26 Feb

Dear Me

I know right now you feel hopeless and lost, and the mere act of getting up and facing the world seems too much, but I want to tell you, you are going to be OK.

Right now even the concept of being happy again feels impossible, and as you so often say, you almost don’t want to feel joy, as you feel that minimises your babies’ lives. BUT let me tell you one day soon you will feel happier than you have ever felt in your whole life, and this will in no way make the world think your babies’ lives didn’t matter, it will do the exact opposite. By you being happy and celebrating joy, it will show everyone how important your precious children’s lives were… because they gave you the gift of embracing the now, of never taking anything for granted, and they made you a mother.

So what advice can I offer you? I want to tell you everything, but I know some things you will need to discover on the journey… so for now just know this…

1. The brokenness you feel right now is opening up such a deep ravine within you and one day that hole will be filled with joy. You may never be grateful for walking this path but I assure you, you will be grateful for the happiness and lessons loss taught you… So don’t be scared of this pain and don’t try to run from it.
2. People won’t always say the right things… forgive them and educate them in the hope that they say better things next time.

3. Don’t be scared to share your story… Yes, I know you feel exposed talking about your experiences but it will help so many people if you feel brave enough to be open and I promise you, you won’t regret it. Hold nothing back as being transparent will be the catalyst for helping others.

4. Try not to let fear rob you of life. After you have experienced so much pain and loss, it is easy to become a worrier and to hold back from embracing life and experiences, ‘just in case’ the bottom falls from your world again; but by holding back you are robbing yourself. Live in hope and faith that things will be OK, as this means you will delight in it all… You can’t rewind life, so don’t let any bliss filled moment pass you by.

5. Don’t panic about the jaundice… both of your children will not stay yellow for long, even when the nurse freaks you out.

6. Never count the amount of sleep you have had. Yes, you like ten hours, but you will quickly see you can survive on one or two… the less you focus on sleep deprivation the better.

7. When people tell you children grow up fast, believe them! Before you know it, you will have a nine year old and six-year-old who seem like mini-adults.

8. Make as many family traditions as possible as it makes life magical for your children and those little things aren’t so little.
9. Don’t listen to people who tell you you take too many photos… you can never take too many – you will always revel in looking back at them.

10. Don’t be afraid of not doing what everyone else is doing. Do what is right for your family and you will all flourish.

Zoe, you have got this, hold on and never give up on hope, soon the sun will rise.

Zoe x

If you need support following loss, you may like to read the Saying Goodbye book. It includes our personal story of baby loss and 90 days of vital supportSaying Goodbye Book

19 Feb

The Amazing Things Your Body Does When You Feel Afraid Embrace the power of fight or flight By Shihab S Joi

When you feel scared, you feel alone, helpless. But the best bodyguard in the world is already inside you, working round the clock to protect you from all manner of harm. And all the sensory organs that protect your vital organs take their orders from one source: the amygdala.

The amygdala doesn’t mess around. Its primary function is to keep constant look out from the brain’s threat centre to see if anyone’s up to no good, much like a nosey neighbour with the emergency services on speed dial. That’s what makes your heart beat fast, breaks you out in a sweat, makes it difficult for you to breathe and grips you with panic. Not exactly the life and soul of the party.

Now, you might think getting rid of the amygdala – this thing that keeps telling you to be fearful and jumpy – will make you stronger. On the contrary, it is what keeps you alive. If our primitive ancestors saw a sabre-tooth cat and didn’t get the signal to run for cover, we’d have become extinct a long time ago. Similarly, it was the amygdala that assessed the threat level from a gazelle to be low, thus assuring our ancestors they could take it on in a fight and eat it to survive. Fight or flight in a nutshell.

The amygdala, however, only watches and warns. It’s the other parts of your brain that can make things problematic, even though they’re only trying to help. The part that stores memories of previous bad experiences, for instance, does so with the intention of helping you learn from it, but is also the reason why being scared of a spider as a two-year-old translates in the adult brain for so many as something to feel terror at. Good news is, the mind can apply logic to deal with it when that happens.

