Saturday, 5 July 2014

More student parent need more help.

I haven't posted as much as I would have liked this week. I guess I was too ambitious to expect to be able to write everyday. With my 2 essays that I still haven't written (I really should!) and looking after Edward and enjoying the summer sun (it's so hot here and my legs are still so white!), the day just doesn't have enough hours in it!!

Anyway, my main reason for starting a blog, like I have said before, was because there isn't much for students on the internet when they find out they are expecting a baby. A baby is a big little 'thing'. Parents-to-be spend ages researching online, buying books, planning out expenses before their little one arrives. All of this material to help prepare for a baby to arrive is geared at parents who are working or on maternity leave. There is nothing for students.

It takes a long time to search to find out what you are entitled to financially and what education arrangements are allowed. It's a confusing and worrying time which is so pivotable to one's life - and their child and any others involved!!

It says in big bold red letters on the Norwegian Student Finance website: "If you are pregnant do not stop your education". Why is this not on our Student Finance website?! If I type in "Student Finance England student parents" to Google, this is what I get:
Any use of the word "parent" is in reference to the parent of the student. There is more information for the pushy over protective parents of 18/19 year olds than the students that could be parents!! None of these links give any help to students who are trying to research if they can stay in education. I must admit, each university does give their own form of advice. It is just one page long of generic information. I typed in "student parent Aberystwyth" (my own university) to see the results. The second result was suggesting WITHDRAWAL from my degree scheme. Just ?!?! I didn't find, from that search, an advice page for my own university. I haven't found one this year, if I remember back to when I was looking, I found one for staff, but not for students.

So I have come to the conclusion that a national organisation/charity/NGO is needed to support students. It is so important for the student that they continue their studies. I am by no means saying that they shouldn't drop out if they decide that they would rather look after their child. I am saying that these students need to make more informed choices. There needs to be a universal place, that students can access easily to help them along the way with their studies. This shouldn't be for just university, this should be for A Levels and GCSE's too. Obviously, I had my baby at university, so I do not know what is offered in those circumstances. But I do know that there is not a substantial, supportive and effective organisation to help. 

If students can continue their education whilst bringing up a child then young parents will no longer be the "problem" it is perceived to be today.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Breastfeeding: My Experience

To celebrate Edward turning 6 months old (today!!) I shall share my experience of breastfeeding with you. ALL of it. I've now breastfed him for half a year, he's starting the solids, but we're not done on the breastfeeding just yet. Breastfeeding is so important and so special, therefore I want to do the 'topic' properly. So make sure you are holding a cup of tea and sitting comfortably - it's a long read!

My story

Breastfeeding was never an active decision for me. I had always planned to breastfeed. I had originally hoped that Edward would be born and put onto my chest immediately so we could start feeding within minutes. However, I had a c-section due to him lying in a transverse position. This meant I didn't get to hold him for quite a while. Nevertheless, I got my skin-to-skin time and he started to feed. This was all quite a blur as I was quite drugged up.

Breastfeeding in Public

Breastfeeding at Edward's Christening
I felt nervous at first feeding in front of others, which I guess is only natural. But Edward needed food, and my desire to feed him was greater than my self consciousness. The first time I fed him in public went really well. We were in London when Edward was 6 days old. We went to Café Rouge in Charing Cross, sitting at a window seat with a view onto the street. My mum had got a lovely shawl especially for me for Christmas to cover up any skin (she gave one to my sister too). I made a rookie error, never to be made again, by ordering my food before I started to feed Edward. My food arrived just as Edward wanted his. And again, stupidly picking mussels, I couldn't eat them one handed! So I had to sit and much away at chips until his 40 minute feed was over before I could return to des moules tiède. Since then I've been very confident about feeding in public. I've fed: on a train, on a bus full of uni students, in a lecture, in a seminar, at a Liberal Democrat Conference, on a plane, in a shop, on a bench in town, in a restaurant, in a cafe, in a Church. We've done it everywhere!

I'm a strong believer of breastfeeding in public. I feel there is a stigma still associated with it, even though it is not like it is in the USA. In the 1990s, following being kicked out of a pub/restaurant for breastfeeding one of my siblings, my mum and her friends planned a "tit-out" (rather than a sit-in - get ithaha!). I'm not sure how true the last part of that is, as it was my grandfather who told me and I've yet to ask mum if it's true, but I do know that she wasn't allowed to feed in there. Luckily, I've never come across that, and rarely the prejudice comes from the owners or managers of places (as that would be breaking the law), the prejudice comes from social media, online abuse and photos taken, or of members of the public huffing and puffing about having to view such obscenities. I feel repetitive in saying that breastfeeding is so important - but I can't stress it enough. If we are trying to encourage people to breastfeed, we can't be saying "You need to breastfeed, but you can't do it there, or there, or there." I think society has a big role to play in this encouragement as well. We shouldn't just be campaigning for mothers to breastfeed, but also for the public to accept that mothers will breastfeed.

