It’s funny how many millions of these posts it feels like I read in early pregnancy, so when I had to pack my hospital bag and baby’s I knew exactly what I wanted to take 🙂 Boy was surprised I packed baby’s bag properly and he didn’t need to re-do it haha (I’m a terrible packer and he’s super neat!) And he packed mine (top tip I’ve got from so many people that we’ve used and we love – get your partner to pack yours because they need to know where to find the stuff when you’re in labour!)
As I mentioned in this post – What’s in My Hospital Bag – lots of peoples’ ideas differ on what you should or will want to take, and there are tonnes of YouTube videos and blogs you can use for inspo, and my top tip is to take the advice of someone you relate to / feel is more similar. For example I’m not a “crunchy mom” / earth mama type so those aren’t my thing but if you are, those might be your go to!
For baby’s hospital bag we’re using one of our changing bags – this one from Bababing, available from JoJo Maman Bebe, which comes with a handy changing mat and bottle cooler, both of which we’ll take to hospital for easy changing on the bed if needed and for taking in my colostrum syringes.
A winter coat (in case its really cold when we’re bringing her home)
The Contingency Stuff:
Colostrum syringes (I’ve been harvesting in advance to have a back up supply just in case of a c-section and / or issues with latch etc). We’re keeping these in the freezer for now, and will transport them in the bottle cooler that comes with our changing bag to store in the hospital fridge.
Aptamil ready-mixed formula – pack of 6 sterile ready to drink bottles (this seems to cause a lot of controversy but I did not want the stress of a hungry, stressed out baby in the event of latch issues, or a c-sec and delay in being able to feed well, or if we ran out of my back-up colostrum, or if I needed to be in theatre for a while for stitches/transfusions and couldn’t feed her… not that I need to justify our decisions, but formula and breast feeding talks get heated so this was our thinking – we want my husband to be able to feed her if needed if for any reason I can’t. We’re both planners and this made the most sense for us. If this isn’t what you’d do, that’s fine, but we’ve done our research and made our decision so please don’t message me not to do this!)
We’re travelling light with baby in my head, but apparently you always overpack…! So we’ll see. Either way, we live 10 minutes drive (ish) from the hospital and so it will be easy enough for my husband to get us stuff from home if we need it, given restrictions due to Covid at the moment seem to prevent partners from staying with you the whole time.
What else did you pack in your baby’s hospital bag? Anything you feel like we’re missing?
If you found this post useful, you might also like:
I just thought I’d pop on here and do a quick review of a course I found really useful in my prep for getting our beautiful baby born this October, however that ends up happening (!) be it vaginal delivery or out of the sun roof 🙂
This is not sponsored, nor was it gifted – I found this over the course of lockdown and The Maternity Collective were kindly offering everyone free access to their online antenatal course (usually at a price point of circa £80 I believe) because of the COVID situation.
COVID clearly did reduce access to ante- and post-natal support for so many women, so access to The Maternity Collective course was incredibly useful, but regardless, it’s still something I’d recommend to you if you’re pregnant even when we return to more normal times!
The course is delivered online in easy to access videos, and has subtitles for anyone with accessibility issues in all sections except the breastfeeding and newborn behaviour presentations (at the time of writing this) but these do have written accompanying slides you can download with the key information points on them.
What I loved about the course is that while all of the hypnobirthing content and books and the online course I’ve done have been super helpful and include some science,The Maternity Collective was created by a wonderful, highly qualified obstetrician and so it better covers the medical ins and outs in more detail, with more clarity, than hypnobirthing-geared content – but Dr Ellie Rayner (who you can find on instagram here @maternitymedic) also appreciates the value of hypnobirthing techniques and that approach to birth and so fuses the best of both worlds into a really helpful, informative, calming and reassuring course (she is a hypnobirthing instructor as well as an incredible, highly qualified medic!)
I’ve found ‘pure’ hypnobirthing books and techniques very helpful, don’t get me wrong, (I recommended many of their resources in some of my other recent posts!) but I do think some hypnobirthing content out there almost creates the impression that it’s hypnobirthers vs. hospitals/medical professionals/’bad’ over-medicalised birth, which really shouldn’t be the case, and The Maternity Collective will give you all of the medical facts, pros and cons, from an unbiased perspective, whilst the value of hypnobirthing is completely recognised and optimal practises are recognised and encouraged.
The course is thorough without being overwhelming, and covers:
Preparing for labour and birth (and understanding how it all works!)
Normal labour and birth (the various stages, what happens, and pain relief options)
Reasons you might meet an obstetrician (all the details on everything from inductions, delays, assisted delivery, tearing, episiotomies, caesareans and what happens if there is too much bleeding after birth)
The postnatal period (physical and emotional recovery, and caring for your brand new baby!)
A quick summary (on how to create your birth preferences, and make informed decisions throughout labour so that you are in control of everything that happens to you)
Breastfeeding and newborn behaviour (all the science of milk supply, techniques for feeding, baby’s body clock, sleeping, what to expect, what’s normal and trouble shooting, plus a guide to formula feeding)
There are also some course notes, birth preference templates and breastfeeding and newborn sleep slides for you to keep.
I loved the course’s simple and accessible format, and it will tell you everything you need to know to prepare for labour (you don’t even need to buy any other books if you don’t want to!) and it has some amazing content to get you thinking about what happens afterwards as well, particularly the detail on breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is a topic you hear about so much and is shrouded in mystery because on the one hand it seems so natural and on the other you hear all these stories of problems, struggles, pain and experiences where it didn’t work out.
The Maternity Collective course goes in to a lot of detail on how milk supply works, common breastfeeding issues and the best action to take, seeking support, how and when to feed and what to expect from your baby, how you will know if they’re feeding enough or if there is cause for concern, why babies need to be fed so much at night, and much, much more! There is also the recognition though that you may want to formula or combination feed and so there is a handy pdf guide to formula feeding should this be the best option for you.
If you’re looking for a one-stop shop to prep for labour and afterwards, I would say this course is it!
It’s also a good one for husbands like mine who might find some of the slight ‘woo’ perceptions of hypnobirthing branded courses or content off-putting – with The Maternity Collective you get the same important information, but in a more factual, practical manner (and more of it, from someone who is very, very qualified!)
Hope this helps, let me know if you do try the course and what you think!
If you liked this post, you might also be interested in reading these:
Well hello again everyone! I’ve been fairly quiet on here which is odd given that you’d think in lockdown I’d have had much more time to blog… but being pregnant in a global pandemic, having started a new job (my first fully qualified lawyer job) remotely and various other things have meant that blogging just hasn’t crossed my mind for a while.
