What do you get when you cross Catch 22 with 1984 and an angry mother?

Right now I am supposed to be spending five hours working on my search for a job but I am not. I am too cross and tired to spend five hours doing anything, let alone filling out Universal Jobmatch to show that after looking after two children for 13 hours on my own (and the countless hours throughout the night that I am currently preparing for), I have done the minimum amount of applications to qualify for my Job Seeker’s Allowance.

I was well aware of how morally reprehensible it is to cut off the benefits for those out of work because the rules haven’t been followed. It saddens me deeply that in trying to put food on the table and pay the bills the many have been punished because some people like to make examples of the few who choose to scam the system. I can really only speak for myself in this but if someone is skilled at playing the JSA game, let them do so because from experience, they really are the few and it is small price to pay to treat people with respect and dignity.

What I wasn’t aware of was with how little dignity people out of work are treated and how low down the scale children and family life are placed when money is concerned. Part of the problem is that caring for and raising children isn’t seen as unpaid work, even though it is essential for our society and the human race to exist. It is somehow seen by the DWP as a luxury that you should only do if you can afford to or otherwise: get a job.

I was told today that I needed to spend 35 hours a week minimum working on getting myself into employment, the Job Centre would no longer help or support in this and I was to do it myself as though it was my full time job. Additionally, I was expected to apply for every job within 90 minutes travel that I had experience in or could reasonably perform. I was to then evidence this to my advisor and show what I had done over and above this to get myself back into employment.

So far, so reasonable. That is if I did not have two young children relying on me. If they were older or I was childless, then of course I would spend my time applying for each and every job I could do rather than receive the dole. In fact, when I was made redundant from my first full time job I did just that; I got up at 5am each day and spent my entire day applying. Within a month I had a full time job again. But I am no longer childless.

Breaking it down, this is what life for me and my children would look like if I followed these rules. First of all, to spend 35 hours a week on my job search gives me two options:

Option 1: I do this in my evenings. This means after I have got the children to bed, I then need to be searching for jobs until at least 1am, probably later as parenting doesn’t stop when the children are in bed. This doesn’t include all the other things you do on an evening as a parent like clean, wash, prepare things for the next day. They would have to be done outside of this time.

Option 2: Do it in the day. My advisor said I needed to check the website and re-save my CV morning, noon and night. That means 5 hours in the day of essentially ignoring my children, putting their needs second, not meeting the developmental needs of my 9 month old. I would love 5 minutes in the day to go to the toilet in peace, let alone 5 hours to ‘work’ on finding work.

After finding 35 hours each week to look for jobs, if I were then to get as far as being offered one – in the extreme case scenario – 90 minutes away and full time. I should probably point out that this is not 90 minutes door-to-door but 90 minutes of reasonable travel time. For me, this would mean leaving the house before 7.30am and returning some time after 6.30pm. I wouldn’t actually see my baby awake for 5 days out of seven. My husband works abroad part of the time so for the best part of a week my children would see neither parent but hired childcare. Not only does this make me incredibly sad but after paying the cost of the childcare and the travel we probably wouldn’t be better off than we are now. I would be selling my kid’s childhood with their mother for a little bit of money or more likely, not getting into more debt.

I pointed this out to the advisor. I was told that while I can explain my family circumstances and it would be noted, it wouldn’t be taken into account as this was the bare minimum to receive JSA. It’s seen as a lifestyle choice.

I don’t blame the Job Centre advisors, they are simply following rules themselves so they don’t end up on the other side of that desk. To add insult to injury, they are no longer allowed to make reasonable judgments for themselves. I was informed that I would be expected to attend an Employability Workshop. This takes place once a week at 3.15pm on a Wednesday for two hours and is expected of all new applicants regardless of how ’employable’ they may actually be.

I pointed out that I had to collect my son from nursery on a Wednesday but if it was mandatory I would remove him an hour early and attend with both children. This is when I was told I wouldn’t be able to take either child. With a husband in Europe working and unable to afford childcare out of work, I asked how this would be possible. They agreed to pay for the childcare if I found someone before Wednesday but they could delay it a week to give me time. I asked if they thought it right I was being asked to leave my children for two hours with a stranger and what they recommended I do with my 9 month old who was still being breastfed and had yet to be left with a non-parent carer? I said I was unwilling to put my baby through that as I knew she would just scream for two hours and that would be traumatic for both the children. All to attend a workshop that wasn’t going to directly lead to a job. They are getting back to me with a decision as to whether or not I have to attend.

