Preparations for Winter

Autumn is well and truly upon us and I’ve been making adjustments in the home (especially as we’re all spending so much time in them!). The timers on the lamps have been wound earlier and earlier. The central heating has broken once, been fixed and is now set on 'high' to chug out warmth to keep us feeling cosy. Candles have emerged from the back of the drawer and are now decorating the fireplace for when I can remember to light them. Comfort eating is on the up; the number of pies on the food shopping receipt has risen along with the rediscovery of gravy. I’ve started to roast vegetables and red wine is my new favourite drink to wash everything down. I’ve transitioned from preparing the nest in the summer to plumping the nest in the autumn. 

All in all, it’s probably my favourite time of the year. Blue skies, orange leaves, brisk walks and rainy days on the sofa. The summer (and maternity) wardrobe has been packed away and chunky knits and boots have emerged from the loft. I’ve bought myself a new winter coat (this one) and two new pairs of boots; one pair of ankle-high chunky tan boots (these) that will be perfect for stomping around the park and kicking up leaves and another pre-loved pair of Carvella knee-high brown suede boots for pairing with dresses and wearing to Sunday lunch in the pub. It’s that (mildly annoying) time of year when your sunglasses aren’t sure if they are being retired or not; they are on, then off, then on again? I’m currently shopping for new cushions and a throw for my sofa seeing as I intend to spend the majority of my time there. Amen, to that. 

READ MORE: WHY I LOVE AUTUMN 

It feels like this time of year is always so full of anticipation; the crescendo of Halloween, Bonfire Night and then the big spectacular, Christmas. Although, this year, it’s a little bit different, isn’t it? So much hangs in the balance that despite the Christmas decorations and gifts being stacked on the shelves, until we know if we’ll be able to even see our extended families, how can we start present-buying for Christmas? Having said that, I did just buy our first Big-Girl-Pants Christmas tree and will have a 7ft fake fur tree erected on 1st December even if no one comes by to see it! One thing drastically missing for the usual narrative is Strictly. Not only have we lost Kevin Clifton this year, but we’ve also lost four weeks of the show. God damn. 

Most importantly, in terms of preparing for winter, I finally took the plunge on a pricey set of White Company pyjamas which I've been lusting after for months. Worth every penny of their £75 price tag and I intend to remain wearing them until the clocks spring forward. So, I'm off to hibernate in my scented-candle-cosy-cushion-orange-tinted-bubble, see you in March.


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Top 10 Newborn Essentials

I have been in the newborn bubble for ten weeks and I am LOVING every second! Our baby girl came into this world on the 15th July and we have been in the haze of nappy changes, breastfeeding and endless cuddles for a couple of months now which has initiated us quickly, but firmly, into the parenting world. With a little time for reflection, I wanted to pen this blog post to share my must-have essentials for every new parent. 

1. Snuzpod3 Bedside Crib

If you tell me I don't have to get out of bed in the middle of the night to feed my baby, I'm sold! This bedside crib is harnessed onto the bed for safety and has an optional fourth wall that can be unzipped so you can peek into your sleeping (you hope) baby in the night. It makes the transfer from crib to boob seamless.

2. Newborn Swaddle

You've got enough to learn being a new parent and swaddling is, let's be honest, a faff! Enter this marvellous hack: velcro swaddles. Ryan bought this 24 hours after we came home and no longer had the midwives on hand to help with the technique. Even though Evie is growing rapidly she still fits into this newborn swaddle at ten weeks old (and 6kg!). She tends to kick her legs out of the bottom section now but loves to have her arms swaddled which helps avoid the startle reflex from waking her up. It's super quick and easy to wrap her up and put her down for the night and provides easy access when she wakes me up at 4am for another feed. 

3. Zipped Sleepsuits

Game. Changer. Poppers are your arch-nemesis when you're on your umpteenth nappy change of the night, utterly bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived. The zip is by no means a new invention but it amazes me how many baby clothes are still fastened with a gazillion poppers! Just make your life easy and purchase as many of these zipped sleep suits as you can. This will be what I buy all new parents in the future!

4. Ewan the Dream Sheep | White Noise Machine

Your baby's best friend (after you). Recreating the noisy sounds that your baby has been used to in the womb (fun fact: it's as loud as a lawnmower in there!), this white noise toy plays different tracks to soothe your baby to sleep. Our favourite track is the heartbeat and it works like magic on me too! We also have a Bennie the Bear that lives in the car and I've been recommended Ollie the Owl by other parents depending on your animal preferences!

5. Seraphine Skin to Skin Top

I credit this skin-to-skin top for helping establish such a good milk supply. In the early days I knew that skin to skin contact with my baby was super important for bonding and encouraging breastfeeding. While a purpose-made top may not be an essential purchase for many, it offered me a bit of dignity (i.e. my boobs were actually concealed from the masses) without compromising that closeness with my baby. I spent the whole of day three in this top with Evie laying on my chest and by the evening my milk had come in. I still wear this top to date even though Evie has grown so much as it's lovely to be able to keep her tucked in close to me. Seraphine offers lots of different designs, though I think one is enough unless you get unlucky with an exploding nappy!

6. Baby Tracker App

It's free and it's a life-saver. Those newborn days really are a haze of feeding and nappy changes, feeding and nappy changes, oh and grabbing moments of sleep whenever you can. Suffice to say you're not on your best form for keeping count with feeds, changes and naps. When your midwife, GP or Health Visitor asks you how many dirty nappies or how long between feeds, this app collects all this information so you have it at your fingertips. After ten days of keeping a hand-written log, this app took all the stress out of tracking! 

