Thursday, 11 September 2014

Hyperemesis gravidarum and the royal baby - A time of mixed emotions

I was delighted to hear the news that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their second child.  However, for me, the good news was tinged with feelings of sadness. I can't help but feel extremely sorry for the Duchess as she is again suffering from the awful and debilitating illness, hyperemesis gravidarum.

Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a severe form of pregnancy sickness involving constant and unrelenting nausea and vomiting. Women lose a considerable amount of weight (in some cases this can be as much as 10% of the woman's pre-pregnancy weight), they become dehydrated and frequently require IV fluids in hospital. HG renders sufferers too ill to carry out simple daily tasks and they are often bed- or house-bound for months on end. This leads to an overwhelming feeling of isolation which can result in depression.  A second or subsequent pregnancy brings with it additional feelings of distress and guilt at not being able to care for older siblings. HG is not confined to the first trimester and can last for the full nine months.

As news of the royal pregnancy broke, upsetting memories of my own pregnancies came flooding back to me.  But at the same time, I felt excitement. I was excited that this little-known and often misunderstood condition, and the charity for which I am a trustee, Pregnancy Sickness Support, would get much-needed publicity as a result of the sudden media interest in the Duchess's illness.

On Monday afternoon two of my colleagues and friends found themselves on trains heading for London to appear on national television the following morning talking about HG. How amazing is that! Fellow trustee, Caitlin Dean (aka Spewing Mummy) appeared on This Morning and Amanda Shortman (from the Family Patch), who is the charity's volunteer coordinator, sat on the sofa next to Dr Hilary on Good Morning Britain. 

They both did a brilliant job of conveying what a truly awful illness HG is, dispelling some of the myths about the condition (e.g. that ginger will not help a woman who cannot keep down even the tiniest sips of water!!!) and highlighting that support is available through the charity.  Frankly, having co-written a book on HG, they both know a heck of a lot more about the condition than the medical experts they were sitting next to! They were fantastic ambassadors for the charity and for all those women who are suffering or have suffered in the past and I felt hugely proud of them.

So, it has been a very busy and exciting couple of days for the charity. OK, the media may not always get the facts right and many are (frustratingly and incorrectly) still intent on referring to it as "acute morning sickness" or even "super sickness" rather than giving it its proper name, hyperemesis gravidarum.  But at least the condition has been brought into the public eye and is being talked about. For me that can only be a good thing. We are already seeing the results as women have joined the charity's online support forum having seen the television coverage. 

But let's not forget that the reason for all the media attention is that there is a very poorly woman, probably with a drip in her arm, lying in bed with a vomit bowl by her side or her head in the toilet. A Duchess she may be but she will be suffering just like anyone else with HG. I am sure she has plenty of support and is getting the best care and treatment available but this does not change the fact that she is likely to be feeling extremely ill, thoroughly miserable and possibly even frightened at what the next 8 or so months have in store. Coupled with this, she may be overwhelmed with guilt that she is unable to look after Prince George. My heart goes out to the Duchess as it would to any sufferer and I would like to wish her well at this challenging time.  

If you are struggling to cope with HG or pregnancy sickness and would like to talk to someone, you can contact the charity in a number of ways:

Helpline: 024 7638 2020
Online forum:
You can also find the charity on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Shropshire Kids Fun Triathlon - A Great Event!

The swimming course at Dearnford Lake
On Saturday, J completed his first triathlon at the ripe old age of 7!  It's something that no-one in our family has ever done and we are immensely proud of him, not just because he wanted to do it to raise money for the RNLI Lifeboats, but also because he did it with a big smile on his face.

The triathlon was organised by UK Triathlon and took place at Dearnford Lake in Whitchurch, Shropshire.

Ready for the swim
Pre-event briefing
The event

The triathlon was very well organised from booking right through to the end of the event. Booking could be done online or by telephone and was very easy. The cost of entry was £20 which I thought was good value considering the amount of organisation involved and that a souvenir t-shirt was included. Registration at the event was also quick and easy. We were given J's t-shirt, race number, bike sticker and two wristbands, one for J and one for an adult who could enter the bike rack area to help him during transition.

The event was divided into age groups with different distances for each group.

