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Archive for January, 2014

Jan 30 / Caro

London Transport Trip

It’s hard for me to convey in words just how much Thomas loves trains and transport. It’s an obsession that dominates his day from the moment he wakes to the moment he falls asleep. In fact, it even invades his sleep time as he insists on sleeping with at least six trains and two buses in his cot, and we hear him sometimes narrating his own night time stories with these accessories. He natters away at nursery about stations, and timetables and platform numbers. His train set is the first toy here reaches for each day, and I am thankful every day for the trainspotters who upload their videos to YouTube, as sometimes watching them is the only down time Thomas has. He’s in danger of having a one track mind (can’t resist a pun!) but when I see how happy it makes him, I can’t do anything but go with it.

So the weekend before last, faced with both a beautiful day of few plans and a toddler incessantly demanding to “see a train” and “want to ride a seventy-two train to London Charing Cross” we gave in and took Thomas for a scenic tour of London’s transport.

Our day began on the train to London Bridge (not Charing Cross, much to Thomas’s disappointment, as it was closed due to engineering works). From there we hopped on to the Jubilee Line (“an Underground train mummy and daddy!”) to North Greenwich.

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A low blood sugar for me forced a pit stop for cookies (Thomas) and coffee (us). And there was plenty of running around to be done inside the almost deserted O2. 

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Next up we went flying on the Emirates Airline. This is the first time any of us have used the cable car across the river – admittedly it isn’t terribly useful unless you live or work in either of the areas it serves and need to get to the other! It was extremely quiet and so we, like everyone else, had an entire car to ourselves. Thomas was pretty apprehensive as we made our way up the stairs to board, shouting “Don’t like it mummy. Don’t like it” but his fear were soon replaced with wonder as we took off over the Thames.

He hasn’t stopped talking about it to anyone who will listen since!

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“Next we’re getting the DLR train”. Thomas has a way of pronouncing DLR to sound like a word of its own. Sadly we didn’t get to grab the front seats and “drive” the train, but Thomas still loved it. 

We found our way to Canary Wharf for a lunchtime stop, which included escalator rides – another fascination – and Thomas standing on the escalator himself for the first time ever!

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We completed our journey with a second tube ride and then the bus to Canon Street before catching a train home.

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Such a simple (and relatively inexpensive, given that Ian has a Gold Card, which also gives me discount) day out, but Thomas absolutely loved it. He spoke to his Grandma on the phone two days later and the first thing he told her was that he’d been “on an underground train and it was wobbly” followed by talking all about flying in the cable car. 

I just hope Thomas remains this easy to please for the rest of his childhood!

Jan 26 / Caro

We’re Going on a Sperm Hunt

We’re going on a sperm hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not VERY scared.”

If I’d ever imagined a caricature of conception, then the egg would have been cool and mysterious, aloof even. Perhaps wearing a headscarf and sunglasses and looking more than a little disdainfully at the sperm rushing towards her, falling over one another like over enthusiastic puppies, unable to contain themselves and certainly with no lack of energy and focus to get to their goal.

It turns out in our case the egg could have been wearing a high-vis jacket and neon flashing sign and attempting to fall under the feet of the incoming sperm. For all the good it would have done. Because at some point in the last three years we went from falling pregnant with relatively little effort to a sperm count of virtually zero.

It’s a position that even has our fertility consultant a little baffled, as there is simply no logical explanation for such a dramatic change in our fortunes in the absence of an abnormal hormonal profile and any illness or trauma. Even from a lifestyle perspective, Ian is, if anything, in a better place now than he was three years ago. In fact the favoured explanation at the moment is that we were simply very, very lucky to have ever fallen pregnant before. 

It’s taken a while for me to write about this because it is obviously not just my story to tell. And whilst Ian is not silly enough to believe that a sperm count is any kind of reflection on his masculinity, or worth as a father, other people are not always so sensible. And somehow it’s still more “acceptable”, or at least expected, in this day and age for a woman to have fertility issues than for the problem to lie with the male. Of course, in reality, all fertility problems belong to a couple – there is no fault, or blame or responsibility. It may be Ian’s body which is the predominant problem, but it’s an issue for both of us as a couple. 