 

7. Placenta Encapsulation by Placenta Practice

A controversial one and it has certainly raised eyebrows amongst my friends and family, but I am a big endorser of placenta encapsulation. I had read many reviews online from second-time mothers saying they had been amazed by the result and wished they had tried it with their first baby that I didn't want to have the same story, so I signed up a couple of months before my due date. I figured I had grown this organ myself, and I'd be damned if it was going to get chucked away in a bin somewhere. While the benefits may be too wooly for some, I was happy to pay even for a placebo effect if it helped my mood and energy levels post-delivery. As I ended up having an emergency c-section and losing a considerable amount of blood, I honestly credit taking these placenta capsules with how I was able to feel so positive and happy despite my physical recovery from surgery being a tough one mixed with sleep deprivation. I used Placenta Practice - the UK's first government recognised specialist - and opted for the Simple and Traditional Chinese capsules. It's quite a commitment logistically given it has to be stored correctly so bear that in mind and expect raised eyebrows from the hospital staff but it is worth the hassle (big thanks to my mum who kept it in her fridge while waiting for the courier to arrive!). I will definitely do this again if I grow any placentas in the future!

8. Elvie Breast Pump

If you're reading this blog post, you've probably also been targeted by Elvie's digital advertising too. This relatively new fem-tech brand are bringing to market some pretty impressive products and having invested in the pelvic floor trainer (thank goodness, my baby weighed over 9lb!), I had my eye on this wireless breast pump. However, the price tag is something to make your eyes water to the point I was put off. Very kindly a friend of mine had lent me a different (but still very reputable) breast pump which she no longer used BUT within minutes of opening the box it had sent my husband into a tailspin. In his utter exhaustion and following a long weekend grappling with the minefield that is sterilisation, he took one look at all the wires and promptly ordered the Elvie breast pump for me. HALLELUJAH! It's a revelation!! Super discreet and tiny enough to slip into my maternity bra, it can be controlled via an app where you can set a timer or manually on the pump itself. I pump from one side as I feed from the other or, better yet, while I walk around the house doing whatever the hell I want because I have both hands free while I'm expressing up to 140ml per bottle. Love, love, LOVE!

9. Tommee Tippee GroEgg Digital Room Thermometer

If there's one topic of conversation new parents love to hate, it's what to dress their baby in to sleep. Thank goodness for the GroEgg which displays a digital temperature and changes colour accordingly so you can switch up those layers to ensure your little one stays aptly snug. Given we had a summer baby and a heat wave landed not long after we arrived home, this little device played a very important role. Though I will add that the 'red' colour does scare the pants off you even though it can be 0.1 degree warmer than the recommended sleeping temperature (16-20 degrees Celsius). However, a handy guide none-the-less.

10. Cybex Car Seat

I'm ending on a biggy but, frankly, the most important newborn essential. Seeing as you can't leave the hospital without one, a car seat is a very important pre-birth purchase. My husband and I did a lot of research and ended up going with the industry leader; the Cybex Cloud Z iSize Baby Car Seat in Deep Black.  It fits an ISOfix base and adapts as your child grows so has longevity which helps justify the price tag. The biggest selling point - aside from its safety, of course - is that it can be changed to a lie-flat position outside of the car so you can leave your sleeping baby to snooze comfortably. And that, dear reader, is invaluable!

COMING SOON: I'll be sharing more of my breastfeeding journey and the items that made it possible to exclusively breastfeed.

Please let me know in the comments section if there's any newborn essentials that you couldn't live without?

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WHAT’S IN MY HOSPITAL BAG

It should really say ‘hospital bagsbecause there are four of them. Oh yes, I have not packed light people!! After hours of watching YouTube videos from my latest and greatest influencers (and then a whole load of people I had no idea who they were), I was sold on the idea that I needed a bag, baby needed a bag and hubby (/birthing partner) would also need a bag. This was my conclusion around Week 32 when we first tentatively laid out piles of items that would go into each. Around Week 35 we finalised the list after a big Amazon and Boots order. At Week 38, I unpacked and repacked everything and assessed that I would need a ‘day bag’ as well as an overnight suitcase. Given the very real possibility I would have to walk myself into hospital alone due to COVID, I didn’t think I’d be wanting to carry a suitcase with me while dealing with contractions. That’s when I packed a little essentials backpack containing, critically, my hospital notes, some fruit pastilles, and a Lucozade Sport so I was good to go for a few hours of labouring. Here I delve into what I’ve packed into each bag. 



Mama’s Essentials Backpack

Ok, so there are a few more items that have been crammed into this backpack should I find myself on a labour ward sans husband for a few hours.

  1. Hospital Notes & Birth Plan (don’t forget these!)
  2. Hydration: Refillable water bottle and a Lucozade Sport for a hit of sugar if my energy levels start to dwindle. I've been advised to avoid fizzy drinks!
  3. Snacks: In the form of sweets, energy bars and chocolate.
  4. iPhone, AirPods & Chargers: Very rarely do I go anywhere without these but I’m going to especially need these for the big day to record my surges via the Freya app and also listen to The Positive Birth Company’s hypnobirthing affirmations to keep me in the relaxation zone.
  5. Pants & Pads: I hear it can be kind of messy so I’ve packed a couple of maternity pads for the car journey and spare underwear and pants in case I have any self-awareness regarding my dignity. I hear that’s not a top priority but I like to be prepared.
  6. My Cave Essentials: Just like animals who like to birth to their babies in a safe, dark cave, I have a few props to recreate this in the room I end up in, be it at the birthing centre or the hospital. Includes: ThisWorks pillow spray, lavender essential oil, face cloths (for hot or cold compress), temple balm, battery-operated fairy lights and tea lights, face wipes, hair bands, and a silk eye mask.

