Monday, 30 April 2018

A Little Update

It's been a long old time since I've clicked the 'new post' button; probably the longest I've ever left it alone since starting blogging just over six years ago. Life seems to move so quickly when you have a tiny human growing in front of you so I thought I'd pop back with an update as to what's been going on and how we're all doing. This could get lengthy!

The reason I stepped back from blogging is primarily down to my mental health. I've lived with generalised anxiety disorder and recurrent episodes of depression for over half my life but when I fell pregnant with Aneurin I entered my longest ever period of stability. Even after he died I recognised my emotions as being grief rather than ill mental health. However, I think somewhere along the line everything became blurred. Grief and trauma became a central part of my life but they were overshadowed somewhat when I fell pregnant with Lilian just five months after Aneurin died. I put my intense anxiety and any emotional turmoil I had down as simply pregnancy after loss, on top of the fact I was still in a very raw period of grief. Once Lily arrived safely I was so overwhelmed and I couldn't make sense of most of the copious emotions I was experiencing and again explained it away as normal struggles of a new mum, a new mum who was already a mum but had never parented a living child and the difficulties we had with breastfeeding. The days charged on regardless of what I was feeling and I really didn't have time to pause and breathe, let alone analyse anything too deeply. 

Slowly though, over the last 8-10 months, I found my feet a little more and we fell into a manageable pace. My confidence in my ability to parent grew (albeit only slightly...), I found my village and other areas of my life that were struggling under the weight of everything else became lighter. I slowed down and as a result, my brain caught up. 

I won't go into too much detail about the specifics of what my noggin has been up to but it's not been a particularly pleasant place to have been in lately. Thankfully I have a wonderful support network around me and although I definitely left it a bit too long, I asked for help. I was very reluctant to start medication again, having managed two years without it after many, many years with it but for the first time this episode of being ill wasn't just going to affect me and I am slowly finding the right combination of medication for me right now. I've not had the best experience finding professional support and in all honesty it has gotten a lot worse before it's gotten better but I'm about to start some specific therapy that will hopefully be right for me. It's hard to know what is the lifelong mental health condition, what is grief, what is trauma, PAL anxiety, new mum struggles, parenting after loss, PND or something new entirely but hopefully now I am on the right path to understanding and managing it all. 

The one glorious beam of light through my brain nonsense is my Lily-bean. She is a full blown toddler now, hurtling around at light speed and rapidly finding her place in the world. She took her first steps at ten and a half months so now at 20 months her preferred method of travel is running. Usually like a headless chicken and usually laughing maniacally with something she knows she shouldn't have in her hand. Her speech is developing amazingly well and every day she blurts out handfuls of new words. It astounds me both how she comes out with words we haven't specifically taught her and uses them correctly, and how she parrots words back to us. Although the latter also panics me slightly because she's definitely said 'shit' a fair few times but it's fine because we've decided to deal with it by saying 'sheep? Did you say sheep? Yes, sheep!'.

We are continuing to breastfeed with no signs of stopping. There are definitely days when I wonder if I'll have to squash a tit through the gates of her secondary school at lunchtimes and whenever I search for anything beginning with 'how' on my phone Safari auto-fills it with 'to night wean' but it is absolutely still my most important and valued parenting tool. If I'm honest I am getting the point where I would like to night wean for many reasons (which I might write about once we reach that stage if anyone is interested) but I know it's going to be very difficult and intense whilst she adjusts to the change and I'm not sure if any of us are really up for that just yet. So for the time being we are still feeding day and night!

I'm really enjoying this stage of Lily's life. She's got such a strong personality that we saw glimpses of from a tiny age but is really starting to flourish. She's strong-willed; she knows exactly what she wants and doesn't want which I know will serve her well later in life but can definitely be a bit challenging right now! She's so confident; always happy to tear off and do her own thing or immerse herself in an activity without me. (Take that, people who said breastfeeding, co-sleeping and babywearing would make her clingy!) And she's hilarious. She is learning what is funny both for her own entertainment and for the purpose of entertaining people around her. She has an amazing way of making you laugh when she's doing something she knows she probably shouldn't be and more often than not Haydn and I have to take it in turns to giggle behind a cushion! I feel so fortunate to be her mum. It's hard work sometimes when she's so energetic and I'm permanently needing an extra few hours sleep but every day is an adventure with her and I am so in love with the little person she's becoming.

