Pregnancy

30 weeks pregnant – update

I think I knew my chances of blogging were low during September and October.

They say your second trimester is the time to feel radiant, enjoy your pregnancy and crack on with getting everything ready for baby’s arrival. So it proved.

Plus for me, working full-time in a pretty full-on job, September means only one thing: weeks away from home at the big trade fairs for my industry.

Doing the fairs pregnant was interesting. You learn how much you rely on the crutch of a glass of warm white wine to make being away from home and talking shop from 8am to 10pm bearable. I ended up wearing my TfL baby on board badge to guarantee a seat at seminars and presentations (worked a treat). My lovely missus (who can work from anywhere) based herself from my hotel room for a few days to make things more manageable (and, I think, reassure herself that I wasn’t overdoing it). And because you have to have fun even when pregnant, I joined my team for a karaoke session – though sober karaoke is a thing of horror!

The other big change from early September is how much stuff we have got for little one now. The most exciting purchase was wheels for me – I now am the proud owner of an electric blue Ford Kuga, just right to transport little one when they arrive. Yes, we live in zone one and now have two big cars. But no way am I driving my missus’ Mercedes SUV (I would live in fear of scratching it), and carless life with a baby when the missus is away for work is impractical.

We now also have:

  • An all-black iCandy Orange with pram and seat
  • A Maxi-Cosi Pebble Plus car seat and two isofix bases
  • A Snuzpod crib to go next to our bed
  • A Mothercare cot and changing table
  • A baby bouncer
  • A changing bag and mat

And of course mountains of new and new-to-us clothes, blankets, cuddly toys, plus a skyscraper of nappies and wipes.

Key item still to get is a Sleepyhead Deluxe – I’m holding out til Black Friday to grab that.

Over the past few weeks we’ve cleared out our wardrobes and all the junk we’d accumulated in our spare room, and moved lots into storage to make room for our little one and their kit. And we’ve had workmen in to finish off a few jobs around the flat.

So finally we’re nearly ready. All we need to do now is get all the furniture up and into the spare room, and make it nice for our little pea. Oh, and pack a hospital bag (I’ll share my list in another post). And complete the Positive Birth Company’s hypnobirthing digital course. And do our NCT class (starts this Thursday – I’ll report back). And of course somehow get through Christmas…

Medical care over the past few months has felt pretty hands-off (not that I am complaining – far better that than having things go wrong). I had my third midwife appointment three weeks ago, and I have another this week. Everything looks fine.

I had my gestational diabetes test last Friday – people had told me horror stories about throwing up partway through after the glucose drink, but if I’m honest I was more bothered by sitting on a hard waiting room chair for two hours. Hoping I don’t have it – I just have to get through tomorrow with no call and I’m out of the woods.

At 30 weeks I am pretty big, and the bump is nicely round. I absolutely love my shape (bump and D-cup boobs!) and am taking advantage by wearing tight dresses and tops that I would never wear usually. Not caring about your tummy sticking out is a huge perk of pregnancy – I’ll miss this when it’s gone. Anxiety about being and looking fat has been a constant in my adult life – to have several months off dieting and worrying about whether I look nice has been a joy. My skin and hair is gorgeous – I am one of those lucky women who genuinely is blooming.

Physically, I have very few symptoms – and yes, I know I’m lucky. I have a spot of heartburn, a little backache, tiredness when I overdo things – and nothing more.

The only other pregnancy symptom of note has been tears – I have always cried when very angry and frustrated, and anything now can make me cry. The mere suggestion that my missus might leave me alone for a moment during labour (the subject of an unfortunate joke at a recent family dinner) sees my throat constricting and my eyes prickling. Tough work conversations have also led to tears, which is embarrassing in the extreme.

One of my big helps has been joining a Facebook group of women all due to give birth in early 2019. Several hundred women, all from the UK, all going through the same sort of things at the same time. Incredibly useful about everything from symptoms of pre-eclampsia, what to put in a hospital bag, questions to ask your midwife and dilemmas around feeding.

Not so welcome has been the continual warfare about vaccinations – I hadn’t realised that the anti-vaxxers were still so numerous. I don’t argue – just state that I will be vaccinating myself and my little one. A lifetime in comms has taught me that presenting evidence doesn’t change minds, nor does guilt-tripping people, but emotional appeals can do, and knowing that “mums like us” are getting their kids jabbed can help normalise it. So I try to add that to conversations. Some of the mums have tried to make the conversation about education and (thinly-veiled) class, which is about as helpful as you can imagine. I wish there were easily available best practice about how to promote vaccinations – if anyone sees any research evidence on communicating pro-vax messaging I’d love to read it. All I can find is some of the nudge theory stuff, which is sensible and effective – it’s all about booking the post-natal jab appointments immediately following birth, so it’s just the next thing you do.