Mama’s Overnight Suitcase

  1. Old towel(s) (preferably of a dark colour): I have a large bath towel and a small hand towel for getting in and out of the birthing pool or to use post-birth.
  2. Old dressing gown: Again, for a touch of modesty without much concern if there is mess. These things will either go in a super hot wash or the bin!
  3. More pants & pads: I’ve been told postpartum bleeding can require a change of pad every 2 or so hours so I have multi-packs of these plus TENA disposable pants. Oh the glamour! 
  4. Wash bag: A bit like the feeling at the end of a weekend of camping, I can imagine I’m going to want to freshen up after giving brith. I’ve packed a luxurious body wash (I think I might like a touch of indulgence) and shampoo/conditioner if I can be faffed to wash my hair. Plus: face wash, moisturiser, lip balm and a hairbrush to tame whatever state my hair is in.
  5. Pyjamas: Assuming I may have to stay overnight, I have two pairs of lightweight summer pyjamas as I’ve heard hospital wards can be especially hot!
  6. Nursing bra & Nipple TLC: Hoping that breastfeeding will be the main event post-birth so packing a couple of nursing bras so I can feed on demand whilst giving support to the ladies while I hobble around! Plus, nipple pads for leakages and Lanolin nipple cream for soothing.
  7. Skin to skin top: I was given this one from Seraphine for my birthday.
  8. Going home outfit: For me. I’m going super simple with a dress I can throw on comfortably to waddle to the car. 
  9. Flip Flops & Slippers: The former for the shower / room if it’s hot. The latter for walking around and if it’s a touch nippy.

My husband is also in charge of these big items that can’t be forgotten:

  1. The birthing ball
  2. The birthing pillow
  3. The car seat (because we would like to bring our baby home!)
  4. The placenta box
  5. The frozen colostrum supply in the freezer

Baby’s Bag

We decided to use the changing bag here so this is by far the smallest although it has packed a fair amount in there!

  1. Baby’s first outfit (and a couple of spares)
  2. Cellular blanket: This was actually a family heirloom as Ryan came home from the hospital in this very blanket too. We have packed a spare too… just in case of accidents!
  3. Nappies, nappies, nappies: And cotton wool. For the start of the endless cycle of sniff, change, feed, repeat. 
  4. Sleepsuits & swaddling bag: If we stay multiple nights, we hear newborn babies are particularly keen on swaddling to recreate that compact feeling of being in the womb.
  5. Capsule wardrobe: Socks (2 pairs), scratch mittens (1 pair or opt for babygrows that have foldable cuffs), hat (2), short-sleeve baby-grow and long-sleeve baby-grow.
  6. Baby’s first toy: A cute little comforter.

Husband’s Bag

Without knowing the type of labour and birth we will experience, there could be a chance we need to stay in a few days so, if that’s the case, we wanted to make sure we were prepared and Ryan wouldn’t have to wear his pants for 3 days on the trot!

  1. Another copy of the Birth Plan: As my advocate during the labour, it's probably more important that he has a copy of this to share with the Midwifery team.
  2. Swimming trunks: In case he wants to brave getting in the pool with me.
  3. Basic toiletries: Toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, etc.
  4. A change of clothes: 3 spare sets.
  5. An extension lead: To ensure we can charge all our tech no matter where the plug-points are in the room!
  6. Skin to skin wrap top: To ensure Dad can enjoy those newborn cuddles too.
  7. Cash for the car park
  8. Snacks & water: His own set so he doesn’t scoff mine!
  9. Painkillers: I mean this could be a joke but I’m assuming it could be for a sleep-deprived headache, dehydration from a hot birthing room or for the broken hand I’ll have been clenching.
  10. A camera: For those all important first family portraits should a camera phone not suffice.
  11. Mobile phone: To share the wonderful news!
  12. Entertainment: Something for times when he’s waiting – music, a book or a magazine.

Let me know if I’ve forgotten anything you found helpful! I may do a follow-up 'What I actually used from my hospital bag' as that may prove more helpful... that is, if I ever have time to blog again once baby has arrived!


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My A to B of Wedding Suppliers

Finally sharing the wedding suppliers who made our dream West London wedding come true. We were married at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on 1st July 2016.
Planning a wedding is no easy feat. In fact, it can be flipping stressful. But having done the legwork - and spent the first few years of marriage recovering! - I am excited to share with you the wonderful suppliers that made our wedding day so special. They were absolutely amazing and I cannot recommend them highly enough! All links provided below so if you're in the market, you know what to do...

All the photography you're about to see is the incredible work of Mr Graham Keutenius. Graham photographed a friend's wedding and his work speaks for itself. Having attended said friend's wedding I have to say, at that time, I couldn't tell you much about Graham as he blended into the background seamlessly yet delivered the most jaw-dropping photographs of every poignant moment you would want captured. (Having been in bridal parties since, it's not uncommon for photographers to come with an ego bigger than a 7-tiered wedding cake and there's just no room or time for that on your Big Day!)

Having visited his studio in Eton (a lovely day out in itself), we can honestly say what a pleasure if was to work with Graham throughout the process. We had the opportunity to 'work the camera' at an Engagement 'shoot which was also part-recce of our wedding venue at Kew Gardens. It was a great part of the wedding photography package, a lovely occasion to get to know each other before you spend your wedding day with each other. As part of our package, we had full usage of all our (900) pictures and also a curated photo book made by Graham himself. That was Christmas presents sorted, too! 

The Venues.

The best moment of my life (so far!) I'll never forget the look on Ryan's face (and the tears in his eyes!)

