Monday, 21 December 2015

Birth Story

Birth story
Sorry for the radio silence everyone, I have a really good excuse I promise. If you didn't see the announcement on Twitter, I stepped away from the blog to deliver our beautiful baby boy Noah and this is the first moment I have had where I have been awake enough to write and also not had a little person latched to my chest. 

Writing a blog post with a newborn has been a challenge so we will have to see how far I get with writing this post. In this post I will share the lead up to labour and our delivery.

Being pregnant is like being on a roller coaster that you can't get off. 
Birth what to expect
There are some bits of the ride that you love and others that you wish would hurry up and just happen because your not sure you have the resilience and patients to cope. 

The end of pregnancy is a mixture of emotions I'm sad that I will no longer be carrying around this little person that I have managed to grow, cherish and share some wonderful moments with.
But at the same time I will be glad to obviously meet and hold our baby. I am looking forward post labour to being able to see my feet again, have my waist line back at some point and see a reduction in the need to pee every five seconds. 
But that said at the same time with the end in sight I'm also nervous about labour; (there is only one way this baby is coming out, there is no U Turn and as much as the prospect terrifies me there's no get out clause). 
birth story
Horror stories about giving birth follow you absolutely everywhere when you are pregnant, everyone wants to share a grisly tale. In most circumstances in your life you often wish for advice in advance but this is certainly not the case with giving birth. 

Although billions of women have gone through labour no one really shares that giving birth was a positive experience, so as a first time mum you're left with the worry that excruciating pain is the only way that your baby is going to arrive. 

Being British we are also known for our stiff upper lip and no where is this more true than in labour. 
Birth Story
It is seen almost as a badge of honour if you can get through labour without any pain relief. If you need pain relief, you are made to feel like you have somehow failed as a human being. But the rational and sane part of myself thinks why? No one would willingly go to the dentist to have their wisdom teeth extracted and say "do you know what, don't worry about the anaesthetic". 
But maybe I missed out on the brave gene, I'm firmly hovering between excitement and panic. 

My advice to anyone is if you haven't been through labour before you have absolutely no idea what you will and won't be able to put up with or how your body will respond; so be open minded about your birth plan and pain relief.  If you haven't read my post about preparing your birth plan and hospital bag have a look here.

You've waited for the day to arrive and when you get closer to your labour date you suddenly feel unsure that you will know when labour has arrived. 

This was how I felt, sounds daft, possibly but in many circumstances there can be a build up to labour and distinguishing between false and real labour can be tricky. For myself I had three weeks of regular braxton hicks (contractions), perfectly timed three minutes apart. I also had period pains, but they never progressed. 

There are some signs that you might have leading up that can mean labour is not to far away. 
  • Insatiable appetite  
  • Upset stomach the need to empty bowels
  • Nesting - impulsive need to tidy up like a loon 
  • Pains in lower pack 
  • Period pains
  • The show (loosing your mucus plug) 
  • Your waters break
  • You have regular and consistent contractions 
So whilst I knew that it was highly unlikely that the baby would arrive exactly on its due date, I do think I was slightly delusional that the baby would make an appearance around 40 weeks. I hadn't really considered that I could still be pregnant at 41 and then still at 42 weeks and still have no baby. 

What had been a calming pregnancy process to date then is heightened with everyone suddenly in a rush to 'want the baby out!'; you'll hear people say "you need to have a sweep" "if that doesn't work, we will book you in for an induction". Oh the stress and pressure applied is immense, does no one realise that a baby is not likely to make an appearance if you are stressed. 

Being a foodie even in the early stages of my induction and labour food was involved. When the hospital had started the induction, me and the other half headed to the Christmas markets on the South Bank to while away a few hours. 
After having a wander around we had a wonderful lunch in Giraffe.
Little did I know at the time that this would be my last meal for thirty two hours. 

I did wonder before labour started if I would know when I was in labour, now I am in labour having been induced at 42 weeks (a membrane sweep, pessary and having waters broken) I can see that there is absolutely no means of missing it. People had said trust me you will know and I had always felt that this was a bit dismissive as everyone is different but they are right. You will definitely know...

