Since we used to call them Thing 1 and Thing 2 in the womb, a term of endearment named after the little creatures in The Cat in The Hat by Dr Seuss, I thought this was appropriate for their first birthday. I want to always make one cake each for them, so doing something like this where there’s two in a pair is handy.
Joel’s 6th birthday
He had a soft play party at Tumble Jungle this year.
Today the twins turned 2 years old! This means we’ve survived our second year of this crazy thing that is parenting 4 children. But not only that, their second birthday marks a significant milestone – I have now breastfed all 4 kids to (at least) the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of 2 years. Considering how dire I felt our breastfeeding journey was going at just 2 weeks old with our eldest child, this is definitely something I want to celebrate.
Breastfeeding is something I don’t see celebrated much in our society. The only place I really see celebrations of milestones, whether 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years or whatever, is breastfeeding support groups online, which are of course full of people who are/were breastfeeding. And I must admit I don’t often think of it as an achievement when we are going through the challenges of everyday life. But when I allow myself to stop and ponder, I’m really proud of myself and of how far we’ve come.
It can feel difficult to openly celebrate breastfeeding when you see that anything about breastfeeding in the media ends up turning in to a debate on breastfeeding versus formula feeding. So many mums join in saying they are being made to feel like failures because they didn’t have the right information and support to breastfeed or didn’t want to breastfeed. My view is that individual mums aren’t failing to breastfeed, they are *being failed* in a society that doesn’t value breastfeeding – but that’s a whole other topic!
It’s a hugely emotive subject, and I definitely shy away from getting involved, which means I don’t often talk about breastfeeding beyond circles that I’m comfortable with (like support groups online or in person). I wrote a fair amount on breastfeeding our kids as babies on this blog, mainly to raise awareness of specific issues and circumstances that aren’t that commonly written about – hypoplasia, true and chronic low supply, using a supplemental nursing system or SNS, breastfeeding in pregnancy, tandem breastfeeding a baby and a toddler, breastfeeding twins etc.
But I haven’t written much about the achievement that has resulted from perseverance through all of this – the achievement of breastfeeding until the boys self weaned at 4 years old and 2 and a half years old, the achievement of breastfeeding twins until at least 2 years old. I haven’t been motivated to, I didn’t want to sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet, partly through fear of offending anyone who hasn’t breastfed (or breastfed this long) for whatever reason.
However, recently I read a social media post about celebrating breastfeeding achievements that went viral. I’ll now paraphrase the gist of what I took from it. The author likened her breastfeeding journey to running a marathon. Many people train hard to run marathons – they put in lots of effort, dedicate their time and energy over several months, they build up with shorter runs and then celebrate these milestones as well as the final achievement of the marathon (online and in person). Now does anyone who doesn’t run a marathon for whatever reason get offended by this? Is it seen as an attack on anyone who can’t or doesn’t want to run a marathon? Does it mean everyone should run marathons? No, it’s simply someone choosing to aim for an achievement and smashing it.
For me, and many others, breastfeeding is my marathon! I persevered through so much, mainly due to my hypoplasia and the resulting physiological inability to produce enough of my own milk. But our youngest three children have been fed milk entirely at the breast, no bottles whatsoever (thanks SNS!), and the eldest only had a few. When I think of it like that, why shouldn’t I openly celebrate the hardest achievement of my life (after the PhD)? Just like I have friends who openly celebrate running marathons (I seem to know quite a few!)
The current plan is to let the twins self wean, like the boys did. They only usually feed once first thing in the morning and once before bedtime. I expect one of these will drop at some point and then the last one will gradually decline in frequency until one day I’ll look back and think it must be a few weeks since they last fed and I didn’t realise at the time that was actually the last feed. That’s how it happened before at least, I know it might not be the same, though this is often what people experience with self weaning in toddlerhood or beyond. Of course if I feel the need to stop sooner this plan may change, but for now it suits all three of us so I’m happy with that. I’ll stop blowing the trumpet now.
I was inspired by a recent blog post written by my friend Nicole, and she in turn was inspired by another mum who carries her child in slings. They both shared why they own their various woven wraps, detailing what they like about each wrap in their stash. I thought this would be an interesting post to write, to explain why I have more than one, and why they are so versatile for carrying twins.
I’ve only become a woven wrap enthusiast since carrying the twins. I rarely carried Andrew in a sling – we were given two high street ones (Baby Bjorn and Baba Sling) which I didn’t find comfortable for long, and then we acquired a framed back carrier, but I didn’t get chance to use it much before I was pregnant again and was too sick to have it pressing on my stomach at the waist. I made a concerted effort to look into the possibility of more comfortable slings before Joel was born, mainly because I didn’t want a bulky double buggy with two kids under 2. Thankfully I found out about stretchy wraps, and carried Joel everywhere in that until he was about 6 months old. We then had a few different sizes of soft-structured/buckle carriers and two ring slings for both boys into toddlerhood until we stopped carrying them around age 4.
When pregnant with the twins, I looked at the various options available, and decided that woven wraps would be the most versatile to see us through from birth to the end of carrying. I knew they came with a steeper learning curve than other slings, but with my experience of front carries with a stretchy wrap, back carries with buckle carriers, and hip carries with woven wrap fabric in ring slings, I felt less daunted by them than I had before. And so I began to think about what should be in my wrap stash!
So after this introduction to set the scene, I’ll now go through them in size order and explain why they’re in the stash……
Girasol light rainbow diamond weave cream weft ring sling
This is the only one that was left over from my time carrying the older boys. I made it myself after buying a longer wrap, chopping it down to the right size, sewing the rings in, and using the left over wrap scrap for my work. I found that standard ring slings which you can buy from wrap companies have too long a tail for my liking, so I made ours shorter.
It is woven with 100% cotton yarn, with a diamond pattern in the weave. It has had lots of breaking in so it is gorgeously buttery soft. It is quite thin, but supportive enough for a toddler for a while or a baby for longer.
I use this sling when I need to carry one baby on my hip but have hands free. This is usually around the house for short periods, or when going out from the front door to the car – I can take both babies by having one in the sling and one in my arms on the other hip, or one baby at a time with bags etc. on my other side. It’s a very handy way to cuddle a baby who wants to see your face, but you can also get on with things in front of you.
Firespiral spindrift cyano seafoam size 2
This one joined the stash when I started doing front-back tandem carries when the twins were around 3.5 months old. I found the easiest place to start with carries like this was to master a simple ruck back carry, then add a kangaroo pouch through the ruck straps on front, which required a very short wrap. I knew I wanted to get a Firespiral wrap with their cyano (blue/green) coloured warp thread at some point in our wrapping journey, because I just love the colour. When I saw this size 2 for sale preloved on the day I decided to look for one, I knew it was the one for us.
It is woven with 50% combed cotton yarn and 50% hemp yarn. The hemp makes it really supportive despite its thinness, which means it’s great for tandem carrying, when I want to get maximum support for minimum fabric. It also has just the right amount of grip and glide for threading through ruck straps to make a front pouch.
