5 things motherhood has taught me (so far)

This is the last month that, when asked how old my little one is, I can respond in months – without making everyone around me cringe, that is. He feeds himself his own breakfast and is an expert in washing his hands. He remembers little stories from his life and could spend hours throwing stones into the sea. Just this morning, he told me he was ‘sad’ because I had taken something away from him (#emotionalliteracy) and he is using new words every day – this morning, he was working on ‘milk, please’ and having a full-on conversation with the postman about his ‘buggy’ – and as he adventures in the world each day I can tell his grip of my hand is a little looser. Okayyy Gemma – stop before your tears cloud your vision so much you can’t write the rest of this!

I remember being worried, when he was tiny, that I wouldn’t love any stage as much as the first; but I needn’t have worried. Each stage has achieved the impossible and been better than the last. New mums, take note: you don’t need to worry, I promise.

Motherhood, and the one who made me a mother, have become two of my life’s greatest teachers. These first two years have stretched me, changed me, moved me in so many different ways. I wanted to jot down the five biggest lessons I have learned while they are still fresh, as I have a feeling there are many more to come!

Be present

Particularly in the early days, we just lived from hour to hour – sometimes minute to minute! – responding to Baby B’s needs, taking in his ever-changing face and cooing at his clever tricks. And there is nothing like a baby to teach you about immediacy! If he needs attention, or comfort, or food – he needs it pretty urgently.

As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about the future, it has been so good for me to just take in these moments with my babe. Our best days together are when we can be present together without worrying about things that have gone a little skew-whiff or to-do lists for later.

And he grows so quickly: it’s as though if I blink, he grows a little taller or works out how to do something new! Every moment, every stage, has beauty to be discovered within it, without the shadow of the past or pull of the future to encumber it.

I believe that the greatest gift we can give our children is connection. It is what allows them to thrive. And we can’t fully connect if our minds are elsewhere.

Done is better than perfect

I have yet to make it to church on a Sunday morning looking entirely put-together (it’s my vital and very precious lie-in morning!) My house-keeping rules are poison no one and starve no one. Although Baby B’s little set of socks which includes one pair for each day of the week is pretty darling, he’s lucky if both feet match, never mind coincide with the right day.

I used to torture myself by writing to-do lists on my phone, secretly competing with myself to get them done…while learning to nurse a newborn, or help a tiny toddler learn to walk, or, y’know, function on no sleep. I now know that if the essentials are done and we reach the end of each day in one piece, my job is done. For a recovering perfectionist, this has been a pretty major lesson.

Let it go

‘Maybe tonight, he will sleep longer than 45 minutes’. BAHAHAHAHA. Oh, dear one. CS Lewis is quoted as having said that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’, but I would argue that expectation is. Trying to anticipate a baby’s next move is like trying to catch water in a sieve; and trying to live up to your/other people’s expectations of you is a race you will never win. When you let go of them, you are free: you are suddenly released from wishing and worrying, into an acceptance – and maybe even enjoyment! – of the way things are now.

I am capable

I feared my body was letting me down when I was sick during pregnancy. I worried having a c-section meant somehow I wasn’t capable of giving birth ‘the normal way’. I worried I didn’t have enough milk, couldn’t function on little sleep, wouldn’t know how to teach my little one how to be a good human. Let me tell you something: mums are AMAZING. We are capable of so much more than we think. We are doing this.

With almost-brushed hair, meal plans and shopping lists on our phones, babies on our hips, careers on the go, 3 hours of sleep in the tank, childcare organised, healing wounds, friendships and family relationships cared for, bills paid, original art displayed on our fridges, little ones sleeping on our chests, dozens of books read each day, baby massage techniques memorised, teary cheeks dried, votes cast, dentist appointments made, kids (mostly) kept on the shore…

You’ve got this, mama. You really have.

Life itself is grace

I’ve never been more aware of the fragility of life. Becoming a mum has taught me not to take it for granted. From hoping with everything in me that there would be a heartbeat to listen to, to signing my name beneath the risk factors of a c-section, to birthing a tiny baby in the middle of winter with all the bugs going around, to studying the rise and fall of his chest those first nights, to watching him take his first steps and comforting him after his first fall, to teaching him about how to stay safe in the world: I have learned that every breath is a gift from God.

‘In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.’

Frederick Buechner

5 WAYS TO LOOK AFTER THE PLANET TODAY

57B97760-C5ED-48F2-B806-2A6C918E965E.png“I’ll look after the whales once all the humans have been looked after.” This used to be my (imaginary) answer to anyone who stopped me in the street wearing vaguely environment-related branding. I’m not proud of it – and thankfully I never said it out loud! Perhaps because my privileged life has not yet negatively been affected by any harm done to the environment, I just didn’t see why it was important when there were so many other, seemingly more pressing, issues to care about.

But I began to realise there was a human cost attached to the damage that was occurring. Not only did I understand that generations to come would be affected by our treatment of our – their – planet, I started to see how the world’s most vulnerable, those I said I cared about, were affected too. I realised that looking after the planet today was part of looking after the poor, the trafficked, the suffering – today.