Today, though, inspiration struck and I wanted to share some resources that I’ve used to totally change my mindset about giving birth.
This post will cover the resources I’ve used which I’d credit (alongside a lot of time investment on my part!) with taking the fear out of the prospect of giving birth for me, and also helping me prepare for birth generally and the postpartum recovery period.
*(Reminder nothing in this post is sponsored/gifted/other, it’s all stuff I’ve paid for [except the Maternity Collective course which they were giving free to everyone during COVID] and loved and 100% recommend!)*
Where does fear of labour come from?
Because let’s face it, I’ve spent my entire life TERRIFIED of giving birth, like many, many women.
What you see on TV – Rachel on Friends, for example – people lying on their backs, screaming, faces contorted, sometimes legs in stirrups, yelling for epidurals… and that’s just movies and light entertainment (I’ve never even watched One Born Every Minute).
In my ED days I was even scared of pregnant people because of their size – how messed up is that?!
Then you get the STORIES. The whisperings and ‘oh you wouldn’t believe how bad her labour was’, the horror stories, the drama, the nightmare scenarios that people like to tell you…
So as a base line, generally, as a culture, birth has become a very medicalised thing, and something to be feared.
Growing up, I swore that if I had kids I’d get an elective c-section. Now, because I know all the benefits for my baby, I want to try to birth vaginally (if allowed – I may not be able to because at the time of writing [28 weeks pregnant] I still have a low placenta and if this hasn’t moved by the time they do the extra scan to check it at 36 weeks, I will have to have a c-section due to it basically blocking the exit and also high risks of haemorrhaging!)
If you want the short answer for how I overcame the fear, I guess there isn’t one – it’s a process that took time, effort and mental reprogramming! But a combination of education (and more education!), and taking elements of hypnobirthing which worked for me and my personality (not all – see below!) and basically using my previous study in mindfulness to create an approach to birth that worked for me. I didn’t go on any expensive course or find a magic bullet, I just put the work in.
Getting informed (but still scared!)
One of these books was The Positive Birth Book by Milli Hill. Did it make me feel positive? HELL NO! I found it scary on first read. But I read it 3 or 4 times, alongside some other books which I’ll list below, because it took away the mystery and the unknown, and made me understand all the options for birth (location, pain relief, what interventions might be needed and why, induction, caesareans, pros and cons of absolutely everything).
While initially scary for me, getting educated was a key part of the process to make sure I was in control. Because guess what? You have to consent to everything. You do not ‘have’ to have internal examinations to check dilation. You do not ‘have’ to have an induction. It may be there is a good reason to have them, but knowing you have the choice, and knowing you should ask for all of the benefits, risks and reasons was a game changer for me.
Both are hypnobirthing books, a concept I thought sounded a bit hippy but I’d heard people I admire and respect who didn’t seem completely ‘woo woo’ rave about it on podcasts, so I gave them a go.
I also used the Positive Birth Company Digital Pack(an online hypnobirthing course, which was discounted due to the lack of pregnancy support in hospitals etc during COVID 19).
Hypnobirthing is perhaps a woo name, but it’s not really all that woo and certainly isn’t to do with hypnotising yourself, or ‘out there’ practices (full disclosure: occasionally I found hypnobirthing does have a slight push towards home birth (which isn’t for me) which I found a bit annoying, and it could get a bit focussed on fairy lights and candles and prioritising natural birthing to the point it almost felt like it was saying non natural birth was negative [although they explicitly do state ALL births are valid] sometimes, but generally it is science based to help you ensure you stay calm to keep your body hormonally optimal for labour to progress smoothly, with less pain).
Some hypnobirthing fans recommend Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, which is a book I HATED because it was waaaaaay to weird and spiritual and hippy for me. But we’re all different I guess!) But if that’s not your bag, more practical and let’s say ‘modern woman’ rather than ‘earth mother’ approaches do exist, and those are the ones I’m talking about here that helped me.
I don’t for one second buy all of it, particularly that birth is pain free (some hypnobirthing teachers claim it doesn’t have to be painful, others state that they disagree with this like me!), but I do believe that naturally our responses to what is happening in our bodies (e.g. panic, fear, relaxation, understanding, acceptance) can influence that and how bad it feels.
I found that hypnobirthing is really an approach that focusses on empowering women to:
understand your body during labour, how the muscles and hormones work to facilitate your birth and what you can do to keep these as optimal as possible;
understand your choices during labour (you ALWAYS have a choice, and it is important to be informed and that you know you have the right to give or refuse consent for anything)
learn relaxation techniques to keep adrenaline (which inhibits labour) at bay and maximise oxytocin (which makes labour happen) – these can also be used to keep you calm during interventions or caesareans, they’re not just for vaginal births!;
understand natural techniques for labour e.g. using upright, forward and open positions to allow gravity to help you, instead of mindlessly following TV over medicalised assumptions that you should lie down, which really just helps doctors/midwives see what’s happening!; and
essentially to feel empowered and have a positive birth experience, whatever path your birth takes (rather than feeling traumatised and like decisions were made for you, or that you were not in control).
Plus it helps guide your birth partner on how best to support you during labour.
Many of the relaxation techniques weren’t for me and my partner (if he even tried to read me a relaxation script we’d both die laughing!) but the breathing techniques, positive affirmations and emphasis on re-wiring my view of birth from something necessarily traumatic to something that can be a positive experience really helped me move past being scared.
Rewiring your brain
I was NOT up for watching videos where I’d have to see a baby emerging from a vagina. I’m way too squeamish, and not one of those women who thinks that sight is ‘beautiful’. Sure, babies are beautiful, I’m sure the experience of birth can be beautiful, but that’s too much gore for me personally.
Hypnobirthing advocates using positive birth stories, photography, videos, and affirmations to gradually re-condition how you perceive birth. Stop all negative input, and crowd it out with positive.
I didn’t really want to see pics or graphic videos, but I did use:
I started skipping ones which had trigger warnings that particularly worried me (episiotomies, tearing, forceps, ventouse, emergency c-sections) and just read ones that sounded smooth and simple.
As I did more hypnobirthing practice and read more of these, I became less afraid and started reading the more complicated birth stories too – this made me realise that even a complicated birth which has things go ‘wrong’ or not as planned can still be a positive experience. So many women wrote about births which on paper you might think could have been super traumatic, but because of their mindset, their hypnobirthing, the fact they were informed and in control and had prepared for all scenarios, they still felt empowered and that the overall experience was positive. This was a game changer for me.
I also listened to the birth experience of my nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert on her podcast (here) which sounds very traumatic and happened during the height of COVID-19. I found it so interesting to hear that a lot of the stress comes from feeling things are going ‘wrong’, not knowing what happens for certain procedures and feeling like birth isn’t going to plan. This really brought home to me that being prepared for birth to take any number of unexpected courses is key and has helped me lose the fear in the build up to it.
