A day in Whistable

I haven't posted anything here on the blog for a couple of days as I've been enjoying half-term holidays with Seb. He's now off to his Dad's for the rest of the week and normal blogging service can resume!
 
We've had a lovely time seeing most of our local friends, for play-dates at their houses, trips to the beach (we live about 2 minutes walk from the beach but actually got a train to an alternative seaside town for a change) and for picnics in the park.
 
Until I get my blogging schedule sorted out again over the weekend I thought I'd just share a few photographs that I took whilst spending the afternoon by the sea in Whitstable with Seb, by best friend Sushi, and her family.
 
It's something of a novelty for these children, going to a pebble beach, as our local beaches are predominantly soft sand!
 
 

 
 




 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Recipe: Summer Pregnancy Superfood Smoothie

I love making a quick, easy smoothie in my Nutribullet, especially when I'm short on time (and who isn't).

I've devised this smoothie recipe to specially support my body in pregnancy over the Summer - and to treat some common pregnancy ailments.
 
Ingredients:
One handful of frozen blueberries
One whole kiwi fruit (peeled)
Six whole dates (stones removed)
A 1cm piece of fresh ginger
A squeeze of lemon juice
A generous glug of Indian tonic water
 
I simply add all of the ingredients to the Nutribullet and allow it to whizz everything together until smooth. It creates a slightly fizzy slush style smoothie that will provide ideal refreshment in the hotter months.
 
 
 
The ingredients were chosen specifically for pregnancy - but are great for pretty much anyone!
 
Blueberries and kiwi fruit are some fruits with the lowest sugar content. It's even more important to keep an eye on your sugar intake in pregnancy than ordinarily, so choosing low sugar fruit, such as berries, is a wise move. Using frozen berries creates a slushie type texture which is super-refreshing for Summer. Constipation is very common in pregnancy, consuming fruit in liquid form will help to speed up and regulate bowel movement, and soften stools.
 
Studies have shown that women who eat six dates per day in the third trimester, are significantly more likely to go in to spontaneous labour around the 40 week mark, than those who do not. Women who ate six dates a day in their third trimester also dilated (cervix) faster during labour than women who didn't, significantly reducing labour times.
 
Ginger is great for combating nausea, whilst morning sickness usually goes away by about the 12th week of pregnancy, it isn't uncommon for it to return in the last few months (thanks nature!).
 
Tonic water is made using quinine, a bitter tasting anti-inflammatory that should provide relief from the leg cramps associated with later pregnancy. Having a glass of tonic water during the day should prevent you experiencing painful cramps in the evening.
 
You could dress your smoothie with some fresh mint leaves to make it look even more appetising - I just didn't have any!
 

31 Week Update

Wow - we're now in the single figure countdown! Just nine weeks to go until Baby's estimated due date. I must say though, I've made a conscious effort not to get to hung up on the date itself. Seb was born at 40 weeks and 3 days, "3 days late" as many would call it, but I'm aware that a baby is born at term anywhere between 37 and 42 weeks, perhaps even later, so we actually have anywhere from 6 to 11 weeks in which to expect Baby to make a safe arrival.
 
 
 
As you'll already know if you read my two posts over the weekend (Natal Hypnotherapy Home Study and My Pregnancy and Birth Profile) this week I had some exciting mail from the guys at Natal Hypnotherapy. It's meant that I can now start properly preparing for Baby's hypnobirth by listening to the specific birth preparation CDs and pregnancy relaxation tracks. Keep an eye out for future reviews!
 
Despite not suffering with the same horrific heartburn that I was plagued with in my last pregnancy, I am really suffering with annoying acid reflux. This is by no means as bad as the heartburn - but pretty disgusting none the less, so I've started taking antacid mints which so far are keeping it under control. As it's caused by the effects of the hormone, relaxin, on the valves in my stomach - a hormone which is released in larger doses as pregnancy progresses - I can only expect it to get worse unfortunately.
 
Other than this I've been feeling pretty darn' good, but boy is this baby getting big! I now suffer with simultaneous kicks to the ribs and headbutts to the pelvis - which have the ability to stop me in my tracks completely!
 
Boyfriend put up the Malm units that he bought Baby and I from IKEA this week, so I now have somewhere to put all of Baby's clothes (which I'm gradually working through and getting washed and folded) - and one of my next jobs is to start preparing a changing area for Baby on top.
 
Seb got to feel his baby brother or sister move for the first time this week, Boyfriend has been feeling baby for months now, but until the movements got really strong I doubted that Seb would know what he was feeling for. His little face lit up though and he burst out laughing, declaring that Baby had given him a "High Five" (it was a knee actually I think but never mind!) - probably one of my favourite moments from my pregnancy so far!
 
 

Preparing for Hypnobirth (My Pregnancy & Birth Profile)

If you read yesterday's post you'll already be familiar with the Natal Hypnotherapy Premium Package which arrived this week. I've started with the book, written by doula and hypnotherapist, Maggie Howell, Effective Birth Preparation. As I'm still only in the opening chapters of the book, most of the background and theology is very familiar to me, but this is good news - at least it means Maggie (who developed the Natal Hypnotherapy programme that I'm planning to use) and I are on the same page.
 
As part of the introduction to her book, Maggie sets out several pages with space for readers to make their own notes. I've decided not to write in the book as I'd like to be able to pass it on to a friend one day, but completing the personal interview seemed like a good idea, it certainly got me thinking, about myself and my attitudes and approach to pregnancy and birth, which can only be a good thing.
 
Activities like this are so useful, and essential, I believe, during pregnancy. It seems to be that many people don't take enough time to simply be pregnant, to enjoy it, to experience it, or to celebrate it. From Day 1 it seems that there is so much focus on the baby at the end of the journey (and I understand why that's necessary) but less on the journey itself. Everything seems to be about choosing a pushchair, a name, a colour scheme for the nursery, a date to return to work - but there seems to be very little opportunity or encouragement in our modern society to revel in the miracle of pregnancy. This is why I find meditation and deep relaxation so useful, it's really helped me to connect with my pregnant body and with my baby, creating a very secure bond between the two of us. Completion of the questionnaire in Maggie's book allowed me another opportunity to consider my pregnancy and birth in isolation, and I thought today I'd share my answers, as they're nice, just as discussion points in their own right.

 
 
If you too are expecting a baby, perhaps you'd like to have a go at thinking about your own answers to these questions, how do they differ to mine? Are there similarities? I'd love to hear.
 
Was this a planned pregnancy?
NO! It was whatever the opposite of a planned pregnancy is, and by that, I mean even more opposite than unplanned. It's also to be my last pregnancy and as such I guess I will never experience the act of making a conscious decision with another person to try for a baby - and be successful (I'd previously made this decision in another relationship but it wasn't to be).
 
How did you feel about your journey to conception?
Well, given the above, it was something of an unconscious journey. Boyfriend and I have a remarkably deep bond, a very passionate and strong relationship and a considerably impressive amount of love for one another - but we'd also agreed, almost immediately, that we would never ever have children. Ever. Under any circumstances. We had already agreed that Boyfriend would, when it was least inconvenient for him to have some time off from work, have a vasectomy, just so that we didn't need to worry about the possibility of failed contraception... our bodies seemed to realise they were up against the clock so promptly got on with making a baby...
 
What were your initial thoughts about being pregnant?
I found out that I was pregnant whilst Boyfriend was away working for a week. I told him, in a rather round-about, matter of fact manner, in a text message. It was always understood, and agreed, that if we ever did find ourselves in this situation, then we were both comfortable with, and in favour of, an early termination. Something held me back though. I felt sick, angry (just at The Universe, not at anybody in particular) and completely unprepared, but not quite detached enough. I decided not to make a firm decision until Boyfriend was home. Then until after Christmas, and then, I made a firm decision, and it wasn't the decision I ever thought I'd make.
 
