Friday 28 March 2014

The boy gets creative with paint (mummy gets brave enough to buy the boy paint)

Inspired by all the many wonderful parent bloggers out there, who share such creative (and messy!) ideas, I finally took the boy shopping for some arty bits and bobs.

I cheated and first of all bought a ready-made art tub from John Lewis, containing things like scissors and glue and pipecleaners, as well as glitter and buttons and such like.  I realise he is still a little young for this sort of thing, so also bought some plain coloured card and finger paints ("washable", they claimed).

To prepare the kitchen for paintageddon, I dug out my huge Cath Kidston oiled tablecloth (which no longer serves as an actual tablecloth), and stripped the boy down to his vest.  What's the worse that could happen?

Turns out, 17 month old boys can be surprisingly creative with paints... Just not really in a way involving say paper, or painting. 

Cat as paintbrush, perhaps?

Creative use of the bottom shuffle as both painting medium, and canvas.

Then there are all the other surprising uses for paints: eat the paint, touch the paint, throw the paint (Pollock-esque?), cover hand in paint and then run madly towards the soft furnishings... Pretty much do everything with paint other than paint the paint.  

But with fast reactions and quick timing it turns out you can slide that bit of card under whatever mayhem is going on, in order to catch some artwork as a byproduct.  Result!!

Thursday 27 March 2014

A first saunter to the shops - without buggy!!

New shoes for the boy acquired, it seemed like we were ready to step this walking business up a gear... Walking outside.  With no buggy back-up.  

He seemed eager enough - for the first 20 yards until he stopped by the house on the corner and refused to budge.  He had by then figured out the existence of the connecting rein, that annoying hold mummy still had on him.  Boy, he was displeased.  I scooped him under my arm for a block or two, and plonked him back down when we had reached the main road.  Diversion and distraction.  Look! A bus!  A doggy!  A flower!  



POLICE HORSES.  Look!!!!!! 

The daddy of toddler distractions! 

(Afterword: we managed about another hundred yards until the boy was again scooped up and placed in the back carrier.  I'm ambitious, but not completely foolhardy!).

Thanks to Sara at MumTurnedMom for "the prompt": that  was unexpected...

A sad but timely reality check

It had been on the cards for a while - temporary closure, stock sales, changing opening hours - but now it has finally come to pass: Eat Play Love, the amazing family cafe in Battersea is closing for good next week.

Happy memories will be left, but also a massive void for the families of Battersea.

Their Facebook announcement today was heartbreaking.
"It's complicated". The reasons why we've taken this decision are complex.  But we have no doubt that the family cafe concept and business model are fundamentally sound - unfortunately it takes 2-3 years to establish a new business, especially one where things are done differently, and we just ran out of time.

To my knowledge, that just leaves That Place on the Corner, way up in Newington Green, as the only true baby/kids/family cafe in the whole of London! (Though please let me know if I am mistaken here).

Where does this leave my own cafe plans?  I am confident that the demand is there, but I am quickly realising that good will and a good idea are not enough.  A new cafe requires plenty of cash, a huge financial cushion, to keep it afloat in the early years until it has established itself.  Mums on maternity leave are maybe not the biggest spenders out there, so perhaps a wider client base is required.  Which means appealing to commuters, visitors, local business people - the lot!

I'm not exactly going back to the drawing board, but I think this does make the "pop up" model even more appealing.

It's a jungle out there...

Wednesday 26 March 2014

I'm going to Brit Mums Live 2014!

Name: Kathryn, sometimes Kat for short. Often just "mummy". 

Blog: Bumps and Grind

Twitter id: katgrant30

Height: 6ft

Hair: Long bob, dark auburny blonde.  Usually in headscarf or hairband!

Eyes: Hazel, but most likely I’ll have my glasses on for the presentations.

Is this your first blogging conference?


Are you attending both days?

Sure, why not?

What are you most looking forward to at BritMums Live 2014?

I love to hear interesting speakers, and the list they have lined up looks amazing. I'm also looking forward to meeting new faces - some I have "met" on twitter, but some completely new!

britmums live goody bags

What are you wearing?

Er... Clothes? Is there a dress code?! *panics*

What do you hope to gain from BritMums Live 2014?

Well, I am very much a novice blogger - so I would love to get some hints, tips, and practical advice.  I'd especially love to learn how to redesign the whole look of my blog, which is still very basic.  

And then there is the hope for general inspiration... Bloggers I love to read, new linkys to try out, ideas for themes and just general creative hotbedding! :)

Looking forward to meeting you!

Monday 24 March 2014

In praise of the tray bake...

This last weekend has passed in a baking frenzy... And, rather than the usual cupcakery or victoria sponges, it all revolved around the humble baking tray.

