Newborn shoot with Annie Crossman Photography

Four weeks before Delilah was born, we had a maternity shoot with Annie Crossman, a Bristol photographer and friend. It was a fantastic way to celebrate this third pregnancy and to focus as a family on the excitement of welcoming a new baby into our lives.

Actually, our first family shoot with Annie was last year, when we mistakenly thought our family was complete with two children. Now, it’s impossible to imagine our family without our third child, Delilah.

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Newborn photoshoot in Bristol with Annie Crossman-2

Newborn photoshoot in Bristol with Annie Crossman

Annie came to our home to do a newborn photo shoot with us when Delilah was just one week old. What a week it was! The girls were besotted and we were all in that dreamy newborn honeymoon phase. At just over three weeks on, the new baby effect hasn’t worn off yet.

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Newborn photoshoot in Bristol with Annie Crossman-11

I admire the effort and artistry that Annie put into capturing these images of Delilah and of our family. She was so prepared with props and ideas, really open to our thoughts. She made it a completely relaxed experience, which is just what you need when you’re in the thick of the postnatal period. Also, Delilah kept waking up throughout and Annie patiently waited while I fed and comforted her back to sleep between shots.

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Looking at these photos and looking down at the one-month-old baby asleep on my lap as I write this, I still can’t get over the fact that she’s here – she really is here. I’m so struck, thinking of all of my children, that I did nothing to deserve so much love and beauty in my life. I just hope I’m making the most of this fleeting time when they are so small.

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PS: Talitha and Ophelia are wearing dresses from Piccalilly that I bought specially for this shoot. I think I’m going to keep offering them matching outfits as long as they’ll let me!


First month with Delilah

It’s crazy to think Delilah has been here four weeks already. A month. A month with three children. A month as a family of five. It’s strange to think that a tiny person who mainly sleeps, feeds and excretes has taken up so much space in our lives.

Talitha and Ophelia are besotted with her. I wondered if their interest in her would wane but it hasn’t and, thinking about it, it never did between them either. They continue to be in love with each other, always wanting to know where the other is and what the other is doing. Now with Delilah here, they both come looking for her first thing in the morning, arguing over who gets to lie next to her “to see her eyes”. Ophelia keeps asking “Where Lilah?” and “Is she awake?” followed by “I want hold her”. Talitha’s refrains are “Delilah’s so tiny!” and “She’s such a beautiful baby!”

Third time around, the baby thing is so familiar, it’s thoroughly enjoyable. Changing her, burping her, dressing her, slinging her, holding her one handed while doing all sorts – it’s all practically muscle memory. We’re confident we won’t break her.

There’s also no worrying about whether we’re doing the “right” thing. I mused to Laurence about this last night as he sat in the arm chair holding a sleeping baby while watching The Olympics. With Talitha we might have spent the evening making many attempts to put her in the Moses basket. Putting Delilah down hadn’t even occurred to him as an option. He was quite enjoying a cuddle.

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The new challenge is learning how to parent the older children with a newborn. This struggle is mostly mine. I’m the only one who’ll ever have all three on my own at least for the next few months.

I’m also the one who has grown and birthed a baby and now has all her instincts pulled into this tiny, needy human being. It’s easy to feel that the older ones are just too hectic, that they’re crowding us and to feel a bit out of control. I have to consciously keep reminding myself that my older ones are very little still; they still need much from me. At two and a half, Ophelia won’t let me forget that, often asking to be picked up or to be cuddled in bed at times when I can’t. Talitha is a lot more independent at five years old, and willing to go with the flow as is her personality, but I’m aware that she needs more than she’ll demand.

We’ve tried to make time for me to be with each of the girls individually, either with Delilah or on my own if Laurence is around to hold her. That’s done masses both to help me recalibrate and to give the girls the reconnection they need. I’ve found in these times that Talitha gets more affectionate than she normally would, cuddling, kissing and saying the sweetest things. Ophelia melts into me. Both drink up the attention.

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I’d thought that I might be tandem breastfeeding again and I had massively mixed feelings about the possibility. Las time, breastfeeding a toddler and new baby simultaneously built up my milk supply quickly while helping me avoid any engorgement. It kept the connection between me and my first born strong and I credited it with helping us avoid jealousy or feelings or rejection.

Still, it was hard work. I struggled to help her wait her turn when I found it too difficult to nurse them together. My breastfeeding aversion never completely went away though I felt fine breastfeeding the baby. When she finally weaned about a year and a half later, I felt sad but ready.