How do you feel now about being pregnant?
Well, how things change! You can assume that I wouldn't write about my pregnancy as much as I do were I not excited about the prospect of a new baby, and enjoying the journey along the way. After a very shaky start, I can honestly say that my heart told me the right thing. Something told me that everything would be OK, that this incredibly "unwanted" pregnancy could be a wonderful thing - and isn't it? I absolutely love being pregnant this time around. I have such a connection with Baby, my body is doing well, and I'm approaching child birth with so much positivity - as well as adopting a completely new outlook which couldn't be further removed from the attitude that I held throughout my last pregnancy. I thank myself every single day for listening to my gut (or perhaps, my accurately, my womb) and refusing to be frightened.
 
What are the three main emotions that you feel when you think about being pregnant, and having this baby?
  • excitement
  • determination/empowerment
  • contentment
 
Write down any fears/concerns you have about giving birth
I'm trying with all my might to be positive and fearless in the face of birth this time, and I honestly don't feel that I'm moving forward with any anxiety what so ever, but then I'm also investing a lot of effort in preparing myself, emotionally and physically. In the back of my mind there is the faint worry that perhaps hypnobirthing will fail me, but I'm surrounded by a lot of encouraging and supportive people, I'm well prepared, and I also watch lots of hypnobirthing videos to remind myself that it does work for others, and that there's no reason it won't work for me.
 
I also occasionally get hung up that Baby is going to swing in to a breech position before we get to birth-day. At the moment he/she is head down and ready to go, but that could all change. If Baby ends up being breech in the end, I still want to go ahead with a natural, vaginal birth - although I'd probably abandon the home birth idea and do that in the local birthing centre, as the likelihood of things becoming complicated are a little higher, I'm not sure.
 
I guess my worst case scenario is going ahead with the home birth only to have to transfer to hospital mid-labour. Once labour is established I want to be able to remain at home and not have the interruption of an (albeit short) journey to break my spirit.
 
How do you feel about becoming a Mother?
Well, I'm already a Mother, and I'd like to think, a very loving and happy one. With a five year old son, Motherhood is very much a core part of my character and lifestyle. However, I am aware of how much more relaxed I am about bringing a new life in to the world this time around. I've made different decisions and choices for this baby based on experience, and a change in values. Motherhood seems more natural to me now. I'm sure it's much the same for many approaching their second or subsequent birth though.
 
Where are you planning to give birth, and what are your three main reasons for choosing that place?
I'm planning to give birth at home, because:
  • it's proven to be the safest place to give birth for all low-risk pregnant women, the benefits offered to Mother, Father, Baby and even the midwives, far exceed the benefits of giving birth in a hospital environment.
  • my first birth was relatively short (5 hours), so it's unlikely that I'll have a long labour this time around, therefore I want to be able to immediately get "into the zone", and not be disturbed - the last thing I want to be doing is finding myself in serious, established labour, whilst trying to settle in to a new and unfamiliar environment.
  • it's kinder to Seb. Preparing for a home birth has meant that arrangements are not as disruptive to Seb - in fact, with absolutely no family locally who'd be able to help with childcare, a home birth is almost the only option that would give me any arrangements for Seb!
 
Who will be with you during the birth? Why have you chosen them to support you? How well do you think they'll be able to support you?
First and foremost, I'll be with Boyfriend. It is, after all, his baby! He is also the person I feel most comfortable and safe with in the Universe, so that helps, and I have absolutely every faith in his ability to support me. We're taking time to research specific ways that he can help with childbirth, including labour specific massage techniques in particular.
 
We're also calling upon the services of a doula, or professional "birth assistant", of sorts. The doula isn't a medical professional, but is trained and qualified in helping pregnant women and their families throughout pregnancy, birth, and beyond. For us, this means that Boyfriend and I can very much be together throughout the entire labour and birth of our baby. The doula will help to look after Seb if he is present, reassuring him, explaining what is happening and why/how, ensuring that he has something to eat and drink, and that he's happy throughout the whole process. She'll be our go-between in communicating our wishes with midwives, and making sure that everything in our birth plan is kept in place and is honoured. She'll also be able to offer guidance and help with breastfeeding once Baby arrives. I didn't breastfeed Seb at all so kind of making it up as I go along with that one!
 
There'll be midwives present as well. Our local NHS trust are obliged to provide a midwife to attend any home birth - as is the case across the UK.
 
I have every faith in the doula and midwives as, unlike us, they're trained and experienced in supporting women through labour and birth. The doula in particular is experienced in hypnobirthing and will ensure that the ideals and values of a hypnobirth are maintained throughout - which is handy.
 
If you know, or can find out, what was your own birth like?
My Mum never spoke an awful lot about giving birth to me. All the I know is that it was a horrendously painful ordeal that ended in an emergency caesarean, though why the section was deemed necessary I have no idea, in the back of my mind I might vaguely remember something about the umbilical cord becoming wrapped around my neck - it might have been that!
 
If you have given birth before, write down any negative memories and anything that you would like to change for this forthcoming birth.
The short journey to the hospital was horrid. My best friend drove me in her car and did absolutely fantastically, but I really wanted to get into that maternity ward, in a room, with the door closed, and on a bed, pronto. Thankfully planning a home birth means I should save myself that inability to get settled immediately. I had a pethadine injection with Seb to manage labour pains, and whilst it worked wonders as a pain relief measure, I missed out on being entirely alert and "with it" for Seb's birth and gave birth to a drowsy, drugged baby. I am keen to avoid that this time around.
 
There are other things I've chosen to do differently this time around, but not especially because of any negative memories. This time I intend to give birth in water (we're hiring a birthing pool for use at home), this time we're having a doula, this time I am using hypnobirthing - hopefully in place of any other pain relief, this time I am having music on whilst I give birth, this time Baby's Dad will be present and supportive, this time I want to delay the clamping of the umbilical cord and enjoy a longer period of skin-to-skin, this time I do not want baby to receive the Vitamin K injection which is usually offered to newborns - and will be opting for Vitamin K to be given as oral drops instead, and this time I'll be delivering the placenta naturally. All very different from last time!
 
Have you ever been to someone else's birth? If so what were your feelings about it?
In a word, no.
 
Write down how you would like the birth of this baby to be.
I imagine the birth of this baby to be a tranquil, and gentle process. I appreciate that there might be noise-making involved, but I hope these are limited to the natural sounds a woman makes during labour and not the sound of someone in pain. I basically want to give birth like a cat gives birth - cats are my birthing inspiration. I want it to be dark, quiet, and uninterrupted, warm and cosy, peaceful, and most of all, enjoyable.
 
*Effective Birth Preparation by Maggie Howell usually retails for £9.99.

Preparing For Hypnobirth (Home Study)

Shall we start by talking about how totally awesome my best friend Sushmita is? Let's do that. Sush has always been very supportive of my approach towards pregnancy and birth this time around. She brings an interesting mix of attitudes to the table, on one hand, a set of Indian ideals and values which differ from typically British ones, and on the other, an understanding of how much "better" we have it here in the UK (in terms of access to free care, and an acceptance of natural birth etc.) Sush is, like me, fascinated by the idea of hypnobirthing and a whole host of other practices surrounding pregnancy and child birth which are still considered "alternative", in both the UK and India. We have a lot of interesting conversations; especially given that it cost friends of hers in India TENS OF THOUSANDS of pounds to have a water birth which the baby's Father was able to attend.
 