Looking ahead, without meaning to sound too wanky, there are some changes afoot for this little blog. Despite a very quiet start to this year I really want to start tap-tapping on my laptop more regularly  and find the joy in it again. I love writing, I always have and although I wanted to share our story and our experiences in the hopes it may help another family, it's as much for me as it is for anyone else. There are a few things I want to alter and adapt on here which will happen over the next few months but mostly, I just want to get stuck in again, starting with a little turtle related announcement next week!

Elena x

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Baby Swimming Essentials & Tips

Lily's TurtleTots baby swimming lessons are by far my favourite activity we do. I love seeing her skills develop and her confidence grow. Due to her not being very well she had a few weeks of not wanting to partake much, preferring to cling to me and be swooshed around the pool, but despite that she still giggled her way through classes and clapped gleefully when her turtle pals did something fun. The last couple of weeks though she's slowly coming out of her shell again and she's been doing some incredible things like jumping into the pool from standing up on the side! It's brilliant having my adventurous little turtle back.

The little snippets of videos I post on my Instagram are some of my most viewed and liked and I can always guarantee a few messages from parents asking for details about classes or more frequently, tips on what their baby should wear or what they should take. With that in mind I thought I'd share our baby swimming essentials and tips.

TT towelnappy cover and Next swimsuit (no longer for sale).

First up and most importantly, the nappy situation! We use Huggies Little Swimmers disposable nappies underneath a Turtle Tots NeoNappy Cover. Turtle Tots operate a double nappy policy meaning you have to use a neoprene nappy cover over a disposable (although, for you cloth bum fans, they also do a Reusable Under Nappy) to ensure no leakage in the event of a pool poo! (A year swimming and touch wood, no pool poos yet...)

When we first started swimming I spent a small fortune on a SplashAbout swimsuit with a built in nappy cover but it turns out babies grow like weeds and Lily didn't spend long enough in it to warrant the cost. The TurtleTots nappy cover seem to see us through at least two clothing increases so we get far more use out of them. And it means I can afford more cute regular swimsuits! We also have a Warming Wetsuit for swimming in other pools that aren't a toasty 35 degrees like the hydra pool we have our lessons in!

Green TT rucksack

Top Tips

  • For younger babies feed them around half an hour before swimming so they have time to digest but won't be getting hangry halfway through the class. For older babies and toddlers take a packed lunch for immediately after. Swimming is hard work on little bodies and they build up quite an appetite!
  • Take an extra towel or a mat like the Turtle Tots Roll and Go Baby Changer to lay or sit baby down on whilst you get changed so they're not directly on the floor. If your baby is mobile snacks are the key to keeping them amused whilst you get changed. 
  • Invest in a baby poncho towel or a towelling dressing gown. Take it with you to the poolside so you can pop them in it just in case there's a drop in temperature from pool to changing room. 
  • Get yourself dressed first after class. If you get them dressed first they're likely to sit down and get their clothes wet. We tend to strip the babies out of their wet things, dry them off quickly and let them roam around (naked if it's warm enough otherwise in their poncho/dressing gown). That way they can dip in and out of everyone's snacks whilst we get ourselves changed before wrangling them into their clothes. 
  • This last one is for you, not your baby. Let your body hang ups go. I've lost count of how many times I've seen or heard mums say they'd love to take their baby swimming but don't want people to see them in a swimming costume. I'm a very wobbly size 24 in among a class of bodies all shapes and sizes but all smaller than mine. I might be the biggest and wobbliest but I don't imagine for a second that I'm the only one who has had to take a few deep breaths before stepping out of my clothes and into my cossie. Almost everyone, no matter their size, will have things they don't like about their body especially when they've just stretched and housed a human. I know I've never once looked at any of the other mums and thought anything negative and I'm sure they would say the same. Everyone is far too busy wrestling their wriggly baby or shielding their eyes from their excited splashes to worry about how many stretch marks the mum next to them has. Whatever is holding you back, let it go because there is so much fun to be had when you do. 
If you have any tips for taking your baby swimming, leave them in the comments!