I am always interested in the domestic tales of the women in the group too. Lots have lovely male partners, but some have men that sound so uncaring and careless of their pregnant girlfriend’s feelings. I know I’m only hearing one side of the story, but straight couples always make me so glad of coming home to my missus. She’s just fab – ordering me pregnancy pillows, surprising me with new dresses, totally involved in every bit of this pregnancy.

Another thing I find hard about the Facebook group is how many expectant mums are having a hard time. I have shared housing and domestic violence info and helplines, advised people to join a union more times than I can count, and even shared the Samaritans helpline number. And as for some of the financial situations the girls on the group find themselves in… nothing makes me hate this government’s austerity more than thinking of the support they should have had, the SureStarts that should have been there to help them, the maternity grant they should have got to pay for stuff, the breastfeeding groups that have lost their funding, the childcare offer that surely would have been near-universal by now, if Labour hadn’t lost in 2010. Instead I am sharing the contact details for foodbanks and baby banks – neither of which should exist in the fifth richest country in the world.

You can tell from the political rant that I still feel like me, most of the time. We went on holiday to the Canarian sunshine in early November, at 27/28 weeks, and I read, ate out, napped and swam – and we partied pretty hard too. Turns out as long as I have a chair to sit on in the bar, no alarm clock in the morning and a nap mid-afternoon, this pregnant mama still loves to dance in high heels!

Plus I got 11 books read on holiday, taking my year’s total to 91. I am going to hit the target of 100 in 2018 – and then will junk any and all reading targets for 2019 (though I have invested in Audible to keep some reading going!)

At work, things are progressing nicely. We appointed my cover (and I was pleased both that there were lots of great external applicants, and that one of my team beat them all to get appointed – that’s what you want, to run a team where people can develop and progress).

Back in August I wrote my objectives for the period before my maternity leave, and I’m well on the way to getting them done. I’ll share them here in case it helps others (obviously this doesn’t include responding to all the shit that just comes up, which I still do, but writing objectives does help me focus on what I want to get done, and I would recommend the practice to anyone, especially if you are senior and self-managing):

  • Complete the 2018 annual review and set 2019 objectives for each member of my team (2 months ahead of schedule, so my cover doesn’t have to do this in his first few weeks)
  • Complete annual budgeting round for team
  • Complete team plan and KPIs for 2019
  • Sort out some nagging personnel issues (get some short-term contracts extended, sort grades, reporting lines etc)
  • Negotiate a way forward for a project that will end while I am on maternity leave
  • Appoint a cover post plus backfill for my cover’s substantive post
  • Write a full handover for my cover, and draft his objectives to agree with our CEO
  • Sail like a swan through it all!

I finish on 21 December, and I’m off til 1 August 2019. Maternity leave will be a total break from work and from work things – my first in 18 years working full time. If holidays are any guide, I’ll worry dreadfully about getting everything done as I prepare to leave, and then leave it all behind me as soon as I’m out of the door.

I can’t say I’m not worried about going back, but I have set everything up as well as I can, and I trust my team to make good decisions. Everyone I’ve spoken to says that by about 6 months in, you’re ready to be your work self as well as Mama again – I hope that’s true! We’ll find out in August 2019.

So there we are. 30 weeks pregnant, sailing through as the weeks sail by. Looking forward to meeting our little one in the new year.

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books

What I read in August

Front cover of Kindred by Octavia Butler
Kindred by Octavia Butler

Unlike July, August was a great month for reading – my TBR list took a battering. Eight books, six by women. One BAME author, six Americans (so much for seeking diversity in my reading). My bullet journal tells me I have read 69 books so far in 2018 – well on my way to my goal of 100 books this year.

First up was After You by Jojo Moyes. Me Before You made me sob as Will and Louisa’s story came to its awful conclusion, even as the activist in me raged against the decision to show a disabled person (note, not a terminally ill person) opting for assisted dying. I don’t support assisted dying – I think it will be used to undermine the rights of disabled people to dignity, a sufficient income and care, and a full life for as long as they live. Still, Me Before You was an emotional portrait of a dilemma we all hope will never affect our families.

Despite my interest in the plot, I found Louisa infuriating from the start: there was no clue as to why she had decided to “settle” in so many areas of her life – in her relationship, in her cafe job. But I knew I wanted to see how her story unfolded after Will. After You packed nowhere near the emotional punch of Me Before You, and I found few of the relationships as compelling as Louisa and Will. But by the end, with everything in me, I wanted Louisa to stop settling and take a decision that wasn’t about her family nor about a man,  – and she did. I’ll probably read Still Me at some point.

