How I feel after solo parenting for three weeks

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I’m going to be honest here, when Oli and I first discussed the possibility of him doing the entire run of the Edinburgh Festival this year (he usually does one or two weeks at most), leaving me alone to look after Daphne (4), I thought I would be Absolutely Fine. He’s done it twice before since she was born – for shorter periods – and although it was hard work, it wasn’t that bad.

I even relished the opportunity of some more one-on-one time with her. We have a slightly unusual set up in that Oli looks after her more than I do (he’s a professional singer so he mostly works in the evenings).

Before he went off to Edinburgh our parenting set up looked like this: 

Monday – I work at my part-time job, Daphne does half a day at nursery, then Oli picks her up at lunchtime and they do the supermarket shop together/go to the park

Tuesday – Daphne is at nursery 9-5, Oli and I work from home

Wednesday – I work at my part-time job, Oli looks after Daphne all day while I’m at the office

Thursday – Daphne is at nursery 9-5, Oli and I work from home

Friday – Daphne is at nursery 8-1, I pick her up and usually do something with her in the afternoon while Oli works if necessary

As you can see from this schedule, Oli has done significantly more parenting than me over the past year (we are usually both around at weekends, and if Oli is working, it will be in the evening). It made sense, because his work is much more flexible and irregular, and my part-time job is fixed office hours. Also, Oli is just Much Better at looking after and entertaining Daphne than I am.

But… I used to get so jealous. I really did. Every now and then I’d feel so sad that I wasn’t getting to spend as much time with her, just the two of us. I felt like Oli and she had so many little in-jokes and bonds (their obsessive paper aeroplane habit for one) that I wasn’t involved in. And I really thought, if Oli goes away for a month, then I can just spend more time with her, and maybe we’ll get some of our own girly in-jokes too.

friends and family were giving me the side-eye and saying ‘oh, nearly a month looking after her on your own though? That’ll be tough’

I was also aware that this was the last real chance for us to spend some decent time alone together before she started school. Honestly, I was practically forcing Oli to go, even when friends and family were giving me the side-eye and saying ‘oh, nearly a month looking after her on your own though? That’ll be tough’.

Ha. I reached rock bottom (or so I’m hoping) at 5am on Sunday morning after she had been awake for an hour talking about giraffes and, bereft of energy and ideas for getting her back to sleep, burst into tears in front of her.

I’m not a crier. But through my sobs I said something like:

‘I’m… just… so….tired. So tired Daphne. Please. Mummy’s…. I…. just need some space! Can’t you give me some space!!? Please!’

To which she replied:

‘Mummy, stop crying, that’s enough now. That’s enough now Mummy’. 

In this imperious voice, which I swear is nothing like mine.

All was well in the end – she came into my bed and thankfully we both went back to sleep until 8.30am. But my god.

Three weeks looking after my daughter alone has nearly finished me off.

First of all, there’s the sleep issue. I keep thinking if she slept better it would be easier, but maybe I’m kidding myself. As it is, she will fall asleep really easily at night (between 6.30 and 7pm), but the price you pay for this is the 5am start. Pretty much most days she will wake around 5am – 5.30am if I’m lucky. Yes, we have tried a Gro clock. Yes she has triple blackout blinds. Yes we’ve done white noise, putting her to bed later, reward charts, giving her a nap, not giving her a nap, everything, everything, everything that people recommend.

I HAVE READ EVERY ARTICLE ABOUT EARLY RISERS EVER WRITTEN.

She has an answer for everything – and it’s invariably another question.

None of it makes any difference. For her fourth birthday, we bought her a proper digital clock, and told her that unless the first number she saw was a ‘6’ she was not to get out of bed.

It didn’t work. 

Instead the new routine created by this was her shouting out: ‘Mummy, it’s a 5 first, so I’m staying in bed. I think it’s a 5, but actually maybe it’s a 2. Mummy is it a 2? These are funny numbers, they’re not right. Not like the numbers we do in nursery. It’s not a real 5. What is that last number mummy? What does that mean? There’s blinking dots in the middle, are they numbers too mummy? Mummy, mummy, can I get up now? Mummy please? Please come? Please can you come and look at my clock and tell me what time it is?’

Every morning.

You cannot reason with her. She has an answer for everything – and it’s invariably another question.

I have removed the clock.

So instead, I put some toys in her room and told her that she could get up whenever she felt like it and play, so long as she didn’t shout for me. That kind of worked, except that she has the loudest voice on the planet and her version of playing probably wakes the whole street. This morning it was explaining to her Lego figures how giraffes need to be transported to the other side of the Nile in special trucks with trees on – bloody David Attenborough.

Whatever.

I gave up on getting a lie-in on day 3 of solo parenting, and started going to bed at 9pm.

(I should add here that Oli usually gets up with her so I can go back to sleep every morning until a more civilised hour, like 7 bloody thirty). 

Don’t even mention the allotment. No really, don’t. The guilt that I have only managed to make it down there once is killing me

So, the lack of sleep hasn’t helped. But then there are the chores. Constant chores. There’s so much To Do to keep a small house/family ticking over. Cleaning, washing, shopping, cooking. Watering the flipping garden in the heatwave. Bottom wiping and handwashing. Doing the bins. Tidying away the endless toys. Don’t even mention the allotment. No really, don’t. The guilt that I have only managed to make it down there once is killing me.

All those tomatoes! And blackberries! Wasted!

The first and only visit to the allotment…

The first and only visit to the allotment…

I don’t mind doing chores, but how do you do chores when there’s a small, bored person, tugging on your trouser leg every five minutes saying ‘mummy can you play with me now?’ and getting excited if she hears you moving about upstairs after you’ve gone to put laundry away – ‘are you coming down now to play with me mummy? Are you finished with your chores? Can you play with me nooow? Just a leeetttle bit?!’

The guilt! The number of times I’ve said ‘just five more minutes sweetie, mummy’s got to clear this up / have a wee / put some bloody clothes on’. 

It’s the guilt that’s the worst thing. I had these grand ideas that we’d be doing Fun Stuff together all the time, when instead all I’ve been doing is batting her away and trying to get her to play on her own, poor thing. A particular lowlight was when I dropped our handheld hoover and the whole thing burst open, sending showers of dust and hair and bits of old food all over me and the newly hovered floor, and she appeared with a slice of plastic pizza and proudly placed it on top of the mound of dust.