I want to write about it, though, because it seems that no one else is. It seems like severe oligozoospermia (low sperm count) and azoospermia (total lack of sperm) are not common causes of secondary infertility (infertility occurring after a previous successful pregnancy). I can believe it’s not that common. And I also wonder if dropping sperm counts do perhaps happen, but go unnoticed, since the only indicator is reduced fertility. If we had only wanted one child, or if Thomas had been our second instead of our first, there is a good chance we would never have known. But I also think that perhaps it doesn’t seem that common simply because no one is talking about it. I want to stand up and say that this happens.

Secondary infertility can be hard enough and lonely enough without shrouding it in further secrecy. People are fond of telling us that we have one child, of course we’ll be able to have another. We’re living proof of the existence of physiological changes that can actually render that impossible. And already having one child doesn’t make it any less painful when your heart and your arms ache for another.

Where we are very fortunate is that we live in a day and age where diagnosis and treatment are possible. Less than half a century ago we would simply have become “that couple” who longed for another child but just couldn’t have one. We’d probably have blundered on with “trying” for the next five years or more, perhaps never truly coming to terms with it. But now we have sensitive techniques for testing fertility problems. We have In Vitro Fertilisation and Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) techniques, which require just a single sperm for each egg collected during an IVF cycle, which is then injected directly in to the egg.

We even have surgical sperm retrieval procedures.

And that’s our golden ticket.

After discovering Ian’s very low sperm count at the end of last year, we had a consultation with a private fertility specialist. (No NHS options for us, given that we already have Thomas.) The plan was to proceed with ICSI, but to be sure we’d have plenty of sperm, especially if the first cycle failed, or we decide on a couple of years that we’d like to try for number three, we decided to freeze some sperm.

Here the real problems began. The diagnosis officially became azoospermia when all efforts yielded zero sperm.

Our only options for another child that is a full biological child to both of us and a full biological sibling to Thomas was to go in and hunt the sperm down surgically. So last Tuesday, we did just that.

Ian was scared for obvious reasons. I was scared for more subtle reasons. Because this was our last chance and finding no sperm would mean the end of the line. (We’ve already discounted donor sperm as I don’t want Thomas to have half siblings. Who knows if this decision would be different if we were trying for our first child.) Although I’ve now had more time to get used to the possibility of an only child, it’s still not my preference. I felt like everything rested on the short twenty minute sperm hunt and the skill of the consultant.

The news is good. Not brilliant, but good. He found sperm, and enough to freeze. The less good news is that we only have enough for a single IVF/ICSI cycle, which has immediately upped the pressure I feel for it to work. So if you’re reading this, I’d like to ask you to keep everything crossed for us.

I’ve said before that I’m trying to avoid asking “why us?”, when the question could just as easily be “why not us?”. 

Because yes, secondary infertility exists. Even secondary azoospermia exists. And it’s heartbreakingly hard. But no matter what happens now, at least we can’t say that we haven’t given it our very best shot.

Jan 25 / Caro

{Living Arrows} 3/52 – Foodie

My son loves to eat.

Yet, he’s also very picky about his food. Or more specifically where he likes to eat.

At home, the dining table is not a popular spot. He’d exist, on days spent in the confines of our house, on biscuits eaten on the run – if only he could. “Don’t like it” is a frequent refrain, even when I’ve set before him something that he has previously declared as “mmmmmm, yummy tummy”.

Nursery is a different story. There he apparently gets his head down and shovels food in as fast as he can, giving warning glances to his little play mates not to try to touch his plate. He eats things there that I’ve never successfully served at home – tuna, cheese and melon, to name a few.

His very favourite thing of all , however, is to eat out at a restaurant. Sat up at the table between us, he states his preference for pasta or sausages, peas or carrots. Confident enough at two to order his own meal. When the food arrives his face lights up. “Mmmmmm, lunch” he shouts, winning over waiting staff and fellow diners alike.

He’s been confidently feeding himself with cutlery for well over a year now, but there is still one meal that foils him every time: pasta bolognese. It’s almost like he can’t help but turn himself orange in the process of eating it all as fast as he can. And I can’t say I mind, because watching him is priceless.

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Jan 18 / Caro

{Living Arrows} 2/52 – Tantrum

In so many ways, Thomas is a typical toddler. When the answer to a demand is “no” – when he is not allowed to eat biscuits all afternoon, go out without shoes or play with scissors – he makes sure he shows his disappointment via that timeless medium: the toddler tantrum.

And he also has a tendency to become extremely frustrated with his limitations. When something does not work how he’d like, when he doesn’t understand how to fix something, or a task is physically beyond his capabilities, he expresses his displeasure for all to see by the same method.

