Monday, 31 August 2009

It's a Carnival: Raising your child bilingually

And here it is, can I have a fanfare please, tatata taaaa! the first carnival on raising multilingual children. When I stumbled across my first hurdles in raising my daughter bilingually, all the books I'd bought were of little use. So, in good old blogger fashion, I tried to find blogs on the topic to get some answers to the questions that I had. It wasn't as easy to find blogs about raising bilingual children, and there is no significant online community that brings them together. Up came the idea of a bilingualism carnival in the hope that this may kickstart some discussion on the topic, some exchange of experiences and ideas, and provide a platform for parents to find answers, share tips and signpost to resources.

The plan is that there will be a regular carnival on the topic which will support parents going through the trials and tribulations of keeping more than one language and culture alive in their households, while providing a resource of ideas and experiences for those who are or plan to bring up their children with more than one language.

The great thing about bilingual parenting is that often, the language combination doesn't matter so much because the experiences are quite similar whatever the language pair. To be fair, the blogs I've come across have given me more ideas and support than any of the books on bilingualism I bought (and believe me, I bought quite a few).

If you're interested in hosting one of the next carnivals, please go to the bilingual carnival page over at Bilingual for Fun, where you can find the schedule and register your interest.
The next carnival on raising children bilingually will be over at Blogging on Bilingualism, on 30th September 2009. Please send your contributions to whim2 @ leaving out the spaces in the address. Above all, huge thanks, danke, gracias, spaciva, grazie, merci, go raibh maith agat, dank u well to everyone who contributed to this first raising bilingual children carnival!

Bilingual children: how to start seems to be just the right place to begin this carnival. Barbara at Barbaraland raises her children with Italian and English and dispels the myth that raising bilingual children will confuse them or may be bad for their language development.

Not so very sure about this is Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things in her hilarious post On swinging both ways, however, I always thought the 400m hurdles were the most exciting part of any athletic championship, so here's to bilingual hurdlers!

Fraught Mummy at Brits in Bosnia ponders in her post Learning Languages the way her family's move to Bosnia has affected their children's ability to speak English and how they may lay the foundations for future trouble, with their children being able to speak a language they themselves aren't fluent in.

If your children are approaching school age, Letizia at Bilingual for Fun offers a comprehensive guide on chosing the right schooling for your bilingual child.

Jan at Babelkid (what an aptly named blog - in his household the children speak French, Arabic and German) has his kids telling him off for using an English word at the breakfast table in a very clever turn of usual events, when he is told that English is not spoken here.

Similarly, Ju at Double Trouble is told off by her daughter for speaking Portuguese at the school in her post Ingles/Portugues (apologies for lack of Portuguese characters, I haven't figured out how to use special language characters in blogger).

Kathryn at Life in Italy writes about her experience of raising two children bilingually in Italy, with English as the "other" language having found out that text book approaches are just that but real life is a different story altogether.

Along similar lines, the Perfectly Happy Mum Peggy will make you laugh out loud in How the hell am I going to teach these kids French where she tells us about her attempts to establish the one parent one language approach in her house. Life's never that straight forward and there are always a number of reasons not to be consistent, I say nodding my head in "been there, know what you mean" agreement at every paragraph.

Emily at Maternal Tales From the South Coast too struggles as she explains in her experience of raising her children French/English in England. It's not as easy as she thought, but not all hope is lost as she will tell you in her post Bilingual Children erm not quite.

And to add to that, I'm including my own first post on the topic of bilingualism, one child, two languages where I explain why raising Cubling bilingual is so important to me and why at the same time in spite of my determination, well, it could be going better.

You can find out all about a bilingual kindergarten on Blogging on Bilingualism where Eve interviews a local German woman who runs a bilingual kindergarten. A fascinating idea, and one that would really help us struggling parents keep up the weaker language (I for my part would be welcoming a German childminder with open arms).

Finally, Smashed Pea at Intrepidly Bilingual looks back on her experience of raising her children bilingually with hindsight in If only I had known..., a great resource for anyone starting out on the bilingual kiddo route or parents at a head scratching phase who are looking for some encouragement and ideas on how to keep going.

That's it for now, hope to see you all at the next carnival on Blogging on Bilingualism!

Friday, 28 August 2009

of angel babies, blogging and freebies

My niece is an angel baby. I'm writing this as she's lying in front of me, staring into this new world. She sleeps, feeds, looks about a bit, sleeps. For a mum of a spirited baby (that means babies who object to about everything except being carried or being attached to a nipple, who nap little and cry a lot, who scorn the 400 quid pram and make you wish you had invested in slings instead), this is truly amazing, I can't believe there are babies like her. Of course the unexpected worries one, while we are also thankful that she is such an angel baby and lets us spend lots of times with the toddlers too.

It's a strange combination of confidence and amazement. Yes, I can still remember what to do with a newborn and feel confident enough, but she is different, reminding me that really comparisons are just plain rubbish. Cubling almost didn't posset. Whereas currently, we are all running about stinking of resurgitated milk. Like, I've never seen milk come out of the nose!!! In Cubling's case, I hardly ever saw any milk at all (which was a different worry altogether). I now understand why some parents go through a lot of muslins and babygrows (Cubling had her babygrow on for days on end).

It also reminds me acutely of why I got so into blogging when pregnant and after giving birth. In the few and precious minutes that you have when with a newborn (even if they are more of them with this particular newborn), blogging is great - you spend as little or as much time as you like/can and that's that. No bad feelings for not having managed to drink your cup of tea before it got cold yet again. No cursing that the heap of washing keeps increasing and you don't even make it to the drying rack. All you need is a laptop on standby and your get your 5 minutes of me time.

Of course, it was different 2 1/2 years ago. I could never have just put Cubling down on blankets on the ground in front of me. She would also never have napped for the greater part of the day. Or napped in general for more than 30 minutes at a time. Yet I got very proficient at typing away on my laptop while breastfeeding (believe it or not) and getting my me time during those frequent and long feeds.

I also made an interesting discovery last night, prompted by my inability to write emails from my webmail because it's programmed in a way that it won't work for Firefox, boo. So I had to use my gmail account which is there but never used. Previously, I'd wondered about all these offers and freebies that mummy bloggers apparently get which really haven't ever made their way to me unless it was me who made contact through British Mummy Bloggers. I'd put it down to my blog not being popular enough, and that was fine really (I wouldn't have said no to a box of legos though!). Well, you may guess, my inbox had a few offers. One for vitamin supplements for children over 3. How suitable. Another one something to do with school. How suitable again. Hello advertisers, check the age of my wean please. Others are offers that are so beyond my life at the moment that they made me chuckle. A pamper day, yeah right. When exactly would I want to do that? I sported a greying long head of hair for inability to make it to the hairdressers for a good few months. Then there's a free lunch with bloggers near me. In theory this lunch idea is quite attractive though considering I have yet to actually meet a fellow blogger (apart from friends who also happen to blog that is). So if you're a blogger and are around Glasgow or Clackmannanshire and fancy a free pizza lunch and meeting me, let me know in the comment box. I'll be likely to be with child(ren) though as way of warning ;)

Oops, and there she's asleep again. Not a peep. Not a whimper. This is surreal.

(Oh and you've still got a chance to send me your contribution to the first carnival on raising bilingual children - links to your post should reach me (blog @ by 30th August. Ah go on, I'm trying to get 10 posts, and currently 3 short. It'll be fun, I promise!)

PS photo is entirely unrelated to blogpost. I just wanted to share it cause I like it - the moment before the balloon went pop in Culross a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Young People, Youth Work and Social Networking

Now how about that: There's little me, addicted to all things internet, and social networking. Still finding my feet around stuff like social bookmarking which I don't quite get. A definite convert to Twitter although I'm sure I'm not using it to it's full potential yet. And then work sends me to a conference on social networking in the youth work context. Bliss! Official endorsement of my geeky side.