Situated on the bank of the River Thames in Chiswick, West London, this was "my church". Since I moved to Hammersmith after University, I had been strolling down here every Sunday for several years before Ryan popped the question. It was so special to walk down the aisle and have Father Simon marry us - so, so special and so beautiful! I can still hear the bells ringing - having made a mental note to enjoy them from outside the Church as I arrived. I walked down the aisle to the Rainham Ladies Choir singing Sound The Trumpet - the very same choir and song choice that my mother walked down the aisle to my father. Yep, I'm a sucker for the sentimental. I had my Aunt playing the piano accompanying them and with connections to my Nan, Aunt and mother all being members of the choir in previous years, it was truly special to have members of the choir who knew my Nan sing for us on our special day. I also surprised Ryan with their singing Can't Help Falling In Love while we were signing the registry! We walked out of the Church as husband and wife to their version of All You Need is Love with huge smiles on our face!
In front of the iconic conservatory and with the flowers in full bloom!
Walking through the rose arches near the Princess Diana Conservatory
In front of The Mall

Ryan and I knew we wanted to have our wedding in West London, near where we lived, and so decided to view a few options by bike ride on June day in 2015. Among visiting venues in Fulham and Richmond, there was nothing that could compare to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. We fell in love with the intimacy of Cambridge Cottage and its private gardens and booked the next day! Plus, the garden access you get for your guests and for the all-important photographs made it worth every penny! We had between 70-80 guests so it's not the largest occupancy but with two reception rooms, there's plenty of space for your guests to mingle, dine and dance.

Have your wedding venues drawn by hand by the talented Kay Armstrong (also my beautiful mother-in-law) for the personalised wedding stationary or as a bespoke guestbook with a mount for your guests to sign. Kay drew both of our locations as a beautiful keepsake of our special day which now hang proudly in our dining room. I've since commissioned several drawings for friends as the perfect gift for the happy couple.

The Transport.

With our London theme that emerged throughout the touches of the wedding, I wanted to travel in style (and no, I wasn't up for a Rolls Royce). Instead, Dad and I hailed a taxi (alright, we pre-booked a special wedding black taxi) for a retro arrival to the church.
As we chose to have our ceremony at a different location to our reception, we knew we'd have to factor getting our wedding guests from A to B. This old-fashioned London double-decker bus was such a fitting option for getting all our guests together and in the party mood as we travelled from Chiswick to Kew. Us newlyweds knew we wouldn't want to miss out on any of the action, so we hopped aboard too! We disembarked a little earlier at the entrance to Cambridge Cottage whilst our guests continued to the Elizabeth Gate for a stroll through the Royal Botanic Gardens before entering through the private gates to the drink's reception in the garden (luckily the sun came out just in time!)
     

The Flowers.

All those Friday nights spent watching my mother flower arranging as a child was worth it ... twenty years later. Not because my mother did our wedding flowers but because she knew just who to ask! Madeleine at Wisteria Green was somehow able to take my mood board of (largely varied) wedding flowers and distil it into my dream bouquet. Not quite yet adept at species and Latin names, I relied on Pinterest to create the floral vision for the day. Luckily, Madeleine was there to reassure me that each of the 'ooohs' and 'aaaahs' at various pictures was going to be worked into my bouquet. Ryan and I had a vision of our centre-pieces being vintage teapots (again, my mother helped source these from various charity shops, and I, along with my Mother-in-Law, spent many an afternoon spray-painting them gold in the garden) which Madeleine was more than happy to work with.  It's always a little daunting to pick a route for your wedding flowers, after all there's just too much choice, but when Madeleine turned up at the hotel on the morning of my wedding, the flowers made me well up! So beautiful.
My bridal bouquet <3 I had a small pendent hanging from the stems with a picture of both sets of grandparents on their wedding days - a small touch of good luck from both their long, happy marriages!
We had two pedestals and the central archway decorated for the ceremony.
Alongside button holes for the groomsmen, I also wore a wrist corsage and gifted one to my Mother, Mother-in-Law and Gran for the Big Day.
Ryan and I collected olive jars for months prior to the wedding for the little table bouquets and my mother enjoyed hunting out teapots of various shapes and sizes which I spray-painted in my garden!

The Food.

Richmond Catering
Anything relating to food tasting was a very fun part of wedding planning! We enjoyed an evening tasting meal which my parents attended with us at Syon House followed by a private dining tasting session where we signed off the full menu from appetisers through to dessert. We opted for steak as the main which went down really well! Sadly, I can't find Richmond Catering online to link to them...

Fancy going cake tasting? Twelve different flavours, you know. Make a day trip of it, why don't you, and head out to Woking. We first met Neil at the Kew Gardens Wedding Suppliers Fayre and it was the utterly mouth-watering samples that stopped us in our tracks. Knowing we wanted a naked cake for our summer wedding and seeing a picture of a stunning ombre version had us sold so, we had the fun of picking the three flavours for each tier. The winners? Ryan's favourite: Chocolate Salted Caramel. My favourite: Carrot Cake. Joint favourite: Raspberry Victoria Sponge.  Neil was great at working with our timing plan for the day to ensure that the cake didn't a) melt or b) go stale before our guests could eat it. Inconspicuously delivered while our guests were eating the wedding breakfast ensured a 'big reveal' once we moved into the Lounge. To set off our 3 tier cake in a rather large room, we gave extra height by topping it off with a personalised sign and wooden stand from Not On The High Street.

If there's one hobby of ours, it's eating cheese. We routinely had Friday night cheese nights in our house, so it was an important part of the food story which we rolled out for the evening and our newly arrived evening guests to fuel them through the dancing! Again, cheese tasting was a particular highlight for us, and I gave free rein to Ryan to pick the selection. Whilst I didn't get much of a chance to eat it on the night, we had Tupperware boxes full of the leftovers which we took on our mini-moon to the Lake District the week after!

The Entertainment.

We had been blown away by Richard Young at a previous wedding and loved how much of a crowd pleaser he was! It was the perfect entertainment on the lawn at Cambridge Cottage whilst the drinks reception and canapés were being served. The reactions from our guests says it all...as does my face below!
Some wedding venues have a list of approved suppliers and this was the case with Kew Gardens. Having debated between the live band route or a DJ, we felt that non-stop tunes keeping people on the dance floor was how we wanted to proceed. To be honest, if money was no object I'm sure we would have opted for both but, even with hindsight, I know we made the right call. Ash did an amazing job of taking our playlist to know the kind of music we loved and keeping the tunes rolling. He even got a booking on the night for my bridesmaid's wedding six months later! Says. It. All.

The Dress, The Jewels & The Make-Up.

