This is the best nutritional advice I have ever received. And, by following it over the last six months, I've lost two stone (over 12 kg) since Elliott was born...and counting.

And it's particularly relevant today in light of a report just published by the National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration, which calls for a “major overhaul” of current dietary guidelines.

But let's rewind a bit. Last autumn I wrote about my post-birth wobbly bits. There were lots of them. I'd reached the point where I didn't know what changes to make to get me where I wanted to be in terms of my health, fitness and weight. Elliott was over five months old but I looked five months pregnant. I was still wearing maternity clothes, my joints ached and my knees strained, my wedding and engagement rings didn't even reach the halfway point of my ring finger and my weight had well and truly plateaued. I generally didn't feel too good about myself.

A few weeks after writing the post things still hadn't changed, so I took the plunge and approached a local nutritional coach for advice. It was the best £49 I've ever spent.

It would have been easy for me to have titled this blog post "how I lost weight by switching to full fat milk" but a) clickbait headlines annoy the hell out of me and b) this change is obviously just one part of it. But...it's totally true.

June 2015 | May 2016 (gotta love a stripy dress)

Kirsty, the coach, explained to me that your body needs fat, but it doesn't need sugar or any other chemicals which are present in processed foods, including those which have had the fat stripped out of them and replaced with rubbish. As long as the fat is coming from good, natural sources - and is balanced with plenty of vegetables and protein - you can pretty much eat as much of it as you want (with the all-important caveat that you should obviously only eat if you're truly hungry). No calorie counting, no fasting, no juices or other short-term weightloss fads which will leave you hungry and with unsustainable results. Just sensible planning, buying, portion control at mealtimes and ensuring you have "good" snacks to hand when the hunger strikes.

And this is completely in line with today's headlines.

Lots of people may recognise this approach as the paleo diet (which is based on the notion that we should only eat the types of foods presumed to have been consumed by early humans) and effectively that's what it is, though I prefer not to use the word "diet". Instead, I see my new way of eating as a sensible relationship with food which follows basic paleo principles, but without being completely obsessive about it.

Using this approach, I've completely cut out pasta (which is a huge deal given this was my go-to staple meal), got rid of most other gluten-based foods (after all, wheat and other grains weren't widely available until the 19th century), stopped eating my beloved (but nutritionless) breakfast cereals (I have porridge or Bircher muesli instead), dramatically reduced my sugar intake and, as previously mentioned, switched from low fat dairy products to their yummy - and more nutritious - full-fat equivalents. Milk chocolate is (mostly) out, but dark chocolate is very much in.

Eating out has taken on a new dimension. Previously I would naturally choose the creamiest, stodgiest option on the menu, ideally encrusted in pastry. But now I look for the gluten-free options and end up trying something completely new and different (and without the subsequent food coma).

Kirsty's advice really resonated with me, but my issue was finding the time, and inclination, for cooking and meal preparation, especially when I had a young child to feed as well. And that's when she uttered those monumental words: "feed yourself what you would feed your baby". Up until that point I'd only heard the opposite mantra - feed your baby from your own plate. But when your own plate is full of crap it quickly shines a light on how terrible your own diet is. So I switched my mindset and haven't looked back.

Over the months, and alongside one spinning class a week and lots of walking, I've lost a pound or two a week - nothing dramatic but a steady and healthy decline. My clothes gradually got looser, my knees stopped aching and, eventually, I could get my wedding ring back on again. But, more importantly than what the scales show, I feel great. I've got loads more energy, I feel strong and I have a new-found respect for my body and its ever-present wobbly bits.

Today's report into dietary guidelines is long overdue. But sadly it's not been warmly received by everyone. Crucially, though, when you look closely at where the dissenting voices originate from, you'll eventually see that that many of them, one way or another, have links with food manufacturers (just one example here), who are producing the very types of food that we should all actually be avoiding. Sadly it will probably take years and years for official guidelines to change. But I, for one, will definitely be proudly sticking to those milk bottles with the blue lids. After all, we don't give our babies semi-skimmed milk, do we?



You're here! Umm, now what?

I picked up the phone and left a shaky voicemail message in a voice I barely recognised. 

It was about two weeks after giving birth and I was a mess. After a difficult birth and an eight-night stay in hospital, I had barely changed any of my baby's nappies, breastfeeding was a struggle and my mind was shrouded in something dark that I hadn't experienced before. I felt numb and was struggling to see how things would ever get better. 

After a bit of Googling I discovered the existence of the NCT shared experiences helpline, which endeavours to put women in touch someone from their roster of volunteers who have been through something similar. So, one evening, I plucked up the courage to dial the number and leave that message. I'm so glad I did. After about 24 hours I was referred to a lovely lady with whom I had a tearful chat for a couple of hours who helped me to see - and hear in her kind yet confident voice - that the fog would lift. But this support was nothing at all to do with the NCT antenatal classes I had attended whilst pregnant, and I would have had access to the same support had I not forked out to attend them.

Since having Elliott I've been asked numerous times by parents-to-be whether or not the NCT classes are worth the money. And it's a lot of money (the course we did in 2015 was around £300, though prices vary depending on the type of course you do and by region). I always say yes. But primarily for the network of almost instant friends you're likely to accumulate. Beyond this, I'm truly torn.

Founded in 1956, the NCT (the 'National Childbirth Trust' name was scrapped a few years ago) aims to support parents through what they believe to be the crucial "first 1,000 days" of a child's life after conception. Which begs the question, why do their phenomenally popular antenatal classes place so much emphasis on the birth, rather than the 700 days that follow?

Whilst thinking about this blog post I asked mums from my local Facebook parenting community - Mummy's Gin Fund - for their thoughts. The volume of responses and took me by surprise, and almost all of them centred around a few key themes which were in line with my own thinking.

It would be unfair of me to suggest that it would be possible for the NCT to encompass all of the below in their classes. After all, there will never be an ultimate instruction manual for having a baby. And I did ultimately enjoy the classes - the teacher was friendly and a group trip to the pub at the end of the final one went down a treat. However, with the benefit of sleep-deprived, poo-stained and vomit-soaked hindsight, here are the ten things that I wish I'd been told...

1. How to actually look after a baby
Learning about the biology of the birth itself is undoubtedly fascinating, but I wish we'd learned more about the realities of day-to-day parenting. I do understand the NCT's probable thinking behind this. After all, different people "parent" in very different ways and the NCT course leaders try hard not to be seen to impose a certain style or method over others. In an attempt to overcome this their classes focus on evidence-based guidance as opposed to the teachers' own experiences. But it does result in a total lack of practical advice from someone who has been there, done that. Emma, a mum from the local Facebook group, summed it up by saying: "In retrospect it seems crazy to spend hours discussing the element of becoming a parent that we had the least control over. In our group we all had wildly different birth experiences - but the unifying factor was that we all had these tiny new humans to get to grips with at the end of it. A more practical focus on first aid*, winding, feeding (breast, bottle and the almost never discussed combination feeding), after care, child development, sex after baby etc would have been infinitely more useful."