Next was White Houses by Amy Bloom. A lesbian relationship, in the White House, set during one of my favourite presidencies (FDR), about the amazing feminist pioneer Eleanor Roosevelt? It should have ticked every box. Sadly, I didn’t love this anywhere near as much as I had hoped – the timeline jumps repeatedly, and the narrative thread didn’t take root for me. I am sure others would love this, though.

My third book was The Martian. My nephew was shocked that I hadn’t seen the film – but I’d never heard of it. Mark Watney, an astronaut, is left behind on Mars, and must survive alone hoping for a rescue. I enjoyed this a lot – Mark’s ingenuity was fascinating, though I couldn’t stand his puerile sense of humour and wasn’t sure I liked him all that much.

Next I read Vox by Christina Dalcher. This sounded like squarely the sort of book I would like: a dystopian novel, with themes about the oppression of women. After a regime change, women in a near-future USA can utter just 100 words a day on pain of electric shock torture. Its debt to Margaret Atwood was clear. But unlike The Handmaid’s Tale, we spent nowhere near enough time with the interesting premise, exploring how women’s life changes, how female-male relations change, how the society deals with persistent transgressors, how men rationalise the changes. Instead it degraded fast into an action movie, sacrificing character and situation. I was really disappointed. I felt similarly about this to Naomi Alderton’s The Power, where women suddenly gain overwhelming physical strength, and a patriarchal society upends: there is a better book to be written set in this society.

Book five for August was The City of Lies by Michael Russell. I read most of the Stefan Gillespie crime thrillers, as 1930s/1940s Republic of Ireland is not a place I know well. This wasn’t an outstanding addition to the series, but it was fine.

My sixth read was And Again, by Jessica Chiarella. This was another book with an intriguing premise: what if you could take terminally-ill or multiply-disabled people, and move their minds to a healthy, newly-cloned version of their discarded bodies? Thankfully here the bodies were grown fresh, rather than being the property of sentient people who’d grown up in them (as in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go). The misadventures of the four beneficiaries of the new bodies were diverting, but the questions raised were much more profound. What part of “me” is my body, as opposed to my mind? How much can you rely on the people around you? How do you avoid the mistakes of the past, given a fresh chance?

Book seven was my standout of this month: Octavia Butler’s masterpiece, Kindred. Why had I never read any Octavia Butler before? Go, read this now! Dana is a young African-American woman living in California in the late seventies – when she is suddenly transported to a Maryland plantation in the early 19th century. The time travel is why this is mislabelled as science-fiction – yet the mechanics and reasons for the switch of time and place are not the focus of the book at all, as it would be in sci-fi. Imagine the attitudes, freedoms and assumptions of a black woman of the late twentieth century, still intact but suddenly transplanted to a slave-owning household. The characters are exquisitely drawn, the story moves apace, and, at times, the cruelty of events on the page leave you catching your breath.

This book will stay in your mind for a long time. Everyone should read it – but especially those who, like me, are consciously trying to increase their reading about social justice issues such as the legacy of slavery, and their reading by non-white authors.

My eighth and final book of the month was as different as can be: Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. It’s a YA fantasy novel set in a merchant city ruled by a magical and mercantile oligarchy and with a thriving underclass. I read this as a result of a blog recommendation from Emily at Yes Whale.

I needed a palate cleanser after Kindred, and wanted something fun. It’s a heist book: an unlikely gang gather for the biggest job ever, encounter trials, the group storms then norms, nothing quite goes according to plan, in the end they pull it off to some degree, and along the way build an unbreakable bond. So far, so obvious – though still fun. What I enjoyed about this most was the multi-racial, diverse sexuality cast, and the non-stereotypical role of the women. Bizarrely the characters were all suggested to be teenagers (maybe in a nod to the youth audience?) but the complexity of many of their experiences and their interactions with one another suggested a more advanced age. In any case; definitely worth a read.

So there we are: August’s reading. A better month of conscious picks, even if not all of them lived up to the billing. I’m off to add more Octavia Butler to my TBR list.

What have you been reading? Have you read Kindred? What other books or authors do you wish you had encountered earlier in your reading life?

 

Fitness · Pregnancy

18 weeks pregnant, French holidays and prenatal fitness

A view from the terrace in France
My view as I type…

So I’m writing this on 18+2, sat on the terrace of our beautiful French holiday home, looking out over the countryside. It’s August bank holiday Monday, and I’ve so far managed to eat my bodyweight in (hard) cheese and boulangerie bread, and enjoy a small glass of champagne. Plus I’ve had three nights of 9+ hours’ sleep, and swum in our pool every day.

This last got me to thinking about pregnancy fitness – which is one of the biggest changes in my lifestyle.