Age 7-8: 25 metre swim, 1 km cycle, 500 metre run
Age 9-12: 50 metre swim, 2 km cycle, 1 km run
Age 13-16: 100 metre swim, 3 km cycle, 1.5 km run

The swim was in the lake and was very safe.  There was a lane rope which children could hold on to if they needed to catch their breath and divers and canoeists in the water to help the children if necessary.

The location

Dearnford Lake is a beautiful setting.  It's family-run and has a lovely cafe on site where we enjoyed yummy ice creams and cakes after the triathlon.  The cafe also serves breakfasts, lunches and afternoon teas and I'm sure we will be returning to sample some of these before too long.

There is also a children's playground, walks around the lake and, for the more adventurous, wild swimming in the lake for a £5 fee.

Into transition

End of the bike lap
On the day

Following registration, we took J's bike and kit to the transition area.  We racked his bike and laid out his trainers, towel, helmet and water bottle.  As newcomers to this triathlon business, I had a bit of a nosey to see how other people had done it first! We then had time for a bite to eat which, as we were very lucky with the weather, was a picnic by the lake. Lovely!

As it got nearer to J's start time,we headed down to the lake. The children had individual start times and entered the water one at a time at regular intervals.  About 10 minutes before their start time, children were given a short briefing in small groups. The man told them the information they needed to know but also joked with them and high-fived them all. I'm sure that helped to relax the kids and dispel some of their pre-event nerves. I'm not sure it helped the nerves of all the parents standing on the side though!

I made a quick dash up to the transition area to make sure I was in position for when J appeared. I managed a quick photo of him running towards me and then it was all stations go helping him to make the quick change: swimming top off, feet dry, socks on, shoes on, t-shirt and number on, helmet on, bike unracked ... GO, GO, GO ... and he was safely off on the 1 km cycle, followed by the 500 metre run. Phew!

At the end of the cycle, marshals took the bikes and helmets and racked them so the children could go straight into the run. As J approached the finish line his name was called out over the PA system, as well as the fact that he was raising money for the RNLI.  All children received medals for completing the course and, quite rightly, there were lots of very proud parents and grandparents cheering them to the finish line!  Well done to all the budding little Brownlees who took part! They were brilliant.

Nearing the finish line
Well done - you did it!
The verdict

J thoroughly enjoyed doing the Shropshire Kids Fun Triathlon and is looking forward to doing it again!  I would highly recommend it to any child who likes swimming, cycling and running and enjoys being active. Many of the children were taking part in their first triathlon and it was a very safe and supportive environment. Thank you to UK Triathlon for a very well organised and fun event and to Dearnford Lake for such a beautiful location. We will definitely be back next year!

J has raised more than £340 so far for the RNLI.  He still has to do the second part of his fundraising challenge, the Lichfield Family Fun Run in September, so it's not too late to sponsor him.  If you would like to sponsor him please click here. Thank you.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

RNLI Storm Force Fun Day at Drayton Manor

We had a fabulous day on Sunday at Drayton Manor Theme Park for the RNLI Family Fun Day. The day was organised by the RNLI for members of its children's club, Storm Force. Storm Force members got free entry, as did siblings under 4, and adults were £15 each so it was a very good value day out compared to standard theme park prices.

Storm Force is a great club for any child with an interest in life boats and rescues. For £7.50 you get a membership pack including a bag and lots of other goodies as well as four magazines a year packed with rescue stories, news, activities, competitions and more. Click here for more details.

At the Fun Day there was an inshore lifeboat, crew kit to try on and Stormy Stan, the Storm Force mascot, appeared at regular intervals for photo opportunities. There was also the chance to try out the Stormforce ride which Drayton Manor launched in association with the RNLI. Drayton Manor has supported the RNLI since the ride opened in 1999, raising enough money to fund a lifeboat called the Drayton Manor.

C loved trying on the big yellow wellies but was a little wary of meeting Stormy Stan. She was much happier having her photo taken with this Stormy Stan statue on the bench! 

The highlight of the day for J was being tall enough (1.20m) to go on Stormforce 10 (twice) and getting drenched (twice)! When I say drenched, I mean drenched ... think having a bucket of water tipped over your head and in your lap! We were forewarned so I decided to postpone my ride on it until later in the day so I would not have wet clothes for too long. It was the right decision. Despite wearing my waterproof and covering my legs with a borrowed one, I still ended up with very wet feet and trousers. There is also no escape for people sitting at the back as the lifeboat turns round and does a reverse drop into the water! The ride was great fun though despite the soaking and if you are really fed up about getting wet there are large people dryers to help you dry off.