Limited (!) videos – I watched a few you tubers talk about their positive birth experiences and hypnobirthing, as an intro so I didn’t need to see it. Then I found a couple of you tubers who vlogged their labour (but don’t show you anything too much!!) helpful – especially Kerry Conway’s third labour (no epidural) (part 1 here and part 2 here), and Jess Hover’s two births without epidurals (vaguely remember some brief religious mentions which I just ignored as that’s not my thing).
This was great for some pregnancy-friendly yoga for relaxation, and also learning more upright, forward and open optimal birth positions. She also had helpful resources on the fact that it is sometimes possible to be mobile even with an epidural or continuous monitoring – how to ask and how this can be done, which was really useful.
Lots of the yoga flows are designed to help ease pregnancy specific problems (back pain etc) and to prepare your pelvis to really open up. It was amazing to learn the facts about how you can get 30% MORE SPACE in the pelvis by not lying down and preventing the sacrum from moving etc.
It was also nice because membership comes with free access to her Member’s Hub where you can chat about all things pregnancy, yoga, other, ask questions and generally support other mums!
As I’d done so much reading and research, and the fact that due to coronavirus antenatal classes in person being cancelled, when I looked at antenatal classes charging £250+ for stuff I already knew, I didn’t see the point, especially as most people say the value is in making mum friends, and I didn’t feel like paying that much money to do that over zoom.
Then I found the Maternity Collective who generously offered free access to their online antenatal course (normally circa £80), again because of the lack of pre and post natal support for women during the coronavirus situation.
It was SO helpful because it was more medically / scientifically detailed than the hypnobirthing content on the physical parts of labour, pain relief, interventions etc.
It also had extensive sections on feeding options and newborn sleep, to help prepare for the part which comes after the labour!
Postive Birth Company – Post Partum Pack
PBC’s postpartum pack (an online course covering everything you need post-birth!) was also reduced to £20 because of COVID for a limited time, and I found this really helpful to prepare and swot up on breastfeeding, baby sleeping (or lack thereof!), maternal mental health, physical and mental recovery from labour, post partum rehab, exercise and yoga, and much much more! Definitely recommend this, especially if coronavirus or other things have prevented you getting to classes or having the normal amount of support with this.
Thanks for reading my ramblings!
I hope if you did stumble across this post as you prepare for birth that you found it helpful – everyone is different, and what works for one may not work for another, but I was so so so scared and anti the idea of labour before and now I’m so excited for it, so it is possible to have a complete mindset shift!
Best of luck with your pregnancy and birth prep if you’re at that stage of your journey, or if not and you’re curious ahead of time like I was… fab, I genuinely don’t think you can get enough prep in because these are things we can never ever be fully prepared for!
I have devoured as many blogs, books, vlogs and podcasts on these topics as I could possibly find on my TTC journey (I saw my nutritionist as well to discuss!) and some resources I found useful, some I didn’t, some I could relate to and some I totally couldn’t. (Spoiler: my nutritionist was brilliant though!) We knew well in advance that we’d start trying in 2020, & I had a good 6 months prior to that to do my research so yep, super nerdy & organised but there you go!
So here is another post that I’m throwing out there into the depths of the internet that may bore you to tears, or you may wish to ignore, but if it helps just one person or just one finds it vaguely interesting or helpful in their TTC research – that’s the whole point of blogging, right? Making sense of things, I like writing for the sake of it anyway and sending posts up into the internetz where you can discard or read as you like.
So. My TTC journey, tools and tips. PS nothing here is sponsored (obvs I’d have stated if it was!) this is all just what I’ve done and purchased etc. myself!
I’m struggling with this topic slightly as I’m conscious that TTC is a journey for two, and my other half is way more private than me, so I’m trying to be careful not to overshare… but equally I want to write about my experience on the topic, so hopefully I get that line right!
What I did – in prep for TTC
TTC, if you didn’t already know, is ‘trying to conceive’ lingo that you’ll find all over forums etc. Naturally I took steps before we were even trying. These were…
Read, read, read! & research
Omg did I over-read, over-research and over-prepare! I devoured everything I could on trying to conceive, and there were pros and cons to this. First and foremost, knowledge is power, right, so it’s good to know stuff. Also, a woman really should know her cycle (and I honestly can’t believe I haven’t tracked my whole life!) so from a health point of view and knowing and taking care of your own body, I would highly encourage you to download an app (I use Glow and Clue) and track your crimson wave, ladies. Glow is best as if you do later use ovulation tests, the algorithm accounts for these and adjusts accordingly whereas Clue is less sophisticated (but can help you get a loose idea of cycle length & when your fertile window will likely be).
I listened to podcasts not just about the TTC portion though, but about motherhood, all topics baby… I dunno, I studied lit & then law LLM so maybe obsessive research is just in me. Soz!
Track your cycles – before you’re even thinking about TTC
I started tracking I think 4 or 5 months before we were TTC. As I said above, I think we should all track our cycles anyway, but if you’re going to be TTC its helpful if you have several cycles of data so you know the length of your cycle, how often this tends to vary, so that you can better predict ovulation etc.
Improved my diet
I cut out caffeine for a few months, and alcohol (except for my hen and wedding, although I did slip with this over Xmas!) I disguised this on insta as the « Level Up Project » which you’ll see on my highlights if you’re eagle eyed 🙂
I focussed on getting as many fruit and veg portions in and eating a rainbow as much as I could, and, as always, tried to eliminate processed foods as much as possible, plus I started adding berries to my porridge in the mornings for an extra antioxidant boost.
Then I wanted to take it a step further, and…
Visited a nutritionist
I went to see Rhiannon Lambert, my nutritionist (clinic details here) to check in on my diet 4 months before we were going to try, to see if it was optimal for TTC, to discuss any changes I might need to make, to check my supplements, and anything my other half should be doing to his diet too. It was super helpful. I can’t recommend it enough. I ended up needing to up my fibre intake a little more every day, and came away with tips, tricks and recommendations for the two of us. ❤
This is SO HARD, I know. And then after being period-regular as clockwork for years, just before we were TTC I was late by 11 days!!!! 11! That never happens for me! And it stressed me out even more!