Suffice to say I left the job centre feeling stressed and down hearted. I am applying for JSA because in the past five months of applying for every part time job available in my area, I have barely heard back from any and we now need the extra support while I continue to do this. I posted on Facebook about how frustrated I was with the interview and how it saddened me that this is how we treat people in this country. The response from people I knew who had also experienced this was surprising. All found that the job centre has become a series of hurdles of overcome where you are trying to prove you deserve JSA and meet all the rules and regulations, regardless of whether they help or hinder a job search. On the most part, it feels like you are being set up to fail from the outset and done so on purpose so that you won’t claim, so the statistics show that you are not unemployed.

Sometimes people find themselves between jobs, they can be educated, have long careers, great skills and still need support. Regardless of why someone is unemployed or how long they have been, they still deserve a level of respect and dignity that is no longer given. Above all, family life should be supported, time with young children should be valued.

How old were you when you first tried hummus?

I am some times a tad jealous of the range of foods my kids have chucked on the floor within the first few years of their lives. Maybe it was because I was quickly North-Londonised that hummus, pesto and olives are standard meal time fare in our house but I didn’t touch any of those things until I was in my mid-20s.

My move to London was a watershed in my life of “things I didn’t know but which normal people do”. The nearest revelation I had experienced prior to this was not knowing if the cafe I was in was a ‘go up and pay’ kind of place or an ‘ask for the bill’ one. All of this is pretty obvious these days but back in my early 20s it was not. Painfully not.

Take for instance trying to buy a sandwich in my first year of university. How can buying a sandwich possibly reign embarrassment over me and expose my total lack of social awareness? Here’s how. For 3 months I had been patronising a sandwich bar in Angel for cheap and large portioned sandwiches. I came from Bradford and a panini is as exotic as you get there. In fact, it is less the curry capital and more the panini capital given how prolific the toasted sandwich is up there. I am not sure the Italians had bacon and baked beans in mind when inventing the panini or that it should be used to describe said filling placed in the middle of a white roll and warmed in a microwave but knowing this might go some way to explain my actions.

In this Islington sandwich bar I tended to order a roasted vegetable, avocado focaccia. Which is all very good but for 3 months no one thought to explain to me that I was pronouncing focaccia incorrectly. In fact, I think the deli guy did once correct me but to my untrained ears it came back as an incomprehensible cough and I probably did the nod-and-smile of which I was so often on the receiving end. Mispronouncing ‘foccacia’ in a broad Yorkshire accent came out sounding more like ‘fuck-a-chee-ah’. To add insult to injury, I had also never seen an avocado before and could never remember what the things were called so I used to just ask for ‘the green stuff’.

It wasn’t just food that this was limited to. One of my first experiences of a London club was also an eye-opener. With some of the people in my halls of residence we went to the Zoo bar in Leicester Square. Now I thought this was amusing because it was a world away from the now defunct Zoo Bar in Halifax where the beer was cheap, the floor sticky and the average age of punters was 16. The Zoo Bar in Leicester Square was filled with tourists or bankers or worse, men pretending to be bankers. Someone passed around champagne at one point but being of the nature that bought drinks should be returned in the next round, I politely declined.

It was in the loo that my faux pas finally took place. You’d be lucky to find a toilet door, dry floor and a seat in most of the bars I’d drink in back home so to find a nice lady sat by the sink, politely handing me a towel to dry my hand was something of a surprise. I’d never come across a toilet attendant before in my life. I never knew such a job existed. And so being so wide-eyed and amazed by such a thing, the toilet attendant announced that it would be £1 to visit the loo. “Every time?” I asked. “Yes, every time” she said. I worried. I have the bladder the size of a peanut and had little more than my bus fare home left. I don’t think I have ever held on longer in one night than I did that night.

I feel I have come a long way since those days; I am no longer offered a fork and spoon in noodle bars for a start. However, it was pointed out to me yesterday that I have been pronouncing crudites incorrectly for my entire life.

Should I share my bed?

This morning I appeared on Good Morning Britain as a vox pop about shared-sleeping. I love shared-sleeping and wished I could have spoken for longer about how wonderful it is but I had about 30 seconds at 6am which was aired at 8am. I do not operate at the best mental capacity at 6am for anything.

Shared sleeping is often bagged into one of those attachment parenting things. I hate labeling parenting as anything other than parenting so I see it as once of those getting a good nights sleep things.