It’s not all in your head, of course. The instant fear grips you, your heart starts pumping faster to get more oxygen, with the respiratory system, lungs and circulatory system all doing their bit to get it to your muscles, in case you need to run. Your pupils also dilate, causing tunnel vision, the message sent being: focus!

Fear also makes the hairs on out arms stand straight, and most annoyingly, leaves us with clammy hands. If you look at a cat – puffing itself out to look bigger – you see how body hair can scare off a potential threat. Goose bumps are basically the result of your body tensing up and gearing it for action. As for sweating, much as it may seem like the hallmark of anxiety, it actually exists to keep your body cool during this time of increased heart rate and blood flow.

14 Feb

Which countries love and hate Valentine’s Day?

For the cynics among us, Valentine’s Day is an annual nightmare: everything turns pink and heart-shaped, restaurants slap a premium price on a sub-par “special menu”, and Hallmark shareholders are laughing all the way to the bank.

But beyond the cuddly toys and red roses, the tradition draws mixed reactions around the world.

From the hardline to the downright bizarre, here are just some of the ways Valentine’s Day is embraced – or spurned like an unwanted lover…

Indonesia’s condom raids
Authorities in some parts of Indonesia have banned students from celebrating Valentine’s Day, saying it encourages casual sex. In the city of Makassar, police raided shops and dismantled condom displays.

The mayor told the BBC that condoms were removed from sight after customers complained, but would still be sold discreetly.

Valentine’s Day has its roots in a Roman fertility celebration, but later evolved into a Christian feast day – a fact that worries conservatives in some Muslim-majority countries.

In Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, pupils were told to reject the festival as it runs against cultural norms.

Muslim students shout slogans during a protest against Valentine’s Day celebrations in Surabaya, Indonesia, on 13 February, 2017Image copyrightREUTERS
Image caption
Muslim students protest against Valentine’s Day in Surabaya, Indonesia
No emoticons for Malaysia 🙁
Next door to Indonesia, Malaysia has also seen a Valentine’s backlash.

A group called the National Muslim Youth Association has urged women and girls to avoid using emoticons or overdoing the perfume, in a pre-Valentine’s Day message.

The group’s guidance included advice on how to combat the celebration of romance by making anti-Valentine posters and shunning Valentine-themed outfits.

The National Muslim Youth Association made its anti-Cupid views clear through its Facebook pictureImage copyrightFACEBOOK/PERSATUAN BELIA ISLAM NASIONAL
Image caption
The group made its anti-Cupid views clear through its Facebook picture
Weddings on Robben Island
Robben Island will forever be associated with the infamous prison that held Nelson Mandela – but since 2000, it has hosted a mass celebration of love on 14 February.

The tradition was started by South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs and the Robben Island Museum, and now attracts couples from across the globe.

This year, 20 pairs are planning to say “I do” in the island’s little white chapel.

The service is offered for a small fee, and includes a tour of the island.

Organisers say 2017’s couples were “chosen by the department based on their diversity and interesting romantic stories”.

A couple laugh before their wedding on Valentine’s day on Robben Island, near Cape Town, on 14 February, 2015.Image copyrightAFP
Image caption
A bride and groom laugh during their Robben Island ceremony
Thailand’s ‘very magical vitamins’
Thailand’s civil servants are handing out free pre-natal pills on the streets of Bangkok on Valentine’s Day, hoping to boost the country’s falling birth rate.

Around 1 million baht ($28,600; £22,900) has been spent on the pills, for prospective mothers aged 20 to 34.

The “very magical vitamins” (to use the government’s words) contain folic acid and iron.

In 1970, Thai couples had an average of six children, but the figure now stands at 1.6.

A man prepares an arrangement of roses on Valentine’s Day at a flower market in Bangkok, Thailand, on 14 February 2017.Image copyrightEPA
Image caption
A Bangkok flower market on Valentine’s Day
Pakistan’s court crackdown
The High Court in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, has banned public celebrations of Valentine’s Day, saying it is not part of Muslim culture.

The festival has gained a foothold in recent years, but local critics say it is a decadent Western invention.