I use this wrap mainly for a front kangaroo pouch as I said. But I also like this wrap on its own for a quick ruck tied at shoulder (with or without a candy cane chest belt) for one baby on my back. Its short length means it’s quite easy to wrap with in a muddy car park without trailing the tails in the mud, and the hemp means a simple ruck is pretty supportive even as the babies are getting heavier. It’s also my plan to use this more over the coming summer in tandem with another shorty (see below), and I’ve just begun practising the options.
Oscha starry night prism size 3
This is the most recent addition to the stash – it arrived this week! My main reason for buying it is that I’d like to have two short wraps (or “shorties”) for summer, so that I can do some front-back tandem carries that have less fabric around me than the carries I first learned when it was winter. I’d been practising with my size 4 and my size 2, but really the 4 was a bit long and not quite the right blend for front-back tandem carries. More on the specifics of these carries below. The colours of this wrap really caught my eye; I love graduated warps like this, for both aesthetic and practical reasons (it’s easy to see where you need to tighten!) I also like the starry night pattern – and the abbreviation SN has meaning for us since the twins are Samuel and Naomi. The fact that the blend sounded just what I was looking for clinched the deal, and I bought my first brand new Oscha wrap.
It is woven with 56% organic combed cotton yarn, 13% organic linen yarn, 13% hemp yarn and 18% Tencel yarn. Since we’ve only had it a few days, it’s not broken in yet, so I can’t comment on what it will be like when we’ve used it more, but my first impressions are that it is just what I was looking for. Not really thin, but not thick either; a good amount of grip but also slightly shiny with some glide; enough cush on my shoulders and supportive enough in simple carries with a shorty; cool for summer.
As I said above, my plan is to use this for tandem carries with two shorties. So far I’ve tried a ruck tied at shoulder with a kangaroo pouch on front, and a pre-tied short cross carry with ring finish on front and a ruck tied at shoulder on back. Both work well for minimal fabric, but I like the fact that in the latter combo front and back baby are completely independent, so back baby can come off even if front baby doesn’t. The size 3 is also great on its own for either a SCC or ruck TAS with candy cane chest belt.
Girasol double rainbow purple weft size 4
This one joined the stash when I started back wrapping when the twins were around 3 months old. At that point I only had my base size (5/6) and a size 7. Although it’s perfectly possible to do a simple ruck back carry with long wraps, because too long is better than too short for a wrap, I felt that it would be easier to learn with a shorter one, so I didn’t feel too swamped with fabric tails stretchingalong the floor. I also wanted something thinner than my base size wrap, more similar in thinness to my size 7, again for ease of getting a good wrap job when learning. And my final criterion was to have colour stripes going along the length of the wrap, for ease of finding the rails and sections across it when learning to back carry. With these criteria in mind, I decided to look for another Girasol. Once I saw that a retailer in Europe had Girasol double rainbow wraps for sale, I knew we had to have one. The twins are our double rainbow babies after a miscarriage, so this means a lot to me. The choice of purple weft relates to my business, Sewn Down Purple Lane, and ultimately where we live – Bournville, home of Cadbury’s. This is going to be our legacy wrap – the one that I will keep to hand down to any of our children if they have their own babies one day. It’s a great beginner wrap for all the reasons listed above too, so a good one to start them on their carrying journey if they wish.
It is woven with 100% cotton yarn. Since I bought it new, it’s not quite as broken in yet as our Girasol ring sling, but it is well on the way to it with the amount of use it’s had. It is relatively thin but supportive enough for single carries, and grips well enough and isn’t hard to knot. It’s really easy to care for too. The thickness and grip is just right for the tandem hip carry with 4 rings that I use regularly.
I use this wrap mainly for two things these days. First, a simple ruck back carry with one baby either around the house or when we are out as a family and Tom has the other twin on his back. Second, a Jasmine’s tandem hip carry with 4 rings, which is essentially like using two ring slings but with one longer wrap instead, and it’s perfect for quick ups, like from the car to a building so I have hands free to carry bags etc. This gets lots of comments for how useful it looks. I couldn’t carry them for ages like this, more because my arms are pretty restricted now they are bigger, but it’s perfect for short periods. When I first started front-back tandem carries, my staple carry for the school run for a good month or so was a ruck tied Tibetan with this wrap, and a pouch on front through the ruck straps with my size 2. Now the twins are heavier I find the Girasol not quite supportive enough for front-back tandem carries, and I moved on to preferring a double hammock on back, which requires a longer wrap than a size 4.
Firespiral twilight anemone tourbillion size long 5 / short 6
This was the first wrap I bought when I was pregnant with the twins. I knew that my base size was going to be between a 5 and a 6. I’d been looking at Firespiral wraps on their website, and this one really caught my eye in terms of pattern and colour, and its average thickness and easy care fibre content seemed to make it a great starter wrap to have a go at wrapping one or two babies. I deliberated for a while over which size I should get – 5 or 6. But then I saw one come up preloved for a great price, and it was described as a short size 6. Perfect! Just what I was looking for, so there began my wrap stash.
It is woven with 100% cotton yarn. It arrived with me already lovely and soft, so had clearly had a fair amount of breaking in. It has an average thickness for a woven wrap, though it’s actually my thickest wrap, because I tend to favour them on the thinner side, particularly for tandem carries. But this does give it a lovely cushy feel on my shoulders, and I can get some great pleats when tightening strand by strand up there. I find it really supportive for 100% cotton. I think the grip of the fabric helps this too, and the pattern and typical Firespiral weave make the texture nicely grippy without being too difficult to handle.
I have used this wrap consistently for a few different things. First, it is my base size for doing a FWCC with one baby when I want to front carry. I don’t do this as much as I used to because I tend to prefer back carrying now that they’re heavier, but it is still great for this when I do. Second, my staple tandem carry for school runs over the winter was a double hammock on back (tied at hip) with this wrap, and a kangaroo pouch on front with my size 2. The support, grip and cush are just right for this, however I find I’m getting a bit warm in the nicer weather. Third, I used to use this in the first 3 months or so for an Amanda’s tandem hip carry, or sometimes a Jasmine’s tandem hip carry with one ring. Again it offered just the right amount of grip and cush for this.
Oscha roses mutiara size 7
This was the second wrap I bought when I was pregnant with the twins. Although I had a 100% cotton base size wrap, I knew that having a longer wrap would be useful for twins for tandem carries using one long wrap. Since we were going to be doing a lot of newborn carrying in the summer months, I decided a thinner wrap than my size 5/6 and a blend with cooling linen in would be a good idea. When I saw the colours of this which was for sale preloved, I knew it was the one for us. I’d not previously been as big a fan of the roses pattern compared to other Oscha patterns, but somehow with this gradient of colours it looked brilliant.
It is woven with 80% cotton yarn and 20% linen yarn. It arrived with me already soft and floppy, which can take a while with linen, so I was really glad I’d bought it preloved as other people had done the breaking in for us – it was ready for newborns. It is quite a thin wrap, but really supportive, thanks to the linen. But is doesn’t feel at all stiff, and I can tandem for about an hour (with a good wrap job) before it feels diggy on my shoulders, which is pretty good going. It has a slight stretch and spring to it too.
