In which there is a trip to a festival

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Even though we’ve been together for nearly 15 years, S and I have never been to a festival together — festival in the sense of being in a tent in a field for three days. This year, as he isn’t working over the summer*, we decided it would be the perfect time to try out Latitude Festival, one we’ve always heard good things about, but never gone to as it’s in Suffolk and thus the absolute other end of the country.

We took Mini W on a one night camping trip a few weeks before, to make sure he would be happy sleeping in the tent, and to check out what equipment we would need. That overnighter went super well, and helped us realise what we needed to bring — namely, much more food than we thought and store things in bags that couldn’t be investigated by tiny fingers!

Latitude turned out to be brilliant fun. It’s sold as being very family-friendly, and it seemed that there were more people there with children than not. Although it was right in the middle of a heatwave, the site was never unpleasantly crowded, and being by the woods and a lake meant shade could always be found. There were a couple of children’s areas — the Enchanted Garden on the edge of the family campsite, then a children’s field in the main festival area, full of games and activities. Mini W was too little for a lot of them, but he really enjoyed the book tent, the sand pit and the soft play tent set up by a local youth centre — and we really appreciated the baby bathtime that they hosted between 5-6pm, to wash off the grime from the day! (There was so much dust, because everything was so dry, and which got everywhere. The laces on my shoes will never be the same again.)

There are also some really fun touches: the woods on the edge of the site have amazing light installations at night, and there’s a lake that you can swim in and which at night has some fab illuminations. Oh, and they (ethically) dye the resident sheep pink!

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Having a small child meant that one of us had to stay with him at night, so we tag teamed it and had one night out each. If Mini W was a bit older then we would have kept him out a bit later, but he’s at that age where he gets really ratty around bedtime and just needs his dinner around 5pm and to go to sleep between 7 and 8pm. So S retired early to the tent on the Friday while I enjoyed Belle and Sebastian in the sunshine, had a henna tattoo and then saw James (for the fifth time I think? But always great). Saturday night saw me tucked up in my sleeping bag by 9.30pm, reading Private Eye, woolly hat firmly on, while everyone else rocked out to the Killers!

We were there more for the comedy than the music, and managed to see a lot of great acts — Marcus Brigstocke, Angela Barnes, Harry Hill, Alan Davies, Shappi Khorsandi to name a few. Because there were so many children around, we could have Mini W in the audience with us and make sure he was happy with toys, books or general people-watching. Mini W is very active, and makes it clear when he needs to romp, so we made a pact that if he wasn’t happy, we would leave — which is why we had to miss one of my all-time favourites, David O’Doherty, but that’s fair enough, as it’s not on to make a small child sit in one place for ages just so you can be amused. In fact, I think that was the biggest tip I’d pass onto anyone wanting to do a festival with a similar-aged child — don’t plan to see anything specific. If you do get to see an act, brilliant, it’s a bonus, but your child has to come first, obviously, and if you don’t expect anything then you won’t be disappointed.

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I was initially pretty nervous about taking a 13 month old to a festival but it actually turned out really well. I read a few blogs and forums before I left with some tips, which was really helpful, so here is my two penn’orth for if you’re taking a small child to Latitude/festivals in general…

