Monday 31 October 2011

Meal Planning Monday

I'm really struggling at the moment, with blog post ideas and with meals, so this linky over at At Home with Mrs M really appealed to me.

I am having great issues with Joseph and food at present. He's so fussy it's completely ridiculous, where has my quirky but good eater gone? Veggies are OFF the menu, and I really struggle with protein based foods too. Eggs are the work of the devil, meat must be minced to have any real chance, and chicken that hasn't come from The Colonel is treated with utmost suspicion. Just ridiculous.

Added to my woes is I am now, finally, a working mum, so for many nights I am not home (and this is where the Colonel sneaks in I think!)

So here is this weeks meal plan:-

Monday - spaghetti bolognaise, as I write the bolognaise is simmering in the slow cooker, delicious!
Tuesday - honey chicken with rice
Wednesday - homemade lasagne
Thursday - pork rissoles with potato wedges
Friday - butternut pumpkin soup
Saturday - salmon fischakes
Sunday - mild lamb curry

I am working both Saturday and Sunday evening so I will make the fishcakes in the morning and hubby can cook them for Joseph, the curry I'll put in the slow cooker.

Hopefully Joseph will eat healthily this weekend, without letting the Colonel in the front door!

Sunday 30 October 2011

Mummy Moments - My Top 5

This week the personal blog prompt on the Britmums Blog is:-

Share with us a mummy moment, from this year, a great moment, a low moment, a moment where your mothering skills and talents were either brilliant or sub-par, a defining Mummy Moment. 

I'd like to share with you my top 5 so far this year, and would love to see yours as well. If your not a blogger why not put them on my facebook page?

1. Passport control Australia - this deserves its own mention. We arrived at Melbourne International Airport on February 15th  to find an enormous queue in front of us. I had Joseph in the sling (not yet walking) his trunki, a carry on bag for me, and my handbag. I looked like a donkey. An announcement came over "we have closed passport control to protect the safety of the Australian public". WTF? I looked to my right and rather fortuitously the queue was stuck next to the gin. At 9.00am in the morning. It was tempting. Joseph and I were hot, tired and sweating like pigs. We missed our connection to the outer suburbs of Melbourne, but I managed to keep our cool and we finally got our of the airport around lunch time. I was impressed that neither of us had melted down into a tantrum!

2. The walking thing - I blogged at length about this as I was so stressed. Initially I thought it was just a family thing, our family have quite a few late walkers, on both sides, so I wasn't unduly stressed, until the consultant started saying spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, then I started to lose my resolve of not panicking. Joseph had one physio session, which was very reassuring, and said whilst he was a little hypermobile she wasn't unduly concerned. And of course in the afternoon after I posted that piece, he started to walk, making me look a right idiot. But watching him walk was one of the the best mummy moments ever. It signalled the end of the prematurity worries I had.

3. Starting preschool - It was a big decision for me to cut the apron strings and get Joseph into pre school. I thought at just 2 and a bit he was a little young, and I did want to keep him with me for longer, but I felt it was time. And he has blossomed. I am so proud of him for throwing himself into it, learning new things, and making friends, and proud of myself for letting go of him, if only for a few hours a week.

4. Our Greek holiday - we went on a week's adventure to Rhodes, which was just the tonic we needed. Joseph learnt to overcome his fear of the water, and gaining more independence by attending a toddler group. It wasn't the sort of holiday we were used to, as we normally travel around with our rucksacks visiting different places as we stayed firmly put in our very nice hotel. Joseph has taught us to enjoy the moment, to make the most of things, and I am really grateful for that.

5. Joseph's big London trip - we had a massive trip to London shortly after our holiday. We had a television appearance on Daybreak, I was on Radio 5 Live and Radio Manchester, a trip to TK Maxx to be dressed for the MAD blog awards and Joseph came to it all. We managed tubes and private taxis, Joseph did so well. I don't think its down to my parenting just good luck, but he is such a fantastic traveller.

So there's 5 top 5 mummy moments what are yours?

Friday 28 October 2011

Brio Trainset - Joseph's New Toy

We were very fortunate to be selected to receive a Brio trainset from the lovely people at Wooden Toy Shop. Much excitement when the postman arrived today with a box!

I love wooden toys and find them far superior to plastic, they have a nicer handfeel, are far more resilient, and have a nicer look about them. I've had my eye on a Brio trainset for a while, but was unsure whether Joseph was quite ready for one.

Well, I finally managed to convince him to stop riding the box around the living room and open it. Inside we found a train, carriage, a log attachment, two trees and some track pieces, that forms into a nice oval. The great thing is, we can now add to it, and I am sure that Wooden Toy Shop will be hearing from Father Christmas before too long!

What I love about it is the pieces are perfect for tiny hands. As soon as we had got the pieces out ready, Joseph was playing with it, and telling little stories, clearly ready for a trainset. Being a conservationist, as he grows I can tell him the story about sustainablility and collecting wood from forests and replanting it to make sure we have plenty of trees, something that Brio themselves also take seriously.

Joseph really loves his new trainset and we would thoroughly recommend it to any little boy or girl starting their trainset collection.

Thank you again to Wooden Toy Shop who sent us this toy to review.

Thursday 27 October 2011

How to Be A Carer

Secretly, growing up I wanted to be a social worker or a nurse. This appalled my mother, who wanted me to be a scientist, or a lawyer. I've always loved people, and taking care of them. As I have grown as a carer, I've loved empowering people, helping them gain independence, and fulfil their potential. A good carer can really make a difference in a person's life.

I dip in and out of caring. My first official care job was at the age of 15. A friend and I used to volunteer at a nursing home during our holidays. I learnt a lot. I learnt about empathy. I learnt about ageing and dementia. I learnt about memory and brain function. I learnt about funding, about inequality, about young people with nowhere else to go.

I was struggling at university, doing a Bachelor of Business, that just was not me. I kept myself sane by doing voluntary work, my favourite being Citizen Advocacy. I learnt the principles of Social Role Valorisation, and I was passionate to get out there, and help people to gain independence, and self worth. I found what I really wanted to do.

When I left university I tried to get a job fitting of my course, in business, but failed at every turn. I ended up working in a group home for people with complex disabilities. I discovered my niche, my calling. It was a challenging job, with amazing colleagues, and inspiring "clients" as they were called then.

Caring uses so many skills, which is what I love about it, there's variety, and you can get as involved as you want. I love to do activities, to go on outings, to get my service users to try new things, even if its just a food they've never tried.

I've worked at every end of the spectrum, children, the elderly, terminal illnesses, old age, disability, people with mental health disorders, I've had a huge variety.

I do intersperse caring with other work, as it's tough. Physically it can be hard, nowadays there is no lifting as such, but pulling hoists, pushing wheelchairs etc is not easy. Emotionally it can be draining, and you have to learn to switch off, which is hard for me, as I can be too empathetic at times, particularly early on in my career, I am getting better at that!

And the pay. Caring attracts a poor salary. Which is such a shame, because so often I've met people who have got a caring job because they can, not because they want to be there. That old chestnut "you pay peanuts you get monkeys" is sadly at times, true of caring.

I'm really pleased to be back caring again, and I am enjoying it greatly, it's a fab job to have.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

A Rant about Rossendale Buses

I'm so tired of this problem, and I have been so nice about it, but the time has come to rant! When Joseph was almost 1 we moved to the Woodhill area of Bury. I knew that the 476 bus services this area, twice an hour, as I used to catch it to go to the hospital. The bus connected this part of Bury direct to the hospital. Everything was going swimmingly, and I was very happy with this service. The first sign of trouble happened when they stopped the 476 running through Bury to the hospital, claiming that it was impossible to keep to the timetable with changes to traffic contraflow in Bury.

I should have known at that point that there was trouble ahead.

