Work, work work, work, work, work (Rihanna)

So I might be having a mid-maternity leave crisis. I just tried to get my nose re-pierced. I traipsed all the way to this tattoo shop in Earlsfield only to be told by a very responsible man who was more piercing than face that I couldn’t have it done whilst breastfeeding. I was strangely gutted. The last time I had my beak pierced I was nineteen years old and rampaging around the wilds of South America, wearing head-to-toe “local” clothing (the kind that marks you out as anything but local), downing tequila from the bottle and passing out on the street. The “gap” in gap year actually stands for memory gaps. I fear I am trying to recapture a sliver of that heady, heady freedom as I slide irrevocably into domesticity. And I am sliding. Last night after I put Bella to bed I found myself cleaning the kitchen. Rather than sitting down on the sofa with a jumbo bag of Hula Hoops, a well-deserved glass of Gavi and another episode of Say Yes to the Dress, I was marigolded and vigorously scrubbing the top of the washing machine. The top of the washing machine. Then the draining board. The draining board. And then I looked at our bargain washing up liquid and thought “well, it really comes out too fast, so actually although that was cheaper it’s a false economy.”

 

That was how I knew I had changed. Ask Phil, ask my mum, ask my old flatmates, I have never been a particularly conscientious person when it comes to cleaning. Not cleaning myself, there I am on point, but house cleanliness. I mean I am not unhygienic and don’t live in my own swill, but let’s just say I used to have a laissez-faire attitude to it all. One particular highlight from my younger flatshare days was when I let a cup of hot chocolate grow mould under my bed (the kind of mould that is so fluffy it almost looks like a pet you want to keep). It was my flatmate’s Newcastle United FC cup, a treasured piece of Toon Army paraphernalia, but rather than wash it I threw it straight in the bin. At university the cleaner for our halls went on strike after we wore her down with our mould growing antics and our insistence on using the carpets as wardrobes. See, laissez-faire.

 

Since having Bella and being at home more I can feel myself turning more and more domestic. Day by day I feel myself slipping into the stereotype of the stay at home mum as I run around the flat trying to tidy things whilst Bella is either asleep or distracted. Both of these things could end at any given moment so it adds an air of jeopardy to proceedings, like the Supermarket Sweep of cleaning. But this means that you learn to grab every minute you can to DO STUFF, because you might not get a single second, you might get ten minutes or on exceptionally lucky days when a butterfly in outer Bolivia has flapped its wings at the right time, you might get a WHOLE HOUR.

 

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The baby washing is constant and she has a better wardrobe than me!

 

It is also changing my relationship with Phil, as I slide irrevocably into domesticity. Before Bella I saw us as best friends with no real roles. In fact Phil is far better at cooking and far more attentive to cleaning than I am, but now I am evolving into lady-about-house. It is my responsibility to look after Bella, corral the never-ending stream of laundry, mop up the vomit, soak the poo stains, empty the nappy bin, tidy the toys away, sanitise the bejesus out of everything she touches and wash the dishes on a daily basis. And this isn’t because Phil asks me to or expects me to, it’s just a natural evolution because I am at home a lot of the day and I don’t want to spend time in a flat that smells pervasively of baby poo.

 

As well as the daily chores that come as a side dish to looking after a baby, there are also a PLETHORA of daily decisions that have become my responsibility. These are on a spectrum, from tiny choices such as what to pack in her nappy bag (beyond the obvious nappies) to more momentous ones like when we start weaning. Sometimes I talk to myself about these, boring my way to a resolution. Sometimes Phil gets this treat. Last night was a classic example. In what world does which clothes we put her in at night when it’s 22 degrees outside require a 30-minute monologue? “Shall we put her in the sleep suit and the vest? Or just the vest? But then maybe her arms will get cold? And the sleeping bag or just a blanket? And should we open the window, but what about the foxes that make very loud sweet fox love outside her window every night at 5am?” AND SO ON.