Some of the techniques I used to reduce stress were:
A mindset shift. Prioritising self-care more
Regular baths with aromatherapy oils
Reading amazing books on my commute
Walking more, outside, as much as possible
Practising deep breathing techniques and pranayama at my desk even in the middle of the day
Taking 2 minutes to go to the loo and hide in a cubicle do the yoga pose ‘forward fold’ which is INCREDIBLE
Inhaling lavender oil scent at my desk when headachey or stressed
10 minutes of meditation per day
Reduce ‘hardcore’ workouts (this was so tough for me!) as they can put more stress on the body, and I took up some lighter ones – taking some of the intensity out of my boxing, jogging not sprinting, regular shorter sessions instead of triple Kobox etc.!
What I did – actually TTC!
Obviously, this is a given. To maximize chances there are recommendations that you have sex every other day for the whole month, and more if you want during your fertile window (ideally daily). I guess you have to find what you feel works for you. Various studies suggest slightly different things though but the facts below help you do the math and make your own decisions. I won’t overshare here on what we did because I feel a bit like you stray into the too personal, and also I can’t imagine Boy would thank me for writing about those details on the internet…! I’ll just share some facts below and you can work out what you feel is best for you and your partner.
Some facts to help you decide what you want to do…
Each month, there is only roughly about a maximum 20% chance (for a healthy, fertile, normal couple!) that you’ll get pregnant.
It can take 12 months for a healthy, fertile, normal couple (under 35) to get pregnant, and this is normal.
There are 55 million sperm roughly per ejaculation… and each time, only 15 will make it to where they need to be. Turns out the vagina being acidic, attacking sperm as a foreign body incase it’s a virus, all kinds of things, makes it a pretty tough trip for your guy’s swimmers.
There seem to be conflicting studies on whether you should have sex on alternate days to let sperm replenish (I read another study that suggests sperm motility is best 3 hours after a previous ejaculation, so back to back sessions could be good during the fertile window! So basically, it seems there’s not necessarily a clear scientific answer… I personally reckon the best idea here is have as much sex as you fancy!)
Many lubes can kill sperm so you need a sperm-friendly one if you want to use it. Try Pre-Seed if you want a definitely safe one 🙂
Continued to track, and ordered OPKs
I hadn’t wanted to use Ovulation Predictor Kits originally, but for various reasons including Boy needing to travel for work, we ordered some anyway. I used the Clearblue Advanced Digital Ovulation Test, and you can order a pack of 20 on Amazon. I also continued to track using my apps (Clue and Glow – Glow is much more detailed and you can track literally everything including orgasms haha, and it will overlay any temperature charting you do if you log it with the rest of your cycle for greater accuracy!) The app algorithms for both of these predicted the same fertility window for me, and then I had OPKs to try and confirm and make sure things didn’t change or happen early and late so we’d miss it, and started tracking my basal body temperature for extra accuracy/reassurance.
The reason I chose this particular Clearblue OPK despite it being a bit more expensive, is that it works differently from other OPKs – instead of just tracking one hormone, it tracks two – here’s the spiel from the website and personally I’d give it a really positive rating – it worked for us:
Clearblue® Advanced Digital Ovulation Test works differently to other ovulation tests as it is designed to detect 2 hormones, estrogen and LH. When it detects a rise in your level of estrogen it displays High Fertility (flashing smiley face), and will continue to display High Fertility in the following days whilst it looks for your LH surge. When your LH surge is detected, the test displays Peak Fertility (static smiley face).
Bought cheapie pregnancy tests in bulk ready for the 2 week wait mania!
You can get packs of like 50 on amazon and it’s soooooooo much cheaper than all the pricey digital ones if you know you’re gonna be on edge during the two week wait and need to keep testing, even though you know you should just wait for your period. I used One Step.
Turns out I didn’t need it all as we might have been expecting to try for up to a year as all the science says that’s normal, but in reality it turned out we were super lucky and we got pregnant first time!!!! ❤
Fertility yoga & meditation
Yep, sounds woo and crazy right? I was up for trying anything, and found it helped me relax, so I used the fertility meditations on Glow premium, and did a bit of research on google on fertility friendly yoga! Whether the ‘fertility’ focus makes any difference, who knows, but it’s a good tool for keeping stress levels down, and staying positive.
Hydrate even more than usual
Ok so this is the grossest thing, but you want your CM (cervical mucus! told you it was gross!) to be egg-white consistency (it helps the sperm travel!), which will usually happen around ovulation – but if you’re dehydrated, your body can’t do this. So drink up!
Stayed off caffeine & alcohol (obviously!)
Caffeine increases the likelihood of miscarriages and also it’s just recommended that you cut it right down if you’re trying. Alcohol… obviously, as per the guidelines, it is best not drink at all if you are TTC and/or pregnant, or might be pregnant. It affects both egg and sperm quality so it’s best for your other half to stay off it as well. Sorry chaps! Sperm quality is 50% of the deal after all…! Not to mention it is not good for the embryo if you do have a little one starting to grow in there.
Bought a BBT thermometer
My original plan was not to bother taking my temperature and just use my apps and OPKs, but I just needed to know I was doing everything possible so I bought this one – the Femometer Digital Basal Body Temperature Thermometer. The reason you need a special BBT thermometer is you need it to detect your temp changes with a greater degree of accuracy, and regular thermometers are only accurate to around 2 degrees so you need a BBT one to make sure you don’t miss the changes (this one that I used has a high level of accuracy (to 1/100 Degree) can be used as a basal thermometer for pregnancy, but also as a general thermometer to measure fever – multi purpose!)
The reason you may want to track your temp while TTC is because it helps confirm when you’re going to be ovulating, so can help you time your extra sex 😉 Mid-cycle you’ll notice a rise in your basal body temperature (BBT). I’m no expert but basically, once your temperature rises up for at least 3 days and stays elevated, you’ll know you’ve ovulated. Ps apparently, if it stays up beyond 16 days then you’re probably pregnant!
So there you have it… TMI and a half haha!
So that’s basically everything, I think… anyone else have anything they did/tried/recommend?!
While I did a lot to support my body and fertility, everyone is different and we were so lucky that it happened first time for us – we’d really expected that it would take at least 6 months if not a year (not least in the back of my mind were my old EDs and the fact my mum needed to go on Clomid to conceive me) and I guess there are never any guarantees. But this is just what worked for us, with a little bit of luck thrown in I’m sure, and obviously everyone’s biology is different ❤
Sorry not sorry that the baby spam starts now…! I’d look away if this isn’t your thing… 🙂 you’ve been warned!
In this post I’ll cover:
The technical stuff – tests, OPKs, sperm friendly lube etc!
But first, I just need a quick natter with you guys!