‘For you, mummy’.

And I said:

‘For god’s sake Daphne don’t put it there!!! Can’t you see mummy’s covered in [insert-really-bad-swear-word-oh-god-I’m-going-to-hell] dust?!’

And then she stared down at the floor and slinked away and I hated myself and that bloody hoover more than anything I have ever hated in my life. 

I know I have it lucky – this is not single parenting. I have moaned at Oli every evening after he’s come off stage (but not much – been too exhausted to remember most of it) and I even managed to go up to Edinburgh for two nights to see him, leaving Daphne with my parents. I know this is nothing, compared to what single parents deal with day-in, day-out. It has been a humbling lesson.

I have done a lot of apologising over these past three weeks.

I read somewhere that apologising to your kids is a good idea. It lets them know you’re human, that you’re fallible too. It’s respectful.

I have done a lot of apologising over these past three weeks.

Thankfully, I think she still loves me.

As we lay facing each other on our pillows in bed this morning she whispered ‘I just want you mummy,’ and I tried not to burst into tears again.

Oli’s home tomorrow. Sorry about the allotment babe, but at least I kept our daughter alive?!

You can order my debut, The Rival, here. Unfollow Me is out now!

How losing my job while pregnant inspired my debut novel

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It occurred to me recently that I hadn’t really talked about the inspiration behind my debut, The Rival, on my blog. So, I thought it’d be good to remedy that! Let me start by saying The Rival is a work of fiction. However, the seed of the idea came from my own experience of new motherhood. One of my friends once told me that giving birth was like being in a car crash, both physically and mentally. It stuck with me before I gave birth, and it proved to be surprisingly accurate.

I’d been a wholly selfish ‘career woman’ up to that point

I was 33 when I got pregnant, and although my daughter was very much longed for, I was shockingly naïve and had no idea what to expect. I’d been a wholly selfish ‘career woman’ up to that point – I was a successful journalist and PR consultant and knew nothing about babies, or how to care for them. Once the first few months as a new mum were behind me, I was amazed not to be able to find any novels on this subject, given all the women I knew who were also struggling to forge a new identity as a mum after so long in the world of work. And so I decided to write about them – a story for women who have struggled with this transition, in the face of a working world that is still so stacked against us.

I didn’t suffer from postnatal depression but like many women, my sleep deprivation in those early days reached the point where I started hallucinating at night, imagining the baby was in bed with me when she was actually asleep in her cot, and my moods swung from euphoric to desperate with exhausting frequency.

To add to my stress, I unexpectedly found myself on maternity leave without a job to return to. Sadly, this is an all-too-common situation. It was utterly terrifying: this open-ended new ‘life’ that was completely alien to everything I had ever known, and that I was woefully underprepared for. And when I did secure some freelance work when my baby was only four months old, I was averaging three hours’ sleep a night, none of my ‘work’ clothes fitted me, and I felt exactly as Helena does in the book: a misplaced lump between two stools. Not yet confident as a mother, no longer a career woman.  

... despite my ferocious love for my baby, I felt bewildered by who I had become.

It was the strangest time of my life. I had been the old me for 34 years by then, but a mother for only a handful of months, and despite my ferocious love for my baby, I felt bewildered by who I had become. I’d never really realised how much my identity was tied up in my work and independence.

Not working was very strange, and in the middle of the night I’d panic that I should be doing something with this time ‘off’. I read on someone’s blog that when you have a baby, it’s OK for you just to be looking after the baby. You don’t have to be trying to hold down a part-time job too, or finishing a long-neglected novel (!), or doing charity work, or whatever it is that you think is necessary to justify your existence as a stay-at-home-mum. That helped, a little. But it was still hard to give myself permission to do ‘nothing’. Even though I was exhausted and probably working harder than I had done in ages – just in a very different way.

I feel like I really lost myself in those early months. In fact, I would say it took a year for my confidence to return. Thankfully, Oli is super supportive and, thanks to the nature of his career, is around a lot more than most fathers. I genuinely believe my situation might have been very different were it not for the fact that I had him by my side every day during those life-changing early months.

Because this is what it boils down to, in my opinion. Support. New mothers need support. They deserve support. It can make a crucial difference - can truly determine whether they sink or swim.

Since The Rival was released last September, it’s been fascinating seeing how readers have responded to it. Many mothers have written to tell me that the feelings Helena experiences in the story echo those they experienced too. Many more people have said it made them cry. Other people have complained that it’s not a thriller, and despite my frustration that no one ever said it was (!), it actually just makes me sad that my message was completely lost on them.

I still find it a bit frightening that I have shared that bewildering experience - that intense loss of identity that came with the loss of my working life - with the world

It’s strange, your debut novel. You pour everything into it - it feels intensely personal, in a way that your second and third novels don’t. I still find it a bit frightening that I have shared that bewildering experience - that intense loss of identity that came with the loss of my working life - with the world, even if it was through a character who isn’t me (I promise!). Those feelings seem so far away now - my whole personality has changed over the past three and a half years, as my daughter has grown, and I’m more than happy in my own skin these days. In many ways then, I’m grateful that I managed to capture those feelings - the raw emotion, the little kernel of truth that was so painful to admit to at the time.

The Rival will always be a special book to me, a marking of time that reminds me how far I’ve come.

The RIVAL is currently available for just 99p in the Kindle Spring Sale! UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

How I make a living as a writer

Trust me, this is much better than a picture of my bank account…

Trust me, this is much better than a picture of my bank account…

Well, this is a scary post to write. I want to write it though, because people in creative industries never talk about money. There seems to be some kind of unwritten rule that you just… don’t. And I don’t think this helps the problem of creative work not being valued enough financially. My partner is a professional singer – he’s constantly being asked to sing at people’s parties or weddings for free, as though this would be ‘fun’ or ‘nice’ for him. People don’t seem to understand that no, this is his job, it is how he earns a living. It’s no more ‘fun’ for him to sing at your wedding than it is for a teacher to give a lesson for free, or a lawyer to look over a contract for you for free, or a writer to give your first draft a read for free. 

So yes. Money. We all need it. Let’s talk more about it. Or, more specifically since this is my blog, let’s talk about how I make a living from writing.

It is definitely not the case with writing that reward automatically follows effort. Reward follows luck, effort and talent in equal measure.

