An everyday story (or why we like the Cliff Richard fan club)

11 02 2012

This post is about the most everyday of all stories… but still it was a pretty big event in our book!  On 10th January our son Adam joined us, making a rather dramatic entrance to the world.  That was followed by a short stay in hospital for treatment for a chest infection.  I’m writing this to fill our family and friends in on how things went, share a few photos and to say some BIG thank yous… (apologies to all who come here to read about James’ cycling!  Normal service will be resumed shortly!).

From the outset we had stated our preference for a Home Birth, although with an open mind about transferring to hospital if needed.  Our midwife, smiley, supportive Anola from the Stratford Road Midwifery Team, was all for it from the start.  As the pregnancy progressed well we began chatting with friends who spoke positively (and realistically) about their experiences of giving birth at home.  They also offered us some great advice and support (as well as a birth pool!).

As the due date approached we went along to an excellent antenatal class at Birmingham Women’s Hospital as well as a ‘Birth Rehearsal Day’ with Cat Morgan who runs the Pregnancy Yoga classes I’d attended throughout the pregnancy.  These were great for helping us to understand what was ahead of us.  Being able to visualise and understand what was happening as the contractions hit, understanding how I could help the labour progress through movement and positioning as well as finding ways to cope with the pain through breathing were invaluable on the day.

My contractions began in earnest at 4am on the 10th January, and as recommended we rested up, tried to relax and kept track of the frequency and intensity of the contractions.  By mid-morning the TENS machine went on and the notes had evolved into James’ star-rating system – each wave being followed by ‘was that a two or a three?’ or ‘that looked like a two’.  Whereas others may have needed to resist the urge to strangle him at that point, I think we did a pretty good job of supporting each other, staying calm and making it a really positive shared experience.


At 6:30pm, with the contractions (eventually!) becoming more frequent and lasting longer, a midwife came out to us and stayed for an hour to check my progress and examine me.  The verdict wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for: over 15 hours in and only just entering ‘established’ labour.  I was advised to prepare for the long-haul – rest, stay hydrated, get some food and try a bath and a couple of paracetemol.  I could be looking at another 12 hours of labour.  We were to ring through to get another midwife out when contractions became more frequent.

So, into the bath I went, cursing the fact that our shallow bath barely touched the base of my huge belly.  Within half an hour of getting out my waters broke and everything sped up.  We decided to call a midwife out to us, but after 20 minutes of trying to ring through, James eventually spoke with someone who broke the news that there was no midwife available to come out to us.  They were, however, able to offer us a room on the midwife-led ‘Birth Centre’ at the Women’s Hospital and use of their birth pool.

James got our bags together and managed to catch our neighbour, Sandra, returning home to ask if she could drive us the 10 minute drive to hospital.  We piled into the car with me kneeling on the back seat, focusing on my ‘horse breaths’ (a way to concentrate on long exhalations which is really effective at focusing your mind and slowing your breathing – but yes, it looks as daft as it sounds!).  By now I had the distinct feeling that we weren’t far off meeting our littl’un, prompting the revelation to James and Sandra in the front of the car that ‘I think the baby wants to be born!’.

(Just a little tip here.  When you’re in the midst of an emergency in a vehicle and you need to get somewhere quickly, ask a driver, not a cyclist where to go.  You may find that you end up in front of the wrong hospital unable to cut through the where you need to go without needing to drive all the way back round or drive up the cycle path.  Alternatively live somewhere where the nearest hospital doesn’t have a daft one-way system and poor signage.)

We arrived at hospital at 10:20pm and were immediately admitted to the Birth Centre.  After several contractions the midwife, Harriet, checked to see how far dilated I was.  She was as surprised as we were when she looked and told us that the baby was already there and that I could push when I was ready!  So, after about five minutes of pushing and only 15 minutes after arriving at hospital our little warm, red and crying bundle arrived.  Our boy Adam.  All 7lb of him.

Not long after he arrived

Come the early hours Adam still wasn’t feeding, and later that night a ‘Pulse Ox’ test indicated that there was cause for concern and that further tests were needed on his heart and lungs.  We were transferred to the Neo-Natal Unit where Adam was put in an incubator to raise his temperature (for the first few hours), given oxygen and rigged up to monitors.  An x-ray revealed he had a chest infection, which can occur when there has been a quick delivery as the amniotic fluid can remain on the lungs.  He was prescribed five days of antibiotics, to be administered through a cannula in the back of his hand.  A heart scan also revealed two small holes in Adam’s heart which are common in babies, are not usually cause for concern and often heal by themselves over time (one has since healed, the other is likely to heal – we have another scan at the end of the month).