A couple of months ago I was going to a friend's house on the bus and saw there was a notice on the bulkhead. Horror! The 476 was being removed altogether! I was horrified. There was no notification or consultation it was gone! The service was being replaced by the 477. This is a tiny bus compared to the bigger buses, and it runs through Ramsbottom, then Summerseat. I knew from experience that this bus is often full.

The bus company are claiming the route isn't profitable and was losing "a load" of money. I strongly suspect that when it was running to the hospital it was profitable, and now, it isn't. 

I complained. I contacted Rossendale, the told me to complain to Transport for Greater Manchester  (TfGM). Who told me that it was Rossendale's problem. A number of other passengers complained as well. But nothing. Our bus service was gone and there was not a damn thing we could do about it, and no one seems to care.

This morning I went out to catch the bus at 10am. I knew it was a long shot, as Wednesday is market day, but we had to go out today, and its a 30 minute walk into Bury. I wanted to run in, do our shopping and be back on the 11 o'clock bus. The bus pulled up, there were no other prams so I mistakenly thought I was in luck.

No. I was not permitted on the bus, not the driver's fault, there were people sat in the pram section who steadfastly refused to move. The driver apologised profusely and told me to ring and make a complaint. He drove off to cries of "where bus go?" from Joseph.

So I made a complaint, the lady I spoke to was lovely and sympathetic and told that a manager would ring me back.

Two hours later the manager called. I was horrified. He was aggressive from the moment he rang, basically told me it was my problem, and that I should get a taxi! He told me the bus was completely fit for purpose and that if I wanted to subsidise an additional route I could do. He was incredibly rude and really nasty. It takes a bit to reduce me to tears, but he managed it. He shouted and shouted, and would not allow me to speak. Surely his bus failed in its duty to pick me up, I should be angry and aggressive, not him. It pisses me off that I pay good money for transport. If I was disabled or elderly I would pay nothing. A five minute journey costs me £1.80. A day ticket is £4.00. Not inconsiderable I don't think. And surely as a customer my opinion should be listened to.

I then rang the senior manager, who has not apologised for the first manager, which is disappointing, and at least showed a bit more empathy. Basically he told me that they have asked TfGM to fund additional services as they can't afford it. So, obviously the first manager was wrong as senior management do admit the current services is not, in fact, fit for purpose.

But basically we are stuck. This tiny bus runs once an hour. There are a number of elderly people who catch it who have to stand, and woe betide if you dare to get a pram on it.

It isn't good enough, and I'm as mad as hell, not only that they have removed this service with no consultation, but that when challenged, they shout and yell at passengers. I pay good money to catch a bus and I have had enough.

But just where do you go when all the so called "public transport" is privatised and these firms can do what they wish and to hell with the passengers?

Is it any point me fighting this further or should I just go quietly?

Tuesday 25 October 2011

A Laugh a Minute - Joseph at 2 and a half

Joseph is 2 and a half now and he's absolutely hilarious. I was starting to be a bit concerned that he wasn't asking questions and not singing..........I should have learnt from the walking debacle to be careful what I wish for! "Mummy is that Peppa?" "oh Mummy where's he gone?" when Daddy leaves for work. "Mummy who's that?" when someone dares to walk down our street without prior permission!

Last week Joseph did the cutest thing. One of his favourite past times is drawing, lately his favourite weapon is just a plain blue biro, but I have lovely chunky crayons and Crayola superwashable markers (which are a god send!) Joseph stopped drawing, put three crayons in a row and sung "happy birthday to me" then blew them over! Oh the cuteness.

I caught him yesterday sitting on the stairs, with a tiny housespider on the wall nearby and this little voice singing "little miss muffet sat on a tuffet eating her......carpet", well it makes more sense than curds and whey, and at least it rhymes!

Joseph's love affair with all things transportation continues. He loves the garbage trucks, and much excitement now we have 7 bins, and an array of different trucks visiting. The binmen always wave, to Joseph they are like rockstars. He is also very excited that work has commenced on our fire station at the end of the road, and we spent 20 minutes watching the building works today!

We have "posh telly", otherwise known as Sky, and they have "kindly" given us access to all the children's channels, and Joseph now has pretty much unlimited access to his beloved Peppa, and had discovered "Olive the Ostrich" which I really enjoy too, Northern voiced ostrich with Rolf Harris voiceover, its just like being at home with Aussie mum and Northern dad!

Being back at work I am finding I enjoy him now more than ever. As much as I have loved being a full time mum, having him in pre school 3 mornings a week, and now me working 18 hours too, it's really helping. I think with kids familiarity, at times, does breed contempt, and having some space is a good thing. And I am going to enjoy having some more pennies to treat him with, so on free days we will be able to do more.

Here are some current photos.

Monday 24 October 2011

My dream NICU

Now don't get me wrong, Joseph was born in a lovely hospital with a great unit in a regional part of Manchester. I have very fond memories now of our time there, and in fact, am now working in the hospital for a period of time and walk past it often.

A few months ago I was involved in a project for the charity Best Beginnings  which works to remove health inequalities in the UK. I was reassured because I found my experience so very different from my friends who live just down the Motorway in London.

Like all things in medicine neonatal care is on a continuum, continous improvement is essential, as theories of neonatal care as well as the equipment, are advancing all the time, and units need to respond to these changes, and deliver the benefits to the babies in their care, and their families.

I had the privelege of being able to tour St Mary's last week, which I was very apprehensive about . To be honest, I wasn't sure I would even take part in the tour, but at the last minute decided to do have a look around.

The unit was amazing, and what struck me first was how peaceful it was, its been constructed in such a way that the wards the babies are on are off a corridor, which helps contain noise. The bed spaces have been constructed with privacy in mind, so that families can have a bit of time with their baby without being overlooked.

There are two milk kitchens, just for the preparation and storage of breast milk, and two very private expressing rooms. If you do wish to express by the cotside you can do so and in HDU and the nursery they have curtains around each cotside. They didn't have this in our unit, you had to drag a screen in, and if there were more than 2 mums feeding, you had to wait!

In the actual rooms, each baby had toys in their cot, and personalised cot covers. Developmental care is taken seriously in NICU and they try to replicate the womb environment as much as possible, which is clearly not easy.

There are family support workers on site, as well as a breastfeeding counsellor. They encourage kangaroo care right from when the babies are tiny, even still ventilated. I wasn't able to give kangaroo care until my baby was 4 weeks old, and even then, it wasn't every day, it very much depended on the experience of the nursing staff on duty.

So what would be dream NICU be like, very much this one, where family centred care is at the heart of what they do, where nurses are experienced in managing the tiniest and sickest of babies, and where families are encouraged to be together, and to nurture their baby until they are well enough to go home.

I really admire the small hospitals who do not have the resources to compete with the big ones, and I have to say Joseph had exemplary care, but sometimes it was hard to learn about what was happening in teaching hospitals in say London, and that I didn't have the same opportunities to be with my baby physically as my friends did.

I hope that all units will continue working with one another and with organisations like Best Beginnings to help provide a standard level of care for these special little babies.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Hopes and Dreams

I have been a member of Britmums for a long time now, soon after I started blogging I joined. Britmums have introduced weekly blog prompts, and I have done a couple now. There are always two, one personal and one blog related. I normally don't do the blog related, as blogging about blogging seems weird to me, unless you write a "blogger to blogger" type blog, and a lot of my readers don't blog. But if I've inspired you to start, then that's wonderful!

So this week I am going to do both, because to me they are directly related.
  • Personal Prompt: What are your hopes and dreams for yourself, your family and/or your children? How can you help to make it happen?
  • Blogging Prompt: What do you hope to achieve through blogging? What makes your blog UNIQUE and SPECIAL?
So what are my hopes and dreams for myself. I guess firstly, I have been thinking a lot about the blog lately. Sometimes I wonder if what I do is relevant, but you know what, blogging to me has always been about sharing my thoughts, and if only one or two people are interested in that, that's fine by me. I've never set out to set the world on fire, but to have a place where I can comment and share, what has surprised me is sharing personal stuff generates more response than the more informative posts. I think what's unique about my blog is its about us and our experience, and that is what makes it unique.

