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September 13, 2019

My Positive Birth Story

So... that's my son. Son. That is a word I cannot believe I get the pleasure to use and it's going to take me quite some time to get used to it. It's been a little over 4 weeks since he decided it was his time to come earthside and I now feel ready to share my birth story here. When I was pregnant, I loved reading positive birth stories and watching positive labour videos on YouTube because honestly? I was shit-scared of childbirth. Finding out I was pregnant resulted in me immediately stating I wanted a cesarean no matter what but thankfully through reading and watching positive stories and practicing hypnobirthing, I became comfortable and confident with the idea of labour - in all forms - and had a positive experience myself as a result of this change in my outlook on the procedure.

I feel like I owe it to others to share my labour story not because people have to share (it's a very personal experience and it's fully understandable that some individuals have experiences they don't wish to mention again or divulge on the internet), but simply because I gathered so much knowledge, strength, and inspiration from others who had shared, I'd like to give back in case I can provide the same for anyone else. So, here is my story (trigger warning: discussing labour in detail, blood, and postpartum care)

It actually all started early on Sunday 11th August morning. I woke up at 2:06am with really bad cramps. After lying in bed in discomfort for a little while, I waddled to the bathroom and back and decided that I was having more obvious Braxton Hicks than I had had up to that point. The fact that they had managed to wake me up made me feel a bit concerned but also extremely excited in case it was "the real deal". After managing to go back to sleep, I realised in the morning it had all been a false alarm and felt a bit disappointed. This happened again in the early hours of Monday and Tuesday morning bizarrely, at exactly 2:06am again both mornings. 2:06am Wednesday 14th August I woke again, with cramps that felt incredibly strong compared to the past few nights. I assumed, again, that they were Braxton Hicks or an upset stomach and if I walked to the bathroom for the gazillionth time that night that they would subside. Oh how wrong I was.

Sitting on the toilet, I made the distinctive "mooing" sound that pregnant women make during established labour. Now, I had only just woken up and was still convincing myself that I was just having a rough time i.e. the shits but when I made that noise that I had learned so much about, that noise that is completely involuntary and just seems to come out of its own accord, I shouted to Matt who was still in bed that I thought it was actually happening this time around. He brought my phone to me so I could use my Positive Birth Company Freya app to keep track of my contractions or "surges".

I decided to hop into the shower in case it really was happening - because god forbid I went to the birth centre with greasy bed hair - and the hot water helped me focus and collect my thoughts that felt like they were bouncing around from panic to dread to overwhelming excitement. It took me too long to dry my hair due to the surges and when Matt returned from having a shower himself, I stood up to speak to him and my waters broke. I stood in the middle of our spare bedroom shouting "I'm not wetting myself on purpose I can't make it stop!" as if that made it any better. I decided to perch on the toilet again if nothing else but to save our carpets from devastation and my waters kept coming.

I called the labour line at that point and was told to try to go back to bed and see how I was feeling in 24-48 hours. I was frustrated when I got off the phone because my app had been telling me to go to the birth centre for the last 10 minutes because my contractions were coming thick and fast. I lasted maybe 10-15 minutes longer before asking Matt to call the labour line back again because I didn't want to speak to them unless I really needed to and in that time, I'd started to lose my mucus plug and felt like I'd never be able to leave the toilet ever again.

By around 3am, Matt and I were clambering into a taxi that bumped and rocked us all the way to the birth centre. I had put my headphones in and was still using my Positive Birth Company Freya app to track my surges - not because I needed to anymore, but it was helping me time my breathing and the positive affirmations in-between each surge helped me feel really calm and in control. Matt was amazing and took it upon his shoulders to be my voice for the most part and ran into the birth centre (alongside the taxi driver!) to let them know I was outside but finding it hard to get inside because the surges were so strong. I finally got inside and needed to have an assessment.

The midwives I had during my labour were fantastic. I'm sure they thought I was being dramatic during my assessment because I went from occasionally bending over the desk/chair in the room to breathe through a surge to crawling on the floor to breathe through one. For whatever reason, my body wanted to get as close to the ground as possible and I seemed to gravitate towards being on all fours and facing away from everyone. It turned out that little man had decided to have some of his first poo during this time and thus the midwives wanted to check how dilated I was as if I was under 4cm, they thought it would be better for me to go to the main hospital and labour ward because of little man's - literally - shitty antics.

