The Frog Pyjamas

Two mums, one blog, two takes on parenting


The Big C: one mother’s journey through breast cancer

We might not find it particularly easy or even joyful, but we all know the benefits of breastfeeding. Immune support. It’s there on tap with no need to sterilise bottles. It can help provide protection from breast cancer… The list goes on.  Although not particularly blessed in the breast department, I managed to (just about) feed each of my boys for at least five months, and encouraged other mums to do the same through my role as chair of a local NCT group. I was an exercise fanatic, I didn’t smoke, didn’t drink that much (although I’m not a saint), I wasn’t overweigh… I was not expecting to be told, at the age of 33 and barely a year after my second son was born, that I had breast cancer.

Early detection is absolutely critical and I thank my lucky stars that I decided to go and tell my GP, on that wet morning in late August 2010, that I had found a small lump, no bigger than a frozen pea, in my left breast. Some months down the line, my GP confessed that she nearly didn’t refer me to the screening clinic as she was convinced it was nothing, given I had only just weaned my youngest son off breast milk. It was only because I had burst into tears on her that she decided to make an appointment for me.

At the clinic, I wasn’t too concerned. The consultant did an ultrasound and then her demeanour changed from chatty to businesslike and she said she wanted to do a biopsy and a mammogram. Still I wasn’t worried! It didn’t occur to me that women my age who have followed all (well, nearly all) the rules for healthy living, should get cancer. She said that there was something there but it was highly likely to be benign and we would know more in a week.

The day of the results was a bright autumn day in September 2010 (I can remember the date, the time, what I was wearing). My husband P and I were taken into a side room at the clinic and the consultant said: “Your results have come back and I’m afraid to say that it is breast cancer. But it is early stage so there is a lot we can do about it.” At this point she paused. I remember just sitting there, numb to the core. Cancer? Really?? That word meant surgery, hair loss, death. Still I felt numb – no words came to me. The consultant carried on talking through the treatment plan, and she wanted to perform another biopsy as they thought there was another tumour alongside the first. I wasn’t really taking it all in. I remember turning to P and seeing his face absolutely blanch. All I could think was that I wouldn’t see my little boys grow up, in fact would I even see Christmas? Did early stage mean I had months, rather than weeks or days to live? The consultant was, by this stage, beckoning me over to another room for the biopsy. I asked P to call my mum – I knew I couldn’t tell her, she had lost her sister to breast cancer five years ago, was she about to lose her daughter too?

I still wasn’t able to speak or even feel anything, even through the ordeal of an x-ray biopsy (being sandwiched in a mammogram machine for over 40 minutes whilst the doctor periodically took images and then samples). In fact it wasn’t until the consultant led me back into the waiting room to see P that I fell apart. The room was full of ladies over 60. I suddenly realised the enormity of this and how young I was and I collapsed on the floor, sobbing. A kind nurse appeared and she and P got me to a side room and sat with me, holding my hand, hugging me and passing me tissues until I had cried it all out. I have never cried that much in my life, it just wouldn’t stop.

The days that followed blurred into one. My mother, although utterly shocked, rallied and came down to help with the boys. H, my eldest, had just turned four and had started reception. S, aged one, was in nursery. Appointments at the hospital merged together, meetings with consultants, oncologists, breast care nurses, leaflets, leaflets, leaflets. It was decided that radical surgery and immediate reconstruction would be the best plan and so, just ten days after that initial diagnosis, I was in the Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford.

The surgery itself was an epic seven-hour ordeal followed by a two-week recovery in hospital, surrounded by elderly ladies who all looked at me pityingly, their heads tilted sideways. And then I met Helen – a bubbly, wonderful mum of two (slightly older than mine) who was in the bed across from me. Helen was recovering from an infection in one of her reconstructed breasts, following a double mastectomy (she had the BRCA 1 gene and had found a lump that was quite advanced and aggressive).

She would perch on my bed as I lay there in a morphine-induced fog, surrounded by drips and machines, chattering away and really making me laugh. The night we ordered take away pizza because the food was so vile and watched x-factor curled up on my bed was the night I knew I was going to get through this.

At this point just thinking about my little boys threw me into a state of complete panic and fear. My only experience with cancer had been losing my aunt and so that was my frame of reference. Whilst in hospital and then recovering at home it was obviously impossible for me to function normally as a mother, although we kept everything as low key as possible in front of them. I never wanted them to visit me in hospital because it would have been too traumatic for them. For the first few operations, I was on the ladies cancer ward which is a very difficult place for a child to comprehend and anyway, the risk of them bringing in infection would have been too great. Plus, as a survival instinct, I had mentally detached myself from Anna – the Mother, although I kept photos of them next to my bed and welcomed their cards, pictures and paper flowers.

