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I'm Going to BritMums Live 2015

I’m going to BritMums Live 2015

It’s that time of year again… June is almost upon us and I am beginning to get excited about travelling to London to meet with as many bloggers as is humanly possible in two days! No, seriously, BritMums Live is all about meeting up with old friends and new for me. So it’s about time I wrote my annual “I’m going to BritMums Live” post and started working my way through the linky and catching up with people on social media!

I'm Going to BritMums Live 2015

The I’m Going to BritMums Live 2015 Meme

Name – Amanda

Blog – The Family Patch (this one!)

Twitter ID@thefamilypatch

Height – 5’4″ (I think… I may be an inch or two off!)

Hair – brown (with a reddish tint if it has been sunny). It should be in a bob, but with the recent relocation and starting two new jobs I am overdue a trim.

Eyes – dark brown

Is this your first blogging conference? – no, this is my fourth time at BritMums Live. Rocking up to The Brewery feels like coming home these days. I’ve lost the nerves I had in my first couple of years and now sink down into the seats with a sigh of relief, knowing that the entire weekend is going to be filled with plenty of chatter, lots of useful information, and a huge amount of inspiration.

Are you attending both days? – you betcha! I was a little concerned when I was first made redundant that I would have to sell my ticket or attend on one day only to reduce costs, but thankfully it has all worked out okay. One of the first things I did when I started my new job was ensure that I had these two days off!

What are you most looking forward to at BritMums Live 2015? – I always hate this question – how do you choose just one thing you’re most looking forward to? As I’ve mentioned above, I love the opportunity to meet up with people, so that always comes high on my list. There are some old friends I am hoping to bump into, but also bloggers I have only started to interact with online during the past few months and I do hope to say “hi” to them this year.

Then, of course, there are the sessions. I really struggled last year to work out the best ones to attend. I was up to my neck in book edits and charity work and I just had no time for blogging. This year though I have a renewed passion for blogging, more so than I have since my first conference in 2012 in fact, so I’m super excited about the sessions this year.

And finally, I found out on Friday that one of my blog posts has been chosen for the Bloggers’ Keynote on the Saturday, so I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to that. The Bloggers’ Keynote is always such an emotional and inspiring moment in the weekend, when you are reminded just how special the blogging community is. I always leave on a high after listening to others read their posts, and so I feel incredibly honoured to be a part of it this year.

What are you wearing? – I have no idea. None. Last year I ended up wearing dresses, which was fun as it was a hot summery weekend. But the year before I wore jeans and a tee and that was really relaxed and comfortable. So I’m not sure which way I’ll go this year. Maybe another photo shoot is in order?

What do you hope to gain from BritMums Live 2015? – New friendships and connections. Last year I spent the vast majority of the weekend with a small group of friends, and it was really fun to share it all with them. But I found that when I came home I felt a sense of “loss” in some way at the fact I had not met with more people. In my first year I had gone with one friend and we only met up a few times throughout the weekend and the rest of the time was spent just meeting new people. Then in my second year I went completely on my own and, once my initial nerves were overcome, I made loads of new connections. I’m hoping that this year I can strike a balance between the two, making time for a good long catch up with old friends but still wandering off on my own at times so that I reach out and say “hi” to people I’ve not met before.

I’m also hoping to learn lots from the sessions. Since my redundancy I have been working on a new way of supporting my family and striking a better work/life balance. This means that I am hoping to be inspired by those who are embracing all that life has to offer, whilst also learning more about promoting myself and my work. I haven’t done any freelance work in years, so I’m hoping to find out how others are doing it.

Do you have any tips to pass on to others who may not have been before? – oh yes, lots…

  • remember we all get nervous, whether it’s our first time or our fourth, so don’t feel like you’re the only one!
  • if you’re nervous about meeting people, take a deep breath and just go for it – you’ll feel so proud of yourself for doing it and that’s a much better feeling than going home disappointed that you missed out
  • if you really don’t feel confident approaching people, visit the BritMums Butterflies. They are a lovely bunch of people who will give you a warm welcome and help you meet up with others
  • Twitter will be your best friend! Use the #britmumslive hashtag to find out where people are, join in opportunities with brands, and chat with others about the talks and sessions you have attended
  • have a vague plan for the sessions you want to attend, but be aware that this is likely to change throughout the weekend! Sometimes a session is busier than you expected it to be, or you find you’re having a great chat with a new friend who is planning to attend a different session which suddenly sounds much more interesting than your original plan. Just go with the flow – have your “must-do” list and then be flexible the rest of the time, it is much more fun that way
  • pack lightly – you will come home with a huge amount of goodies, so you don’t want to be weighed down from the start! If you’re not sure what to pack, check out my BritMums Live Essentials post from last year

I can’t wait to see you there!!

Are you going to BritMums Live this year? If so, have you joined in the linky? You can do so here…

Finding our Voices and Helping Each Other (General Election 2015)

Finding Our Voices and Helping Each Other (Reactions to the General Election 2015)

Like many others, I have spent a lot of time over the weekend reading commentaries and conversations about the General Election, the plans of our new government, and British politics in general.

My initial reaction to the results still stands – I am saddened that we are facing another 5 years of further cuts that will damage our NHS and make life immeasurably harder for those already struggling so much to simply make ends meet. However, as I have digested the words of others and seen conversations taking place on various social media platforms, my focus has changed somewhat.

I have been absolutely astounded by the attitude of some which suggests that because the Conservative Party received a majority of seats, those of us who didn’t vote for them should simply accept this and shut up. I’m not sure how to express my concern that there is this idea in our society that we all get a chance to vote once every five years and other than that we leave the politics to the politicians. It doesn’t end once the votes have been counted and the winners announced, in fact it’s only just beginning…

There has been a lot of outrage expressed about the fact that the Tories won a majority in this election, and it is all too easy for those who voted for this outcome to believe this is just a case of “sour grapes”. And, of course, there is a part of the response which is simply sheer disappointment that “the other party” won. But let’s not be under any pretences that this very same response would not have occurred had Labour won the majority.

However, the bigger issue that a lot of people are trying to speak out about is the fact that we no longer live in a society with two main Parties battling for their chance at leading the country. Our system of First Past The Post (FPTP) is seriously outdated and no longer representative of actual votes cast. The Conservatives may have won a small majority, but that same percentage of votes would have massively lost them the election in previous years. And this is because votes are being cast for smaller Parties, like the Green Party and UKIP, who under Proportional Representation would have gained far more seats than they did.

Don’t get me wrong, I am personally very glad that UKIP didn’t get more seats. But that doesn’t negate the fact that they should have done, that millions of votes have gone unheard under the current system. It’s no wonder people feel like there is no point in voting!

But instead of getting disheartened, instead of giving up, instead of doing what people expect us to do and simply accept our fate, we are starting to realise that we do have a voice, we just have to find it.

Finding our Voices and Helping Each Other (General Election 2015)

For me, as a writer, this means using my voice through the written word. I have never really blogged about politicial things before, but you can be sure that I’m going to from now on. And I shall be watching out for others who are using their voices online, and sharing their thoughts with you too. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it, finding common ground and supporting each other so that we can achieve greater things than we ever could alone. If you don’t already follow me on Facebook or Twitter, please do considering joining me over there as I’ll be able to share things via social media much more frequently than I can here on the blog.

I’ll also be looking for ways of supporting those in my local community, building up connections so that we can enact change right here on our doorstep. This is the time when our communities (whether online or off) are of utmost importance, because with so many cuts in our future, so much uncertainty facing us, it will be the people around us who hold us up and remind us what “we’re all in this together” really means.

I’ve started a new page with links to articles, comments, and organisations which may interest you. This will be the easiest way to keep on top of anything I link to in any of my blog posts on this topic, and you can find it here.

#GE2015 Where do we go from here- The Family Patch

Thoughts on the Election: Fear for the Future and a Passion for Change

Along with so many others, I watched the election results this week in stunned disbelief. Never in my worst nightmare did I ever imagine the Conservatives would win a majority, which again seems to be a common reaction to the news. In the weeks leading up to the election, I had spoken to many people and heard just as many opposing views and, along with the debates, this had given me the strong impression that we were heading for another hung parliament. How did we go from that, to this?

#GE2015 Where do we go from here- The Family Patch

I know that many people feel that there is very little difference between the parties, and therefore there was no real choice in this election. It is the very reason many non-voters give for choosing not to cast a vote this time. A few days before the election, I posted a link to this article along with the words, “I strongly believe that casting your vote is a big part of how we engender change, working with politics and politicians to focus light on the issues that matter most. It isn’t going to change overnight, but not voting is like accepting it “as is” and allowing it to go on unchallenged.” And I still do believe this… but our system is so flawed with its First Past The Post (FPTP) that it feels incredibly disheartening to realise how very little our voices are heard.

Somehow, as a nation, we have ended up with a majority Tory government, with more votes than they had last time, despite all that we have been through in the past five years. I can’t, of course, blame that completely on the FPTP system – people have clearly (and rightfully) cast their vote for the Conservative Party. But in many ways that makes me lose faith in where we’re heading as a society – do we really value the lives of others so little that we’re happy to ignore the fact that under the previous Tory government the rich got richer and the poor got poorer? Austerity measures were the worst thing to happen to our economy, and yet so many people believe the Tory Party rhetoric that they need time to finish what they started! But when you begin to really look at what we’ve voted for, it makes for an extremely depressing read.

Let me tell you something – as a family we will be hit hardest by the Tory Party plans. We’ve already suffered under the previous Tory government, but it will be even worse this time around. In the past year alone we have seen: our tax credits cut so much that we could not afford the childcare we needed, leaving me in a very stressful and unpleasant situation in my previous place of employment; my inability to claim JSA despite being made redundant, due to having not paid enough NI Contributions during the two years I stayed home with Little Man and returned to work in a part-time capacity only; and an increasingly difficult battle to receive the medical care and support TJ needs for a debilitating condition due to lack of funds in the NHS.

As a family with a disabled father, a young child, and a mother who has chosen to put her career on hold (consciously choosing a lower level and therefore lower paid role) in order to meet the immediate needs of her family, we are going to be hit the hardest by the coming government’s plans. We will struggle to make ends meet, and fight an even harder battle to receive the care we need from an NHS that is crumbling into ruins, no matter what the Tories say. Far from the “benefits scroungers” that they would have you believe are the cause of the problems, we will battle on regardless with almost minimal support from the government.

TJ will continue to work as hard as he can, despite being so sick that he had to miss 40 days of work last year due to being unable to even get out of bed. The days he works are days filled with immense pain, clouded by a fog of mental confusion caused by his medications and side effects nobody would wish on their worst enemy. He will do so, because we cannot afford for him to even consider reducing his hours. And I will continue to work fewer hours so that I can balance childcare, caring for my husband, and providing for my family in a way that doesn’t kill me. But more than that, we will rely on family and friends more than ever before, and we will fight for change.