This time, I was willing to wait and see what would happen. Ophelia readily accepted that the baby would have my milk. She needed no explanation. She also did not ask to nurse. She told me that “muh” was for the baby. For a long time she didn’t breastfeed and I wondered if that was the end of it. I knew it would be easier in some ways to just breastfeed Delilah but I didn’t want to withhold something my toddler might still need. Two-and-a-half is on young in the natural weaning age range. “Don’t offer, don’t refuse” is weaning strategy so I knew that by not offering, I was weaning her. I felt conflicted both ways.

In the end, she did ask again. In the past month, she has nursed a handful of times. I don’t feel I can call it breastfeeding as she just puts her mouth to the breast but doesn’t really latch. In a few moments, she is done. She is weaning. I have to trust that she is ready. I have to trust that I will meet her need for attachment in other ways now that she is moving on.

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Breastfeeding Delilah has been its own experience. I haven’t worried like I did with the others. With Talitha, everything was new and so much was a battle. With Ophelia, I worried that I’d once again end up not making enough milk and having to fight to breastfeed her. With Delilah, I’ve known that it would be OK. Still, I had to work to help her latch correctly and she’s only just started waking up on her own for feeds. I also dealt with a bout of mastitis a couple of weeks ago.

When I was pregnant, friends asked if I was looking forward to breastfeeding and babywearing a newborn again. To be honest, I’d forgot what it was like. Once I’d adjusted to the news that we were having a third child, I mostly focused on the idea of having just that, a third child. I hadn’t really thought that much about what having another baby would be like. I feel like I’ve spent most of this month drinking in her baby smell, delighting in the light weight of her, staring at her sleeping face and playing with her tiny toes.

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How could I have forgot any of this? And how can someone we’ve known so briefly seem like she’s always been a part of our family?

PS: The TotsBots nappy Delilah wearing is the Annabella Floral Easyfit Star, a special edition print by Joules. It’s a handy one-piece nappy system and so far, no leaks. It was sent to us by TotsBots – a pretty addition to our nappy stash.


Valuing what you do

While Laurence and I both do paid work, there’s no question mark attached to the fact that he is the main earner and I am the primary caregiver. It’s a set up we discussed and chose together when Talitha was a baby and, for the most part, it works well for us. If one of us is at times disgruntled with our earning mismatch, it’s always me. I’ve come to realise that that’s partly because I don’t always value what I do.

I found it amusing, then, to take SunLife’s ‘Mum Salary’ quiz. Apparently my mum salary works out to £75,545! It calculates your salary based on average salaries from occupations that mothers’ jobs are most like.

It’s meant to be a lighthearted bit of fun. After all, many of the jobs they mention are probably taken on by fathers in many households, especially where mothers also work outside the home. However, it drives home the serious point that mothers should consider life insurance too. We may not bring home a paycheck but our work does determine the family’s finances.

I was surprised three years ago when we were buying a house when our financial advisor recommended that I purchase life insurance. Earning only a small fraction of what Laurence does, I felt that, financially at least, he’d be fine should the worst happen but of course I do make a contribution even if I don’t get paid for it. From that perspective, it’s interesting to see what this quiz throws up.

Of course, there are bigger questions to ask around why we value work based on payment and, beyond that, why we reduce people to figures. Those are questions for another day. In the meantime, have look at the quiz and see what you think.

Brought to you by SunLife


Ten ideas for solving summertime bedtime battles

It seems that a lot of people are struggling with getting the kids the bed at a decent hour now that the summer is here. I won’t at all pretend we’ve cracked it. Some nights are a dream and others are a lot more challenging. I thought I’d pool together a few thoughts on what’s been working for us as well as suggestions from other families. Please do chip in with your own (and leave behind anything listed here that’s not helpful).

1. Declutter
We’re all impacted by the environment we sleep in and kids are no different. Could it be time for a teddy cull? Is the bookcase overflowing? A bit of decluttering may make for easier settling in the evenings. It may not be possible to ban toys from the bedroom, especially if the room makes for prime storage space but even reorganising how things are laid out can help.

2. Blackout blinds
Is the room dark enough? The evenings are confusingly bright at the moment. It could be worth considering black out blinds or curtains to help children wind down.

3. Earlier bedtime
It may sound counter intuitive but sometimes going to bed earlier can make for faster bedtime routines, later waking up times and even better quality sleep. This is certainly true for my two-year-old. I think, realistically, a ridiculously early bedtime of 6.30 or even 6pm suits her perfectly, though that’s often not achievable for us. At the very least, starting bedtime early can mean we finish it around the time we originally wanted to so I’m not stumbling downstairs at 9pm, frustrated that I don’t have much of the evening left to do my own thing.