That was all well and good in theory, but it came alive when I met Anastasia on a work trip in Rwanda a couple of years ago. Anastasia lives with her husband and four kids in the east of the country. Theirs is a tale of success in many ways – victims of the genocide, they have rebuilt their lives and their incredible entrepreneurial spirit, teamed with strong community support, means that they run earn a living through their agricultural work and are able to look after their children, paying for health insurance (vital in Rwanda), sending them to school and setting money aside. All great, right?

I had noticed the land around where Anastasia lived looked really dry: like a red, powdery ground kind of dry with crisping plants and trees turned brown. When I asked her about it, she looked to the sky and said “yes, the weather is changing”. She told me she was facing uncertainty about her family’s future – if the climate continued to change so unfavourably, they would have to move and start their life again in the city. Although Anastasia and her family were doing ok, they were still living so close to the line between safety and vulnerability. It seemed the future, and their well-being, was at the mercy of the weather. A change in climate would mean loss of income, loss of stability, loss of physical safety. Loss of schooling, of healthcare, of housing perhaps.

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To put it bluntly, the weather changing means that there are millions of people in the world who are vulnerable: to poverty, to illness, to exploitation. Climate change aggravates all the ‘other issues’ I thought needed to be tackled first. We cannot say we care about the vulnerable if we don’t also care about the planet they live on. 

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Anastasia, to me, is now the face of climate change. She is the one who will be affected by how I choose to treat the planet.

There are so many ways we can help care for the environment. So many, in fact, it can often seem a daunting task. It’s best to break it down and start small. I suggest looking at our daily habits and the things we use regularly, first.

Here are 5 simple suggestions:

7BF8D569-DC63-4F03-97C3-78319B48BDED.pngGet yourself a reusable coffee cup and water bottle. Bring them with you wherever you go. There really is no excuse for using plastic water bottles anymore! This is my current favourite. We’ve got some lovely reusable coffee cups from TK Maxx, too (and have been pleasantly surprised at the discount offered in most of our favourite cafes when using a reusable cup!) And if you’re a straw kind of guy or gal, get yourself a reusable one!

52CD1571-1CB2-4FDF-B66F-066EA578DF06.pngWe use so much plastic in our bathrooms, most of it needlessly. Can you swap your usual toothbrush for a bamboo one ? (Note: this link is to one of my favourite shops for plastic-free stuff which happens to be run by a good friend of mine!) Start using a soap bar instead of shower gel or shampoo? What about ditching the cotton wool for reusable pads? The possibilities are endless. Start small – and while you’re at it, buy natural products (click to read my blog post on those) as much as you can. Not only are they better for you, but you cut down on the toxins you send down the drain and into the earth and atmosphere, too.

00E736A4-1E07-4F4A-AF04-2C775D848DF9.pngAhh cleaning products. A minefield. So much plastic and so much toxicity! I have almost managed to go toxin and plastic-free by dramatically reducing the number of products I use, and choosing the ones I do wisely. My two must-have swaps for this are Norwex cloths, available here via my friend Laura (also, check out her blog and Instagram for lots of eco-cleaning tips!) and Young Living Thieves Household Cleaner – basically all you need for every cleaning job on your list!

Laundry is another area you can make clever swaps in. I’ve been using soap nuts for a couple of months now and am loving them! Just pop a small muslin bag of them in the machine and off you go. A few drops of essential oils add a lovely scent as well. (Get in touch with me if you want to know about essential oils or Young Living’s cleaner!)

D5CDAB10-B62E-4FE2-BBC2-0C05A4873448.pngReducing single-waste plastic in our weekly shop is such a massive way to help protect the environment. Of course, it isn’t always possible (and when it’s not, it’s a great idea to get in touch with your shop’s customer service and tell them you’d like it to be…) but three quick ways are:

+ Choosing plastic-free products when possible, for example a carton of fruit juice rather than a bottle

+ Using reusable shopping bags

+ Bulk-buying things that MUST come in plastic

57620114-5BB5-428E-9EA9-F6A6AA5FA0E4.pngChristmas has just been and gone so you may be hoping to not have to wrap another gift in the near future, but most of my family decided to be born in the first quarter of the year so I’m gearing up for more soon! Most wrapping paper is non-recyclable and ends up in landfill. (Did you know that in the UK alone we throw away enough wrapping paper to circle the earth 9 times each Christmas?!) The best way around this is using brown paper. You can even get paper tape and in my opinion, nothing is prettier than brown paper packages tied up with string (if it works for Maria von Trapp, it works for me!)

Please get in touch and let me know how you get on with these swaps. And let me know what else you’d recommend. I would love to hear your suggestions! 

 

 

The invisible mother

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It’s not every morning that something you come across during a mindless Facebook scroll challenges and changes you in such a significant way, but that morning, I did.

Allow me to backtrack a little. Jennifer* is the mother of one of my childhood best friends. Her house, which smelled of fresh chocolate chip cookies, was always open to little barefooted, grass-stained visitors who were greeted with a warm smile. As we grew, that same warmth was teamed with wisdom which encouraged us through life’s ups and downs.