2. Accepting medical intervention doesn't mean you've failed
Above everything else in the classes, I came away from them thinking that I should strive for as natural a birth as possible. You are steered towards the belief that natural births are good and anything involving intervention is bad, and to always question medical advice whilst in labour. Emma felt the same: "I felt totally unprepared for any scenario that was not a drug-free labour, healthy baby and a smooth breastfeeding journey and it took me a while to shake off that (irrational) sense of failure of not achieving that." And I think that point about failure is a crucial one. Another woman from the Mummy's Gin Fund, Claire, hits the nail on the head, by expressing that she wished the NCT would "empower the women, so they know that they can do it, whatever the scenario. And let them know they and their babies are a success and miracle however they come into the world." Sadly I didn't feel empowered after the classes. Instead, I came away thinking there was a "right way" and a "wrong way" to have a baby. So when my birth quickly went from a very natural scenario to a highly medicalised one, I felt an enormous sense of guilt for having fallen at the first hurdle as a mum. Which is ridiculous, given that the medical intervention, which I was in no fit state to question, saved my life.

3. Your body - and your mind - will take a while to recover after the birth. Let it, and accept help.
Giving birth is bloody tough for everyone, regardless of how it ends up happening. And all women need to be given the chance to recover from that, physically and emotionally. I'm not saying that the NCT told me to crack on with things once the baby was born - I think western society as a whole has more to answer for on that front - but I really wish I'd been told that's it's OK to give yourself a break and, crucially, to accept help rather than try and be some high-achieving supermum from the outset. This blog post is a fascinating read in this regard, and makes some really strong points about the importance of mothers getting enough sleep when they return home, letting others care for them and their new baby, and not being made to feel as if they have to immediately carry on their lives as normal.

4. The realities of breastfeeding
There was an entire half-day session dedicated to breastfeeding in the NCT course I signed up to and I came away thinking my baby would climb up my chest once he was born and latch on to my boob straight away. It would also be painless and, if it did hurt, I was doing something wrong. Many women I spoke to reported that they had been told the same so, when they did experience pain, they thought they had failed (there's that word again). I've written more extensively about breastfeeding previously, but in terms of the antenatal session, a more truthful picture of some of the common obstacles you're likely to encounter to begin with - letdown pain, potential tongue tie issues, the symptoms of mastitis, cluster feeding, inevitable (and often unfounded) doubts about your milk supply - and how to overcome them would have been a more productive use of everyone's time. Instead, you are presented with a rose-tinted view of what it will be like, meaning that - as I've written before - many women probably give up breastfeeding because they believe their perfectly normal difficulties are unique to them. It's such a wasted opportunity. 

5. Formula: the basics
I think it's fair to say that most women intend to give breastfeeding a go if they can, but despite asking to find out about formula in our antenatal class we came away with no tips or insights beyond an acknowledgement of its existence. Understandably the NCT don't want to be seen to be promoting formula given their evidence-based approach, but there's a difference between talking about the practicalities of formula and promoting it. After all, some new mums don't even get the chance to try breastfeeding if they are separated from their baby in the beginning, as I was. I also think failing to discuss combination feeding as a perfectly sensible option for feeding your baby - especially if you end up having to recover from a traumatic birth - is a real shame, given that combination-fed babies still get all the advantages of breastfed babies in addition to being able to take a bottle, meaning you can share feeds. It's worth pointing out, however, that there is information about formula, bottle feeding and combination feeding on the NCT website but, in my case, this was something I had to seek out for myself. 

6. Wind
Oh those pesky bubbles of trapped air. They will cause most new parents such anguish, and their little babies such discomfort, yet the entire concept of wind wasn't, as far as I can remember, even mentioned. I do wonder if this is related to the strange myth that breastfed babies don't need burping after feeds, which isn't the case at all. 

7. *If* you have a tough birth, help is out there
It would be impossible - and pretty scary for parents-to-be - for the NCT to outline the many ways that giving birth can go awry, or how babies can get sick. I get that. But briefly touching upon the various sources of help that are out there, including the NCT's very own helpline, if you need any emotional support would have been so useful for me, and would have saved hours of Googling when I should have been sleeping. 

8. You'll never feel such extreme emotion
I think we learned more about hormones in the NCT classes than we did about anything else, but what we didn't learn was how those hormones would make you actually feel. For about a fortnight after the birth, my husband and I were flooded with oxytocin, except at the time we didn't realise that. We were in awe of everything and everyone, especially each other, and the world seemed hyper-real and about ten times as intense and beautiful as normal. Familiar songs took on deep, new meanings and average animation films were suddenly the most inspiring things we had ever seen. And, of-course, our baby was the loveliest baby in the world, without a shadow of doubt. We thought this was because of the dramatic birth and its aftermath, but looking back I think this is actually a pretty normal way to feel after having a baby. Oxytocin heightens all your emotions - good and bad - so be prepared for highs and lows like you've never experienced before, especially if you're just starting out breastfeeding, which gets the hormones whizzing around even more.

9. Love feels different for everyone
My hypnobirthing CD subconsciously gave me the expectation that I would feel a huge "rush of love" for my baby when he was given to me following the birth, and the NCT placed a big emphasis on the importance of skin-to-skin contact in the first hours to help you bond with your baby. None of this happened to me. Perhaps if I'd had a less complicated birth it would have done - I'll regrettably never know. But in the days and weeks that followed I did feel as if there must be something wrong with me because I didn't feel like I was expecting to feel, and I believed I'd never get the chance to fix it because I'd missed out on that important skin-to-skin time. I wish I'd been told that everyone feels differently after giving birth and there's no right or wrong way to feel. For me, it was simply as if Elliott had always been there (when I look back at pictures of me from a few years ago I wonder why Elliott isn't in them!), and over time that sense grew and intensified.

10. And finally...don't stress too much if there's no poo
I couldn't write this post without talking about poo. We were told in the NCT classes that as long as they are producing lots of wet and dirty nappies your baby is, in all likelihood, fine. And you are given a useful leaflet showing you what the poo will look like and when. But when our baby took days to have his first proper poo we panicked, and we continued to worry when he often went a week (or more!) between bowel movements**. These days he has many, MANY poos a day. Every baby is different, and their nappies will produce many different types of surprises as the weeks and months go on. A heads-up about this would have gone a long way. 