Firstly, on Saturday, I tried a focaccia recipe - to take as a contribution to our friend's dinner party.  A few years ago I had enrolled (in a fit of pre-wedding domesticity) on a one-day bread making course at Hugh F-W's River Cottage.  So I dusted off one of the recipes I learned there (with a few crucial adaptations, such as adding about half a pint of olive oil rather than just a tablespoon!).  I prepared it at home (in mega quick time for bread dough - it seemed to rise very quickly) and baked it at my friend's.  The recipe calls for:
500g of flour (I used half strong bread flour and half plain white flour)
5g of dried yeast (I used a whole 7g sachet)
10g of salt (important for taste!)
375ml of warm water
1 tbsp good olive oil (I used much more - probably almost as much as the water!).

I used my Kitchenaid dough hook to mix and knead the dough for a good ten minutes.  It then had a first rise of about an hour, before being knocked back and pressed into a well-oiled tray.  At my friend's house (after a second rise of around half an hour) I pressed my fingers into it (satisfying!) and added olives (to one half) and lots of rosemary and sea salt.  We then cranked up the oven to 260 degrees and baked it for ten mins at this high temperature before reducing the heat to 200 and baking for a further 20 mins (the recipe said just ten, but I found it a bit soft on the underside).  

We managed to let it cool for ten tantalising minutes before devouring.

On Sunday (with a groggy head) it was then on to the sugary side of business.  With the first PANDAS support group meeting on Tuesday I was keen to start preparations.  So in the morning I began with tablet.  This is a peculiarly Scottish treat, much like fudge but with a distinct sandy texture.  I used Felicity Cloake's Guardian recipe, which is relativBely straightforward (especially with the aid of a sugar thermometer and hand mixer).  You start by boiling a kilo (yes 1kg) of sugar with 125g butter and about 250ml of milk for 8 minutes, and then simmering it further to get it to the required 115 degrees ("soft ball" stage on the sugar thermometer).  You then add a tin of condensed milk and mix vigorously until it thickens.  You pour the lot into a well buttered tray and leave to set. The result is seriously sugary, but a little morsel goes a long way!

(Where could that little square have gotten to...?)

After a lovely Sunday lunch with friends, it was back to the kitchen to whip up a brownie.  Now, I used to work for my friend Bea in the bakery of her small chain of cupcake/coffee shops "Beas of Bloomsbury".  I have adapted her spectacular "killer" brownie recipe, used in the professional kitchen, into a plainer affair for home.  I start by melting 250g of stork (why use expensive butter when margarine works equally well?!) over a high heat.  I pour that over 250g of small chocolate chips (I bought a large catering bag of dark chocolate chips the last time we went to Costco - it is much cheaper, and easier to use, than individual bars).  Stir to mix, until all the chocolate has melted. Meanwhile I beat 4 eggs with 250g of white sugar and 250g of dark brown sugar.  Using the dark stuff gives the brownies a gorgeous fudgey/caramel taste.  With the mixer running I pour in the melted chocolate/butter and finally add 250g of plain flour.  This all gets poured into a lined tray, to be baked for ten minutes at 200 and a further ten minutes at 170.  You are aiming for a slightly glossy, cracked in places, top:

Finally, today, I thought I'd better produce another option for those who don't want to be assaulted by sugar and chocolate.  I turned to my favourite lemon-based recipe of choice these days: Fiona Cairn's Very Lemony Crunch Cake.  She makes it in a round tin, but I think this recipe is like a lemon-flavoured brownie (in texture and baking method) and it lends itself to a square baking tray.  You start (similar to a brownie) by melting 175g of butter (Stork!). Whip 2 eggs with 175g of caster sugar, for about five minutes, before blending in the melted butter.  Then lightly fold in 175g of sifted self raising flour, as well as the finely grated rind of one large lemon.  Finally, mix in the juice of that lemon.  Pour into a greased and lined tray and bake at 180 for about half an hour.  When it comes out, prick all over with a cocktail stick and pour over a lemon syrup which is simply 100g of sugar mixed with the juice of another lemon.  The result is a super-light but very moist lemon drizzle slab:

I think we are almost ready for the new support group!  I have looked out some of the boy's old toys to take along.  And I have even invested in some Monmouth Coffee, filter papers and individual filter cones... 

I am stressed and anxious, as if I were planning a party and worried no one will show up. I have no idea how many mums might come along, but the good thing about all the baked items above is that they can stay in their trays, they all keep well, and then they can all be frozen if no one eats them!  The joy of the humble tray bake.

Linking this post up to:
<a href=""><img style="margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto; display: block;" src="" alt="Tasty Tuesdays on" width="301" height="189" /></a>

Thursday 20 March 2014

Choices, choices, choices.

Our baby is just sixteen months old, but when we hear tales of other people getting names down for nurseries and schools before the pee on the pregnancy test is dry - well, we panic!