Because whilst we will be hit hard, we are still incredibly blessed. We have a roof over our head and food on our table – some people are not so lucky. How crazy is that? How can I even be sitting here, in one of the world’s wealthiest countries, mentioning food poverty and homelessness? It isn’t right!!

Thankfully I am far from alone in feeling this way. My absolute horror that, as a nation, we voted in a Tory government that cares so little about the most vulnerable in society, has been reduced significantly over the past 24 hours as I have read the reactions of others across the UK. Let’s start with the fact that, despite getting a majority vote, the Tories received a significantly smaller percentage of the votes than the losing party in previous elections! Again we come back to the flawed FPTP system, and the fact that:

“In real terms, this means that Cameron’s Tories won the support of only around 24 per cent of all those who could have voted. The ‘none of the above’ party of non-voters totalled 34 per cent, finishing a close second this time. Millions of those who did vote will feel no more represented than those who did not, notably the almost five million UKIP voters who ended up with one MP between them.” – Did the Tories really win? 

This gives me hope, more than anything else, that we are not alone in feeling so utterly disappointed in the result of this election. Our electoral system is far from representative and therefore millions of people throughout the country feel just as passionate about creating change. But how do we do this? How do we engender change when our voices are vastly unheard, at least when it comes to politics?

I think Russell Brand says it pretty well in his recent video calling for us to live with compassion.

“One thing I know for certain is there’s going to be no shortness of meanness… we’ve got to find new ways of being compassionate and new ways of making change.” – Russell Brand

Compassion is something we can all strive to live by. It comes in so many guises and every single act of compassion, no matter how small, can all add up to a far greater life for us all. It could be as simple as stopping for a few extra minutes to talk to an elderly neighbour who may cherish those few moments of friendship with you, or buying an extra bag of tea during your weekly food shop to donate to the food bank. Or it could be as dedicated as volunteering for a local cause or speaking out about injustice on a local, national or even global scale. Whatever form compassion takes for you, know that it will make a difference.

The last thing we want or need right now is for the news of the past few days to throw us all into a state of apathy or a belief in hopelessness and helplessness. We can create change, indeed we must create change, it’s just we have to find new ways of doing this.

And on that note, I wish to leave you with a song by one of my favourite artists, Damh The Bard, entitled “The Sons and Daughters of Robin Hood”. Damh wrote this following the 2010 election and shared it again in light of the results from the 2015 election. The chorus line has been running through my mind since last night and I invite you to join me in singing along and finding your own way to make that change.

“If you thought that we would do nothing, You’ve misunderstood! For we are the Sons and Daughters, of Robin Hood!”

It's All About Community - Celebrating the Heart and Soul of Blogging

It’s All About Community – Celebrating the Heart and Soul of the Online World

Every so often, I find myself coming back to the question, “why do you blog?” and regardless of how the finer details change, there is one thing that remains constant – community.

I was reminded of this again last night thanks to a blog post by Aby from You Baby Me Mummy and a chat on Twitter with Joy from Pink Oddy. These two bloggers are lovely ladies who I have not had the pleasure of really speaking to before, and yet they both reminded me of just how important the community aspect of blogging is.

Aby has a most beautiful and balanced view of what it means to be part of the community. Her recent post called “Finding Your Tribe and Why You Need One” is an excellent example of this, however it was another blog post in which she explained that she spends most of her blogging time reading other blogs and commenting on them, which really got me thinking.

When I first started blogging, way back in 2006, I had been reading blogs for several months. In that time I had come to know some of the bloggers really quite well, through reading about their lives and commenting on their posts. In fact it was the thought that this was a rather “one-way” relationship which made me start a blog in the first place – I thought that it might be nice for the bloggers I knew so much about to know a little bit about this person who was commenting on their blogs too! In essence, I wanted to be a fully-fledged member of this exciting new community.

Fast forward several years and social media has taken a lot of the conversation off the blog and even sometimes impinges on the time available for reading and writing itself. Indeed, I was having a great conversation with Joy (Pink Oddy) last night about my love/hate relationship with social media (on Twitter, I might add, so that would be a moment I loved social media!) We lamented the death of the online forums we used to frequent whilst at the same time finding amusement in that fact that Joy and Aly from Bug Bird and Bee had lost several hours in conversation following the end of their #Fridayat11 Google Hangout, which is a fantastic way of getting to know the people behind the blogs!

So last night, after a really lovely evening chatting with other bloggers, I  felt inspired to celebrate and lift up the community aspect that is so important to bloggers and social media fans alike. I spend an awful lot of time reading posts via Feedly and looking through updates on Twitter and Instagram, and I thought it might be a nice idea to choose two or three things that have really embodied the spirit of community and bring them all together in a post that reminds me of just why I love blogging so much.

Welcome to “It’s All About Community”

It's All About Community - Celebrating the Heart and Soul of Blogging

Not the snazziest of titles, I know, but it is what it is!

I’ve already highlighted You Baby Me Mummy’s post, so I’m going to head straight on to a couple of other things that have really inspired me this week.

First up, it’s the #birthjusthappened hashtag that I stumbled across on Twitter yesterday. It is a hugely inspiring and emotional collection of images, which show that birth doesn’t have to be something we dread and fear. There are so many blog posts and articles about how this went viral and what it stands for, but I wanted to draw your attention to the images themselves. I posted my own because, despite having an induced labour and feeling completely let down in many ways during my actual labour, I still cherish the moment I gave birth as the most surreal and yet magical moment ever. I know that this isn’t true for many women, and birth can be hugely traumatic, but this collection of images shows that a positive birth experience can come in so many different shapes and forms and I love it for bringing women together to share as much and empower each other.

Then there is the incredible post over on The Adoption Social by Sarah from The Puffin Diaries entitled “How Twitter Changed My Life“. I read this post when it popped up on my Feedly app and I felt myself nodding along to everything Sarah wrote about how Twitter can be a real force for good when it brings together people with a common experience or common goal. I think the same can be said about any social media platform, and especially blogging, and Sarah’s explanation of all the amazing ways her life has truly been changed through connecting with a community online is well worth a read. So often we only hear of the negatives around social media, and yet just look at how many positives it has brought to those who simply need to find a community of people they would never have had the opportunity to meet were they limited by their geographical location.

And finally (so as not to make this this longest blog post in history!) I couldn’t miss the opportunity to highlight that the BiBs – that’s the Brilliance in Blogging awards run by BritMums – have opened for nominations this week. I’m not even sure where to begin with choosing my nominations because there are just so many blogs I enjoy reading. But what better way to celebrate the community that we are a part of than by nominating those that inspire you time and time again. It’s like giving people a great big pat on the back and saying “thanks for being a part of my world”.

So that’s it from me… tell me, how do you feel about the online community and who has inspired you this week?

************

Linking up this week with Bod For Tea’s Share the Joy Linky – why not join me?

Share the Joy linky at bodfortea.co.uk

BritMums Live 2014 – Got Butterflies? Here’s My Essential Guide

Hi There

Well, it’s finally here… on Friday hundreds of parent bloggers will be coming together in London for BritMums Live 2014. Can you believe it?

This will be my 3rd BritMums Live and it has become the highlight of my year. I just love the opportunity to meet other bloggers in person and enjoy the whole BritMums Live experience (if you’ve not been before, you’re in for a real treat!)

But I know how nervous I was my first year, despite going with a friend, because I didn’t know what to expect. And I also remember being a tad nervous last year too, because I was going alone. This year I am going with two friends and whilst I am sure there will be the odd butterfly creep up on me as I get my train to London, I am mostly just excited this year.

However I know many of you will be far more nervous that excited, and maybe even baffled about what to bring and what will happen. So I thought I would write my essential guide for getting the most out of your weekend.

Here goes…

What To Pack

BML Essentials

This is a tough one, always. You want to pack light – it is only 2 days, after all! But you also want to make sure you have everything you need. And you’ll also want to leave plenty of room for all the freebies – don’t overload yourself before you get there, especially if you’re travelling home alone via public transport! You will amass huge amounts of freebies, not least of which the massive bag full you’ll be given as you leave The Brewery at the end of it all. So pack light…

The essentials:

Your phone – for tweeting, texting and instagramming during the event
Business cards – you’ll swap these with bloggers and give them to brands
Tickets – for BritMums Live, for the train, hotel reservations etc
Painkillers – you never know if you’ll need these come Saturday!
Clothes for 2 days & comfy shoes – you walk up and down stairs a lot between sessions
Plasters – in case your shoes rub

You may also want:

A camera – the lighting in The Brewery isn’t ideal for phone cameras
Snacks – unless you are happy/able to eat cake all day long!
Spare cash – in case you want to buy a book from the bookstall
Sunglasses – if you’re likely to be hungover Saturday morning
Notepad and pen – (optional because The Brewery provide paper and pens as well)

What you DON’T need:

Paper and pens – these are provided on each table
Drinks – ice cold water is provided on each table, teas and coffee available in The Hub
Cakes – again, provided in The Hub (and sweets on the tables)
Itinerary – you’ll be given a copy when you register upon arrival

A note on packing:

I’m planning on packing my clothes and a backpack in a suitcase, so that on the Saturday I can pack my clothes in the backpack and fill the suitcase with all the freebies. This way I have a manageable way of transporting everything home on the train. Don’t worry about having to take your bags to The Brewery when you check out of your hotel on the Saturday morning – they have plenty of space in their cloakroom for these.

What To Expect

If you’re coming on both days, then everything starts at 2pm on the Friday. By that time there will be an excited mass of bloggers waiting to go in, register and just throw themselves into the BritMums Live experience. Some will be chatting away with old friends, others will be chatting away with new friends. And some will be quietly hovering, unsure of what to do or who to speak to.

The BritMums Butterflies

This is where the BritMums Butterflies come in! If you haven’t heard of them, the BritMums Butterflies are there to help anyone feeling a little lost and overwhelmed to hook up with other bloggers and feel less intimidated by the prospect of being in a room full of hundreds of bloggers, all of whom seem so much more confident and at ease than they are.

But here’s the secret – even those of us, like myself, who can quite happily talk to anyone and everyone about anything will still be feeling daunted by the idea of going up to someone and starting a conversation!! But you know what, I’ve never found anyone who wasn’t happy to welcome you into the conversation once you struck up the courage to approach them.

However, we all know it can be totally overwhelming… and we also all know that you can go away feeling so down on yourself for not having been able to overcome that fear, and none of us want that! We want you to feel empowered by your time there. So if you’re feeling a little lost, go seek out the BritMums Butterflies (they will have a table in The Hub) or tweet to some of your favourite bloggers and ask where they are. Take part in tweets during sessions – send things like, “I’m going to this session and looking for someone to sit with… anyone got a spare seat on their table?” Sometimes sending a tweet can be easier than simply approaching someone in person, but opens up the way to a conversation.