On the Neo-Natal Unit

I’m not sure what hormones saw me through the rest of the day, but I’m grateful for them.  It was tough to see our tiny little boy who we dearly wanted to take home and get to know inside an incubator, and even more difficult to drag ourselves away from him to eat.  But, within twelve hours of giving birth I needed to keep myself healthy too.  However, the staff on the ward were so calm, friendly and genuinely compassionate, and everything was explained so well that it really didn’t occur to us to worry.  It was just unfortunate that Adam was ill.

The next few days in hospital saw me spending each day sat on the Neo-Natal Unit chatting with nurses and marveling at the way in which they went about their work.  We were on the Grasshopper Ward, which the sign on the door informed me was sponsored by the Cliff Richard Fan Club!  Each night I went off to Ward 4, a post-natal ward, and tried to get some kip before a midwife appeared to let me know when I was needed to be with Adam.  Traipsing nightly through empty hospital corridors in the early hours in a nightgown to try and feed a lethargic, poorly child was not exactly my most glamorous moment, but with supportive staff and a tiny, beautiful, bright eyed boy to cuddle I wouldn’t have been anywhere else.

Getting well on the Neo-Natal Unit

On the Friday night Adam joined me on the post-natal ward (our first night together!) and on Saturday morning we transferred to the Transitional Care Unit where we could both be monitored and supported.  Without those few days of round the clock support we would never have managed to establish breastfeeding.  Gradually Adam took better and longer feeds, his colour returned to a healthy, rosy pink (he had a bit of jaundice) and his energy levels increased.  On Monday, after Adam had finished his course of antibiotics we were given the thumbs up to come home.

We're home!

Throughout our stay I was overwhelmed by the care and attention we received from nurses and midwives.  I certainly didn’t need any convincing of the value of NHS staff prior to our stay, but to be on the receiving end for the first time was a real eye-opener about how hard staff work round the clock with a gentleness and compassion which feels over and above what is required.  Thank you so much to any of you who may be reading this.

We’ve also been taken aback by the support, gifts and cards we’ve received from friends and family.  My little Blackberry was a real source of comfort in the early hours on the ward, when I could read the lovely comments from people on Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and text.  Don’t underestimate how much it meant.

A little over a month in and James and I are having a great time getting to know Adam, going on little adventures with him and spending hours staring into his bright eyes.  He’s now been introduced to scores of family members and friends.  As with everything else so far, he takes it all in his stride.  We’re just a little bit smitten…



A further Rachel achievement

30 12 2011

So it seems that every time I write on here about my sporty goals something comes along and throws me off course.  Back in July 2010 I got all excited about my running, only to limp through the rest of the year with a knee injury.  Then earlier this year I surpassed myself by listing a whole host of cycling and running targets I wanted to aim for, oblivious to the fact that nature had indeed run its course and the little cluster of cells growing inside me had other plans.  A little naive of me perhaps…

However, the year has involved plenty of walks, a spot of yoga and yes, even a little cycling in between debilitating nausea and battling to get some work done.  I’ve done a wee blogpost over on my work website listing some of the past year’s work highlights – a very strange feeling to sign off work after almost 7 years of full-time self-employment.  ‘Little Bean’ has traveled far and wide already taking in America’s Pacific North West, the Ligurian hills, Pembrokeshire, Lewes’ crazy bonfire celebrations, a couple of trips to London, a few visits to Kent and even a weekend away in sunny Manchester.  We’ve enjoyed the delights of Moseley Folk Festival, seen friends performing Shakespeare and Arthur Miller and experienced a laser light show on the side of the Coulee Dam.  And we’ve joined in demonstrations to protect public services (which we can’t praise highly enough!) and safeguard workers’ pensions.

So, not quite as action packed as I’d anticipated, but I like to think that the strong, eye-watering kicks I’m experiencing are an achievement in their own right.  So… predictions for future endurance events?  I’m not even going to go there…. 🙂

A few Rachel achievements

11 04 2011

All went quiet on here last July when it came to me blogging rides, walks and runs.  There was talk of a niggly knee then nothing.  Well, after numerous appointments and scans I’ve still not got to the bottom of what was wrong, but it seems that it’s nothing mechanical and it is now easing up.  So, I’ve been easing myself back in and getting back out and about in the Spring sunshine.  Here’s a few things I’ve been up to – more as a list to spur me on than anything else…

  • Over the past month I’ve been easing myself back into running, with a couple of runs each week leading to my first 5km run since last July.
  • I’ve logged my jogs at Daily Mile where I’ve been getting encouragement from friends. Cheers guys!
  • I’ve been out for a couple of rides with the Hopwood Ladies Cycling Club which has been great for meeting other cyclists. I’ve also used this as a reason to take a weekday out from work every so often – great for getting me to focus and manage my time better!
  • Last weekend James and I did a loop with our friend Simon which took in three fairly mean climbs in the Peak District.  Winnats Pass beat me I’m afraid, but the torrential downpour didn’t!  The route and my thoughts on it are up on my Daily Mile profile.
  • Yesterday I decided to borrow James’ Garmin (yes, yes, the one I was reluctant to let him buy) and do a loop round the Cotswolds while James was riding the HONC.  The 60km route took in a few lumpy bumpy bits, including Cleeve Hill outside Cheltenham.  What was great was that it was the longest ride I’ve done by myself so far.  Whilst I’m adamant about mapping routes on an actual map when driving, it is far easier following a GPS track when on the bike on country lanes.  I’m now feeling more confident about exploring by myself and planning my own rides.