Personally too, I want to make a difference. I have returned to work, and have decided to go back into the care sector. I am passionate about carework, which I will share at some point, and am at the crossroads now, deciding whether to stay in care or to do my nursing training. I do feel too old to go into university again, which is ridiculous, because I have known many mature students and never thought they were too old. But I'm still thinking about it!

My hopes and dreams for Joseph are the same as when he wa 1lb 7oz and in a plastic box. That he continues to grow and develop and find his place in the world. I don't care whether he is straight or gay, a binman or a consultant, married or single. All I want is for him to grow into the person he was born to be. And to toilet train. That would be nice.

From a family point of view I hope that we can continue to grow together, and also get into some sort of financial stability. We are fine, don't worry, I'm not about to put a donation box on the blog, but being single income for 2 years has made a bit of a dent, and we need to work to get ourselves in a stronger position.

Also ultimately, I'd like a bigger house. I love our 3 bedroom house, but I'd love a larger living space, or a play room. Given the caveats on our existing property, extending is unlikely to be an option, so we'd have to move.

And on the topic of dreams, my ultimate dream is having enough funds so I can live in the UK for half a year and Australia for the other half, and never have a winter!

Friday 21 October 2011

SAHM No More - Return to Work

I was always hoping that I would be a stay at home mum, at least until my children started school. When pregnant with Joseph I thought that after 18 months or so we'd crack on with trying to conceive baby number 2 and I would happily be at home raising my children.

Once we decided not to have any more children, due to the risk of pre eclampsia and having another extremely premature baby, I threw myself into child-rearing and blogging. But it's turned out, its not quite enough. I get a bit lonely, once your baby is a toddler, and all your mum friends are back at work, the days can get long.

And, undoubtedly, being on one income is difficult. We've managed with some help along the way, an insurance pay out when Joseph was born, my redundancy pament, but it has become apparent that no one is going to throw a cheque my way unless I work for it.

So the plan was I would look for work I could do outside normal hours, so that my husband could pick up the childcare, and so that I oculd still be at home during the week. I decided I would go back to support work.

I started support work as a volunteer at the age of 15 in a nursing home. I have dipped in and out of care work throughout my working life. It annoys me that care work isn't more valued by the community, it isn't really considered a career, and it is not well paid. But I love it. It's instant gratification - you can see the difference you make instantly, it's often fun, and its rewarding. And I have no problem with bodily fluids and personal care tasks at all.

So I will now be working 18 hours a week, which is lovely. Enough to get me out of the house, and enough to bring in some extra money. The beauty is that we've done ok with our bills etc, this is money we can use to save, for holidays, and to buy nice things for Joseph. Is it really sad that I have decided what clothes I want to buy Joseph and for me, I am just planning to recycle my clothes from last year, the year before and the year before that!

I am so thrilled, that although our family time will take a bit of a hit, that I can still be there for Joseph during the week, and we can maintain our current arrangements with preschool.

Hopefully a win win all round.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Above the Beeps - Return to NICU

I have discovered, on this journey with Joseph, my premature baby, that there are three kinds of parents of premature babies. Firstly there are those who have their premature baby, get through NICU, go home and get over it. They disappear, they don't go to support groups or post on websites, they carry on. Then there are those who want to be active, but have children with severe problems and do not have the time and energy, and that's fair enough. And then there are those who get involved, who seek to support others and who campaign (and blog!). Since having Joseph and getting better I have been involved in a number of projects for Bliss and for Tommy's. I feel an obligation to share what I've learned, to support others, and to campaign so that more babies like Joseph have the fabulous start he had, with the very best in neonatal care.

So tomorrow I am attending a meeting with Bliss and the Manchester Neonatal Network discussing a number of issues. The meeting, no doubt, will be interesting, and there are a number of things I am eager to see covered, including how the Network are planning to manage the closures of hospitals like Fairfield. I am also eager to see their response to the Bliss research about the reduction in nursing jobs that I blogged about on Monday.

Part of this meeting involves a tour of the unit. This is daunting for me for a number of reasons. This is the unit Joseph should have gone to. When we arrived at hospital and my condition was diagnosed, the consultant felt that this hospital in the centre of Manchester would be more appropriate, but I was too poorly to be moved, and then I was warned that Joseph would be moved as soon as he was born, and then I would be moved a few days later. However, Joseph was well enough to stay at our local unit, and remained well enough. And, fortunately, our unit had enough space at the time to keep us.

I have been talking to my friend Jane who runs this inspirational e-magazine, A String of Pearls.  About my fear. I am afraid I will walk into that unit and fall apart. I won't have Joseph with me, I will be with professional people. I am quite possibly the only person in that group who has sat on the side of an incubator watching and waiting. Listening to the beeps.

Jane sent me a number of inspirational messages, she is just that sort of person!

A great opportunity to 'see' how far you & JT (joke teller, its a long story!) have come. An opportunity to allow gratitude to heal much, to free you for action. Choose not to be . This can empower you as you move forward rather than let the experience hold you in the past.You need to be an example  for those you now seek to help. This then can be seen as a pivotal moment. Do some head work to change your paradigm.
 And I feel I have sought to do this, to see what happened to us as an opportunity, a postive thing. I look on our NICU journey with an element of fondness now. As my husband said to me last night "it was a life changing experience". I certainly have learned to take nothing for granted.

But, on the other hand, one's reaction to experiences is primal. Smells, sounds, sights can trigger reactions that we cannot always control, and the one that gets me (and mothers of premature babies all over the world) is the beeping. Our babies didn't cry when distressed, they beeped. There is not a premmie mother around who could not tell you about bradys (bradycardia where the heart beat slows down) and desats (oxygen desaturation often accompanied by a desat - the beep is different when they occur together).

I know that the babies I will meet tomorrow will beep. I know that there will be mums and dads at various stages of their journey. I know I must be on an even keel, not too happy, certainly not too sad. I am there to listen and to learn, and to ensure that the voices of parents and babies are heard, above the beeps.


The meeting was a very positive one, and it was great to learn more about how the Neonatal Network operates, and the research and thought behind it. I was shown the unit, and it was beautiful, lovely large bedspaces, and I saw some sweet, sleeping babies, and some families. And, I didn't flinch or cry, the beeping didn't worry me at all, so I must have progressed a great deal in the last 12 months or so!

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Prematurity is Not a Lifestyle Choice

One of my friends shared this piece of research today. It's a study conducted by Imperial College London that states that prematurity can cause lasting health problems in those adults born prematurely, specifically born 33 weeks or younger in gestation.

Now looking at the research, its first, very obvious problem is that the study group was very small, only 48 people aged 18-27 of whom only 23 were born prematurely. Obviously a lot more in depth research is needed looking at a much larger group to get a better picture of prematurity and its effects later in life.

The researchers are calling for better monitoring and follow up of premature children throughout their adulthood.

I have very mixed feelings about this research. Firstly, Joseph has been discharged from all paediatric follow up, this happened before he reached the age of 2 corrected. I'm sorry, but we haven't got early intervention and developmental follow up right in this country across the board, it really depends on where you live in the country, how well your premature child will be followed up. I really think that the emphasis should be on getting this right first. It is very clear that the effect of prematurity can be mediated somewhat by good follow up and experienced therapists. So my point is, yes, adults who were born prematurely, it would appear, would require follow up throughout their lives, but my point is that we haven't got the basics right for our premature babies and toddlers, and I think this needs to be a priority. I am very concious that there is a limit to the health budget, but surely better care and follow up of our premature babies will have benefits into adulthood?