Pre-Event Meet-Ups

There are, as far as I know, two pre-event meet-ups happening on the Friday. One at All Bar One for those who are old-hands at this conference malarkey and one at Starbucks which is organised by the BritMums Butterflies for those who need a smaller, more intimate opportunity to get to know people. The latter is being hosted by myself and Aly from Bug Bird and Bee (although you will most likely know her fom Plus 2.4)

Aly and I will be at Starbucks from 12 noon on Friday, ready to welcome anyone who wants to join us. We currently have just over a dozen bloggers who have said they wish to come to the meet-up, so it will be nice and cosy for those of you who are a little shy, but still a big enough group to get to know several bloggers before you head to The Brewery. If you want more details of this or just want to chat to others before the event, check out the BritMums Butterflies Facebook Group.

The Actual Event

Once you get to The Brewery, you’ll be greeted by some male hosts who tip their bowler hats at you and call you “madam”… it’s really quite charming. Then you head on in and you’ll see a long row of tables in front of you. This is where you register and pick up your name badge and itinerary for the day. To your right there is a place to hand over bags and coats, plus the toilets if needed!

To your left and up the stairs is The Hub – this is where you grab a drink and some cake, and meet the brands. There is the main central Hub and then off that there are several “lounges” where you can meet other brands. There are places to sit for a rest and a natter, and it’s a good place to try and meet up with people between sessions.

You’ll be given a map of The Brewery with your itinerary so you can find out where all your sessions are. Some are upstairs, some are downstairs (I told you there was a fair bit of going up and down stairs!!) You’ll have until 3pm to wander around and get your bearings, and then it all gets going in the main room upstairs. The tables in each room are circular, so you have chance to sit down and meet everyone on the table. Have a natter and get to know who you’re sitting with – exchange business cards and discuss why you’re here, what you’re most excited about and just begin to soak in the atmosphere. It won’t be long before it all kicks off…

From this point onwards, you just go with the flow really! There will be a welcome from the BritMums Founders, a keynote speech, and then a panel discussion before everyone breaks away to the various sessions. If you want to see what they are before you get there, you can find the agenda here. Friday has quite a relaxed and party-like feel to it… everyone is just getting into the swing of things and whilst there are some great sessions on during the day, I always find Saturday is the day when we all knuckle down and really eat up all the sessions. Friday is very much about a gentle easing into everything.

I can’t really talk much about Friday night and the BiBs as I’ve always scooted off early to go on a date night with TJ. But this year he isn’t coming with me so I’ll be there and as unfamiliar with it as the rest of you. I do know that a lot of bloggers hook up and go out for a meal together afterwards, so if you find yourself without any plans, do check twitter or ask people you meet to see if there are any groups you could join!

Saturday is pretty much the same, except it is a longer day, you get given lunch, and generally speaking most people feel a little less frantic and more at ease with everything.

My Top Tips

Whoa, that was a long post, so let’s round this up nicely with a list of my 10 Top Tips!

1) Pack lightly – work out what is essential & leave the rest at home!
2) Make plans to meet some of your favourite bloggers before you go – arrange to meet them during one of the breaks or plan to go to a pre-event meet-up. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed once you get there, so having a bit of a plan can help and means you aren’t disappointed when you manage to miss bumping into them the entire weekend.
3) Wear clothes and shoes you are comfortable in – whether that means dressing up or wearing jeans and a tee, just be comfortable as they are long days
4) Have a “mini survival kit” in your bag – painkillers, plasters etc – better to have them and not need them than develop a headache/hangover or blisters and have to suffer silently all day
5) Remember to check twitter and use the BritMums Live hashtags – that way you can find people you know amid the crazy bustle.
6) Take lots of photos – I never take enough (I always forget) and then when I want to blog about what I loved about the weekend I feel sad I didn’t document it better!
7) Be flexible – it’s great to know which sessions you really don’t want to miss, but sometimes you may have a plan in mind and then meet someone at the event and decide you’d rather skip a session to chat with them or go to the session they are going to because it suddenly sounds much more interesting! You might also find the session you want to go to is super busy and you’d rather go to a quieter one.
8) Remember that it’s normal to feel nervous and that even those who look confident may still have some nerves. The BritMums Butterflies are there to help if you feel overwhelmed – don’t spend the weekend feeling scared and alone, please make the most of the support at hand to help you feel more confident and enjoy the weekend.
9) Sleep as much as you can before you go to London because the weekend it full-on, with a late night on the Friday and an earlyish start on the Saturday. You’ll come away exhausted, but it will be so worth it!
10) Enjoy… do whatever you need to make the most of it. If that means skipping a session for a breather, then do that. If it means throwing yourself into every opportunity, then do that. Whatever works for you – there is no right or wrong!

I hope that these tips help you enjoy your BritMums Live experience – let me know if you have any more tips. I can’t wait to see you there!

 

 

Parenting – Are These The “Happiest Days of Your Life”?

The other day I wrote a blog post about feeling guilty as a wife, mother and friend. It got quite a varied response, with one friend telling me she felt exactly the same a lot of the time and then a different friend asking me why I was letting so much guilt in when this should be the “happiest time of your life”.

At first my response was that these past two years have been the most stressful of my life in many, many ways. I suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum during pregnancy, then I started having problems with nausea and then Endo pains pretty soon after having Little Man, and  now my husband has just been told that he most likely has small fibre neuropathy. That’s a lot of health issues to cope with when you have a young child taking up so much of your time and energy!

But it struck me as interesting that within my group of friends there was such a wide gap between the one who told me that she too struggled with guilt and the one who told me that this guilt was unhealthy and that my focus was all wrong. I have a lovely husband and a beautiful son, how could I be letting guilt ruin what should be the happiest time of my life? It seems especially important to ask this when I spent many years of my life looking forward to this exact moment. Am I simply ungrateful for what I have, or did I completely underestimate how hard this would all be?

I wanted to see what other parents thought to this, so I asked a few other bloggers  for their thoughts. Here are their responses:

“I’m with you on this one. I can now see that I had no idea what it was like to be a parent until I had my own children. One minute it can be utter bliss and then in an instant everything can be total s**t (literally). Parenting is constant, I’d like to meet anyone who can be happy every minute of the day when they are always on duty!! I just look forward to the days when my friends have children and I shall just smile knowingly to myself.” – Ginger Bisquite

“Parenting is like a roller coaster, looking on at the people screaming and arms in the air it looks like loads of fun, but when you’re on it there’s the mixed feeling of nerves, elations and slight terror as you navigate the track. No one can fully understand how it feels until you’re on the ride. And it’s a ride you can’t get off. There are always going to be moments that are overwhelming and you can burst into tears in the street and there can be times where your heart is so full full of love it feels like a dream. The one thing it most definitely is? Hard work, a relationship that is constantly challenging you. To all the mums out there I take my hat off to you.” – Wild & Grizzly

“To me, this kind of response just adds something else to feel guilty about – not enjoying every moment! I regularly feel as though I’m the only who isn’t enjoying every moment and that there must be something wrong with me! Reality is that parenting is blummin’ hard work. FACT!” – 3 Children and It

“To me, the happiest time in my life doesn’t exist anyway. I find life mostly hard work and stress with the odd good day, you know, every decade or so …..”

“I get so angry at those type of comments (enjoy it, they won’t be like this forever etc.) – some days I can’t wait for my boys to be old enough to blow their own noses and be left alone for 20 minutes without risk of them destroying the house, or each other! Parenthood is a rollercoaster (and at times, bloody hard work, especially with pre-schoolers). This myth of it being permanently wonderful isn’t helping anyone…” – Hodge Podge Craft

*edited – in respone to Hodge Podge’s comment* “I find those things are a reminder for me when the kids do tire me out and I feel like I have no energy, am too stressed etc. I do feel like I will miss this stage once it is over and it helps me to remind myself of that at times when it feels challenging. As for happiest times of your life, I think that’s probably way too broad and way too individual for anyone to make these kind of sweeping statements.” – In The Playroom

“I keep having these thoughts. I know it is a blessing to have my little one, and I am eternally grateful for it, but we are humans too. We are allowed our mood-swings and meltdowns. I have written about this here” – Rambling Through Parenthood

Reading these comments back, I am reminded that parenting is hard work and that’s a fact! And yet we put all this pressure on ourselves to have the most perfect life ever.

We see, hear and read about people “having it all”. We believe we should be able to do all these things and still have time and energy to spare, but that is just nuts. So often the only things we share are the good bits, the bits which we want people to see. We hide the exhaustion, frustration and anger we feel because it doesn’t seem right to share these. Everybody else seems to have it all under control, and so we feel bad about the fact that we don’t. What is wrong with us? Why can’t we be like everybody else?

But the truth is everybody has these moments in life when it all gets too much. And by hiding this we make it harder for ourselves and others to ever admit that. We get caught up in trying to keep up with an impossible ideal and it is that which leads us down the path of guilt.

When I first received the comment about this being the happiest time of my life I reacted strongly… with guilt, go figure! But why should I? This is where my thinking is all wrong… these past few years have been the most challenging but they have been brightened by the wonderful parts of being a parent. However, when I fall into the trap of believing my life isn’t perfect without being able to do and be everything I want to be (or feel I need to be) I lose that balance entirely.

With that in mind I am making a few changes around here. The things I feel guilty about are the things my heart yearns for the most. Guilt can be  a very helpful emotion so long as you use it as an indicator to what is wrong, rather than believing there is nothing you can do about it. I am choosing to use it as a measure of what needs to change in my life.

These days may be the happiest of my life, but they are also some of the most stressful – and that’s okay!

Blogging for Change!

Between my Nine Months Of challenge, Sport Relief and International Women's Day, my blog posts lately have been rather more focussed on campaigning for one thing or another. And I have to say, it has given me such a boost and reminded me why I haven't given up blogging yet (despite considering it several times).

You see, in between all the random bits and pieces I have blogged about, I have always had an underlying passion to use my words to raise awareness of various things. It took me a year or so of blogging before I felt confident enough to start writing about the things I really cared about rather than just the day-to-day stuff, but it has always been there. 

At first, it was Endometriosis. And this actually led to my first series on iVillage.co.uk where I wrote as a freelance writer for about 2.5 years. Then it was Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which went hand in hand with the book I was writing. And then I lost my nerve.

I stopped writing about these things because it just didn't feel "right" somehow. Once I was a "parent blogger" I felt my blog needed to be more "carefree" somehow and "fit in" with everyone else's. I think this was partly because I was struggling to find the time to write and partly because I wasn't sure all the awareness stuff sat so well with all the family stuff and didn't think people would appreciate it. But by doing this I found myself losing interest in blogging altogether…

However this past month has reminded me just how much I enjoy putting into words the things that I feel passionate about and sharing causes that others feel passionate about too. I have loved pulling together all the information and stats together for the posts I have written to support Team Honk and have found myself being pulled into social media again too in order to keep up and spread the word.

In fact, I joined in the BritMums Twitter Party to celebrate Inspirational Women thanks to all of this and it was at that point that I realised just what inspires me the most – people who put their time, energy and passion into making change! It doesn't matter if that change is big or small, or whether it is completely personal or affects the international community, all that matters is that when someone is passionate about something they automatically create change.