I’m hoping that it won’t jinx me, but here are a few things I’m putting out there as possibilities…

  • Next weekend I’m hoping to do this Four White Horses 90km route out from Marlborough whilst James attempts some off-road action on The Ridgeway
  • I’m looking at doing an 100km Audax with the Hopwood Ladies sometime in May.
  • The Dunwich Dynamo is a possibility for the sheer challenge and slightly surreal element to it.  London to the Suffolk Coast.  120 miles with around 1,000 other riders.  Overnight.
  • I’m really taken with the new Sustrans route for the Way of the Roses route which runs Morecambe to Bridlington.  Partly because I get the chance to go to Lancaster where we both studied, and partly because it’s an amazing part of the world.  I’m hoping that we can do it as a tour sometime this summer.  Rolling across the Yorkshire Dales on a summer’s evening with the promise of beer at the end of the day surely can’t be bettered.
  • Running events may happen, but I’ve realised that running may not be my sport due to rubbish knees.  In the meantime a couple of 5km runs a week would be brilliant.

I reckon that lot should keep me out of trouble.  Offers of running / cycling partners are always welcome!

Race for Lives

15 03 2011

On Thursday 19th May, Rachel and her Mum will be walking the ‘Race for Life’ together in Cannon Hill Park.  This is a little blogpost with some backstory as to why it’s so important to us that you sponsor us by clicking the link…

In November 2007 my Mum was diagnosed as being in the advanced stages of Hodgkins Disease, a type of Lymphoma.  This came after months of tests to try and get to the bottom of her breathlessness, erratic blood pressure and itchy skin.  Whilst it was a huge relief to get a diagnosis after months of worry, the news wasn’t good.

Mum and Rach

Mum was admitted for emergency surgery at New Cross Hospital to remove a tumour the size of a flattened football which was pressing against her heart and lungs and had until that point gone undetected.  The operation involved removing a chunk of her lungs.  This was followed by six months of chemotherapy, which straddled our Wedding in May.  Not to be deterred by a small detail like cancer, we pressed ahead and planned the weekend as a family.  Five months into chemo, with her hair falling off in clumps and a Hickman Line coming out of her chest, Mum stood in front of our friends and family and spoke openly about her experience and how we’d pulled together as a family.  I couldn’t have been prouder of her or my incredibly supportive Dad.
Rach and parents
Unfortunately that initial round of chemo was not enough to see off the ‘Bastard Hodgkins’, and several more courses were given, one of which resulted in partial and permanent hearing loss; a real blow for someone who is a passionate music lover and musician.  By the end of 2008 Mum was experiencing increasingly poor health as the effects of so much chemo took their toll and it became clear that the chemo was not enough for such an aggressive disease.

In March 2009, Mum underwent a Stem Cell transplant at Heartlands Hospital.  This risky procedure involved taking what was hoped were her healthy, immature cells, and reintroducing them into her system after she had been given a massive dose of chemo.  We were warned that the chances of success were relatively low, and the chance that she would not survive the treatment was high.  What followed was a traumatic couple of weeks which I would wish on no-one.  With a virtually non-existent immune system and very little food, she was incredibly vulnerable and remained in isolation for some time.

That final assault on ‘Bastard Hodgkins’ plus some additional Radiotherapy in the Summer of 2009 has to date been successful.  Now Mum is regaining her quality of life, despite breathlessness and hearing loss.  This May she will be walking the ‘Race for Life’ in Cannon Hill Park to try and raise funds for Cancer Research, and I’m proud that she’s asked me to join her.

We’ll be doing the walk as a celebration of her being a survivor, as a chance for her to get her fitness back, and to raise funds to ensure that others receive the excellent care that she received AND better.  Our knowledge of cancer and the means of treating it is changing rapidly thanks to Cancer Research.  Had Mum been ill only ten years before then it is unlikely that she would have survived.

To date, just over a week after signing up she’s raised 110% of her target, a real testament as to how supportive and loving friends and family are.  Let’s see how much we can raise altogether.  Please consider parting with some money for what I think is a great cause by going to: where you can also keep track of her progress!

A message to Chris

26 07 2010

Way back at the start of Spring, I was given a bag full of beans for the garden by Chris, James’ Mum’s husband and a real wind-up merchant.  When I asked his advice as to how they should be planted he made it clear that I made sure I planted them the correct way up.  If I planted them upside down then obviously the plants would grow down instead of up.  So Chris, I just wanted to check that I got it right…?


