snap happy

Like any proud parent with a smartphone, I take approximately 700,000 pictures a week of my small person, many of which I share with friends, family and followers so that they can also see how photogenic and adorable he is. I also occasionally feel moved to take a quick snap of a sunset, some flowers, or a rainbow (as I managed to capture quite nicely yesterday), simply because they look pretty, and thanks to the modern wonders of photo-sharing filters and fancy effects, even the most amateur photographer can create a professional-looking pic without too much effort.

I’ve found taking photos such as these increasingly enjoyable because it’s so easy to do it all on a phone in the palm of your hand, and I’m getting all carried away with visions of being the next Capture by Lucy, Dear Beautiful, or Mummy Daddy Me – three photography blogs I really admire. I wouldn’t claim to have such an ability as these talented ladies, but the important thing is capturing the moments that matter, the images you want to remember forever, whether they are beautifully composed or not.

Like yesterday afternoon, when Little Man, tired from waking up early at Grandma and Grandad’s, fell asleep in the back of the car on the way home from town. I’ve written a post about life’s little pleasures such as this before, a year ago now in fact, something which only serves to show how quickly time seems to pass and why we try so hard to preserve it in pixels.

As he slumbered on the sofa, I had to take a photo:

joe sleeping

After a while we had to wake him, for fear of him not wanting to sleep at bedtime. He had an enormous yawn, with the imprint of the stripy cushion etched on his face, and I managed to capture it:

joe yawning

I know I’m still going to love looking at these photos when my Little Man has a family of his own one day. Precious moments. Life’s little pleasures.

Up until now I haven’t fully embraced photography on my blog, but while I’m having a bit of a revamp, I think it’s time to start sharing the photos that make me smile, to complement the words I write, or to need no words at all. There are a few linkys I’ve come across which I’d like to take part in, and I’m going to share my posts with #LifesLittlePleasures, because that’s what they are.

Bat Collage

Linking up with:

theordinarymomentsbadge_zps284f9457

BritMums - Leading the Conversation

ode to the blog: remembering what’s important

My blog has been frustrating me for some time now. I love having my own corner of the web to call home but in recent months I feel I’ve been neglecting it in favour of more glamorous pursuits, leaving it unattended to gather dust as one might forget about a once-loved item of clothing that needs a minor sewing job doing, now hanging abandoned in the back of the wardrobe.

I’ve made a rod for my own back in some respects, taking on all manner of side projects like developing Blogs For Babies and volunteering for MAMA Academy, but it’s a rod that holds me up and keeps me doing what I love – engaging with people and doing whatever I can to support the things that matter to me. But there are only so many hours in the day, and in juggling my extra-curricular hobbies with a full-time job, a busy volunteering role, and of course, raising a lively four-year-old, something was going to fall by the wayside.

But no more. A true multitasking mummy finds time for everything that’s important to her.

I used to feel like I needed a real reason to write a post, to share something that needed to be said, on a possibly serious topic – and this is still true to some extent, but this is not using my blog to its full potential. Some of my favourite posts when I look back are ones about this little man.

joe dryer

Recording something beautiful he has said or done, creating a permanent reminder of a conversation otherwise quickly forgotten. Blogging in the moment. Not thinking, ‘ooh, that would make a good post’, and then three weeks later lamenting on not getting round to it.

I love to write. I love my life. I’m going to combine the two more often.

Almost as a symbol of my commitment, I’ve finally splashed out the £12 to buy my domain name.

Welcome to greatnorthmum.com. Please make yourself comfortable.

Growing up too quickly? Not if I can help it

So my increasingly-not-so-little man is turning four. There is nothing quite like the stark reality of another year ticking by to make parents nostalgic for ‘when you were a baby’, lamenting the fact that their bundle of joy is inevitably growing up. At least with a September birthday, Little Man still has the best part of a year at nursery before I send him off to school. Even if he might be ready, I’m not.

excited faceYesterday we went to the park with Grandma and Grandad. Joe had an absolute whale of a time, as he always does when there are slides, trees and grassy slopes to clamber about on. He’s now what might be deemed ‘sensible enough’ to run ahead of the grown-ups a little bit, and will stop in his tracks when we shout for him to. Letting him run to the next bench or lamppost and knowing he will wait is part of the trust we show in him as a ‘big boy’, and he revels in his increasing independence.

