope would reveal that I was wrong.

We had been due to return to St George's Hospital in Tooting on 24 August and would be given the prognosis - but we already knew that if she was born with an enlarged heart we would have had to decide if she should undergo major heart surgery - something that I could not even begin to comprehend for my unborn daughter. A decision that, despite the pain of losing her, I am most grateful we never had to make. Millie was stillborn in the early hours of 24 August 2004 - and as I held her with all my love, all I could think about was not the pain of losing her but how incredibly fortunate I felt to have experienced childbirth. I remember saying this to my mum and I'm sure I must have sounded completely and utterly bonkers!

We were lucky to find ourselves pregnant again very soon after and nine months later I gave birth to S. She was healthy and entered the world with the determination and energy that are the kite marks of her character today. But something wasn't right. Not with her, but with me. I just didn't feel the same way that I had when Millie was born - that bonding moment hadn't happened.

It's not easy to admit to yourself, let alone friends and family, that you're feeling a failure as a mother and those post natal depression check lists are so easy to forge - stupidly, I had decided that I would cope and I wouldn't let the loss of Millie take me down the road of post natal depression, even though I could feel that things weren't right. And so life took its toll and I eventually gave in when S was about 18 months old, and sought help with the anxiety I had started to experience.

And that was the starting point of a new journey for me - a journey, which sadly saw the end of my marriage, but helped me learn to love my daughter. It's hard to imagine ever having to learn to love - especially something as precious as your own baby, but I did and it wasn't easy. But I can remember the day, which coincided with us moving into our new home, when I suddenly felt it and knew what I'd been missing all this time - but it took five years to get there. I'm told that some mothers never feel it, never bond with their children - they may still love and care for them as any mother does, but they don't have that bonding moment - so I think I'm very fortunate to know how that feels now.

I've spoken to other mums who have experienced a stillbirth and I don't think I'm alone in struggling to bond with a baby born thereafter. And I guess it's understandable as we protect ourselves from the fear of it happening again.

Part of my journey in recent years has been spiritual - I found it hard to understand or have any faith after losing Millie - but in recent years have started to understand the reasons why a lot more. When S asked me if Millie had been born would that have meant she wouldn't have been, I answered her truthfully. No she wouldn't have been born, but the best thing about Millie dying was that S was born.

I have always believed that things happen for a reason and that good things come out of difficult times, and also that you should never take anything for granted. I find great comfort in the words of the Dalai Lama and I have been glued to a book by Pete Greig called God on Mute, recommended by a friend who too had trouble bonding with her baby. We're a good source of encouragement to each other - helping to recognise that we are both good mums, doing our best, and perhaps having struggled at the beginning are able to appreciate the gift of our daughters more so than someone who hasn't.

There's a part in God on Mute that made me feel very emotional as it talks from the perspective of a mother who had lost twins at 22 weeks. She was feeling angry and lost, and turned to the church for direction. As she was a former drug addict she was asked by the pastor to share her experience of how drug addition is similar to what Jesus experienced while being lost in the wilderness and she did this by talking to a young daughter whose mum was in prison for crimes relating to drug addiction. She explained that her mother's actions were not because she didn't love her, but because she was broken inside and needed to be fixed. This mum reports how despite the suffering she experienced at losing her babies, being able to bring comfort to this young child made it all worth while - and if she hadn't lost her babies, she wouldn't have been in a place to do this.

In a couple of weekends time I will be attending a training course to become a befriender for Sands - the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society. I've been a member of the Brighton & Hove Sands for the past year and am very much looking forward to giving something back, through the suffering I've experienced, to others in my situation, at at time when the world looks very bleak and you feel lost in the wilderness.

There is something very unique about Sands and its members - we are all united in a sadness but more than that I feel we are united in an understanding and appreciation of suffering and a knowledge that through this we can help others.

This I believe is also one of the greatest gifts of life. "The God of all comfort...comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." Corinthians 1:4

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Mirror, mirror on the wall....

In my paid job I do what is called social marketing, which I define as good marketing - undoing the bad marketing courtesy of the corporate giants, the media and tv programmes.