Jennifer got seriously ill a few years ago. As she looked back on her life, treasuring memories of full years and precious family, she uncovered some boxes of photographs she had stored. It was then that she noticed something: she wasn’t in them. She was hit by the sad realisation that, if she were to pass away, her family would have few pictures to remember her by.

Thankfully, Jennifer has made an incredible recovery…and (have you guessed?) it was her photo which, that morning, stopped me in my tracks: there she was, on the beach, in a swimming suit, with her grandchildren. It took my breath away.

You see, I became a mum almost a year ago, and I have been tempted to be invisible in my own picture records, too.

This isn’t is a new thing for me – I’ve had a tumultuous relationship what I look like both on and off camera for as long as I can remember. But when my body started changing in pregnancy, I found it difficult to see it in photos. Not all the time, don’t get me wrong: I was also amazed at what my body could do and loved my bump. It was the same when I had given birth. I couldn’t believe this little human miracle had been grown by my own body. And now, it was sustaining this little life outside of the womb while recovering from major surgery. It was incredible. But it also was frustrating. I still looked pregnant. I hardly had time to brush my hair and I looked ‘messy’ on a good day. In essence, I was constantly going back and forth in my own mind, trying to stay positive and appreciate my body but struggling to love it completely.

Those feelings seemed to be amplified when it came to having my picture taken. I remember hardly recognising myself in the first picture of me I saw when I got home from hospital. I felt nervous when people took pictures, while simultaneously desperately wanting to mark this precious beginning and all it meant for me, for us.

And I know I’m not the only one to experience those feelings. When I started thinking about this, I held a poll on my Instagram stories. I got hundreds of replies, and the results were sobering: over 90% of mums struggle with what they look like, and of those, over 50% avoid being in photos because of that. Wow.

I think there are several possible reasons why so many of us are tempted to be invisible.

+ The first is that ever since we could walk, society has been telling us about our role as girls and women. And it’s not been good news. Shrink! Be quiet and gentle. Reduce, decrease, minimise – your hair, your size, your voice. Yours is a supporting role, never a leading one. Be small: don’t up too much space. So not only are we told what to look like (a narrow ideal which suits only a fraction of us), we are told how to carry ourselves as we pursue that ideal. It makes sense then that being photographed leaves us fraught – we doubt our image and our position, in society and in photographs.

+ I think we also want to stay invisible because it’s what we think is expected of us as mothers. We take on so many roles when we have children: cleaner, cook, nurse, counsellor, teacher, singer of lullabies, reader of books, head of wardrobe. Our lives (rightly) change, often drastically. There is a temptation that comes with this change, though, to believe that we exist only to sustain our families – and then, through this self-effacement often masked as selflessness, we lose our place, including in photos. But families need mothers who know who they are, who have passions and goals and personalities. Who own the space they’re in, who write good, interesting, brave stories – and who have photos to prove it. This can only benefit those who depend on our care.

+ The third and perhaps most obvious reason for avoiding the camera is down to our bodies. Pregnancy changes us, often permanently. Naturally, our bodies undergo transformations as they cocoon our little ones. We become larger, softer, more marked in order to house, sustain and nurture life. This change continues post-partum, and is in some ways intensified by the raw physicality of mothering ex utero: it is a 24/7 job, requiring strength and endurance and energy we often doubt we have. So we look different, and we run out of time to do the things we once did that helped us feel ‘pretty’ or ‘put-together’. We shy away from the lens because we are scared we won’t recognise ourselves, and even if do, we won’t look our best…or will we?

What if we saw in ourselves and our bodies the wonder of bringing life into the world? What if we saw in our largeness room for our children to shelter? What if we saw in our softness a reflection of the love we have for them? What if we saw in our marks stories of overcoming vulnerability and adversity in order to bring life? 

A mother’s body is her child’s home, and we should never be ashamed of that home being seen. We should decorate it and celebrate it and say: look! It’s mine. My body has permanently changed, and I’m glad of it. It means I have the tremendous privilege of being a mother to the most precious gift I have ever been given. It means I have sustained his little life for 9 months in the womb and 12 out: through fragility and uncertainty and sleepless nights and cluster feeding and soothing sobs and endless lullabies. My body is my baby’s home.

And I realised a few months into motherhood that I wanted it to be seen. That it was OK for me to take up space. I wanted my family to have pictures to hold onto when I’m gone. I wanted my body to be remembered for what it’s done and what it represents.

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I started asking friends and family to take pictures when we were together. It felt awkward at first, and I worked out that when going through them afterwards, it was best for me to be in a relaxed state (I was untangling years of negative messaging, from myself and the world around me!) But I soon got used to it and started to look forward to seeing my face – usually laughing or kissing little cheeks – and my body, most often holding my son in a way that only it is designed to do. And do you know what happened? I have ended up with so many wonderful photos that I and my family can look back on. Precious mementos of the best year of my life.

I also got some printed, and I intend to keep doing that. To me, it’s a way of honouring moments, of time-stamping them and appreciating the way things are, right at that very second. How and who I am now is exactly who I should be: not 10 pounds down the line, not after I’ve had a full night’s sleep, no…I am my son’s mother, I am a woman whose body is miraculous and which deserves to be seen, now.