If we forget about the rather rubbish start to the day (early childminder drop off, two trains and a 20 min walk and then having to walk around a rugby stadium twice in the pouring rain to find the flipping entrance, because the conference organisers had not managed to include information on which stand/gate to use, only to arrive late and have missed the chance to sign up to the workshop that I was most interested in. Rant over.), it was all good. I have a list of social networking sites that I want to try out: Friendfeed where you can integrate all your facebooks/bebo's of the world. Ning, ning and ning again (that's for my work context mind you). The massive increase of video blogging and microblogging this very year 2009. Statistics which boggle the mind.

Did you know that Bebo is particularly popular amongst young people in Scotland? It's the no. 1 social networking site in the 16-24 age bracket.
Then I found out how social networking on the go, i.e. with your iphone or equivalent is the taste of things to come. How particularly young people tend to use their mobiles for social networking. How MSM and Instant Messaging, and chat rooms, are still very popular among the young. How scarily easy it is to find out a lot of info on young people through their social networking profiles and what we need to do to protect them from those risks.

Above all, there was lots of food for thought. Youth workers and organisations working with young people are scared of social networking. And yes, there are risks. However, you don't avoid them by putting on blinkers and signalling three crosses. You can't make social networking sites go away, they are THE most used parts of the internet. And they do rock, to be fair. So in my view it's all about knowing the medium and working with young people to make them aware of risks and enable them to protect themselves. They're not daft, they can use that stuff better than middle aged me, so they can learn how to do it safely.

Another biggie for me was the fact how much it is assumed that because social networking is so prevalent, that everyone is using it. Well people, they're not. The young people I meet through my work often don't have a landline, never mind a broadband connection or an iphone. A phone that costs £30 a month? You must be joking. So social networking is all good and well but does also contribute to another social, digital divide. Another facet of a society tainted by deep running inequalities. You may say, well, they can do it on school or library computers. Hm, nice try, however, you can't access social networking sites from libraries, schools and many other public computers because of the restrictions put on such computers (see previous paragraph on the fear of the social network amongst youth workers/teachers).

There's a massive piece of work where we would like to use lots of social networking tools and we'll have to get our heads around the fact that we won't be able to create online communities amongst young people and their families who live in poverty, simply because they don't have the access to the internet that is needed for this. Of course, in our work we can offer, facilitate and provide such access, but that also means it's on our terms, and not entirely owned by the participants in our programme. Compromise is written all over it.

Not ideal, but at the same time I'm excited about all the stuff that's out there. To link in with my post on child protection and blogging, there was also a draft document on best practice of using social networking in the youth work context which also gave lots of food for thought. Specifically I've learned that young people should not disclose full name, name of their families, the name of their school (or show photos with school uniform), their address and that such disclosure may go through their friends. Add to that to only post photos of yourself that you would show your mum and you're on the right track.

I did go away with a strong urge to own an iphone. Ideal for feeding the habit. Oh dear, how far have I fallen.

Some interesting links on the topic:
And if I figure out SU and digg, maybe I even stand a chance of bookmarking it online.

Oh looky, a mossy jacket!

When I found out I was pregnant, I leaped right into this project. Understandably it was put on hold as my pregnancy ended in week 11, and I've done a lot of thinking what to do with this piece of knitting. It's not that I want rid of it because it reminds me or anything like that, no, it's just a lovely knit and it should be worn rather than be stacked away in my knitting basket. Anyway, I finished it after I'd finished knitting the massive project of a blanket for my little niece and really there was not much left doing.

I loved knitting it. It's done on biggish needles, with Rowan's Little Big Wool. I love all about it, the colour combination (which I get wrong often), the way it's knit in one piece and thus saves me hours of sewing up and finishing. The way the seems materialise as if by magic just by following the pattern and increasing stitches at the right points. They way the pattern makes no sense when you read it and it then oh so falls into place by just doing it. That it was a quick knit with lovely yarn. Many thanks to Fawn Pea for providing this amazing pattern for free on her blog, and I'm sure to be using another one of her patterns for another project soon!

So this is for an autumn / winter baby. Size 0-6 months and it's very warm. As my friend J. is currently in labour I wonder if it could fit her baby when it gets colder or if it'll be too small. I'm really knitting something else for her baby but that piece, well, turned out a tad bigger (as in 2-3years rather than 6-12 months size. Oh dear.) Or should it go to the baby of my friend whose due date is just a day before the one I had figured out for little button?

I haven't decided that but as you can see, there's plenty of babies about so it shouldn't be a problem. And I hope to knit a second one sometime in the future.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

blogging, photos and child protection

There was a bit of a discussion in the Cartside home about my posting of my niece's photo. And I thought it was a useful one, maybe one that every blogger should have.

As you may have noticed, I don't tend to post images that show Cubling's face and I also don't use her real name. Working for a children's charity which has child protection as one of its guiding principles, I'm well acquainted with how to protect identities using the internet for the protection of children. It's simple really:
a) you need parental consent to post a picture of a child. At work, that means written consent. I also always ask the child if they are happy for photos to be used (they are generally old enough to say)
b) If you post a picture of a child, you only identify her/him with first name and city, no other details, or to be super safe, use a fake first name.

So when it comes to Cubling and this blog, I'm more than following the guidelines. Parental consent can be implied, both hubby and I prefer not to show her face. I never use Cubling's real name. However, on Facebook, I post full face pictures and use her first name, making pictures visible to my friends only.

When I posted the photo of my niece, I did not seek parental consent before posting the photo on this blog. This is clearly wrong, so I've taken the photo down and try my best in future not to get carried away. Why did I do it in spite of knowing better? An urge to share with my readers the majority of whom I know, and because after all, she's a 2 day old baby on the photo which doesn't really mean she could be identified. The face is out of focus. The face is not fully shown, I consciously didn't pick the "best" photo. These are excuses of course. I should have sought parental consent first, and I didn't. I have no right to post her photo.

There is a more general issue here though: while it's up to each parent blogger to decide to post photos of their own child(ren) or not. However, there are plenty of photos out there in the blogosphere where children other than the blogger's own are shown. Somehow I doubt that the parents of the other children have given consent.

It's a tricky area, and of course nobody expects a blogger to be an expert on child protection. It's worth considering though so this is why I put this out for discussion. What are your views on posting photos of your child? And do you think it's ok to post a photo where other children are visible? Do you use real names or not?

Monday, 24 August 2009


My little niece I., born on 20th August 2009 at 3.11pm, weighing 8lbs 7oz (same as Cubling!).
She started rooting almost instantly, and has already slept through the night. Clever girl.

She was born by c-section much to the dismay of my sister in law who had so hoped to avoid the lengthy recovery, especially because big brother was so keen to meet his sister so he could run again with his mum. However, when the decision was made that a c-section was necessary, there really wasn't a realistic alternative, it was the safest option and even a natural birth advocate like me had to concede that this was a no brainer. I so felt for my sister in law, acutely remembering how I felt when a c-section was suggested to me (which I just about avoided). She'd tried so hard both times, and still a natural birth was taken from her again.

Personally, I'd been rather worried about the possibility of a section - I'm one to faint when drip needles are set, blood is drawn or when I get a jag at the dentist. And I wanted to be of use, not faint in the theatre. Strangely though, our minds work in mysterious ways and all I was focused on was to calm my sister in law as best as possible in this situation, and to see my beautiful little niece being born. Yes, I looked and even saw her bum coming out (after prompting by the nice anaestethist who encouraged me to look after I showed curiosity when her head was born). She looked so rosy for a newborn, so big, so healthy.

The hospital allowed plenty of skin to skin, so much more than I got when Cubling was born, and the baby only got weighed much later. She stayed in the same room as her mum all the time, again in contrast to my own experience. It was really nice to see, no prodding, no nothing, just plenty of cuddling up to her mummy which she clearly enjoyed.

I got home utterly exhausted at about 9.30pm, not that I did much all day, it must be that witnessing labour and the emotions of the day did take some energy.

As soon as I. was out of theatre, she started to root, latch and feed within an hour after birth, such an amazing thing to see.