Of course, running through the park unhindered is a different matter to walking along a busy road. Here we hold hands, he walks with mummy and daddy, he needs to be careful, he needs to be safe. Roads are dangerous, cars are dangerous, we always wait for the green man.

And this is the balancing act parents have to learn. I don’t want to wrap him in cotton wool, but I feel it’s important he understands the risks that are all around him, and learns to keep himself safe even from this young age. He knows he doesn’t play on the stairs, or run into the kitchen, or climb around on the furniture – even if sometimes he still does. He will learn the hard way, and that is part of childhood too. He will graze his knees and bump his head. We can’t always protect him from every little scrape, however much we might want to.

As much as I want him to understand the dangers in his own, otherwise safe, environment though, if there’s one thing I am determined to protect him from, it is the frightening and terrible reality faced by far too many other people in the world. In his own little bubble of life he is happy and has no reason to assume everybody else isn’t too. He doesn’t know that wars are raging, families are starving, people are dying at the hands of others – and he doesn’t need to, not for a long long time.

He won’t see the rolling news coverage of yet more atrocities on the TV, or have to look at upsetting images plastered across tabloid front pages, because we will protect him. He will sleep soundly at night, not waking in fear of a bad dream caused by seeing some horror he doesn’t understand, because we will protect him. Or at the very least we will try our absolute best to, because that is our job as parents. Childhood is all too fleeting as it is.

And when that day comes when he is old enough and inevitably wants to ask us why those men are waving guns around, why those children are crying, why those people are hurting each other, we will tell him that yes, baby, there are some truly awful things that happen in the world, and some very nasty people. But there are also lots of really wonderful people, and you are one of them.

Against all my protective instincts as a parent, I want him to grow up to be like the brave pair who rescued some animals from the Manchester Dogs Home fire without a thought for their own safety; to be like the selfless aid workers risking their lives to help stricken families in the many war-torn regions of the world; to be like every volunteer giving their all to make life better for those in need – because without people like this, there is no hope for any of us. If all of us lived being too afraid to do anything to help, life would be that much worse for everybody else. It takes special people to restore faith in humanity in the face of so many tragic events and I want my son to understand that; to care about others is what makes life worth living.

One day my little man will need to understand life outside his bubble, and how it is both terrible and wonderful in equal measure. How his life can be whatever he makes of it. How you still should really wait for the green man.

For now though, the joy of birthday cake and cuddles is all he needs to know.

 

child_eyes_logoThe Child Eyes organisation is working to reduce the exposure of children to violent and sexual imagery in the media, such as tabloid front pages and ‘lads mags’, by campaigning against the display of such material at child height in shops and public spaces.

Find them at www.childeyes.org or @ChildEyesUK

navigating the pregnancy app minefield

When I was pregnant with Little Man back in 2010 – the veritable technological dark ages in comparison to today – the extent of my online interaction with other expectant mums was a Baby Centre forum for those due around the same time as me, which I had to go to the effort of logging on to the desktop at home to keep up with, and invariably didn’t bother. I had a book – a BOOK! Imagine that! – called ‘Your Pregnancy Week by Week’ which I obsessively referred to and read from cover to cover as soon as the test was positive. My phone was an old Sony Ericsson one that pushed up the screen to reveal the keypad, had limited internet capacity which involved navigating an unresponsive cursor around with a fiddly week by weekbutton, and took about three weeks to load anything.

Fast forward four years and you would be considered some kind of societal outcast for not having a Smartphone of some description, at least some form of online identity in the form of a Facebook profile, Twitter account or blog (or all three, or more), and an over-reliance on a plethora of apps to micro-manage every aspect of your daily life from shopping to paying for your parking to tracking how far you’ve run (if at all – and then it tells you off).