Apart from the RNLI activities we also enjoyed all the other rides and activities the theme park has to offer. We spent a lot of time in Thomas Land which is great for little ones and well worth a visit. At 7 years old, J still enjoyed some of the rides, such as Cranky the Crane drop tower and the Troublesome Trucks roller coaster, although one or two were a little too tame for him. Instead, he satisfied his daredevil streak with Ben 10 Ultimate Mission.  

All in all, we had a great day out and I would like to thank the RNLI for organising the Family Fun Day. It is an annual event and we will definitely be keeping an eye out for it this time next year.

Friday, 27 June 2014

50th Anniversary Sponsored Walk - 10 Top Tips

This academic year marks the 50th anniversary of my son’s school. The school’s Parents Association (PA) decided to kick off the year’s celebrations with a sponsored walk. I, together with another mum, agreed to organise the event, with the help of many others, of course.  It was the first event I had taken on for the PA and and at times it was a little stressful but in the end we were blessed with beautiful weather and it turned out to be a really lovely afternoon.  Of course, you can’t plan the weather but if you are organising a similar event there are many steps you can take which can help ensure it is a success.

Here are my top ten tips.

1.Celebrity status. Why not see if you can find yourselves a celebrity to open the event?  We really wanted to make the event special for children, staff and parents and what better way than to have a star from London 2012 visit the school to inspire the children?  In the early stages of preparation for the event this was the aspect that most pre-occupied me as I tried numerous avenues (Facebook, work colleagues, fellow parents) and followed up various leads most of which eventually came to nothing.  In the end, we were lucky enough to be joined by Olympic hockey medallists, Jane Sixsmith and Laura Unsworth.  They were fantastic - they turned up wearing their GB kits, with their Olympic medals and spent the afternoon signing autographs and encouraging the children.  If this is the route you want to go down then call in favours, try as many avenues as you can to find someone who has contacts and don’t give up if initially promising leads come to nothing.

2. Pick a theme. This could be anything you like depending on what event you are celebrating.  You could pick a colour theme or children could make and decorate hats in a particular style. We decided to make it a fancy dress walk with each class allocated a decade from the 1960s to the present day.  Some of the older classes also incorporated this into their class work by studying fashions from previous decades. The children (or perhaps more accurately the parents!) really went to town - there were lots of leg warmers, mullet wigs, seventies flares etc. I'm sure you get the picture.  Apart from being great fun for the children, it also made the walk a lot of fun for the parents and grandparents to watch.

3. Plan ahead. Our walk took place in September but planning got underway the term before so that a letter and sponsor form could be sent out before the Summer holidays.  Another form was sent on return to school after the Summer break for those people who had inevitably mislaid the form over the holidays.

4. Lists, lists and more lists. I have to confess that I am a bit of a listoholic.  I am not the sort of person who makes a list of the lists that I need to write.  But I am rather embarrassed to say that I have been known to add something I have already done to a list just for the satisfaction of being able to cross it off the list (I know that's very sad).  I had several meetings with the head teacher and would go armed with a long list of the issues to discuss. This was essential – I always had my youngest in tow and without a list I would no doubt have been side-tracked easily by toddler distractions.

5. Delegate where necessary. Although I am pretty good at knocking up Word documents and even Powerpoint presentations, anything else is way beyond my limited capabilities.  So I had to get help with some of the documents we needed (admission tickets and achievement certificates for the children). Make use of skills you have among parents at your school or people involved in your organisation.

6. Practicalities.  The walk took place in school time so the teachers and staff took care of many of the practicalities, such as deciding on the number of laps to be walked by different year groups.  Each year group started from a different “station” on the same course. Children were given a card which they had stamped each time they passed their own station. When they had completed the maximum number of laps they were rewarded with a well-deserved chocolate bar and a much-needed drink.

7. Publicity. Children love to see themselves and their school in the newspaper so it was my mission to get some publicity for the school and the sponsored walk. I had previously had dealings with the local newspaper so I called my contact well in advance to ask if she would be interested in running an article.  She told me the information she would need which I sent to her before the event. The reporter arranged for a photographer to come along but we also found a parent volunteer who was happy to take photographs of the walk. I was really pleased with the finished article which had some great pictures of the day's events and was a lovely record for the school and the children.

