Books, Just stuff, Life in general, Motherhood, what I think

Bateman is back blogging in 2015. You heard it here first…

New Year’s Resolution number one: to blog more. Well, to actually blog at all. Given that much of my husband’s Christmas break was spent firefighting the billion hack attempts on this site, I owe it to him, at least, to put up some content.

I won’t blather on about why the last couple of years have been a bit thin on the blog side (two kids born in 2013!), I’ll just get on with it…

This is what I’m up to as we break into 2015…

Planning: The rest of the year. January is SO depressing and an empty calendar sucks, so I’m trying to plug gaps in a bid to claw my way out of this start-of-year depression. Milestone events include my daughter’s second birthday VERY soon, potty training and moving her into her big girls’ bed by Easter; a Cornish holiday; meeting up with the lovely friends I’m so blessed to have in my life and making better use of our National Trust membership. What I’m not planning, but know will happen, includes: driving somewhere in a blind panic because I’ve left it dangerously late to get diesel; getting someone else’s poo on my hand; being woken in the middle of the night by screams; getting licked in the eye (by the dog, nothing kinky), worrying about money; and tackling a dirty washing basket that NEVER, EVER empties.

Kermit cake 1

First (and very bad) attempt at a Kermit the Frog cake for my son’s birthday

Kermit the Frog cake

Second attempt at a Kermit the Frog cake

Trying out: New things with no expectation that I’ll be good at them. I don’t usually do stuff I’m not good at. That’s because a) I like to be good at stuff, I enjoy it more that way and b) I’m not mad-keen on failure. With that said, in 2014 I tried some new stuff – baking, for one. I’m bad at it, really bad (see pictures). I accept that I’m bad at it, but it’s fun and I might do some more of it in 2015 with complete awareness that it might not go well. And that’s okay, because we can’t be good at everything. I have some friends who are fab bakers and The Great British Bake Off bods make it look sooo easy. My weakness (and also my strength) is that I, mostly, cook without recipes. I’m always disappointed when a recipe goes wrong and can’t be arsed with weighing ingredients. Bung it cookery is my thing and it works wonders with savouries; I can whip up a tasty dinner in minutes. But baking is a finer art and I tend to wing it. For example, just this weekend I decided to make a pudding to go with our Sunday roast. We had some sponge fingers lying idly on the side, leftover from a Christmas hamper we won at the kids’ nursery. What the hell to you do with sponge fingers? The packet said they were perfect for a tirimisu. So I made a trifle. I topped them with stewed fruit followed by custard and a bit of squirty cream. Nom. Ugly, yes, but tasty, most definitely. A triumph!

Feeling: Inspired enough to write at least once a week. Writing makes me happy yet it’s what gets pushed to the bottom of the pile time and time again. I no longer even know if I’m good at writing or even what good writing is. No matter, I like doing it. I like, therefore I will. I might also repost some old stuff, including some short stories I wrote while doing a creative writing course a few years ago. Lift and dust, that’s what I say.

iMac in personal officeLooking at: My new, beautiful iMac – a Christmas present to myself. Me and hubby spent a child free day setting up the new home office, so we can both focus on computer-related projects, for work and for fun. It’s so pretty. It still needs a lamp and some more homely touches, but having somewhere proper to work from home is bliss. My MBP is all but dead and given my ailment (pdf), working from a laptop on the sofa does my posture and numb hand no good at all. I think the new home office will motivate me to write more, because it’s such a nice place to be able to do it. I also have a new wireless printer, thanks to the helpful bods at Viking UK so I can print pictures of the kids, create endless to do lists and, my first challenge, create a potty reward chart.

Reading: I always read something Christmassy in December and this year it was Merry Little Christmas by Julia Williams, which unbeknownst to me before I started it, is based in a slightly edited version of Shropshire, where I grew up. I grew up in the real Shropshire, not the edited version. In case you were wondering. The book starts in January and charts the very low lows of three families (and made me cry a fair bit) and, predictably, by Christmas they’re all tucking into turkey together and counting their blessings. Predictable, heart-warming and easy to read. Over the Christmas period I also managed to read The Long Fall by Julia Crouch (brilliant!) and Killer by my old favourite Jonathan Kellerman (brilliant, as usual). Currently on my bedside table is… well, quite a large pile but at the top is The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison.

Listening to: Halle is OBSESSED with Happy by Pharrell Williams so I listen to that at least 10 times a day. But, this year, I will also be listening to my head. Having kids has softened me a bit and I let my heart rule my head a little too often; which makes me feel exposed and vulnerable. I’m much better letting my head be in charge so 2015 will see the return of cold and sensible and headstrong Robyn, not emotional, weepy, give-a-shit Robyn. The way I’ve written this makes it sound like a bad thing, but it’s really not. My head will also be telling me to be mindful, a practice which makes me think before I speak, consider others and find the positive in everything (within reason). It also makes me feel good.

Laughing at: My career. It’s a joke.

Eating lots of: Nothing. This is the way to get thin, right? Eat lots of nothing?

Peppa Pig with booze and crisps

Is Peppa Pig really such a good role model for kids? Not in our house, she isn’t…

Discovering: The joys of the terrible twos. Halle turns two later this month, and AJ at the end of the year. I’m already amazed by Halle’s development – not to say she’s a child genius (I don’t buy into the competitive mum crap) but kids her age learn so much so quickly, it’s amazing to watch. She doesn’t miss a trick and she copies me and Richard to the tee and I catch her doing things that, until that moment, I don’t realise I do too. I think it’s fantastic that kids who’ve only been in the world for 24 months have such vibrant personalities and an interest in the world around them. And are so funny! And so demanding – God help us, if Halle can’t wear her wellies to nursery. Tantrum! She’s really strong too, she bashed me in the face with Peppa Pig the other day and I’m afraid it hurt so much, I may have dropped a few swear words.

Wearing: Clothes that fit. I had some money for Chrimbo and, when the sales have ended and the shops are full of proper clothes again, not rail upon rail of rags, then I’ll treat myself. I’ve been living in my 2012 wardrobe (what fits, at least) since the kids and am now ready to regain some semblance of style. Which, for me, probably means jeggings, vests, hoodies and a new pair of trainers. I promise, I will try harder.