One life event during which it could be argued apps are actually quite useful, however, is pregnancy. A functioning modern day phone or tablet of some description is all you need these days to leave that heavy book at home, avoid logging on to an unwieldy and slow computer, and enjoy an interactive experience which, in the case of the most well-designed and reputable apps, can inform, advise and entertain in equal measure.

How to choose, though, between the approximately 47,000 pregnancy apps on the Apple or Google Play stores? I’ve done a little research, which fortunately I needed to do for work anyway as we are looking into antenatal education.

Firstly, many of them are American, which is fine – pregnancy doesn’t do anything different over there – but the care women can expect to receive may differ significantly from the good old NHS, and the advice given may not always be appropriate. You also get referred to as ‘mom’ all the time.

Secondly, a lot of them come at a cost, albeit a relatively small one, so it’s up to you whether you want to fork out for use of the app past the first three months, which seems to be the done thing with some of them. On the flip side, the free ones tend to be free for a reason – they can be heavily sponsored or filled with sneaky advertising which could get mighty annoying after 40 weeks.

Thirdly, the content of the apps can vary considerably; whilst many follow the week-by-week format, offering info and advice, and possibly some pictures comparing your growing baby to a grape, peach or, horrors, a watermelon, others give you little added extras which make the app much more engaging and user friendly.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, which ones can you trust to give you important and reliable information?

baby buddyI’ve recently been having a play with a brand new app, in my capacity as ‘health professional’, which is being developed by the charity Best Beginnings. Best Beginnings is dedicated to helping children and parents in the UK by aiming to give every baby the healthiest possible start in life, and have been working on the Baby Buddy app with mums, dads and health professionals to create an informative and useful addition to the vast library of titles already available. The app is free to download, contains no irritating advertising, and you can rest assured that all content in the app has been approved and endorsed by several organisations including the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health – so you know you can trust it.

The main draw of Baby Buddy though is the fact that it is actually aimed at young parents and parents-to-be so has been designed with mums in mind who might require something more fun than a list of foods you shouldn’t be eating – the brilliance of this being that this actually makes it more fun for expectant mums of any age to use.

On first using the app you are invited to create your own personalised avatar – your ‘Buddy’ – who will guide you through your pregnancy as a trusted friend in your pocket. At 33 years of age, I ooh-ed and aah-ed as I chose a hairstyle, outfit and accessories for my Buddy, who ended up looking far more glamorous than I tend to do, and considerably more youthful.

buddy pic

My glamorous ‘Buddy’

Baby Buddy focuses on empowering parents, and young mothers particularly, to improve their health choices and wellbeing, and of course that of their baby. As well as increasing knowledge, improving confidence and enhancing bonding and attachment, the app reinforces the importance of accessing health services. The first version of the app covers the period through pregnancy to when the baby is six months old so it’s worth a look if you’re expecting or have a new little one. A lot of the midwives I network with on Twitter have been raving about it and have all been changing their profile pics to their Buddy in support of Best Beginnings so they must be doing something right!

Best Beginnings is keen to get lots of feedback for the app before the official Baby Buddy launch in November, and more features will be added soon, so please find out more on the Best Beginnings site if you’d like to help out at this early stage. The app is available on both Apple and Android.

Other pregnancy apps I suggest you might like to have a look at (not that I recommend them necessarily in case somebody wishes to sue at a later date):

  • My Pregnancy by Bounty: This app has been developed by ‘parenting club’ (i.e. massive commercial operation) Bounty which may put some users off, but the content is endorsed by pregnancy charity Tommy’s, which I love, so this gets the thumbs up from me. As you might expect, there is some advertising but it is largely unobtrusive and the content is well thought out and user friendly. It is free to download and is available on Apple and Android.
  • Pregnancy +: This is a beautifully designed app which looks great and contains lots of interactive features – however the free version is only available up to 13 weeks, at which point you need to upgrade to the paid version to continue to access everything and unlock some content. The cost of the full version is cheap though so may be worthwhile if you have enjoyed using the free one in the early weeks. There is also no advertising which is a bonus. Available on both Apple and Android.
  • Glow Nurture: This is a new app which follows on in a similar vein to the existing Glow fertility app which enables women to monitor their monthly cycle through daily tracking of certain markers to maximise the chances of conception. Nurture is relatively basic compared to some of the all-singing, all-dancing paid-for apps, but it is free and still contains plenty of info. Its strength is its simple ‘daily log’ function which works well in the fertility app and acts as a helpful reminder for some important healthy pregnancy practices. Its downside is that it is American so, for UK users, the antenatal appointment info it pre-populates for you and some of the terminology used isn’t quite right for us. Currently only available on Apple.