I struggled to lie on the examination bed long enough for them to examine me but next thing I knew, I had asked how dilated I was and I was 10cm. 10cm! The midwife could see my baby's head! I can't lie, I was elated because a speck of doubt had started to creep into the back of mind that I wasn't going to be able to cope with labour. I started to think that if they feeling got any more severe and I was only 4cm dilated or less, I was going to have an awful time, so hearing "10cm - we really need to get you into the birthing room!" was the *best* thing I could have heard.

The rest of the labour was a bit of a blur to be honest. Because I had had headphones in for the majority of the time, I wasn't really listening to what was being said and Matt was answering most of the midwives' questions. When we got into the birthing room (somewhere between 4:30-5am), I noticed they weren't running the water for the birthing pool and realised that I had overheard a conversation that they had had with Matt correctly; because my waters had gone a green shade meaning they suspected Teddy had pooed, getting in the birthing pool was no longer an option. Due to how quick things were moving, I didn't really mind.

I didn't have time to put on my playlist of calming music I had created, I didn't have time to turn on my battery powered tealight candles, I didn't even have time to take my poorly chosen white t-shirt off. I simply got on all fours on a old-school-style gym mat on the floor whilst Matt was advised to sit on a birthing seat so I could lean on his legs whilst I pushed through the surges. Again, the midwives were amazing and encouraging - leaving me to do my own thing and just encouraging me through positive affirmations which I really appreciated. It helped me keep in the zone I'd managed to get into listening to my positive affirmations via my hypnobirthing app and I decided to continue to have that playing loudly as getting my playlist on was no longer a priority.

Everyone always says it but, it's truly amazing what the human body is capable of and how little of a shit you give during labour about various strangers staring intently into your vagina. Whilst I was hunched over on all fours, I had 3 of them with a torch behind me checking everything was moving along okay and it was still a sort of blur. Every single birth is so very different and there's absolutely no shame in anyone using pain relief during labour, but I was so shocked and surprised that I didn't stop to ask for any at any point. I honestly believe that practicing hypnobirthing and getting into such a positive mindset about labour aided this.

I had a 2nd degree tear as well as some grazing all of which needed stitches afterwards yet even during that, when I was advised to use gas and air, I was on such a euphoric high cuddling my baby that I simply didn't need it. Of course, it wasn't painless and it was certainly uncomfortable, but it was oddly manageable due to the outlook I had on the whole experience.

6:25am on the clock and Teddy was finally here. I've never felt such raw, animalistic instincts and emotion as I did during the last couple of hours of my birth and when he finally arrived. I remember hearing the midwives shouting "well done! Amy pick him up! That's it!" once he'd arrived and I scooped him up off the ground.

Remember what I was saying about my poorly-chosen white t-shirt? Well, something people failed to mention to me about labour was the amount of blood you can lose during the process. I didn't actually lose a lot, but I lost the "standard" amount really quickly as soon as Teddy arrived and therefore I was hurried onto the bed to have skin-to-skin contact with him and also advised to have the injection that can hurry up the second birth (of the placenta) and slow down the bleeding. I was happy to receive this because now I was just truly in a state of euphoria that I was actually holding my baby. My son.

Matt had the pleasure of cutting the cord after Teddy had received all of his blood back. Once it was cut and once I'd received my stitches, it was Matt's turn to have some skin-to-skin contact with our little boy whilst I ate some toast and a grotesque cup of tea but at the time, it tasted delightful.

Although I had a fantastic labour and couldn't have asked for it to have gone better, my aftercare wasn't so great. I had specifically chosen the birth centre as I was a low risk birth and I knew they were keen to help mothers with breastfeeding. It turned out that breastfeeding just wasn't right for us due to Teddy's tongue tie, his difficulties with staying latched, and then the stress of me not producing anything. The latter started happening because I was constantly being manhandled by staff and was getting upset.

The first night staying there, Teddy hardly ate anything and had to be syringed colostrum (first breast milk) because he couldn't feed directly from me. As you can imagine, it wasn't a smooth-sailing night for the two of us and it certainly wasn't helped by staff. If they weren't pushing his face hard onto my breasts when he was hysterically crying and distressed, they were instead nowhere to be seen despite their "concerns" over him not feeding. The next day when Matt returned to the centre, we spent all day waiting for someone to come and help us. We had one midwife who came and asked "has he managed to latch at all?" twice over the course of the day but that was it. No advice, no support.

