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Can you articulate your strengths?

As part of a personal development programme at work, one that feels that it should probably be called ‘please ladies don’t all leave’, I had to spend 5 minutes standing up to articulate my strengths.  Apparently this is because women, in general, are less good at articulating their strengths without qualifiers, depreciating them or trying to play them down – having had to give it a go you can see that, even though I wanted to dismiss this as tosh, all of us in the room did struggle to try and articulate pure strengths without some sort of qualifier

And it looks harder than it is and harder than it should be

Today I gave the presentation and managed to differentiate myself from my colleagues not only by turning up with a drawing rather than a powerpoint presentation but also by crying…

I’ve posted below what I said because I want to be able to come back and find this in the future – to remind myself that I can articulate what are my strengths and that perhaps I should keep the drawing of Tracy Island stuck on my desk to remind me


There was a point when it seemed like a good idea to accompany this presentation with a papier-mâché model complete with bits that moved – fortunately the little voice of reason spoke up loudly enough and I decided on this diagram instead – admittedly not until after I had considered if I could find time at the weekend in and around the school Christmas Fayre to build something and had pondered the logistics of getting something into the office on a packed commuter train

But why Tracy Island?

Well why not?

When I sat down and identified my strengths it became clear that, whilst they sound unconnected, in fact they are linked by sheer dogged determination, relentless commitment to the cause and adaptability

In case you don’t know, Tracy Island is the secret hideaway of a make believe family fighting the forces of evil

What does that have to do with my strengths?

Well some of theirs match my strengths, my underpinning core values, these core values that make up the foundations of this blue print of Tracy Island – creativity, adaptability, relentless commitment, focus on getting the job done

And the inhabitants of Tracy Island rise to their challenges, adapt their skills in a way that delivers the best outcome and keep going until they have done the job and saved the world

So this diagram is not only a map of Tracy Island but also a blue print of me – a rock, under pinned by core strengths and with parts that move, adapt and explode off in exciting directions, where something that may look mundane can conceal something marvellous

These strengths play into all aspects of my life – the personal and the professional – they are the building blocks of who I am and what I am

So who am I?

If you distil me into the descriptions on my Linkedin and Facebook profiles my name is Hannah

I am 38 years old

I am a recovering investment banker with over 12 years’ experience working as a trusted advisor to management teams

I am an fellow of the institute of chartered accountants

I am a wife, a partner to a husband who is a credit crunch casualty and is reinventing himself running a start up

I am a mother to 3 children

And I’m a frustrated creative

To demonstrate my strengths I want to give you an example

In 2009, when pregnant with my second child, I was advised to go on complete bed rest, as only getting up to go to the bathroom and one trip downstairs a day, to try and keep the baby growing for long enough to risk her being born – it turned into 4 and a half months in bed

After I had gone cold turkey off my blackberry what did I do?

Like most people I got stuck into book and box sets and ticking off the days BUT over those four months I also used the time to qualify as a breastfeeding supporter, to fundraise and set up the only breastfeeding support group in my local community (a group that is still helping families today, 5 years on), I taught myself html and how to build websites and about social media and built myself a bit of a hobby in websites and social media and I taught myself to knit and crochet and started making little cardigans and hats

But in terms of how this differentiates me in a professional context, what does that mean?

It means I continually strive to learn, to learn new skills and to develop existing ones – this has led to me having a unique and unusual skill set compared to my peers, to having a breadth of experience few in my field have

It means I am driven – I am proactive, I am a fixer, I get things done and I harness my energy into making a difference

It means I am adaptable – I evolve to meet the challenge thrown at me, I bend and don’t break, I take on impossible situations and break them down into smaller, more manageable prices

I am determined – and I don’t know if this is really determination or courage – but I am determined in the way you can only be when you have been told there is no hope but you carry on trying just in case, determined in a way that knows that if you just keep on putting one foot infront of the other sooner or later you will have moved on into a different place that will hopefully be better, determined in a way that knows you cannot chose the situations that are thrown at you, you can only choose how you will act and how you will react, determined in the way that you have to be to survive over a decade in investment banking and to do it without losing my soul