I could write a whole blog post about wedding dress shopping (and maybe I will) but I have to say this award-winning boutique offered an exceptional experience making it so clear why they have a whole host of accolades to their name, including Best Bridal Boutique in the UK. My mother recommended we visit here and so the two of us popped over to Tunbridge Wells and actually booked three appointments in one day. Isabella Grace was the second stop and it was there that we fell in love with my Essence of Australia dress. Contrary to the Jenny Packham fairy-like vision I had before stepping into a changing room, this dress was cut to perfection, had the low-back I was after, buttons down the full length of the dress and that special bit of sparkle around my waist. It remains the only dress that my mum welled up over and it was in that reaction that I knew this was my dress.

     
Working with a vintage engagement ring, I knew a traditional wedding band would not sit with it so I *had* to opt for a bespoke one. Cue diamond shopping! On the very same day we had visited Eton Photography, a day off from work to start tackling "wedmin", we headed to Hatton Garden. An area renowned for its diamond jewellers, we had anticipated doing a bit of window shopping and getting a few comparative quotes. However, that all changed when we walked into Hearts of London, our first and only port of call where we met Octavian and he made my vision come to life! Both our wedding bands came from Hearts of London and were engraved with our names and wedding date.

Charlotte (or Charlie as she's known to me) is one of my oldest friend's big sister. I absolutely loved having a very talented, safe (and familiar) pair of hands to put my trust into to make me look my absolute best for the big day. We had two trials before the wedding to finalise the look and try out a few different techniques for getting my hair to hold a curl. Charlie was amazing at working with my requests and accessories. My make-up lasted all day and I absolutely loved it! Charlie also worked her magic doing the hair & make-up on my four bridesmaids and my mother! I highly, highly recommend! 

Our day wouldn't have gone off without a glitch if it wasn't for the amazing co-ordination and management of Natalie Hewitt. Natalie is a school friend of my husband and we were so lucky she agreed to be part-guest / part-on duty for the day to keep all the suppliers and running schedule on track. We also got to consult with Natalie throughout the planning and preparation stages to ensure we had everything covered. It was such a reassuring presence as complete wedding novices ourselves to have a trusty sidekick to manage the entire production down to the small little details.

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Four years on, it was still the best day of our lives. I am so truly lucky to each and every supplier we worked with on our wedding day who helped make it truly unforgettable. People still comment now on what a spectacular day it was. I would do it all again in a flash, but at the same time it was perfect just as it was! I have loved spending this past week revisiting the photographs and memories - it is crazy to remember all the evenings of wed-min and arts'n'crafts that we put in, but I'd do it all again in a heartbeat. Though I won't lie, the novelty of having our evenings and weekends back lasted a good couple of years post 'I Do'!

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Pregnancy & Motherhood Books I've Read in Preparation

I have always had a fascination with pregnancy even from a young age when I begged my mum to put the VHS on with the '80s version of One Born Every Minute. Remember the videos we were made to watch in Year 1 or 2 with the naked family playing tennis on the beach? It was kind of like that! This was after my watershed moment when I learned where babies actually came from... and it wasn't a grain of sand from the sandbox that sprung out of mummy's belly button as I had first thought. What a shocker that moment was.

Well, aged thirty, when I actually found myself staring at a positive pregnancy test, it seemed I was at the very beginning of a steep learning curve. Cue up all the TV series I could find online (I later realise watching what is effectively dramatisation of labour and birth is not great for your anxiety levels...as depicting what a positive and calm experience it can also be makes for boring tele!) Only one of my close friends was pregnant and she was the first in my friendship group so there wasn't a huge network of people around me to share advice. What to expect when you're expecting? The first port of call, and certainly for me, was to delve into the nearest bookshop for books on pregnancy and birth. I relied heavily on these sources of information and I so enjoyed filling those early weeks of the first trimester when just the hubby and I knew the exciting news to get my fix!

If you find yourself or a friend on their pregnancy journey, I wanted to share my top reads but also this little nugget of advice: Don't forget to focus on the bit after the birth. It can be an all-consuming thought bringing a baby into the world but in all reality, the birth is a relatively short period of time and once it's done, you have your baby to care for 24/7. There won't necessarily be all the time then to read up on the motherhood and child-rearing section of the library once you're thrust into that stage so make sure to split your time between the two topics in the run up to baby's arrival!

NOT TO MISS...

The Positive Birth Book: A New Approach to Pregnancy, Birth and the Early Weeks by Milli Hill
You need to read this book. Just as the label states, it is a positive and empowering read about the ins and outs of labour. Hill provides you with all the information you will need about each stage of labour along with all your judgement-free choices regarding where and how you choose to labour. My favourite nugget of information that has remained with me is the calculations she doesn't around the percentage of time during labour that you will actually be "in pain" (spoiler: its only around 23% of an 8 hour labour - the other 77% is entirely pain free!)

(Disclaimer: I haven't read the below book but I have purchased and viewed the entire Digital Birth Pack and Digital Postpartum Pack from The Positive Birth Company and have only positive things to say about Siobhan Miller so wanted to include her book below if you prefer this medium to get the information vs. the online or in-person courses PBC also offer)

Hypnobirthing: Practical Ways to Make Your Birth Better by Siobhan Miller
Teaching the science behind hypnobirthing has been game-changing for my mindset (and my husband's) as we approach the birth. Explaining with logic and reason how a positive mindset, knowledge and breath-work can bring your baby calmly into the world has left me feeling confident and borderline excited to go into labour. I had many recommendations to read this book and so many people advocate for the positive waves she is making in the industry, overcoming what society ad popular culture has taught us to think and expect from labour and birth. 