It still astonishes me that some people might think that writing books is an easy way to make money, but apparently the myth persists. I'm not going to go all doom and gloom on you, but it really, really isn't. There are a handful of people who make a lot of money from writing, but they work really hard to do so, and there are thousands more who do not, and they also work really hard. It is definitely not the case with writing that reward automatically follows effort. Reward follows luck, effort and talent in equal measure.

So, first of all, I have been freelance for nearly ten years. That's ten years of unreliable income, so I am pretty used to it now. I am also very fearsome to anyone who pays me late, and I don't hesitate to issue a late payment demand and/or solicitor's letter to any company that hasn't met my invoice terms. I think this is essential. It's too easy to get caught up in 'wanting to be nice' or feeling grateful to have the gig (I read recently someone saying that in media you always feel you should be grateful for 'being in the room' and it makes me furious - you are talented, they wouldn't give you the work otherwise, they're not doing you a favour, they NEED you - stick these mantras up above your computer if you are ever in any doubt). The most important thing, I think, is not to continue working for people who have proved themselves to be unreliable payers. The situation will not magically get any better. Don't throw good time and money after bad. (To bastardise a metaphor). Move on, spend your energies getting work elsewhere. 

Rant over…

I’m a trained journalist and my freelance work used to be mainly from sub-editing shifts in-house at design magazines, but then I started to get more writing and digital work, and then I moved across to doing work for interiors brands rather than media outlets (this pays much better!). Mostly editorial work - writing blogs and articles, but also consulting on brands’ marketing, their PR, helping them with their brand identity, identifying their audience etc. I've done social media too (although I don't enjoy it as much and think I'm slightly too old to be as naturally good at it as people who grew up with the internet). I've done proofreading and even some web design. I like the variety. I currently work two days a week on a freelance basis doing content marketing for a software company - which is very out of my original remit of interiors and design, but pays a lot better and is the stuff of freelance dreams. A regular, part-time gig which affords some level of security. I take on other freelance work as and when it comes in. 

I also have a flat I rent out, and this gives me an additional monthly income too (although it's pretty unreliable as maintenance issues and fees eat into my rent a lot). I'd like to caveat this by saying I know how very, very fortunate I am to be in this position. I owned my flat separately before I met my partner. We deliberately decided to keep it as a rental property when we bought our current home, rather than sell it and buy a more expensive family home, because we are both self-employed and neither of us have pensions. So, we live in a smaller house than we might do if we both had ‘normal’ jobs. I feel a bit uncomfortable about being a private landlord for several reasons but I have made peace with this by trying to be the best landlord I can! I’ve just spent £10k having the loft boarded and the whole place redecorated for my new tenants and I always fix maintenance issues immediately and without question. It would be a struggle for me to be able to write two days a week if it wasn’t for my rental income, so I am very grateful to have it.

But now we come to the books. As you may or may not know, if you receive a traditional publishing deal with a big publisher, you will usually be offered an 'advance'. Which is exactly what it says it is - an advance on the money that the publisher hopes your book will make. However, if your book doesn't make a penny, you don't have to pay the advance back - so the publishers take all the risk. Advances vary massively, but the six-figure splashy deals that many people associate with getting published are so rare (I did not get a six-figure splashy deal). And advances are split over several payments - usually three, or four, correlating with the dates you sign your contract, submit your completed manuscript, and the day it's finally published. This can often mean money is stretched out across a couple of years. In my case, the advance payments for my debut will stretch out over three tax years! Also, if you have an agent, they will take 15% of this. Plus then, of course, there’s tax.

So, if you get a £10k advance (which would be considered a really decent deal for a debut author) it’s not like you’re just given ten grand to go off and spend. It’s more like £8,500 split into three payments over at least a year, of which you need to reserve at least 20% for tax. 

Yes, that’s £8,500 before tax for a book that probably took a year to write.  

This is why most writers are poor.

Only once your book has 'paid back' your advance (sold enough copies to make this money back for the publisher) do you start to receive royalties. Most books don't earn out their advances. And the percentage an author receives for each book sold is so tiny it’s almost painful to write about (plus maths makes my brain ache, so if you want to know the specifics, there’s loads more info on this just a Google away). The upshot of all this is that for most writers with a trad deal, your advance is the only income you will receive for that book. For a long time, at least.

For me, the advances I have received for my books do not make up my core income. Instead, they are 'bonuses' that I put towards various things – savings, stuff for the house etc. I hope one day that the majority of my core income will come from writing novels, but at the moment my living wage comes from my freelance work, and a little from my rental property too. 

To throw all your financial eggs in the ‘being a full time author’ basket before your career is really established is a risky strategy.

I know very few debut writers who write full-time and have given up their day jobs. Many work part time, but most do something else as well as write. For one thing, unless your book is an instant bestseller there is the constant uncertainty of not getting another publishing deal. To throw all your financial eggs in the ‘being a full time author’ basket before your career is really established is a risky strategy.

Plus writing full time is quite lonely – but that’s a post for another day. As for me, I have the epitome of a ‘portfolio’ career. I’m also a mum of course, and Oli and I split the childcare between us and nursery. I work a lot in the evenings. Oli takes Daphne out on Sunday mornings for a couple of hours so I work on my novels then too. It’s tricky juggling being a mum, writing novels, and freelance work but I think I have a good balance at the moment, and I know I’m really lucky. I wrote my first three novels years ago while working full time in-house, and that was definitely more tiring (although I didn’t have a child then so…!).

Though authors often bemoan their lot (there was a lot of talk recently of author-incomes being at an all-time low), I do understand that publishing is a business and publishers have to make money, and publishing an unknown author is a risky and expensive business. For me, getting published has given me the validation that I really, really wanted, and has allowed me to take my creative writing seriously. I feel incredibly grateful to be doing something I love, and I intend to work really hard at it so that one day, my income from writing exceeds my other revenue streams.

Fingers crossed!

On the subject of money, THE RIVAL is currently in the Kindle Spring Sale for the bargainous price of 99p! So if you want to send some pennies my way, now would be a good time to do so. Thank you :) UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

On being a mother of one

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Facebook just told me that four years ago today I stuck up a picture of this badge to tell my friends I was pregnant.

I can’t actually believe it was four years ago but it’s thrown into sharp relief the fact that most women in my situation would have had another baby by now. Or at least be pregnant.

Take my NCT class – of the six of us, all five of the others have had a second baby. I am the only one with only one. Just like I was the only one who didn’t manage to breastfeed, but that’s probably beside the point.