  • You will be amazed what they can sleep through — Mini W took a while to drift off, but when asleep he went straight through the Killers at crazy decibel levels, and all the subsequent dance music. I, on the other hand, did not, so definitely bring ear plugs if you want to block out the whomp-whomp-whomp.
  • We did buy ear defenders for Mini W but a) we didn’t take him to any loud music and b) he refused to wear them anyway! But I did see a lot of children wearing them, so they’re a worthwhile thing to have in your pack.
  • The car park at Latitude is a LONG walk from the family campsite. Most people had little trucks, which you could also rent there. We did not, but we should have done so we only had to make one or two trips, rather than four in the baking hot sunshine.
  • The food at Latitude is varied and plentiful — there’s almost too much choice! — and if you have a child who’s happy eating most things then you should be fine. But we also took lots of our own for Mini W, such as beans, and stuff that just needed hot water/warm through, such as packet flavoured couscous and Bean Feast, adding tinned veg to them for some vitamins and nourishment. Dried fruit and Naked bars were great as pudding and on-the-go snacks. There was a big Co-op shop on site though, which is really handy — we didn’t use it, but it was good to know it was there.
  • If, like us, you need a coffee to get you going in the morning and like to brew one in the tent rather than queue for ages at the family campsite coffee stand, Oatly Barista milk is ideal to have, as it doesn’t need refrigerating before it’s opened, and even then it keeps a fresh for longer than cow’s milk.
  • Bring a water carrier — we now have a collapsible one — as there was loads of fresh water available all over the campsite, and having a 5 litre container means less walking to and fro with smaller bottles.
  • The campsites also had washing up stations, with metal sinks and cold water taps, so cleaning up was a breeze. Toilets were either chemical ones with hand gel or proper flushing ones in trailers with running water for handwashing. They were cleaned really frequently so I never really saw anything manky. I think there were also some long drops but I never saw these.
  • The queue for the showers was insanely long by mid-morning — 3pm in the afternoon was the best time to attempt one! But as mentioned above, one of the tents in the children’s area offered baby bathtime, with a bath, hot water and bubbles, so all you have to bring is a towel and a grubby child!
  • We use cloth nappies for Mini W, but had to admit defeat for the festival and went for eco-disposables. (We couldn’t hygienically store dirty nappies for four days in a hot tent), but luckily there was a special waste bin for sanitary products. Recycling is very big at Latitude: there are bins for all kinds of waste, and you’re really encouraged to put as little as possible in general waste.
  • Even in temperatures over 25 in the day, a tent gets really cold at night, so you definitely need warm sleepwear for your child. We used lots of layers for Mini W — t shirt, long sleeved PJs, 2.5tog sleeping bag, and then added a blanket a bit later on. We also had a cotton beanie for him, but he kept pulling it off!
  • We’re lucky to have a big tent and so just took our travel cot and put it in the sleeping compartment with us. Being raised off the ground and having sides meant Mini W stayed warmer, too, as well as being secure from rolling on uneven ground!

We’ve got another festival next week, a much smaller mountainbiking one in Yorkshire, so fingers crossed it goes as well as this one did!

* As S wasn’t happy in his job, we’ve done a swap — I’ve gone back to work for a few months, and he’s the primary carer for Mini W. He certainly picked an amazing summer to not be stuck in an office all day! Whereas I am sitting in an un-air conditioned building. Working on a Christmas magazine. In 30 degree temperatures.

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In which there are a lot of words about 2017

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The annual navel-gazing questionnaire is back! And it’s only taken me about four weeks to complete — that’s being a parent for you.

What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?

Well, the obvious one is have a baby, and everything associated with that. Just as this questionnaire was dominated by house renovation in 2014, expect this one to be pretty baby-heavy. Mini W came with lots of firsts, from hypnobirthing classes and keeping a child alive with just my boobs, to successfully working out how to strap a wriggly infant in a car seat and have a baby fall asleep in my arms.

Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year I said “I want to continue on the same path of appreciating everything I have, continuing to grow my freelance work and being the best wife, friend, daughter and sister I can be,.with the added addition of being the best parent I can be, and a bit less freelance work.”

The parenting thing is hard at times, particularly on a huge sleep deficit, and there’s always room for improvement, but Mini W is still alive and thriving so it’s going OK overall.

Freelancing continued to go well until my maternity leave started in May, and I did get better at saying no when my workload was busy.

This year, as I have for the last few, I’m taking a word to try and live by. For 2018 it’s ‘present’ — enjoying the here and now, not trying to jump too far ahead and not getting too distracted to appreciate the activity I’m actually doing.

Did anyone close to you give birth?

We had friends bring new babas into the world in January and February, and my German friend J sneaked her little boy in in 24th December. A couple of work friends had babies, which was lovely and gave me some other people to hang out with on mat leave. Lots more are coming this year too — I’m currently waiting to hear about my friend’s imminent arrival, plus two of my closest friends in Bristol are having spring babies this year to grow our gang, which is ace.

Did anyone close to you die?