Cooking: Healthy food. I really maxed out on the Christmas nibbles and my waistline’s telling me it’s had enough. Time to rein it back in and slim down to the woman I once was. Right after I’ve scoffed once last Chinese… and maybe an Indian.

Wondering:  About my career (referenced above). Having kids forces you into the lean back mentality when it comes to career (at least it did for me, anyway) and maybe this year I’ll start to lean forward. I’m not sure where I’ll lean towards or what I even want to lean against, but I think there’s some leaning to be done, at least.

And so, there you have it. My first (of many, I hope) blog posts of 2015. The end.

Richard and Halle Bateman
Books, Food, Just stuff, Life in general, Motherhood

What I'm doing now…

It’s been a while since I blogged, and even longer since I blogged regularly. Somehow, having kids and all that that entails, has seen my writing slip to one side and I fear I’m not as good at it as I once was. I’m out of practice. So, stealing inspiration from this post, here’s one to ease myself back in…

Reading: Well, I’m not actually reading anything at the moment, in anticipation of the publication of The Atlas of Us – tomorrow! It’s author, my good friend Tracy Buchanan, had two dreams: to have a baby and to get a UK publishing deal. Typically, both arrived at the same time but she’s so super talented (and a bit bonkers) that she’s managed to write a book and raise a lovely little girl all at the same time. Hats off to Buchy! The last book I read was The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult and it’s utterly amazing. I urge anyone to read it and not want to change their life for the better afterwards. It’s just fantastic.

Listening to: I don’t get chance to listen to music much, but my daughter’s enthralled with The Muppets so me and hubby often find ourselves singing the songs long after the kids have gone to bed, and even when we wake in the morning. They’re catchy little numbers! “I’m having a me party…”

Laughing at: My kids. They do funny stuff all the time, stuff that no one else would think funny, probably. But I do. They make me chuckle every single day.Richard and Halle Bateman

Swooning over: My husband. We don’t get much quality alone time together but it’s always been him, It always will be. Soppy stuff, I know. Bluergghhh.

Planning: Christmas. Sounds stupid but our last two chrimbos have been total stress fests; moving house and having babies – or both at the same time. This year we’ve booked time off to really endulge in the the run up to Christmas,  buy/make/wrap Christmas presents, glug mulled wine (home made, of course), watch festive movies and litter the house in twinkly lights. December is a busy time for us with out wedding anniversary and my birthday, plus it’s my son’s first birthday this Christmas Eve so there will no doubt be a mini party.

Eating lots of: If I’d written this two weeks ago I’d be saying chocolate brioche. But, along with a handful of colleagues, I’ve signed up to Weight Watchers to shed the last of my baby weight and this week I’ve been chowing down on what WW call’s filling and healthy food.

Feeling: Hungry.

Discovering: What it’s like to be a working mum. I went back to work this month after 18 months of maternity leave following the birth of my Irish twins. Lots of stuff is new but lots of stuff is familiar, it’s quite odd. Aside from the military operation conducted each morning, just to get out the door on time, I’ve had a good few weeks – sitting on my butt most of the day, having adult convo, drinking tea while hot and going to the loo alone. Bliss. I have to do some work too, obviously but I’m still in the induction period and enjoying it; rediscovering that I have more skills than being able to juggle a couple of kids. I’m also part-time and that’s taken the most getting used to. It feels odd on a Wednesday to say ‘cheerio folks, have a good weekend’. I feel like I’m sloping off early while the others slave away for another two days, and that I’m somehow a bit of a slacker. Of course. I get a part-time wage so it’s all relative, but it’s taking some getting used to. I’ve always worked full time and now Thursdays feel like Saturdays. So confused!

Looking at: The National Trust brochure. My mum treated us to membership so we can enjoy some free and fun days out as a family. There are loads of cool places to visit, both locally and further afield, and we hope to make use of the passes one weekend very soon.

Wearing: Right now? Er… I’ll be honest, I’m wearing harem trousers and a maternity top (my son was born almost seven months ago!). The trousers are covered in formula milk and my top (which is comfy and loose in this mega heat) has smudges of a blended chicken/veggie combo down the side courtesy of my son. Did I say glamourous was my middle name? Er… well… it isn’t.

Cooking: Hubby tends to cook our evening meals (he enjoys taking ages to cook a meal while drinking wine) so I cook the kids’ meals. Okay, so today’s was cheesy beans but in recent weeks I’ve made cupcakes (I’m getting better, but still moderately rubbish), rhubarb crumble, cottage pie with veg and salmon and sweetcorn chowder.  So no, I won’t be applying to Masterchef.

Wondering:  What the hell happened to my PE kit. I was supposed to rejoin netball training this week after my ‘baby break’ but discovered the only shorts I have in my wardrobe are big enough to poke my foot through and that’s about it. I did, however, manage to find both trainers, one in the loft and another under the bed. Netball, you’ll have to wait another week for me.

Trying out: This week I went on an InDesign training course, to go over the basics. In my newspaper editor days I designed page layouts and used QuarkXpress for the best part of five years. I haven’t touched the software for a good few years and as InDesign is the ‘new’ Quark, I had a go today. It reminded me how much I like design (and how frustrating it can be to try something new) and I wonder if it’s something I can use more of in the future, both in and out of work.

So, there you have it. During my ‘blog break’ I have written posts for others, so I’ll whack links up shortly. And if you’ve made it this far, thanks SO MUCH for reading.

Mum and baby in the delivery suite
Life in general, Marriage, Motherhood

Twas the night before Christmas… when I had a baby

Twas the night before Christmas, when all was still, except for… the fact I was in labour in Milton Keynes General Hospital.

After rolling over in bed on the morning of Christmas Eve, I didn’t feel excitement that Santa was coming that night. What I did feel was my waters break. I was 38 weeks and five days pregnant – and this is exactly the point when I had my daughter in January of the same year. That’s right folks, I was definitely having two children in 2013, despite my early 2014 due date for number two. Crazy, huh!? I would have said we couldn’t have planned it better, but we didn’t plan this at all!