It’s crazyyyyyyy to be expecting our little cub after so much planning…! I am the kind of crazy person who before we even started trying (like, months before) had done ALL the research, read all the books, listened to all the podcasts, read all the blogs and articles and magazines and watched all the youtube videos. I was on special supplements well over 4 months before we started trying and went to see my nutritionist to discuss my ‘planning to conceive’ diet and check my supplements, and had loads of chats with Boy about his nutrition and supplements too and he was even taking the Wellman Pregnacare trying to conceive ones before we were trying – we were checking his zinc levels and all sorts haha! (You can buy the Pregnacare Him & Her pack for couples here which will have you both covered!)
I get that not everyone would want to be that prepped, and also that some people are more spontaneous – totally fair! We’d known for about a year that we were ready, and we just wanted to wait for the wedding in December to be sorted so I could enjoy my champagne (!), my training contract to end so I was a fully qualified lawyer, and Boy’s probation to be over as he changed jobs during the year. We then had a month to get healthy and back on track post Xmas, so the trying point was set to Jan 2020 and we expected it to take 6 months to a year to conceive (that’s totally normal for healthy couples our age). I know that doesn’t match what we told people our plans were, but we wanted to keep it private and pressure free.
Also, it seems it paid off, because we had expected to be trying for a year and then bam! First try, we had a little cub!
So, OTT though all that planning might be (I can’t help being over-prepared!), it means I’ve collated some useful resources that you may or may not fancy trying if you’re a mum, about to become one, or just super keen to know what you’re in for before you start your TTC journey (trying to conceive for anyone who hasn’t yet stalked all the mummy corners of the internet!). So much of this stuff is personal taste and unique to you, so you might haaaate the things I love, but here are just a few resources that helped me feel prepared!
These are my pregnancy & #TTC favourites, covering everything from nutrition, wellbeing, keeping baby healthy, fertility and maximising your chances of conceiving, baby psychological development, and keeping sane on the pregnancy new mum journey… plus the ever-terrifying and intriguing topic of labour/childbirth aka the stuff of most girls’ nightmares! Knowing more can take some of the fear out, so get reading gals.
I took these for 4+ months before we started trying which is potentially overkill, but 3-4 months in advance is good, and 3 months ahead of trying is apparently when you ideally need to begin building up your folic acid stores especially.
We also got these joint packs about 2 months before so Boy could be on the right stuff too:
As soon as I was pregnant I switched to these Pregnacare Plus ones which also include omega 3s for brain and eye development 🙂
Of course, being a book obsessive, before we were even trying I ordered a tonne of stuff to get reading up on everything I wanted to know on Amazon. These are the ones I’d recommend you give a go too! For me, I just felt like if you’re going to try for a baby, obviously you want TTC information, but also it’s important to know what you’re in for! The most useful were easily the Henrietta Norton Pregnancy Nutrition Guide, Your Baby Your Birth by Hollie De Cruz, Hypnobirthing: Practical Ways to Make your Birth Better by Siobhan Miller, and The Positive Birth Book by Milli Hill (it didn’t make me feel v positive haha but it’s super informative and helpful and worth a read anyway).
Clue – (free!) this was my go to for period/fertility tracking in the period before we were properly trying, just to familiarize myself with my cycle, so I’d know the dates of my periods and rough fertility windows etc. but then I changed to a different one which if you’re TTC is more accurate because in Clue, you can’t log ovulation tests. In the app below, you can log what your ovulation tests say and it feeds into the algorithm and re-calculates your dates!
Glow– (the basic version is free, and is super extensive but I did upgrade to premium as they did 40% off for the new year!) I downloaded this before we were TTC officially and I used the info I had from Clue about my cycle to input all my previous periods. This one is a lot more involved. Clue lets you track emotions and sex as well as periods, for example, but with Glow you can go the whole TTC 9 yards (TMI possibly, but you can include if you were on the bottom or top, or had sex multiple times, log your cervical mucus consistency (this is something I never thought I’d care about when I was younger haha, and you can also log, believe it or not, whether or not your orgasmed!) It also lets you record your basal body temperature so you can really hone in on the ovulation day predictions. You can also track your stress levels, join groups (and weirdly even talk to women on the same cycle as you, but I must admit I didn’t do that!) Anyway, this was so helpful, and I might do a proper review of the app on here if you guys might find more details useful?! It also has meditations if you subscribe to premium, both for general life and de-stressing, and also fertility-specific meditations. But key for me was that while it and Clue looked equally accurate (they initially predicted the same fertile window), Glow updates according to your ovulation tests (it turned out I was ovulating a day earlier than it thought!)
Glow nurture– once pregnant, I used the Glow sister app to track Cub’s development 🙂 ❤
RelaxMelodies – for keeping calm and helping me sleep, and de-stressing (you need to reduce stress as much as possible while TTC and pregnant!)
Freya – this is The Positive Birth Company App and helps with breathing exercises to try to reduce pain and stop you freaking out during labour. I’m all about trying to learn these kinds of techniques in advance! You can also use it to time contractions when the time comes…!
Peanut – I’ve heard the founder interviewed loads. She is an amazing entrepreneur and mum, and this is like tinder for mums, to help you meet friends who will also have little ones and be around at the same times as you (and help you find like-minded mums so you don’t end up bored out of your brain on nappy chat if that’s not your thing!) I joined a bit early and spoke to some TTC mamas too!
I’ve done the Hypnobirthing Digital Pack by The Positive Birth Company which was comforting, and I’m now doing their Post Natal course which teaches you what to expect in the period immediately after birth, and recovery from their, feeding, all that jazz!
These two episodes from Rhiannon Lambert’s Food for Thought:
These are just a few but there are loads out there, I guess it just depends what you like.
Made by Mammas (by Zoe and Georgia, who do the podcast of the same name!)
And then I was lucky enough to already know of two mummy bloggers as we were friends at school years ago for a bit – Sarah over at Whimsical Mumblings and Kerry Conway at Lived with Love .
I also discovered Kayla Buell on my TTC googlings and she has a blog over at Lost Gen Y Girl that I also found helpful.
Plus the gorgeous and glamorous Rose – of The Londonerfame, who was an old fave lifestyle, fashion and general recipe blogger of mine – now has a baby and so does some posts on mum and baby life which are helpful. (Ps an old non-mum fave: check out her recipe for Slutty Brownies!)
I didn’t discover her until I was pregnant, but Lucie and the Bump is great too, and I like following her because she’s just a couple of weeks ahead of me in her second pregnancy.
I am very particular about the youtubers I watch, and I struggle with mum youtubers sometimes. These are the ones I like, most others I struggle with. Always keen for recommendations though!
Fleur De Force & Fleur De Vlog (I love that Fleur didn’t start as a mum vlogger, she’s first and foremost herself doing mostly beauty, fashion and lifestyle but NATURALLY her life changed once she found out she was having a baby, and I love her pregnancy vlogs etc. I find her really relatable and maybe one of the youtube mums I feel like I’d be similar to, so I really like and relate to the style of her videos. Also her little girl River Wren is ADORABLE and I REALLY RESPECT Fleur’s decision not to feature River too much and put her all over the internet and keep it about River’s choice as she gets older!)