8. Invite supporters and sell refreshments. Coffee, tea and cakes always go down well and are an easy way of making a bit of extra cash. You could also sell ice creams or freeze pops if the weather is hot.

9. Offer rewards and incentives.  Each child received a special achievement certificate after the walk. If funds allow you could give children a small gift such as a commemorative mug. We also awarded a prize (a DVD and popcorn afternoon) to the class that raised the most money. We set a deadline of two weeks after the walk for bringing in money. Any money brought in after this date was not counted for the purposes of the prize which seemed to work well. More money did trickle in after that date but the vast majority was in on time.

10. Finally, sit back and watch the money roll in.  We are a small school of 210 children and we raised over £2,000 from the walk. So, if you are thinking about organising a sponsored walk, go ahead - it’s a great way to raise money and lots of fun too!

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Race for Life - We did it!!

Last Sunday, my friend Julia and I took part in the Race for Life 5K in Sutton Park. It was the first time either of us had run Race for Life (or any 5K for that matter) and it was an amazing experience! We were blessed with a gorgeous, sunny day (although this did have the downside of being a little warm for running at times!) and we were joined by more than 2000 (yes 2000!) other women and children who ran, jogged or walked in aid of Cancer Research UK. It must have seemed rather strange to anyone out for their Sunday morning stroll to witness a sea of pink moving en masse through Sutton Park!

The event itself was well organised.  It started with warm-up dances including the "Cancer Slam", and moving personal accounts from people affected by cancer.  There were bouncy castles for the little ones, refreshments stalls and plenty of toilets! I have to say the bottle of water and brioche I received on completing the course were very welcome indeed and the medal was a nice touch too.

I found it particularly poignant reading some of the back signs on which each participant had written the name or names of loved ones they had lost to cancer, or who were still fighting. What better motivation to keep us all going to the finish line than the thought that we were all in it for the same reason - to put an end to the loss, suffering and grief caused by such a cruel, indiscriminate illness!

Come on mum!
In March I blogged about the early days of my training which you can read about here. I have come a long way since then and Julia and I were over the moon to complete the course in less than 40 minutes. This might not seem fast to the more seasoned runners among you but I don't think it is too bad for my first ever attempt, only a matter of months after knee surgery.  My "knee op to 5K challenge" (as Julia named it) was a success!

It was a great experience and for a fantastic cause so I am certain that this will not be the last time Julia and I take part in Race for Life ... but maybe next time we'll tackle the 10K!!

It's not too late to sponsor me. If you would like to make a donation, my fundraising page is here.

If you would like to take part in your own Race for Life (and I would definitely recommend it), it is not too late as there are still events to come. Click here to find your race.

Training for next year?

The boys ready to cheer us on

Warm up dance
Can you spot us dodging the walkers at the start?

Nearly there
We did it!!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Mum gets her RNLI Gold Badge

My mum has been raising money for the RNLI for almost as long as I can remember. For many years she was Treasurer of the local RNLI committee, before taking on the role of Chair this year. We were all delighted and immensely proud to learn a few months ago that she had been awarded the prestigious RNLI Gold Badge which she would receive at a ceremony at the Barbican.  Along with two of her colleagues, she received coverage in the local press for her well-deserved award.

The RNLI might not seem like an obvious interest for a seven year old living in landlocked Birmingham but, largely thanks to his Grandma's influence, J has a real interest in lifeboats and lifeguards. He is a member of Storm Force, the Lifeboat club for children, and waits eagerly for the next edition of the Storm Force magazine to arrive.  Our holidays to the coast are not complete without trips to visit the local lifeboat stations. During our last holiday we were lucky enough to have a guided tour of the all weather lifeboat in Fowey and J was so excited.

So what perfect timing that J's school was closed for polling day on 22 May 2014, the day of Grandma's presentation!

We squeezed in a bit of sightseeing
That day we were up early for our train to London so that we could fit in a bit of sightseeing before the awards ceremony.  This was J's first sightseeing trip to London and top of his list were Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. By chance, we timed it perfectly and even saw the changing of the guard.

After a quick bite to eat and a ride on the circle line it was time for the ceremony at the Barbican.

