A letter to Medium’s teacher

Dear Reception Teacher

RT (do you mind if I call you that?), there are some things that you need to know. I realise you’ve been doing this job for donkey’s years. There’s not much that you don’t know about children. You’ve encountered all sorts of personalities and brought the most unruly into line. I know that. I respect that. But this little fuzzy haired blonde in the line? She’s mine.

I know that all children are special. I know that every mum standing in line with their child will be giving you the same doleful, anxious eyes as they hand their child over to begin their school career. I know you don’t want to see our tears or take on board our anxiety. And you’re right: We’re adults and your concern is educating our babies.

But that’s just it. These are our babies. Medium has only just turned four. She’s the youngest in the year. You don’t care if she can write her name (she can’t), but you’d like her to be able to dress herself and wipe her own bottom. She tries, I promise, but it’s hit or miss. She is only just four. I don’t always see the capable little girl that she’s growing into. Sometimes I still see the big blue eyes staring out of her baby blanket and remember the first day that beautiful face broke into a smile.

That face smiles a lot. She’s a cheerful soul. She’s the kindest child I’ve ever known, always first to pick up her sisters if they’ve fallen, ready with a kind word if her brother is crying and happily approaches other children to join in her games. She’s great at sharing and she makes friends easily.

Her imagination is incredible. Her role-play is legendary, with her often staying in character for weeks. And when she’s in character, so is everyone else. It can be exhausting.

She sounds a dream, right? Not always. She’s complicated. Medium feels things so deeply and she’s easily hurt. A slight from you will take her weeks to get over. If a friend says a harsh word, it wounds her. She doesn’t retaliate. She doesn’t fight back. She just takes her hurt and stores it away. So, please… Please don’t let her get hurt.

She worries; she really worries. She’s worried about starting school, and change unsettles her. She’s a homebody at heart; her favourite times are when she has her family around her in her own home. She’s going to find starting school tough. I won’t be there and, as far as she’s concerned, a few minutes on Mummy’s Lap can end wars. Mummy’s Lap won’t be there, and that makes a the knot in my tummy twist.

You need to know that she still sleeps with her cuddly Horse, now somewhat loved a bit too much. She’ll shout for him if she’s hurt herself. Is it okay to pop him in her backpack or is that too ‘baby’? Remember, she is my baby after all.

I know you’re great and I know how well you took care of Big, but I look at my newly four-year-old Medium and she just seems so young to be joining the playground throng so soon.

So RT, I give you my Medium and I beg you to remember that Big School is a big deal – not just for Medium, but for me too. I beg you not to change her. She’s awesome as she is.

Love

Second-time Reception Mum x

 

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A letter to Medium’s teacher

Family Friendly Breaks: A Split-cation

With four children under six, the chances of us hopping on a plane are remote. I’m not sure our baggage allowance would allow for two travel cots, steriliser, double buggy and all the other paraphernalia! Our pixies are all fair like me, and none of us like the sun. Consequently, we tend to favour a good old staycation and, in a variation on the theme, this summer we went for a split-cation. Our destination was Devon Heaven. I really don’t know why the county is not renamed as such. It’s stunning. From the captivating landscape of Dartmoor to the classic, unspoilt sandy beaches, as a destination Devon Heaven has it all. And it has scones. Lots of them.

Devon Country Barns
Our first week was spent in Tractor Barn at Devon Country Barns, Lifton. Now, we have history with this place. We first stayed at this small cluster of thoughtfully and tastefully converted barns at our lowest point in the Wilderness Years. Our first IVF attempt had just failed spectacularly. We literally ran away, and into the arms of the Apple House and the warm welcome of Devon Country Barn’s owners, Richard and Ute. Since then, we’ve stayed several times as our family has grown and staying here genuinely feels like coming home.

Let me be frank (you can be Jeremy): Devon Country Barns does not market itself to young families, and nor should it. I’d hate to see this peaceful haven of tranquillity changed. Nestled in the Thrushell Valley, the Barns are marketed towards couples, families with older children and – most importantly – dogs. Dogs are really welcomed here, with the owners themselves avid fans of Flatcoats (although a Parsons Russell terrier has sneaked into their pack).