In which I realise that I’m known as boob

baby hands

Littlest is doing all those great things that 10, nearly 11, month olds do –he’s discovered how to move and is scuttling around the place doing his 3 limbed sort of a commando crawl, he’s happily feeding himself and delighted to sit with us at the table, he’s fascinated with anything that is out of bounds (plugs, cables, the coal scuttle, anything small and precious to his sisters), and he’s starting to make sounds that a fond parent could imagine is sort of talking

In the mornings he wakes up and starts asking for duh-duh-duh which seems to be his way of asking for Daddy – at least he looks pleased when he’s reunited with the other male in the house

And he’s been saying mum-mum too – I’ve been proudly happy that it was me he first identified (the small advantages of being the absent parent) and that I even managed to get it on video

The only problem is that last week I was away for two nights with work and it became obvious that mum-mum didn’t mean me, it meant my boobs.  Littlest was offered his milk in a bottle and resolutely pushing it away demanding mum-mum

I arrived back home on Wednesday evening and he grinned at me and shouted mum-mum before trying to burrow through my top

And over the weekend he has taken to hitting my boobs when he wants milk whilst shouting mum-mum

So yes, in our house we appear to have Daddy and boobs and I’ve been relegated to just being the person the boobs are attached to…

Help for the bad night coffee club – sponsored post

Big cup of coffee

If you follow me on twitter or Instagram (and if you’re not, why not?)  you will know that I’m a BIG fan of coffee – actually fan is probably the wrong word, my life is held together by coffee and I could not survive without it

The combination of three small children (one of whom Does Not Sleep), needing to be coherent at work and wanting to stay awake on my commute so I don’t find myself accidentally in Brighton (it’s not that I have anything against Brighton, it’s just that I don’t want to drop off and discover I accidentally ended up there rather than at home) means that coffee plays a HUGE part in my life

We’ve had a Nespresso machine at home for at least 11 years (or rather so long back that I know we had it when we got married but I can’t remember exactly when it arrived) and we love it, heck we even designed shelving in our new kitchen to fit it and with a nifty little pull out bit so we could use it easily, but the capsules are eye wateringly expensive

I have tried the new Nespresso compatible capsules that you can get in the supermarket and I’ve been really underwhelmed – the coffee was just not nice.  Yes I could drink it if there was nothing else in the house but I wouldn’t choose it

When Big Cup Little Cup got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in tasting some of their coffee the only possible answer was yes – Big Cup Little Cup make Nespresso compatible pods which are cheaper than the Nespresso branded pods

And they taste wonderful – they taste as good as Nespresso but they are cheaper – what’s not to like?

Their coffees are split into two types – those that are better for people who prefer to drink their coffee as a pint, and those that prefer them short and to the point

I also really like that there packaging is easily recyclable in my normal recycling and that they offer a refund if you don’t like the coffee

If you’d like to give it a go, the code MUDDLING15 will give you 15% off your order



Disclosure – Big Cup Little Cup sent me a pair of lovely glass coffee tumblers and some of their Christmas special Rudolf coffee to try out

Updating on our journey with Littlest

One of the reasons I haven’t written much recently (well apart from the hectic life, preferring to get some sleep than tap away at a computer, needing to do some work at the day job…) is that I’ve held off writing much about what is going on with Littlest – I wasn’t sure that it was fair to write too much about his journey

Over the 5 years I have been writing this blog it has been somewhere I have been able to write down, work through and record the journey that we have been on – it was here when I spent four and a half months on bedrest trying to keep Littlest growing, it was here during the hideous months of her newborn days and whilst we got to grips with her milk protein allergy and it was here during the three years and 4 miscarriages that followed before we were blessed with Littlest
Not feeling I could write has been incredibly isolating – I’ve started on countless drafts but I haven’t been able to get them to a point where I felt I could hit publish
Last week was a particularly tough one and I have realised that not only is this Littlest’s journey but it is also mine

This might be a bit long, involved and wittery but I want to bring you up to date on where we are and what has happened

When Littlest was born he was an alert, healthy, vibrant baby but his left foot was at a funny angle and his left foot and leg looked almost as if they were bruised – they were mottled and purple.  We kept an eye on it, along with the midwives, a couple of pediatricians and our GP and we all agreed it probably was a birthmark (for the record birthmarks blanch when pressed, bruises don’t)