Secondly, if the outcome is that clinicians will be more aware, and our premature children and adults will receive proactive health care then that can only be applauded, however, my concern is that this research and they way in which it is presented, will only serve to worry parents more. I'm also concerned that should this become a NICE guideline, it may put further pressure on the health service to consider whether we work to help premature babies the way we do now, if by saving them, we are creating further problems for the NHS. I truly hope this is not the case, however there is already a perception that a premature baby becomes a poorly and needy child and adult, and this is not necessarily the case.

Attached to premature birth is guilt. I haven't met a mother yet who doesn't, usually wrongly, hold herself completely responsible for the rough start her child has had. Prematurity, unlike smoking or alcohol abuse, is not a lifestyle choice. No one would choose to knowingly have a tiny, vulnerable little baby who faces an uphill climb simply to survive. And then, to have to face the knowledge that not only will they have a tough beginning and childhood, but also a predisposition to disease in the future, merely due to their prematurity, that's a difficult thing to face as a parent.

I hate this term, however I think its relevant here, there is a complete lack of joined-up thinking and health promotion of the premature infant into adulthood. We need a much better approach moving forward. The rate of premature birth is going steadily upwards, as we save babies who in earlier times may not have made it.

I am grateful that Bliss helps and supports research such as this, and I think its great that there is interest in this area, I just hope that the will is there in the NHS, as well as the funds, to put the findings into practice.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

10 Childhood Food Memories

I was at work last night, and watched Masterchef Australia, with the lady I look after. The rather awesome, if sometimes looney, Heston Blumenthal provided the recipe challenge, featuring a rather luscious looking hamburger, the Reluctant Housedad's Thrice Cooked Chips (ok he might have nicked them from Heston first, but no matter) and an amazing looking milkshake.

Heston talks a lot about the emotion of food, and the memories food can evoke when you taste something from your childhood, so I thought it would be fun to share ten of my childhood food memories. One of the lovely things about being a parent is knowing you are introducing your child to a world of flavour, and I truly hope my gingerbread is on Joseph's list when he is doing this in several years time!

1. Scallops - so often in England I find scallops are done in a very fancy way. The scallops of my childhood are crumbed with chips and tartare sauce. Tasmanian scallops are so fresh, small and taste of the sea. Oh and roes must be kept ON! Ok they are orange and don't look very pretty if your a chef, but that is where the taste is!

2. Arnott's cream filled biscuits - my Nana, who no doubt will be popping up a bit in this post, was a great solid country cook, she made lovely cakes, scones and biscuits, but she always had a packet of Arnott's Melting Moments and Monte Carlos in the cupboard. I remember her getting out her green shamrock divided plate and putting them out for morning tea.

3. Cheese and chive scones - taking up the third section of the shamrock were cheese and chive scones. My grandmother made scones often, twice a week at least, and they were always light and fluffy with bits of cheese oozing out. A special treat was when she had cream past its best in the fridge, scones made with cream and butter are divine.

4. Milk and Milo - often we would have milo mixed with cold milk, not really  a milk shake, just stirred in with extra sprinkled on top. It was an after school treat. Now English reader, please do not go looking at your favourite supermarket to replicate this delight, for the Milo contained therein is fraudulent, it comes from Asia or Africa and looks like mouse droppings, it is not the same. Beside which Milo is a Nestle product, and I try to avoid these where I can.

5. Apples in the snow - my mum has always been a good cook, but desserts were rare, but when she made them, they were divine. I love apples in the snow, and have never been able to replicate it properly.

6. Anzac biscuits - Mum didn't bake frequently but this was one of the staples that she did bake from time to time, and my Nana too. Anzacs are great, solid biscuits, golden syrup and oats, and they are truly delicious, a bit like a flapjack. I now make them and Joseph loves them.

7. Double salted liquorice - I had a delightfully foodie friend growing up, her name is Fay, she always seemed incredibly exotic to me, half Chinese and half English, her lunch box was always a delight. She introduced me to double salted liquorice and I still love it now, and always stock up when in Amsterdam. I remember my mum taking me to the delicatessan in Sandy Bay, sadly no longer there, and I picked some up and went to pay for it with my pocket money. The man didn't believe I knew what it was, much less that I liked it and made me have a piece in front of him!

8. Pork "Goulash" - dad once made the most delicious goulash. He was liberally sprinkling in the paprika into the crock pot and......oops, a smell wafted up and hit him. It was cinnamon. He tried to scoop it out, but it was too late. We sat down to eat it anyway, dad feeling a bit sorry for himself, but it was truly delicious. And never came out the same way again!

9. Curry - my dad lived in Sri Lanka for a short time, in his early 20s, and developed a love of curry. He used to make delicious curries with left over roast meat, and loads of delicious sambals. I think I enjoyed the rice and the accompaniments more than the curry itself.

10. Icecream and tinned fruit - I can't say I am a big fan of tinned fruit, but every night after tea we would have tinned fruit and icecream, pears were my favourite, and the fruit cocktail with its grapes and cherries, it was always a fight over who would get the cherry, there only ever seemed to be one in a whole tin. If I feel fractious and want to be transported back to my childhood, a tin of pears with vanilla icecream is sure to do it every time.

What are your childhood food memories?

Monday 17 October 2011

In Safe Hands - Neonatal Nursing Jobs at Risk

I've never shared any of Joseph's NICU videos on my blog. As much as I blog about premature babies, these videos seem so personal, so raw, and sometimes I feel a bit, well, almost embarrassed. I don't like to make a song and dance about where we have come from in our journey with Joseph. But I want to share this video today, as much as its about my husband and Joseph, it is about nursing in the NICU.

I am sharing this today because of this important story. It is very clear that this country is in recession. Cutbacks need to be made somewhere, and we all need to tighten our belts. But I, and Bliss, are concerned that this burden is falling on the youngest and tiniest of lives. The hands you see are those of a very experienced nurse. Not only did she perform life saving tasks for our baby, she helped us bond with Joseph and make the journey from frightened patients to strong and resilient parents.

I've always respected nurses, but Joseph's hospital stay highlighted to me just how vital nurses are. These nurses are capable of holding babies that weigh not even a bag of sugar. They put their lines in, they sort out their breathing, their feeding. Without these highly qualified, experienced and caring people, these babies would die. No question. These babies are so small, so dependent they need the very best of care.

Now in their election promises the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats focussed on the NHS, promising that no nursing jobs would be lost. However in real terms, hospitals are reducing the number of neonatal nurses through redundancy, natural attrition, and by downgrading nurses and replacing experienced, more expensive nurses with cheaper, less experienced ones.

There are people completing nursing degrees, specialising in neonatal nursing who are unemployed. This government has not kept its promise, and nursing jobs, in this vital area are not being created, if anything there are less jobs in neonatal nurses.

I would defy anyone to say that the money spent in neonatal care is not money well spent. That tiny baby, so small and frail, is a robust toddler, he's not cost the NHS any more money in toddler hood that any other baby, and there is every reason to believe he will be a productive tax-paying member of society. The vast majority of babies nursed in units will be the same, strong, healthy adults.

We owe it to these babies to give them the best possible start in life.

Chase up your MP today, ask him if he/she for their support. This easy letter format takes 2 minutes tops.  In the NHS the voice that shouts the loudest is listened to. Please join and support me in fighting for these tiny lives.

Sunday 16 October 2011

Hello and Welcome - Travellers to My Blog

I thought, after a million years of blogging, I should have a go at Listography, hosted by the very lovely Kate Takes 5. This week she has asked us to list our 5 top keyword searches, how lovely random folk find out blog from search engines.

I'm not a statistics queen but I love seeing how people find my blog. I have to say, I get an awful lot of people finding me by typing in "can I take a bag of sugar on a plane?" and feel quite sad that I have lured these folk under false pretenses. Can I just say, I think the answer is yes, because its a powder, not a liquid and there are no current rules about powder on planes. However can I just ask "why?" Why would you want to take up precious hand luggage with a bag of sugar?