As one of the birth partners, I was privileged to spend a lot of time with mum and new baby, and I got rather emotional yesterday as she snoozed in my arm and I realised that I'd seen this beautiful and strong little girl being born, such a special moment to witness, which I shall treasure forever.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

tomorrow is the day

Today my niece will be born, one way or another.
It's strange to have such certainty after waiting so long. Because my SIL is attempting a VBAC, she'll be induced 10 days past her due date. It's all very civilised considering the emotional rollercoaster of the last 2 weeks, the last 7 months in fact. Knowing that tomorrow is the day brings some calmness, at least for me.

Me and a mutual friend will be birth partners. I'm extremely honoured by this, excited, slightly anxious and unsure if I'll be any good at it, hoping all will go very smoothly.
Actually, I'm an emotional wreck by now. A post in draft form had to be deleted because it was written at a very low point. Suffice to say that there was a very low point today, and today, hopefully, there will be a very high point.
Focus on them, and keep a stiff upper lip. As if.

We are also hoping that there will be no hospital overnight stay, provided that delivery won't be by c-section. Please cross your fingers for my SIL that this will be the case, or you may even press your thumbs or do anything else that denotes good luck wishes in the culture you come from. She deserves it you see.

Broadcast may be interrupted depending on how little niece likes the outside world (considering she's not too keen to make an entrance by herself, she may have a few complaints).

8 pairs of welcoming hands ready to embrace you into this world. We've been waiting for you and are so looking forward to getting to know you. You'll meet a very clever big brother, a loving mother, a cheeky cousin, wonderful grandparents and doting aunties and uncles.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Ooooh, here it comes! Wheeled invasion of the two-year-old mind

(photo by wobble-san via Flickr)
There has been another invasion in the mind of certain two year olds.

It makes a noise, it is fast, it has a spinning front, eyes, wheels. It goes through fields, splashing hay all around it. Above all, it's apparently super scary. In an exciting, pleasurable way.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to the...
Combine Harvester.

If you've ever seen Cars, or have an iphone where you can do stuff like watch films (I don't, not sure how it works, but a certain more techy savvy person hailing from New York does), go to 56 minutes and 14 seconds and THERE IT COMES. Your one and only Combine Harvester! The first tast of a car chase: piercing squeeks of delight, uncontrollable movements of hands, arms, legs and feet, the all body excitement mixed with just about bearable fear, the almost-hiding-behind-the-sofa-if-only-I-didn't-so-want-to-watch-it feeling. Of two two year olds. I would have loved to give you (and your kids) a flavour of it, but for all the merchandising out there, I cannot lay my hands on a video of the scene, even an image of the wondrous Combine Harvester. Shame that.

Cubling of course thinks it's a "come hamster". Bless her.

The iphone was rather popular and I'm proud to announce that Cubling is a rather efficient user of it now.
Unlike me.

And Cubling's first word upon waking this morning? You guessed right, it had to be: "come hamster!"

Monday, 17 August 2009

One fateful day of July

It is July 2006. I'd been in Germany for a week. Not on holiday, nonono, not this time, not even to visit friends and family. Some time ago the decision was made that since we'd be living in Scotland for the foreseeable future, at least we should get married in Germany, to give everyone in Scotland a chance to find out where the bride came from. We also happened to find the perfect place for the perfect wedding's afters, not to be beaten by all the fancy castles, ships, and posh houses at extortionate prices which you can pick from closer to home, err Scotland.

Of course there was an awful lot of last minute panic, what with a wedding dress made by a friend in Germany which was only first tried on a week before the big day (needless to say it needed some alterations), all the last minute stuff that needs to be organised (flowers, decoration, number of guests, menus etc). We were headless chickens, not just to make this day extra special for us, but also to ensure that those who travelled all the way to make our day special would have a fabulous time. There were trips to airports, hotel bookings that went wrong, a programme of activities pre and post big day for those who were around. It was busy, and good. The pleasure of bringing together all of our friends, so many who made the journey, to have this crowd of all the very special people we care for so much all together in one place. Such a privilege, such pride in the fact that we could call these fantastic people our friends.

The day of our wedding was fabulous - a perfect day, sunny, but not too hot or sticky, and all the catering went without a blib. Of course, I was nervous, both before and after, with so many things to organise, I only relaxed towards the end of the actual wedding day and after about three glasses of wine and various other drinks. I'm a worrier, you see. What was more, I got a phone call while in Germany. This was before the wedding day. A job application I'd submitted at the spur of a moment of being disillusioned with annual contracts and lack of colleagues (I worked for a small charity and was the only employee at the time) had brought about an interview. No affordable flight was to be had (and I was happy about that, as I didn't fancy going back to Scotland between wedding and honeymoon) so it was scheduled as a phone interview for the Tuesday after our wedding on Saturday.

My period was late at our wedding, just a few days. I'd been there before. I blamed it on being a nervous wreck, and after all, had I not lost weight coming up to the wedding, without even trying? Yes, it was all a bit much organising a wedding.

The day of my interview approached. I spent Sunday recovering from a hangover and two sleepless nights, and prepared for the interview all day Monday and Tuesday morning.
Tuesday morning came and my period was still late. I figured it must be well over a week late. Now, I'd never been there before other than while training for a marathon, so really, I don't tend to miss periods. It dawned on me that I may, just may, be pregnant. There was an interview at 2pm. A job I really wanted, a rare opportunity which ticked all possible boxes. I'd just got married. My in laws were still about and I was keen to entertain them and show them some of the highlights of the area. Oh, and did I mention the interview I was trying to find time to prepare, in between all of that?
I knew I had to at least test. I also knew that just in case I was actually pregnant, there was no way I could test before the interview.

So this is what my schedule of that fateful Tuesday was (I actually planned this out exactly and stuck to it just so):
Prepare interview (all morning)
Get hubby (oh, he's my HUSBAND now) to get a pregnancy test in a German pharmacy. The thought of it still makes me giggle.
1 pm Have lunch
2 pm do interview by phone
3 pm have a half hour break to collect nerves strewn about after the most agonising interview ever (have you ever done a phone interview with a mobile phone line breaking up and being interviewed by 2 young people whose first language is not English if you yourself are not a native speaker of English? I really and truly had trouble understanding their questions)
3.30 pm pregnancy test
3.32 OMG there are two lines!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I'm pregnant.
I've just done a job interview.
I'm going on honeymoon tomorrow.
I've just got married.
I had a lot of booze at my wedding. As you would expect really.
I'm only a few weeks pregnant and have already damaged my baby. Howl.
Can someone stop this rollercoaster? Please?

I got the job. And I took it, because at the end of the day, I really and truly wanted it, as much as I wanted to have a child I felt awful and requested a chat where I admitted the state I was in. This is before I started the job or gave notice at my old work. I continued to feel awful throughout my pregnancy, never once complaining, not missing a single day, trying to schedule all antenatal appointments with least impact on my work. My new employer has been good to me, not a negative word about the rather awkward timing. This is of course how it should be, but still.

As to our honeymoon I had to admit that picking a destination where the roads were cut into high mountains and one continuous bend wasn't very clever for a first trimester mum to be. My overwhelming memory are endless car journeys on an all day sickness stomach. Fish with all the bits still on staring at me and seriously putting me off any food there was. Panic at every restaurant table if yet again the fare was unstomachable. It usually was - this place was steeped deeply in old fashioned bucolic food, untouched by tourism or the finer taste buds. My constant questions on the pasteurisation status of cheese answered invariably with a shoulder shrug, I came to believe that in this place, pasteurisation had not made its entry. Shame, because there was little other food that I could stomach. There was also little opportunity to find out what I was supposed not to eat, so I indulged in peanuts, prawns, raw egg and whatever else there is which should be avoided during pregnancy. Not that I ate much. Boy those fish eyes and the smell of seaweed, harbour and recently caught fish did not do me much good. Did I mention I missed a whale watching trip? A boat trip, when 8 weeks pregnant? No way Jose. I was so so sick. So so tired, I barely managed to get up for breakfast or lunch and could have spent my whole honeymoon in bed.