The Modern Midwife's Guide to Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond by Marie Louise
Advice from a Midwife is like gold-dust but if you're anything like me, you wish you had a direct telephone line straight to yours whenever a question arose! Especially during the early stages, assuming you're low-risk, you don't have all that much time together - but, alas, enter Marie Louise. Firstly, get on Instagram and follow her @the_modern_midwife for Sunday birth stories, her own experiences of pregnancy that she is currently experiencing first-hand and lots of useful information, including online hypnobirthing and post-natal packs. Her book goes through all the stages of pregnancy in great detail (without overwhelming you) and includes some great tips for those early days of motherhood and the fourth trimester.

It Worked For Me by Holly Willoughby
Bit of a different type of book here and I accept you may prefer more of an authority than Holly but, so far, I have found her book to be incredibly helpful on the topics of feeding and sleeping. I'm two-thirds of the way through the book and it is literally like a textbook to the extent I have taken a highlighter to it for key passages! Including tips around breast-feeding positions and the best sleeping environment that worked for each of her three very different children, I have found it helpful reading from a 'real mum's' perspective. This book lives by the side of my bed and I'm sure will be well-thumbed once I'm finished referring to it!

IF YOU HAVE TIME...

Expecting Better by Emily Oster
This book was leant to me by aforementioned pregnant friend and gave a truly different perspective on pregnancy. It's a book I dipped in and out of rather than read from cover to cover but found the profoundly logical standpoint to be truly refreshing amongst the preachy prose that you can come across! Oster is an award-winning economist and takes a data-driven approach to de-bunking the often easily accepted rules that guide women throughout pregnancy. Caffeine and alcohol were two topics I was particularly interested to learn more about the facts and figures behind the guidelines. It's an empowering explanation to help inform your choices - plus, it meant I haven't sweated over the odd glass of wine I've enjoyed during the past nine months.

Happy Mum, Happy Baby - and - Letters on Motherhood by Giovanna Fletcher
First things first, subscribe to the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast for a regular fix of Giovanna and a host of guests who all breakdown the charade of motherhood and perfection and keep it real! In Giovanna's first book Happy Mum, Happy Baby (from which the hit podcast later followed), she shares her own experience of becoming a mother with a much-needed dose of positivity and honesty. The 2020 release of Letters on Motherhood charts the letters she has written to her three sons and various other recipients throughout her journey of motherhood, capturing in time her (sometimes raw) experiences of what it's really like to be a mother in this day and age.

The Stress Solution: The 4 Steps to Reset Your Body, Mind, Relationships & Purpose by Dr Rangan Chatterjee
This isn't a specific pregnancy book at all, but it is an incredibly interesting read. So much so I've bought it as Christmas gifts for family members and recommended it to basically my entire office. It's such an important eye-opening read into the ways our life manifests stress and the impact it has on our wellbeing. This is a general good-read to educate yourself about how to identify and live a healthier lifestyle, combatting stress in its various forms, as told by a GP.


Winging It by Alex Jones
A down-to-earth insight into the first year of motherhood as told by TV Presenter Alex Jones. Defined by medical terms as a "geriatric mother", Alex was over 35 when she fell pregnant with her first son and you're taken on her journey through pregnancy, birth and the first year. It felt like listening to a friend who was happy to overshare for the benefit of making you know you're not alone. This is definitely one of those books I intend to re-read on Audible during those daily walks.

ONES TO SKIP...

What to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff
This is top of most of the 'must-read' lists but for me it was 40 hours on Audible and just too much of a beast to get through. Instead, I would recommend downloading the 'What to Expect' app where you can get a weekly update and watch a short video where Heidi herself gives you the low-down. There was so much of the book which I could have flicked past, but it was harder to do in an audiobook form, plus it's an American book so some of the context is irrelevant to me as a Brit.

How To Grow A Baby and Push It Out by Clemmie Hooper
Sadly, I had already bought and listened to this book pre-pregnancy and before it was revealed about Clemmie's involvement in online trolling. I've spoken on my blog before about this book and also the pregnancy journal but would prefer to divert you to the many more midwife-written books on the market (see above Marie Louise's The Modern Midwife's Guide).

Hard Pushed by Leah Hazard
Again, I actually read this pre-pregnancy and it's the midwife-equivalent of the bestselling This is Going to Hurt in that it's stories from the labour ward and with it come the highs and lows. Going back to my earlier fascination with all things pregnancy and having actually wanted to be a midwife myself aged 16, I found this an interesting listen on Audible, but it definitely comes with a trigger warning. I wouldn't recommend it whilst you're pregnant as it only really depicts one birthing eventuality which is a hospital birth. 

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I hope this little library list of to-read and not-to-read is helpful for you. I know there are many, many options out there but sometimes it's helpful to hear first-hand what an expectant mother thought!

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Pregnancy Tips: Surviving the Third Trimester


Time for the heavy lifting portion of the pregnancy. By Week 28 you'll be used to having a bump, but you'll see it grow exponentially during the next three months. Whilst the second trimester seemed to absolutely fly, the momentum only gets faster. I remember feeling that Week 30 was a momentous milestone and then all of a sudden, I've blinked and I'm Full-Term (that's from 37 weeks). If I was to go into labour at 37+1, it would be considered perfectly normal and Baby A wouldn't be considered premature. However, there's also the reality I could be pregnant for another five weeks until 42 weeks (but hopefully they'll have made their appearance spontaneously before then!) So, here is my toolkit for all expectant mothers in this more uncomfortable stage of pregnancy!

Tip 1: Pregnancy Pillows are a must.
Comfort is going to be the biggest challenge that creeps in the bigger and heavier your bump gets. Combined with the NHS recommendation to sleep on your left hand side from this point onwards, it really takes some getting used to. In my case, an avid back sleeper, sleeping on my left hand side became both a stress and a concern for me to the point that I was waking up in agony. I panic ordered this pillow from Amazon around Week 28 or 29 when my sleep quality fell off a cliff (God bless Amazon Prime!) but in actual fact it wasn't as much of a game-changer as I hoped. In the end, I found the best solution for me (and it really is case of trial and error) was to have two regular pillows under my head, a cheese-shaped pillow (like this) wedged under my bump for supporting the weight of the baby, and a third regular pillow between my hips and knees. So, basically, build a fort around you for maximum comfort to get maximum sleep. All was not lost with the Amazon pillow however which now lives on the sofa. It's perfect for keeping me comfortable whilst sitting in front of the TV and I know will be a great help when it comes to supporting baby's weight when breast-feeding.