That said, if a family with young children books in, they are welcomed too. If your children need specific play areas and ‘organised fun’, then this is not the place for you. If, like ours, they can get hours of enjoyment from skimming stones on the river, having a ride in the owners’ golf buggy and exploring the fields, then they’ll love this slice of Devon Heaven. The barns are 5* luxury with all the mod cons and their decor is stunning. In fact, we totally copied the bathrooms when we renovated our own. Devon Country Barns always has been and always will set the bar for us.

Further afield, you are on the edge of beautiful Dartmoor. Every time we have stayed, we climb ‘our Tor’. With the Miracle in his wrap on my chest, Lovely Husband tried to bundle Little into a carrier for the four mile walk. Determined little character that she is, Little refused to be carried and climbed to the very top of the Tor herself! Big and Medium entertained each other all the way, loving crossing brooks on stepping stones and a good dose of Devon air.

Other excursions included a trip to Castle Drogo, rockpooling on Bude beach, a local activity farm park and a visit the infamous Country Cheeses shop in beautiful Tavistock.

Flear Farm Cottages
Our week in Lifton was over all too quickly, and we were soon packing our bags to cross Devon Heaven to the South Hams – East Allerton to be exact and to Flear Farm Cottages. This was our first stay here, but suffice to say it won’t be the last. Before we’d even spent our first night, we were online looking at all the cottage options to book for next year. Before we left, we booked a whopping three weeks in The Stables next summer.

So, why did Flear Farm invoke such a strong reaction from us? Put simply, it’s perfect. Intuitively designed for families with charming owners that have young children themselves, Flear Farm cottages themselves are brilliantly equipped for young families while still retaining the creature comforts and a touch of style and elegance for the parents. The cottages vary in size. We stayed in The Stalls with one double and two twin rooms, but the grandparents stayed in The Dairy – perfectly sized for two. Our pixies loved running between the two cottages.

Cottages aside, the facilities are fantastic. As you arrive you are greeting by a sweet natured pony, alpacas, Bantams, a peacock that just arrived one day and never left and a cat that’s also adopted the farm as her home. Once you’ve patted and petted the livestock, there’s the play barn. Now many cottages boast playbarns. These, in our experience, are often half-baked efforts. Flear Farm’s playbarn is exceptional. Boasting a climbing frame, swings, play house, toys, ride-ons and even bouncers for smaller children, there’s also table tennis, a trampoline, table football and pool for older ones. Amazing. Beneath the barn, there’s a swimming pool, hot tub, steam room and treatment room.

Outside there’s further play equipment, putting, tennis, a bridge for pooh sticks and a camp fire, on which we enjoyed making dough twists, burning sausages and mingling with fellow guests. The estate is vast and there are woodland walks, orchards and fields to explore. You really don’t need to leave the cottages; the estate itself offers multiple opportunities to create incredible memories.

That, however, would be a great disservice to a fantastic area. The South Hams boasts the best beaches in Devon. Picturesque Bigbury, with its tidal island, and beautiful Bantham opposite have both donated their sand to the floor in my car. Nearby Totnes and Kingsbridge offer a spot of boat watching and some fantastic places to eat. Our favourite eatery though has to be the Oyster Shack in Bigbury. With a menu that changes with the daily catch, this rustic and charming restaurant is brilliant with children without compromising on their exceptional food and ambience.

I’m trying to find a downside to Flear Farm, but I’m struggling. Even the streaming cold and lung proffering cough I developed didn’t put a dampener on our week there. If I’m being really picky, I’d love them to offer service washes rather than trudging off to the laundry myself, but if that’s the best criticism I can come up with, I think it’s time to stop digging. We’ve struck gold. Three whole weeks at this charming destination next year. I cannot wait.

IMG_7861

Family Friendly Breaks: A Split-cation

Tears with fears

Today, the Miracle is two weeks old and, I won’t lie, it’s been a challenging time. He was sleepy, and difficult to feed. I became engorged and, as the Miracle grew steadily more yellow, he made less effort to latch and refused to even try on my swollen, hot and excruciating mastitis-threatening side. When the midwife came, my temperature was starting to climb and, combined with my Day Three Blues which hit like a sledgehammer this time, I was feeling pretty ropey. A La Leche leader came to help me. These ladies are brilliant. The service is free, and she was here with her knitted boob within 15-minutes. The following day, things had improved. The Miracle was feeding better and the threatening mastitis was making a slow retreat.