Or is it? Can we all find ways in which we feel like we don’t fit in, that we’ve wandered off the expected track, if we try hard enough? I don’t know if that’s the case, or if it’s just me overanalysing everything as usual, but I have always felt a little bit ‘different’ from my peers. And motherhood is just one of the ways in which I seem to have inadvertently not fitted in with the norm.

When my NCT friends started getting pregnant with their second children, I remember thinking ‘Shit, I better get on with it.’ Around this time people started asking if we wanted another, or, more rudely, ‘when are you going to have another?’ And I would sit there and stare at them and struggle to find a coherent answer. It wasn’t that I was against having another child, it was just that I wasn’t sure. The question felt huge, too big for me to find the answer.

The decision to have a first baby, in my opinion, is pretty easy, because you have no idea what you’re letting yourself in for.

Oli and I spoke about it a lot. Perhaps it would have been easier if he felt strongly either way, but like me, he was on the fence. We love being parents – we worship our daughter – but at the same time, neither of us feels any burning desire to have another child. If I had fallen pregnant unexpectedly we would have been scared but I’m sure we would have been delighted too. But making the conscious decision to have another child was another matter.

The decision to have a first baby, in my opinion, is pretty easy, because you have no idea what you’re letting yourself in for. But having a second is a whole different ballgame, because you know exactly what it will entail. And you have another small person to consider, who’s your whole world, and you know that whatever you do will impact them enormously.

So I did what I always do when faced with a question I don’t know the answer to: I researched it. Were only children really unhappy spoilt weirdos? Were children with siblings really much better adjusted? Was it really terribly lonely for children without siblings when they were older? How did it really affect relationships when you have two young children to look after? How much did siblings really play together and how much did they fight?

The results were fascinating, and (of course) subjective. But the overall message was that the perfect family size is the number of children you have, because if you love them they will be happy. That siblings are definitely not a guarantee of happiness, that (of course) nothing in life or relationships is as simple or clear cut as this, and that the most important thing is that your child grows up happy and well-adjusted with loving parents. No amount of brothers or sisters can compensate.

Oli and I are different parents in other ways too, of course. We are both self-employed, with unreliable and irregular incomes. Neither of us knows how our work lives will pan out. We are getting on a bit. Although I’m not too old to have a baby at 38, I’m not exactly a spring chicken. We have a comfortable, lovely life in a house that’s big enough for the three of us, but would be a bit of a squash if we had another. I’d like to be able to afford for Daphne to have piano lessons when she’s older, for us to go abroad once a year. Maybe I am wrong to be thinking of the practical considerations, but when practical things go awry it causes great stress, and stress affects everything.

A lot of people told me that they grew up with a very fixed idea of how big a family they wanted. They always wanted two kids. Or three. I never had that. I was never really that sure I even wanted one. I didn’t grow up dreaming of motherhood. Now that I am a mother, I feel unbelievably blessed, but I never had a fixed picture of what size and kind of family I wanted to be the matriarch of.

I love our little family. I love it so much that I wake up in the night sometimes terrified that it’s all going to go wrong.

And that’s the other thing. I feel unbelievably blessed. I’m risk averse. I love our little family. I love it so much that I wake up in the night sometimes terrified that it’s all going to go wrong. I’m so grateful to have our daughter. I feel like I’m tempting fate just writing this. What if we had a second child, and that second child had health problems, or my pregnancy went wrong? Or my inevitable exhaustion at having a young baby to care for affected my relationship with Daphne? Made me snappy and irritable with her? I had health issues with my first pregnancy and the stress was unimaginable. I just don’t want to put myself through that again. Which probably makes me a coward and a massive pessimist. I’m not sure, I’m just so grateful to have what I have, and there’s a voice in my head that continually shouts ‘don’t push your luck.’

So, we are probably not going to have another child. I have kept all Daphne’s baby things just in case I wake up one morning feeling desperate to procreate again, but my gut tells me it’s unlikely to happen. The thing that really clarified it was one of my friends asking me: ‘If it was normal to have one child, rather than two, would you be thinking of having another at all?’ And the answer was a resounding no. Which leads me to believe it’s the pressure to conform that’s the strongest voice in me contemplating having another baby. And that’s the worst reason of all.

It’s lonely though, being a mother of an only. Even though it’s becoming increasingly common, most of my friends with kids have two (at least). I feel like there should be some kind of support group for the ‘one and dones’. I find I am increasingly fascinated by modern motherhood and all its iterations. My novels focus on parenting in our contemporary world – my work in progress centres on a stay-at-home dad, and my upcoming book Unfollow Me is about an Instagram mum. I think the myriad different ways in which people parent in the 21st century are something to celebrate, not judge.

I hope this post doesn’t sound spoilt. There are, of course, no guarantees that I would fall pregnant again anyway. And as I said, I know how lucky I am. I really do. But I wanted to post this as an answer to all those people who keep asking me when we’re going to have another.

I also wanted to share my thoughts on this intensely personal and loaded subject, just in case there’s anyone else out there feeling a bit alone, as they go through the same thing.

You can find out more about THE RIVAL on my website, and order here if you want to make my day. UNFOLLOW ME will be published in June.

What I miss about living in London (and what I don't)

leaving-london-lifebylotte I'm going to be honest with you, having to blog is quite painful right now. Mostly because I am currently trying to write 10,000 words per week of my novel, which means five evenings a week I'm doing 2000 words. I'm having Wednesdays off as that's when I go to do my session at the Faber Academy. Sunday is my Day of Rest (the only day that Oli doesn't work, and so the only day we get to spend as a family). So having to open the laptop again today is a little bit depressing, but I don't want to stop blogging because I do so love the sound of my own voice. And I'm sure you lot do too (heh heh).

(On a sidenote, trying to write 10,000 words a week, last thing at night after the baby has been bathed and put to bed, and I've cooked my own dinner, is quite challenging (read: exhausting). I am slightly regretting my over-enthusiastic target. However, I know that if I don't stick to it I won't finish my first draft by the time Oli finishes his show. So, onwards till my fingertips fall off and my brain is completely fried, etc etc).

But that's not what this post is meant to be about. We've been living in the new house for a good three months now, and I wanted to share my thoughts on the things that I miss about living in the Big Smoke (does anyone call it that these days?). So here goes, as always, being completely honest...

