New Parents get FREE £500

As usual, I’ve been trawling the internet in the free time between snuggles, feeds and nappy changes, for anything useful to myself, my partner and now little one.

From being on the council list (fingers crossed), to receiving Universal Credit due to the appalling amount of ‘pay’ for Paternity Leave (£150 a week – seriously!), to last weeks Childcare Grant and Parents Learning Allowance, I’m making sure I get ANYTHING and EVERYTHING I can.

This week it’s the Sure Start Maternity Grant of £500!

The UK, in particular Wales, I have praised a few times for their benefits, grants, second degree STEM finance and now parental and childcare aid. This week is no different.

The Sure Start Maternity Grant is a one off payment of £500 to be paid from 11 weeks before a baby is due up to 6 months after. It is meant to help people from lower income backgrounds with their first child, or further children if you are expecting twins or even (gulp) triplets.

We believe we’ve been able to qualify. Remember that paternity pay of £150 a week? Well, because of this we got Universal Credit this month of £200-ish to top up my partners earnings. Getting UC is one of the qualifying factors for the grant.


I do not agree with the appalling pay, it’s worse than holiday, nor do I agree with a meagre two weeks. However, if we’d have had more money we wouldn’t be able to apply for this, so who really loses here?

I’m not 100% sure if we will still get the grant, but according to the website states “to qualify for a Sure Start Maternity Grant there must be no other children in your family. You or your partner must also get one of these benefits:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit that includes a disability or severe disability element
  • Universal Credit

SO… we do qualify then?

Seriously, never ever stop looking and applying for anything and everything, even if you think it’s a no-go. Better to try and fail than miss out!

We will have to wait and see what we get!

Grants for Parents who Study

Parents Learning Allowance and the Childcare Grant are two wonderful pots of money for those, like myself since the birth of A, who are both parents and trying to study for a degree at a Welsh university (Open University counts, it’s base in Cardiff I believe, because it’s studying from home in Wales).

The breakdown of eligibility for both of these is thus;

Childcare Grant

Pays for the childcare fees, up to a certain amount, that you incur when you place your child into childcare in order to go study. This grant requires written documentation of where, when and how much the fees for your child’s care will be for the entire studying year.

Parents Learning Allowance

Depends on your household income, does not require you to be putting your child into childcare to qualify, and depends on the intensity of your course (e.g. part-time 50% workload over a ‘normal’ university year).

For both, you need to be applying through Student Finance Wales, as this is where you will be getting your loans, grants and bursaries paid from. Neither of these grants need to be paid back, and they’re easy to apply for once you have all the necessary documents, i.e. your child’s birth certificate, child benefit letter, childcare letter of fees. It can be done all online in your normal university finance application, or separately in a printed version of the application forms.

I myself have applied for Parents Learning Allowance in light of having a baby and one I care for full time now, and will be getting my response soon.

There is so much out there for anyone looking to better themselves. Wales is truly wonderful for students and parents alike with how many grants and opportunities they offer. Best of luck!

Baby A’s Birth

Here’s hoping you don’t mind a little anonymity, but I refer to my partner as J and now my baby as A. I’m a firm believer in you can not be too careful online, but also in privacy of the individual and so this is how I choose to write my birth story.

It all started on the Tuesday, 6th July, when I attended a midwife appointment far away from home. I have to take two buses as a non-driver of a car, to reach the destination they deemed necessary. Since local community midwives have been stopped coming to local GP surgeries people like me are left to travel far and wide to reach them, but that’s another story. J was coming with me today, because at 40 + 3 weeks I was imminently going into labour.

Very imminently as it turned out.

That morning, 7am, I began having pains in my lower abdomen. Some women report it in their lower back and moving around to the abdomen and then lower, but for me it was all down below. It came in waves, like people described. A build up of pain and a brief peak before tailing off again on the other side of the peak – I visualised climbing a hill, staying at the top a few moments then climbing back down the other side. It was bearable.

