Hello Elsie, Hello Motherhood

if one more person tells me to “sleep when the baby sleeps”…
The Cardiff Cwtch

Where do I even start? Because, while there’s been metaphorical tumbleweed blowing across this part of the internet for a good couple of months now I can promise you that it’s been anything but quiet offline. Babies, man. Turns out they screech like hungry pterodactyls – or maybe that’s just the one I made. It’s been two months of late nights and early mornings (I now know the entire late night schedule of ITV2 and Channel 4). Two months of googling “is green baby poop normal?” – among other things; my targeted ads have gone from “pamper yourself with this luxury skincare” to, well, Pampers. Two months of raging internally every time someone tells me to “sleep when the baby sleeps” (because seriously, when does that ever happen?). Two months of tears (from me more than the baby) and laughter. Two whole months of our little Elsie.

It’s been… an education.

A couple of years ago I couldn’t think of anything worse than reading (mostly horror) stories about childbirth online, and yet in the weeks before my due date I couldn’t seem to get enough of them. I’m not sure whether I was hoping to clue myself in or freak myself out to such an extent that I was ready for anything. But, as I’d suspected all along, you can read every hypnobirthing book on the shelf and positive affirmation on the wall of the delivery room that you want but all that “breathe baby down” bollocks goes completely south along with your waters when said baby decides to make their grand entrance. That being said, it was awesome – and I genuinely loved every second.

This story actually begins last Christmas. You see, every year I buy my Mum a copy of Old Moore’s Almanac. If you’ve never heard of it it’s basically a small book full of predictions for the year ahead, from lottery numbers to which star sign can expect a bit of tall, dark and handsome to walk into their lives. It’s just a bit of hocus pocus, but my Mum looks forward to devouring her copy every year. Anyway, at some point last January during said devouring – long before social distancing and loo roll shortages, and long before I even fell pregnant in early March – my Mum took a pen and scribbled “Baby?” on the page of predictions for December 2nd 2020. She went a bit pale when, a few months later, I announced that I was baking a nine month bun and the oven timer was set for November the 29th. We laughed and shrugged it off, “But wouldn’t it be funny if that was her birth date?”

Six months later, I polished off my due date with a massive roast. I’d eaten plenty of spicy food and gone on a couple of long walks with Sunny and Bungle that weekend, hoping to get things moving – but nothing seemed to be happening. Then, in the early hours of the following morning I had what I assumed was some wicked indigestion following an overindulgent Sunday Roast. By breakfast it was clear that I was in early labour. Sunny wrapped up work and started his paternity leave and when my contractions started coming thick and fast not long after, we dropped Bungle off with our lovely neighbours and hightailed it to the hospital (after I’d painted my nails and put on some makeup for some inexplicable reason). Sunny waited in the car (Covid) while I waddled into the MLU to be checked only to emerge twenty minutes later looking very worried.

I was only at 1cm and I was already struggling with the pain. I freaked out. How bad was it going to be by the time I reached 4cm and was actually in active labour? How bad was it going to be at 10cm?! We picked up Bungle and went home realising that I could be labouring at home for days at this rate.

That night Sunny slept on the sofa (a little preview of our first couple of months as parents) whilst I tried to sleep upstairs in bed. But it was impossible with contractions coming in at every 3 minutes and lasting for an excruciating minute. And yet, when we rocked up at the MLU the following morning, unbelievably I’d only progressed half a centimetre and was sent home again to “have a warm bath” and “shoot a couple of paracetamol”. I ended up heading back there by the end of the afternoon – still in pain, still only a couple of measly centimetres. The midwives sighed and offered to give me a shot of pethidine to cope with the pain, but I declined. Clearly I was being a bigger baby than the one kicking me in the ribs; I needed to (wo)man up and wait it out.

I went home and had a bath, took a couple of paracetamol and – with a loaned TENS machine from our other lovely neighbours across the road – I hunkered down on the sofa and tried to brave the pain while Sunny took a turn in the bed. But later that night – as December the 1st ticked over into December the 2nd – I’d cranked the TENS machine up to its highest level and the pain was getting much, much worse. “This isn’t normal” I kept saying to myself as I crawled up the stairs to wake Sunny to drive me yet again to the hospital – and this time, the lovely midwife at the MLU agreed with me. Even though I was bizarrely still only 2cm, I’d given it a good crack but was becoming exhausted. The gas and air came out and Sunny was called in – I was being sent up to Obstetrics for an epidural.