After dropping Halle at nursery and Ralphie (the dog) with a super helpful friend, we headed over to the hospital to get checked out. Yes, my waters had broken, they said, and if labour didn’t start naturally within 24 hours I’d be back in hospital to be induced on Christmas morning! Timing!

Mum and baby in the delivery suiteWith Halle, my waters broke at 4am and labour started at 9am so we hoped for the same this time around, neither of us being patient in nature. Having not completed our Christmas food shop yet, me and hubby dashed into town to collect the turkey, top up our supplies and scoff some food ourselves. I didn’t get chance to eat with Halle’s birth and was utterly ravenous once she was delivered, more interested in my tea and toast than my newborn. Sort of. So, with the benefit of experience, I recognised the importance of eating while I had the chance.

Spontaneous labour?
Then we headed home, tidied up and went on a walk to try and shake the baby out. By the time we’d collected Halle from nursery and my mum had made the long festive jaunt from the shire, arriving at 6.30pm, there was no sign of a spontaneous labour. I was getting tired and looked forward to a decent night’s sleep before a yuletide induction.

But less than an hour later, those period pains started. Is this it, I thought? We ate dinner – again I wanted to keep my strength up – and shared my ‘Idiot’s Guide to Halle’ with my mum. Thank God she’d got there in time or Halle would have been coming to the hospital with us. Christmas isn’t the easiest time to get babysitters!

I have to confess, I was ridiculously scared at this point. It had been less than a year since I’d done the whole labour thing and while it was pretty quick for a first at eight hours, I knew how horribly painful and exhausting it all was. My healing process – stitches and a breastfeeding experience from hell – knocked the shine clean off my first weeks as a new mum and I was fearful of a repeat. With first time pregnancies, you know it’ll hurt but don’t know what to expect so go with the flow. Second time around, I knew what was coming and that it would be more than a little bit ouchy.

The contractions got stronger and closer together, quite quickly, but were a tad irregular. The hospital said to hold out a bit longer and try a bath and paracetamol. Pah! This is where my yoga breathing and relaxation kicked in, it really helped, and I could physically feel the pain ease a little, just by relaxing a bit and breathing through it. And relaxing while contracting is not the easiest thing to to do!

15 minutes later and we needed to go, I was in agony and having up to three contractions in 10 minutes, albeit still not regularly. Off we went – and thank God it’s less than a 10 minute drive to the hospital.

To stop the car or not stop the car?
On the journey there, I threw up all over myself. That eagerness to scoff down a full dinner just an hour or so earlier, not such a good idea after all! Hubby asked if he should stop the car but I said no, to keep driving. The pain was worse than being covered in my own vomit. The only trouble is, it’s hard to bend forward and puke in a ‘safe’ ish place when you’re having a contraction. I threw up into my scarf, hoping it would take most of the hit, but my coat, pyjama bottoms and hoody (oh yes, I was all glammed up for my trip to the hospital!) were plastered. When I rocked up at the maternity ward I was damp and very smelly. Not glamourous!

Sleeping AJOur midwife Becky greeted us and scooted us into a delivery suite, telling us we were a pretty sure bet for the first Christmas baby on the ward. She examined me and I was 4cms dilated. I was 7cms when I went in with my daughter and felt like a failure. I cried. I couldn’t do this much longer, I was sure of it.

But an hour later, I was a mum again, a newborn baby in my arms. After sucking on gas and air and dropping myself into the birthing pool, Becky told me we weren’t going to have a Christmas baby after all. I didn’t believe her; I thought she was being nice to me and trying to make me feel better by implying a speedy labour. But she wasn’t wrong. And it was a good job, I cried some more to hubby as the pain took hold.

Noisy crisp eater
This time I managed to stay in the pool for the birth (I couldn’t do the pushing bit in the water with Halle as I was flailing around like a wet fish, so had to get out) and jeez did it hurt, but it was so much easier second time around. I couldn’t believe how quickly it all happened, my head was in a spin.

Austin James William (as known as AJ) popped out at 11pm and the midwives were looking to discharge us sharpish so we could get home. But AJ was a tad cold and then started ‘grunting’ which is when babies try hard to breathe. He was checked by a paediatrician and we were told to stay overnight, just for monitoring. Boo.

I didn’t stay in with HAJ and Hallealle, we were home in four hours, so the maternity ward was a new experience for me. It was fairly quiet save for a few crying babies (no shit, Sherlock) – there were only three others on the ward – and a new mum chomping VERY loudly on a packet of crisps at 4am. The quieter you try to eat crisps, the louder it is. Richard left us to it, he felt bad leaving but he needed sleep too and we wanted him to be home when Halle woke up for her first Christmas Day. How mad that this was to be the first Christmas for BOTH our children.

I had no idea how to move the bed up and down, where the light was and why it was so goddam hot on the ward, I was sweating buckets, but I managed to sleep a little, mostly woken by a strong thirst and frequent need to pee. No stitches this time meant moving and weeing was a much more pleasant experience. And my first post-baby poo wasn’t like waiting for Armageddon. Sorry, too much information?!

Morning came and I was still there so after some nagging (I chose to nag the midwife wearing reindeer antlers as she looked like a softie) we saw the doc and were discharged. Richard and Halle came to the ward to get us and we all headed home for a relatively normal Christmas Day, with the best present we could have asked for, little baby AJ. Our family is complete!

Head in hands
Life in general, Marriage, Motherhood

I was hacked

Feckety feck. I’ve FINALLY gotten around to writing a blog post – my first in the best part of a year – only to find out my website has been hacked. And I have no idea how long for! Note to self: even if not blogging regularly, check your website!

So, while my magnificent husband has managed to reclaim my site from the gremiins, I’ve lost a couple of posts. Quite important ones too: the story of the birth of my first child, and one on breastfeeding. I was amazed by the huge response I got to the latter post and was hugely saddened to find my breastfeeding story is the norm, rather than the exception, and that so many women out there face pressure, guilt, and extreme pain trying to feed their children. (Both posts have been reposted below, as they were).

But a lot’s happened since that first post, not just the fact my boobs are now purely ornamental and not for touching, I can’t stand it. My daughter, now 11 months old, accidentally pinched a nipple while trying to climb me the other day and if she wasn’t my child and I didn’t love her terribly, I may well have flung her across the room. God, it hurt.