Elena x

*This is a sponsored post and contains affiliate links.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Keepsake Gifts For Bereaved Parents

I've had a few emails lately both from parents asking where I've bought my own keepsakes and from family and friends of parents who have recently experienced the death of a baby asking for suggestions for meaningful gifts. It can be difficult to know where to look or what to get so I thought I'd put together a few of my favourite businesses who create keepsakes for babies.

My most treasured piece of jewellery is a necklace my mum bought me for my first birthday without Aneurin containing his ashes. It may sound morbid but being able to physically carry him with me every day is very comforting and I often find myself absent mindedly touching my necklace when I talk about him. It can be difficult not having a grave to visit but having a piece of cremation jewellery helps me feel a little bit closer to him. 
Laura from Carry My Heart Keepsakes hand crafts beautiful and unique cremation and keepsake jewellery. She offers a range of designs and options including a variety of rings, necklaces and beads to fit Pandora bracelets. As ashes are completely individual, no two pieces of jewellery are the same which makes them feel all the more special. Laura also creates breastmilk jewellery as well as preserves locks of hair, material and flowers. Her work is truly beautiful. And her business name comes from my favourite poem, I Carry Your Heart With Me by E. E. Cummings, so I love her all the more for that!

Most parents like to write their baby's name wherever they can as a way of including them in their lives and take comfort when other people do too. I have a photo album I call Aneurin's Adventures where I've printed off every photo we've taken or other people have taken of his name in various places. I like noting down where it's been taken and who took it. It's lovely knowing people carry him in their heart and that he has travelled the world in his own way. 
Carly Marie's (He)Art Work is created on a beach in Australia named after her son. Christian. She creates the most beautiful images in the sand and takes incredible photographs of them. You can choose from a selection of different styles of image but please note some of the options are seasonal dependent so there is a waiting list.

Liberty Rainne recently won The Cherished Keepsake award at The Butterfly Awards and it was very well deserved. They have the biggest range of gifts and keepsakes for angel (and rainbow) babies, the majority of which can be personalised. They have memory boxes (I have one for Aneurin, pictured below), candle holders, prints, frames, ashes caskets, resting place decorations and even stock The Story Of.. books. My personal favourite item is a little wooden feather that can be personalised. It's simple but beautiful. Diane also runs a birthday club whereby you pay a subscription fee of £12.99 and throughout the year you'll receive gifts as well as a personalised card and voucher.

Aneurin's hand and footprints are my most treasured thing in his memory box.  I love knowing that his little hands and feet really touched that paper; those lines and fingerprints are all his and they are so beautiful. I recently won a set of foil prints from When You Wish Upon A Star in an auction run by The Legacy of Leo and I am so excited to receive them. We don't get to make any new memories or take any more photos of him so being able to have something new to us of Aneurin is really very special. 
Abi's foil prints are created using your baby's real hand and foot prints and can even be done to size. She also designs a beautiful range of foil prints and cards. Please note Abi is about to welcome her second rainbow baby so may not be able to ensure orders arrive in time for Christmas!

I'd love to discover more businesses who create keepsakes for bereaved parents and would love to know what you have for your babies. 