By the time we got there and the epidural was put in (they are amazing things, just saying), we got some answers. The baby and I were back to back; the constant and intense contractions I was feeling was my body desperately trying to turn her into a better position. I wasn’t being a wimp after all – backed by the raised eyebrows of the midwife who peeled off the TENS machine and noticed that it was cranked right up to the highest setting and stuck permanently on “boost”. As the epidural got to work I managed to get some sleep and we waited baby out for a while, but when by the late morning it seemed that things had stalled I was hooked me up to a hormone drip to “move things along”. I slowly cranked up to 9cm throughout the day but by late afternoon – as I prepared for a fourth night in labour – the lead doctor on duty suddenly became very interested in the screen monitoring the baby’s heartbeat. After several visits, she decided that it had been raised for too long and that’s when the scary cesarean consent forms were flopped out in front of me.

I was gutted. What, I’d been at this for three days, made it all the way to 9cm and I wasn’t going to be allowed to give the grand finale a go? That sucked. But, as they unhooked the machine and pulled the rails up on the bed, the doctor promised that if I’d reached 10cm by the time I was in theatre then they could hold the cesarean and give suction and forceps a go – which is exactly what happened. “Either way”, she said as we rolled up to theatre, “this baby is coming tonight!” Sunny and I looked at each other; turns out my Mum’s spooky prediction had been spot on.

The moments before Elsie arrived are an intense blur. Weirdly, I don’t remember much up until the moment she was lifted over the screen and plonked onto my chest – from that moment on, I remember everything. I remember laughing at her little chin – an identical copy of my own dimpled chin. I remember rolling my eyes and wondering why on earth I’d decided to throw on my favourite white t shirt to give birth in (so dumb!), but at the same time not caring at all. I remember that amazing post birth cup of tea and slice of toast in the recovery room. I remember saying goodbye to Sunny – he’d managed to be with me all the way through labour but because of Covid he wasn’t allowed to stay. And I remember waking up the next morning alone in a dark hospital room, and rolling over to find that I wasn’t so alone after all.

The fourth trimester is a whole other story – it’s true when they say that it’s both the best and the worst of all the trimesters. Post-partum recovery especially has been by far the worst part of pregnancy, and no one really prepares you for it or talk about it. But, that’s one for another blog post, once I’ve made it through. Aside from that, it’s been an amazing two months of being stuck under a sleeping baby – and totally worth every second of pain. Given the pain that it took for her to arrive (and I’m not just talking about the labour), it’s kind of surreal that she’s actually here, that she’s actually ours. A lot of the time it feels like I’m babysitting someone else’s baby and just waiting for them to turn up on the doorstep and pick her up (and raise their eyebrows at what a horrible job I did of looking after their kid). She’s beautiful and incredible and I can’t believe I get to keep her and call myself her mum.

Oh, and I bought my Mum Old Moore’s Almanac for 2021, but she’s under strict instructions to only predict the winning Euromillions numbers from now on. 😉

Pregnancy during a Pandemic: How New and Expectant Parents are being Left Behind

Pubs are back open, #ButNotMaternity
Pregnancy in a Pandemic: How New and Expectant Parents are being Left Behind - #ButNotMaternity - The Cardiff Cwtch

“Nervous?” I ask my husband as he steers our car off the A470 and makes the turn towards Nelson.

He frowns into the rear-view mirror.  “…I’m having some serious concerns about her nose.”

I take a breath and catch my own reflection in the passenger side mirror. I wrinkle my own nose – the nose that’s made me cringe at every side profile photograph ever taken of me since my teens.  “…Yeah. Between yours and mine, she’s screwed.

We’ve driven half an hour to see the tiny, terrible schnoz we’ve joked about for years – ever since Sunny and I first got together and wondered quietly what a much smaller version of the two of us would look like. The drive’s been relatively quick but the journey’s been much, much longer; I definitely didn’t expect to go through two miscarriages along the way, and I definitely didn’t expect the one that stuck to happen in the middle of a global pandemic. Since piddling on that stick back in March – on one of those final days of blissfully ignorant freedom before the whole world locked down – it’s been a strange, frustrating and lonely few months to be pregnant. So far I’ve attended all my NHS scans and check ups alone – from the terrifying 12 week scan that brought back painful memories of last year’s empty, silent screen, to the 20 week anomaly scan, where I fizzled with excitement alone when I found out I was having a girl. Of course Sunny came to every single appointment and scan but he had to wait outside with all the other hopeful soon to be dads in their cars at the curb, nervously shuffling their feet waiting for updates via Whatsapp – good or bad. Now I’m 28 weeks, and the only way Sunny can actually see his baby before she arrives is to fork out for a private scan – a luxury not every couple can afford.