The stage is set and the Guest of Honour arrives
The ceremony kicked off with an inspiring film showing some of the many rescues carried out by the RNLI during 2013.  I couldn't help but be astounded by the bravery of the volunteer lifeboat crews. Some of the weather conditions shown in the film were atrocious. When most people would retreat indoors, the crews don their kits and head out in storms, gale force winds and terrifying waves. What a truly amazing and courageous bunch of people!

Before the presentation of the Gold Badges, there were five special awards: Innovation, Youth, Branch, Corporate and Media. The well-known artist, Tracey Emin, was presented with the Innovation Award for her collaboration with restaurateur, James Stephenson, which involved Tracey painting and auctioning a watercolour which raised £100,000 for the RNLI.

Tracey Emin receiving her Innovation Award

J likes to dress appropriately
My mum received her Gold Badge from the Guest of Honour, Torbay coxswain Mark Criddle, who received an RNLI medal for gallantry in 2008 following his leadership of a daring two-hour rescue of 8 crew members from a stricken cargo ship. The details of the rescue are breathtaking. The cargo ship was listing at a 45 degree angle and, in severe gale force 9 winds, the crew had to make over 50 attempts to get the lifeboat in a position alongside the cargo ship where the 8 crew members could be persuaded to jump from their ship to the lifeboat. Without the efforts of the lifeboat crew, all 8 cargo ship crew would have perished.

I can think of no better person to present mum's medal than a decorated RNLI hero. After all, that is what it is all about  - all the events mum has organised over the years, all the money she has raised with her committee - it has all been for one reason, to ensure that RNLI crews have the equipment and resources they need to save lives.

Well done mum! You thoroughly deserve your award and you have made us all very proud.

Mum's big moment 

Celebrity photo-bombing

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Susie's Big Brew - The Day Arrives

Getting ready for the Big Brew

Friday 16 May was the day of my "Big Brew" to raise money for Pregnancy Sickness Support, the charity of which I am a trustee.  This was the culmination of my Pregnancy Sickness Support Awareness Roadshow which I started way back in August as part of the charity's Nine Months Of Campaign.

In the week running up to my Big Brew, I spent most evenings in the kitchen baking.  I would have liked to involve the children (and I did feel a little guilty for not doing, knowing how much they love baking) but I just didn't manage to find time during the day when they were around. On the plus side, I discovered that the benefit of late night baking is that, with no greedy little ones around, I got to scrape the bowl out all by myself!

In total, I made more than 60 cupcakes as well as several lemon drizzle and chocolate and orange drizzle cakes. Now, I would certainly not describe myself as a "Mary Berry" - my culinary talents are generally brought out twice a year for the children's birthdays - but I actually quite enjoyed it. Unlike last year (when my show stopper went horribly wrong as the mixture leaked out of my spring loaded tins), there were no major dramas and I was pleased with the results.

Big Brew Number 1 - Pop in and Play

The first event of the day was a cake sale at my local playgroup, Pop in and Play.  I have blogged about Pop in and Play before as this was where I started my Pregnancy Sickness Awareness Roadshow all those months ago.

I had no idea how many cakes would appear, or even if people had heard the announcement the week before as the children impatiently waited for the Music Man to start his rendition of "Old MacDonald had a cow ... with a quack quack here ... etc." which always goes down a treat.

I was overwhelmed by the number of cakes people brought and the amount of effort that people had clearly put in to making some beautiful cakes.  Most of the cakes were home made and I was touched that all these busy mums had taken the time out of their day to make cakes to support a charity so close to my own heart.

Loadsa cakes!
Some were almost too pretty to eat
Not many left by the end
Big Brew Number 2

After Big Brew Number 1, it was a quick dash home to whiz round with the hoover and finish off a few other jobs before Big Brew Number 2 kicked off at my house the same afternoon.

I was blessed with sunny weather and delighted at how many of my wonderful friends and neighbours came along for a cuppa, some cake and a natter. It really was a lovely afternoon.

Counting up

I enlisted the services of a little accountant to assist with counting all the money - and a very good job he did too!

My trainee accountant

In total, I raised £237. Beforehand, I had said I would love to raise more than I did last year which was £140. I didn't expect to raise almost £100 more!

So I would like to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who supported my Big Brew by coming along, baking or buying cakes and for helping to make the day a big success. I couldn't have done it without you!

Same time next year?