The birthmarks run from the base of his spine all the way down his leg, which is fairly unusual, and eventually we ended up at the birthmark clinic at GOSH to get a bit more information.  We went in thinking this might be Mongolian blue spot (which is fairly benign in the greater scheme of things) and found ourselves being rushed to the ultrasound department to be shoehorned in between other appointments to confirm if this was more serious or really very serious
The good news was that he has venous malformations rather than arterious malformations – one is life impacting, the other life limiting – and the very good news is that they weren’t in his intestines

Over the following months we learnt that his leg has to be kept very warm or it suffers from poor circulation and poor circulation leads to his foot not growing properly – we invested in tights and making sure he was kept warm
We’ve learnt that his ankle can’t be constricted at all or the circulation suffers into his foot and we’ve had to keep him out of the beautiful soft leather shoes that the girls had at this age

As he has begun to be more active we’ve had a steeper learning curve – if his malformations get bumped they get clots in them and he has them on his knee and the sole of his foot

At 10 and a half months he is now commando crawling on 3 limbs with his left leg dragging behind him, he will stand putting weight on his right leg but not his left

To us this is normal – we’ve learnt that there are days when he is in pain, when he screams this awful high pitched noise that won’t stop when you cuddle him and that the best solution is a hot bath and calpol.  That he has days (and nights) when he doesn’t want to put any pressure on his left side and that we need to work around this to help him

The problem last week was that at our last appointment with his consultant we had been told that physiologically he would be able to crawl and walk and I had heard that he would crawl and walk just like the girls.  We had had a call with the consultant about a couple of niggling worries and he had been clear that he would crawl and walk but he would adapt how he uses that limb and it would be delayed and different

It makes me sad to watch him desperately trying to get around but not involving that leg at all and now knowing that this is going to be normal for him and he’s going to have to find ways to adapt

The whole not crawling normally was underlined last week at nursery – we were told that they had been inspected and pulled up that they didn’t have a SEN plan for him – suddenly the outside world was looking at my beautiful baby and seeing someone who is not ‘normal’, seeing someone who needed special support and who was obviously not a bog standard baby

And that is hard

I also struggle with people asking what we are doing to make it better because the hardest thing is that there is nothing we can do to make it better.  We can manage it, we can try and protect it, we can treat the worst symptoms but it will only get worse from this point – there is no cure, there is no solution, there is no magic wand or pill or potion to make it better

I’m his mummy and I cannot make this better, I cannot stop him being in pain

I want to wrap him up in cotton wool and keep him away from the big bad world but that won’t work either

And so please bear with me – in amongst the wool, the knitting sticks, the crochet hooks, the cooking, the thoughts about the world,  I am going to be writing about this new journey we find ourselves on

Woolly weekend

What does an entirely normal person do when things start to get too much and they have a to do list as long as their arm?

Obviously they get wool obsessed for the weekend and end up designing their own pumpkin tea cosy because there isn’t a perfect pattern ANYWHERE on the internet…

Still at least there is a sense of achievement from having created something that looks more or less as you imagined – nearly as great a sense of achievement as getting a picture of your child, the blasted class bear and the Master of one of the London Livery Companies in his fur trimmed robes!

beginning of a pumpkin

More pumpkin

finished pumpkin

Sorry the last one is a bit dark – it was rather late by the time I’d finished trying to replicate a proper pumpkin leaf in crochet without a pattern

So, whilst we may not have all the other things ready for Littler’s party next weekend, at least we won’t have cold tea!