The other mothers at H’s school and our local friends were incredible. We had meals cooked and delivered for us and one lovely friend even washed H’s PE kit each Friday night so I didn’t have to worry about it. My parents and in-laws were fantastic too and took turns to come and stay so that I could really rest and recover. After leaving hospital, I was initially in so much pain that I couldn’t do anything apart from move very slowly and carefully around the house. Not being able to drive for eight weeks was tough as well. H knew something wasn’t right but we kept the atmosphere as happy and ‘normal’ as possible. He could see the dressings on my back quite clearly and we told him I had had an operation on my back which seemed to satisfy him. The most important thing was to keep up the charade that everything was ok – that helped P and I keep our heads together.

It wasn’t really until about three months later that I found the boys helped me to focus on getting better and feeling positive. I would often lie awake at night thinking about the ‘what if’ and then I would creep into their rooms and watch them sleep.

Because of the extensive surgery and the removal of most of my lymph nodes, the consultant and oncologist were satisfied that the cancer hadn’t spread and thus ruled out any chemo or radiotherapy. I would have to go on hormone therapy for at least five years as the tumours were triple positive (which meant they were fed mostly by oestrogen so it was imperative to remove this hormone from my system to prevent future recurrence). Those first few months post surgery and diagnosis were hard and both P and I were tired, stressed and irritable. I had to go through more operations to fix the reconstruction and I have chronic nerve damage to my back as a result of the reconstruction. The hormone therapy drug, Tamoxifen, caused my body to react so badly that I ended up having a hysterectomy (hilariously, just a week after P had put himself through a vasectomy).

The hardest phase was actually about six months after my official diagnosis, when all the hospital visits started to peter out. I became anxious and fearful and wouldn’t leave the house. Friends still came over to jolly me along but I was terrified and the enormity of it all hit me like a truck. I ended up having counselling and was put on anti depressants. Looking back, I think it was really to be expected – I had spent too long pretending to be fine and never really got to grips with how I actually felt. I bottled it all up and eventually the lid blew off.

It was terrifying to have a taste of my own mortality at a time when P and I had only really just got our heads around being parents. We tried desperately to be upbeat in front of the boys but it didn’t always work out that way. Talking to H now (aged eight), I asked him if he remembered those months when he had started school and his view was that he knew something was up but that he is glad he didn’t know the full extent as it didn’t upset him. I have since told him what happened and we talked through what cancer is and how, given the right and also timely treatment, it can be 100 per cent curable. It is more poignant now as there have been other mums in his school who have been diagnosed and so he is able to offer kind words and support to those boys who are upset – it’s not something I ask him to do, he just wants to. I am very proud of the way in which he has dealt with everything and he is now a remarkably sensitive and kind little boy. S is still too young to understand, but I will tell him when he’s old enough.

I also realise I was lucky. I use that word carefully, because I clearly wasn’t lucky to get cancer in the first place but I was lucky to have found it early and for it to have been treatable. I was also lucky to have the support of an amazing group of doctors, nurses, family and friends who helped P, me and our two little boys through those really dark times.

Guest blogger: Anna

To mark the end of her five year remission, Anna will be running the Virgin London Marathon in April 2015 for Breast Cancer Care – a charity that gave her so much support through their helplines, young women support groups and publications. Every penny goes towards helping another person through the fear and uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis. If you would like to sponsor her, please go to: www.justgiving.com/Annalisa-Alexander1


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Double standards and the hands-on dad

They’re not as light as they look, are they, children? The picture of the buggy on the Mamas and Papas website portrays a svelte hipster in an achingly nice sweater propelling his Little Darling along without a care in the world. Probably he would glide casually up Gipsy Hill. Well, I’m no hipster. I’m an overweight 1990s throwback and I used to dislike climbing up that hill when all I had to do was pick up our curry for two from Crystal Palace. With my child in tow I have seriously considered crampons and a rope.

It’s the trips first thing that bite the hardest, when the air is cold and apparently serrated as it stabs its way down to my pounding lungs; my legs still ache from wandering aimlessly around the lounge the night before fruitlessly trying to settle The Boy; and my head aches from dehydration because for some days now there hasn’t really been enough time to pour myself a glass of water. When I reach the top I pause and gaze back over London. I pretend it’s to enjoy the view, but when you’re basically crying because you’re so unfit you can’t see much anyway. I stop simply so I don’t keel over. It is on such a morning and in just such a state of obliterated reverie that a woman stops her car at the traffic lights, winds her window down and yells at me: “Nice to see a father doing a shift for a change!”

I don’t react, partly because I haven’t regained the power of speech after my mountaineering exertions, but mostly because I am a little shocked at being screamed at, and bewildered by what might cause someone to reach such as state of agitation that they bawl at me in the middle of the road before driving on. How egregious must my gender appear to her to be, that it should provoke such an odd reaction to the sight of a man pushing his child up a hill?