This was the wrap that I first wrapped the twins in at a week old. I did a tandem FWCC, which wasn’t the greatest, but I soon got better with the loads of practice that I got doing it multiple times a day, day in, day out. They lived (mainly slept) happily in there so I could get on with jobs or do things with the older boys. I will never forget those double squishy cuddles in this special wrap. Although it is possible to do a tandem FWCC with young babies in base size, I liked the extra length on the tails for pinning purposes, and the wrap qualities of this size 7 were better suited to our needs over the summer, plus it looked nice to have beautiful long swishy tails at the back! As I moved on to two-wrap front-back tandems, this wrap took a back seat for a while. But as I got more experience with back wrapping, and therefore could handle the long tails, I came back to this to do front-back tandem carries with the one long wrap. Either a ruck on back, tied Tibetan, with a FCC on front in the cross passes, or a double hammock on back, with the same on front but with a ring finish instead of knotted. The ruck version is what I’ve been mainly using for the school run since the weather turned a bit warmer. I’ve also used it for single carries like a FWCC or a double hammock, to enjoy the extra tails, or when I might need to take the other twin at some point as we juggle them between Tom and me.
As you can see from the photos of these wraps, my favourite colours are very much reflected in my stash – pinks, purples, teals and rainbows. I also like how neatly balanced my current stash is with my three favourite brands – two Firespiral, two Oscha and two Girasol.
Firespiral and Oscha are both UK based small businesses, with an ethical and sustainable approach, keeping their products as locally sourced and manufactured as possible. The founders are mums themselves, and as a small business owner myself, I can relate to their work life, balancing it with young children. Girasol make the best rainbows! There are so many different versions too, it’s hard to say which is my favourite. It is a German company, but the wraps are hand woven in Guatemala in a Fair Trade agreement, and again I like the ethical considerations that the owners have given to their brand.
I hope that this has been an interesting read. I’ve enjoyed writing it, getting down in words what I often think about with a baby or two wrapped on me. One day I will enjoy looking back on it too, when the twins are older and our stash may have changed to suit our changing needs, or when they no longer wish to be carried at all.
There wasn’t really much to write about for 29 weeks. We were away for the long Easter weekend, down with Tom’s parents in Devon. It was good to get away, and I’m glad all is going well with the pregnancy so far, which meant that we were able to go that far, even if sitting in the car wasn’t that comfortable – we had an extra stop compared to normal.
The last time I blogged I had just had my 28 week growth scan and blood tests, including one to check for ICP (intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy). I didn’t hear anything back about this, which means it must have been negative, so I’m pleased about that. The tingling/itching hasn’t got any worse, and if anything I noticed it even less when we were away.
However, when we got back home, I opened a letter from the hospital which said that my blood test for iron level showed that I am anaemic. This isn’t hugely surprising for a twin pregnancy, as lots of mums expecting multiples find their iron stores are depleted more quickly from growing two or more babies. I don’t particularly feel any different from how I have all pregnancy in terms of tiredness – one of the major symptoms. I don’t get that out of breath, though I can feel it’s starting to become harder work walking and going up stairs, for example, with the extra weight I’m carrying. When I looked up anaemia on the NHS website it did say that one of the less common symptoms is itching/tingling though, which is interesting. After a short delay in my GP receiving the letter from the hospital due to the bank holidays, I got some iron tablets and have just started taking them. I’m slightly apprehensive about the potential side effects of nausea and constipation that are common with iron tablets, but I’ll have to see how it goes.
We’ve also started to get organised this week with preparations for the twins’ arrival. I have packed my hospital bag except for a couple of additions that I need to buy (snacks and drinks). It’s been so long since I did it that I had to remind myself what we need in the bag! We were in the birth centre for less than 12 hours last time, so hardly needed anything that I’d packed. I expect we will be in for longer with twins, even if they get to term (37 weeks), because they are likely to be quite small compared to the boys, which may cause issues with starting feeding, for example. And of course this time we need double of all the baby bits. If I need a c-section, I personally will also need to be in longer than after a vaginal delivery. We don’t live very far at all from the hospital, so I’m sure we can top up with anything that we don’t have enough of pretty easily between Tom and other visitors such as our parents.
We have very kindly been given this week plenty of tiny newborn baby clothes, as we didn’t have any smaller than 0-3m ones for the boys who were born average weight for singletons. So we’ve put most of these into the drawers in the boys’ room and some have gone into the hospital bag. We’ve moved all the feeding equipment into the kitchen and found a place for it – steriliser, several SNS (supplemental nursing systems – made from bottles and thin NG tubing) and formula.
I’m sure there are a few more bits and bobs to sort out, but I feel like we are pretty prepared for them to arrive whenever (well, as much as one can ever be prepared for the arrival of twins!) Even if they were born in the next few weeks, we wouldn’t be home straight away as they’d need time in special care, so there’s still time to sort out anything here that needs doing.
Last week we were away for half term with family, which was a lovely time for us all, particularly for me to rest as well as do some swimming – non-weight-bearing exercise is good. There wasn’t much to write about in terms of pregnancy. I’m continuing to monitor my blood pressure – it is staying at around 105/65 at home, and it went up a little to around 110/70 last week when away, but it’s back down this week. This is still pretty low for me personally and for being pregnant with twins.
There’s more to write about this week at 23 weeks. On Sunday Tom and I attended an all-day twins antenatal class. The twins specialist midwife, whom I’ve seen every time I’ve been to twins clinic, had invited us and said that it was focussed on specifically twin labour, delivery and early postnatal care in hospital, rather than general things you’d learn about at antenatal classes, which as third time parents we really don’t need. We’d done the NHS classes in Cambridge when pregnant with Andrew, and found them rather useless – nothing I hadn’t read about already and the assumption that birth should be medicalised. I’d also done an NCT antenatal refresher course when pregnant with Joel, which was more useful in a non-medicalised approach for us, though I mainly did it to meet local mums with toddlers who were having another baby around the same time as me, from a social perspective.
The twins antenatal day also included a tour of the delivery suite (including the entrances to the operating theatres and SCBU, and the transitional care ward) at the Birmingham Women’s Hospital. This is what really sold it to me, because I have never given birth in a hospital room, and not in this hospital at all. Andrew and Joel were born in the midwife led birth centre in Cambridge – with lovely homely rooms that look nothing like a hospital, with no monitoring equipment, a birth pool, a normal bed, low level lights etc. Well actually, Joel was nearly born in the reception area, but we just made it into a room! I found it very reassuring to see where I will be giving birth this time.
Before we found out it was twins, I’d decided we would stay at home for the birth, because I’d only just made it to the birth centre last time, and having done labour twice before with no pain relief or complications, I now had confidence that my body can do it. Both my labours have followed similar patterns – some sporadic, irregular, non-painful but uncomfortable tightenings/Braxton Hicks for a few hours, then a sudden gushing of the waters breaking, followed by a quick ramp up in strong, painful and regular contractions until pushing and then delivery. The time from waters breaking to delivery was about 3 hours with Andrew and about 1 hour with Joel. However, twins is automatically considered “high risk”, so I’m “not allowed” to have a home birth or go to the birth centre. Though actually, as the home birth coordinator midwife pointed out to me when I rang her to tell of the twins news and that I’d no longer need to meet with her, there’s no legal reason why I can’t ignore the doctors and have a home birth, it is ultimately my choice. I just feel this is one step too far in going against medical advice, so we will try to get to the hospital. I wouldn’t be at all surprised though if we ended up with an accidental home birth, because quite frankly I’d rather have a home birth than a car birth!