In fairness to the NCT, it's important to note that they do ask attendees to provide feedback after they have attended the sessions. Crucially, however, they send out these surveys before you're likely to have had your baby, so any feedback you provide at that stage is from the perspective of someone who can't even begin to grasp what being a parent is actually like, and what you wish you'd learned. 

There are numerous other antenatal options out there beyond the NCT. The NHS run free classes, though they are often very large groups, and there are also other private providers (some of my local options in London include Doctor and Daughter at £380 per couple, and Within You, cheaper at £200 for a total of eight hours). But, the reality is, unless you attend a class within your immediate vicinity, you're sadly unlikely to see your newly-acquired friends very often once you have a baby, especially if you don't have a car. And because the NCT have such a firm grasp on the market, it's simply the best class to do if making friends is your priority.

My husband and I were lucky enough to meet six other couples who all live within streets of us. Throughout our maternity leave, the six other mums and I saw each other three or four times a week on average, sometimes more, in various permutations. And over the months our friendships became about more than just babies and parenting, although that's obviously a good starting point.

We've been through loads together over the last year. There's been so much laughter, as well as many tears. Not one of us had a "straightforward" birth without some kind of intervention. Sleepless nights were made bearable by Whatsapp banter and the amount of coffee we have collectively consumed could probably fill a larger than average lake. 

As everyone in the group begins to drift back to work, and the pool of local friends and babies I can pop out to see at a moment's notice gets smaller by the day, it's made me appreciate just how lucky I've been to have these amazing people in my life. We jokingly refer to each other as "bought friends" but, for me, this ready-made local support network of amazing women, and their partners, has been life-changing and truly priceless, and, despite the many improvements that could unquestionably be made to their antenatal offering, I will always have the NCT to thank for that.

* Regarding first aid it's worth acknowledging that this is a huge, specialist subject that could never be comprehensively covered in any antenatal class. However, a pointer to take a look at the excellent British Red Cross baby and child first aid app would have been helpful.
** Always speak to a medical professional if you're worried about lack of number twos.



Chilli-ish con carne

Remember that daytime TV programme, 'Can't Cook, Won't Cook'? It suggested people avoided the kitchen for one of these two reasons only. Well I've discovered that there is a third category: HATE COOK.

I really dislike cooking. There, I said it. I can cook, I do cook (because I have to) but I really don't enjoy it at all. I find it boring, messy, and it involves way too much standing up for my liking. Yet despite my disdain for cooking, these days I seem to spend most of my day either planning it, buying stuff for it, doing it, feeding the results of it to Elliott (or myself), and tidying up after it.

I've written previously about how weaning was a stress point in my motherhood journey so far, and a few months down the line nothing really changed, and it's still the thing I've struggled with the most. We kind of found a rhythm, doing a big batch cook on the weekends and feeding the results to Elliott throughout the following week, but one afternoon I made the mistake of reading the "stage three" chapter of Annabel Karmel's baby and toddler meal planner book. It seemed to suggest my baby should be eating full-on meals by now, with freshly prepared pancakes for breakfast, lovingly crafted fish lollipops for lunch and a roast dinner with all the trimmings for tea.

Suddenly I felt stupid for still having bags of vegetable puree cubes in the freezer and for continuing to spoon-feed 75% of his food. I have to be honest, I had a bit of a moment. The moment was enhanced by my attempt that evening to bake a batch of vegetable muffins which went horribly wrong and ended up looking - and tasting - like baked, burnt vomit.

I'm well aware that there are loads of great websites and recipe books out there with some lovely meal ideas, but they all seem to presume that the person reading them enjoys cooking and baking. Not enjoying these things feels strangely risqué, especially as a "mother". But just because I now have a dependant doesn't mean I'm going to suddenly enjoy something that I've always found to be a chore.

Thankfully my wobbles over weaning have now mostly passed and I'm much more relaxed about what I feed Elliott. That's not to say I've suddenly begun to enjoy cooking, but I took a step back and realised that he does have a nutritious and varied diet, even though I do take lots of shortcuts when it comes to cooking from scratch. He also has a massive appetite and is generally a brilliant eater, and for that I'm really thankful. I also realised that just because the food I prepare for him doesn't necessarily exist as a traditional recipe, or have a name attached to it, it is still a proper "meal".

More often than not Elliott eats what my husband and I ate the night before, and by cooking just a little bit extra, minus the salt (and most of the chilli...), and putting it in the fridge overnight, the following day's meals are pretty straightforward to prepare. The current development is his wholehearted, raspberry-blowing rejection of any kind of attempt to spoon-feed him, so onto the highchair tray the food now goes. I can't even begin to describe the mess...

If you're also in the "I want my baby to eat well but without the faff" camp, here are some tricks and shortcuts I've learnt along the way that you may also find useful:

Grated cheese is a quick and simple finger food for babies, and something they can get stuck into while you prepare the remainder of the meal. It does have a bit of salt in it, but a little cheese goes a long way and it's nice and nutritious.

Cream cheese
A dollop of full fat cream cheese is a great way to add a twist (and important calories!) to any bowl of mushed food, with the added bonus that it also cools down something that has been in the microwave for too long. Which, in my case, happens often.

Baby rice
This seems to be unpopular among some circles but in the earlier stages of weaning I actually found it really handy as a puree thickener or just to bulk up a puree if I was concerned it wouldn't be filling enough.

Full fat natural yoghurt
Baby yoghurts are all well and good, but my son loves plain natural or Greek yoghurt just as much. You can stir fruit puree into it for a bit of sweetness if you prefer. It's also good dolloped on top of meals for some creaminess. And has the same cooling benefits as cream cheese. Multiple uses!

Sweet potatoes
Most babies love them, but to save peeling and chopping before cooking, I just whack a couple of washed ones in the oven (skin pricked) for around 40 minutes whenever I'm using the oven for something else. You can keep them in the fridge for a couple of days in their skins and scoop out the soft flesh as and when needed.

As above really!

Frozen peas
Unlike other frozen veg, peas can be re-frozen once cooked. They make great finger food to help with pincer development and babies love the naturally sweet flavour. For a quick and easy puree in the early stages of weaning you can whizz up some cooked peas with a tin of unsalted sweetcorn and a bit of butter. It tastes lush.

Weetabix, whole milk and mashed banana warmed up in the microwave and all mushed together is a really simple and nutritious breakfast. Babies like it, too. Arf.