Just for all the wrong reasons.

photo credit: Luke and Courtney Barrett

Sunday, 16 August 2009

weekend in pictures: Alva Parklands

Gusting Clackmannanshire winds, a mighty Fife seabreeze and glistening sunshine between threatening rain clouds. A weekend to explore and enjoy the sometimes wild beauty of Scotland.

A time to aim high with a helping hand, never losing sight of the desired place, to push the limits, venture further with every step, to explore old stones and towns:A time spent balance low and up high, testing heights and the safety of step:
Time to explore the flow of water and get wet
Time to throw sand with passion and delight:
Above all, to feel the wind in one's hair, to run, eat, drink, play, climb, sit and jump in the scenic shade of the Ochills and the salty air of the Firth of Forth, some last days of summer with the long Scottish summer nights noticeably drawing in.

Friday, 14 August 2009

A meme about the write stuff

I've been tagged by Spinning Plates (thank you!!) and she even offered the choice between two memes, which is great because I'd already done one of them. So here's another one, all about writing, which really got me thinking because I've never really analysed my own writing, I generally just blurt stuff out. As if you hadn't noticed... The original Call Yourself a Writer challenge was set by Linda over at You've got Your Hands Full.

Which words do you use too much in your writing?

you see, actually, however, but

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?
outraged (I have to read this work a lot at work, and I'm getting seriously sick of it), strategic, drilling it down - all of these words are work related ;) I do like my work though, don't get me wrong!

What's your favourite piece of writing by you?
As part of my PhD thesis I wrote a chapter on musical gypsies in classical and romantic German literature. It was my favourite chapter of my thesis, I loved the topic and it was the only piece of academic writing that ever made a lasting impression when presented. I even got it published. I also wrote an academic paper on political songwriting in Ireland, on "Going Down to Dublin Town" by Damien Dempsey, which was fun (I don't actually think it was very good, just enjoyable). I'm pretty happy I wrote my PhD thesis but it was such a long and draining process that I can't even tell if it's good or not. Oops, that's three pieces. Sorry.

What blog post do you wish you'd written?
Too many to count. Generally anything by Noble Savage and Chris Cleave. Does Chris Cleave count as a blogger? He's got a blog but really he writes a column for the Guardian which he then puts on his blog. Whatever. He's seriously funny. There are other bloggers whose writing I admire but wouldn't consider wanting to have written any of their posts, simply because their style is very different to mine and I like them for that - without ever aspiring to write like them. Whereas the two bloggers mentioned have a style I'd like to be able to write in if I was a better writer, Noble Savage for convincing and passionate opinion pieces and Chris Cleave for his humour. Oh I wish I could write funny. It's just that I'm German and can't help not having a sense of humour.

Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn't written?
I tend to regret writing things that cause offence, even if the offence wasn't intended. When a post or part thereof is misunderstood or interpreted in a different way. I hate to alienate, always striving for consensus. Of course I know that this is a very futile strive. So really I wish I'd never have any regrets.

How has your writing made a difference? What do you consider your most important piece of writing?
How do you define difference? I hope that my writing has brought ideas and new perspectives to readers, raised awareness and brought some entertainment, maybe even started a discussion. I don't think any of my writing has really made a massive difference. I still hope it may have or may do in the future.

Name three favourite words
resplander, mono, arcoiris (they have to be Spanish because I just love the sound of Spanish)

...And three words you're not so keen on
ehm, don't know (I meant I don't really know, come to think of it, these three words are actually pretty rubbish)

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?
Not so much of a mentor or role model, but lots of writers I admire. Anne Enright, Sebastian Barry, Niall Toibin, Seamus Heaney, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Julio Ramon Ribeyro, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jose Maria Arguedas are among my favourites, and I'm sure I've left out a few. As you can see, I like literature...

What's your writing ambition?
Do I have one? I really just blog for fun, I used to have an ambition for journalistic writing but my blog is more than enough for the kind of writing I want to do. My ambition is more to improve my writing, to use my writing for creating networks around issues that I care about, and to have a place for stuff and views that don't always get into the spotlight in the traditional media.

Plug alert! List any work you would like to tell your readers about:
Chris Cleave, "The Other Hand" ("Little Bee" on the US market). You must read that book.

The rules:
If you have time to do this meme, then please link to Linda's original, then link to three to five other bloggers and pass it on, asking them to answer your questions and link to me. You can add, remove or change one question as you go. You absolutely do not have to be what you may think of as a "published" or "successful" writer to respond to this meme, I hope people can take the time to reflect on what their blogging has brought them and how it has been useful to others.

And I link to a few newly discovered blogs that I really enjoy reading:

Nature With Me
Crafting a Green World
Craft Hope
Intrepidly Bilingual

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Wednesday Weigh In: this is getting boring

and I'm a day late so I'll keep this short. No movement on the weight front (ok, I think I lost 200g or so) and after my burst of activity last week, I've got to admit to a slump on the exercise front. However, I'm jogging again. It's still hard going, my legs are not used to it anymore, and if, like me, you can still remember what it felt to just run forever and actually enjoy it, when it wasn't a chore and the rhythm took over, letting your mind wander to wonderful places, it's depressing.
Still, I can now do 25 minutes before the asthma and wobbly leg threshold, yay.

Then there was cake in the office. Lots of it. I could have eaten more than two pieces a day though ;). If it weren't for cakes and biscuits, my diet would actually be something to be really proud of. Nevermind, nobody is perfect.

The lapsing on the exercise front has a reason. I'm sitting on hot coals, waiting for that "baby is about to come" phone call which will make me sprint into car and drive 30 miles. I can't concentrate. I don't dare to go far from the house/office, and for once, my mobile is glued to me night and day. We are now 4 days over, not a lot, but considering the signs we had a week ago that all was about to start, it's an eternity. I'm nervous. I'm emotional. Thrown between the highs and lows, the joy and the tears.

And I'm not even the one having this baby.

Check out how everyone else is getting on. Losing weight that is, not having babies. Though you're free to check that out too of course, just not on that particular site.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

weekend in pictures: Torry Bay, Culross, The Kingdom of Fife

A short walk from the picturesque and simply lovely Culross village is Torry Bay in the Firth of Forth, teeming with all kinds of shells, mini crabs and even anemoena. It's next to a cycle route, a train line, with swing park nearby. So much to see, stones to throw, shells to explore, feet to get wet, birds to watch and stones to jump off from. The smell and touch of seaweed, still wet from the ebbing tide. Situated between the industrial heritage and present of the Firth of Forth and the historic town, former Royal Burgh of Culross (which also has the loveliest pottery and crafts shop with cafe I've seen in a long time). The music of the sea and cockerels. A time to relax.

"Torry Bay nature reserve has artificial lagoons built from ash from Longannet Power Station, along with mudflats, a restored archaeological site, and the ruins of one of Scotland's earliest industrial estates. The reserve is part of a larger area of inter-tidal mud flats covering between Longannet Point and Crombie Point. Reflecting its international status for wading and wintering bird life it is a designated ‘Ramsar’ site. As a Site of Special Scientific Interest it is a key component in the Firth of Forth Special Protection Area under the Wild Birds Directive."

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

bilingual babes and books

We've been having fun on our way home from the childminder recently:

Cubling: Postbox, over there! I see postbox!
Me: Ja, ein Briefkasten!
Cubling: No, Postbox!
Me: Das ist ein Briefkasten.
Cubling: No!, is postbox!
Me: Auf Deutsch ist das ein Briefkasten, auf Englisch postbox. Das ist ein Briefkasten.
Cubling: Briefkasten. Enlis postbox.

Cubling: Digger! I see digger!
Me: Ja, da ist ein Bagger!
Cubling: No, digger!
Me: Das ist ein Bagger!
Cubling: No! is digger!
Me: Auf Deutsch ist das ein Bagger, auf Englisch digger. Beides ist richtig. Das ist ein Bagger.
Cubling: Bagger. Enlis digger.

Repeat for any other item spotted en route.