So, excluding my blog name (and the endless permeatations thereof) here are my top 5 searches.

1. World Prematurity Day - Well I have to say I am very honoured that some folk have come across my blog this way, and hope they have become regular readers. Not long to go now, November 17th!

2. 10 Things I Love About You - This was a joy of a post to write and I've had a lot of visitors to it, which is lovely.

3. Premature Baby Racket - I have to say, I was confused by this one. Premature babies with tennis rackets? Or more likely the din premature babies make at night when they are sleeping!

4. Show Newborn Using Portable Oxygen Tank - My very good friend Kylie wrote this post about her gorgeous little boy and gave me a number of photos. I hope this search term indicates that people have found this helpful.

5. Love's Labors Lost ER - I wrote this post reflecting on an episode of ER and am surprised how many people find me this way.

I found this a really interesting exercise, and its also quite heart warming how many people have found my blog by actively looking for it, and that makes me very happy! At Cybermummy I became known as the "bag of sugar" lady. I am so glad that I picked this title for my blog, a rare moment of inspiration!

Saturday 15 October 2011

This Little Light of Mine.....

Today is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. It's a day I hold close to my heart, and commemorated last year.

This year I'd like to share with you three blogs that cover the loss of a baby, in different ways and at different stages. These three parents are in different stages in their journey.

Finding My New Normal is a beautiful blog, written anonymously, it tells the story of a mother who loses her baby at term, a still birth. She is open about her grief and experiences, and she is now officially in her two week wait to give her darling angel boy a sibling. Her journey with infertility and baby loss is inspiring and a real eye opener to people who have not walked this path.

Patch of Puddles I have had the great pleasure of meeting the author, Merrily, at Cybermummy and she was a fellow finalist in the Inspirational category of the MAD blog awards. Merrily lost her son Freddie at 11 days old, he was born at term. Merrily shares a lot of what they have been through as a family, and still go through now. Happily Merrily is expecting again, but nothing will ever diminish the loss of Freddie. And like me, Merrily is a supporter of Tommy's 5 Point Pregnancy Plan.

The Anderson Bump and Baby Isla I think nearly all my readers have visited, supported and commented on the Anderson's Blog, and I had truly hoped, during their journey, that we would not be talking about Isla today. If for no other baby, you light your candle for Isla, and for her parents, to show support, and to share our grief for her. It's no secret that baby Isla's passing has hit me hard, so much water, so close to home. It's very hard when any baby passes away, but when a 27 weeker passes away, after fighting so hard. I hold Joseph a little closer, kiss him a little more and I give thanks every day. I don't understand why this happens and never will.

No parent deserves to lose a baby, and it's still something that is taboo to talk about, I just hope that these days of awareness are helpful to those who grieve, and truly do help raise awareness. 

Friday 14 October 2011

I Watched Jeremy Kyle Today

Now I know my husband and perhaps others think that all I do is sit around in my nightie watching Jeremy Kyle on a regular basis, but it isn't so. Jeremy Kyle annoys me. The people he has on are often, well, undesirable. The DNA tests, the lie detectors, the screeching, it's not something I want to watch. If I want to see such things I only need stand in my street on a Saturday night.

However today one of my friends put the following on Twitter today.
Crying over this poor couple need a to talk too x (kykaree being my twitter name, long story)
So I switched on ITV + 1 and watched. This lovely young mum was being grilled by our Jeremy, glib and annoying as ever. She was clearly devastated and traumatised. Her 11 month old was in the studio, they panned to him a couple of times, the oxygen tube clearly visible below his nose.

They showed a picture of a tiny baby in an incubator, this little lad was born at just 25 weeks weighing 1lb 10 oz. There were tears in the mum's eyes. "Why are you crying?" asked Jeremy. Choking back tears she tried to explain.

Jeremy, she was crying because she was back there, by his side, watching, waiting, willing him to live another day, hoping that she would have a "take home baby" at the end of it. That at times, she cannot see this baby as an eleven month old who is doing well, to her, he is still tiny, fragile and vulnerable. I know, because I have been there. I recall for months and months I could not see a baby in an incubator without being in floods of tears.

This couple had come on to the show because their relationship had taken a battering following the birth and hospital stay of their son. It was clear that the father was struggling too, he had tears pouring down his face. He admitted he had been violent towards the mum.

My heart just went out to her and to him. I wanted to just give her a huge hug, make her a hot chocolate and a cupcake and let her just sit and pour her heart out to me for as long as she needed. Forget Jeremy and his promise of doctors and counsellors, just sit down with someone who can relate, and get it all out.

What upset me about this, is that this couple felt they had no where to go. There isn't enough support or enough education out there about dealing with a traumatic birth and with a poorly baby. Jeremy kept saying "but he's fine now". So I guess he's been the father of a premature baby has he? He's been there agonising over oxygen sats, waiting for the next download, administering medication, worrying about RSV? No Jeremy, I don't think you have. Or you wouldn't say "he's fine now".

Having a baby is isolating, especially if you are young and your friends are all out having fun. Added to that that your experience is so very different to those of your friends, and that 11 months on it still isn't over. People are ignorant about babies on oxygen. and I know its just curiosity and a desire to know more, but for a mum, its confronting. You just want to be like every other mum, with their baby. You don't want to have to explain things every 5 minutes.

And with winter coming up, its more isolating than ever. Babies on oxygen are more susceptible to infection. Baby groups and the like are not recommended in winter for babies on oxygen. There's a constant risk of infection that can land a susceptible baby in hospital. As a mum you live with that fear everyday, that your baby might become desperately ill, and again you are back in hospital sitting by your baby's cot willing them to pull through.

There is support for people who have had small babies, start with Bliss who offer face to face counselling, phone counselling, support groups and other forms of support too. Bliss have a message board, with a special locked section for young people who have had premature babies. There are people who have walked in these shoes that are happy to help.

You are not alone.

Thursday 13 October 2011

Where There's A Will

A couple of months I went to The Baby Show in Manchester. I won tickets with the lovely T-J, and went for a good old nosy. I wasn't really looking at prams or toys, I was looking at businesses and blogging ideas. Whilst there I saw a man with two enormous teddy bears, and I played at guessing the name. Surprisingly the big girl bear was not, sadly, called Noreen, but never mind.

He was offering a free will service. I felt very sorry for him. At a baby show you might want to look at the latest travel system or play mats, or even buy a nursing bra, but wills? It's not what we want to be thinking of when we are expecting a baby.

But, having had the experiences we've had over the last few years, we decided that the time had come, and we decided to take up the offer of a free will. I went through the questions with the solicitor the other day on the phone, and tonight a nice lady came to get us to do the paperwork.

The questions you have to think of are hard ones. What would happen to Joseph if we both died? And to our assets if we were in a "wipe out scenario" (the solicitor's words). They are difficult things to have to consider, and not questions that you take lightly.

I've really agonised over this. The reality of our situation is that we are older parents, I am only just hanging onto my 30's and that ship has sailed for my husband. Our parents wouldn't be in the position to raise Joseph. Neither of our siblings live in the United Kingdom, so whatever happens, it would be a huge upheaval for Joseph, he would not lose his parents, but also his country of residence.

We have chosen that Joseph will live with my sister in law and her husband and children, should we both die, they live in Luxembourg. It's the best option but a sad one. Practically speaking its close to the UK, and also to Joseph's paternal grandparents who live in Germany.

We've also had to think of our funerals, which I thought was a much more jolly concept! Now you've all been warned, no black! And no flowers! Although if you want to pick a bunch from your own garden, I suppose that would be ok.

It's a fact of life that we don't know what is around the corner, and its something we don't often talk about. I am curious to know whether you have written a will? Any funeral requests? I'm really glad its done now and we don't need to revisit it again for a long time.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Rainy Day = Messy Play

Our brief Indian summer has disappeared and the rains have come! Every day has been miserable this week. I was looking for some inspiration for things to do and remembered the Imagination Tree blog. I love craft blogs, and this one is brilliant, full of easy, accessible activities for toddlers.