Thankfully no. My mother in law had some bad news health wise in May but is doing better.

What countries did you visit?

A small year for travelling this year — just Italy in late September for a week. It featured gelato, pasta, bomboloni, sunshine and beautiful architecture and landscapes, and was very much appreciated.

What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?

Sleep. Oh, glorious sleep, how I miss thee.

What dates from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

17th May, the day my son was born.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Keeping a small human alive with just my body. And managing to do it on levels of sleep that would be ranked as torture.

What was your biggest failure?

An inability to get my baby to nap in his cot. (I don’t actually see that as too much of a bad thing though as I enjoy snoozy on-lap naps!)

Did you suffer illness or injury?

Giving birth was a wonderful experience but I did have a few issues as a consequence that took a while to heal. I’ve also had a number of colds this winter but I think that’s inevitable when around small germy children.

What was the best thing you bought?

The services of my gardener friend to help keep on top of our (huge) garden when I couldn’t. An Ergo baby sling — guaranteed naps when baby is in it with two hands free to do stuff round the house or get around easily.

Whose behaviour merited celebration?

I was so touched by the reaction of friends and family to the arrival of Mini W. I know a truly awesome group of people on this earth. And as always, S contines to be my best friend, cheerleader and all round wonderful human. He is now a brilliant father, which I always knew he would be.

Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

As with last year, events on the national and global stage (Brexit, Trump administration, Syria, global warming and over consumption, the list goes on) depressed and appalled me. I do worry about the planet my son’s generation will inherit. But as Gandhi said, we need to be the change we want to see, so I will continue to engage and fight for the world I want.

Where did most of your money go?

It must be lunches, coffee and cake out! We were so lucky to be given or lent absolutely loads of baby stuff so our outlay there was surprisingly minimal.

What did you get really excited about?

Meeting my baby! Eating gelato in its birthplace of Florence. Seeing my garden take shape. My friend’s hen do and wedding.

What song will always remind you of 2017?

Barcelona by George Ezra. I used to play it to Mini W in utero as it has a good bass beat. And we got engaged in Barcelona so it’ll always be a special city.

Compared with this time last year, are you:

–happier or sadder?
Happier. I spent the first few months of 2017 stressing about Mini W’s potential medical issues. To have him here and well and healthy is so, so brilliant.

–thinner or fatter?

Thinner. Not only have I shed the 10kg of baby weight I put on, but breastfeeding and a motion-loving son means I’m an additional 7kg lighter. S bought me a lot of chocolate for Christmas!

–richer or poorer?

Poorer, and set to be more so as mat leave payments stop this month!

What do you wish you’d done more of?

Sleep!

What do you wish you’d done less of?

Not worrying about the baby’s health. But it was inevitable really. And then reading baby books and stressing about what I “should” be doing. I’ve stopped that now — my mantra is whatever gets you through.

How did you spend Christmas?

We had Mini W’s first Christmas at home with just us and the puss. Very relaxing.

Did you fall in love in 2017?

Yes, and a love I’ve never experienced before and fail to put into words. .

What was your favourite TV programme?

Ooh, we watched some good stuff this year. The Handmaid’s Tale was probably the best — although pretty harrowing with a newborn. We also loved Detectorists, and watched all three series over jusr a week or two. So gentle, and British, and sun dappled. Plus a cracking theme tune. We watched both series of Top of the Lake really quickly, but were then disappointed by the whole plot once we’d actually stopped and thought about it. A late contender for excellent (and which I watched into 2018) was Feud, about Joan Crawford and Bette Davies. Excellent acting, superb costumes and settings.

What was the best book you read?

I read 48 books in 2017 which, although nowhere near my usual figure, is not bad for someone whose attention span is struggling a bit. I don’t normally read poetry but I loved Nobody Told Me by Hollie McNish, a collection on pregnancy and childbirth that my neighbour kindly bought me. The First Verse by Barry McCrea was the most thought provoking novel I read — I still can’t decide if it’s genius or pretentious. And a late contender for a favourite is Eleanor and Park, which I read right at the end of December.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

Johnny Flynn, courtesy of the theme tune to Detectorists.

What did you want and get?