So, where are we at now? Well, when H wasn’t even three months old I found out I was pregnant AGAIN. Not far off the immaculate conception, I can tell you, and while baby two was and is very much wanted it was a huge shock and took some time to get my head around. One of the bonuses is that my post baby flabby tummy is now rock hard again, albeit way bigger.

With this news we decided that our house, the one we’d been in for less than six months, was wholly inappropriate for a family of five (if you include the dog) and so we needed to move, sharpish. We sold the Victorian semi and bought a new build, which wasn’t built yet.

This meant hot footing it 170 miles south to Dorset to live with the in-laws for three months. Then when we missed Milton Keynes and our friends more than we could cope with, and moved into a holiday let for almost two months while waiting for the house to complete. And we move this Friday (the 13th, unlucky for some) which is just three weeks before my due date.

So, since the summer we’ve contended with a lot. Having no home to call our own, raising our beautiful daughter who’s slept in that many different cots and rooms I’ve lost count, confusing the dog every time we go somewhere new, and all while growing baby number two. Hubby has also been trying to expand his business and, well, it’s been stressful all around.

By the weekend – and please, God, don’t let me ‘pop’ before we get in there – we’ll be homeowners again. We can fish our belongings out of storage (I can’t even remember what we have), nest, settle and prepare for Christmas. Again, hopefully before Bateman The Second makes an appearance.

And when he does? I’ll have two children, 11 and a half months between them, to raise. I’ll be run ragged!

Motherhood

On the bottle: why breast wasn’t best for us

Another post I lost due to evil hackers, so here it is again, being posted around eight months after I wrote it…

Warning: This blog post is long, and mentions the word “boob” a lot . When a baby pukes up blood from your shredded nipples, opinions start forming. Here they are…

I’ll start from the beginning. I’d always said I’d give breastfeeding a go – it’s free, after all, and supposed to help lose the baby blubber – but pledged if it didn’t work I wouldn’t beat myself up about it. But I never really thought it wouldn’t work, and therein the problem lies.

The NCT breastfeeding lady (for want of a better title) gave us a lovely three-hour talk as part of our antenatal class, in which we kneaded knitted boobs and held dolls with googly eyes to our breasts. And she made it sound utterly wonderful; a joyous way to bond with your baby. And she explicitly said breastfeeding wouldn’t hurt if you got the latch right. So I left with not a fear in the world that feeding my firstborn would be so UTTERLY HORRIFIC.

Chop them off!

Baby H got 10 days of breast milk from me before we hit the bottle. It was either that, or delve further into a pit of depression and pain and, as happy mums equal happy babies, neither of us was particularly cheery at feeding time. We both screamed, me in pain and baby H in hunger and frustration. If someone had handed me a machete I probably would have chopped my boobs off to end the misery.

And you know I said I wouldn’t beat myself up about it not working? Boy, did I. I felt guilty, ashamed and worried I wasn’t giving H the best start in her little life. And I felt pretty alone. And I cried. A lot.

I don’t think I’d have felt this way, mind you, if I’d been just a little bit prepared for the fact it might not work out, and that it would be so bloody painful. I can handle most things if prepared but this was a shock, a big fat painful shock amplified by sleep deprivation, sore ‘bits’ and the inability to even wee in comfort.

Having spoken to my mum friends in those days after H was born, not a single one of them found breastfeeding the blissful event I’d been expecting it to be. They experienced pain, all of them, on levels ranging from mild discomfort to pretty damn uncomfortable to sheer agony. And most of them either squealed or cried when their babies latched on. Mum friends don’t tell you this when you’re pregnant with your first, they don’t want to scare you, but surely midwives and the NCT folk could give you a heads up?

And the survey says…

I get that breastfeeding is actively promoted but I imagine more people would continue to do it if they were prepared in the first place for what was to come.

According to the Infant Feeding Survey 2010, a poll of more than 10,000 women showed 81 in every 100 mums start breastfeeding. But after just one week less than half of those new mums are still exclusively breastfeeding and only one in 100 manages the full reccommended six months. So where is it all going wrong? Is it just too painful, too much of a commitment (you can’t leave your child in case they need a bite – and some cases I mean that literally!) or down to lack of support?

This is where I must point out, I did not suffer alone. I did reach out for support and, in a way, I got it. I called the NCT breastfeeding lady mentioned above and spent nearly two hours on the phone talking and getting advice. I spoke with two midwives who helped H latch on and my husband – in utter despair at my mental and physical deterioration while breastfeeding – called the national breastfeeding hotline to get advice.

But things like “just keep going, in a week you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about” and “take a hot bath before feeding” (like I had the time for that!!), and “you can try nipple shields but we don’t recommend them” just didn’t help. The only advice I got was to just keep going, and it would get easier. But it didn’t. And we tried everything we could to make it work.

Hitting rock bottom

There are breastfeeding support groups too but I didn’t manage to get to one of those – mainly because I was in too much pain up top to even wear clothing and my confidence had hit rock bottom. I didn’t want to leave the house, see visitors or attempt to get dressed. I didn’t cuddle or really bond with my beautiful baby daughter because she inflicted such pain on me every two-and-a-half hours. Imagine someone slicing at your nipples with a razor blade every few hours. Not nice. I couldn’t even cuddle her because I didn’t want her near my chest when she wasn’t feeding. And when feeding, she’d wriggle and kick me in the other boob. Double whammy! So if anyone came too close to me, I’d start crying.

I was in despair, my husband was in despair. The dog had no idea what was going on and baby H lost 9.8 per cent of her body weight in the first five days (lose 10 per cent and you’re back in hospital) and was hungry and upset. No one was happy.

My mood just got worse and worse and we called the midwife out. In fact, my husband did. Nothing was healing – and those of you who’ve been stitched ‘down there’ will know what I’m talking about and as well as the bloody and cracked nipples, tender boobs, no sleep and raging hormones, I’d managed to give myself intense neck and shoulder pain because of the hunched up way I was breastfeeding, and a constant headache from all the crying. “Try and relax when feeding,” I was told. Just. Not. Possible.