I chose to do a combination of activities, we did potato printing and spaghetti printing. I am afraid that Joseph is not the sort to make neat little piles of spaghetti in different colours, he went wild, mixing his colours, plonking spaghetti everywhere, and had great fun.

I am completely not averse to mess, I love it, and Joseph is quite good at the tidy up afterwards, something that has come from pre school, apparently he does it unprompted there, and cleans up after the other kids!

I found a great trick for cutting potato printing shapes. I have some small cookie cutters, if you embed them into your potato then trim around you get some lovely, crisp shapes! It was really enjoyable to do as well.

I can't wait to try some more activities, and am inspired to make some fresh playdough this weekend!

Mess is good!

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Our Angel Isla

Isla Niamh Anderson 
23/08/2011 - 10/10/2011

Sometimes a baby comes along
And touches your heart.
You pray, your heart goes out to the family
You sit by your computer and wait
Wait for hope, for news, for light
You share with others
You search for ways to help them
And you have been here before
You have prayed, you have hoped
You have seen babies
Who have become angels
And its hard, to still have hope
When you can see the baby is walking the path
Of angels before her
But still you hope, and you pray.
Then the news came yesterday
And still it hasn't processed
That this amazingly brave little baby girl
is not here.
She has gone, there is no more sedation,
no more procedures, no more pain
She is at peace with our Lord and Heavenly Father
And we need to hang on to that
And we need to put our arms around her parents
For Lauren and Matt have a long road to travel
And we will be there
As we have in this journey

Matt and Lauren have asked that if you wish to, a balloon can be released on Friday the 21st October to celebrate Isla's life.

Monday 10 October 2011

Monday Musical Meme Time Again - Guilty Pleasures

I'm on a bit of a downer today, so I thought what better way to chase the blues away than to indulge in some calorie free, totally legal guilty pleasures for Oh Mammy's Monday Musical Meme.

So first up is killing two birds with one stone. When my friends were lusting after Simon le Bon and George Michael when we were in high school, my crush was Mark Seymour from Hunters and Collectors. I loved him, and you know what, I think I picked well, because some *ahem* 25 years later, he's still got it. Now the other stone is my love for cover versions, and this version of Psycho Killer, with the usually unintelligible James Reyne is pretty ace

Now my next choice really is a guilty pleasure. I can't tell you why I like this song, my brain tells me its crap. I hate Girls Aloud, crap name, crap concept, arising out of a long forgotten TV pop show, but I can't help it. I can only apologise.

If you are still with me at this point, you probably deserve some kind of medal! Now here is my last one. I bought this album over 10 years ago, when going through one of my "angry" stages. Insurge are very political, sometimes, a little misguided, but I love this song, even if it is misguided and a bit naive. So here it is, Political Prisoners.

Sunday 9 October 2011

What's the Difference - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder v Post Natal Depression

As ever, this article is informed by my own experience and reading and is not a substitute for medical advice, if you have any concerns about your own mental health and experience please consult your GP.

I always knew I was at high risk of post natal depression. I have a history of depression, and it runs in my family. I was fully expecting that this might be an issue, and I was open and honest about my history on my antenatal notes. During my pregnancy it was suspected I had ante natal depression, and I had counselling for this, although it was never diagnosed.

When Joseph was born I was elated, absolutely bouncing and happy, apart from my crash on day 5, I was singing on the inside. Partly, I felt completely vindicated and relieved that I wasn't going crazy, there was something wrong with my pregnancy, and overjoyed that all had turned out ok, my baby was alive. My midwife was exceedingly concerned that I had the beginnings of severe post natal depression, and possibly psychosis. I was confused, and upset. Surely being happy was a good thing.

As time went on during our NICU stay I felt on an even keel emotionally. Yes, at times I was stressed, frustrated and occasionally angry, however for the most part I faced each day with a smile and got through it. My GP and my consultant kept an eye on me, but I never felt depressed. Once discharge was imminent, my caregivers relaxed. I was out of the immediate post natal period so surely everthing now would be ok. Wouldn't it?

When Joseph came home, over time, I started to deteriorate. And I felt totally confused. I wasn't depressed. I didn't feel sad, I didn't feel disconnected to my baby, or just "going through the motions". It didn't "feel" like post natal depression. I was totally and completely in love and bonded with my baby. What could it be?

I couldn't sleep. I was on high alert all the time, nervous, anxious, terrified that something would go wrong. When I did sleep I was plagued by stark, realistic nightmares. These had started when Joseph was in hospital. In one, Joseph had had an MRI scan, I had the films in my hand and I could see a break between T3 and T4 in his thoracic spine. I was so so scared about the ramifications of this. When I awoke I had no idea whether it was dream or real, so I called the unit who reassured me, and in the morning one of the neonatologists talked to me at length about Joseph's neurological state and the health of his spine.

The second one that sticks in my mind was my husband getting out of bed, running down the hallway with a brick in his hand to smash my skull with, so angry at my inability to sleep, and to be a proper wife and mother. I couldn't breathe, it took me ages to realise it was a dream, but still in my head that dream is processed as a memory. Horrific. However these nightmares only got worse when Joseph came home. I found if I slept in the day it was better. I was practically nocturnal.

Coupled with the nightmares were flashbacks, or as I called them, daymares. I had to seek alternative hand sanitiser as the one I had initially bought reminded me so much of hospital I would clutch Joseph to my chest and sob. The supermarket was horrendous. The beeping of the scanning machines sounded like a saturation monitor. The lights were so similar, and if I looked up, I would hyperventilate.

I used to panic when people wanted to touch Joseph. I'd worry at baby group if someone else held him, or if a baby was sneezing or coughing or had a rash. I used to go to weigh in at the clinic as soon as it opened and run away before anyone go there.

And the conversations from Joseph's time in hospital would play over and over in my mind. Things I should have said, should have done. I tortured myself for not trying harder with breastfeeding. Everytime I made a bottle I felt guilty, angry and upset with myself.  It was so tiring. If being a new mum isn't exhausting enough, my self punishment, my nightmares, my high anxiety was making everything worse.

What the hell was wrong with me? Finally I went to the GP. She took one look at me and said the magic words "oh your not depressed, your traumatised, lets' see what we can do to help".

And that was it. I had PTSD Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some mums (and lets not forget dads) get this either apart from, or with, post natal depression. PTSD is treatable, with therapy and/or medication and its important to get help. I was fortunate to have a GP who was very much aware of the difference, but not all are. And its important that the distinction is made as the treatment can be quite different. Also significant is that there is now research that shows mothers who have suffered from pre eclampsia are at high risk of PTSD. In addition, and this is very interesting and significant for those planning a second baby is that there is new research to suggest having PTSD in itself increases your risk of a premature baby.  Logic would suggest if you have untreated PTSD and are pregnant again, then this in itself may increase your risk of PTSD, highlighting the need for recongition and prompt treatment.

And now, it all seems a memory. I look on Joseph's time in hospital with fondness in a way, I am amazed at not only his inner strength and determination, but mine too. And the brain's abilty to heal.  However, I wish that I had been warned of this much earlier, as I would not have suffered for so long. I knew to look out for depression but not this. I hope that the existence of PTSD in mothers like me becomes a lot better documented, so that we all get the treatment that we need to be happy, content mums.

This article is a great one, and handy for showing a GP, although it is Amercian.

Saturday 8 October 2011

First Aid for Babies and Children - Bumps and Bashes

* This is an odd sponsored post! I first noticed Bumps and Bashes when they followed me on Twitter. Eager to know more I started chatting with them, and visited their web page. Bumps and Bashes offer a 3 hour course for parents, whilst focusing on children and babies, they also cover adult first aid scenarios too. I am so passionate about first aid, I think every parent should be taught first aid, either as part of antenatal classes, or in the post natal period. Bumps and Bashes classes are "low impact" on your life, just 3 hours, and you have the necessary skills to save a life. Time and money well spent. 