This is, however, assuming that twin 1 is in a head down position by around 32-34 weeks, after which point they are unlikely to turn due to lack of space. At the antenatal class the midwife showed us a diagram of the various permutations of twin positions. There were 6 in total, and only for 2 of them would I “be allowed” to attempt a vaginal delivery, the other 4 would automatically mean a planned c-section. Basically twin 1 has to be head down, and twin 2 can be bottom down or head down – twin 2 is likely to move anyway once twin 1 is born and he/she suddenly has half a womb’s more space to spin about in! If twin 1 is bottom down, or if either/both of them are transverse (lying horizontal instead of vertical), that would mean a c-section. So I am hoping that twin 1 gets head down at the right time, though if not I will do my own research on the risks of attempting a breech (bottom first) birth, particularly with my good delivery history, rather than simply going along with what the doctors demand without question. They seem happy enough that twin 2 can have a breech vaginal birth, just once twin 1’s head has paved the way. I asked what would happen if twin 1 was bottom first and I went into a spontaneous and fast labour before a planned c-section date – the answer was an immediate emergency c-section, which would be a race between doctors and babies I think.
When we were hearing about these birth options in the class, the midwife posed the question – who decides how the babies will be born? I answered “me!”, because ultimately I know it’s my body and my decision, and I think she already knows from seeing me in clinic that I’m going to be “one of those” who doesn’t just go along with what the doctors say without question. They talk of what is and isn’t “allowed” – but what they really mean in most cases is what is and isn’t advised in their professional opinion, and even that can differ between individual doctors. What she actually was trying to get at though is that the babies themselves determine how they will be born, depending on their position before and during labour. I see her point, and I’m not against having a c-section if it ensures that the babies and I survive any threat to our lives. Of course I’m glad that medical intervention exists when it is needed. But I am aware that it does come with risks itself, not to mention the recovery from surgery.
I did feel a little on my own amongst the mums at the class for really wanting to have a vaginal twin birth. We were all carrying “DCDA” twins – two placentas and two amniotic sacs, so the least risky in terms of likelihood of complications, and the only kind for which we are “allowed” to attempt a vaginal birth at this hospital. Three had already chosen a planned c-section – because they had had one with their older singleton, and even I’m not sure I would want to attempt a twin VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean). One was a first time mum and was still unsure what she wanted, and one had previously had an emergency c-section and a VBAC with her two singletons, so was probably going to attempt a second VBAC since the first had gone well. It made me very aware of how blessed I’ve been with uncomplicated labours and deliveries, which sets me up well, both mentally and physically, for doing it again with twins. I’m also aware that all of these thoughts about birth are based on my pregnancy staying uncomplicated and the twins not arriving early or needing to be delivered prematurely for whatever reason. I’ll write more about that next week, along with what happens in the case of the other extreme of timing – potential induction of labour if the twins arrive “late”.
As well as the information from the midwife about labour and delivery at the hospital, she had invited three families with twins of different ages to come along and chat to us about their experiences. All of them only had the twins, no older or younger singletons. It was interesting to hear from them, but a lot of what we ended up talking about I either knew from having had babies before, or I’ve seen from other twin mums online in the twins groups on Facebook that I’ve joined. For example – the lack of knowledgeable breastfeeding support from the NHS and the fact that babies don’t sleep for very long at a time. Some of their tips were of a different parenting style from ours, so they weren’t something I would take on board. And I think Tom felt a bit left out when the dads were discussing the pros and cons of different brands of double pram, as we aren’t getting one!
I think that’s probably enough writing for one week. Next week I will write more about the potential timing of birth that we discussed in the class, as this is related to the fact that 24 weeks is an important milestone in any pregnancy – it is the point at which a foetus is thought to be “viable”, with just over 50% chance of survival if born in the 24th week, providing there is intensive medical care available.
This week was a great week. On Thursday I had our 20 week anomaly scan. I was nervous about this – I think I probably was to some extent before the boys’ 20 week scans, because there’s all sorts of things that could be picked up as potential issues. But even more so given there are two of them in there this time, and I still have memories of our sad scan in the last pregnancy.
However, all was absolutely fine with the twins themselves and the sacs and placentas. It was lovely to see them in so much detail, I’m sure scans have become higher in definition since I last had them 4 and a half years ago. The print outs pictured below don’t do what I saw on screen justice. Or maybe the machines are just newer at this hospital compared to where to boys were scanned. They were both in good positions to get decent views of organs to check there were no issues, which apparently is quite uncommon for twins. I remember Joel wasn’t in a good position even just the one of him, so I had to go for a walk half way through his scan to see if he would move!
The medical convention for labelling twins in utero is twin 1 for the lower one, and twin 2 for the upper one. This is because that’s the order in which they are born, if birthed vaginally. Twin 1 was the first to be measured and checked, and it was amazing to see him/her sucking their fist on and off, moving it in and out of the mouth, opening and closing the mouth each time – the detail was fantastic! Twin 2 was doing an interesting movement with his/her nose against the sac membrane, moving the head up and down as if sniffing/licking it. Quite often when the sonographer was trying to take a shot of one twin to measure something, there suddenly appeared a foot, hand, or head from the other in the picture. That was funny! Talking of funny, our nicknames for the babies are thing 1 and thing 2 – this is a reference to Dr Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat.
Another important point is that both placentas are posterior, on the back wall of the uterus. This is the best place for them to be, to avoid complications in pregnancy and/or birth that are involved with lower or anterior placenta placement. So that’s good news.
I was asked at the start of the scan if I wanted to find out the sex of the babies. I said no thank you, and the sonographer was great at telling me when to look away. We didn’t find out the sex of the boys until birth, for several reasons, and the same holds this time.
Above all, discovering the sex of our babies ourselves at the birth is a hugely important part of the birth experience for me (and Tom, though I think he’d go along with whatever I wanted on this as I’m the one who has to give birth 😉 ) There are so few amazing surprises in life, I feel this is one I can’t miss out on. I have so far been blessed with quick and “easy” labours, which, compared to the sickness and nausea of pregnancy, I have actually enjoyed. For me, part of the enjoyment of the whole process of giving birth comes from the building excitement of finally meeting my baby and finding out all about who they are. Their sex is part of who they are, but there are many other aspects of their appearance and personality to get to know too, which you can’t find out from a scan.
We have already seen evidence from our two boys that sex is really not that much of an indication of who they are in personality anyway. Andrew and Joel are so different from each other in many ways, that knowing in advance that they were boys would have been no big deal. In some ways they are similar, but I don’t think this is entirely down them both having XY chromosomes rather than XX – the fact that they are brothers means their DNA will have similarities, because they both came from me and Tom.
We really don’t mind if we end up with four boys, three boys and a girl, or two of each. So I see no reason why we need to “get used” to whichever combination it is in advance of the twins arriving. We have always believed that any child is a blessing, and even more so since we experienced the pain of miscarriage. There are so many couples who struggle to conceive or to carry babies to term, so we feel incredibly blessed to have had the children that we have, regardless of whether they are boys or girls.