But it didn’t last. By his seventh day, once again he was very lethargic and it was taking me over an hour to persuade him to latch. I’d bully him, stripping him off and tickling his toes all the time with tears running down my face. I called the midwife out again. By this time, not only could he have auditioned for a part in The Simpsons with his yellow tinge, but he did a weird wee that looked like a cross between lemon jelly and clarified butter. The midwife decided to call it in, and Neonatal asked us to go in with an overnight bag ‘Just in case’.

In actual fact, we needed a six night bag. Our little Miracle was poorly. He scored below the treatment line for jaundice, but two urine dips came back with a positive result for a UTI. We later learned that it was caused by E.Coli, but on that first night, we were warned of sepsis and an attempt at a lumbar puncture was made. The medics don’t like mums being in the room while they do the more invasive procedures, but my tears fell from a couple of doors away. The procedure failed, and the following day was unsuccessful again. By this point, the paediatricians were confident that his malady was down to the UTI and decided not to make a further attempt at a lumbar puncture.

With an NG tube in place, it was decided that I would try for half an hour every three hours to persuade him to feed normally. If he wouldn’t try, then he’d have my expressed milk through his tube. That first night was a cacophony of alarms going off to feed, to pump, for obs, for antibiotics… The soundtrack to the fear that our Miracle was properly poorly and the questions constantly running through my head: What if we hadn’t brought him in? Did this happen because of something I’d done or failed to do? I had a UTI in late pregnancy, did he somehow catch it? Eventually, a paediatrician told me to stop looking for reasons to feel guilty and that this was ‘one of those things’ and there was nothing I’d done or could’ve done to prevent it.

If he days spent in hospital were long, the lonely nights were even longer. It felt like years since I’d seen Big, Medium and Little when Lovely Husband brought them in two days after our admission. Little had grown exponentially. Medium was shy and Big was just pleased to go to the playroom on the children’s ward and see the nurse that looked after her when she was poorly. Escaping the stale air with a walk outside became a daily target, though finding time amongst the calls for obs, IV antibiotics and doctors’ reviews was a challenge. Meeting amazing but exhausted mums whose babies had been born too soon brought home how lucky I was. I guess the upside was that I could just sit and cuddle the Miracle and sniff his beautiful head. As he improved, I sat singing to him while he cooed in reply.

He has a journey ahead of him. Six to seven months of antibiotics, blood tests, consultant appointments, various scans… But the Miracle that we brought home two days ago is a different baby to the one that was admitted to special care last week. This baby is pink, alert, feeding well and determined to spend all of his time in my arms. Once again, I am truly thankful for the diligence of the medics, for the love and support from Lovely Husband and my mum and for the Miracle himself for fighting back.

We are home. We are six. There is so much love.

Tears with fears

The Miracle has landed

He’s here. My Miracle is in my arms. On Wednesday, I took my doubts into hospital and, on discussion with a very nice doctor, took their advice. They broke my waters at 3.25pm. At 8pm, I’d achieved a whopping 2cms. I sat harvesting colostrum, dragging on gas and air and watching the Masterchef final. Multitasking, even in labour. By the next examination, I was fully dilated and pushing with about three pages to go on the book I was reading. I really wanted to finish that book, but it had to wait.

It was a quick and easy labour, with just a little ventouse assistance at the very end, because the Miracle thought he was Superman and had his hand above his head. His heart rate started to dip a little, so he needed to hurry up. A second degree tear meant two-and-a-half hours of stitching, two midwives proficient in needlework and two attempts to put me back together, and I don’t mind admitting, it’s all a bit ouchy. The midwives have instructed me to rest and keep my feet up for a while.

Friends, he is beautiful. With Big’s pout, Medium’s chin and one of Little’s dimples in the middle of one perfect cheek, he’s simply delicious. There is so much you forget about the newborn days as your pixies grow. That amazing, intoxicating smell, the little mews and unique noises, the old man stretches with eyebrows pushed above their brows… I wish I could bottle it all. He’s perfect. I am so in love, it is overwhelming.