I stayed like this all day, able to talk to J and chat through it, only getting slightly more pain every so often. It wasn’t in much pattern, and it didn’t seem like labour to me. I’d heard most people stay home at this point and as long as possible if they can bear it. I was on a bus most of the day. A strange place to be in early labour.

I slept on and off that night, waking occasionally to turn over with the pain. But I managed to sleep, so I didn’t think it was very imminent. But the pains didn’t subside at all, they kept coming. I was excited!

The next day I passed a bloody show, J and I sat excitedly wondering how long this might take before the pain got unbearable, but I spent another day with pains, gradually getting worse, feeling all kinds of emotions. By 2am we had tried to sleep, J getting an hour or so and myself pacing the room, in pain, not getting sleep at all. My first ring to the maternity assessment unit was an annoying one. The midwife encouraged me to stay at home, not much sympathy and a lot of placating to make me stay. I relented. They knew best.

I thought perhaps I was being over dramatic. This was painful definitely but it must get much worse. I can’t be very far dilated yet, and I’m just being a wuss. So I stayed.

Two hours later and I asked J to call our transport for the labour. He also called the assessment unit again, and got through to someone else (thankfully) who allowed us to say we were coming in, no questions asked. But as I sat in the car being taken to hospital I couldn’t help but doubt myself again. Had the pains subsided? Were they not close together enough? Did I wait long enough? I bet they’ll find I’m 1cm and send me home.

All these fears heightened when I remembered J wasn’t allowed into the unit, and could only join me once I was in established labour at 4cm+.We kept our driver on standby, bless her, as I got assessed. All the while I worried over my lack of pains – had they stopped? Was I being that over-dramatic?

A quick selfie post-epidural!

I was a good 6-7cm when examined! I’d managed it all by myself!

As a planned epidural I was ‘rushed’ (as fast as I could waddle) picking J up on the way into labour ward, where before even settling in I met the anaesthetist, a wonderful man, who busily got my epidural in. This was all a quick blur, it happened so fast. We met Dr Raz in the corridor on the way to my room and he sorted me almost as soon as I sat down on the bed. From then on I was on a half epidural, and it felt bizarre but wonderful.

The contractions now became tense feelings instead of painful ones, and we settled into the wait for me to dilate to 10cm. I was exhausted, having not slept well the night previous and this night, at 5am, having slept zero. The worst part was the tiredness, and the hunger!

Baring in mind I ate the night before at around 7pm, I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything except water until I gave birth, just in case I needed a caesarean section.

By the 8am changeover I was 8cm, examined by the very same student midwife who booked me in at 8 weeks pregnant! She was wonderful and informed us I’d be the 20th delivery for her if I could get this baby out while she was on shift for us. She’d seen my name on the wall and requested me. I felt quite the privilege.

J was allowed toast and to wander out when he needed to, it was a boring wait. I slept a few times between checks, using a panda eye mask to get some sleep. The hunger was mounting. By midday I was sick for the first time, bringing up hardly anything but water. I feel sick when I’m hungry and this was the result.

By the third check I was 9 cm, we still had a way to go. J and I played Monopoly Go! on the wheelie table over my bed. This was how brilliant the epidural was. No pain at all, and top ups at the push of a button.

By 4pm I was 10cm, ready to push! I was allowed a meagre 45 minutes to push, because they didn’t want to stress the heart out. I didn’t manage to push her out, but she was getting lower and perfectly in position. They stopped me, which was frustrating. Then we were told the doctors and anaesthetist needed to take me into assisted delivery were currently in theatre, with an emergency caesarean. We had to wait.

So I sat there, feeling waves of contractions come and go, not pushing, waiting for several hours. It was quite horrible and even now I feel as though I could have done it, had they let me try. I threw up again due to hunger. I was exhausted.