Education, education, education.  It should be simple - find a friendly local nursery, progress to the local Ofsted-approved state primary, then secondary school, A-level college, and university if you are lucky.  But no, it is never that simple.  Especially when you live in a densely-populated international city centre.  Especially when you hold left-liberal social ideals.  Especially when you are fortunate enough to be able to make real choices.

Choices.  Sounds great, in principle - but it's a lot to get our heads around.  There are many, many variables - things that could change over time and are sometimes outwith our control.  Here is a rough sketch of the excel spreadsheet we are creating, to help us record all the variables:

Firstly, we would like the boy to get used to spending a little time away from his mummy.  Cut those apron strings!  We have his name down for a small Montessori nursery around the corner from our house who will take him from January 2015 (after he turns 2).  We are fairly confident he will get in, for perhaps 2 or 3 half days a week.  If he doesn't get a place then there are numerous other options within an easy walk from home.

Secondly, we are very lucky to have a very highly-rated CoE primary school at the bottom of the street.  This is our first choice of first school.  But there are a number of reasons why we may need a back-up: it could go downhill between now and 2017; there may be too many siblings taking priority over local residents and the boy may not get a place; we could even move (albeit this is unlikely).  

What are the back-up options?  Well, there are a number of other decent state primaries in the borough, which we will definitely take a look at.  There is also the option of private prep and pre-prep schools, especially if we consider sending him to the attached nursery aged 2 or 3.

But hang on a minute... Sending a child into the private sector at age 2?!? Might he then miss out on what the local community can offer?  We'd be living here in Kennington, but shipping the boy across to Chelsea for his schooling and (inevitably) his friendship groups to follow.   We love all the friends he has made already at the various local playgroups and activities we go to - it would be a real shame to lose touch now.

So it seems more likely that we might enter the state system first, at least for a few years.  Here we enter another minefield: the vociferous number of people who resent people taking up valuable (good) state school places only to whip their children out again at age 7 or 8.  I do understand this concern, I really do, but I'm not going to choose a less-popular state school.  Why would anyone?  The school was a major selling point when we moved here two years ago - and it probably added a bit to the cost of the house!  The boy will know many of his year group there from his playgroups (and the nursery round the corner).  It will hopefully be a natural step for him, and will give him a fantastic few years getting to know more people in the area.

And from there? Well my secret "pipe dream" is to get him into Westminster - it is probably one of our closest secondary schools, and it just happens to be one of the best in the country.  They have a selective "under school" which takes boys from age 8.  Obviously it all depends on how academic the boy turns out to be - but who knows?  I know that if the boy develops that way, then we will do whatever it takes to help him fulfil his potential.  And if he develops in other ways - sports, music, drama (all highly unlikely given the bookish nature of his parents!) - then London also offers great choices here too.

I'm not ashamed to admit that my real fear is not raising a child in central London - it's raising a teenager in the years to come.  I would worry endlessly about him if I thought there were actual gangs at his secondary school (cliques are another matter - bullies are everywhere, but I'd rather the boy face the ones without knives).  This probably does make me sound like a snob.  But I'm not sorry about it.  I'm sorry that gangs and violence exist.  I'm sorry that for some families they do not have that choice.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Why no scandal?

An interesting two tweets in my twitter timeline caught my eye today:

@AlexBThomson: Can you imagine any specialty other than #psychiatry which would use "risk of dying" as the primary criterion for seeing/treating patients?

@AlexBThomson: If "risk of dying" were the main criterion for all health services, there would be no ophthalmology, no dermatology, no hip replacements etc

They got me thinking (which I guess is entirely the point of twitter in its purest form).

I have heard too many tales of people being denied help in a crisis, simply because they hadn't yet made firm suicide plans.  People who have had to push and push on every possible door to access even the most basic of healthcare.  People who have literally begged for help, but were told they were not yet eligible.  Even having recurring thoughts of dying, or wanting to die, was not enough to persuade health care providers to intervene and refer to a suitable crisis service.  If you are mentally ill, and seeking medical help, often the most you can hope for is a prescription and possibly a place on a talking therapy waiting list.  

And even in a suicide crisis, quite often the "mental health service" turns out to be the local police force, using Mental Health Act powers. 

Why? Why do we accept this as a way of managing illness?  Do people still believe that mental illness is a modern phenomenon, used to avoid the stresses of life?  Or that it is some kind of lifestyle choice?  Does an illness really need to be life threatening in order to be taken seriously?  After all, as @AlexBThomson pointed out on twitter, many non life threatening conditions are routinely treated by the NHS - from cataract removal to bunions.

In most other illness groups, emphasis amongst service providers is on early diagnosis and treatment.  In cancer, for example, huge gains have been made in survival rates by catching tumours early and treating appropriately.  In other areas, we educate and implement public health programs.  Doctors are rewarded for monitoring and treating the health of higher risk groups (e.g. Blood pressure and cholesterol monitoring of older or more overweight patients).  Scientists, epidemiologists, health economists and doctors have shown that early treatment and prevention saves both lives and money.  