Contractions are like a wave of intense pain, your stomach tightens in an upwards motion, to begin with they feel like bad period pains but as they progress the pain intensifies and when your in a contraction you are desperate for it to end. When it has passed it is difficult to describe the pain, as labour develops the gaps decrease between contractions and the pain intensifies. Some people describe a pain in their back for me most of the pain I had was in my bum and hips.

My bed in the hospital had the best view imaginable of London, facing the House of Commons and London eye. In any other circumstances I would have been pretty pleased with the vista but to be honest in active labour I wasn't really concentrating on much. I do however remember Big Ben chiming the hours away with each passing contraction which intensified. The London eye also looks beautiful at night, all lit up in red. 
As I had been induced my contractions were regular and intense from the beginning of labour, there was no gradual build up. I laboured for thirty two hours in total and whilst I had clear hopes for my delivery, I ended up having an emergency caesarean section because in the final hour my heart rate became erratic and our baby went into fetal distress. 

Now whilst this certainly was not the labour I had imagined or wanted I really did feel surprisingly calm and in control throughout. This was definitely in part due to the Hypnobirthing classes that we had attended a month before and the fact that I had a wonderful birthing partner.

There is also something that those who happily share their grisly birthing stories don't tell you, there is a reason women have babies you will find an inner strength that you cannot imagine that you posses that will totally surprise you.

Noah entered the world startled and unresponsive for over one minutes and was unable to breath unaided for ten minutes. They were the longest ten minutes of our life; and I can't lie that laying on the operating table I was willing with all my heart and might that the little man would let out a cry. All thoughts of the man rummaging and poking around in my stomach had long since passed. 

I cannot describe the relief when for the first time I heard this startled high pitch little cry from our little man. I sadly didn't get to see him or have the cuddle that I had laboured so hard for and to be honest by this stage really needed as he was whisked off to intensive care. 

The love though when I did get to see him a few hours later was instant and we are absolutely in love with our little man. 

Welcome to the world Noah. 

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Monday, 30 November 2015

Christmas Drinks Challenge

How to make Eggnog
As you all know I love experimenting with food and drinks and seeing what wonderful twists I can put on the traditional. 

Waitrose Cellar recently got in contact with a fun Christmas project, the challenge to see what I could do with the traditional Christmas drink, Eggnog. 

Now before you turn away from the screen thinking that Eggnog is for your granny read on and I might just surprise you. 

Being pregnant I haven't had a drink for well over nine months and I can't really say I have missed it. As the birth of our little one approaches and the festive period arrives however, I have been thinking up some great Christmas drinks I could share, so that you can have the fun of making them at home. 

What on earth is Eggnog?
  • Eggnog has a traditional base of cream, sugar, eggs, an alcoholic spirit and spice (the alcohol and spice you add is up to you). How to make Eggnog
  • It originated in East Anglia in the UK and not the USA which is a common misconception as it only travelled there in the 18th Century
  • People all around the world create their own versions of this pudding like drink – there are no real rules
In this post I'm going to share with you two wonderful Eggnog creations, both using different spirits: 

  • Hot Chocolate Orange Eggnog 
  • Portly Santa's White Beard Eggnog

As the nights draw in, nothing beats curling up on the sofa in Christmas pyjama's of course, a cosy blanket and a warm indulgent drink.  

Hot Chocolate Orange Eggnog
Eggnog Hot Chocolate
Ingredients (serves 6)
2 large eggs (separated)
25g caster sugar 
100ml rum (Havana Club)
150ml whipping cream
200ml whole milk 
15 heaped teaspoons of Cadbury's Drinking Chocolate 
Eggnog Hot Chocolate
To decorate:
15 Marshmallows 
24 mini chocolate brownies
Grated Terry's Chocolate Orange 
Eggnog Recipes
1. Whisk the caster sugar and egg yolks together for a few minutes until they appear fluffy, light
and pale. You might find using an electric whisk easier. 
2. Gradually add in the Havana Club Rum a little at a time 
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the two egg whites until they form soft peaks. 
4. Fold your first mixture into the whites very gradually. 
5. Finally, whip the cream (until it just holds its shape) then fold into the mixture too. 
6. Pour 200mls of milk in a saucepan and your eggnog mixture, gently heat, add in the Cadbury's Drinking Chocolate, stirring continuously. 
7. Ladle into six glasses 
8. Dust each glass with nutmeg, decorate with three marshmallows (if you can get festive ones all the better), add four mini chocolate brownies and 
garnish with as much Terry's Chocolate Orange as you like.