4. Later bedtime
And now I’m going to suggest the opposite! I know a lot of families who opt to let their kids stay up until they naturally want to go to sleep and they find this works well for them. They avoid bedtime battles and the kids sleep in later. Obviously, this only works if you don’t have commitments the next morning and it could mean swapping your adult-only evenings for adult-only early mornings.

5. Cool down
With the warmer weather at the moment, could your kids actually be feeling the heat when they’re trying to unwind? Children’s rooms are often the smallest in the house and therefore most likely to trap warmth. Cooler pyjamas, opening windows, lightweight bedding and even a fan could sort that out.

6. Essential oils
Some people swear by a drop or two of lavender in a bath or a chamomile spray in the bedroom before bedtime.

7. Exercise
Are the kids getting some time to run off some steam earlier in the day? Extra points for physical activity taken in the outdoors.

8. Light
Is it too light? Too dark? Could switching from a blue night light to a red one help your littles? It might be worth playing around with this a bit to see what works best for them.

9. Staggering bedtimes
If you have more than one child, putting them to bed together can make for dreamy synchronisation. Other times, they may just keep each other up. We find this is sometimes the case here. Five-year-old Talitha might be keen to go to sleep while her two-year-old sister is anything but. They share a room so it can be tricky. We’ve been considering letting Talitha stay up while we put Ophelia to sleep and giving her a lamp to read by until we can be free to tuck her in.

10. Accepting that this too shall pass
Sometimes, nothing works and the only way around a battle is not to play your part in one. Blink and things will change. The Summer solstice is almost here and, without wishing the summer away, you can hold on to the fact that Autumn and earlier nights are on their way.

Over to you, do you have any ideas to add?


Now she is five

Somehow my first baby turned five last weekend. Like, she was this tiny newborn I was learning to breastfeed and then – suddenly! – she became this CHILD with all these ideas and opinions.

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As I’ve mentioned before, Talitha is currently obsessed with dinosaurs so it was no surprise when she requested a dinosaur party for her birthday. Her favourite is triceratops so we asked Cakes by Rachel Clare to put one on top of her cake. Can we just take a moment over this cake, though? How amazing is it?!

I always find baking a cake the most stressful part of organising a party so opted to buy one this year and it’s practically a work of art! Rachel even made it gluten-free and with goat’s butter. Inside was the lushest chocolate cake too.

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I was pretty nervous about throwing her a party this year as I knew I’d be bang on 35 weeks pregnant. A friend pointed out the power of the number five for our family that weekend: first child turning five, five weeks until the baby who’ll make us a family of five is estimated to be due.

Talitha's 5th birthday

So we made things really low key by only inviting a few friends and having a ready made craft. I got these dinosaur moneybox painting sets from Hobbycraft for a mere £1.50 a pop and they seemed a hit.

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We also played musical dinosaur statues, got the karaoke machine out, had a picnic on the kitchen floor (it was raining outside) and played pass the parcel.

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With the party over, we went to lunch with family and the weekend was made extra special by having cousins stay the night. I must admit, it’s taken some time to recover from it all but I’m so glad we said yes to a small party this year.

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Every year feels like such a big change but five really does feel it. I’ve seen such a leap in the way she reasons and works things out and even in the way she argues with me. I won’t pretend I’m always thrilled with that last bit but it’s fascinating and healthy all the same.

I love getting to know her and look forward to seeing what this next year is going to bring her in terms of growing, changing and finding her place as the eldest of three children.


Dinosaurs, Jelly shoes and a Chimenea #LittleLoves

I’ve overdone it a bit this week so it’s nice clearing the day’s plans and just having some chill time at home with not a whole lot on our list. The upside of feeling a bit wrecked (and stiff) now is that we’ve had a productive, fun week bar one day when none of us had slept well the night before and we were all feeding off each other’s grumpiness.

While the kids are with their childminder, I’m sneaking in a quick #littleloves post and gearing up to enjoy the weekend. Laurence is back from London late tonight, off again on Monday then back for good (hopefully!) on Wednesday night.

Read

OK, no novels for me this week. I know – boring! I’m really digging into re-reading Lori Pickert’s Project-based homeschooling – mentoring self-directed learners. It offers a refreshing look at how kids meaningfully learn and how we can come alongside them and partner with them in taking their interests further. There’s lots in there that could be interesting for parents whether their kids are home educated, in school or are preschool age.