Breastfeeding and Infections

I found breastfeeding really difficult on my left side. From the start, the latch wasn't right. We always struggled on that side. When Edward was a month and a half, I noticed a lump. I went to the GP and I was referred to the Breast Clinic. The doctor I saw at the breast clinic did an ultra sound. There was a solid mass in my breast as I had felt. Round and huge. He started to look quite nervous and snapped at the nurses to get the biopsy kit ready. He extracted (painfully!) a yellow bloody mucus. Sorry for the TMI. The nurse looked at the doctor and said to him, "Phew, you can relax now!" I guess they were thinking the lump could have been worse. It was an abscess, which is a build up of infection. Sometimes it can be cured by antibiotics alone. In my case I needed it to be drained surgically every week and washed with antibiotics. I was also maxed out on oral antibiotics.

From 7lb 11oz (3.6kg)
This had a big effect on my breastfeeding. The surgeon advised me to express so that Edward's mouth would not get near the infection incision 'holes'. I expressed for a week, until the surgeon said that the breast tissue was so badly damage by the infection that if I wanted to stop expressing and feeding on that side, I could, as I might not ever be able to return to feeding even in future children. I ended up stopping a few days afterwards. There was a day or two of engorgement, but that was it - the expressing for a week had already slowed down the supply anyway.

That side is all better now. I've even been told I could return to feeding on that side if I want, however I have decided not to for several reasons. Firstly, it'd take a very long time to bring the supply back up to Edward's demand. Secondly, I'm quite nervous about it! Thirdly, Edward is weaning and I am reducing his milk on the other side now. And finally, I am content with feeding on one side now. It's perfectly fine to feed on one side - you don't get that confusing dilemma of trying to remember which side the baby fed from last! The down side is that I have boobs that are different in size by about 2 cup sizes!
To 18 lb 4 oz (8.3kg) 

Breastfeeding and My Body

Breastfeeding has given me confidence in my body, and taught me not to be ashamed of it. I used to be very self conscious of my body, especially as a teenager, to the point where I dabbled in an eating disorder. Things have now turned out completely. Lying on an operating table (my c-section) and having to regular get semi naked for doctors due to the infections, I am no longer worried about what my body looks like. Some people say breastfeeding makes them more self conscious about their bodies. In my opinion, how can you be anything but proud of what your body has achieved?

Breastfeeding and My Baby

Breastfeeding has been wonderful. Edward has thrived, yes even from only having one boob! He has consistently gained weight as well as a bottle fed baby. He is now 6 months old and he is one hell of a happy baby. He loves his milk. He loves his cuddles. Breastfeeding has made the bond between us extra special because I am the one he needs. For all the difficulties we have come across, I wouldn't do the last 6 months in any other way! He would be the bouncy baby boy he is, if I had.

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A small update as I started drafting this post a few days ago: Infections are back due to us reducing the amount Edward feeds because he is moving to solids. This means another course of antibiotics and having to up the feeding again slightly. This has not made me feel down, I just see it as comical the amount of time I somehow manage to get an infection of some sort! Anyone reading this, debating about breastfeeding, must remember that I am highly susceptible to infections and so they mustn't assume they will have them too!

Please leave a comment below if you have a question or just something to say about the things I've raise! 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Mums in Politics.

Yesterday you read about Edward's political activity, now you can read about mine!

There is a huge barrier to politics. It's like a semi-permeable net that only lets certain types of people through easily. The rest have to work very hard to get it. There is a reason why men out number women 4 to 1 in Parliament. The men can dedicate 100% of their time to campaigning and networking in order to get elected. I can't even feel like I should stand for President of the student branch of the Lib Dems at my university as the responsibility of baby, degree and a society is too big. You'll never get anywhere if you aren't on several committees, boards or positions. And you simply can't do that with a baby.

I'm all for the best person for the job, positive discrimination is inefficient. So how do you propose that a woman with a baby start up her political career as effectively as possible? I can't attend a committee meeting at 6pm, that is Edward's bath time. Too much of politics is scheduled in the evenings. Too much of politics is made for those who can spend 24/7 on what they are doing.

I bet there a quite a few people reading this, thinking "if you can't commit 100% to it then you shouldn't being doing it" or "those who commit 100% will do the deserve it better". But politics is about representing the society. Not about who is the best at doing everything. Maybe what the UK needs is a bit of artificial boosting to get the Parliament looking more natural.