With every child, you fall in love with the ones you already have all over again. You arrive home from hospital in amazement that they seem to have trebled in size since you last saw them. The smiles on their faces when they see you are home and their baby brother has finally arrived are priceless. Big, a reserved and quiet little thing, likes to watch and observe for a while. As I closed my eyes for a desperately needed nap, I noticed her standing over the Miracle’s crib just looking. I watched her through my eyelashes, not saying a word, knowing this was something she needed to do. She went to get a book and read him a story. The first, I suspect, of many.

Medium wanted to hold him – just briefly. She did her ‘pleased’ face – a half smile with closed eyes, but it’s Little that has surprised us. She’s always been possessive of me, insisting on sitting between me and whichever sister was on my lap. In the later stages of my pregnancy with the Miracle, she’d happily sit on the top of my bump if it meant she was closest. If I held another child at a toddler group, she’d be over like a shot in floods of tears. I had visions of her sobbing as I breastfed the Miracle. Instead, she kissed him and has been loving and interested.

I strongly feel their need for my presence, though. I am following midwives’ orders and resting. In fact, I’m being uncharacteristically obedient. That might only be because moving really does hurt and triggers sets of explosive afterpains. But they visit, a little shyly at times. Medium climbed into bed with me this afternoon and just wanted to be there. We talked, gently, and I read her a story. Big wanted to read to me and to look at her brother. Little has appeared in a nappy and her wellies numerous times, inexplicably clutching a carrot. Despite exhaustion and the typical desire to guard my bruised and swollen body, I welcome them, cuddle them, kiss them and love them.

And like Jack’s ever-growing beanstalk, the love that the Miracle brings grows yet more. I should have remembered how the depth of my feelings for Lovely Husband grows deeper with each child. I’d forgotten. He was a rock during labour. So strong and so supportive, physically and emotionally. And then there he was, cradling the Miracle – so tiny in those huge hands – while I was put back together. And here is now, juggling the pixies, who are demanding and testing him, as they try to understand their place and the changes in their family; trying to manage the house; trying to make sure I can rest and recover, build a milk supply and ensure our son starts life with the love and security he felt inside me; trying to overcome his own tiredness and need to process the birth and the responsibility of another child; trying to cope. I watch him and I see him, this amazing man of mine, and I love him too.

Like I said, there is just so much love. Welcome to the world, Miracle. And thank you for all the love that you bring.

 

The Miracle has landed

Tears and tantrums (mine)

I can’t work out if I’d just forgotten the hormonal rollercoaster of late pregnancy, or if it simply didn’t happen with the pixies. Everything about the Miracle has been different; his gender, the fact that he was a natural conception and consequently I didn’t have four months of synthetic hormones to start with, the way I’m carrying him, the fact that I already have three children of five and under to run around after… The list goes on.

I am five days away from Rubber Gloves Day. I’m spending a lot of time in tears. In tears over trying desperately to collect non-existent and reluctant colostrum. A soul destroying process that’s time consuming and sore. Trying to catch whatever tiny drips I can create in a syringe before a small child grabs the syringe and runs off with it, or demands a drink or takes their nappy off to show me the contents. Generally, the midwives are unsympathetic and suggest treating it as if I was feeding the baby. There’s a fundamental difference: the baby will be latched and catching the milk. Small children cannot grab the baby and run off. And of course, the baby will be the best stimulant anyway!

I’ve been very tearful over Rubber Gloves Day being brought forward to 38 weeks from 39, and I’m not sure I understand why. I had a very tearful conversation (tears are a common theme at the moment!) with a particularly lovely midwife a couple of days ago about this. I just have this niggling gut feeling that I won’t be ready. I know the Miracle is term. I know he’ll be ready. But if I’m not, there’s a higher risk of tearing and of the induction resulting in a c-section, something I am desperate to avoid.

Big was induced at exactly at 38 weeks and the experience was horrendous. I know that much of that was due to hospital mistakes, which, as a first time mum, I was not equipped to cope with emotionally, practically or mentally. Much of that has changed, as has the hospital that we’re booked into, so the chances of a similar experience are low. Nevertheless, there is definitely an association there that’s adding to the maelstrom of emotions.