  1. The shops. This makes me inordinately shallow, I am aware. But I miss living near good shops. We were about a 20 minute walk into Wimbledon town centre from my old flat and it really had most of the things you needed, thanks to the wonder that is Elys department store. There was also a massive M&S right next to my flat, full of lovely baby clothes (plus ready-meals for lazy days), as well as a Mothercare and a Dunelm Mill (yes I lived by a retail park, yes it was ugly, yes it was bloody useful). Where we are now has a decent enough town centre (big Sainsbury's) but it's all very chainy and depressing - Next and Monsoon and places like that that I'd never go in (retail snob). It also has a teeny Debenhams. Debenhams is the shittest department store of all department stores. I'm sorry, but it is. Who actually buys Debenhams clothes? Someone must do, but I am still bewildered by why they would.
  2. The transport options. The tube is disgusting and overcrowded and filthy, but my god, is it convenient and easy. I was about five minutes from the tube in my old flat, and I also had buses galore outside my doorstep (this also had its downsides obviously) and could get to Oxford Circus in 20 minutes. As well as this, I could walk to Wimbledon and get on a different tube line AND the overground, so transport options were plentiful. I can't overestimate how important this is if you're travelling into town on a regular basis. It just makes life SO much more pleasant when public transport goes tits up, as it invariably does.
  3. Deliveroo. Deliveroo deliverdon't round here. (I am a little less upset about this after reading that they are shit to their staff.)
  4. Indie restaurants. We have Pizza Express, GBK, Wagas, Carluccio's - all perfectly serviceable for a quick lunch. But there's nothing that special on our doorstep - nothing unique, no interesting new cuisines to try. There IS however an awesome chippy, which we have been to about 97 times since moving in.
  5. Public services. No, not dodgy loos or telephone boxes. But things like the doctors and dentists. For all its faults, London seems to be pretty well catered for when it comes to your health. I could walk to both my doctors and my NHS dentist from my flat, and both were excellent. Since moving here I've been looking into finding a new GP for us all and most of them aren't taking new patients - as for NHS dentists, it'd be easier to find a Labour voter. Surrey people seem to like paying for the dentist. I don't understand why.  I am so cross about this, in fact, that I've decided to carry on going to my old dentist for now. If this is immoral or illegal, then please tell me off in the comments (not sure I'll care however).
  6. Uber. I suspect Uber does operate round here (just about) but the price of a cab home from central London would be about the same as our weekly shop, rather than the £15 or so it used to be.
  7. Oyster cards. I should have put this one up there with trains really. But in order to get into town now I have to buy a paper ticket! It's so quaint! It's also very confusing, what with off-peak this and super off-peak that and restrictions on what time you can sneeze at London Waterloo... We're just outside zone 6 out here, so we also have to shell out more than £20 for a one-day travelcard. Ouch.
  8. Last but very not least - my friends. I miss my London pals. Most of my friends are still London pals (although hurrah for school friends who live near where we've moved to!). A few London mates have moved out, like us, but many of them are still in town and lots of them are in SE London, which is a proper trek from me now. Sniff.

BUT do I regret it, despite all this? Absolutely NOT. Here are just some of the things I love about living out of London...

  1. The space. This counts for about five points up there I think. We have space! We have a big garden. We have a front garden. We have a garage. We have off-street parking. It is so lovely not to feel hemmed in on all sides by people and buildings and traffic. It's the most freeing, stress-releasing thing ever. Big thumbs up.
  2. The air quality. It is awesome. I walk home from the station and maybe one car goes past, and I realise that I can't smell drains or fried chicken or diesel fumes. OK, so it's not quite the Scottish highlands, but I really think it's made a difference to the way I feel.
  3. The people. There are less of them which just makes everything more peaceful, and hands down, people are politer. People in London are so busy, so stressed, so 'in the middle of something'. Here, people take time to smile at you, hold doors open, have little chats with Daph. It's so strange, in fact, that first of all I found it a bit unnerving. But whenever I take Daph to Sainsbury's we get stopped by the cashiers, or little old ladies who want to find out how old she is (and try to make her wave, which is embarrassing, because she usually blows them a raspberry instead). But it just feels so much friendlier as a community. This has surprised me a lot, because I always thought London had a great community feel, but I guess that was just pockets of people in amongst lots of transient people who were just there for work or whatever. So it never felt quite like this. The neighbours here are all very friendly and came round to say hello as soon as we moved in, but they are polite enough to keep their distance too.
  4. The proximity to my folks. OK, this one is a bit niche, but it's lovely that I'm now only a 20 minute drive from my parents. It's made babysitting opportunities much more frequent (hurrah!) but also means we don't have to sit in terrible traffic every time we want to visit them.
  5. And on that note, the traffic. It has its moments round here (school rush hours etc) but mostly it's A DREAM. Wimbledon is basically a 24 hour car park. I could easily spend 25 minutes driving a mile and a half. I wish I was exaggerating, but if you've ever sat going nowhere fast on Kingston Road you'll know I'm not.
  6. The proximity to parks and stuff. And the countryside. And the motorways. All pretty self explanatory - because we don't have to negotiate London traffic to get anywhere, everything's a lot more accessible.
  7. The quiet. You can hear a bloody pin drop outside our house. It's insane. And on that note, have I mentioned that cul de sacs are AMAZING? Everyone should live in a cul de sac. It puts your quality of life up by about a million percent. As well as your Amazon Prime expenditure (my 'safe place' = my front porch).
  8. The hedgehogs. We have hedgehogs in our garden. NEED I SAY MORE.

So yes, that's my little round up. I'll probably think of a million things to add to this later but for now I'm off to have my dinner. Hope it's helpful if you're trying to make a decision to move out of London or not. I will say that without Daph as a priority, we probably would have stayed in Wimbledon, but I'm so glad we didn't because I really do prefer this way of life now. Call it old age, call it tired of London, tired of life, but I think there's something really important to be said for slowing down the pace a bit, taking time to appreciate peace and quiet. It's made a huge difference to my wellbeing.

One and done?

22-weeks2 A couple of people I know who had babies around the same time as me have recently announced that they are expecting again. I have to say, when I found out, both times I was incredibly shocked. The idea of having another baby so soon (or what feels like so soon) after Daphne is terrifying. But as well as feeling shocked, I felt a little jealous. Perhaps it's something about being pregnant, that kind of special status you get, and the amazing load of feel-good hormones that come with newborns.