So anyway, a little while ago, Sush asked whether she could pay for my hypnobirthing programme, as a pregnancy gift. If you read my previous post about my decision to use hypnobirthing to birth my baby (Preparing For Hypnobirth - The Early Days) you'll know that I was desperate to ensure that I was able to use hypnobirthing effectively - but terrified by the cost of classes. Looking at bills upwards of £500 locally, I couldn't justify the classes, and even a course offered at £180 seemed unrealistic once I'd factored in travel and the need to make childcare arrangements for existing children. So - I was understandably chuffed to discover Natal Hypnotherapy. Developed by Maggie Howell, a British doula and hypnotherapist, Natal Hypnotherapy is another variation on the hypnobirthing theme, for a UK user (you'll know I found the very American "Mongan Method" a little too... American) that has the backing of over 100,000 successful births. It's won stacks of (again, British) awards, and the best bit? It's available as a home study course, so no need to attend classes.
 
The complete home study course costs £60, which is significantly more affordable than any of the classes I'd seen locally, but was still quite a significant expense, and I'd been unable to put the money to one side for it until I'd got Seb's birthday out of the way, so Sush kindly stepped in and said she'd like to buy the course for me! It's one of those things that "Thank You" doesn't quite cover. Hopefully I can put all of this new material to good use and do her proud!
 
I'll be reviewing different components of the course separately but just wanted to do a quick "First Impressions" type post to give a general overview of the content.
 
As I said earlier, the whole course, referred to on the Natal Hypnotherapy site as their "Premium Package" costs £60. Please do be aware that it carries a heavy Postage and Packaging fee, which you won't notice until you get half way through the checkout process (it does annoy me when online retailers do this, but it's one of those things - just be aware) so if you're looking to buy this for yourself or someone else, be prepared to budget closer to £70. However, my package was dispatched the same day, and arrived the next day, so you are paying for a (not guaranteed) next day delivery service. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, this is the only delivery option offered, other than via a £20.00 courier. I'll be honest - I found the P&P charges really off putting, had I been buying a pair of boots, I'd have closed the window and shopped elsewhere when this popped up, however, I did raise this with them via email, and have suggested some cheaper options which they may look in to and adopt, so in time this may no longer be the case. It's important to add as well that I've only received exceptional customer service from them and prompt responses to my feedback. Royal Mail are just greedy!
 
So; the day after order, my package of Natal Hypnotherapy material arrived (well, actually, a red card arrived because the postman came whilst I was out!)
 
 
 
As you can see - there are lots of things inside. The package includes a paperback copy of Maggie's book "Effective Birth Preparation" (RRP £9.99) which is very content heavy - a serious "everything you need to know" kind of book. You also get seven CD's, which are all in sealed DVD style cases, the RRP of each CD is £11.99, titles include:
 
  • Relaxation and Stress Management Useful for everyone - teaches you skills to deal with stress more effectively, to be more chilled out and confident in yourself, and can help you to sleep better.
  • Pregnancy Relaxation Can be used at any stage in pregnancy, and enables you to bond with your baby, make the right choices about food and drink, and begin preparing for birth.
  • Effective Birth Preparation (the hospital/birth centre version is provided as standard but Natal Hypnotherapy were more than happy to swap it for the home birth version for me) Which teaches you the hypnobirthing techniques to overcome any fear of child birth, reduce labour and birth pain, reduce medical intervention, and feel more in control during labour and birth.
  • The Labour Companion Contains three different scripts to use during labour to remind you of the breathing and relaxation techniques learned in the preparation CD, to take you step by step through appropriate visualisations, and to keep you focused. There's also a short track on this CD to play if for any reason you're disturbed (journey to hospital for example) to help you get back "in the zone".
  • Relaxing Birth Music Pretty self explanatory - although Boyfriend is convinced this is Whale Music (it isn't).
  • Fast postnatal recovery This is a self hypnosis CD to help you to remain more calm and relaxed after the birth and to increase the confidence of new Mothers. It's supposed to be a good tool in helping to combat baby blues, and to increase bonding with your new baby.
  • The Breastfeeding Companion This CD helps you to relax and feel more confident about breast feeding.
I would imagine that as I had no trouble swapping the hospital/birth centre preparation CD for the home birth version, that you could choose a different CD from the Natal Hypnotherapy website in exchange for the breastfeeding one, if you'd already chosen not to breastfeed (as was the case with me in my last pregnancy).
 
The total value of the content of the Premium Package, based on the RRPs is £93.92 - so £60 for the lot is a brilliant saving, even with the high charge for postage. There are smaller packages made up of four CD's for £40, these include everything you'd need to prepare for birth and beyond and include tailored options for VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) and Twins births, but they don't include some of the additional relaxation or breastfeeding titles and are also missing the book, so I'm inclined to say that you're best off getting the £60 package if you're able to afford it.
 
I'm looking forward to finishing the book, and making a start on using the CDs on a daily basis, so that I can gradually share my experiences here (and hopefully implement what I learn during labour!)
 
 
 

A Hair Update

If you didn't realise, back in November, I shaved off all of my hair to raise money for Mind, the mental health charity. You can read about the head-shaving party and see photos here.
 
Quite often, people on Twitter, or friends that I don't see often, ask for updates on the hair situation so I thought it would be nice to share some photos here, about 6 months on! My hair has been growing at a fantastic rate, thanks in part to the fact that I fell pregnant a week before shaving it all off! The maintenance, as I'm sure anyone with short hair will agree, however, is a killer! If I just left it to grow on it's own it would be a lot longer by now, but would also look horrific!
 
Luckily the lovely team at Evolve Salon & Wellness Spa in Broadstairs have been looking after my rather demanding head ever since. At one point I was needing to trim my hair every two weeks just to keep it in check, but after my last cut, I decided to leave it six weeks to see if I could break the hair hump, and get a little bit of extra length (and therefore style) in to it. Believe me, it was terrible. Here are some photos after six weeks without attention:
 

 
However; last week, having managed to grow all of those extra tufts and curls, the lovely Nikki at Evolve got her scissors out and for the first time - didn't need to use clippers on my hair. So here are some photos of it's first proper scissor cut. The plan now is to keep growing the top long so that by the end of the Summer I have a lovely sweeping fringe across the front.
 


 

Recipe: Sloppy Indulgent Coffe Cake

So a couple of weeks ago it was Boyfriend's birthday, and rather than go out and buy a generic birthday cake, I thought I'd bake something with Seb.
 
Seb loves to bake, and at five, he's getting increasingly useful to have in the kitchen, and less of a whirlwind (still not safe around icing sugar though!) - so I decided to revisit one of my favourite recipes, and create an extra indulgent coffee sponge, with plenty of delectable, sickeningly sweet coffee buttercream.
 
I used two 20cm sandwich tins to create the two sponges here. This gives a pretty tall cake if you're using the measurements below - but bigger is always better where cake it concerned I say!
 