The government - the ultimate commissioner of health services in this country - decides which treatments are covered by the NHS and which are not.  It is guided by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).  NICE guidelines, across all medical disciplines, tend to recommend any treatment or intervention which costs less than around £30,000 per quality-adjusted life year (QALY).  Treatments which are cheap to produce (few overheads, low staffing requirements, easily replicable) and highly effective (prolonging life, increasing quality of life) are dutifully recommended to NHS commissioners.

With this definition of "commisionable" treatment, it is easy to understand why mental health interventions might fall through the cracks in the system.  Capturing (in £ terms) the uplift in quality of life from (say) a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is bloody hard.  How do you value the ability to leave your house?  The desire to play with your children?  The feeling that you no longer want to disappear?  And most mental health services require skilled practitioners and intensive treatments in order to have lasting impact.

But even with these difficulties, researchers have consistently shown that common mental health interventions are cost effective. So it seems that even with the emerging evidence, commissioners are still not funding the services they should.



Cost per additional QALY
Mental illness
Depression.                   .        
Social anxiety disorder 
Post-natal depression 
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Physical illnessDiabetes 

CBT v Placebo
CBT v Treatment As Usual (TAU) 
Interpersonal therapy v TAU

Metformin v Insulin
Beta-agonists + Steroids v Steroids 
Statins v PlaceboTopirimate v Placebo
Cox-2 inhibitors v Placebo


Centre for Economic Performance

The government (and politicians across the spectrum) have recently made promises that mental health should be given "parity of esteem" with physical health.  So it is strange that the proportion of NHS funding for mental health (13%) is still no where near it's proportion of the whole disease burden (28%). Especially when cost effective (and life saving) treatments are known to exist.  In fact, these very same politicians are now introducing cuts to vital mental health services, in order to minimise the risk of another "Mid Staffs" hospital scandal.  

This news on the 12th of March prompted a vociferous response from mental health charities, as well as an important petition.

But aside from within the mental health industry, there has been no wider uproar.  There should be.  I don't know how to end this post.  It's not over, that is for sure.  More soon. 

Monday 17 March 2014

Look Who's Talking

Please allow me an occasional post here about the boy's development and milestones... This week: WORDS! :)

The boy is 16 months old, and according to the books (specifically "Small Talk" by Dr R Woolfson) should now be accumulating single words at quite a rate.  By 18 months the "average" kid (whatever that is!) will have between 10 and 20 words.  But there are different methods of language accumulation, and different babies learn differently.  So far, the boy seems to be a mainly "referential" learner: he picks up on the names of people and objects.  Things that he can see and touch (or more likely stuff into his mouth!).  And I'm pleased to report he has a pretty good vocab for his age.  Makes life slightly less repetitive!  He also, as the book suggests, is capable of following simple instructions (when he wants to) such as "give mummy the cup", "put the toy in the basket" etc. 

Apparently (and we haven't noticed the boy doing this yet) the 16-18 month period might also herald the start of singing (delightful!) and first sentences (2 words strung together).  Ok - the husband has just pointed out that the boy has been talking in full sentences, with phrases, pauses and emphasis for months now - it's just that we don't understand any of it!

So here are the boy's "first words" in vague order of accumulation:
- Dada (of course he said this weeks before he said...)
- Mama
- CAT!!!
- Buh-Ba (bye)
- Hi
- Custard
- Yoghurt
- Breadstick 
- Toast
- Cake (noticing a pattern here?!)
- Juice
- Car
- Bath
- Doh (dog)
- Ge-guh (gentle - we say this to him hundred of times a day, in our attempts to safeguard the kitten from his affections!)
- Out
- Keys
- Duck.

So nothing complicated like pronouns or verbs, but a pretty good mix of words for him to get started with.  

He still becomes very frustrated at times, when he does not get what he wants and he cannot express himself.  He is getting better at using non verbal communication however - handing me a toy if its not working for him, or leading me somewhere by the hand in order to get what he wants.  Unfortunately this does extend over into whacking me from time to time! 

So - how does this compare to your experience? Any tips for curbing the physical side of his temper?!?

Sunday 16 March 2014

Just one of those slightly smug BBQ posts... :)

Our garden is a 15x15ft courtyard with a few plant pots and a solitary (but I think beautiful) cherry tree.  Big enough for a BBQ though...

So yesterday morning we schlepped out to B&Q to pick up a Weber grill - charcoal, not gas. And one you can buy a pizza oven attachment for if you are that way inclined.  I left the menfolk at home this morning, figuring out how to work it.  Later in the afternoon we had a couple of friends over to road-test it with us.  