Most of our baby clothes are “gender neutral” in that they are white/cream/yellow etc. However, I personally don’t believe that colours belong to either gender, and have had no issue with putting pink cloth nappies and clothes on the boys. The blatant genderisation of clothes, toys and other consumables in our society annoys me. Just let toys be toys and clothes be clothes! We have given the boys access to all sorts of toys, and although their absolute favourites have tended to be what are seen as “boys toys”, they have also enjoyed playing with things such as dolls, prams, princess dressing up clothes and shoes etc. The same goes for clothes since they have been old enough to have a say. So it will make no difference if the twins are boys or girls, they will be dressed in any clothes that fit and play with any toys that are age appropriate.
We are just hoping and praying for healthy babies, an uncomplicated pregnancy, and a safe arrival. And we are looking forward to meeting them, whether boys, girls, or one of each. This is the kind of reply I’m having to give quite often when people make comments such as “I bet you’re hoping at least one is a girl!” or “What will you do if they’re both boys?!” I get the impression that not everyone shares our lack of obsession with sex and gender 😉 Now to come up with several names for all eventualities!
After the scan, I had to go for my usual visit to a doctor in the twins clinic. Unusually there wasn’t a very long wait there (and the scan had also been surprisingly punctual!) First up was a blood pressure test, and of course it was high. Although I was by that time relieved that the scan was over and had gone well, my BP had been raised even since the morning at home, compared to what it has been consistently on non-hospital days, and I could feel the sensations of anxiety in myself – heart pounding, sweaty, dry mouth etc. It did come down a little on a second reading. As usual, there were no signs of protein in my urine.
The plan was to talk to the doctor about coming off the drug to lower my BP, because it has been going too low at home, making me feel dizzy – I only get high BP in hospital when I’m anxious. My parents had been advising me on this, as you have to cut down gradually to avoid a rebound reaction of higher BP. So my mum offered to come with me, to explain her opinion on this, since the last doctor I saw was adamant that I still needed to take it and just put up with the dizziness.
Well the doctor at this appointment couldn’t have had a more opposite opinion! After I explained, she didn’t hesitate to tell me I don’t need to take it any more! My mum didn’t even need to say anything. Just like another previous doctor I had seen, she admitted that doctors often over medicalise twin pregnancies, when actually there’s nothing to worry about. She was happy that I’m self-monitoring my BP at home, and that I would say if I see any changes that look worrying. And that was that! She said I just need to go back in 4 weeks for our first growth scan. From now on I will have scans every 4 weeks until birth, to check that the twins are growing well.
I find it quite difficult that I never see the same doctor twice – I’ve seen 4 different ones at the twins clinic, and 3 at the day assessment unit, all of which have had slightly different opinions on whether my BP is really an issue. Every time I have to explain afresh why my readings are high in hospital but not at home. But this is just the way it is. I wonder which new doctor I’ll see next time…..
I didn’t get chance to write about last week because it was Andrew and Tom’s birthday at the weekend and things were a little hectic here! They had a lot of fun, and although it was tiring for me to have so much stimulation from everything that was going on, we had lots of help from family for the party.
Most of week 18 was spent with me back on the sofa due to a horrible cold/virus thing, which set me back a bit. Thankfully I had got over the worst of it by the weekend for the birthday celebrations. So there’s not much to say anyway about that week, as I just felt pretty rotten and miserable. The one thing that cheered me up was that I started to feel the twins moving inside! This is so lovely to experience, and I’d forgotten just how amazing that feeling is. I may not be saying that in several weeks time when I get a kick in the ribs from a small leg 😉 At the moment it’s a beautiful fluttering sensation.
Week 19 has seen me concerned about my (low) blood pressure again. Since my last hospital appointment when the doctor I saw wanted me to continue on half the usual minimum dose of a BP lowering drug, I have continued to monitor it about 5-6 times throughout the day from about 7am to 7pm. It has been very consistent in the range 100-105/60-65, which is low for me. However, I have also noticed in the last week or so that it has been dipping even lower than this, sometimes to 95/55, and therefore making me feel very dizzy. I really feel that this is getting too low now.
So I talked with my parents (who are pharmacists) now that they are back from their January holiday. They agreed, and suggested I tried to gradually lower the dose before my next appointment at 20 weeks, and continue to monitor to see how my BP reacts to this – it’s common for BP to rise in a rebound reaction if you stop taking the drug or lower the dose. I’m already on a very low dose, so this involves cutting tablets in half to take tiny amounts at a time.
So far I’ve seen no adverse reaction to this. My BP is still consistently in the 100-110/60-70 range, with the occasional dip, so I hope that I can stay on just two half tablets a day until my 20 week appointment. Then comes the talk with a doctor as to whether I can stop them completely, which I think I can, and I don’t think I ever should have been on them, but opinion has differed on this between doctors, so we will see what comes of this.
There was also the excitement this week of seeing a small amount of milk – or more specifically colostrum – on my nipples after a warm shower. I have seen some tiny crystals of dried, crusty colostrum on the ends of my nipples over the past few weeks too. This is really encouraging for me as I struggled with low milk supply due to my breast hypoplasia and IGT (insufficient glandular tissue) when breastfeeding the boys.
I intend to breastfeed the twins too, and have started getting the equipment ready to top up my supply if necessary (which realistically is probably going to be the case). I found one unused Medela supplemental nursing system (SNS) stored away, which I’d kept as a spare before I’d learned how to make my own SNS when feeding Joel. So that will be useful. I’ve also bought some thin NG tubes that I can use with ordinary baby bottles to make some more of our own SNSs, plus some new teats for the bottles that we kept from before.
Next week we will have our 20 week scan. I’m looking forward to seeing the twins again, though as I’ve said before, I find scans really hard since the one at which I saw a baby without a heartbeat. So I will try to focus on keeping my anxiety at bay.
The last blog post I wrote was for the start of baby loss awareness week on the 10th October. In the post I described how I imagined I’d feel if I found out I was pregnant again – I’d feel joy and fear in equal measure. Well, little did I know at the time of writing…. in fact just about a couple of weeks later I saw those two lines on a pregnancy test. And I did indeed feel both joy and fear at the same time.
Another emotion in the mix was surprise. As I explained in a previous post, we had conceived each of the boys on the first cycle, which took us by surprise as we thought it would take longer, and yet it had taken about 5 cycles more recently to conceive the baby whose life ended in miscarriage. So, again, I was not expecting this to happen so soon. I’d actually been experiencing some pregnancy symptoms about a week before the test, but I put some down to PMS and just ignored others until I looked back with hindsight.
Tom has been very encouraging, trying to get me to focus on the joy instead of the fear. He says we should celebrate and be happy about the new life which starts at conception no matter what might happen. I know he’s right. But I’m not sure I’ll shake off the fear for a while yet. My mental strategy at the moment is to try to not think too much at all about the fact that I’m pregnant, to save my mind from wandering too far in either direction. This is easier said than done when I’m feeling sick all the time.
I wondered when I should write this post, and decided that sooner rather than later was better. This is partly because I hope the vomiting will get as bad as it was in my first two pregnancies, and therefore I probably won’t feel like writing for a while. That sounds so daft to say I want to be sicker, especially when I would have given anything (except the life of my child) to be less sick in my first two pregnancies – but to me it’s now a reassurance that things are going well.