Finally, the doctors were out of theatre. We were prepped. I signed a waiver to say I was happy to have a C-section, should it be necessary, and the anaesthetist I saw that early morning was back, he put the extra medication in to top up the epidural. I would recommend an epidural to anyone who can’t deal well with pain, it’s amazing. I had little choice, but it’s wonderful.

Looking a little worse for wear – here she is!

It too all of 6 minutes for her to be born. amid the waves of tears i couldn’t control streaming down my face, my partner took a selfie with her in the background to inform family and friends. I was handed her. Although ‘handed’ is the wrong word – she was placed on my chest as I lay there unable to move my legs, and my arms down under the cover. I kept crying.

Suddenly nauseous, I panicked and had her moved from me while I threw up a third time. This time there was nothing but stomach bile that come up.

In the haze of being sewn up, forceps deliveries usually requiring an episiotomy (cut), J went into a side room with A for skin to skin. We had 30 minutes together before J was ripped from my, saying his goodbyes in the corridor of all places, and I was trundled off, dazed, high, unable to move my bottom half, holding a newborn baby I had no clue how to care for, and without my rock, my other half. I broke down that night at the unfairness.

In the end, I realise J being with me at all was a privilege compared to what some women have endured during Covid-19. At the time though, I was devastated. He could only visit the next day between 10-11am. An hour to see his daughter and exhausted, recovering partner who couldn’t wash herself properly, or even pee, without pain. I swear to god the pain after the epidural subsided, and the pain of trying to go to the loo for a number 2 for the first time after all this, was worse than the labour pains.

After all this, I would still do it again. I definitely, definitely would.

The Due Date

So the date, Saturday 3rd July 2021, has come and gone. I am officially 40 weeks and 1 day, overdue, and feeling only the normal aches and pains due to being bigger, heavier and of course pregnancy hormonal.

I am very excited to get started, but am trying my best not to be like a woman in the two week wait, interrogating Google for signs and symptoms. Or – God forbid – be putting stock into those old wives tales of hot curry, pineapple, sex, cod liver oil, bouncing a gym ball, or raspberry leaf tea miracle labour starters.

If any of those were true, I’d have been in labour before 20 weeks. I eat plenty of curry which makes my forehead sweat with heat, we love it! I ate pineapple, used a yoga ball during yoga and had sex too, but only in the course of doing normal life, and nothing has set labour in motion.

Just let them be, I think to myself.

Baby will come when it’s ready, and more than anything I’d like to avoid induction due to being late. Why is being late a problem in of itself? I don’t quite agree with the induction logic if nothing else is amiss. My body will be ready when it’s ready. Baby will be ready when they’re ready.

So that is where I am right now. Technically ‘overdue’, but emotionally and physically fine to carry on as we are until something changes.

It’s not labour until it’s labour, stop fussing. 😂

39 Weeks Pregnant

It’s been a few weeks since my last personal pregnancy update, and even that was a test of the new ‘Story Post’ WordPress has introduced. A lot and simultaneously not a lot has happened since!

To recap, I went in for a routine (for me, I get extra) measurements ultrasound scan for the purposes of making sure my heart medication hasn’t reduced foetal growth as it can. Unfortunately on this particular day the measurements went below the 5th percentile of the growth chart. If you need an explanation of percentiles and what it all means, so did I, and you can find a quick guide here.

Upon hearing this news my Obstetrician decided we would very likely be headed for induction after 37 weeks, because it could mean baby isn’t getting the adequate nutrition etc he or she needs to thrive and grow as per the growth curve we normally see. Better to whip them out, get them seen to and accurately be able to track exactly what is going in to baby, so we know they are getting enough rather than hoping.

I had another basic scan to make sure blood flow through the cord was adequate and that there were no obvious problems with baby such as the heart rate being low or high, or anything like that. All came back clear and I was booked for a second ultrasound for foetal growth two weeks from the last.

I got myself geared up for an induction because my doctor had been pretty firm that we would go this route.