No consistency

I was also given conflicting information – NCT said to use the “starter, main course, pudding” approach and switch from breast to breast for each course. Midwives told me to feed from one breast exclusively and then switch to the other for the next feed. Well, which is it? And they all told/showed me different ways for the baby to latch on. Again, which is it?

In floods of tears and with my shredded boobs in plain sight, the midwife basically told me to get on with it. The “bottle” or “formula” words were never mentioned as an option. In fact, one of my midwives – after we’d made the decision to move to formula – said they weren’t really supposed to talk about formula feeding as they were pro-breastfeeding.

There are only two ways to feed your baby- with breast milk or formula – so isn’t it highly irresponsible for healthcare professionals not to tell you about one of the options? One of the reasons I felt so guilty is because I had no idea what formula feeding entailed – What sort of bottles? How do you hold the bottle? Which formula? How do you prepare them? What do you do when you’re out? Lots of questions but no help. In fact, the first time I used a bottle I cried in fear I was drowning baby H as the milk poured out at speed. That day I learned about teets with different flow rates, thanks to a Google search.

The winning formula

Thankfully I have amazing friends who filled me in on bottles and formula, as well as one of the girls from my antenatal classes who’d been bottle feeding from the start. All their help and support was brilliant and I couldn’t have done it without them. We watched YouTube videos on how to hold bottles and used the internet to read up about the impact foruma feeding has on a baby’s digestive system and number and colour of poos. Slowly (and a little too late!), we were being educated and our daughter’s appetite was finally being satisfied.

Our health visitor, who first popped round AFTER we’d made the switch the bottles, was really supportive and sympathetic, understanding the pain that comes with breastfeeding and was the first professional I’d encountered who didn’t make me feel like a failure. It seems that bottle feeding support is offered, but only once you’ve made the decision to do it. And you’ll have to make that decision alone.

So, once we’d got into our bottle feeding stride – and my gorgeous daughter started to bloom as she piled on weight and got never ending cuddles from a happy mummy – my anguish and guilt turned to anger. Why had the first two weeks of being a mum been marred by breastfeeding hell?

Someone, tell us the truth

I was a first time mum and so utterly unprepared for ‘option 2’ to feed my baby. So, tracking back to my antenatal classes, why was there no formula feeding session like there was for breastfeeding? And why weren’t we told the truth about the pain and hard work it takes to make breastfeeding a success? Are people so pro breastfeeding they’d prefer you not to bond with your child and fall into post-natal depression than help with bottle feeding? Madness.

I would give birth any day of the week than return to breastfeeding. Seriously. That’s not to say I won’t try again should I have another child, but I won’t be afraid to hop to formula if it doesn’t work, and this time I’ll know what I’m letting myself in for and how to rectify it if it goes wrong.

I’m sure there are loads of people who take to breastfeeding like a duck to water – and I always was a bit sensitive in the nipple department, and sensitive in a bad way, so maybe it hit me harder – but there are many who don’t. Being a mum is the most challenging (and rewarding!) job in the world and if there’s any way to make their lives easier, like preventing their bloody and scabby nipples from hanging off due to over suction, then it should be promoted.

I’d love to hear other people’s views and experiences of breastfeeding? How was it for you?

Baby Bateman
Motherhood

One snowy day in January…

Okay, so my blog was hacked and, as a result, I’ve lost a couple of posts. Namely, the story of the birth of my daughter in January 2013, and one a couple of months later about my breastfeeding hell. I’ve lost comments too, boo it, and I had LOADS on the latter post. But hey, it could be worse, I could have lost my nipples (and very nearly did).

Here’s my birthing story (again)…

Okay, so I’m a bit late posting this as Baby Bateman is now 11 weeks old, but she’s been keeping me busy! Here’s the story of her arrival one snowy day in January…

I rolled over in the middle of the night, and felt damp. Holy cow, have I just peed myself? My bladder had become super weak during pregnancy, with three trips to the loo each night the norm, but this seemed excessive. So, as hubby stirred in bed I hopped to the loo to investigate, walking like a gun-slinging cowboy as I went.

To spare you the intimate details (like the sniff test) me and hubby were pretty damn sure my waters had broken; everywhere was wet and I was changing undies more often than the Queen tries not to smile.

Snow joke

It was 4.15am and we’d not gone to sleep until 1am, enjoying tea and toast in bed and chatting about impending parenthood and whether our plans for the weekend would be hindered by the snow. Oh poo, the snow – another hurdle we hadn’t anticipated but luckily we live a 10 minute drive from the hospital, phew!

We called the hospital and they said to come in and get checked over. Our utterly amazing dogsitter Georgia, who thankfully is an early riser, headed over at 5.30am to look after our number one baby Ralphie and after a shower (and, I confess, I put make up on!) hubby took a slow snowy drive to the hospital, bag etc loaded into the boot in case we didn’t come back.

Baby Bateman
Yes, my waters had definitely broken they said. If labour didn’t start by 10pm that evening I’d have to go in and be induced but in the meantime, I was told to head home and wait. And I’ve never been very good at waiting.

Hubby decided not to go into work that day, just in case, and at 8am ish we retired to bed to try and get some sleep. But we were both buzzing – it was Friday morning and our baby would likely be here by the close of the weekend.

At around 10am the first contraction hit. I thought it was just sharp period pain and when hubby said “is that a contraction?” I honestly had no idea as I had nothing to compare it to. It took a while to sink in that I was contracting, I just thought it was stomach cramp.

They got stronger and more frequent and soon I was putting into practice my yoga breathing and squealing as I curled over the sofa on all fours. Hubby started the timing and I tried to relax and remember what I’d learned in antenatal classes and from all my pregnancy reading. I totally forgot I had a perfectly good Tens machine sitting there waiting to be used!

At 12.30pm the dogsitter dropped Ralphie back with us for an hour and the poor mite didn’t know what to make of me writhing around the living room in bursts of agony. I tried to eat a clementine, remembering we’d had little sleep and no food and I’d need my energy, but it didn’t stay down long.
Hubby made calls to the hospital to check when we should go in and as dogsitter Georgia collected Ralphie for the second time that day I knew we needed to get to the hospital sharpish. Contractions were coming at least every three minutes and in the 15 minute trip from my lounge to the hospital maternity ward – in the snow, thank God for our 4×4 – I had around seven contractions and was gagging for some kind of pain relief. We couldn’t have got there soon enough.