There is even a problem with political events within the parties. To attend the York Conference in April, me and my partner spent about £600 across the whole weekend: hotel, train, food, baby things. That is a lot for a student to spend. It's even more for a student parent. God know if we'll be able to make Glasgow Conference as I imagine that'll be far more! Conferences need to be accessible. Especially for the young.

Only visiting - Out on the terrace at Parliament
Why should politicians talk of their desire to make politics more accessible when they won't do that with their own party conferences?

I would love to become an MP one day. I know another dozen or so young Lib Dems who would love it as well. The difference between me and them is that they have the time and the ability to do so. I have something they lack, an experience they don't, that lots of women have: a baby.

I haven't even mentioned the discrimination that mothers face once they finally get into Parliament. And don't get me started on Cathy Newman's article in the Telegraph in January this year!! What I will say, is: please can you do a great favour and sign the petition below. This is just one small way that politics can start to be more accessible to all. - Time to get the house in order - shake up PMQs

Friday, 27 June 2014

The Passport Hassle: From Zero to Two Passports.

It's been all over the news recently about the passport delays in the UK. Apparently there are 346,350 more passports being applied for this year than last, not to mention they have cut the workforce by 500 jobs. We were one of those effected.

We knew way before Edward was born that we would be going to Norway for the summer, but obviously you can't apply until the baby is born. We researched about which passport to get him as he has dual citizenship. We decided the British one would be less hassle as we could apply from home rather than having to go to London, and oh how wrong we were!

I collected the forms in February to fill in ourselves whilst we were in Aberystwyth studying for the term. I got stuck on two problems: we needed a photo and we didn't a counter signature. The first is a relatively minor problem, but second is a logistical hassle. At just a few weeks old taking a passport photo is rather difficult - you still need them to have their head looking in the correct way, and you can't have anyone in the picture with them. For babies that can't hold their head you normally do it lying down. So we resolved to get the photos done in the Easter holidays. All baby passport photos are best done by a professional photographer in a studio. You can get them done for as little as £6. We weren't hurried anyway because we couldn't get the counter signature whilst in Aberystwyth. Firstly you need to know the person for over two years. I had only been in Aberystwyth a year and a half. There was one person from back home who also attended the university whom I'd know years. However the counter signatory must be of 'significant standing within the community', so we guessed that ruled out students..

Therefore we couldn't send off the application until 22nd April when I was back for Easter at my parents. A friend of my mum's signed and we sent it immediately. 

I was told it would take about 3-4 weeks. I estimated we would be in Aberystwyth at that point. So I had the passport sent there. Only the passport never arrived and I rang up to find out why. Clever me had forgotten the birth certificate. I sent it ASAP as we had now booked the flights for the 7th June, at this point it was mid May. I then spent ages trying to contact the Durham Passport Office as it was them dealing with our application and I wanted it sped up. It took about a week before someone rang back. By that point we were back in Cambridge, moved out of our flat in Aberystwyth. We had one week to go before our flight and still no passport.

They then insisted we needed proof of change of address. Despite the fact I had lived there my whole life I needed to send a utility bill and a signed letter from my dad saying he is happy to receive the passport at his house. This was two days before flying before it was sent off. 

We realised we weren't going to get the passport in time and so switched paths. We headed to London to the Norwegian Embassy (Thank God for his dual citizenship!) to see if they could get him a travel document letting them into the country. They agreed and within two hours we had a travel document and also his own Norwegian Passport was in application guaranteed to arrive at Haakon's parents house in Norway in two weeks. No later.

We flew the next day. No problems - border control wise, the rest is another story!! 

Two weeks after going to the embassy we received his Norwegian Passport. You can see in these photos that Edward is loving his passport! Can you believe he went to two (three if count the difference between Wales and England) without a passport?!

NINE weeks after applying for the British passport we finally received the text you can see in the picture. Still no physical passport. I guess I shouldn't be counting my chickens before they hatch but we do have one passport now so we are safe.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Lib Dem Baby.

Our baby is a Lib Dem Baby. That means he is known to the Liberal Democrat community. He is often out campaigning with us, leafleting or canvasing. He features regularly in the newsletters and photos. He has met with the likes of Kirsty Williams, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable. He has attended Federal Conference and sat through the rally. He has proudly put up the orange diamond poster on the outside of his pram saying "Vote Liberal Democrat!" Our baby is a Lib Dem baby.

At the April 2014 Liberal Democrat Conference in York, we met Nick Clegg! It was definitely an experience to remember. He is very down to earth and so easy to talk to. 