And I come across a lot of people passionate about creating change.  Suffering from conditions such as Endometriosis and Hyperemesis Gravidarum has made me very aware of just how much work is needed to raise awareness of these and create change for women like myself. Talking openly about either of these has led me to some very difficult positions – people just don't want to hear about them. But they need to be spoken about, if for no other reason than to make it very clear that just because these only affect women they should be taken seriously (rather than being a "taboo" subject or something women should just endure because, hey we're women and that's what women do, right?)

So now I find myself wondering what direction to take with my blog – I don't think it should become a simple commentary blog as I still love my crafts and various things we do around the house and home as a family. I also don't have the time or desire to create a second blog. So I think that I need to find a balance between the causes and our general family life. After all, creating a happy and healthy home for your family is just as important as working hard on a major campaign, isn't it! 

I think it's going to take me a while to find my new balance, but I think the timing is simply perfect. Over the coming weeks I can share with you bits and pieces about the charity auction I'm organising and that means mixing a personal hobby with a major cause I care about. Hopefully that will  instill within me the confidence to continue mixing the two together. And if nothing else, simply being able to share the health issues I am currently having (which I have avoided writing about for the most part this past year or so) will be both good for me and raise some awareness in some small way.

In the meantime, I'd love to know what you think about all of this. Do you struggle to balance different areas of your life on your blog? 

It’s Good to Share: More Lessons from BritMums Live 2013

So, BritMums Live had a truly wonderful effect on me this year. Not only did it remind me of the wonderful community of bloggers out there, it also kicked me up the butt in terms of realigning my blog with the reason I started blogging in the first place.

One of the sessions I went to was called How I Did it: Success stories from the blogging front line. I hadn't really planned on going to this session because I had fooled myself into thinking I didn't really want success from my blog. I mean, I've been blogging since 2006 and have been quite merrily pottering along at my own pace. To be honest with you, it was all a lie because of course I would feel good if my blog reached more readers, but you know it's easier to live in denial!

So thanks to my fantastic fooling of myself, the only reason I stayed for this session was because Spencer from @ADadCalledSpen was on the panel and I desperately wanted to meet him. And I'm glad I did stay, because Spencer asked the all important question about what makes a successful blog. It turns out that one indication may be that if you can write down 5 reasons why you write and realise that you actually do all 5 things, then you may be on the right track.

I haven't really had chance until this morning to truly sit down and hash out the 5 reasons I think I blog, but here goes:

  1. To connect with others and be part of a community
  2. To give me a place to hash out all my inner thoughts so that I don't drive my husband mad
  3. To support others who may be going through similar things
  4. To share the things I am passionate about
  5. To make a record of our life

Looking at these 5 things I can see areas where I am doing okay, but others where I am lacking. 

  1. I am part of a community but I need to interact more
  2. Sometimes I hold back on certain things and so still drive my husband mad!
  3. My HG work is on it's own blog now, I don't write enough about the Endo, and I honestly don't know whether this should still be a reason for this blog anymore…
  4. This is where I am really lacking… I don't share my kids' stories, have no link to my novel, I rarely blog about crochet and I most certainly censor a lot of my thoughts. They just don't feel "good enough" for the blog and so I hold them back and this needs to change.
  5. This is where I excel… I may not blog about the small bits and bobs, but I do have a record of our journey to becoming parents and the choices we have had to make along the way. I don't want to record every step of Little Man's progress in public, but I have the family stuff on here.

So what do I take from all this? 

Well, for starters I need to share more. I don't need to get any more intimate as I feel I am pretty honest as it is. But what I do need to do is start sharing more of my passions. I need to pick up all those projects I planned and actually finish them. I need to write the stories to go with the Woodland Alphabet my mum painted at my request during my pregnancy. And I need to share the stories I already have written in an easily accessible manner.

I need to share more about our family home and life, even if that includes showing you how truly unorganised I am and how my dreams for this home of ours are often beaten by my sheer lack of time and energy. And I need to share how this truly makes me feel like maybe, just maybe, having the one child really could be a good move for us. I feel stifled when I cannot write, create, and bring all the dreams and ideas I have to life… and stifled is how I feel right now. I can perhaps be a better wife and mum if I have the time and energy to create the home I want for my family, rather than having a larger family and feeling frustrated all the time.

I guess the biggest thing for me is that I need to rewrite my 5 reasons for blogging to better reflect what I want from my life. Things have happened that have changed my life in massive ways since I started writing back in 2006. Back then I was a recent graduate, living in a house share, and had yet to meet my husband. Of course my reasons for blogging were different, I just need to recognise this and make that change.

One of the other sessions I went to was called Style blogging for fashion, beauty and home and had one of my all-time favourite bloggers, Cherry Menlove on the panel. To be honest with you, I love these kinds of blogs but I am never going to be the writer of one. I'm just not that cool. But despite starting our blogging journeys in the same year, Cherry has always seemed to know what she was doing and I just fumbled along. And it was great to hear her say that she "set herself a brief and stuck with it". For her this was 'home and garden' and though my brief would be different, hearing her say this made me realise I have no brief and that creating one may be really helpful in guiding me along the next few steps of my blogging journey.

And so that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to set myself a brief and write out 5 new reasons to blog. If I can stick with them for a year and come away from next years BritMums Live knowing this, then I'll be happy!

My Brief

Family Life (I mean, it's called The Family Patch for a reason, right!)

My 5 Reasons for Blogging – The 2013 Edition

  1. To be part of a community
  2. To share my children's stories
  3. To write about life as a parent 
  4. To be inspired to make changes in my life
  5. To keep myself (and my husband) sane!

These may seem quite different to my old 5 reasons, but that's okay. I need the change and actually they still encompass a lot of what I had before, only in a slightly different way.

I still want to support others, but not necessarily so directly. I moved the HG stuff off my personal blog so I had a space to do that without overshadowing the rest of my passions. I'll still write about things that affect me and my family, but I won't actively be using this space for informing & supporting others.

I am also hoping that numbers 3 and 4 will allow me to explore aspects I have only touched on briefly before. Things like spirituality, the advantages of only having one child, or my frustrations at never managing to get on top of the housework etc. I mean, let's be fair – if I tell you guys I am going to try and follow a chore planner, or plant some seeds, or paint the bedroom then I'll be more inclined to actually do it rather than letting it fall away without anyone knowing!

But number 2 is the biggie for me. I need to work out the best way to share my stories with you all. Do I just put them into blog posts? Do I create free downloadable eBooks? Do I just create a PDF file? This is going to take some thinking about, but I do hope it will be worth it. I've held on to them thinking that one day maybe I could edit them and bring them to a publisher… but that just means they sit on my computer, lonely and unseen. They are never going to make me money, so why not share them freely? After all, stories are meant to be shared, aren't they!

And that's that… it'll be fun to see where this leads me and the blog. Thanks to Spencer and Cherry for making me think about this. 

So, tell me… what are your 5 reasons for blogging and have they changed?

BritMums Live 2013 – It was all about Community

Advance warning: This post may seem like an awful lot of links to other people's blogs, but I just did not want to miss anyone who made my weekend so special!

It's Sunday morning, I've just spent the most hectic yet amazing Friday and Saturday in London at BritMums Live, and I cannot wait to blog about it all. Yet, I don't really know how to start explaining just how amazing this past weekend has been for me.

Except, I do. When I think about all the happened over the two days the overwhelming feeling I get is that I am part of a massively warm and welcoming community. I have been blogging since 2006 and though blogging has changed massively in that time, the community aspect does still exist.

So many bloggers now use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google+ and who knows what else I've forgotten, and it is hard to keep up. I have less time for blogging now than I ever have, because working part-time and raising a toddler is hard work. I couldn't help but wonder if blogging was growing beyond my ability to keep up, if I was losing the community because I was falling behind…

But I was wrong… oh so wonderfully wrong!

I went to the conference with a thought in my mind, "This is about community for me, not about blogging". And community is what I found.

At the welcome speech from Susanna and Jen, the BritMums founders, we were told to try and make 3 new friends over the weekend. I did a quick tally in my head and realised I had already spoken to 5 people I had never met before (some I had been briefly talking to online but not in person) and so I was well on track to finding my "3 new friends". 

This in itself amazed me. I still think of myself as a shy and timid person, and going into a conference full of 500 bloggers you don't really know and striking up conversation with people can be a scary thing. Yet I was in my element. I chatted and hugged and just had a wonderful time hearing everyone's story and getting to know people. I truly am a social person and I need to remind myself of that sometimes.

My entire adult life has revolved around community: I studied languages at university because I loved learning how to communicate with people; I worked in childcare because I loved meeting the parents as much as I loved caring for the children; I worked in tourism because meeting people from all around the world was exciting; and I blog because I love to make connections.

I may not be able to keep up with the social media side of blogging right now, but the blogging comunity is still a wonderful place to be. One of the first people I met on Friday, MS Mummy of Two, reminded me of this when she told me how she had found my blog just recently and had spent some time looking through my posts. Even when you think no-one is reading your words, someone out there has read them and felt a connection with you. And that is an amazing thing, don't you think?

Another blogging friend, I'm Counting UFOs gave me a second reminder, when she very sincerely told me not to give up blogging (you may remember I mentioned not knowing whether to quit blogging here). I love Steph and was gutted I didn't get chance to speak to her at last year's BritMums so was incredibly excited to say hi this year. To have someone whose blog you love tell you they think you should keep blogging is a real boost. And to then have that blogger introduce you to one of the most "famous" bloggers there, Annie from Mammasaurus, well that just blows your mind (because we all get a little bit nervous of meeting the "big" bloggers, right?). 

I met people I have seen around but never really talked to,  like Penny from A Residence who is a truly delightful person to talk to and lives quite locally to me I discovered.

I met people from the lovely BritMums Butterflies Facebook Group, like Anya Harris who was so warm and welcoming to everyone, Marissa who I met at Moorgate station before the pre-event meet up,  and @tinkypen who I spotted during one of the talks and tweeted so we could say hello once the session was over. And let's not forget Liska who organised the pre-event meet at Starbucks for us all 🙂

I met people I have spoken to on twitter but not on the blog, people like @TheLazyGirlBlog who seemed to have boundless energy, and @needaphone who seemed as worn out as I was by the end of Saturday.

And I met people I have never really come across before, but loved chatting to anyway. People like Lisa from Mummy Whisperer and Ericka from Mum in the South, both of whom I met whilst we were all waiting to go in and have our sessions with the literary agents.

But however wonderful it is to meet new people (and it really is!) the greatest joy for me had to come from meeting people I already followed online. People whose lives I have seen being turned upside down and inside out and who have shared their hearts and welcomed us into their lives. People who I have wanted to meet for ages but didn't have the chance until now…

The first was Spencer of @ADadCalledSpen who is just as lovely and open and honest in real life as he is on his blog and twitter feed. I am glad I got to give him and hug and have a chat with him, as his blog is one I love to read.