Struggling to keep going on

I haven’t been around much recently – I have wanted to be but there hasn’t been enough time for twitter / Instagram / blog reading and my computer is littered with part-typed, half thought through blog posts but rather than manage to do all of this I have been struggling to keep going on with even the basics of life

Life has been just too big and too in the way and has taken everything I have emotionally leaving nothing over to reach out into the bigger world

The big, bad real world has been determined to take any last, lingering glimmers of optimism I might have had and to do its best to extinguish them

The long, incredibly drawn out process to complain about what we believe was inappropriate treatment at the hands of healthcare professionals earlier in the year stumbles on with no end in sight and the need to keep throwing more energy and emotion into fighting our corner in the face of indifference and attempts to avoid engaging with our problems

Home is a battle ground – nobody is happy and the chasm of expectation gaps that exist between what each of us think the other is and should be doing and what actually happens is the basis of rows all the time.  We lack time to even patch things up and work things out, we lack time to be kind to each other and to give each other a break – I’ve no idea how much longer we can go on like this or how we turn things around

The journey that we has just started on with Littlest gets harder and harder.  At our last appointment we were told that physiologically he would be able to crawl and to walk and went off happy that we had been overly pessimistic.  The reality is that able to move and able to move like a normal child are very different things – watching him try to crawl on 3 legs and dragging his leg behind him, watching him in pain, being reminded again and again that this only gets worse from here on breaks my heart each and every day.  I’m his Mummy and I want to make it better and there is no way that it can ever get better

I don’t know how to deal with this – I don’t know how to pick myself up from the weight of sadness I feel at it all

I reached a point where if I had been offered a chance to step off, to have a break, to stop having to deal with all of this I would have grasped it with both hands, dived under my duvet and not got out again for days

The reality is that I don’t have that luxury

I get bad news, finish the call, wipe my eyes and go back onto the floor at work smiling and trying to pretend that all of this doesn’t overlap into my professional me

I keep putting one foot infront of the other and keep going

But it doesn’t stop me feeling sad, incredibly sad, profoundly sad and unsure of how things go from here.  It doesn’t stop this phase of our journey being almost too hard

But they say that each journey starts with a single step and I just need to keep taking those little steps and hope that around the next corner the world is a better place

Me breastfeeding shouldn’t matter to you

Happy breastfed baby It’s gradually started to dawn on me that people seem to have a bit of a problem with me continuing to breastfeed and I really don’t understand why

Littlest is a whole, chubby, gorgeous 9 months old and, like most babies at 9 months has just discovered that people can go and They Don’t Come Back!  I think it’s fair to say that he isn’t enjoying the realisation that Mummy Can Go and it hasn’t been helped by someone deciding to do 4 teeth in the space of a couple of weeks.  Oh and did I mention that he has ManFlu?

Breastfeeding for us works – we use it reconnect after I’ve been mean and left him for the day at work and it works to mean we get some sleep at night, we cuddle up together and the lovely hormones help us both fall asleep

Yes I am still pumping during the day but, as it did with the girls, it’s starting to reduce as they are less interested in milk during the day

So far so good – we’ve found a balance that works for us and fits our life – I don’t know when we will stop nursing but I know that at some stage we will.  At the moment I’m focused on carrying on for a while and for at least until his first MRI under general anaesthetic next year – I know from experience this won’t be a fun experience and if I can still give him the comfort of nursing then I want to be able to do that

But these choices have nothing to do with everyone else, they don’t hurt anyone and they really should have no impact outside of our little family circle

Except it seems that some people seem to feel that my continuing to breastfeed is some kind of judgement on their choices and really trust me it isn’t – I’m fully aware that my choices aren’t for everyone.  I totally get that most people don’t want to pump at work and I understand that but for me it is something I feel that I really need to do for my babies.  I totally get that most people have absolutely no desire to nurse once their baby has teeth and I understand that but I travel hopefully that I’ll be able to work this stage through without too much tooth vs nipple (I REALLY hope this works out the right way).  I totally get that most people get to a stage when they are done and that’s great if that’s what you really want

But none of this has anything to do with my choice to breastfeed

Yet when people at work realise I’m STILL breastfeeding, their reactions are usually defensive or negative- ‘oh we don’t feel that there’s any nutritional value post 3 months so haven’t’, ‘we wanted the baby to sleep so stopped’, ‘I couldn’t combine pumping and working, it just can’t be done’, ‘I wanted my life back’, ‘you’re never going to get him to stop now’, ‘teeth!’