Before I was pregnant I ran four miles to work, three or four times a week. I wasn’t an athlete – I like my food too much, and was a solid size 14. My fastest mile ever is 7.20, and my usual commuting mile speed with daypack was nearer 9/9.30 minutes per mile. Alongside runnning, I did a spin class or equivalent on Saturday and Sunday, plus some strength training when I had time.

Exercise was a big part of my life. It kept me fit and improved my mood. I loved the smug feeling of exercising between 7am and 7.45am, plus skipping a sweaty Tube commute. I’d shower at work, buy breakfast and be dressed, made-up and at my desk for 8.15am, ready to face the day.

So when I got pregnant, one of the things I was dreading was losing my exercise routine – and adding a public transport commute.

The enforced sedentary lifestyle of the two week wait to test after transfer was a trial. I went for long walks to try to stay active, and chafed at the restrictions.

As the first trimester wore on, I started to look at options for pregnant women. Although the advice is that running is safe, if you take it slowly, I was terrified of falling over and doing some damage to our precious IVF baby, so running was out. Ditto anything that raised my heart rate too high – so I passed on the spin classes too. And yoga, which was an occasional treat pre-pregnancy, was off the list too because of the twisting, lying on your back and head down positions.

My research showed me a couple of options: swimming, aqua aerobics, pregnancy yoga, pregnancy pilates and the odd specialist pregnancy class.

Early on I found a brilliant aqua aerobics class at my local council leisure centre. It’s two nights a week after work, and has slotted beautifully into my life. Plus it’s only £8 per session! I think I felt snobbish about aqua before I went, thinking it would be too easy and not enough like exercise. And it’s true that it’s gentler on you because of the water resistance – but I know that I’m working hard, and sometimes I even get the muscle ache of a real workout. Plus I love the vibe of a pool of women badly synchronised trying to follow the instructor, splashing one another and falling over. All you can do is giggle – there is a lot of laughter in our classes! And given my bit of London is about as diverse as it comes, I like that the class reflects my city – in diversity, in age, in size and shape.

I’m not the only pregnant mama, and as it starts to show more I’m getting lots of supportive comments. The only adaptation I need at aqua is not to do twisting movements, and not to enter the water too quickly – and as the instructor says, I can always substitute anything I feel uncomfortable with doing for more underwater jumping jacks, as fast or slow as I like!

At least twice per week I swim lengths – breaststroke and backstroke, as my technique is too poor to do front crawl. My minimum session is 30 minutes, but I’d rather do an hour, as long as my trusty i360 underwater MP3 player is churning out my favourite podcasts. I generally do 40-60 lengths, though 60 is becoming more tricky as I tire more easily. I don’t rest between lengths, and just keep going. I think I am a convert to swimming! And here on holiday, with the pool just outside my bedroom, I can easily do 30 minutes every day.

Over the past few weeks I have tried a few pregnancy yoga classes. The instructor at my first class asked if I’d done yoga before I was pregnant, and when I said yes, a little, her face fell. Pregnancy yoga really isn’t like anything you did before you were pregnant, she said – I shouldn’t expect the burn of holding a testing position, and the feeling of strength as I completed it. And she was right: pregnancy yoga is a stretching, breathing and relaxation class. Apparently it’s great preparation for labour. I enjoyed the class, but went off for a swim afterwards.

The second class I attended put me off because the instructor got us to chant – I felt ridiculous, especially as the belief system that goes along with yoga isn’t something I share. So I’m looking for a pregnancy yoga class that’s convenient for me to get to weekly and not too mystical. There’s one near me on a Monday night that I might try out next – hopefully third time lucky. But it’s most definitely not exercise!

I haven’t done pregnancy pilates or barre yet, though I am hoping to try. And I am intrigued by some of the pre-natal exercise classes like Mumhood’s Bumps at Frame, one of those posh boutique gym chains.

What exercise are you doing during your pregnancy? Have you tried any of the prenatal classes?

books

My favourite books

A little free library
A little free library I came across recently. Look carefully, amongst the dross is a Henning Mankell and a CJ Sansom…

So, my last books post went down really well, so I wanted to write a bit more about my reading life, and what I like.

It’s quite anal, but I keep a note of all of my books in my bullet journal. I mainly read on Kindle or on the Kindle app for iPhone.

My book recommendations usually come from What Should I Read Next. I recently started listening to What Page Are You On? I buy too many books from the Kindle Daily Deal.

I read lots – 101 last year. It’s mainly fiction as I read to relax, but there’s a fair representation of non-fiction too. I have to resist the temptation to retreat into non-fiction because it’s so tempting to search by topic for something to read. Fiction doesn’t work like that – but it’s ultimately more rewarding and more relaxing.