NB. Both recipes contains raw eggs, so it is not suitable for for pregnant women, the elderly and those with weak immune systems.

Portly Santa's White Beard Eggnog
Ingredients (serves 6)
2 large eggs (separated)
25g caster sugar 
100ml Port (Warre's Port) 
200ml whole milk 
150ml whipping cream
To decorate:
Mini Meringue 
Fruity pink shimmer sugar
Gold curls 
Chocolate stars 
Cinnamon Sticks   
Eggnog Recipes
1. Whisk the caster sugar and egg yolks together for a few minutes until they appear fluffy, light
and pale. You might find using an electric whisk easier. 
2. Gradually add in the Warre's Port a little at a time, then whisk in the milk a little at a time. (The mixture might separate if left, so might need to be whisked again). 
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the two egg whites until they form soft peaks. 
4. Fold your first mixture into the whites very gradually. 
5. Finally, whip the cream (until it just holds its shape) then fold into the mixture too. 
7. Ladle into six glasses 
8. Dust each glass with nutmeg, decorate with four meringues and garnish with as much shimmer sugar, gold curls and chocolate stars as you like. Top the glass off with a cinnamon stick. 

Even though I couldn't personally enjoy my creations I had no shortage of friends and family who jumped at the chance. The feedback was surprisingly good with some wanting more alcohol and others wanting more chocolate.

If you could make your own Christmas Eggnog creation what would it contain? 

Christmas Eve is National Eggnog Day so the gauntlet has been set share your Eggnog creations with me via Twitter and Istagram (#FFEggnog) and remember there are no limits only your imagination. 

*Thank you very much Waitrose for involving me in this fun Christmas challenge. My ingredients were complimentary for the purposes of making the drinks, but as always I only share things I love. Santa's little helpers kindly gave their time for free.

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Monday, 23 November 2015

What's in my hospital bag?

Getting ready for labour
Writing my birth plan and packing my hospital bag suddenly makes having a baby feel very real. We are having a baby! Ekk!

My hospital notes and bag sits at the top of the stairs and is a gentle reminder every time we walk past it that our baby could be making an appearance any time soon. 
Before being pregnant I can honestly say I didn't have a clue about pregnancy, apart from watching the movies where your waters break then a couple of minutes later a baby pops out. 
As for what goes in a birth plan and hospital bag I also had no idea; so this post is my attempt at helping others think through what you might need. 

One of the first things to say is that you can do all the planning and preparation that you like for your labour but no one can guarantee you the perfect birth. The key thing to do is have an open mind, be flexible and do what you need to bring your baby into the world.   

It is a good idea to attend some form of antenatal classes as these are a great way to find out more about labour, becoming a parent and meeting others to build up a new friendship group. 

I decided early on in my pregnancy that I wanted to attend Hypnobirthing classes mainly because we wanted to build up our knowledge about labour, release the fears we had and feel confident in the decisions we made. We attended a weekend training course and although sceptical at the start cannot recommend it enough. 

What is offered in this post are suggestions only. If you have something that you would like to contribute and add you are very welcome, just share in the comments below (no negative birthing stories though please). 

1. Creating your birthing plan:  
By its very title, a birthing plan gives the impression that you can plan your babies birth. Sorry to rain on your parade, you can't plan. What you can do is write down things that you would like, give consideration to things you wouldn't and write down what is important to you. 

Your birthing plan is to help your partner and professionals as much as possible to work with your wishes and preference to help you through labour. 