Elena x

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Two Years (And Thirteen Days)

My darling boy, 

Forgive me. Forgive me for not writing this sooner. For not doing more, for not being more. My instinct is to blame myself for not being a good enough parent to you, for being too consumed by life, by my inability to keep the plates spinning. I feel like I'm failing in every aspect of life at the moment and a lot of guilt surrounds that, especially when it comes to you. But honestly, it's taken an extra thirteen days to sit and do this because I'm afraid. Two years later and the words are so much more difficult to get out. Everything I've ever wanted or needed to say has already been said. Words and tears feel like they're fighting their way through layers and layers of wool. It all gets through eventually but in the meantime I've just been absorbing it all.

The last two weeks have been heavy laden with memories and trauma. Most of which I thankfully, don't remember. My brain seems to have just closed the doors on them. But this day, this day when we did the unimaginable and said goodbye to you, I remember clearly.

I remember sitting on the edge of the sofa waiting; indulging my grief as I listened to your songs and feeling my body shake and heave. Watching the car door open with the most awful knot of anticipation and fear, seeing your beautiful, too-tiny coffin for the first time. My legs buckling underneath me and falling into your daddy, him catching me and not letting go.

Feeling a bizarre sense of calm wash over us as we sat either of you, our hands clasped over the top of you, protecting you and surrounding you with love. The gratitude we felt when they pulled over and got out to allow us time with you alone. Seeing the faces of our family, your family, twisted and pained with grief as we drove through the crematorium gates. Trying my hardest to look like I wasn't falling apart at the seams.

My morbidly favourite memory of your daddy holding your coffin so tightly and comfortably, as though it wasn't the heaviest, most difficult thing he had ever done. Your uncle coming to him and asking to help in the gentle, eager way he does, giving you a little loving pat.

The service itself is a strange blur, punctuated with crystal clear moments. Not wanting to step back from your coffin to sit down, hearing the words we had written for you read so lovingly by our vicar, trying desperately to catch my breath between heavy sobs and feeling your daddy's arm so fiercely clamped around me. Not being able to breathe as the curtain closed around you. Trying so hard to be present in that moment, to absorb every detail, every raised swirl on your coffin, the shine of the plaque, the way the sweet peas from your granny's garden sat on the top. Forcing myself to embrace the bubbling of utter disbelief and devastation in the pit of my stomach. Forcing myself to remember you wrapped up in your blankets in the hospital with your Peter Rabbit, or tucked up in the Moses basket when your Nana and I went to visit you three days after you were born. Not to wonder what you looked like now, knowing it wouldn't be the same.

Emerging into the sunshine afterwards, my fear of having nothing left to do for you but live our lives coming true. Our family looking at us to take the lead but feeling like a children, not knowing what we were meant to do next.

Walking into a pub knowing people must have realised we had been to a funeral and wondering what their faces would look like if we told them who for. Watching our family talk and move around us clutching your daddy's hand all the time, itching to leave and return to the safety of home but knowing this was exactly what we needed to be doing. Coming home and crawling into bed with your daddy slightly buzzed from an afternoon to saying yes to every glass of fizz offered. Sobering up as the reality of the day settled, sobbing into eachother and hanging on for dear life. 

As painful as these memories are, I want to remember them. I need to. Our moments with you are so few and so precious so I want to cling onto them. Our last day with your physical being and although at the time I thought it was the end of you, I know it wasn't. Your energy is everywhere and your memory is as alive two years later as it was thirteen days after. Only now it is more gentle, molded into lives, woven into every beat of our hearts and breath we take.

Two years later and it doesn't get easier. My heart still aches for you. My grief for you still pulls the rug out from under me, sucker punches me and leaves me struggling to catch my breath and slow my heart. I see you in your sister. I worried she would lose it as she gets older but sometimes she'll fall asleep in the back of the car, her mouth slightly dropped and I'll catch sight of her in the mirror and I smile, my heart so full of love for her and for you.

You are so loved, my sweet Pea, and I miss you more than I can ever say. We will carry you forever. 