Sometimes I envy him the ability to express his emotions so easily and so completely. Given the opportunity, I’d happily throw the odd tantrum myself. The apple, it seems, does not fall that far from the tree after all!

My weapons of choice for dealing with a major toddler meltdown are distraction and denial. My denial, that is. If I ignore it and pretend it isn’t happening, it usually goes away soon enough! But sometimes I have to take a step back and just laugh. The way he throws himself against furniture or on to the floor. The beating of his fists. The look that comes over his face. The set of his mouth. The anguish in his calls. It’s all Oscar worthy stuff.

And this picture sums up a typical Thomas tantrum!

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(I think I had denied him any more train videos… after almost an hour of trains at London Bridge on a loop!)

 

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Jan 11 / Caro

{Living Arrows} 1/52 – Trainspotting

I read about the Living Arrows project from I Heart Snapping a few weeks ago. Like many others, I can identify with the Khalil Gibran passage which lends the project its name. I loved the inspiration and the idea of the project. Then I promptly forgot all about it.

Until this week when the posts of others taking part began to pop up in my Twitter feed. I loved the idea all over again, and wanted to join in.

Then I sort of forgot about it again. It’s been a tough week of illness and stress. I’ve been busy. All the usual excuses.

Until Friday.

On Friday, Thomas was in the most immense grump. Another new tooth has put in an appearance. He’s been ill and lacking in sleep too. Leaving him at nursery, he cried for the first time in… Forever. I promised him I’d be back just as soon as I could and that we’d go to see trains. A promise that is enough to put a smile on my son’s face no matter what.

Every evening without fail, as we walk past the station on our way home from nursery, Thomas demands that I take him to see the trains. In fact, having patiently explained over and over again that we need a ticket to get in to the station, he now simply demands that we buy a ticket.

“I want to see a train Mummy. Buy a ticket.”

His wails of protest last all the way down the hill and around the corner to the point where we can see the tracks and the trains entering the station. Only then does he calm a little. And we repeat this routine each and every day that he goes to nursery.

But now that I take the train to work on Fridays, I have a train ticket. This simple fact means that I can access the platforms of our local station and take Thomas to see the trains.

When I picked him up on Friday, he asked immediately if we were going to see the trains. And when we got there, with him clutching the receipt for my tickets (“Thomas’s ticket!”), he was in heaven. He chatted away about where the trains were coming from and going to (“London Bridge” and “London Charing Cross”) and what colour they all were. He commented on the number of people getting off each train and declared “going now” and “bye bye train” each time the guard blew his whistle.

We spent a good 25 minutes on the cold platform and the smile never left his face.

It was when I snapped this picture, that I remembered the Living Arrows project.

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I couldn’t help but think how perfectly this photograph fits.

My son is a train obsessive. I can’t pretend to understand what it is that gets him so excited about watching trains – in real life or via You Tube – for hours on end. But what I do know is that this is something he has discovered and come to love all by himself. It’s his self selected passion. When I watch him watching trains, I’m reminded of how rapidly he has developed his own unique personality and interests with very minimal influence from me. That whilst I can guide him and influence him to some degree, I am not in charge of the person he is now, nor the person he will become.

I, of course, love my little train spotter, and will always love him, no matter what he becomes.

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Jan 1 / Caro

Onward! To 2014, Year Of…?

It’s funny, looking back at the last few years of our lives, they each contained a pretty defining event. 2010 was the year of our marriage and the year we moved out of London to set up a more family-friendly home. 2011 was the year of pregnancy. I fell pregnant in the February and spent the year growing progressively more rotund until Thomas was born in the November. 2012, then, was the year of parenting. It was the year where our primary focus was our son and we found our feet with looking after him and helping him grow. I won’t say we learned what we were doing, because I don’t think anyone ever does. But we certainly gained some confidence and had a lot of fun alongside the tough times.

2013 lacks any such milestone. I had hoped it would be a second year of pregnancy, hopefully with another newborn towards its end and it would go down as the year when three became four. Instead it has become the year of trying, and failing, to conceive. The year of discovering our infertility and the only options open to us to grow our family.

Now, as 2014 starts, so does my first cycle of IVF.

It’s exciting and terrifying in equal measure. I can’t let go of the hope that this will go smoothly, that it will work and that I’ll once again spend the bulk of the calendar year pregnant, welcoming a sibling for Thomas before it’s over. I hope that it doesn’t become simply “The Year of IVF”, with repeated IVF cycles resulting in nothing more than a hefty dent in our savings. And I hope it does not become the year in which I say goodbye to the dream of more than one child.