 

I never expected us to change into the traditional stereotype of mum and dad, yet it happened within weeks of her being born. This has not only made me question myself but has also really dented my confidence. Firstly I never saw myself in this role, I was WORKING WOMAN, at the office for twelve hour days on conference calls with China with a headset that made me feel like a cross between Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl and a 90s Madonna.  Secondly, I am also fundamentally just not very good at running a household. I am the opposite of a domestic goddess. If there was such a celestial being I think she would be called Hooverite, and she would send me to domestic goddess purgatory to clean public bathrooms with only a toothbrush and my own spit until I got good at it. I am not one of those people who has Tuppawear in different sizes (I don’t in fact have any Tuppawear at all), I always put colours in with the whites and am constantly surprised when nice crisp shirts turn a mottled pink, I seem to iron creases into clothes, and I can’t really wash up properly, my plates always have bits of stubborn cheese stuck to them. I no longer grow mould in receptacles under my bed, but I just don’t have the type of brain that lends itself to efficient domesticity.

 

So I am learning as I go, and some days this stresses me out more than it should and has given me a mid-maternity leave crisis. I am a work in progress. A slow work in progress. Yesterday when washing I turned a white cushion; you guessed it, mottled pink. It will be interesting to see what happens when I go back to work and am not spending twenty hours a day in the house. But for the moment this is the new normal. I am one crinoline skirt shy of being a 1950s housewife. And for the first time I get why 1950s housewives had a well-known addiction to speed.

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Yeah, roses really smell like poo-poo-oo (OutKast)

This morning I went into Bella’s room to find that it stank like the inside of a Glasto Portaloo at the end of day three. I half expected to find a festival reveller passed out under her cot having fully soiled themselves. Not only had Bella pooed herself in her sleep, she had also done her first ADULT POO. For those of you not intimately familiar with the topic of baby shit (I have become that person who spends too much time on Dr Google looking at the poo-Pantone), breastfed baby poo looks like chicken korma and smells OK (OK being all relative). However as soon as they start eating purées and solids they start to produce adult-like poo, which bloody stinks. You need a Hazmat suit and tongs to remove the evidence. My only consolation is that one day she will be changing my pensioner nappies. Her first foray into the world of adult turds is a sign that she is growing up fast.

 

In fact now she is six months old she is looking more and more like a little girl each day, and less and less like a capuchin monkey. I had a frightening flash forward to her as terrible teen, which, if she’s anything like me, will be truly horrific. One day she will be going out sporting inappropriately tight velvet outfits from Bay Trading and I will put on my mum voice and tell her that she “forgot to put on a skirt” and to “get back upstairs and put some clothes on”. She will be sneaking off to the park to drink cider (read lighter fluid) and heavy-pet with boys who work at McDonald’s. Phil has already got a list of probing questions and a torch to turn inquisitor on her first boyfriend, or girlfriend, or gender-nonspecific-friend, as the case may be.

 

The biggest change so far has been moving out of the newborn phase, which happened at around three and a bit months. This created a maelstrom of bittersweet emotions inside me. On the one hand I am beyond excited by her development into a proper child. “She ROLLED OVER”, “she PUT HER FEET IN HER MOUTH”, “she SAID HI” (she definitely didn’t) being just a snapshot of text messages to my mum over the past few weeks. But on the other hand I also hark back with rose-tinted nostalgia for those (let’s face it horrific) newborn days. How quickly we forget.

 

So how do you know when your baby is leaving those hallowed fresh-from-the-vagina days behind?

Here are nine sure-fire signs:

1.  They start looking weird in romper suits. At the start rompers are the easiest to put their floppy bodies in as they scream bloody murder at your sheer audacity in dressing them. But from about four months they start to look like Matt Lucas in a onesie.

2. Their bald patch grows over. When they are first born, if they have hair at all, they develop a monk-like bald patch where they rub their heads when sleeping. When this starts to fluff-over you know your newborn days are numbered.

3. They don’t fall asleep on you anymore. At the start they would just pass out on you at any given moment like your dribbling drunk uncle at Xmas. Now they are just TOO EXCITED (imagine eyes bulging) when in company to do any such thing.

4. In fact they don’t fall asleep anywhere anymore. You start to walk that tiredness tightrope – too tired and they won’t nap, not tired enough and they won’t nap. Basically they will only sleep whilst lying in a south facing direction, with you standing on one leg and rocking them to the rhythm of “Stayin’ Alive”.

