Camping at Beeches Farm

We are just back from a glorious little camping trip to the fantastic Beeches Farm, just a hop over the bridge from us here in Bristol, in the stunning Wye Valley.  I first heard of Beeches through the excellent blog Yellow Fields Camping and then when I heard someone raving about it in my local hairdressers, I decided fate was telling me this was the spot for our first camping trip of the year.

We have only got into the whole camping scene in the last couple of years and have come a long way from that first trip with friends 2 years ago where we rocked up virtually empty handed, having quickly bought a cheapie Argos tent en route (thank goodness our companions were better prepared!).  We have now got a decent tent that we love and just about the right amount of kit to allow us to have a comfortable time. 

I just love camping, it is especially enjoyable now that we have kids – allowing them all that precious time spent in nature, away from their sometimes hectic little lives.  I find lots of the rituals and tasks that are off putting to some  - collecting water, washing dishes and cooking outdoors, are actually completely calming and therapeutic to me.  Also, nothing beats that first cuppa in a dewey field of a morning (preferably in an enamel mug for full effect!).

So anyway – Beeches Farm, its just the sort of site we like: campfires are allowed, lots of nooks and crannies for the kids to explore and generally a relaxed atmosphere. The most notable thing about this fantastic site are the views – wow, they are amazing! We had a great spot overlooking the Valley, and we never got tired of the sight that greeted us when we opened the tent.  The photo here doesn’t really do it justice but it gives you an idea…

ImageAnd it only improved in the evening, stunning sunsets…

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Big boy and his Dad had a great old time walking in the woods just by the site, the bluebells and wild garlic were out in force

ImageThe facilities at the site were good and well kept – clean showers and toilets, washing up area and extensive recycling facilities.  The resident pigs and sweet little piglets were an added bonus and our big boy enjoyed his daily visits to them.  I was worried about baby boy staying warm enough at night but it turned out he was toasty each evening, thanks to all the  layers I invested in before we left.  

We will definitely return to this beautiful spot, and in the meantime have been busy booking up trips to new places throughout the rest of the summer – heres hoping for more sunshine!

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Share and Share Alike

I am feeling all warm and fuzzy at the moment, after recently having had the opportunity to share some of my expressed breast milk with a mum and baby in need.  This sweet little newborn girl was fresh out of hospital after arriving early and spending a bit of time in NICU as a result.  She was not eligible for milk from the hospital milk bank as she thankfully recovered so quickly and mum was able to express a tiny amount.  Tiny being the operative word though, this brave mama had some breast surgery years ago which damaged her milk ducts, leaving her milk production very decreased.  She had done everything, and I mean everything, to increase supply and is still managing to nurse regularly but decided to use donor breastmilk to top up.

So this lovely mummy decided to contact other like minded breastfeeding mums through various local natural parenting facebook groups, with a plea for informal donations of expressed milk.  I was only too happy to oblige as my freezer was groaning with all the milk I expressed for baby boy while he was in hospital.  Offers flooded in from other local mums too and it looks like baby is all set for a future of guzzling breastmilk, and thriving on it already according to her mum!

Despite being a controversial subject, online informal milk sharing communities are steadily growing with sites like Eats on Feets and Human Milk for Human Babies increasing in numbers of mums requesting and donating breastmilk.  

Personally, I feel incredibly humbled and honoured to share my milk with this beautiful baby. The milk was expressed at the most emotionally difficult time of my life, and seeing another baby benefiting from it felt like good coming from bad. I also realised I had been holding on to my freezer stash in case something went awry with baby boys health and he needed more surgery or tube feeding – so passing it on obviously means I am moving on a little from that anxious state of mind.  

Looking at my smiley little chap, I like to think he would be very happy to share his mummies milk with another baby in need!

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Spring at the Farm

We have just returned from a glorious Spring day spent at the fantastic Windmill Hill City Farm , one of my favourite spots in Bristol.  The city farm is a little oasis of calm near bustling Bedminster, with just enough animals and interesting little corners to keep an inquisitive 3 year old busy.  We particularly enjoyed the sweet new piglets (who unfortunately proved a little camera shy) who were playing and tussling together in the morning sun.

Baby boy snoozed in the sling while big boy had a whale of a time meeting the animals and trying to escape from mummy and daddy.  We finished off with a tasty lunch of brie, pear and walnut toasties in the cafe – a perfect day out on this gorgeous bank holiday weekend!

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Cheery Tulips

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Bug Hotel

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Pretty Knitting!