We've got into the semi-regular habit of slow-cooking a chicken on a Sunday (bung a whole chicken in a slow cooker smeared in unsalted butter with some chopped carrots and onions dotted around on low for about six hours) and then using the juicy meat in meals - for us and Elliott - over the next couple of days. If you want to go the whole hog you could even create a baby-friendly chicken stock from the liquid leftover in the slow cooker. Or you could just buy these stock cubes from Boots.

If you've had salmon the night before, save a chunk of it in the fridge overnight and flake it up as part of your baby's lunch or tea the next day.

I kind of stumbled across the realisation that if you combine a load of ingredients you have lying around in a bowl and roll into balls it's a simple way to enable your baby to feed themselves with slightly less mess. A quick example: If you're having rice with your own tea that night, cook a bit more than normal and prepare it a bit early. Mash in a few teaspoons of cooked rice with the flesh of half a cooked sweet potato, flaked salmon (from a tin is fine, but watch out for boney bits - they're fine to eat but maybe not for a young baby), some herbs if you're feeling fancy, and any other cooked veg bits you might have leftover from your meal the night before. Heat the mixture briefly in the microwave and roll into grabbable balls for a yummy meal they can feed themselves. This would work equally well with any other meat or fish, and I guess frying the balls off in a bit of unsalted butter might make them even tastier if you can be arsed. If your baby doesn't eat them invite your mum friends round and serve them as canapes.

Do you have any lazy arse "recipes" to share? Please do!



Breakfast. Help.
Oh how I dreaded sleepovers. Too much talking and giggling and not enough sleep for my liking. And how I missed my own bed at home! In fact, it was home that I missed more than anything. I literally used to get homesick on school trips and would count down the days until I'd be back in the place where I was most relaxed and comfortable. I loved being at home, loved going home, and - as I got older - always preferred a night in to a night out. I don't take for granted how lucky I was - and still am - that 'home' is a place where I enjoy spending time and feel at ease; a luxury that many people aren't fortunate enough to experience.

So when I was pregnant I imagined I'd be quite happy to spend most of my days at home with our new baby and, indeed, for the first few weeks or so I barely left the house as I recovered after an extended hospital stay, established breastfeeding, bulk-watched Homes Under The Hammer (I eventually came to terms with the sudden appearance of Dion Dublin as a third presenter) and generally got into the swing of things.

However, after a couple of months a pattern emerged. On the days we did go out, Elliott was chirpy, slept regularly and was generally easier to look after. And on the days we spent at home he was more irritable, difficult to settle after feeds and - quite evidently - bored. Going out became the new staying in. Once I worked out a system for getting everything ready in the buggy the night before, it was actually easier to go out; the day passed more quickly, Elliott would be getting lots of fresh air and seeing lots of new people and new surroundings, I'd be getting exercise and some much-needed adult company. It was win-win.

On the average weekday we'd be out of the house between around 10am and 3pm every day, hanging out with the lovely group of mums and babies we'd met through NCT antenatal classes. We'd go swimming or to a baby class (always followed by coffee and something to eat), attend the baby cinema screenings en masse, have a cheeky prosecco or two down the local pub at 3pm in the afternoon while the babies slept in their prams. Elliott and I would make the occasional trip into central London to meet non-baby friends during their lunchbreaks and he would happily sit in his buggy or on our laps while we nattered away. The days and weeks passed by in a happy blur of coffee, croissants, laughter and discussions about politics, poo and sleep (or lack thereof). Always a winning combination. There was always someone to see and somewhere to go and it was everything I'd hoped maternity leave would be, and more.

And then weaning happened. From the outset (at about five and a half months), Elliott loved solid food, which was - of-course - fantastic. Everything we gave him, albeit in puree form, he demolished, and it wasn't long until he was happily chomping his way through three mushy meals a day, and getting to grips with finger foods as well. And thus my little system for getting out of the house by a certain time pretty much went out the window.

You see, weaning's a messy and involved business. Firstly, the mess. No matter how careful you are, the food gets everywhere. On their clothes, your clothes, the floor, the walls, all over their face. Bibs, you say? Ha. Slimy purees laugh in the face of bibs. They set their sights on your baby's hidden neck creases (and freshly washed vest), and they always reach their destination. Of-course the mess is all part of it, and you just have to let it happen as your baby learns about food and how to (sort-of) feed themselves, but it also means you have a mountain of food-stained laundry to do, a never-ending pile of washing up and a very sticky and increasingly wriggly baby who hates having their face wiped.

Secondly, the cooking. Suddenly you're responsible for producing a nourishing supply of food that doesn't magically appear from your boobs. In the beginning I just couldn't get into any kind of routine for preparing it and would end up cobbling something together for each meal based on what we had in the cupboards. Which wasn't much. "Feed your baby food from your own plate!" is the advice frequently given by people with the best of intentions, but when you're having ready meals or takeaways every night it quickly brings into focus how terrible your diet is. We're in the process of getting more organised on this front in terms of batch cooking beyond steaming a pile of vegetables each weekend for Elliott, but we're still not quite there.

None of this is massively compatible with getting out and about. Not that it's stopped me - that's what Ella's Kitchen pouches are for - but trying to find somewhere for lunch that will accommodate anything up to eight adults, eight babies, eight buggies, and multiple high chairs is no mean feat. You try your best to mop up the floor, the table and the high chairs as you go along, but baby wipes will only do so much. And you somehow have to find an opportunity to feed yourself in amongst it all. Some places are great, but in others in can be a bit of an ordeal. Truth be told it's easier to feed your baby solid food in your own surroundings. Well, it is for me, anyway.

So we're gradually spending more time at home again. Elliott gets to have lots of time on the floor roaming around, just on the cusp of crawling at eight months. He's getting better at napping in his cot rather than in the pram or sling (face down, bum up), and I'm re-establishing my relationship with Homes Under the Hammer and learning how to prepare my own lunch again. None of which are negative things. I like home. I just wish all the surfaces were a bit less sticky. And that there was a nice bearded chap in the corner handing me flat whites all morning.



Eb in his beloved Cocoon-A-Baby, before he grew out of it (SOB!)

I'll put my hands up here. Before having a baby I couldn't for the life of me understand why parents got so worked up over their baby's naps. Granted, little Elliott has always enjoyed his sleep and early on established a bit of a reputation as the baby who always seemed to be in the land of nod, but I always figured that if a baby needed to sleep it would sleep. And if it didn't sleep, it would make up for it later on in the day.

And then it happened. About three and a half months in, Elliott missed out on what had apparently become one of his regular daytime slumbers (I hadn't been keeping track, which seems preposterous looking back on it) and, that evening, ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE. What I hadn't realised until two hours into a marathon screaming session is that babies tire VERY QUICKLY. One minute they're happy as larry giggling and playing, the next there's a shift in the atmosphere, they're rubbing their eyes and they want to be asleep. Like, immediately. And if they get too tired, it's actually MORE difficult for them to fall asleep as they get themselves so worked up about it.