Please stop

If you think I’m judging you, just because I’m still nursing, please know that I’m not – I’m too tired, too overwhelmed with everything else to even care what your choices are

And that’s the thing, they are your choices – I’m working on the basis that they are choices you have made that work for you, just like the choices I’ve made – they work for you and they’re what you’ve chosen and nothing I do or don’t do should impact on them

If you aren’t happy with your choices that is a whole other thing but please don’t reflect that onto me

What would be great is if you could stop me feeling a bit meh about sharing what the reality of my life is – I don’t want to feel that I should hide my choices just in case they make you uncomfortable.  I mean it’s not as if I’m walking around the office with my boobs out and my pump on, which would be a little out there…


5 things my 5 miscarriages have taught me

5 lessons from my 5 miscarriages

I have been reading back through my old blog posts, reading back through the story of the last few years and realising how incredibly lucky I am that we got through those days and we are now in such a lucky, blessed place

Reading back through my posts about my miscarriages I wish I could go back in time and give myself some advice, that I could have told myself to be kinder to myself

If I could go and get a cup of tea with the person I was then there are some things I learnt through all of that sadness and loss that I would want her to know


1.       It isn’t your fault

You have done nothing wrong – honestly you haven’t

I know it feels like you have but you haven’t

I still blame myself for stupidly subscribing to the ‘it’s a pregnancy not an illness’ and running a 5k race just before I lost one baby.  Logically I know that running that race changed nothing, emotionally I cannot stop thinking what might have been if I hadn’t

Conversely I didn’t know I was pregnant with Littlest – I wasn’t taking folic acid, or vitamins or doing any of the good stuff in those vulnerable first few weeks

Mother Nature is a beast who works in mysterious ways (anyone who makes early pregnancy symptoms and pre-menstrual symptoms the same has a lot to answer for in my book) and nothing you can or don’t do will jinx things


2.       Hope is both your friend and your enemy

One of my most vivid memories of my miscarriages is waiting in the ultrasound area after a scan convinced it was all going to turn out fine for 20 minutes before the nurse told me I’d lost the baby.  I’d heard them take measurements, asked to see the screen and they hadn’t let me and I was sure it was all going to turn out ok.  It didn’t and the rollercoaster down from the heights of that relief that it was all going to work out was one of the hardest things I’ve experienced

And then there’s the hope each month that you might get pregnant and that it might work out

You need hope to keep trying to conceive, you need hope to want to get pregnant when you might have to endure the pain of another loss – sometimes accepting that perhaps you can’t hope right now is ok too.  It’s hard work trying to stay positive and it’s ok to turn that off and just be glum if you need to be


3.       Everyone deals with loss differently

There is no perfect, no right way to deal with loss

For some people it is easier for them to subscribe to stiff upper lip and move on, for others they need to acknowledge their loss and embrace it

And with each loss you may react differently – I don’t know why but how I have reacted has been different after each loss.  With one I can remember having been absolutely calm and controlled and ok for weeks only to suddenly find myself sitting in my car after work howling because a song came on the radio that triggered such a strong memory of loss.  With another I remember a weekend filled with tears upon tears only to find that by Monday morning I had cried myself out and was able to pick myself up

Some people want to talk, some don’t, some can, some can’t – there isn’t a right or a wrong way, just what feels right for you here and now

There have been times over the last years when I have hit a deep dark patch and not been a particularly nice person – there have been pregnancy announcements that I have struggled to be joyful about, where I have only felt incredibly resentful that someone else can have a baby and we can’t, there have been times when some pregnancies have felt to be more ‘deserved’ than others because they were those couples who had struggled through infertility or loss

Don’t beat yourself up – take time to heal yourself and fake a joyful reaction on the phone or on email even if you don’t feel it.  And then go and kick the door, have a stomp, a huff, a good cry – it’s not wrong to feel like this


4.       Pregnancy will never be the same again for you

I’m sorry but after you have lost a baby you will never feel the sheer, unadulterated joy of seeing a positive pregnancy test and thinking that you are Going To Have A Baby!