This requires an understanding of people - complex creatures that we are - and why we do the things that are bad for us (and the people (animals in my case) around us) and not do the things that are good for us (and the people/animals around us). Gone are the days of just being able to tell people what to do - nowadays it requires getting right inside people's heads and helping to gently steer them in the right direction. It's nickname is 'nudge'.

Intrinsic to this is the ability to understand oneself. I'm a great believer in self-help and self-reflection- not in a mumbo jumbo sort of way but in the sense that if we can understand and learn from our own actions it makes us better and nicer people. It's probably why I enjoy blogging because it gives me an opportunity to reflect, share and off-load - it's a great outlet for the parenting challenges we all face.

I've read book after book about what makes people tick - I like authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, but one of my favourite reads is the Art of Happiness, based on interviews with the Dalai Lama. One of my favourite quotes is:

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."

Compassion is something that we're all born with and therefore have the ability to practice. Yet too many people, it seems, get caught in the dead-end rut of anger and blame. Such ugly, unnecessary emotions. Of course, no one's perfect, and if I was to say that I never get angry or frustrated I would be telling a big fat whopping lie. But I've learned that when I am feeling anger or frustration, it's often because I'm feeling angry or frustrated at myself.

For some reason human nature finds it much easier to look at external factors and other people as things and reasons to blame for our own failings. For example, who hasn't arrived late for a meeting, frustrated and looking for something to blame, knowing full well that the reason for being late was because you made yourself late? I speak from experience as time keeping is not one of  my strongest points.

And I know that trying to blame others if I've been in the wrong, or to make myself feel better about the actions I've taken, just has the opposite effect - I feel worse. To further quote the Dalai Lama:

"If you think everything is someone else´s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy. Pride leads to violence and evil. The truly good gaze upon everything with love and understanding."
“All suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their own happiness or satisfaction” 

Having the ability to take responsibility for one's own actions is, I believe, fundamental to our own happiness and those of the people around us. I believe that a happy me makes me a better mum to my lovely daughter and if in turn I can teach her the basic principle of compassion, then I'll believe I've done a good job. I thank my mum for teaching that to me.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Time for a a short nap

Things have been a little quiet on the Bring the Baby front recently.

It's not been intentional, it's just that life has taken a few twists and turns recently and I've just not had the time to commit to it to really get it off the ground.

I'm so grateful to the people who have joined me on Twitter and Facebook since launch in the summer, which shows there's plenty of parents who want to see improvements made to our overall baby friendliness.

However, I am going to be taking a break from Bring the Baby so that I can focus on the other areas of my life that are eating up my time at present and then come back to it with renewed energy and focus in due course.

If anyone has any ideas for Bring the Baby in the meantime or wants to pick up the mantle, please get in touch - I'll be keeping the Facebook page and Twitter account open or you can just leave a message here.

I'm also on Twitter as @justine_RSPCA so if you've got an interest in animal welfare/marketing/PR and would like to pop across and say hello, please do so.

So it's au revoir for now, but not goodbye.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Stepping off the hamster wheel of life

I wonder how many mums have watched the new Sarah Jessica Parker film I don't know how she does it and thought, well I do, because that's my life.

And I wonder how many mums wish that they could replace their own Kate Reddy character with Sarah Jessica Parker's better known Carrie Bradshaw and switch their carry cot for a Cosmopolitan.

I was moved this week when I came across a blog post about how depression can make you a bad parent. A little harsh, I thought but when I read it, it made sense. It's about how ignoring the signs and refusing to seek help can make you a bad parent - and this created a little ouch in me.

The truth is that I have fought those demons in my head since my little girl was born, and six years on they still come up and bite me, gnawing away at my ear with negative thoughts about my parenting abilities. And I can say with complete conviction as I write that my thoughts are completely irrational but when they take hold then the only voice I'm hearing is that one that tells me I'm a bad mum.

My second admission of the day is that I didn't want to be labelled. I didn't want people to know that I was struggling. I didn't want people to think I wasn't a good mum...until it drove me pretty crazy.

And all this because everyone else around me seemed to be managing OK. Or were they?