Yet realistically, I know that it might.

It isn’t my favoured outcome, of course, but I’ve finally reached a sort of peace with this, and that what will be will be. I am, and will always remain endlessly grateful for the happy, healthy son that I have and all of the joy that he brings to our lives. I realise the multitude of more difficult and awful circumstances we could be facing right now. I have begun to see the many positives that could come from a life with just one child. But despite this, and despite the fact that I’m not usually one to wish my life away, if I could fast forward for even just a few moments to New Year’s Day 2015, I’d love a sneak preview of how all this might turn out. Because by this time next year, we’ll know.

And only then can I truly move forward.

I feel 2014 is destined to be a year of transition.

Here is hoping that 2014 is also the year of the happy ending, not only for us, but for everyone we know.

Jan 1 / Caro

Christmas Magic Moments

Christmas may not have gone completely to plan, but that doesn’t mean it was devoid of magic and it would be completely wrong for me to let it pass by without recording. After all, Thomas is a two year old boy, for whom the idea of Christmas finally means something. He knew that Father Christmas would come to visit and leave him a stocking under the tree, as he kept telling us on Christmas Eve: “Father Christmas coming. Coming in his sleigh!” There is no denying that he knows what presents are and that “Thomas like presents”.

The look on his face when he saw his stocking and presents was priceless, and I gained a new perception of the magic of Christmas in that moment. We kept it simple this year, with just a few gifts in his stocking – although he was super impressed that there was “more” after each little gift – and just a couple of other gifts.

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Presents were somewhat hastily arranged under the tree, as we hadn’t dared leave them there overnight in case of flooding!

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“More presents?!”

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“Chuclug!” (No stocking would be complete, for either Ian or myself, without chocolate coins!)

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He’s really in to the present opening lark now. We were impressed that he stopped and really played with each new thing before moving on though, and his presents ended up lasting three full days until the last one was unwrapped.

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He’s barely got the corner of the paper off before he began shouting “Farm, farm!” – his present from my parents, which has of course beceom “Farmer McColl’s farm” (It’s a Thomas thing!”

His stocking from us contained a Thomas and Friends DVD, some washable pens (he’s obsessed with pens and usually rejects crayons now) some scissors (likewise, obsessed. We got some fab plastic ones that are not sharp, won’t cut clothes, skin or hair, but do a good job on paper) some Happyland figures, chocolate coins and a chocolate snowman figure. I think we got it about right. His “main presents from us were Duplo and a drawing mat. Of course he was thoroughly spoilt by friends and family too, and we’re still working out exactly where to fit all this new stuff in our already crowded house! His haul included the farm above, a play rocket, shopping to go with his play cash register, and lot of new books.

We also wanted to start some new family Christmas Eve traditions this year. I have plenty of my own already from childhood; Icing the Christmas Cake whilst Carols From Kings plays quietly in the background. Making Mince Pies; Eating Spaghetti Bolgnaise for dinner, always followed by ice cream; hanging stockings on the tree (never the end of the bed!) The ones I most wanted to introduce with Thomas were new pyjamas on Christmas Eve, and the reading of The Night Before Christmas.

I don’t totally “get” Christmas pyjamas, especially for kids. If they get them on Christmas Eve surely they can only wear them for a week and will likely have grown out of them by next year. The answer I usually get is that they can wear them throughout the year, even though it’s not Christmas. But in this case I really would rather he wore non-Christmas pyjamas for the one night of the year that Christmas pyjamas are most suitable, than wear Christmas ones on many nights that aren’t Christmas. So this year Thomas got Thomas the Tank Engine Pyjamas, which we wrapped and allowed him to open before bath time on Christmas eve. I know as a child that opening one present on Christmas Eve, even if I knew what it was going to be, would have calmed my excitement enormously!

We never read The Night Before Christmas as children. We had plenty of other Chistmas books that we did read, but since discovering Clement Clarke Moore’s poem as an older child, I’ve always loves it. Thomas had a very favourable reaction when we took him to the Unicorn Theatre to see a short play of the same title that included the poem in its entirety, and this cemented my desire to make it the final Christmas Eve bedtime story.

Other magic moments included finding him hiding with a tube of Pringles…

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… and the joy he got from my old “Streak Racer” car racing track

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Thomas certainly had a magical Christmas, no matter what else happened. And that, I think, is the most important thing of all!

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