The husband had already marinated some juicy lamb chops overnight (a Tayyabs-inspired recipe involving yoghurt and lots of toasted spices).  We also had "freezer surprise" sausages and I knocked out a few halloumi/shallot/mushroom skewers.  I was also on salad and condiment duty.

We ended up with green salad (courgette, cucumber, spring onion, celery), tomato and red onion, and leftover Vietnamese salad from the other day.

After that I could sit back with a glass of cold wine and watch as the husband tackled the fire and meat.  After a few failed attempts to get the charcoal going properly we were off.  The chops were great, as we're the skewers - and even the surprise sausages!

I failed to get any photos, but for pudding I rustled up a childhood favourite - whole bananas, stuffed with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips, wrapped tightly in foil and buried in the embers of the BBQ. Gooey deliciousness!

Let's just hope that this recent spell of fine weather is not our quota for the whole year!

Saturday 15 March 2014

"Affordable" Art Fair at Battersea Park

(Just linked this up to Becoming A SAHM's "Creative Challenge" linky)
<div align="center"><a href="" title="Creative Challenge"><img src="" alt="Creative Challenge" style="border:none;" /></a></div>

Yesterday the husband took most of the day off, so we could all walk down to Battersea to look at some art.  We are in the market for a painting to hang above the fireplace in our front room, and this fair promised 1000s of pieces between £40 and £4000.  As ever, though, most works tended towards the higher end of that range - so not sure how affordable they can claim to be!   Is there a "Dirt Cheap Art Fair" somewhere, as that would clearly be our market!!

Anyway first things first - coffee and a brief perusal of the free map and guide:
This is a well-oiled machine.  Thronging with people of all ages (despite it being a weekday morning - doesn't anyone have jobs?!?), coffee shops and wine stands dotted around the cavernous event space, packing facilities for shipping your purchases home - even a crèche facility for those unlikely to appreciate the art!  The boy was sadly just a few months too young for the crèche, so he was subjected to massive sensory overload in the hall - running from piece to piece, every square inch of the walls covered in colours and textures and shapes, and lots of interesting sculptures (or "sensory play equipment" in the boy's mind) dotted around the floor.  Frankly it was a miracle we didn't have to pay any of the exhibitors for damages!

Here are a few of the things which caught our collective eye:
Loved this series of paintings - of popular sweets and cakes, including also Polos and scones.  Very vivid!

(Don't worry, we had permission from the exhibitor for the boy to go ahead and touch this very colourful one!)

We love penguins in our house - this one was quite tempting!

"What does the massive scary cow say???" 

This was a huge blown-up photograph that I would have sworn was an oil painting!

Finally - I indignantly wondered why was anyone hanging up blouses and calling it Art?! Then I had a closer look and realised that they were incredibly realistic Carrera marble sculptures!  Amazing.

But by this point the boy was becoming more and more of a liability - so we headed off into the park, to make the most of the sunshine.  Who needs to spend £4000 on art when we can all enjoy this for free?!

Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday 13 March 2014

A birth and motherhood GOOD news story

A funny thing happened to us today.  We witnessed something you never read about on the blogs, on Mumsnet parenting forums, on twitter or even Facebook.  No.  We witnessed a positively good birth and new mummyhood experience.

The boy and I set off this morning to visit our friend who had given birth just a week or two ago.  We went armed with cake and lunch, ready to listen and sympathise with the usual labour / hospital / midwife / breastfeeding / sleep deprivation stories that surround all new mums like an armour.  

We were greeted at the door by our friend who looked just amazing - if not exactly well slept, then at the very least well rested and calm.  She had pinged back to her pre-baby sporty physique and even looked like she might have sneaked in a long hot soak in the tub.  Moreover, she was chatty and engaged - most new mums I have come across are like rabbits in the headlights, struggling to focus let alone communicate!

The baby meanwhile was a picture of contentment, fast asleep in his New Zealand fleece-lined Moses basket, despite my boy's best attempts to prod him into life!  He snuggled in the way only brand new babies can do, and when he eventually woke for a feed he latched on and fed like a dream.  A cloth-nappied Dream.

Ok - but surely this might mask a horrendous 3 day labour, emergency section, or haemorrhage?  I've experienced and heard all the worst case scenarios, I had started to doubt a positive birth was even possible.  But no, this darling baby's entrance was smooth.  8cm dilated before contractions had even begun!  A ten minute water birth with just gas and air - when the birth plan was always an elective c-section!  Immediate skin-to-skin, bonding and breastfeeding.  No bloody aftermath, flashbacks or panic.