Kerry Conway (we went to school together so maybe I’m biased haha but I love following her adventures with her 3 girls and her husband back where I grew up. Loads of helpful info and tips, and she juggles motherhood with entrepreneurial work which is great!)
Kayla Buell(most US based mommy vlogs haven’t been my cup of tea but I love Kayla’s videos! At the time of writing she has a little girl called Riley and is about to pop with her baby boy! I love that she was smart, educated, with a career but fully owned her choice to say “screw the haters, I want to be a stay at home mum”)**
Lucieandthebump – I discovered Lucie when I was almost 10 weeks pregnant and she’s at 14 weeks so a little bit ahead so it’s fun to follow her journey as we’re so close with where we’re at! She does other content too that I don’t really follow so much.
Jessica Hover – she has a couple of baby 101 and newborn tips videos that seem like they’ll be super useful**
**with these American ones, if you’re an atheist like me, the religion can get a bit much, so usually I skip any of those parts!
The technical stuff – tests, OPKs etc.
So I was determined not to use ovulation kits and not to obsess and just enjoy our period of trying when we first talked about it. That went out of the window for various reasons, including Boy having to travel for work and us wanting to maximise our chances… obviously at this point we had no idea it would happen first cycle. So… we ordered the OPKs and then I ordered a BBT thermometer to be extra careful. Here are my technical bits & pieces that I’d recommend.
Clearblue ovulation test advanced digital – these are pricier than the super cheap ones on Amazon, but I wanted a clear, definitive answer on fertility, not to stress about whether there was a line or not! You have a super clear smiley face if you’re ovulating, and a flashing smiley if you’re high fertility. Simple. Stress-free!
Clearblue digital pregnancy tests, especially the Clearblue Pregnancy Early Detection Triple Check kit – these just feel more reliable to me to confirm what you’ve seen on a cheapie, but obviously they’re too expensive to keep shelling out for if you’re testing a lot, so also invest in the below!
Pre-seed lube– apparently regular lube can kill swimmers (fact of the day haha!), and even if you don’t normally need or want lube, if you’re having a lot more sex than normal to try, trust me – buy some of this! Makes everything super easy, and it’s sperm friendly. Woo!
I am obsessed, as you can tell, with learning what the hell I’m in for as I want to be as well prepared, happy and healthy as I can be so that in turn our little cub is super happy and healthy too… so any books, pods, apps, you name it, hit me up!
Also please, PLEASE share your fave pregnancy workouts and any youtubers you think I might like who are similar to the above.
How crazy is this?!! I can’t even explain how excited we both are ❤
So you may have seen on instagram I became a bit sporadic posting in early Jan this year, and then went offline for a few days with some health stuff.
Nothing like something feeling wrong with your body to make you focus on taking care of yourself, right?
I usually rely on my hardcore boxing workouts in mornings, but in giving my body a break I established a new morning routine that has definitely helped me heal and get better.
Rather than a 6.30 start for hardcore workouts, I let myself sleep in til 7.30ish.
I started trying to start 4 out of 5 working days a week with a 10 minute yoga flow. No videos, no structure, just listening to relaxing music, moving my body and finding what feels good a la Yoga with Adriene’s philosophy.
I’d then, post yoga, wash up, clean my teeth, dress and make my way to the kitchen where I drink peppermint tea, a weak green tea, and/or plain old hot water to start my day.
Handful of spinach
I don’t eat breakfast until I get to work at 9.30 but during my morning down-time, I started grabbing a handful of spinach to munch on, so I know I’ve got a hit of some good stuff first thing in the morning. Spinach is amazing – just one cup contains, according to Medicalnewstoday.com:
Instead of being sporadic with breakfast at work, I’ve decided to opt (every work day) for something I know gets as many nutrients, antioxidants, a good burst of fibre and keeps my blood sugar levels steady with slow-release energy as possible – I make blueberry, banana & cinnamon porridge by microwaving plain quaker oats (1 sachet) with water for 2 minutes, stirring in a lot of cinnamon, a handful of fresh blueberries and chopping up 1 small banana on top. Voila! Even when I’m not hungry, I have this at my desk at 9.30 and it’s meant I’ve already got 3 portions of fruit & veg in (the spinach at home first thing included!) before lunch, and I don’t get hangry later in the day or crash out of energy.
So, while I do want to get my boxing back and feel better, putting self-care first and allowing my body the rest it needs has taught me some valuable lessons, especially how much you have to work at keeping your stress levels down! But I feel like all of these things have helped me de-stress, helped my body return to normal and I’m hoping my hormones should all be balanced out now.
I’m definitely going to keep up the caffeine free habit, the handful of spinach, and incorporating as much yoga and meditation into my day as I can.
I’m also going to keep up the better breakfasts, but some days I may swap the blueberry-cinnamon-banana porridge for raspberry, goji berry and maca or blue spirulina just to get a bit of variety.
Some other elements of my January self-care I’ve been loving (not morning-specific!) are:
being alcohol free;
warm baths with essential oils (rose and jasmine are my faves at the moment!) and epsom & himalayan salts;
focussing on getting as many portions of fruit and veg in per day as I can, as per usual but ramping this up to as near to 10 a day as possible!;
eating whole foods;
cooking from scratch as much as possible;
experimenting with new recipes, and being more adventurous with vegetarian recipes for Boy and I; and
making as many of our meals plant-based as we can
What are your January wellness routines or rituals (morning or evening!) that you’re hoping to hang on to for the rest of the year?
I love this one. Venetia Falconer is a vegan and sustainability guru but this isn’t a vegan podcast. She explores amazing food-related topics, health, wellness but also ideas around activism, mental health, and society, interviewing an amazing range of guests. Definitely check it out. Easy and fun to listen to.
Rhiannon Lambert is a super-smart, highly qualified Harley Street nutritionist and her podcast explores all kinds of nutrition-related topics and issues with amazingly qualified guests. Definitely one to inform and bust some myths!
The episodes can be long and occassionally a bit woo, but Rich is an incredible example of what we can achieve. He found himself overweight and an alcoholic approach mid life crisis, and almost overnight turned his life around, becoming vegan, and becoming an ultra-endurance athlete achieving incredible things. He explores fitness, nutrition, wellness and spirituality with long, meandering, chilled conversations with a range of guests. Pop on in the background if you’re working on boring admin tasks!