 
 
Ingredients
 
300g caster sugar
300g unsalted butter
Half a dozen medium, free range eggs
300g self raising flour
1 tbsp baking powder
Approx 3 tablespoons of strong coffee, made with instant coffee granules and boiling water
 
(to make the buttercream)
500g icing sugar
200g unsalted butter
Approx 3 tablespoons of strong coffee, made with instant coffee granules and boiling water
 
 
Make It
 
  1. Preheat your oven to 160, grease the side of two sandwich tins and line them with grease proof paper.
  2. Using an electric food mixer, combine the 300g of butter with the 300g of caster sugar to create a creamy, rich yellow mixture.
  3. Crack the six eggs in to a separate bowl of jug, and whisk with a fork, then, with your electric food mixer on a low setting, gradually pour in the whisked eggs, mixing constantly.
  4. Add the flour and baking powder and fold in gently with a large wooden spoon or spatula.
  5. Gradually add the 3 tbsp of coffee, and continue gently folding, keeping lots of air in your fluffy mixture.
  6. Divide the mixture equally between the two tins and bake for 30 mins.
  7. Allow to cool completely before icing - even a slightly warm cake will melt the icing and create a real mess! To make the icing, combine the icing sugar, the 200g of unsalted butter, and the 3 tbsp of coffee with an electric food mixer in a very large bowl.
  8. Spread icing evenly over both sponges, and then carefully place one iced sponge on top of the other to create a sandwich. There should be enough icing left over for some gratuitous spoon licking!

Book Review: No Fixed Abode by Charlie Carroll

There are a few books that I just over-enthusiastically recommend to everyone and anyone, for no greater reason than that they have had a lasting effect on my life having read them. They include Elijah's Mermaid by Essie Fox, Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, and oddly, a really rather "bad" (by which I mean clichéd piece of typical "chick-lit") book called Sundowners by Lesley Lokko. Recently I read No Fixed Abode by Charlie Carroll, which has possibly had a more profound effect on me than any other book I've read.
 
 
 
I consider myself a kind person, and a compassionate person, and a person with a great deal of empathy for other's struggles, whatever form they may take. This book, however, with it's disarming mix of colourful story telling and gripping, biographical content, threw me sideways and made me reconsider almost all of my preconceived ideas and attitudes regarding homelessness.
 
Before reading this book, I was always filled with sympathy for the homeless (so I thought), and if I had spare change on me and someone asked, I was generally happy to pass it on (not that it's ever very much, if you've seen inside my purse!). Charlie's book really lifts both the ugly and the moving lids on homelessness though, and gives so much food for thought.
 
As a brief summary, between jobs, the author decides to walk from his home in Cornwall, to central London, living along the way as a modern-day tramp, hoping to experience the reality of homelessness in Britain in the 21st century, as well as exploring whether tramps, in their traditional sense, still exist.
 
No Fixed Abode is the story of Charlie's journey, and the incredible stories of the people he meets along the way, written from the diary that he kept at the time. From the homeless community in Bristol, to the mass rough-sleeping on London's Strand, it had me in tears in parts, really angry at myself in others, and thoroughly rooting for some of the bizarre characters he encounters!
 
If you usually reach for romances and comedy, then this possibly isn't the book for you, but it's by far one of the most intriguing, disturbing and at many times, oddly uplifting, books that I've read in a long time, and has forever changed my response to homeless people that I come across on a daily basis.

Why We Didn't Find Out Baby's Gender (and our Gender Guess)

Everyone seems utterly convinced that Baby is going to be a girl! My best friend actively hopes Baby is a girl, whilst her Mum and Aunt who are visiting from India have studied the shape of bump, the behaviour of my bellybutton and the state of my skin and also declared that we have a daughter on the way. My hairdresser, and a stranger who happened to be getting her hair done in the same salon at the same time last week, both agreed that I'm carrying a girl on what I look like from behind, and one of Seb's best friends at school, who only noticed that I'm getting a bit fat this week, has put his bet on Seb having a sister too. In fact, Seb is the only person still adamant that we refer to Baby as "he", but as a five year old boy, it's pretty standard that he should show a preference for having a matching, as opposed to contrasting sibling.
 
And us? We're pretty much convinced girl too. I should add that I thought that Seb was a girl before finding out his gender during an ultrasound scan - so my gut instincts can't really be trusted!
 
 
 
As well as me already having Seb, Boyfriend has two sons already, who're fifteen and eleven, so it's safe to say that boys are our familiar common ground. We get boys; tiny boys, middle sized boys, teenage boys, that's our normal, that's what we've practiced - so a girl would certainly be a whole different experience for us both, even considering ourselves relatively successful parents already!
 
Of course in a way, this would make a girl something of a blessing, but she'd be no more special really than had she been a boy. I guess it would be nice, being our only baby together if she were mine and Boyfriend's only daughter; but what will be will be, and whilst we're all none the wiser - Baby already has everything that will make him/her either male or female anyway.
 
Whilst Boyfriend and I both suspect that Baby is a girl (based on nothing but instinct and guess work) that's not to say that we're hoping for a daughter; I believe I speak for both of us when I say that we honestly wouldn't mind either way. As the old cliché goes "as long as he or she is healthy, then we're happy." I think the only difference is that if I give birth to a girl, we'll have a sense of "told you so" going on, whereas a boy might receive a more surprised response (from everyone except Seb!)
 
We decided pretty early on not to find out Baby's gender, and luckily we were both entirely agreed on this from Day 1 of discussing it. As I mentioned, I did find out that Seb was a boy before he was born, and it had it's advantages to a degree, but Boyfriend and his ex-wife didn't set out to discover the gender of either of their boys before they were born and so the concept is somewhat odd to him anyway!
 
Part of me hadn't wanted to find out whether Seb was a boy or girl last time, but when the sonographer turned to me five years ago and said "sorry, did you want to know the gender?" - in that moment, she effectively told me that she knew something that I didn't - and that drove me mad! I'm glad that I found out Seb's gender, I was single, young, and in no way prepared to become a parent, and I know that it helped me to better accept him as a tiny person about to enter the world. I bought him boy-specific things, I chose his name, these things helped me in a way to bond with him as an unborn child.
 
This time around, as a combined result of finding out about my pregnancy earlier, being in a super loving relationship with Baby's Dad - with whom I can share worries and excitement, being five years older, and already having enjoyed parenthood - I've developed a bomb proof bond with Baby without needing to know whether he/she is a boy or a girl.
 
For us, whilst the odds are only 50/50 either way, finding out Baby's gender is just one of the magical moments that we can look forward to at their birth, and I'm really excited that we'll make that discovery at the awesome moment that he/she enters the world. It'll be worth the wait, I'm absolutely certain of it.
 

30 Week Update

That's right - week 30! Only 10 more weeks to go until, in theory, our little bundle of squash will be arriving.
 
 
 
This week I decided to make a little bit more effort to pamper myself slightly. I'm carefully budgeting to pay for baby bits here and there, as well as having recently had Seb's and Boyfriend's birthdays to cover, and it occurred to me that I hadn't had my hair cut in absolutely ages. So this week I had a good trim, got my eyebrows threaded, bought some nice new shampoo and conditioner as well as a lovely new vegan nail polish from The Body Shop, and got reacquainted with a tube of hair removal cream. The fact that I managed to de-fuzz and paint my own toe nails whilst tentatively manoeuvring around my ever growing bump was pretty impressive!
 
It does make such a difference though, to feel like you don't look truly hideous from one day to the next.
 
Baby is now very much capable of waking me up in the night now and boy has my sleep suffered as a result- I'm exhausted! For several hours at a time Baby can wake me up about every 15 minutes as he/she shuffles in to a comfier position, or just gives a firm kick to the ribs. Coupled with a particularly active bladder, this has probably halved the amount of decent sleep I'm getting each night - I just hope the bags under my eyes aren't too noticeable!
 
I must admit, I'm pretty chuffed to have got away without the horrific heartburn that I experienced whilst pregnant with Seb, so far. I get the occasional burny throat/reflux feeling but it's nothing compared to the constant agony that I was in last time. However, in my previous pregnancy I never noticed anything but my belly and boobs swelling, whereas this time - hello ankles! This only seems to be a problem in the evenings after a day spent up on my feet, which is a common pregnancy complaint and nothing to worry about, but it's still not all that nice to look at!
 
