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.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Reasons why having a baby won't stop your education.

Having a baby doesn't mean your life has to end. You can still carry on your education. It means even more now you have someone to provide for. Here are some reasons why you can still study your degree and be a parent.

1. You can manage time between baby and uni.

Studying with a baby isn't rocket science, as I have said before. You have the time, especially if you have few contact hours at university. There is an average of 13.9 hrs of contact time a week at university. I have 9 hrs, 3 of which are compulsory. More and more, now, lecturers are putting their lectures online. Anything from notes to power points and audio recordings can be available - and if they aren't - ASK! Like this, if you can't make a lecture, you can go over it in your own time.
With only 9 hours a week, I was leaving my baby only for an hour or two a day. Never more. I asked for my timetable to be readjusted to suit me, this meant changing a module but it was better than leaving a 4 week old baby for 3 hours!

2. You will get better at attending lectures.

Think about all the times you missed a 9am lecture because you were too hungover. With a baby you will be attending that lecture as you'll have been up since 6am changing nappies! You'll understand the importance of attending everything. I have not skipped anything since Edward was born, compared to regularly skipping lectures in 1st year. Your degree means more to you.

3. You won't be taking a career break like most women do when they have a child.

If you have a child at 30, you'll most likely be in a stable job, married with a husband who has a good job as well. It's tempting to extend your maternity leave, staying at home being a housewife. Before you know it, you'll be far behind of where you potentially be in your career. Having a child at uni means you'll finish your degree the same time as your classmates, get a job and progress just like any of them.

4. You get to be a young mum.

There are so many benefits of being a young mum. Countless. You have so much more energy. You will get to spend more time with your child. You might be seen as a "cool mum". You will probably be one of the first of your friends to have a baby, so you get to be the wise advice giver when your friend follow suite. 

5. You get to take your baby to lectures.

Many lecturers, as long as you ask first, will allow a quiet child into the lecture rooms. You can even hear Edward babbling in some of the lecture audios online, with the lecturer replying to him! ("At least someone agrees with my point!" he said.) In seminars, everyone loves to sit next to you so they can have a play with a baby.

6. You will have numerous amounts of support.

Support will come from you from all angles. From your parents wanting to see their grandchild as much as possible (take advantage of this! How many times does a uni student's mum travel 5 hours to do their laundry for them?!), to your friends wanting to babysit. Not to mention your university will (and if it's not, it's breaking the law) 100% behind you. You can apply for a bigger student loan, be given grants from Student Finance and bursaries exist from your university as well. 

Do you have a reason to add to the list? Comment below and I plan to make a page full of reasons!


Sunday, 22 June 2014

University With A Baby: My Story So Far

Hey, my name is Alice and I'm starting a blog because I've been googling and googling in search for a blog with the same experiences as me. I have found nada. There is no one, or so I believe, (please tell me if you have a blog like me!!) that is documenting their experiences of being a young full time mum, whilst being at university. There are lots of women out there that study courses whilst being a mum, but I'm not too sure of how many have done it the way I did it. Maybe my way was harder. Although, I, personally, think what I did was the easiest option I had. I hope this blog can provide support to others who might be in a similar situation to me. So, I thought, by starting this blog, other student parents can learn and grown confidence in themselves. This is not rocket science we're talking about.


I found out I was pregnant in May 2013. I was just about to finish my first year of university - studying International Politics. Me and my Norwegian boyfriend, Haakon, (also a student) had been dating only 7 months.We were absolutely thrilled but our emotions were mixed with the daunting prospect that we had to tell people. Having a baby young isn't a taboo but it does cause a stir. Without a doubt we have caused a stir at uni. Also, we hadn't been dating long. For us, we felt like we knew each other a lifetime by then; I had pretty much been living with him since we met! So, it wasn't a concern either.

At 6 weeks pregnant, exams started, and so did the morning sickness. In fact, I had hyperemesis gravidarum and was admitted to hospital so I could have a drip. I missed an exam or two, but I was in contact with the university. A note from the GP was all I needed to be excused from the exams.