And I realised that this positive start to family life will reach far beyond just the birth.  This family were calm, relaxed, energetic and ready to tackle anything.  I have no doubt that if the usual colic or reflux or excema or teething worries strike, then they will cope admirably.  We said our goodbyes with my heart gladdened and my mind at ease.  Happy beginnings are possible.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Everything you always wanted to know about my psychosis, but wereafraid to ask

In a week or two I will be popping along to Rethink's "wrap party" for their wonderful Can You Tell? campaign.  The CYT team basically put on a roadshow, staffed with volunteers like me, telling people about their mental illnesses and asking the public "can you tell" if anything was wrong?  Despite what Asda and the rest wanted us to believe there is no "mental patient" costume.  We are not all blood-stained, axe-wielding zombies in straitjackets.

As the party is a chance to get lots of the Rethink volunteers together in one place, they will also be filming for one of their future campaigns.  I and a few others will talk on camera, answering some questions about our experience of psychosis.  The film will be shown at the National Psychosis Summit on 10 April.

Anyway, as an opportunity to gather my thoughts, here are the six questions they will ask me for the film, and my initial thinking on them:

1. Tell us about when you first became ill and when you first realised you were experiencing psychosis.

My psychosis happened very quickly after the traumatic birth of my son (postpartum or puerperal psychosis).  I was recovering in the High Dependency Unit, with my brand new baby, just a few hours after my husband was sent home to sleep when my grip on reality left me.

At first it was very unclear what was happening to me - as I was presenting as catatonic the doctors first had to rule out a massive stroke.

To me, this psychotic episode was very real and very frightening.  I was in the ward, but I was convinced that my stomach was about to explode and my heart to stop.  I "saw" the midwives don their scrubs in preparation for the body, and I "heard" them whispering that I was just about to die, and getting increasingly annoyed that I wasn't already dead, and I was inconveniencing the other patients.

I also had what I can only describe as an "out of body" or "near death" experience, involving a bright white light.  Who knows what that could've been, but to me I feel like I saw a little bit over the Other Side.

2. What has been your most positive experience of care?

I was treated very quickly by the maternal mental health team attached to the hospital.  Once a physical cause was ruled out, I was seen very quickly by a perinatal psychiatrist who could diagnose PP almost immediately.  Many women are not so fortunate, as their symptoms don't present so quickly after birth.

Eventually my baby and I were admitted to a specialist Mother and Baby Unit (MBU), under the care of psychiatrists, mental health nurses, nursery nurses, occupational therapists and child psychologists.  The care made available to me and my baby over our 3 months as inpatients was incredible.  The approach was gentle, gradual and encouraging.  Human.  Once the worst of the psychosis was over I was able to do more and more of my baby's care.  We were discharged home only once I was confident in my abilities and my family were confident I had recovered.

3. For you, what was the worst aspect of your care?

This is a tricky question as I really don't blame anyone here.  It is only with the benefit of hindsight that I know what should have happened differently. 

For example, I strongly believe I should never never never have been discharged home from the labour ward a few days after my first psychotic episode.  My family (and I!) were desperate for me and the baby to come home.  We all thought the episode was a one-off, and that I would get much better with some rest at home, and family support.  It turned out, however, that the psychosis was only going to get worse and worse.  My poor family were completely and utterly ill-equipped to help.  So just two nights later we were back at the hospital, only this time A&E.

We "got away with it".  But if anything terrible was going to happen, it would've happened during those wretched 2 days at home.

My family had the best of intentions and, with so many doctors in their midst, were able to convince the discharging team to allow me home.  But I would say now that no mother who presented with the symptoms and behaviours I had shown (however briefly at first) should be discharged home.  Instead they should be offered an MBU bed, immediately upon leaving the maternity wing.

4. What do you most want from your mental health care? 

From now, I just want to know that if I ever have another child - or if I ever have another psychotic episode or severe bipolar symptoms - I will be referred quickly to a specialist psychiatrist.  I want to be confident that my GP knows who to refer me to, and that suitable referral services exist in the first place.  GPs cannot refer if commissioners don't commission!

I would also like to be confident that there is enough local mental health team coverage, in terms of nurses and carers.

5. What change, or changes, would make this happen?

In short, more money must be made available for mental health services.  Government must start "walking the walk" of their slogans such as "parity of esteem" - or their words are completely meaningless.  

Commissioners must be given clear guidelines, to end the current postcode lottery of vital services such as MBUs. The benefits of investment in mental health services must be quantified and explained.  The risks of not investing in mental health must also be spelled out.

My three months of inpatient care would have cost my health authority a lot of money, that is certain.  However it is not just my life they were saving (and a potential 20+ years of future economic activity). They were also saving my son.  His life, with all its potential, is beyond value. 

6. Can you sum up your perfect mental health system in one word?  

PSI Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month Blog Hop
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Monday 10 March 2014

Maybe I'm not as "recovered" as I thought I was...

Had a little bit of a setback today.  Feeling angry, worried and frustrated.