Being a mum is by far the hardest job you will ever do so it's no wonder we end up feeling like we've lost the plot. Sorry dads, I'm not meaning to exclude you here, but mums come equipped with extra helpings of stress, worry and anxiety genes, not to mention the hormones.

But the more I hear and the more mums I speak to it appears that PND and/or parenting related anxiety is more common than not - but what's causing it? Of course if you speak to our parents or grandparents they seem to tell a different story of how you "just got on with it." So what's changed?

Personally I blame the media and its portrayal of parenting - the beautiful celebrities and their perfect bundles - for creating a rose-tinted impression of what parenthood is all about. And what happens if you set your expectations to high? You come crashing down in a big heap. Accepted of course that PND can be caused by a chemical imbalance too, but surely the perception of parenting and the sense of failure we feel when things don't go right must be a huge contributory factor?

Combine that with the pressures placed upon the busy working mum and the enormous dollop of guilt she's carrying around on her shoulders and is it any wonder that we're silently screaming for help?

At the start of this week I had a collision with those demons once again. Faced with the choice of jumping on the first aeroplane out of this country and my life, or finding a way to muddle through the quagmire in my chaotic head, I decided to step off the hamster wheel by taking a week off work, checking in with my counsellor, and giving myself a break.

These last few days have helped me put things back into perspective and get a handle on the negative thought demons that do paralyse me and stop me from being a good parent as the Real Supermum's blog points out. But by facing up to, rather than ignoring them, I can get back on the right track towards happy mummy state.

And I think it's perfectly OK to long for a Carrie Bradshaw moment in my Kate Reddy life. Whose to say carry cots and Cosmopolitans shouldn't go hand in hand?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

How is it possible to be this tired and still be awake!

I felt really sorry for Mel B this week pictured looking exhausted in the Daily Mail.

Not sorry because she was pictured looking less than perfect, but because I empathised 100% with that sleep deprived feeling.

There really is nothing like it. So how do we survive it?

My survival tool was Victoria sponge cake, or any other sponge cake in the absence of the Victoria variety. It just had to be sponge. And that was fine when I was at home - I made sure the cupboard was full of sponge cake (no, I'm not the baking kind of gal) and friends were on strict instructions to come armed when they visited.

So that's life at home with a new-born sorted. But what about when I was out and about?

Picture this. One stressed-out, sleep deprived mum. (Zombie-liked movements, accompanied with Donald Pleasance-esk stark-staring eyes are the give-away) robotically walking along nose twitching in search of sugary substances! It's getting urgent, the baby's getting restless and it's almost feedtime. I. Need. Coffee. And. I. Need. Cake. And. I. Need. It. Now.

There it is. A coffee shop. But it's 1pm and it's heaving. There's a queue so long it's just never going to move and I can't get my buggy through the door because there's a couple of students chatting idly on the other side totally unaware that the boggly-eyed, purpled-faced monster on the other side of the door is in fact a human being who needs a hand with the door and her baby is really starting to cry now and I'm going to cry too if someone doesn't help me. Arghh!!

Inside, I join the queue, stress levels peaking now and I'm cursing the person at the front who has had all the time in the world to peruse the coffee menu, but no, they just wait until they get to the front and then ponder over the variety of choices.

Eventually it's my turn. Coffee and cake will soon be mine. But only then do I consider the challenge in front of me. How am I going to get my tray loaded with coffee and cake from the counter to the table while negotiating the tables with my enormous pushchair. (Note to mums to be: big pushchairs may look lovely but they are impossible to get through tight spaces, you constantly take out people's shins and you need to be the world's strongest man to get them in and out of the boot of your car.)

Back to the point in hand, how do I...and then it happens. The young lad behind the counter turns into an angel before my eyes as he offers to carry my tray to my table. Well that was it. That simple gesture and I have been their most loyal customer ever since.

In terms of baby-friendliness there's smelly nappy bins, combined feeding and changing rooms and antiquated attitudes towards public breastfeeding to overcome, but this simple gesture made it a simple yay or a nay as to whether I'd go back again with a baby in tow. The good news is that they're one of the bigger coffee chains and although my own little lady is big enough to make her own way to our table now while I carry the tray I was relieved to see the same thing happening in another one of their branches.