My ‘Panic Stations! Induction Incoming!’ Ultrasound was a DUD!

Upon getting a second thorough ultrasound, which took a much longer time as baby’s head was down low and getting the right angle of measurement was difficult (and uncomfortable for me!), it showed that actually, baby is measuring right on the curve.

Nobody said it out loud, but this news meant to me that the previous ultrasound scan had either been rushed, with less effort made to get the ‘right angle’ to measure as baby was head down then too, poorly executed, or simply an anomaly in calculations.

Baby is measuring fine! So what does this mean?

It means I’m 39 weeks pregnant today, my birth plan has not been discussed with my midwife or anybody as she was on holiday and induction was planned anyway, and I’m kind of left to fend for myself.

Not that I mind, but with no birth plan discussed at 39 weeks, no more appointments until one lone ultrasound scan again set after my due date (Yes, after. A week after. I have no idea who decided that was necessary), I now have no doctor to see, no midwife appointments, no birth plan set, and only a vague idea of what they want me to be doing once labour starts.

I’ve given up trying to ring them all, I just get told I’ll be contacted if needed, so that’s that.

Stay tuned for baby birth updates I guess! Watch this space.

University Year 1 is Over!

At 36 weeks and 4 days pregnant, with an induction on the very near horizon (more about that soon!), I have officially submitted my Open University S112 remote exam paper at 10:43 am today.

I am ecstatic to say I have finished my two 60 credit modules (so 120 in total – the same as a full time degree year) for the summer, and am looking ahead to year number 2 at Open University in October. With a baby swiftly on the way, I am going to pair down next year to just a 60 credit year, taking on half the work this year has brought me.

With confidence that I have passed, needing only 12 marks in this exam to qualify as a pass, I am very happy to settle now into full-time mum preparation and duties.

I will admit, this exam took me by surprise at how ‘easy’ I found it. In reality, in any normal year, this exam would have taken place at a location with a 3 hour time limit and no notes available to use. As it stood these last 3 days, we were all able to take 3 days (ending 23:59 Wednesday 9 June) to submit our paper using an open book policy.

I found several members of the OU S112 group on Facebook lamenting the difficulty of this paper, not because it was hard as an open book exam, but because had it have been a 3 hour time limit with no notes, none of us would have done well. I’m certain they have changed the format – but I’m so grateful for the remoteness of the exam for allowing me the time and resources to do well. Because I know I can, given the right environment, and an exam hall unfamiliar to me, with a time limit and no notes, is not the environment I would thrive in!

Having done a year with Open University, and a full time year at that, I would definitely recommend the OU to anyone wanting to retrain, study for fun or for a change of career, and anyone who has never studied. As someone who has previously attained a bachelors degree, I understand better how university works and there is a lot less to learn about referencing, the format of essays and papers, and the library system for example. However, there is plenty of help and advice available, plus the continued support from fellow students who are happy to both ask and answer all those ‘silly’ questions (spoiler: no question is silly when you’re new to this).

I would fully recommend studying with the Open University to anyone. Thank you for a great first year, and looking forward to my next biology-specific modules next year.

Hurry up and open the student finance pages please!

(Yes, you can get finance for the OU!)

2nd/3rd Trimester Must-Haves

For myself, the second and third trimesters of pregnancy have rolled into one. Possibly due to the fact that time just flies when you’re preparing for a baby and you know time is limited, but also because of the many appointments I have had on the way, making daily countdowns of ‘weeks to go’ a thing from the first trimester because I was so… damn… busy.

I did a previous 5 First Trimester Must-Haves post and here is my follow up.

If you’d like to see the previous 5 essentials on my pregnancy journey, or anything else about my early pregnancy, then I’ve selected a few posts to show here if you want a quick link.

Since I haven’t quite popped yet, I’m still technically in my third trimester. So here’s another link with my Birth Plan, which will be cross-referenced when I finally do give birth to see what happened, what changed and why. Spoiler: Probably not a lot will go to plan!