The second, and possibly the biggest highlight of my weekend, was meeting Cherry Menlove. I came across Cherry during 2006 when I first started blogging and I fell in love with her blog immediately. I may not have been anywhere near as passionate about my home and garden as she is (let's face it, I was still in a house share at that time), but I still loved reading about the things she did. I followed her blog as she got engaged and married, as she moved out of London, as she became a mum to twins, as she began to grow professionally with articles in the mainstream media and now a book (which I have, and you should consider buying too!) and I read as her husband bravely fought cancer. You can't follow someone's life in that way for so many years and not be desperate to meet them!

Photo 2

I'll be honest, I was a tad nervous about finally meeting Cherry, but she was as delightfully warm and friendly as she is on her blog. She gave me a hug, signed a card for me to stick in my book (which was too heavy to carry to and from London in my backpack unfortunately) and had a photo with me. And through talking to her I got to meet another lovely blogger, Vintage Folly, whose blog I have just looked at and already adore!

I could, quite literally, carry on naming everyone I met but I am sure I would miss some and this blog post would end up being massive. So here are just a few more messages to some of you I met, and the rest of you I look forward to catching up on your blogs or twitter soon!

Luschka, it was so wonderful to see you again – you were a highlight of last year's BritMums Live for me and it just wouldn't have been the same had you not been there again this year!

Lynsey is was fab seeing you again, can't wait until next year!

Domestic Goddesque – your business card still smells lovely (who knew you could have scented business cards?) and the popping candy will be a huge hit with my husband!

Daddacool thanks for explaining Google Authorship to me, I must look into it…

Julie McCaffrey and Tanya (Visible Vixen) I hope you both came away from the weekend with a better idea of how to move forward with your blogging!

A Pencil Skirt Good Luck with your new blog!

Pippa (A Mother's Ramblings) – I don't think I'll ever forget your awesome t-shirt 🙂

Erin (Silent Beauty Speaks) we didn't get to speak much, but being on your table during a couple of the sessions was so much fun!

I am sorry to all those I have forgotten, but as you can tell my weekend really was full of connections and community, I wasn't lying about that. And I want to thank each and every one of you for making my weekend so incredibly exciting, and I cannot wait until next year to do it all over again!

I have so much more I want to write about what I learned (about myself and blogging) over the weekend, but that will have to wait for another time. My Little Man is due home soon and I am ready for hugs with my boy. Did you miss your kids like mad too? 

 

 

BritMums Live 2013 – What I’m Looking Forward To

I can't believe that in a couple of months I'll be packing my bags ready to go back down to London for BritMums Live. Last year was such a blast despite my nerves of attending such a huge event for the very first time. But this year I have nothing but joy and excitement as I read through the agenda and try to figure out what I want to see and do this year!

The focus is heavily on bloggers and brands working together, something that I am not overly that fussed about to be honest. Last year I gave it a try but I found that it was just more work than I really wanted from blogging right now. That's not to say that I don't still work with the odd brand (because I do), but I am rather picky about what I am willing to undertake and am not keen on promoting that side of things.

But even though the focus is on this, I am still super excited as there are plenty of other aspects to the weekend which I am truly looking forward to, including:

  • Seeing bloggers I met last year and whose blogs I have throughly enjoyed reading this year
  • Meeting new bloggers and finding more great blogs to follow
  • Finally meeting Cherry Menlove, whose blog I have followed since she wrote Tales from Pixie Wood way back in 2006/7 (I forget exactly when I found it!)
  • The Bloggers' Keynote (I missed this last year as we were rushing to get home, but I'm hoping to stay for it this year).
  • Coming home with loads of goodies like we did last year (Little Man was only 9 months old last June and so he wasn't really old enough to appreciate all the freebies… this year it'll be different!)

As for the agenda… well here is my current plan (which may well change right up to the last minute!)

Friday

1400-1500: Actually arrive on time (last year we got stuck in traffic and then took the wrong tube!) and enjoy getting to mingle from the very start

1505-1530: Keynote speech (Kirstie Allsopp)

1530-1615: Pop along to the "Writing Funny" session

1615-1730: Enjoy sampling the multitude of herbal teas on offer

1615-1815: (if I have remember to sign up in time) Head to a session with LBA agent to pitch my HG book and find out what an actual agent's thoughts are on the reality of getting it published. Then I'll wander round the Hub.

1700-1745: Join the "Storytelling" workshop (I went to a publishing one last year and found it wasn't so helpful as the nature of the HG book is so different to those of many other bloggers. However I'd love to hear more about people's thoughts on better storytelling for bloggers).

1750-1830: Enjoy the "Is your blog camera ready" – I love taking photos but just don't seem to take as many as I'd like and I want to use my blog to record the beautiful things in our daily lives.

1830… Although I'd love to stay for the BiBs party (I missed it last year too), I am far more excited about going on a date night with TJ in London, finding a new restaurant to sample, and just enjoying some "us time". 

Saturday

830-915: I may be late again… but if I have arranged to meet up with some bloggers I shall make every effort to come and make the most of coffee and pastries before the day begins

915-920: Listen to welcome from BritMums founders

920-935: Keynote speech (Katie Piper)

935-1010: Make notes about "Blogging and Social Media Now" (especially as I am so very bad at balancing this right now!)

1010-1050: I don't really know what "Innovative Blogging Models" is about, so this may change if it sounds interesting. But right now I am thinking of going along to "Finding Your Voice and What Makes Good Writing". I went to a similar one last year and it was so encouraging.

1050-1130: More cake (or in my case, not so much because of the whole wheat issue)… and plenty more herbal tea!

1130-1215: Listening with interest to the session entitled "Are we really addicted to the internet? A conversation from a neuroscience perspective".

1220-1310: I'm torn here between WordPress gets fancy (as we use WordPress at work and I use Typepad at home so I'm a bit lost when it comes to blogging for work) and "How I did it: Success stories from the blogging front line". I'll most likely go to the latter, as although I don't want a massive blog, I do want to make it a place of warmth and encouragement for others in a similar boat to us (raising an only child etc). 

1310-1410: LUNCH!!! Need I say more?

1410-1455: Okay, so I am completely torn on this one. I don't really enjoy cooking much, so food blogging is kind of knocked out straight away (sorry… TJ is the cook in our household!) But I cannot decide between "The New Feminism: Rebuild or rebrand?" "Social Media: Activating your network", and "Blogging with heart, for support". I think I'll know more nearer the time and can make my decision then.

1450-1545: Again I am torn (oh, why is it so hard to choose?) This time it's between "Photography", "Blogging for good: how to blog better working with charities", and "Style blogging for fashion, beauty and home". To be honest, I love home blogs but not so much the fashion and beauty side of things so it all depends on the balance of those  as to whether the latter will interest me in the end. But the other two are real passions of mine.

1545-1640: Afternoon coffee and tea… a chance to chat some more with everyone I've met. Yay.

1640-1710: "Good Enough Mums Club" (sounds AWESOME!)

1710-1815: "Bloggers Keynote (And A Time to Honour Kerry)". I didn't really know Kerry, but the outpouring of love during her long battle and following her passing was so amazing and reminded me just why I love the blogging community so very, very much. I am expecting to cry at this point in the day!

 

And that's it… I cannot wait to find out more details about who is speaking at which session as I think that will help me make firmer decisions, especially where I am torn.

Are you going to BritMums Live this year? What are you most looking forward to? Have you decided what sessions you really want to attend? Let me know… I'd love to meet you there!

 

Hyperemesis Gravidarum: The Importance of Awareness and Accurate Reporting

I’m pretty sure that most people have heard the news about the Duchess of Cambridge being admitted to hospital for Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). I’m also just as sure that many are thinking “oh just get over it!” because that is the reality of HG, hardly anyone knows what it is or understands how truly awful it is. And unfortunately, with the media using terms such as “acute morning sickness” and relying on the limited knowledge of doctors who have no specialist experience in this area (no disrespect to them, it’s just it is a very specific area), this isn’t going to change very fast.

And so, as a HG survivor who has dedicated most of the first year of her child’s life to researching about the condition, writing a book about it, networking with others and raising awareness, I feel it is time to turn over my blog for a while to the subject.

So let’s start by passing on my sincerest best wishes and support to the Duchess. Hyperemesis is a truly awful condition, terrifying in its severity, isolating in the fact no one understands what you’re going through, and a battle from start to finish. If, like most of us, her symptoms peak between around 7 and 10 weeks, it is going to get worse before it gets better, and could be with her throughout the entire pregnancy. And she has to do this all in the public eye. My heart goes out to her, as it does to any woman suffering from HG!

So what is it?

Well, for starters, it is a severe form of Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy (NVP). The term itself basically translates as lots of vomiting (hyperemesis) in pregnancy (gravidarum). It is not “morning sickness”, in fact we need to get away from using that term altogether. It is an outdated term, that trivialises the condition, not only for those with HG but also those with mild-moderate symptoms.

NVP affects up to around 80% of all pregnant women in some form or another. Perhaps this is why there is so much judgement and so little support and understanding for those with more severe forms. If your experience of NVP is that you “felt a little queasy” for a few months  you may find it difficult to imagine the severity from which some women suffer. However, around 30% of women require time off work to cope with their symptoms, and 35% have symptoms that are of clinical experience. So whilst only around 1% of women suffer from HG, NVP is still nothing to be laughed at!

For those 1% who do develop HG, their pregnancy can go from joyous to a nightmare in a matter of days. The severity of sickness doesn’t just build up slowly, it can go from next-to-nothing, to manageable, to totally debilitating within a week. So for all those who wonder how the Duchess could have been so very active and well last week and hospitalised this week, that is why.

Thankfully, since the invention of IV hydration, HG is not the life-threatening illness it once was. However there is still a major need for treatment. Women with HG become dehydrated easily, they can suffer from electrolyte imbalances which can lead to further complications, and they can lose weight extremely quickly. HG is often described as being present in women who lose more than 5% of their pre-pregnancy weight, but many women lose double this amount and more.

IV hydration and anti-emetic medication can help to control the symptoms and make eating and drinking more manageable for the HG sufferer, but unfortunately due to so much misinformation and a fear of treating pregnant women, many have to fight for the treatment they need and deserve. This should not be the case! There is plenty of research out there that includes safety data of various anti-emetic medications and the importance of timely treatment. I have included links to some of these at the bottom of this post.

There is a lack of awareness in the medical community. Many GPs and midwives continue to treat women with HG as having “morning sickness”, giving out the usual advice of “eating little and often” and trying “ginger”, neither of which are helpful for a woman who is vomiting multiple times each day and unable to function. There is a real need for better education on the condition, and it seems there is also a very real need to raise awareness of it in the media as well.

I feel both sorry for the Duchess and relieved that it is finally being covered by the media. But we have a long way to go. Even the BBC is using the term “acute morning sickness”, and this needs to change. The charity Pregnancy Sickness Support, who I am closely connected to, are working tirelessly to change this. But we need help. We need you to retweet, to reblog, to share on other social media sites, to work with us to effect change.

Please don’t just read this news and think “poor Kate” and then forget about it. HG affects a woman for life. Antenatal Depression, Postnatal Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder often accompany a HG pregnancy. Women and their families affected by it are left with the awful decision of whether to face another pregnancy to expand their family or choose not to have any more children. It doesn’t end after 9 months. So please, read about it and spread the word.