And there are so, so many out there just like us. It’s only now, 6 months after the Covid-19 Pandemic interrupted all our lives that the struggle new parents have been through during this time are being reported in the media, with questions finally being raised at PMQs, and NHS Trusts beginning to consider relaxing the strict rules that were slapped on antenatal and maternity services way back in March. Rules that have forced women to attend important screenings, scans and appointments alone. Rules that have relegated important face to face appointments to phone calls. Rules that have suspended longed for IVF cycles. Rules that have left women to be induced, prepped for caesarians and labouring in hospital all alone – separated from their support network and chosen birthing partner until they reach established labour. Rules that have kept parents away from their newborn babies during those precious first few days – treating partners as the lesser parent. Rules that have seen vital postnatal services and health visits vanish into thin air.

Pregnancy in a Pandemic: How New and Expectant Parents are being Left Behind - #ButNotMaternity - The Cardiff Cwtch - Cardiff Bloggers

Worse still, it’s because of these rules that some women have been forced to go through the anguish of miscarriages and still births completely on their own. I remember my own miscarriages in vivid detail – the long and painful wait in A&E the first time clutching my belly in one hand and my husband’s in the other, and the weird crack in the ceiling of the scanning room I chose to stare at as I went through a third uncomfortable internal scan to confirm my second. The thought of having to go through all those moments without Sunny by my side holding me together when I was ready to crumble and listening to the important advice and instructions on medicinal management when I simply couldn’t is difficult to imagine, and yet so many women have been forced to do just exactly that over this strange and surreal summer.

Rules are easing, but sadly it’s an inconsistent story across the country as it’s down to individual NHS Trusts to decide how they manage their Covid Restrictions. So, while a new Mum in Bristol might have to labour in full PPE while her partner waits outside in the car, her counterpart over the bridge in Newport may find that she’s actually able to hold her partner’s hand from that very first contraction right through to the last. And that’s all without considering the threat of a second wave taking us straight back to where we started (in fact, not five days after my private scan up in Nelson, Caerphilly became the first county in Wales to go back into Lockdown). It’s utterly baffling that while we’re being encouraged to eat out in pubs and restaurants alongside total strangers, a couple from the same household can’t be together during some of the most terrifying and challenging moments of their life together. When I’m asked in the next few weeks where I’d like to give birth, I’m seriously considering putting “Local Pub” down on my birth plan with a request for an ice cold lager shandy and curry half and half on standby for when I finally pop. At least my husband would actually stand a chance of being there, and I reckon that pint would go down a treat.

In the scanning room up in Nelson, our daughter’s nose finally appears on screen. It’s absolutely massive, but lovely all the same; it’s ours. And even though I know Sunny’s laughing just like I am, I don’t get to see it because of the mask he’s been forced to wear. As moments go, I’ll take it – even though the truth is that I’ve been dying to watch his reaction to seeing his daughter for the first time for months, years even. And while I’ve been really lucky so far compared to most – during a time where people have lost so much – for me and for many other mums to be it’s the loss of those first special moments that are going to stick in my throat, as well as the thought of what other less fortunate parents to be are going through – the loss of an experience shared for better or worse.

Head to ButNotMaternity.org to find out more on how you can help get NHS Trusts to update their rules and allow partners to attend scans, appointments and births, and tweet your own experiences of pregnancy and birth during Covid using #ButNotMaternity. If you’re in Wales, sign the Senedd Petition here.

Pregnancy after Loss: Third Time Lucky?

On being pregnant again after two miscarriages

“Just so you know, I’ve only had miscarriages so far, so my expectations are pretty low,” I say to the sonographer as I unbutton my jeans and slide onto the bed. It’s the peak of the CoVid19 Pandemic and she’s wearing a mask, and while I can’t see a sympathetic look I can definitely hear one in her voice as she gels my belly and kindly suggests I look away from the screen for just a moment while “we have a look and see what’s going on in there.”

Probably not a lot, I reply in my head.