5. You have to invest in distraction techniques. Weapons of mass distraction (more on this to come) are essential to keep them from getting bored and firing you.

6. They start to get thighs like the Michelin man. They get folds on their folds and you just want to EAT THEM. Their thighs are particularly crease-heavy, and don’t get me started on the “multi-gina” (thanks @ElleHuntingford for that very apt description).

7.The you-facing carrier starts to piss them right off.  Suddenly you are carrying a wriggling piece of snarling custard.

8.They move to the big gal pram. You know it is time when you have to concertina them into the bassinet and being laid flat, unable to see the world around them, creates merry havoc.

9.They start to gum everything. Anything in arms reach goes straight in the mouth for a generous gumming. Anything. Your hand, your hair, cushions, napkins, cutlery, the side of the table, the floor, their feet, the cat.

 

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The feet are going straight into the mouth. This is the MOST flexible she will ever be – I cannot even touch my knees.

 

 

 

Who the f*** is this? Pagin’ me at 5.46 in the morning. Crack a dawn now I am yawning (Notorious BIG)

Nothing can prepare you for those early months with a newborn baby. They are nothing short of a siege, a siege where you are fighting blind. After 24 hours in hospital I was parachuted into an uncharted battle zone with only Ewan the Dream Sheep and my ravaged boobs in the armoury. The time passed in an exhausted fug, the kind of exhaustion I have never known before. It felt like I was constantly at the wrong end of a 48-hour bender (without the bender). I sleepwalked through the days (and nights) in a haze of milk encrusted sweat pants, Hob Nob biscuit crumbs and adult nappies. One morning I even brushed my teeth with Sudocrem.

They call this tumultuous period the fourth trimester (or “100 days of hell”) because the baby should really still be inside you. That’s why swaddling, skin to skin and white noise work so well; we are tricking them into thinking they are still in vitro. Human babies are the least prepared to exist in the real world when they pop out. Just think about those iguanas on Planet Earth 2. The minute they hatch they have to run through a gauntlet of hungry snakes and escape to the beach where the parent iguanas are hanging out, chilling with their piña coladas. RUN. THROUGH A GAUNTLET OF HUNGRY SNAKES. Human babies can’t even hold their heads up. We should be more like elephants – pregnant for 22 months. Actually scratch that, I could not have been pregnant for another second more, I was practically beached at 9 months never mind 22.

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Morning smiles.  If not for these you would just leave them in a puddle

The good news is that this doesn’t last (let’s not forget that everything is JUST A PHASE) but to get through it you have to live just one day at a time. You also learn to look forward to the little things, the small wins that make sleeping in two-hour chunks bearable.

So here are my top five small rewards:

Nutella with a spoon: I have history with Nutella; we go way, way back. At one dark point our relationship descended into addiction. I would eat a whole jar every week with just a spoon (OK fine, sometimes just my fingers). My flatmates would find me huddled in the kitchen pretending to do the washing up whilst shoving dessertspoon upon dessertspoon into my gob. I would constantly find telltale chocolate residue lingering round the corners of my mouth and smeared in my hair. I had to go cold turkey circa 2012. Let me tell you, the Nutella DT’s are not pretty. Despite warnings from my friends Nutella is now back with a vengeance. It is my breakfast food of choice, my reward for getting through the night before.

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Yes, it’s under my pillow….easy access

Clean (ish) hair: Labour left me feeling like I had been run over and then backed over by an aggressive freight train.  Added to that my hair was so filthy it looked like a large, flea-riddled rodent with a fringe had died on my head. So that first shower at home was a beauteous moment. It is also a daily joy, five whole minutes to myself (and by myself I obviously mean that Bella is sat outside the shower cubicle, my own tiny voyeur.)