‘all of this': taking the unexpected path

My mum said something to me yesterday that really made me think.

I was sitting with my parents and Little Man in the spectator stands at Gateshead Stadium, cheering on the drizzle-soaked runners making a torturous circuit of the athletics track before crossing the finish line of the Great North 10k, a race I had competed in myself the previous year. I had felt it necessary to sit this one out as I’ve been struggling with some minor leg niggles in training for the Great North Run and couldn’t risk doing more damage that might put me out of the half marathon.

Gateshead stadiumMy husband Andy, on the other hand, had just put in a sterling performance in the event, and stood with us soggy but happy with his new personal best and another medal around his neck. We had seen him entering the stadium to complete the final few hundred metres of the race quite easily, as the luminous orange panels on his Tiny Lives vest stood out brightly on such a dreary day. This was the first time the vest had been worn in an event, and we were proud to be flying the Tiny Lives flag, along with the logos of the brilliant businesses who had sponsored us for our fundraising printed on the back.

As we sat watching the variety of different charity vests and t-shirts being proudly paraded by other runners, Mum said, “Do you think you would have done all of this if it wasn’t for what happened with Joe?”

I realised at that point that I had never really thought about it. I considered everything that might constitute ‘all of this’.

Joe was born in September 2010 at 37 weeks, following an induced labour due to pre-eclampsia. Eight months later, when I felt physically able and mentally ready to, I signed up to Weight Watchers online. I started running, slowly at first, but seeing gradual and steady improvements as the pounds dropped off. By Christmas 2011 I had dropped 3 stones and 3 dress sizes. In May 2012 I ran my first ever 10k race, the Great Manchester Run, raising money for Tommy’s, a charity I had come across as a result of looking for information about what had happened to me. Few things have ever felt like more of an achievement than crossing the finish line on that day.

Tommy's Tent picAt the start of 2013, I threw myself into more fundraising, this time organising an online auction for Tommy’s through our newly established Facebook page Bids For Babies. I got myself onto Twitter to help publicise the auction and, it’s probably safe to say, I have never looked back. I ran the Great Manchester Run again, as did Andy, and in September we ran the Great North Run together, Andy spurring me on as I did what once I would never have considered possible. We raised over £1100 for Tommy’s. We have also been fundraising for Tiny Lives, the charity which supports our local SCBU in the hospital where Joe was born, and we’ll be doing the Great North Run again this year to raise more money.

I started writing again, something I used to love as a child and teenager with dreams of becoming a famous author or journalist, but had somehow lost along the way. I seized the opportunity to contribute guest posts when they came along and in August last year I started the Great North Mum blog, the alias I gave myself when I joined Twitter as a reference to my run training but which has now taken on a life of its own! I have my own little corner of the Internet I am very proud of, now including Blogs For Babies which is a wonderfully fulfilling side project I am really enjoying.

It was also last summer that I changed jobs and started working for the Northern England Strategic Clinical Networks, part of the NHS which focuses on regional collaboration for service improvement in various clinical areas, of which Maternity and Child Health is one. I am so grateful for the opportunities and wonderful connections my job has enabled me to make. I have realised what I am truly passionate about. Most recently, I joined MAMA Academy as a volunteer and have somehow ended up being their Media Coordinator, a role which I couldn’t be more proud to have. Having the opportunity to make a positive difference to the pregnancies of other women, which I am also extremely lucky to be able to do as part of my ‘day job’ with the NHS, is an absolute honour.

So, do I think I would have done ‘all of this’ if it wasn’t for the way my pregnancy ended?