Just as bodies are constantly evolving, so too are our minds. I hope that if you count yourself in the 90% of mothers who struggle with how they look, or the 50% of those who avoid cameras, you are able to take a moment to pause and appreciate what your body is done, and to celebrate how and what it is, here and now. You are a beautiful force of life. You are worthy of being seen.

As we approach the beginning of a new year, could you change the way you talk to yourself? Could you resolve to take up a little more space? Could you take a risk and accept the discomfort of the camera? Could you let yourself be seen?

Jennifer and I have. I dare you to join us.

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*not her real name

Cutting corners at Christmas

“Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it.” I’ve just realised how true this is! The week between Christmas and New Year brings a natural lull with it, a chance to breathe a little between the festivities and before a new leaf is turned. I’ve taken the opportunity to ‘cut corners’ a little. Let someone else take Baby B for a nap walk, take a day off kitchen duty and stock up on Ella’s pouches. Ease the cleaning for a day or two, have a day bath. Pop a hat over unstyled hair, leave some things on the to-do list. It’s been bliss. I’m an achiever and a perfectionist and I’m learning that I don’t need to do all the things all the time. In fact, whether it not I do says absolutely nothing about me. Ooof. That’s a big one. I’m hoping to take it into 2019 with me. I – we – need margin. We don’t need to push ourselves all the time, to squeeze out every last drop. What would it look like for you to let some of your ‘can do’s be ‘can do’s instead of ‘should do’s this year?

The stories we tell

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I’ve been spending a lot of time on the floor recently. My little one is learning to crawl and climb, so I alternate between being his climbing frame and his safety net when his balance lets him down (which, at 9 months, is a lot – and it’s the funniest thing. Sorry, son…)

This shift in perspective has got me thinking about the stories we tell ourselves. Baby B and I can be looking at the same thing, but our views are different – and sometimes, in life, I think we can choose between views, or stories, when it comes to what’s in front of us.

(Before I say anymore, there are situations that are just horrible whatever way we look at them, and this is not what I’m talking about here.)

I think back to this time last year when I was pregnant – it was such a special, sacred time, but one that was also filled with uncertainty and complication. In it, I often found myself at a crossroads: what story would I tell myself about what was happening? My physical difficulties (tachycardia and hypertension throughout my second and third trimesters) led me to feel like my body was letting me down. I felt I couldn’t trust it. And I felt that I was already letting my unborn baby down by not being able to carry on as ‘normal’.

These were natural ways to feel about a difficult situation, and it was important to acknowledge that.

But then I realised that the way in which I was viewing what was happening wasn’t the only way to see it. I learned that I could choose to tell myself a different story: that my physical complications were a result of my body working extra hard to keep my baby healthy, that it knew what it was doing. And that I wasn’t letting my baby down, but in slowing down and stripping life back a little, I was doing what was best for him.

This decision to choose a different story, which was a daily, sometimes hourly choice, led me to a more peaceful and hopeful stance – one which I benefit from still. I still have to trust my body as it nourishes my son and continues to heal from surgery. I still have to make decisions that prioritise presence and family and health. I’m glad this is my story now.

Choosing to consider the stories we tell ourselves, and change them when necessary, takes courage. But standing up to the untrue voices within and around us can bring new life, new possibilities, new hope. It’s different for everyone, but I find that my faith and values shape the stories I listen to, and the ones I tell. What about you?

As narrators in our stories, I suspect that every day, each of us is faced with dozens of decisions about which narrative to follow.  Whether it’s about our work, a relationship, our future, or simply how we’re going to make our next step: what is the story we are telling ourselves? Does it uphold truth and hope and life? If not, how can we choose to see this snapshot in a different light, to hear another voice, to write a different line?

 

An afternoon at Loaf Pottery

What better combination is there than pottery and pizza, set in a 17th century building? None is the answer, and the newly-opened Loaf Pottery in Crawfordsburn styles the winning combination excellently. What’s more, the Pottery is in fact the latest project of award-winning social enterprise NOW Group, which supports people with learning difficulties and disabilities into gaining employment.

The Pottery is located on the site of the former Pinewood Pottery. When it closed a number of years ago, the local community contacted NOW and asking them to consider taking it over. The initiative fitted with NOW’s ethos of creating safe spaces for the whole community, including people with learning difficulties and disabilities, so they jumped at the chance. It’s clearly a perfect fit.

It’s been open for 11 weeks and has gone from strength to strength – we were lucky to have stumbled upon it in the early days while adventuring along the coast, and have relished its flourishing: from additions to the menu to new art classes and just this weekend, its first evening openings (the Pottery is now open for pizza every Friday evening. Booking essential.)

As you see, it’s the kind of place that is the perfect backdrop for a date, or a business meeting, or a quick drop-in with the kids: it caters to all.

Dan and I were delighted to be invited along to sample the Pottery’s Baby Print Tile activity, as well as their wood-fired artisan pizza. It made for a perfect afternoon with Baby B (the venue is very child-friendly, even including a child-sized kitchen for little ones to play with and hosting children’s parties.)