The Boy is sick, a consequence of eating mud, or poo, or another child’s finger, or some such hostile infiltrator of our carefully and endlessly sterilised and disinfected existence, and I am off to Sainsbury’s to buy some form of chemical plug for his effervescent rear end. His front end is pretty volatile when it comes to that, and my lurch up Gipsy Mountain has been accompanied by bouts of prolonged, agonized screeching. All illnesses suffered by an infant are of course exacerbated by their immediately catching a cold. In short, his world is ending, the ravens are leaving the tower, all is lost, and worse still his teeth are all hurty. Happily we are still at the stage where the dummy is a pacifier rather than a useful projectile weapon, and so it is that, finally becalmed, we mooch forlornly around the aisles looking for his medicine.

I used self-service supermarket tills long before The Boy was born, essentially because I am a misanthrope, and any form of interaction avoidance technology is absolutely fine by me. But there is a flaw in the system, a loophole exposed by The Boy’s company and ruthlessly exploited by enemy forces. The prowling assistant whose job it is to relieve bagging areas of their unexpected items will make a beeline for any buggy. The one in Crystal Palace Sainsbury’s is particularly persistent. “Breathe on her,” I plead with The Boy inwardly as she inevitably approaches, “breathe on her hard. Give her your cold. It’s the only way she’ll learn. It’s too late for us, but you might just save others.”

“Isn’t he amazing?” asks the assistant, apparently rhetorically, bending over the buggy. I smile. As it happens I agree with her. The Boy glares. We routinely tell friends The Boy takes against that it’s random and he’s just in a bad mood. He isn’t. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He just doesn’t like you, and he doesn’t like the persistent assistant in Crystal Palace Sainsbury’s.

“You’re amazing,” she continues, firmly unabashed, “but you don’t need that, do you.” With that she reaches into the buggy, removes the dummy from his mouth, and then wanders off to help someone buying a six pack of Tennent’s who can’t do so without its being verified that he is eighteen. That it’s 8.30 in the morning, and the singular odour of the individual in question suggests that he’s already put away three or four, is not an impediment to the persistent assistant’s willingness to verify, cheered as she is by her heart-warming encounter with my child, fortified by the sense that she has righted a hapless father’s mistake.

You will think I should have said something to this idiot. You might say I should have retorted with something sharp and witty to the woman who stopped her car to yell at me. I should certainly have said something unpleasant to the toothy Underground gate attendant who, having obsequiously held the luggage gate open for the improbably attractive mother pushing the ostentatiously vast pram, let it swing back on The Boy and me at Tower Hill. I might have been more aggressive in pursuit of a seat on the train home from London, when all those miserable bastards looked up, thought, “he’s a man, he’ll cope” and stayed exactly where they were. I could have pulled my colleague up when, after what I will admit was a fairly melodramatic, morning-after rendering of the story of what a nightmare The Boy had been when I tried to get him to go to sleep the night before, she replied with a sympathetic tut and the line “sometimes they just want their mum, don’t they…”

The truth is my stock reaction to all of these offences – and they are offensive, not innocent mistakes or me taking it wrongly, but considered, prejudiced views of fathers generally – is to smile weakly and walk on. The anger hits me ten minutes later, when having run the incident or conversation back through my mind I realise that it would not have happened had The Boy’s mother been pushing the buggy. The delay is caused by the fact that the prejudice is in me too. I can’t very well be morally outraged (I have a good go, mind) because ten months ago I would have made a lot of the same mistakes. Although I like to think that I wouldn’t have snatched a dummy out of the mouth of someone else’s child, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to stop my car to yell at a dad in the street.

There’s an extent to which we bring this nonsense on ourselves. Just one in 172 fathers take Additional Paternity Leave. Certainly among the couple of dozen fathers at my office I am the only one who has done so to date. Worse still, four in ten fathers don’t take paternity leave at all. Statistically, therefore, fatherhood is a relatively rare public sight. I can be as upset as I like by it but I ought not to be surprised.

A recent Frog Pyjamas post makes the point that the very terminology of fatherhood is wrong. I am not “happy to help out”. Happiness doesn’t come into it. (For the sake of clarity, I am well beyond merely being “happy” to be a father, and never more so than when I returned to Sainsbury’s the following weekend and saw the persistent assistant sneezing heavily.) But I know dads who refer to looking after their kids alone in the evening as “babysitting” without thinking it’s at all an odd way to put it. When I breathlessly announced my impending fatherhood to my male colleagues, my trembling hand clasping the grainy picture of what we had been assured by the medical staff was some form of human life, I felt the searching glances of more than one of them, trying to determine whether I regarded these tidings as wonderful or a dire, personal tragedy.