When it comes to fiction, I want to read books set in an unfamiliar place or time or in a fantasy society. Books are how I learn about experiences that aren’t my own. Having said that, I love a book set in the London I live in.

I always prefer stories where something happens. My most-loved books are plot and narrative-driven – and I’m not about the journey or about the character study. I always want a protagonist I can root for, no matter how imperfect. Innovation in style or technique is not my bag. I don’t read for aesthetic appreciation of a beautiful prose style.

Like Goldilocks, a book should be just right. Not too highbrow (I read some prizewinners, but not many) – but not too lowbrow. I’m (probably unfairly) snobby about Kindle First and self-published books. Genre books aren’t really my thing – I don’t read Westerns or romance, though I’m happy to read some sci-fi, fantasy and mysteries. I tend not to read long series (with exceptions, of course – I have read all the Bernie Gunther books, and all of Harry Potter). I read less lesbian and gay literature than I did, because coming out isn’t the only drama we experience. I read some YA – usually because it’s easier to find diverse voices.

I’m looking forward to the new Strike later this year. I don’t watch Game of Thrones, I read it – and I’m so worried GRRM won’t complete the books. I love picking books for the teenagers in my life.

As I write today, my favourite books are:

  • American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfield. Not Laura Bush’s life, apparently.
  • A Little Life, by Hanya Yangihara. Not light, but ultimately worthwhile. On friendship.
  • Life after Life, by Kate Atkinson. There is brilliant life left in the time-travel-kill-Hitler trope.
  • Winter in Madrid, by CJ Sansom. The Spanish Civil War in colour and emotion.
  • The Siege, by Helen Dunmore. Love and life endure in Stalingrad.
  • Room, by Emma Donoghue. On the endlessness of a mother’s love for her son.
  • The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. Don’t just know Black Lives Matter, feel it.
  • Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee. Japan, Korea, one family, eighty years. You will live with them.
  • The City and the City, by China Mieville. Two parallel divided cities, murder, Cold War intrigue.

Seven women, two men. The list will be different if you ask tomorrow.

When it comes to non-fiction, I read popular social science, politics and history plus some biography.

In the last few years I have enjoyed (whilst wincing) Tim Shipman’s masterful accounts of the chaos of UK politics during and after the referendum, All-Out War and Fall-Out. I loved Ed Balls‘ and Harriet Harman’s autobiographies, and I learned so much that I should already have known from Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race and Black and British.

My best history book of the past few years was Citizen Clem, about the modest architect of our welfare state and NHS – and the most frightening (though flawed) was On Tyranny: twenty lessons from the twentieth century. I learned about how we come back from where we are now through New Power and How to Resist.

I’d love to hear your book recommendations! And do tell me what you love to read – and what you hate.

About me · Blog awards

Ask me anything: Sunshine Blogger Award

Sunshine Blogger Award logo

 

So I was rather surprised to be nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award not once but twice – by the lovely Multipotentialite and the brilliant Just Sophie.

About the Sunshine Blogger Award

The Sunshine Blogger Award is given by bloggers to fellow bloggers who inspire positivity and creativity in the blogging community.

Here are the rules:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog to this post
  2. Answer the eleven questions asked by your nominator
  3. Nominate eleven bloggers
  4. Ask them eleven questions, different to the ones you’ve answered
  5. List the rules
  6. Display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your post and blog site

How lovely to be asked to do something like this – twice over! – just a month after starting blogging.

Multipotentialite’s questions and my answers:

1. Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?

If I’m honest, pretty much where I am now. With the missus, in the same job (which I love). Two important things will have changed: our baby will be 4, and starting school, and maybe they’ll even have a little brother or sister. And hopefully we’ll have moved out of our city centre two-bed into a house with a garden.

2. What social stigma does society need to get over?

The stigma of poverty. Most people living on a low income are stuck because of how society works. How it pushes people into low income jobs that don’t pay enough to live on. How disabled people are excluded from education and employment. How we don’t help people recover from homelessness and mental illness. How the austerity of the last eight years has taken away all the structures that help people get themselves and their kids out of poverty – SureStart, libraries, tax credits, social rents, a well-funded NHS, well-funded schools, regeneration programmes, new social housebuilding.

The stigma of poverty is centered on an assumption of failure: that people who are poor are making no effort to get out of poverty. That their choices lead to poverty. That poverty is their fault. This is the stigma that society needs to get over. Instead we all need to think “there but for the grace of God go I“. Any of us could need welfare benefits, social housing, the NHS – and those things should be a springboard back into a decent standard of living.