We started out by meeting Josh, the Pottery’s new potter who exudes enthusiasm for both his pottery and the bigger picture it’s a part of. This is his first job since graduating, bringing real expertise and a passion for his craft to his role. He runs classes and is working on a custom pottery range which will be on sale in the shop and online from September.

Josh painted Baby B’s foot with colours of our choosing, and carefully pressed them on a clay tile before inscribing Baby B’s name and date of birth and placing it in the kiln. Baby B LOVED the experience – he was fascinated by all the action and Josh was so good with him. Parents will know it makes all the difference when people know how to speak to your baby!

We then were welcomed into the cafe by Lauren, its manager, whose smile is brighter enough to light all of the tea lights she was gathering for the cafe’s first evening opening! She clearly is the backbone of the busy venue, keeping everything running smoothly and supporting her staff in a personable and big-sisterly way. What she loves about her job? “The fact that we get to make a difference every day.” She wants people to engage, whether we spend £4 or £40, with the project: even just dropping in to say hello means a chance for society to change for the better.

The cafe feels like home: it’s tasteful, full of delicious treats and contented chatter. (Of course I find its clean, scandi-inspired decor particularly pleasing!)

We popped outside to see James, another member of the venue’s 5-strong staff and expert pizzaiolo. His favourite thing to do is “make the pizzas and feed the people” which he does expertly. No word of a lie, folks, his pizza is the best I’ve tasted in Northern Ireland. I went for a classic margherita with basil oil while Dan’s was topped with chorizo. Both were absolutely delicious.

I thoroughly recommend checking out Loaf’s gorgeous venue, satisfying breakfast and lunch options as well as their pizza and sweet treats (the avocado cake is unbelievable!) And don’t forget their many pottery opportunities: Paint me, Glaze me sessions, Baby Print Tiles and Pizza & Pottery nights all available! The team is also finalising the Autumn/Winter schedule of events and workshops which will include more pottery classes, floristry, kids classes and a supper club.

Find out more on Loaf Pottery’s website. And to be in with a chance of winning pizza and drinks for two kindly gifted by Loaf Pottery, just head on over to my Instagram grid and tag a friend you’d love to bring along!

All photos by Dan and Gemma Brown.

The Fourth Trimester

Ah, friends, this is such a bittersweet post to write! We have well and truly emerged from the ‘fourth trimester’; those sweet first hazy months of out-of-womb but not-quite-fully-in-the-world sweetness…and I can’t believe what a marked difference there already is in our wee 6 month-old chap who is more independent, curious and hilarious by the day.

As those first three months merge into a bubble of constant cuddles, cluster feeding, middle-of-the-night changes, tiny hands and first smiles, here are ten thoughts on the fourth trimester.

1. YOU are what your baby needs.
Forget the shiny equipment, complex manuals and detailed play accessories. All your baby needs is warmth, food, and comfort. Your baby needs YOU. That is a HUGE responsibility but it is also a tremendous joy.

2. You are the expert.
People mean well, but ultimately I really do believe that only you have the answers. Midwives, books, friends and family will all have helpful advice and anecdotes, but at the end of the day, listen to your instinct: you know your baby best (turns out carrying him for 9 months means you’re pretty tuned in to each other!)

3. Cocoon cocoon cocoon.
Particularly in the first 6 weeks, hem yourself in and enjoy getting to know your little one and finding your groove. Stay in your pyjamas or stay in bed if you want to. Coo and cuddle and do little else. You don’t need to see ALL of your friends and family in the first month. (We only saw immediate family for the first 4 weeks, I think. A note on that – adrenaline keeps you going the first while but it is completely normal to crash and feel more tired around week 3. Remember it gets better). You don’t get these precious moments back. Guard them selfishly. And prioritise healing and rest. This piece on Pulling up the Drawbridge is so good.

4. Hold your baby.
I’m so excited that Baby B has now learned to lift himself up and roll and is so interested in the world he sometimes forgets me, but I have to say I already miss those days of constant cuddles. Not only is holding your baby a great hormone-booster for both of you (and helps with feeding if you’re nursing them!), it is demonstrably SO good for your baby’s development. And you will NEVER regret it. Cuddle them as much as you can. Let them sleep on you. Buy a sling and keep them close. There’s no such thing as spoiling a baby. You will not regret it. (And don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to people who ask to hold your baby if you’re not ready/comfortable yet. There is plenty of time for that and you have a precious bond to build.)

5. Let go of expectations.
Expectations, I find, are the enemies of peace and joy. Let them go. Has your baby not slept through the night yet? Did you not make it out for dinner during their first week? Has your body not ‘bounced back’? Have you yet to master that Earth Mama feeding-in-a-sling stance? Is your house a mess? Did you have cereal for lunch? Let it go. You, and your baby, are doing what is right for you right now.