My own father, for whom such things as Additional Paternity Leave were not available, gazed sagely down on his grandson on hearing these complaints and remarked that such sexism will probably be a thing of the past when The Boy is staggering around with his own buggy. I’m not so sure. Equality tends only to come to those who campaign for it. At the very least it requires dads like me to stop grinning and walking on.

Guest blogger: Steve

Grumpy father trying and failing to resist the unbending and thus far all-powerful will of his first child


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Who needs a car? Parenting on public transport

When my husband and I announced my pregnancy our families breathed a collective sigh of relief and said: “Well you’ll definitely have to learn to drive now.”

Aged 38 and 39 respectively when the happy event occurred, we had managed to live very effectively in various parts of the UK without being able to drive a car. Over the years this caused raised eyebrows whenever the subject arose, despite the fact that we lived in cities where driving was never a very good idea and certainly not necessary. But the reaction of others suggested a belief deep within the British psyche that you are not a “proper” grown up unless you drive a car, or at least have the ability to do so. This attitude is, in my experience, particularly prevalent amongst the older generation. My husband’s mother has, I’m sure, a frown line arising solely from this issue. And thus the hope from our loved ones that a baby would mean we would have to grow up at last and get behind that wheel.

Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. 16 months into our daughter’s life we still haven’t quite got around to arranging the lessons. And the interesting thing is that, in my humble opinion, we manage just fine without.

Some might think we didn’t have an auspicious start, when we left the house with little B. aged two weeks for her first bus trip. (I waited two weeks to give her some chance of developing a basic immune system.) No sooner had our little family unit headed for the bus stop across the road, when we were greeted by a local “gentleman of the road”. I had spotted him from our flat window on previous occasions but this was our first meeting. He tended to wait outside the Oxfam shop to accost donors with the line: “Is there anything worth having in there?” whilst nodding at their bin bags.

On this occasion, catching sight of the baby in her pram he shuffled over and peered in, congratulating us and cooing over her. Obviously excited by her beauty, he announced that he would do a dance for us. My husband took this opportunity to mutter that he had to go to Superdrug and darted off, leaving me and the two week old to deal with our new friend. He took a step back and then launched into an extempore modern jazz routine which ended with him opening his coat with a flourish. I was relieved to see that he had clothes on underneath. I clapped nervously and then as the phrase goes, made my excuses and left. Thus little B. began her journey on public transport. A good omen I think.

Since then the two of us have spent a lot of time on the grand old Lothian buses. All mothers will know the main drawbacks of travelling with young babies on the buses: the dreaded words from the driver, “I’ve already got two on”, and the embarrassment when the baby decides to have a screaming meltdown while the eyes of what feels like an entire battalion of Edinburgh matrons bore into the back of your neck. There is also the stress of queue jumping buggies but on the one occasion this happened to me I was delighted to find that my fellow passengers all rounded on the woman in question and insisted I embark first.

But the buses have also meant that my daughter is very much a people person and people watcher and greets most of humanity as if they are friends she hasn’t yet made. I put this down to the affectionate attention she received from fellow bus passengers from that very first trip onwards. The fact that she can have a good look around and peer at the strange shenanigans that almost inevitably occur on public transport make journeys much easier than I think they would be were she alone in the back of a car whilst I, by necessity, ignored her in the front.

Longer trips are mostly made by flying, although we did manage one very seamless train-ferry combo for a holiday in Arran. This does cause some eco-guilt in me and I know it’s not ideal, but with relatives in Birmingham and Bristol, the alternative would be five to seven hour train journeys and I’m afraid the heart just quails at that prospect.

I’ve undertaken many trips alone with B. on planes and she’s a great little traveller. I’ve been lucky in that her screaming is kept to a minimum and she is content to stay sitting on my lap. For now. Other passengers, who obviously sigh internally when they see us get on board and no doubt think, “please don’t sit next to me”, have been pleasantly surprised and have complimented the baby on her aeroplane manners. One elderly gentleman insisted that my little boy had behaved really well, despite me repeatedly correcting his “he” to “she” and despite the fact that she was wearing a dress, but you take what you can get and in the end I smiled politely.

One word of warning though: changing the little blighters in the toilet cublicle is generally a nightmare. Confined space, tiny pull-down changing table, always turbulence just at the wrong moment moment and a hopefully irrational fear that the baby will slide down the rubbish chute and out of the plane.

It may be that my experience of a car free life avec child is unusually positive but I don’t think so. I fully acknowledge that if we lived in a rural area it would be much, much more difficult but to an extent we do arrange our lives for our convenience. Who knows, maybe one day one of us will finally step into the right-hand front seat of a car and know what to do with it. Maybe when the child needs to be carted around her various improving activities. But then again maybe not – we’ve just bought a baby seat for our bikes….