For more information check out:

Pregnancy Sickness Support

Hyperemesis Gravidarum: List of Support Groups, Charities, Blogs and Resources

My info page on Hyperemesis Gravidarum

The Hardest Decision (my post on choosing not to have another pregnancy)

please feel free to email me your own links to add!

References:

Asker C, Nordstedt Wikner B, and
Källén B. 2005 Use of antiemetic drugs during pregnancy in Sweden.
European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 2005; 61: 899-906

Christodoulou-Smith J et al. 2011
Posttraumatic stress symptoms following pregnancy complicated by
hyperemesis gravidarum. The Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal
Medicine

Ebrahimi et al. 2009 Nausea and
vomiting of pregnancy: using the 24-hour Pregnancy-Unique
Quantification of Emesis (PUQE-24) scale. Journal of Obstetrics and
Gynecology Canada 31 (9): 803-7

Einarson et al. 2004 The safety of
Ondansetron for nausea and vomiting of pregnancy: a prospective
comparative study. BJOG: an International Journal of Obstetrics and
Gynaecology 111: 940-943

Farrell N. 2008 Hyperemesis
gravidarum: how midwives can help. The Practising Midwife, 11: 12-14

Gadsby R and Barnie-Adshead AM. 2011
Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy a Literature Review. Pregnancy
Sickness Support Website

Ismail SK and Kenny L. 2007 Review
on hyperemesis gravidarum. Best Practise & Research Clinical
Gastroenterology 21 (5): 755-769

Jarvis S and Nelson-Piercy C. 2011
Management of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy Clinical Review
article. British Medical Journal, 2011-12-23, 342; 1407-1412

Koren G et al. 2005 Validation
studies of the Pregnancy Unique-Quantification of Emesis (PUQE)
scores. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 2005; 25 (3): 241-244

Koren G. and Maltepe C. 2004
Preemptive Therapy for Severe Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy and
Hyperemesis Gravidaum. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 2004; 24;
500-503

Matok I et al. 2009 The Safety of
Metoclopramide Use in the First Trimester of Pregnancy. The New
England Journal of Medicine 2009; 360: 2528-35

Mazzotta P and Magee LA. 2000 A
Risk-Benefit Assessment of Pharmacological and Nonpharmacological
Treatments for Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy. Drugs 2000, 59 (4;)
781-800

McCarthy FP et al. 2011 A
Prospective Cohort Study Investigating Associations between
Hyperemesis Gravidarum and Cognitive Behavioural and Emotional
Well-Being in Pregnancy. Plos One, 6: 7.

McParlin C, Graham RH, and Robson
SC. 2008 Caring for women with nausea and vomiting in pregnancy: new
approaches. British Journal of Midwifery 2008; 16 (5)

 

Finding My Voice

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One of the most recurrent themes at BritMums Live this year was the need for bloggers to "find their voice".

This is something I have been thinking about ever since I started blogging way back when (2006 I think it was, I lose track!) It was mummy blogs that introduced me to the blogosphere even though I was a long way from being a mummy myself at that point, and so I struggled to find a voice for my blog.

I then started to find home and craft blogs and so, as I set up home with TJ in 2008 and then left full-time work in 2010, it seemed natural for me to start blogging about those things.

But you know what? I'm a terrible housewife (well, compared to all those with homemaking blogs anyway!) and although I love crafts, I have so many other passions as well.

I switched from one blog to another, changing my voice each time (and sometimes even within one blog) and eventually started "Amanda's Patch" (which later became "The Family Patch")  so I could write about anything and everything.

This coincided with my leaving work due to ill health caused by my Endo, so I naturally started writing about that. We were also planning a wedding, so I wrote about that. And then we started thinking about trying to conceive. So I wrote about that too. 

I even started a series on iVillage.co.uk about it.

And then I had the worst pregnancy I could ever have imagined. And I hardly ever blogged. Instead of writing all the "what I'm craving this week" and "look at my bump now" posts I had planned, those few posts I did write were very often focussed on just getting through the pregnancy and surviving HG.

And then, of course, Little Man came along and I barely had time to think let alone blog. But I had so much I could have written about. Like my difficulties breastfeeding. I covered this briefly but not really as much as I'd have liked. And although I have touched upon HG and the book I am writing about it, I haven't had huge amounts of time to write about the other things that are important to me.

And I always put it down to time… or rather lack of it.

But BritMums Live made me realise that this was just an excuse. It wasn't time that kept me away from blogging all the things I was thinking about (although that is a factor, I must admit!) Nope, it wasn't time but lack of direction.

One of the things that people have consistently commented on when reading my blog is the candour and honesty that I write with. And I do indeed find it incredibly easy to pour out my heart when it comes to things like Endo and HG. But these are major issues in my life. And like all those other bloggers who write about the more challenging and traumatic events in their lives, sometimes it is therapeutic to get those things out and onto paper (or screen as the case may be).

And yet, sometimes I don't write about the "day to day" difficulties. I forget that these can be just as important as the big issues I tackle. It's like I've been censoring my posts and only writing those that I felt were "worthy", or rather "meaty", enough to warrant attention.

And that isn't the point. BritMums Live introduced me once again to the reason I first started blogging: to write. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy every single comment and wish that I could generate as much conversation as some blogs do. Not just for myself but also to prove the popularity and therefore need for books like the HG one so that I have a chance of at least interesting an agent and/or publisher. But too often I can get hung up on stats and comments rather than just writing from the heart.

Which brings me back to the idea of finding my voice and where I want my blog to go.

Well, that's a hard question. Even though I can recognise that I need to forget about stats and comments and just write from the heart, it is hard to actually put that into practise. I am an open and honest blogger. People in my real life see my blog as well as those in the blogosphere. I like it that way, but it does mean sometimes I find myself holding back. 

What if I write something that someone in real life didn't realise about me and it puts them off? What if I write something and one of my new blogging friends does the same? It's scary stuff…

But it also needs to be faced. I've known this for a long time and BritMums gave me the kick up the bum that I needed. My life is diverse, so my blog should reflect that. I needn't worry that blogging about one area will detract from another. Sure, writing about my spirituality on here may not really coincide with the "public" impression I'm trying to give in terms of the HG book, but this is my personal blog. When it comes to marketing myself for the book I can always set up a separate page for that, if needs be.

My voice is honesty. It's saying what I feel, rather than what I think needs to be heard. It's sharing how deep and dark certain health issues and life choices are. And it's sharing the faith that gets me through that.

By holding all this back I am denying a part of who I am and weakening my voice. The very act of worrying about what others will think is stopping me from being who I am. And what's the point of having a blog if you can't be who you are on it?

So, with that in mind, here are 10 things I want to address over the coming months, in order to find my voice and let it sing:

  1. HG (of course). This is a biggie, so it's natural to want to write about it.
  2. Endo (see above)
  3. Depression, anxiety and CBT. These are major things in our lives right now, so why not talk about them?
  4. Housework (bleugh). I am so bad at housework you would not believe. I have times when I want my house to be perfect and times when I just don't care. It's time to talk about that.
  5. Faith and Spirituality. I have skirted around this so often you'd think I didn't really know what I believed. But I do. Kinda. It's high time I let go and discussed it properly.
  6. Lifestyle choices. Tim and I have some pretty strong views about certain things, and each one has a reason. They affect how we raise Little Man, so again it's time to write about them.
  7. Frugal living (I hate the word frugal, it sounds so frumpy!) We live on a low budget. It's tough. But we get by and I think I should write about that sometimes.
  8. Dreams (we all have them). Our dreams are what keep us going. They can be happy, aspiring, even painful! I'm a big dreamer, it's time to admit that.
  9. Insecurities and fears (we all have these too). I'm fed up of pretending not to have these… let's be honest about them. I do this in CBT sessions and it is so therapeutic.
  10. Parenting (the highs and lows). Parenting is the most wonderful thing ever, and yet the most draining, challenging and downright brutal task you'll ever undertake. I want to write about it all, not just the "fluffy" stuff. 

I'm sure there are many more things I want to write about, but most probably fall under one of these ten categories. 

So, tell me, how are you finding your voice?

What I learned this week

This past week I have been busy.

And I have learned a lot.

In fact, I've learned so much I think I'm going to have to split this into three parts.

Here goes…

What I learned at the Pregnancy Sickness Support Annual Conference

  • It is an incredible feeling to be in a room full of people who have experienced the hell of severe NVP and HG during pregnancy. Knowing that whatever you say will be answered with a "YES! That's so true!" or "I know exactly what you mean!" rather than the "Have you tried ginger?" and "I was sick too, but I just had to get on with it" (as if simply surviving every new day wasn't "getting on with it" enough) was ever so slightly mind-blowing.
  • The need for local support groups as well as online support groups is crucial. If a single day in the company of people who truly understand made me feel that great, just imagine how much of a difference we could make to so many women suffering during pregnancy!
  • I'm not the only one who was never hospitalised, and that I should stop saying, "I never vomited, I only ever brought up bile and suffered from awful nausea" because that is still extreme and traumatic and devalues what we went through. Thanks Mother Eartha for that one!!
  • The experience of severe NVP and HG can have as much, if not more, of a traumatic effect on the partners, parents and friends of sufferers as it does on the sufferers themselves. Often it was the mum or husband who struggled to talk about their experience. This needs to be highlighted and makes me glad I have planned a section in the book to cover it.
  • There are some experienced and talented volunteers who have so much they can do to help raise the profile of the charity and build up funds. It makes me so proud to know that people come from all walks of life to try and make a difference to others following their own experiences.
  • I want to do so much more to help the charity Pregnancy Sickness Support and I need to work out how I can use the skills I have to help them the most.