When Daphne was first born, within weeks I was thinking about having another baby. I actually said I definitely wanted another one - I loved her so much, and it was such an addictive feeling. I remember telling friends that I'd be happy to do it all again soon. Fast forward a year, and I have changed my mind so completely and utterly that it's kind of scary. Obviously I still love her so much - in fact, a lot more - but I am no longer under the influence of those new mother hormones and am instead ravaged and slightly beaten by a whole year of sleep deprivation.

There is nothing like sleep deprivation on that kind of scale really. Before Daphne was born I knew I was in for a few months of being pretty tired, but I had absolutely no idea what the reality would be like. And how unbelievably difficult it would be - definitely the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with in my entire life. It affects everything - your relationship with your partner, your self-esteem, your health, your happiness... your weight! That's not to say that it isn't worth it, because of course it is, but it's still so awful that I can't imagine putting myself through it willingly again.

Of course, maybe I'd have a better sleeper the next time around. Maybe my next baby would be those so-called 'easy' babies that sleep through at nine weeks, breastfeed like a dream and have laid-back, sunny personalities. But what if they don't? What if they're even more difficult? What if my pregnancy is just as complicated or even more complicated than last time? I don't think I have the mental strength.

I've never been the kind of maternal person who planned on having 2.4 children etc etc.  Children were always a bit vague in my mind - a hazy idea that I hoped would happen at some point. So I don't have that over-riding feeling that our family isn't complete unless there's four of us. But by the same token, it's hard to say definitively that I don't want any more kids. The truth is, I really don't know.

None of this matters really - if you don't know the answer, live with the question etc. Both Oli and I are slightly old for first-time parents, but this isn't enough of a worry to make me think I have to get on with it, or make a decision right now. It's just something I've been thinking about, following my friends' news, and also because we've started packing up some of Daphne's baby bits - not just her clothes, but bigger things like the Perfect Prep machine, her nursing chair, the Jumperoo, her bouncy chair etc. And I'm not sure what to do with them. Sell them, or keep them just in case? They're in the garage at the moment.

I always thought having two children seemed like a sensible idea because then your little one always has someone else to play with, and I can't imagine life without my sister, but then someone reminded me that siblings don't always get on, and sometimes they fight just as much as they entertain each other. And of course, from a parenting point of view, two kids means twice as much attention, twice as little sleep, twice as much money... Is it perhaps better to focus all our efforts and energies on one, especially now that having an only child is becoming increasingly more 'normal'? Will it be better for Daphne to have our undivided attention? I love our little band of three, and I don't know if I can face being pregnant and having a newborn again. But then will it be sad for Daph in the future not to have a little companion, and what about when we've shuffled off our mortal coils? Who will love her as much as we do?

I'd love to hear what other mums think about this issue and how you've decided (or not) how many children is right for you... it's such a fascinating decision. If you fancy sharing your thoughts, please leave me a comment here or over on Facebook.

Them vs Us

them-vs-us-lifebylotte Another controversial post for you today... It's something I've been thinking about ever since I got pregnant. And something I perhaps shouldn't confess to but, you know me, I like to be honest. And overshare. And tell people things that are best kept to myself. Hmmm.

But, anyway, it's Sunday after all. Confession time. Here goes: before I got pregnant I used to view women with children in a rather unsisterly way. I don't know what it was, but a part of me thought they'd kind of failed the feminist movement somewhat by conforming to biological stereotypes rather than going out there and changing the world (I am aware of how ridiculous this sounds, it's not like I was changing the bloody world either). But I thought they'd taken the 'easy option' by choosing motherhood over furthering their careers. And I was aware that lots of women did manage to further their careers while becoming mothers but they seemed to be in the minority and seemed to spend the entire time banging on about how hard it was, which just struck me as showing off.

It may sound absolutely insane. Like I said, it was just a small part of me - I'm not completely inhuman, I did also understand that they were sacrificing many of their wants and needs for the future generation. But I would roll my eyes if I was on a train and heard two mothers chatting about some aspect of their child's care as though it was the only thing that mattered. I'd get irritated if I heard them complain about how tired they were (you CHOSE this life, I'd think, very uncharitably, suck it up). I'd hate the women with pushchairs in shopping centres who'd ram past me to get to where they wanted, completely oblivious to my existence. I'd tut out loud at children having tantrums in supermarkets. I'd do a SATC Samantha at badly behaved children in nice restaurants. I'd inwardly judge women who decided to be stay-at-home mums with fierce prejudice. I'd even be a bit pissed off if a pregnant woman without a bump yet barged past me on the tube to grab a seat.

I know, I know.

It really did feel a bit 'them vs us' - the childless (or childfree as I liked to think of it) versus the mothers. How horrible of me. But I don't think I'm alone in feeling like this*.

If I'd had a difficult day at work, I used to think how easy mothers had it, being at home all day watching This Morning and online shopping. HA! One thing I have learned: there is nothing mentally harder than being at home alone all day with a young baby. Single mothers have my utmost respect.

One of my friends said that having a baby is like joining an epic worldwide club. A club of overtired, empathetic women. It's so true. You suddenly feel sorry for the pregnant woman on the tube who knows she has to grab that seat because at ten weeks she feels lightheaded standing. You offer her yours gladly. You feel deep sadness for the poor woman trying to have a nice meal out while containing a bored hyperactive toddler. You wish you could help. When you see a woman pushing a hooded pram with grim determination you notice her eyebags and stained leggings and you wonder how old the baby is, and how much sleep she had the previous night. You want to reach out and hug her and tell her that it gets easier, it really does. When you hear women chatting about childcare, you feel great relief that you're not the only one going through such things and often end up joining in (motherhood is a great way of getting talking to ANYONE!). You feel these women ARE you, they belong with you, you GET them and you like them even if in your former life you would have had nothing in common. It is actually one of the best bits of motherhood - this sudden deep solidarity with other women.

I wonder why the old me felt so scathing of mothers. I wonder if it was jealousy, or some kind of defence mechanism. I always worried that I wouldn't get around to having children and that I'd regret it long term - was this my own survival instincts prepping me for the future? Telling me somehow that that life was crap, that I'd had a lucky escape? I don't know. I do know I feel a bit ashamed now. It doesn't mean I don't look back on my old life and think, god that was a great life, I had so much freedom and time and opportunity. In many ways I miss it. I miss being one of the childfree. Because without a child, you ARE free. I am aware of motherhood's limitations. I don't think that there's a clearcut winner in the 'having a baby' versus 'not having a baby' life choices. Both have their difficulties, both have their advantages.