In that time I had watched one woman come in, have her baby, and be discharged, and another woman who had been transferred from another hospital getting special treatment despite her openly saying that there were no complications with her birth or her or the baby's health afterwards. In such a small centre, I was a priority patient and wasn't being treated as such. It was incredibly frustrating and absolutely heartbreaking that my baby was screaming due to hunger and I simply had nothing to provide for him.

Once it got to around 7pm, I had fully lost my temper and will to stay there. The straw that really broke the camel's back (and my polite British-ness) was when I finally had the chance to speak to a midwife and said I wanted to go home, I was met with the rudest "and how do you expect to feed your baby at home when he's not feeding here?". "Well none of you have fucking helped me since 3am this morning so I guess I'll carry on figuring it out by myself?" is what I should have said. I was too tired and defeated by that point though and just repeatedly said "I'd like to go home" instead, in fear of bursting into tears in front of this clown who was supposed to have some bedside manner. By 8pm we had been discharged and as soon as we got home, I burst into hysterical tears in relief. I instantly felt calm and in control and Teddy had stopped seeming so distressed too.

I'm very proud and pleased to say that one month on, he's thriving, feeding well (albeit not the way we planned), and growing with no issues. He's a healthy, happy, and very active boy and I only wish it wasn't totally bitter to visit the centre one last time to give some of the staff a big middle finger because my little family have flourished all on their own. Despite the poor aftercare, my labour is something that I already look back on fondly and I'm just *so* pleased with how the whole process went. Whether it was luck or just normality, I had a good experience and I know not everyone does. And that's where my little slice of "miracle" lies.

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September 09, 2019

#SecondhandSeptember: Staying on Trend without Buying New Clothes

The title of this post is making me feel a bit queasy because I wouldn't really count myself as someone who stays up-to-date with trends and I always seem to be a few seasons behind if I've got my finger on the pulse at all. If you looked at my Etsy recent searches, the fact that I'm constantly on the scout out for some WWII era vintage clothing might give you an idea of how much of a mish-mash my personal style can truly be. Last week I shared what my journey has been like so far with ditching fast fashion purchases but something that can make that lifestyle change all the more difficult is the trends and changes we see in heavy rotation in high street stores and on our favourite social platforms.

I follow a wide range of accounts on YouTube and Instagram but many of those are fashion-based. I like to see what people are styling up and how and get inspired for my own outfits and wardrobe this way so it's all positive for me. The problem with this though can be that that awful little lust devil can spring out and make me want to purchase *that* specific dress or *that* pair of shoes but of course, if they're from a fast fashion brand, I find myself in a dilemma of my ethics fighting my desires. Thankfully, my ethics override my lusting 99.9% of the time but it got me thinking; how do I usually get around this so I can still enjoy "on-trend" items if I want them but stay true to my slow, secondhand, sustainable fashion ways?

Is it the item or is it the style?
One thing I try to work out from the start is whether or not I'm lusting over the item itself or is it something about the cut, colour, styling etc. If it's a flowing midi dress of some description, it's probably the silhouette that's caught my eye and thus I can look out for items that have a similar cut in charity shops or online secondhand. I can cross-reference the dress with sustainable brands I follow and see if they've got something similar in their collections or better yet, can make me something similar as a commission piece (if I'm feeling flush).

Although some people believe you shouldn't have any fast fashion brands in your wardrobe if you're being a conscious fashion consumer, I'm all for secondhand purchases because you're giving that item a loving home where it will be worn (probably too much) and that's never a bad thing. Therefore if I've worked out that it's actually the unique print of a piece that's attracted me or if in three months time, I still haven't managed to find anything like the item in question, I'll start searching eBay and Depop for that specific item. Fast fashion has such a quick turn-around in terms of what's on-trend, but purchasing secondhand like this can always help you stay relevant with those trends without buying direct.