Gas and air is GOOD!

At the hospital our lovely midwife Nicky greeted us, checked me over – I was 7cms dialated, whoop whoop – and handed me the gas and air. Hubby did the talking as I was unable to and said we’d wanted a water birth so the pool was filled, my tankini top was plucked from my bag and I settled into the water.

It was warm and relaxing – as relaxed as you can be in labour – and the gas and air was amazing. I don’t think I said much for the next couple of hours, the gas and air and water lulled me to near sleep in between contractions and I breathed and groaned through the painful bits as hubby mopped my brow with a flannel (he dripped a bit in my eye and I got very cross), put Classic FM on the radio and kept family and friends in the loop. Bless him, we’d talked about all the things he could do to contribute and make me more comfortable during labour and in the end I just wanted to go it alone in silence; no one could make this better so I just got on with it. Him being there was enough.

When the pushing bit came, I struggled. I couldn’t get a grip in the pool and felt like I needed to anchor myself to get a decent push, and ran out of breath too quickly to push in the long bursts needed. After a few positions, one in which hubby held me by the arms, I moved onto the bed. It had been a couple of hours by now and while LBB (Little Baby Bateman) was totally relaxed and her heartbeat was fine, the midwife said I needed to really push and get this baby out. No pressure! I told her to shout at me when the pushing bit came, but she was far too nice.

One more push

I still struggled and could feel baby’s head going in and out, in and out. I knew that once the head was out, one more push would see my baby delivered into the world, and that was my motivation.

Her head appeared and hubby and midwife and the lovely student midwife in the room, said I could peer down and have a look or touch her, as she was looking around the room, eyes wide open. I just wanted to get on with it and another push saw Halle delivered to my chest a healthy 7lbs and 8ozs, a little cry and covered in what I called cheese sauce (vernix) as she was 10 days early. It was just after 6pm.

Hubby cut the cord and we realised our lives had been changed forever. The three of us were discharged four hours later and after a slow drive through the snow, we spent our first night at home as a family.

Just stuff, Life in general, what I think

Don't you just hate ignored blogs? Erm…

Cocker spaniel resting on a pregnancy bump

Don’t you just hate it when you pop over to a blog and find no one’s posted for an age? *looks at own blog and hangs head in shame*

I hate neglected blogs, especially when previous content has been good (making no assumptions about my own here, by the way), they make me feel sad and I wonder when the author will get back on track of if the blog’s been abandoned forever.

Well, this blog hasn’t been thrown into the online graveyard, it’s very much alive and I have every intention of boring entertaining you with my prose from here on in.

The thing is, I’ve been kinda busy. My blogging mojo well and truly disappeared when I got pregnant in May last year. I was as sick as a dog and looking at a laptop screen made it worse. In the second trimester, while I felt much better, time was consumed with a busy job and preparing for motherhood. It was kinda like growing a baby sucked out my creative energy and while I had plenty of ideas for posts, I just couldn’t commit them to type. And in the third trimester we decided to grow up and buy a house (great excuse not to move heavy boxes, not so great if your head tells you you can still climb ladders, paint walls and hang pictures etc, but your body’s telling you no fecking way) which was really rather close to Christmas. I then had to wrap up at work (the first time my work ‘to do’ list has ever gone down), sort out Christmas stuff (buying presents, decorating, making mince pies etc) and then spent a couple of weeks simply enjoying my maternity leave. This mostly means walking the dog and catching up with friends/nesting in the morning, and then watching TV and sleeping in the afternoon. Bliss!

And here we are, almost due to pop and no blog posts for an age. I have revamped the design of my website, you may have noticed, which is still work in progress and today I thought it about time I committed at least a few words to the blog to show some willing. And my intention to blog on from here on in.

So, what else can I tell you? I can say that my MA in Online Journalism at BCU (see projects tab above) has been put on hold for a year – wrapping up work, moving house AND completing a challenging MA asssignment just before Christmas proved a little too much to take on when heavily pregnant and I decided to delay. Semi gutted about it but it’s the right decision; if you’re going to do things, do them properly. And it’s hard to work late into the evening when you’re fat, sore and struggle to stake awake past 9pm.

I’m also, as referenced above, a home owner. Having been on the rental market (happily so) for a good five or so years, we decided to grow up and buy. This was triggered by a few things – the prospect of being parents made us want a bit more security and the ability to drill holes in walls without losing a deposit; we found a lovely Victorian terrace we actually wanted to own and put our stamp on; our rental was too big and I don’t want to spend my maternity leave cleaning; and the fact that our mortgage is actually a lot cheaper than our last rental. I love where we live and look forward to starting our family here.

So, what’s next? Well, tomorrow’s challenge will be trying to walk the dog in frost and snow while trying to stay upright. My bulging belly throws me off kilter and while hubby would prefer me to stay home, I have a clingy cocker spaniel (who uses my tummy as a cushion) to keep fit. After that, I plan to sneeze and pop out my first born who will sleep through the night, never cry and provide the family with hours of endless joy while I continue to hone my online skills and find time for coffee and cake with friends. I have plans to ensure the old grey matter stays in tact by learning some new online tricks, helping hubby with his web design business and blogging. Yes, I said blogging, so watch this space.

The bit about sneezing out a baby (I may well be in denial about pain/sleep deprivation and the practical elements of parenting) may be a tad unrealistic but I live in hope.

So, that’s it from me – for now.

Food, Just stuff, Life in general

Loving that frugal feeling

books

I love the word thrifty and am a big fan of Mrs Thrifty’s blog: she offers top tips on saving money and spending wisely. This is not something, until recently, that hubby and I have been good at.

We’ve always chosen the quick/easy/lazy option and that often means waste and expense. Take, for example, the amount of food we throw away because it rots before we get around to eating it. Then we complain we have nothing much to eat and splurge on a take-away. Lose-lose.