We even got a selfie with him! Although I'm not sure that Edward was that impressed about it! Ceredigion's Mark Cole certainly was (look in the top right hand corner!!)

Edward slept through the rally (God knows how when it was so noisy!?!) and he sat quietly through Clegg's speech on Europe. He is such a good little boy! He sneezed in during the speech and a lady a few rows in front turned around to see who sneezed. Her mouth dropped open to see that it was a baby who sneezed. She couldn't believe he had been behind her for 30 minutes without a sound. "He's so cute!" she mouthed to me.

Here is Haakon and Edward making their way trough a phone banking list. Edward is clearly celebrating the confirmation of another voter pledging their support for us. Haakon can phone more people with a baby than most can without! 

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A baby is so portable. They aren't like a teenager who you have to drag to events and persuade them to act nice. You can just pick up a baby and take them anywhere and they won't question you. They don't get bored like a child would, they are easily amused. They don't run off and cause trouble like a toddler, they'll just stick with you. Babies are also a useful tool for networking - everyone wants to talk to them, and everyone remembers them afterwards. Babies and politics mix better than you'd think!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Student Finance IS SO CONFUSING.

Student Finance is the pain in the backside of every student's experience at university. It's what you dread most. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if someone has decided not to go to university on the simple basis that filling out the Student Finance application for loans is too confusing! So, as you can imagine, trying to apply for Student Finance WITH a baby, just makes it a whole lot harder! Wouldn't it be easier to apply before you had the baby?

I was going to write some advice for other student parents about Student Finance. However, putting pen to paper (fingers to laptop doesn't sound as good...), I have to admit, I don't know a thing. Well I do, but not enough to properly inform you. So I promise you, by September, I shall have that informative blog post.

In the meantime, what I can do, is rant about how mind-boggling-brain-draining-clench-fisting-ly confusing applying for Student Finance is. I honestly could not have done this without the help of Student Support at my university. If any of you know me personally then you'll know, I don't have a clue about these finances. Believe me, I'm trying. 

At this very moment I am trying to reapply for my student loan. (I swear my sister just needs to sign a letter and then it's done?) This involves going through loads of questions about your financial situation. I've completed it and apparently I don't get to apply for childcare grant - I'm not sure why, or what I've click wrong, as I know I am entitled to it. Thank God for Student Support (who, yes, work throughout the summer holidays). Fingers crossed I get my loans and my grants. I also have to send off my child benefit application which I only just sent off to them a few months ago to apply for last terms!

If I ever get the time I shall campaign for a simpler process to applying to loans. I must admit, in their new website, Student Finance is a bit simpler. But there is vast improvements to be made.

Have you had troubles with Student Finance? It doesn't have to be child related! Leave your experience below in the comment. 


Everyone from uni is buying vodka and unable to face reality and it's freaking me out!

I saw this article on the Tab: "Everyone form my home town is getting married or having kids and it's freaking me out." The writer, Roisin Lanigan, talks about how she is disturbed by the amount of people from her home town who are getting on with their lives. She admits her abhorrer of someone instagram-ing about breastmilk (I suppose breastfeeding in public is a problem for her as well?). And those who "are now engaged or up the duff" she labels them as "arseholes."

Obviously, I have a major problem with article. In fact, I have several.

Firstly, it's quite obvious the writer is very immature. She is embarrassed by 'having' to congratulate someone on their pregnancy (you know, you don't have to, if you don't want to!). Her life revolves around drinking (she mentions she buys bottles of vodka), and trying "to land work experience".

Lanigan thinks that by posting pictures of your birth scan (personally, I haven't done this, but if you want to, then it's fine right?) is inappropriate. But what happens if I say it's more inappropriate to make a Facebook status about how you much fun you had last night driving drunk? (It wasn't this writer, it was Facebook Friend that got deleted immediately). Do I hear jealously talking about "raking in the likes" from the scan photo? Maturity would be someone able to accept that another person's life is moving in a different direction, at a different pace. If people don't go to university, and decide to get married or have a child young, there isn't anything wrong with that.

This article, or more of a bitching session, snubs people's engagement rings - whether or not a ring is from Argos is none of her business - and posts pictures of people's newborn babies and scan photos. Did she even ask their permission? asks one commenter below the article.

It seems to me that Roisin is struggling to accept that after 3 years of studying partying, she is noticing that we aren't in secondary school anymore. Neither do we live in a Bridget Jones world where our mothers are trying to marry us off whenever we visit them.

University is growing up. For many, it takes the whole 3-4 years to notice that. But honey, you're in the real world now darling. You have to grow up like the rest did years before you.