The worst thing? Unless you have a magical super-baby with special powers, it's incredibly unlikely that they will even be able to fall asleep without help from mum and/or dad. It's bonkers. A young baby usually needs to be moving in some way in order to fall asleep, to replicate the sensation of being in the womb; a parent's rocking arms is the optimum place, if not then the buggy or a sling will (hopefully) suffice. As long as they're moving, nice and snuggly and can constantly touch or see you, so you're the last thing they clap their eyes on before they finally succumb to the zeds.

So now I'm that person who will resort to anything to ensure their baby gets the sleep they need during the day to make the other parts of the day less screamy. The person who frantically pushes the pram back and forth in a shopping centre while their friend has nipped to the post office. The person who walks up and down the same stretch of pavement absentmindedly "shushing" in the vague direction of the buggy. The person who sways or bounces on the spot with a baby strapped to them. The person who has begun to think seriously about whether or not to leave the house if a scheduled rendezvous suddenly clashes with a new nap time. The person who hopes that every nap reaches beyond the current standard of 35 minutes so I can actually get something done that doesn't involve sterilising an ever-growing arsenal of plastic paraphernalia, or continuing on my apparent mission to turn our spare room into a fully operational laundry (though, of-course, the longest naps inevitably take place at the precise time you need to be leaving the house).

It would be easy to turn this into an epic blog post about babies and sleep. But, frankly, every baby is different and what works for us (including white noise, dummies, a sling, a touch of controlled crying and - in the earlier months - a lifesaving thing called a Cocoon-A-Baby) might not work for everyone else. 

I guess, then, that this is more an explanation for my non-parenting friends about why I'm suddenly more flakey about meeting up, why I use the word "nap" a lot and - when I do make an appearance with the baby - why I appear to be expending a disproportionate amount of my energy reserves on getting Elliott to sleep. No, it's not the end of the world if a baby misses out on one of its daytime kips, but babies are a whole lot more pleasant for everyone to be around - and tend to sleep much better at night - if they get the sleep they need during the day.

Becoming increasingly flakey is actually really hard for me to come to turns with, since my reliability is such an inherent part of my personality. But being a parent, I now realise, is about sacrificing little bits of yourself to make the little human you've created the best possible little human they can be. Weaning is the current challenge as I'm having to sacrifice the very substantial bit of me that enjoys ready meals and takeaways. But that's a blog post for another time....



Woodland bottom (this is a Bambino Mio nappy)
People always seem surprised when I tell them I'm a naturally lazy person because I always appear to be on the go. That's because I'm actually very good at disguising my laziness (think of it this way: to me, each "on the go" moment is simply a way to get to the the next opportunity to sit down more quickly). My family, however, they know the truth, since my slothful tendencies have been intact since birth. So when I told my mum I was considering using reusable nappies (also known as 'washable', 'cloth' or 'real' nappies) once my baby was born she was very surprised. Her scepticism, however, was based on visions of big towels that you had to fold and pin in place, much like the kind of nappies she used with me and my brother in the 1980s. She was doubtful that I could be arsed with it all, especially given that disposable nappies are so (ridiculously) cheap these days. What she didn't know - and what I didn't know until I saw pictures of friend's babies with fab, bright, billowy pants on their little bums while I was pregnant - is that washable nappies these days are in fact brilliantly designed and simple to use. Before I go on, an important disclaimer: I am not a washable nappy guru. I don't use them on a full- time basis and I doubt I ever will. I go through phases of using them a lot, and not using them at all. There are plenty of extremely knowledgeable people out there who know everything under the sun about cloth nappies and are incredibly passionate about it. My own nappy oracle is the wonderful Sarah from Nappy Geek, who lives down the road from me and is always on hand to provide a sensible solution to my latest practical query. Sarah - like many other nappy experts - also runs regular "nappucino" coffee mornings from her home in south London, during which she demos all the various types of nappies and answers all of your burning nappy questions. I attended one while I was still pregnant and on maternity leave and it was incredibly useful. I wish I could have 1% of Sarah's enthusiasm but, well, see above regarding my laziness, which prevents me from being hugely passionate about most things in life (with the exceptions of my family, hand dryers, puns, putting food in my belly and sitting down), but that's a blog post for another time and another blog which I'll undoubtedly never get around to writing because I'm too lazy. But I thought if I outlined some of the top level stuff for those of you whose interest is mildly piqued by the thought of washable nappies, but not piqued enough to look into it properly, that I may hopefully tip you over the edge so you can seek out your very own nappy guru - there is bound to be one round the corner from you. Why use them?
Babies get through thousands of nappies a year which means that, every single day, 3 million disposable nappies go to UK landfill. I don't know about you but that makes me feel pretty awful. There are also financial benefits - even though the up front cost seems like a lot at the time, in the long run you would actually save money by using washable nappies instead of disposable ones. Also, have you seen how fab they look? There are some amazing designs out there. Bear in mind that some UK councils offer incentive schemes - often cashback - to encourage people to use washable nappies - there's a list of participating councils on this website. Isn't it all a bit of a faff?
It's a bit more of a faff, but nowhere near as faffy as you think. In short, you put the nappy on (they mainly fasten with Velcro or adjustable poppers) the babies do their thing, you take the nappy off and put it in the wash and dry it before the next use. You don't need to soak the nappies before washing or anything cumbersome like that, you can simply put them in a mesh bag within a well-sealed bin and then chuck the mesh bag in the washing machine with the nappies still inside. How do they work?
There are various types and loads of different brands that I won't go into, and different styles work with different families and different babies (I'm a particular fan of the flat nappy which is simply a wad of super-absorbent material that you fold and stuff inside a waterproof wrap, and at the next nappy change you just stuff a new wad into the same wrap). But the principal for each is the same - absorbent material inside a waterproof cover. Some nappies have the absorbency built in (easier to use), and others have them separate (quicker to dry). The great thing about most washable nappies is that they expand with your growing baby, meaning that - in some cases - the same nappy can last from birth right up until the little one is potty trained. And this point is the key one for me - even if I'm not using them very much at one point in Elliott's babyhood, I can quickly switch back to them at another point. The way I see it is that part-time or occasional use of cloth nappies is still better for the environment. Right?! BUT WHAT ABOUT THE POO???
The thing I didn't realise until I went to the nappucino session is that you insert a liner - not unlike a slightly larger sheet of loo roll - between your baby's bum and the nappy. So when there's poo you can scoop it up and throw (or flush, depending on the liner) it away and hopefully be left with a non-soiled (albeit wet) nappy. But, let's be honest, not all poos are scoopable, especially in the early weeks, but once you get to know your baby's habits you could choose to be a bit tactical, e.g. use disposables until the poo has happened and switch to washables later in the day.