It isn’t just about my energy levels the next day but about what is best for my children. They have lived inside of me for 9 months and that separation process is a slow one. They will be more confident and happier to sleep on their own if they’ve been kept close for the first few months.

There are risks involved in shared sleeping as much as there is with anything to do with a little person who relies on you for everything. These are common sense things such as not drinking, not taking medication, moving pillows and duvets away. I never share the bed with either of my children if one of us are drunk, it is simply not safe and that is very obvious. As I am breast feeding, I don’t drink very much these days any way.

The positives though are that you get a great bond with your child, they transition to their own room better in their own time, you can respond to their cues instantly and you have the energy to meet your children’s needs the next day.

We have a lovely set up in our room, which makes shared sleeping very safe and sadly this didn’t get the chance to be expressed on TV this morning. The cot has one side down and is up against our bed so while my daughter is in arms reach and contact with me throughout the night, she also has her own sleeping space.

This works wonderfully until about 1am when she gets a feed at which point she decides that 6 inch gap between us is too much and needs cuddles. I can do so without the tears of transferring her back to the bed or risking her safety.

I always wondered why I never really rocked or bounced my children to sleep as I have known others to do and it’s because they have been allowed to get the comfort they need through the night and know that I will be right there.

It hasn’t been a easy road to this confidence about shared sleeping. When I had my first son I was told I would smother him or make a rod for my own back. It didn’t take long to realise that ‘make a rod for my own back’ was often said through sucked teeth and really meant “you’re doing something that I don’t like with your child”. In this case I was told how we would never get him out of our bed, that my husband would hate shared sleeping and I would regret it.

The opposite was true. My son went into his own room at around 1 year old and there he has stayed. It has been commented on how well he goes to bed and how happy he is there. When discussing my husband’s thoughts yesterday, as I had until now not actually asked him his thoughts because it just seemed so natural and normal to both of us, he said he felt a stronger bond to the children and it was great that no one else was woken by the night feeds. So it is fair to say he is very supportive of sharing the bed.

In fact, some of our nicest mornings are when my son wakes and comes and crawls into bed with us. We have four in a bed and some wonderful family memories.


The safety of home birth was in the news again today. I will be later comparing my experiences of home vs hospital from both my lovely births.


I started this blog 3 years ago because being a new mum was a lot like being a University fresher or the new kid in school. You are dropped in with a bunch of women who happened to procreate around the same time as you and it’s hoped you get along with the single common denominator of when you gave birth.

Just like starting University, being in new social circles takes a while to settle down but with less alcohol and more body issues. I started university with high expectations of what the social life would be like and the reality was hugely different.  I had never given my blue spiked hair, piercings, make up or choice in clothing a second thought before I started university. Where I came from and the people I met were completely accepting of how anyone looked and those who weren’t just were not in my sphere of awareness. At university, this was the first time that I was made to feel self-conscious about how I expressed myself and how I had felt comfortable for so many years.

Eventually, I had a wonderful group of friends and housemates at university and again in the work place. I didn’t compromise who I was to the situation but found people who I was comfortable around again. I didn’t expect to have to go through that again in such a significant way and yet I did when I had my son. Again, three years on, I have a wonderful network of friends who I have more in common than simply procreation.

So three years on and a second child in and I am back in the same situation once more. We relocated a month ago to a whole new part of the country where I did not know anyone. I had a newborn and a three-year old. I am carrying some serious post-baby weight. I am back where I was when I started this blog. Only, I am not because I have learned from last time.

I am aware that settling into a new major situation takes time and breathing space. I cannot expect an instant social scene but will take time to meet people who will become firm friends. It took years to build friendships that I made following my first child and they are friends I treasure. I cannot expect it to be any different this time around.

My post-baby weight is slowly shifting. I am taking small steps; 20 minutes of hard core exercise when I am able to do so; eating wholefoods; wearing clothes that fit rather than clothes that I want to fit. I am out of maternity clothes already and fit into my size 14 clothes. By ‘fit’ I mean breathing in and hiding lumps with baggy jumpers. I am aiming for between baby sizes rather than pre-baby sizes.

I feel more confident about achieving these goals and have the focus to do so. Plus the wide open space of the countryside is certainly helping.

I went into labour at Black Sabbath…

… is thankfully one story I will not be telling. Less than 24 hours after standing in Hyde Park watching Sabbath’s possibly last ever gig and Soundgarden play Superunknown, my baby daughter arrived at home in less than an hour and half.

