Thursday, 30 August 2018

Family Day Out at ZSL London Zoo

Last week we were very kindly invited to visit London Zoo as a family and I honestly couldn't type my reply fast enough. The fact it fell during the week of Lily's 2nd birthday was brilliant because it meant we could draw out her birthday festivities. And draw them out, we did! It was such a fantastic experience, one of those days where we all trundled off to bed straight after dinner with aching legs, smiling faces and happy hearts.


I know I had been to London Zoo as a child but I can't remember much about it other than it being huge, and that part definitely hadn't changed despite me growing to be quite huge too! I couldn't believe how big it was, with beautiful architecture that housed the aquarium and other exhibits, quiet picnic spots and plenty of open space to walk about without feeling as though you were on top of everyone. Which considering we went on a Friday during the summer holidays is quite a big deal! 

There was so much to see and do, I had expected Lily to be a little too young for a lot of it but amazingly she was just as involved as we were. Aside from the animals there are regular feeding displays and live talks throughout the day as well as a carousel, face painting, a playground with bouncy castles and plenty of places to stop for a snack throughout the park. Lily and I had a go on the carousel but even though she's been on them before and loved it, she was not a fan! To cheer her up afterwards we went and watched people having their faces painted. At 2, and as a child who literally never stays still for longer than three seconds, I didn't think she would be very interested in having hers done but as soon as she saw the board with the different options on her little eyes lit up! We went through all the animals with her but she liked the flower fairy the best despite our gentle encouragement for something more suited to our adventure. Amazingly, she sat perfectly still to have it done without even twitching or recoiling at the cold paint. She closed her eyes when she was asked and seemed to be completely enchanted by the whole experience. She did poke her face once she stood up which smudged a tiny bit but once she saw her face in the mirror she was besotted! I remember the first time I had my face painted so this felt like such a special moment for me and it was wonderful to watch her experience it for the first time. Although I do wish I had had mine done too!



  

After having her face painted we stopped for an ice cream then made our way to Butterfly Paradise. I've always loved butterflies and remember having an amazing experience at a butterfly farm when I was a child but since losing Aneurin butterflies feel all the more magical to me now. (If you're wondering why, butterflies are thought to be one of the little signs you get from your baby and there is a beautiful poem called 'A Butterfly Lights Beside Us' that many of us relate to our babies.) So, stepping into the tropical paradise to be surrounded by masses of huge, colourful butterflies was oddly moving. Lily was just as enthralled as I was and couldn't take them in quick enough. She kept holding her arm out wanting them to land on her and muttering 'butterfly'. One did land on my head for a brief moment but Haydn wasn't quick enough with the camera! I honestly could have stayed in there for hours (although I might have needed a shower afterwards due to the humidity!), it was magical. There's a video on my Instagram stories of Lily and I in awe if you want to check it out!



Despite the zoo having a lot of larger, more exotic animals I was surprised by how much I loved the smaller exhibits like the Butterfly Paradise. The other two unexpected joys were the Reptile House and B.U.G.S. (which stands for Biodiversity Underpinning Global Survival and also, y'know, bugs). I did have to do my best coaxing to get my husband in to the Reptile House because he absolutely hates snakes but even he ended up really enjoying it (whilst refusing to linger around the snakes long enough to take a photo of me by the Harry Potter tank!). As expected Lily was enthralled by all the different turtles but wasn't too convinced by her first crocodile encounter outside of a book. When we reached the B.U.G.S. area Lily was desperate for a nap so Haydn took one for the team and walked her around outside whilst I went in. I was a bit disappointed I didn't get to share it with them but it was actually quite nice to have the time to read about the conservation side of the exhibit and see some of the keepers behind the scenes. I also saw the biggest stick insect I think I'll ever see in my life, I kept trying to convince myself it was a branch because I couldn't quite believe it!  




We tried to wander about slowly so Lily wouldn't miss too much but she was in a mega snooze so we decided to carry on. I'm a bit sad we didn't wake her up for The Land of the Lions though because it was absolutely the best part of the zoo. Influenced and based on Gir National Park in Western India it really is like stepping into another world. On the ground level of the three walkways is a replica of Sasan Gir, the village on the edge of Gir with vibrant shop fronts, a heavenly smelling street food stand and fun little areas to explore. It's not just the village that was designed to replicate Gir but the environment the lions are in too. With the three walkways covering such a vast space you get a really good look at the entire space. Having that connection to the conservation projects actually based in Gir National Park was a big draw and it all felt far more authentic and closer to their natural habitat than any other lion enclosure I'd visited.  
         



The lions were snoozing as we walked round which was a little disappointing as we didn't get a really good look at them, however as we were leaving the enclosure the most incredible thing happened. One of the lions had wandered down to the stream that runs through their space for a drink and was literally two foot away from the barrier. She stood and lapped up the water for a few minutes whilst everyone in the vicinity fell silent. She was so close and calm, it felt like such a privilege to witness. 

Lily woke up just as we had decided to take pity on our sore feet and call it a day so we decided to have a second trip to see the penguins. We had been earlier in the day to listen to the Penguin Live talk which was brilliant but obviously quite crowded. In the afternoon though it was much quieter and we all enjoyed it far more. The penguins came right to the glass barriers and one actually followed Lily as she walked up and down which she thought was hilarious! There was a fantastic little inverted dome under the pool you could get in and see the penguins swimming under the water but she was a little apprehensive about it so we stuck to the top deck. She was desperate to get over the barrier and waddle about with them but settled for pressing her face up against the glass for a chat.