Another reason to write now is because we would rather tell the good news now. I felt annoyed that everyone except our parents only heard the bad news last time – they never got to hear the good news first. This was mainly a result of the fact that my symptoms had been much more manageable than before, and because our lifestyle is different now compared to in my first two pregnancies. When the sickness hit at the start of pregnancy with Andrew, I had to have a week off full-time work and then work reduced hours for a while. So my work colleagues all knew, as did friends who saw us at weekly activities that we did in the evenings. We didn’t try and hide it, though equally didn’t shout if from the rooftops! It was similar when I was pregnant with Joel. I was working two and a half days a week and the rest of the time looking after Andrew, which involved plenty of toddler groups – in some ways going to work and sitting at a computer screen was easier than running around after a toddler! Now that I’m working at home, going to fewer toddler groups, and hardly ever going out in the evenings, there just wasn’t the same need to tell people about the pregnancy that ended in miscarriage.
But as I’ve been thinking about this in hindsight this week, my desire to break the taboo of miscarriage also means breaking the silence of early pregnancy. I think it’s difficult to talk about miscarriage in a society where most parents don’t announce pregnancy (beyond perhaps a small circle of family / close friends) before the first scan at around 12 weeks or until it’s physically obvious that the mum is pregnant. And probably the main reason lots of parents don’t say before then is that they know that there’s a fairly high likelihood of something going wrong in that time frame, which is totally understandable. It’s catch 22. If nobody knew you were pregnant, it’s harder to tell people you were but you now aren’t rather than say nothing at all.
For us it’s early days yet – 5 weeks out of 40 in fact. You get 2 weeks for free at the start of pregnancy due to the way we date it in this country (from the first day of your last period, which is when the egg starts to be prepared in an ovary, about 2 weeks before conception). I’m not getting excited yet, but I am thanking God for each day that ends with me still being pregnant – I will never take that for granted until I have a baby in my arms. I am also glad to be able to share good news at least.
As a mum blogger, this is a post that I’d hoped I’d never have to write. But to some extent, I feel kind of privileged to be in this position and also have a passion for writing, which means I can help break the taboo on this subject – miscarriage.
As I write, it is my 33rd birthday. The story starts on my 32nd birthday a year ago. On that day, once we’d spent the day with family and the boys were in bed, I had a bit of a meltdown! In floods of tears, I explained to Tom that I really didn’t feel that our family was complete and that I would love to try and see if we could have one more child. Before we got married, we’d talked about having two or three children if we could, and more recently we’d talked vaguely about the possibility of a third, but something about turning 32 made me feel so strongly about it.
As I’d gathered from our previous chats, Tom felt much less strongly about having another child now we’d got two. He could see the great “double act” that the boys are, and was worried that another would upset that dynamic. Plus we’ve just about finished with the nappy washing – did we really want to go down that route again? He’s also the main income earner, so naturally thinks about the family finances more than I do. I saw his points, and we went to bed agreeing that we would talk and pray about it more over the coming weeks.
We did talk when we had chance, but didn’t come to any definite decision. Then came our church’s weekend away in October. A few days before, Andrew got chicken pox, and my parents kindly offered to look after the boys at their house so we could still have a weekend away together and with our church family. It was fantastic, because Tom and I got uninterrupted time to think, talk and pray about our lives together. I came away from it feeling very much that my role in life right now is to be mum, and that included staying at home with young children for a good while longer. Tom’s feelings were slowly turning towards letting go of his worries over having a third child, and just seeing what there was in store for us.
So by the end of the year, we’d reached the decision that we would not actively prevent a pregnancy. The first few months of 2016 were quite tiring for various reasons: my business was really thriving, Andrew had started school, and Tom had got more involved with playing the piano at church (along with the admin that requires). All this meant we weren’t particularly surprised that nothing happened, despite the fact that both boys had been conceived pretty quickly.
Then finally in late May, I got all the usual symptoms of pregnancy. Having suffered quite severe nausea and vomiting when pregnant with the boys, more so with Joel than with Andrew, I was slightly perturbed by the fact that my sickness wasn’t as bad this time – plenty of nausea but less actual vomiting (by less I mean maximum once a day rather than several times a day). But they say all pregnancies are different, and some women get away with no sickness, plus it’s been a while since I was last pregnant, so I got on with life. Running around after 2 active boys and running a business from home means I didn’t have much time to think about it.
At the start of last week – the hottest week of the year, the last week of term – I felt pretty exhausted and knew it would be a hard week to get through when feeling sick and tired. It was indeed hard, and then on the Thursday morning I saw the dreaded thing that no pregnant woman wants to see – a small amount of blood on the used toilet roll. I panicked, having never experienced this in pregnancy before, but a quick read of the NHS website was reassuring – it’s more common than I thought, and there are many explanations for bleeding in early pregnancy, not just miscarriage.
Incidentally, my first midwife appointment (9 weeks) was at home in the afternoon that day, so I knew I could ask her about it then. She didn’t seem concerned, it had been a one off and was only pink, not red. She said if it went on or I got any pain then I should go to the GP. I got a similar bit of spotting the next morning, though no pain, but I thought best to get it checked. So I got a GP appointment and she referred me for a scan at the Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU), particularly as my routine scan was going to be at 14 weeks (because we are going away), and she thought that was too long to wait. The next appointment they could offer was after the weekend, today, my birthday, when I should be 10 weeks pregnant.
My parents looked after the boys on Friday afternoon and Saturday, and by Sunday morning I felt much better, and no more spotting. I rested some more, and then yesterday (Monday) I had a nice morning out with the boys and a chilled afternoon at home. I did have a bit more spotting on the toilet roll, but again, not all day and nothing major.
I woke up today feeling pretty positive, though of course slightly apprehensive about the scan, just as I had been for scans with the boys – there’s always the possibility of it showing something up. Tom had already booked my birthday off work a while ago – he doesn’t always book it off, but thought he would this year. Little did we know at that point. So he dropped me off at the hospital and took the boys to the park.
I sat in the waiting room for quite a while, they were clearly running late, I imagine they must have a fair amount of emergency work to fit in. The EPU at the Birmingham Women’s Hospital must be sponsored by Tommy’s, the charity that funds research into miscarriage, still birth and premature birth – there are Tommy’s logos all over the place and posters about miscarriage support everywhere you turn. As I sat there, I began to feel less positive. In fact, everyone sat there looked pretty worried. Of course, it wouldn’t be a particularly happy place, we are all there because something might be wrong, or it might not be. Still, I hoped I’d be in the half of women who attend EPU with bleeding who go on to have successful pregnancies.
Eventually the nurse called me in to take some details. Then after another short wait the consultant called me in to the scan room. He set up the machine, put gel on my tummy and started the examination. He told me before he started that it’s normal for him to be silent and not to worry about him not saying anything, he would tell me everything he can see at the end. The next few minutes felt like hours, and as time went on, I knew something was wrong. It hadn’t taken anywhere near this long to find a healthy baby at our scans for the boys.