Tip 2: Get a Belly Bandit.
In a similar vein to Tip 1, this bit of kit is designed to help support the weight of your baby as you go about your day. I found that as my bump got bigger, naturally the additional weight pulls your belly forward and arches your back, causing for some lower back ache. This Velcro support band feels a bit like a pair of Spanx (minus the gusset!) helping hold your bump and keeping your back as straight as possible. A bonus shorter band comes with this for post-delivery where it acts as compression to help your pelvis and hips return to their narrower starting point pre-pregnancy (I'll let you know how I get on with that... frankly I'll be grateful for the support holding my mum-tum in I'm sure!)

Tip 3: Back Up.
Talking of your back, and combined with hours sat at a computer screen, my employer bought me this posture brace to help ensure I wasn't hunching at my laptop; a result of both sitting at my dining table and not in my office chair due to COVID. It's uncomfortable, I have to confess, but it certainly does prohibit you from slouching and hunching over your laptop!

Tip 4: Keep Moving.
Walking has been an absolute mood-changer and I have found late-night walks during the summer evenings has been the highlight of my homebound days. Not only do I feel better for moving my body, but it's been a special time when Mr A and I get to connect, chat and talk about baby/the future. A definite silver lining I have to admit of lockdown; we are usually pretty braindead after a day in the office top of the commute and barely capable of stringing a sentence together between cooking dinner and monging on the sofa in front of Netflix. 

I have also remained such a fan of the Zoom pre-natal classes offered by Pilates PT. I feel in Hollie's very safe hands and can get a fix of cardio with the Bump Plan classes and strengthening exercises with the Pre-Natal Pilates classes. £10 a session - it's honestly the best money I spend on my wellbeing. I can't wait to try the Post-Natal classes once I'm back to exercise post-birth.

Tip 5: Microwave Heat Pack
I am very aware of how much these tips suggest 'discomfort' is a key concern. It has only really been that way in the last few weeks (from Week 33/34 onwards) and that really depends on your frame, the size and shape of your bump and comfort threshold. My lower back really was niggling away and, particularly in the evenings, I found that a source of heat was super soothing. For less than a fiver, this wheat and lavender filled bean-bag is super easy to warm in the microwave for 60 seconds and gives the perfect dose of warmth to the target area. 

Tip 6: Back on the Bananas
Trimester Two saw a hiatus from my early morning banana but it has returned! After a few occasions of waking and feeling a little queasy, I returned to the trusty habit of keeping a banana on my nightstand for an early morning snack. I was seriously lucky with my experience of morning sickness and know that eating - as much as it feels counter-intuitive when you're feeling sick - is the best cure. After a couple of mornings leaning over the kitchen sink feeling sick with that nervy hot/cold and rush of saliva, I figured eating before I got out of bed was the way to prevent this! (Plus, it means there's always the ingredients for banana bread when the baking bug strikes!)


Tip 7: Loose-Fitting Clothes & Shoes
As the bump grows, be prepared for other parts of you to swell too! Since Week 35/36, I noticed that my ankles were starting to look a little plumper than normal. It's important to keep an eye on swelling of the hands, feet and face and any/all changes should be mentioned to your Midwife so they can keep an eye on this (in some instances, it can be a signal of something more sinister afoot). I found that a cooling gel like Elemis Instant Refreshing Gel, the Dyson Air fan on full blast and, in times of heatwave, ice-cold wet flannels were fabulously cooling. 

Tip 8: Be Prepared to Pee. ALL. THE. TIME.
Bye bye bladder capacity. With a growing baby bearing down on your bladder, expect to "spend a penny" several times more than you usually would. It's important to stay hydrated and, with a childhood nickname of The Fish, there was no chance I wouldn't be downing blackcurrant squash by the pint. Given the lockdown, I just saw the benefit in the extra steps to and from the loo to add to my measly step count on a daily basis! The downside being there are no public loos on long walks so, if you have the glute muscles to allow it, take a packet of tissues in case you need to nip into the bushes!

Tip 9: Padding Out.
One of the lesser discussed topics around pregnancy is 'leaking'. Of course, you may have cause for concern regarding your pelvic floor and this certainly is an area to ensure you're doing regular exercises to strengthen and also, importantly, relax your pelvic floor if you're planning a vaginal delivery. But the 'leaking' I'm referring to here which surprised me the most is in the brassiere region. Leaky nipples anyone? I guess it should be expected that with our breasts preparing to become the most popular restaurant in town once Little One arrives, there will bound to be some preparations required. Bigger boobs? Yes. Swollen? Yes. Tender? At times. Darker nipples? Yep (did you know that's so your baby can see the bullseye?!) And yes, leaking colostrum. Some people like to harvest colostrum and freeze it in the days/weeks before baby's arrival (it's not recommended prior to 37 weeks as stimulating your breasts/nipples *could* initiate labour). Or you may just find you go through pyjamas and bras at a much faster rate than before, giving your washing machine a taste of what's to come! To save any embarrassment you can find reusable breast pads on Amazon - I ordered these on recommendation for a fellow new-mum. They're discreet and certainly save any awkward moments on Zoom calls!