The key to your birthing plan is being open minded and flexible in your approach.  

There are a million and one birth plans out there, but I have found a few that offer some food for thought that will help you think about what is important to you and that you might want to include: 

2. What's in my hospital bag?

Take a look at the size of the bag that I am taking with me to the hospital, it looks more like I am going on a two week holiday, than delivering a baby. The only saving grace is that it is on wheels. 
What to include in your hospital bag
One thing I have learnt is that babies don't travel lightly and their mothers as a consequence don't either. You do have the choice when packing your bag to separate it into mum bag, baby bag and going home.

I have opted to have everything all in one bag but this is a personal choice. It is worth discussing with your midwife any specific items that you might need for the hospital you are giving birth in (do they have sufficient birthing balls, pillows or fans or do you need to bring your own) and to consider the time of year that you're having your baby (Warm clothes for a baby born in winter).  

  • Mum Bag: There is a difference between the essentials and nice to have. So I have listed the essentials with the less important ones mixed in. I am realistic that some of the below I might never get to use, but it is comforting when preparing to know that they are on hand. 

Labour essentials

As I'm unlikely to be able to have pain relief other than gas and air due to health reasons, I have been researching other things that might help in labour. 

I've purchased the Elle Tens machine (£49.99), which if used at the first signs of labour is meant to be a good distraction from the pain. Does it get rid of the pain altogether? I seriously doubt it but I like the fact that it is a natural pain relief, is already set up and has a boost function specifically for contractions appeals. 
It is important to me to have a calming environment during labour, hospitals always have that clinical smell that instantly puts me on edge. To try and combat this I have purchased the Neal's Yard Balancing room spray (£17) with bergamot and patchouli essential oils. It smells wonderful. 

I have a good selection of toiletries, wet wipes and cooling strips if I get too hot. 


Lots of mummies have told me that in labour their lips got really dry so I have made sure that I've packed a lip solve. 

The other top tip was bendable straws.
This one might sound strange but apparently very useful when you need a drink in labour. 

As a foodie I have also packed snacks both for me and the other half. I definitely don't want him disappearing in the middle of labour in search of food.

I've tried to settle on a selection of healthy and easy to eat snacks. 

Drinking water in labour is also really important so make sure your birthing partner is aware of this and that they encourage you to drink. 

Giving birth is not glamorous, so what follows is some practical and honest realities. If your not ready for the realities cut to the baby essentials. 

Regardless of the labour you have you will have some bruising and swelling post delivery. Nelsons Arnica cream (£5.08)* and tablets (30c) (£4.35)* are said to be naturally anti-inflammatory, helping to reduce swelling and bring out the bruising. 
Labour essentials
But with all medication check with your midwife before taking. 

Well post labour you probably expect to have some bleeding but I'm not sure they prepare you for how much. Lochia (post birth bleeding) lasts between two and six weeks. 
The best part is you get to wear the biggest maternity pads going, no thin discreet liners here, at least not for the first few weeks. 

I have also packed a small jug. For those of you that are yet to have children you are probably thinking, she's lost the plot.  
The jug is to be used post delivery when going to the loo. Without being to direct, going to the toilet seriously stings beyond belief post labour. The jug when filled with water and poured whilst doing a wee is heaven in a jug (enough said!). 

You will also need to pack some breastfeeding bra's and breast pads (these are needed regardless if you are planning on breastfeeding or not). Its best not to buy nursing bra's till you are 34 weeks pregnant so that the sizing is right and the bra's need to be non wired. It is wise to get professionally measured too so you definitely know that they fit. 

Remember your birthing partner might also appreciate a change of clothes too and toiletries. Especially if you have a long labour. 

  • Baby bits post delivery 

Baby labour essentials

Labour bag
Labour essentials
Labour essentials

If you are planning to bottle feed your little one you will also need to bring your own bottles and baby formula. 