Much like The Doctor’s Kitchen, this is another podcast by a medical doctor who explores nutrition, fitness and lifestyle issues and questions. A great one to help you live a healthier, happier life.
6. Fit & Fearless, by The Girl Gains (Zanna Van Dijk, Tally Rye and Victoria Spence)
A BBC 5 Live podcast hosted by young, kick ass female PT and influencers, this is a positive, upbeat and uplifting podcast where the girls chat all things health and fitness, bust workout myths, interview leaders in their fields (athletes, nutritionists, you name it!) and give you a much-needed confidence boost to love yourself and your body, and to find workouts you enjoy. A girl power podcast that’s not just for the girls. A nice pre-gym motivator.
What do you think?
Any others you’d recommend? I also love podcasts more generally that aren’t just on health/fitness/food but wanted to share these first as I think they’re really great introductions to these topics by people who are experts in their respective fields, and/or super super inspiring.
Fitness fads come and go, and every January you see new books on fitness and food released, ready to ride the wave and cash in on the ‘New Year, new you’ mindset that so many kick off the year with. One of the new books out is Tally’s‘Train Happy’.
This isn’t another book that’s out to make false promises, coax money from you by promising to make you skinny, or to continue feeding diet culture myths of ‘thin = happier’, and ‘slim white bodies are the only healthy bodies’.
This book is a disruptor in an industry that has long needed it. Tally has been kicking back against diet culture (definition below) and promoting intuitive eating on her social channels for a while now, explaining how she experienced first-hand the power of this to transform her life. In a recent interview on the latest (as of 13 Jan 2020) episode of nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert’s podcast Food for Thought, Tally explained how waking up to diet culture and recovering from obsessive approaches to exercise and equating health and happiness with getting smaller has freed up more time for a balanced life – seeing friends, reading more, becoming more politically active – and moving for joy.
Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.
Oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.”
Tally refuses to continue participating in the fitness industry model of ‘make your
self smaller and life will be better’. She is the first to advocate for the benefits of exercise (both physical health and mental health-related, better overall wellbeing, brain changes, you name it!) but her mission is to show how these can be achieved by moving for joy, and doing what you like, not forcing yourself to pump iron at the expense of your happiness.
So here are my honest thoughts on her brand new book, which is close to my heart as I have written about half a book [unpublished obvs! I wrote it about a year ago I think] on similar topics (not the same, but similar theme!) so clearly it’s a topic that means a lot to me.
‘Train Happy’ – review
Tally deals with a lot in a very upbeat, simple, accessible book. Touching on diet culture, body confidence, body neutrality, body positivity and its origins in the 1960s Fat Acceptance movement, the book crams a lot into a small space but doesn’t feel overwhelming, and successfully delivers what it promises – something to make you stop and think about how and why you eat and train the way you do.
I love Tally’s description of her journey into fitness, and how she moved from her previous ‘diet culture’ and restriction mentality to discovering a healthier, intuitive approach.
Tally advocates for all of the benefits of exercise (of which, yes, there are many physical health benefits!) and encourages everyone to:
let how you look stop taking up so much brain space, leaving room for a happier, more fulfilled, balanced life, and
focus on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of fitness – how does it make YOU feel?
It is the ultimate bible to teach intuitive fitness, an approach which sits well (although it doesn’t have to!) alongside intuitive eating. What is intuitive fitness? This Stylist article on intuitive fitness quotes Tally Rye and sums it up perfectly:
“Intuitive exercise is understanding what your body needs to do. It’s saying ‘life is really crazy right now, I don’t want to go and do an intense class. What I need to do is some meditation or a gentle walk while listening to a podcast.’ Or, equally, it’s saying ‘I was going to do yoga today but I’ve woken up with a ton of energy and so I’m going to go for a run.’ It’s giving yourself room to be flexible with your training and do what feels good on a daily basis.”
The emphasis is on learning to listen to your body and stop punishing yourself, forcing things, and engaging in harmful behaviours like obsessing or giving up sleep and social life to over-exercise. Tally promotes movement and all of its positives but argues that it should enhance your life and be a joyful experience, not adding to your stress-levels.
I love her approach that you know your body far better than any fitness tracker ever could, and find her tips for moving towards this mindset invaluable.
One thing I also love about Tally’s book is she practices what she preaches on social media about going to qualified people for qualified advice. As a PT, yes Tally is qualified on the fitness end of things, but when talking about nutrition she defers to voices like Laura Thomas PhD, a registered nutritionist, and she includes experts from other fields including academic and social theorist Naomi Wolf, and also professional body confidence coaches.
The book is the best medicine for removing any shame and guilt you feel around food and fitness, and giving you the tools you need to implement a balanced fitness regime.
It includes bodyweight workouts which are perfect for anyone who does not have
the time, money or access to a gym or tonnes of expensive gym equipment. The plan at the end is an amazing introduction to this brand new lifestyle and way of thinking. There are plenty of examples of valuable ways of moving your body, busting any myths that training has to be hardcore in a dimly lit studio with army-like instructors yelling at you.
Crucially, the book has beautiful illustrations of women of all shapes and sizes and diverse models – it truly does embody inclusive fitness for all.
Who is Tally?
For anyone who happens to have missed her somehow, Tally is an influencer (Tally’s instagram is here), Personal Trainer, Group Instructor and co-host of the Fit And Fearless podcast on BBC 5 Live. You may also like to check out her website at http://www.tallyrye.co.uk
I’m going to review my experience of ‘tapping’ or ‘EMT (Emotional Freedom Technique)’ in this post, but first I just want to tell you a little bit about how I came across it, and share a kind of disclaimer!
I came across tapping via Jody Shield, who I first saw speak on a wellness panel at YellowKite Books with a nutritionist and fitness professional I highly respect (Rhiannon Lambert and Shona Vertue respectively).
Jody is not someone whose book you would expect to resonate with me (although I love it!), and was a bit different featuring on that panel I mentioned above of scientific, evidence-based women as a modern, new agey intuitive healer, spiritualista, success coach and meditation guide. While I’m always interested in religion and ritual and myth, I’m decidedly atheist, and not spiritual. Other than my foray into wicca and paganism like all teenagers who grow up around Glastonbury when I was about 13/14 (LOL!), I have never believed in a god, or new agey type stuff (though to this day I have an impressive crystal collection!) because I am fundamentally a big believer in things being evidence-based.
That said, placebo is well known to be surprisingly effective and many studies have evidenced this, so let’s suspend disbelief for a moment, shall we…
So, like my interest in ayurveda which I wrote about here, you may have to accept that this is hugely contradictory to my usual stuff, and yes it goes one step (or several!) beyond my thing for yoga and meditation, both of which have proven scientific benefits.