Guest blogger: Farrhat

Lives in Scotland with her husband and toddler and is reluctantly contemplating returning to work as a lawyer


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Never say never: notes to my pre-motherhood self

Pre-motherhood it was easy to make confident decisions, to plan what, as a parent, I would and would not do. Now, as I enter the final furlong of my first year as a mother, I have adapted to my ‘new normal’ and many of my old certainties just make me laugh. Here are a few things I have realised over the last all-consuming, confusing, sometimes painful but ultimately joyous nine months.

The things I swore I’d never do versus what actually happened:

I was not going to shout at my husband. It’s a clichéd trap that I was not going to fall into. We have a great marriage, right? Of course we would carry this into parenthood and always ‘be on the same page’…

Hahahahahahahahaha. Whilst I pick myself up from the floor laughing, read on. The first disagreement we had was in the hospital over whether to give our baby girl formula as my milk was delayed in coming in due to a rather interesting labour. My husband had been NCT’d (that’s a whole other blog) and felt that administering Aptamil was tantamount to poisoning her. I, on the other hand, whilst remaining determined to breastfeed, had survived being bottle-fed as a child and just wanted to get some fluid into our girl.

And so it began. Over the next few months we disagreed over many, many things – driven, in the main, by sheer eyeball-weeping tiredness, but also by fear. Fear that our smallest parenting choices would somehow harm this sacred thing we’d been allowed to carry home. Our disagreements usually played out in hushed passive-aggressive hissing over the sleeping infant and in my sleep-deprived, cranky, sore and hormonal state, I thought only I had the capacity to understand and soothe my child.  If I found that circling the crib three times, throwing salt over my shoulder and chanting got our girl to sleep then why the hell couldn’t he do it too?  Although I have found that a mother’s instinct is to be trusted, my “it’s me or no one” mentality was clearly insane (but I regret to say that sometimes it reappears).

If I had this time again, I would try to listen to my husband more, to let him do more and to not try and conquer this thing alone as he too needed time to evolve his unique and special role in our daughter’s world.

I was not going to give my child a dummy. Why would I need one? Surely they are for mothers who don’t understand their children? Or worse still…are lazy?

Hahahahaha… Sorry, I will stop this. Newborns like to suck and, contrary to popular belief, they aren’t always hungry. After a few weeks, following a suggestion from my Health Visitor, I tried giving E. a dummy. It immediately soothed my crying bundle and gave me (or rather my nipples) much-needed time away from breastfeeding and even the chance to have the odd shower. Dummies may also have a further positive – scientific research suggests that babies who go to sleep with one are potentially less likely to suffer from SIDS. Certainly that made me feel better about my decision, but to use one obviously has to be your own parenting decision. The dummy disappeared from our lives as quickly as it appeared – I realised around four months that it had become a sleep aid so went cold turkey and hey presto, a better sleeping baby! But I’d like to thank the dummy fairy in any case for preventing early insanity. Mothers who don’t resort to one or have babies that don’t need one – I salute you.

I was not going to buy loud, obnoxious, plastic toys. My child would have traditional, educational wooden toys and learn from me and from nature…

I was told by other mum friends I should get a specific all-singing, all-dancing bouncer. I turned my nose up at these helpful people and bought instead a sleek Scandinavian-designed bouncer with a traditional wooden toy bar. My little girl would go to sleep in it if she was tired, but would start to shout quite quickly if not ready for sleepy time. At dinner one night at a fellow new mum’s house, she went into another early-stage inexplicable meltdown and other mum offered her son’s shiny plastic bouncing chair. Little E. was mesmerised and remained so for most of the evening. Suffice to say, Amazon received a ‘buy with one click’ visit that very evening and I’ve subsequently turned my nose back to its usual position on this one.

I was not going to let my personal appearance and standards drop. I remember visiting a new mum just before teatime one day only to find her un-showered and still in her PJs. This was not going to happen to me.

I think I managed to shower and dress most days. But make-up, deodorant and hair-brushing became unfamiliar in the first few months. On one memorable occasion, I managed one eye of make-up but completely forgot the other only to discover this in a mirror a few hours later in a coffee shop loo. I also frequently wore PJ bottoms as legitimate day clothing and continued to wear posset covered tops out after only ‘showing it’ the muslin. I’m better now but things like this don’t matter so much anymore anyway…

Not so much something I swore I’d never do, but rather something I thought I didn’t need…new mum friends. Why would I need new friends? I have friends, most of whom have children and some live near me.

I remember asking a friend with children whether it was worth attending the paid-for parenting classes recommended to all new parents, to which she replied: “not for the information but you need to buy friends”. How right she was. These women were going through exactly the same thing as me, at exactly the same time. I found I could be more honest with them than with some of my closest friends and have formed new and valuable friendships.