So which coffee shop gets your vote for baby-friendliness? Cast your vote in our poll

I'll tell you who got my vote in due course...

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Call in the PR team...we've made a baby blooper

Drum roll please....

In honour of some astonishing blunders I'm pleased to announce the Bring the Baby Bloopers.

The Bloopers are awarded to companies or individuals who have, through ignorance of the law, failings in staff training, lack of consideration for parents with babies or simply just bigoted personal opinion, made a big bloop.

And so without further ado and in no particular order, the awards for the Bring the Baby Bloopers go to:

The Lakeside Inn, Felgate, Jarrow, South Tyneside. Awarded for asking a mum to stop breastfeeding her baby in the restaurant.

The Science Museum, London. Awarded because a security guard suggested to a mum breastfeeding her baby in a public area that she use the family room.

Drayton Manor Hotel in Staffordshire for telling a mum to change her child on the toilet floor.

The Prince Regent Swimming Complex in Brighton for asking a mum to stop breastfeeding her baby by the poolside.

    BBC Radio Suffolk DJ James Hazell for comparing breastfeedinging to sex in public.

      Chessington World of Adventures for telling a mum to feed her baby in the loo.

      Parents and businesses: Find out what the law says about breastfeeding in public (mums: it's your right)

      Read top tips from mum blogger, Corinne Hills on how to deal with unwanted attention when breastfeeding in public.

        The Bring the Baby Bloopers are compiled from information provided by parents, reported in the media or shared by bloggers. If you would like to share your blooper experience, please add it here.

        Wednesday, 31 August 2011

        Guest blog: Camping with Children

        If you've ever wondered how you'd survive camping with a baby or young children, read the experience of one mum, Corinne, who shares her top tips for stress-free camping here:

        I have been on camping holidays since I was a baby, when we were kids my parents would pack up our small caravan and head off to places like the New Forest for a week at a time. Often we would team up with another family for a holiday, which as children we loved as we had ready made friends with us.

        Looking back I remember these holidays with great fondness and most of my strongest childhood memories are from these times. It can’t have always been easy for my parents, there are 4 of us plus there were often young foster children added to the mix so they must have been busy trips for my Mum and Dad. Despite this I remember my parents being at their most relaxed on holiday.

        As an adult I continued to camp, on holiday or at festivals and have always been happy in a 2 man tent with a roll mat and a sleeping bag. As I’ve got older and sleep has become more of a necessity I like a bit more comfort on my camping trips, but am always happy to rough it in terms of site facilities. I like a basic campsite and tend to avoid ones with ‘facilities’, a toilet block will do me.

        This year we have really embraced camping again and purchased a beautiful bell tent in the hopes it will provide us with a lovely camping space for the next 20 years or so. We have just returned from a camping and baby naming weekend we organised for our youngest, we found that even friends who don’t do camping loved it. These are my top tips for camping with children:

        1. If you are going to be a regular camping family invest in a decent sized tent. It does not need to be HUGE or posh or canvas but you should be able to stand up in it. On a wet day when you are stuck inside for longer than usual you will be so glad of this. Modern 4 man tents often have a porch or central area which are tall enough to stand in (the bedrooms do not need to be tall), these are ideal for a family of 4. The central area is also useful for storing stuff that doesn’t fit in the bedrooms.

        2. Buy airbeds or camp beds. Do not think you’ll be warm and comfortable on the floor, you really won’t be. We had some friends staying at the campsite this weekend who decided they would leave theirs behind as their car was rather full, but then they got no sleep. It gets very cold at night and an airbed helps with warmth and comfort. If you have lots of room in your vehicle consider a memory foam mattress topper for the airbed, I’ve just got one and it is utter bliss, better than my bed at home! I always use duvet and pillows when camping, sleeping bags are fine if there’s less room but make sure they’re warm ones, even in the summer it gets cold at night. Take extra blankets if you can, they’re also useful for wrapping up in if anyone gets cold or wet.