6. Sleep is developmental.
I closely studied a few books on sleep and sleep schedules before Baby B was born. BAHAHAHAHA. I am going to burn them shortly. Your baby will sleep when they are ready to sleep. There is very little you can do, other than setting up the right environment and opportunities like a calming bedtime routine and an appropriately comfy cot. Sleep will come. We have found the Wonder Weeks developmental research to be so helpful in understanding what stage Baby B is at and just how mental development works. And remember, babies are not designed to sleep through the night. When they wake, they need you. That’s normal. And lovely when you think about it. Each time you respond you teach them that they can trust you despite how dark, unknown or scary the world may seem. But also, sleep deprivation is SO. HARD. Cut yourself some slack, and…

7. Forget the housework.
The cleaning will wait. The dishes won’t do themselves but really, that’s ok. Let the washing pile up. Soon, you’ll have more energy and time and you’ll get things in order. Til then, downtime is for REST, and waketime is for getting to know your little one. Enjoy it. (And for when you really need to get things done, bring baby with you in a sling or bouncer. Batch-cook, tackle one task at a time, celebrate the little things you can do.)

8. Accept help.
While you should forget the housework, there are others who will happily help out – our mums kept us stocked up on nutritious meals for over a month, dads moved car loads when we, at 4 weeks post-partum, moved house, sisters unpacked boxes, friends did dishes. If someone offers help, take it.

9. Keep your camera close.
You definitely have made the cutest baby in the world. There is no doubt about it. (Although my dad recently told me he remembers thinking I was a beautiful baby and then questioning himself when looking back at photos. Hah!) Capture every little expression and mannerism. Take a video the day Baby rolls over for the first time. Make sure you and special friends/family are in the pictures. Capture sounds. You’ll want to remember it all. Videos and photos we have of Baby B are already treasures we’ll keep forever (and I already watch them back when he is asleep 🙈).

10. Laugh a lot.
If you’re like me, you will feel a wide range of emotions way more strongly than you did before – a combination of lack of sleep + big life moments + hormones readjusting will do that to you! This is great when you’re happy, but the hard moments are hard. Really hard. When you can, I’ve found it help to laugh. Sometimes, you just have to appreciate the absurdity of fretting so much about someone else’s bowel movements. Or after a sleepless night, read over your texts to your partner (“were you gonna Swiss sidle?” is one of my best.) Or enjoy the fact that you asked him to bring you socks because your feet were cold, but he produced your son’s ‘I ❤️ DAD’ booties instead. (Please get help if things seem unmanageable or you feel hopeless.)

So enjoy this time – it is wonderful and you won’t get it back. But as you do, remember to cut yourself some slack: it’s flipping hard work. But guess what? You’re doing it. You’re amazing. And it gets easier (while all the best bits get even better!)

PS: Mamas, the fourth trimester is for you, too – whatever kind of delivery you had, your body needs time to heal and recover. You and your partner also need this time to adjust to a whole new human in your life. Practice self-compassion and work together to find space in which to pause and breathe (even 15 minutes is great!) This is a major moment in your life, too.

My foray into natural skincare

My first crush on natural skincare came when adult acne hit me after a fairly unscathed stretch as a teenager (oh the irony!) I found the only thing that really helped to clear my skin was 100% natural mud soap, which I’ve used religiously for 7 years now.

Then, when I got pregnant last year, I was very aware of what I used on my body as it grew a baby. This has continued now that Baby B is here – I exclusively breastfeed so my body is still nourishing his. I also ‘baby-wear’ so what I put on my skin can rub off on him (he always smells like me…and often ends up with a drop of this and that on his wee head! Mother and son face masks anyone?!)

Rather than be a niche hobby for whale-loving, hemp-wearing hippies (but if that’s you – hi!) I believe that natural skincare is something we all – us, our families, our global community and the Earth – can benefit from.

Why natural beauty matters

What we put on our skin is ultimately absorbed into our blood stream. Turns out being healthy isn’t just about what goes into our bodies through our mouths! Essentially, if you wouldn’t eat it…you should think twice about wearing it.

Moreover, certain chemicals can interfere with our hormones, and over time cause irritation. Conversely, natural products work WITH our skin.

They’re also good for the planet: using natural products means that less chemicals are produced and emitted into the air and water. So by switching our products, we are protecting the environment, and are engaging in a more sustainable way of living. What’s not to love?!

Now, I don’t think you should throw out all of your products and spend all your money on an all-new natural skincare collection. Let’s not waste. Use up what you have, and when the time comes, find a natural replacement. If you’re like me, you get sucked in to buying products that promise this and that: my foray into natural beauty has brought with it the welcome friend of paring down and living with less, which I’m enjoying.

Natural skincare doesn’t have to be expensive (in fact, much of it you can make in your kitchen) so it’s about picking your priorities and working out the rest over time.

So! What have I been using? Here are my basics.

Face

The aforementioned soap – Dead Sea Spa Magik’s Black Mud Soap bar – is something I ALWAYS have to have a spare of in the house. I use it morning and night and find it gently cleanses my skin but doesn’t leave it feeling tight or stripped, and helps clear up any blemishes within a matter of days. Find it here.