I’m not keen on clutter either, although it always seems to gather somewhere – why do men open letters then put them back in the envelope before sticking them in a drawer!! – and I probably have hundreds of tealight holders thanks to my addiction to GU puddings that come in those little glass dishes.

Usually we’d take the quick route and stick our clutter a bin bag every once in a while and leave it for the binmen to deal with. But on discovering our more frugal side, we’ve discovered a better way.

People shop in the dark at 5am – can you believe it!

A few weeks ago I did a car boot sale. Yes, it meant getting up at 4.30am – why the hell to they start at 5am when it’s pitch black!? – and standing in the cold for a good seven hours, but me and my mate Angie (hubby point blank refused to help on this one) had a laugh and made almost £200 between us. Mostly for selling junk! And can you believe people shop at car boots at 5am with torches on their heads!? That’s dedicated bargain hunting for ya.

So, yes, I had to deal with people complaining that a sports watch didn’t have a battery in it – well Mr, that’s why I’m offering to sell it to you for 50p!!! – and letting go of once-loved shoes and boots for just £2 a pair. But these items went to good homes, I no longer used or needed them, and pence makes pounds. And trust me, with a baby on the way (turns out little people need a lot of stuff), that money comes in handy. I earned almost £100 for a morning hanging out with my mate when usually I’d have dumped everything in a bin bag for speed. Well worth doing!

We also have lots of items at home that we don’t use, want or need any longer. Car booters aren’t willing to pay much for anything so things like Uggs, electrical items, designer handbags and dresses were whacked on eBay. Yes, there’s an investment of time here, loading the items on and having to package and send them somewhere, but I still made money – £50 for a pair of Uggs that sat gathering dust in the bottom of the wardrobe, and £50 for a stack of DVDs that did little more than take up much-needed storage space. Again, well worth doing.

No more shopping with our stomachs

Then there are items of furniture. With a house move on the horizon, I’m keen not to transport furniture we don’t need or want to the new place. And the garage has been home to a table and chairs, a TV stand and other items for well over a year now. They’re no good to anyone in there! So I whacked them up on the intranet noticeboard at work, offered up at cheapo prices and made in excess of £250 for selling unused bikes, unwanted dining furniture, chests of drawers and a dog crate. The double whammy here is that the people buying them get decent products for a much reduced rate, so it’s win win. And I earn money while clearing out clutter. Yet again, well worth doing.

Don’t get me wrong, hubby and I still have a long way to go but we’re making much more of our money. We plan meals and food shop accordingly – getting it delivered to save us from shopping with our stomachs or getting distracted by the clothes and DVD aisles. And when we indulge in take-aways or meals out we try and look for voucher codes. I also jump on two-for-one offers, stock up on cut-price products we use regularly and use my Boots card to collect points when I buy essentials like shampoo and conditioner. And it feels much better to be doing it this way, rather than hurredly picking something off a shelf and then cringing when they put it through the till.

I’m also being more charitable. I’ve had a few clothes clear outs of late and bundle unwanted, unworn or don’t fit items into two bags – one for friends of a smiliar size who are grateful for good condition seconds, and another for the charity shops. If you’re going to throw things out, someone somewhere should benefit.

Just stuff, Life in general

I'm back! And not wearing earrings…

Holy feck, it’s been an age since I’ve blogged! And for anyone who’s actually tolerated liked my posts, I apologise. I haven’t really had my blogging mojo since May but I’m hoping it’s back after an almost six-month break. That said, I’m struggling to write much past this last sentence. Just kidding…

So, the summer was busy… I wrapped up my audio project on female bloggers to complete the first year of my MA in Online Journalism, spent a wet week in Devon with hubbles and the bow wow, and discovered I was pregnant with my first child (not an accident, I hasten to add). So I haven’t really blogged since getting preggo and neither have I worn earrings – not related in the slightest, just two random facts I want to share with you.

So, while I’m still not wearing earrings (I just can’t be arsed to push them through the holes), I am back blogging. I’m also hoping to snazz upmy blog offering with a new design (coming soon) and some new content ideas and, low and behold, possibly a blogging theme. I’ve tended to ramble on about anything and everything but I would like to blog with focus – whether this means theming this blog or starting another, I have yet to decide.

So, for now, that’s it. I just wanted to check in, say hi and attempt to remember how to string a few pars together.

Over and out… for now.

social media, Technology, topical, work

A report from CASE 2012 (a conference for higher education bods)

Whenever you intend to do something a little bit whizzy, technology inevitably fails. I had every intention of live blogging this year’s annual CASE conference but Cover it Live dealt me a body blow when it withdrew its freeness in favour of a business model. Great for them, not so great for me; I’d have to cough up money if I wanted to use it. Pah. To cut a long story short, no suitable solution could be found and here I am blogging the old fashioned way, after the event… so enjoy this less whizzy contribution…

Higher education bods from across the country and overseas descended on Birmingham for the biggest case conference of its kind so far, with more than 1,000 delegates from 34 countries. The aim? To share best practice, learnings, research, case studies and passion for the sector. Oh yes, and how universities are each tackling a new fees regime and a catalogue of changes to the future of higher education. It’s at this point I should point out that I work for The Open University, hence my attendance.

We arrived for middayish registration on Tuesday 28 August at Birmingham’s ICC and after a fork buffet – don’t make the mistake of asking for a knife as my colleague did – it all began with an opening by Mark Damazer, of St Peter’s College, Oxford, who described the creative mess that lies beneath every higher education institution.

And then the sessions began, each following a different strand – marketing, communications, alumni relations, fundraising, strategy or schools.

Here’s a short summary of some of the stuff going on in the sessions I attended… (and if you just want the quick Storify version, here it is!)

CASE conference 2012

 

What excites the public about universities?

Well, quite a lot actually, according to this panel of expert communicators and educationalists:  Jack Grimston, assistant news editor at The Sunday Times; Catherine Hearne, BBC Midlands; Colin Hughes, former associate editor at  The Guardian and now at Middlesex University;  Alice Roberts, author and professor, science presenter on BBC’s Coast and from the University of Birmingham; and chaired by Alistair Jarvis, University of Birmingham.