Breastfeeding my Heart Baby

I have been wanting to write this post for a few months but I knew it would be a biggie so I was waiting until I had the time and right frame of mind to take it on, today seems like the day!  So – as I have previously mentioned, my beautiful second baby was born on Nov 12, 2012 and as far as we were concerned, all was well; he was a sweetheart and his big brother doted on him immediately.  Of course, as I have talked about so often on this blog,  things turned out to be far from well and we discovered that baby was a very sick little boy, requiring life saving heart surgery at 16 days old.

Now, I breastfed my first son until a few months after his second birthday, we had a wonderful breastfeeding experience together, never once an issue – so, of course, I assumed I’d feed number two in the same way. In hindsight (ah hindsight, I have buckets of the stuff, drives me slightly loopy sometimes) the feeding was not that smooth from the start with baby.  He was quite fussy and  struggled to latch well.  I didn’t think too much of it, I worked hard on positioning and felt it would come good in time, I mentioned it to the visiting midwives and health visitors, and they watched us feed, didn’t see too much of a problem and suggested I burp him more.  Little did I know, that his poor feeding was just one indicator of his serious heart condition.

When his condition was identified at ten days old and we were admitted to the children’s hospital in Bristol, I realised I had a massive challenge ahead if I wanted to keep giving my beautiful boy his mama’s milk.  He had keyhole surgery the night we were admitted to hospital which left him in pain and druggy for days.  The feeding, unsurprisingly  went from a bit iffy to much worse.  He was oh so tired and only fed for a few minutes at a time.  We were required to monitor how often he fed , writing down each feed and how long it lasted.  He had monitors attached to his little toes and chest, we couldn’t move far from the machines, we were in a busy, noisy ward, I had one hard and uncomfortable high backed chair to sit on.  Needless to say, not a recipe for breastfeeding success.  The nurses assured me not to worry too much, everything would get easier once he had his main surgery and was ‘mended’ – he wouldn’t be so  tired and his heart would be functioning properly.  The surgery was hanging over us, we didn’t know when exactly it was going to be but we understood it had to be soon. It was the strangest feeling, I was dreading the surgery, but also looking forward to it because I knew it was his only chance of survival so I wanted to get on with it.

We were moved to PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) in preparation for his surgery, and spent a few days there waiting for the big day.  We continued with the feeding but baby wasn’t taking as much milk as I would like, my supply was still regulating and I was becoming full and engorged so I soon became best friends with the wards breast pump.  Whilst he was on PICU, I stayed in the hospital parents accommodation  2 floors up, and asked the nursing staff to phone up to me throughout the night when baby needed fed. It was exhausting, the parents accommodation felt like a prison cell. I wept, I pumped, I celebrated a whole 10 minute feed, I syringed precious milk into his tiny mouth when he was too tired to suck.  Now, I could be accused of being slightly evangelical about breastfeeding, I just think its the most wonderful gift for a child, and it is intrinsic to my experience of motherhood.  I was so desperate for it to work with baby and I, I knew he, more than anyone, needed the goodness and healing of my milk.

The day before his surgery, the anesthetists came to see me, they explained that he would have to be nil by mouth for 5 hours before his op, which was to begin at 8am.  I asked the nurses to ensure I was called down at 3 am to give him his last feed.  I will never forget that feed, padding down to PICU in my slippers, the ward was quiet but for the beeping of the machines, I held him and cried as I wondered if this was the last time I would feed my boy, I actually wondered if it was one of the last times I would ever hold my boy, the risks of this operation were hard to ignore.

He went into his operation  and 7 hours later came out having done as well as he could have, the first 24 hours were critical.  My husband and I  sat bedside and looked at him, holding hands, in disbelief at what was happening to our family.  Baby boy was unrecognisable, with wires and huge tubes coming out of his tiny body. The cardiac liaison team did a great job in warning us about how he would look but it was impossible not be shocked at the sight of our precious boy.

I continued with my pumping, keen to keep my supply up. Baby was starved for the first day after surgery as it is important that their little bodies do not have to work at digesting food, they simply have to concentrate on recovering from the shock of surgery.  Then they began to introduce tiny thimblefuls of my expressed milk, maybe only 5mls at a time, every few hours.  Baby boy had  an NG tube in his nose and the milk was put stright down the tube into the stomach.