The court order bans the media from covering Valentine’s events, and bans festivities in public places and government offices.

Court in Pakistan banned public celebrations of Valentine’s Day in the capital Islamabad
Exit player
Media captionA court in Pakistan has banned public celebrations of Valentine’s Day in Islamabad
What is Valentine’s Day and how did it start?
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The town with the world’s most romantic postmark
Saudi’s black market in roses
Saudi Arabia’s religious police are on alert at this time of year for love-themed merchandise, including flowers, cards and suspicious “red items”.

Florists have been known to deliver bouquets in the middle of the night to avoid detection, as determined lovers flout the countrywide ban.

A black market in roses and wrapping paper helps some broadcast their feelings.

But for others, it’s the perfect time of year for a romantic break – to nearby Bahrain or the UAE, where celebrations are more tolerated.

Customers buy flowers and valentine’s gifts at a florist in Dubai on 13 February, 2008.Image copyrightAFP
Image caption
Holidays to Dubai are one way for Saudi couples to dodge the crackdown
Japan’s anti-love protesters
As Japan geared up for the 14th, a group of Marxist protesters unfurled a giant “Smash Valentine’s Day” banner in Tokyo.

The “Kakuhido”, or Revolutionary Alliance of Men that Women find Unattractive, want an end to public displays of love that “hurt their feelings”.

Members have been known to chant slogans including “public smooching is terrorism”.

“Our aim is to crush this love capitalism,” said Takayuki Akimoto, the group’s PR chief.

“People like us who don’t seek value in love are being oppressed by society,” he added.

“It’s a conspiracy by people who think unattractive guys are inferior, or losers – like cuddling in public, it makes us feel bad. It’s unforgivable!”

The protests came as Japan’s family planning association revealed that “sexless marriages” in the country are at a record high.

Nearly 50% of married Japanese couples had not had sex for more than a month and did not expect that to change in the near future, it said.

08 Feb

This Contact Lens Can Tell You Your Blood Sugar Level Would you wear it? By Sophie Gallagher

For people living with type 1 diabetes, taking blood sugar readings throughout the day, and using a finger prick technique to draw blood, is not only time consuming but also requires you to remember (easier said than done).

But now scientists have designed a piece of wearable technology that could potentially passively check in on your condition over the course of 24 hours, without you even having to bat an eyelid.

The smart contact lens, designed by a team of Korean researchers and reported in Science Advances, doubles up as a blood sugar monitor.
This isn’t the first contact lens designed to perform such a function (Verily had a go before) but all previous attempts ended up failing up the first hurdle because they couldn’t be used again and again.

The older designs required rigid electronic software to be embedded in the lens, making them brittle and subject to degrading over a short period of time.

But in this prototype rigid electronic components are isolated into ‘islands’ by interconnected stretchable conductors.
From a user point of view, this design difference is important because it made from a soft, stretchable, transparent material, like normal contact lenses, so it doesn’t distort your vision.

Fundamentally, people might actually be willing to wear it.

“This gets close to a solution that you can imagine a patient using,” Gregory Herman a chemical engineer at Oregon State University, who is working on similar technology, told Spectrum.
The lens is able to wirelessly receive power and generate an LED display.

Then in order to check in on your blood glucose levels, it is not invasive, and simply needs to collect your tears (or excess water on the surface of your eye) for testing.

When the user’s glucose levels are normal the LED light stays on, and when the levels move out of the normal range the light turns off.

The flexible nature of the lens also means it is protected from being damaged when you are handling it and getting it into your eye.

Park says he and his team would like to apply the smart contact lens design to other medical applications, such as drug delivery. For the glucose monitoring application, he says he hopes for commercialization in the next five years.

30 Gen

Camilla Embodies All Too Common Stepmother Challenges

With last year having marked the 20th anniversary of Diana Princess of Wales’ death, and 2018’s already intense focus on Prince Harry and his fiancé Meghan Markle, Camilla is once again becoming a central focus for tabloid and public discourse over her position and function within the royal family.