Because, I have to say, whenever I’m going through a tough time, mood wise, health wise, stress wise – I re-read Jody’s book Life Tonic(recently republished under the new title Self Care for the Soul). Yep, I’m a walking contradiction because it’s quite a woo book in places, although it has some really great practical tools too. I also find myself searching for podcast interviews with Jody and just listening to them again and again when I’m in a particularly dark spot – there’s just something so comforting, calming and uplifting about her energy and her voice, even if I don’t connect or rationally believe 100% in everything she believes in.
So what is ‘tapping’ or ‘EMT’?
Also known as Emotional Freedom Technique,the idea behind tapping is that, much like acupuncture is meant to do, EFT / tapping focuses on the meridian points (think energy hotspots on the body – I know, I know, pseudo-sciencey right?!) to restore balance to your body’s energy. It is an alternative therapy technique, and proponents claim that stimulating the meridian points through EFTtapping can:
reduce the stress
resolve negative emotions you feel generally or from a particular issue
and/or ultimately restore balance to your body/mind’s ‘disrupted energy ‘.
For balance, I feel like you should read this snipped from wikipedia about it and the footnotes:
Advocates claim that the technique may be used to treat a wide variety of physical and psychological disorders, and as a simple form of self-administered therapy. The Skeptical Inquirer describes the foundations of EFT as “a hodgepodge of concepts derived from a variety of sources, [primarily] the ancient Chinese philosophy of chi, which is thought to be the ‘life force’ that flows throughout the body.” The existence of this life force is “not empirically supported”.
EFT apparently has no proven benefits as a therapy beyond the placebo effect, or beyond any known-effective psychological techniques that may be provided in addition to the purported “energy” technique (see here). It has failed to gain significant support in clinical psychology (again, see here).
So, you can read the above and be like ok, sod it, it doesn’t work. But, to be honest, it’s pretty hard to find stuff that categorically ‘works’ for treating stress and anxiety. Fine, exercise, fine diet, fine therapy etc. etc. are all key but I for one implement all of those things and still suffer sometimes with stress and anxiety, and none of them are particularly useful in the moment.
So I have tried tapping. I think you can find videos on youtube for free on how to do it, or check out Jody’s book Life Tonic/ Self care for the soulfor full instructions and diagrams, and examples of phrases you can use.
And while it may not have significant effects other than the placebo effect, if the placebo effect works – that’s pretty helpful and powerful stuff.
I have found it to not necessarily be revolutionary but it is something I find calming and a helpful distraction in the moment (even if you look a little bit weird tapping on different body parts!)
I find it needs to be accompanied by deep breathing, which of course does have a proven effect on the parasympathetic nervous system.
Harry got his Hogwarts letter, why can’t we? As Roald Dahl says, those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. This might not be a scientific trick at all, it’s probably all in my mind, but again as Dumbledore says – just because it’s happening in your mind, doesn’t mean its not real. Haha ok I’m being annoying. But basically… I’ll take the placebo, thanks! ❤
Have you tried tapping? Let me know what you think!
So I haven’t been updating our little book club here for a while it seems, which is a real shame as I read well over 50 books in 2019 and some of them were amazing! I’m sure I’ll go back through my goodreads profile and let you know the standout ones.
But I wanted to kick off 2020 with a really nice, relaxed, escapist series, because the world is a crazy place right now in terms of politics, war, and also for me personally health-wise… so I just wanted some good old fashioned novelly-meaty escapism. Nothing heavy. Nothing too literary and deep and existential-crisis-inducing (we’ve got enough of that already!)
The Burning Chambersis a purely historical novel (unlike the Languedoc series which employ a ‘time slip’ structure, sliding between modern day and a period in the past). It kicks off a planned series about the Huguenot diaspora. The series will chart all the way from the wars of religion in 16th-century France to 19th-century South Africa.
Set in the city of Carcassone, which anyone who has read the Labyrinth series will remember well from those books, and later in Toulouse and Puivert, Mosse writes about a time in history where Catholic and Protestant tensions reached boiling point, sparking a long 35 year French civil war.
Sounds heavy, right? Not so at all. Mosse mentions in many interviews (e.g. here) she begins with a sense of place (e.g. Carcassone) and works to bring the area to life. She manages to do the same with history with the lightness of touch you need from genre fiction. The book might look like a door stop, but it’s hell of a page turner, and what I would classify as a holiday read.
Mosse has a masterful way of foregrounding female stories, so this is perfect for anyone who fancies a herstory with a twist.
It’s a historical novel, sure, but fundamentally it is also an adventure and romance, with Romeo and Juliet-esque star-crossed lovers Minou (a Catholic) and Piet (a Protestant) caught up in the conflicts of their time.
I almost thought there’d be more of a mystical element, as with the grail in Labyrinth or the tarot cards in Sepulchre as the book does feature the Shroud of Antioch, but Mosse sticks to realism this time. I wasn’t sure if I’d like that… but turns out I did.
I’d definitely recommend giving this a read if you like history but want something light-touch, engaging, compassionate, with a strong and nuanced female protagonist who still remains realistically ‘of her time’.
The Languedoc Series
This was my introduction to Mosse, as I’m a sucker for an adventure, with some archaeolgical and historical realism thrown in to make something mythical seem plausible.
Labyrinthis a take on the grail legend (a female Da Vinci Code, if you will), and the ‘time slip’ slides between present day 2005, and back to Alaïs, in 1209, a young woman living in the time of the crusade against the Cathars.
Sepulchre‘s time slip dips back to the fin-de-siecle and moves between Paris and Carcassone, and centres around a historical tarot deck and a small church, known as the Sepulchre, in Carcassone, clues to the location of fifth-century Visigoth treasure.
Citadel is set in France in WW2, and Sandrine Vidal, a headstrong 18-year-old girl, and her friends, belong to a group of female resistance fighters called Citadel. The WW2 setting harps back to the central grail of the first book in the series, Labyrinth, as the idea of “a connection between the story of a secret Cathar treasure and the grail was given substance in the 20th century by the work of Otto Rahn, a German historian and SS officer who believed that the Cathars held the key to the grail mystery, and that the evidence was somewhere beneath the ruins of Montségur. His writings attracted the attention of Himmler, whose own fascination with the occult, and with the possible ancient pedigree of an Aryan race, led to the founding of the Ahnenerbe, a society dedicated to research into proving the historical origins of a master race” (The Guardian).
If you like this kind of mythic-pseudo-archaeological-historical realism and adventure (think Dan Brown Angels and Demons, but less testosterone driven, more nuanced, with location playing a bigger role and the landscape of the novels and personalities of the female protagonists coming much more strongly to the fore!) then I highly recommend this series.