3. What are your views on religion?

I think the UK has it more or less right on religion. I don’t like formal secularism policies – they lead to hijabi Muslim women being hounded, and Islamophobia and antisemitism going unrecorded and untackled. On the other hand, I couldn’t live in a religious state, as an out lesbian woman. I won’t change planes or visit Dubai for that reason. I like our British settlement – a formal state religion, but protection from discrimination for people of all faiths, and active promotion of diversity and multiculturalism. I enjoy breaking the fast during Eid with Muslim friends, and I know to say “Mazel Tov!” when Jewish friends announce their pregnancy.

4. What is your lucky number and why?

I win things with 7s and 13s in. No idea why.

5. Why did you start blogging?

I have run personal blogs four times in my life – 2004, 2011, 2013 and now 2018. In 2004, pre-social media, I wanted to join in the experiment of blogging about news and politics. There were very few of us blogging then, so with little effort I got a reasonable-sized readership and profile. That came into conflict with my developing career, though, so I closed it down in 2008. There’s no trace on the internet of this phase any longer.

In 2011, I wanted to join the wellness blogging movement. That lasted about six posts. In 2013, I moved to a new area, and started blogging about how it was changing. Again, that lasted about six posts. Both were anonymous.

In 2018, I felt the urge to write about being pregnant. I wanted to remember this time, to record it, so I could look back. I wanted to meet other mums and learn about this new phase in my life. So here I am. Thankfully I’m already past the six posts mark!

6. Name 3 things that bring you happiness in everyday life?

Food, books, cuddles (of the five love languages, my preference is always physical touch).

7. What genre of music do you enjoy?

I have two distinct music tastes formed by distinct phases of my life.

They say the music you listened to as a teenager is your music for life. I agree: for me the music of 1994-6 will never be bettered. My Desert Island Discs would include Pulp’s Different Class, Elastica, several Blur albums, Oasis. Classic Britpop and indie. Give me more guitars. Down with wispy John Lewis covers of classic rock songs.

In 1999 I came out. I lived in a one-gay-pub town at the time – so the music that shaped the next period of my life was Steps, Britney, S-Club 7. In short, what the gay boys who monopolised the jukebox listened to (and line danced to). I added to that the house and trance of the gay clubs in London we started to go to at the weekends.

My perfect track is probably a mash-up of Total Eclipse: Bonnie Tyler’s voice over layers and layers of Metallica style thrash guitar.

8. Do you think aliens exist?

The sheer mathematical improbability of there being no other sentient life in this or another universe suggests they do.

9. When do you blog? During the day or in the evenings?

No set time. I blog from my phone when I have a moment.

10. Can you play a musical instrument?

No.

11. Do you speak any other language than English? If yes, which language/s?

I learned four languages at school. But (what a criminal waste) now I speak none.

Multipotentialite also nominated By KianahAnna Alina, Exquisitely, Holly Robiin, Nada, Maya, Megan, Laur talks makeup and Alternatively speaking. Do head on over to their blogs to see their answers!

Just Sophie’s questions and my answers

1. What is your favourite month of the year and why?

September. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. There is a sense of new beginnings, of possibility, to September. I always want new clothes, a new bullet journal, a new handbag in September.

2. Who is the one person that could make you smile, even on the most down of days?

My lovely missus.

3. What is the best dream you have had that you can remember? 

I’m not sure I dream – I certainly can’t remember one!

4. What is your favourite food and why?

Korean raw beef bibimbap. It’s rice, vegetables and raw beef fillet served in a blisteringly hot stone bowl. You mix the ingredients together fast, with as much chilli sauce as you can take. The beef fillet cooks in the heat, and the rice sticks together in a golden crust where it touches the stone. I eat this all year round (there are a few good Korean places near my office) – but I have a tradition of eating it after late night Christmas shopping.

5. If you could live anywhere on the planet, where would you live? 

London. It’s the centre of my professional field and the place I want to bring my family up. It’s where I’m from – and where I sound like I’m from. It’s where my missus lives. It’s the world in one city. I love to travel but I’ll never move away for good.

6. If you could only take one thing onto a desert island with you, what would it be? 

My iPhone. Who knew these multi-functional handheld computers would become so indispensable to so much of our lives? My iPhone is where I read books, listen to the news, read newspapers, watch TV, listen to podcasts. It guides my exercise. It’s where I store my notes. It’s where I chat to friends. It’s where I hear about births, deaths and weddings. It’s where I argue politics. It’s where I blog.

I remember the first time someone told me they didn’t buy the newspapers for their morning commute – they read the newspapers on their phone on the bus. It must have been 2006-ish. I was astonished. If you’d asked me then what I would have wanted from a better mobile phone, I might have suggested a better camera, or better battery life on my Nokia. The genius of Steve Jobs is that he knew what I wanted – even when I didn’t. I couldn’t imagine life without my iPhone.