Over the last few months I have learned a lot, but there are many things that I now know and do that I wish I had learned much earlier. In no particular order:

As long as my baby is fed, clean and cuddled I am doing a great job. In the early weeks I strived for what I saw as perfection and constantly found myself wanting. I do what feels right for me and my baby but am willing to adapt – I no longer put unnecessary expectations on myself.

I wish I had been kinder to myself just after E. was born – I had just done a monumental thing and had earned the right to eat chocolate and wallow for a while without feeling guilty.

It took some time but physically I do now feel like “me” again.  At times, I never thought I would.

Bad times happen but they also pass – the baby will sleep and the phase will end.

Sometimes I felt alone, helpless and confused – sometimes I still do. I don’t know any new parent that hasn’t despite what front they may present. It helped enormously to share my fears.

It’s okay to cry – either through hormones, tiredness, frustration or joy. I let them come, they are cathartic.

I trust my instincts more – friends, midwives and well-meaning women from an older generation will give advice, but they are not bringing up my baby.

I should accept help when it is offered. There is an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child.  I thought that accepting help meant that I wasn’t doing a good enough job. With the power of hindsight I can now see that was really silly.

The intensity of love I feel for my child constantly surprises me and the mild-mannered and polite former me will quickly become a tiger to protect her.

It is perfectly acceptable to say no to visitors. I found there were two types – the ones who popped over unannounced to see baby and who sat and expected to be fed tea and cake whilst prodding my sleeping bundle in the hope she would perform like the proverbial monkey. I wish I had found a nice way to put them off, but I didn’t and sat with clenched teeth through many a well-intentioned visit, wishing they would leave us to sleep, panic or just stare into space. The second type of visitor were the ones who checked in advance, brought their own cake and did the dishes or a pile of laundry. They were always welcome.

I need lots of hand cream – I wash my hands so many times I frequently end up looking like the Skeksis from The Dark Crystal.

From even a few weeks in I encountered competitive parents. I have learnt to ignore them or better still, bin them. My child will develop at her own pace.

I find that I have hidden vats of energy and patience (although not with my husband) after days of little sleep.

I have experienced every type of emotion possible – sometimes within the space of an hour.

I really should sleep when baby sleeps – sod the hoovering and there really is no need ever to iron anything.

Buying stuff for my baby – even muslins and changing mats – is actually more fun than buying things for myself. Who knew?

All in all, my experience of motherhood so far is that it is one of the hardest, most demanding and least recognised jobs there is, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The only problem is, just when I think I’ve cracked it, something changes and I feel hopelessly confused and lost again. Anyone fancy writing me a guide to the next 18 years?

Guest blogger: Nicky

Currently taking time off from her career in Broadcast Media having had her first baby . Loves her friends, good food, cuddling her cat and annoying her husband.


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Why I take my children to art galleries

On a recent trip to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, twin 2 yowled her way through an exhibition of paintings by American Impressionists. Yowling is good. We take yowling to be indicative of enthusiasm – certainly it comes with lots of smiles and limb-waving – whilst howling, which is also available as a communicative gesture, is most definitely bad. Twin 1, though appreciative of some works, is less of an art-fiend than her sister, but she likes a good gallery-floor space for an uninterrupted sprint-crawl if there’s no one else about.

My partner and I often take our children to art galleries. If the artist Jake Chapman is right, then we’re wasting our time, and perhaps being dreadfully arrogant. Chapman is scathing of parents who imagine that their children can ‘understand’ great works of art. Part of what Chapman seems to want to say is that to take apparently child-like art at face value is to miss a great deal about the complexity and richness of the particular artwork: Fair enough. Another part of what he was presumably up to is getting free publicity for his new exhibition: Job done. But as a parent who regularly takes her very young kids to art exhibitions, Chapman’s pitch has made me reflect.

Let’s start with why I take my kids to art exhibitions: It’s for me. If they get some developmental benefit, then great. But that’s not why I do it. I went to lots of exhibitions before I had children (and never minded or gave much thought to seeing children in galleries). Like most parents, I haven’t transformed into a completely new person with a limitless passion for petting zoos and soft-play areas. So, if it’s alright with Mr Chapman, I’ll continue going to art exhibitions. And since I have children with whom I like to spend time, and since I gather locking them in a cupboard whilst I appreciate art would be frowned upon, I’ll continue to take them with me.