I’m cynical and pessimistic by nature, but after two miscarriages my expectations aren’t just low, they’re practically non existent. I’ve become so cynical in fact that the two days leading up to the scan have been spent cleaning the house from top to bottom and planning quick and easy meals for the rest of the week, convinced that I’m going to be spending the rest of it in bed, because yikes, is there anything worse than miscarrying in a messy house with dog floof all over the floor and anything more complicated than beans on toast on the menu? I’ve planned out my miscarriage with military precision; I even get my husband Sunny to pick up a massive pack of sanitary pads when he pops to Costco to bulk buy baked beans , bog roll and cider. When I leave for the hospital I find the clean floors and lack of clothes slurping out the side of the washing basket oddly reassuring – at least that’s one thing I can actually control in this crazy situation – one where feeling overwhelmingly helpless is the norm. Plus, I don’t want Sunny to have to worry about any of that stuff – he’ll be in for a tough few days too. Men might not go through the same physical struggle when it comes to miscarriage, but the emotional struggle’s much the same – and in some way, worse.

My first miscarriage happened back in the summer of 2018 after what can best be described as a honeymoon pregnancy. After a long weekend with my in-laws where I’d felt more knackered than I usually did hosting, I missed my period and was so excited to take a test that I did it at four in the bloody morning. Giddy at seeing those two blue lines, Sunny and I ended up taking Bungle around the block for a dawn walk – talking vividly about what colour we wanted to paint the spare room that would finally have a purpose other than for piles of ironing, what names we liked and what life was going to be like in eight months time when we suddenly had what everyone has eight months after peeing on that plastic stick, right? A baby. So blissfully convinced were we that we actually stocked up on eight months worth of Pregnacare right off the bat and even cancelled a looming dream holiday to the Far East because of the threat of Zika. So I was shocked and completely caught off guard then when suddenly, I started bleeding two weeks later – so shocked in fact that I didn’t really process it all until months later (and you better believe that I’m pissed off to this day that my uterus is still somehow ruining holidays just like it did with badly timed periods when I was a teenager – typical).

I’d known what miscarriages were of course, I just didn’t imagine for a split second that I’d ever have one myself. Weren’t they really rare? And aren’t we taught growing up that if you have sex when you’re ovulating then – whoops! – you’ll get pregnant and – bam! – have a baby? No one bothered to mention that as many as one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage. One in five. With most occurring during the first trimester – before the world even knows that you’re pregnant. Because of that, they tend to happen silently and behind closed doors. Even worse, they usually happen for no obvious reason whatsoever. A string of doctors and nurses at the time told me that, “It’s just bad luck” , that “It just happens sometimes, we don’t know why”, but “don’t worry, you’re young; you’ve got plenty of time”, and “you’ll be fine! Most women go on to have a happy, healthy baby next time”. (“Next time”; exactly the words you want to hear slap bang in the middle of a miscarriage.) All well meaning of course, but wildly unhelpful – because when you’re left without anything or anyone obvious to lay blame at other than plain old “bad luck” you go hunting for something or someone else to lay the finger of blame at – and when you come up empty then inevitably that finger ends up pointing inwards. I immediately blamed myself; I must have done something wrong. There was no other way of explaining it. Maybe I’d worked too hard, or drank too much tea, or used some random skin product pumped with chemicals… or maybe there was just something fundamentally wrong with me. It took months for me to accept and to recognize that it wasn’t anything I’d done, and even longer for me to want to try again.

Almost a year to the day later, I had another positive test. This time there weren’t any early morning walks or discussions about names, just nervous looks, shrugged shoulders and a collective “Well, let’s just wait and see”. For a little reassurance, we booked an early private scan and were surprised and excited when – although it was way too early to detect a heartbeat – there looked like there were not one but two eggs developing. Twins! Despite being told we’d have to come back in two weeks to confirm a heartbeat, Sunny and I went away feeling like we’d clacked all the way up to the highest point of a rollercoaster and were about to breeze down the other side. Phew!

But that’s the thing about miscarriages, they really are a rollercoaster – lots of breathtaking highs followed by stomach lurching lows. Two weeks later the scan confirmed that nothing had developed; I was experiencing something called a “missed” miscarriage, where the embryo had stopped developing but my body hadn’t quite clued in to what was happening yet. I had to wait another month before I actually miscarried – a month of phantom pregnancy symptoms and trips back and forth to the EPU at our local hospital to reconfirm what we already knew (side note: in The Heath EPU waiting room there’s a completely horrendous bit of waiting room art that Sunny and I titled “Tulips in Hell” and had us laughing through all those long waits in between scans – because laughter really is the best medicine in my book). Instead of a happy 12 week scan snap I took home a DIY at home miscarriage kit and spent the next few days in and out of a towel-lined bed with Bungle curled up beside me (at least I still had my fur baby). Again, I blamed myself. What the hell did I do wrong this time? I’d been so careful. And so I decided that there must be something wrong with me. One miscarriage could be put down to bad luck, but two? That was a pattern in the making.