A c-section also means some sort of ‘help’, something I am very resistant to. I know there are fabulous nannies and mother’s helps out there, and I’m sure they’re worth their weight in gold to their families. For me, it’s not something I would find easy. I simply do not want to have someone in the house when I’m recovering from pregnancy and birth, trying to teach my newborn Miracle to feed, establishing a milk supply and helping the pixies cope with our new family dynamic. However helpful the extra pair of hands may be in practical matters, I’m quite a private person that loves my family bubble. I would really struggle with anyone piercing that. Put simply: I just don’t want someone hanging around.

With any kind of birth, there are risks that need to be weighed up. With my history of postpartum haemorrhage, Lovely Husband doesn’t want us to delay the Miracle’s arrival. His concern is that the bigger he gets, the more dangerous it becomes for me. I understand that, though I think I’m more likely to tear and have problems if I’m induced too soon and my body isn’t ready to do it. I totally get it: all the time he’s enjoying his deluxe VIP suite in my body, he’s growing bigger and bigger. He’s already over the 95th centile, so waiting too long means delivery could be difficult and, again, it could end in a c-section. Difficult scales to balance.

I’ve agreed to go in on the booked Rubber Gloves Day in any case. The midwife will do an examination and see how ‘favourable’ I am. If it looks like it’ll be easy, they’ll go ahead. If not, they’ll treat me to a sweep and send me home for a day or so. I think I feel better with this plan, but still the tears roll.

Many of them have no reason. Seeing videos of a young Marti Pellow and realising how much I miss my best friend in Australia sets me off. A Dogs’ Trust advert with lots of pleading faced hounds reduces me to a puddle. Big telling me she likes it best when ‘just Mummy’ comes to pick her up from school. Medium cutting Gransy spoily time short because she just wants to see me. Little picking a daisy and proudly presenting it to me. Realising the building work over the road is disturbing the magpie nest and they probably have babies they’re trying to protect. My feet being cold because they’re in flip flops as I can’t do up my shoelaces anymore. The house being untidier than normal. The overwhelming realisation that this pregnancy is hurtling towards its conclusion and all the worries that come with that. Everything and anything sets me off.

I’m having acupuncture, which has levelled out my mood a little. I’m a big believer in the power of the needles and my acupuncturist will do an acupuncture induction the night before Rubber Gloves Day. Let’s hope the Miracle decides to arrive before the rubber gloves get their moment of glory and I get my sanity back. For a brief spell, anyway.

Thanks for listening, friends. You’re good sounding boards. I feel a bit better now.

Tears and tantrums (mine)

Hard work with little to show

Take a look at this picture, friends. This represents 90 minutes of hard work. Really hard work. As a gestational diabetic, I have to harvest colostrum three to four times a day from 36 weeks. Babies of diabetic mothers – gestational or otherwise – can experience a fall in their blood sugar postpartum as their sugary party comes to an end*. The midwives want extra colostrum to help them to bring their sugars back up. 90 minutes may not sound like a lot of time over a two day period, but believe me, when your squeezing your boobs until tiny drops appear and then trying to catch them in a spoon while simultaneously pressing play on a Peppa Pig episode and separating warring siblings, it redefines multi-tasking and hard work. You end up knackered and sore. Squeezing (excuse the pun) in colostrum harvesting while juggling three smalls is not easy.

When Big was born, she spent ten days in special care because her sugar levels were critically low. This stemmed from a mass of clusterfucks by the hospital. Amongst them, a refusal to repeat my glucose tolerance test at 28 weeks (I was borderline), to check her sugars at birth, to notice her tongue tie or to give me adequate feeding support. While in special care, a nurse mistakenly fed her someone else’s breastmilk – thankfully, it didn’t contain any medication. It was a difficult experience for a first time mum and completely avoidable. As a consequence, Medium and Little were born elsewhere and the experience was very different, with properly managed diabetes for me and incredible support from fantastic midwives. Needless to say, the Miracle will make his appearance at the same place.

The Miracle may not need the fruit of my hard work. Little never did. The bag full of lovingly expressed liquid gold went in the bin when I found it at the bottom of the freezer months later. Hours and hours of pummelling and squeezing into the bin. That kind of hurt. I hope the Miracle doesn’t need it. I’m doing my best but Nature’s not being too helpful at the moment. I have 13 days to get as much as I can for him before he is evicted.