One issue that has been coming up again and again is that of reading books. Cubling loves her books at bedtime, the only time when she will sit still, and we also read books before naptime. In general, as we have a rough one parent one language approach, I try and read only German books and hubby reads both English and German books. However, sometimes Cubling insists on an English book and I just don't know what to do. Shall I read it in English? Shall I try to translate as I go along? The latter has a serious negative effect on the fun element, I'm not a good simultaneous translator, even for simple children's book (which aren't all that simple if they rhyme or have very strange adjectives which I just don't know in German - crunching munching anyone? bumpy?) and I start to stammer, sigh and generally not add the usual fun bits to the story.

So I read in English. To be precise, I try to entice Cubling to pick German books for our bedtime read. However, she knows what she wants and will pick just THAT (English) book from the shelf. And there's no chance I can translate The Gruffalo on the go.

There are some solutions to this dilemma. Julia Donaldson, being fluent in German herself and fully published in German, has her books in German on offer. I resist getting two books of the same kind though, you can take bilingualism one step to far. There are some bilingual books, in fact the market for English-Spanish and English-French is quite well equipped. If you stray away from these popular combinations, it gets difficult.

There is one German publisher offering bilingual books, including German-English. By browsing other blogs for the upcoming Bilingual Children's Blogging Carnival, I found some more resources, but still not an awful lot of what I'm really looking for. I mean, I'm very tempted to go down the trilingual route and adding Spanish to the equation because above all I love Spanish, but how about seeing the German thing through first. I love the site though, and they actually publish bilingual books!

Keeping on the Spanish-English theme, La Tiendita offers a store on Amazon which brings together books for the bilingual family for this language pair. I fancy doing something like this for German-English, and if I do, will put it up on this site. I have no idea how this is done, but having spent the best part of today figuring out how to publish, distribute and market my A Hat in Time book (not having made a decision yet of course, that would be way too easy), I'm in the mood for learning even more about the wonderful web. Back to German-English stuff, I came across a company, Mehrsprachig Aufwachsen, that produces materials in a few languages, among them DVDs and CDs.

There are some amazing children's books on the German market, as there are amazing books on the English market. And it'll be a worthwhile project pulling them together in such a virtual store. So then. There's a new project for me. Of course there is still a much bigger project in the making, which will bring an amazing bilingual, German-English toddler book to you. Just that you'll have to wait a wee while for that, but once it's done, it'll be oh so fab.

And for anyone interested in taking part in the bilingual blogging carnival, please send me your favourite post on raising children bilingually to blog at cartside dot co dot uk by 30th August.

Monday, 10 August 2009

the moral: don't change jobs while pregnant if you can avoid it, or try and change the system

Amber inspired the following post and it's a contribution to her Maternity Leave Carnival, which is already up and running with lots of fabulous contributions.

When I went on maternity leave 2 weeks before Cubling was due (she was 15 days late, so it was actually a month before she was born), I was in a tricky situation. Having changed jobs while pregnant, I only qualified for ordinary maternity leave (26 weeks at the time) and didn't have an entitlement to additional maternity leave (i.e. an additional 26 weeks of unpaid leave with security to get my job back at the end of it). The latter is only available to pregnant women who have been in their current job from before they got pregnant. I kept working as long as I could (actually longer, the last two weeks of work were a real struggle) to have as much time with Cubling after she was born as I could manage.

Ordinary maternity leave was extended the month after Cubling was born from 6 to 9 months. I missed it by three weeks. This was unfortunate because Cubling, at 5 months, was not ready to be looked after by a stranger, yet I had no choice. We managed, but I strongly believe that every child and their parents should have the chance to stay at least the first year after birth at home with his/her parent(s) without losing their jobs, regardless of whether mum to be changed jobs while pregnant or not. However, additional maternity leave only kicks in if you've been employed with an employer before you got pregnant.

Further, because I had the audacity to change jobs while pregnant, I had no entitlement to Statutory Maternity Pay. This is, in its most basic form, 6 weeks of 90% of full pay, followed by the remaining 18 weeks at a weekly payment of at the time 108 pounds (now 123 pounds). The technicalities of this pay is that it's paid by the employer, who gets it reimbursed by the state. If you change jobs while pregnant, you are entitled to Maternity Allowance instead, paid directly by the state, of 108 pounds at the time (now also 123 pounds); from the first week of maternity leave.

Effectively, this system punishes mothers who change jobs while pregnant both on the count of pay and length of maternity leave. When I raised this with my local MP, who passed it to the relevant minister, the response went along the lines that they don't want to put an undue financial burden on employers if the length of service of the pregnant woman has been rather short. This argument fails to acknowledge that it's the state who pays Statutory Maternity Pay (through the employer) so the financial burden isn't on the employer but the state. Therefore, it is the state who does not want to have the financial burden of six weeks pay for women who've changed jobs while pregnant.

Coming back to my case: At the time, I'd been in continuous tax paying and NI paying employment in the UK for 11 years. When I changed jobs, I didn't even take a week's break. So why then does the state not want to support my hard work with the ridiculous length of 6 weeks on 90% of my pay?

In fact, the minister's argument is flawed: while the state would not pay statutory maternity pay to my employer, my employer (bless them) actually paid up. Not just 90% of my salary but 100% for 17.5 weeks. That's because they decided I still qualified for that length of contractual maternity pay. So the financial loss of me changing jobs ended to be on my employer which I found rather unfair.

Above all, regardless of who pays what, the question is why there are different regulations for woman who change jobs while they are pregnant. The policy effectively discourages career moves during pregnancy which to me sounds like direct discrimination on the basis of gender. Take the example of my situation as way of illustration: my previous job involved a lot of evening and weekend work and was on a yearly contract. I was also underpaid considering the responsibilibies I had. I changed into a post which was permanent, a move to a securer and also better paid employment. The conditions of my post that my new employer offers I value a lot, which also meant that I was prepared to stick with them when the programme of work was changed entirely and the organisation went through a massive structural review. So the investment they made has paid off for them. Both parties happy.

All the while the reasoning for this different treatment of pregnant women who change jobs and those who do not does not make sense. It's a loophole that needs to be patched. If you are a woman, pregnant, a mother or thinking about pregnancy in the UK, why don't your write to your MP to raise this with him/her and the Minister, and ask for changes to be made so that every woman in employment qualifies for the meagre 6 weeks of statutory maternity pay.
You can use the letter I wrote two years ago if you like. And you can read my original post on this here.

And don't get me started on the pithiful length of paternity leave...

Sunday, 9 August 2009

What's been on my needles...

It's been a long long time since I've last shown off any knitting. There's a good reason for this: I dared go for a big project, a reasonably big blanket for my little niece (who still is still snug in her mummy's tummy, with Cubling now regularly saying "Baby raus/out" and "Baby warten"). It's taken me ages, six months or so, with only a brief interlude where I started another project (which got finished today but shall have to wait to get photographed). It's the first time I've done Afghan Squares and only my second baby blanket. The project grew on me: At the start, it took me a while to have the patience for it and even towards the end I was worried it wouldn't get finished in time. Each square was simple and took about two evenings to do - so trying to get a square done in that time kept me motivated. I changed the pattern (Building Blocks by Debbie Abrahams) to reduce the number of squares (taking off the outer row/column, a reduction from 36 to 25 squares) and used larger needles. Yes, I admit, I'm lazy. I also didn't follow any of the yarn recommendation, instead using a lot of odd balls in my stash which was fun getting the right mix and match for this project, straying away from the very pastelly original pattern.

I really like the result. A few things that could be better: there are two squares which aren't quite square and it's visible. Not sure how this happened but to be honest, it's not too bad, this is a blanket after all and can be slighly wavey. Also I used one yarn (the same that I used for baby hats, and I just love knitting with it, it's so soft, stretchy and slightly chunkier than comparable yarns - the hats knitted with it stretch from newborn to 2 1/2 years!) which is a bit chunkier than the others and as a consequence those squares are a tad bigger. Finally, although I tried to make sure all yarns were machine washable, I made a mistake when buying additonal yarns towards the end. Somehow, two balls of no machine wash yarns made it into the basket and they were too lovely not to use.