I watched other pregnancies happening and seemingly perfect flat pack families popping up all around me with utter bewilderment; why was it as easy for them as heading to IKEA and whipping up a Billy Bookcase in the space of an hour, while for me – for us – it was impossible? The thing is that it’s not just the immediate loss that hurts with a miscarriage, it’s the loss of what could have been – and that echoes long after the actual event. You grieve for the future you were planning that was within arms length, now suddenly taken away, and – even though it’s no one’s fault – you’re constantly reminded of that on a daily basis, surrounded by it. It slaps you in the face when you’re least expecting it – a character in your favourite TV show falls pregnant, someone you follow on social media posts a scan snap or pregnancy announcement… or some absolute bellend asks you if you’re ever planning on having kids (can we just agree right now that that’s NEVER an okay question to ask someone???). It’s a difficult subject to bring up in a conversation even with your closest friends (“Oh hey, how are you?”, “Not bad, had a miscarriage – wbu?”) – and because of that, it tends to be an incredibly lonely experience – where you feel like an utter failure but have absolutely no idea how to make it right other than to keep on trying.

I was desperate to know why it felt so difficult for me and seemingly so effortless for everyone else; either it really was just that easy and I was full of scrambled eggs, or no one was really talking about how hard it actually – secretly – was. Where were all the miscarriages and missed miscarriages? With a one in five statistic they must be out there somewhere.

Whereas I’d stayed quiet during the first miscarriage – silenced by my own shame and sadness – I decided that I was going to be honest and open about the second. I posted about it on Instagram and was encouraged and comforted when my phone lit up with other women sharing their own stories of miscarriage in my comments and DMs. Women who’d had one, four, more. Some who’d gone on to have happy, healthy babies, and some who had struggled naturally and moved on to IVF – some with success, some not yet. What I found was that – contrary to how I felt – I wasn’t alone. None of us are. We’re all on the same difficult road – just at different stages – and what’s more – as discouraging as it can be to hear it – it really is sometimes “just one of those things”. All those feelings of guilt and failure are completely normal but totally unfounded, and whilst I still couldn’t shake the cynicism or regain the positivity I’d held pre-miscarriage – knowing at least that I wasn’t alone or special in any way really helped. It baffles me that in 2020 schools are still educating young women about sex and their bodies simply by chucking out free samples of Always and frightening them off sex with stories of STDs and teen pregnancy – missing out massive chunks of vital, useful, and – most important of all – honest information about their own bodies. Perhaps if I’d known how common miscarriage is – how it’s often a very normal part of the journey to motherhood – then maybe I’d have been better prepared to deal with it emotionally. It was never going to be easy of course, but knowledge really is power – and for women especially, knowledge is never more important or valuable than when it comes to our own bodies.

Still, when I found out that I was pregnant for a third time – and just as the country was heading into the Coronavirus Lockdown – I was pissed off. “I’m having another miscarriage, yay!” I announced sarcastically to Sunny one morning back in March, practically throwing the test at him while he was buttering his toast (…eww). I regret that massively now – but what I said came completely out of fear for what I knew was probably going to happen next. Whilst going through the sickness and fatigue of the first trimester under Lockdown may have seemed ideal on the surface – it was a disaster for me. With everything closed and being actively told to stay at home, it meant there was literally nothing for me to do other than to sit around and wait for the third miscarriage I was absolutely certain was going to happen – and because of Covid, I wasn’t going to get the reassurance scan at 8 weeks that I’d been promised after my second miscarriage. So, I spent weeks on the sofa waiting and worrying. Even though my pregnancy symptoms stuck around most days I didn’t feel like I could rely on them; they didn’t mean anything – I’d still felt pregnant all the way through my missed miscarriage, after all. And on the days that I felt completely fine I became convinced that my symptoms were dropping off and I was about to miscarry, ala miscarriage numero uno. The only saving grace was that Sunny started working from home because of the pandemic, so I was never alone or allowed to wallow for too long.

When I finally reached my 12 week scan, there was a massive sense of relief. Either way, the waiting was over. Miscarriage Hat-Trick or Third Time Lucky – at least we’d no longer be in the dark.