I don’t pretend to be any kind of an art critic, but I liked what Anthony Gormley had to say about Chapman’s comments: looking at art is about experience more than knowledge, and experience precedes knowledge. I was struck when both of my daughters, who are intrigued by other children, seemed keen on Mary Cassatt’s beautiful paintings of children about their age. I can’t believe that such young children have no idea know what they like, or have no capacity to reflect on art. We took the little ones to a JD Fergusson exhibition several times, and on each visit one particular painting (of a voluptuous female nude in striking blues and pinks) completely arrested twin 2. Of course, babies generally see bright contrasting colours more easily than they see subtle colours. But in an exhibition full of big canvasses with big blocks of bright contrasting colours, my 6 month old daughter was repeatedly enchanted by one particular painting. I don’t think that tells you she’s some sort of proto-art-genius – she’s chiefly interested in being able to get her feet in her mouth so we can knock that one on the head. But I do think it tells us that even very young kids can get something from visiting art galleries.

So it’s rather a shame that some people clearly do feel that galleries aren’t for children. Chapman implies that galleries are reserved spaces, for those who can appreciate (‘understand’) art. I doubt that I ‘understand’ Great Works of Art in the way that Chapman intends. I don’t care. I certainly don’t think it means I’m not entitled to sit in front of a painting in a public gallery. And if I happen to sit on the floor and yowl, I’m not too sure why that should be a problem.

I know it’s not quite that simple: Other people (adults) also go to exhibitions and presumably want to appreciate art, and I can see that a yowling baby might disrupt one’s contemplative mood. On one miserable occasion one of our twins howled, not yowled, for a good 40 minutes, in the exhibition, then the cafe, and all the way to the bus stop. Even on their best behaviour, their presence might not suit other gallery-goers. A visit to Edinburgh City Art Centre this week is a case in point. Twin 1 was tickled pink to be able to scramble back and forth towards the wall on which an image was being projected, making shadow shapes as she went. I can see that from the point of view of the artist (whose name I didn’t manage to register – keeping an eye on crawling kids does get in the way of things) it might seem arrogant, or at least disrespectful, to encourage that sort of engagement with their work. And yet, I think that’s an awfully precious approach to have to art.

No doubt my daughters’ behaviour was distracting for the two women who soon arrived to look at the exhibit, and we were pretty swift in gathering up babies and buggy and moving on to another exhibit so as to leave them in peace. These women were patient and polite enough to smile indulgingly as we did so. But that’s not always been the case. An older couple at the American Impressionism exhibition audibly tutted and sighed whenever we were within sight. As we move pretty swiftly – even twin 2’s appetite for gazing at a painting is limited – it would have been easy enough for them to wait us out, but they perversely determined to keep pace with us and disapprove all the way.

On the other hand, on one of my first trips with my children to an exhibition, a woman stopped me to say how marvellous it was that I was bringing my daughters to a gallery so young. It was nice of her to say so, but it honestly never occurred to me not to do this, and it was one of my many experiences early on of being implicitly told, usually by older women, that I was doing something with my children that wasn’t quite the done thing. Why should that be the case? My sense is that many adult gallery-goers think of galleries as an ‘adult’ space, and accordingly expect to enjoy them free of the irritating noise and fuss that kids inevitably bring in their wake. As a parent, it is impossible to be unaware of this and difficult not to feel inhibited by it, even if you don’t agree. Certainly, a public gallery, as a public (i.e., publicly-funded) space, can hardly be justified in thinking of itself in this way, and in fact many galleries have brilliant programmes aimed at getting children to engage with art. My favourite gallery in the world has a whole area given over to children, but much closer to home are the wonderful Kelvingrove, and the truly innovative Jupiter Artland, and no doubt many more I’ve yet to visit with my daughters.

Art galleries strike me as brilliant places to take kids. In Scotland, where I live, they’re usually free, they’ve got space to wander in, they generally have baby change facilities and the good ones have cafés with multiple high chairs (always a concern if you’ve got twins). Best of all they’ve got paintings that have stories behind them to be discovered or invented, by parents and children. Obviously children need to be told that they’re not allowed to touch the exhibits, but I’ve seen more than a few adults who need to be reminded of that too, and I don’t find yowling children any more irksome that adult show-offs declaiming loudly about what (or who) art is for.

Guest blogger: Kerri

Parent of twin daughters and lover of art galleries based in Edinburgh


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Feminism and fertility: The IVF perspective

Kirstie Allsopp (finder of houses and a dab hand with a glitter pen and a staple gun) is in the Twittersphere firing line for the advice she would give a daughter, were she to have one: don’t go to university; start work straight after school; stay at home and save up for a deposit [on a house]; find yourself a nice boyfriend and have a baby by the time you’re 27.

Allsopp is known for her blunt and outspoken views, but this is a difficult message in an era of female equality. Among other outraged reactions, a headteacher from Berkshire has deemed her remarks ‘rather patronising‘ to teenagers. But Allsopp qualifies her opinion: “Women are being let down by the system… At the moment, women have 15 years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home and have a baby. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone.”