So that was drama No1. Drama No2 was telling our family. But that turned out not to be a drama at all. Everyone was supportive, and excited. We have only encountered a handful of people who don't believe raising a baby whilst studying a university degree is a good idea. Whether that's because the baby will be neglected, or the degree. Either way, the people are wrong, their views are outdated. 

Me and my partner had the summer to relax work. We wanted to earn as much as possible now our expenses would go up. (I'm going to write about finances in another post, so stay tuned for it) At first I was apprehensive about starting again in September, 5 months pregnant, with a bump. University with a bump is fine. Don't let people tell you it's weird. I didn't notice people looking, they were probably too busy with their own drama to notice. In fact, when talking to a lecturer in December (8 months pregnant) about how I was going to miss the exams, he hadn't even noticed all term! No one in seminars asked me about it, apart from my friends. Everyone was supportive.

Writing essays and going to lectures with feet in your ribs is rather trying. I was uncomfortable the WHOLE time. My motivation to finish my essays was that in January (my due date), it was going to be 10x harder (it wasn't actually that much harder than pregnancy). Odd motivation, but there we go, it got me through. 

Throughout the term I was in regular contact with the Academic Administrator within my department of studies. She was very helpful and we laid out a plan: I would do the January exams in essay format ("in lieu of exam") during the summer holidays 2014. I would return in January/February with a new baby to start lectures. In reality, I had no maternity leave even though it was offered.

The first semester

My baby Edward was born 31st December 2013. I had him at home in Cambridgeshire at return to Wales when he was 18 days old. Studying with a baby would be made easier if you decided to bottle feed and put your baby in nursery. I decided that we wouldn't put him in nursery and that I would breastfeed exclusively. Breastfeeding exclusively is amazing and it shall be a blog post in itself at some point. It made leaving him harder, and it took some getting use to it. I had 6 hours a week of lectures and 3 of seminars. It wasn't much contact time so it was completely doable. Me and Haakon would look after him alternatively, whoever didn't have a lecture would have him.

My first lecture was nerve wracking. I had left a 4 week old baby at home with his pappa. I was back within 2 hours of leaving him and all was fine. We got better at it, and sometimes Edward would join us to come to lectures. By the age of 3 months, we were sitting him on our lap, putting the teletubbies on mute for him, and continuing to make notes on our lecture. He joined me for seminars and was the most popular student there - everyone wanted to sit next to him. I must admit, I do have an angel baby, he doesn't cry (although if he did, I would leave immediately). As long as I asked the day before, lecturers were more than happy for him to attend - only one didn't seem keen on the idea and so I made sure he never went to that lecture.

A 5 week old Edward 'reading' for my seminar prep.
Essays were the hardest part. I had four essays to write, a total of 7500 words. Gone were the days when I could sit up all night, eating junk food, and produce a 3000 word essay in a matter of 12 hours. Essays took weeks to write. I had to escape to the library to work as I would have no peace when I could hear Edward at home. Again, I was in constant contact with the Academic Administrator who sorted out special circumstances for me. I handed in 1 essay on time. The others were all late; a week at least, a month at most. 

Finally, to end my term, I had exams. I had three 2 and a half hour exams. It was arranged that whoever was babysitting could send a text to my phone, which the invigilator had, saying that Edward needed feeding. Then we would all meet in a private room, the clock stopped, and I could feed Edward under supervision. We never had to do this as I fed him up beforehand.


So this is where I am now. Enjoying my summer holidays.  Stressing about my two 3000 word essays that need to be written and how on earth to wean Edward enough so he can start nursery in September.
I wouldn't change my situation for the world. I've got a wonderful, supportive and dedicated boyfriend and a fantastic little boy. I am also studying a degree I love and doing well at it.

Please, please leave a comment, ask any questions you might have or if you have an idea on what I should write about next. Alternatively you could tweet me: @aliceparker0101