So without further blabbing, here are my 5 must have items or products for the second and third trimester of pregnancy.

‘Your’ Chair 🪑

Be it a dedicated, newly bought, relaxer 6000 epic chair, a humble comfy chair from your nana’s old house, or a secondhand rocking nursing chair (with missing footstool like we found). A chair that is just for you – comfort as the highest priority you could *almost* sleep completely comfortably in it – is a must.

Why? Because you’ll get tired. REALLY, REALLY tired. And somehow all the pillows in the world won’t do, and you need a very specific pillow with this particular blanket and your partner will hate that is covers the sofa and you’ll hate when he moves this perfection of a comfort you made yesterday and it’s not worth the hassle. Get your own chair, and live in it. Trust me.

All the Snacks 🥨

Remember the breadsticks to stave off nausea in the first trimester? Well, the nausea might have gone (I’m so sorry if it hasn’t), but now you’ll find yourself perpetually hungry. Not ravenous, just on the snack hunt almost all the time.

So be prepared, buy those ‘healthy’ biotic yoghurt drinks and fruit bars, get a stash of easy, grab and go snacks and portion them out. Olives, nuts, dried fruits, popcorn, rice cakes, Options hot chocolate for that low calorie chocolate fix (seriously I love this stuff, expensive but worth it), and any other small, portionable snack you can find.

A Project/Game/Book 👾

For a lot of women, working as much as possible as close to the due date as possible is a normal occurrence. But for some, maternity leave starts earlier than intended or, since Covid-19, they already worked from home and are getting so bored. Finding things to do in the pregnancy downtime that won’t tire you out too much but still leaves you feeling accomplished each day is a blessing.

For myself, I play The Sims 4, blog here, and am finishing my Open University modules just now. These have kept me going and feeling like I’m not just a massive blob demanding food every 10 minutes, living in my pyjamas and messing up the house for my partner as I lug myself around, tiredly.

Non-Wired Bras & Extenders 👙

There’s nothing worse than feeling uncomfortable in the wrong size bra, and sadly, your breasts are going to be changing a lot in this time. From start to finish you may find yourself 2 sizes up in both cup and width, but this doesn’t happen at once. So if you’ve been proactive and bought a load of bras in preparation… be prepared to wait, and need an in between size for a while before you get to your ‘final form’.

Even now, as I come up to finishing my third trimester, my breasts have still not got into final form. When the milk comes on postnatal, they’ll change again. So, I would recommend getting a one size up in both cup and width non-wired bra, then wait and see what size nursing/maternity bra you need later. And buy up those bra extenders as much as you can – they’re a godsend for keeping your purchases usable!

A Pregnancy App 📲

As much as you think you’ll be keeping such a good count on the days and weeks of pregnancy, life is also happening around you. From appointments, to family events, to emergencies and holidays, there will be times when tracking your pregnancy day by day falls to the wayside. You don’t forget your pregnant -but how many weeks am I now? Which trimester am I in? How long do I have to go!?

My go-to pregnancy app is the simplest one yet, and is literally just the app I used to track my period pre-pregnancy. I adore it’s simplicity because so many others can be bogged down with unnecessary app screen extras. The extras are there on this one, but behind other tabs and links, so I don’t have to sift through all that before seeing my week and day count, my baby size compared with fruit and veggies (adorable), and the ability to track my symptoms.

Seriously, check out Period Tracker, My Calendar on Google, and on Apple App Store. It’s simple, pretty cartoon designs are adorable and I can’t recommend it enough for both period tracking, trying to conceive and this pregnancy. It even has an option now to click a bit button saying “My baby was born!” which is scary as hell, but at 35 weeks that’s entirely possible!

As an alternative, I also use Pregnancy+ (Google, Apple) sometimes to add a little more information, and to see the 3D spinning image of my baby – wow!