We were moved back up to the cardiac ward a few days later as babies recovery was going smoothly, he was still being tube fed my milk and I was still pumping but I was told we could try and reintroduce the breast when we got on the ward – I couldn’t wait! The first post-surgery feed went pretty well, he hadn’t seemed to forget what to do as I feared he would, my heart swelled when I saw those perfect little lips rooting and sucking as before.  The nurses explained we would alternate between tube feeds and breastfeeds every three hours.  The breastfeeds seemed to be going quite well but the tube in his little nose was a nuisance, it was agreed that we would take it out and go to full breastfeeding – I was delighted!

This should be the happy ending but was probably the toughest time at all for me. After a day of solely breastfeeding, baby was weighed to see how he was doing – uh oh , hes lost weight, not to worry the nurses told me, only day one, of course he will gain tomorrow.  I fed and fed but he wasn’t taking much again, the morphine was still coursing through his little body, he was so tired and weak.  Day 2 came and I waited nervously for the sound of the rumbling wheels of the scales trolley. Lost again, oh shit.  I saw the glances exchanged between the nurses, I noticed they wrote ‘breastfeeding’ with an asterisk by my name on the nurses handover board. I knew we didn’t have much time, this baby needed calories to recover from his ordeal, and he wasn’t getting enough of them from me.  Talk began to turn to putting the tube back in and my heart sank – I instinctively knew this would be the kiss of death for our feeding journey. I began to research and quickly found out that feeding issues were synonymous with heart babies, I couldn’t find any success stories about breastfeeding post open heart surgery. I started to consider whether formula might be the right thing to.  I was emailing back and forth with a very wise and wonderful friend, and I explained to her that heart babies were rarely breastfed and she said something about ‘not taking on other peoples negative stories as my own, we were our own unique case and just to take it one feed at a time’ – I am so grateful for her encouragement, it was just the boost I needed at my lowest ebb.

So we carried on, but I was completely devastated when he lost weight for the third day running.  All other aspects of his recovery were coming along so well except for the damn feeding, the doctors explained to me that it was essential that I get breastfeeding established and fast.  I suddenly mustered the energy to get pissed off – I pointed out the futility of saying I couldn’t go home until breastfeeding was established when I was in an environment that simply didn’t allow for breastfeeding to be established. Let me go home, I said, let me get in my bed with my baby and get skin to skin and feed feed feed, I knew we could crack it if we just had some space, no recording, no timing feeds, no wires. The doctors were having none of it but suggested a compromise – we were going to be put in a private room, given one more night to get the weight up and if there was no gain in the morning the tube was going back in.

The room felt like luxury – it wasn’t, I assure you, but I was in delight with getting a bit of space.  ‘Right, wee man’ I said to baby ‘lets go for it’.  I sat up all night and fed him as much as he could manage,  I lay down on the bed with him, I snuggled him up under my top, I stared out the window at the night time streets below and held my beautiful bundle to my breast.  Morning came as did the inevitable weigh in, and…. big fat weight gain!! Hurrah!!!!!  The relief was immense.  We were quickly given the green light to go home, and the health visitor would visit us weekly to weigh him.

As soon as we were home, the feeding got better and better, our lovely boy learned to smile and it felt like the sun was appearing from behind the clouds.  We took to our bed, often with my 3 year old in tow, we fed and cuddled, and my wonderful husband provided endless cups of tea and treats for me.  It wasn’t all smooth sailing, fate threw in two bouts of oral thrush for good measure, but we cleared that up and kept going.

As I write, I have my 5 month old  baby on my lap – hes gazing up at me contentedly after a feed, milk trickling out of his mouth!  His weight gain is better than we could have hoped for, hes riding high on the 75th centile, having fallen off the charts in hospital.  He is content, relaxed and the smiliest baby I’ve known.  I  feel so privileged to have him in my life and I am so glad we have made it to where we are today.  In the depth of our weight loss despair, I remember googling on my phone and saying to my husband ‘I wish I could just find one story of someone saying ‘I breastfed my heart baby and it all worked out ok”.  I could not find that story, but I dearly hope that maybe some mum will come across my story and take some encouragement from it, because I breastfed my heart baby and it did all turn out ok.