     

Our final stop was the gift shop and I know as an adult I'm probably meant to groan at having to exit through them but I love it! We asked Lily if she wanted to choose one toy to take home (within reason!) and she took ages sorting through all the rubber snakes and various bouncy balls before settling on a long, cuddly shark. We then had to endure her shouts of 'baby shark doo doo doo doo' all the way home!

We will absolutely be paying to go back in the future not least so Lily can see the bits she snoozed through. It was one of the best days out we've had and I honestly don't know who enjoyed it the most, Lily or mummy and daddy!
  
    
Disclaimer: We were invited to visit the zoo as part of a paid collaboration but as always this post is an honest review and all words are my own!
x
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Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Turtle Tots Announcement & Giveaway! #TTClassof18

Our love for our baby swimming lessons with Turtle Tots is well documented on my blog and social media so I am incredibly excited to share with you that we are the Turtle Tots Northamptonshire ambassadors for the class of 2018!




We started classes when Lily was 11 weeks old and it's been amazing to see her skills develop over the last 18 months. We're nearing the end of our second toddler term after having completed all five baby levels!

To celebrate our ambassadorship I'm giving away £50 worth of Turtle Tots merchandise on my Instagram as well as a free taster session of baby and toddler swimming classes! To enter head over to www.instagram.com/elenalucie and look for the post. Good luck!
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Friday, 25 May 2018

Repeal The 8th; My Story

I'm normally very apprehensive about discussing things that come under the umbrella of abortion/termination, termination for medical reasons and antenatal testing because we chose to continue our pregnancy knowing our baby had Downs syndrome. I worry people might assume I feel a certain way about the subject and that the decision we make extends to the world around us. However, our journey to that decision was not straight forwards. I'm still trying to process our experience three years later and although this may not be terribly coherent I really wanted to put some words down today as Ireland vote to repeal the 8th

We chose to continue our pregnancy knowing our baby had Downs syndrome. That was the right decision for us, for me, for our life. However, I am passionately pro-choice and although I'll admit I do sometimes struggle with the knowledge that 99% of pregnancies affected by Downs syndrome are terminated, I really believe that informed choice is vital and everyone is entitled to access safe, basic healthcare. My discomfort with knowing so many DS affected pregnancies are terminated does not come from a place of believing those parents are making the wrong choice, it comes from a far more personal place. The undertone of so much change surrounding antenatal testing which again, I am in full support of because everyone has the right to an informed choice with no judgement, is that a life with Downs syndrome has no value and and a person with Downs syndrome has no place in our society. That my son's life had no value, that he had no place in our society. That the fact he died was probably for the best.

I'm sure the number of people who truly believe that are very, very far and few between but they are still there. There are some in my life, albeit on the outskirts but they still exist. I've had healthcare professionals say to me in as many words that his death was nature's way of making our life easier. I've had people close to me suggest that 'perfect' babies do not deserve to die but my baby wasn't perfect so maybe it was 'for the best'. As you can imagine that is incredibly painful to hear.

This is why I tend to step backwards around the topic of termination but with Ireland voting to decriminalise abortion and make full reproductive healthcare, including abortion, available to everyone today feels like the very best day to step forwards, because our story wasn't as simple as that one decision to continue. Infact, the week before, we had made the decision to end our pregnancy.

If you've been following me for a while you might have read our diagnosis story (if you haven't, here is part one and part two) where I went through the process of finding out Aneurin had Downs syndrome. Before we had the results that showed the extra chromosome on pair 21, we were told he had a different chromosomal condition, Trisomy 18, Edwards syndrome; one that was incompatible with life. Downs syndrome was never mentioned, only Edwards. And the way it was laid out to us, three years ago tomorrow, was very, very bleak. We were told if our baby survived birth he would die shortly after. That he would be very, very ill with no quality of life and if by some miracle he lived longer than a day he would never make it to childhood. We were told that we had a decision to make and in the three excruciatingly long days we spent at home waiting for the results, we made that decision. We decided we would end our pregnancy. 

I'm not sure I've ever talked about this part of our diagnosis process before. When I wrote it all down three years ago it was still so raw and so intense that that part of it didn't seem to matter. It had paled into insignificance to the diagnosis of Downs syndrome and the utter whirlwind of the weeks that followed. It feels like it matters now though. Not just because I am slowly learning to accept the impact these episodes of trauma have had on me, but because today Ireland are voting on whether or not women will get that choice of making the decision no mother ever wants to make. Terminations happen whether they're legal or not. Nobody should be forced to continue with an unwanted or very wanted but not viable pregnancy. We decided that with the choice of ending the pregnancy, our baby feeling no pain and being able to spend time with him or continuing, having longer with him but knowing that if he were born alive there would be no time frame for his death, that we would just have to wait for it to happen, the latter just felt too difficult and too painful for us. That was our informed choice and had we have had to follow through with that choice, it would have been respected and our wishes carried out with dignity and respect for us and our baby. The idea of being forced to carry a baby for months knowing the outcome is never going to be the one you want is horrific. Nobody should be made to do that. 

It might feel as though you cannot do much if you're not eligible to vote in Ireland but there are a few ways in which you can help. You can donate to the Abortion Support Network, support the Together4Yes campaign, share information about the campaign or write to your local MP to urge them to support the change for the abortion laws in Northern Ireland where it is still incredibly difficult to access safe abortion.

Here's hoping today is the start of a new chapter for the women of Ireland. 

repeal the 8th
Illustration by the brilliant Rebecca Strickson for the equally brilliant Black & Beech

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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!

Love,
Elena x
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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).
Clothing

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!

Love,
Elena x

*This is a sponsored post and contains affiliate links.
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