On Monday last week, I went along to the hospital for the glucose tolerance test that would determine whether or not I'm suffering from gestational diabetes. I'd been asked to do this test as Baby is measuring rather large at ultrasound scans, and diabetes can be one of many causes of larger babies. I wasn't surprised at all though when the results came back clear. I am enjoying a wonderfully healthy pregnancy, and with an ideal BMI, and no family history of diabetes what so ever, it was very unlikely that I'd have developed the condition. I've now to wait another month before seeing a consultant at the hospital to discuss Baby's size in more detail but at the moment I'm not worried at all.
 
We went along to a local "Bump and Beyond" Nearly New Sale at the weekend, hoping to pick up a few bargains. As it was, the offering was pretty disappointing, and the layout chaotic, so having picked up a really cute organic cotton baby grow and hat, we made a sharp exit - why can't that sort of event be made to look even remotely appealing to those wanting to spend money?
 
In other news, Boyfriend treated Baby and I to some new bedroom storage this weekend, with a quick trip to IKEA. We now have a new chest of Malm drawers each, so I should be able to make lots more room in the bedroom and we can start thinking about where on Earth we're going to put Baby's hammock!
 
I still feel really unprepared for Baby's arrival for some reason, but we're getting there, and I know that I've got everything written out in lists and just need to start working through them - it just all feels incredibly daunting (and exciting of course) all of a sudden!

Why you shouldn't talk about your difficult birth

Sally and Sue are interviewed for the same job. Both are equally qualified, equally able, and with equal levels of experience.
 
Sally has researched the company that she's applying to work for, and is confident that they'd be the right employer for her, that she'd enjoy the work, and would have an opportunity to progress her career. She also knows that her qualifications, abilities and experience mean that she's the ideal candidate for the position, and she goes in to the interview, expecting to be offered the job.
 
Sue however, is nervous, in the back of her mind she knows that her qualifications, abilities and experience are ideally suited to the position, but she doubts herself. She would enjoy the work, but she wonders whether she'd be good enough at it, whether other people would believe in her ability to get it done. She can't imagine them wanting to promote her any time soon, especially considering that even if she were offered the job, which she doesn't think she will be, she'd probably make a mess of it. Sue is confident that there will be better, more capable people applying for the job, and almost feels silly for applying.
 
Who would you guess gets the job?
 
Attitude plays an enormous part in outcome, we all know this from experience.
 
Peter and Paul are both going to look at the same flat, with the view to renting it. Luckily they both have a friend who's already viewed the flat, and have asked that friend what they thought of the place. Peter's friend Simon loved the flat, he talked at length about the large, bright rooms, the tasteful décor and the vibrant neighbourhood. Unfortunately, Paul's friend Mark hated the flat, he doesn't even think Paul should view it, mentioning the strange musty smell in the bedrooms, the cheap electric cooker, and the fading carpet in the communal hallway. Unsurprisingly, Peter and Paul have different experiences when they themselves view the flat, Peter see's the positives that he's been briefed on, whereas Paul has already decided, based on Mark's review, that the flat in unsuitable and unattractive, and as such, this is what he finds when he arrives.
 
Both of these scenarios apply to couple's experiences of childbirth - not exclusively, but considerably enough that we now have a wealth of evidence to support the theory that attitude and expectation play a huge part in birth outcome.
 
When you consider the psychology in the above scenarios, the typical human behaviour displayed, it is unsurprising that those women who believe that they'll end up having to have an epidural during labour will have an epidural during labour, that those women who feel they're doomed to end up with an emergency C-Section, will find themselves in theatre.
 
 
 
Some women feel positively about the option to have an epidural when giving birth, so for them, it's the ideal outcome, and they'll probably get it because it's what they want, however, many will say something along the lines of "I really don't want to have to have an epidural; I bet I end up needing one though", and it's precisely those women who might have been able to save themselves an unhappy experience, by changing their own attitude and the influences that they surround themselves with.
 
To discuss personal attitudes first, there might be a number of reasons that you expect to have a negative birth experience, or that you fear one.
 
Perhaps this isn't your first baby, and your previous labour(s) and births were traumatic.
 
Perhaps you already consider yourself to have a very low pain threshold, so can't imagine yourself being able to cope with labour.
 
Perhaps you suffer with anxiety and extreme self-doubt in all areas of your life, including relationships ("he'll probably leave me for someone else soon anyway") work ("I'll never get promoted, I'm not good enough") or leisure ("I'd quite like to learn how to knit but I know I'd be rubbish at it.") - so it's only natural that this lack of self-belief spills over in to your expectation of birth.
 
All of these possibilities are yours, and yours alone, and thus, they're yours to address before they have the opportunity to effect the birth of your child.
 
Birth trauma is a serious affliction; I've known women spiral in to a pit of depression as a result of being unable to cope in the aftermath of a traumatic birth. If you have a negative birth experience then you're significantly more likely to suffer from post natal depression, to struggle to breastfeed if you wish to (self-doubt can also play a part in this), to find it difficult to bond with your baby and to experience relationship tensions with the baby's father, if applicable. No woman should be expected to "accept" a poor birth experience and get on with it, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (a severe mental health problem, most famously experienced by soldiers who've fought in warzones) is very common among women following a difficult birth. You need to seek professional help, from any appropriate sources.
 
Firstly, you should ask to meet with the caregivers who attended your birth, be that midwives or a consultant obstetrician, to be properly debriefed, and helped to understand exactly what happened to make your experience such an unhappy one. Make sure you get as much information as possible about your baby's birth, make sure you've seen a copy of the notes made during your labour, and if there's anything that you don't understand - ask for a further explanation. If you feel that any of the caregivers that attended you whilst you gave birth were at fault, ask that this be properly investigated, and engage with those carrying out the investigation, feel a part of that process.
 
Secondly, seek psychological help - you're not wrong for feeling traumatised after a difficult birth, nobody will take your child off of you, nobody will doubt your ability to raise your baby based on your percieved inability to have the birth you expected. Counselling, group therapies and other talking therapies may be recommended in order to help you to understand, accept and move forward after a negative birth experience. You may have experienced a traumatic birth but not be suffering from any symptoms of post natal depression, but gaining closure on your experience is vital; hypnotherapy may also be helpful. If you are living with birth trauma, either after a recent birth, or even some time ago, visit the Birth Trauma Association website for help and more information.
 
Those who consider themselves to have a very low pain threshold tend to be particularly nervous, or frightened of giving birth, especially if they're expecting their first baby. Yes it is natural to be apprehensive about such a daunting and unavoidable experience - but fear and anxiety are likely to be the most significant factors in denying you a calm, gentle birthing experience. If you go in to labour expecting it to hurt like Hell - boy is it going to hurt. Hypnotherapy and tales of positive experience are likely to be your best resources. I'm not referring to hypnobirthing (though you might want to consider reading a book on hypnobirthing, just to gain a better understanding of why women experience pain in childbirth), but a hypnotherapist will be able to offer your a fear, tension, release session (or a series of sessions) which will enable you to let go of the fears and expectations of pain that you have surrounding labour, effectively removing those fears from your mind and significantly increasing your chances of a positive birth.
 