Funnily enough, I originally bought this book on Kindle and have since bought it again as a paperback. Did you read this week that we’re all shifting away from e-readers and back to good old print? This has been true for me for a while. I can read novels on Kindle but not much else. Even then, I’d rather a “real” book.

Watched

I’m all up to date on Vikings now and waiting for the series break to be over, which I’m actually slightly deflated about. It’s at the point where I can’t be bothered to look for anything else to watch in the meantime. If we were having a baby boy, I’d be so tempted to name him Ragnar Jarrett-Kerr (our last name is pronounced “car”).

I’ve managed not to watch the latest series of Game of Thrones because the last one annoyed me so much by subsituting story with sensationalism that I don’t know if I want to get sucked in again. This may just mean a binge viewing at some stage, though. Or I might ignore it altogether and start reading the George R.R. Martin books as I hear he’s taking the story in a different direction.

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Made

OK, a bit of cheat because I’ve been really lazy and haven’t been taking up my crochet for the past couple of weeks but Talitha and I made these dinosaur invitations for her birthday party. I bought her a set of dinosaur activity books from Usborne (my friend is a seller and happy to post) and she wanted to do the card craft since she’s having a dinosaur party.

I kind of imagined we’d make one or two here and there but she insisted on finishing them all in a day. She has a real thing at the moment about finishing tasks rather than doing a bit at a time.

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Wore
Having loved and lived in our Sunjellies last year, I figured we’d get them again this year. I got a new pair too as my navy ones from last year feel a bit boring. They’re wonderfully comfortable so I figure they’ll work well with any last trimester summer time swelling. The girls chose their colours which made their arrival even more exciting.

Talitha tried to coax Ophelia into buying matching pink ones but I love that Ophelia was insistent that she’d get what she wanted to get.

Heard
OK, I’d love to say that I’m listening to something really current and cool but actually, the soundtrack of my week has been worship music from a few years ago. I hadn’t listened to much of that recently, partly because I’ve been feeling strange about God and my faith lately. I’ve had a lot of time to do some soul searching with Laurence being away and realised that a lot of what’s been up with me has been about things going on in my life and my head that have been easier to ignore than address.

So along with enjoying Hillsong Worship, I’ve been experiencing a welcome softening and renewal. There is so much I’m still feeling uncertain and off balance about but I don’t feel worried about allowing that to be laid bare.

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And lastly…
Now that it’s getting a bit warmer, we’re enjoying being out in our garden a lot more. Debenhams sent us this clay chimenea, which is giving us even more reason to stay outside, well into the night. We had friends over last weekend and we all enjoyed sitting around the chimenea, chatting with drinks in hand, surprised by how effective it is and how comfortable we were.

I’m hoping to get lots of use out of it over the summer, sitting out there with Laurence after we’ve put the kids to bed, away from the distractions that being in the house often throws up.

Debenhams sent me the chimenea in exchange for this review.

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On turning 30, milestones and success

My 30th birthday was last Thursday and I doubt it’ll come as a surprise that I had mixed feelings about this milestone. I know how ridiculous that may sound to those who’ve already been here, done that and know it’s not suddenly a big shift from being 29. It’s even less so for me because I didn’t have a “typical” twenties, not least because I got married at 23 and had Talitha two years later.

On turning 30

If anything, this birthday has hugely reminded me that there is no one path we all have to take, no one route that’s ultimately successful. I look around at other friends turning 30 this year or next or recently and we are all in such different places, doing different things.

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I think the main reason I’ve struggled with thirty is that there were things I thought I would have done by now. I thought I would have written a book for example – or something longer form anyway. Now that I’m here, I think it’s ridiculous that I had an unspoken cut off point for that. I know it will still happen. I also know I don’t have the mental space to offer a project like that right now and that that’s OK. I’m doing other things I didn’t expect to be doing and who knows where they’ll lead?

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My 30th was spent walking around National Trust property Stourhead with my little family. I was surprised at how well the kids and I managed getting around. I look at them and am reminded that motherhood has profoundly affected the way I view my life and the way I measure success.

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So much of parenting involves just getting through the day. Especially when babies are tiny and incredibly vulnerable, you get down to the bare bones of what’s necessary; anything outside of that will just have to wait. As they get older, coping with their changing needs and your own can be, as a mum friend of mine put it, an intense form of therapy. It’s an opportunity to change, to go deeper, to grow. Success is in the little things, it’s not a final destination.