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Irish Snow and Somerset Dreams

Time for a long overdue catch up after a busy few weeks.  Myself and the boys took a trip back to my parents in Northern Ireland, neatly coinciding with the Worst Weather Ever.  Seriously, the snow hit when we arrived and didn’t let up until we left.  I don’t mind a bit of snow, and it did feel super cosy but we had great plans to stay in my parents caravan by the coast which were completely scuppered of course, as a stay in a snow covered tin box isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time (except perhaps my 3 year old who was still keen to give it a go, despite the weather).Image

Back in Bristol, we began to tackle the exciting and slightly nervewracking task of searching for our new home.  We lived in London for many years and then moved to Bristol around 18 months ago, and although we love the city, we feel that we haven’t got the move quite right and would like something a little less urban.  Myself and husband feel we have had a long stint of living without enough space, this was all well and good when life revolved around socialising and hangovers, but now that we have two little boys to think of – space and access to nature feel like a priority.  So we are looking at village life and spending most weekends checking out potential new areas.

We have fallen in love with a number of villages in the stunning Chew Valley, Somerset.  The area seems to be perfect -access to the cities of Bath and Bristol, with beautiful countryside, great community spirit, fantastic schools and family nearby. Its certainly not the cheapest area and so far we haven’t found a house that ticks all the boxes.  We have probably rushed decisions on previous moves so we are taking our time on this one and listening to our gut instinct in a bid to find that special place that feels like home.

Baby’s Progress

Finally I have the chance to blog about our second post surgery Cardiology follow up appointment, which we had last week.  I had been working myself up into a nice little frenzy of anxiety prior to the appointment so was glad when the day finally came and we could get on with it and hear how hes doing.  To our eyes, he was making excellent progress – he is steadily gaining weight, feeding much better and has a smile for anyone and everyone who catches his eye!  My husband took this as a reason to be optimistic that all was well, but I felt I just couldn’t  dare to be positive, just in case…

As usual the appointment started with baby boy being weighed and measured – all good there, following his lines on the charts as he should.  Next we had the ECG , this was tricky last time, baby boy needs to stay still while 12 leads are attached to his chest and a reading taken over about a ten minute period.  Thankfully he did beautifully this time, lying still on the bed, smiling at his mummy and daddy, quite heartbreaking to see.  Finally we had the dreaded echo (an echocardiogram) – baby boy has had loads of these in his tiny life, and he HATES them.  I don’t blame him really, lying outstretched while hes covered in cold gel and prodded with ultrasound equipment.  Echos seem to take forever, its a very important part of his assessment,  requiring many detailed images to give a picture of how his heart is functioning post op. This echo was marginally better than previous ones – I can see how it might become easier as he gets older and more distractable, but he still ended up screaming the house down by the end of this one which is pretty distressing to see.  The more he cries, the harder it is to get a picture, so babies are sometimes sedated for this process but luckily that wasn’t necessary for us on this occasion.  Poor, sweet baby fell asleep almost instantly in my arms as soon as the echo was over, he had exhausted himself with all that crying.

Our consultant then had a chat with us to talk through all their findings, and it was all positive, much to our great relief! They are happy with how hes recovering and now don’t want to see us for a whole 6 months!! Well, they phrase it all very carefully – rightly so, we understand that the long term future is unknown territory for anyone after this operation, but we both noted that the doctor used the ‘g’ word this time – ‘good’, which we have come to realise  is praise indeed.

So I’m feeling pretty good myself after that appointment. I still worry – I think I always will, but  I am starting to get glimpses of a future where life is not dominated by baby boys wonky heart.  He really is a little miracle – I marvel at him all day, every day.  What a lucky mummy I am to spend my days with such amazing boys!

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All Owls Think Alot…

Rather embarrassingly for a teacher, I got the date of World Book Day wrong, thinking it was Friday – allowing me tomorrow to sort a costume for big boy to wear to nursery.  Imagine my panic when husband casually informs me its TOMORROW and we haven’t a thing to dress him up in!  Well we have got some shop bought ‘dressing up’ costumes, but I’m afraid I’m from the school of thought that considers that cheating, so much flailing and rummaging ensued as I tried to covince my big boy with some pretty shoddy ideas.

Ill fitting green clothes for The Hungry Caterpillar got a short shrift and The Tiger who came to tea was just proving too much of a challenge (why oh why did I bin that animal print top a couple of years ago?!) when husband suggested Owl Babies.  This met with grudging approval from our big boy, so we started running about like loons searching for something suitably ‘owly’ (a new word I’ve created right there).

We found this great post on Alphamom with a downloadable mask which we stuck on some toy glasses.  I found an old fluffy baby sleeping bag that was ripped anyway and cut it into a tabard shape, sewing on ‘feathers’ round the neckline.  White t shirt underneath and ta daaa – one slightly grumpy, overtired owl baby.  Its a bit of a wonky costume, but was fun to assemble and I think its not a bad attempt for a last minute panic!!

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