A happy, healthy baby and positive delivery. And to finish my online journalism course before I gave birth. i got the final submission in on 15th May and went into labour on the 16th! Talk about cutting it fine.

What did you want and not get?

An unassisted birth, but it was still a lovely and positive experience. Time to garden and hang out in the allotment. Sleep!

What did you not want and not get?

A baby who had to start life from an uneven playing field. When the tiredness gets horrendous, I try and remember that.

What was your favourite film of this year?

I actually saw quite a few films at the cinema this year, thanks to Bristol’s plethora of baby cinema options. I really enjoyed The Big Sick, and Kedi, a documentary about cats in Istanbul. Going to see The Last Jedi with S and Mini W (in an R2D2 onesie) was pretty special too. Plus, the cinema served coffee and cake direct to our (sofa esque) seats, making it the most decadent film going ever. It’s spoilt me for normal cinema!

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

My 35th birthday was only three weeks after giving birth so it was a bit more low key than usual. We went to Bath for the day and had lunch out. Mini W’s gift to me was time for a shower and 6.5 hours cumulative sleep. And friends bought me a lot of Prosecco and Prosecco-thrmed goodies to celebrate being able to drink again! S is going to take me to the Harry Potter studio soon as a belated birthday gift.

What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Less anxiety, more sleep.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017?

Elastic waistbands until May and then easy boob access for the rest of the year.

What kept you sane?

Positive visualisation and affirmations. Yoga. Friends. My parents. And S, the best and most calming person I know.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I’m still partial to a bit of Kit Harington.

What political issue stirred you the most?

As with last year, so many — the continuing Brexit saga, fake news, corrupt governments. But there were some great examples of people fighting back, such as the women’s marches, which give me hope.

Who did you miss?

I had moments — and still do — where I miss pre-mum me. She had a lot of fun. But I feel that there’s a lot of fun to come, even if it’s in a different package.

Who was the best new person you met?

I’ve met some lovely ladies this year through yoga, aquanatal, baby massage and other baby activities, and feel really pleased to have such a good group of new friends in a similar life position to me.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017.

The support of your loved ones really is everything.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

“I’m ready for this, there’s no denying
I’m ready for this, you stop me falling
I’m ready for this, I need you all in
I’m ready for this, so darling, hold my hand.” I used to play this Jess Glynne song before my son was born and think yes, bring it on, I’m ready.

In which there is a cat in a Christmas jumper wishing you glad tidings

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Christmas 2017

Even though I now have a baby to dress up (and believe me, I’ve taken full advantage), it isn’t Christmas without a little Paint on Olivia.

The fridge is stocked, the presents are wrapped, the Radio Times is marked and the Bailey’s is open. Wishing you a wonderful festive season full of good food, good company and good relaxing.

In which I share our experiences of what happened after our twenty week scan

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I was very lucky in that physically, I had a very easy pregnancy — a little bit of acid reflux, some minor ‘backne’ and a bit of pelvic/hip pain were the only things that bothered me.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, and I’m going to share our experiences of what happened after our twenty week scan, in that it might provide some support for others who stumble upon this post when scouring the internet for answers.

The twenty week scan started well, in that all the major things — heart, brain, spine — looked fine. But at the end, the sonographer frowned a little and said the baby’s femur length was coming up a bit short, and she needed to re measure it. She did; it still did — on the third percentile. She looked at S and me, and said that because we’re tall (6’2″ and 5’7″), she wanted to refer us to a consultant for further tests, as a short femur can be a marker for certain genetic conditions.

I was completely devastated. Of course on my return to the office (one of the issues when you’re a freelancer and committed to a day’s work somewhere, giving yourself time off unexpectedly isn’t an option) I Googled ‘short femurs pregnancy’ and thus began a few weeks of obsessive reading and worrying, as short femurs are a marker for Down’s Syndrome and skeletal dysplasia. You can imagine, I’m sure, what my state of mind was.

Because the scan was so close to Christmas, we had to wait until the first week of January for our consultant appointment. That was the worst two weeks of my life. We had such a lovely Christmas planned with just the two of us — we were going to celebrate ‘Bumpmas’ and treasure our final solo Christmas. We did our best to relax and enjoy it but there was a constant feeling of worry and dread underpinning everything.