Tip 10. Relax and Tune Out the Noise.
Be prepared for people to share their thoughts and opinions without invitation. Wow, look how big you are? Are you sure there aren't two in there? It's like shitting a bowling ball, dear! Just a few of the choice phrases I've heard over recent weeks. I swear I want to start a Positive Motherhood Movement just to try and educate people about how unhelpful hearing things like this are (it's not meant maliciously, it's just not what any heavily pregnant woman wants to hear!) Along with talk of how hard it's going to be be, sleep deprivation is awful and blah blah blah. It's funny that they don't mention these kinds of things when you're being asked, When will you two be starting a family? Pitter patter of tiny feet on the horizon? You can tell it's a sore point. My main advice here is:
  1. Tell people to piss off with their negative talk. In fact, my husband, on learning the importance of language via The Positive Birth Company's Hypnobirthing pack became the biggest advocate for this saving me from these conversations as and when they arose. 
  2. Find your solution for tuning out the negativity. For me, this is via a daily instalment of Headspace. I'm now on a roll of 62 days on the trot and am currently listening to their 30-session pregnancy programme for a third time!
  3. Relax. For me this is either a bath, an early night or lying on the sofa watching an oxytocin-inducing feel-good film. Ask your partner to cook the dinner, clean the bathroom or put on the washing (if they don't instinctively take on more of the household chores). You're doing your own heavy-lifting for the two of you!

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How I’m Feeling Ahead of Labour & Birth


I would have assumed by now, I’d be feeling ‘ready’. But, in actual fact, if anything the last 39 weeks have prepared me for, it’s the unexpected and therefore, No, I categorically don’t feel ready. All I know is that a painful final exam is fast approaching, I’m cramming in my revision and also aware that once I’ve sat the exam, there’s no ‘after-party’ or holiday to Ibiza like there was post A-Levels. Instead I’m going to be left holding a baby and in charge of keeping it alive. With such a daunting task, does anyone ever truly feel ready??


The ironic thing is I am actually a very positive person. I also signed us up to the "hippy trippy" world of hypnobirthing and have embraced it with gung-ho. I am an essential oil sniffing, meditating, positive affirmation yielding woman who is one click away from ordering a tie-dye maternity tracksuit. I have had my head in a very calm, confident and 'you got this' headspace for months now and if I'd written this post a few weeks ago, it would be dripping in girl power. There is definitely still some of that girl residing under this very stretched skin suit but it also feels like the last few days, cracks in the armour have started to appear. Triggered, most likely, but the fact my daily app now says there are '0 weeks and 6 days' until baby is due. Oh, and it's the size of a pumpkin! That and the onslaught of texts from friends to the tune of ‘Any sign? Any news yet? Why are you texting me, I thought you were going to say you’d had the baby?!’. 


In my mid-twenties, I remember saying during a particularly stressful period of time at work, “I would rather be giving birth today than having to do this”.  I think my point being, whatever the task at hand was, surely it was more painful than enduring a crowning baby. Well, now I will have to eat my words and find out, won't I? Given I find myself in a particularly less stressful job now than when I had uttered those words, I feel karma coming to bite me precisely on the behind! 


Another anecdote from my past is the series of dreams I have had since I was a teenager about being heavily pregnant, normally sat in my school assembly hall, waiting for labour to start. I will psycho-analyse myself that it probably has something to do with a lack of control or feeling uncertain or not ready… or d) all of the above. It’s just funny that I am now actually ‘living’ out that dream and walking around in my normal life waiting for this big gush of water or first contraction to cripple me sideways. Of course, that is more how it happens in the movies than real life (yes, I did actually pay attention in my hypnobirthing classes and NCT course: One Born Every Minute is not friend but foe!)


So here I am now, 39 weeks + 1 day and with a little devil on my shoulder whispering words of doubt, fuelling a creeping sense of panic. The logical part of my brain is being dosed up on daily meditation and reading all the positive affirmations I have carefully poised around the house: My baby will come, when my baby is ready. Luckily, there are many sources ‘out there’ that say this state of mind is all entirely normal as you approach the final weeks and days of pregnancy. Much like the anticipation of a wedding, after months (if not years) of planning in the making, when you are finally a few sleeps away you may start to have doubts; Will the caterers remember my Great Aunt’s allergy to dairy? Will the flowers turn up on time? Will I trip walking down the aisle? Why didn’t we just run away and elope? At least with a wedding, you have a set date to work to (unless COVID-19 scuppers it, I’ll give you that!) but with the arrival of a baby, especially if you’re gearing up for a natural delivery, there is really little you can do to predict or plan your life around it.


For the moment, I’ve hunkered down and fully embraced nesting mode. Thank you, Lockdown, for the trial-run. I now feel completely content to remain inside these four walls for months on end, and sometimes days without stepping outside. I hear that’s much like the first few weeks of parenthood so at least that won’t surprise us too much. Plus, we’ve had the added benefits of over 100 days just the two of us, getting to share more of the pregnancy together than we could have hoped. Silver lining, eh? Of course, the other side of the coin is less shiny and talk of whether the grandparents will be able to hold baby or just look from a safe distance while masked up to the eyeballs is a heart-breaking thought. It’s not how anyone would have envisaged their grandchild coming into the world but safety is key and hopefully it will be safe at some point in the near future for them to get a whiff of our newborn’s head.


For now, I’m 50:50 between nesting instinct and enjoying my last few relaxed days of freedom. You'll either find me half-lolling about in my pyjamas sprouting a mum-bun or trigger-spraying everything with Zoflora and playing with my new Flash mop. Now the preparation tasks are all ticked off, it really is just a case of sitting on my birthing ball and waiting for the show to start! 


The Task List:

  • Pack the hospital bags packed - yes, there are four of them!
  • Fix the car seat in the car
  • Finish The Positive Birth Company’s Hypnobirthing Digital Course and revise that up-breathing and down-breathing!
  • Finish The Positive Birth Company’s Post-Natal Digital Course
  • Meditate daily, hourly, whatever your anxiety levels need!
  • Try my hand at hand-pumping colostrum for some added freezer-supplies
  • Perineal massage (if you dare / can reach!)

My baby will come, when my baby is ready. 



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