7. What are your favourite things to blog about?

My tags tell me it’s pregnancy, maternity clothes, podcasts and books.

8. Where was the last place that you travelled to?

A small Spanish resort just outside Marbella, for a decadent weekend in the sun.

9. What song makes you happy as soon as you listen to it?

Yes by McAlmont Butler. Click on the link now if you’ve never heard it – I defy you not to smile through happy tears at the beauty of it as David McAlmont hits the top note at 3.00.

10. What colour is your bedroom?

Grey on grey, like out whole flat.

11. How do you eat your jaffa cakes?

Ugh. Can I have something else please?

Just Sophie also nominated Lynette, Caledonian Kitty, Imogen, Amy Jane, Earth To Connie, Don’t Give A Jam, The Talking Blog, Nancy Mulligan, Laura and Dan’s Book Blog. Go to their blogs to see their answers!

My questions

So now I get to ask some questions of my own to others. Looking forward to seeing the answers!

  1. What sort of a feminist are you?
  2. What’s your top tip for a new blogger?
  3. Dogs or cats?
  4. How do you give back to others?
  5. What’s the thing that you love but lots of people hate?
  6. What are your top three books?
  7. What are you grateful for today?
  8. What song will be played at your funeral?
  9. Where would you like to go on a city break?
  10. If you could add one thing onto the school curriculum, what would it be?
  11. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

My nominations

And I’m nominating…

  1. BooBerrit
  2. Malou’s figments
  3. Kate’s Beauty Home
  4. Volcanology Liz
  5. Foundations and Fairytales
  6. Daedric Moms
  7. My life as a mummy
  8. Looking after your pennies
  9. Little hearts big love
  10. Soph Isobel
  11. Tattooed Mummy

Of course – there’s no obligation to do it if you don’t fancy it! And anyone else reading who would like to answer the questions, please do, and post a link in the comments. Looking forward to reading your answers!

beauty · Pregnancy · What's saving my life

14 weeks pregnant: what’s saving my life right now

Naturtint 9N Honey Blonde hair dyeWhere is the time going? I can’t believe that I’m 14 weeks pregnant (actually 15 weeks tomorrow).

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • At 14 weeks, you have a definite bump – and it has now crossed over into pregnancy not just fat in the eyes of the world. A man gave up his seat for me – without being asked! – on Monday.
  • I may be past the first trimester, but exhaustion is still a thing. We had friends staying Friday to Wednesday, went to bed later than usual each night, ate out lots, went to a show and sang karaoke. I was roadkill by the time they left. Must – slow – down.
  • Spicy food does not agree with me any longer. I went to one of the East End’s legendary Lahore grills earlier this week. It was so delicious that I broke all the rules and really did eat for two. And then I paid for it in the 48 hours after. I even had to take a day off work as it was so bad – not helped by checking the Food Standards Authority ratings to find the curry house had just one star for hygiene…
  • The lovely Eleanor Jasmin’s post on how she prepared for birth has got me thinking about the birth I want (yes, even though it’s still nearly six months away!) I hadn’t encountered hypno-birthing before, so I think I need to do some reading and try to understand my birth options.
  • More immediately, a friend asked if I’d thought about a maternity pillow yet. More things I need! Pregnancy does open up a whole new set of shopping opportunities, doesn’t it? The maternity pillows I’ve seen so far look dreamy – or they would if it wasn’t 30 degrees in London at the moment.
  • In more shopping news, my lovely missus – the savvy shopper – is ramping up the price comparisons on a new car for me, and the buggy we want. There are a surprising number of similarities between buying a car and a buggy – both very technical!
  • Listening to other mums’ experiences really helps – I’ve found a couple of new-to-me podcasts that are focused on pregnancy, birth and parenting, and am listening obsessively. My new favourites are Made by Mammas and Mum Talk. I am keeping a running note on my phone of things they talk about that I want to explore.

What’s saving my life this week? There is only one answer: Naturtint 9N Honey Blonde from Holland and Barrett.

I am naturally dark blonde with ashy undertones, which I hate. So for the past 20-odd years I’ve dyed my hair, topping it up with golden tones. When I started out, as a student, there was no way I could afford salon colour, so I just grew used to boxed self-dye jobs – and over the years I honed my technique til I could do it on autopilot.

I was loyal to Clairol’s Nice n’Easy 8G Honey Blonde for years. But then a chance recommendation from the brilliant Sali Hughes led to me to the wizards of ESalon. You send them some photos and your aspirations for your hair colour, and they send you your own bespoke dye in the post. And even better, it’s a subscription service so it always arrives just as the mousey roots start to get you down.

My last hair dye was the day before frozen embryo transfer, back in May. When I knew I was pregnant, I suspended my ESalon subscription til 2019, and started to contemplate life with roots.