Going home will be exciting but be practical with your clothing. I'm sorry to say that you won't be back in your clothes prior to pregnancy, so will still need your maternity clothes. The looser, baggier the better. Consider a cushion for the car, especially if you live in London we all know how much they love speed humps (a post birthing mother doesn't!). 

Some additional websites to check out and consider what you might need and want in your hospital bag. 
Post birth I will do a labour post and will let you know what did and didn't work from the above. 

If you have any great pearls of wisdom for labour do share them as I would love to hear them. 

If it goes quiet on the blog you all know where I am and I will share mini foodieforce with you in due course. 

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Monday, 16 November 2015

Top Christmas Advent Calendars 2015

Christmas Advent Calendars
I really love getting ready for Christmas, almost as much as I do celebrating the special day. I'm one of those annoying people who in September starts thinking about Christmas, planning presents and adding to my already ridiculous Christmas decoration collection. 

I enjoy counting down the days to Christmas with an advent calendar and if it is food related all the better. Not only do you get a little surprise everyday but it also helps to build up the excitement for the special day to come. 

Year on year the advent calendar offerings increase and this year has been no exception. There is something for everyone, the beauty lover, those who enjoy pampering themselves and calendars for the foodies.  

This year I've selected some of my favourite Christmas foodie offerings:

1.Godiva Christmas Advent Calendar(£23)*:

I love good quality chocolate and Godiva has been a favourite of mine for quite a while. I love the playful design of this years luxury chocolate advent calendar, but you will have to keep a good eye on it otherwise the naughty elves might just make off with it. 
Christmas Advent Calendars
Godiva really knows how to make delicious chocolates, and this calendar offers something for everyone with an assortment of white and milk chocolate treats. 
Godiva advent calendar
The thing that I love most about this calendar is that it has a varied assortment of chocolates, perfect for sharing in a family. The white chocolate figurines are my favourite filled with orange praline (well someone had to taste test them!).

2.  Christmas truffles in a gift box 12 pcs (£23)
If you have a foodie in the family but they're not interested in having an advent calendar, Godiva also have the perfect truffle assortment.

Godiva Truffles
Godiva chocolate

This wonderful box offers an assortment of six different truffle offerings: milk chocolate mouse, creamy dark chocolate ganache, praline, liquid caramel, light vanilla mouse and cinnamon biscuit mousse. 

The truffles would be perfect to accompany an after dinner dessert or with a warming tipple of mulled wine.

3. Carluccio's Christmas calendar (£11.95)*:
Carluccio's Christmas
This wonderful arty advent calendar contains novelty chocolate characters with penguins, Santa's and snowmen filled with gianduja (30% hazelnut and 70% milk chocolate). It's the perfect fun Christmas advent calendar for children and adults alike. 
Carluccio's Christmas
If you have a foodie in your life have a look also at the Carluccio's Christmas gift shop. I have been sitting drooling over most of their offerings. 

They have something for all foodies. My personal favourites...

4.Baci di Dama biscuits (£17.95). Two hazelnut biscuits sandwiched together with wonderful dark chocolate. 
Carluccio's Christmas
The perfect combination with a steaming cup of coffee. 

5. Chocolate Panatone 
(£16.95), with the wonderful addition of milk, dark chocolate and hazelnut glaze what more needs to be said. 

Carluccio's Christmas
6. After Eight Calendar Shaped like Big Ben: (£24.99).
I love After Eights and this calendar last year was an absolute highlight for me, so when I saw it back this year I knew I needed another one. 

Filled with a selection of wonderful After Eight pralines, you can't go wrong. The challenge is not eating them all in one go.  

7.Paul's Advent calendar (£19.95).
Christmas Advent Calendars

As you already know I have a love affair with Paul's bakery and patisserie. Not only is this calendar really beautiful to look at but it can be used year after year. It has a wonderful mix of truffles and ceramic charms
behind the beautifully painted doors.  

If you could create your perfect advent calendar what would it contain?

Wishing you and your loved ones sweet tidings. 

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Monday, 9 November 2015

Thai Square Spa in Covent Garden

As my pregnancy has progressed and I have now entered the third trimester (supposedly the home straight), I have said goodbye to my awful sickness and my hair and skin now have a wonderful healthy sheen. 