I ate loads of protein and calcium in a vain hope that the baby’s femurs would have grown by our appointment, but they were still on the third percentile (anything under the fifth or over the ninety fifth is considered ‘abnormal’). Our consultant was very lovely and calm, and presented us with four options: the likeliest being everything was fine and the baby just had short legs; Down’s Syndrome; achondroplasia (dwarfism) or a placental issue, where the placenta wasn’t functioning at 100% and thus giving less blood to the limbs. The only way to rule out two and three was with an amniocentesis, but as the miscarriage risk is 1%, my Down’s risk had been found at 12 weeks to be 1:6900 (very low risk) and neither were life limiting conditions, we decided instead to opt for serial scans and keep an eye on things that way.

Over the course of my pregnancy I had a scan about once a month. After 24 weeks they could rule out achondroplasia as the other limbs were growing fine, but options two and four continued to always be in the background. Because of the potential placental issue, I wasn’t allowed to give birth on the midwife led unit and had to have the baby’s heart rate continuously monitored during labour, which wasn’t how I had envisaged giving birth. But I was exceedingly grateful for the amazing care and support we received from the hospital  — the NHS rocks.

S and I did a hypnobirthing course and I found that the affirmations and positive visualisations learned from this really helped calm me down when things got overwhelming — which they frequently did. We also had wonderful support from friends and family, particularly friends who had had similar experiences of problems coming up at the twenty week scan and who knew what we were going through. It was one of these friends who told me to stop Googling things and she was quite right. After our first consultant appointment I managed to convince myself that the baby had a lethal form of skeletal dysplasia, purely through Googling things obsessively and jumping to huge conclusions. I ended up emailing the consultant with my fears to do something positive and break the cycle. She told me that this was not likely at all and, as S pointed out, fifteen minutes of Googling is no match for fifteen plus years of medical experience!

The story, luckily, has a happy ending. At our final scan, the femurs had jumped to the twelfth percentile, so things were looking much better, and when our son arrived a few weeks later, he was absolutely fine with no health issues relating to his legs at all — they just were disproportionately short compared with his body length (21 inches!).

If you are reading this because you’ve had a similar diagnosis, my heart goes out to you. It’s a worrying, stressful, horrendous time that takes the shine off your pregnancy. All I can say is, the chances are that everything is fine, especially if short femurs are the only marker that’s come up from the scan. Don’t fall into a Google hell hole as I did; instead, focus on the actual facts you’ve been given, rather than imagining things to be far worse. As I said above, positive visualisation and affirmations were tremendously helpful for calming me down and staying positive, as was reflexology, and may be good for you. I also had a friend who’s an aromatherapist create a calming essential oils blend for me which I had in a stick, so when my mind started racing I could take a step back and relax by inhaling it.

I wouldn’t wish our experience on anyone, but I can take some positives from it. Firstly, how amazing the NHS is. We had so many people involved in the pregnancy and birth, all of whom were marvellous. I am so grateful for the healthcare system we have in the UK. Secondly, how lucky S and I are to have such wonderful friends and family, and how lucky I am to have such a brilliant husband. S was an absolute rock throughout everything, and even when he was worried himself, he always stayed positive for me, wiping away my tears and reassuring me that no matter the outcome, we would be OK.

Finally, this experience has made me so grateful for my baby. When things get a bit tough or tiring — which, with a newborn, they do — I try and put things into perspective and appreciate the brilliant fact I have a healthy, happy baby, who just needs the legs on his onesies rolled up a bit.

In which there’s an addition to the family

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Our son was born on 17th May, making his entrance at just after ten in the morning. The last six weeks have passed in a fast blur of joy, tiredness and wonder. And love, so much love. I’ve been overwhelmed by how he’s been welcomed by family and friends. My mom says babies bring out the best in people and she’s quite right.

It’s been a steep learning curve at times, but I can honestly say that this little lad is one of my proudest achievements. I’m sitting here typing this one handed on my phone while he snoozes in a carrier on my chest. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

 

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