Put in perspective, we spent longer the night before she arrived trying to get a taxi home than I spent in labour. The midwife turned up exactly 2 minutes before she arrived, the paramedics who were sent because the midwife looked like she wouldn’t make it in time,  turned up 2 minutes after birth. My husband and son were sat having a coffee down the road less than an hour before when they left to get the correct hose/tap attachment for the birth pool.

It was blooming lucky I wasn’t on my own.

Earlier that morning, I felt a little peculiar so had my husband empty the flat of excess people just in case  but decided it was either a false alarm or long niggling, low level contractions. I went for a nap for what I thought was 10 minutes but turned out to be much longer. Woke at 3pm and had some regular but still not as strong as last time, contractions.

My husband started setting up the pool then went to B&Q so he could get the part to fill it. This was at 4.30pm. My son was helping all the way with climbing on the birth ball to cuddle me and breath with me. It still seemed liked very early labour.

While they were out, I thought, ‘heck I could probably do with some gas and air soon, better text the husband to call the midwife’. Ended up doing so myself because I was told none were available for an hour or so. Called back again 10 minutes later to say ‘nope better just send anyone, this baby is coming’.

Thirty minutes after my husband started to fill the pool, with the hose still in, I hopped in. Again, not quite believing the contractions were either strong or regular but that they were rolling into one big continuous one I found myself pushing. With my husband behind me saying ‘er you sound like you are pushing, I had better call them again’.

Ambulance en route to help until the midwife arrived, the midwifes just beat them there and by minutes just beat our little girl. In fact, as the midwives arrived, I am there asking how dilated I am, expecting them to say 6 cm and stop wasting my energy pushing, when they said I’d done the job for them as she was crowning.

An hour and half after it all started, born in a pool that had only just been filled, at home, where I pretty much sang her out.

One of the amazing pieces of birth advice from my yoga class was low level noises to move you into the contraction. So I spent the past week selecting some drone music to practice my breathing and yoga to and am so glad I did. Earth were playing as I pushed with my best drone voice and out she came.

It was a wonderful home birth, a world of difference to birthing in the hospital. The midwives were amazing, my family were around me, it was calm and a beautiful experience.



I never talked about my miscarriage with my friends. The only reason I realised that so many women have miscarriages and just get on with normal life is when it was discussed with a group of Mums while we were all heavily pregnant. I was surprised to learn that most of the pregnant women from my ante-natal group, from my local area, had had a miscarriage at some point in their life. Some had suffered from multi-miscarriages. We all sat over cake and coffee and shared our miscarriage experiences while awaiting the births of our first children. It turns out that this was only scratching the surface of women I know who have miscarried; a number of close friends also miscarried and never talked about it. It’s not really cheery, Friday night pub conversation is it?

However, the more we talk about things like miscarriage, the more we realise the support we get at the time is not enough. It was Jason Manford, in response to some particularly hideous internet trolls, who put it quite succinctly that you become a parent the moment you see that positive pregnancy test and you don’t grieve and suffer any less for an early miscarriage than you do for a late one; you love and want to protect that child from the moment you know they exist.

Around two years before I became pregnant with my first son, I was pregnant with another child. My husband and I were excited, we told family members and trusted friends who would notice my lack of drinking. Then seven weeks in I suddenly felt very ill at work, my vision blurred, I felt dizzy and a bit wrong. I decided to go home. By the time I got home the bleeding had started. My GP told me to go to the hospital and by the time my husband met me there, the bleeding was clotting. In the hours I waited to be seen by triage, I was too scared to return to the toilet in case of more blood. When they tested my urine they started asking questions about how I knew I was pregnant, did I do a home or GP test? Did I see it was positive? How many did I take? My test strip in the hospital had come back negative, my early pregnancy hormones were dropping.

When I finally saw a doctor she told me it was positive my cervix was still closed but less so that I had clotting and a drop in hormones. We were told to expect to pass the foetus overnight in my sleep and were duly sent home with some maternity pads and an appointment for scan the next day. The foetus had passed in the night and the scan showed no baby. I was heartbroken. Words like chemical pregnancy and false positives were mentioned even though I had incredibly strong symptoms of early pregnancy; I have with all my pregnancies.

No counselling was offered and no other support. I was young and didn’t know I could access any. I dealt with it in the only way I knew how and so started a slow spiral of depression that would become, within the year, as a total emotional breakdown. Given that I had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder only a couple of years before, the signs were there that I was not coping with this new trigger. I made bad decisions, drank a lot, threw myself into work and partied equally as hard. Marriage, friendships and my health all suffered.