The day started off well enough - the sun shining, it was a good day to walk around all the GP surgeries and children's centres in the area, distributing information on the new PANDAS support group.  We had got around a few of the surgeries, before realising I had left the boy's shoes at home.  So we popped back to get them.

We arrived back home to see the neighbour's large grey cat prowling around our front steps.  As the proud owners of a much smaller kitten, I knew I would have to sneak in and close the door behind me to avoid potential cat-kitten friction.  The boy was fast asleep in the buggy, so I decided not to bump him up our steep front steps but leave him on the pavement outside as I ran in for his shoes.

Shoes located, I ran back out about 30 seconds later.  The boy still asleep and none-the-wiser.  But as I was locking up the front door, I heard a lady cross the street towards us, waving what looked like a police ID badge.  She didn't introduce herself (and I had never seen her before so no idea who she was or where she had come from) but she proceeded to give me a stern lecture about leaving my baby outside. "Do you realise how many people walked past, and could have taken him?" "But I just ran in to get his shoes and he was sleeping.." "That doesn't matter"... Etc etc.

She stared at me as if she was evaluating whether or not to take things further.  Arrest me for child abandonment?  Inform local social services of my neglectful parenting?  I decided my best course was to act all grateful and apologetic "oh I am so sorry, thank you so much for looking out for him..."  This did indeed work, as she eventually shook her head and walked away.

She left me completely taken aback, shaken to my core.  What on earth just happened?!

As in all situations where someone takes you by surprise, I had plenty to say to her just two minutes later. "It's none of your business" "I trust my neighbours and my street" "I could see him the whole time from the window" "I'm not sorry and I would do the same thing again"...  We live on a very sleepy residential street, where we know all the neighbours. We once went out for dinner, and forgot to even shut the front door, let alone lock it!  The place was completely untouched, four hours later, despite leaving my handbag and iPad in full view.  

Parenting involves constant evaluation of risks, and my judgement today was that it was better to leave my sleeping child on the street for less than a minute, rather than risk waking him up and ruining the rest of our afternoon.  If this shocked or offended this particular woman (still no idea whether or not she was a policewoman), then I'm afraid that's her problem.

The more worrying aspect of all this was how it affected me.  I was crying, shaking, speechless.  I felt physically sick that someone would think I was neglecting my child.  I get hardly any feedback in this parenting gig, so when that feedback is so negative, it's quite hard not to take it to heart.  I had thought I had fully recovered from my mental illness, and that I was now a confident and assured parent.  I have had to process a lot of guilt over the last 16 months - no mum can spend so long in psychiatric care without worrying how her child may be affected - but I thought I had come to terms with it all. 

This episode has shown me just how vulnerable to attack I am.  

What do you think? Would you have done the same, or would you never let your buggy out of your sight even for a second?  Would you have taken it upon yourself to confront the mum in such a situation?  I'd be interested in your views!

Sunday 9 March 2014

Project Management for Mums

I've not had a regular office-based job since January 2011.  I don't miss it (at all) but sometimes I do wonder whether my inner project manager is trying to reassert herself over domestic affairs.

A good indicator of Project Manager mode is, for me, the number of notebooks lying around the house.  At the moment I have at least three project notebooks on the go.  Three!

  I have my ultimate project (Operation Boy).  My small business / social enterprising aspirations.  And then some voluntary work with various mental health charities.  My new PANDAS support group alone is crying out for a Gant chart!  And Operation Boy is reaching a critical analytical stage, as we need some sort of spreadsheet to record all the different potential education options and choices for him.  It is likely going to take me several weeks of research.

I'm not sure where this energy is coming from.  If it's a hypo manic period, then I will embrace it and make the most of it.  It could all come tumbling down into a depressive episode at any time.  So before the mania wears off, here are my top tips for SAHMs to embrace their inner project manager and start getting those project lists ticked off:

- Time management. Cut out the time wasting.  In my case - go cold turkey on pointless app games.  I'm not even talking about Angry Birds or Candy Crush here. No, my gaming hours - that precious time between the boy's bedtime and our's - were spent on Solitaire and Sudoku.  It used to seriously wind up the husband, but it occupied me and I was genuinely addicted.  I've not played a game for over eight weeks now, and the extra time it's given me is coming in handy! (Well, I just use it for blogging and twitter purposes now...)

- Focus. Set achievable goals.  Prioritise.  Nobody can "do it all", be perfect, but often SAHMs think they should be.  Technically I could spend several hours a day cleaning, but I'd much rather spend that time playing with the boy, or taking him to playgroups.  So I'm happy to live in a not-so tidy house with a pile of laundry needing ironed and kitchen floorboards that are varnished with snot and tears.  I've prioritised the boy over pretty much everything else, but I've also picked just one or two activities which are important to me, such as the PANDAS work.