And then he said it. “I’m sorry.” Yes that’s what I’d dreaded hearing. He must say it quite a bit. Just two simple words that changed my life on the spot. He went on to explain that he had found a baby, but no heartbeat and no movement. It measured about 8 weeks old, but I know my dates are accurate and it should have been 10 weeks. He explained that the midwife sonographer in the room was there as a second opinion and she agreed that what she saw was compatible with his diagnosis. He asked if I wanted to see the picture myself, and I hesitated, but the midwife suggested it might be a good idea. I’m glad I did. There was indeed a little baby lying still at the bottom of my uterus. They also showed me how the sac was too big in comparison with the foetus, and that it was drooping down at one side, other signs of a miscarriage that hasn’t been expelled yet.
I was then shown out of the room, into a small room where the nurse met me to talk through what happens next. After listening to me have good cry, having texted Tom and my mum, either of whom I wished could have been there, she talked through some options, but to be honest I didn’t take them in. I told her I would think about it, so we agreed that I’d ring them early next week, and we would go from there, depending what had happened on its own, if anything, by then. At this point, I’d still had no real signs that my body would do it naturally – no cramps, no pain, and only the small spots of blood on and off.
Tom came to pick me up, and we drove home. Obviously the boys could tell something was wrong, and when we got home and they’d had some lunch, I decided that I wanted to try and explain. It’s part of breaking the taboo – if I didn’t tell them, I’d only be perpetuating the taboo. Andrew will probably tell other people quite freely, but that’s fine, I would rather it was out in the open. I don’t know exactly how much they each understood, probably not a lot in Joel’s case, but Andrew seemed to get what I was saying and why I was so sad. And Joel has surprised us with how much he has understood of his Great Grandad’s death recently, so he may have taken in more than we think.
Once I’d had a bit of a lie down, and some food myself, we decided to try and make the most of the rest of my birthday, by going out to one of the boys’ favourite parks – the Lickey Hills. I think the walk, as well as probably the pressure of the ultrasound probe earlier, helped my body start some of the process by itself – I definitely feel something going on, no real pain, but only time will tell exactly how well it goes and at what speed. This is what’s known as a missed miscarriage – the first scan shows that embryo/foetus isn’t viable, but the body hasn’t expelled it yet. Before ultrasound technology was developed, in a case like this I wouldn’t have known, and would only have known when I had natural signs.
I can’t really think much beyond the next few days, except that I’m trying to look forward to our family holiday starting on 6th August. As always, we’re staying in the UK, in a city with a hospital nearby, so I’m not too concerned about things having settled down physically by then. I imagine it will be a good time to help us recover mentally, and with both sets of the boys’ grandparents with us, I’m sure it will give Tom and me the chance to talk together in depth.
So that’s where I’m at right now: very teary mess at the end of my birthday. But I believe things will get better, and I even still believe that this isn’t the end of the story which started on my birthday last year. I thought when we were involved in a road traffic accident in France on my 12th birthday that that would be my worst birthday ever; right now I think this has overtaken it. However, whilst my birthday isn’t a day I would have chosen for this, in many ways God’s timing has been brilliant – my parents has already offered to have the boys over the weekend, Tom had already booked the day off today (and the plumber he had arranged to come in the morning, which would have meant me getting the bus to the scan and back, cancelled last week), and a friend who shared with me when we were both expecting our second children that her pregnancy had sadly ended in a missed miscarriage got in touch today, before either of us knew, and has offered to talk with me about it. As I’ve said, the timing for what happens next is also better than at other times of year – we can go away and spend time together. Obviously all this timing doesn’t take away the grief, but it has helped and will help manage it in small, practical ways.
Miscarriage is relatively common – according to the nhs.uk website, “among women who know they’re pregnant, it’s estimated one in six of these pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Many more miscarriages occur before a woman is even aware she has become pregnant.” The booklet I was given at the hospital from the Miscarriage Association estimates around one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. Yet until today, I’ve not taken note of those statistics. I know a few friends who have bravely shared the fact that they have miscarried on social media, but it’s just not something that I’ve felt able to talk to anyone about – I guess until it happened to me, I didn’t know what to say.
Not that I really know what to say now, but what I do know is that keeping it to myself (and the few family members who knew before I published this post), would mean quite a lonely road to recovery, and it’s hard enough as it is, without feeling isolated. My main reason for starting this blog in the first place was to share my experiences of being a mum, particularly with respect to our difficult breastfeeding journey – partly because I personally find it therapeutic to write about these things, and partly because I hope it will help others in some way. This post is a fine example of why I blog, albeit infrequently these days. Thank you for reading.
Once again I find myself writing about education. I knew I had a strong view on it, but recently I’ve really felt compelled to write my thoughts down, mainly so they come out of my head and allow me to have some brain space back!
This week I was interested to read about the case of a father who received a fine for taking his daughter out of school for a week’s holiday to Disney World. He refused to pay it on the grounds that she still had over 90% attendance, which is the figure set by the Department for Education as a truancy marker. A high court judge ruled in his favour, and he doesn’t have to pay the fine (though he has had to pay legal fees which he raised through crowd funding).
I think the judge was right in his application of the law – this father did not break the law and so shouldn’t be punished with a criminal fine. This does mean that I think the law now needs to be changed to come into line with the rules that schools have been given for attendance since 2013 – up to 10 days leave per child per year in exceptional circumstances. However, this case doesn’t change my view of the fact that I wouldn’t take Andrew out of school for a week long holiday in term time, and here’s why…..
When we chose for him to attend our local infant school, we chose to sign up to the rules of that school. I’m not talking about laws which are punishable with criminal convictions, I’m talking about rules that the school has decided on, some with influence from national government, some with influence from the local authority, some by their own staff. These include, amongst others: zero tolerance towards bullying and racism, the wearing of a school uniform (no logos necessary, just roughly the same colours), no scooting or biking in the playground, no attendance if the child has certain infectious illnesses such as a vomiting bug or chicken pox, and no holidays in term time. If I wasn’t prepared to comply with one or more of these rules than I would have spoken to the head teacher to see whether there was any scope to change it/them, and if there wasn’t a change then I would have not sent my child to the school, since I don’t have to send my child to that or any school.
If I were to then decide that actually it suited me to break one of these rules, then I would expect to be reprimanded in some way for it, because that is what happens when you break a rule. This is what I expect my children to learn too, to prepare them for adult life. There are many jobs out there which have limits on when you can take holidays – teacher being the obvious one, and many others too. Unless you’re self employed, your employer can often perfectly legally cancel your annual leave and give it to you at a different time if they feel it is in the best interests of the organisation. Many employers would recognise exceptional circumstances and allow time off for events such as family weddings, funerals or graduations – indeed we are receiving a day of paid leave this week as Tom has a day off for my Grandad’s funeral, and Tom’s mum, a teacher, had a day off in term time for his graduation. These situations are not holidays, and I believe our school would allow days off for such occasions – if we felt Andrew was old enough, I know the school would allow a day off this week for the funeral.
We don’t have many rules at home, but those we do have, we explain why they are in place. This is not to say that we should never question rules – of course we should always question rules if we feel they are not fair, and I encourage my children to do this; Joel is fantastic at questioning rules. Those parents who don’t like the no term time holidays rule have the opportunity to write to their MP or do some form of protest/demonstration if they feel that strongly against it. I’d far rather teach my kids to first challenge or protest against a rule with reasoned arguments than to simply break a rule.