Walking, walking, walking: I was never a fan of walking, being a destination-not-journey kind of gal. But from our second day home we started going on long walks with Bella in the pram. Even though it was mid-November and the weather highlight was ‘mizzle’ it got my battered, saggy body moving again, albeit at a glacial pace. Five months on, as the weather highlight is still mizzle and a trot round Tooting Common comes with risk of trench foot, I am still walking every day. I must confess it has somewhat lost its charm as the British winter persists into May and I feel like I intimately know every paving crack in SW17. I wish I had invested in galoshes.    Here is a soundtrack for an hour long walk:

Having your food cut into tiny bite-sized pieces: Bella had an unerring ability to want feeding the moment my breakfast/lunch/dinner/any snack was ready. Not able to use both a knife and fork and breastfeed, I relied on Phil to cut and dice my food into small chunks so that it could be eaten with one hand. The alternative was writhing away at my meals like some kind of rabid woodland creature.

ALL of the box sets: in the first three months babies sleep a lot. After you are done with the just STARING at them phase, box sets are essential to maintain your sanity. Incapable of any real thought, I enjoyed proper mind-mush series on Netflix, from Pretty Little Liars (definitely aimed at teenaged girls), to Gossip Girl (aimed at teenaged girls in 2007) and all the series of Friends from start to finish. I also spent a disproportionate amount of time selecting my favourite Friends episode. All I will say is “pivot….pivot…pivot.”

I’m expressing with my full capabilities (NWA)

So, let’s talk about boobs. Yesterday whilst Bella napped I decided I would clean out my underwear drawer (it was that or watch The Bachelor, which I know for a fact actively kills brain cells). After I had consigned to the bin an array of off-white, off-pink, off-cream granny pants I put on a normal bra for the first time in five months. Not for the whole day, not for keeps, but just for fun, because I was nostalgic for the simple pleasure of a Primarché, two-for-£8, fabric so synthetic you need to keep away from open flames, balcony bra.

Post birth, it’s not enough that your stomach turns into a ball sack, your boobs also turn on you. Three things happen. Firstly your size A’s (OK fine, AA’s) turn into veiny, lumpy barrage balloons, at times so bloated that actual sailors stranded at sea could use them to float home on.

Secondly they start doing their own leaky thing, sometimes at the most inopportune moments. Like a faulty faucet they constantly drip, forcing you to invest in breast pads (think Tampax for your bra), which I swear gave me the boob equivalent of nappy rash. I also did not realise that milk would squirt out of the breast like a jet powered shower head with no Off switch, leading to the constant risk of splashback.

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A young Bella (aka Winston Churchill) in a milk coma post breastfeed

Lastly, your boobs are no longer your own, as you effectively lease them out for as long as you breastfeed.  And the start of that rental agreement can be a war of attrition, as your besieged nipples adjust.  Mine were bleeding with every feed at one dark point, and nothing makes you feel worse than seeing your baby vomming up your own blood.  So your boobs are there only to provide the all you can eat breast-buffet (customers of Chez Linds may complain about the lack of variety).  If you aren’t actually breastfeeding, you are expressing breast milk, a process so damn farmyard it will put you off dairy for life. And when your boyfriend has seen your nipples stretched to over an inch long strapped to a pump, there is no longer any romance left in the world. Whatever sexual desire wasn’t killed by seeing a baby rudely ejected from your vagina will swiftly by extinguished by seeing the breast pump in action. Phil can’t watch as I express, for fear if he looks the pump in the eye it will turn him to stone.

Alongside changes to my boobs, I have also made changes to my wardrobe, changes that facilitate the seamless unveiling of a nip at any given moment.  Gone is the plunge, the balconette, the push up, the strapless, the nipple tassels (no? me neither) and here to stay is the nursing bra. This tarp-like contraption is designed to give maximum coverage and is feed ready, with a handy flap that unstraps to reveal boob. It is the mum equivalent of the flasher mac. You could also use it to cover SW17 when it rains.

I also invested in a range of absolutely rank nursing tops; vests with straps that clip undone and T-shirts with flaps of loose fabric that I can stick Bella’s head under. All of these are just plain nasty and despite the breast pads, are constantly milk stained. I now smell like the underside of an udder. You could bottle my odour and sell it as ‘’eau de lait’. I have become one of those people that you avoid standing next to on buses.

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Yep, an udder…

So it was with great joy that for ten glorious minutes yesterday morning I was not a MILK-BOT, I was just a girl in a reasonably priced bra dancing round the bedroom to Trevor Nelson’s rhythm nation grooves. I will take that.