Your mummy x


Sunday, 30 April 2017

Planning A Christening

We are having Lilian christened in a couple of weeks time so I thought I'd share a little of the planning process with you. Although we're not overly religious the church is the backbone of our village and we appreciate the values and community it provides. Having Lily christened also feels like a lovely way of tying our family together because not only did our vicar marry us six years ago, she also led Aneurin's funeral. She was an incredible support to us after he died; we found a lot of comfort in her guidance and it feels right for her to welcome Lily into the church community. 

It's been a bit of a strange thing for me planning her christening because I'm very conscious of the fact that the only thing I will have ever planned for our first born is his funeral. If I'm honest I think my struggling with my emotions surrounding that is the reason I've been dragging my feet a little bit. Although I've managed to get everything together in time I did leave a lot to the last minute. I flit between feeling sad that I never had the chance to do this for Aneurin and feeling excited that I'm able to do this for Lily, not to mention the guilt that comes with both of those emotions. In the last week or so though something has shifted a bit, I'm able to feel more of the excitement and actually, feels lovely to plan a day in celebration of our daughter. 

A christening, baptism or naming ceremony can be whatever you want it to be. It can be as simple as the service and nothing else or it can be a huge celebration if you wish. We're going for somewhere in between. Neither mine nor Mr D's family live locally therefore don't get to see each other very often so we thought it would be a lovely opportunity to get together after the service, have some food and raise a glass to celebrate our little lioness. 

Whatever you choose to do there are a few things you can do to make the process a little easier. Here are five things I've learnt during planning. 

1. If you're offering food afterwards, shop around. We are hiring the church hall so have to provide food ourselves. For a while I couldn't decide between wanting to do it all myself (because despite the fact I barely have time to wee I'd definitely be able to do that?!), hiring caterers and ordering from somewhere like M&S. After comparing prices I found that the M&S option ended up being much cheaper per person which surprised me. I'll probably manage to cobble together a few bits myself to save some more pennies and pad it out a bit. Cheese and pineapple hedgehog, anyone?! 

2. Sort out mum and dads' outfits well in advance. This is advice I should have taken myself because we're two weeks away and I still have no idea what I'm wearing. Fortunately for the dads options are a bit more limited; a formal outfit or a more casual choice. Mr D has gone with the latter and chosen a pair of chinos, a fancy shirt and his favourite brogues. As much as I hate to admit it he's so good at knowing what looks good together, more so than I do! However, I have ordered a couple of bits for me that I'm hoping I can cobble a breastfeeding friendly outfit from. If not I'll be going in my pyjamas! 

3. Leave baby's outfit until the last minute. This might sound like a silly thing to do but when babies grow as quickly as they do if you buy something in advance it may not end up fitting them at the time. At 8 months Lily has only just gone into 6-9 month clothes after a quick, unexpected growth spurt so I could potentially have bought a beautiful outfit in 3-6 months and it never been used. Also, think about how practical your baby's outfit is. I had always envisioned Lily in a beautiful long gown but it's just not realistic when she is constantly on the move. She'd get frustrated and it'd get filthy so instead we're opting for something a little more understated. 

4. Utilise godparents! Get them practising their supportive roles and delegate jobs to them. I've roped one of Lily's godmothers into helping with the food (growing up in a pub means she's a dab hand at a buffet!) and I'm going to get them to help me set up the hall on the day. If any of your godparents have specific skills that might be of use like cake making, graphic design for the invitations or photography, use them and (hopefully!) it will save a bit too. 

5. A few simple decorations can go a long way. Church halls are usually full of brightly coloured posters and children's artwork which although lovely, doesn't look very elegant. Rather than trying to decorate the entire church hall I'm going to focus on the cake display to add a little personal touch. I decided to go with pastel colours to match the invitations so I've ordered a few confetti balloons, table confetti (which I'll chuck on all the tables), a tassle garland from one of my favourite IG shops, The Indigo Zebra and I've made a few tissue paper pom poms to hang. All in all it's cost me less than £30 but hopefully it'll look bloody lovely!

Have you or are you planning on having a christening or naming ceremony for your little one? Share any tips in the comments!

Mrs D x

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