Three months later, I had two inches of dark blonde roots to cover daily, with the help of Back2Blonde and Baptiste’s Brilliant Blonde dry shampoo. My hair turned into an immovable helmet, sprayed solid, so as to hold the camouflage.

I’d been reading about safe hair dyes throughout my pregnancy – and was reassured that the NHS deems it safe. But I was determined to make it to my second trimester without succumbing.

With 14 weeks safely under my (expanding) belt, this week I finally popped in to Holland & Barrett for their super-safe no nasties Naturtint permanent dye. I was just hoping for good enough – something to cover my roots and see me through til after the birth.

9N looked like the one for me, and the contents of the box were reassuringly familiar when I opened it. It smelled inoffensive, and felt fine on my scalp.

The end result was a gorgeous baby blonde with golden threads, not too light, with no visible roots and high shine. I was delighted!

So: there you have it. A pregnancy-safe hair dye with no nasties that gives as good a result as a mainstream and high end home brands.

What did you do about your hair when pregnant? Did you just dye as usual, or change your routine?

books

What I read in July

How to Build a Girl front cover
tl;dr – my favourite book of the month

July was an okay reading month. I read six books – three non-fiction and three fiction, which is a slightly higher ratio of non-fiction than usual. Four by women, two by men. Three BAME writers (though none of these were British), three white.

July’s reading haul takes me well on the way to my target of 100 books for 2018. My bullet journal tells me I have read 61 books since the start of 2018.

Not that the target matters per se, of course. What matters is that it makes me focus on reading books, not scrolling on twitter. 2017’s total was 101, so would be nice to repeat that.

Of course there are some perverse incentives to having a reading target. I can feel myself being less keen to embark on doorstep books – even when they are well-reviewed. I wonder if annual-reading-target me would have read A Little Life – or would have been put off by the length? But then I did read the (very long) Pachinko in 2017, which was my first reading target year.

And it puts pressure on me not to abandon books, even if I’m not enjoying them – which came into play for two of this month’s books at least.

So, this month’s books.

Zone One, Colson Whitehead

A post-apocalyptic tale of a man clearing New York of zombies. It’s by the acclaimed writer of The Underground Railway, which was one of my best reads of 2017 – and was why I picked it up. I love stories set after an apocalypse, from The Road to Station Eleven, so it sounded just up my street. In fact it was uneven, hard to follow and hard to finish. Plot was sacrificed to the journey of the protagonist- exactly what I don’t look for in a book.

City of Spies, Sorayya Khan

A little girl grows up in Islamabad, as anti-Americanism takes hold in Pakistan in the late seventies. I should have loved this – but again, little happened and it dragged.

The life changing magic of tidying, Marie Kondo

Just the palate cleanser I needed after slogging through two disappointing reads at the start of the month. I think I am entering the nesting stage of pregnancy. I certainly wanted to implement this at once! I picked this up on a 99p Kindle Daily Deal, and for that price it was certainly worth the diversion it provided.

How to build a girl, Caitlin Moran

Why had I not read this before? I think I thought it was non-fiction, popular feminism – not usually my sort of thing. Instead it was a thinly-disguised Moran escaping Wolverhampton and her family’s poverty for a life as a music journo covering the Britpop explosion of the early nineties. Highly highly recommended. It’s a light read, with serious points about self-worth, self-esteem, and being true to yourself.

If only they didn’t speak English: notes from Trump’s America, Jon Sopel

The BBC’s North America editor reprises the campaign, the early presidency, and where the US finds itself through a series of thematic chapters. If I’m honest, this was a solid read – but was a bit of a fallback option for me.

I don’t have an obsessive interest in US politics unlike many lefties, so tend to avoid reading about the mess of the Trump presidency outside of the headlines (the keyword “Trump” has been muted on my twitter account for more than two years).

The Unmumsy Mum

Since getting pregnant I’ve started mum blog, subscribed to a load of mum podcasts and followed lots of mum bloggers. So when this came round on the daily deal for 99p, I picked it up. It’s as easy to read as a blog and clearly fills a niche. Not being there yet, I found the robust defence of telling parenthood as it is and not rose tinting interesting but academic. I’m sure I’ll return to this and nod along in empathy when little one is here!

So there you have it: July’s Reading. Looking at this motley collection, I was clearly making do this month, reading stuff already on my Kindle and picking up reads in the daily deal rather than consciously picking from my TBR list or seeking recommendations from trusted sources.

Time to listen properly to What Should I Read Next? and to see if I can find some decent UK book bloggers or podcasters to follow. I am already very excited about Amy Elizabeth’s book podcast and looking forward to the first episode.

What did you read in July? And where do you get your best book recommendations from?