What I learned from BritMums Live

  • There are so many ways that I can use my blog to raise awareness of the things I am most passionate about. 
  • I do not want to work with brands and look at monetizing my blog. Reviews, sponsored posts and advertising are extra work that I'd rather not do right now and though I've dabbled in these on here for the past few months I don't think they really fit. I enjoyed blogging without any responsibility to anyone but myself and my reader and bringing in brands just complicates things. If I review anything from now on, it will simply be because I have bought/used something and truly loved it and think everyone should try it.
  • It's going to be hard to turn down offers from brands. It is so alluring. But I need to stay true to what I want from my blog.
  • Finding my voice is esential. I have known this for a long time but I just didn't know what it really was. Everything and everyone seem to suggest finding a niche, but I don't have one. I forget who said this, but someone said 'our lives are diverse so why shouldn't our blogs be diverse too?' I still need to find my voice, but I'm guessing it centres around passion, support and honesty!
  • Engaging with your audience involves writing things that they can relate to. Finding the words to touch someone's heart (whether that be in a way that makes them feel passionate about a cause too or which makes them laugh and think "that's just what my life is like too") will give my blog a really good energy.
  • I don't post enough photos on my blog, and by utilising light I could take some really amazing photos even with my phone. I want to practise this as soon as Tim is free and willing to be a test subject!
  • I should write about what feels good to me, rather than trying to write what I think will sound good to my audience. It is so easy to get drawn into stats and popularity and I know I have fallen for this so many times. But remembering why I started blogging reminds me that I just wanted to write, and so I should just write and enjoy it.
  • You'll always find bullies and trolls online, but I need to remember that they are everywhere. If someone attacks my work I need to remember it isn't an attack on me personally. And if I see someone attacking someone else, I can always step in and counter-comment. We need to all stick together to get rid of cyber-bullies.
  • eBooks are a great way of getting your work out there. I have so many things, not just the HG book, that I could ultimately turn into eBooks (or PDF downloads if they are heavily formatted and might not translate to eReaders very well). This may be a much better way of earning a bit of extra cash than selling out to advertising and brands which I feel won't sit right on my blog. Advertising and reviews work for some blogs, but they don't work on mine. I need to find my own product, and eBooks may be the way to go.
  • Google+ may not be as bad as I thought it would be. I didn't want "yet another thing" to look into, but it may be worth having a look before deciding one way or the other. I don't want another "twitter" where I avoided it for years only to find I actually loved it once I finally joined.
  • Some blogs are big hits, but there are just as many bloggers out there who are still "small fish in a big sea" and enjoy blogging for the fun of it.  I'm much more like them and should be proud of that in my own way. 
  • Having the confidence to speak up and share your experience or ask a question can lead to some amazing connections and conversations. 
  • So many people have been through such heart-breaking things and the community and support offered by blogging is immense. Grief is grief, no matter what caused it or what form it comes in. By standing together we can find common ground and support each other through things.
  • Sometimes changing our voice is hard. If we've been writing about something emotionally charged and then switch to something lighter and/or more positive we may lose some readers who liked the drama of it all. But we'll always gain new readers. 
  • Dad bloggers are lovely and I want to spend more time reading their blogs and getting to know them. There shouldn't be this distinction between "mummy" bloggers and "daddy" bloggers… we're all parents!

What I learned this week as a whole

  • I like going to conferences and could get used to travelling, staying in a hotel (especially in London) and meeting up with people, discussing things I am passionate about, and learning new things
  • I want to use my voice to help change things. I am a strong writer and I am also discovering that I am quite a strong networker (and, possibly in the future, speaker too). I should be using these abilities to make change, especially as I enjoy doing it!
  • I need to learn to let go once in a while. I don't have to have control over everything in my life all the time.
  • Seeing pregnant women and babies no longer hurts me quite the way it did before. I must be finding peace and healing in some way. That just blows my mind.

I am sure there are so many more things I learned this week. But these are the major ones.

Tell me, what have you learned this week?


BritMums Live! 2012 – well, where do I start?

Hello all!

This last week has been a bit crazy! Thursday, Friday and Saturday involved two conferences for me (PSS and BritMums Live!) and between those and all the travelling I'm totally wiped. But, as Oscar is currently asleep, I thought it a good time to start on the long list of things I want to blog about following these two conferences, starting with BritMums Live!

I don't want to write a ridiculously long post about what happened, because I'm sure you've all heard it before, right? But what I did want to do is write a list of my "highlights". Please do share yours with me too.

  • Visiting The Brewery. I've never been welcomed by a gentleman who tipped his bowler hat and said, "Good Morning Ma'am, welcome back to The Brewery" before. That in itself was worth the price of my ticket!
  • Walking past so many faces I recognised. Let's be fair, I get as excited about seeing the faces of bloggers I've seen online as I do "famous" faces. To me you're all just as famous as those "big names", except you've probably actually replied to one of my comments and so it's even more exciting to see you "in real life". 

              Brown

  • Listening to Sarah Brown. Phrases like, "Don't let the way the world treats you change the way you want to treat the world" and "There's nothing cool about a bully with a Blackberry" just blew me away.
  • Learning how to take the best photos ever, even with a smartphone, thanks to Julia Boggio. She made it clearer than anyone (or any book) ever has, and I cannot wait to try it out. Who wants to be my guinea pig  *ahem*"model"? Also, her video almost made me cry (and I'm not one to well up in public usually!)
  • Attending the workshop on eBooks with Antonia Chitty and getting to chat with her afterwards. I now have much more direction for how to get my HG book out there, and make it the most accessible and useful resource I can. And that includes changing the format in ways I never even imagined.

             Lschka

  • Getting to chat with Luschka from Diary of a First Child and Janine of birth&baby network about HG, all because I happened to raise my hand in the eBook session to share what I was working on. They are both amazing ladies, please do go check out their sites!
  • Getting to meet so many other mums, including (but not limited to) Jacq from mymumdom, Lynsey from Lynsey The Mother Duck, Kate from Two Cats, Youngling and Me, and Gem from Three Become Four (who was lovely enough to share her adoption story with me when I asked!)
  • Listening to the most amazingly inspirational stories during the "Sod the Stats: Blog for Happiness" session. The atmosphere of support, love and empathy in that room was just breathtaking and the heart-wrenching stories of loss, grief and also recovery really touched me deeply. If you were there, you are amazing!

              Greater Good

  • The fantastic advice and support given in the "Blogging for the Greater Good" session. I have so much I want to take from that session to help in  blogging about both HG and Endo. 
  • The fabulously quick and easy intro to Google+ during one of the coffee breaks. I didn't have chance to go to the session about it, but the five minute demo was really helpful. I had initially thought "oh no, not another thing to take up my time!" but it turns out it could help me be more organised instead. 
  • The fantastic amount of freebies and gifts we all got given (even if carrying it all back to the hotel on the tube was a mission and made me fall on top of another lady when the train moved off suddenly as I was trying to unladen myself at one stop!)
  • Getting to work my way through all the herbal teas offered as an alternative to regular tea and coffee, and the wonderful cocktails made by Welch's juice.  The lychee one was my favourite.

               Ruth

  • Spending some time catching up with Ruth from Mixed Bag of Allsorts (sorry, Ruth, you shouldn't come bottom of my list at all, can we say I "saved the best 'til last"?) Seriously, it was great getting to spend some time with you after all our chats this past year via FB.

I didn't get to go to the BiBs party or awards. TJ had offered to take me to dinner and I was not going to miss that opportunity! I cannot wait to hear more about it though (I heard the words "buff men" being metioned at one point?)

I also missed Ruby Wax as we got lost on the way. So if someone can tell me the highlights of her speech I would be much appreciative.

And I also missed the Bloggers' Keynote as we decided to try and get an early start home. Good job really, as we didn't get home until 10pm (and we'd left our house at 8am on Wednesday morning so were ready to fall into our own bed!) So is there going to be a link to all the blog posts featured in that? Does anyone know?

And finally… who wants to share their highlights of the weekend with me? Anyone?

BritMums Live! 2012 – I’m going, are you?

Last week I did something I’ve never done before: I signed up to go to a blogging conference.

I found out about BritMums Live! a tad later than I guess many of the BritMums ladies did, because a spate of stomach bugs and a broken boiler kept me from my laptop for rather longer than usual.

But it was a very timely find. I had just had my most recent session of CBT and my therapist had helped me pinpoint that a lot of my anxiety came from low self-esteem and that I needed to make more time for me and doing what made me feel good about myself.

I thought about going to BritMums Live! and then came up with several excuses, ranging from “I can’t justify spending that much money on something for me” through to, “is it really for bloggers like me?” My husband, bless his heart, told me to stop worrying and just book my ticket. So I did.

I’m supposed to be in Nuneaton the day before the event for another conference, so we’ve arranged for Oscar to stay at my parents, planned to stop off in Cambridge between the two events, and then have booked our hotel for the Friday night. So, with those details sorted out, it’s time for the fun to begin.

So here is my “Get To Know You” post for the “Meet and Greet” being held over at Stepford Wifey‘s blog. I am looking forward to meeting lots of other bloggers over that weekend, and hopefully will get to know some of you before June too.

Name: Amanda

Blog: The Family Patch

Twitter ID@amandaspatch

Current Projects: I write weekly articles for iVillageUK and am currently writing a book on Hyperemesis Gravidarum and severe Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy

Height: um, around 5ft 3

Hair: Long Brown (with a red tinge… maybe Aubourn, depends on the time of year as it changes)

Eyes: Dark Brown

Likes: Reading, Crafts (particularly Crochet), Walking, Trees, Singing (though not so much in public), Glastonbury (the town, not the festival, though I don’t mind the festival), Cloth Nappies, Chocolate, Cheese, Risotto, Tomato Soup, ‘Magical’ Artwork (e.g. that by Brian Froud, Susan Seddon Boulet etc), Handmade Gifts, Receiving Mail (of the good kind, not so keen on bills!), The Internet, Foreign Languages, The Promise of Spring, The Warmth of Summer, The Beauty of Autumn, Curling Up by the Fire in Winter, Being Warm, Christmas

Dislikes:  Being Ill, Endo, Jealousy (gotta work on that one!), Prejudice, Bullies, Lies

Amanda and Oscar

This post is part of the “Meet and Greet” for BritMums Live! 2012. 

 

I’m a Little Bear…

Little bear

Hello.

I’m a little bear, wrapped up against the cold.

Mummy asked me to send you a quick message as she didn’t want you to think she had forgotten you all.

So, here I am.

She is a little busy right now getting everything ready for something she calls Christmas. She tells me I will love it when I am a little bit older. I have to say I quite like listening to all the new songs she and daddy sing these days. And all the lights and shiny stuff mummy calls “tinsel” are rather pleasant to look at while having a cuddle. Does it get even better?

Mummy told me to tell you that she is also planning some changes for her blog. She is thinking of changing the name to “The Family Patch” because we are a family now. I thought she should call it “Little Man’s Patch” but she said that it couldn’t always be about me…

That’s what she thinks!

She is working on changing the design, because she says she can’t really have a pink blog when she has a little boy. She did dress me in something pink-ish the other day and I did look a little bit girly, so maybe she is right.

But it is taking her a long time to make the changes because I spend a lot of time cooing at her and smiling at her and trying my hardest to laugh so she knows just how much I love being bounced up and down and watching her and daddy making silly faces at me. So even when she leaves me with daddy and plans on doing some work she always ends up getting distracted by things like this…

Smile

I’m getting pretty good at this smiling malarkey, don’t you think?

So mummy asks you to excuse her over the next week or two because between me and Christmas she doesn’t have much spare time. But she promises to be back in the New Year with a brand new blog design to reflect her new life with me.

I better go now. She has been busy for long enough and I think she needs to be reminded that I am waiting for more silly noises and face making as she attempts to make me giggle.

Toodle-oo

Why I write (and a tribute to my cousin).

I know that a lot of you already know this news because you are either part of my family, in my group or friends, or have seen it on facebook, twitter or iVillage UK. But for those of you who just pop by the blog once in a while or who have only just stumbled across the Patch, I need to tell you something before this post will make any sense.

On Sunday 14th August I received a phonecall telling me that my 24 year old cousin had died overnight. The cause of death has since been given as "Sudden Adult Death Syndrome".