I have not been paid for this review, but was honoured to be invited to attend a complimentary session to learn more.

I took my inital first aid course at the age of 12. I kept up my skills, doing numerous courses. I have found that I have used my skills on many occasions. First aid doesn't teach you to be a nurse or a doctor, and suprisingly many doctors and nurses don't actually know first aid. I have seen a young GP try to move a patient who had fainted. Fortunately an experienced GP ran down the corridor and shouted instructions. First aid is not about making diagnoses, or being a hero. It's about being present, aware, and maintaining a person in a reasonable state of health until formal medical help arrives.

When Joseph was born I knew he was at high risk of cot death, and also of aspiration (breathing in fluid). I knew he might have apnoeas (episodes of cessation of breathing in his sleep). Before leaving the unit, our unit Sister made sure all parents had learnt resusciation. It was terrifying. I had used my first aid skills on many occasions but now I was facing the real scenario that it could be my child that I may have to resucitate.

And yes, one night, Joseph stopped breathing. We'd had a lot of trouble getting him to settle at night and the neonatal outreach sister had suggested we put him to sleep in his pram. One night I heard a thrashing, then it stopped. I flew out of bed, instinctively I knew something was wrong. I scooped into the pram, fished Joseph out, and put him in the recovery position on my arm. He vomited everywhere. I was never so grateful to be covered in baby sick. He had aspirated and choked.

I knew what to do, I had been well prepared. And this is why I believe first aid classes are so important. If something happens to your child, you want to know what to do. Being well versed in first aid gives you confidence.

At the class I attended with Bumps and Bashes, I was impressed at how much time we had to practice each manouvre, and the number of dummies available. Instruction was friendly, informative, with plenty of opportunity to ask questions. The paediatric first aid booklet we were given was easy to read and I'm going to keep mine in my kitchen, alongside the helpful list of numbers. Who would have though of putting your own address on a form near your tea and coffee supplies? Think about it, friends who pop around may know your house as the "brick place on the corner with the lavender bushes" but not the address. If you are giving CPR to your child you don't want to be stopping to give someone your address to call the ambulance. Genius.

Classes are held in Manchester and Cheshire. Classes can also be held in your own home.

And the cost, just £34 per person. I think its money so well spent, and will give you skills that could save a life. 

Friday 7 October 2011

My Tips for Surviving Financially in the NICU

I'm an Aussie, I'm blunt, I am not afraid to talk about money and I'm not afraid to ask for help. I think sometimes people in the UK are willing and want to help but their reserve holds them back, and at times like these sometimes we have to break through that and put it aside. I am not talking about asking for money, even I wouldn't do that, so bear with me as I share my tips for surviving financially whilst your baby is in hospital.

Essential Administration

I hate saying this because it just seems so wrong, you've had a traumatic delivery, your baby is in hospital, and I'm talking about paperwork. Get these things done early and then its done and you can concentrate on your baby.

1. If you haven't already done so, obtain your MATB1 and hand it to your employer. As mentioned in my last post your maternity leave will commence immediately. Without the MATB1 your employer probably will suspend your pay, mine did. My midwife did not issue MATB1 certificates til the 28th week of pregnancy, I delivered at 27, and she was on holiday. Your GP can issue a MATB1 however.

2. Make sure your employer is aware of what has happened. Paying maternity leave is not discretionary, its law, that once your baby is born that is what your employer must do, some, however, may have a discretionary fund or give you a little help.

3. Register your baby's birth. I know its hard, especially if your baby is poorly, however the sooner you get this done, the sooner your baby will receive child benefit and child tax credits (if you are eligible). This sounds mercenary, but it is important to get sorted out, and it can take quite some time for it all to go through.

4. Particularly if away from home, contact your utility providers, loan and mortgage providers if you think there might be issues with repayments. Keeping in touch early will help prevent issues later on.

5. If you can, get a trusted friend or relative to help manage your mail and bills.

Cover all bases

1. Check if you have any medical insurance policies. A lot of people have cover through work or their partner's work. Now in general childbirth is not covered, however c-sections are, and if you've had a section you may be entitled to cash benefit for every night you have stayed in an NHS hospital. If you add your baby to your policy they may be eligible too.

2. Speak to your hospital. Some units have family workers who can help, if not, there will be a general office. Some hospitals offer help with parking costs, meals and other incidentals, its worth asking.

3. Consider applying for  Disability Living Allowance (DLA). DLA is payable once a child is over 3 months old. Not all premature babies will be eligible (I didn't submit an application for Joseph as he would not have been eligible). If your baby is on oxygen or supplementary feeding it is likely an application would be successful. DLA is then reviewed on a regular basis. Don't worry about "stigma" these days people are not "registered disabled", this money is there to help when a child/adult has additional needs beyond what is expected of a child/adult of that age.

4. Look into local and national charities such as the Family Fund, that can help with additional expenses.

Every day cost cutting

1. The biggest costs when a baby is in NICU are food and transport. Make sure if using public transport you are getting the most appropriate ticket. Give your local transport information line a call and check. With food, I found that cutting a lunch was the best thing to do, but a little tedious. Our corner shop used to pack me a lunch for a fraction of the cost of the hospital cafeteria.

2. If a neighbour or friend asks what they can do to help, ask them to make you lunch, or drive you to hospital, or cook a meal for you.

3. Accept all offers of help, and don't be afraid to ask for it. It's a tough time emotionally, financially and physically, and people may not realise just how tough it is, especially if you have your Polyanna face plastered on, as I did.

4. Consider on-line shopping. Personally I spend a lot less on line, as I don't "browse" the aisles. I found when Joseph was in hospital, I could get my shopping delivered late in the evening, when I knew I'd be home.

5. Keep track of reward points balances. I managed to "lose" £50 of Tesco points as I didn't give a hoot when Joseph was in hospital, they were saved on line and last 3 years so all was not lost, but these sort of things can really help when money is tight.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Money's Too Tight to Mention - Finances and the NICU

Money is such a hard thing to write about. When you have a baby prematurely, obviously you are very grateful that your baby is alive and well and is in the best possible place. However emotionally, physically and also financially it's a tough time. This a very UK based post, as the issues with finances and the NICU are very different for those families in the US, who may not get paid maternity leave and also may incur very high medical bills as well.

The first obvious problem with finances when your baby is born prematurely, is that legally maternity leave kicks in as soon as the baby is born. It seems naive of me now but I had no idea. I actually thought work would continue to pay sick leave until my certificate ran out. In my case I was on Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) only, which was considerably less than my normal salary, and it had started 2 months early.

The second problem is that paternity leave in this country is ridiculous, two weeks pay only at a very low rate, somewhere around £100 per week. We felt that we wanted to save this until Joseph was coming home, so Corey took a week's annual leave when I was in hospital, and then went straight back to work. This was a cause of great stress to me in particular, as I felt completely abandoned.

The third problem is that hospitals are not cheap places. Whilst some provide parking to long term patients, many do not. For me, whilst parking was available (if you could find it), there was no provision for public transport assistance unless you were on benefits. The fact that SMP is less than income support and is, to all intents and purposes, a benefit is not taken into account. Most hospitals will cover expenses whilst you are "rooming in". Typically rooming in occurs at the end of your stay. In our case Joseph was in 76 nights, and my costs were only covered in the last 2 nights, and that only amounted to meal vouchers. Alarmingly the vouchers only covered certain items, fresh fruit not being amongst them.