Try things on in store
If you're someone who can resist the urge to just purchase a fast fashion item, trying things on in store is always a great idea. If you're not apposed to picking up fast fashion items secondhand, trying them on in store can ensure that the silhouette/cut/fit suits you and is actually something you want to own. Part of shopping secondhand/living a slow fashion lifestyle is trying to not have too much in your wardrobe just for the sake of it. Over the last couple of years I've tried my upmost to make more considered choices with my purchases and even if I'm buying into a trend, I want to purchase items knowing that they'll actually get worn. Trying items on in store helps me decide if I will actually wear that dress I've been lusting over and it also gives me a chance to wear it with items already in my wardrobe such as shoes/a bag that I envisioned it looking great with.

Remember, trends come back around
Trends always resurface and the speed in which they are doing this doesn't seem to be slowing down. For example, I bought a lot of my woven straw/rattan bags a few years ago from the likes of Bohemia Design and surprise surprise, this summer they've still been something that's on-trend. I can just pull out those bags in summer and there's been no new purchases in sight. Always shop your wardrobe first to see if you have something similar already that maybe you can just update or wear slightly differently before you feel you need to purchase something new. For instance, if you've been lusting after a red midi dress you've seen popping up everywhere, why not see if you have another midi in your wardrobe you've been wearing less that could be dyed and revived? Not only will it save you some money, but it'll give that item a new purpose and you'll have something unique - not everyone is happy to wear *that* Zara polka dot dress if everyone else is wearing it too.

If it's a trend item that is from a previous generation (i.e. 70's crochet handbags, Y2K denim etc.), searching online for genuine vintage items or in vintage stores is a great option because not only are you avoiding fast fashion that - let's be honest - is probably badly/cheaply made, you will also be getting a more authentic item that will still have an element of uniqueness because it's not from Asos or Topshop's current season. Investing in vintage items that have come back around in trends is always a good shout because they're usually better quality and you can sometimes find a gem for a fraction of the price of the current fast fashion season equivalent!

Create a list and stick to it!
If you're a regular reader around here, you'll know I always suggest creating a list for almost all situations so there should be no surprise that I'm suggesting it again, here. If you're someone who curates fashion inspiration via Pinterest, Instagram's "saved posts" function, or simply folders on your laptop or phone, check out what trends are reoccurring for you. When you then feel the need to shop or need to pick up some new items at the start of a fresh season, you have the ammunition to pick out exactly what you want. This not only helps you pick out the trends you actually want to invest in, but it also stops you from impulse buying and being wasteful. For example, for me this Autumn/Winter, I want a pair of black heeled boots that are smarter to wear than my Doc Martens, a wrap belted winter coat, a specific handbag that I seem to be seeing everywhere and I'm disappointed that I don't own - yet. Therefore, these are the items I'll be hunting for in charity shops and online on eBay, Depop, and Etsy (mostly).

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September 04, 2019

Saying Goodbye to Fast Fashion: My Journey so Far

Back in 2017, I decided to say goodbye to fast fashion. Getting older and learning more about the industry I so heavily invested my time and passion in made me realise that it wasn't as nice of a place as I once thought that actually, the fashion industry can be damaging and how I was consuming it was adding to that damage. I wanted to consume less. I wanted to consume smart.

It's been almost two and half years now since I pledged to ditch the fast fashion world and reflecting on the changes I've made in that time and the things I've learned is great. I am very aware of what I've managed to achieve, what I really truly failed to, and what things I could and hopefully will still improve. It's a huge lifestyle overhaul and that shouldn't be overlooked when transitioning to a more sustainable or conscious-consumer lifestyle. So, for all of you out there who might be trying to switch things up and you feel like you're not doing it right or you've had a setback or you just simply want to join the conversation - this post is for you so you know that everyone fucks up. Me included and in a variety of ways (it's cool, we can all drag me together).

I've slipped off the wagon
I would be straight up lying to you all if I sat here and said that I've not bought directly from a fast fashion brand at all over the past 2.5 years. There's been times when that convenience, accessibility, and sheer overwhelming choice of options have won me over and honestly? It's something I know I can't beat myself up about too much. I've mentioned it before, but choosing to shop slow fashion in any capacity can be a shock to the system, particularly if you are or were someone like me who would buy a few items from Asos every. single. week. If you are/were on first name terms with the Hermes delivery driver and could ask him how the wife and kids were that week, then yes, suddenly curbing the spending would be a huge change.