Honestly, my gut tells me probably not.

joe hospitalI might have put some effort into losing the baby weight, but without the thought of my future health thanks to the unknown long-term effects of the pre-eclampsia, my fitness to be an active mum to the little man I was so lucky to have, and the likelihood of complications in a subsequent pregnancy, I don’t think I would have had the motivation to do as much as I did. I doubt I’d have ever pulled my finger out to do a half marathon.

I might have supported someone else’s fundraising, but without the gratitude I felt towards those who had helped me have a happy ending to my complicated pregnancy and the affiliation I then felt to the charities trying to do something about the cause, I don’t think I would have put the effort into raising money and awareness myself. I am almost certain I wouldn’t devote the time I do to volunteering and to feel so strongly about what they are hoping to achieve.

I might have come across the job opportunity I did, but without the true desire to see things improve for everyone using NHS services, for all the deserving mums and babies, for all those who are not as fortunate as we were to bring our baby home, I doubt I would have been so convincing at interview or have found my niche on the Maternity team in the way that I have. My passion drives my work everyday.

Our life experiences cannot fail to shape our futures, but I count myself lucky every single day for the position I find myself in. I interact with some amazing people online on an almost daily basis who are driven by their own experiences, often infinitely more tragic than mine, but all wanting to change the future for others when their own lives have already been changed forever – Jennie Henley raising the profile of SIDS after the loss of Matilda Mae; Leigh Kendall making people aware of HELLP syndrome following the passing of little Hugo; and the inspirational Heidi Eldridge, founder of MAMA Academy, working tirelessly to reduce stillbirth in memory of her son Aidan. We are all travelling down paths we wouldn’t have chosen in order to show others the right way.

That’s not to say people have to go through an adverse experience to want to make a difference but in my case, on reflection, it has definitely affected my choices. And for ‘all of this’ to come out of a situation over which I had no choice is an achievement I am really proud of.

MAMA Academy ‘Made to Measure’ campaign

new logo backgroundIn one of my ‘multitasking mummy’ roles I am Media Coordinator for the wonderful pregnancy charity MAMA Academy so I was delighted to be involved in the launch of the Made to Measure campaign which aims to reduce the UK’s shocking stillbirth rates – still among the highest in Western Europe.

pilogoMade to Measure is all about promoting uptake of the Perinatal Institute’s Growth Assessment Protocol (GAP) programme by all hospital trusts providing a maternity service. This is recommended practice, nationally endorsed by NHS England, but there are still a sizeable number of trusts that have not yet signed up for GAP training – and the implications of this are serious.

The GAP programme is designed to enable midwives to more accurately measure the growth of a baby in the womb by plotting the symphysis fundal height measurements (that your midwife takes with a tape measure) on a specially customised growth chart, unique to the mother. This takes into account the mother’s height, weight, ethnicity, and previous obstetric history to more reliably indicate if the baby is becoming growth restricted – a sign that the placenta may be failing and a key early indicator of the risk of stillbirth.

bump 3If every trust was to adopt the GAP programme in their maternity service, using the customised charts and the package of training for midwives, obstetricians and ultrasonographers that ensures all professionals involved in the care of women are properly educated in their use, it is estimated that 1000 babies could be saved each year. By detecting more growth restricted babies, we can greatly increase their chances of being born safely.

How you can help

  • Head on over to the Made to Measure campaign page on the MAMA Academy website to read all about GAP and find some related links.
  • Use the example letter on the MAMA Academy website to email your local Head of Midwifery and encourage them to sign up to GAP training.
  • Email contact@mamaacademy.org.uk to share your story of having a baby affected by growth restriction with MAMA Academy, to add to a list of case studies for media requests.
  • Email contact@mamaacademy.org.uk if you are interested in becoming a campaign ambassador in your area.
  • Write a post on your own blog to help promote the campaign or share a post with my parent blogging project Blogs For Babies and I’ll publish your story there.
  • Follow @MAMAAcademy on Twitter and like their Facebook page facebook.com/MAMAAcademy for regular updates on the campaign as more trusts are encouraged to sign up. Help promote the campaign on social media using the hashtags #1000babies and #Made2Measure.

Made to Measure flyer