Eviction is planned. He’s a big boy, above the 95th centile, so my consultant has opted to induce at 38 weeks. They asked if I was ‘Open minded on pain relief’. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘I’m very closed minded. I want all of it.’ I don’t know why his size surprises me. Lovely Husband is a man mountain with shoulders wide enough to take on the world. I really hope the Miracle hasn’t inherited those shoulders. It makes me wince almost as much as the 90 minutes it took to produce that 0.2ml of colostrum.

Labour ward are nervous. With a history of postpartum haemorrhage, gestational diabetes, geriatric maternal age (yes, they actually said that), a previous emergency C-section, and two VBAC births with one requiring ventouse assistance, I think the booking midwife is hoping she’ll have the day off when I arrive. I have my concerns too, but for the Miracle’s safe arrival rather than for myself. I just want him to arrive healthy, happy, safe and well. Isn’t that all any mother wants? I’m not religious by any means, but for his safe arrival, I pray. Boy, do I pray.

So, this is it. The final furlong, He has 13 days to beat the rubber gloves and their eviction methods, some of which sound a bit odd. I’m huge, he’s huge and getting through the day has become a challenge. The school run feels like a marathon. Getting out of the bath is a cacophony of grunts and oofs. But very, very soon, I will be kissing that perfect little newborn head and life will have changed immeasurably once again. Five will be six and there will be even more love. I can hardly bear it. This Miracle? He will complete us and I cannot wait to feel his velvety skin and just sniff him.

colostrum

* This state is temporary – their risk of developing diabetes is not increased from their mother having gestational diabetes. This risk differs if their mother has Type One or Type Two, though.

Hard work with little to show

Family Friendly Breaks: Wallops Wood Cottages, Hampshire

So, at 35w pregnant, I wasn’t going to travel far for an Easter break. If anything, I wanted to be closer to the hospital and not further away. We settled on Hampshire and chose to stay at Wallops Wood Cottages, booking Glenside for a five night break. Attracted by the enclosed garden with a private hot tub and a baby friendly promise, we were quietly optimistic about our choice.

Prior to arrival, the owners emailed us several times to let us choose from their children’s kit (travel cot – for once with a proper mattress! – high chair, booster seat, toys, etc.) and to let us know of events in the area that we might enjoy. This personal touch is the kind of thing that can make or break a holiday and it was appreciated, as was the home-baked cake, apple juice, beer and wine that had been left for us.

The cottage was comfortable and very well equipped. The beds and linen were of good quality and the children settled easily. Always a good sign. Sadly, our first night was somewhat marred by our neighbours next door having a very loud and sweary barney until 3am. Our only criticism of the accommodation is that the dividing walls are very thin and at times it felt like we were on holiday with the shouty people next door.

That said, after the initial noisy couple of nights, it did quieten down and the silence was glorious. We utilised the paddock at the bottom of the garden for an impromptu Easter egg hunt and to play tennis. The strong wifi meant we could take our Firestick with us to catch up on all the things we never have time to watch, as well as to catch up with each other.

The cottages are well appointed for getting out and about, and notable things to do in the area included a lovely Easter egg hunt at Mottisfont, a fun packed and busy few hours at the Winchester Science Centre and a great day out at Marwell Zoo, where the very beautiful but elusive snow leopard treated us to an appearance.

But the highlight had to be lunch at The Shoe, Exton. We went for Sunday lunch on Easter Sunday and the food was superb. I’d go as far as to say it was the best roast I’ve ever had and the children’s meals were of excellent quality and beautifully presented. Service was attentive and prompt and we all had a great time. A gorgeous gastro-pub that we’ll return to.

Now we’re home, I’m manically nesting. Every cupboard is being cleared out. I’ve filled ten bin bags in less than 24 hours. No matter how tired I am, no matter how much I ache, I simply cannot stop. The pixies are scared to stand still in case they’re bundled up and tidied away. I don’t blame them. We’re on the final furlong. The Miracle will be here before we know it.

Family Friendly Breaks: Wallops Wood Cottages, Hampshire