As a stepmother myself, and a psychologist specialising in stepfamily relationships, I am only too aware of the difficulties involved in building and developing a new family unit.

In the Duchess of Cornwall’s case she has suffered the added challenge of dealing with the raw grief of two young boys while being tried in the court of public opinion, and undoubtedly struggling with the widely accepted view of her partner’s ex-wife as a national treasure.

The fact that Camilla has worked to build such a close and special relationship with her stepsons over 20 years later is testament to how she has managed a near impossible situation.

Many of these sentiments will be familiar to stepmothers around the world. Sadly, becoming a stepparent is rarely easy and the role often brings its own unique challenges.

What function should the stepparent play? Are you a parent or a friend? Should you discipline the children or let your partner bear the brunt? How do you resolve differences in parenting approaches between yourself and your partner?
Five steps to stepfamily harmony

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix or easy answer, although there are a number of actions I can recommend to couples to consider if things are not going quite as planned.

The following top five steps will get you going. If you try and make some progress in these areas and give yourselves time to adjust, you should soon start reaping the rewards.

1. Normalise

There’s no special training to become a stepparent. In some respects, it’s like being a parent, but in others it couldn’t be more different. Children have a mum and a dad, but society seems to get confused when we try and add stepparents into the mix.

It’s important to ‘normalise’ your feelings and recognise that the way you feel is just the same as other stepparents. Your stepchildren are not your biological children. You are not going to instantly fall in love with them, or they with you.

You will feel differently towards them than any biological children you might have. This is normal and to be expected. In order to move on and strengthen your new family, it’s important to first accept that you are different to a biological family.

2. Establish realistic expectations

Couples are often in a rush to move things along quickly in their new stepfamily. They love their partner, their partner loves them, so what could possibly go wrong?

Well, often the children involved have other ideas. Other relations may not be ready to accept everyone’s moving on, and friends may have divided loyalties. Stepfamilies are difficult because they’re complicated. It’s important to be realistic and set achievable goals.

Research suggests that stepfamilies take an average of four years to bond and become an integrated family unit. Others take much longer. Those that do make things work more quickly generally do so by planning and taking things slowly at first.

3. Strengthen the couple bond

It may seem counter-intuitive, or even selfish, but one of the most important things a couple can do when they start creating a stepfamily is to make time for each other.

Stepfamilies are created when children are already part of the family, which leaves very little time for the adults to get to know each other and, more importantly, spend quality time together.

Communication is key to solving problems. This is very easy to say, but extremely difficult to actually do. Make time for your partner and really listen to them without judging. If they are struggling with something they need your help, not your criticism.

4. Develop clear roles for stepparents

We can all describe what a mum does or what’s expected of a dad, but ask what a stepparent should do and you will get a range of answers. The good news is that there is no single correct answer, so it’s up to you to define the role in your family.

The bad news is that you need to agree this with your partner. If you’re the stepmum and you think you should just be a friend to your teenage stepdaughter, but your partner thinks you should be a ‘mum,’ you’re probably going to fall out and your stepdaughter will be left confused.

However, if you can agree to be a friend for the time being, and perhaps review things six months down the line when you know each other better, then maybe that could work. Think about the sort of stepparent you want to be and could be, and make sure you discuss it with your partner

5. Clear boundaries with ex-partners

One of the things that causes the most stress in stepfamilies is the perceived interference from ex-partners. Biological families have the luxury of making decisions within their family unit, while stepfamilies often have to negotiate with ex-partners, whether it’s about agreeing holiday dates, school pickups or the weekend rota.

My advice is for stepparents to accept that exes will always be a part of your extended ‘family’. However, it’s up to you and your partner to put clear boundaries in place for the communication.

Make sure that you involve your current partner in any decisions that affect them. For example, if your ex phones to ask if you can swap ‘days,’ don’t just agree to get them off the phone quickly. Check with your partner in case they have other plans that could be disrupted.

There are different ways of doing this. You can have a family calendar that you keep updated so it’s clear when children are visiting. Find your own way of keeping everyone updated, but make sure the boundaries are clear.

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