So, it's a hand wash only blanket. For once, I'm happy with my choice of colours. I'm really rather pleased with this blanket - and so is Cubling who wouldn't let me take a photo without trying to snuggle into it - it's been knitted with lots of love for what is to be a very special little girl. So my little niece, now that you'll be snug and cosy with this blanket, how about you came along tonight or tomorrow? Ah go on. We're all ready for you and there's currently 7 pairs of arms in this house ready to welcome you.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

How the Other Half Live Part 2 Review

All quiet again on the Clackmannanshire front. Little niece must have been a bit worried to come out with the hyper twinkle twinkle display she got last night. Did I tell you that my nephew now perfectly sings 3 German songs? That's about to draw with Cubling, just that I'm not actually trying to teach him any German. He'll even tell me now when I speak German, argh, that boy is too clever for his own good!

Anyway, on Thursday night I watched the second installment of How the Other Half Live. Again I was torn whether the benefit of highlighting what child poverty in the UK actually means outweighed the cringing implications made in the programme. This time, the poor family was a working family, thus demonstrating that even if you have a job, you may not be able to meet the cost of living without letting your kids and yourself seriously go without. Again it was an ever so nice family.

The rich family at one point criticised what their sponsorship of 2000 quid had been spent on, and of course the poor family, happy to comply in the hope of more dosh from Mr and Mrs Rich, took the criticism on board and apologised again and again. Argh. For goodness sake, it wasn't that bad a choice (the woman got herself a computer rather than clothes for the kids, the computer was for her own business, so could have made the family money) and we're back to the argument who knows better. Rich family who don't know the start of what it means to live in poverty, or poor family who for once have the chance for a treat rather than pay of debts and let money slip away on bills.

The joint holiday made the poor kids long for the better life, and made them miserable going back to their council flat. What benefit was that holiday to those boys? Are they looking down on themselves now, on their parents? Do they see themselves in rich boys' eyes rather than accepting the life they lead to some extent and getting on with it as best as possible? I don't doubt the benefit to the rich kids in meeting their poorer nemesis, it can only do them good to realise how lucky they are and that their lifestyle is not something that can ever be taken for granted. But the benefit for the poor kids? I just don't see it.

Again I found the concept of sponsorship humiliating, and the reaction of the family ("I'm not proud to take the money, but if it's about your family, you sometimes have to swallow your pride) just underlined that. Getting to know each other also seemed to serve mainly the rich kids, an educational activity, no more than that. Then there's the issue of the money transfer. The amounts are peanuts for the designer clad family with three holiday homes, while for the poor family it's an amount they haven't held in their hands in a very long time. Does this demonstrate the shocking income gap? Does anyone, as a consequence, question the rightfulness of this? I fear not.

Research has shown that we are generally engaging in positive stereotyping of the rich (they did something to get there, it's deserved, they probably have lots of responsibility etc) while we generally engage in negative stereotyping of the poor (there are opportunities out there if you only try, they are lazy, they don't try). This episode never questioned the rightfulness of the ridiculous wealth of Mr and Mrs Rich while it criticised the spend on a computer of Mrs Poor, effectively looking down on her. The older poor child adored the rich lifestyle while the rich kid came to the conclusion that he'd be very depressed having to live like his counterpart (what an insight). Negative stereotyping of the poor and positive stereotyping of the rich was thus continued and perpetuated, which doesn't exactly help change attitudes in the long run.

What I would hope for is for the third episode to step up and expose the growing income inequality in the UK as a systemic issue. According to some (The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better
), the growing income inequality in this country results in a lot of social malaise, and is actually to blame for high crime, high rates of drug and alcohol addition, poor health and low life expectancy. Tackling income inequality needs public support because only with it can there be policy change (which in my mind includes a total rethink of our taxation system) and I just don't see that it's there even as a seed of change.

Right, and to get my health on the right track, I'm off for a jog.

Friday, 7 August 2009

is this it?

My sister in law had an appointment for a stretch and sweep this morning to which I drove her. Little girl is 4/5th engaged and she was 3cm dilated, that's 3 days before her due date and without having noticed anything at all. I remember it took me 12 hours of early labour and 9 hours of established labour to get to that point, and she hasn't felt a thing! Maybe she'll even go to 10 cm without feeling anything that would be fun.

However now she does feel something, vaguely resembling very early labour, so tonight might be the night. So excited. Tens machine is unpacked and we even found batteries, bag for hospital (including secret food supplies) is packed. And Cubling told baby "Komm raus!", if that won't help I don't know what.

On the other hand, as Cubling and her cousing were wildly running around the kitchen pushing birth ball and doll buggy (the latter had Peppa Pig in it) in every faster circles while singing a speed metal version of "Twinkle twinkle Little Star" (maybe to put Peppa in the buggy to sleep?) I wondered ever so slightly what little girl was making of all that noise and madness. Would she want to join the madness? Or rather have another quiet night tucked in in her mummy's tummy?

Come on little niece, we'll have lots of fun, just join us and you'll see.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Wednesday Weigh In: So much going on

Well, I've been a bit of a headless chicken this week. Always on call for THAT phone call that could mean SIL is in labour and me heading to her house which is 50 minutes away, then to hospital which is 25 minutes from her house. Last night I dreamt she went into labour. The last time I dreamed this about a friend (9 years ago!), she did go into labour that night, so I'm ever so slightly on edge and actually almost forgot to stop off at the childminder on my way to work. Not sure what I thought Cubling would do in my office exactly.

This is roughly what I've been up to:
  • The baby blanket is finished. Little niece (yes, it's a girl!) you can come now, you'll be all snuggly, cosy and warm!
  • I've been working like a mad woman at work to make sure that my instant departure won't have a negative impact on my work.

  • In the evenings, there was lots of knitting, and insuring that I'd exercise at least every night I was at home, mainly using the EA Sports Active which I've got for review at the moment (and a proper review will follow soon). I'm still not comfortable exercising when away from home. Like, the fox may bite me or the kestrel chase me if I go running in Clackmannanshire. Of course it's only really about getting bum off the sofa, and any excuse goes.

  • I've made a big push to get my A Hat In Time charity knitting book off the ground with a target publication date of early September (right in time for Christmas shopping ;) ). At the moment, all patterns bar one are received, edited and now awaiting review by their authors, the book now also features lots of little stories from the work of Save the Children, as well as photos from the Knit One Save One campaign. I'm really hopeful that the final editing can be done by the end of August, and then all it takes is to publish it online. I've set up a blog page too (empty at the moment) hoping that I can market it from there.
So, on the weight front: Recap on 2 weeks: I did go on the EA Sports Active almost every night I was home, for about 30 minutes, using the hard option of its 30 days challenge (I'm tough you see). I ate reasonably well, all small and healthy main meal options and sweet treets were much reduced. However, MIL giving us a big pack of homemade shortbread and Hubby making a tray of tablet did not help. Oh and there was birthday cake. I'm not complaining of course ;)

I took it rather personal though when the EA Sports Active told me off for having missed a session out of the 30 day challenge - for goodness sake, I was away for the weekend, chasing up to 4 toddlers at a time in an attempt to try and give my 39 week pregnant SIL a break while friends, relatives and biting insects invaded her house!

And then, after all that effort, I forgot to weigh myself on Wednesday. And Thursday. So it's late but nevermind, here are the results of the German Dschüri:

Starting weight: 164
Weight 2 weeks ago: 163
Weight today: same
difference to last weigh in: zilch. nada. niente. rien. (I'm going to scream!!!!!)
Target weight: 150
How much left to go: 13 lbs (breaks down in tears)

Goals for next week: keep the good diet and regular exercise up but don't succumb to home baking. If I can keep this up, I'm doing good. And I'm sure with baby there'll be lots of walking, carrying, jiggling which surely will burn some calories. Above all, don't give up even if for all the exercise and good diet I didn't lose a gram. Try to go for a run. Try to go for a run. Try to go for a run. Better even, go for a run.

Go here to join the pound busters.

breastfeeding revisted

Thanks to Mummy Whisperer's comment and fabulous blog project, which is bound to result in a few posts about my first experiences as a mummy, and just in time for this week's World Breastfeeding Week, I've decided to give baby blanket knitting a break and reflect on my experience of breast-feeding, with the benefit of hindsight.