Low self-esteem, generally identified by feelings of self-doubt, lack of self-worth, or a negative view of one's own character or abilities, is best dealt with through counselling. Chances are, there's a reason you feel this way about yourself, whether that's a pre-existing mental health problem, or simply the aftermath of a previous experience, such as a nasty relationship, or the loss of a job. Giving yourself the gift of self-belief, is much the same as giving yourself the gift of a more positive birth experience, simply by removing the expectation of failure. If you know you're the sort of person who doesn't believe in their own ability to succeed, then you probably already know that a large chunk of your mind is predisposed to expecting a negative outcome from birth ("I probably won't be able to give birth naturally" "I'll panic, I always panic." "I'll be rubbish at that.")
 
Basically, a negative attitude towards childbirth needs stamping out, before you find yourself in labour, and probably needs attention from someone with the professional qualifications to treat you and alter your attitude.
 
You may feel that with the growing expenses that come with bringing a new baby in to the world, it would be selfish, irresponsible, or inappropriate, to spend money on a hypnotherapist or counsellor. You may be able to get access to these services via the NHS, so speak to your doctor, but alternatively, a positive, calm, and gentle birth is one of the best things you can buy your baby.
 
If you identify with any of the above, you can consider yourself a Sue - whilst you should be aiming to turn yourself in to a Sally.
 
But what about the Pauls? In the earlier scenario regarding the flat viewing, Paul's experiences were influenced less by his attitude (we can assume that Paul is a generally positive and productive man) but more about the expectations that he'd gained as a result of discussing the flat with Mark. This is where a majority of birth related fear stems from, and it's self-perpetuating, the more people that give birth, the more people fear birth.
 
Without referencing your own experience of childbirth if possible (and if you've experienced it at all) - write down the first five words that you'd associate with labour and the act of giving birth to a baby. Most people will mention pain, some might refer to shouting, swearing, drugs, blood... but then some might use a mixture of these and more positive imagery, others, exclusively positive. The five words that you choose, if not based on your own personal experience, and especially if you've never had a baby or attended a human birth, are probably largely influenced by what you've been told.
 
This doesn't just include the birth stories of those around you, you'll also have been prepared with what to expect from labour and birth by television, movies, books, magazines etc. and the content of this material will lay deep.
 
This is why I wish pregnant people would not watch One Born Every Minute on Channel Four. Yes, the births broadcast usually have a happy outcome, yes they are real women having real babies, and yes, the types of birth shown are representational of many "normal" births here in the UK. It is very very rare for a woman to give birth on One Born Every Minute without screaming, shouting, or complaining about the pain she's in. Now, I am not saying that she shouldn't be doing so, I'm not passing any judgement on her for screaming, shouting or complaining - or for experiencing pain (indeed, may positive and even painless birth experiences can include some seriously loud noises.) I'm not about to make negative comments about people who use drugs to deal with labour, because as you'll know if you read Seb's Birth Story a few weeks back, I've done it myself. However, the more women you see give birth crying out in pain, sucking rampantly on gas and air or begging for an epidural before being whisked off to theatre for an emergency caesarean or having their child forcibly yanked from their vagina with a pair of forceps - the more likely you are to have that experience, because you are Paul, and One Born Every Minute is your Mark.
 
But this brings me back to the title of this post, and the responsibility we all have as women, not to be Mark. Be Simon. Simon talked about the positives of the flat he'd viewed, he encouraged Peter to view it, confident that it would be a cool place for his friend to live. Perhaps Simon had noticed the dodgy carpet on the stairs, the rubbish oven and the funky smell, but his friend had already booked to see the flat after all, and it had a LOT of positives to outweigh the negatives. Thanks to Simon, Peter went in to viewing expecting great things, and perhaps he found a home that he'd be happy in for years to come. He'd get used to the carpet in the communal hallway, and joke about it with his lovely new neighbours, the bedrooms would be fine with a bit of airing, and the cooker might look crap, but Peter's lasagne would still be second to none. Of course, Paul could have had the same experience - he could have found the perfect place to live, but he couldn't get past all those negatives that Mark had already laid down for him.
 
So you had a shitty labour and birth experience - please see above for some advice on moving forward from a traumatic birth - I will never ever ever try to downplay birth trauma. However, whilst it might make you feel better to talk about it, to seek reassurance and validation from others, who might swap horror stories with you over coffee; your episiotomy for their third degree tear, your failed epidural for their baby born by emergency caesarean with it's cord wrapped around it's neck, but what you don't realise, is that the third friend, who's come along because she hasn't seen either of you in years, will be pregnant next year, and engrained somewhere in the back of her mind, will be your horrendous experience of "normal" childbirth. She'll approach birth, reminded that her perineum may not remain intact, because some people rip theirs to shreds and others have it cut open, that medical intervention, or emergency, is par for the course. And guess what - she's more likely, as a result, to have an experience like yours. Wouldn't wish it upon your worst enemy? Then stop bestowing it upon your friends.
 
Sure, this is the reality of birth, bad experiences happen, things go wrong. Yeah this is "normal", "common", and "stuff you ought to know about" (maybe not) - but consider the number of complications, or "bad" labours and births that arise simply because of the pregnant lady's expectation of complication or pain, and it's worth imagining how less "normal" or "common" it might be, if we didn't know about it in such detail. 
 
If every woman went in to labour, positive, excited and confident that she had this covered, that there wasn't anything to be frightened of, and that she could enjoy childbirth - then perhaps the horrors would be unusual, less common, and more an exception to the rule. Maybe there'd be TV programmes aired in which women gave birth, calm, focussed, and happy, because frantic, painful, sweary birth didn't represent most people's experiences. There's that.
 
 If you know a pregnant lady, please make it your responsibility to censor yourself; less about the horrors, more about the joy please. She doesn't need to know about how painful it is to go for a poo after giving birth - you know why - because she doesn't need to be scared of taking a crap - you're not doing her any favours.
 
If you're expecting a baby, and would like to surround yourself with positive messages about how incredible birth can be, basically, if you're looking for a Simon, then may I recommend the wonderful Birth Without Fear blog/website which has lots of wonderful positive birth stories (and not just natural home/water/hypno births but positive stories of everything from emergency sections to planned inductions). It's an American site so some of the procedures mentioned might seem more alien to UK readers but I still find it a great source of birth inspiration. Here in the UK, get involved with The Positive Birth Movement - which also shares a lot of great, positive and varied birth stories. There's also the super wonderful Tell Me a Good Birth Story - which will link you up with a lady who's had a baby and will tell you her own reassuring story, which should reflect any particular worries you have (for example, if you're suffering from gestational diabetes and facing a possible induction, or even section as a result of expecting a larger baby - they'll find you someone who's been there, done that, and has a positive story to tell). If you're a Mama, you could even sign up (as I have done) to be a story teller.
 
Message from this post? If you're scared of childbirth because of your own underlying attitudes - get someone to change them for you, even if they've been put there by other's tales of misery and pain. If you're expecting - don't listen to anyone that has anything negative to say, and seek out positive, empowering messages about childbirth. If you've ever given birth, or know somebody who has, or have heard about somebody who has, and you have nothing nice to say - then please, for goodness sake, say nothing at all.
 
 
 

Review: EcoEgg

I've mentioned my new EcoEgg detergent replacement a couple of times since Boyfriend bought it at Grand Designs Live last week.
 
I've used it for many washes since, including my pre-loved reusable nappies, the fabrics from my grubby second-hand pushchair, and a pair of lovely trousers belonging to Seb, which he'd managed to stain. This time around I'm going to review the product and then explain in more detail what it is and how it works.
 