But at the same time, this new empathy, this new KINDNESS and respect for others that I've developed since having Daphne. That's something I didn't expect, and something I'm so grateful for.

I guess the short version of this post is: motherhood has made me a nicer person.

* It may be that EVERYONE feels like this before they have kids, in which case, I feel much less sociopathic. 

The Fear

home-alone-lifebylotte Tomorrow, Oli is leaving for Edinburgh, where he'll be staying for just over a week. He's going to be doing a show at the fringe with the wondrous Chad Lelong - a reinterpretation of David Bowie songs - if you're at the festival and fancy popping by, then you can find out all the details here.

But this post isn't really about that (sorry Ol). It's about me (so far, so predictable). You see, it'll be the first time I'll have been left alone with Daph even overnight, let alone for a week. And I have a confession: I am absolutely terrified.

I've known this week was coming up for months - I think Oli agreed to do the festival back in January. But it seemed so far away and I thought as Daph would be one it would be OK. I assumed by now we'd have a really lovely easy routine and rapport going on, and of course it never occurred to me that she would still not be sleeping through the night every night. *bitter laughter*

At present, I know I'm a spoilt cow because Oli is around a lot in the day - he works evenings obviously and so I've always got help with the childcare. I've never had to be a traditional mum, stuck at home all day on my own with a baby. I get to say things like: 'Can you just hold Daph for a sec while I pluck an errant chin hair/straighten my hair/have a twenty-minute toilet break?' I've got used to the lie ins that I get every morning (I think I mentioned in an old post that Oli and I struck a deal - I do all the night feeds, and he gets up with her in the morning so I can catch up on sleep). I usually wake up about 8am. But this week, I'll be doing the night feeds AND getting up at 6am and giving her breakfast and then looking after her all day until she goes to bed. I am afraid. Very afraid. Of the following things specifically:

  1. Bathtime. How will I coordinate running the bath/ getting her ready/stopping her from drowning while she's in the bath while I turn around and grab her towel? We have a SYSTEM goddamit: Oli gets her ready for her bath, I give her the bath, he watches her while I get all her towels ready and then I lift her out of the bath and bring her to him to get her into her nightime nappy/pyjamas. Then I read her a story and give her her milk and she goes to bed. It works! It's a process! If one of us is missing, it's no longer a process; it's a health and safety violation.
  2. Mealtimes. These are my most hated of all parenting duties, due to Daph's rather fussy nature (read: tendency to scream and squirm and try to climb out of her highchair after one mouthful of food). And I will have to do all of them. Worse still, I will have no one there to distract her/pull funny faces while I try to shove food into her unsuspecting mouth. And how am I meant to prepare the actual food when if you leave her in her playpen for more than about ten minutes she goes batshit crazy?
  3. Playtime. I guess I am a terrible mother because... *whispers* ... I find playing with my own child monumentally dull after about twenty minutes. Oli is BRILLIANT at playing with her, and comes up with voices, names and characters for all her animals etc etc. All I have managed so far is voracious quacking as I squeeze her rubber duck in the bath (which barely even registers a response, truth be told, let alone a smile). I feel so ashamed but I just don't know HOW TO PLAY. I love her to death - I think I've got loving her down to a fine art and have mastered the art of cuddling and kissing her and soothing her when she's sad. But more than ten minutes of stacking bricks that she just knocks over in favour of barging towards my handbag/mobile phone/any hard surface on which to bonk her head and I just want to stick her in front of Teletubbies and hide behind my laptop. I try reading to her, but she just yanks the books out of my hand and closes them. Apparently trapping Mummy's fingers in the pages is more fun than watching Mummy point out where Mr Tickle is.
  4. Going to the toilet. How. How. How.
  5. Having a shower. The only time I'll be able to do this is when she's having her first nap at 9.30am. But on Thursday I have to go to work and my mum is going to babysit. So again, how, WHEN am I meant to have a shower before leaving for the office? At 5.30 before she wakes up? When I've probably been up at 4am anyway. Maybe the answer is NEVER GOING TO BED.

I so wish I was better with children - I've never been very good with them, and much as I adore my amazing little daughter, I find spending long periods time with her now she's older and more aware (and more opinionated) really quite challenging. I know you're not meant to admit that, but I hope I'm not the only mother out there like it. I love the days when Granny comes over and I can sneak off and waste some time doing fun adult things like, y'know, replying to my emails. Or writing blog posts. The most challenging thing by far about being a mother is not having time to get things done. I hate that it takes four days to fold the washing because any spare second is spent firefighting the essential chores like emptying the nappy bin (you don't want to leave that overflowing in August; LESSON LEARNT).

I am not complaining - I mean, it's hardly a hardship to be at home with my child like many mothers up and down the country whose partners work abroad. But I AM scared. I think this week will be an interesting learning experience for me (and Daph, poor mite). I am hoping it'll turn out better than I expect. I've arranged trips out for us every day, to make sure I don't go insane with loneliness. But I'm frightened. I hope that doesn't make me a horrible person. Wish us luck!

One year baby BODY update!

38-weeks-lifebylotte2 I wasn't sure what to call this post, or indeed, whether to write it at all, but it's been niggling in my head for a week or so I decided to just do it. Please skip if it's not your kind of thing, but for those of you who are curious about how having a baby changes you physically... read on. I love a good overshare, me. I also love reading these kind of posts because pregnancy affects everyone so differently - I find it fascinating.

So, deep breath, here we go...

body-update-lifebylotte

My weight

Daph was born a year ago and I am kind of perversely proud to say I have not lost all my baby weight yet. Shock horror. I haven't actually weighed myself since we moved because we've lost the bathroom scales somewhere in the melee, but you know how you know your own body... I would give a rough guess that I currently weigh about 9st 9 (on a good, non-period day, first thing in the morning after a wee). I'm 5ft 7 just to put that in context for you. When I got pregnant, I was about 9st 3, but I was actually the lightest I'd been in a while because I'd been on a bit of a fitness kick and had been going to the gym a few times a week for about six months. Earlier that year, I was about 9st 7, and that was probably my base weight for a couple of years.