There's been a lot of discussion going on about this topic, and this contribution is really just a personal reflection, in the hope that it may be of use to those who find themselves in a similar situation. My experience though is very individual, and will not mirror that of others. Having lots of friends with different experiences, some of whom very reluctantly stopped breastfeeding, others who never touched a tin of formula has shown me that no two mummy-baby pairs are the same.

When I was pregnant, there was no question that I would breastfeed. I didn't even think about it. It's what my boobs are for, and though the thought of milk coming out of them was utterly unthinkable and very strange indeed, I never anticipated any problems. At one NCT workshop, a fellow pregnant woman mentioned something about pain. I had never heard of pain and simply filed it as a myth, especially as the NCT breastfeeding counsellor insisted that pain was due to wrong latch. I read all the info, had an NCT and NHS workshop. I had no issue to feed in public.

I felt prepared, and, truth be told, rather smug about it all. Until Cubling was born. It was a long labour, I'd had diamorphine and after 3 hours of pushing without any progress, a last minute spinal for a potential c-section (which became a mid cavity forcepts delivery). Cubling slept and slept and slept. Throughout the 3 days in hospital, she hardly showed an interest in feeding. Midwives hand expressed pithiful amounts of colostrum (this was painful!), sucked it up in a syringe, put it into Cubling's mouth, who spat it out. I was distressed. Cubling slept. I wished she would cry and feed constantly like the baby in the opposite bay. On day 3 she started wanting to feed. It was a Sunday and at each of the 3 instances, no midwife was available to help me get the latch. I didn't get it myself. It hurt, I got very upset and felt helpless. Thankfully, Monday morning brought a trainee volunteer for the breastfeeding initiative to me, who helped me with latch, gave me confidence. Also thankfully, Cubling's digestive system was slow so her weight loss was just below 10% and I got discharged. Her first deed at home was a massive meconium poo (yuck!!!) which surely must have brought her post birth weight loss up to 15 % or so.

At home, she started to feed regularly and in nice intervals, 20 minutes, every 2-5 hours. Then my milk came in, just that in my naivity, I didn't know what this extremely unpleasant feeling was, just that my breast were hard, Cubling could not latch and it felt like I had lumps of... cancer? I consulted books, found out that it wasn't cancer (phew) ways to ease the worst feeling, finally got a latch and ... what a relief! More milk than Cubling could stomach, but oh the bliss to see the white stuff drip beside her mouth. I cried tears of joy. I had milk. I could feed my little girl. I was the king of the castle.

What followed was this though: broken, bleeding and painful nipples for 8 weeks. Painful let down at nighttime for months. Feeding marathons. Effectively, Cubling would never come off herself, would feed incessantly if I let her. She cried blue murder at nighttime unless she was latched on. We had 7 hour long screaming marathons, where I had to phone Cry-sis because I was losing it. They said feed less frequently. Breast-feeding supporter said feed on demand, feed more. Feed on demand was beyond my ability, I literally would have had a baby permanently latched to me. I got a volunteer breast-feeding supporter to visit who said all was fine, I was doing great. When I was still nursing exclusively at 8 weeks, the boxed got ticked and no further direct support was available. What remained was a drop-in (where I met my mummy friends) and the bounty forum, kellymom and the lalecheleague website.

I became the expert on every aspect of breastfeeding. Determined to keep going I would do anything recommended. I took fenugreek tablets, tried a dairyfree diet (to see if the screaming was caused by lactose intolerance) took breast-feeding holidays where I'd do nothing but nurse. I expressed in the morning to top up at night time, just that this meant Cubling would then also scream after feeds in the morning because she didn't get enough. She continued to nurse frequently (I never made it to less than every 2.5 hours), very long (45-1hr, which is when I'd take her off without complaint, any earlier and hell would break loose, she would never finish a feed herself), not put on much weight, be unable to fall asleep, cry a lot, not poo (we went 12 days without one, bliss in a way, but worrysome in others). There were occasional days, once every fortnight, where her hunger in the evening was obvious and all the nursing wouldn't stop the frantic screaming. Then, from 12 weeks onwards, I would reluctantly and with tears in my eyes offer a top up of formula on those days where nothing would settle her. She gulped a whole bottle down, and settled beautifully afterwards. My girl was hungry, no matter what anyone else said, and I could not satisfy her hunger fully, especially in the evenings. It was only a bottle every fortnight, and if I'd had a break during the day/night to actually express, I'd have done that. But with a baby feeding so much, there was no time where I could have expressed any additional amount. I did try. I failed.

She woke a lot during the night, and we slowly took to cosleeping. This way, I could latch her on and not fully wake. It was a life saver especially when I went back to work. I got used to the broken sleep and would do ok if she went 3 hours between feeds, combined with co-sleeping. If there were a few nights in a row that had a higher number/frequency of wakings, it took a real toll on my wellbeing. Yet co-sleeping kept me going, especially whenever yet another tooth came through.

At 4 1/2 months, she took to waking every hour during the night and demanding a feed. She did this for a month. I was shattered, saw a paediatrician in Germany (where I happened to be when the effect of her waking made me short tempered) who told me that probably I didn't have enough milk and that I should offer top-ups after every feed. I didn't have that many bottles to offer 12 top ups a day (that's how often she fed) or sterilising equipment (I was on holiday after all), so I decided to top up at the last feed before her bedtime, and after the first waking. She didn't take a lot, but it helped a bit. After two weeks, she refused this top up bottle and never accepted a bottle offered to her by me after that. Looking back, this episode of constant feeding wasn't about hunger, but probably about teething.

I started solids at 24 weeks, or rather, Cubling did. She grabbed food from my plate and I went along with it. It was from then that Cubling finally gained weight properly. She went from slim to very chubby. I also went back to work at that time, expressing 3 times a day for one 60ml-120ml bottle to give to the childminder, supplemented by a second bottle a day. I did this for 3 or 4 months, giving every minute of a break at work I got, for ever decreasing amounts of milk. It was disheartening, so much work, so little milk. The days I was off were easy - the combination of nursing and solids worked a treat and finally breast-feeding was easy. I stopped expressing when I realised that to stay sane I needed to have at least one break a day and that really, I'd done as much as I could. I continued to nurse on my days off, and Cubling continued to refuse bottles given by me or hubby. She took bottles from the childminder, so we had a good balance.

I continued to breastfeed on demand until Cubling was 17 months old and when she had her full set of teeth. At this point I gently weaned her off night time feeds (she still woke once or twice a night for a feed), so she would not get a feed between midnight and 5 am. This led to her sleeping through to 5am regularly. Because I had planned a holiday away from her when she would be just 2, I felt I should wean her before her second birthday so she wouldn't have the combined difficulty of having to deal with mummy not being there and losing her main comforting tool. I wanted to take weaning easy, and start well before the second birthday. At 21 months I gently weaned her off the bedtime feed, as she seemed much less interested in it, substituting it by reading books which she loved instantly, and at 22-23 months I weaned her off the morning feed (5am), allowing her to still nurse when she insisted (i.e. it took a month to do this).

Looking back, I'm glad I persisted with breastfeeding because it did become very convenient after I introduced solids. However, I would not ever wait so long to offer top ups because I really believe that she went hungry in the evenings on occasions and the distress of seeing her in so much pain cannot be justified by the principle of breast is best. There has to be balance. I longed for support which would take my concerns seriously and not just recite the general advice which I knew anyway: how often did I hear "let her come off herself, don't finish a feed, let her finish" but how on earth can you do this when your baby will not ever come off? I did try, for hours, until I felt my nipples dissolve in a baby mouth. At 5 months, I still fed 12 times a day for an average of an hour each time. That's 12 hours a day. And still she would cry for more for hours in the evenings. Not good. Yet I was also stubborn and whenever I got a suggestion to give a bottle I got very defensive. It's such a delicate subject and what is needed is very delicate support which looks properly into the individual situation and doesn't just recite the manual.
I know I wouldn't embark on this marathon again. I would always breast-feed again, just that I'd be much more inclined to trust my feeling that something is wrong and mix feed. None of the top up bottles led to the end of breast-feeding, as long as breast is offered first, for many mixed feeding can actually extend breast-feeding as was the case for me. At the end, for as many breast-feeding mums I've known, nobody has continued to breast-feed as long as I did. There is no pride in this statement, just the fact that once a balance is reached, breast-feeding may work better and last for longer rather than shorter.