  • I used the EcoEgg to wash a set of bamboo nappies, which had been dyed by hand by their previous owner. Whilst some of the colour was visible in the water in the machine, the EcoEgg really worked to lock it in and the nappies were as vibrant once dry as they were when they went in. These were fluffy night time nappies which are now even fluffier and softer than when they went in - with no fabric conditioner/softener.
  • I used the EcoEgg to wash a load of pre-loved, white, reusable nappy inserts, liners and boosters, of various fabrics including cotton microfiber, terry towelling, bamboo and hemp, some very badly stained. After two washes with no separate stain remover what so ever - all of the pieces were returned to bright white.
  • I used the EcoEgg in a mixed colour wash, including a pair of navy blue chinos that Seb had stained badly across both knees (previously washed on a relatively high temperature with stain remover with no success) - in one 30 degree wash with no stain remover, the EcoEgg removed the stains completely.
  • I used the EcoEgg to wash all of the fabrics from my new (to me) Bebe Confort Loola pushchair, including the pale beige and grey fabrics on the carry cot, and black fabrics from the seat unit - all of which were heavily stained - they've come up "as new".
 
 
 
Needless to say I'm impressed with the EcoEgg's performance - so what is it?
 
The egg itself is nothing special, just a plastic egg made up of two halves which slot together and lock in to place. The magic comes from inside, as you fill the plastic egg with a mixture of mineral pellets, and a sachet of tourmaline pellets. The mineral pellets naturally ionize the oxygen in the water of your washing machine, which lifts away dirt from the fabric, without fading colours or damaging the fibres - and with no detergent at all. Tourmaline has been proven to weaken the adhesive bond between dirt (especially stains) and fabric fibres. Scientific testing has found that using these two different minerals together in a wash, is significantly more successful than other washing aids. It's so effective that it doesn't require the use of fabric conditioner (although it's performance isn't effected if you choose to use one anyway).
 
 
 
For me, the EcoEgg has four winning factors:
 
  1. It works, better than any detergent that I've used, either budget or expensive brands. It's really tough on stains, without the need for chemicals.
  2. It's so much better for the environment. For a start, when you buy an egg, you'll receive enough pellets to last the average family three years (that's 720 washes). That's saving a LOT of washing powder, gel, or tablets and fabric conditioner from being manufactured and transported, and packaging disposed of (the Eco Egg comes in a 100% recyclable cardboard outer). Because there is no detergent being used, there are no chemicals what so ever entering the waste water system as a result of washing with an EcoEgg. Because there is no product actually entering the water, you also don't need to use an extra rinse setting on your wash. Some machines have a "Rinse Hold" option so that you can bypass the additional rinse in your wash altogether, cutting wash time, and energy and water use.
  3. It's so much better for your skin. The EcoEgg is recommended by The National Eczema Society and Allergy UK as being the safest laundry product for those with incredibly sensitive skin, and is recommended by Prima Mother and Baby and the Reusable Nappy Association as the best laundry product for use on a newborn's clothes and nappies.
  4. It's amazing value. An EcoEgg with enough pellets to last 3 years, costs £19.99. That's less than £20.00 for all of your laundry products over three years. You don't have to be particularly great at arithmetic to work out that even if you're using the cheapest detergent and fabric conditioner - swapping to an EcoEgg will make a significant saving. Because it's better for your fabrics too, keeping them soft for longer, and locking in colours, your clothes, towels, bedding etc. will also last a lot longer, needing to be replaced less often.
If I had just one piece of advice for this year - it would be to make the swap from detergent washing to an EcoEgg - you'll save loads of money, get a better wash every single time, and know that you're not putting any harmful chemicals on to your family's skin, or in to the environment - I honestly can't find a single fault with the thing...

29 Week Update

I'm afraid that my first week of the third trimester passed without much incident at all. Did you have a chance to check out my third trimester shopping list? All I can say - is that I went and bought the Birkenstocks, and what a foot revelation they are!
 
Baby is getting more and more active, but the nature of his/her movements in changing, I guess as he/she grows and develops. Where before I was used to an episode of sharp kicks, now movements are full-body wriggles that cause my whole tummy to ripple and shudder! This baby is such a Daddy's boy/girl - it only takes for Boyfriend to sit down beside us and start talking and that's usually enough to get Baby rooting around trying to find him!

 
 
As planned, I pulled all of the baby stuff out that's been accumulating over the past couple of months under my stairs, and had another sort out. The first lot of nappies, my stash of Little Lamb bamboo nappies, went in to the wash, and it was lovely to see them drying in the warm breeze today. I've got piles more nappy related stuff to get washed this week, including our teeny tiny Mothercare Smart Nappies in the newborn size which fits babies as small as 4lbs. I'm pretty certain that unless Baby arrives this evening - I shall never have a baby that small!
 
I also washed all of the fabrics on our most recent pushchair purchase - a Bebe Confort Loola, with the corresponding Windoo carrycot. I'm going to talk more about my buying experience with this one in a separate post (in which I'll be discussing some of the downsides of buying for Baby second hand) - but let's just say, the pushchair arrived not quite as described, and we're currently "refurbishing" it! The fabrics came up an absolute dream though! I've been washing using the EcoEgg that we picked up at Grand Designs Live last weekend - as it's the most highly recommended laundry product for baby items - and I can't believe what a wonderful job it's doing! Even on a stained, beige carrycot!
 
I've arranged all of baby's clothes in to obvious categories for sorting - and had forgotten just how adorable some of the bits he/she has to wear are! These are also lined up for washing now.
 
All in all, as I mess around with actual baby stuff everything is starting to feel very real!

There was some exciting mail at Boyfriend's house as the huge Sun shelter that he'd ordered online arrived. We live just a few moments walk from the sea, which is fabulous, and Boyfriend and his two sons surf (Seb's also been promised his first surf sessions this Summer) - so most of our Summer holidays are to be spent on the beach. Being decidedly ginger though, with a newborn baby, some structure to offer shade is a must this year. The Sun shelter is a.mazing though, big enough to stand up inside, it's basically an open-fronted tent that springs up in just a few seconds (but has sand pegs to ensure it stays in place on the beach) - it's going to make our Summer rather wonderful.

 

 
 
Boyfriend went to work on Saturday, at a house he's been doing a lot of work on since last year. The couple have a relatively young baby and the lovely lady sent Boyfriend on his way with a package of four pairs of maternity jeans and a new black wrap dress! People's generosity has really bowled me over I must admit. I've had a few gifts and hand-me-downs from friends which is wonderful, but even people I don't particularly know, including Mums on the school playground, have offered me all sorts of freebies, from baby carriers to vests.
 
I showed Boyfriend a couple of hypnobirthing videos on YouTube this week, including the amazing video of Joshua's home/water/hypnobirth which I've linked to previously. Needless to say he's blown away. We've also been discussing a few other preferences before we have to start thinking about making a start on our written birth plan. I've decided, for one, that I want to deliver Baby's placenta naturally this time, rather than have the injection to speed the process up, which I had at Seb's birth. We've also agreed to delay the clamping and cutting of Baby's cord until the placenta has been delivered. These are important decisions which we've spent a lot of time researching and discussing but I think we have the loose outline of a birth plan coming together now. Perhaps we should start writing some bits down this coming week!
 
 

A Grand Day Out: Eco Finds at Grand Designs Live 2015

At the weekend, Boyfriend and I had the privilege of hanging out at the Grand Designs Live exhibition at Excel London, thanks to the lovely people at Hillary's Blinds, who asked us to attend and report back on the event. Cheers Hillary's!
 
 
 
This was something of a contrast to the last time that the two of us spent the day at Excel, back in February, for The Baby Show, but actually, the stands that caught my eye still met the same criteria, and reflect the same interests that provide the basis of this blog: convenient, cost effective, sustainable and eco friendly - but design conscious and innovative. I'm all about living well on a low budget, with the least cost to the environment - so from reusable nappies to loft insulation made from recycled denim jeans - the leap wasn't as significant as it might appear!
 