        3. Camping stoves are great but think about what and how much you’ll be cooking. I used to use a small stove but only ever heated up tins of beans and sausages. When I wanted to cook better meals I bought a single ring stove which the bottles slide into, it’s fine but the gas quickly runs out. We might upgrade to a bigger stove with separate gas bottle. The gas bottle is initially expensive but is worth it in the long run for us as we’ll get lots of use out of it. Boiling water uses lots of energy so consider getting a Kelly/Storm kettle if you drink lots of tea (like I do). It’s also ideal to get the water boiling for pasta/rice/vegetables. They are easy to use and rely on twigs for fuel so reduce costs long term. If you will eat out most of the time a basic stove will do. We like sites that allow camp fires, these are perfect to cook over but you will need to educate children on safe behaviour around campfires and barbeques.

        4. Get ready for getting cold and wet. Layers are the best thing for adults and children as they can be easily added to or taken off. Even at night I wear pyjamas, socks and a jumper. All in one waterproof suits and wellies are perfect for toddlers, our toddler wears his most of the time, even if it’s dry as his favourite game is pouring water from pots. Once you get wet and cold camping it is hard to warm up again, something we struggle to get our 12 year old to understand!

        5. Be prepared for late nights and early mornings. Especially at the beginning of a trip children will be excited. Forget the usual bedtime but do keep a routine (teeth brushing, story, bed, type of thing). We generally keep the children up until its dark on the first night or they don’t settle, generally they go to bed earlier as the week goes on as they’re tired out. They still get up with the sun, but again this settles down. If they are small try and plan a walk or a drive at some point during the day so they can get a nap in their buggy or car seat, it makes the evenings less stressful! When we put our toddler to bed he would get upset if we went outside the tent so we stayed inside until he went to sleep, however, this did mean pretending to be asleep for 10 minutes while he went off to sleep and ignoring his attempts to get our attention.

        6. If you are bottle feeding a baby, a bowl and some sterilising tablets is the easiest way to sterilise bottles while away, they can be purchased at the chemist or supermarket. Other baby essentials (while trying not to take too much were folding changing mat, disposable nappies, baby wipes, nappy cream and a sling or buggy.

        7. At night we put the baby and toddler in lots of layers. They wore a vest, babygrow, baby sleeping bag and a hooded cardigan. I also had blankets close by for really cold nights. This seemed to be enough to keep them cosy, they are less likely to wake up if they are warm. Our toddler slept in a travel cot and the baby either in the pram or with me, but on top of the covers.

        8. Have a canvas bag with wash stuff in. It’s a small annoyance but morning and evening I would get asked where the toothbrushes were and there’d be a big search as they’d never go back where they started. This time I put everyone’s things in a canvas bag (possibly separate for boys and girls if using separate loos) and it was by the door of the tent and ready to go. On cleanliness, we are scruffy/smelly campers and the most we manage is teeth brushing, hair brushing and a strip wash. Our ‘wash bag’ contains toothbrushes, toothpaste, hairbrush, small quick drying towel and a toilet roll. I sometimes take more things but they never get used!

        9. Plan for points of stress. These would typically be the journey at either end of the trip, trying to put the tent up and cooking. Make sure there is entertainment for the journey, especially if it's a long one, even if it's being ready to play I Spy with them for 5 solid hours. When putting up the tent give the children 'jobs' to do, it could be collecting kindling for the campfire later on or getting sleeping bags ready. Our toddler loved banging the tent pegs in even though they were already in place. We were a little worried about our toddler getting burnt while we were cooking or using the Kelly Kettle, so ended up strapping him into his buggy while we did those jobs, it wasn't ideal but it was the safest option.

        10. Go prepared with activities. It could be a football and a pack of cards but think ahead of what you might need to entertain your children and what is or isn’t on site. We have a wonderful book called Nature's Playground: Activities, Crafts and Games to Encourage Children to get Outdoors. It’s full of great ideas and can really help when trying to entertain children outdoors.

        So those are my top tips, I hope they are useful. Most of all enjoy being in the outdoors, go with friends if you can and make the most of creating those special memories.

        Find out more about Corinne and her family on her blog Motherhood Journeys or follower her on Twitter @MotherScuffer