I got myself a lot of support, being proactive and informed, yet still I could have done with more. I longed for someone to have a look at my latch after week 4. Nobody did. I still wonder if the latch was the problem. Some of the best support, the one-to-one home and hospital visit by the breastfeeding initiative, was only offered to me because my GP was based in a health centre in a multiple deprived area. The support wasn't aimed at people like me (who were keen to breastfeed anyway) but at the low breastfeeding rates in that area. There are issues around that (the initiative could count me as a success, when really I wouldn't have done any different anyway, and maybe I took support away from someone else). But really, this support should be there for everyone, which comes at a cost unfortunately, a cost the NHS is probably not able to meet.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Breastfeeding in Emergencies

PHD in Parenting has been ahead of me, but because I have a few things to add to the theme of breastfeeding in emergencies, I won't let her post put me off my contribution to World Breastfeeding Week.

Working for an international development organisation, even if my own work is firmly focussed on the UK, there is a lot of information going around on the importance of breastfeeding in emergencies. Particularly because this is a children's charity and our big current campaign is the Child Survival Campaign. In emergencies, all the benefits of breastfeeding and the risks of artificial feeding are very pronounced. Lack of proper sanitation and sterilisation equipment means that breastfeeding, even if the mother is exhausted, is the best option, one that will literally save infant lives. 1.4 million a year to be precise. That's the toll that formula feeding takes in the developing world.

In developing countries, infants 0-6 months old who are not breastfed are 14 times more likely to die, and at the age 6 months - 2 years, they are still 4 times more likely to die than children who are breastfed. 22% of neonatal deaths could be prevented by breastfeeding, reducing the total child mortality of pre 5s by 12%. The breastfeeding pattern in developing countries is that while extended breastfeeding is common, exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months is not (39%). At the same time, as developing countries become more wealthy, breastfeeding rates show a tendency to fall significantly (e.g. in Vietnam, exclusive breastfeeding rates fell from 82% to 31% in just 11 years between 1996 and 2007).

So, what are the solutions?
The developing and developped world are united in needing appropriate 1-1 support for breastfeeding mothers, which takes into account cultural, social and economic aspects affecting the mother. This translates to investments in health services. Marketing of formular milk needs to be controlled so that it is truthful. Finally, action to support breastfeeding in emergency situations, because infant mortality is particularly high in these situations and breastfeeding is vital to child survival in emergency situations.

Here are some links for further reading:

World Breastfeeding Week action on breastfeeding in emergencies

A Generation On: Baby milk marketing still putting children's lives at risk (Save the Children Media Briefing)

Save the Children on the Child Survival Campaign which includes action to support breastfeeding

Coming up: my own experience of breastfeeding, and because I had a rough ride it'll be long...

Monday, 3 August 2009

Sponsor a Child... in the UK

It was with great anticipation I watched the first episode of the docu-drama How the Other Half Live. The set up was this: super rich family meets super poor family. But not just that, the super rich family would also sponsor the super poor family, quite like sponsoring a child in a developing country.

Just that this was in the UK.

Now, I’ve always had an uneasy attitude to child sponsorship programmes. My godmother sponsored a child on my behalf and I remember getting meaningless photos and short notes, all to do with us white, rich, Western-Europeans who of course had all the wisdom how to do democracy and economy, making good in black Africa, where children would otherwise starve. In Germany, you don’t do much charity. There’s no running a marathon or 2k for this or another cause, very occasionally you’ll have some TV charity event comparable, if on a smaller scale, to Comic Relief or Red Nose Day. What we did was sponsor a child, give to the church collection. Buy one set of Christmas cards (we don’t do Christmas cards really either) for SOS Kinderdorf (villages for orphaned children). So this was the rare occasion that I saw my family give to charity. I’m not sure what happened, just that at some point the contact must have broken off or my godmother didn’t renew her subscription, eh, sponsorship of the child.

Thus, introducing a similar concept to a rich UK family sponsoring a poor UK family, especially if the poor family happens to be black and from Zimbabwe (are we thus almost sponsoring the same starving African child of my childhood? Of course I, having worked with refugees for many years, know better that this is not the same, but does the majority of the audience?), turned my face into a funny shape.

I’m open minded and watch the programme with interest, trying to stay objective. This was difficult, because my gut feeling was that there was something seriously wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the programme was doing a great job raising awareness of what it means to live in poverty in the UK in every day terms. This is much needed because there are lots of people out there who don’t think there is such a thing as child poverty. I also know that the media, if asked to highlight child poverty, needs case stories (real people) and some angle that keeps people watching. Something that captures interest. So, let’s transfer the concept of sponsorship to a family on our own doorstep.

This is where my agreement with the ethics of the programme ends. The poor family was a saintly stereotype: saying grace before meals, humble and overly grateful for the money and presents they received from their sponsors. There was no exploration about the impact of cash donations on benefit payments. There were tears with every gift or cheque received, something I found humiliating to watch. You see, having worked with families like the one portrayed, I know just how grateful particularly asylum seekers/refugees are, but I also know they are entitled to what little they get and yet vilified for it. They are victimised, abused, attacked, kept in poverty by the state that doesn’t allow them to work, detained, their mental health destroyed. And the public keeps expecting them to be eternally grateful. It makes me sick.

So did the rich family. While the parents were reasonable and bearable, when the daughter said something about being rich but not super rich, after all they didn’t live in a mansion, I felt like shaking her and making her look at the mansion she lived in, spoiled brat. The visit to the poor family became an educational experience for the rich kid, so she knew how the poor people live, and kept trying hard at school to stay on the right side of the economic divide.
I didn’t feel much better about the female bonding between the two girls who really had naught in common save the general girl’s interest in clothes.

The programme suggested that the reasonably modest donations of money and gift items, the latter linked to real necessities of the poor family, had the potential to turn around the outlook of both the mother’s and her children’s lives. It seemed to empower her to take up education with a view to becoming self employed, while her three girls firmly believed that education was the way out of poverty for their own future.

In general, I have a real issue with linking financial assistance with empowerment. We don’t get empowered by the money we have, but the skills and mindset we possess. Poverty of course has a negative effect on people’s mind sets and ability to change their situation because theirs is a situation which takes a full time job to manoeuvre around in, to make ends meet and keep on top of debt and the bare essentials of life. What we need are people who are resilient, and giving money, at the end of the day, creates dependency. Dependency is not a good starting point to take control of one’s life and move out of poverty.

Looking further afield at the big picture, there are few super rich families who also happen to be philantrophically inclined to part with some of their wealth while there are lots of families living in poverty. This individual giving, while having the advantage of creating real contacts that may otherwise not exist, can only ever be a drop of water on a hot stone. Evaporate it will in most likelihood.

The difference of this approach is of course that rather than having a more progressive tax system (which I would strongly advocate regardless) where wealth is redistributed, and the widening gap between rich and poor in the UK could be bridged by government intervention, it is put into the hands of willing individuals who may be more likely to sign up for parting with their money if they see where it goes. This appeals, but can never solve the massive problem that is income inequality in the UK, and in its worse form, severe and persistent child and family poverty.

However, if the whole point of such a sponsorship scheme is for people to understand and appreciate how the other half live, and nothing more is expected, there may be some value in it. As long as both parties really know what they sign up for.

Save the Children, who were involved in the making of the series have a very comprehensive FAQ up on their UK site, with further information on their campaign to end child poverty in the UK, while the Poverty News Blog has posted this review by the Guardian's Tim Nichols, which takes a more positive view on the series.

I'm interested to see how the three part programme is going to pan out - the next episode will be on at 9pm on Thursday, on Channel 4.



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