I now know that it hasn't been the end of the world that I have done this over the last couple of years but instead, I can take away learning curves from it and assess why it is that I felt the high street fast fashion labels were my only option and ensure that I don't make the same slip ups in the future. A couple of areas that stick out for me is buying underwear (I had zero idea where to shop sustainable brands and I'm a girl who likes some underwire and support - a lot of ethical/sustainable brands seemed to have comfy triangle bras but not a lot of the industrial-support I was looking for) and maternity clothing. Oh my my, when I found out I was pregnant, I had all these grand schemes for buying ethical handmade dresses and stretchy items but it just wasn't feasible. I've literally woken up and not been able to fit into a pair of leggings that I had on the previous day and I've had to panic-buy something so I could go to work on Monday, not wearing my pyjamas. I also haven't been able to justify buying a £200 ethical dress when I've had to compare that to buying 5 for the same price because again, having one item that fits when you're a clumsy pregnant woman who constantly spills things down herself just isn't feasible. I know that these decisions haven't been made with no thought or consideration and I know with better planning, research, and now experience, they are unlikely to happen again in the future and that's good enough for me.

It really is a complete lifestyle overhaul and it's not linear
Again, I've mentioned how overwhelming the change of the transition can be, but it's because it's not just a case of changing your wardrobe - it's breaking old habits, changing how you have consumed fashion for years, and feeling confident in doing so. A huge learning curve for me has been assessing my shopping habits. Previously I shopped often. I'm talking spending hours each week scrolling through sites such as Zara and Asos and always picking at least one item up. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise that a transition into slow fashion and only shopping secondhand or sustainably meant that I couldn't maintain that attitude to consuming. Trying to be a conscious consumer meant that I needed to put my shopping under more scrutiny. Buying 10 items on Depop instead of having a my very own weekly Asos haul wasn't being a conscious consumer - it didn't mean I was I doing the whole slow fashion thing right. Although my best intentions were there, it took me time to realise that my actions weren't mirroring the impact I wanted to make and I had to give myself time to realise that and change it.

There's some areas of your consumer personality you don't need to change
Changing to slow fashion, I initially detoxed all of my social media and YouTube subscriptions over a few days. I stopped following people I had for years all because they did weekly fashion hauls or really loved certain brands etc. and that was actually a bad move for me. I realised I could still be inspired by these influencers I enjoyed watching or reading about whilst changing my own outlook. Don't get me wrong, if you're someone who has very little willpower or you're easily tempted, following loads of fast fashion YouTubers probably isn't wise, but I found a happy medium between following influencers who are sustainable/ethical/slow fashion aficionados and promoters and then influencers who's personal style I just love and therefore look to for inspiration. It doesn't mean I have to go out and buy that sold-out Topshop skirt because they're wearing it in a really nice outfit, it just means that if I'm still lusting after that item in a couple of months time, maybe I can look for something similar on eBay or in my local charity shops.

*Do* follow some slow fashion inspiration though
It's definitely all about balance and following individuals who are also passionate about slow fashion or conscious consuming in general can really help you keep focus and also learn so you can continue to grow on your own journey. Instagram and YouTube are my two biggies for this and I enjoy following such a range of accounts that either share important climate change information (which helps me remind myself why I've made the changes I've made) or who buy exclusively from sustainable brands (so I find new shops I've not heard of before) or who simply shop completely secondhand (so they inspire me to keep that aspect of personal style and wear whatever I want, sourced in a more circular way). Following these positive influencers helps me when I'm feeling tempted by something I've seen or if I'm feeling in a "treat yo' self" mood to take a step back and ask if I a) really need this and b) if I do, does it really need to come from this awful brand with awful ethics?

Get informed - you won't know everything right away!
Lastly something that I *need* to get across to anyone worrying is that you won't be perfect and you certainly won't be at the start of your journey and that's *more* than okay! When I first decided to make the switch, I hadn't actually done all that much research in the grand scheme of things - I did a bit of reading, donated and sold a lot of my unworn clothes, and tried my hand at creating a capsule wardrobe to try and get things moving. These things did help me start the process, but I've learned so much more since then about fast fashion, ethical practices, my consuming habits etc. and I'm well aware that my approach and attitude to this lifestyle choice will continue to change and alter course and content as the years go by. Rather than worry about that and see it as something I haven't perfected yet and therefore it's a failure, I'm seeing it more exciting steps in the right direction and my journey will continue to improve over the next few years.

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