If your baby poos A LOT and you can't face the pooey washing you could consider waiting until their poos become more solid before you start using washable nappies. We've just started weaning and I imagine our washable nappy use will increase substantially in the coming weeks as the poos become more manageable (but more stinky!). I never thought I'd write the word 'poo' so much. Won't my baby's bum feel all wet and yucky?
They are surprisingly absorbent, and because the nappies themselves are adjustable you can ensure they are really snug to prevent leakage. Interestingly my parents swear that, because they used cloth nappies with me rather than nappies that keep babies' bums feeling falsely dry, I was easier to potty train because I wanted to get out of the damp nappies quicker. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but you can see the logic. Night time is a different matter, and we always use a disposable nappy to reduce the risk of a wet bum waking Elliott up. I believe this is quite common amongst washable nappy users. OK, I'm interested. How can I find out more?
Reading this superb guide by the aforementioned Nappy Geek (with whom I have no affiliation, honest!) is a good next step. You can then search for "washable nappies" and your local area online to find a local guru / supplier to find out more. I'm interested, but I'm even lazier than you...
I have good news. There are companies out there who provide a "nappy laundering service", collecting your dirty nappies and delivering fresh ones to your door, although it's obviously not as cost effective as doing it yourself. More details here. I remain unconvinced.
You can still do your bit for the environment by investing in some other washable baby items without going down the nappy route. We love our washable baby wipes, which are effectively a stack of super soft mini flannels. Because you can use them dry as well as wet they have tons of uses beyond cleaning your baby's bum (we dip ours in warm water with a little drop of baby wash, much nicer than cold wipes) - patting dry your baby's bum, washing them in the bath, cleaning mucky faces and hands, wiping runny noses etc etc. The best known brand is Cheeky Wipes but you can probably pick up a set from your local nappy supplier for a much lower price.

I mostly resisted the urge to whip these out of my bra and show everyone. Mostly.
I also love my washable breast pads. I don't know about anyone else, but I never got on with disposable ones as they invariably ended up as a sticky ball inside my bra and never stayed in place. Washable ones are much easier to move around, they don't lose their shape and, more importantly, they come in all manner of fun designs. My favourite ones have a brilliant Dalek print on them. BREAST-ERMINATE!

Happy washing!



Count the cannulas
Ah my pesky placenta. For some reason I always had a bee in my bonnet about the 'afterbirth'. My mum had suffered from a retained placenta, and it was the topic I was most interested in during my NCT antenatal classes. If they - and my hypnotherapy CD - were anything to go by, the placenta would simply slide out after childbirth (quickly with an injection, not so quickly without one) and that would be that. But there was always a niggle at the back of my mind about it

Well, that niggle was probably the sensation of my placenta clinging on to the muscular layer of my uterus for dear life, as - unbeknownst to me up until the moment it became apparent my placenta was going nowhere following the relatively straightforward birth of my son Elliott - I had a pretty bad case of placenta accreta.

I had no knowledge of this medical term until many weeks after the birth when one of the local supervisor of midwives paid a visit to our home to talk to my husband and I about what happened to me - a service Lewisham and Greenwich Trust offers mums who've had a particularly tough time of it to help them come to terms with their experience. I knew my placenta had got stuck, and I knew that I'd lost a very large volume of blood, to the extent that I needed a transfusion, but I hadn't been aware of what caused all of this nasty stuff to occur.

I thought it might be helpful to outline the ins and outs of placenta accreta in case any other mums (and their partners) who are unfortunate enough to experience this decide to turn to the internet for advice and information, since when I did the same all I got were bog standard overviews, a technical Wikipedia page, various medical studies which are pretty impenetrable for sleep-deprived minds, and a load of articles about Kim Kardashian (she, too, suffered from this condition after the birth of her daughter). I never found anything written by someone who had experienced it first-hand and how the condition made them FEEL, which is what I desperately wanted to read to reassure myself that how I felt was normal and things would get better. So here goes (and apologies in advance for such a long post, but I want it to be as useful a resource as possible)...


What is placenta accreta?
When you get pregnant, the placenta normally attaches itself to the outer layer of the uterine wall. With placenta accreta, the placenta attaches itself a little too deeply, into the muscle. This means that the placenta cannot naturally separate and requires intervention to remove it.

How common is it?
About 1 in 500 pregnant women encounter it, and it's becoming increasingly common in line with the rise in the number of caesarian deliveries. This is because placenta accreta occurs most often in women who've previously had a caesarian section because the scar tissue left behind is fertile ground for the condition. This also means that women who have had other types of uterine surgery, for example to remove fibroids, may also be at a higher risk. I, however, have never had any kind of procedure in that region, so I was particularly unlucky.

What's the difference between placenta accreta and a retained placenta?
Placenta accreta is one kind of retained placenta, albeit a rare one. More commonly, a retained placenta is when some or all of the placenta is left floating around inside the womb, and eventually it'll have nowhere to go but out (and may be accompanied by bleeding). With placenta accreta, it is impossible for the placenta to come away without some kind of intervention.

Is there any way to tell if I have placenta accreta once I'm pregnant?
There are a couple of scans available on the NHS which may be able to detect it (colour Doppler ultrasonography and MRI scanning, both of which have an accuracy rate of around 80%). However, not all UK hospitals have the relevant equipment to offer these, and in all likelihood you’d only be offered one if you’ve had placenta accreta in the past, or if you have a low-lying anterior placenta combined with a previous lower segment caesarian section (LSCS), as this would put you particularly at risk.

Should I have the injection to speed up the placenta delivery if I'm worried about my placenta getting stuck?
This is 100% a personal decision. Many women prefer to deliver the placenta physiologically (in other words, with no injection) to experience a totally natural childbirth. Fair play to them. I personally wanted the whole thing to be over and done with as quickly as possible, so opted for a managed afterbirth (the injection). I was informed by my consultant that, in hindsight, this was the right decision for me as otherwise it would have taken much longer for them to realise that there was a problem.

What are the complications?
In my case, because the placenta had partially detached, effectively leaving an open wound inside of me, I experienced very heavy blood loss (four litres in total, which is not unusual for the condition). Obviously major blood loss is extremely serious, but with the right medical care that we're fortunate enough to have access to in the UK, for free, this can be dealt with.