My faith requires me to sometimes be a rule breaker – Jesus was a huge rule breaker when he came to Earth, he spent time with social outcasts and criminals, something which broke all the rules that the religious leaders followed at the time. As Christians we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us – a bit bonkers by 21st century non-religious thinking in this country, as this turns social rules upside down. So I’m not averse to breaking rules when I feel it’s necessary, but coming back to our school rules, I do think they are fair, particularly to teachers.
When I posted about this on Facebook, a few friends said they would/have/will take their child(ren) out of school for one or two days at the end of a term in order to get cheaper flights/holidays abroad. I totally understand why on the face of it this seems fine, and I’m certainly NOT going to argue that those days would be critical to their education because that’s rubbish. For me this debate isn’t about missing school, because I don’t think my kids would be disadvantaged at all if they had a couple of days or even a couple of weeks off – there’s more to education than school, as I have written about before. However, I can imagine being a head teacher in the following scenario…
One day I get a request from a parent to take a child on holiday at the end of term, they’d only miss one day. OK, I think, I don’t see why not, it’s only one day, and I authorise the absence. The next day I get a similar request, but it’s two days at the end of term. Ah well, it’s only one more day than yesterday’s request, it won’t matter, so I authorise the absence. The next day I get a request for a family to go on holiday for a 5 day week at the end of term, they’re going on a tour of Italy – great, the kids can learn all about the Romans and learn some Italian. And it’s only 3 more days than the last request, so I authorise the absence. The next week I get a request for a family to go on holiday for 10 days including a weekend, they’re going to Iceland – great, they can experience volcanoes, geysers and learn some Icelandic, and it’s only a few more days than the last request, so I authorise the absence. The next week I get a request for a family to go on holiday for 2 school weeks, they’re going to America including a trip to Disneyland – great, they can see all sorts of sights, have fun at Disney, make some fantastic memories, and learn some differences between American and British English. And it’s only a few days longer than the last request, so I authorise the absence. The next week I get a request for a family to go on holiday for a month to Australia. They have family there and will see experience all sorts of sights, sounds and tastes like nothing in Europe – sounds amazing! It’s only a couple of weeks longer than the last request. I’m a little hesitant, a month sounds quite a long time, but he’s a bright child and I’m sure the family will take a bit of maths and literacy work with them if I ask them to. So I authorise the absence. The next week I get a request from a family who want to go camping down the road in Worcestershire for a month. Hmmm, that doesn’t sound as amazing as Australia, and their child struggles with literacy work, and I don’t know if the parents would want to take any books with them, they talked about only taking the bare essentials. I’m not sure, but I feel bad that I’ve let all the other requests go through, what should I do? Where should I draw the line? Should I base my decision on the length of time, or the capability of the child, or how likely I think the parents are to engage them in stimulating activities rather than just sit inside all day, or the place where they’re going? Or all of these? But that’s so complicated. And what about the head of the school down the road? What would they do?
I’m all for head teachers using their heads (pun intended) and expert experience to make decisions and judgements based on individual circumstances, but what if their judgement doesn’t match up with the inevitably differing opinions of the various parents at school? The problem is they would risk offending or discriminating against someone, and nobody likes being offended or discriminated against. So I can understand why a blanket ban seems appealing. It may not be everyone’s idea of a perfect solution, but I’m not sure what would be the perfect solution. I wouldn’t want to be a head teacher in that position – damned if I do (apply a blanket ban), damned if I don’t (and end up offending someone because I didn’t allow their holiday but did allow someone else’s)!
If the no term time holidays rule is one that some parents think is OK to break, what about the other rules? I imagine some parents might think a one off bit of mild laughter at the kid with ginger hair or the fat child isn’t that bad, but I personally think that shouldn’t be tolerated at all. Some parents clearly don’t think the rule about scooting in the playground matters, and I’m not actually that bothered about it myself, despite the fact that Joel has been knocked down twice by a scooter (he bounces), but I fully support the school in their enforcement of this rule because they are trying to prevent more serious accidents than has so far occurred with Joel. When Andrew had chicken pox, he wasn’t very poorly with it and in fact cried because he wanted to go to school as he missed it. He was just as infectious before the spots came out and was at school during that time, but the rule is that they have to stay off until they’ve all scabbed over, so he missed 4 days of school, which didn’t do him any harm. It’s quite fashionable to pick and choose which rules we want to follow, those which suit us, and most people don’t complain at that until someone else’s choice not to follow a certain rule makes them the victim. Would parents of a bullied child think it’s OK that another child chose not to follow the no bullying rule? Of course they wouldn’t. Would that stop them taking their child on holiday in term time? Maybe not.
All of the imaginary holidays I came up with above could have been taken in the school holidays that make up the 14 weeks of the year that children aren’t required to attend the school. They will undoubtedly be more expensive due to holiday companies exploiting this feature of the school system, but I think it’s important to teach our children that we can save up for something if we really want it that badly, and that holidays abroad are not a right, but a privilege of having parents who earn enough money to cover the costs over and above their normal weekly budget. If I thought that my children would be much more rounded individuals from having the educational experience of flying abroad once a year, and I couldn’t afford that in school holidays, then I would add that in as consideration in choosing to send them to school at all, and I’d educate them at home instead if it was a deal breaker.
Another example given in my Facebook post on this subject was a friend who had been taken out of school for a whole year to travel around a different country with her parents and siblings. That may seem quite radical compared to a day or two that most people commenting were talking about, but actually I think I’d feel less radical about it. If the opportunity arose (i.e. we had or were provided with the money), I would absolutely do this if Tom was on board. I think it would be a fantastic opportunity in life for us and our children. However, I would deregister them from school for that year and reapply for a place, possibly at another school as ours is oversubscribed, on our return. I have no issue with taking children out of school for such an experience, but I wouldn’t expect the school to save a place, and all the while that we choose to register them at a school, we choose to follow the rules that go with that registration.
One thing I’ve learned from all the opinions on education that I’ve read recently is that it’s a topic that brings out some polar opposite views. I sometimes feel a bit on my own because I don’t think the school system is all bad (I don’t think it’s all good, but in our experience so far the good outweighs the bad for our particular child), but I also identify with many of the reasons one might solely home educate (we already do loads of education outside of school hours) and would not hesitate to do that if it suited us better. I’m not judging parents who choose to teach their kids different lessons from those I choose, we are all different, and I’m well used to being counter-cultural in other aspects of my life – yes I still carry my large three year old on my back sometimes when he’s tired. If I’m judging anyone it’s the big holiday companies who charge such huge price differences in and out of term time – though someone must be paying the high prices otherwise they couldn’t charge that much, the business model wouldn’t work, it’s part of living in a country with a free market.
I had the privilege of being born to parents who could afford to take us on camping holidays to France in the car every summer starting from when I was aged 7 (before that we holidayed in the UK). I learned a lot from this and I’m sure it helped spark my interest in learning languages other than English. Tom didn’t go abroad as often as a child, and neither of us flew abroad on a summer holiday until we were teenagers. I would like to think that we will one day be able to provide similar experiences for our children. But all the while that there are children in this country barely eating enough each day, I count ourselves incredibly blessed to be able to afford the petrol to drive down to Devon this summer and stay with the boys’ grandparents for our summer holiday.