- Regular appraisals. Meaningful feedback can be hard to come by in this job.  There are no bonuses or pay reviews. Heck not even a salary - unless you count occasional usage of the family credit card on items that are strictly-speaking not essential.  I try and ask the husband (the closest thing to a line manager I'll ever have now, although it's unclear who is managing who) how he thinks I am doing with the boy.  His response is usually disappointingly noncommittal. He has nobody to compare me too as a parent.  He is pleased with the end result (the boy is pretty Awesome) but he has no idea of the relative inputs from Nature versus Nurture.  It's a quandary.  My advice, after a little thought, is to try and be objective with yourself.  Instigate a self appraisal regime - fashionable in most large companies these days.  Take a few minutes at the end of a busy day to think about what you achieved (or avoided - hey, the baby is still alive!!) and be proud of yourself.

- Consolidation/reorganisation. If something isn't working for you, acknowledge this and fix or change it.  This can free up even more useful time and energy.  I am terrible at following this advice.  For example, I persist in taking the boy swimming on a Tuesday afternoon, even though he clearly doesn't enjoy it anymore, because that is what we do on a Tuesday afternoon.  I'm going to pluck up the courage and cancel it after this term.  Most companies wouldn't persist with a loss-making enterprise, so why should mums?

Anyway, I hope this advice helps somebody out there!  Embrace your inner Project Manager, but never be bullied by her! 

A big thanks to "Mum Turned Mom" blog for The Prompt.

<div align="center"><a href="" title="mumturnedmom"><img src="" alt="mumturnedmom" style="border:none;" /></a></div>

The Husband against the Slow Pork & Pineapple Ketchup

So the husband has been buying a lot of our meat from The East London Steak Company, for the past few years.  They have recently rebranded themselves as Turner & George, but the principles remain: well sourced, quality, freshly packed, interesting cuts of meat delivered to your door for a reasonable price.

They have recently reached 2000 twitter followers and to celebrate offered anyone who ordered some meat during a particular 24 hour period four free beef burgers and brioche buns.  Awesome - we were on the case!  The husband went ahead and ordered one of their package deals based on a particular recipe: a huge leg of pork, some special pork rub, and a recipe card for "mama's slow pork with pineapple ketchup".

[An aside: the burgers on the Friday night  were delicious!

On the Saturday morning, the husband decided to replace the overwhelming smell of beef burgers with an equally overwhelming smell of slow cooked pork.  The boy and he had prepared the pork and had it in the oven by the time I got out of bed at half past nine!

This is what it looked like after an intervening trip to Whole Foods Market (for corn bread and coleslaw) and a sunny walk around Hyde Park:
(We do love a good 'mop sauce' in our household! We watch a lot of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives)

A grand total of ten hours cooking time later, during which time we also prepared the pineapple ketchup, we were ready to serve:

Verdict: satisfying!  The meat was succulent and falling apart, and there was even crackling for those who wanted it.  The husband wasn't completely sure about the pineapple but I loved it.  

Luckily we had company, but we were still left with loads leftover.  Delicious pulled pork brioche buns for lunch today:

Friday 7 March 2014

The Good Enough Mums Club

So this morning as we left the local pub (a unique venue for toddler singing group!) this poster caught my eye...

A short while later, after some tense babysitting negotiations with the husband, there I was in the function room upstairs with my white wine spritzer  and keen for the "read through" of this new show to begin...

I had already met the writer, Emily Beecher, downstairs at the bar... She had written the piece, it turns out, following severe post natal mental illness.  I felt drawn to these ladies already!  And they were very interested when I told them of my new PANDAS support group.  Dare I use the word "synergy" in context here???

From the hilarious opening bars (exclamations ranging from joy to despair, holding pregnancy sticks aloft!) I was transfixed.  The five ladies were attending their mums and babies group in a church hall (briefly taking on the personas of their respective toddlers from time to time).  Esme was the new girl (on the verge of mental illness), Perfect Pam the annoying organiser and über Tiger Mum, Amy the loving mother of a terminally ill child.  We also had the mum of "Satan's Spawn", and single mum Flo who has found herself knocked up again.

The dialogue zips along, but the songs were simply outstanding - both the tunes, and the lyrics. 
"When Will I Ever Be Good Enough?" 
"What The F*** Is Up With Kid's TV? What else is a busy/tired/sick/hungover/stay-at-home/working mum supposed to do?"
"Am I the only one? Why didn't you warn me?"
"They're impressed... But I'm depressed"
"Who do you mother when there's nothing left at all?"
The outrageously funny "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Boobs"

... All leading to the beautiful final message:
"Remember no-one is more good enough than you".


I really do urge you all to check out the Facebook page, and look out for more from this amazing group.  The topic of the "perfect mother" comes up a lot in our regular PND twitter chats - this musical put it all into words, and song, and made me feel so grateful for the Good Enough Mum.