A weekend in Brum

26 07 2010

Just in case anyone has missed it, James has been away this weekend on a bit of a cycling jaunt around some hills in Wales.  So, rather than the cycling widow staying at home and polishing his remaining bikes I decided to plot a weekend of activities close to home.  Now, I can get a bit evangelical about Birmingham’s cultural offerings, but I do think that the snapshot of activities I went along to is pretty fantastic.

On Friday I pedaled up the hill to Edgbaston to watch Orgasm Inc. – a rather frightening look at how drugs companies are medicalising even the most intimate aspects of our lives and then selling us ‘cures’.  The film was borrowed by my friend Aldo from the Just Film Co-op, who are committed to screening thought provoking films on a monthly basis.  If this offering was anything to go by it’s well worth going along to other screenings.

Friday night and Saturday morning were spent in the company of Julie, our housemate and friend Jenny, who were practicing a song that they were performing at a wedding party.  I tentatively picked up the guitar as well, and even dusted off my cello to have a play.  It’s not often that I have the opportunity to play music with others, so I’m now feeling incredibly enthused, though I’m not entirely sure whether the neighbours are…

I headed into town to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in the afternoon.  I got a little way-laid looking at The Staffordshire Hoard, the stash of Anglo Saxon treasure discovered just up the road from my parents’ last year.  I’m happy to say that funds have been secured to keep the collection in the Midlands, and it will be on display for at least the next year or so.

I then ventured down into the Community Gallery to browse through the Connected Histories Exhibition.  As with a project that I have just completed for the Lichfield Festival, community artists Sima Gonsai and Vanley Burke have worked with young people from around the Midlands to offer them an alternative insight into the Second World War.  Both artists have a real commitment to documenting the social and political history of local communities, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with Sima on a number of occasions.  The exhibition looks specifically at the contribution of Muslims during the Second World War, offering a fresh perspective on what one young person thought was ‘a white man’s war, because that’s what you’re taught in school’.  It acknowledges the role of the 600,000 Muslims within the Indian military who fought for Allied Forces, and focuses on some remarkable individuals, including Noor Inayat Khan who I confess I had never heard of before.  An absolute must to see, it’s on until October.

I had to return the following day as I almost managed to get locked in the Museum I was that absorbed in the exhibition.  I think that Birmingham has made a real coup with the exhibition of the Steve McCurry retrospective in the Waterhall Gallery.  He is the photographer responsible for the National Geographic image of the Afghan Girl, the image taken in 1986 which gave a face to the horrendous conflict raging there (and which, tragically, 25 years later we still think we can solve through force).

I don’t think that it’s any exaggeration to say that any one of the scores of images around the gallery would be capable of breaking your heart.  McCorry’s images are so vivid and colourful, showing stunning landscapes and the universality of our humanity.  But there is a real sadness to the portraits.  As with the image of the Afghan Girl, Sharbat Gula, the eyes tell stories of lives ravaged by war and poverty.  I’ll definitely be returning to take it in.

As a bit of light relief I went to the IKON to see some of the stuff they’re doing looking back at the IKON in the 70’s.  By far my favourite piece was ‘A Stitch in Time’, a chance to add your stitches to the large piece of fabric in the middle of the room.  Many people had sewn tickets and photos and messages into the piece, whereas others had taken a lot of time to produce detailed pictures.  I added my own bit of postmodern cross stitch… 🙂

A stitch in time

In amongst all of that I ate free curry from the Hare Krishnas holding a Chariot Festival in Victoria Square, saw the slightly harrowing, but nevertheless excellent, ‘London River’ at the mac, eavesdropped on a nocturnal bat and moth walk in Cannon Hill Park being run by Brum Bats, popped my head into ‘Seeing the Unseen’ at the Pallasades, and even managed a bit of gardening.  I wrapped up the weekend by picking up a weary but smiley husband from the middle of the Shropshire countryside.  But I’m sure he’ll be telling you all about that… 🙂

So, if you are planning a ‘Staycation’ this summer, or are thinking of popping to Brum, hopefully this has whet your appetite.  We may even be able to open up the Eastwood Road hotel!

What is this flower?

21 07 2010

Whilst James is planning his 1,000km bike trip around Wales, I’m setting my sites closer to home.  Partly because I’m still hobbling around, with what I think may be Jumper’s Knee.  Or maybe my body just plotting against me.

So, I sowed a whole load of wildflower seeds last year and they’re really taken off.  A number of plants which initially looked like cabbages have grown up, branched out and now have these small stunning blue flowers which appeared a couple of weeks ago.  The plants themselves are knocking on six foot tall.  Anyone know what this beast is?

Blue wildflower

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