I’d made up my mind to write this post just before I went for my 12 week scan – whatever the outcome. Really, I should have written it sooner – in the midst of my perceived “failure” rather than from the relative safety of “success” (and I use that word both reluctantly and very cautiously). No one was more surprised than I was when the sonographer – not two seconds after telling me to look away from the screen – tapped a button and said, “Yep, everything looks good.” For the first time ever I saw more than just empty static on the screen and didn’t have to have an awkward internal scan. Everything looked normal – heartbeat and all. The only downside was that – because of CoVid restrictions – Sunny couldn’t be there to see it. And as of today I’m 21 weeks and sporting a very shy baby bump. This isn’t a happy ending by any stretch – I’m still terrified that things could go wrong at any second, hence the question mark in the title of this post – this is just for now a tiny, baby step forward (…couldn’t resist that one).

If you made it through all that then you deserve the gin and tonic that I’m not allowed. If you’ve been through a miscarriage yourself or are going through one then I’m always here to listen if you want to talk about it (and I genuinely mean that), whether that’s here in the comments, privately via email or over on Instagram. 🙂 Failing that, The Miscarriage Association is a great place to look for help and advice.

The New Normal Me: Why I’m not ready to say buh-bye to Lockdown Me just yet

…except the split ends – they can do one…
Why I'm not ready to say buh-bye to Lockdown Me just yet - The Cardiff Cwtch - Welsh Bloggers

Today marks the day when a lot of us here in Wales can finally travel further than five measly miles from our doorsteps and even hug (hug!) our favourite people. It’s felt like a really long time coming, and although nothing’s going “back to normal” yet by any stretch – Coronavirus is still around and it’s still killing people – I cannot wait to give my Mum a proper cwtch, sit in my local beer garden (if the Welsh weather plays nice), wander a bit further than just local and see all those favourite corners of my hometown again, get my split ends taken care of (ugh), and – yeah – pop into T K Maxx to pick up a five quid candle just because I can. I cannot wait.

We’ve all got our “Buh-Bye Lockdown Bucket List” ready and raring, as well as a list probably a mile long of all those things about four months in hibernation that we’re definitely not going to miss – whether we’re stepping out today or in a few weeks or months time when we feel safe enough to do so – but what about the things that we are going to miss? There’s got to be at least a few! Whether we like it or not, the Lockdown has bound to have changed us all in some way, and the person stepping out of the front door tomorrow is not going to be an identical, unaltered version of the one who closed that same door back in March. From the physical to the emotional, there’ll be some marked differences. We might be a little softer around the middle; perhaps a little more anxious, a little less trusting. Maybe we’ve lost loved ones, or seen some of our closest relationships break under the strain of long distance, or from being smushed together under one roof for months on end. It’s been tough.

Why I'm not ready to say buh-bye to Lockdown Me just yet - The Cardiff Cwtch - Cardiff Bloggers

But what about the good stuff? What about all the ways in which Lockdown has changed us for the better? What about all those little discoveries we’ve made and the things we’ve learned about ourselves and others over the past few months? The new habits, hobbies and moments of happiness during those dark days – no matter how small. Are we going to say buh-bye to those too?

For me, the best thing about Lockdown has been the fact that – while it’s obviously complicated everyday life in so many ways – it’s made it simpler too. It’s made the things that matter most to me incredibly clear, and suddenly I’m so much more appreciative of the little things day to day – the simple stuff – that makes me happy. I’ve genuinely loved doing the weekly shop for my Mum and Dad; not just to keep them safe, but for the hours long chat in their garden at the other end. The plant and magazine swaps and TV recs – all those shows I’d never have watched and enjoyed if it hadn’t been for Lockdown (Future Man – who knew!). My skin – having had a four month long break from makeup – has never looked better (…minus a spot of sunburn back in May – whoops). My hair – even though it’s much longer than I like and that suits me – has definitely loved having a bit of a break from heat styling.

Why I'm not ready to say buh-bye to Lockdown Me just yet - The Cardiff Cwtch - Welsh Lifestyle Bloggers

As soon as the rules eased back in May and my husband and I were finally allowed to exercise outdoors together again (and I use the word “exercise” in the laziest way possible…), we started taking the dog on long walks and suddenly discovered so much more of our neighbourhood – from public paths we never knew existed to lovely neighbours (and – more importantly – their dogs) that we’d never met. Around the house, we’ve got on top of a few chores and DIY bits and bobs – ticking things off a list I wrote well over a year ago. I’ve had more time to read (turns out travel books like Felicity Cloake’s “One More Croissant for the Road” are the cure to the Lockdown Travel Ban) and bake and to get into the habit of doing yoga (almost) every morning – and I’ve finally trained the dog to behave and not dig around in the garden… almost. Which has never looked better by the way. Oh, and I’m never going to take for granted the luxury of going for a stroll around the shops with a coffee and cake pit stop in my favourite café ever again.