Boyfriend has been up to London recently for the Ideal Home Show, which is, in many ways, comparable to Grand Designs Live, and he can say confidently that GDL is significantly better if you've gone specifically to look for design-lead home and building inspiration. The IDS, boyfriend explains, is far more vast in it's offering, with everything from hot tubs to women's fashion on display, and it tends to lack any real focus. As a builder/carpenter/plumber, GDL far better catered for his (professional) interests, but I was still entertained, searching out cool new eco ideas, and obsessing over things I can neither afford, nor demonstrate any need for. At one point I became entirely absorbed by a hanging swing full of the plushest cushions, that I was tempted to just order one (with free bistro dining set) regardless of the fact that I neither have any disposable funds nor a garden.
 
In fact, the Gardens Area proved to be an unexpected hit. Living in a second floor flat I didn't expect to be interested in the slightest, but it proved a fun opportunity to marvel at the things some people do have - a giant wicker apple that you can sleep in, or a £300 nozzle for your hosepipe.
 
There were a number of familiar stands, including, or course, the Hillary's stand, which couldn't be missed in the centre of the exhibition space! I also came across a number of ideas and products that I'd never heard of before. And the slaw that came with my burger at lunch was immense.
 


 
 
So! I've gathered together a few of my favourite products from Grand Designs Live 2015, which I think would most interest my readers. Here they are, in no particular order:
 
EcoEgg
I'd already heard of EcoEgg, and this actually proved to be our only purchase from the day. I'm all for saving money, and being kinder to the environment, without having to make huge sacrifices - and this product has it all. This small plastic egg needs to be filled with non-toxic, natural mineral pellets, which act instead of detergent. One bag of pellets lasts 720 washes, which the manufacturers suggest will last around 3 years for the average family. THREE YEARS, without having to buy washing powder. Thanks to an on-stand deal, we actually got the equivalent of over 1000 washes, for £19.99. That means that for less than 20 quid, I won't have to buy laundry products for around five years. What's more, because the mineral pellets are all natural, there are no harsh chemicals at all entering the water system. You don't need to use fabric conditioner with these, as they actively soften your clothes themselves, and they also preserve colours for longer, so you won't have to replace your clothes as often, or by colour catchers. EcoEgg is recognised by Prima Mother & Baby as the best solution to washing baby clothes, is recommended by the Reusable Nappy Association for nappy washing, and is approved by the National Eczema Society and Allergy Friendly UK as being safe for use by those with extremely sensitive skin. Look out for my review coming soon!
 
 
 
Ezy Peezy
I'm all for saving water. If you're on a water meter, then saving water that you don't actually need to use is a simple way to save money. This little device is really simple, but pretty clever. The Ezy Peezy clips on to the inside of your toilet bowl, and you use the toilet as usual. However, the device works to constantly remove traces of urine from the water in the toilet bowl, meaning you don't have to flush. The Ezy Peezy will break down the urine, remove the colour, and any odour, and leave you with clean water without flushing - so you only have to flush, ahem, solid matter. Once used the Ezy Peezy unit is 100% recyclable.
 
 
 
Eco Camel
The shower in my flat is pretty pants. It doesn't ruin my life on too regular a basis because I tend to be more of a bath person, but as I get more and more pregnant, the shower is easier for washing my hair. However, this shower was never intended to be the main mode of washing in this flat, and what I have is a rather poor "over bath" shower attachment that doesn't provide the most satisfying shower experience. This is why I'm quite tempted by the eco camel shower head, which replaces your normal, boring shower head. I'm not going to go in to the science in great detail but basically, the eco camel draws air in to the flow of water, causing the pressure of your shower to increase, but the amount of water you're using to decrease - so you get a better shower experience, and actually use 70% of the water you'd usually use. Another update to my bathroom I think (I'm in rented, so can just swap the shower heads back when I leave - at £24.99 this is a great trick for tenants blessed with a rubbish shower that their Landlord has no interest in replacing!) The eco-camel is great for your purse, as it'll cut the amount of water that you use to shower, and great for the planet too as it cuts your energy usage considerably.
 
Hemp
I didn't know a lot about the use of hemp in building before now. Hemp in general is a product which excites me as it's so quick and easy to grow (illegal to grow without a license but still, it's a good sustainable product for those allowed to grow it) and has a million and one uses, what's more, it's perfectly suited to growing here in the UK. Many people will be familiar with hemp in cosmetic products, The Body Shop have had a hemp skincare range for as long as I can remember. Hemp is also used to make clothing and has a less hippy-ish reputation in that capacity now than in the past. Hemp is also super absorbent, a bit like bamboo, which has made it a very popular material for making liners and boosters for reusable nappies. In building however, it would seem that hemp is the up and coming star for use in plaster, as a sort of breeze block replacement, a plasterboard replacement, and as insulation. Boyfriend spends most of his time converting lofts, and is full of complaints about Rockwool insulation, which is more commonly used; mainly, it makes you itchy, sneezy, and is generally horrible to work with, whereas hemp insulation is much nicer for those working with it. Using hemp insulation can also completely combat the appearance of (and damage caused by) damp and mould, it's breathable and it works as a rodent and insect repellent. So, not only is hemp a more sustainable and gentle building material, but it also has the potential to safe homeowners a fortune in future repairs, caused by water or pests. We also learned about sheep wool insulation, and wood fibre insulation, both far more environmentally friendly than Rockwool.
 
 
 
Cycloc
I live in a flat, and a lot of my friends live in flats, or small houses, and have the stress of cycle storage. In fact, a lot of people decide not to own a bike, simply because they don't have anywhere to store it. I have a Pashley Brittania bike which lives at Boyfriend's house simply because he has a locked shed, and therefore my bike, which might, potentially, be my most expensive possession, is safe. However, it's also not used, because it's there, in a shed that I don't have a key for. I am now seriously lusting after a Cycloc bike storage unit. Basically, it's pretty funky, it's made from recycled materials, and it means you can display your bicycle in your home, out of the way - and let's be honest, my bike is a thing of beauty - I also have a mahoosive empty wall in my lounge, and the Pashley would potentially look very cool indeed up there. If the Cycloc allows more people living in smaller accommodation (especially in cities) to own and use a bicycle then that can only be a good thing - for their pockets and the planet.
 
 
 
Rotaire Dryline
This is a simple and rather obvious product but I love it. In the flat, I don't have great clothes drying options. Basically, everything goes on an airier, or any other available space I can find. This isn't ideal as we enter the world of reusable nappies, but alas, all is not lost. The luxury of being a two-house-family means that I also have the facilities at Boyfriend's place at my disposal. This includes a tumble dryer (boo hiss, but sometimes needs must) and a garden. We've decided that Boyfriend will replace the current rotary washing line, as it's seen better days, and it's replacement will allow us to ordinarily dry nappies outdoors in the good clean sea air. Only problem, of course, being weather. The rotaire dryline is basically a roof for your washing line. That's it. It's weighted at each edge so that it won't blow away, and has mesh panels to allow air in and out, but to keep nappies and clothes hanging on the line, dry from rain. This means we'll be able to save money and eco-points on reducing our dependence on the tumble dryer, and use reusable nappies with convenience.
 
And that about rounds up my show favourites - have you visited this year's Grand Designs Live? Let me know what you thought. If you've found any great little money and planet savers lately please let me know!
 
 
 
These are all products that I either bought, or am planning to buy, as a result of coming across them at Grand Designs Live. I was not asked to specifically include any of the products in my show roundup.