By the time I realised I needed some sort of help, I was turned away from my GPs with a sick note for two weeks’ off work with stress and faced with exasperation from the doctor that I was just ‘pulling a sickie for extra holiday’. There was still no offer of counselling and no time given to my tears and story of how I had ended up in such a mess. I would flip between days of not sleeping, not eating, drinking and making crazy plans to days on end when I couldn’t wake up, couldn’t move from my bed and felt like the worst person in the world. This was over a year from the miscarriage itself.

I finally got the help I needed through various people and the unending support of my husband, who didn’t give up on me. I was told I was suffering manic depression and I worked through the triggers of each time my life felt it had spiralled out of control. Two years after my miscarriage, I was pregnant again. This time when the pregnancy symptoms stopped suddenly at seven weeks I demanded a scan. We saw the heartbeat of our first born for the first time. I tried not to worry throughout pregnancy that somehow my body would fail this child too, it was hard not to. But as time went on, the worry faded and we enjoyed waiting for our son to be born.

It was a hell of a journey to get to where we are now, a happy family with the second child on the way. While in the same breath that our struggles have made us the family we are, we need not have struggled as we did had the support and care been offered in the first instance.


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Nesting for Renters

I am at the point in pregnancy where nesting has kicked in. Except I don’t particularly like cleaning and decorating is out of the question as we live in a rented flat. I do sit and day dream about what I would like to do to the place if we owned it; where I would put up shelves and hidden doors, how the shoes would be in a cleverly disguised show rack which fit our hallway, rather than slung in an overflowing box.

Instead, my nesting is coming out in cooking and crafting. Which is great except I suspect the living room being filled with half-finished craft projects is driving my husband a bit nuts. He keeps making noises about the sewing machine needing to make the move to the loft so we have space for baby things.

It seems so strange that our little one-bed flat where we had our first son was so spacious and accommodated him just right. Whereas, in our larger two-bed I am wondering where on earth we are going to actually put this new, small human when she arrives. So in a reaction to this, I am filling all available spaces with knitted blankets, patchwork nursing cushions and booties which I know will not be worn. Common sense does not live here anymore.

Preparing for the birth has also gone a little awry. I am having a home birth so there are some essentials that we need to get, like mattress protectors for the floor, old towels and to find where I stuffed the half-finished tube of Lansinoh. Instead, I have some appropriate birth music for the record player, a birth ball pumped up to put my feet on and a vague plan to collect a birth pool from a friend at some point before my waters break.

Then Mumsnet asked its bloggers to take the Victoria Plumb Quiz and find out what their celebrity bathroom style was. I am Mrs Boho Chic whose essentials are a coffee maker, tea sets, beautiful bake ware, a dining table to fit the family and a Winchester roll top bath. So they have got me pretty spot on.

When I dream about my big lottery win and a town house in Highgate, the central bathroom feature is always a big, roll top bath. I did once live in a house with a beautiful roll top bath in it. It would have been perfect except for the very hairy housemate who tastefully covered it with said hair during his morning showers and failed to rinse it out afterwards. Also not helping the dream bathroom look was the fact that we needed to lean a chopping board against the side of the bath to direct the water from the shower into the plug hole lest it start raining from the ceiling lights in the kitchen. But that’s London renting for you.

Thankfully, this has not soured my dream of one day owning my very own roll-top bath placed in the middle of a grand bathroom. One where I don’t get interrupted mid-hair wash to do things like wipe a poo-bum, or get out of the shower immediately because the train tracks have been put on top of the trains and only Mum can uncover them. Yes, my dream bathroom will be a child-free zone. They can have their own bathroom elsewhere in the house filled up with delightful plastic toys in all the colours of the rainbow.

My bathroom will be white with bare wood floors, fluffy towels that are big enough to hide inside and feel like cotton wool. A self-cleaning toilet is probably taking it too far but in absence of that, an easy-clean loo. Windows that overlook grounds and let in natural light would also be essential. Again, it is not until you rent a converted flat that you realise just how important and often rare it is to have a window in the bathroom to let out the steam.

I would fill the bathroom with REN products and have a little table to side of the bath to hold my wine, book and a few candles. There should probably be some music pumped into the room. In the interests of sharing with my husband, I would also have a small bookshelf to house the bathroom books. I already feel relaxed just thinking about this bathroom.