A news story is “something that makes our audience feel mad, sad or glad, “ said Catherine Hearne, emphasising the need for an emotional connection to a story. Her BBC Midlands patch covers 12 universities. So what makes people mad in HE? Answer: tuition fees. What makes people sad? Answer: the debt gained from university study. What makes people glad? Answer:  Great A Level results, new inventions and things that make people proud of their local area.

Colin Hughes said the most trafficked area of The Guardian site this time of year was league tables. What excites people is how good universities are; their reputations matter.

Alice Roberts – one of the presenters of the Open University/BBC co-production Coast – added: “Any civilised society in the world has had a university in it, going way back in time. Historically, they’re a very real strand in our society and they depend on the public being excited about them, people depend on universities. They’re not just repositories of knowledge they are generators of knowledge and that’s pretty exciting.”

Catherine Hearne then covered what should be obvious to most university press offices – make connections, keep in touch and give as much notice about as possible.

“It’s hard for communications staff to keep connected with people and tell their stories,  it’s a constant sweat,” added Colin. “It’s less evident that unis have great stories to tell about the public engagement of their student body, but it goes without saying that unis have good research stories. Students doing things in the public eye make great stories, which is massive positive about the student body; it’s not just about the academics.”

Someone in the audience then piped up and – using the word inherently much more than necessary – said universities were often behind the majority of news but never got the credit for their news stories. Sound familiar?

“There are lots of things going in at universities,” added Colin, “that people what to hear about, they are newsworthy. But people want to read miserable new stories, that’s the reality, and it’s harder to place positive news stories. Broadly, yes, bad, news sells, but that doesn’t mean positive university stories are not newsworthy.”

 

Improving student communications

It’s a fairly new-ish thing but since around 2009 – Nottingham possibly being the first – universities have been appointing student-specific communications officers. Better student comms can be traced back to the launch of the National Student Survey in 2005, explained Kathryn Jones, director of comms and marketing at Birmingham City University.

She said while engaging with students is much easier since the birth of social media, budgets, human resources and a lack of systems were the biggest barrier to effective communication with the student community.

HEA research shows that one in 12 students leaves after the first year of study and one third think of withdrawing. Those are pretty big numbers and stresses the point that good communication shouldn’t cease as soon as students sign up. They’re the best ambassadors universities have and they need to be nurtured for the whole of their student journey, and beyond. They need a sense of belonging at core level, subject level, faculty level and university level.

Kathryn then handed over Tom Thompson, a student comms officer at BCU, who’d conducted an audit across his university and made some recommendations about how students are communicated to from accepting an offer to study, right through to graduation. (Would it be mean of me at this point to point out, as a BCU student myself, I get lots of campus-related emails when I’m a distance learner based two hours away?)

So, BCU has 25,000 students in six faculties on eight campuses. Tom met with students, focus groups, Student Union groups, staff across faculties to gain a better insight into student communication. He hijacked student council meetings, society meetings and quiz nights to talk to core students but confessed it was hard to engage with the less engaged, i.e. those who aren’t active members of the student community.

Each department had a different way of communicating with its students – for some it was the noticeboard, for others pigeon holes on campus, eNewsletters for others. And Tom’s goal was to draw upon those ‘local’ solutions and implement a plan that worked for everyone. No mean feat, huh?

To cut a long story short, Tom has lots of ideas and is currently implementing them, including work on a new online magazine in which students will play an active role, producing content, designing the pages, marketing the site. This not only helps with communication, but also adds to the professional development of the students involved; it ticks a lot of boxes. And students can visit the site when they like, in order to get the university headlines, rather than being bombarded with often irrelevant messaging. One of BCU’s priorities is employability and this initiative will give students ‘real world’ experience.

Personalised content on the site was also mention and this is something I know a lot of us – either students or HE comms bods – would cry out for.

As part of his work, Tom has built an active community on LinkedIn for student comms officers – check it out!

 

Live social media demo

There’s not a lot I need to say about this as the presentation is online so check it out for yourself.

 

Communication, confidence and making internal politics work for you

If you don’t think universities are highly political and complex organisations, you probably need to take the cotton wool out of your ears.

Birkbeck University’s Pro Vice-Master for Student Experience Tricia King says: “It’s not what you do in universities, it’s how you make it happen. The challenge is getting permission to operate where you are.”

Here are her top tips…

  1. Know the value of a crisis, never waste it. (and if there isn’t a crisis try to invent one, harness something, take it to your boss and present them with an answer.)
  2.  Identify and work with powerful people. Power doesn’t always sit where the structure says it should sit. Don’t fight them, you’ll always lose, try and help them so they can help you. Also find a champion or advocate on your senior team who can help and support you. A lot of nodding and agreeing doesn’t mean things will change. Get the person in power to present your ideas and solutions as people will listen and it will make more of an impact. Universities are about power.
  3.  You have to be of the culture and in the culture to influence the culture. Dress appropriately for your audience; if meeting a donor then dress like them. At Birkbeck the team dresses down because that’s how their community dresses so it’s shorts in summer and jeans in winter. And remember not to use jargon when talking to them, you need to make yourself of that culture.
  4.  Buyer behaviour. We’re used to using language to suit the audience and engage in the right way, but we rarely use those skills internally. Use professional skill sets and turn them on your own staff, what type of people are they? What will work for them?
  5. Sometimes, just do it. It’s often easier to ask forgiveness than ask permission. Risky but sometimes you can get away with doing it.
  6. The importance of story. Good stories are key, you tell stories all the time and they’re powerful. Our job is about storytelling. Tell stories to different people for different purposes and tell those stories back to yourself. We’re so focussed on bitter business we forget what an extraordinary institution we are, that we’re carriers and pursuers of stories. Tell them internally and externally, and remember the emotional hook is at the heart of what we do.
  7.  Is this superhuman effort worth it? A good university will never be anything other than a creative mess and our job is to work in that chaos and not getting frightened by it. We’re creating the future and leaders of society, that’s what wedo everyday and they need what we do more than they ever have done, whether realise it or not. Don’t give up the fight, it’s not just you, it’s the way it is.

There is positively LOADS more to say on this conference, but if you’re not asleep by now you will be soon. For the full story in bitesize pieces, check out #ceac2012 on Twitter.