What if I don't want a blood transfusion?
Again, totally a personal decision. But if I had declined a blood transfusion I'm pretty sure I would have died. More information on blood transfusions is available here. It's worth noting that once you have a blood transfusion, you are not (currently) allowed to donate blood ever again. This is to reduce the (very small) risk of transmitting vCJD (more here). It’s worth noting that some hospitals offer a 'cell salvage' service to clean and recycle your own blood if a placenta accreta is suspected or diagnosed before delivery, or if a caesarean section is planned.

Can I stop placenta accreta from occurring again?
If only. The supervisor of midwives informed me that, if you've experienced placenta accreta in the past, medical studies have shown that you have a 6% chance of it happening again. This doesn't sound like much, but it medical terms that's apparently quite high, especially when you compare it to the 1 in 500 (0.2%) risk to the general pregnant population. Needless to say that anyone who's had placenta accreta before will automatically be classified as "high risk" in subsequent pregnancies.

If I’ve had placenta accreta in the past, I presume a planned a caesarian section would just be safer next time?
This is what I thought, but apparently not. After all, a c-section is a major operation, and heavy blood loss sustained whilst you are cut open for the procedure could prove to be more serious.


It probably makes sense to break this down into sections, as you're likely to feel lots of things, physically and emotionally.

As it was happening...
Imagine you've run a marathon, and just after you cross the finish line you get run over by a lorry. That's basically how it feels. You've gone through the most physically demanding and painful hours of your life, and just when you think it's over and you finally get to see and hold your baby, your sense of euphoria is knocked out of you and there are numerous people quite literally rummaging inside your body (with, in my case, having had no pain relief beyond gas and air) in an attempt to pull something out of you. It's horrendous, there's no denying it.

I gave birth in a birth centre which is attached to a fantastic hospital with state-of-the-art emergency care, so I was able to receive the help I required relatively quickly. If this does happen away from such facilities, however, the midwife with you will know what to do in order to get you access to the care you need as quickly as possible. I remember being prepped for surgery, having to sign a consent form giving permission for the surgeon to perform a hysterectomy if necessary (a hysterectomy is the simplest way to treat the condition, though for obvious reasons they try and avoid this if they can).

I thankfully didn't see the blood, mainly because my eyes were closed for most of it, but I do recall the sound of them suctioning it, presumably so they could accurately measure my blood loss. I can't remember the pain, but I do remember being desperate for the the anaesthetic to take effect so it would all be over. I was scared for my life, and I must admit that - when they allowed my husband in the room just before I went under - I did truly wonder whether we'd ever see each other again.

The aftermath...
The next instant (when in fact it was hours later) I woke up in recovery surrounded by medical staff and my husband. The operation had been a success - they'd removed the placenta piece by piece and had inserted a balloon inside my womb to stop the bleeding - and I was going to be moved to the High Dependency Unit. Everyone is different, of-course, but I felt the following things after I woke up:
- Relief - I was alive.
- Intense thirst - I'd been intubated so my throat was very scratchy, and my body was also working on overdrive to replenish the blood it had lost.
- Delirium - I was on 100% oxygen via a mask, later a nose tube.
- Hunger - I hadn't eaten anything for almost 24 hours Goddamit!
- Fear - I was terrified of haemorrhaging again, so decided the best way of dealing with this was to talk nonsense nonstop for 12 hours to stop me from thinking about what had happened, and what could happen again.
- Pins and needles - my hands and arms were tingling for the entire night afterwards, I think potentially related to the anaesthetic.
- Exhaustion - once the adrenalin had worn off.
- Extremely hormonal - I kept waking up wailing, though I expect this is common for any new mum, with the key difference that my baby wasn't with me.


First cuddle on the High Dependency Unit

Where is your baby in all of this?
It sounds odd, but - once I'd been told he was perfectly healthy - my baby was the thing I was the least worried about. I was lucky in that my parents were on hand to step in while my husband stayed by my side (needless to say a High Dependency Unit is not set-up for babies to take up residency, although he was allowed on the ward for sporadic visits), and they did bloody brilliantly in what must have been awful circumstances for them as well. They were given a private room in one of the maternity wards and cared for Elliott for the first two nights, while I focused on getting myself better so I could care for my baby as quickly as possible. So did you ever get the chance to bond with your new baby?
This is what I emotionally struggled with the most. Antenatally, so much emphasis had been placed on bonding via skin-to-skin contact in the initial hours that I felt that I had failed as a mother from the outset and I would never be able to make up for it. I had looked forward to giving birth so much and had presumed I would fall head over heels in love with my baby in the birth centre, so when I was whisked away from him it caught me totally off guard. It took me quite a while to come to terms with this and to realise that a very large number of new mothers feel the same, and - if you are separated in the beginning - skin-to-skin contact at any point in those early days and weeks does exactly the same job. Switching the internet off my phone when I finally did get home from hospital and spending a good 48 hours drinking in every glorious millimetre of my new baby also helped.

What is a High Dependency Unit (HDU) like?
HDU is the next level down from intensive care. Patients in HDU need round-the-clock monitoring and care, but they are conscious and can breathe unassisted. There are two patients for every nurse, and the nurses are there for you 24/7, and throughout the day a host of doctors, consultants and physiotherapists do their rounds. The care I received in HDU was incredible. I was more or less immobile for the first 36 hours or so, and had to be helped to even shift my weight on the bed. I was catheterised, had to be wheeled to the shower on a commode and helped with every bodily function imaginable. It would have been easy for me to have found all of this humiliating, but I was so thankful to be alive - and everyone was so sensitive and caring - that my overriding feeling during my three night stay on the ward was awe and gratitude.

What's going on 'down below'?
A lot. Firstly, it's all extremely swollen and tender. You may also be the proud owner of stitches if you suffered from any kind of perineal tear (second degree for me). I had a Bakri balloon inserted to stem the bleeding and help my womb to contract down to normal size. The balloon was gradually deflated over the course of a day before being removed (along with, in my case, about a mile of surgical wadding). I was terrified this extraction would be accompanied by blood loss but it was fine, if a little disconcerting. Speaking of which, bleeding after a vaginal delivery is perfectly normal, and the bleeding I experienced was no heavier than average and only lasted a couple of weeks, though I was constantly paranoid I would suddenly start haemorrhaging again. Finally, in all likelihood you'll have a catheter in. This ensures that your bladder doesn't get too full so your womb can contract and prevents further bleeding. It's also extremely handy in light of the fact that you'll be unlikely to be able to get out of bed for 24 hours or so. My catheter was removed just before I left HDU, and it was completely painless.