So there you have it, my 5 essentials for the second and third trimester of pregnancy. They may differ to other peoples, but these are the things I needed. Special mention goes out to the pregnancy belt I use sometimes to help my back, but it isn’t essential to everyone, and really, I just have awful posture when sitting at my desk – oops.

I’d also like to mention my pregnancy pillow is now relegated to the nursing chair I spend my tired moments in, and it wraps perfectly around me to make it the comfiest, cosiest place to sit in the house. Instead of that in the bed, I use a v-pillow we’ve had since forever – a perfect substitute that means my partner J and I can still snuggle and he doesn’t have to move the entire wall of pillow between us to do so.

Thanks for reading!

My (High Risk) Birth Plan

Some things you may not know about me – I am 35 weeks pregnant (tomorrow) and am considered high risk because I have a heart condition called Focal Ventricular Fibrillation!

Today, I am going to share my new, revised birth plan after consulting with my anaesthesiologist, obstetrician and midwife over the best and safest way for me to give birth considering the risks involved. This is completely personalised for myself, and won’t necessarily be what anyone else would want, choose or be advised to do in their pregnancies.

As a preface, I just want to say that I live in the UK and the NHS has been fantastic at not only saving my life in 2019 but taking me and my pregnancy with possible complications very, very seriously. I am forever grateful to them and to the universal healthcare we have in this country, especially during a time of great strain on the NHS such as Covid-19.

That being said, I want to be as honest as possible about my pregnancy and journey by the time I give birth and will be doing a full run down of not only my pregnancy, but the many, many appointments I had, and the birth plan versus the actual birth story which will all come along as blog posts in the future.

The Original Plan

Me being me, I had a plan all set up in my mind of what I would like when it came to my labour. I read and reread others birth plans, watched a ton of ‘One Born Every Minute’ on 4oD (old as it may be!) and read so many natural, epidural, forceps, vacuous, and caesarean birth stories as I could.

I even took the time to make an A4 birth plan sheet, complete with pictures and cool fonts, to take with me when I went into labour. Little did I know, this plan would have to be altered somewhat.

My main concerns were avoiding an epidural so I can stay active and let gravity help me in labour, as well as not being forced to lay down on a bed in order to push, as I feel this to be uncomfortable and the hardest position in which to birth. Everything else was negotiable (and let’s be honest, it all is negotiable when it becomes a risky situation).

A Birth Plan for a Mum with a Heart Condition

After speaking to the anaesthesiologist and my obstetrician for a follow up recently, then *very basic* plan is as follows;

  • Induction? 💊

    If I get to 10 days over my due date (3rd July!) I may be induced, and I’m okay with that.

    This will consist of a stretch and sweep, and then if nothing happens for a day or two, I’ll get the medicated pessary to kickstart labour.

  • The Latent Phase 🌙

    • At home, but let the hospital know.
    • Don’t take Clexane (enoxiparin sodium) blood thinner now as if I bleed in labour it would make it worse.
    • Monitor contractions, keep stress down.
    • If palpitations occur, go straight into hospital.
  • Active Labour 😮‍💨

    • Bypass the Maternity Ward and get a private room for 1-to-1 care.
    • Possibly hooked to an ECG monitor for my heart.
    • J can be with me in a private room, the whole time!
    • Mobile Epidural as soon as possible, allowing movement but keeping stress due to pain to a minimum.
    • My stress must be low to reduce stress on the heart.
    • Keep moving – gravity helps!
    • Epidural can be topped up to allow for caesarean if needed.
  • Birth 👶🏻

    • An epidural of any kind makes it more likely that forceps or vacuous will be required.
    • Delayed cord clamping if possible.
    • Injection to release the placenta quicker is fine.
    • Skin to skin for at least an hour after birth.
    • Breastfeeding as soon as possible.
    • Kept in hospital a day longer to ensure no adverse heart problems occur.

Will any of this work how I hope it will? Will my heart play ball and allow a vaginal birth like I want?

35 weeks and counting…