So yes, I am not back down to 9st 3 (I was nearly 12 stone at my heaviest when pregnant!). I wanted to get back to 9st 7 but I haven't even managed that. I have mixed feelings about this to be honest. I think - if I wanted to - I COULD get back down to that weight relatively easily, by doing a few runs each week. I started running earlier in the year when Daph was younger and weirdly I was less tired (somehow smaller babies are less tiring because despite the night-wakings, they're less demanding during the day and nap a lot). But I gave it up when I started working again, when she was about five months old. Now when I get some time to myself I have to do my freelance work, and exercising has definitely taken a back seat.

Interestingly, when Daph was first born I was desperate to lose ALL the baby weight and really worried about it, but, now I can honestly say I don't care! It's quite liberating. The only part of me that really wants to lose the extra pounds is the part of me that sees myself in jeans, as they're not as flattering as they were, but otherwise I am quite happy floating about in maxi dresses. The extra weight is all across my thighs - the inside of my thighs mostly, and a little bit on my tummy and arms. It's not terrible. And on that note...

My tummy

The good thing about having a long back is that you also have a long tummy. Which means it usually looks pretty flat - there's plenty of space to spread out the fat y'see. I also have a tummy button that goes in a lot which helps it to look flatter (blimey, this is a weird blog post). So my tummy actually looks pretty normal at first glance. I didn't get any stretch marks (thankfully) when I was pregnant and the skin isn't loose. What is different, is the - now excuse me here cos this is also a bit weird - texture of my skin on my stomach. It's kind of squishier than before. I guess, it's because it stretched and it's now fatter, but I think it's actually also cos my abs separated and I am fairly sure they haven't joined back together yet. I think there are exercises I can do to sort this, but I can't really be bothered to be honest. Maybe if we go on a bikini holiday next year I will do something about it. The main thing is that my tummy is pretty much the same as before, just a bit... softer.

My general shape

My mum doesn't believe this, but my hips are definitely wider than before. You know how they stretch a bit when you are pregnant thanks to the ligaments relaxing? I really don't think they go back - fitted trousers and dresses I wore before I got pregnant just don't look quite right now (and no, it's not just the extra weight - I can tell the difference). My waist is also less defined - that whole area is a lot more 'square'. But it's not terrible. I feel a bit more 'mumsy' shaped and dare I say it - middle aged?

Oh and my feet. My feet are still bigger. Not swollen any more but bigger, and most of my pre-pregnancy shoes are now uncomfortable.

My boobs

As you may know, I didn't breastfeed really - just pumped for six weeks then gave up. After I stopped pumping my boobs shrank back pretty quickly to their previous size. They look the same now as before, honestly, but they are pretty small and inoffensive (I fail the pencil test) so maybe that's why. I reckon they're a bit lower than before, but that's probably ageing more than anything else. I don't know if boobs change more if you 'properly' breastfeed, would be interesting if anyone wants to share!?

My hair

This is the weirdest and most annoying thing. A year later - my hair is still not the same. It's still darker (although I noticed my first few greys coming in - AAAAAH!) and even more weirdly, I seem to have developed a strange kink on one side. At first I thought it was the way I was wrapping my hair in a towel, but no, it turns out it's actually gone a bit curly on one side. My hair has always been poker straight, and now if I leave it wet, it goes into a really unattractive wavy mess. Annoying.

My down-belows

Yikes, I can see my mum reading this and thinking I've truly lost my mind. However. I can confirm that all is functioning as before in this respect! No discernible changes AT ALL, despite my second degree tear. Your body is designed to give birth, and seems to make a really decent job of recovering from it. Or maybe I just got lucky. Either way, there's been no leakage (SORRY!) or problems of any other nature... *stops talking before everyone I know disowns me*

Baby brain

Has gone! Hurrah. Apart from being eternally knackered, I feel my brain has returned to its previous level of functioning. If anything, I reckon it's better - I'm certainly better at remembering things, multitasking and all that jazz.

What else what else... In general, I look older. A lot older than before. I am pretty sure this is all down to lack of sleep however, and not the baby per se. Oh and y'know I'm 35 now so it was to be expected.

So there you have it. My most navel-gazing post to date. Literal navel-gazing. I can see loads of you rolling your eyes and sneering at the sheer self-absorbedness of it. I may be full of regret at publishing this. But I think the point was really to say that yes, my body is different from before and no, I don't actually care. I know all that gubbins about seeing your body differently after you've given birth sounds annoying but it's SO true. It does put stuff into perspective. It does make you respect it more. It doesn't stop you wanting to eat ice cream and sugar all day to cope with your three hours of sleep. But one look at the little person you made, and their PERFECT BOXFRESH skin and PERFECT SOFT hair and it's a sacrifice that feels both completely natural and well worth making.

The truth about estate agent euphemisms

estate-agent-speak-lifebylotte In need of modernisation - falling down

Cosy - none of your furniture will fit

Spacious accommodation - one of the rooms downstairs is open-plan

Flexible accommodation - the layout makes no sense

Viewing advised - unless you're the kind of person who likes to buy houses they haven't seen before

Secluded location - no one will hear you scream as you're murdered in your bed

Off-street parking (in London) - enjoy the view of your car parked in front of your living room window

Low-maintenance garden - a yard

West-facing garden - still not south facing though you suckers

Blank canvas - a building site

Architect designed - weird looking

Charming - see 'cosy'

Rarely available - impossible to value

Popular location - good luck finding a parking space on the street

Within catchment area of Very Good School - £21,000 more expensive than houses round the corner

Well located - wave at the people on the bus as they go past your bedroom window

Potential to extend - we refuse to be held liable if you can't get the planning

Tremendous scope for improvement - knackered

Much-loved family home - knackered

No onward chain - gold dust

Ideal investment opportunity - short lease

Well presented - a magnolia nightmare

Light and airy  - all the walls are white

Within metres of the station - insomniacs best not apply

Tree-lined road - beware the dog poo

Call to avoid disappointment - if we big it up maybe someone might book a viewing

Beautifully presented - done up to the nines by someone who watched too much Changing Rooms

Within easy reach of the station - too far to walk, not far enough to drive. Ergo, a frustrating distance

Fabulously honest in presentation - a shithole and we can't even be bothered to lie about it

Any obvious ones I've missed?! Do share in the comments below!

Read the truth about life with a newborn >

Read the truth about health visitors >

Read the truth about parenting sleep deprivation >