You now know that it isn’t as simple or as automatic as that

And it is utterly wrong that you have lost that joy and excitement but there is nothing that can bring it back

It doesn’t mean that your pregnancy isn’t a blessing and a joy and a wonder but it is all overlaid with the dread that it might not work out


5.       Take it one day at a time

One of my friends told me to live my pregnancy by the mantra ‘go to bed pregnant, wake up pregnant, take it one day at a time’ – it won’t stop you thinking each twinge is a bad sign or obsessively knicker checking but it will help you to keep putting one foot infront of the other

Try and not look too far into the future, to see milestones you aren’t sure you will get to

Be kind to yourself around your milestones – the scan where you got bad news, the day you started to bleed and they couldn’t find a heartbeat, the due dates, the anniversaries – mark them as you want to mark them and put a little bit of cotton wool around yourself and try and not just soldier on


And one extra last one – there may be times during your next pregnancy when you don’t feel excited or happy or you feel utterly drained by nausea and aches, just because you wanted this pregnancy desperately doesn’t mean you have to love every single minute of it and not loving every single minute of it won’t jinx a thing

Relearning to love my battered body

Relearning to love my battered body

Family shadows

Over the last few weeks I’ve been struggling with accepting my post babies body shape – I know that they say 9 months on and 9 months off but Littlest will be 9 months at the weekend and I have to accept that there are 4 kilos and a squidy tummy that aren’t going to disappear between now and then

In some ways I love my body – despite everything it has nurtured 3 beautiful babies and it has done so against the odds with Littlest and Littler.  The squidy tummy grew 3 small humans and my droopy boobs fed them into gorgeous fat healthy toddlers

And yet I look in the mirror and I don’t see that strong body, I see flab and fat and stretch marks and a body that is unloved and that mostly makes me feel unloveable

The changes in my body are a very physical reminder of the struggle to work out who I am and how I can be now that I am a mother as well as me

I am desperate that my girls don’t see this body dislike emanating from me – I can remember my mother battling with her weight during my childhood, the ‘efforts’ to lose a bit here and there, the constant fretting and the very little it did to change anything I could see but the unhappiness is caused her

I have tried to learn from that lesson and to not let my negative feelings about how I look become negative messages that my daughters hear – I want to believe that in their eyes I am beautiful, perfect, that I am what a mother should look like and that not even a small part of me regrets the damage wrecked on my body by my pregnancies because it has given me them

I look at my daughters and I see the most beautiful people in the world – strong, confident, beautiful girls who can do anything they set their hearts on

Ideally I’d wrap them up in cotton wool and protect them from my negative thoughts and protect them from any negatives external influences

I can’t do that but what I can do is arm them with the tools to underpin their self-esteem and I can be conscious about how I speak about my body image in the full knowledge that they are taking in every message as part of their lessons in how to grow into a woman and a mother

Research by Dove* reveals that 71% of girls feel pressure to be beautiful, but are less likely to let anxiety hold them back if they have a positive beauty role model in their lives.  With 41% of women rarely feeling positive about their appearance, and a quarter (27%) of UK women stating they haven’t had an influential beauty role model in their lives, it’s imperative they feel good about their looks so they can ensure their own beauty legacy is a positive one

Dove have produced a beautiful film which highlights the importance of women seeing their own beauty so they promote a positive beauty legacy to the girls in their lives



Leading psychotherapist and Chair of the Dove Self-Esteem Project Advisory Board, Susie Orbach said: “how we talk about ourselves, how we eat, how comfortable or uncomfortable we are in our own bodies, is the medium in which a daughter’s own body sense and body confidence grows or wilts. How well a young girl or young woman deals with the onslaught of media and commercial forces on body preoccupations is affected by what they pick up at home. Mothers are so important in providing a safe base.”

Armed with the knowledge they have the power to affect younger generations, more than half of women (53%) are actively trying to become better role models for young girls.  The one piece of advice most women want to share with younger girls to promote a positive beauty legacy is, to ‘learn to accept who you are’ (35%), ‘be true to yourself’ (29%), and ‘learn to see the beauty that exists in everyone’ (51%)

Dove has created a variety of self-esteem building materials and activity guides for women to discuss with young girls (aged 7-17) in their lives, so they can take steps to improve their self-esteem. The full range of self-esteem building materials can be downloaded from www.selfesteem.dove.co.uk


* Dove Girls’ Self Esteem Research 2010 and 2013 and 2014 One Poll survey of 2,000 UK women aged 30-55 who have a relationship with a girl aged 7-17


Sponsored by Dove – opinions by me

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