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Happy with the a la carte menu?

 

 

 

 

A diva is a female version of a hustler (Beyonce)

Yes, celebrity requests for only the blue M&Ms, bespoke toilet seats and ironed carpets (Kanye West does not like bumps beneath his feet) are nothing compared to the diva-like behaviour of babies. Only Mariah Carey, who reputedly has an assistant walk backwards in front of her at all times in case she falls over, beats the babies.

So below we have the top ten baby diva demands…

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The baby wears Prada
  1. My room temperature must never fall below 16 degrees and must always be between 16-18 degrees. Leading to the fun games of ‘thermostat roulette’ and ‘blanket off, blanket on’.
  2. My milk should be fresh from the breast. With Bella we had a month long ‘battle of the bottle’, where missy acted like I was shoving an actual turd in her mouth, not a nice bottle filled with lovingly (ha) expressed breast milk.
  3. And if not from the breast, my milk should be from a receptacle that is trying with every fibre of its being to replicate a breast. Bottle teats shaped like nipples, milk heated to ‘straight-from the body’ temperature, and teat rubbed all over the chest so it smells like a boob.
  4. I need distraction 24/7, I must NEVER be allowed to become bored. Why can’t babies just sit in front of the TV and watch Friends like normal people? No, waking hours are about constant distraction. So we move from playmat, to Bumbo chair, to swingy chair, to swingy swing, to jumpy thing, to sofa, and then we start the rotation again. Our lounge looks like the Fun House threw up on it and I half expect Pat Sharp and the twins to burst in at any given moment brandishing gunge and good times.
  5. Wind me. Oh no, babies cannot wind themselves, this is part of the on-demand service, a service which takes HOURS, with more positions than a tantric sex-athon.
  6. Clean my fat folds. Baby fat folds need daily attention or else you run the risk of the cottage cheese phenomenon (clutches pearls in horror). So like you would with the ten tonne women, you strap a sponge onto a stick and get busy up in those creases.
  7. Never sneeze in my presence. Babies go cray cray when you sneeze. Just don’t do it, it’s not worth it.
  8. My bath water must be precisely 37 degrees, or I will LOSE MY MIND (and possibly piss myself).
  9. Hug me, how DARE you hug me, sit me up, how DARE you sit me up, put me on the play mat, how DARE you put me on the play mat, sway with me, how DARE you sway with me. You get the idea.
  10. I will NOT sit in my own filth – OK, this one’s fair enough, neither would I.

Pack it up, pack it in, let me begin (House of Pain)

It has been over five months since Bella was born. I am not going to be a birth-bore and go on and on about the labour, but it is the beginning of our story. It was all in all a very positive experience and compared to some other stories I have heard I consider myself lucky. But the memories of THAT pain still linger, a fading residue round the edges of my consciousness. They say at some point you forget it all; nature’s way of ensuring we continue to procreate. I haven’t yet.

Nothing you read or get told can prepare you for the birth. The only way to describe it is feral. Bella was a surprise breech and we only found out she was the wrong way round when I was 8cm dilated and swearing like a ship-wrecked sailor. The more dilated I got was in direct relationship to the number of c-bombs dropped. I was not composed or graceful in labour, I basically turned into Ray Winstone.

My waters broke at home and it was less movie scene gush, more long leak. For the first five minutes I thought I might just be peeing myself, this being an all too common pregnancy occurrence. But ten minutes later it was clear something was amiss. So we went into hospital, only to be sent home after being told it might take a day or so to kick in. No. One episode of Made in Chelsea later (guilty) I was rollicking round the flat biting on the furniture and dropping class-A swear words like they were HOT. So back to the hospital we went, contracting in the back of an Uber whilst shocking the driver with my unladylike language.