I can’t speak for Kirstie, or Twitter, or the headteacher from Berkshire. I can however speak as a woman who has benefitted from living in this era of female emancipation. I worked hard at school; I got a good degree from a top university; I have nearly 14 years of successful work experience behind me and, before leaving to go freelance a couple of years ago, I achieved a senior position in my field of choice. Like Kirstie, I am a ‘passionate feminist’ – I think that all people who want men and women to be equal are feminists. I am also a woman who has just survived nearly four years of fertility treatment.

I was lucky enough to meet my partner at university and, with a few blips (we were young!) we have been together ever since, finally tying the knot nearly six years ago. At that point, at just over 30, we both knew we wanted a family but wanted to ‘be married’ for a few years first and in all honestly were having too much fun to want to trade it in for sleepless nights and a hanger on.

After a few years, when we felt we were ready, we started trying for a baby. We felt excited, scared and a bit naughty. I think we thought we were pregnant the first time we tried. In the following first few months, I would say things like “let’s not try this month as I want to be able to drink at my brother’s 40th…” If only I had known. By that time, at nearly 33, we were already a bit late to the party – a good proportion of our friends were already one down and thinking about a second (or third) but it wasn’t until after six or seven months of trying that we sensed something might be wrong.

The three years that followed were the hardest of my life. Our lack of ‘bump’ became all consuming. We stopped drinking alcohol, ate organic, monitored ourselves to within an inch of our lives but still – nothing. We tried to remain positive but suddenly bumps and babies were everywhere. When we moved to ‘assisted fertility’ we were very open with our friends and family which proved to be both a blessing and a curse. Whilst we were grateful for our friends’ concern, the constant “how is it going?” was tough to deal with (“it’s not going very well guys”).

It is only now, four years on, that I realise quite how horrific (and I don’t use that word lightly) the last few years have been. IVF is intense. I put my body through constant physical abuse – the multiple daily injections; the journeys in and out of enforced menopause; the yo-yo emotions; the weight gain and general bat shit craziness. Our strong marriage was tested and tested again, our finances took a battering but worst of all was the indescribable feeling of anguish and loss of hope when yet again a cycle had not worked or a precious embryo that you had loved from the moment it was a speck on a screen in a petri-dish had simply vanished or stopped growing inside me.

I am one of the lucky ones. I delivered a healthy baby girl at Christmas but I have friends who for emotional, physical or just plain financial reasons have had to stop trying and look for a different dream. My friends and I are not alone – the NHS cites that around one in seven couples has trouble conceiving (around 3.5 million people).

I don’t know whether our amazing daughter will be the only child I carry. The likelihood of us being able to extend our family naturally, given our history, is small. We have decided not to pursue IVF again, both for the sake of our marriage and our daughter. I don’t want to be a (single) mess of a mother in the first few years of my daughter’s life for an outcome which is uncertain.

So, where am I going with this? I am overjoyed to have a daughter. There’s still a fair way to go before true equality is reached, but it’s a great time to be a woman. I want my little girl to understand that she can be anything she wants to be, have anything she wants to have and be judged on her talents and intelligence and not on her weight and her looks. But… I will be arming her with knowledge – that, in the absence of major scientific breakthroughs, nature still plays a large part in female fertility. It isn’t fair and it is still one thing that men don’t really have to think about (although many infertility problems are experienced by men too) but for women it does get harder as you get older, and there is a time limit.

Not everyone will have problems and I know many women who have conceived naturally into their 40s. For that I am truly thankful – I would not wish the pain and hopelessness of infertility on anyone. But, just as we don’t know what lies ahead for us in old age, we don’t know what our own unique fertility window is. That being the case, I wish that women could have better access to basic fertility screening in the same way that we are offered screening for different cancers and other illnesses. I wish for earlier intervention (if there is a suspected problem) and help that is not governed by your postcode. Our GP told us we needed to prove that we had had sex every other day for three years before we could be classed as ‘infertile’ and therefore receive basic testing. I want to see greater support and advice for women where there might be a problem or where age might be a factor but where the woman is not ready, hasn’t found the right person or is not financially able to consider a child. All this would allow women to take control of their family-planning decisions based on knowledge.

Some women may not want to be mothers, but many will and any early indicators that it may be a rocky road may help inform the decisions that we make. Do I regret my degree and my climb up the greasy corporate pole? Not a bit, but I would have definitely have made different decisions were I to have known what was ahead of us. For me, having a family would have been more important than that pay rise or that deadline.

So, whilst I may not agree with Kirstie’s generic advice for girls, I believe that she raises an important debate – our girls should be aware that there may be choices to be made for some if they want to have what they want, what they really, really want.

 Guest blogger: Nicky

Currently on maternity leave with her first baby having temporarily escaped the world of Broadcast Media. Loves her friends, good food, cuddling her cat and annoying her husband when not pureeing everything in sight.