This is my cousin (furthest on the right)

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I wish I had a more recent photo than the ones taken at our wedding last October, but I cannot seem to find any right now. 

My cousin was well loved and well respected by so many people and it has shocked the entire family and so many of the people we know. I've spent most of the past week talking to family about what has happened and trying to get my head around the fact that this is real. 

And so, when I wrote my weekly article for iVillageUK on pregnancy this week I knew that I had to write about this loss and how it affects us. You can read the article here, and I would greatly appreciate it if you would take the time to check it out and pass on the link to others, as you never know who might be facing the loss of a loved one during an emotionally heightened time such as pregnancy. 

As with most of the articles I write, the words came tumbling out once I started writing because I had already been thinking it through in my head for several days before I sat down at the computer to write it. I knew I wanted to share all the thoughts and feelings that I was experiencing that are perhaps unique to losing someone whilst expecting a new life, but I also knew that it was crucial to do justice to the range of emotions that anybody who loses a loved one goes through. And even more than that, I wanted to ensure that I made it clear just how much my cousin will be missed.

Since submitting the article for publication on the site, I have had several people mention how beautifully written it was and several more who have thanked me for finding the strength to write such an article. And it is these comments that made me want to write this post about why I write.

You see, writing is very natural to me. I write the way I think and obviously the way I think makes a lot of sense to other people otherwise I wouldn't get such sweet comments. And I decided a long time ago that I wanted to use the skill I had been given to draw attention to those aspects of life that are so often hard to discuss. It started with writing about my Endometriosis, developed on to writing about trying to conceive and then the dark side of pregnancy, and has taken me to a place I didn't think I'd be going so soon, that of a death in the family.

I'm an honest person and find it very difficult not to wear my heart on my sleeve and show just how I am feeling. But even that doesn't explain just why I write and why however much appreciated the comments about my writing are, they sometimes give me credit for something I haven't even thought of. You see, for me, writing is like a kind of therapy. It allows me to pull all my thoughts and feelings together and to then set them free. And this stops me from stewing too long and hard on something and actually helps me heal from whatever issues I may be facing.

Knowing that what I write helps and inspires others is a wonderful gift that I shall be forever grateful for, but in all honesty it is a happy coincidence that comes from doing what I need to do. Writing the article about my cousin's death helped me to come to terms with what I was feeling. It helped me to get my head around all the various issues it brought up and by admitting how I felt it made those that were less-than-positive feel more acceptable. I didn't have to hide how I felt and that was incredibly soothing.

And that is why I write. Because I can. And because it helps me. And in this instance it gave me the best possible chance of honouring the life of someone I loved and wish I had more time to get to know even better. 

Thank you for letting me share my heart with you all. It means a lot. 

The End of a Long Year!

My latest article for iVillageUK focuses on preparing for the birth of our son next month. As you all know, pregnancy has been incredibly difficult for me physically, mentally and emotionally and although becoming a parent is going to be a real challenge, I am ready for the end of the pregnancy and our new life as a family of three to begin.

I often feel as if time has changed over the past few months and it’s as if I haven’t really been here, but locked in my own strange little world of pregnancy woes. And yet, looking back at the very first article I wrote for ivillage I realise just how much has changed and how crazy it is to think that it hasn’t even been a year since I started writing these weekly articles.

In fact, I am pretty sure that the beginning of my series on Endometriosis and Trying to Conceive started around the same point in September as my baby is due. Now that is rather mind-blowing when you think about the fact that the series started from the uncertainty of coming off birth control and trying for a baby.

It was truly difficult to keep the news of our pregnancy quiet until the end of my first trimester, especially when I was so sick. I continued writing articles on trying to conceive because I had thought it would take us much longer to fall pregnant and so had many topics I still wanted to cover. But it was very strange writing them when knowing we had been blessed with our little man.

And so when I was invited to continue writing my articles from a pregnancy point of view I was thrilled. What better opportunity can someone who loves writing and sharing experiences possibly be given than to write for such a website? And suddenly I was writing about a whole new range of difficulties and Endometriosis was rarely mentioned.

Don’t get me wrong, I am loving writing about pregnancy and am happy to say that I have been offered the chance to continue writing once the baby is here from a parenting point of view. But it does leave me wondering whether I am neglecting a cause I feel really strongly about: Endometriosis Awareness.

Just because I fell pregnant and haven’t had so many issues directly related to Endometriosis in recent months, it is still very much a part of my life. I wonder how I will be after the birth. Will my periods return quickly and will they be as painful and troublesome as before? What might be different? And how will it affect my ability to be the best mother I can be if I am ill on a regular basis?

And the closer I come to giving birth the more I wonder about this and the more I realise that I seem to have come full circle, so to speak. My emphasis is on my long-term health again rather than the difficulties of pregnancy and I am determined to use my voice to raise awareness of Endometriosis, as well as so many other things I am passionate about. In fact pregnancy has given me more things to campaign for, such as better research and support for those suffering from such debilitating conditions such as hyperemesis and PGP.

I’m all for using my own experiences to help direct my writing and work, and yet it has been hard to know what to write of late as there is so much running through my mind. So it has been wonderful to have guest bloggers share in spreading the word about Endometriosis. If you missed it, please do check out Danielle’s post explaining all the work she has been doing to raise awareness of it. And don’t forget to enter the giveaway for Jen’s Endometriosis Awareness Tote Bag/Hot Water Bottle Cozy and Purse. You only have until Friday to enter (by spreading awareness in one of the four ways described at the end of this post) and it would be a shame to miss this opportunity to get the word out and make a difference in any way you can!

 

A “Grade A” Place

Would you think I’m awfully proud if I called Amanda’s Patch a “Grade A” place?

I can tell you now that I do not mean it in the usual sense of the word, although I would like to think that some of my readers might rank Amanda’s Patch up there, deserving of an ‘A’ once in a while! But the ‘A‘ stands for much more…

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homemade soup – hearty and affordable

It stands for “affordable” and how I am trying to create the reality of my dreams at an affordable price. And I don’t only mean in terms of finances, although they do play a big part. With coming out of work I essentially cut our teeny, weeny budget down by more than half – scary stuff, and it means that budgeting will continue to be one of the most important skills that I possess. Yes, Amanda’s Patch is about being affordable in the financial sense of the word, of course it is, but there are other ways that it is affordable.

Time, for instance. Time is a funny thing – I never seem to have enough of it, and even now that I am at home rather than going out to work, my time seems to be filled with all manner of other things, like trying to make a mark for myself and Amanda’s Patch, and going back to basics to make more of my own things instead of relying on the convenience of popping down the shops to buy what I think I need.

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I often end up being “propped up” by Tim having over-estimated my energy levels

And then there’s energy… I expected to have quite a bit more energy by now, having been out of work for 3 months already, but it is a slow process. Anyone with a chronic illness will be able to tell you how exhausting it is to regularly have something draining away your energy resources – I might not have the flu or a cold or stomach bug each day, but my body does suffer from cramps if I eat the wrong thing or over exert myself in ways that wouldn’t bother another person, and my hormones rage havoc with my sleeping and eating patterns sometimes.

So, you see, Amanda’s Patch is also about finding a way to live my dream in an affordable way in far more terms than stretching my financial budget.

And then there are the other ‘A’, those of awareness, acceptance and achievement

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R and C, I hope you don’t mind me posting a photo with you two on here..?

Achievement seems to go hand in hand with the affordable part of my life – what I can achieve has changed a lot in the past few years. As a pretty much “straight-A” student, I was on track to achieve great things in terms of my career – I had a degree, I was working my way up the career ladder slowly but surely, I applied myself and knew that, had I wanted to, I could have worked my way quite a long way further up that ladder… but was it worth the expense?

With my health getting progressively worse, the cost of that achievement to both my physical and emotional health seemed too great. So I left, giving up the chance to achieve in that field – but that didn’t mean I had to give up my sense of achievement completely. No, Amanda’s Patch is all about adapting to situations and circumstances (there you are, yet another ‘A’ word) and aiming for something that gives you a sense of great achievement that is within your ability (all these ‘A’ words – it is hard to keep track!) You could even say that it is all about ambition

creating a collage of what we wanted to “attract” into our lives

I was once told by a lecturer at university that I wasn’t ambitious enough, which goes to show just how hard it can be to see the real person sometimes, because anyone who truly knows me will realise just what a crazy thought that is – ambition oozes from me, it just doesn’t always fit in with the kind of ambition that people expect. I have a dream about being happy, about being healthy, about helping others and inspiring them too. I have hopes that this site will become a warm, safe place to visit, a nice little retreat from the stresses of everyday life. I want to help the world, in any way I can, knowing that even the tiniest thing I do helps to tip the balance in some way. If that isn’t ambition, then I don’t know what is!

So, you see, achievement doesn’t have to be about being the best or creating that perfect finish – achievement is about setting a dream within your own capacities and going for it. After all, we can’t all be olympic athletes, but we can be so much more in other ways…

Which leads me on to my third and fourth ‘A‘s, both linked together very closely – awareness and acceptance.

There are many things that I have become aware of in recent years, including the multitude of challenges that people have to face, and their amazing and heart-breakingly beautiful strength and courage in overcoming them. For me, the worst part of this is knowing how many people suffer alone, silently trapped by the fact that their particular struggle is far from fully understood by those around them, even professionals in the field. Yes, I am talking about chronic illnesses and how many people out there suffer from these, unable to deal with the demands of everyday life, thanks to a lack of awareness about their struggle. I’ve been there, and it is a lonely place sometimes, even with the people you love because often it is impossible to put how you feel into words. Which is why I am so forthright and honest about it all – if I can help just one person by talking about these things, then that is awareness enough.

Of course, I would love to build awareness for so many things, so many causes I have heard of, not just in the health field but also in connection to the earth and our modern lifestyle. So many people are getting sick thanks to the pollutants we accept as normal, the chemicals we spray without a thought, the stress we put ourselves under in order to meet the demands of keeping our house safe and warm, the list just goes on… I do not want to preach, as I am far from perfect myself, but I do want to spread awareness, and by sharing the thoughts I have and the things I do I hope to achieve this somehow…

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And what does that have to do with my final ‘A‘ word? Well, acceptance is a hard thing. If something affects you deeply, accepting it can be difficult – I know that I struggled (and still do) to come to terms with my Endometriosis and how it affects my life. I struggle to accept the facts of life sometimes too, that bad things do indeed happen and there is often nothing I can do about it – whilst I may try to make a difference, sometimes acceptance is more important. Trying not to judge harshly and accept something “as is” can be difficult and finding the balance between knowing when to fight and when to accept something can be the hardest thing in the world. Yes, acceptance is difficult, but I will always attempt to see what I need to accept, even if that is my own short-comings.

So, you see, Amanda’s Patch really is a “Grade A” place – I wasn’t just trying to blow my own trumpet! I am sure there are far more ‘A‘s out there too and I shall keep my eye (and my heart) open for them. Until then, why not leave me a comment to let me know what your own personal ‘A‘ words are?