Now that Lockdown is easing up and we’re heading into that “new normal” that everyone keeps banging on about, I’m suddenly in a weird place where I’m not sure whether I can or even want to go back to the Me that existed before. As well as accepting the new normal post Lockdown, we’re all faced with accepting a new normal version of ourselves too – and mashing together who we were before Lockdown with the best bits of ourselves that we perhaps only discovered existed because of Lockdown.

Which bits of Lockdown are you going to be sad to say goodbye to? Which habits are you going to be holding on tight to?

5 Things I've Been Loving Lately

…because we all need a bit of positivi-tea right now…
5 Things I've Been Loving Lately - The Cardiff Cwtch - IngenuiTEA Teapot Review

(Don’t worry, that God awful pun will become clear in a mo…) How are you? No really, how are you? Because in between all the terrifying news updates, social isolation and uncertainty about what the next few months are going to bring, we really need to keep checking in with each other and helping out whenever and in whatever way we can. If you’re like me then you’re probably feeling absolutely fine one minute and plodding along like nothing’s changed, and then staring into space for twenty minutes after tuning into the news for two minutes. I’m feeling angry, sad and overwhelmed all at once sometimes – and helpless; I mean, how the hell am I supposed to walk the dog, do the shopping, see my favourite people, take my car in for a service and MOT (grrr, why is that ALWAYS due at the worst possible moment?!)… I feel robbed of all the things I usually enjoy doing this time of year with my family, and all the daily things I do that I suppose I normally take for-granted.

But, like everyone else, I’m also trying to spot the silver linings in all of this – and they are there if you look for them. My husband’s lucky, he gets to work from home from time to time anyway and so we’ve kind of set up a co-working space in our tiny home office (we’ve NEVER worked together before, so it’ll either be a disaster or a dream…) – and Bungle is always on hand to cheer us both up when we need it (plus, he needs a walk every day – so we’re never short for fresh air). I’m also used to being stuck indoors for long stints as I’m home most of the time anyway – in fact, I LOVE it; I rarely get stir crazy, and so being given the go-ahead to be antisocial and binge on boxsets for a few months is a-ok with me!

Keeping well in every sense of the word is going to be absolutely key to getting through the next few months; not just in protecting ourselves and others against Covid-19, but also when it comes to Mental Health. Not being allowed to go about your usual routine and do the things that you normally love to do is going to be tough-going for a while – so finding small pick-me ups where you can and things to enjoy around this altered (and alien) state will help to keep things in balance when the world seems like it’s flipped completely upside down.

Anyway, here are all my recent pick-me-ups…

5 Things I've Been Loving Lately - The Cardiff Cwtch - Golden Retriever Beach

Finding new ways to get out and about

The week before last Sunny and I enjoyed what was to be our last day out before we dove into full-on isolation last Monday (surreal). We took Bungle down to Jackson Bay for a swim in the sea (he absolutely loves swimming!) and then walked around the clifftops to Whitmore Bay for a portion of chips each from O’Sheas. Obviously we had absolutely no idea how much everything was about to change – but I’m so glad we got out and enjoyed ourselves before getting sick ourselves and having to stay indoors (we both developed a nasty cough a couple of days later – still have no idea whether it was actually Coronavirus, but if it was, it was a relatively mild strain).

Obviously, once our isolation is over we’ll be out and about again – but definitely in a more mindful way. I couldn’t believe the pictures from Snowdon and Pen-y-Fan over the weekend of people out and about enjoying the sunny weather in big groups, as well as caravaners and second-homers opting to leave their homes and self-isolate in rural Wales. It’s not okay, and if either you or a member of your family is in the “at risk” category then I’m sure you were as similarly horrified as I was.  I really hope people start taking the rules on social distancing seriously.

(All I need is for someone to explain what “social distancing” means to my over-friendly floof-ball…)

5 Things I've Been Loving Lately - The Cardiff Cwtch - Barry Island5 Things I've Been Loving Lately - The Cardiff Cwtch - O'Sheas Barry5 Things I've Been Loving Lately - The Cardiff Cwtch - Adagio Tea Giveaway

Loose Leaf Tea

It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of a good ol’ cuppa, and in times like these there’s really nothing better than a steaming cup of the good stuff to pull you through. Until recently, I was all for the ease of a plucking a tea bag out of the jar and popping it into a mug first thing in the morning – but when push comes to shove, I actually tend to prefer the taste of loose leaf tea. The problem is, it’s usually a bit of a faff; I find infusers (you know, reusable tea bags) don’t allow enough space for the tea leaves to brew properly, and loose leaf teapots I’ve tried in the past are either too big (so the second cup is cold by the time you get around to drinking it), or too difficult to clean.