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Bella in frog mode

I didn’t know whether or not I would want drugs before I went into labour, but by the time we got back to hospital I was clear – yes please, all of them, now please. Gas and air, although I am sure fun for a night out, did not touch the sides. I was planning to stay in the birthing suite, which sounded like somewhere you might go for a nice week away, with a double bed, spa music and a pool. But the need for immediate relief and the fact that there was an arse where a head should be meant I waddled like a writhing John Wayne downstairs to the labour ward. There we waited for the man with the drugs. His aggressively long epidural needle gave Phil what my mum would call a “turn”. He went green. The midwives then hastily constructed “Phil’s corner” next to my bed, with a crash mat in case he fainted, a blanket, glass of icy water and a cold compress to mop his brow. I said nothing.

Because she was bum-down, we had to decide whether to go for a C-section or vaginal delivery. I started to get fearful. Labour is such an all-encompassing experience and I was so IN it that I wasn’t really feeling any emotions beyond “get it out” and this was the first time I felt properly scared. If we opted for a C-section Phil would not be allowed in because there was no room in the theatre for him to faint. At this point we both started to cry.

Luckily I then hit 10cm and the decision was made for us. Breech vaginal deliveries are apparently a bit unusual, so as I got ready to push, a gaggle of junior doctors filed into my room to have a butchers at the specimen in action. Despite being barely clothed and on all fours, being British I of course attempted polite conversation whilst ten complete strangers stared at my vagina. “This is Lindsey”…”Hi guys, how are you? Going anywhere nice on your holidays?” Phil stayed at the top of the bed at all times, for which I am grateful. Some things cannot be unseen. My friend’s husband described being at the business end as akin to watching his favourite pub burn down.

The pushing bit only took about twenty minutes and then Bella arrived into this world, bum first whilst simultaneously pooing and pissing (that’s my gal.) We deliberately didn’t know what flavour we were having so the first order of business was “it’s a girl!” Then she was deposited in my arms and immediately mewled her way towards my breast, fully confident in what she was doing even if I wasn’t. She was born with a full on mullet, looking every inch the late 1980s tennis player. I didn’t expect to look down and see a (very) young Andre Agassi sucking at my nip.

That first skin to skin was the most amazing moment of my life so far…beyond knackered, covered in every bodily fluid imaginable, high on ALL of the drugs and just staring, staring at this tiny creature that we had made. And so at 10.15am on the 7th of November, our story began….

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Phil does skin to skin

Allow me to reintroduce myself…(Jay Z)

My name is Lindsey.  And I am a MUM (Caps Lock required.)

When I was pregnant everyone told me that having a baby is the biggest change you will ever experience. As they imparted these words of wisdom I would nod blithely, hearing “blah blah blah”, convinced that I knew what I was getting myself into, then immediately go back to scrolling the Cos website for maternity clothes (Cos are not afraid of a smock), whilst sipping my decaf flat white (I hate myself a little bit). But they were right. It is a seismic change. And I had NO idea what I was getting myself into.

I work in advertising and used to spend 14 hour days trying to sell you things you don’t want or need from sweets to drinks to vagina cream (I feel it’s important to get the word vagina in there early doors). Now I spend 14 hour days in a very different way, as a MUM (Caps Lock still required).

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Just chillin’

What else do you need to know about me? I used to be a breakdancer in a crew called Mean Feet (see what we did there), what my mum used to call my “troupe” despite repeated reminders that troupes were for clowns. And I love all things hip hop and R&B, although I am not ashamed to admit that my music taste stopped evolving in 2001.

I am engaged to Phil. We met on Guardian Soulmates.com five years ago. Before I met him I put a call out to the gods of dating for a 6 foot plus guy with curly bouffant hair (a younger, stretched out version of Jeff Goldblum if you will), and Phil came to order. Sometimes you do get what you wish for, although I had to go on a vast number of painful blind dates with a lot of sub 5 foot 8 guys to get there. (FYI a Cuban heel does not count towards your height for the purposes of internet dating profiles.)

In November I gave birth to Bella (full name Gabriela). Luckily she was a girl, as Phil is half Brazilian and the boys names on his list were a welcome mat to bullying (Ronaldinho and Romario to name but two). Bella is in equal measures a little legend and a little dictator. The moment she popped out, bum first (more about that later) I technically became a mum, but what I have learnt is that becoming a mum isn’t instantaneous, it’s something that evolves, and something that takes two to tango. So this blog is the story of me and Bella, as I become MUM.

 

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