Where did you go after HDU?
I spent the remainder of my time in hospital on a maternity ward in a private room. The rooms had a chair in the corner which meant my husband could stay with me and our baby. There is no way I could have cared for Elliott without him. I required regular observing and medication, which often meant we were woken up in the middle of the night (or day) by a midwife / healthcare assistant / consultant coming in to the room - frustrating, but necessary, of-course. We encountered many wonderful people on the maternity ward, and lots of useful advice, but when the only place in the world you want to be is home it's very easy to feel an overriding sense of resentment that you're cooped up inside at the behest of someone else's timetable rather than enjoying the early days with your baby on your own terms.

What if I want to breastfeed my baby?
I've written separately about that here. But, in short, if you want to, it can be done. But it will require time, patience and a lot of support, which the hospital should be set-up to provide. Ask for help if it's not forthcoming, and don't beat yourself up if you turn to formula in the early days - I couldn't have established breastfeeding without it (and we still happily use it months down the line).

How long do you have to stay in hospital for?
I can only speak from my experience, but I was in hospital for eight nights. The team caring for me wanted to ensure there was no placenta left inside before discharging me, which required my womb to have sufficiently contracted down before performing an ultrasound scan. This scan was probably the most petrified I felt throughout the entire experience. It was almost a week since the birth when I had it, and I'd made so much physical progress in terms of being able to get out of bed and move around a bit. I feared that if I needed to go through the entire ordeal all over again I'd be back at square one. The scan did indeed reveal that there was still a blob of placenta left inside, and although in some cases this can be left alone to be absorbed, it was recommended that I had an additional operation under general anaesthetic to remove it. Fear not, though, if you do need this second procedure it's a completely different kettle of fish to the initial operation. It's a routine procedure as opposed to an emergency, so you won't wake up feeling as if you've just been in a massive accident. In fact, I felt brilliant (albeit still physically frail) the following day as a huge weight had been lifted off my mind, since I finally knew that all of my pesky placenta was gone and there was no longer a risk of haemorrhaging once I returned home.


Recovering at home
You must have been thrilled to go home finally?
You'd think. But despite feeling on top of the world the day before we went home, the next day was a different story entirely. Remember how you've run a marathon and then got knocked over on the finish line? Well, now imagine that you finally know that you're going to get through this, albeit with a long period of recovery ahead of you, but then someone hands you a screaming, hungry newborn baby, and it's partly up to you to keep that baby alive. All your body wants to do is sleep and recuperate, but you can't. And the realisation of this momentous responsibility suddenly dawned on me the day I was due to go home. I was a complete mess. I was physically and mentally exhausted and felt utterly hollow and bereft. I was also suffering from flashbacks of everything that had happened over the previous week and - when sleep finally did come - it was blighted by disturbing nightmares. I can honestly say that I've never felt less 'alive' than I did the day I got home with our new baby, which breaks my heart to this day.

How long did it take for you to feel 'normal' again?
With the exception of a few blips, I felt slightly better every day. I can't emphasise how important sleep was - an hour here, a couple of hours there - every time I woke up having banked a bit more slumber I felt a little stronger, and I could feel my personality and sense of humour rising up from somewhere deep inside. I spent the first 24 hours or so in bed, then the next day I'd venture downstairs to lie on the sofa, the next I'd sit on a dining room chair (with the help of a donut cushion), followed by stepping into the garden, walking the pram to the end of the road and so on and so forth. I was on a lot of medication to begin with (painkillers, antibiotics, iron, laxative), but within a week or so of returning home my iron levels were back to normal and we worked out a little system for both of us to get (just about) enough sleep to make it through the next 24 hours. After a couple of weeks we started to welcome visitors beyond immediate family, and my husband returned to work. I felt 100% better - physically and mentally - within about eight weeks. However, EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT.

Where can I get emotional support?
Do not be afraid to ask for help. I cannot emphasise this enough. I felt as if I had to prove myself as a mother and, for some reason, thought that letting people step in to care for my baby was 'cheating'. But this is not the case. You have been through a huge physical and emotional ordeal. Accept all the help you can get, but don’t expect professional help to present itself once you leave hospital. I quickly realised that if I wanted emotional support I had to be proactive and seek it out for myself. Hopefully the list below will give you a headstart:
- Immediate family - for the first two weeks we had immediate family on hand to take care of us, while we looked after Elliott. Let them cook, do the washing, get supplies from the shops - anything that needs doing beyond caring for your baby. If they offer to have responsibility for the baby for a night or two, even if it’s just in the next room, take it, and bank as much sleep as you can.
- Find women with similar experiences - I was put in touch with numerous women (via friends and a local Facebook group) who had encountered similar experiences when I posted an appeal for help. Their messages while I was still in hospital provided me with much-needed slices of hope that things would improve and - one day - I would feel like myself again.
- The NCT - I also called the NCT helpline and was referred to a lovely lady who had gone through a similar birth experience. We spoke (well, she spoke eloquently while I mumbled) on the phone one evening for around an hour and she gave me some fabulous tips for conserving energy once my husband returned to work. Hearing her children happily playing in the background whilst I was curled up in bed in a dark room was also strangely soothing. The NCT also offer breastfeeding counselling over the phone.
- Birth Trauma Association - I only learned about the BTA many weeks after I returned home, by which point I felt much stronger and in control - but they can also refer you to women who have experienced a similar birth.
- Supervisor of midwives - as previously mentioned, all Trusts have a supervisor of midwives team who are responsible for protecting women and their babies through ensuring midwifery standards are as high as they can be. Although they work closely with the midwives who provide the care, they report to a separate body and are therefore impartial to ensure they have the mother's best interests at heart. If you have any concerns or questions about the care you have received, ask to be referred to your local supervisory team.
- Healthcare professionals - if you continue to struggle emotionally following the birth, I'd advise you speak to your GP or health visitor for further advice. It is possible to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a difficult birth, and they will be able to refer you to sources of additional help.

But, hey, you got your baby at the end of it all, so all worth it, right?
Well, yes, of-course! Regardless of how tough a time a mother has when they give birth, the vast majority of attention naturally shifts to the baby once they arrive, and while your bundle of joy gives you a motivation like no other to get better, don’t underestimate - or let anyone else underestimate - what you went through to bring them into this world. Give yourself a break, ask for help (and, crucially, accept help when it's offered) and happy times will arrive sooner than you think. If you have any other additional questions about placenta accreta, or want to contact me about any element of this post, please feel free to do so. I would never want to go through it again, and of-course I wish things had been easier for us, but I can honestly say that I have never felt more thankful to be alive as a result of my experience, and so in awe of the NHS and the people in the world who I love the most.

Many thanks to the Lewisham and Greenwich Trust Supervisor of Midwives team for fact-checking this blog post.