A couple of weeks ago all my tea dreams came true when Adagio Tea sent me a box full of loose leaf tea to try, along with their IngenuiTea Teapot – which I have to say has been an absolute game-changer for me first thing in the morning! It’s very, very clever. Not only is it dishwasher and microwave safe (no more faffing around trying to unhinge stubborn tea leaves, or “ugh, my tea’s gone cold” face), but the brewed tea is released through the base – you just pop it on top of your favourite mug and – thanks to the nifty base mechanism – the tea flows straight down into it. Not a stray tea leaf in sight – and NO LEAKS.

Not only is the teapot an absolutely genius bit of kit for tea lovers, but Adagio Tea’s loose leaf blends are gorgeous too. From their dreamy Moonlight Earl Grey to their delicate and sweet Butterscotch Flavour (my favourite by far!) they’ve got a lovely selection of black teas – which are my go to every day – but they’ve also got a selection of special ImmuniTEA Booster blends like Turmeric Bliss and Chamomile.

5 Things I've Been Loving Lately - The Cardiff Cwtch - Adagio Tea Butterscotch

Boxsets

Thank God for Boxsets, amiright? I mean, I’m boxset mad at the best of times so I don’t need to be sold on the idea of staying in and binge-watching my way through all seven seasons of Mad Men – which I totally did a couple of weeks ago (it’s brilliant, by the way – absolutely well worth a watch). Other box sets I’d recommend are Succession, Billions and The Newsroom if you’re looking for smart and snappy dialogue (let’s add Madmen to that pile too) The Witcher, True Blood (…even though it loses the plot somewhere around Season 5) and Penny Dreadful if you’re looking for monsters and magic. And, Outlander, Vikings, Peaky Blinders and The Crown if you’re a history nerd like me. Oh, and if you’re looking for a fresh take on Superheroes, then I can’t recommend The Boys more – seriously good.

I’m also making my way through some of my favourite comedies, from The Office (Micheal Scott never fails to make me smile during “OH MY GOD IT’S HAPPENING” moments) and Parks and Rec, as well as old Britcom faves like The It Crowd, Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley (which is coming to Netflix – rejoice!).

Beating Boredom with Creativity

I doubt anyone’s missed the memes going around over on Twitter and Instagram about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear when he was holed up during The Plague etc. And while – yeah – not everyone’s about to be handed a free pass to pen a masterpiece, and no one should feel pressured to emerge from self isolation with something to show for all that time spent indoors, there is something to be said for killing boredom with bouts of creativity. If you’re a creative like me then it’s likely to be your modus operandi during times of stress and anxiety anyway – but for everyone else who’s never had to stay indoors for long stretches of time, then creativity can be great for keeping your mental health in check.

Me? I’m going to be writing a lot and baking a lot. If you’ve ever fancied trying your hand at writing a book and communicating with other writers, then I can’t recommend Camp Nanowrimo enough. If you’ve ever wanted to write a book then you’ve probably heard about National Novel Writing Month – where writers pledge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days during the month of November. Well, there’s also Camp Nanowrimo, which happens a couple of times through the spring and summer where writers pledge a month of non-specific writing related work – whether that’s editing, rewriting or starting something from scratch! You can do as much or as little as you want, but the best thing about it is that you’re in it with other writers who you can communicate with through the website – which makes social isolation a little more social and a little less isolating. 🙂

I’ll be signing up and trying to write a 70,000+ word historical novel from April 1st (nope, not an April Fool’s Joke, I really am going to do this) – so if you’re interested in joining me or hearing more about my slow descent into madness – then let me know.

Crafty Cupboard Meals

I don’t know about you, but my kitchen cupboards have been begging for this moment for years. They’re stuffed with so many tins and ingredients that almost never get used, and all because I’m one of those “ooh, I’ll use that at some point” shoppers – you know, a curry jar here and a tin of chopped tomatoes and peach halves there. If there ever was a time to use up what I’ve already got, then it’s now – and actually, that might be kind of fun.

Take care everyone – and have a lovely week, whether you’re self-isolating or going about business as usual. Let me know what you’re doing to beat the boredom as well as your favourite boxsets and pick-me-ups in the comments below…

*This post contains gifted items, to find out more about what means – click here.