I exfoliate and pamper my skin twice a week with Evolve Organic Beauty’s Radiant Glow Mask which smells like CHOCOLATE! It’s a paste made with cacao and clay, with coconut granules that exfoliate the skin. I can’t tell you how good my face feels after this! Find it here.

And I moisturise morning and night with Evolve’s Daily Renew Cream. I actually only started using this late last year and its lovely vanilla coconut smell reminds me of the morning Baby B was born! Don’t you love it when smells transport you (and don’t harm you?!) I digress. The moisturiser is thick and luxurious without feeling heavy. It really boosts my skin’s hydration – have normal to dry skin – and leaves it feeling super soft. Find it here.

Body

I use Handmade Naturals soap bars in the shower. They smell GREAT and lather up well (I use mine with a bristle scrub). The one I’m currently using the Cocoa, Oatmeal and Honey. Yum. They also last forever! Find mine here.

For post-shower moisture I use pure organic coconut oil. This locks in hydration and my skin feels silky after use. I also like that it’s something I cook with…there’s something about using something inside and out! It’s also great for so many other things including dry lips, removing stubborn make up, chapped skin and as a leave-in treatment for hair (see below).

What you need to know is l live in Northern Ireland where we get approximately 12.7 days of sun in the year. So I need a little help to achieve a ‘sun’-kissed glow! Handmade Naturals’ award-winning natural tanning cream is just fab. It moisturises skin and gradually builds colour thanks to a plant-derived ingredient that works naturally with your skin. Win! Find it here.

Hair

I picked up EO Essentials shampoo and conditioner in TK Maxx and fell in love. My hair feels clean and full after using the shampoo, and the conditioner gives me really good moisture and shine. I’ve found that since giving birth my hair is very dry, so I use so much conditioner – but I’m happy to do so since this is natural. PLUS it smells amazing (scented with essential oils) and its packaging is recycled! Hooray! Find the range here.

Another great use for coconut oil: my hair is curly and highlighted so it reallllly loves coconut oil. I apply when wet but sometimes top up on dry hair between washes, too.

Extras

Now this is a recent one: I used tea tree oil in the bath when recovering from my c-section. But it turns out its antiseptic properties are great for blemishes, so I’ve been using it on spots too (I just wet a piece of cotton wool with warm water, add a drop of oil, and press on my skin for a minute).

I’ve already written about Mrs R’Ganics’ Rescue Balm but will just never tire of it! This wee miracle is locally made and is packed full of fab high-quality ingredients that are great for stressed and tired skin. It has SO many uses for face and body – stretch marks, dry patches, cold sores…every bathroom should have a tub. Find it here.

Things I’m experimenting with:

Natural make up

I’ve found a 4-ingredient range of natural mineral make up which I’ve been using for about a month. I’ll keep using and feedback when it’s been longer!

Shikakai powder

My colleague Ruth Valerio recently wrote about her ‘no-poo’ adventures. It convinced me to give it a try…I’ll let you now how I get on!

Essential oils for the bath

Mixing with base oils and trying out different scents. Check back for results!

Things I’m looking for (send me your recommendations!):

Mascara and lip tint

Natural perfume

Natural deodorant

Eye cream

Hyaluronic serum

So there you have it! I’m at the beginning of my natural cosmetics journey but I have to say I’m loving it – and already reaping the benefits. My skin and hair feel great, my routine and bathroom shelves are simplified and I have peace of mind.

Are you using natural skincare? What are your favourite products? I’d love to hear from you!

My 5 Newborn Essentials

When I was pregnant, I trawled through countless articles and videos claiming to be the “only newborn essentials list you’ll ever need”…but found it all a bit overwhelming and confusing. I really wanted to be well-prepared, but also wanted to avoid gathering lots of stuff and cluttering the house/hurting my bank balance!

If you are an expecting or new parent who is tired of being bombarded with ads and info, here is my honest, no-nonsense guide to newborn essentials*.

*bearing in mind that actually, all you baby really needs is lots of contact with you, food and warmth!

1. Easy-to-wear clothes

Baby B’s ‘going home’ outfit was a super cute velours number that went over his head and buttoned in the back. Big no-no… It took me 10 minutes to dress him and it came straight off when we got home! Learn from my mistake: buy in lots of baby-grows that button or zip up and thank me later. And make sure you buy newborn and 0-3 sizes. Baby B outgrew some of his ‘newborn’ stuff at 10 weeks and people will buy you bigger sized clothes as gifts.

2. Water Wipes

Your baby’s skin is super soft and sensitive, and for the first few weeks of life he is developing his immune system by gathering bacteria. It’s best to stay away from fragrance and harsh chemicals during this time (and forever if you can!) Water Wipes are 99.9% water and midwife-approved. We went through a packet a day in the early days (!!!) and while this has reduced greatly, I’ve always felt confident I was protecting Baby B’s skin.

3. Muslins

I realised in hospital that my handful of muslins wasn’t going to be enough so ordered some from the post-natal suite! You’ll use them for swaddling, cleaning up, covering up if you’re nursing…and about 15 other things. Get a mix of small and large 100% cotton muslins.