The fourth, and very real problem, is that babies are not always accommodated near home. Take the Andersons as an example. This family are from Manchester, they were on holiday in Scotland when their baby arrived at 27 weeks. So far from home, the baby is not stable enough to be moved, so they are stuck in Scotland, still with household expenses at home, and also mounting costs whilst living away from home. This situation happens so often, I have heard heartbreaking stories of people being stuck abroad, with minimal insurance, and often in dire financial straits which can take years to sort out.

In some cases a baby may be born at the local hospital but then transferred if there is insufficient bed space, or if they have needs that cannot be met at the local hospital. This can result in additional cost, and families being separated. If there are other children at home, there is also the cost of looking after these children if mum/dad are out of the picture supporting the baby.

I think there is sometimes a reluctance to talk about money and the NICU, and sometimes people get defensive or even offensive when discussing this. I recall when Joseph was in hospital and I was complaining that whilst new born nappies often go on 3 for 2 offers, micro nappies never do, I was told off. I was told I should be grateful I had a baby to by a nappy for. Over 2 years on that comment still really hurts. Of course I am grateful but why should we have to pay a premium because we have small babies.

What I am getting at, is that if your baby is born prematurely, or poorly, there is a financial inequity compared to if your baby is born at term, and I think its time we talked about it and brought the issue out into the open.

Tomorrow I will blog about my tips for surviving financially and encourage you all to share your experiences.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

My Biggest Peeve - Britmums Blog Prompt of the Week

I'm a fairly happy, positive person, and bubble along through life. Things do annoy me from time to time, but I tend to get over them pretty quickly.

However thinking about this week's prompt "My biggest peeve is ___________" got me thinking. What things really peeve me? What really gets my goat? What's one thing that I wish people would not do?

It's litter. I hate it. In Australia, from a young age, we are conditioned not to litter. Put your garbage in a bin. It's not difficult, they are everywhere. We regularly tidy up other people's litter too, we have a responsibility to our planet, to our native birds and animals, to keep things clean.

England never ceases to amaze me with its capacity to litter. I have lost count of the beaches and "beauty spots" I have visited that are overwhelmingly over run with rubbish.

I have to say, I partially lay the blame at councils. In our area we now have 4 bins in every garden. We are expected to have at least one small bin on our worktop in our kitchens. We will have two, one for cooked food and one for raw stuff that goes into the compost bin.

However, apart from the town centre, there is a distinct lack of bins. And the ones that are there are rarely emptied. Often, by the red dog poo bin on my regular walk to the supermarket, there are piles of bags full of poo. And as for the person who never bothers, and covers their, presumably dog, poo in leaves, well shame on you. Put it in a bag you moron.

I have seen young kids chuck rubbish in my garden, and then they have the gall to get upset when I tell them off. It's my garden! I have enough cleaning and tidying to do without having to sort through other peoples' detiritus. Don't do it!

So that's my peeve, rubbish, people not taking responsibilty for their own mess.

And our council's appalling double standard, littering my garden with bins, but failing to provide public ones.

Sort it.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Erb's Palsy Awareness Week

October is a busy month! There are many awareness weeks in October and in fact I know of two causes that use the whole month, Infant and Babyloss Awareness and of course Breast Cancer Awareness. and I want to do a few posts about them in the coming weeks. This week is Erb's Palsy Aareness Week. I love and adore facts and was surprised to learn that Joseph Stalin had Erb's Palsy, as did Kaiser Willhelm II of Germany. Martin Sheen also has been affected by this condition.

I've mentioned in the past that I am part of a community of parents on line. One of the mummies that I am friends with is Laura, her son Zeke was born at term, a few months after Joseph. She is, this week,
busy raising money to help the Erb's Palsy Week. If you have even a couple of pounds to spare, please make a donation. For more information and support, you can contact the Erb's Palsy Group.

At first I was oblivious to what Laura had been through, her son Zeke was born with Erb's Palsy. I have to confess, that at that time I had never heard of it. As I heard more of the story of his birth, my heart went out to them. Sometimes we are conditioned to think if your baby is born term, everything will be fine. It is not always the case.

Erb's palsy is, for the most part, caused by birth trauma. It's an effect of shoulder dystocia, where the shoulder gets stuck on the way down the birth canal, and can result in damage to the arm. The severity varies. Some babies will get better on their own, some require minimal intervention, exercises and physiotherapy.

However, some babies require surgery, often into adolescence. The effects of Erb's Palsy can have lifelong consequences.

As Zeke's story has unfolded I have been so impressed at Laura's diligence, in taking him swimming, persuing his exercise routine, and her exceedingly positive outlook, and Zeke has made a full recovery.

It is so important for us all to remember that birth trauma can affect babies and their families well into adulthood, and importantly for me, the lesson is that regardless of gestation, birth trauma can happen, and we need to support and care for one another, and listen and understand.

Monday 3 October 2011

Down to London - Oh Mammy's Monday Musical Meme

I've been waiting all day to post this entry into Oh Mammy's Musical Meme. My cousin, just 22, is over from Oz and has been on my computer all day, bless her! I am sure my lap top was happy to be on someone else's knee for a change!

Every Australian kid grows up with a fascination with London. Nursery rhymes like The Bells of Old Bailey, London's Bridge is Falling Down, and Pussy Cat Pussy Cat Where Have You Been get into one's psyche, making London a city like no other.

When I was deciding to move to the UK I instantly crossed London off my list. I didn't want to fall into the Aussie ghetto. But equally I was concerned that the London of my childhood didn't exist, I wanted to keep the mystery.

I had been here about 4 years before I ventured to London. I was shocked that the London of my imagination absolutely did exist. All the icons looked exactly as I had pictured them. London has an energy about it that is unique. I adore London and have been several times now.

The song that epitomises London for me is "Down to London" by Joe Jackson. The video accompaniment was not made by me, but when I found it I thought all my Christmases had come at once.

I bought this album "Blaze of Glory" in 1989. A close friend of mine had just commited suicide. It was my first experience of teen suicide and it rocked me to the core. I still remember many conversations I had with Michelle, and I missed the warning signs. I was 16. What did I know? Does it stop me from reliving those conversations, no it absolutely does not. I hold myself partially responsible for what happened.

The title track is exactly about the suicide of a young person, and I played this album, which is concept album, where all the songs meld into one, over and over again, to try and make sense of my feelings. 

But I digress. "Down to London" is a rare track on this album, full of hope and optimism, and arrogance. Exactly what teenagedom should be. It was with great pleasure and delight that I saw Joe Jackson live in Manchester some 15 years after listening to this amazing album.

So I give you Joe Jackson, with some awesome images of the city that I love.

Saturday 1 October 2011

I'm Back from the MADS!

Unfortunately no pics yet, when will I learn to just give someone my camera and take my pic? Years of living with a useless photographer I guess.

So the MADblogawards are over for another year, the dresses have been worn, the wine drunk and the winners announced. I was so delighted, that although I did not win, the delightful Claire from A Boy With Aspergers did! I adore all the blogs that were in my category, and I urge you to read all the finalist blogs when you have a minute or ten!

The ceremony was fabulous, the Talk Talk Customer Experience centre in Soho was the perfect venue, apart from a lack of chairs, and a number of women in unsuitable shoes, myself included, took perches where they could find them! Next time I'll definitely wear flats!

Unfortunately I hadn't given myself a great deal of time, I arrived in London at 5pm and our carriages were booked for just after 6. I managed to walk all the way to the Radisson Bloomsbury from Euston without getting lost, courtesy of my fancy new phone which has GPS! What did I ever do without it? And swiftly showered, dressed, did hair and make up in record time, and made it with several minutes to spare.

I shared a room with the lovely Michelle from Mummy From the Heart. My only regret was that I had to leave early for commitments today, so didn't get to have enough of a natter!

I am already looking forward to putting some great blogs forward for next year's awards. My advice would be to anyone who thinks their blog is not good enough, to just go for it. I never in a million years expected to be a finalist, and I so enjoyed the ceremony and meeting so many inspirational and fabulous bloggers.