Great you might be thinking, but one thing I have learnt in pregnancy is that often one thing passes and you get something new.   

In the last few weeks of pregnancy I can no longer see my feet when standing, but that's probably a good thing as they no longer resemble feet but swollen pigs trotters due to water retention. 

Getting out of bed in the morning is like something out of the living dead. I can barely move, so I have been forced to perfect this graceful hippo like roll to manoeuvre into an upright position. 

Pregnancy pampering
The novelty of all new maternity clothes that I had at the beginning, is now replaced with "do I really have to wear that stripped top again". In later pregnancy your stomach also expands at such a rate that anything and everything you put on looks like a canopy or tent. 

So you get the point I certainly don't feel womanly or beautiful in the slightest. You also have people constantly telling you how big you look (quick tip; not the thing to say to a pregnant woman). 

So when Thai Square Spa in Covent Garden contacted me to ask if I would like to try their pre-birthing essential massage I was a bit dubious that anything could make me feel human again.

How wrong I was ...

The spa is situated on Shelton Street on a small junction called Seven Dials, aptly named where seven streets converge. 

The spa is in the perfect location for all those who love shopping. On the same street is Cath Kidston, Urban Outfitters and those who love beauty Space NK.
Cath Kidston
Space NK Covent Garden
On entering the spa I'm instantly greeted by a friendly receptionist who offers me a seat and asks me to fill out the usual health checklist. The spa is kitted out in a traditional Thai interior of wooden carvings and Buddhist statues.  
Spa's London
London Spa
Whilst sitting I nosey through their Spa offerings of facials, treatments for the body and ritual therapies. I'm excited to try out their specialist maternity therapy the pre birth essential massage (£95).

My massage therapist greets me and takes me down stairs to the spa.
I'm offered a comfortable pair of flip flops and a robe to change into. 
London Spa
The flip flops definitely get my vote over slippers that often are impossible to walk in. The robe however has definitely seen better days, is thin and in need of replacing. 

In the coming months the spa will be moving to their much bigger new home close to Charing Cross, so I'm sure all the robes will be replaced when they move. The new spa will be housed in an old Victorian Turkish bath offering guests twelve treatment rooms, four Thai massage rooms and seven aroma massage rooms. 

So on with the massage... 

We start with a lovely cup of warm tea and a foot massage with essential oils. 
London Top spas
This is the perfect way to begin any massage as it instantly sets the mood of calm, relaxation and pampering. 
London Spa
Once on the bed the therapist helps be on my side and gives me a pregnancy pillow for my bump which is very welcome. Having pressure taken off your joints as a pregnant lady is very welcomed. 

The therapist begins with a wonderful massage giving focussed attention to my back, then moving onto my feet in which a scrub is applied to remove dead skin. 
London spas
Sweeping motions are used on my legs to help alleviates the fluid retention, with focussed attention also given to my arms and hands. The botanical oil used is warming and instantly relieves my aching muscles. 

The therapist then washes her hands to remove the oil and performs a wonderful if not slightly uncomfortable oriental head massage (I have a very ticklish head). Now I can't tell you how frustrating I find it when therapists put product in your freshly washed hair, leaving you to leave the spa like a slicked cousin ITT from the Addam's family. So the fact that they have considered this is very welcomed. 

When the hour long massage was complete I was placed in their relaxation area with a cold glass of water and magazines. The perfect way to bring myself back to life. 
London Spa
Overall a wonderful massage that has definitely alleviated my aching back, reduced my swollen trotters and established a sense of calm. My skin is also feeling much softer. 

If your looking for a present for an expectant mum to be or a post birth present, then look no further as the Thai Square Spa offers the perfect remedy. 

Finding peace and quite in London can sometimes be quite a challenge but Thai Square Spa offers an oasis of luxury tranquillity in central London. I look forward to visiting their new premises soon. 

What's your favourite spa and treatment?
25 Shelton Street, 
Covent Garden, 

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