4. Sleeping bags

There is LOADS of advice out there about what baby should sleep in. The safest sleeping environment is a firm flat surface with no loose bedding – so loose blankets aren’t recommended. (Click here for more safe sleeping advice.) Swaddling has made a come-back and while we tried that (with those handy muslins!) Baby B just didn’t like it. He LOVES, however, his Grobags. They’re comfy for him and handy for us, and we actually use them as one of our “it’s bedtime!” signals. They also come in different togs which is great, and we have a Groegg which monitors room temperature through the night so we know Baby B isn’t too cold or overheating according to the tog he is wearing. Love the Gro system!

5. White noise

Speaking of sleep, I was shocked at how Baby B was comfortable with noise until I realised he’d been surrounded by it for 9 months! Apparently the volume in a womb is as loud as a hoover, and silence actually makes babies uncomfortable. For the first few weeks I used a white noise app to help Baby B sleep, and when we were sure it was indeed helpful, we bought a MyHummy. We researched several devices and settled for this one because of its range of sounds and its continuous setting (it also turns on automatically when it hears your little one stir!) Note: always keep spare batteries handy!

So, there you go: my top 5 essentials. I debated whether to include a baby carrier (Baby B is rarely not on either Dan or me and we use this one) and I’ve missed out things like nappies and saline spray (pretty important for winter babies!!) If I was writing a longer list I’d include our Uppababy travel system (we found it on eBay and it arrived in pristine condition…that has changed since I take it out everyday, rain or shine, and just love it!) and our bedside cot, the Snuzpod. It is recommended that babies sleep in their parents’ room for at least the first six months of life, and the Snuzpod means I can have Baby B right next to me with the side down or simply alongside our bed with both sides up! It allows a lovely closeness during the night and the top lifts off so you can use it for naps in the rest of the house, too.

I hope you’ve found this helpful. Let me know how you get on – and remember the most essential newborn ‘item’ is YOU!

While you’re here, here’s my post on how to help new parents! Share it with your tribe so they know how to support you on this exciting new journey.

Six ways to support new parents

I asked on Instagram what kinds of post-partum posts you’d like to read and so many of you said you’d like some tips for friends and family of newborns (and their parents). 2 months into life with our little love means we have had lots of family and friends over to visit and have been SO well looked after. So, here are the best things you can do to support a new family (and a few things to avoid) particularly when visiting…

What can you bring?

Food –

We were fed and watered for over a month when Baby B arrived and it was SO lovely. I know meeting such a basic need can feel unimportant but trust me, we’re operating on pretty basic levels! Bring a meal (with instructions if it needs heated etc) or some ‘grabbable’ snacks and you’ll be loved forever.

Something for baby –

Baby B is kitted out for the next year of his life thanks to kind folks who brought clothing! Parents will probably have clothes for the first couple of months covered, so buy something for when the baby is older (and be mindful of seasons! I’ve definitely bought summer clothes in 6-9 months for a baby born in July. Oops.) If clothes aren’t your thing, ask the parents if there’s anything they need: for example, we only realised we could use a white noise machine after a few weeks.

Something for mum –

If you’d like to buy something for the new mama, nice jammies or cosy slippers are great comfort during the night shift – and things like fancy face wipes or pretty pants will make us feel a little more human while being super necessary! Little luxuries are great, too. We are surrounded by functional things (and can feel very ‘functional’, too!) My mother-in-law brought me my favourite flowers the other day which was such a treat.

Timing is everything

Parents of newborns are operating on little/zero sleep (depending on the day!) and are trying to work their new life out which takes time. They also need time to bond together as a new unit. They will absolutely love seeing you and showing off their new addition – just make sure you time it right. Text/call before visiting to arrange a good time to pop in and don’t stay too long. Be sensitive to cues like a fussy baby and anxious/drowsy parents!

Dig in

When my friend Charlotte visited she headed straight to the kitchen having taken our drinks order. New parents may be on top of this but if you aren’t offered a cuppa, feel free to make one yourself (and bonus points for doing the dishes you see lying around while the kettle boils – thanks, mum!)

Wait until you’re offered a cuddle

It’s a biological instinct for parents to want to protect their babies in this big new world. And little tinies who are just out of the womb need familiarity and warmth in their ‘fourth trimester’ – they’re also constantly needing fed/burped/changed etc – so while cuddles are lovely, always wait til they are offered to you. Thankfully this hasn’t happened to us, but friends have found visitors taking their babies from their arms…a big no-no!

Tell us we’re doing a good job

Particularly for us first-timers, there is so much learning to be done that we can sometimes feel like terrible parents (“what do you MEAN I need to file his nails already?!”) Now’s not the time to question our parenting/feeding/sleeping choices: tell us we’re doing a good job and it’ll sound like a symphony to our uncertain ears.

Bring the world in

Talk to us about your life and what’s happening in the world. It’ll remind us of the bigger picture and help us to feel a little more normal. My uncle came over today and we giggled about our mutual guilty pleasure, Derry Girls: *sometimes* laughter is better than an hour’s sleep!

If you’re a parent, what else did people do that helped support you in those early days? Would love to hear!